Long summer

by craigepplin

What felt like a very protracted summer is over. It’s kind of cold in Portland, and I’ll be back teaching within a week. I’m excited to teach a class I’ve taught before but with new eyes and ears. It’s on contemporary media culture in Latin America. We’ll read a few books but will spend more of our time talking about online or digitally inflected environments (which is to say, you know, all environments). Everyone in the class, me included, is expected to write a blog post per week, which means I’ll be keeping little entries, probably here, on what we’re reading and talking about.

One work on the syllabus is by the Argentine artist Mariano Pensotti. I got to see his work A veces creo que te veo here in Portland this past week, and I wrote about it on the blog of the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art. The work involves a person sitting at a laptop and writing about whatever is happening in the immediate vicinity–which, in this incarnation of the work, was a little plaza on the Portland State campus. There’s a screen too, where we can see the writing appear in real time.

As I wrote before, I think the import of the piece is how it stages a sort of surveillance and reveals the necessarily partial aspect of it. There’s a reason it’s a writer and not just a camera that’s doing the observing. It suggests to me that this is the true nature of all surveillance: partial, incapable of a full registry of reality. The writer, to which we attribute a partial perspective, shows us that the camera too would be hamstrung by the excess complexity of the reality that’s always transpiring.

It reminded me of a really insightful post that Chris Taylor wrote a while back about the “news” that the United States government has pretty much full access to our digital traces. It isn’t the case that this is a benign development, but we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that the state is stupid: To use Taylor’s own example, “[a] cursory look at the texts produced by the FBI and DHS in their surveillance of Occupy, for instance, reveals that intelligence gatherers so frequently have no fucking clue what they are looking at.” Again, this doesn’t mean that the state isn’t capable of using its own stupidity towards real, violent ends, for “states of stupidity are frequently weaponized.” Rather, it means that the state cannot entirely capture the forces that are constitutive of social life to begin with.

That’s what I’ve been thinking about here at the end of the summer, one in which I finished a book manuscript and did some very homey things (learned to make jam and pickles and can them properly, for example) and watched my brother get married and met some wonderful people and took in some truly amazing performances of all sorts. A lovely summer, but I’m glad it’s ending and classes are beginning. Stay tuned for posts from my course on new media.