Inventing the Self

Killing time

December 3rd, 2013 · 1 Comment


Having a love/hate relationship with games, gaming addiction, computer games, iPhone apps, etc. I felt that the readings this week touched on some interesting ideas. One thing Ito’s and Bittanti’s “Gaming” article glossed over was how a subject derives an interpretation of gaming as killing time.

It seemed like the article was more concerned with how individuals interpret their gaming experience rather than why they interpret it positively or negatively. The authors surmise, “gamers talk about games as killing time and a waste of time and see value in precisely those properties of games that enable a certain state of distractedness,” (201). While the authors provide insight into how gamers interpret  their gaming experience, they do not discuss the process in which discourse informs cultural valuations of gaming. This was not their concern.  In the footnotes the authors reveal,  “in this chapter . . . we focus on actual social practices of gaming and what game players describe as meaningful outcomes of their play” (2010, 241).  Gaming and meanings ascribed to the gaming experience are treated as givens. Gaming as a practice and the formation of meanings are not problematized.


Still, the idea of gaming as “killing time” speaks to me. I also interpret gaming as  killing time. But often I end up killing a lot more time then I originally intended. Once, killing an hour turned into killing 3 months. It was not so much that I was simply filling dead time. I was creating dead time. I was reducing my obligations or eliminating them so that I could kill more time.


What is funny to me is that just like some of the subjects in Ito and Bittanti’s article, I interpret my gaming as unproductive. Why though? What made the time spent feel like time lost? Another type of analysis the article did not explore was the phenomenology of gaming. What is existence experienced as gaming? In contrast to the “Gaming” article, Dennis Cooper’s narrative God Jr. provides insight into the phenomenology of gaming. The narrative did not distinguish the experience of gaming with reality. The father character, Jim Baxter, playing the Nintendo did not experience gaming as separate from himself. It was intertwined in his experience of his life. A type of the “machinima.” But more. He was not “Jim Baxter” playing the bear. Cooper portrays Baxter as experiencing life as the bear.


Heidegger’s hammer metaphor in Being and Time I think is analogous to gaming. Gaming, like the hammer, is ready-to-hand. While playing the game you are not aware of the specific colors of the buttons, the internal wiring, the game console, the television set, the room around you, the lighting in the room, the time of day, etc. Until the game stops working, does it become present-at-hand, meaning that you become aware of the game as game and not as an experience. The experience of gaming stops. When I used to own a Supernintendo, you would have to insert the game cartridge into the console. Sometimes the game froze and you had to blow on the cartridge to make it start working again. I was only aware that the game was not in my experience of it when the game stopped working.


In other words, gaming challenges the very notion of experience as something internal for the very experience of gaming always exists outside of oneself.  This brings me back to my original issue with the notion of “killing time.” It seems that gaming is devalued as experience because it metaphorically disrupts the idea of experience as internal. What you do in a game does not happen to your body. It is projected outside of yourself. Nevertheless, the gaming experience isn’t felt as external. Being successful in a game or winning in a game gives us the sensation that we are winning. Getting a high score belongs to the player not the computer. Yet the high score still exists only as we are gaming and within the world of the game. It is this paradox of gaming as experience that becomes interpreted as “killing time.”


My question is whether interpreting gaming as “killing time” comes out of a value system that treats productivity as an ideal. Additionally, I am also curious whether the essential tension of the gaming experience, viewing unproductivity as a negative experience, is paradoxically a form of self-prescribed treatment to assuage feelings of unproductivity. Is it a sublimated form of productivity? By that I mean, is “killing time” simultaneously a way of reminding oneself of one’s unproductivity as well as a way to have accomplishments? Doesn’t “killing” refers to an act, one that has yet to be accomplished? If the time is already dead (unproductive time) why does it need “killing?” In this way does “killing” refer to both failure (not using one’s time productively) but also an accomplishment (the death of time, aka “killing time”)?


It also seems that the discourse of the productive individual as an ideal is thus paradoxically confronted in the phenomena of gaming. Gaming as resulting in unproductive productivity enables a subject to produce individualized accomplishments. On the one hand, the subject participates in gaming to fulfill the feelings of failure. On the other, gaming is the practice of sublimated individualized accomplishment. The gamers build their avatars, complete quests, accomplish tasks, win fights, beat levels all in the name of achieving individual accomplishments. Gaming thus enacts the myth of practical meritocracy.

Gaming becomes intoxicating because it fulfills the imagined ideal of labor leading to results. In this way, gaming is the refraction of the paradox of capitalist ethics and its practice par excellence. Whereas capitalism requires laborers to be alienated from their products, capitalism also depends on reinforcing the ‘labor-to-capital conversion’ myth as a means of self-fulfillment. Gaming is a reproduction of that paradox. It enables gamers to invest labor into intangibles that are meaningless once they stop playing.  The valuation of gaming as “killing time” is constitutive of the practice of capitalism. Thus gaming is not a perversion of the proper capitalist ideal; it is its perfection. Gaming actualizes the ideal of capitalism by having one’s labor always translate into individual (avatarial) growth and it discloses the practice of capitalism with the feeling that one is “killing” one’s own time.


I think that the book God Jr. addresses these questions. For the father must kill his time to assuage his guilt for killing his son. Killing his time becomes a productive way to atone for his sin.

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November 19th, 2013 · Comments Off on THANK YOU SHERRY TURKLE!

SOO, I know it is not my turn to go….but I couldn’t resist.
I think we can start off by saying that Turkle’s alarmist “Alone Together” is problematic. I think it would be useful to consider: Sherry, why have you been criticized for pathologizing people who seek intimacy through nonnormative partners? Hmm? Why would people take offense to an authoritative figure, professor from MIT, policing sexual and social norms? I wonder why she has been criticized for committing the same sin of the anti-gay marriage interest groups by defining criteria of normative relationships? Could it be that her critics find it problematic that she imposes the psychiatric gaze on bodies seeking alternative forms of intimacy? Could it be that she is moralizing proper sexuality? Could it be gay rights activism historically has not been limited to marriage rights but reflects a complex and dynamic protest against the juridical and disciplinary deployment of heteronormativity? Could it be that “Alone Together” is in fact a treatise for the reconstitution of the abnormal/normal binary in order to encode the conditions of proper sociality?


I think it is possible to have a serious discussion about the role of technology in the modern age without resorting to moralizing discourses about proper sociality. This is not it.


Her questions are all wrong and her framework is worse. The introduction is characteristically oblivious. Which site does she choose to situate this alarmist rhetoric? None other than the Museum of Natural History. Is it worthwhile to remind ourselves that the natural history museum was founded on the “spectacle” of imperialism and colonialization? Rather than investigating how interpretations of “spectacle” inform a preference for a robotic tortoise over one alive, she exhibits the children’s failure to see the true value in the spectacle as indicative of the dystopic reality technology has created.
To a “child” who has no conception of Darwin, the theory of evolution, or the complex historical debates that have emerged due to the evolutionary discourse, an inert tortoise is not interesting. The tortoise is not the spectacle. The spectacle is the deployment of evolutionary theory. It is that yummy feeling of reminding the antievolutionists how wrong they are. Without a concept of this, the spectacle can be nothing more than the object itself. And there is nothing spectacular about an inert animal. On the other hand, animatronics are preferable because they are a recomposition of life not as it is but as it should be. They are not lifeless. They represent an excess of life. The very function and composition is to make objects overflow with interminable life.
Thus, it is not less life that is desirable. Technological innovation is primarily concerned with the rejection of the finite. Further, technological advancements in communication are not used to run away from life. It is to inject life exponentially into every crevice once devoid of life. No moment should ever pass without having at our fingertips access to the excess of life.
I am going to try to sum up an alternative analysis of “spectacle.” A spectacle is an object of consumption (see Debord’s Society of a Spectacle). Debord argues, “The spectacle’s function in society is the concrete manufacture of alienation.” Debord uses a marxist analysis to create a theory of spectacle. I am not necessarily endorsing this. I am merely using the theme of alienation to turn the gaze back on Turkle. In what ways does she reinforce a culture of alienation by endorsing the spectacle of pathologized intimacy? How alienated do you feel now that you have found out that your predilection for technological gadgets is abnormal?
The understanding of what is worthy of a “spectacle” is not ahistorical, but has discursively reflected contemporaneous notions of the magnification of alterity. Think of Ota Benga in the early 20th century who was displayed in the Museum of Natural History and the Bronx Zoo. Or Saartje Beetman, also known as the Hottentot Venus, also an object of the spectacle. And today, we still have exhibits of prehistoric hunter/gatherers who for some reason also anachronistically practiced heteronormative sociality exhibited as the nuclear family.
I think my biggest problem with this book is not that Turkle claims modern forms of communication produce alienation. Rather, that the text is embedded in the realm of moralism. But as a psychoanalyst, that is her job. She has the responsibility to help our fragile society. Parents need to know that giving their kids cellphones will lead to Robot marriages. Society is too weak-minded to realize that avatars are a perversion of proper sociality. Parents must protect their children! Poor Turkle has the sole responsibility to project judgments on inferior forms of sociality in order to help us discern the normal from abnormal. Thank you Sherry Turkle.

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November 15th, 2013 · 1 Comment



I thought I would share this in reaction to the “information is beautiful” site. I think it might be hard to see the image. I suggest clicking on the link.


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Is technology an “I-it” relationship or an “I-thou” relationship?

November 12th, 2013 · 1 Comment

Last week, we discussed in class whether our involvement with “social media” encourages narcissism. On the surface, I believe we came to the conclusion that social networking sites like “Facebook” are perceived as a narcissistic enterprise. Whether true or not, I think characterizing the debate on social media in terms of “narcissism” is unproductive. I think the case can be made for both. What would be more worthwhile would be a look into the new types of experiences that modern technology enables.  Perhaps afterwards, we can return to the topic of narcissism.


This week’s readings “Technology as Experience” gives us a more productive way of talking about “social media.” McCarthy et. al.’s claim that modern technology enables formations of self-expression and forging relationships is apt. They argue that modern forms of communication “augments people’s ability to organize complex and busy work, family, and social lives. For many it also provides an opportunity to express themselves, their feelings and emotions, in ways not previously available to them.” (6). Rather than eroding relationships, text-messaging or “tweeting” provides opportunities to connect with others otherwise unreachable. If you know that a significant other has an important presentation or meeting, you can send instantaneous words of encouragement without interrupting their task.


Or, as I did this weekend, one can use “Facebook” for multi-dialogic engagement. Specifically, last week was “birthday week” for my girlfriend. I tried to make everyday meaningful. Around midnight, when my girlfriend was checking her “Facebook” “Happy Birthday Wishes,” I wrote on her wall, “Almost forgot, Happy Birthday!” I know this was silly. I was already celebrating her birthday with her. But I hadn’t yet wished her happy on her wall. I did this partly to get her attention. Direct communication wasn’t working. She was engrossed in thanking people for their comments as well as responding to her text messages. But also I wanted to engage her in a dialogue that would be otherwise impossible without this form of communication. We can communicate simultaneously through this technological medium and face to face. One doesn’t replace the other. In fact they add up to what McCarthy et. al.’s terms (borrowing from Bakhtin), “the unity of felt experience” (18). In McCarthy’s words, I take this to mean: “When we conceptualize technologies as experience, we are attempting to re-view technology by making visible aspects of experience of technology that would otherwise remain invisible” (20). In doing so, I can communicate with my girlfriend in contradictory ways through social media.


You could also argue that I was disciplining myself by powers of normalization, to use a Foucauldian reading. By admitting fault “Almost forgot” I was acknowledging publicly to the Facebook panopticon a failure to participate in the social norm of wishing “Happy Birthday” on the person’s wall. I know this has been especially important for myself at times. I would equate my self-worth and “popularity” by how many people would wish me happy birthday. As a quasi-public sphere, I have assigned value to how I represent myself and how others have perceived me. In addition, I had a friend who, on his birthday, checked his Facebook profile on his mobile every five minutes and announce who wished him happy birthday. He would also mention who hadn’t wrote on his wall. You could call this effect disciplinary-narcissism. As a reminder to all those with him, he takes note of who forgets his birthday. The act of forgetting is to sever the relationship. To not write on your significant other’s wall would be a defamation of this sacred social sphere. The absence of a “comment” would signify an irreparable rupture. Thus, Facebook also could represent a site of productive power where one must continually engage in this alternate form of relations so as not to commit social suicide or social alienation. We must actively promote ourselves, to act in a narcissistic manner, such as in updating our profile, liking other people’s comments, adding new pictures, so as to prevent the rupture of meaningful relationships. To engage with others through social media, in this light, is not dialogic but dialectic. Communication with others, commenting on another’s status, writing on another’s wall, is not to engage in the dialogue but to synthesize others in a perpetual self-promotion.


While this view can be argued, and I don’t think it necessarily is exclusive to McCarthy et. al.’s analysis, it does sufficiently undermine the “I-thou” characteristic of social media. To say that this form of media is only dialectic, makes invisible the felt experience where “I” exists in relation to “thou.” Martin Buber’s, a philosopher of Hasidism, notion of “I-thou” versus “I-it” rests on the assumption that “self-realization” comes out of “reciprocal individualism” (quoted from Rotenberg, 1978: 157-160). Martin Buber (1878-1965) understands this reciprocal individualism as emerging from the “dynamic sphere between person and person in dialogue” (Rotenberg, 1978: 158). I think it is important to note Buber’s influence on Bakhtin. While Bakhtin was at the hospital between 1967-1971 he was asked his feelings on Buber who recently paid him a visit. Bakhtin responds, “Buber is a philosopher. And I am very much in debted to him. In particular for the idea of dialogue. Of course, this is obvious to anyone who reads Buber” (see Joseph Frank’s “The voices of Mikhail Bakhtin” ff 2.2).


I think that the incorporation of technology in our lives becomes the narcissistic-disciplinary site when we engage it in an “I-it.” The “It,” Facebook in this case, is the primary concern. How does “It” my profile, my page, status updates, represent or reflect me, or “I.” An “I-It” relation causes us to care more about how many people are wishing us “happy birthday” than the “who” or the “thou.” McCarthy et. al.’s use of Bakhtin’s theory of “dialogics” becomes clearer in this light. “A dialogical perspective on sense making orients us to the idea that meaning is a process of bringing together different perspectives and, in this creative bringing together, forging understanding. Bakhtin refers to this as creative understanding” (18). In engaging social media not for the sake of “I-it” but for “I-thou,” that is to forge meaningful relationships, these mediums allow for a futuristically driven “creative understanding” of “self-realization” through “reciprocal individualism.” It is that dialogic encounter with open-ended possibilities (like we saw in Matias Viegener’s 2500 Random Things About Me Too). “Self-realization” is thus not fixed but open to dialogic encounters.

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25 (not so random) Reflections of Matias Viegener’s 2500 Random Things About Me Too (and me!)

October 29th, 2013 · 2 Comments

25 (not so random) Reflections of Matias Viegener’s 2500 Random Things About Me Too
1) A review of a text is an act of synthesis. It seems inappropriate to imbue synthesis into Viegeger’s lists, but as Viegener notes “Random: could be anything, but usually isn’t” (xx, 19).
2) Random implies the absence of pattern or an objective. To make 100 lists of 25 random things is impossibly random.
3) A synthesis: yet the lists have a “random” quality, in the sense that each item is not necessarily linked to the previous or following item. “You see a book not one thing. It’s many things in an arrangement” (xxxii, 8).
4) However, throughout the lists there occurs repetitions of themes, characters, settings, plots. Peggy the dog’s death; Einstein on the Beach, as a theatrical counterpoint, an opera that’s essence expresses the paradoxical nature of the impossibility of randomness while earnestly defying meaning (it’s 4 ½ hours of repetition without coherence, although this too is debatable); Kathy Acker; his mother; sex/sexuality/sexual encounters/sexual identity/perverse sexuality; fruit, etc.
5) The deconstruction of “narrative” appears as a through-line of the lists. For instance, Viegener invokes “post hoc ergo propter hoc” to point out the logical fallacy inherent in narratives (if something follows, it doesn’t mean it was caused by it). This famous latin phrase was used by semiologist Roland Barthes in his famous essay “Structural Analysis of Narratives,” in order to point out “that the mainspring of narrative is precisely the confusion of consecution and consequence.”
6) The etymology of “random” comes from Old French randon, from randir ‘to run,’ ‘to gallop.’ The implication being that randomness has an inherent urgency, which is evident in several of Viegener’s items “I am so tired of making lists I could cry. I’m tired of trying to get people’s attention. I just want to shut up and go to sleep” (lxxix, 19). And, “I’m going to finish these lists. It’s just hard now when the only ‘random’ thing happening to me is Peggy’s steady decline.” (lxxxi, 25).
7) While imposing a structure and a goal to create lists of random things is paradoxically nonrandom, it appears that the statements have an essence of randomness in that they are purposefully illustrating the “post hoc ergo propter hoc” fallacy as contiguous excretions.
8) The first item is particularly revealing of the (non)object(ive) of the lists: “People think I’m American but inside I am foreign” (i, 1). This has two meanings: literally being born outside the US; as well as the desire for sui generis, being wholly unique.
9) You could call my list a “random” essay. Or at least, an essay that would not fly. If you removed the rupturous structure of the “list” constraint, the paper would not have a clear logical flow.
10) You will realize how random 2500 Random Things About Me Too is when you try to search for quotes. While reading you may have put together a coherence to the statements, but the lack of organization of the statements underlies the actual randomness of the text.
11)While contiguous statements disclose motifs, plots, characters, the act of purging oneself of facts effects discontinuity of being by ex-silencio. Your identity forms by the absence of what it is not said.
12) Reading this “book,” made me think of the question “what are you?”
13) The question “what are you,” interrogatory in structure, is asked of me quite a lot. Because of my complexion, my “identity” is illegible.
14) I have been asked this question so many times that I now play dumb, pretending that I do not know what my interrogator is asking.
15) The reality is, people who ask me this do not have malicious intent. Or at least, I don’t think they do.
16) I used to respond simply, “I am Jewish.” This is sometimes satisfactory. “Oh! Okay. Funny you don’t look Jewish.” Sometimes they want to know more, “No, no, no. I mean where are you from, why are you . . .” “Brown?” I ask. “No. Not ‘Brown.’ Dark.”
17) Recently, I have been responding with, “I’m American,” or “I’m ‘white.'” To which I get, “No you are not.” And I sadly agree, I would hate to just be “white.”
18) I wonder if anyone is going to read my post?
19) What is funny about this is that as much as I hate this game, I play it. Playing dumb extends the inquisition, which I always find so disturbing.  Yet, that the game can go on for such a long time means that I have a legible “foreignness.”
20) I can see why Viegener feels so uneasy about the narcissism inherent in creating lists of self. During his 9th list with 91 more to go he says, “I am so tired of using I, me, my, and mine here” (ix, 24). It is not that people are uncomfortable with obsessing about themselves; it is that realization that our “self” is inclined to “self-obsess,” is a devastating revelation  of our “self.”
21) Just like in my game, “what are you,” I get to play guess “me” without it stemming from my desire for others to know “me.” The ambiguity of my complexion elicits the game, and I play along.
22) But it is not “my game.” It is a game people play. I wonder how many other people willingly play this game with others.
23) Viegener wants us to think that “narrative is something created by the reader’s need” (v, 24). This statement is about the ‘us,’ the reader, and ‘our’ experience of reading random facts. In a very interesting turn, Viegener unveils that, “I seem to have given up avoiding narrative” (xii, 24). The ‘narrative need’ that he describes is not just a “reader’s need” but the writer’s, too. The juxtaposition of these statements reveal that Viegener may have a misconception about narrative. According to Gerard Genette in Narrative Discourse, “narrative refer[s] to the narrative statement, the oral or written discourse that undertakes to tell of an event or series of events” (25). The essence of a “narrative” is it’s narrator. According to Oxford Dictionary, the word “narrative” comes from the french word “narratif” which means “telling a story.” Story, Genette defines, is “the succession of events, real or fictitious, that are the subjects of this discourse” (Genette 25). Inherent in the term “narrative” is “telling.” Viegener’s cause was lost from the start! Random or organized, telling random facts about oneself constitutes a narrative, even if it is an incoherent one. But perhaps Viegener wanted to draw our attention to this very fact to simultaneously critique and uphold Tzvetan Todorov’s dictum, “beware of coherence” (lxx, 24).
24) I find it odd, that the last four quotes I used are all from 24th random fact from the lists.
25) My list is not faithful to the structure. I have produced them simultaneously. Any resemblance to the “random lists” is sacrificed as a result. The act of ‘publishing’ random statements through ‘Facebook’ as an ongoing ephemeral exercise inhibits ‘self-censorship.’ But I never really meant to duplicate Viegener’s exercise, just borrow the structure.

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Lowboy, McCarthy-Jones, Foucault, Hustvedt (with undertones of Noe)…too much coffee

October 16th, 2013 · 3 Comments

Both of our readings this week discuss schizophrenics from different perspectives but deal with similar issues. John Wray’s Lowboy represents a phenomenological approach to schizophrenia; Simon McCarthy-Jones’ Hearing Voices examines schizophrenia from the institutional framework of the “psychiatric system” (144). Lowboy places the reader within schizophrenia’s experience of the world; McCarthy-Jones investigates how the psychiatric system constitutes the lived experiences of schizophrenia when “voice-hearer” becomes the psychopathologized schizophrenic. It seems both texts are trying to complicate our understanding of mental illness.


I know that I reference Foucault a lot, and I am going to do so again here. These readings instantly made me think of Foucault’s Madness and Civilization. Foucault claims that the notion of madness as being inside the body, as constituting the individual, is part of the discursive formation of madness of the modern period. The taxonomy of illness, to define it, locate it, diagnose, treat, and relegate bodies with the illness represents a new form of productive power within modernity. (I apologize for the long quote)


“In the serene world of mental illness, modem man no longer communicates with the madman: on one hand, the man of reason delegates the physician to madness, thereby authorizing a relation only through the abstract universality of disease; on the other, the man of madness communicates with society only by the intermediary of an equally abstract reason which is order, physical and moral constraint, the anonymous pressure of the group, the requirements of conformity. As for a common language, there is no such thing; or rather, there is no such thing any longer; the constitution of madness as a mental illness, at the end of the eighteenth century, affords the evidence of a broken dialogue, posits the separation as already effected, and thrusts into oblivion all those stammered, imperfect words without fixed syntax in which the exchange between madness and reason was made. The language of psychiatry, which is a monologue of reason about madness, has been established only on the basis of such a silence” (x-xi).


McCarthy-Jones, who seeks to find space for the “voice-hearers” within modern society wherein hearing voices is not “pathological” but an inability to cope “can be labelled illness,” seems to align with Foucault against “the constitution of madness as a mental illness” (145). McCarthy-Jones appears to offer a practical solutions to undo the social and individual stigma of pathologizing schizophrenia. Nevertheless, McCarthy-Jones situates voice hearing within a schema of “recovery,” which resumes “a monologue of reason about madness” by simply establishing a new demarcation of “being a patient voice-hearer” from “a healthy voice hearing” (145). McCarthy-Jones’ good faith approach to help schizophrenics conform their condition within normative society still takes up psychology’s discourse; it still sees the condition of hearing voices as a condition to be treated. To the psychologist the schizophrenic subject’s inherent ontology is within the realm of the pathological. McCarthy-Jones’ may be working against the stigma of pathology but his analysis derives from legible categories of psychopathology: behaviors, statements, ideations, are still categorized and subjected to professional scrutiny. The subject as a “patient” must seek recovery through the psychologist’s humanized regimen. The patient continues to possess an illness that needs sterilization. Foucault’s genealogy of madness complicates this binary by arguing that the taxonomy of mental illness has a history; that before it represented a malady “within man,” madness was a link to the “subterranean,” existing outside of the body that could be accessed in order to retrieve the truth of the world (26). The discursive shift of madness occurs when the madman becomes the mentally ill, a subject in need of profession help.


Looking back at The Shaking Woman, Hustvedt has some interesting things to say about schizophrenia. In contrast to Hegel, who reasons that “our self-consciousness is rooted in relations between the self and other,” for “some schizophrenics” the concept of self-consciousness has no basis since “‘I’ and ‘you’ become confused or meaningless” (76-77). On the one hand, we can view the lived experience of schizophrenia as perversion of consciousness; on the other, the concept consciousness as existing and emanating from within the self is unsatisfactory from the perspective of the schizophrenic. The ontology of schizophrenia, in other words, expresses the limitations of “self” as a isolatable concept. Moreover, Hudstvedt brings up Ian Hacking’s proposition that psychological diagnoses “affects people” (148). Similar to McCarthy-Jones’ argument, being labeled schizophrenic will place the subject within “the subculture of psychiatry” (149). In other words, the subject is placed within the arena of psychiatric observation and induced into incessant confessions of his/her illness. The diagnosis of schizophrenia is not simply reference to a natural biological affliction. It both effects new outcomes and regimen of behaviors, which will be thoroughly researched and analyzed as well as affects how the individual thinks about him/herself. The diagnosis of schizophrenia does not elicit the truth of the subject; instead, the “schizophrenic’s” identity is subjected to the organizational, institutional, and discursive power embedded within the epistemology of schizophrenia. As a result, the possibility of escaping the bounds of the Hegelian dialectical identity is denied; that “meaningless” terrain described by Hustvedt is no longer acceptable. Instead, identity is supplanted by the psycopathological binary: the abnormal “schizophrenic” and the normal “you.”


The diagnosis of schizophrenia is not simply a symbolic supplantation of identity; it places within the body legible traits that are dangerous to society, and therefore must be medicalized and quarantined. The novel Lowboy articulates the “psychological” (and sociological, why not?) damage that the labeling of schizophrenia inflicts. The book is not about how meds or psychotherapeutic treatment improve the life of William Heller. It tells instead a tragic story of the newly diagnosed schizophrenic reentering the world as a schizophrenic. But at the same time, it Wray wants to complicate our notion of schizophrenia. After suffering what is most likely a concussion, the detective Ali Lateef hears a voice, “I’m Rufus White, he thought suddenly. The thought came to him in an odd voice, faraway but insistent, like the thoughts that sometimes visited him as he fell asleep, or the voices reportedly heard by schizophrenics” (152). What’s fascinating about this moment is the simultaneous acquisition and admission of a legible schizophrenic trait as well as Lateef’s dismissal of its existence inside of him. Nevertheless, Lateef reads his internal phenomenon as evidence of a possible alteration of self: “He’ll change me too if I allow it, he thought. Maybe he already has” (152). This moment suggests the unspoken logic for the treatment of psychosis: that madness is contagious and must be subjected to quarantined professional scrutiny so that it does not infect normal society.


The possibility to return to a world where mental illness loses its meaning as a relevant signifier seems impractical. In this light, McCarthy-Jones’ prescribed solutions for undoing the negative effects of the psychiatric system may be a step in the right direction for now. However, I can’t see how inventing euphemisms solve the problem. Substituting “voice-hearer” for “schizophrenia” does not diminish the diagnosis; rather it functions as pseudo-psychiatric sublimation, by fulfilling the suppressed urge of diagnosing. Psychiatry will not willingly self-destruct, nor will the value we place (including myself) on their role in making us more productive citizens subside. What we could do is perhaps stop inventing individuated selves, or at least recognize that the notion of a “true self” is social construct.

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October 2nd, 2013 · Comments Off on

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Narrative and Mr. Finston (Me!)

October 1st, 2013 · 5 Comments

As I mentioned in class, I entitled my concentration at Gallatin while at NYU “Narrative Theory.” I thought this was an apt title for numerous reasons. It sounded exotic enough. And it suggested the study of many things I was interested in. In retrospect, I cannot say that I really did “narrative theory” as it has evolved in the academic world nor can I say that I actually fully understand it. There was an idea, a type of study that I was interested in doing, but I don’t know if I ever did it, or whether it actually has to do with “narratives.”


This class is kind of exciting because it is the first time that I have taken a class that directly deals with “narrative theory.” And I have to admit, I don’t know if I like it. Not that I don’t enjoy the class. I do. But I am not sure whether thinking in terms of “narrative” actually adds anything to an object of study or  further obscures it. It definitely reorganizes our conception about the object of this course’s study. This week, psychologists affirm the value of using narratives for psychological analyses of identity. While at first, there may be an “aha” moment when we read McAdams and Laszlo, since their approach makes sense, especially after reading Damasio. Well, really, all the readings support this method. But Damasio is the “real” scholarly support because his work presupposes the cultural currency of “scientific” authority. “Storytelling is something brains do, naturally and implicitly” (Self Comes to Mind 311). But how? And why?


On the other hand, there is also a type of reductionism that occurs in recapitulating identity analysis through story grammar. By invoking narrative, the object of study (consciousness, identity, self) becomes imaginitive. Its existence has only a sociolinguistic reality. At the same time, now we have to figure out what the hell a narrative is and why brains do it “naturally and implicitly.” McAdams makes the same claim without substantiating it, “Human beings are storytellers by nature . . . many scholars have suggested that the human mind is first and foremost a vehicle for storytelling. We are born with a narrating mind, they argue ” (27-28 my emphasis). Who exactly says this? Well, Damasio claims that evolution selected the storytelling gene, teleologically presuming that individuals and cultures had a better chance of survival if they could tell stories. Maybe.
I still see narrative analysis useful. I decided to read the UN’s HDI report today, “The Rise of the South: Human Progress in a Diverse World,” and I thought I should share it. Reading this study after reading McAdams and Lazslo article, there was a second “aha” moment for me. If you apply story grammar to the study you can see that a moral narrative is at play. Particularly how nation-states are conceived as individualized characters and how this type of configuration erases and homogenizes their populations. Even embedded in the title one can here an echo of Christopher Nolan’s the Dark Knight Rises. There is a lot more, but I don’t want to spoil the fun. Also, check out page 4 where Amatrya Sen discusses Thomas Nagel’s paper “What is it Like to be a Bat.”
I suppose I can find narrative analysis is useful as long as so called “truth” isn’t presupposed from it. What was interesting to me about the idea of “narrative theory” was using story grammar to analyze society and history. That you could see in studies like the UN’s HDI report that objects, social groups, and/or individuals were being privileged through the mechanisms of storytelling. And, by recognizing the narrative grammar embedded in this study we can subsequently deconstruct the rhetorical hegemony being produced.
If I have to sum up my “irked” feeling, I would say that by applying narrative analysis to the study of the “self” we can understand how this self comes into existence. This week’s reading we are reverting back to the study of identity through a cartesian lens. I think Alva Noe is right to say that the science of self privileges the mind without acknowledging how the world and body are fundamentally integral to its existence. “Narrative identity” produces the same barriers by isolating the subject. The closest we come to moving beyond this is when Lazslo discusses “life story as a social construct” (126). But the analysis is limited.



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Narrative and Damasio

September 17th, 2013 · Comments Off on Narrative and Damasio

In “Self Comes to Mind,” Damasio employs literary techniques such as simile, metaphor, and analogy virtually on every page. While reading this text, I first was interested in defining all of Damasio’s key terms. I was hoping to be able to synthesize Damasio’s understanding of consciousness. But the repetitive appearance of these techniques turns out to be more intriguing.


The title and blurb of this book promises the reader a clarification of the relationship between the brain, mind, self, and consciousness. Cracking open the first page of the book of a chapter entitled “Awakening”, Damasio describes waking up during his flight home from Los Angeles. Damasio does not bore his reader solely with the common symptoms of airline travel but uses it as an opportunity to incite intrigue to study the phenomena of consciousness.


What’s peculiar about this opening is what arguments he makes to compel the reader to find the study of consciousness important. “Without consciousness–that is a mind endowed with subjectivity,” writes Damasio, “you would have no way of knowing that you exist let alone know who you are and what you think” (4). Damasio describes consciousness as the object that makes the “you,” being the reader, have an identity and self. In doing so, Damasio places his reader within the text. Damasio is declaring that I, his reader at this stage, have a consciousness. This seems obvious to point out. While we are all familiar with the concept of consciousness, we should still not take its existence for granted. But what Damasio is doing is endowing the reader with the possession of a consciousness, a “puzzle” that befuddles “scientists and nonscientists alike” (5).


Now I have a stake in this text. I have something that is “mysterious” (6). There are many things that I do not understand, especially when it comes to my body. But I assume that the scientific canon on the human body provides answers to any question I have on its mechanism. If I cared deeply, I could access this knowledge. But that would be impractical. Instead, I rely on expert “scientists” to possess this knowledge. Damasio creates double intrigue so as to say not only do “you,” the non-expert, lack comprehension to the thing that makes you “you” but the expert, too. In effect, Damasio is producing a journey that he invites his reader to embark. Within the first opening pages Damasio has incited intrigue, an obstacle, and, most importantly, a stake.


With an object of study, we move to Damasio qualifications. Damasio’s personal biography lists the titles of authority that enable him to discuss the topics relating to the human mind, in this case, consciousness. He is a professor of “Neuroscience, Psychology, and Neurology, and director of the Brain and Creativity Institute at the University of Southern California”. He also briefly mentions that he has been “studying the human mind and brain for more than thirty years, and [he has] previously written about consciousness in scientific articles and books” (6). Interestingly, he distinguishes studying “human mind and brain” from writing about “consciousness”. Why doesn’t he lump mind, brain consciousness together?  This distinction I do not think is unintentional. In fact, distinguishing the differences of these objects fills up much of the book’s content. In short, the brain is the physical object that can be empirically studied; the mind is thought of as the non-physical phenomena as a result of the “activity of small circuits is organized across large networks so as to compose momentary patterns”; finally, consciousness is the phenomena of “I” (19). So central to this work are these distinctions that it is easy to forget that these distinctions personally affect Damasio. Damasio articulates that he studies mind and brain but writes about consciousness, subtly demarcating consciousness outside the scope of his empirical studies suggesting that it falls outside the authority that his professional titles provide. Nevertheless,  it is from his authority as a scientist that he possesses expert knowledge on mind and brain so as to write about consciousness.


Scientifically, consciousness, in this light, might as well be a fiction. Without delving too deeply into Damasio’s exploration of consciousness (while  interesting and definitely related to this post), I think it is important to note that the concept of fiction or narrative becomes embedded within Damasio’s conception of consciousness. In fact, Damasio opens the second chapter of his book with admitting that “the narrative of mind and consciousness that I am presenting does not conform to the requirements of fiction” (33). This unabashed admission that his book functions as a “narrative” makes my argument appear redundant. Also, I would like to point out that his statement works precisely within the logic of fiction by establishing an element of suspense and expectation (‘how will this book portray consciousness as unbelievable! Must know!’). This text is more than just a narrative of consciousness: it ultimately describes the mechanisms of consciousness as operating through the logic of narrative. A term he uses, for example, to describe the process of self is “the autobiographical self” (24). Autobiographical self refers to how a “self” constructs its lived past and “anticipated future” (24). In other words, the autobiographical self constructs a story of the self. Skipping to the end of the book, Damasio finishes this narrative of consciousness and mind by discussing “storytelling” (311). “Storytelling is something brains do, naturally and implicitly” (311). He supports this claim with an evolutionary argument: “individual and groups whose brains made them capable of inventing or using such narratives to improve themselves and the societies they lived in became successful enough for the architectural traits of those brains to be selected” (311). Brains do narratives. And it is how we survive.


Consciousness exists without our understanding of what it is or how it works. This was Damasio’s first point. Damasio endeavors to unlock some of the mystery. Damasio employs narrative elements and effectively describes this work as “the narrative of mind and consciousness.” He takes his research of the human mind and brain and weaves in a character called consciousness. Damasio explicates the different parts of the brain and their functions. He provides analogies and metaphors so the science he is describing is intelligible. Our understanding of consciousness then becomes saturated with metaphors that are supposed to help us disclose the science behind consciousness but instead create a thick husk of symbols that place further obscurity between consciousness and us. But in fact, that is precisely how consciousness functions. It appears that consciousness is the process of making meaning out of the referent. In this case, using an empirical study of the brain and mind, Damasio invites us to practice consciousness in the exploration of consciousness. Thus, the book functions to articulate the unavoidable impasse of studying and understanding consciousness. If our brains do narratives, then consciousness is the signification of lived experience. It is the practice of bestowing meaning. I am not just a body responding to stimuli/phenomena but interacting with it, lifting it out of its material place and infusing a name into its being. Unfortunately, just as consciousness exists because our minds, so too, it seems, that it exists only in our minds.

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