Monday, December 19, 2005

Open society (warning: "subversive" content follows!)

I was just forwarded this article about an undergraduate student at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth. Apparently, agents from the US Department of Homeland Security paid him a visit, after he had checked out a copy of Mao's "Little Red Book" through the library's inter-library loan service. Ironically, the student had requested the book so that he could write a paper about the dangers of totalitarianism.

Though I've been aware of US librarians' efforts to safeguard patrons' borrowing information, I hadn't caught wind of the fact that some, clearly, aren't doing so. I'm chilled further by the fact that this occurred through a university library's borrowing program. I happen to work at a university, and I suspect many of you reading D&R do, too.

I read the aforementioned article with a sense that things have changed here in the US--particularly since the coming online of the USA Patriot Act (a painfully laughable name for such a pernicious piece of legislation). It's clear that there's a growing climate of fear here among intellectuals, and no doubt others, too. Yet, I am forced to remind myself how intellectuals have been persecuted for decades, even centuries, around the world for just these kinds of activities, often by more than just a "visit" by local security agents. I also am compelled to reflect on the fact that I came of age at a relatively safe, and thus privileged, time in the US academy, when nobody seemed to care if you checked out a copy of Mao's "Little Red Book," Marx and Engels' "Communist Manifesto," or some other politically charged ("unpatriotic") piece of writing.

I suppose, ultimately, the article I've linked to is very clarifying. It underscores the stakes of doing meaningful, engaged intellectual work at a time when it's unpopular (from the government's standpoint) to dissent. Visits by homeland security for checking out Mao's "Little Red Book?" Those clearly must stop--and the climate of fear and intimidation that goes along with them.

P.S. If you decide to comment, watch what you say. "They" may be reading, too. . . .

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

On beyond Deleuze & Guattari, redux

My November 27th entry, "On beyond Deleuze & Guattari," concerned the dynamic duo and various practices by which to engage their philosophical work. It turns out that Jonathan Sterne picked this piece up on his Blog, "Super Bon!" and extended the discussion into a broader--and very smart--engagement with theory. Check it out.

Jonathan makes several good points, but at least two are worth mentioning within the context of my foregoing discussion. First, he adds a category to my framework, which he calls "commentary." A lot of what passes for "theory," he notes, amounts to little more than one's flatly discussing the theoretical work of others. Second, he notes that what I (ahem, dismissively) refer to as "rhizome spotting" indeed can be an important step in building and extending one's own theoretical work, as in the case of Paul Gilroy's parlaying the notion of a rhizome into a compelling formulation of countermodernity and the Black Atlantic. I couldn't agree more--and thanks, Jonathan, for helping me to fine tune what was, admittedly, a cursory set of musings on philosophy and the politics of doing theory.

On an unrelated note, it's finals time here and the you-know-what's hitting the fan. My posts, as a result, may be fewer and farther between for awhile.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

I don't know why-pod

Okay, I'll admit that (a) I'm privileged enough to own an Apple iPod and (b) that I enjoy using it a great deal. I'll also say that I have one of the earlier-generation models--not one of the newer, fancier ones with colors, video screens, and gargantuan hard drives, but a more modest one with room enough for a modest music collection.

I'm intrigued--and disturbed--by Apple's recent decision to start selling television programs for use on iPods for US$1.99. I suppose the price is cheap enough if you have a video-capable iPod, and, besides, it's nice to have an opportunity to view a favorite show on demand. But in my more Orwellian moments, I have this vision of already expensive pay-for television getting even more expensive. I currently pay about US$50/month for basic cable television services. Now imagine a world in which typical television services (off-air, cable, and satellite) have been replaced by subscriptions to iPod/iTunes-distributed TV. Figuring that a typical TV program in the U.S. runs about 22 episodes per season, that would mean an annual subscription to any given program would set you back about US$44 (assuming no subscriber discounts, which would result in commercials getting spliced back into the programs). That's almost the cost of my monthly cable bill, and that's just for the right to download a single season of a single program.

Apple's decision to distribute TV programming through its iPod/iTunes service is genius--in that devilish, capitalist kind of way. Assuming the service catches on, the potential economic windfall for both the TV producers and for Apple could be astonishing. Of course, their astonishing revenue stream very well could mean emptier pockets for those of us on the receiving end of things.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Cap codes...?

A student in my graduate seminar wants to write a paper on cap codes. What's a cap code, you ask? Well, that's the problem. Very few people seem to be talking about them, at least publicly. Here's a link to a short entry on cap codes on Wikipedia.

Apparently cap codes are small, unique, visible sets of symbols that the Hollywood movie studios now encode onto film prints. They're sort of like the flashes that used to indicate upcoming reel changes to projectionists. In this case, however, the codes identify which cinema a specific print has been sent to. The point of cap coding is to forestall movie piracy--or, at the very least, to help the studios identify which exhibition hall is responsible for letting an illicit duplicate leave the theather and thus to track down alleged "pirates."

My student tells me that the phenomenon of cap coding is fairly widespread, but most everyone involved--the theaters, the trade magazines, the studios, etc.--are pretty hush-hush about the practice. Anyone out there know anything about this or have any leads? Conspiracy theorists are, of course, welcome to chime in, too.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Naturalism in Lefebvre

If it's not abundantly clear by now, I'm a big admirer of Henri Lefebvre, particularly his writings on everyday life. Obviously, I'm also taken by his understanding of the relationship of everyday life and repetition, or better yet the relationship of everyday life and two forms of repetition: a deadened repetition of the Same and a more open, vital form of repetition in which the act of repeating holds forth possibilities for creation, improvisation, and change.

I'm struggling, though, with the scant examples he gives of the latter form of repetition. My favorite, which I quoted in my entry, "Why do I write?" concerns the sense of promise and wonderment one might receive from watching the sun rise. This example speaks, I think, to a persistent naturalism in Lefebvre, as though the kind of repetition to which we ought to be striving is a cosmic one that's intimately connected with the heavens and the earth. I wonder if that kind of "return," for lack of a better word, is tenable in (post-)industrial societies? Is there, perhaps, a less naturalistic form of repetition that also might open pathways for change?