Nasty pleasures: 17-23 February 2013 (ZiR)

Reading: 17-23 February 2013

From Alexia Raynal, Zeteo Managing Editor

17 February 2013

Yes. Everybody’s doing it now. The “Harlem Shake” has spread around the world like fire, reminding us that the clear-cut boundaries that separate one culture from another are actually hard to distinguish. Everybody dances, and everybody dances the same way. Some would say our tech-driven society suffers a nervous breakdown. But this wouldn’t be the first time. Dance crazes have been popular since the early 1900s. Lewis A. Erenberg analyzed such memes from a feminist studies perspective in his article The Pre-World War I Dance Craze, The Castles and the American Modern Girl, published in 1975:

[The new dances] offered a leisure alternative to the exhausting and sapping round of business . . . The pursuit of self and of sensual re-creation helped create institutions where women and men could dance on a regular basis, in an intimate atmosphere, at all hours of the day and night . . . The emergence of public dancing indicated not only changes in dancing; it also symbolized broader transformations in the culture as a whole. The best people were now breaking the formal Victorian boundaries that separated men from women, blacks from whites, and upper-from lower-class culture.

Well, we certainly are far from Victorian rules. So what is it that we are trying to break away from? There always seems to be something.

18 February 2013

Some pieces of art intimidate us. We feel unauthorized to criticize what seems sacred: an edgy Picasso, a blurry Matisse, a saturated Modigliani. But the effort might be worth the while. Judging often is more pleasurable than simply suspending judgement. Here is what I often read to persuade myself that it’s OK to judge our masterpieces:

[Pleasure] is, or ought to be, the point of departure of all criticism. And such is the first place where it is brought to a halt. For what if, in the light of reflection, my pleasure vanishes? I would have no other recourse than to confess that my senses were deceived and deceived me. They made me believe that a fleeting sensation was an enduring passion. My judgement teaches me to mistrust my senses and emotions. But the senses are irreplaceable. Judgment cannot substitute for them, because feeling is not its function. I shall have to train my senses, make them at once stronger and more lucid. I shall hear with my sense of sight and with my skin; I shall cover myself with eyes. Everything, even judgment, will be touch and hearing . . . Although criticism does not dethrone feeling, a change has taken place: judgment is no longer a servant but a comrade. An ally at times, an adversary at others . . . It enters the closed world of works with me . . . Little by little it teaches me to distinguish between living works and mechanisms. It thereby reveals to me the secrets of clever constructions and draws the borderline between art and the artistic industry. In the end, when I savor works, I judge them; when I judge them, I take pleasure. I live a total experience, in which my entire being participates.

Octavio Paz, “From Criticism to Offering,” Essays on Mexican Art (New York : Harcourt Brace, 1993).

19 February 2013

Yesterday I went to MoMA. Most of the art that I saw was conceptual. Artists used paintings, photographs, sculptures and other objects to show a personal interpretation of life. In this setting, Joseph Kosuth’s Titled (Art as Idea as Idea) The Word “Definition” stood out the most. It offered the formal definition of definition:

def·i·ni·tion  (de-fə-ˈni-shən), n. [OFr. definicion; L. definitio <pp. of definire; see DEFINE],   1. a defining or being defined.   2. a statement of what a thing is.   3. a statement or explanation of what a word or phrase means or has meant.   4. a putting or being in clear, sharp outline.   5. the power of a lens to show (an object) in clear, sharp outline.   6. the degree of distinctness of a photograph, etc.   7. in radio & television, the degree of accuracy with which sounds or images are reproduced. abbreviated def.

20 February 2013

Monday’s article (18 February) in the New York Times Opinion Pages featured a video titled “Drones for America!” In the video a former KGB agent welcomes a future in which Americans live under the watchful eyes of drones. The publisher’s main goal was to bring attention to the fact that “American lawmakers are pushing for drones to be in the skies over your head very soon.” Here is a fragment of the first response to Drew Christie’s article:

Destructive weapons in the hands of idiots is risky business, and idiocy is everywhere, just look at the money we spend on war, mayhem, and military bases thoughout the world . . . Those kids with their chests puffed out and medals on their sagging chests need a hobby. What would appeal to their hawk-like mentality? Video games maybe, but with electric shock pain if one loses. I mean pain is fun especially if one wins and causes pain. Let us pray. Dear God, please, please, please drone the droners.

21 February 2013

All academic institutions require that students protect the dignity of “human subjects” before doing social research. Institutional Review Boards tests researchers’ understanding of three main principles: respect for people, beneficence  and justice. Below is an example of a case challenging the principle of beneficence, where researcher Nancy Scheper-Huges criticizes the uselessness of pseudonyms and misleading indirect identifiers as confidentiality measures:

I would be inclined to avoid the “cute” and “conventional” use of pseudonyms.  Nor would I attempt to scramble certain identifying features of the individuals portrayed on the naïve assumption that these masks and disguises could not be rather easily de-coded by the villagers themselves. I have come to see that the time-honored practice of bestowing anonymity on “our” communities and informants fools few and protects no one—save, perhaps, the anthropologist’s own skin (Scheper-Hughes 2000).

23 February 2013

From the New York Times Op-Ed article today, How Mexico Got Back in the Game:

Once a citizen feels he is not powerless, he can aspire for more change. . . . First, the Web democratized commerce, and then it democratized media, and now it is democratizing democracy.

 

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