Archive for December, 2008

The Posthuman Marxist Indefinite Temporary Shutdown

Posted in Announcements! on December 27, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan

So, as you may have heard, I am currently in a predicament which keeps me from being the blogger I used to be. I’m very sorry to say that for the time being I will not be able to maintain The Posthuman Marxist.

It has been wonderful and I thank you all for being such loyal readers and have constantly challenged me to make better theories and essays on culture, media, and politics.

I would appreciate your comments below. This may be the last post for several months to come, so say all your thoughts out loud!

Your Mind is Now Undead!

Posted in Divine Science with tags , , , , , , , , , , on December 19, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan
Teh ceiling cat is in ur machine, reading ur mind...

Teh ceiling cat is in ur machine, reading ur mind...

Less than a week ago researchers in Japan confirmed a way to extract images directly from brains. Yes, you read that correctly; in a nutshell: by hooking you up to this machine everyone can now see what you are thinking, because it will be shown in a monitor. I had this reply in my Twitter stream when I tweeted about it, and although I have not yet seen that movie it is nonetheless very easy to imagine this invention being taken right out of a science fiction gig. (Being the shameless otaku that I am, my personal memory that this news recalled is none other than Japan’s anime ambassador, Doraemon.)

I often have people asking me what I think of the newest mind-blowing inventions the world has to offer (which is one of the reasons why this blog was created). Perhaps surprisingly to some, I never throw out horrible paranoiac scenarios of nightmarish dystopias people commonly take as “critical” reviews of a certain technology. While I do acknowledge the potential new narratives of paranoia such technologies — and especially mind-reading technologies — will engender, I like to look at technology the way I look at bodies, Lacanian style — i.e., as the false representative, the lacking signifier of the subject.

Being able to record one’s thought into an image on the computer screen is one of the basic tenets of posthuman fluidity. After all, if video games can read your mind, why shouldn’t the computer be able to see your mind?

Here, however, I have a very basic question: will our mind, after being replicated into a computer screen, remain our mind? Will my mind not, rather, take the position of an “undead” mind, a mind that is both mine and not mine at the same time, giving me the uncanny experience akin to listening to a recording of my own voice, a voice both mine and not mine at the same time? In the domain of the voice, we have horror movies like The Exorcist, in which a ghostly intrusion is symbolized by the changing of the voice. Similarly, we also have scenarios like the Imperius Curse in Harry Potter, in which a Death Eater intrusion is symbolized by the changing of a victim’s mind.

What this implies, however, is a much more radical thesis: today, with neuroscience and other mind-reading technologies, the mind reveals its inherent split: my mind is not my mind. (Or, to put it in Hegelian tautology-as-contradiction: my mind is my mind.) It is no longer the age-old “Cartesian” split between the mind and the body — we are now forced to realize that even without the body, the mind is already inherently split from within. Yes, we can extract minds, read them, project them onto screens, record them and store them, build them from individual neurons, etc., but the fact remains that there is an irreducible kernel behind its presence, its irreducible (misrecognizing) reflexivity. After all is said and done, we still have a gaping void in the middle of the thinking mind, its “true” presence (compared to the “undead” simulation of the projections on the screen, which is not fully our mind, etc.), what Žižek calls “the unbearable lightness of being no one”.

It is here that we may come up with another definition of the posthuman subject: the posthuman subject is the subject whose mind is undead, a subject whose externalized mind as such loses its phenomenological vigor of living presence and turns into a zombie.

As an additional note, it is fun to imagine the birth of “mind art” in the future with this technology — far from needing any motoric skills, the artist would only utilize his sharp concentration to create stunning artworks. Like, you know, porn.

Now, replace the snowman with a nude chick.

The snowman is actually a nude chick.

Why We All Hate Comic Sans

Posted in Pop Culture with tags , , , , , , , , , , on December 14, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan
Mmm, Comic Sans...

Mmm, Comic Sans...

It is a very interesting fact that a single font could create phenomena to such extents, spurring their own hate groups on one side (mostly designers) and being loved by another (mostly amateurs). What is it with Comic Sans? I am of course not asking about typography history or other things that make man’s love-hate relationship with the font contingent to historical events, as many would. Instead, a much more interesting question would be: is there something inside the font itself that makes it possess such a property?

What is typography? Here I would refer again to a Lacanian textual analysis. Is not typography that which is precisely an excess to the meaning of a word — that which remains, rather incessantly, after we get the entire meaning of the word? In this sense, typography may be considered the voice of the movable type, insofar as it is a ladder to get to meaning, but useless after we achieve meaning itself (I am here referring to the definition of voice by Mladen Dolar in his book A Voice and Nothing More).

Good typography, then, like the good art of voicing, may be compared to music, the music of written words — in Lacanian terms, its jouis-sense, enjoyment-in-meaning, enjoy-meant. Is, Comic Sans, then, bad typographical music? Why so? The first thing most of us associate Comic Sans with is childishness, immaturity, and non-professionalism. Comic Sans is thus like an annoying children’s music (it may not be a coincidence that many people I know who loathe the font also do not have that strong an affinity with children). This can be excellent, of course, in the right context.

What is the right context? As the name suggests: comics. Following comic art theory (read with Lacan), comics depict subjects drawn simply or use a lot of shadows to maintain the character’s subjective attachment — to put it simply, a lack, an unregulated place for the object little a, to maintain the little other. Is this not also precisely the case with Comic Sans, that there is too much room for subjective attachment due to its inherent lack in design?

In what sense can we talk about this? Let us now borrow a term from Derrida: that of undecidability. Comic Sans is precisely undecidable on the category it tries to occupy: On one side, there are the more professional fonts: Times New Roman, Helvetica, etc. On the other side, there are the obviously decorative fonts ranging from script-like cursive fonts to Wingdings, with Jokerman and the like somewhere in the middle. Does not Comic Sans lie precisely in the middle — not as a compromise between the two, but as a kind of spectral object that leans towards both ends simultaneously, just as a good Derridean undecidable object would do?

Comic Sans is thus the undecidable object of typography, an undead type. As such, there is a huge gaping void of lack, a spectral appearance of the object-cause of desire that on one hand captures the heart of sixth-grade first-time presenters, and on the other freaks professional designers out.

(But why is my title “Why We All Hate Comic Sans” if I acknowledge that some people love the font? The reason is tautological — is it not, today, to be considered a “we” in the digital age, we have to be more professional and shun Comic Sans for good? We all hate Comic Sans because the big Other does — we must hate Comic Sans.)

I’ll leave you with a video to give you more idea of the undecidability of our undead font. Feel free to comment your thoughts away.

What is a Good Twitter Neighbor?

Posted in Postmodern 2.0 with tags , , , , , , , on December 11, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan
The Twitter village

The Twitter village

As the Web becomes more and more social, as more and more people write how Twitter is a village, we are bound to confront the radical dimension of social interaction, the neighbor in its most elementary form: digital denizens of cyberspace who have “something in them more than themselves” — those whose dimension of enjoyment we could not grasp nor fathom.

In the physical realm, we have all the elementary practices by which we talk about a neighbor: the way they laugh too loudly, the way they count their money, their strange accent, the bad smell of their food, their disgusting table manners, etc, all of which allude to an irreducible kernel of an Other that enjoys differently from us. This dimension, is, of course, the object a, the Lacanian object-cause of desire which arouses spectral apparitions and is the cause of all our prejudices and hatred towards Otherness.

It is interesting to see how this dimension of a neighbor persists even without real contact (the examples above are all little habits that could be seen, smelled, or heard — all needing physical contact). Does not the current trends of categorizing obnoxious people on the Web the ultimate proof that we are very much still prejudiced? OK, it might be a matter of fact that trolls and Grammar Nazis are frustrating idiots without proper knowledge of the big Other of the Internet, but upon reading things like this Top 10 List of People to Unfollow on Twitter or this list of 8 Most Obnoxious Internet Commenters, it becomes clear how social antagonisms in the Social Web is beginning to take its shape.

My point is of course not the standard postmodern multicultural (“defender”) one that demands for more equality for these different types, and so on. (Again, it is funny when we notice how demands for more equality in the physical world is supplemented — and, likely, can only work as such — by the proliferation of online prejudices.) What I would like to call into question is the basic underlying understanding of what being a good citizen means.

There are exceptions, but there is a strong pattern emerging: we tend to find obnoxious those who affiliates too much with his or her beliefs and activities, be it sports, (cynical) politics, plain hobbies, or even attending a conference. If, in the physical world, to use Žižek’s formulation, the neighbor is the one who smells (which is why deodorants are increasingly popular, etc.), in life online, the neighbor is essentially the one who believes.

As the Internet becomes more and more social, the big Other of networked computer systems is born. And the cyborg big Other is the virtual entity for whom we must maintain a safe distance from our own believes and passions, the digital symbolic for which we have to maintain the appearances of disbelief, by tweeting our more “human” side (what we had for lunch, our travels, our day job, etc.) instead. As always, there is an inherent rule which we must understand to fit inside an online community; the obligations behind choices (we are obliged to follow our followers back) and the choice behind the obligations (we can use scripts to follow people or schedule our tweets). A good cyberspace denizen is the one that understands the proper mechanisms of the digital big Other.

Perhaps, even here today, Kierkegaard was right: the only good neighbor is effectively the dead neighbor — the best Twitter accounts are the automated ones who do nothing personal but give links to worthy pieces of information. The good Twitter neighbor is the impersonal cyborg neighbor, the neighbor without the kernel of unfathomable surplus-enjoyment. But then, we need enjoyment for systems to function, which is why we are all suggested to have smiling face photo avatars and occasional talk about the kids and dinner — the legitimized versions of object a as the proper way to enjoy, with all its encoded ideologies.

Mumbai, Islamic Terrorism, and the Antagonism

Posted in Political Focus with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 6, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan
Terrorism in India

Terrorism in India

The battle between the Muslim terrorists and the rest of the world is a strange thing. Even within this previous sentence, many would already disagree on how I put it (“Is it not rather the Muslim and the West, or even the West and the rest?” etc…). I live in Indonesia, the country with the largest Muslim population on Earth. Many took to the streets in protest of the Danish caricatures of Mohammed back in 2006, and many hail suicide bombers as martyrs, even teaching grade school students to raise their fists and scream “Allah is the greatest” on the sites of their burials… Suffice it to say that I am very well positioned within the sphere of the current “war”.

A very curious thing for me is how each side view the war: on one side, this war is seen as a war between civilization and an uncivilized Other, a war of universal human rights versus those intent on disrupting it. Many Muslims take this side, claiming how the terrorists are not real Muslims, etc… For the other side, however, this is — to use their diction — a battle of ideologies. It surprises me how intent so many of the Muslim communities are that the entire notion of universal human rights, etc. is another “Western capitalist” way of oppressing Islam, and that the real war is that between capitalism and Muslim ideology.

I do not think, of course, that they are completely wrong. What should be taken into mind is rather this inherent split — a Real antagonism, as Žižek, but also Laclau and Mouffe, would have put it (“society doesn’t exist”, etc.). There is no neutral, “objective” position from which to see the war, since every position is already part of the struggle.

Thus, to fully grasp the Mumbai incidents and the ongoing 9/11 aftermath of the global war, we should first and foremost understand that this very war is in itself structured around a traumatic kernel, a Real qua impossible intersection between the dominant humanist Western paradigm and the Muslim one. Every attempt to shut down the war based on certain values is already violent and doomed to fail since its very utterance — there can be no agreement between the two point-of-views. The Habermasian ideal communication is in itself a fantasy.

How, then, do we confront and handle this war? As a good Lacanian, my political standard would be that of an ethical act — a politics that traverses the fantasy of any possible mediation between impossible points. The first thing we should realize before attempting any solution to this problem would be that there is no objective point of agreement. Will, then, a full-frontal war be more effective? I would claim that it would be in vain, since here, perhaps more than ever, we are dealing with specters: the more we annihilate the physical enemy, the more we become paranoid that they grow stronger, that there remains an impossible kernel we can never destroy (from, for one side: a worldwide capitalist conspiracies for the Muslims; up to, for the other side: clandestine Madrasahs that train endless suicide bomber recruits, etc.)…

Awareness as a Decaffeinated Political Act

Posted in Political Focus with tags , , , on December 3, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan
AIDS awareness

AIDS awareness

Within the past couple of years, the notion of what we can do to help society, of what a political act means, has changed significantly. Just a couple of days ago we had World AIDS Day, the international day of HIV awareness. One thing that interests me is how “awareness” has become elevated into one of the primary good things we can do, politically and socially. Campaigns today have to be marketed as made more to “raise awareness” than to, say, change real political acts. There is always a necessity today to let all people “take part” by doing very small things (“if you have one minute”, etc.) — perhaps to make us believe that we live in a democracy while keeping the violent kernels of real politics untouched and, often, unquestioned.

It is of course true that ignorance, lack of information, and plain stupid unawareness is a terrible thing, and I am by no means supportive of perpetrating such matters. But it is also crucial to be critical of these injunctions and question the horizons of understanding that underlie their motives. To put it shortly: what do we mean when we say that we are aware? Aware of what, exactly?

Of course, some awareness will lead to good, significant action: in the recent World AIDS Day, people who raise awareness of course hope that more people will visit the free HIV-testing centers, and so on. This kind of action needs a special day, and a special event to raise awareness. This disclaimer being said, I still claim that the standard protest that awareness is not enough, that we need more action, however, is out of place.

Let us take, for example, the problem of climate change. Do we really know how to handle it properly? What will raising awareness of climate change do? The nightmare is not for nobody to be not aware of anything, and then we suddenly plunge into a global disaster. The true nightmare for me is that everybody will be aware of it, stop using plastic bags, etc., and that the disaster still happens nonetheless — because the big players know nothing (or were not serious, due to corruption, “corporatism”, etc.) about how to handle it properly. The true nightmare of AIDS is not a nightmare of negligence (although, of course, it is always horrific to see people dying of AIDS just because they did not check early enough); it is when everybody is aware of it, there remains an entire continent with an epidemic we cannot cure, even with Bono’s RED, the ONE campaign, etc.

Is this not the same injunction we have behind all the Facebook Causes? We effectively join to let people (actually, the Lacanian big Other) aware that we are aware of a certain cause, while of course the implicit promise is that we do not have to do anything real. Awareness (and joining Facebook Causes) is a political act without real politics — we get the credit for it, but we don’t have to really do anything tiring, dangerous, dirty, etc. — a decaffeinated political act, as Žižek would put it.

So, how can we really help? Again a Žižekian thesis, perhaps the best way to change is not to take any action at all. Perhaps the best way to start a real change is to expose our true predicament: how everyone is already ambiently aware of all the problems in the world, but nonetheless we know nothing of what exactly are we to do. In World AIDS Day, despite all the pretty ribbons we are wearing, we still have all the elementary questions of whether stopping the AIDS epidemic in Africa is possible at all with our current state of rampant global capitalism.

We do not need more awareness — we need more questions that ask, “What are we actually aware of?” questions that force all of us to stop and think, and think hard, of the state of things. Perhaps, rather, the best thing to do is to stop all action and call for awareness and expose us to the sheer vacuity and cluelessness of our age, despite all the noisily marketed awareness and little local actions.

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