Saturday, December 9, 2017

Umberto Eco Decodes the Secret Meaning of the Cell Phone

In one of his final essays, the late author of 'The Name of the Rose' acknowledges that cell phones are no longer merely the annoying tools of middle managers and adulterers.

12.09.17 12:00 AM ET

More Thoughts on the Cell Phone
I wrote a fairly irate article in the early '90s when cell phones were in the hands of just a few people, but a few who were making train journeys hell. I said, in short, that cell phones should only be allowed for organ transplanters, plumbers, and adulterers. For everyone else, especially in cases where otherwise unremarkable people were mouthing away in trains or airports about stocks and shares, metal section beams, or bank loans, it was more than anything a sign of social inferiority: those in real power don't have cell phones but twenty secretaries who filter their calls and messages, whereas those who need them are middle managers who have to answer to the CEO at any moment, or small businessmen whose banks need to tell them their account is overdrawn.

As for adulterers, the situation has changed twice since that article: initially they had to forego this extremely personal means of communication since its acquisition gave rise to entirely justifiable suspicion in the mind of their spouses; then the situation changed—everyone had one, so it was no longer cast-iron evidence of an adulterous relationship. Lovers can now use them, unless they're having affairs with persons who are to some degree in the public eye, in which case their conversations will certainly be tapped. No change with regard to social inferiority, there are still no photos of Bush with his ear to a cell phone, but it's a fact that the cell phone has become an instrument for communication, and excessive communication, between mothers and children, for cheating in exams, and for photomania. Younger generations are abandoning their wrist watches because they can check the time on their cell phones; added to this is the birth of text messages, of up-to-the- minute news information, of the opportunity now to connect with the internet and receive wireless emails, offering, in their more sophisticated forms, even the functions of pocket computers, so that we're now in the presence of a phenomenon that is socially and technologically essential.

Can we still live without a cell phone? Given that "living-with-a-cell-phone" means a total acceptance of the here-and-now and a frenzy of contact that deprives us of a single moment of solitary thought, anyone who cherishes their own inner and outer freedom can exploit the very many services it offers, apart from its use as a telephone. At most it can be switched on just to call a taxi or tell those at home that the train is three hours late, but not for being called: all you have to do is keep it switched off. When anyone complains about this practice of mine, I reply with a rather somber argument: when my father died over forty years ago, and therefore long before cell phones, I was on a journey and it was many hours before I could be reached. Well, those hours of delay had changed nothing. The situation would have been no different had I been called within ten minutes. This all means that instant communication provided by the cell phone has little to do with the great questions of life and death; it's of no use to someone who is studying Aristotle, nor to someone struggling over the existence of God.
Does a philosopher therefore have no interest in a cell phone, apart from it allowing him to carry in his pocket a list of 3,000 books on Malebranche? On the contrary. Certain technological innovations have changed human life to such an extent as to become a topic for philosophical discussion—and just think of the invention of writing, from Plato to Derrida, or the advent of mechanical looms, see Marx. Curiously there has been little philosophical reflection on other technological changes that seem so important to us, such as the car or the airplane, though there has been on the changing concept of speed. But we use the car and the airplane only at certain times, unless we're a taxi or a truck driver, or a pilot, whereas writing and the mechanization of most of our daily activities has had a radical impact on every second of our lives.
Maurizio Ferraris has written about the philosophy of the cell phone in Where are you? Ontology of the Cell Phone. Perhaps the title raises a hint of light amusement, but Ferrari draws a number of serious reflections from his subject, and involves us in a rather intriguing philosophical game. Cell phones are radically changing our way of life and have therefore become "philosophically interesting." Having also taken on the role of pocket diary and mini-computer with Web connection, the cell phone is less and less an oral instrument and more and more an instrument for reading and writing. As such, it has become an all-inclusive instrument for recording, and we'll see how words like "writing," "recording," and "inscription" might make a confederate of Derrida prick up his ears.
"I like to recall the tragedy of Dr. Zhivago who, after many years, sees Lara on the tram. He cannot alight in time to reach her, and dies. If both had had mobile phones, how would their tragic story have ended?"
The first hundred pages on the "anthropology" of the cell phone are fascinating even for the non-specialist. There's a substantial difference between talking on a telephone and talking on a cell phone. On the telephone we could ask whether a certain person was at home, whereas on the cell phone, unless it's stolen, we always know who is answering, and whether he or she is there, which also changes the quality of intimacy. But with a landline we know where we are calling. Now, with the cell phone, there's the problem of where the person is. There again, if he or she replies, "I'm right behind you," but has an account with a cell phone company in a different country, the answer is travelling halfway round the world. Nonetheless, we don't know where the other person is whereas the telephone company knows where we both are, so that while we can avoid letting the other person know our precise whereabouts, our movements are totally transparent when it comes to Orwell's Big Brother.
Various pessimistic and paradoxical, though credible, reflections can be made on the new "homo cellularis." For example, it changes the very dynamic of face-to-face interaction between A and B, which is no longer a one-to-one relationship because the conversation can be interrupted by a cell phone call from C, and the interaction between A and B continues intermittently, or stops altogether. And so the prime instrument of connection, my being continually available to others and they to me, becomes at the same time the instrument of disconnection, A is connected to everyone except B. Among those reasons for optimism I like to recall the tragedy of Dr. Zhivago who, after many years, sees Lara on the tram. He cannot alight in time to reach her, and dies. If both had had mobile phones, how would their tragic story have ended? Ferraris's analysis wavers, rightly, between the possibilities opened up by the cell phone and the way in which it cuts through our lives, above all in our loss of solitude, of silent personal reflection, and being condemned to a constant presence of the present. Change doesn't always equate with liberation.
But one-third of the way through the book Ferraris passes from the cell phone to a discussion of questions that have increasingly interested him in recent years, including arguments against his early influences, from Heidegger to Gadamer and Vattimo, against philosophical postmodernism, against the idea that there are no facts but only interpretations, up to what is now a full defense of knowledge as adaequatio, i.e., pace Richard Rorty, as a "Mirror of Nature." This, of course, has to be taken with many pinches of salt, and I'm sorry I can't follow step by step the foundation of realism that Ferraris calls "weak textualism."
How do we get from the cell phone to the problem of Truth? Through a distinction between physical objects such as a chair or a mountain, ideal objects such as Pythagoras' theorem, and social objects such as the Italian Constitution or our duty to pay for what we order at a bar. The first two types of object also exist independently of our decisions, whereas the third becomes operative, so to speak, only after a recording or an inscription. Once it is said that Ferraris also attempts to provide some kind of "natural" basis for these social recordings, it is here that the cell phone appears as the absolute instrument for every act of recording.
It would be interesting to discuss many parts of the book. For example, the pages devoted to the difference between recording, which includes a bank statement, a law, any collection of personal data, and communication. Ferraris's ideas about recording are extremely interesting, whereas his ideas about communication have always been somewhat generic. To use the metaphor from one of his earlier papers against him, they seem to have been purchased at Ikea. But this is not the place for deep philosophical debate.
Some readers will ask if it was really necessary to start from the cell phone to reach conclusions that could also have been reached from concepts of writing and "signature." Certainly, the philosopher can also start off from a reflection on a worm to draw an entire metaphysics, but perhaps the most interesting aspect of the book is not that the cell phone has allowed Ferraris to develop an ontology, but that his ontology has allowed him to understand, and help us to understand, the cell phone.

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Excerpt from Chronicles of a Liquid Society by Umberto Eco. Copyright 2017 by Umberto Eco. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

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Questions Without Answers. Indifference. Acceptance. Submission.

Accept it
Don't question existence or the answers you receive.
Existence is what you acknowledge no matter how disturbing.
Existence is indifferent no matter how difficult it is to exist.
No matter how great or difficult life is, accept it.
Existence everywhere, within/without you is indifferent to your acceptance therefore, accept it, you don't have a choice.
Question all you want, no matter the answer you get.
Questioning is an exercise not a means to a solution.
Ride the current, accept the waves.
Ride the waves, accept the current.
Discuss all you desire.
Discussion is free.
Observation, the purpose is paramount, choice is futile.
We can't handle the truth because the truth is never what we want it to be.

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Donald Trump is a Dinosaur!

Donald Trump is actually the corporate triceratops, Mr. Richfield, from the 90’s TV show sitcom, “Dinosaurs”. 

Trump's resemblance to B.P Richfield is bizarre! Did "Dinosaurs" predict the future? 

Friday, December 8, 2017

Lennon / Still I Cry

In my last year of college I worked as a negative film cutter
at a small edit house in a building west of times square...321 West 44th St just west of 10th.
In that building were many media companies one of which was The Record Plant
for some time, ending on this date 40 years ago,
he was working on his latest album at the record plant on the first floor...
almost every morning, as we entered the building together, we wished each other a good day,
one of us always holding the door for the other...
almost every evening, we left the building together,
always wishing each other a good evening, always the black limo waiting for him...

He was John Lennon...
except on this night 37 years ago, after wishing him well, I arrived home,
turned on Monday Night Football to hear Howard Cosell announce that John Lennon had just been shot and killed...
to this day I still cry...
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Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The Met Says 'Suggestive' Balthus Painting Will Stay After Petition for Its Removal Is Signed by Thousands | artnet News

Who is really being suggestive here? The painter? The girl? The viewer? Suggestive in what way. The painting, titled, "Thérese Dreaming" depicts the artists intent, to expose the subjects thoughts, not any suggestive behavior; which are; was she day dreaming, after a tiring day playing outside with other children or by her self, the ease of the afternoon tires her and causes her to daydream relaxing her so much so she doesn't worry about letting her dress fall away and expose her "suggestiveness" without intent that anything - "sexual" might be happening. Initially what I saw was the look of reverie upon her face, dreaming of the days pleasures. 

The Met says this moment is an "opportunity for conversation."
Eileen Kinsella, December 5, 2017

Balthus, Thérese Dreaming (1938). © 2017 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Courtesy the Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Metropolitan Museum of Art says it will not remove a painting of a young girl by BalthusThérèse Dreaming (1938), that has been targeted by an online petition.
The petition—which has garnered more than 8,700 signatures in five days—states that the Met should not "proudly display" an image that "romanticizes the sexualization of a child."
A spokesman for the Met called the controversy "an opportunity for a conversation" about the "continuing evolution of existing culture."
Mia Merrill, a New York City resident, launched the petition on Care 2 on November 30. Since then, it has nearly reached its goal of 9,000 signatures. The petition is headlined: "Metropolitan Museum of Art: Remove Balthus's Suggestive Painting of a Pubescent Girl, Thérèse Dreaming."
Merrill recounts how she was "shocked" to see the painting depicting a young girl "in a sexually suggestive pose… Given the current climate around sexual assault and allegations that become more public each day, in showcasing this work for the masses without providing any type of clarification, The Met is, perhaps unintentionally, supporting voyeurism and the objectification of children."
In response to the petition, a spokesman for the Met provided the following statement to artnet News:
"The Metropolitan Museum of Art's mission is to '…collect, study, conserve, and present significant works of art across all times and cultures in order to connect people to creativity, knowledge, and ideas.' Moments such as this provide an opportunity for conversation, and visual art is one of the most significant means we have for reflecting on both the past and the present, and encouraging the continuing evolution of existing culture through informed discussion and respect for creative expression."
According to the Met's description of the work, it depicts Balthus's neighbor Thérèse Blanchard, who was about 12 or 13 at the time.
Merrill notes that when the painting was included in the 2013 Met show "Balthus: Cats and Girls—Paintings and Provocations," a plaque at the entrance warned viewers that they might find some works "disturbing."
After calling for removal of the painting in the initial petition, Merrill seems to have toned down her language, writing in a Twitter message to artnet News today: "I am not asking the Met to destroy the work. I'm asking them to be more conscientious in how they contextualize pieces. This can be accomplished by either removing the piece from this gallery or by providing more context in the painting's description. I would consider this petition a success if the Met included a message as brief as, 'Some viewers find this piece offensive or disturbing, given Balthus's artistic infatuation with young girls.'"
In a 2013 review of the Balthus show in The New Republic, critic Jed Perl called Balthus the "last of the mystics who transformed twentieth-century art." Perl said mystics are "by turns revered, reviled, demonized, and ignored—and at one point or another in his very long career Balthus was regarded in all of those ways."
Perl added that Balthus's paintings of girls "have stood in the way of a full appreciation of his achievement." He wrote that these works "can be properly appreciated only when we accept them as unabashedly mystical, the flesh a symbol of the spirit, the girl's dawning self-awareness an emblem of the artist's engagement with the world."
Thérèse Dreaming hails from the Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection, which was donated to the Met in 1998. The Met website provides extensive detail about the painting's ownership and exhibition history. The work was originally purchased from the Pierre Matisse Gallery in New York the same year it was painted for $438.40. The Gelmans acquired it in 1979.
The painting has appeared in nearly two dozen gallery and museum shows throughout the US, as well as in London, Cologne, Marseilles, Mexico City, Paris, Kyoto, and Tokyo.

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Tuesday, December 5, 2017

and Obama

I've heard very little from him, no more than the other previous Presidents, but then should we?
There's a lot of expectation for a Superman to challenge Lex Luther who just happens to be the President, and is using the tools of the President to rip the heart of America out of the Constitution. Is that what  Our Forefathers expected when they wrote checks and balances into the early documents of the Nation to protect it from the likes of 45, when they eventually came along to hold the chest of our nation open while looters came in and took it all?

I don't know now.

That man from Chicago left the door open when he left the house, knowing full well the wolves would gather and step right in, sit by the fire and do almost nothing to protect our knowledge...
Maybe we need to crash and burn, to suffer so the we learn...