Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Oddly enough, considering that I am vagabonding...

I made the decision this summer when I started this blog, that I'd keep it separate from my travel experiences, mostly for the sake of people who wanted to hear about cambodia, and not about media theory or the cultural codes of postwar Men's Adventure magazines. The official princeton-in-asia blog would be for experiences and reflections on my nascent year in Cambodia, and this would be for speculations of a more esoteric sort. Plenty of PiA friends are doing blogs on Blogger, though, so I'm going to be commenting on them with this account. This blog, however, is in semi-hibernation until my return to more regular climes.

Should someone track back here, I'd like to point you, Dear Reader, to my PiA travel blog, which will sate all your desires for anecdotes from the edge, and moreover, will make you a NEW MAN, as indicated in the illustration on the right:

Friday, August 1, 2008

Call for Syncretism at Monochrom

I contributed to Monochrom's International Year of Polytheism recently with a call for more syncretism. You can read it at here:

As civilizations bumped into one another in antiquity, they tended to discover that they had many different gods. But since most pantheons break down gods into somewhat similar areas of expertise, the greeks just figured that the barbarians had funny names for their gods, and combined the two. This eventually got to the point where you could slam almost any two gods with similar areas of expertise together to get something subtly new. Some of my favorite gods, like Mithras and Hermes Trismegistus, come from the intercultural mashups (Persio-Roman and Greco-Egyptian, respectively) that were going on at this time.


So I propose that the international year of Polytheism, in the interest of kick-starting the spread of polytheism, hold an open call for syncretism and de-euhemerism. Combine your favorite gods with modern saints or legendary figures of our times. Let a thousand syncretic gods bloom. Say, for instance, one of those sainted old nuns like Mother Teresa or Mother Cabrini...they might make a good match with a hearth goddess like Demeter, or if you want to push a little farther, with Cybele, mother goddess of the wild earth. Or perhaps Saint Stephen (Istvan) of Hungary, the badass magyar warrior king whose severed hand is a national relic, might well be identified with Labraid Lámh Dhearg (Labraid of the Red Hand), the Celtic sun god whose legecy lives on in the red hand of Ulster.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

That New Yorker Cover...

I probably don't need to provide much background on the firestorm of controversy surrounding the July 21 cover of the New Yorker. Plenty of ink and pixels have been spilled on this subject, but I think a couple things beyond the standard arguments in the news ought to be pointed out:

The New Yorker editors argue that their cartoon is just a satirical depiction of right-wing smears in the style of Colbert. If that's so, it's not even good satire. The character of "Colbert" works because of the many logical fallacies and amusing absurdities included in his speech. Good satire does most of its work inside the reader's head, providing them with the evidence to realize the point on their own. There has to be the element of the absurd.

The New Yorker editors argue that the cartoon is so ridiculous, no one could possibly believe it. They don't seem to realize that there are people who actually believe this stuff. Around 12 percent of the country believe that Obama is a practicing Muslim who was sworn into the senate on a Koran. But beyond that, there's a quiet but uncomfortably large minority in this country that sees Obama as un-american. I'm occasionally seeing it in Bucks County. If you don't realize that, then the much-overused term of "elitist" really does apply to you.

If a cartoon covers such an explosive topic, and it's point isn't immediately self-evident, one must ask what the difference is between the image and actual propaganda. A friend brought up the idea that if, say the cartoon were of, say a portrait sitting for the Obama family, with a crazed painter depicting the current cover on an easel, it would provide an amusing perspective on right-wing distortions. As it is, we're grasping for the message. The editors suggest that the title helps shed light, but honestly how many people actually read turn to the inside cover under the table of contents to read it? It's not like it's there with the image, as most political cartoons are. Remnick was a liberal arts major at Princeton, he above anyone should realize that interpretation isn't always in the hands of the author.

In any case, the cover has now spilled into the non-issue of "Can you joke about Obama?" That's it? That's what we're talking about? There's seriously so little going on we're spending network news time on jokes? The United States is considering sending an embassy back to Iran, is that not newsworthy? Meanwhile Thai and Cambodian soldiers, in the latest episode of a long-running grudge, are pointing weapons at each other over a newly-approved UNESCO World Heritage Site. Thank you, the news.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

I'm not sure when I started wanting to become a blogger, wear a cape and ride in a hot-air balloon, presumably careening and caroming across the globe in search of adventure and moderately amusing anecdotes. [note:You are not Cory Doctorow; results may vary.] It was probably some time in high school when I started digging into the strange nooks and crannies of internet weirdness. I was happy to find that wow, there were people out there who spent time finding out about interesting things, and then writing about them. It was something I felt like getting into, but didn't really have time for.
What actually got me started was admission into the fantastic Princeton-in-Asia program, where they had a special optional workshop during orientation on "Blogging," which was partly useful but mostly encouraging. They wanted us to reflect on our rather unusual circumstances, which in my case is teaching English in Cambodia for a year at the Royal University of Phnom Penh.

I came to the conclusion that my PIA blog ought to focus on my experiences of travel, teaching, and cultural ridiculousness, and keep to a minimum speculation on what Theodor Adorno might have thought of Guitar Hero (which is probably going to be one of my first big posts here.) Now, my volume is probably going to be rather low over the next year or so, as I will be travelling to areas with lackluster internet, as a statement of interest and purpose, here are some things that interest me:
  • Strange and awesome historical oddities
  • Collections of Curiosities, in both the early modern and postmodern style.
  • Cold War/High Modern social inquiry (up to and including atomic war planning) and design (gotta love that Bakelite!)
  • Speculation about coming social trends, as well as antiquated visions of the future and "modern society,"
  • Media theory (mostly German influenced) and media Archaeology (Dead Media, etc.)
    • Possibly a confluence of more than one of these interests, I did a lot of research last year on radio and the contemporary academic study thereof, particularly regarding the Orson Welles broadcast. No, it was not a psychological warfare test, though I can blog later about why some people think so.
  • 'Conditions and constraints of content creation,' be it music, history, or science
  • Anthropological study of magic (though this is an area I'll admit I need to read more in)
  • Games and Gaming, considered as objects worthy of study (I'm not quite sure if I can use the term "ludologist" entirely seriously yet.)
  • Grand Strategy and the debate over "4th Generation War"
Now, I'll probably not cover all these various and sundry topics, but this is a good start, and interestingly a good way to look at these varied interests and think about what connects them. Maybe I'll comment to myself.