jonathanwaring.net Est. January 2010 (v1.0)

7Sep/123

The Developing City: a Tweet Review

On Wednesday 5th I visited The Developing City, an exhibition documenting the changing configuration and architecture of the City of London, from its Roman origins through present day construction, before speculating on its future development up to 2050.

Looking east along the Thames toward the City circa 2050?

Looking east along the Thames toward the City circa 2050?

Yesterday I recorded a number of my scathing thoughts about their 2050 vision in a series of tweets. Today it occurred to me that this ‘mini-review’ could be recorded on this blog using WordPress’ recently added ‘Twitter Embeds’ function (update 8th Sept: this function is erratic, so I eventually gave up and decided to use the html embed codes generated by Twitter itself—see comments below). So, here we go:

So, that's my little experiment with Twitter Embeds. They could be put to more interesting use recording discussions, such as this Twitter conversation I documented manually a few years ago. However the authenticity of using the ‘actual tweets’ would need to be balanced against the possibility that the tweets, or the tweeting account, might be deleted at some point in the future.

A new financial centre at Aldgate…

A new financial centre at Aldgate, set within a landscaped ‘high park’…

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30Jun/110

jonathanwaring.net now at v1.0

With yesterday’s change in WordPress theme (from my adaptation of veryplaintxt to LightWord), and a number of other less obvious changes and improvements, I'm finally declaring jw.net out of beta with a v1.0 designation. For the sake of posterity, this is what the site looked like up to v0.7:

jonathanwaring.net v0.7jonathanwaring.net at v0.7
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2Nov/100

Patience, Patience…

Spotted!

Yesterday someone was clearly intrigued enough by part one of Summing Up: Žižek and Environmentalism (Sunday, October 3, 2010) that he or she made the—admittedly fairly small, but still somewhat flattering—effort to induce that the URL of the draft of part two would be the same, but end in ‘part-2’. (It doesn't anymore.) Whoever you are (from Allendale, Michigan USA—if Google Analytics is to be believed), I hope what you read doesn't put you off coming back for the finished version. This second part is still only at a very early stage and is mainly notes, the final series will likely reach three parts.

For those not quite so eager—but now feeling left out—part two moves across Žižek’s occasional, put unfortunately pervasive, tendency toward a loose use of anecdotal evidence (particularly in his use of scientific anecdotes), before focusing on an exploration of two of the five ‘mass extinction’ events in Earth’s history: the more well known ‘K-T extinction event’, and the—to me, far more fascinating—‘late Devonian extinction’. They are both interesting enough in their own right, so, if you're curious, why not look them up on Wikipedia right now? Otherwise, please be patient for the next part of my post.

In the meantime, here is a recap of my two previous posts on Žižek and his perspective on environmental matters, which form the background to the current series:

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22Oct/102

AxisofLacan: Twitter as aesthetic-technical discipline

When writing this blog I have—so far—tried to avoid short note-like thoughts, or simple ‘stamp collecting’ reposts of links and information already available on other sites and blogs. The conscious rational for this has been—at least in part—that, not functioning in an academic context, I am unlikely to have any papers or books published anytime soon; and therefore, it is important to me that this blog stand up as ‘a work in itself’. This choice of phrase also—I think—points toward a second probably reason: my background as artist, which—for me at least—seems to make it an irresistible temptation to think of all production in terms ‘the work’, which therefore then demands a certain level of substance and consistency in order to function as such. This doesn't mean finished or complete, in fact, it is central to the form and purpose of this blog that it remain plastic, malleable and a ‘work in progress’—yet work [in progress] it remains, and as such requires a certain aesthetic ‘rightness’ (the definition of which will remain ambiguous, so as to leave space for the potential of the pathological).

This decision about the focus of this blog then, of course, appears to create a particular function for Twitter: a place for links, note-like thoughts, and immediate dialog. However: a) despite myself, I still get entangled in having tweets function with a phrased ‘rightness’ (they don't escape being ‘works’), and b) 140 characters is often just not enough to say many things that combine both being worth saying and relative complexity (although this does make for an interesting discipline).

I have an interest in the way contingent technical forms can ‘go beyond themselves’ and shape what can-or-can't-be-done, and what can-or-can't-be-said.

The technical 140 Twitter character limit was itself born of a similarly technical 160 character limit on SMS messages—in order that, in the early days, Twitter could ‘piggyback’ on the popularity and ubiquity of this service (with the remaining 20 characters being reserved for the Twitter username). Arguably Twitter has little need for the SMS service today, but, as is the nature of evolved systems, once it's there and built upon, you're stuck with it (unless it, and everything built upon it, becomes redundant). Nobody responsible for creating the SMS standard anticipated Twitter, yet their decision about what length a brief informal message should be, directly produced the technological reality that in turn formed a lower character limit for Twitter. Now, whilst I would expect that the 160 character SMS limit also has its own technical ‘ground’, it must in part be the length it is because that was considered, by its designers, to be an ‘ideal’ for this particular kind of communication.

Having used Twitter for a while now, I feel confident in saying that there is a fundamental difference between what—and how—you can communicate in 140 characters as opposed to 160. An analogy would be the disproportionate difference a change in financial income makes, when it is from earning at a level that just covers basic needs, to earning at any amount above this (until you find more expensive ‘basic needs’, of course).

An idle speculation that emerges is: what would the ‘tweet-o-sphere’ look like if the original technical limitation of the SMS platform had been different (or was never based on SMS)?

A practical question identified is: do I require some other platform in between Twitter and this blog (or to change my usage of this blog)?

A formal aesthetic result (‘the work’) is: an attempt, by myself earlier today, to explain via Twitter the Lacanian concepts of the Real, the Symbolic and the Imaginary, in relation to Mark Fisher’s notion of ‘Capitalist Realism’. Although there was some discussion afterwards, my basic explication (I feel I am rather pushing the meaning of that work here) was 10 tweets long.

The tweet that started it all was:

Central to the efficacy of #CapitalistRealism is its genuine—objective—symbolic existence; in Lacanian terms, that's a tough nut to crack...

Which prompted a response:

AxisofElvis Axis of Elvis
@jonathanwaring say more ...

Resulting in those 10 tweets:

@AxisofElvis Very crudely, in the Lacanian triad: Real-Symbolic-Imaginary—the Real = the original trauma engendered by the failure of the…

@AxisofElvis …Symbolic order to ever fully represent either itself or the inaccessible Real. Imaginary = inner space of self-identification…

@AxisofElvis …the Imaginary has limited efficacy unless it can be translated into the social realm of the Symbolic—think of the derision…

@AxisofElvis …often provoked by the figure of the ‘Goth’ or ‘Wigger’ (at least, in part, the result of a mismatch between Imaginary…

@AxisofElvis …self-identification and the social Symbolic order). The Symbolic order structures social relations and social meaning, and so…

@AxisofElvis …in some ways, can be thought of as, paradoxically, the most ‘real’ of the three. Mark Fisher (@kpunk99) makes a good example…

@AxisofElvis …in Capitalist Realism apropos of Gerald Ratner—(almost) everyone knew the jewellery he sold was ‘crap’, but when he publicly…

@AxisofElvis …admitted this to the ‘big Other’—and thus inscribed it within the Symbolic order—he lost his job & the company lost millions.

@AxisofElvis It is in that sense that—irrespective of its inconsistencies and falsehoods—#CapitalistRealism is ‘a tough nut to crack’…

@AxisofElvis …as—viewed through a Lacanian ontology—it requires a ‘cracking’ of the Symbolic order itself.

In order to fit this explanation to the 140 character discipline, I wrote it out tweet-by-tweet (using Twitter's character counter) and then cut and paste it into a text editor, structuring the breaks where they more-or-less best fitted the sense being conveyed. I then cut and paste it back into Twitter and tweeted it consecutively, leaving no gaps for a reply, until the explanation cycle was finished.

I then swiftly apologised in advance, in case ‘say more ...’ hadn't really meant that much more. There then followed a more conversational form, but one in which the structural properties of the technological medium were still highly apparent.

Many questions remain (and answers, thoughts, and further questions are always welcome):

  • Does my explanation of Lacan ‘work’ (both in terms of its theoretical accuracy, and in its aesthetic form)?
  • Aside from the obvious social immediacy of Twitter, what might be gained through subordination to technical (and aesthetic) form?
  • To what extent might subordination to an aesthetic sensibility relate to extrinsic factors, and to when might it be considered pathological?
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12Aug/103

Response to ‘Slavoj Žižek and the Recycling Superstition’

The response to my last post, ‘Slavoj Žižek and the Recycling Superstition’, has been gratifying. Following an @LSEpublicevents retweet, the post was picked up at Reddit by user Benkanoun, leading to a discussion of both of the issues raised in Žižek’s original lecture and—to a lesser extent—in my writing. Having developed into something much longer than I had originally intended, I am pleased that the post was of enough interest for so many to take the time to read it.

Having read the discussions, and also in light of my own thoughts on reading the post again, I have amended it slightly. These amendments address two key sections where I believe my meaning was not as clear as it could have been. Details of the changes and the original paragraphs can be found in the comments which follow the post.

In my second edit, I have also added a mention that—even sticking to my focus on the actions of the individual—recycling is in fact significantly less preferable than either reduction or reuse (the accepted ‘three Rs’ of sustainability—see Waste Hierarchy for an expansion and development of these). In order of minimising environmental impact, the hierarchy of preference is:

1. Reduce > 2. Reuse > 3. Recyle

It is interesting to note that while recycling generally gets a lot of attention (even if it is not practiced at anywhere near the level it could be), a lot less is said about the more preferable options of reduction and reuse. The key difference—and likely explanation—is that recycling is absolutely compatible with an ideology of perpetual economic growth based on ever increasing material consumption. You consume more; you recycle more. And—following Žižek’s reasoning—you can feel good about doing more of the former, just as long as you also do more of the latter. If recycling can be made profitable, then growth in the consumption of goods also creates a potential for growth in a market for recycling.

Whilst recycling can be made to turn a profit, reduction and reuse are at a basic level incompatible with this aim. Had Žižek pointed this out, then it seems likely he would have drawn less of the immediate negative reactions and confusion generated by his statements (mentioned at the beginning of my previous post). However this, I believe, would be to confuse his real point. His claim is more fundamental than simply saying that recycling is a diversion from other more worthwhile individual practices. Even if the elderly neighbour (referred to in the LSE lecture) honestly and diligently practiced reduction and reuse in the same way Žižek mentions her doing with recycling, this practice would still draw Žižek’s claim of superstition.

Žižek more profound point is to identify an operation of basic superstition involved in the very concept of personal action itself. Even individual action consciously directed at fundamental socio-political change is superstitious in these terms. This is why Žižek’s own invocation of the ‘paradox of the performative’ is in itself his superstition. As it is impossible for any individual to bring about systemic change by themselves, it follows that any doctrine of individual action that aims at systemic change necessarily invokes superstition. In simplistic terms—and to loose the subtlety of the concept—superstition here has a crude analogue in ‘leap of faith’.

It strikes me that Žižek’s is keenly aware of this limit point; the point beyond which our actions cannot be other than superstitious.

In this video from the beginning of this year, Žižek is interrogated about his position on a range of current topics by a disembodied voice and video images on the giant screens which surround him. Here he repeatedly approaches this limit. What is interesting, in this encounter with the superstitious limit point of his own action—in this case, his ‘action’ in prescribing any specific course of radical action <in response to global crisis>—is his honesty in effectively admitting: I don’t know what, but here something has to happen.

Slavoj Žižek, VPRO Backlight, 11th January 2010

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25Apr/100

All Quiet on the Western Front

Not been much visible activity on this blog for just over a month now. But as of today my @jonathanwaring twitter feed has gone live (now functioning alongside the alias I was already using). My official twitter feed can be found in the sidebar of this blog. I am not very happy with the way they display in this current WordPress theme—tweets aren’t separated very well, and the date/time would ideally be italicised. However, I’ve no plans to mess around with different themes again for a while, so—for now—it is what it is.

Blog-wise, I thought I should keep you updated on the more substantial posts to come. In no particular order, and with no definite dates attached, I’m working on:

‘Scientology and the ARC Triangle: The Value of Systematising'
Systems of thought structure our understanding of reality, and therefore our ability to socially function. A flawed (or totally incorrect) system is better than no system at all—Discuss. (Re: the ARC Triangle, I do think it is one of L. Ron’s better contributions to culture. It may be tautological, but I do think it has something to offer.)

‘What if Hitler was Right: On the Importance of Interrogating Wrong Ideas’ (Erm, working title...)
As humans we spend a lot of time operating within symbolic systems, and as a result we often mistake such symbols for reality (yes, I know this is contentious statement). This results in too much time being spent reacting against symbols, whilst failing to combat the underlying problems. (This is a very big topic, and requires significant further development. So you might not see it for some time. Or you might just get an devil’s advocate polemic. Or I might change my mind and you might never hear anything of this idea again...)

‘Anarchism and Libertarianism’
A comparison and critique of Anarchism (of the political Left) and Libertarianism (of the political Right). Probably too big a topic for one blog post, so it just might have to be part of a series. (I have already written an outline of this, in case you just think these are nothing more than fanciful titles.)

So, there you go folks, plenty for you all to be looking forward too.

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26Jan/100

Getting the look of this blog right is going to prove a challenge

I've now tried out a variety of WordPress themes and I'm not really happy with any of them. All those I've installed have had at least one attribute in their favour, but then they've all then had more things going against them. I don't really want to get bogged down editing themes (or getting into php, css, xhtml and the like), as that is not really what I am here for.

However, the current available options are not acceptable.

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