Brain Bytes #5: Facebook as a Gift Economy

I don’t write many Facebook updates anymore.

That is, of course, an exaggeration. I write plenty of updates, because I’m a millennial and I thrive on constant reassurance and social recognition. But, nonetheless, personal updates comprise an increasingly small proportion of my Facebook interactions, and my feed is now dominated by ‘shares’.

What I’m thinking today is that sharing links, videos, and images on Facebook, especially by private individuals and often through the repurposing of material from commercial sources, functions as an example of what Karen Hellekson has discussed as the gift economy of fandom (2009). Continue reading


Brain Bytes #4: Strategic Ambiguity

This isn’t the first/best/most important thing that needs to be said (I have a big ramble about Battlestar: Galactica and the posthuman that I must get around to writing).
In his documentary series Fry’s Planet Word, Stephen Fry refers to the linguistic vagaries of political spin doctoring as ‘strategic ambiguity’. That sounds much more polite than ‘flip-flopping’ or ‘cynical obfuscation’ or ‘breaking election promises’ or whatever else we mere mortals would call it–it’s a little bit more nuanced, it’s calculated, and it’s probably much closer to the practical truth.
What makes it fascinating to me is that, essentially, that’s what I think poetry relies on as well. Strategic ambiguity: the careful, intentional plotting of a course between two or more possible ways of interpreting a given set of linguistic information.
If we accept the premise that poetic language and political language share this key characteristic, then maybe we can start to think of poetry–its form, its construction, rather than its content–as a tool for better comprehending the strategic ambiguities of politics. Maybe it’s a (generally) low-stakes arena to practice our ability to decode these ambiguities and see how political language is calculated to be a mixed message, even in cases where it seems straightforward and univocal.

This isn’t a perfect argument by any means, but it’s been rolling around in my head for weeks now and I think there’s something to it. There are no better liars than politicians and poets; they were probably saying that as far back as Socrates. But maybe analysing one form of language will give us a better handle on the other, far more insidious one.

Brain Bytes #3: Acute Obtuse

Funny how, in maths class, I always thought of angles as absences–the empty spaces between two lines, or between a line and an axis. But when Roland Barthes mentions obtuseness in his discussion of the third meaning in Image-Music-Text, he says:

The word [obtuse] springs readily to mind and, miracle, when its etymology is unfolded, it already provides us with a theory of the supplementary meaning. Obtusus means that which is blunted, rounded in form. (Image-Music-Text, p.54-55)

It’s not the absence, but the object that would fill the absence. Obtusus, the blunt object. Likewise, the acute: from the Latin acūtus meaning sharpened, acuere, to sharpen, acus, the needle.

The point of an arrow versus the snub nose of a shovel.

Brain Bytes #2b: The Circuit of Psychoanalysis

[Pierre Bénichou] does not address the masochists, themselves; he does not have them talk. They would gladly talk. Were they to talk, however, they would enter a preformed, prefabricated circuit: the circuit of their myths and fantasies, including the circuit of that psychoanalysis whose ideas everyone today is more or less familiar with, a circuit in which each of us knows more or less in advance what is expected of us…

–Gilles Deleuze (2004). ‘Your Special “Desiring-Machines”: What Are They?’ in Desert Islands and Other Texts: 1953-1974. Ed. by David Lapoujade. Trans. by Michael Taormina. Los Angeles, CA: Semiotext[e]; p. 242.

And here is Deleuze on much the same subject: the preformed, prefabricated circuit into which the analysand enters, under the guise of freeing or relieving the unconscious.

Brain Bytes #2: The Psychoanalytic Method

“The original and insidious character of the psychoanalytic method thus resides in its conducting a minimal lifting of the constraints that weigh on discourse ordinarily, and in engendering the illusion that through it certain singularities of desire might gain expression, especially in the field of sexuality … [Psychoanalysis operates through] some all-purpose formulae, some encouragement on the basis of which, in principle, a free expression is authorized. But only in principle! Because, in fact, very little use is made of this enunciative licence, any slight impulse to free up the ‘analysand’ running into the apparatus of the cure …”
— Felix Guattari (2003/1989). Schizoanalytic Cartographies, trans. by Andrew Goffey. London: Bloomsbury; p. 43.


In other words: psychoanalysis offers the illusion that you are free to articulate all of your desires or feelings or thoughts that go beyond what society will accept, but actually you’re only free to articulate things that fit into the psychoanalytic model. You can’t be unique or idiosyncratic or ‘singular’ because you’re still just part of a systematised program of expression.

In other other words: AHAHAHAHA this is in the context of Guattari talking about how psychoanalysis and religion are structured in really similar ways in that they offer the illusoin of freedom but actually impose a bunch of new constraints, LOL SNAP psychoanalysis/organised religion DOUBLE SNAP.

In other other other words: I finally called my psychologist about making a new appointment (the first since December) even though LOL LET’S JUST SAY I’M A BIT SCEPTICAL OF THE WHOLE DANCE.