Week 1
FEBRUARY 7, 2022

On Coffee





Describe the aroma of coffee—why can’t it be done? Do we lack the words? and for what are words lacking?—But how do we get the idea that such a description must after all be possible? Have you ever felt the lack of such a description? Have you tried to describe the aroma and not succeeded? — Ludwig Wittgenstein, from Philosophical Investigations (1953)


My partner and I have contrasting relationships with coffee. I have always been a proponent of Nestle’s instant coffee. It tastes decent to me, but in a clutch, I’ll accept any instant coffee. My mother used to make me cold coffee in the summers with a heap of sugar and ice, so sometimes I’ll let my hot drink get cold near the window and sip on it after a few hours have passed. A Latte doesn’t have to be perfect for me. I sprinkle some instant coffee and sugar in a mug of milk. I heat it for 1 minute 30 seconds and stir it up. I dip a cookie or two. It’s a process specific to me, but nothing that requires elaborate instructions.

I started seeing my partner recently. We're still getting to know each other. I visited him in succession on early mornings and hence was introduced to his Italian Barista Machine. He would make a shot of espresso and taste it: He measures the beans, grinds them, keeping an eye on the weight the entire time. Next, he feeds it to the machine. The machine itself takes a few minutes to warm up.

He then measures the dripped liquid. After tasting, he makes adjustments and dials the grind on the beans. He then froths the milk and serves it to me. He’ll try to make latte art and fail miserably. He’s proud of the coffee he serves me, and it is delicious.

But why go through all the fuss? I would enjoy a cup of instant coffee just as much. And yet, I’ve never felt prideful of a cup of instant coffee, regardless of how much sugar I add to it. Before reading Heidegger, I didn’t understand what value could such a pretentious performance bring. I like instant coffee because it doesn’t require any labour. Arendt claims that technology is necessary, but automation would ruin us. Albert Borgmann expands on Arendt’s fears by making a distinction between things and devices: things require engagement and bring people together. Devices do the opposite; they automate an action and tend to make people drift apart. They are not necessarily cathartic or require skills.

Does Marx’s vision of cathartic, creative labour even apply here when so much of ‘the ideal way to make coffee’ is rooted in capital? Coffee in itself is the drink of enhanced productivity. What does the process of making coffee, done in the two ways, say about our class divide?

The anthropocentric utilitarianism of homo faber has found its greatest expression in the Kantian formula that no man must ever become a means to an end, that every human being is an end in himself. 2 Conditions in the current system are defined by the solitude of an entrepreneur who practices auto-exploitation voluntarily. Under the guise of self-production and expression, possessions are a means of reproduction. A more refined taste is a measure of human capital. In the dialectical Aufhenung, the Italian Barista Machine uplifts but also traps.1

My partner would argue it is not the machine that traps. His family members have espresso machines, but they don’t commit to intellectually analyzing their espresso. They make it and drink it, regardless of if it’s bad or good. There is a certain bliss in this lack of attention to detail. Is noticing the finer notes a virtue in a sense? Who can afford to put in care? Is it valuable to be able to do so?

The different ways how things work give rise to the different possibilities of experiences. Heidegger believed that technology shapes us irrevocably in certain ways. There is no way out. How does instant coffee shape me? I wonder if the proletariat-bourgeoise divide hinges on such elitist assigning of value. Take a mundane thing that nearly everyone engages in, fracture it, and associate the fragments with class. On a cold day in the mountains of Dehra, the drink that is brewed quickly and en mass wins hearts.




1. Psychopolitics: Neoliberalism and New Technologies of Power by Byung-Chul Han. Page 23

2. The Human Condition by Hannah Arendt. Page 155

IMAGE:Historical Relics in the Peter Collection, United States National Museum: 1—Bagdad coffee-roasting pan and stirrer. 2—Iron mortar and pestle used for pounding coffee. 3—Coffee mill used by General and Mrs. Washington. 4—Coffee-roasting pan used at Mt. Vernon. 5—Bagdad coffee pot with crow-bill spout



Week 2
FEBRUARY 14, 2022

Categorizing Media,
Prototyping Pain




litost [lee-tosht]
(noun) This is an untranslatable emotion that only a Czech person would suffer from, defined by Milan Kundera as “a state of torment created by the sudden sight of one’s own misery.” Devices for coping with extreme stress, suffering, and change are often special and unique to cultures and born out of the meeting of despair with a keen sense of survival.
“Translating The Untranslatable,” NPR.


I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia a few years ago. Until recently, I had forgotten this. I haven’t had the acute senseless pain in a while, and I forgot how it tires me. According to WebMD, You could call fibromyalgia a copycat condition. Its main symptoms — widespread pain and fatigue —are a lot like those of other health problems. No test that can diagnose fibromyalgia2, so it can be hard for your doctor to nail down what's causing your aches and pains.


Pain is relentless, as McLuhan writes, it introduces a new scale into our affairs by each extension of ourselves.Everything gets painted by the pain. It demands attention through personal and social consequences. Fibromyalgia is not ‘real’ pain. I didn’t hurt myself skating or fall from a tree. It is the overwhelming of the senses by the brain, or perhaps vice versa.


Media has a tense relationship with feeling — like pain, it too seeks to manipulate the senses. It’s curious to what degree this happens varies with context. High participation versus low participation is culturally relative. In my memory of the past, electrical technologies were relatively more tribalizing. Growing up, watching TV was always a ‘group’ activity, even if we had no interest in the cricket match our grandfather was tormenting himself over. My mother would tell me in the early days, they would use rubylith and cellophane from boxes of sweets to give their low definition black and white television some color.4 She grew up in a communal environment, so everyone on the street would visit her and they would watch Doordarshan together. It was such a huge part of her formative years, that I too, can recite the washing powder Nirma ads by heart even though I don’t recall ever seeing the commercials.


The assimilation of the television in her community was slow and lasted for most of her childhood. I can identify with that pace, for me, the slowly transitioning technologies were the floppy disk, cassette tapes, and then later CDs and DVDs. McLuhan insists the slower speed and the higher costs involved give other countries more time to reflect upon new technologies. Cameron Tonkemwise mentions: product design today exists to erase the mark of the worker, that it was ever made. The slow assimilation is accelerated, The iPhone always was. We can’t remember a time before experiencing it.

In some ways, the alienation of the worker suspends the user as well. I’m doing better this week, and I'm already starting to forget what the pain felt like. On the bleeding edge of obsolescence, Wendy Chun questions:

“What is new media? we might want to ask what seems to be the more important questions: what was new media? and what will it be? To some extent the phenomenon stems from the modifier new: to call something new is to ensure that it will one day be old.”5

McLuhan paid particular attention to the effects of media on our senses since he believed that media affect us by manipulating the ratio of our senses. Based on this, he also formulated the ideas of “hot media” which are media that are high in definition and do not ask high participation of the audience, e.g. film, and “cool” media which ask more participation due to lower definition, like newspapers. McLuhan then talks of hot media becoming cold6, yes becoming no. If objects transform at a pace that is beyond our perception, how do we plan to reflect? Is there an environment where the new is still assimilated slowly? Where the new iPhone release is jarring and invites friction, instead of seamlessly melting into what's considered the contemporary moment?

Paul Virilio argues no. Cyberspace has implemented a real-time that is eradicating local spaces and times.7 According to Lovink, “because of the speed of events, there is a real danger that an online phenomenon will already have disappeared before a critical discourse reflecting on it has had the time to mature and establish itself as institutionally recognized knowledge.” 8 More broadly, McKenzie Wark has argued that traditional scholarship is incompatible with the types of images and events, produced and disseminated along lightninglike speed media vectors, that interrupt the homogenous and abstract formal time of scholarship.9 

At this dizzying speed, how shall we make space and time to criticise it? 


Even if I don’t remember it fully, can someone else dare to describe my pain?



  1.  IMAGE: by Hiller Goodspeed. Maybe This Time They WIll Understand.

  2. Wheeler, Regina. "How Is Fibromyalgia Diagnosed?". Webmd, 2021, https://www.webmd.com/fibromyalgia/guide/fibromyalgia-diagnosis-and-misdiagnosis.

  3. McLuhan, Marshall, Quentin Fiore, and Jerome Agel. The Medium Is the Massage. New York: Bantam Books, 1967. Print.

  4. K, Hiwa. "A Few Notes From An Extellectual - Journal #65 E-Flux". E-Flux.Com, 2015, https://www.e-flux.com/journal/65/336395/a-few-notes-from-an-extellectual/.

  5. Chun, Wendy H.. “The Enduring Ephemeral, or the Future Is a Memory.” Critical Inquiry 35 (2008): 148 - 171.

  6. McLuhan, Marshall, Quentin Fiore, and Jerome Agel. The Medium Is the Massage. New York: Bantam Books, 1967. Print.

  7. Paul Virilio, “Speed and Information: Cyberspace Alarm!” CTheory, www.ctheory.net/articles.aspx?id!72 

  8. Lovink, My First Recession: Critical Internet Culture in Transition (Amsterdam, 2003), p. 12.

  9. See McKenzie Wark, “The Weird Global Media Event and the Tactical Intellectual [Version 3.0],” in New Media, Old Media: A History and Theory Reader, ed. Chun and Thomas Keenan (New York, 2006), pp. 265–76.





Week 3
FEBRUARY 20, 2022

Bags as canals 



“A thing may happen and be a total lie; another thing may not happen and be truer than the truth.”

“They carried all they could bear, and then some, including a silent awe for the terrible power of the things they carried.”

― Tim O'Brien, The Things They Carried



I have a back-pack that I’ve been wearing for roughly 5 years. It has a filthy orange and grey exterior, 4 zippers, and a multitude of small pockets. The compartments allow me to store things in a variety of ways, sometimes for obscene amounts of time. I’ve worn it more than most of my clothes. It’s a second skin — it feels like it's incorporated into my body. It's clunky and carries the memories of everywhere I’ve taken it — sand from the beach, inkblots from a leaky pen during class, scratches from my cat, holes from improperly storing sharp construction tools, and receipts from overpriced sandwiches. I have the urge to take it with me whenever I step out of the house. It usually holds my devices and a few notebooks and weighs just enough to make my shoulders sore on a daily basis. Honestly, it probably does more harm than good. It’s designed with consideration and has padding to prevent back injury but that only goes so far. It enhances my body schema but also punishes it.

I’m a forgetful person, and often doubt if I really did what I think I did. In a pinch, the weight of the bag on my frame is a dependable indicator of if I’ve remembered to bring my laptop and charger to work on any given day.
What I can do is often dictated by what tools I carry. The back-pack is imposing and tires me. I have tried to switch to a tote bag I use for groceries from time to time, but it feels unnatural. Their capacity is limited, and the straps dig into my skin. They refuse to corporate. The tote and the back-pack form relations with my body differently. For my cat, the tote bag is a bed. He fits, so he sits, and often leaves some hair behind. Receipts, crumbs of a granola bar, a hair tie from a girl you had a crush on — the objects I carry become reliable containers for memory.

I recently took a trip to the Gowanus Canal
1 in Brooklyn. Much like my backpack, the canal has a history of being a dumping site for toxic waste since the industrial revolution. One look at the water and you can probably determine from its murkiness that it’s far from safe to consume. Even in good weather, there are no swimmers in the water. The human body interacts with it in a far less direct capacity — it’s a site for the dumping of our waste. The Common Sewage Overflow and storm drains both seeps into the canal before feeding into the East River. The toxic waterbody shows signs of bioremediation and still operates as a biome — but its biochemical background relations are far from human comprehension. The documentation of what went into the river to bring about its present state are dubious. Human records and memory are purposefully garbled. A close examination of DNA sequenced from the waters reveals a history of chemical exposure such as arsenic (tanning industries), toluene (from paint manufacture), and cresol (coal and petroleum manufacture). We use technology to remember what technology did.

The imprint left by the body on the world is thus made visible by an examination of the tools that we carry with us, or those we left behind.



  1.  https://cumulis.epa.gov/supercpad/SiteProfiles/index.cfm?fuseaction=second.Healthenv&id=0206222

Week 4
MARCH 06, 2022

On the Internet nobody knows you are a dog



When you draw a rabbit out of a hat, it’s because you put it there in the first place.

—Jacques Lacan

“Endlessly I sustain the discourse of the beloved's absence; actually a preposterous situation; the other is absent as referent, present as allocutory. The singular distortion generates a kind of insupportable present; I am wedged between two tenses, that of the reference and that of the allocution: you have gone (which I lament), you are here (since I am addressing you). Whereupon I know what the present, that difficult tense is: a pure portion of anxiety.”

― Roland Barthes, A Lover's Discourse: Fragments


Zizek (through Peter Sloterdjik) argues that ideology persists in one’s actions rather than in one’s beliefs. Stuart Hall says any messages given through signs is always encoded with meaning, and must be decoded by its recipient. Software sustains and depoliticizes notions of ideology and ideology critique. People may deny ideology, but they don’t deny software—and they attribute to software, metaphor ically, greater powers than have been attributed to ideology. Our interactions with software have disciplined us, created certain expectations about cause and effect, offered us pleasure and power that we believe should be transferable elsewhere. The notion of software has crept into our critical vocabulary in mostly uninterrogated ways. Wendy HK Chun illustrates this with the example of the recycle bin versus the trash can. Both ostensibly serve the same purpose but point to different ideologies.

Two versions of Save icon

For me, the floppy disk does something similar, it presents a reality that I can no longer live through. Its nostalgic, and serves as a reminder of the relation between the digital and it’s physical object permanence. Data exists in the real world has has consequences to the environment. The arrow pointing towards the container has a certain insistence, but the arrow and the box are both ephemeral metaphors. The floppy on the other hand reminds us of the tangibile reality of data as it gets stored in sand. What does the floppy disk save icon mean to a ten-year old in 2022, who might not have any familiarity with the physical?

By interrogating software and the visual knowledge it perpetuates, we can move beyond the so-called crisis in indexicality toward under standing the new ways in which visual knowledge is being transformed and perpetuated, not simply displaced or rendered obsolete. According to Galloway,

The analogical or “expressive” theory of ideology is also not unfamiliar as in the work of Louis Althusser where the structure of ideology resembles, more or less, an architectural drawing of a house, with the material base of society down below and the cultural or superstructural layer up above, ideology emerges not strictly as the house itself, but as a figurative projection of one layer onto the other, it is thus a stand in for what the Marxists simply call history, or in crass terms the ongoing reification of social relations and processes, and further the problem of being able to represent these details from the past in the present.

The save icon as it stands now is increasingly abstract iconography is divorced from the physical, in a way that it obscures social realtions by refusing to signal us back to something in the ‘real’.





 



  1. See Slavoj Zizek, The Sublime Object of Ideology (London: Verso, 1989), 11–53.

  2. Jacques Lacan, The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book II: The Ego in Freud’s
    Theory and in the Technique of Psychoanalysis (1954–1955), ed. Jacques-Alain
    Miller, trans. Sylvana Tomaselli (New York: Norton, 1991), 81.

Week 4
MARCH 06, 2022

On the Internet nobody knows you are a dog



When you draw a rabbit out of a hat, it’s because you put it there in the first place.

—Jacques Lacan

“Endlessly I sustain the discourse of the beloved's absence; actually a preposterous situation; the other is absent as referent, present as allocutory. The singular distortion generates a kind of insupportable present; I am wedged between two tenses, that of the reference and that of the allocution: you have gone (which I lament), you are here (since I am addressing you). Whereupon I know what the present, that difficult tense is: a pure portion of anxiety.”

― Roland Barthes, A Lover's Discourse: Fragments


Zizek (through Peter Sloterdjik) argues that ideology persists in one’s actions rather than in one’s beliefs. Stuart Hall says any messages given through signs is always encoded with meaning, and must be decoded by its recipient. Software sustains and depoliticizes notions of ideology and ideology critique. People may deny ideology, but they don’t deny software—and they attribute to software, metaphor ically, greater powers than have been attributed to ideology. Our interactions with software have disciplined us, created certain expectations about cause and effect, offered us pleasure and power that we believe should be transferable elsewhere. The notion of software has crept into our critical vocabulary in mostly uninterrogated ways. Wendy HK Chun illustrates this with the example of the recycle bin versus the trash can. Both ostensibly serve the same purpose but point to different ideologies.

  versus  

For me, the floppy disk does something similar, it presents a reality that I can no longer live through. Its nostalgic, and serves as a reminder of the relation between the digital and it’s physical object permanence. Data exists in the real world has has consequences to the environment. The arrow pointing towards the container has a certain insistence, but the arrow and the box are both ephemeral metaphors. The floppy on the other hand reminds us of the tangibile reality of data as it gets stored in sand. What does the floppy disk save icon mean to a ten-year old in 2022, who might not have any familiarity with the physical?

By interrogating software and the visual knowledge it perpetuates, we can move beyond the so-called crisis in indexicality toward under standing the new ways in which visual knowledge is being transformed and perpetuated, not simply displaced or rendered obsolete. According to Galloway,

The analogical or “expressive” theory of ideology is also not unfamiliar as in the work of Louis Althusser where the structure of ideology resembles, more or less, an architectural drawing of a house, with the material base of society down below and the cultural or superstructural layer up above, ideology emerges not strictly as the house itself, but as a figurative projection of one layer onto the other, it is thus a stand in for what the Marxists simply call history, or in crass terms the ongoing reification of social relations and processes, and further the problem of being able to represent these details from the past in the present.

The save icon as it stands now is increasingly abstract iconography is divorced from the physical, in a way that it obscures social realtions by refusing to signal us back to something in the ‘real’.





 



  1. See Slavoj Zizek, The Sublime Object of Ideology (London: Verso, 1989), 11–53.

  2. Jacques Lacan, The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book II: The Ego in Freud’s
    Theory and in the Technique of Psychoanalysis (1954–1955), ed. Jacques-Alain
    Miller, trans. Sylvana Tomaselli (New York: Norton, 1991), 81.



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