Monthly Archives: March 2012

انه مكتوب – Innaho Maktoob: It is written

In writing this blog, I have learnt something about self. The maxim ‘I is another’ refers to a sense of identity that is multi-faceted. Rimbaud wrote this in a letter to his mentor to declare, quite pompusly and vain-gloriously, his literary credentials as a poet. But, moreover, he made this statement to exert another identity: his sense that the written word of his visions came from elsewhere, something mystical guided his hand, so to speak.

Now I’m curious about this blogging phenomenon. The symbiotic relationship that necessarily must exist between writer and reader/commentator. The reader must comment to validate the writer’s sense that he is working profoundly, that he exists and is not merely staring into a reflection of the abyss. Readers verify, creatively so in the shape of blogs. I’ve always been obsessed with words, so I find this platform an interesting one. I try to keep my sentences short. I try, and fail, to use humour to engage. I post pictures, polls, links, videos – and these seem to generate equally abysmal responses. I’m not feeling sorry for myself. I don’t mind feeling that I write with no authority – with, thus, no legitimacy for originality, and hence, presumably, for no audience.

No, I really don’t mind feeling as if I am writing for no one, and occupying a void of empty space – for, you see, I presently live in Oberalm, a tiny village in Austria, so I’m comfortable with such feelings of nothingness.

Perhaps if I wish for readership I should just try a different approach and post a photograph of a lovely looking celebrity. Hmmm.

The reason I write this about readership and validity is that recently I was considering Jean-Paul Sartre, as you do. His work repeatedly explored a theme that resonates here, since I’ve read about others who share this feeling of despondency when they write and receive no feedback.

Sartre explains by anecdote from childhood how he became aware of his existential self. In Being and Nothingness, his great essay, JP recounts how he was peering through a keyhole as a child, watching someone secretively. The subject of this voyeurism became objectified, detached from himself. Suddenly, he heard a creeking floorboard behind him, and in an instant he realised himself as the object of another’s gaze. In a momentary flash of incredibly advanced insight for a small boy (that certainly underscored his credentials as a leading thinker later in life), young Jean-Paul wiped the sugar-glazed onion from his lips and formulated the philosophy that would bind him to history forever: ‘essence precedes existence.’

Quickly, Sartre darted down the stairs, quite forgetting both the nudey maid he’d been spying on and the lurking parent who had caught him in the act of perving. Fevered with epiphany, he went directly to the sitting chambre, switched on the beige Dell computer in the corner of the room, waited an hour while it booted up, connected the dial-up Lan line to the internet socket (while first checking that no one was using the telephone), dialed through to his ISP – FOL (filosophers on line) account, listened for the sounds of internet connectivity, opened the web domain portal, waited 10 minutes, re-connected and re-loaded, repeated the action again, slightly red-in-the-face, amassed enough megabyte exchanges, closed down all the pop-up windows, waited for the download process of Bytes, tapped in the url and logged on to his WordPress blogsite.

Once there, the 8 year old Jean-Paul Sartre wrote his famous dictum based on the experience of the keyhole, ergo: man is like a little boy peering through a keyhole, oblivious and happy, but once he hears the creek of a floorboard he enters a state of self-consciousness that extracts him forever from the state of pre-reflective consciousness. In short, the eyes of the other on him objectify him, and give him definition and awareness of his self.

I think I’ve managed to explain the idea succinctly there and get the jist of what JP meant to say. There’s probably more written on the subject but you’d have to look it up. I recommend this website I’ve recently discovered (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Main_Page) 

Now: the point. Sartre, in his state of realisation/awareness and self-consciousness is like the blogger, who awaits a response to validate what he writes and why he does it. The symbiotic relationship with ourself is not complete without others to define who we are. Or as I would like to coin it: ‘Blogs is other people’.

So there you have it: I’ve managed to get a quote form the Qu’ran in the title, and references to Rimabud, Nietzsche and Sartre all in one post. And if that doesn’t attract some readers, here’s a picture of a modern intellectual, the “thinking man’s crumpet” (TV Quick, November 1998) Carol Vorderman.

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Salzburg symposium “this is not a protest song” part 2

The second part of the symposium I attended last week in Salzburg featured a speaker simply using the monkier Ubermorgen (meaning: the day after tomorrow), one half of a conceptual art duo based between Switzerland and Vienna (link at bottom).

His appearance was that of a banker, or Greg Wallace from Masterchef – without the charisma. This is not to dismiss his work. He seemed a bit reluctant to be there, so went about the forum by describing his artwork, which seems designed to provoke as much as possible. Examples include the launching of a website in 2000 that offered to auction American’s votes from them and back to affiliated lobbyists. Naturally, this was controversial, resulting in threats by various American organisations and coverage on CNN, yet he defended it by saying it was perfectly legal in Austria to do this. They also created a website featuring Teletext-designed ‘pornography’, launched a telephone helpline for neo-nazis, works in oil-slick art, and organised an exhibition of an installation based on immigration, which featured invitations from an officious, intimidating pseudo-department of the Government. These works resulted in him getting sued/threatened repeatedly, things which he dismissed nonchalantly. 

In contrast to this aloof-dom, during Q&A an art lecturer questioned the validity of the work as art, before expressing aggrievement for the Zurich exhibition on ‘torture’, which actually adopted torture methods in live experiment. The audience member said he had almost walked out because of this sensationalism, accused him of trivialising torture and laughing irreverently about the various issues, and that he’d expected some social comment where there was none. The ‘artist’ responded quite articulately, for someone put on the spot before 70 people. He stated that he takes his work very seriously, thank you very much, and that there is no social comment or political sentiment related to it (despite the fact that each project he described tended to reflect current affairs of that time), and that if the audience member was offended, then sorry, but he wasn’t sorry. I take my work very, very seriously, he added again – in case we didn’t believe him. 

This exchange was the most entertaining thing about the symposium. It reminded me that the British National Curriculum now expects that any creative/practical work be accompanied by skills of evaluation – that is, the students should ‘reflect’ on their process, be self-critical, qualify and justify what they have done, and measure how effective it is.

Quite the opposite of what we often see in the professional world, whether Ubermorgen, or, say, Bob Dylan refusing to talk about the meaning of his music, film directors avoiding comment on theoretical interpretations, etc. Artists, as a collective, seem to be above self-comment – and can instead wave the ‘my work speaks for itself’ flag. That Ubermorgen claim an ‘apolitical’ (or was it ‘amoral’) approach is a bit tired – and the audience member was right: it would have been much more interesting as artwork if he had expressly made some social comment. After all, his organisation does have a manifesto on its website, and the futurists and Dadaists for two were never embarrassed to talk about the meaning of their work in a context of the era it was borne into.

Nevertheless, I liked Ubermorgen and their ideas. Even if their artwork doesn’t really excite me, it’s clear they are impelled to make people react, and there’s nothing wrong with raging against apathy. In fact, re-interpretation of the worlds events in this manner seems to me a cute way of challenging our conventional media’s versions of current affairs, and forcing people to confront uncomfortable truths.

Ubermorgen are busy stirring things up from their safe central-European retreat, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.

http://ubermorgen.com

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Web 2:0 (a little bit of task 4)

I’m a bit behind with posts and responses to the forum of my course (was in Budapest for my birthday at the weekend), but I’ve been immersed in the subject of digital technology in education for weeks now. I’m split between recognising it’s value, and opposing the endorsement of wholesale subscription to these forms for educational curriculum.  I also can’t keep track of what I’ve read in physical paper/book format. If only I had made a clear bibliography, or – if only I had some sort of history catalogue that archives every source I have looked at recently…(I’m inferring the history button on my laptop in a witty, sardonic kind of way here).

You see, without question the potential of technology in education is great. So, while I have recently sneered at the idea of YouTube university, or disparaged the idea of Quest2Learn (http://q2l.org) I have also recently discovered podcasts (at last), and listened for hours while driving to fascinatingly incomprehensible lectures and interviews on the CERN project. But read a book on Quantum Physics? Me? Not this confused Luddite.

What concerns me is linked to Nicholas Carr’s opus ‘The Shallows’ – a speculative hypothesis about the impact of technology on our brain power. Sure, kids can multitask, or – according to the ‘Confronting the Challenges’ report which describes the new skills that new media provide – ‘negotiate’, ‘appropriate’ and ‘use judgement’ (are these exclusive to new media?). But can they bake a loaf of bread? My feeling is that we are trying to justify and intellectualise these new tools, and framework their capabilities within fashionable thinking – to be hip, to be sophisticated with their potential, and to ensure we still engage with new generations interests – and why not?

Well, one reason. It’s called education for a reason: it’s not play. It’s something a bit more formulaic. I’m a bit of a liberalist in educational approach, but I scoff at devising schooling systems based around games culture. On my PGCE, one teasing question posed to us among the varying ideologies of education was ‘should we make learning fun? Should we dumb-down and make it easier to engage with things?’ Sometimes I think not, (and not only because I went to a dreary old-school state comprehensive). There is a value in hard-work, in investigation, and Google, Wikipedia, and every other tool is in danger of standardising, whereas we should be enriching our scope and approach. Yet for this same reason, we should embrace every tool at our disposal, be they books or blogs, poems or podcasts, seminars or (that’s enough alliteration…)

Where is the gestalt moment, the epiphany of ‘Eureka’, when we can click a button and think we have arrived at a (Wiki)answer to our question? Wherefore discovery?

My old Media programme manager said that to get kids to imagine and understand the socio-economic consequences of digital media today you had to work backwards, to get them to imagine life without the tools they are accustomed to. This I encourage, and build on: we should sometimes switch off all this new stuff, to diversify and open our cognitive ability to the old forms, which have worked perfectly well up to now. For this reason I’m in agreement with Ohler, who urges student self-reflection, evaluation and questioning of the worth/value of these forms…is this because they are so common-place? Did teachers of the past encourage learners to wonder if libraries and blackboards were so useful…..o brave new world….

Illustrated with images from the Communications Department library of the University of Salzburg.ImageImageImageImage

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Toilets truly are strange in Salzburg….a rant on realities…

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An interactive Toilet facility at Hanger Sieben - the plane museum opened by the Red Bull owner.

More updates from Salzburg. Here is a….ok, I don’t know the name for this. It appeared to be an interactive game in the toilets at Hanger7. I’ll have to investigate exactly what it is next time I’m there..but it seems like a way to draw and post a message…from a toilet.

I post this here in case Ben Bachmair reads it, so I can support his assertion that toilets truly are strange in Salzburg.

Despite it being a building containing models of planes and fast cars, Hanger7 is actually a pretty interesting place and architectural design, and has cool bogs.

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Heart-shaped locks

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Sad sightseers

This is from one of the bridges over the Salzach. Lovers attach padlocks on the wire bridge, which is very sweet indeed. Not much else to comment on this. It is what it is.

I include the next one in response to something I saw Mol Famau in North Wales last week. It seems that while walking in the lovely Clwydians you can access some sort of podcast historical and cultural guide to the area on a phone or MP3…to be honest, I didn’t investigate this as I really can’t believe that nature can be improved on by anything synthetic.

When I saw this tour group here today it made me think that a human guide will always be better, in my humble opinion, than anything accessed technologically. This includes the new apps described in an article I read recently on ‘augmented reality’ – which if you don’t know is something that’s getting nerdy-techy people very excited, such as the people who appear in this video link about the concept: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-16387833

Augmented reality is promoted as the next big thing after virtual reality. In short, you point your smartphone at something, GPS and digital compasses place your position and determine your direction, the camera reads an image, and wireless signals load your image with information from online sources, uploaded by others.

It’s an interesting concept and has its uses, and in a recent article on this it was sold in terms of ‘conquering’ or enhancing the experience of nature (e.g. pointing a Smartphone at a mountain range would tell you their names, their heights, perhaps different routes up and down…in short, practical information).

I can also imagine ‘AR’ being quite useful walking through a foreign city, and acting as a guide, telling you about architecture or sites of historical incident. Nevertheless, as in the above image, could it really supplement a real human being with all that they bring to such an experience?

I find the idea of classifying everything and knowing everything about the world around you somewhat dull. Mystery, wonder and unknowing and a quest for discovery are tantalising parts of growth and human experience. A Smartphone takes something away from that by giving you limitless, continual intensive, and sometimes unwanted, information (much like going anywhere with my Dad and being subject to a constant monologue of encylopedic data). Do I want that when drifting through a new city, or crossing a mountain range? Possibly…it’s there for some, and not for others…

Voltaire said:  “nature abhors a vacuum”…this is being fulfilled with the knowledge our species provides, and technology is a means to communicate that.

Augment, of course, means to ‘better’ something. Is it a better thing to use technology to entertain and inform us in environments where we might yearn escape from knowing? Consider the padlocks in the photo above. Part of their charm is in the secrecy of who placed them there. SmartPhones are not so smart, but perhaps – in fact – just a little bit cocky.

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Blogging like a beginner – a tour of Salzburg by iPod

Apropos of an essay on this here blog format…

I am trying to post according to students, to be on their end of things – as if they were being instructed to use the form.

From Fielder (in Downes): “These tools offer a new and powerful toolkit for the support of collaborative and individual learning that adheres to the patterns of contemporary information-intensive work and learning outside of formal educational settings.”

So, I decided to take my iPod out into the city and record my everyday environment in image form. I’m not sure what my intention is, but I’m interested in Herr Bachmair’s lecture where he took the kids out with cameras. I’m wondering how I could do something similar with students, to incorporate learning outside formal educational settings. What value does this have? I’d better act like one.

Well, I also want to try to evaluate whether what I am doing meets any of the new skill sets outlined in Confronting the Challenges (MacArthur Foundation)…so it’s a little experiment and I’ll see where it goes, and try to draw dynamic educational values from the activity. I’d appreciate any feedback, or reflection on supposed ‘educational value’ of merely uploading images.  Firstly, I’ll give you a wee tour of Salzburg.. by virtue of the CTC paper, I imagine this activity can be linked to skill sets such as ‘simulation’, play, and – tenuously perhaps – distributed cognition.

I have done this in an arbitrary and  spontaneous way, so it may not be particularly meaningful – however, I am fairly sure of how students at  BTEC levels would respond to a similar instruction to ‘go out and record your environment and interpret it’…and this is the task I’ve set myself…

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I is Another

Coming soon…something new, and rather exciting…

but for today, a Rimbaud quote about blogs written in 1871

“so many egoists proclaim themselves authors: there are plenty of others who attribute their intellectual progress to themselves”

 

Happy Day!

: )

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