Archive for the Useful Category

Nanostories and the Hyper-massification of Culture

Posted in Literature, Reviews, Useful with tags , , , , on August 22, 2009 by xugro

There is no culture where there is no acceptance of certain final intellectual positions to which a dispute may be referred. There is no culture where economic relations are not subject to a regulating principle to protect interests involved. There is no culture where aesthetic controversy does not recognize the necessity of justifying the work of art. When all these things are lacking there is no culture; there is in the strictest sense of the word, barbarism.    –Ortega y Gasset

For a while now, I’ve been wondering about the consequences of our the Internet’s sheer multiplication of narratives and the radical democratization of cultural production that the web, along with powerful and ever-cheaper technology,  has engendered. What are the consequences for culture if everyone, potentially, can produce it? I can record high-quality music on my computer at home, just like millions of other would-be musicians, then distribute it around the globe through MySpace or a host of other sites–or distribute it on my own website, like the amazing band Deep Sea Summit. I can produce videos and send them to YouTube and, with a great deal of self-promotion and luck, reach an audience of millions. I can blog forever, alongside the legions of fellow bloggers. Yet the curmudgeon in me wonders whether the millions of bloggers in the world working on millions of laptops will ever produce a Hamlet. Or if a Citizen Kane could appear from the ashes of so many YouTube shorts. Or if a Goldberg Variations could be assembled from the collective effort of MySpace bands. Or if Wikipedia could ever be as all-encompassing as St. Isidore’s Etymologies or Pliny the Elder’s Natural History–it’s certainly as flawed.

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Dissertation

Posted in Literature, poetry, Useful with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 11, 2009 by xugro

So my dissertation’s all done and turned in, despite the false start I had the day I submitted it. I’ve decided to publish the abstract online (full text available upon request) just in case there’s the off chance someone would actually read it. There’s more of a chance that someone would read it by stumbling upon it on the internet than when it’s actually published on microfilm or in book form. Whether the latter ever happens is another story.

I mean, I did spend almost three years working on it. Not that that makes it good. Anyway, hit the “read more” button for the abstract then a link to email me for the PDF of the whole thing.

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Killzone 2, Fascism and Morality

Posted in Useful, video games with tags , , , , , , , , on April 2, 2009 by xugro

Helghast Triad Symbol

Out with the old, in with the…old?

Killzone 2 is a fascinating game on many levels. It is graphically stunning, and the gameplay is intense and addictive. Yet the game’s story is perhaps the most interesting aspect of all. It performs a complex intervention into contemporary geopolitics by problematizing moral clarity in times of war.

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Meshuggah, or the Art of Alienation

Posted in Reviews, Useful with tags , , , , , , on March 30, 2009 by xugro

The Swedish metal band Meshuggah takes their name for the Yiddish word meaning “crazy.” That’s likely the first thing you’ll think when you hear one of their songs. Their music enacts a dystopian future built upon agony and alienation.

In my last post, I talked about how I dislike music reviews. So you might wonder why I’m writing about music again. As before, I’m more interested in Meshuggah’s music as art and a philosophical intervention than as music itself. Don’t get me wrong–I love the music. Yet it’s the combination of both the group’s music and alienating, rootless lyrics and sound that are of interest to me. If Propagandhi saw some light at the end of the tunnel, then Meshuggah glimpses naught but the blinking red LED of a robot overlord.

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A Gloss on Beck’s “Loser”

Posted in Glosses, Literature, poetry, Reviews, Useful with tags , , , on March 26, 2009 by xugro

In the time of chimpanzees, I was a monkey

In the beginning, we were all nonhuman primates. And in that blessed age, I was not as great as the apes. I was smaller, less attractive, and thus less prone to mating. So I turned to drugs, but was not as financially fortunate as others. I was resentful of their success and access to higher-grade controlled substances, while I was stuck with inhalants. That’s why there is

butane in my veins so I’m out to cut the junkie with the plastic eyeballs

Moreover, I coveted their everlasting supply of high-quality organic nutrients culled from local forests. One night, I had an idea: I’d get back at them with with the very dope they had forced me to use. I decided to

spray paint the vegetables

Fast forward to the present. After terrible millenia of evolution, things are not much different for us beta males. The alphas are still in power, but do not feed their pets well; further, they are prone to transvestism. In fact, it’s not uncommon to find

Dog food skulls with the beefcake pantyhose

Sometimes I like the feeling of emptiness after a long day. I’ll drive around at night with the windows closed and tune the radio to white noise. If I chance upon a stretch that’s abandoned enough, I

kill the headlights, and put it in neutral

and imagine myself as a race car driver. Such fantasies ultimately backfire and end with me aflame,

Stock car blazing with the loser in the cruise control

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An Introduction to Ramon Llull

Posted in Literature, poetry, Useful with tags , , , , , , , , on March 25, 2009 by xugro

An Introduction to Ramon Llull (1232-1316)

Ramon Llull, known as Raimundo Lulio, Raymond Lully or Lull, was one of the most complex and original thinkers of the Middle Ages, yet he is also one of the most misunderstood and underappreciated.  Llull’s production covers nearly every genre of the time in three languages: Latin, Catalan and Arabic.  His output includes mystical works such as the Book of the Ascent and Descent of the Intellect in Latin and the Book of Contemplation in Arabic. Llull likewise published philosophical texts such as the Tree of Knowledge, scientific treatises like the New Geometry, and tractates on liberal arts such as logic and rhetoric. Finally, his output includes literary texts: novels like Blanquerna, an autobiography, and poetry. Exhaustive catalogues of his works list approximately 300 authentic ones, as well as dozens of apocrypha related to Cabbalism and Alchemy.  Due to such a monstrous output—incredible for someone who started writing around forty years of age—it is often difficult to approach Llull or to categorize his thought into a coherent system, earning him appellations such as “perplexing” and “confusing.” Adding to such confusion, Llull often feuded with his better-known Scholastic contemporaries in French universities because of methodological differences.  In spite of his idiosyncrasies, however, Llull is still unique to the point of being one of the most important thinkers of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.

Born in Palma de Mallorca, Llull lived in a time when the Catalan Mediterranean Empire was at its apex. At the time, it included the kingdoms of Catalonia, Aragon, Valencia as well as the outlying zones of Naples, Sicily, Athens, and Sardinia.  The island of Mallorca itself, conquered in 1229 by the Aragonese king James I, represented a crucible of cultures.  On Mallorca, the three monotheistic religions interacted on a daily basis, a fact that undoubtedly influenced Llull’s formation and wish for dialogue between religions, a desire not shared by many of his contemporaries in Paris.  Mallorca, and the Balearic islands in general, served as an economic crossroads between Europe and Africa as well as a jumping-off point for pilgrimages to Jerusalem or Rome.  Unlike the later Habsburg Empire in Spain, which absorbed the Catalan empire upon the marriage of Ferdinand and Isabella in 1479, the Catalan “emporium,” to use one scholar’s term, focused more on commerce and economic control than on territorial or imperial conquest.  It is no coincidence that this empire produces a key figure such as Llull at its very peak, in a manner similar to Cervantes or Virgil in the cases of Spain and Rome.  After his conversion, Llull traveled incessantly within Spanish and Catalan lands (Santiago, Barcelona, Naples, Mallorca); made several visits to Italy, taught in Paris and Montpelier, and made three missionary trips to North Africa. Llull’s travels form a crucial context for understanding his life and project.

Nine years after his first conversion experience, Llull (now aged 42) experienced another theophany on Mount Randa on Mallorca in which the “form and method” of his great Art (the Ars magna) was revealed to him.  Due to this divine inspiration, Llull would champion the Art throughout his life despite significant setbacks to its teaching in Paris and elsewhere due to its highly complex, technical and idiosyncratic nature; the divine nature of the Art would also allow Llull to claim authority. One of the problems with the first versions of the Art, states one scholar, “was that Llull was trying to translate the theological language of his Muslim and Jewish contemporaries into Latin and Catalan.” Llull, moreover, had little formal education. Yet in part because of these setbacks and in part due to its natural development throughout Llull’s life, the Art became a lifelong project in a manner similar to Whitman’s Leaves of Grass.
The universal quality of Llull’s Art enabled him to overcome several obstacles: scholastic logic, interreligious dialogue, and dependence upon ancient authors.  As one scholar notes, the science of the Art, for Llull, was “the perfect vehicle for breaking through the intellectual boundaries between Christians, Jews, and Muslims. The Art’s function was to provide members of the three faiths with tools for true dialogue based on a terminology acceptable to all.” This approach avoided the pitfalls of the interpretation of sacred texts such as the Qur’an, since debaters could argue about these specific texts and thus retreat into a specific tradition or approach. Such a step, in fact, is more radical than it seems: Llull puts aside not only established authorities like St. Augustine, but also sacred texts themselves.  Instead, he relies on rational argumentation rather than discipline-specific jargon. Llull’s system, then, must be wholly original in order to stymie text or tradition-specific approaches to theology, texts and interpretation. The upshot of the system detailed in the Art is a ladder that uses specific attributes and sets of questions to aid the mystic in her process of ascent and descent.
Llull’s attempt to create a universal language, while ultimately ineffective as a tool for religious conversion, was an impressive achievement and incredibly forward-looking for a 14th-century religious scholar. His invention of computational logic in the Art would entrance philosophers like Leibniz centuries after his death. His pioneering approaches to computational logic earned Llull the somewhat dubious title as the founder of computer science. The Catalan language is greatly indebted to his literary accomplishments as well: according to one account, Catalan is a “language created by a philosopher—to which it owes its precision—who, in addition to a philosopher, was also a poet—to which it owes its beauty.” Despite his importance during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, little of Llull’s work is available in English translation. One hopes that work on Llull will continue, for he stands out as one of the most modern medieval writers.

Full Atheneo is here!

Posted in Literature, Useful with tags , , , on March 16, 2009 by xugro

So I finally figured out how to compress PDFs and made a downloadable version of the Atheneo. Click here to get it.