I've written before here about David Gunkel's research and thoughts on the social rights of robots. He's now summed up the many arguments for and against — and contributed his own, based on the philosophy of Levinas — in a new book, Robot Rights, from MIT Press. I jumped at the chance to review it, and it's finally published online.
And, hey, Gunkel referred to my review as "positively brilliant"!
“What year is this?”
It was an extraordinary last line for a wide variety of reasons. Aside from those relevant to the narrative, it’s a question I hear asked often of pop cultural events. Like: “Nintendo is releasing a mini NES? What year is this?” “Billy Idol is opening for Morrissey? What year is this?” Even and maybe especially: “A new season of Twin Peaks? What year is this?”
Sunday night’s anticipated finale of Twin Peaks: The Return capped an extraordinary run of television. That certain chunks of this 18-hour avant-garde odyssey are out there in the stream now — for everyday channel surfers to just stumble upon — blows my happy mind.
This post is not a review of the show — there are plenty of good ones out there now — but just a quick knocking together of some thoughts about the series’ intriguing engagement with representational technologies and death. (And it does contain spoilers!)
I think I possess the very opposite of a macabre personality, but I’m thinking a lot today — in grave detail, shall we say — about my father’s corpse.
This month saw publication of The Oxford Handbook of Music & Virtuality, containing my chapter, "Hatsune Miku, 2.0Pac and Beyond: Rewinding and Fast-forwarding the Virtual Pop Star."
In it, I survey a history of virtuality in pop music stars, from the Chipmunks and the Archies up to Gorillaz and Dethklok — many of the non-corporeal, animated characters that presaged current virtual pop stars like Hastune Miku and the Tupac resurrection.
What is a hologram?
Dictionaries say one thing, but popular discourse says much more. From its birth as a collage of post-WWII optical sciences through the 1970s, holography was an evolving but fairly easily defined practice. Its products were called holograms — photo-like film images that delivered a more three-dimensional view of the subject.
Then "Star Wars" happened.
This week marks the 30th anniversary of Live Aid. Memory flashes I’m still able to conjure from my aging brain: Paul Young’s flouncy pirate cuffs, the poetic irony of Geldof’s mic failing during his own set, Elvis Costello’s classy choice of "an old northern English folk song," the Pretenders’ playing surprisingly laid-back, of course U2’s career-making set and Queen’s delivery of the world’s quintessential arena-rock performance. Political opinions aside, it was an unequaled day of, let’s say, musical performativity.
The DVD set of the concerts bears a postmark-like stamp that reads, “July 13, 1985: The day the music changed the world.” Thirty years have allowed for much evaluation of nearly all the changes wrought (not all for the better; read this excellent piece about Live Aid’s “corrosive legacy”). What it did change — drawing from research I conducted a few years ago into protest music (or the lack thereof) at Occupy Wall Street events — was the common conception of popular musical protest practice, resituating it from the open street to the ticketed arena, as well as the establishment of celebrity at the very core of such practices.
There's an oft-cited quotation within the circles of popular music. It goes like this: "Writing about music is like dancing about architecture." It's a succinct summation of the challenge of music criticism — of experiencing the ineffable magic of any art and then using mere words to pin down all that smoke. Throughout my 20 years getting paid to do just that, I recognized the futility of the activity (while counting my lucky stars).
The quote — attributed to a wide variety of sources, though it was most likely a Martin Mull original, according to the fearless and tireless Quote Investigator — usually is bandied about by musicians (commonly by those who have been on the receiving end of some sharp criticism) with the intent of belittling music critics. They wield the statement in order to point out how worthless is the critical pursuit, how beneath their attention. They could be right.
But I'm newly involved in plumbing the depths of performance studies, and it's lead to a not-small revelation about that quotation's very metaphor.
(photo by @notalyce)
It's conference month for me — this time to Theorizing the Web, last weekend in New York City. Specifically, fitting the group's un-conference feel, in a warehouse in Williamsburg.
TtW is a gathering of ridiculously smart people working on projects related to network analysis, social media, human-computer interaction, and all manner of online and infrastructure theory.
Life is great like this: I spent an afternoon this week unpacking the remainder of my library (delayed, as often happens, months after moving in), and basking in the intense comfort of having treasured volumes once again within reach; then, I sat down with a well-earned cocktail and opened Illuminations, a collection of Walter Benjamin essays recently added to my to-read shelf — and what to my wondering eyes should appear but the anthology’s first selection: “Unpacking My Library.”
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is the patron saint of finals weeks. The psyche prof developed the concept of the “flow” state. (Watch his TED about it.) You know it as being “in the zone” — that state of concentration where you become so deeply involved in an activity that you lose time. Csikszentmihalyi described it as being “completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies.” Flow is essentially an intense but positive and creative feeling of presence (Heeter, 2003). If, like me, you’re writing papers right now, flow-ing is where you want to be.
For this writer, background music has become essential to reining in my limbic system and achieving something like Csikszentmihalyi’s flow state. To that end, I’ve found a few resources pretty indispensable this year.
I'm THOMAS CONNER, communication researcher and culture journalist.