21 May


I bit the inside of my cheek a day or two ago, and now I’m developing this (canker) sore. Listerine doesn’t quite do it for such things; I was just thinking I need something like Anbesol, which I’ve never actually tried, but I remember a TV ad years ago in which this toddler was crying and then he suddenly stopped and said “Anbesol.” It was kinda creepy. Anyone else remember that?

09 May

Real Tire Part 3

Alright, so those girls in the convertible didn’t really come up to me and offer me a beer. In fact, I’ll admit the whole beer truck thing was false. It’s just that the real story kinda fell flat at that moment, so I figured I’d invent a better story.

What really happened (after the girls left) was this guy rides by fast on a fast-looking bike, and I say quickly, “hey, you got any air?” He turns around and comes back to me and we start talking as he gets out a CO2 cartridge. It comes out that I’m training for the Ironman, and he asks if I got in, and I say yes, and he says congratulations, and I say thanks, and he asks if I’m in the headhunters.

I let him operate his own CO2 cartridge inflation device on my tire, which all goes pretty smoothly, and I thank him profusely. I feel indebted to him, so I show an interest in the conversation he’s making. Turns out he knows one of the teachers at West, who did the Ironman last year; he himself is in the headhunters, but he didn’t get into the Ironman this year. I write his email down on the back of the Gum poem, and we part ways.

When I get home, the gnome is waiting for me in the driveway.

08 May

Lecture on Postmodernism

Of course, there’s a little more to it than that, but Modernism in a nutshell is all about the attempt to find the foundation or underlying truth.

Nowadays, however, we live in a postmodern society. Postmodernism is almost the next logical step to follow Modernism. In short, Postmodernism critiques the critics and claims that you can’t come up with universal theories to explain the world.

Some more definitions:

Some guy named Lyotard, whose name immediately makes me think of this,
a leotard,
argued “that Modern philosophies legitimized their truth claims not on logical and empirical grounds, but rather on the grounds of accepted stories (metanarratives) about knowledge and the world. In our postmodern condition, these metanarratives no longer work to legitimize truth claims.”

Postmodernists are “skeptical of binary oppositions [. . .] such as the expectation that the philosopher may cleanly isolate knowledge from ignorance.”

Postmodernism is “an openness to meaning and authority from unexpected places, so that the ultimate source of authority is the ‘play’ of the discourse itself.”

Following this at all? Freud’s got some interesting theories, but he had an abusive father (maybe) and he did a lot of coke, so, you know, those things might have gotten in the way of his uncovering the underlying truth.

Postmodernism takes Modernism one step further. It’s like, “okay, that’s not a pipe, I get it, but then what about this:”
is it a triangle?
Is it a triangle?

This might prompt you to say “whoa!” like Keanu Reeves as Neo in The Matrix. If so, you might be on to something. This French guy, Jean Baudrillard, wrote a book called Simulacra and Simulation, which is one of the first books attempting to theorize the postmodern condition. He’s close to impossible to understand, but in the first chapter of his book, he references a story by Jorge Luis Borges in which some cartographers draw up a map of an Empire. The map is so detailed, it “ends up covering the territory exactly.” As the Empire declines, the map begins to fray and fall apart, except in the deserts, where it remains visible.

The story is a metaphor for our society nowadays. Our current culture presents a representation of real life that is more real to us than what it’s representing. Does that make sense to you? It’s like when people who spend a lot of time online begin typing “teh” to mean “the,” or “pwns” to mean “owns.” The typos become the word.

The distinction between reality and the representation is so blurred that we’re essentially living in the representation (the map). Think about it: this is what The Matrix is all about. Everyone is literally living in a virtual reality. But is The Matrix descriptive of our lives? Aren’t we all in some sense plugged into media, into consumer society, into just being fuel for a greater system?

Think of how many people wouldn’t eat chicken if they had to actually watch the animal being killed. They’re removed from the reality of what eating meat means.

Think about how many people go around quoting from their favorite movies or TV shows all the time.

Think about how many people believe there was a link between Saddam and Osama.

Think about video games. Or that online game called Second Life.

In The Matrix, when Morpheus is explaining the matrix to Neo, he shows him the real world and says, “Welcome to the desert of the real.” This is a direct reference to Baudrillard, who claimed that our current world is like Borges’ fable except that we’re living on the map and the actual territory is rotting away — with a few exceptions in the deserts.

All sorts of interesting philosophical issues emerge from postmodern theory:

07 May

Lecture on Modernism

Busy week. Sometimes, there’s just no way around taking in papers in every class you teach. This week was one of those times.

That’s my excuse for the lack of material in the past few days.

And in order to avoid having to make an excuse for the next couple of days, I’m just going to post the rough drafts of my lectures for my Science Fiction class, which means that you all (all six of you) will get to learn about Modernism, Postmodernism, and what those two terms have to do with current science fiction. Yay!

Lesson one is on Modernism.

Western culture (which means Europe and the US, for the most part) goes through cultural periods; you’ve probably heard of some of them. The Rennaissance, the Enlightenment, Romanticism, the Victorian Age — those sorts of things. These periods are defined by the trends that go on in philosophy, science, literature, art, music, and politics (to name just a few things).

We’re concerned with the Modern period and the Postmodern period since the vast majority of all science fiction can be said to be the products of these two periods.

First, Modernism. Modernism came about in part because of the industrial revolution (which happened in the early 1800s). These sorts of dates aren’t like the war of 1812; it’s a little harder to pin down a change in culture. But people who know these things usually say that Modernism started somewhere around 1880 or 1890.

Modernism was critical of society. It didn’t trust progress. It was revolutionary. But it did have faith in rationality and it was holistic. A wikipedia entry says that “modernism attempted to wrest universal principles from situations.”

Let’s start with this famous painting by Magritte:

This is not a pipe.

Those French words mean, “This is not a pipe.” Magritte’s point was that his painting was in fact, not a pipe! It was a painting of a pipe, and the sooner we all admit that, the better off we’ll be. See, man, you’ve got to look beyond your subjective view of the world to the foundation underneath — the underlying truth.

From here, art moves toward color and shape, away from its attempts to depict things realistically. Check out cubism:

or artists like Kandinsky:
Composition VIII

Or we can move away from art into psychology! Take Freud, who claimed the “mind had a basic and fundamental structure,” (a foundation — an underlying truth) “and that subjective experience was based on the interplay of the parts of the mind. All subjective reality was based, according to Freud’s ideas, on the play of basic drives and instincts, through which the outside world was perceived” (wikipedia).

That’s it. That’s Modernism. In short, they claimed that there was an underlying truth, but that you had to get beyond your subjective experience of reality.