Sunday, September 22, 2013

It's the aliens, stupid!

The world is ruled by aliens. And they demand things from us. A lot of things. And they are never satiated - they want ever more things. Always more.

They do not seem to care what these things are. Only that there's a lot of them, and that they are the end result of a long manufacturing process - the longer the better.

If we do not live up to this quota of massively manufactured mass productivity, these aliens will eat us. They will begin with the children, and then work their way up the age groups. Eventually, we will all be eaten by our alien overlords, a fate worse than death.

And certainly worse than you average workday. To be sure.

This is the one explanation I can find to why there is still a widespread insistence on everyone working at full capacity at all times. Should one look at the rate of productivity increase, one would conclude that we've already passed the point where we produce all we need and will ever need. Should one look at the increasing rates of unemployment, one would conclude that unemployment is a permanent feature of the modern economy (and cannot be otherwise, given the aforementioned productivity increases). And should one look at the ever more creative and sadistic ways of punishing those who happen to be unemployed in an economy that neither want, need or afford them - one would conclude that someone has a deep seated hate for their fellow human beings.

Given all this, aliens is the one reasonable explanation. They will eat our babies if we cut ourselves and the planet some slack, and it is indeed the very end of humanity if you don't show up to work eight hours a day five days a week forty years of your life.

It is the one explanation that makes sense.

You rarely get to say that about aliens. But given the state of the economy - why not?

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Information underload

Every minute some forty-eight odd hours of video are uploaded to Youtube.

Every minute, hundreds of songs are written.

Ever minute, thousands of blog posts are posted.

Every minute, hundreds of thousands pictures are taken.

Every minute, millions of thoughts, ideas and opinions are exchanged.

With this in mind - how come we constantly see the same reruns on television, hear the same songs on the radio, read the same old recycled opinions in the newspapers, see the same stock photos everywhere, and on the whole fail to be confronted with all those things that were not always-already the default mode of the mainstream media?

How do the radio stations get away with playing the same playlist over and over and over again? How on earth does the mainstream media get away with limiting their repertoires to the ridiculously narrow array of repeated repeated repeated? How is it possible to maintain this information underload?

I do not understand this.

Originally published June 7, 2012

How do you translate authority?

You may or mat not have thought about it, but I have a category named "translations". As you might imagine, it contains things of a translated nature, written by the very translator that writes these very words.

I sure wrote a lot of things back in the days. As in, thousands of them.

Translating these things poses a quite interesting set of challenges. Not least among these are those relating to genre and context - how do you go about translating things that are part political pamphlets, part engaging in a very particular community of discourse, and part exploratory writings whose only motivation were the author's pleasure in spending time with a particular thought?

Needless to say, there are certain things lost in translations.

Another difficulty lies in the intertextual dimension. One text talks to, relies on and presumes familiarity with another, which in turn does the very same things to an other, and so on in a great chain of textual being. Which, in practical terms, means that you can't really just translate the one text and be done with it - you have to dig back in time to the one text that stands (or can be made to stand) on its own contextual feat (or feet), and then move forward from there. Until you reach the point where enough inter- has been suffixed to the text you initially wanted to translate.

There is an aspect of archeology and genealogy at work here.

Yet another difficulty lies in the notion of fidelity. Time has passed between the writing and the translating, after all. New things have been learned, new experiences had, and new patterns of writing adopted. The translator is (hopefully) always wiser than the author, and all those mistakes that were made at the time of writing are visible with the predictive clarity of hindsight. And there is the ever present temptation to learn from the past, correct the mistakes and improve upon the present.

As the author, I do profess to claim some authority of/on the text at hand. Changes were made. Fidelity be damned.

All this applies. And that without the added complexity of having to take into account the triple hermeneutics of translating something that is not of one's own writing.

The question is, indeed - how do you translate authority?

Friday, September 6, 2013

Don't preform me, bro! Perform, me!

Whenever someone mentions grammar, there is a tendency for eyes to glaze over. Or, equally likely, a general hostility on the basis of perceived imminent snobbery. Which is interesting, as there are few things in the world that are equally likely to cause indifference and hostility - this in and of itself tells us something.

It does not however go without saying. That would be the opposite of grammar.

Grammar never goes without saying. It is the saying.

The most common way to think about grammar is to think about rules, rules and more rules. A comprehensive set of rules that are imposed willy-nilly on you, mostly in an educational setting, where you are more often than not found to be in the wrong. Wrong in the sense of a red marker pointing out just how unruly you are, in an unequivocal display of the relationship between ruler and ruled.

This is what the education system drills into its pupils. It is also, quite ironically, wrong.

Grammar is not a system of rules. It is an applied skill, a mastery, a competence. A call to action, an agency. A way of navigating the world.

An art.

The art of knowing how to string words together in a way that makes social sense. When it makes social sense. Even and especially when the rules of formal grammar are broken.

Maybe it is better to say it in a slogan. The most brute force of all the grammatical maneuvers:

Grammar is a gateway drug to poetry.

Something else that doesn't go without saying.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Know, now!

August has just ended, and we have entered into the venerable month of September. Summer is slowly fading away, and Autumn is gracefully flowing into the lives of those so fortunate as to breathe the outside air.

This is fortunate, as it means that August is over, and I can focus on something that is not written exams.

It is a strange feature that emerges from the bureaucracy of universities. There's a lot of exams going on, and there's a lot of people not quite getting it right the first time. Or the second time. Which gives rise to the occasion of third times, and thus to the need to administrate all these times all the time. A need fulfilled by the month of August, wherein every and all accumulated third times are discharged all at once. One after the other, in something akin to an academic orgy. All the answers are given to all the questions, and as the Autumn gracefully flows in, the administrators can put to rest the ghosts of Spring.

Written exams are strange that way.

The strangest thing about them is that you pass or fail them by how you answer them. Not by what is in your answer, or if that is in fact the correct answer, but by how that answer is.

Discourse is a performance, and the way to pass an exam is to perform adequately. Which sometimes leads you to the strange situation where you know what the answer is, but not how to perform it. You know that the answer is x, but you will not pass if you simply write x - you have to make the right noises, invoke the right authorities and nudge the right nudges. Otherwise, it won't count.

In the end, it comes down to this: do you fit in with the community of discourse?

Whenever someone says that knowledge is socially constructed, this is what they mean. Just knowing something in and of itself won't cut it - you have to perform it, knowingly. Otherwise, it won't count.

As in the case of the gay refugee that had to prove his homosexuality by naming five songs by Madonna.

As you might imagine, this is not a local issue. It is not specific to the month of August, it is not specific to the life of the university, and it is not specific to any one discourse. It is a feature of discourse as such. Of what it means to be a person who knows something, someone who can be said to know something.

It is something that makes itself known every day to those who go about life knowing things without knowing how to perform. Those who will never be privy to the obscure inner workings of the university as an institution, or indeed the often illuminated interior decor of the university as a building.

They don't count. In any number of ways.

This is not the Winter of our discontent. We're still a few short months away from that.