joker in academia

The Joker in Strange Apparitions
And I thought the topics and issues I am belabouring are somewhat exotic, or even strange … If I’d have the time, I’d love to submit something. On the other hand, that last note: ‘Note that invitation to submit a full essay does not guarantee inclusion in the volume.’ Quite frankly, and this isn’t meant arrogantly, but I do not see myself fit to meet rules like that—it’s simply a matter of time, the scarcest resource.
    Anyway, here’s the worthwhile call for abstracts (although I do not think that the Joker himself will like being dissected academically—see above. Panel taken from Strange Apparitions):

The Joker: Critical Essays on the Clown Prince of Crime
Robert Moses Peaslee & Robert G. Weiner, Editors

“Nobody panics when things are going according to plan, even if the plan is horrifying.”
—The Joker (Heath Ledger), The Dark Knight (2008)

If one were to survey the global public about their favorite superheroes, the results would likely place Batman, Spider-Man, and perhapsSuperman in the top tier. If one were to ask about super villains, however,it’s unlikely that any character would receive more attention than the Joker. To date, the character has appeared in thousands of comics, numerous animated series, and three major blockbuster feature films dating back to 1966. One could make a strong argument that the Clown Prince of Crime is the most popular and well-known fictional villain in the history of popular culture. A superhero is only as interesting as the villains he or she faces, and the Joker stands out among hundreds of villains as one of the most complex, culturally resonant, and morally ambiguous characters to ever grace a comic book page or movie screen. In 2006, Industry publication Wizard ranked the Joker as the number one comic villain of all time.
    Academic studies and collections of Batman abound, both as a text and as an industry (DiPaolo, 2009; Eury, 2009; Schopp, 2009; Kuwata, 2008; O’Neil, 2008; Zehr, 2008; Brooker, 2007; Morris, 2005; Pearson & Uricchio, 1991). Despite the Joker’s popularity, however, there has never appeared a serious scholarly monograph or edited collection based around the character. The editors hope to rectify this gap in the literature of sequential art, film, media, and cultural studies. Our aspiration is to compile the definitive volume on the character, encompassing historical, textual, institutional, and interpretational approaches from a wide variety of disciplines.
    To this end, the editors seek abstracts of no more than 500 words outlining proposed essays of 6,000-8,000 words. Abstracts should makeclear the author’s approach to the material in epistemological terms and indicate whether or not the piece has appeared in previous forms elsewhere.Abstracts should show potential as rigorous primary research, theory development or criticism.
    A by-no-means-exhaustive list of possible topics includes:

* Historical-textual examinations of the Joker’s emergence and evolution
* Comparative analyses of the Joker’s various characterizations and adaptations
* Socio-cultural approaches to the Joker’s symbolic potential
* The Joker and gender, race, sexuality, ability, etc.
* Gaming environments and the Joker’s manifestations in ludic narratives
* The Joker as an entertainment marketing tool
* The Joker pre- and post-9/11
* Relationships between the Joker and other heroes and/or villains
* Author- or creator-driven analyses
* Theoretical approaches to the Joker’s visual composition
* Narrative and rhetorical criticism
* Archetypal explorations of Joker pre-cursors
* Psychological or psychoanalytical analyses
* Humor and/or clowning and their relationship to the sinister
* The para-cinema of the Joker
* Fan communities and performance
* The Joker as a stabilizing or confounding force in sequential art taxonomies
* Joker philosophy
* Art historical or visual culture-driven analyses of the Joker
* The Joker as a pedagogical tool
* Digital manifestations of the Joker and/or the Joker “ethos”

Abstracts should be submitted no later than Dec. 15, 2011. Please send abstracts via email to rob[dot]weiner[at]ttu[dot]edu
    Those authors whose abstracts are accepted will be notified no later than February 1, 2012. Full essays will be required by April 1, 2012 and will be reviewed by both the editors and guest reviewers.
    Note that invitation to submit a full essay does not guarantee inclusion in the volume. Selected authors will be notified over the summer of 2012.


Robert Moses Peaslee, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Dept of Electronic Media & Communication
College of Mass Communications
Texas Tech University


who wrote it?

zeph’s pop culture quiz #4
All right, everybody recognizes him standing in the background. But who wrote the novel the movie is based on? The movie is an unusual adaptation, because the other novels of the series were adapted to the silver screen decades earlier, with iconic actors almost defining a genre.

UPDATE and solution (26 November 2011):
My apologies for updating so late. Especially as klandestino already solved the riddle, and provided a YouTube link as proof, the day it was posted: In the background it of course is Arnold Schwarzenegger (not appearing in the movie’s credits), the guy with the tie is actor Elliott Gould playing shamus Philip Marlowe in the movie ‘The Long Goodbye‘ directed by Robert Altman (1973), and based on the novel ‘The Long Good-Byewritten by Raymond Chandler (1953). The screenplay for the Altman-movie was not written by Sterling Silliphant—he wrote the screenplay for another neo-noir Chandler-adaptation: ‘Marlowe‘ (Bogart 1969)—as klandestino suggested, but by Leigh Brackett. She created the screenplays to quite a bunch of famous movies. Astoundingly enough, together with William Faulkner and Jules Furthman, she wrote the screenplay for ‘The Big Sleep’ (Hawks 1946), the classic movie adaptation of Chandler’s debut novel of the same name (1939).
Humphrey Bogart as Philip Marlowe and Lauren Bacall as Vivian Rutledge in 'The Big Sleep,' directed by Howard Hawks (1946)

Humphrey Bogart as Philip Marlowe and Lauren Bacall as Vivian Rutledge in 'The Big Sleep,' directed by Howard Hawks (1946)

Although not the first movie based on one of Chandler’s Marlowe novels, ‘The Big Sleep’ is seminal for the film noir genre. Starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, it also gave the genre iconic actors.
    All six novels by Chandler (1939, 1940, 1942, 1943, 1949, 1953, 1958) and ‘Poodle Springs’ (a fragment left by Chandler and posthumously completed by Robert B. Parker—Chandler & Parker 1989 [1958]) feature private-eye Philip Marlowe. Meanwhile the whole lot (I read them all earlier this year :-) has been adapted to movies, some more than once: ‘The High Window’ (Chandler 1942) has been made into ‘Time to Kill’ (Leeds 1942) and ‘The Brasher Doubloon’ (Brahm 1947); ‘Farewell, My Lovely’ (Chandler 1940) into ‘The Falcon Takes Over’ (Reis 1942), ‘Murder, My Sweet’ (Dmytryk 1944), and ‘Farewell, My Lovely’ (Richards 1975); ‘The Big Sleep’ (Chandler 1939) under the same name into Hawks 1946 and Winner 1978; ‘The Lady in the Lake’ (Chandler 1944) into ‘Lady in the Lake’ (Montgomery 1947); ‘The Little Sister’ (Chandler 1949) into ‘Marlowe’ (Bogart 1969); ‘The Long Good-Bye’ (Chandler 1953) into ‘The Long Goodbye’ (Altman 1973); and finally ‘Poodle Springs’ (Chandler & Parker 1989 [1958]) under the same name into Rafelson 1998.
    In consequence over time Marlowe has been played by many actors, some of them belonging to the greats. In chronological order: Lloyd Nolan, George Sanders, Dick Powell, Humphrey Bogart, George Montgomery, Robert Montgomery, James Garner, Elliott Gould, Robert Mitchum (twice), and James Caan.
    Nevertheless Bogart stuck as an icon until today.
    Chandler’s Marlowe owes much to Dashiell Hammett’s character of the same profession: Sam Spade. When ‘The Maltese Falcon’ (Hammett 1930) was adapted to the big screen for the third time (Huston 1941), the choice already was Bogart. Huston’s movie became one of the all time classics, the earlier two versions (Del Ruth 1931, Dieterle 1936) almost forgotten.
'The Maltese Falcon' (Huston 1941) and Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade

'The Maltese Falcon' (Huston 1941) and Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade
BOGART, PAUL. 1969. Marlowe [motion picture]. Century City: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
BRAHM, JOHN. 1947. The Brasher doubloon [motion picture]. Century City: 20th Century Fox.
CHANDLER, RAYMOND THORNTON. 1939. The big sleep. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
CHANDLER, RAYMOND THORNTON. 1940. Farewell, my lovely. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
CHANDLER, RAYMOND THORNTON. 1942. The high window. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
CHANDLER, RAYMOND THORNTON. 1943. The lady in the lake. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
CHANDLER, RAYMOND THORNTON. 1949. The little sister. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
CHANDLER, RAYMOND THORNTON. 1953. The long good-bye. London: Hamish Hamilton.
CHANDLER, RAYMOND THORNTON. 1958. Playback. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
CHANDLER, RAYMOND THORNTON AND ROBERT BROWN PARKER. 1989 [1958]. Poodle springs. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons.
DEL RUTH, ROY. 1931. The Maltese falcon [motion picture]. Burbank: Warner Bros.
DIETERLE, WILLIAM. 1936. Satan met a lady [motion picture]. Burbank: Warner Bros.
DMYTRYK, EDWARD. 1944. Murder, my sweet [motion picture]. New York: RKO Radio Pictures.
HAMMETT, SAMUEL DASHIELL. 1930. The Maltese falcon. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
HAWKS, HOWARD WINCHESTER. 1946. The big sleep [motion picture]. Burbank: Warner Bros.
HUSTON, JOHN MARCELLUS. 1941. The Maltese falcon [motion picture]. Burbank: Warner Bros.
LEEDS, HERBERT I. 1942. Time to kill [motion picture]. Century City: 20th Century Fox.
MONTGOMERY, ROBERT. 1947. Lady in the lake [motion picture]. Century City: Warner Bros.
RAFELSON, ROBERT ‘BOB’. 1998. Poodle springs [motion picture]. New York: HBO.
REIS, IRVING. 1942. The falcon takes over [motion picture]. New York: RKO Radio Pictures.
RICHARDS, DICK. 1975. Farewell, my lovely [motion picture]. ?: Avco Embassy Pictures.
WINNER, MICHAEL ROBERT. 1978. The big sleep [motion picture]. Los Angeles: United Artists.

thai flood hacks

Oil Barrel + Garden Pump = Homebuild Jetski
Thai Flood Hacks is a wonderful collection of pictures showing off ingenious technical contraptions cooked up for dealing with the flood in Thailand. With their truck-canoe hybrids [still only at ye ole xirdalium] the people of Bangkok already have shown their skill in dealing with water and in the active appropriation of technology—now they drive it to new heights. Also very worthwhile in these respects: afrigadget and street use.


behind closed doors

'Bundled, Buried & Behind Closed Doors,' documentary film by Ben Mendelsohn
That one came timely—just two days after telegeography, my rant on the other side of information technology, the Internet’s hardware aspect, and its importance for anthropology, boingboing posted on Ben Mendelsohn‘s documentary Bundled, Buried & Behind Closed Doors:

I want to share a short documentary that I recently produced about the hidden Infrastructure of the Internet called Bundled, Buried and Behind Closed Doors. The video is meant to remind viewers that the Internet is a physical, geographically anchored thing. It features a tour inside Telx’s 9th floor Internet exchange at 60 Hudson Street in New York City, and explores how this building became one of the world’s most concentrated hubs of Internet connectivity. [bold emphasis mine]

MENDELSOHN, BEN AND ALEX CHOLAS-WOOD. 2011. Bundled, buried & behind closed doors [documentary film]. New York.
via entry at boingboing

flying sphere

The flying sphere built by the Technical Research and Development Institute at Japan's Ministry of Defense

Star Wars fans (like me) will get a vague sense of deja vu when they see this flying sphere in action. Weighing in at about 12 ounces (350 g), the 16-inch (42 cm) diameter flying ball can launch and return vertically, maintain a stationary hover and zip along at up to 37 mph (60 km/h). Coupled with the ball camera we reported on earlier this month, it could become a valuable reconnaissance platform. Who knows? In time, more advanced autonomous versions might actually be used to train would-be Jedi knights. Once again, life imitates art.
    Announced last summer by the Technical Research and Development Institute at Japan’s Ministry of Defense (JMD) and recently unveiled at Digital Content Expo 2011, the world’s first spherical air vehicle will likely be deployed in search and rescue operations deemed unsuitable for traditional aircraft. As for other possible uses, the sky just may be the limit.

Well, like gizmag’s Randolph Jonsson my first association, when I saw the video at DigInfo TV was Star Wars, too—but I had in mind those spherical flying Sith probe droids used by Darth Maul and Count Dooku …
Darth Maul (Ray Park) having a conversation with his probe droids
As it seems both, my associations and Bryan Alexander‘s, do have a darkish tint. But still there are slight differences. As a cyberpunk aficionado I thought of devices gathering intelligence for evil purposes. Bryan in turn, as a horror specialist, immediately thought of a downright gruesome executioner—the silver sphere used by The Tall Man:
The Tall Man (Angus Scrimm) and his silver sphere

COSCARELLI, DON. 1979 [1977]. Phantasm [motion picture]. ?: Avco Embassy Pictures.
LUCAS, GEORGE WALTON. 1999. Star Wars episode I: The phantom menace [motion picture]. Century City: 20th Century Fox.
flying sphere initially via entry at cpc

culture’s shadow

Der lange Schatten von Kultur
Tonight the opening of this year’s EthnoFilmFest in Munich (16 through 20 November 2011) will take place at the Völkerkundemuseum [Ethnological Museum]. The festival, and Munich meanwhile being renowned for visual anthropology, is largely due to the work of my colleague, friend, and teacher Frank Heidemann. Now that I have duly paid my compliments, it’s time for an anecdote.
    Frank’s not only active behind the scenes, but had his own television series, starring himself, ‘Der lange Schatten von Kultur’ [Culture's long shadow], which aired on BR-alpha, but unfortunately isn’t available online at the moment.
    While the series was still in pre-production, Frank one day strolled into our little kitchen at the institute, beaming all over his face. He was so happy, he told us, because finally he had found the right title for his television series—culture’s long shadow.
    At this moment Paul, another colleague present, coffee-mug in hand, intentionally displaying a bit of a thousand-yard stare, began to quote Viennese satirist Karl Kraus (1874-1936): ‘When culture’s sun has sunken low, even dwarfs are casting long shadows.’ ['Wenn die Sonne der Kultur niedrig steht, werfen selbst Zwerge lange Schatten.']
    It was for the very first time in ten-or-so years that I saw Frank at a complete loss for words :-)


manchurian operations club

The screens, filled with cold war imagery, in the interrogation room in Call of Duty: Black Ops (Treyarch 2010)
After having sent the manuscript of my book ‘Cyberanthropology‘ (Knorr 2011) to the editor, I went downtown in order to reward myself a bit. Perfectly aware that I’d never have time for it all, I nevertheless bought ‘Call of Duty: Black Ops‘ (Treyarch 2010), ‘Portal 2′ (Valve Corporation 2011), ‘Crysis 2‘ (Crytek 2011), and ‘Far Cry 2‘ (Ubisoft Montreal 2008). In a street café I treated myself with a latte macchiato, all the while wondering at the boxes of my newly acquired treasures. The collector’s edition of ‘Far Cry 2′ indeed comes in a treasure chest, containing e.g. a t-shirt.
    Then I headed home, donned the Far-Cry-2 t-shirt, granted myself two days plus the night between them, and played through the single-player campaign of ‘Black Ops.’ The graphics are gorgeous, no doubt about it. At least on my machine they live up to what I have seen in the trailers.
    But the storytelling is linear, resembles a movie—an interactive one, granted. The universal remedy to all kinds of problematic situations is +forward +shoot.
Lying low in the Soviet winter in 'Call of Duty: Black Ops' (Treyarch 2010)
When I reached above pictured situation, my heart jumped in excitement. The scene I had seen in a trailer, and ingame it’s exactly as in the trailer. Disappointment followed immediately. The winter forest, somewhere inside the Soviet Union, is gorgeous, but can’t be explored. If you try to wander astray, you’ll bump into invisible walls, delineating the boundaries of the map. ‘Black Ops’ is the exact opposite of a freeroaming, sandbox game. I had no choice but following my team comrades until we reached the rapelling point, also to be seen in the trailer:
Preparing to rapell in 'Call of Duty: Black Ops' (Treyarch 2010)
Before I realized how carefully you have to go down the ropes, I fell to death several times. Might be entirely my fault, because I never before played a title of the ‘Call of Duty‘ franchise, and simply am not accustomed to its peculiarities of moving around.
    Be that as it may, despite the linearity, and despite my problems with the controls here and now, I got sucked into the game ever more. What I really dug is that it chases you through every conceivable cold-war theatre—even those which have turned hot. Here’s Vietnam (with a cameo appearance by Bruce Willis?):
Arriving in the Vietnam theatre in 'Call of Duty: Black Ops' (Treyarch 2010)
When I got deeper and deeper into the story, I liked the settings, the scenes, and the whole story more and more. It comprises aspects and elements of a whole array of my favourites: John Frankenheimer’s ‘The Manchurian Candidate‘ (1962) featuring Frank Sinatra, later remade by Jonathan Demme (2004) featuring Denzel Washington. ‘12 Monkeys‘ (Gilliam 1995) featuring Bruce Willis, and in turn based on Chris Marker’s experimental short film ‘La jetée‘ (1962). And then of course ‘Fight Club‘ (Palahniuk 1996), faithfully adapted to the silver screen by David Fincher (1999), starring Brad Pitt and Edward Norton.
    To say, that ‘Black Ops’ is cyberpunk would be saying too much. But vast parts of its sujets, settings, ambience, æsthetics, narrative content, and narrative strategies are subject to the discourse cyberpunk.
    Time travel is a core element of ’12 Monkeys’ and ‘La Jetée,’ but does not occur in ‘Black Ops.’ Only indirectly, if you will, as the whole story is told in flashbacks. But then again there are some blunt anachronisms concerning the weapons. For example, most striking, the Heckler & Koch G11 is available ingame. Although development of said weapon already began in 1968, and first prototypes were around in late 1971, the version in ‘Black Ops,’ the G11 K2 to my eye, wasn’t available before ca. 1990—again prototypes of it, as the G11 never saw mass-production.
    Nevertheless the ambience is set by all kinds of cold-war icons appearing:
An SR-71 'Blackbird' in 'Call of Duty: Black Ops' (Treyarch 2010)
JFK in 'Call of Duty: Black Ops' (Treyarch 2010)
Fidel Castro with some Soviet liaison goons in 'Call of Duty: Black Ops' (Treyarch 2010)
Yes, you get to fly the SR-71 ‘Blackbird,’ and, yes, you get to talk to Kennedy. And, yes, your very first objective in the story, relived in a flashback, is the assassination of Castro—Cuba didn’t like it.
    I don’t know, if Kennedy wanted Castro assassinated—I don’t even know for sure who assassinated Kennedy.
    Speaking of high-calibre assassinations and commando operations targeting international political figures—those haven’t vanished with the cold war, and not only are elements of fictitious cold-war alternate histories.
    New-York based developer Kuma Reality Games maintains the free tactical military first- and third-person shooter Kuma\War. Almost on a monthly basis new episodes can be downloaded and played. The latest is Mission 108—Fall of Sirte: Gaddafi’s Last Stand. That already explains the game’s tag line: ‘Real war news. Real war games.’ Two other immensely popular missions or episodes are Mission 62—Operation Red Dawn (capturing Saddam Hussein) and Mission 107—The Death of Osama Bin Laden (self explanatory). If you play the latter and then compare it to the meticulous write-up of the ongoings at Wikipedia, you’ll be astounded by the amount of research Kuma Reality Games does. For illustration, here is a screencap of Osama Bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan as depicted in Mission 107:
Osama Bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad as depicted in the computer game Kuma\War
And here are the targets of missions 62 and 107:
Saddam Hussein as depicted in the computer game Kuma\War
Osama Bin Laden as depicted in the computer game Kuma\War
The visual material seems to teach us that sporting a big beard is counterproductive in terms of lifetime.
    So, watch out Bryan Alexander, Eugene Burger, and Alan Moore
    But then again, Castro’s still around, JFK ain’t.

CRYTEK. 2011. Crysis 2 [computer game]. Redwood City: Electronic Arts.
DEMME, ROBERT JONATHAN. 2004. The manchurian candidate [motion picture]. Hollywood: Paramount Pictures.
FINCHER, DAVID ANDREW LEO. 1999. Fight club [motion picture]. Century City: 20th Century Fox.
FRANKENHEIMER, JOHN MICHAEL. 1962. The manchurian candidate [motion picture]. Century City: United Artists.
GILLIAM, TERRY. 1995. 12 Monkeys [motion picture]. Universal City: Universal Pictures.
KNORR, ALEXANDER. 2011. Cyberanthropology. Wuppertal: Peter Hammer.
MARKER, CHRIS. 1962. La jetée [motion picture]. Paris: Argos Films.
PALAHNIUK, CHUCK. 1996. Fight club. New York: W. W. Norton.
TREYARCH. 2010. Call of duty: Black ops [computer game]. Santa Monica: Activision.
UBISOFT MONTREAL. 2008. Far cry 2 [computer game]. Montreuil-sous-Bois: Ubisoft.
VALVE CORPORATION. 2011. Portal 2 [computer game]. Bellevue, Redwood City: Valve Corporation, Electronic Arts.
Episode 107: Osama 2011 via entry at digital islam—tnx Vít!

who ate it?

zeph’s pop culture quiz #3
Who ate it?
From this one I shied away, as I sincerely do loath the kitten Internet meme. But due to the fate of the kitten in the movie from which the screenshot was taken … without further ado here is this Monday’s question: Who ate the kitten?
    Because #1 who is it? and #2 who built it? both were solved so quickly, I refrain from giving more information right from the beginning.
    Just leave a comment with your educated guess—you can always ask for additional hints, and I’ll provide them. [Leaving a comment is easy; just click the 'Leave a comment' at the end of the post and fill in the form. If it's the first time you post a comment, it will be held for moderation. But I am constantly checking, and once I've approved a comment, your next ones won't be held, but published immediately by the system.]

UPDATE 1 (14 November 2011):
As requested, here are some more hints: The screencap of the kitten was taken from the opening of the sequel to the original. The latter was released nearly one and a half decades earlier. The lead in the original was played by someone really cool—it also was his debut appearance. Three decades after the original a remake came to the silver screen. Since then there only were rumours, but who, or what, we are searching for was not to be seen again.

UPDATE 2 (15 November 2011):
The guesses definitely get closer and closer. Here are some more hints: The director of the movie with the kitten in the beginning is well known in another context; he has experience with bottle imps and black gold. If it’s still too cryptic, I’ll post an additional screenshot tomorrow.

UPDATE 3 (17 November 2011):
In the movie Samuel the kitten isn’t the first living being to be swallowed by whom or what we are looking for:
UPDATE 4 and solution (18 November 2011):
A new contestant entered the quiz and by one well-aimed shot hit it right away: Beware! The Blob (Hagman 1972) it is—congratulations, ryoku! This sequel was directed by Larry Hagman, who by way of I Dream of Jeannie (Sheldon 1965-1970) had experience with bottle imps—the black gold thing of course referred to Dallas (Moore 1978-1991). All that ryoku got, too, and more: In the original The Blob (Yeaworth 1958) the King of Cool himself, Steve McQueen, played his very first lead.
    And now to the gruesome end Samuel the kitten found:
Samuel the kitten encounters the Blob (Hagman 1972)
Here we see him encountering the Blob for the first time—and it will be the last. The Blob just has freed itself from a container wherein it was stored away safely in frozen condition. Our hero still is small; it’ll grow with every living being it swallows. The fly it already has swallowed couldn’t add significantly to its mass. Samuel is quite flabbergasted but, nosey as those foolish kittens are, he misses the good sense to run.
The end of Samuel the kitten (Hagman 1972)
The Blob first catches his paw. That the film crew could safely do, but having Samuel sucked into that red gelatinous stuff would have enraged the animal rights activists, I guess. So, the last we get to see of Samuel is him (likely some plush toy stand-in) being dragged out of the kitchen window by the abominable adorable Blob :-)

HAGMAN, LARRY MARTIN. 1972. Beware! The Blob [motion picture]. ?: Jack H. Harris Enterprises Inc.
MOORE, IRVING JOSEPH. 1978-1991. Dallas [television series]. New York: CBS.
SHELDON, SIDNEY. 1965-1970. I dream of Jeannie [television series]. New York: NBC.
YEAWORTH, JR., IRVIN SHORTESS. 1958. The Blob [motion picture]. Los Angeles: Paramount Pictures.


Submarine Cable Map 2011 by TeleGeography

Submarine Cable Map 2011 by TeleGeography

Amazing, how associations creep up involuntarily. When Mark McGuire asked if Cyberanthropology was available in English, I had to answer ‘I’m afraid, but, no,’ and at the same time thought, ‘but there is a book-length unpublished manuscript in English on my HDDs.’ Then I saw the link to TeleGeography’s map gallery at the ethno::log and was reminded of a passage from said manuscript, ranting about the macroscopic hardware aspect of information technology:

When you are doing offline fieldwork in, say, the tropical belt, you have to be able to find your way around in the rainforest, have to know about its dangers, and how to circumvent them, have to have basic, tangible knowledge. First of all a forest is a forest, and not the dwelling place of the deceased, mythical ancestors. It may well be the latter, too—but that comes later. My point is that you can not start with what people envision the forest to be, or—even worse—what academics envision the people there envision the forest to be. The rainforest is an aggregation of plants and animals, interacting all but haphazardly—a complex biological ecosystem. This is what you have to start out with, or—in the worst case—you will not even live long enough to grasp the ancestor thing.
    This leads to my second point of evidence fortifying my suspicion, that slippery paths are taken in some academic research on the online realm—blatant misconceptions of the technology at work. You have to know the forest first.
    In analogy to the forest, the Internet first of all is an aggregation of software and hardware, and not ‘a social practice.’ There are the machines in which data is stored, and on which applications run. Then there are the connections between the machines—copper wires, fibreglass lines, radio links, satellites in orbit, etc. Finally there is the protocol stack, governing and managing the connections, its open standards enabling the Internet to be a ‘net of networks,’ and allowing it to grow, or change, in size, dimensions, and qualities in an unpredictable fashion.
    Above that the mentioned machines are computers in the modern sense, which first of all are Universal Turing Machines, having become manifest as digital electronic technology—ultimate cybernetic systems, able to alter themselves on the software level. Nothing more, but nothing less either. Actually, that already is quite something.
    You do not have to be a cutting-edge computer scientist or communications engineer, when you strive to do anthropological fieldwork online. Just as you do not have to be a botanist or eco-system buff when choosing the rainforests—but it would not hurt. The technical basics have to be grasped, or the traps of virtualism become close to inevitable.

And so on.
    The point I am trying to make is not one in the direction of cultural materialism. rather I am advocating a certain honesty of the fieldworker towards her/himself. When we’re going into the rainforest we first of all envision it in terms of our own enculturation, which is heavily informed by the natural sciences. There’s no use in denying that. To the contrary, embrace it, become fully conscious of it, reflect on it, then you’ll have a chance to tap into other visions, too.
    So, a revitalisation of the old ties between geography and anthropology may well make sense. Even in respect to fieldwork online.
    Beyond that I simply am fascinated by the historical transatlantic telegraph cable, and Cyrus West Field (1819-1892) is a hero of mine ;-)