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Final Project Blogs

If you hare having difficulty finding your fellow students’ blogs, here is a list of final project blogs that have been started in the several weeks (in the order they were created). Because these are not ongoing in the same way, there is not likely to be a big time crunch, and there is considerable technological overhead, I have created a slower-moving RSS page (à la The Feelings and Networks Network rather loading things into TTRSS).

Here are links to all the blogs:

The Affects of Anonymity : Internet Trolling (Michelle Artist)

False Idols (Dan Jones)

On Photo/Graphic Death (Connor Newton)

Never Ending Project (Saima Mahmutovic)

Final Feelings (Nicole Barnes)

Technological Apotheosis (Emily Mihalik)

To Shatter or not to Shatter (Kendyl Layne and Hannah Loesch)

The Tweets of Mr. Donald Trump: A Close Reading (Daniel Ericksen)

THE WAR AGAINST FEMINISM (Chris Gikas)

In addition to the blogs on kredati, James, Hassan, Ed, and Mike have started a group blog on medium.com.

Rushton Conference

There is an annual undergraduate research conference here at Wayne, put on by the English department, called the Rushton Conference. It’s a great thing for you all to do: it builds your CV for graduate school (of any kind); it gets you more comfortable doing public speaking; it’s an opportunity to find out what other awesome things your fellows students are working on; and it means you’ll get to have a conversation about work you care about. I highly recommend it.

Please consider submitting your work from ENG 5075. I’ve had students submit work from previous classes of mine, and it’s been a successful experience for them. (One student even won best presentation and delivered the keynote!) If you would like guidance in preparing a submission, I will be happy to walk you through the process—even next semester.

Submissions are due by 2/19/16, by email, in the form of 250-word abstracts, to RushtonConference@wayne.edu.

Lecture Notes: Lazzarato, and tying up some loose ends

Everybody is so freaked out on the blogs! I told you we’d all feel bad about student loans. But of course you are—Lazzarato describes how we’re all fucked. We’ll get to resistance next week (in miliatary parlance, let’s figure out how to get unfucked). But really, I want to start preparing a cadence for the end of the semester. Hence: lecture notes.

Here’s the big context: One of the main ambiguities of the class, of course, is the term network itself; for the last couple of weeks, we’ve been talking about various kinds of financial networks, and our ways of being in it (debtors all of us). This is not to say that this isn’t also a computational network; it’s just not only computational.

Tying up some loose ends:
• Financialization. This is a general term for the making-tradeable of just about anything at all (turning things into financial “instruments”): the securitization of mortgages into mortgage-backed securities; turning cheese I haven’t made yet into a tradable futures contract; taking out a bet about any old thing happening in the world (that’s a swap—insurance on property you don’t own is also called a bet).

Speculation. One word we haven’t yet used, but is important here is speculation, which is the technical term for the process of extracting value from the future. Risk management (e.g. the Black-Scholes algorithm, but not only that) is important because it allows the calculation, quantification, management, and mitigation of the risk speculation creates.

Betting, gambling, and the really awful stuff. Some of this really is just betting: if you find a number that changes over time—of any kind whatsoever—you can find somebody betting on it. The difference between like actual gambling-betting and betting in financial markets is that there are, somewhere buried under many layers of financialization, actual real people and things that matter. Which somehow actually makes it worse. (Futures have a really important function in the lives of farmers; swaps matter to people or firms who are exposed to indirect risk; the financiers have no interest in anything other than the movements of various numbers, and the underlying assets matter only to the extent that they can help you figure out which way the numbers move.)

Capital is inhuman. Financial capital gets you coming and going: for folks like you and me, we hope the prices always go up, and in a reasonably steady rate. But the smart investment banks made money during the crisis in 2008—mostly, they make money not on rising prices, but on volatility.

On affect and capitalism. Let me try to make a point concretely that I tried to make a few classes back: to the extent that financial capital extracts value from the future, it also extracts value from our own individual futures. If you have a debt to pay back, you behave differently. So let’s say you’re super interested in some kind of artistic practice—but you can’t go make art because of student loans. So you take your finely-honed creativity, ditch the “purposelessness” of the aesthetic (à la Kant), and decide you’re going to start being a graphic designer. You’ve now redirected your creativity—your affective labor—away from art and towards making capitalism run more smoothly for other people, because you had to make money to pay back loans. Which is to say, to the extent that (à la Massumi) affect (in the weird, impersonal sense in which it is not feeling or emotion) is a name for creativity and futurity—indetermination, which is also to say, the possibility of novelty—financialization and indebtedness function as machines for redirecting novelty away from art (or anything else that isn’t subject to capitalistic value-extraction, say revolutionary politics or caring work) and towards the production of the novelty capitalism demands.

On Lazzarato
• And that, of course, is Lazzarato’s point: “The power of debt is described as if it were exercised neither through repression nor through ideology. The debtor is ‘free,’ but his actions, his behavior, are confined to the limits defined by the debt he has entered into. The same is true as much for the individual as for a population or social group. You are free insofar as you assume the way of life (consumption, work, public spending, taxes, etc.) compatible with reimbursement.” Or, I should say, paying rent. (Thanks to Emily, I can now point out that interest is really rent payed on money: you pay rent on what you borrow, and have to keep paying rent on it as long as you have it borrowed.)

• He continues (next sentence): “The techniques used to condition individuals to live with debt begin very early on, even before entry into the job market” (31). What are these techniques? (Anxiety! Fear! “Reasonability.” And so on: this is not ideology, nor repression.)

• “Viewing debt as the archetype of social relations means two things. On the one hand, it means conceiving economy and society on the basis of an asymmetry of power and not on that of a commercial exchange that implies and presupposes equality. … On the other hand, from this perspective debt means immediately making the economy subjective, since debt is an economic relation which, in order to exist, implies the molding and control of subjectivity [read: affect] such that ‘labor’ becomes indistinguishable from the ‘work on the self’ ” (33).

• Which is to say, the work of the book is an investigation into “how the debt economy forms subjectivity” (95).

• Let’s draw some connections:

—Accelerando tracks a fantasy about the transformations—economic, affective, biological and technological that life must undergo to become fully compatible with the kind of debt economy we currently have.

Blackhat shows how “action” is always misplaced, always somewhere else. Even when we get to see the inside of computers, visualizing a technical operation that is beyond our powers of perception (and resembling a car chase—thanks, Noah)—the real story is always somewhere else, and can’t be spectacularized either by film or by news media. The big, spectacular nuclear meltdown was just a red-herring distracting test-run for the real dastardly plan, raising the price of tin production in Malaysia by sabotaging dams. There aren’t even people who will get hurt! In this, Blackhat is similar to another quasirealist genre action movie, Quantum of Solace, where the villain is a faceless organization of capitalists who engineer a military coup, have the new el presidente sign over rights to a huge tract of land where they’ve secretly been stashing water, and then force the new president to buy the water at extortionate prices. Which is to say, they’re just run of the mill capitalists masquerading under a nonsensical name, “Quantum.” This is less about digital technology than it is about the operation of capital, but anxieties about the future tend to be displaced onto new technologies. Where Blackhat fails is precisely in its failure to spectacularize its events: or rather, it turns out the solution is just a white guy killing a bunch of people (thanks, Sara).

—A question not for discussion, really, but for further pondering (I don’t know the answer): does digital computation really change the operation of capital qualitatively? (As Ed points out, and Dan contemplates, and as I know Theo believes, it may just be the same old story, just faster.)

•Back to Lazzarato: “Even though neoliberalism equally involves the economy and subjectivity, ‘work’ and ‘work on the self,’ it reduces the latter to an injunction to become one’s own boss [cf. Foucault’s panopticism, where one becomes one’s own jailer], in the sense of ‘taking upon oneself’ the costs and risks that business and the State externalize onto society. The promise of what ‘work on the self’ was supposed to bring to ‘labor’ in terms of emancipation (pleasure, self-fulfillment, recognition, experimentation with different forms of life, mobility, etc.) has been rendered void, transformed into the imperative to take on the risks and costs that neither business nor the State are willing to undertake” (93).

• This is perhaps the most important passage of the book: neoliberalism is, among other things, characterized by a massive shift of risk away from its socialized forms (pensions, unemployment insurance, free or cheap higher education, socialized health care [like we ever had that here!]) and onto the individual. The neoliberalized individual is now responsible for saving for retirement (and so now the investment banks make money managing private money, and also gamble with those deposits), paying for their lives during times of unemployment (not least wise, running up credit card debt) paying for higher education (in the form of loans, on which the individual must pay rent in the form of interest, and which cannot be discharged in bankruptcy), and so on. Being a freelancer is great! Except the risk is nearly unmanageable for actually living individuals who don’t already have capital. This massive transfer of risk is perhaps the technique of neoliberal governmentality. If once the individual’s risk was once mitigated by aggregation at a population level (e.g., in the form of pension funds), now the population is a population of individual risk-bearers whose subjectivity is formed by that risk in the form of indebtedness. Meanwhile, the population can be subjected to more ruthlessly efficient forms of value-extraction: there isn’t interest on tax-funded state appropriations for higher ed, but there sure is interest on the student loans that have replaced it.

I think I’d better stop there (since this is already probably too much material to get through in class today). And then next week, we’ll start talking about the political forms of interruption. If the system is overwhelmingly massive, integrated, there’s no outside imaginable (in Mark Fisher’s words, it’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism), then we don’t have strategy, we only have tactics. Hence our study of tactical media next week.

Final project posts: 12/4 and 12/11

Dear all,

As part of your process towards final projects, two further process posts:

Project proposal, due 12/4. In 300-500 words, describe your final project: your topic, your questions, your method, your primary sources, and the themes and readings and aesthetic objects from the course you plan to engage. You may wish to structure this as a brief story: how did you discover your topic, how did you refine the topic, why is it interesting to you.

Secondary source, due 12/11. In not fewer than 500 words (although probably at greater length than that), write a critical and analytical summary of a single secondary source—i.e., a scholarly article, essay, or book chapter—that is not on the class syllabus that you plan on using in your final project. Please address what it is you have learned from this essay/article/chapter, and what critical or analytical leverage on your topic and question it offers.

Reading next week

After looking through No Speed Limit, here is my honest reaction: It’s very short, and not nearly as difficult as, say, the Berlant; the whole book is a scant 61 pages, and Shaviro is an admirably clear writer. Please do your best to finish both Accelerando and No Speed Limit. Meanwhile, the priority of what is in No Speed Limit cascades along the book itself: start at the beginning, and see how much you can get through.

Have a great weekend!

Also, this is finally my time to catch up to myself with grading, so expect updates from me across the weekend with marks and comments.

Neuromancer Topics

Today we’re going to break into discussion groups for the class. I’ll lecture just a little bit on historicity and the novel form, and why that matters. Gibson: “The future’s already here, it’s just unevenly distributed.” But, here’s a list of topics/questions drawn from your blog posts for us to really dig into:

Directionality and/or reciprocity of connection (e.g., simstim). (Piper, James and Matt)

Labor and alienation. (James and Nicole and Connor)

Confusions (spatial and otherwise) between meatspace and cyberspace. (Connor and Mike and Matt)

Hallucinations and drugs. (Connor and Matt)

Final Projects: Next Post: Topic > Question > Problem

For your next final project post, you should pose a research question. It will be due on Friday, November 13. This is in advance of your (required) meeting with me the following weeks.

The following exercise is cribbed from Wayne Booth (et al.)’s The Craft of Research. There are two relevant chapters: “From Topics to Questions” and “From Questions to Problems.”

Your “Problem” posts should step through each of these steps in an explicit way, documenting your revisions and how you’re thinking about them. Show your work. This may seem tedious, but it won’t take very long, and I suspect it will help you get to a good question quickly and clearly. The goal in this exercise is a really pointed, very specific agenda to get you started on your research.

First: Good Topics

Let’s get a clearly, concisely specified topic. Booth tells us that if the topic can be stated in four or five words, it’s not specific enough (39). You’ve got to add some form of elaboration and specification. Their types are: conflictdescriptioncontribution, and developing.

So let’s say I’ve decided my topic is “sexuality in network games” (I think I’m not duplicating anybody’s research project). Note that we can restate this as a claim: “There is sexuality in network games.” That’s not very interesting.

To elaborate this, we should add language of conflict, description, etc. from above. To which I will add, also specify some actual sites of research. Here’s a better topic: “The development of sexuality in network games from text-based MUDs to 3D worlds like Second Life.”

A few things are good about this. First, you can state it as a claim: “Sexuality in network games has developed from text-based MUDs to 3D worlds like Second Life.” Notice, too, that there’s a subsidiary claim there, which is that a game’s interface affects the way sexuality is a problem for, or in, it. Second, it’s got a few obvious points of reference in our course: Neveldine + Taylor, Dibbel, Bersani, Cooper, Hodge.

Second: Topic/Question/Significance

We’re not done. Booth gives us a three-step sentence that will help enormously in figuring out what you’re working on and why. It goes like this: topic, question, significance.

Topic: “I am studying…,”

Question: “because I want to find out why/how/whether…,”

Significance: “in order to help my reader understand…”

A few notes:

Notice that there is a genuine question! This is not the same thing as a topic.

Notice also that the significance is about teaching the reader something. Presumably you’ll learn something, too, but it’s important to understand that all this work is targeted at readers—in this case: your classmates, me, your very dedicated friends and relatives, and the internet at large.

In the above example, we could parse this out a couple of ways:

Perhaps the most straightforward way is to keep the topic very specifically focused, and then to add layers of generalization from there: “I am working on sexuality in early MUDs and Second Life, because I want to find out how game interfaces affect how sexuality works in games, in order to help my reader understand how game design can have effects on networked sexuality.”

But you could also run this a bit more theoretico-historically (and more specifically): “I am working on changes in how sexuality works between early MUDs and Second Life, because I want to find out what online sexuality and fantasy teach about sexuality in general, in order to help my reader understand how differing mediations of virtual and physical involve transformations in sexuality.

In each case, notice that there are implicit questions that get us places: How do game interfaces affect sexuality in games? How does game design influence networked sexuality? What do online sexuality and fantasy teach us about sexuality in general? How do different mediations of virtual and physical life involve transformations in sexuality?

Each of these is, of course, also a claim—”Different mediations of virtual and physical life involve transformations in sexuality.” So you might think that your thesis is baked in, and that’s the thesis. But actually, that’s just the starting point, the communicative context, for your research. You’ll discover your thesis in the elaboration of the how question.

Third: Research Problem

This is a fairly radical redaction of what Booth (et al.) have to say, but it will help.

First, we’re dealing with conceptual problems: what we do or do not understand. So let’s get explicit with one of these topic/question/significance sentences. Neither of them is done yet.

Let’s make explicit the conceptual consequences embedded in one of these two sentences by specifying the entailments between these levels—in reverse.

“In order to understand how game design can have effects on networked sexuality, I have to (it helps to) understand how game interfaces affect how sexuality works in games.” That’s not bad! And “In order to understand how game interfaces affect how sexuality works in games, I have to (it helps to) understand sexuality in early MUDs and Second Life.” This isn’t quite right. The scope of the problems doesn’t fit—and your intuition is probably exactly wrong. You could make the topic broader, but that’s exactly the wrong direction.

This is where we loop this back into specifying the topic even further. What you’re studying is not, then, sexuality in early MUDs and Second Life, but rather the consequences of textual vs. visual interfaces for sexuality in early MUDs and Second Life. “In order to understand how game interfaces affect how sexuality works in games, I have to (it helps to) understand the consequences of textual vs. visual interfaces for sexuality in early MUDs and Second Life.” That’s better, the scope matches.

We could get more specific than this, and will learn how to as our research progresses. But now we actually have some real agendas to start working on reading and research: textual mediations of sexuality in early MUDs, visual mediations of sexuality in Second Life. What we discover there will help us figure out how to connect the dots. And what we’ve arrived at is our goal: a really specific agenda as you start your research.

 

Final Projects, Part Three of Many: Research Considerations

Many of you may not, in fact, have been asked to do significant research before. Here are some ideas on how to get started doing research on the sorts of topics we are dealing with in class:

  • Google that shit. Seriously. If you’re working on a specific object (a video game, a person’s Instagram feed, whatever), then google away. I don’t mean googling for 10 minutes, I mean spend an hour or more just entering queries to see what you can find that’s interesting, unusual, bonkers, fucking weird.
  • Google-scholar that shit. If you’re interested in, say Lauren Berlant, you could do a whole lot worse than, for instance, putting her into scholar.google.com.
  • Academia.edu and personal websites. My personal website, as you probably know, is kredati.org. Such sites have useful information! For example, you can see all the things I’ve written and published there.
  • Follow footnotes. This is a very, very powerful way to do research, especially when you have a certain body of text under your belt. Let’s say you’re interested in what Jagoda has to say about network games and how they refract network form. Especially find the parts of the essay you find compelling, and see what he cites during those passages.
  • Talk to people. Me. Your fellow students. Your other professors. You may not actually even need to talk to them, but just use your bloggy-blogs to interact.
  • The library. I know! So retro! But Judith Arnold, who is the librarian for English, is perfectly wonderful, and has put together a really helpful research guide for English. Spend a long while looking through that website.
  • JSTOR, Project Muse, and others. In the research guide, you will find a good list of relevant databases.
  • Amazon.com. Amazon’s book recommendation algorithm is pretty good, at least sometimes. Punch in a book that you know you like (say, Post-Cinematic Affect), and the “People who bought this also bought” list isn’t a bad place to start to find books that are likely of interest. They might not be directly related, but they’ll be related-enough.

That should be enough for now. We’ll keep working on these together.

Final Projects, Part Two of Many: Nuts and Bolts

Here is the first batch of final project nuts and bolts:

  1. The final project must represent the same amount of work as a 12–15pp. paper. At minimum, it should comprise 4,000 words of writing. These 4,000 words need to belong to the same project, but they do not need to be a single piece of writing (i.e. eight 500 word posts will do).
  2. The final project must be complete by 8am on Tuesday, December 22nd.
  3. The final project must involve research of some kind. I expect both primary and secondary sources that are not on the class syllabus to be of some significance for you in your writing.
  4. You must have a clearly articulated research agenda—a question that orients your exploration. Your first attempts at this will almost certainly be too broad. I will help you narrow questions.
  5. In addition to the project itself, there will be a series of scaffolded blog posts that will guide you through a research process. (These will also be in addition to weekly blog posts.) These will be helpful, rather than busywork. I promise.
  6. The project itself can take many forms; this is part of what your project formulation will entail. The default format will be a blog: not the regular, weekly blog you’ve been posting on, but a second one, dedicated to the project itself.
  7. I hope you will consider group blogs among people who are working on resonant research projects. We can talk about methods of forming groups.
  8. Notionally, I was hoping to have people also present their final projects to the class. This, however, is not actually feasible with the number of students we have in the class. We will talk about alternative formats for talking and thinking together about other folks’ research.