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Current Issues and Discussions

EARTH DAY 2017: DAY 7

OF APPLES CRUSHING BLACKBERRIES…“COMME APPLE ECRASE BLACKBERRY”…

“Nos jours roulent sur ces rails. On y multiplie les moyens, mais, comme on ne sait plus la finalité de tout ca, ces moyens deviennent des fins. Ils ne cessent de se perfectionner et d’augmenter notre ‘pouvoir’, et ne servent en vérité qu’à nous divertir de la perte de tout sens. L’hagiographie de Steve Jobs et la gloire de la pomme croquée vont dans cette direction insensée: on ne sait plus ce qu’il est important de communiquer, des lors on ne communique plus que sur la communication. Il faut que les gens communiquent entre eux, voila l’impératif, et que le moyen de communication soit de plus en plus fluide et attrayant”.

Fabrice Hadjadj. Comment parler de Dieu aujourd’hui? (Paris, Editions Salvator, 2013), p. 17/p. 23-24.

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EARTH DAY 2017: DAY 6

WHEN YOU LEAVE A LEAF IN WATER

“And we’d sit in the dry leaves that whispered a little with the slow respiration of our waiting and with the slow breathing of the earth and the windless October …

Where the shadow of the bridge fell I could see down for a long way, but not as far as the bottom. When you leave a leaf in water a long time after a while the tissue will be gone and the delicate fibers waving slow as the motion of sleep. They dont touch one another, no matter how knotted up they once were, no matter how close they lay once to the bones. And maybe when He says Rise the eyes will come floating up too, out of the deep quiet and the sleep, to look on glory …

I could not see the bottom, but I could see a long way into the motion of the water before our eyes gave out, and then I saw a shadow hanging like a fat arrow stemming into the current …. The arrow increased without motion, then in a quick swirl the trout lipped a fly beneath the surface with that sort of gigantic delicacy of an elephant picking up a peanut …

I walked upon my shadow, tramping it into the dappled shade of trees again”.

William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury (New York/London, Norton, 1987), p. 70-73)

 

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EARTH DAY 2017: DAY 5 L’Homme et la Nature (3/3): C.D. Friedrich, J.M.W. Turner, la montagne et l’espace

K.D. Friedrich, Das Eismeer, 1824

C.D. Friedrich, Das Eismeer, 1824

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EARTH DAY 2017: DAY 4

COLLIDING WITH PHYSICAL REALITY

 “At some point, a false belief collides with physical reality”

Al Gore, commenting on his book The Assault of Reason and the current media ecology in a recent interview for PBS (March 14, 2017), quoted the above statement by George Orwell.

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EARTH DAY 2017: DAY 3 L’Homme et la Nature (2/3): E. A. Poe, la moisissure et le temps

« I had so worked upon my imagination as really to believe that about the whole mansion and domain there hung an atmosphere peculiar to themselves and their immediate vicinity– an atmosphere which had no affinity with the air of heaven, but which had reeked up from the decayed trees, and the grey wall, and the silent tarn–a pestilent and mystic vapour, dull, sluggish, faintly discernible, and leaden-hued.

Shaking off from my spririt what must have been a dream, I scanned more narrowly the real aspect of the building. Its principal feature seemed to be that of an excessive antiquity. The discoloration of ages had been great. Minute fungi over-spread the whole exterior, hanging in a fine tangled web-work from the eaves. Yet all this was apart from any extraordinary dilapidation. No portion of the masonry had fallen, and there appeared to be a wild inconsistency between its still perfect adaptation of parts, and the crumbling condition of the individual stones. In this there was much that reminded me of the specious totality of old wood-work which has rotted for long years in some neglected vault, with no disturbance from the breath of the external air. Beyond this indication of extensive decay, however, the fabric gave little token of instaility. Perhaps the eye of a scrutinising observer might have discovered a barely perceptible fissure, which, extending from the roof of the building in front, made its way down the wall in a zigzag direction, until it became lost in the sullen waters of the tarn. »

E. A. Poe, The Fall of the House of Usher

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EARTH DAY 2017: DAY 2

“THE WOOD WIDE WEB”…WHISPERING TREES

 “What both teams discovered was nothing less than a vast underground netwook … in which fungi connect trees of different species by passing chemical and electrical signals among the trees’roots. It was an arboreal Internet—christened the ‘wood wide web.’. Trees could actually communicate by exchanging carbon through their root. The exchange offered mutual support. Carbon is the food of trees, created by photosynthesis, using the leaves as solar panels. Sometimes one tree would act as mother to its neighbors, giving them more carbon than it received in return. Later the debt would be repaid as the roles were reversed.

As the subtleties of this underground network were explored, it became clear to scientists that trees not only benefited by mutual exchange of food. They  exchanged vital information, warning their neighbors (and children) of threats and advising them of opportunities to seize”.

Thomas Pakenham. “What the Trees Say”. New York Review of Books (December 8, 2016), p. 46. Reviewing Peter Wohlleben’s book The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate—Discoveries from a Secret World.

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EARTH DAY 2017: DAY 1 L’Homme et la Nature (1/3) Shakespeare, la tempête et le laboratoire

« Vents, soufflez à crever vos joues, vents, faites rage!
Et vous, tornades et cataractes, jaillissez
Jusqu’à noyer nos clochers et leurs coqs!
Feux sulfureux, plus prompts que la pensée,
Avant-courriers de la foudre qui fend les chênes,
Brûlez ma tête blanche! Et toi, et toi,
Ô tonnerre, ébranleur de tout ce qui est,
Aplatis de ton choc l’énorme sphère du monde,
Brise les moules de la Nature, détruis d’un coup
Les germes qui produisent cet homme ingrat. »

Shakespeare, Le Roi Lear, III,2 (trad. Y. Bonnefoy)

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EARTH DAY 2017: Offering Earth a tree with many branches and twigs

A few thoughts from some human members of its family

Leaves of grass, as they were once called….

Stalks sprouting from a common bulb of artistic imaginings

The act of looking at these fragile and fleeting natural elements through the literary or filmic lens:

To become aware of the vulnerability of our human “material”,
of the tenuous yet necessary bond between us and others.

To look more closely at our companions in the real world.

An invitation to cast the net wider.
A day at a time
For the next 8 days
And every day after

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Keyboard Matters

If you thought that the Internet played a role in politics, think again.

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Apps Exposed

Jacob Weisberg’s wonderful piece in the latest issue of The New York Review of Books (Feb.25-March 9, 2016) gives us an opportunity to elaborate on the idea that we are Steve Jobs Avatars (see review of Steve Jobs posted 10 days ago).

 By the way, all of you out there please read Weinsberg’s review, online or offline, as you wish. Treat yourself to an in-depth review of the extent of the revolution in personal and interpersonal relationships in the wake of realizing Steve Jobs’s dream of a “closed circuit”: the fantasy he had at the very beginning—to his partner Steve Wozniak’s dismay—has come full circle (no pun) with the launching of the ‘apps’ and their enclosure system (sorry for borrowing this old image but I think it tells the story by referring to some historical precedent in the physical world. You can google the term… and let your imagination wander/wonder, your experience figure it out and your honesty connect all the pieces together).

The review describes the lack of empathy (interpersonal and personal) generated by the use (anytime, anywhere) of technological devices. Jacob Weisberg, by presenting the cause of this pervasive, omnipresent, omnipotent and ubiquitous connection (even in the most intimate moments of our lives, with our partners and families), exposes a scheme that even Jobs, perhaps, could not have dreamed of: the latest research in software architecture, applied psychology, and behavioral economics, paired with the best engineering and technological skills, is aimed at devising “habit-forming technology”—“using what we know about human vulnerabilities in order to engineer compulsion” as Weisberg puts it (p. 9). Our daily routine is not just the effect of randomness or personal choice, but also the result of a carefully orchestrated phenomenon (check out the term CAPTOLOGY created for the occasion). We are hooked because it is the very purpose of the devices, their raison d’être.

The review ends on the concept of “time well spent”. A human value, of course, that posthumanists are helping to bury since they are working towards making us immortal…

So “closed circuits” have indeed become a reality, not jut in the baby form that Jobs had envisaged but as a way of life that goes beyond the use of a machine. Not just as a technological feat but also as an anthropological change (breakthrough for some, regression for others). The personal computer, following Frankenstein’s lead, has outdone the creator’s original intention. The lack of empathy displayed by the man Steve Jobs, still perceived as an anomaly, is becoming the norm (see the findings presented in the books reviewed by Weisberg). The very use and meaning of the term “screen” has been turned on its head (see Leo’s text posted this week).

The review showcases a photograph from Eric Pickersgill’s series “Removed”, and Weisberg’s following statement could be used as a caption: “What does it mean to shift overnight from a society in which people walk down the street looking around to one in which people walk down the street looking at machines?”.

Danny Boyle’s movie presents a version of Steve Jobs before the world of Apps; we walk away uplifted by the visionary, the entrepreneur and the repentant father (remember the crucial line “I am poorly made” which reveals empathy for both himself—his failings—and the other). But that view might indeed increasingly look like a “movie”—a fiction.

Utopia has slipped into dystopia. Until the posthumanists have it their way with our mortality (collapsed into technological immortality), how do we find the way back into the (physical/biological) world? For Steve Jobs, that very question took a very drastic tonality: physiological reality, in the end, caught up with him. A tragic reminder, of course, that no Apps can sever us from our bodies—from time and space, in particular. Time is the most precious element of our lives. Giving it away to habit-forming devices is absurd (here, google Camus for more), to say the least. The translation of the most famous theatrical line might sound like: “To App/App, or not to App/no App, that is the question”.

“Derrida reminds Haraway that death is a part of becoming and that we need its figure in order to remain sympathetic to the opacity of the other’s finitude. Haraway reminds Derrida that entering the dance of relating is also a way to be attuned to the unnamable being and ‘becoming with’ of interspecies relationships” Elisabeth Arnould-Bloomfield “Posthuman Compassions”. In PMLA (5) 130, October 2015, p. 1467-1475 (p. 1474, emphasis mine).

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