November CommQuote

tejuOur quote for November by writer Teju Cole is situated in an profile of him in The Guardian by Emma Brockes.  Cole, who has written straight-forward novels, is also an experimenter of the form and recent experiments have involved Twitter—such as retweeting  a group of participants’ tweets into a collective narrative (The Man on the Subway).  He takes Twitter pretty seriously as a political tool as well as a writing medium.

“Like Joyce Carol Oates and Margaret Atwood, Cole is one of the few novelists who sees Twitter as an extension of, rather than a distraction from, his work. He isn’t afraid to start a fight on social media and frequently challenges what he sees as lazy or pernicious opinions, particularly from western reporters writing about Africa. “The question could be: why are you so political?” he says. “Whereas my question would be: why aren’t you? And I think that comes from the non-American part of me which is saying that novelists in every other country, with the exception of the American or the Anglo-American sphere, actually consider it part of their work to engage.

Uniquely among Twitter users, perhaps, Cole isn’t afraid to talk about how seriously he takes it, and his tweets – jokes about current events, or cleverly compressed critiques, for example of the World Cup – “World Cup Protests Marred By Opening Ceremony” – are, he says, the fruit of as much time and thinking as anything else he writes.  ‘I write drafts.’

Of tweets?!

‘Yes, I know it’s weird. It’s a little bit annoying, also. Two drafts of a tweet? Insufferable. But what’s the point in being ashamed of your instrument? And writers in the past were pamphleteers. There are so many different ways to disseminate ideas and put them out. And this just happens to be mine. I often have to tell myself it’s OK to be a writer. And it’s OK that not everyone is. But I am, and I’m going to do that. It’s like saying, Oh, someone’s an accountant and when they’re reckoning the bill in a restaurant, they can afford to be sloppy because they’re an accountant all the time. When I tweet, I’m still a writer.’ “



October CommQuote

This month’s quote comes from Index on Censorship (Volume 43, Number 03; Autumn 2014) which features a special section on the future of journalism.  The lead piece, Back to the Future, by Iona Craig proffers cautionary insight on surveillance technologies and journalistic freedom.

“Governments going after journalists is nothing new. But what is increasingly apparent is that those listening and watching when we work in countries infamous for their consistent stifling of freedom of speech and obstruction of a free press, are often doing so with the infrastructure, equipment or direct support of supposedly ‘liberal’ Western nations…home_cover (2)

Until encrypted mobile phone communication becomes more affordable and commonplace, we may have to go back in time–meeting in person rather than leaving a data trail.”

–Iona Craig, Back to the Future, Index on Censorship, 43:3, pp. 11, 12

September Commquote

Richard Kearney wrote a very thought provoking piece in The New York Times last month on the sense of touch in the virtual world. Dr. Kearney,  a philosophy professor at Boston College, teaches a class on eros beginning with Plato on up through the digital age. Talking to students about modern dating practices involving services like OkCupid, SpeedDate, and the like led to these musings:

 “We noted the rather obvious paradox: The ostensible immediacy of sexual contact was in fact mediated digitally. And it was also noted that what is often thought of as a ”materialist” culture was arguably the most ”immaterialist” culture imaginable — vicarious, by proxy, and often voyeuristic. Is today’s virtual dater and mater something like an updated version of Plato’s Gyges, who could see everything at a distance but was touched by nothing? Are we perhaps entering an age of ”excarnation,” where we obsess about the body in increasingly disembodied ways? For if incarnation is the image become flesh, excarnation is flesh become image. Incarnation invests flesh; excarnation divests it…
 For all the fascination with bodies, our current technology is arguably exacerbating our carnal alienation. While offering us enormous freedoms of fantasy and encounter, digital eros may also be removing us further from the flesh.
 Pornography, for example, is now an industry worth tens of billions of dollars worldwide. Seen by some as a progressive sign of post-60s sexual liberation, pornography is, paradoxically, a twin of Puritanism. Both display an alienation from flesh — one replacing it with the virtuous, the other with the virtual. Each is out of touch with the body.” 

–August 31, “Losing Our Touch,” The New York Times

June CommQuote

This month’s quote comes from Wired Magazine‘s profile piece on Oculus Rift, The Inside Story of Oculus Rift and How Virtual Reality Became Reality (May 20, 2014) by Peter Rubin.

“…Beyond that, though, the company and its technology herald nothing less than the dawn of an entirely new era of communication. Mark Zuckerberg gestured at the possibilities himself in a Facebook post in March when he announced the acquisition: “Imagine enjoying a courtside seat at a game, studying in a classroom of students and teachers all over the world, or consulting with a doctor face-to-face—just by putting on goggles in your home.” That’s the true promise of VR: going beyond the idea of immersion and achieving true presence—the feeling of actually existing in a virtual space. That’s because Oculus has found a way to make a headset that does more than just hang a big screen in front of your face. By combining stereoscopic 3-D, 360-degree visuals, and a wide field of view—along with a supersize dose of engineering and software magic—it hacks your visual cortex. As far as your brain is concerned, there’s no difference between experiencing something on the Rift and experiencing it in the real world. “This is the first time that we’ve succeeded in stimulating parts of the human visual system directly,” says Abrash, the Valve engineer. “I don’t get vertigo when I watch a video of the Grand Canyon on TV, but I do when I stand on a ledge in VR.” Now Oculus is hard at work on its long-awaited headset for consumers, which the company predicts will be released later this year, or more likely early next year, or perhaps even not so early next year. Whenever it comes, we’ll finally have something that has eluded us for more than 30 years: immersive, affordable virtual reality. And we’ll all know what Brendan Iribe knew standing in that room outside of Seattle. ‘I’ve seen five or six demos that made me think the world was about to change: Apple II, Netscape, Google, iPhone … then Oculus…This is going to be bigger than we ever expected.'” 

May CommQuote

Hooray for May.  This month’s quote goes to poet Vijay Seshadri. The poem is titled New Media and comes from his latest collection 3 Sections.

“Anyone concerned about the state of American poetry should put aside his or her thesis notes and pick up a copy of 3 Sections. . . . Mr.Seshadri is talented and assured enough to lay his self-consciousness bare on the page with a generous, fluid, avuncular wit reminiscent of W.H. Auden.” —The American Reader

New Media

Why I wanted to escape experience is nobody’s business but my own,
but I always believed I could if I could

put experience into words.
Now I know better.
Now I know words are experience.

“But ah thought kills me that I am not thought”
“2 People Search for YOU”
“In the beginning there was the . . .”
“re: Miss Exotic World”
“I Want Us To Executed Transaction”

It’s not the thing,
there is no thing,
there’s no thing in itself,
there’s nothing but what’s said about the thing,
there are no things but words

about the things 
said over and over,
perching, grooming their wings,
on the subject lines.

–from: 3 Sections, by Vijay Seshadri (Graywolf Press, 3013). p20

April CommQuote

I love this bleary mixing of media morphing into other media forms/formats. That’s what artist Jim Campbell is all about as reported in Benjamin Sutton’s Why Is Jim Campbell’s Low-Res Video Art So Compelling, Even Captivating? for artnet news.

“In Topography Reconstruction Wave (2014) [pictured below], the footage of a crashing wave plays behind a thick layer of resin sculpted to represent a photograph of a wave. This work, part of a new series employing more sculptural elements than much of Campbell’s preceding works, culminates when the blurred video of the wave seems to line up perfectly with the sculpted resin wave encasing it….In addition to the process of stripping away visual information in his low-resolution videos, he is increasingly interested in the conversion of one type of media into another—in the case of the resin works, transforming black-and-white images into three-dimensional sculptures. The effect is deeply unsettling because of the way in which the video’s flickering lights interact with the translucent resin.

‘As the lights change it distorts based on how thick the resin is, and what that does is that as the light passes through the face it feels like the face is moving, which goes back to this theory about some of the very earliest cave paintings that we have found; some people have suggested that with fire in there that they were actually animated,’ Campbell explained.”

You can take in the full article here.

February CommQuote

Go to Google BooksLet’s go with another poem for our February Commquote (since April is approaching which we know is Poetry Month, how’s that for logic?).  The poet is Rae Armantrout, who is coming for a visit to the Kelly Writers House later this Spring.  The poem is called Cursive from her 2007 collection, Next Life.


In my country,
in “Toy Story,”

sanity meant keeping
a set distance

between one’s role
as a figurine
and one’s “self-image.”

This gap
was where the soul
was thought to live.


When he thought of suicide, he thought,

“It ends here!”


“Let’s do it!”

As if a flying leap
were a form of camaraderie.

As if a cop and his
comic relief partner
faced off’
against moguls.

Crossed wires released such
hope-like sparks.


This thing was called
“face of the deep,”

this intractable blank
with its restless cursive


January CommQuote

Let’s ring (hint hint) in the new year with a poem called Cell Phone by Ernesto Cardenal (transl. by John Lyons). It’s from his 2011 collection titled The Origin of the Species and Other Poems (Texas Tech University Press).

Cell Phone
You talk on your cell phone
and talk and talk
and laugh into your cell phone
never knowing how it was made
and much less how it works
but what does that matter
trouble is you don’t know
just as I didn’t
that many people die in the Congo
thousands upon thousands
for that cellphone
they die in the Congo
in its mountains there is coltan
(besides gold and diamonds)
used for cell phone
for the control of the minerals
multinational corporations
wage this unending war
5 million dead in 15 years
and they don’t want it to be known
country of immense wealth
with poverty-stricken population
80% of the world’s coltan
reserves are in the Congo
the coltan has lain there for
three thousand million years
Nokia, Motorola, Compaq, Sony
buy the coltan
the Pentagon too, the New York
Times corporation too
and they don’t want it to be known
nor do they want the war to stop
so as to carry on grabbing the coltan
children of 7 to 10 years extract the coltan
because their tiny bodies
fit into the tiny holes
for 25 cents a day
and loads of children die
due to the coltan powder
or hammering the rock
that collapses on top of them
The New York Times too
that doesn’t want it to be known
and that’s how it remains unknown
this organized crime
of the multinationals
the Bible identifies
truth and justice
and love and the truth
the importance of the truth then
that will set us free
also the truth about coltan
coltan inside your cell phone
on which you talk and talk
and laugh into your cell phone

December CommQuote

We’ve had videos reign as CommQuotes; our quote this month is an image (or two).

There’s more to  Erik Kessels 24 HRS in Photos installation than meets the eye. What looks like just a junky room full of trash is actually all of the images uploaded to the popular social networking photography site Flickr on a single day in October. Kessels printed out over 900,000 images that exhibit participants can walk through or pick up for closer viewing.

Kessels’ installation is part of A Sense of Place, a photography group exhibit on view at Pier 24 Photography in San Francisco through May 2014. A review of the show can be found here.

You can get to know this artist/designer better at this TEDxBreda talk.

November CommQuote

What’s the polar opposite of a heavy meal drowned in rich turkey gravy?  How about something from Bjork, just for balance. ( It’s not an either-or, mind you, you don’t have to choose.)  The website recently posted a video of Bjork “explaining television.”  Highlights include her taking off the back of a TV set and likening the little world in there to a city.

“Look at this. This looks like a city. Like a little model of a city. The houses, which are here, and streets. This is maybe an elevator to go up there. And here are all the wires. These wires, they really take care of all the electrons when they come through there. They take care that they are powerful enough to get all the way through to here.”

She goes on to explain the narcotizing effects of television from a much needed hard science perspective.

“This beautiful television has put me, like I said before, in all sorts of situations. I remember being very scared because an Icelandic poet told me that not like in cinemas, where the thing that throws the picture from it just sends light on the screen, but this is different. This is millions and millions of little screens that send light, some sort of electric light, I’m not really sure. But because there are so many of them, and in fact you are watching very many things when you are watching TV. Your head is very busy all the time to calculate and put it all together into one picture. And then because you’re so busy doing that, you don’t watch very carefully what the program you are watching is really about. So you become hypnotized. So all that’s on TV, it just goes directly into your brain and you stop judging it’s right or not

But I’ve spoiled the audiovisual Icelandic pixie aspect which you can take in here. Enjoy!