Monday, January 9, 2017

The proper amount of attention

You know those local artists who dedicate their lives to their art? Who work ceaselessly on their projects, utilizing all the time and resources at their disposal in a single-minded pursuit of doing the work. Who, at the end of the day, look back on what they have accomplished and deep within their souls know that the world needs more of it. Who live and breathe art as surely as everyone else breathes air.

You know the kind. Those who never actually succeed in getting anywhere, and at most impact the most immediate neighbors. Those who get chosen when the producers of local television scrapes the barrel for what to feature next, and whose daytime programs have audiences counted in double digits.

You have seen those shows. Right before you zap over to another channel, because who cares, right?

I want you to have this category of people as a template. They work hard, are earnest in their efforts, and get absolutely no recognition for it. They are, for all intents and purposes, literal nobodies.

This is the template for how to treat neo-nazis (and their alt right alter egos). This is the proper amount of attention to give them. This is the baseline.

If you are in tune with the current zeitgeist, you might instinctively think that there is some element of free speech at play here. Resist this instinct - the biggest problem with neo-nazis is not that people have not heard their arguments. To the contrary: an entire generation of a whole continent got to hear it point blank, and wrote extensively about why that particular ideology is a bad idea all around. The message has been heard; spreading it even further would not bring any additional insight into the present condition.

Ask instead why the issue of free speech actualized at the mention of neo-nazis rather than the ineffectual local artist. Examine the assumptions at work in that line of thinking, and put some critical distance between it and yourself.

Then go find one of those local artists. Chances are they actually do have useful insights into the present condition, in wait of someone to notice them. -

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Making translations work

There are certain advantages to having English as a second language (aside from the ever present point that no one has English as their first language). One of them is that you have access to a whole realm of non-English thoughts and traditions, and can escape into it from the goings-on of the international realm. When the going gets rough, the locals go local.

And, of course, you have a brutally efficient means of encryption at the ready at all times. Just don't bother to translate, och ditt budskap blir obegripligt utan att du behöver anstränga dig alls. Very handy, very convenient.

One counter-intuitive advantage of belonging to a non-English language area is that books are translated into your language. To be sure, given sufficient fluency, it doesn't matter one way or the other whether a certain text is translated or not. It's still the same text, after all. Except for one subtle difference: the introductions.

It takes time and effort to translate a text, even if you are only mechanically flipping the words from one language to another. It takes even more time and effort to translate a text in such a way that context, intent, nuance, references and allusions find their way across. Most of that extra effort takes the form of someone who knows the subject matter being paid for their labor, meaning that the decision to translate something is both a matter of wanting the text to be translated, and being able to justify the expense of doing it.

Now, Swedish is not a huge language on the world stage, as you might imagine. Even more so since most swedes know English anyway, and can just as easily pick up the original version for the same reading experience. The market of monolingual swedes is not large enough to support just-because translations. Which actualizes the justification of expense mentioned above: why do the work if it's all the same?

The Swedish answer has been to establish a long tradition of writing introductions to translated works. Long and comprehensive introductions, which touch upon most of the things a reader might or ought to know before heading into the text proper. When reading a translated work, you do not only get the work in and of itself - you also get yourself a proper grounding as to what kind of work lies before you. You are, for all intents and purposes, introduced. More so than those who read the original, untranslated work.

This is what marketing people call a selling point.

It is also something that those of you who are monolingual will never find out unless someone tells you about it. So, thus. See a need, fill a need. -

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Dress for the future you want, not the one you foresee

An understated aspect of my Discursive Anomalies is that they are not one-off affairs. I carry them with me, and try them out on things I encounter. They are, in a way, a toolbox. The nature of these tools or what situations they are meant to improve is as of yet unknown, and that is part of the point. When the time comes, the tools will be there.

Lately, I have been thinking back on the post about Jonathon Green's depiction of the 60s counterculture of Great Britain. It accomplishes something it really ought not to accomplish: by describing many contemporary constituent parts of a time period, without really piecing them together, it conveys a better sense of the times than a more integrated approach would. It is all nows: one now after another, juxtaposed in such a manner as to bring context through sheer numbers. It is not a point of view, but you end up with one nevertheless.

It is all very backwards, and all very straightforward. Integrated and holistic points of view are artifacts of hindsight, not readily available to those living in the moment. In the moment, there are only constituent parts, who disappear when we find ourselves with something more interesting to do.

I wonder what a similar depiction of our time would look like. What the distinguishing characteristics and vital constituent parts will turn out to be.

I suspect it would be a mixture of things we take for granted and things we cannot see due to being too close to them. The Trump election would most likely warrant a mention, alongside some massive landslide of a long-term change that happens on the other side of the world we have yet to see the ramifications of. The rattling of sabers on both sides of the old Cold War will probably be discussed as an ambient factor, but the real background tune of the future has every probability of being recorded in a suburb of an African town whose name we will never know. Perhaps meme culture will be a thing; perhaps it turns out a revived ancient tribal practice performs the same functions with far greater efficiency, sneaking in from the periphery.

History has a way of becoming those things that happened alongside those other things we paid attention to.

This state of things is a hopeful one. It implies that the world is not limited to what can be seen in the news. It also implies, through the same logic, that there are still surprises left in the world, ready to strike from so far out of left field that they cannot but be discursively anomalous.

It implies that we could be the one causing these unforeseen consequences, by engaging in some fit of passion that in hindsight turned out to be more important than we could have imagined.

That is a good future. We should prepare for it. -

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

If you can't beat them, beat them by joining them

The administration of the president-elect of the United States is in something of a hurry. Apparently, they didn't foresee the eventuality of actually becoming the administration of the president-elect of the United States, and thus didn't bother with the formality of specifying exactly who is in the administration of the president-elect of the United States.

That is over 4000 job positions, to be filled by early January. Or, to put it in a more manageable number: a hundred appointments to be made a day until the next presidency begins.

This is something of a pickle, to be sure. The usual way to go about these things is to begin months in advance to make sure the best people are placed in the right positions, with any number of checks and balances and procedures to facilitate the process. It isn't something that happens overnight, and being in the position to very soon have to literally make it happen overnight is not something to envy.

As you might imagine, this means that things have to be done faster than usual. If you can't imagine, try counting to a hundred, and then read a hundred names out loud. It takes a while just to enumerate the positions and the names that go with them, and the work has to be done at breakneck speed. There is bound to be something of a drop in quality of the process, and due to this, less than optimal choices will inevitably be made.

This means that being considered for a position is a very good thing to be these days. The speed at which the whole ordeal has to be completed brings with it the temptation to just pick a name from the pile of available names and make it official. Speed is of the essence, and the positions must be filled before the next presidency begins.

Fortunately for you - if you are a US citizen of somewhat good standing - it is very possible to apply for jobs in the next administration. And given the sped-up process described above, now might very well be the best possible moment to just send in an application and hope it sticks.

Just like a certain president elect-did.

If you find yourself thinking that you are not qualified for a cushy top government job - do not worry too much about it. You have a grasp of basic science and are a somewhat decent human being, which means that whoever you displace is a worse choice than you are. If we work on the principle of doing no harm, you will most definitely do less harm than someone who believes that the bible is literal truth and that climate change is a myth perpetuated to weaken the bargaining position of western nations. You have what it takes.

Also, I hear the healthcare benefits are to die for.

The application form can be found here. Make yourself known.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Continuity, but not too much

The US presidential election will soon be over, and the world will sigh in relief. Finally, there will be something else in the news than how terrible the two candidates are, and we can all go back to the business of not knowing what Thanksgiving is or exactly how or when it is supposed to be celebrated.

Normality will return. And there will be another Clinton as a president.

Paradoxically, it will be more interesting to see what the Republican party makes of Trump after the election than during it. During it, they will have to manage a fine theological line of being loyal to the party but only in spirit. Afterwards, they'll have to construe the whole ordeal as some kind of discursive anomaly that only occurred due to aberrant circumstances. A freak accident. Something that, during the years to come, will be referred to as "that one time", the exception to normalcy.

Undoubtedly, there will be generous amounts of sophistry, retconning and outright lying to make it happen. One does not simply erase billions of dollars of brand promotion without effort. The next step in making America great again will, ironically, involve forgetting that very phrase.

Constructing a discursive anomaly also means constructing the thing it is anomalous to. If Trump is to be made a weird thing that cannot possibly happen again, some sort of Republican identity will have to be rediscovered or invented, and then presented as the sane, rational, absolutely non-Trump baseline. To erase the past and move on to a better future. Build a better mousetrap, as it were.

It is one of those inherently American traditions. Like Thanksgiving.

Monday, October 24, 2016

You love the Left

It is so tremendously handy. If anything stupid is ever uttered, someone from the Left uttered it. If something stupid happens, someone on the Left thought it a good idea. If something ever goes wrong, there is always some specter of the Left causing it.

This state of things solves the ever so tricky problem of finding someone to blame. It is after all something of a hassle to analyze the situation, understand the historical context and identify the motives of all the relevant moving parts. It is an even bigger hassle to admit that things are complex and more often than not ended up the way are without anyone actually wanting them that way.

Blaming the Left is so much easier. Whatever it is, whatever has happened, whatever the situation. It was always the Left.

The only thing left is to admit it. You love the Left.

The alternative is, as you already know, an uncomfortable hassle.

Originally published May 26, 2015

Words about words about you

Looking back on the now not so recent Discursive Anomaly on plagiarism, I realized just how much of a multi-stage process source use is. And, moreover, how many stages of knowing what it is about there actually are. It's not as simple as knowing or not knowing, but rather a complex coming into one's own as a reading subject.

Here are some sketches of these stages. To give you something to think about.

The first stage is not being aware at all of the use or purpose of using sources. While I suspect humans are incapable of existing in this state in a more general sense (the phrase "but mom said" is in fact source use), in the context of writing they can and do exist without it. Reporting what someone else has written is not an intuitive concept, and like writing itself it has to be learned.

The next stage is knowing that sources can be used. Even if it is only rudimentary, or mechanically. Or, as in many a case, that there's an expectation to put something like (Foucault 1975) at an appropriate looking spot in the text. The text needs to relate to other texts somehow, or at least go through the motions of doing so.

This might seem like a trivial difference. The step from not being aware of something and being superficially aware of it is not a big step. But, as with many things, you have to start somewhere, and then gradually work through it. Even if the baby steps will look awkward in hindsight.

Next up is knowing that not all sources are good, and that some ought to be avoided. Simply having a source does not a well-grounded text make, and knowing what counts as a good source and what does not count is a skillset all of its own. The ability to look upon different texts and see what they have to offer to the specific context of one's own writing is a skill that takes time, practice and familiarity to grow.

These things are not made easier by different contexts drawing upon different bodies of knowledge. Sometimes, drawing upon Wikipedia is frowned upon, while at other times it is perfectly fine. It all depends, and finding out exactly on what it all depends (genre, tradition, situation, politics, policies, etc) is a slow and wordy process.

Next up is to summarize a line of argument. That is to say, to in some fashion paraphrase a text to give readers some insight into what it has to say. This goes beyond simply invoking the name (Foucault 1975) or saying that someone said something. Giving an account of what someone else has said, and working through the steps of it in a fair fashion, takes more work than it seems. It forces you as a reader to look closely at what the sourced text does, and to understand it well enough to give a fair account in your own words of it.

Texts do more than they seem to at first glance. Reading a text once and getting the gist of it is all well and good. But when read again, you'll find that the text makes all kinds of assumptions and uses a wide range of premises that your first glance didn't catch. Summarizing a text and conveying its core message means sorting through which of its parts are important and which are not. Figuring out what's what can sometimes take more time than might be reasonable to expect.

The point here is to take the strong points of someone else's argument and repurpose them in your own writing. No need to reinvent the wheel when you can borrow the schematics, as it were.

Next up is finding out that you do not have to agree with what you source. You can summarize it (as indicated above), and then go on to explain why you don't agree with it. Of course, simply saying that you do not agree with it is somewhat of a waste of verbiage - the fact that you have given a summary of what the other said means you can go into specific detail of why and how you don't agree. You can get real.

You still have to do the work of summarizing the other's line of argument in a fair and correct way, though. If you get it wrong, then the fact that they got it wrong first is lost upon closer inspection.


Next up is comparing and contrasting. That is to say, to summarize several texts and see how (or if) they relate to each other. The point of this is to put things and texts into context, and to make sure that this context is one of your own making. It is one of the hardest things to do, writing wise, but if you can manage to source several texts in such a way that your own point of view comes across in the process, you have a power that is both immense and beyond comprehension.

Next up is whatever you well damn please. You can take texts and make them dance. Compare a beautiful passage here with a striking argument there, and see what interesting thought children they make.

I suspect they will be beautiful striking and interesting by virtue of being yours. -