Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Saturday, April 12, 2008

A Weekend in the Weeds

Deadlines for MA Theses for my students in the City and for my Honors Thesis students at Berkeley are near, and I am poring over final and near-final drafts of so many projects at the moment it is a bit overwhelming. There's no question that there's something incredibly exhilarating about this part of the job, rather than devoting all my energies to crafting some summation of some enormously complex text or other by Kant or Foucault or Fanon or Butler to present in my own terms and in a compelling way in a hour's time three or four times a week, I get instead to immerse myself in somebody else's work in progress and try to help them communicate their vision as forcefully as possible in what seems to me to be their own terms as best as I can make them out, even if their concerns and methodologies aren't really at all clear to themselves yet as they struggle with their objects.

I've got a student talking about New Argentine Cinemas that undermine filmic conventions in a way that testifies to the everyday negotiation of Argentina's recent past and the trauma of the Disappeared, I've got a student talking about purikura photo-stickers as a p2p art practice better understood through the dynamics of fandom than traditional curatorial exhibition, I've got a student talking about Godard's anticipation of the p2p ethos through readings of YouTube citations and appropriations of his work, I've got a student talking about acts of vandalism and censorship in Greek art exhibitions and how they attest to agonistic democracy as dissensus rather than consesnsus, I've got a student talking about Sophie Calle's art practice in the context of Situationism, I've got a student talking about the response of some contemporary Russian artists to neoliberal forces of privatization and "modernization" through motifs drawn from Tarkhovky's film "Stalker," I've got a student talking about the ways in which p2p formations are transforming the practical inhabitation of the ethnic imaginary in some online communities, I've got a student applying the Benjaminian understanding of allegory to make sense of the latest Documenta exhibition, I've got a student using the work of some contemporary photographers to uncover a post-Apartheid imaginary from the mapping of the Great Trek, and a student reading the ambivalent aspirations of contemporary curatorial practice in the recent remodeling of the atria in three monumental museums.

Holding all these projects in my head at once, striving to do justice to the students as they're striving to do justice to their ideas, all the while still lecturing on theory (last week, for example, I lectured on Valerie Solanas's SCUM Manifesto, DJ Spooky's "Material Memories," Jeanette Winterson's "Art Objects," Bill Brown's "Thing Theory," while next week I lecture on Fanon's magnificent Black Skin, White Mask's, discuss the scientism of Vaucanson's 18C automata, and Bruno Latour's actor-network theory) means having what feels like a flabbergasting number of saucers spinning on poles simultaneously.

I'm finding it all enriching and amazing and demanding, of course, but I have to say it is also incredibly exhausting and a little crazy-making at times.

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