Technologies of the Individual

Classes began today. I’m teaching an introductory survey of English literature on the “Technologies of the Individual.” Here is the course description.

“Never judge a book by its cover.” A simple truth, and yet, our culture is driven by its obsession with creating “image.” Magazines and television shows teach us hair, styling, and exercise techniques directed at further shaping this image of ourselves, an image that will presumably reveal the “real you,” but nevertheless a reality that remains on the surface of the body, on the “cover.”

Similarly, when we think about identity and the individual, we might create a mental picture based on one’s personal style, professional identity, leisure activities, or, at a more sophisticated level, cultural markers of distinction (race, class, gender, sexuality).

But even as we attempt to invoke representations of a deeper nature, our perceptions of the individual remain largely externalized. We rarely invest ourselves in the machinery of the inner life of the individual.

What kind of portrait might we paint that imagines the breathless fears, pulsating desires, and remorseful thoughts that mark the inner spirit of the individual? One of our most coveted desires as human beings is to witness the soul of another human being; one of our greatest fears is that someone other will catch a glimpse of our own.

One of the appeals, then, of reading literature is that it provides access to the hidden and complex inner life of the individual. In this survey course, we will examine texts that enjoin the spiritual and mechanical spirit of the age with a dynamic exploration of selfhood. As critics, and as individuals, we will piece together a portrait of the inner lives we witness and also experience.

The reading list includes:

  • Thomas Carlyle. “Signs of the Times” and Sartor Resartus.
  • Mary Shelley. Frankenstein.
  • George Eliot. The Lifted Veil.
  • Robert Louis Stevenson. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
  • Oscar Wilde. The Picture of Dorian Gray.
  • Aldous Huxley. Brave New World.

Pickles Pig and Economics

“Pickles Pig,” a silly book for kids. What a sweet story. Or not.

Poor Pickles Pig doesn’t want to be sold by the farmer and get turned into crisp-fry bacon. He learns that he must be sold because it’s the only way the farmer can justify his expenditures on the pig’s food, like the horse who earns his food by plowing the fields or the cat who rids the farm of rodents.

Pickles Pig needs to find an alternative way to earn his keep if he doesn’t want to become crisp-fry bacon. In the meantime, he plays with the farmer’s daughter and discovers how to use a computer. He writes his life story on the keyboard, gets it published, gets paid, and turns flips of joy in front of his farmyard friends when he is saved from the slaughterhouse.

The lesson I have learned, and correct me if I’m way off, is that the value of a life can be determined by the economic returns it produces; however impossible, we are all capable of providing our owns means for sustenance, we just need to keep trying harder and soon we’ll discover that most unlikely mode of economic production, that is, if we don’t want to become someone else’s food…

Virtual Living

I previously wrote on the idea of my life as a character, i.e. what if I had an author hovering above me, narrating my every thought, sensation, memory, or basically any quality not visibly or audibly expressed. I think of the novel as a technology for reconfiguring the presentation of the individual, and as such, the novel enables me to conceive of additional categories for understanding my life. (more…)

I need c-o-f-f-e-e

I am completely “awed” by this video song performed in mummenschanz style:

The Coffee Song with Mr. Sketch-it

The Coffee Song was written by Ralph Covert, former indie bandmember of Bad Examples, and now children’s musician. He wrote and performed the song on the spot after he arrived at a musical event with a cup of coffee and encountered a group of mothers on edge, who were envious of the coffee and requested, at the very least, a “coffee song.” So he made one up, pleased the mothers, and now we have this haunting tune to hum every time we need coffee (kind of relaxes the itch in that space of need and satisfaction).

Awed Job, aka Mr. Sketch-it, takes this simple, innocent song and transforms it with haunting mummenschanz theatrics. With a homemade cardboard mask and three embedded digital video cameras, Awed Job combines child’s craft with technology and likewise transforms a children’s song into an adult masquerade with bulging digital eyes. I love it!

Also take a look at this video of the mummenschanz Swiss theater group in their guest appearance on the Muppet Show–I identify with the poor guy on the left. What I’d give to put my hands in those silly putty faces.