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Tuesday, 16 May 2006 - 6:06am

When will it be done?

Caltech prepared me for many things. I know how to learn about quantum mechanics in one night. I learned how to find the normal modes of a string. But it didn’t prepare me for one thing.

Writing a 30 page expository essay.

In some ways, I am enjoying it like mad; I was able to dive into a plethora of thoughts and ideas. But the challenge is combining them all together into a digestible whole. I used to be able to do this, back in high school, but I lost that ability at Caltech, trained as I was on rote solving of problem sets.

I need to get away from the paper, but I can’t, as it’s due early Thursday morning.

And then there’s my sponsor week project. Something that I’ve been interested in off and on this entire term. But now, I’m definitely off on it.

What I want to do now is go and get some tea at Someday cafe, kick back, and read some Nabokov, Eggers, or New Left Review. Or perhaps just take out my viola and jam. Without creating some samples for my recording project. Without worring about whether instruments are transitional or liminal, or when. Without wondering how to align two semi-different audio signals automatically.

That day will come in a little less than two weeks.

Friday, 14 April 2006 - 12:58am

Freud, Eco, and the notions of temporality in object relations

(As part of my class on the relationships between people and objects, both real and virtual, we read a set of essays in a forthcoming book where academics and scholars describe, in detail, the characteristics of said relationships with an object of import. Paired with each essay is a particular “theorist”, ranging from psychoanalytic (Freud, Lacan, Winnicott) to critical (Foucault, Derrida, Latour). One of the basic assignments in the class is to write “reaction papers” to these readings. While I try to craft these as well as possible, sometimes they’re not very complete or contain ideas or thoughts that might change throughout the course. In any event, I’ve decided to start posting these reactions here, from the current week and all the weeks prior. (I’m going to back-post the earlier essays.) Since I can’t post the source essays here, I’ll try and give some background on the underlying works as an aside at the beginning of each response. Also, names of the authors of the source essays have been slightly changed because I am unsure whether I can attribute these quotes as of yet, since the book has not been published. I welcome any comments or suggestions.)

Aside: This week’s essays dealt with objects of mourning, those things that can lead to such intense feelings upon later reflection.

One of the challenges of cultural studies is to examine the rise and popularity of forms that, from a variety of perspectives (“high art”, criticism, and so on) appear on first glance to offer no “redeeming value” from usual methods of evaluation. Yet the simple fact of their [the forms] popularity cannot be denied as if it does not exist. What way, then, can we explain this without resorting to the non-explanation of irrationality? Eco, in his essay “The Myth of Superman”, suggests that the temporality of the comic book or the serial novel reflects a need of the person living in modern society: “Narrative of a redundant nature would appear in this panorama as an indulgent invitation to repose, the only occasion of true relaxation offered to the consumer.” [Myth, p. 21] With Aristotelian narratives, the actions of Oedipus or Odysseus were well-known to the audience[1]; surprise was not a factor, but rather people willingly floated along with the flow of the text. Yet in post-Aristotelian narratives, it was the objects and actions of surprise that provided the strengths of poetic experience: the “unpredictable nature is part of the invention, and as such, takes on aesthetic value.” [Myth, p. 15] Comics and serials limit this surprise to the appearance of new objects in the story, limiting the surprise of temporal development that occurs in other forms of the literary arts.

This combination of stunted temporal experience and mechanism of surprise can explain some of the psychological strengths of objects in our lives. D—‘s suitcase is a container for snapshots of her grandmother’s life: a symbol of travel and movement, it is now stationary, containing quanta of experiences that reflect salient memories. Her selection of the quotes, the teacups, the scents of the jasmine lotion are past-moment objects that represent memories that unfold in time. She attempts to capture them within the confines of the suitcase, just as the writers of Superman comics attempt to capture his travails and (assured) successes within the limits of a weekly periodical. But D—‘s suitcase is simply a moment of moments: as she says, she worries that she “will lose her [her grandmother] if I open the suitcase too often”. [Suitcase, p. 3] The evanescent jasmine scent will be an element of surprise upon the unbuckling of the suitcase; but with this surprise comes the movement of the captured moment into the regular flow of time. No more held captive, the chrono-scent enters into her present experience, the saved point impinging on the now and expanding away from the impeded temporal flow.

Objects of memory thus possess these complementary but contradictory qualities of saving (archiving) and serendipity (surprise). They can jolt us from our present life and remind us of times in the past or lost possibilities of the future. Containers (of things and thoughts) like the suitcase freeze certain instants or durations with the hope that future interactions will reconnect the person with the detached past.

Objects tied to a particular memory of mourning can help to repair the damage of personal loss: photographs, clothing, toys and the like remain in the now as traces of a prior person’s life. Yet in cases of melancholia (in the full sense of Freud’s term), intense attachment to particular objects is a symptom of pathology: “In melancholia the relation to the object is no simple one; it is complicated by the conflict due to ambivalence.” [Mourning, p. 256] Freud describes melancholia as a “disturbance of self-regard”, this trait being absent in conventional mourning. [Mourning, p. 244] The loss of the object (even perceived loss) is “withdrawn from consciousness, in contradistinction to mourning, in which there is nothing about the loss that is unconscious.” [Mourning, p. 245] It seems reasonable to connect this loss to the stultified temporality described earlier by Eco. The object-loss enters into the “unconscious”, with the consequence of removing it from the passage of time. Instead of confronting the loss in the present, the person removes herself into the past, desiring instead life in a continual “present”, but a present that exists before now. That is, the loss is never dealt with by the person; the lack of action, and the resulting belief that the object still exists, necessitates removing oneself to a time when the object did exist. The person continues life following the same temporal direction as the rest of society, but with the “shadow of the object” on her, actually lives in the present-past of the object. [Mourning, p. 249]

1 What is ignored is how this assumed knowledge is transferred to the listener in the first place; what sorts of surprise reactions occurred the first time someone heard of Odysseus enduring the Sirens’ cries?

Friday, 14 April 2006 - 12:40am

The one-click import...

…of my old blog postings is complete. Imagine that; everything came through without problems. Now all I have to do is start writing here, instead of in here.

Thursday, 13 April 2006 - 1:56am

Migrating to WordPress...

Today marks the migration to WordPress. Old posts are still available if you’re into those sorts of things…

Thursday, 13 April 2006 - 1:53am

About

zeitkunst is the research + art blog of nick knouf. Featuring posts about my thoughts and work in art, music, culture, society, theory, graduate student life, and politics on an occasional basis.

Tuesday, 4 April 2006 - 11:49pm

Lacan, Winnicott, and the objects of early experience

Aside: this is another of a series of short essays written for my class on objects and experience. None of these essays should be considered a complete work; rather, they are snippets of my thoughts at the time. This week’s readings dealt with transitional objects (Winnicott) and the mirror stage (Lacan).

It is commonplace today, partly because of the work of the associated theorists for this week’s readings, to accept the immense influence of the early objects of a child on his or her later psychological development. Yet in these very early objects or toys, meaning those of the newborn up to about a year or two, the actual characteristics of the toys themselves are somewhat irrelevant. It seems to be the act of interacting with the object itself which is important at this stage, at the region of time where the newborn begins to form the “not-I” concept. But given the mirror-stage theory of Lacan, and the ideas of transitional objects from Winnicott, the makeup of the object should be vitally important for the newborn’s later psychological development; Lacan says, in “The Mirror Stage as Formative of the I Function”, that “This form [the image] would, moreover, have to be called the ‘ideal-I’…in the sense that it will also be the rootstock of secondary identifications….” [p. 4, Ecrits, A Selection] While I understand that strictly speaking Lacan is referring to the child’s identification with something outside of his or her body, be it the mother, the image in the mirror, or an object; however, if we pair this with Winnicott’s transitional objects, which are, as he says, designated for the “intermediate area of experience, between the thumb and the teddy bear” [p. 2, Playing and Reality], I come to the conclusion that the makeup of the objects themselves at this formative period should exact a precise influence on later development. But if these readings of Lacan and Winnicott are correct (and I wonder if they actually are), they seem to be in conflict in some ways with actual experience; choosing which object it is that exerts this influence, that forms the rootstock, is extremely difficult. While it could be the object with which the child spends the most time, perhaps it is some other object, a toy that the child saw or experienced for only a short period of time, the interactions with which formed the roots for later identification and psychological development. I have a difficult time, at this stage of development, to associate time-of-play with psyche importance.

Lacan defines the mirror stage thusly: “The function of the mirror stage thus turns out, in my view, to be a particular case of the function of imagos, which is to establish a relationship between an organism and its reality—or, as they say, between the Innenwelt and the Umwelt.” Mann’s identification with the World Book encyclopedia is a precise example of the development of the mirror stage. The stultification of his own development as a result of familial dynamics caused Mann to find the Other in a series of books. The contents were immaterial; it was the process of discovering knowledge that was important, allowing the books to become, in Mann’s own words, “my interpreters, my models, and my guides.” The World Book became a distorting mirror that reflected the quiet of his family life and transfigured it into the cacophony of knowledge.

Every essay but one explored an object that was formative in the author’s own childhood; it was Gleason that viewed her sister Shayna’s fascination with the stuffed rabbit Murray from the detachment of a graduate student. She was able to understand the importance of Murray to “embody character” in an object outside of Shayna’s body. Gleason was also able to see how Shayna used the “Bunny language” to create a new world, separate from Shayna’s everyday realities. This has an intriguing connection to the Lacanian Symbolic order, which is, succinctly, the portion of the psyche that crystalizes desires and societal mores through the use of language. Shayna’s (and most kid’s) use of a made-up language suggests that at this early stage of development there is something lacking in the language of society and of the parents; perhaps the child does not know how to fully express his or her desires in the common-tongue, or rather the child finds the need for a personal language, something that provides a closer match with his or her wishes, where the correspondence between thought-desire and representation of that desire through language is more readily apparent. It would be interesting to explore this in the context of multi-lingual children: do those who have access to multiple ways of expressing desires linguistically choose to play these language games with one of the tongues of which they have access, or do they too develop new languages for play?

Monday, 27 March 2006 - 3:08am

The zeitkunst blog in flux

I dispense with the common blog niceties of bemoaning my lack of writing, for no-one out there is reading this blog as of yet. But in the meantime (on the order of the recent day or two) I have been preparing not only new entries, but also a real design. The entries? Academic, of course: discussions of my recent reading of Bruno Latour’s We Have Never Been Modern, along with some (hopefully) extensions to my readings of essays in aesthetics by Adorno and Benjamin. The design? Simple but elegant: I have no time for the too-large and too-cutesy setups of modern Web 2.0 sites; the name itself suggests a break that isn’t there, an ignorance of the continual development of the web and the need to codify changes into the digestible notions of release numbers.

Let’s make a pact for this now: writing at least once a week on topics that are important to me and my work. By this I will hopefully create content that will encourage regular readership that will both create community as well as contribute to broader discussions of these topics. The more musically-focused entries (those focusing on the music itself, not the meta-musical) will live on sigtronica.

Most pacts require a means for admonishment when the pact is broken. Since this is a pact between me and the non-human object of the website, any breakage is invisible to outsiders, both virtual visitors and real colleagues. Oh well. I’ll know the pact was broken, and whether it affects me or not will be up to me to react to.

Saturday, 26 November 2005 - 5:09am

Examining the Flecks of Dust that Rest in My Hand

There are days that are technically not vacation, but because of the mores of society, become that way[1]. And I come to the end of that day, bemused at how I could have spent so much of my afternoon, rather than working intently on a website that needs much updating, or a project that requires much thinking, instead reading (to my credit) a combination of recent-past news and articles in progressive sources, and (to my detriment) spending time looking at sports articles in wikipedia and CNN. Why would I do such a thing (the latter)? Is it a hearkening back to my old days in middle school of pouring over stats and absorbing the seeming-meaning in the mass of numbers? Or is it some sick desire to be present in the inanity[2] of it all, a want to be consumed by all that I find wrong in this world? Most likely it simply reflects my interest in what I see to be a problem, a misplacement of our ideas of entertainment and culture, and a wish to think of ways either to 1) help fix it, or 2) stay far away from it.

I don’t have answers, nor do I have suggestions, not at this juncture[3].

What follows are just flecks of thoughts, as I don’t want to significantly contribute to the noise.

  • I realize that Asimov was more of a pulp science-fiction author than Herbert or Delany, and although I haven’t read the book in question, but I doubt the dialogue in I, Robot was as stilted and fake as the dialogue in the movie adaptation.
  • Solutions to the large problems of our society will not come through legislation or top-down proclamations, but rather bottom-up via personal decisions by people not in power and by people in power.
  • With the No Child Left Behind Act[4] comes bouts of testing, both at the state and the national level. Undoubtedly there will be comparisons of performance on state and national exams, as explored in an article from Friday’s New York Times called Students Ace State Tests, but Earn D’s From U.S.. The results? In Alabama, 83 percent of the state’s 4th graders scored at a proficient level on the state reading test, but only 22 percent scored at that level on the national test. A spokesman for the state Education Department had this to say: “Making comparisons to the NAEP [the national test] becomes very difficult without giving the impression that some states are not measuring up to others or to the nation.” As if we shouldn’t be having these impressions? As if having these impressions is somehow bad?
  • An interview on NPR from earlier this year regarding the trend to customized content and the dangers this brings: TiVo, iPod, the Human Ego and the Future. More on this in future posts.

More thoughtfulness in the future, I promise.

1 A vacation where we worship the dollar and the blackness that it brings clanging and shuffling into the coffers of our retailers.

2 My opinion only, of course. Other probably consider articles about “The Origins of Music: Innateness, Uniqueness, and Evolution” inane, and they’re most entitled to that opinion.

3 And I perhaps never will.

4 A definite misnomer.

Friday, 4 November 2005 - 11:18pm

BEST NATIONAL ANTHEM

Seen on a site that offers downloads of national anthems (shh! for a secret project):

S.O.S

Friday, October 14 2005 @ 09:08 AM
Contributed by: Anonymous
Views: 0
PLEASE I NEED TO TO THE TEN BEST NATIONAL ANTHEMS OF THE WORLD AS SOON AS POSSIBLE

I believe wars have been fought for less than this.

Monday, 31 October 2005 - 11:24pm

Acorns and Stories

Acorns

Fall, or more-pleasing-to-the-ear, autumn, stands out amongst all other seasons. While others lament the cooling weather and darker days, I revel in the distinct scent of dead but colourful leaves that the trees in their haste to be ready for winter strew upon the ground. I enjoy the need to wear long-sleeved shirts and coats, for it means I no longer drip with unwanted sweat. I look forward to the days when darkness is greater than light; when the streetlights illuminate the falling snowflakes as if you were traveling through a starfield.

While I sponteneously will pick up a pile of leaves and through it into the air, Mr. Frazier stomps on acorns. I have to admit to doing the same on occasion, but without the gusto he describes. Maybe on my way home tonight I’ll seek out the acorns below and stomp out my frustrations. Instead of C-I-G-N-A, I’ll spell OP-AMP-INTEGRATOR.

Stories

For at least three years now I have seen the hullaboo of NaNoWriMo, the event where your goal is to write a novel, not necessarily good, during the month of November. I’ve tried once; I lasted approximately three days. Now, in the beginings of my graduate school career, and a month full of work ahead, would not be the time to try again.

So I looked with interest into WriAShorStorWe. Unfortunately, it’s supposed to happen this week, which also happens to be the week that NSF Graduate Research Fellowships are due, at least for psychology. So I’m going to push that back a week. And do it next week. And be the only one doing it next week. I’m going to be behind the times[1].

1 That’s a rather strange to say, “I’m going to be behind the times.” I’m making a statement about my future state of not being current with the prevailing sentiment. And I’m saying this in what will be, when the time comes, the past. This seems like a bizarre thing to say and appears to be only valid when our sense of time moves much faster than we’re designed for.

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