Sunday, February 21, 2016

Straight carrots

A while back there was a spontaneous outcry about what was happening to our vegetables. Through some sort of consciousness-raising process, people had noticed that all the carrots in the supermarket were getting to be more or less the same length, the same colour, clean from soil and so on. What had happened to the earth, to the dirt that usually clings to them? And more importantly where were the misshapen ones? Well they just didn't fit, did they? Given a choice of vegetables Deleuze and Guattari would have favoured the mushroom because of its rhizomic character, but the fate of the misshapen carrot would I'm sure have worried them too. In fact it is carefully described in AntiOedipus. The misshapen carrot is in fact 'trapped within the residual or artificial territorialities of our society' (p. 37), referred for therapy or simply consigned to the mixed vegetable soup factory. It is surplus. Let's face it, supermarkets are homogenising the food shopping thing. Tesco is anywhere; just like Whole Foods Market and all the rest. Everything looks the same. A carrot is a carrot  wherever you are. And is it such a leap to think about how this sort of conformity, this market standardisation or whatever applies to us, too? Does the architecture of social media force us all to be certain kinds of carrots on display - and if not carrots, shiny aubergines, or even 'exotic fruit' of a certain size and shape (and country of origin). It doesn't stop at social media, though. Time and again we are required to perform certain kinds of identities and not others. And certainly not troublesome ones. Heaven forbid! But slowly though, we reach our use-by date. We become reduced. That is if we have not already been removed!

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Slippery subjects

It must be symptomatic of something that the most searching questions that one can ask can often be met with a dismissive cynicism if not outright derision. Dan Fox, in a new book, nails this as the prevailing climate of anti-intellectualism or dumbing down (see here for a review), and he could well be right. So that makes me all the more determined. Determined to return to the identity topic, and turn to the picture next to this and ask 'is this me'? Not, I hope, to provoke the reaction that by opening the topic I'm engaged in some sort of pretentious navel-gazing - although perhaps that wouldn't be such a bad thing after all?  But to interrogate what all this activity of capturing images, taking selfies and textualizing these online is all about. Really. This is not me. It's as if layers of difference have been tightly pressed together, fusing them in a process you could call lamination. Whilst there is resemblance or representation, there are also bits, bytes, and pixels. There is framing not to mention posing, cropping, colour enhancement and so on. The result may be an image of me, but that's all. Here, it's recontextualized. It enters another space, another time, juxtaposed with writing, squeezed into a template, worked into a particular form and recruited in a particular way for a particular purpose. Showing the image here becomes part of a performance, a performance that may be read off by an audience. But this me business is slippery. The image holds all sorts of other resonances, an affective dimension, a motley collection of shifting memories, the sharpness of the air, the Himalayan rock beneath my boots, the paucity of oxygen and so on - all of which may or may not be me. In current social theory this could all be seen as an emerging entanglement of affective, socio-material and discursive practices - a mouthful I know, but a sort of flowing together of bodies, things and ideas. A state of affairs in which constructions of me-ness are always contingent. If we live in times of space-time compression, of context collapse or whatever, it seems to me that we have also become slippery subjects. But perhaps I should just speak for myself, because that's what it looks like from here. I'm also aware of power geometries at work, creating conditions that allow for or provoke this slipperiness (a certain age, class, gender configuration for example). And that leads me to wonder whether some subjects are more slippery than others?

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Personal, colonial

I'm back! Back from what friends fondly refer to as my gallivanting, which roughly translated means making the most of my time to explore new places, or places that interest me - alternatively rendered as going to warm and exotic locations just because I can.  This time Sri Lanka. And from my humble iPhone snaps this Hillman was the best, parked up on a sidestreet it strongly resonated with my 1950s boyhood whilst also being totemic of the whole colonial legacy. Corny as hell, I know, but cars seemed so important to me back then.  That beige two-tone was the colour of my childhood and the taste of milky tea all wrapped up in one. Sri Lanka, or Ceylon as we then called it, was something we did in geography as a prelude to getting on with life. So much for innocence. In Sri Lanka the communication system, both road and rail, put in place by the British, constituted an elaborate net to capture the country, to suppress resistance and to strip the hillsides first for coffee and later, when that failed, for tea. The road system is still there, you can see some well-preserved classic cars and tea is still big business. But amongst all that are centuries of culture, a whole history of art and architecture as well as an exquisite and diverse natural habitat. Returning to work might seem dull in comparison if it weren't for the enthusiasm of colleagues, the promise of new projects and the slow closing stages of previous work, all of which may well get reported on here in due course. As a corrective, before I stop for a cup of tea, I do want to make it clear though that I am not remotely interested in classic cars but it's just that I learnt at quite an early age that my father earnestly believed that owning a Hillman would make him happy, that it would be a step up in the world. That was abandoned when he splashed out on an MG in cream and British racing green...and just as I know Sri Lanka as Ceylon, these sorts of things remain with you.