Monday, July 27, 2015

The Gesture of Blogging

By Matt Bernico

In January 2016, Matt Bernico will teach a distance course entitled "In Media Res: Media, Technology, and Culture" in the Master of Worldview Studies (MWS) program at the Institute for Christian Studies (ICS). This blog post illustrates the kinds of questions that will be raised in the course, which will draw from the work of Vilém Flusser, Walter Benjamin, and others in order to think through how media affects and effects human culture. From the course description: "According to Michel Foucault, the 'blueprint' of the 20th century was the prison or hospital. However, we might say that the 'blueprint' for the 21st century is the computer network: namely the Internet. With the technological revolutions of the 21st century, we see the digitalization and informationalization of everything. Learning to live, think and act within this sort of society is increasingly difficult and requires new diagnostics of culture, politics and the self. This class will engage with these questions in light of the importance of materiality and embodiment in the community of faith’s ongoing reflection upon Christian life and mission." For more information on how to enroll in the MWS program at ICS, visit our web site. 

The relationship between technology and the body is always fraught with misunderstandings, ideology and assumption. For example, in a post-industrial society, what is work? It appears to be hammering away on a keyboard, but in what way can we disentangle post-industrial work from typing an essay, a blog, and so on? Materially, we might say these acts are identical, but observing and unpacking the gesture of blogging itself might yield some phenomenological difference. So, then, what is the gesture of blogging?

To begin, we might consider what a gesture is at all. In his book Gestures, the media philosopher, Vilém Flusser (1920-1991), calls a gesture “a movement of the body, or tool of the body, for which there is no satisfactory causal explanation. Meaning must be discovered in relationship to movement” (2). A gesture is a thing we do in collaboration with other actors/objects that describes the human intentionality and freedom in an act. For example, if a car speeds toward you and then you leap out of the way, this is not the gesture of leaping: the intentionality is not your own. Whereas, we might call leaping in the context of exercise or a game as the gesture of leaping. The difference is in determining what actor has the ability to express the most intention and freedom.

What can we say about the gesture of blogging? Flusser, a thinker who exclusively used a typewriter, writes about the gesture of writing and even typing, but typing on a digital apparatus, especially in the case of blogging, is quite different. Before we can get at the gesture of blogging, let’s look at the gesture of writing. According to Flusser writing is about scratching a surface in a specific linear pattern with graphite, chalk or ink. The gesture of writing is about inscription.

It is the tendency of some philosophers of technology and the media, namely Heidegger, to bemoan the fall of writing to the typewriter and in turn digital media. Heidegger points out that the way we act on the world is through our hands and writing is certainly one of the ways that humans act. Flusser would be in agreement here; humans pass the world through their hands, whereas a squid, for example, sucks the world in through it’s mouth.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Everything Will Be Alright: Overcoming Christian Whiteness

By Josiah R. Daniels

In rapper Kendrick Lamar’s newest music video Alright, Kendrick puts visual imagery to themes he has been working with for quite some time; black nihilism/resiliency, police brutality, the new Jim Crow, life in the ghetto and the fragility of black life. Like the entirety of To Pimp a Butterfly, this video demonstrates Kendrick’s keen ability to address modern crises regarding racial violence in an artistic and prophetic way.

Throughout his video, Kendrick imaginatively and concretely depicts the danger that threatens black and brown people day in and day out. But this does not stop Kendrick from literally soaring above it all; he flies above the lights, the streets, the fans and haters, the ghetto, the city, money and even the police themselves. The last scene depicts Kendrick perched above his hometown Compton, looking out to see all that he can see. A white-male police officer appears underneath the place where Kendrick looms—the officer looks up and sees Kendrick occupying an unusual space. It is unusual in one sense because Kendrick is, so to speak, flying sky high. But Kendrick’s being on top of the world is doubly unusual: Kendrick occupies a black body—a body that has, since the “colonial moment,” been fraught with an unwarranted history of subjugation. This black bo(d)y must not and sadly cannot escape the fixity of the racial imagination. Kendrick, a black-inner-city-male, “flying high” (which the reader should now understand to be a metaphor) is akin to an elephant flying, an absolute impossibility.

It becomes clear that the officer means Kendrick harm. Rather than using his rifle or his sidearm, the officer, cast as the white-masculine, makes a gesture towards Kendrick by pointing at him with his fingers which have been formed into the shape of a weapon. And with a single “shot” Kendrick is knocked back down to the dirty dusty earth. With all this in mind, a twofold question must be posed: What is Kendrick trying to convey to his audience and what is the significance of the concluding bit of Alright?

I think that the conclusion of Alright tells us that the racial problem is bigger than white people, guns, or the police. That’s not to say that this triad is wholly exonerated from culpability concerning injustices perpetuated against dark bodies. However, there is something that Darren Wilson takes as an a priori before he, a white, gun-toting-police man shoots the “demon” known as Mike Brown. This seemingly intangible, indescribable, elusive “something” was also a fait accompli in the shootings of 12-year-old Tamir Rice and 50-year-old Walter Scott. This “something” is what causes the police officer in Alright to shoot Kendrick Lamar. This “something” is whiteness.