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Premediation and other topics

First, apologies to the commenters, as in changing this material over to a blog format I lost your comments.

Yesterday my grad students and I read an article by Valerie Traub, called "Mapping the Global Body." It uses visual rhetoric and analysis to construct broad and trenchant observations about culture in ways that I really admire. The central claim is that the spatialization strategies that are used in maps cast humans in marginal illustrations as parts of geography. These humans are represented as heterosexual pairs of reproductive age, rather than (as earlier) in groups of various kinds. Geographic space is therefore inhabited by heterosexual couples that share ethnic characteristics (displayed in costume and personal "habit"). So she claims that intra-tribal heterosexuality is the cornerstone of the invention of race and its assignment to both geography and custom or habit (ethnography). It's good stuff.

I'm still working my head around the cognitive allegory questions (see previous entry for more on this topic). I re-read the abstract for the Aesop paper yesterday as part of work with my graduate students on how to propose, write, and present a conference paper. It does characterize the fable animals as strictly allegorical, while animals in real life are resources within a vigorously anti-allegorical emergent capitalism (and science); the illustrations hover between. So there's some play there to be had.

Today I will also be reading Julia Munro's phd dissertation, which is about photography in the earliest period of its use (1839-1851). It's super material and is to be examined on Thursday. The dissertation is rich in documentary evidence drawn from periodicals, and in analysis of the strange and wonderful things that people thought about photography. It also develops Richard Grusin's idea of premediation -- he says that the way people receive media forms at their inception conditions the way that people view them in later years, whatever the technological changes are (this isn't so hard to predict), and further, that people use media forms to actually imagine the future, and how it will be remembered (e.g., we imagine the future in the form of photograph albums, or videos). He developed this notion to describe how the media's presentation of the lead-up to the Iraq war shaped how it was actually played out. He says that our use of media forms (modes) as a way to see the world is a way of controlling apprehension about the future (similar to how we use narrative: if there's an effect, there must be a cause, which we learn from narrative, however much philosophy pretends we learn it from there). I can see how that works in relation to the Iraq war: if media staged the potential for war as a series of spectacles (to rival the destruction of the twin towers), then proceed it would as a series of spectacles. But Julia is the first person to describe a historical instance of this phenomenon, so the thesis is theoretically and conceptually interesting, not just full of useful information and cultural analysis. I think it's all quite exciting.

Then I will go to the first Research Discussion Group of the year. My phd student Diane Jakacki and my colleague Tristanne Connelly are going to talk to us about their research. Grad House, 4:30. Be there, or be square.