Written component: submitted to professor
(approved by professor at end of semester)
Written component: submitted to professor
(approved by professor at end of semester)
The Association for Student Resource Engagement is hosted by the Cummins Institute and
In “How We Became Posthuman,” Katherine Hayles explores the concept of posthumanism. Posthumanism is a rethinking of the way human life exists alongside technology, particularly with embodiment. In informatics, an information society, the technology of information paired with changes complicates things. Hayles argues that there is a different type of of representation and signification. With new technologies, certain parts of human interaction could become extinct, necessary, or replaceable. Hayles calls these flickering signifers; the material presence can be reanimated in a different form. Although intangible, in a posthuman society, these things can exist in a different way.
These concepts are explored in the movie Her, and, in my mind, the setting is in a posthuman society. This can be best exemplified by the trajectory of Theodore and Samantha’s relationship. They possess many staples of a typical relationship: their mutual feelings of love, how they express them, a need to be in each others’ lives. But the relationship diverges, complicating things in the information society in the way Hayles predicts. Sam doesn’t have a body, and her personality is embodied in Theodore’s personal technology. While she is designed to be his personal assistant, to some extent, because the rest of their computerized world has lacked interpersonality, Theodore’s relationship with his OS is as intimate as it gets in his life. Their relationship falls apart when Samantha starts interacting with other OSes. Unlike humans, OSes have the capacity to communicate to hundreds of people at the same time, and their ability to gather knowledge and adapt allows them to have connections with other people and OSes. This shocks Theodore, and he struggles up until the very end of their relationship because her “love” from him is not comprehensible.
Another interesting part of the movie is Theodore’s job. He writes personal notes for people to those in their lives. For some of his clients, he has been writing their letters for years, so he no longer relies solely on the details they give him because he knows the details of their lives – he knows them through his job. The letters are personalized right up to the handwriting. Here, the human interaction through words is embodied in a different way – through a medium that many now would call impersonal. I was most surprised to see that in this posthuman society, letters still existed in some form. To me, this is evidence that there are certain human traditions that are loved by society yet adapt to the times. Many people argue that handwriting will be less of a focus in early education as time passes, which explains why Theodore’s company would customize fonts. And with the rise of more things readily made for us, it is easy to see how Theodore’s job can exist in a posthuman world. According to Hayles’, this could be an example of a flickering signifier.
This flyer is of a “women’s retreat” hosted by the Mission & Ministry Center and the WRC titled “Nourish Your Soul.” To me, the most interesting part about the flyer is the silhouette of the woman who seems clearly of color based on the shape of her hair and lips. While this is my reading of the image and can be completely irrelevant or wrong, if I’m right, it could convey a particular message to the viewer. It can be easily deduced that the image is of a woman of color based on the rationale described in Richard Dyer’s article “White.”
“The colourless multi-colouredness of whiteness secures white power by making it hard, especially for white people and their media, to ‘see’ whiteness. This, of course, also makes it hard to analyse. It is the way that black people are marked as black (are not just ‘people’) in representation that has made it relatively easy to analyse their representation, whereas white people – not there as a category and everywhere everything as fact – are difficult, if not impossible, to analyse qua white.” (735)
If the features of the woman in the image were more ambiguous, we might assume her identity as white. But because of the specificity of her features, we can guess she is of color. Dyer argues this keeps whites in power because of their anonymity, ambiguity, and acceptance in society whereas anyone else is considered comparatively “other.”
I point this out because of the Mission & Ministry Center’s reputation among students as favoring people who are white – and yet we see this image on their poster. It’s an ironic play on the culture at SMC and almost futhers Dryer’s point about the other.
Continuity: exercise in continuity
Montage: exercise in montage
Susan Sontag analyzes the function of photographs, defining a photograph as a captured experience. She says that to photograph is to place yourself in a certain relation to the world, as if using the photograph as acquired knowledge. We have the choice to take a photograph, honing in on what exactly is worth looking at. This creates a power play as we have the power to freeze a moment, thus possessing it in the form of a photograph.
This is a photo of my cousin Mathiew I took over the summer, in Lebanon. My cousin is 9 years-old and claimed to be a huge Brazil fan for the World Cup, like all his friends.. Lebanon takes after much of the rest of the world and joins in on the World Cup craze, creating huge yet friendly rivalries. Here, he is wearing a Brazil jersey I gifted him and also the Germany jacket his father gave him; his father works abroad and doesn’t get to see his kids much, so they cherish what they can of him when he’s away. Mathiew wanted to support his father, a Germany fan, as Germany was playing a game yet also show his loyalty to Brazil. The irony in the moment was astounding, and I had to capture it.
In insisting on taking a photo, I see Sontag’s article come into play. I exercised my power to capture ethe moment, using it as knowledge from my summer that I can look back on as I have for this assignment. While my cousin put his Germany jacket over the Brazil jersey instinctively and without thinking, by choosing to photograph it, I made an event out of the moment. Sontag also identifies photography as lying between art and truth; in making it an event, perhaps this could be perceived as art, but I see it as a truth of what occurred over the summer, just capturing the moment.
Jack Halberstam exercised queer photography as a way to demonstrate authenticity in identity, capturing identity as a performance. His collection features various people in a raw, real way, giving them authority over what may otherwise be classified as weirdness.
I see the backstory of why my cousin decided to wear what he did as speaking to Halberstam’s point to demonstrate authenticity. To me, the photograph symbolizes Mathiew’s youth – going along with the Brazil hype for the fun of the World cup – as well as his internal struggle to cling to what he can of his father – wearing Germany garb despite claiming he hates the team. Perhaps that cannot be well-represented in the photograph, but this is the meaning I see that helps me relate it to Halberstam’s intentions in his photography.
Mise-en-scene literally translates to “putting into a scene.” It is the manner in which a directer stages a scene that creates the look and feel of the image, contributing to the overall film. There are four elements of mise-en-scene: setting, lighting, costume, and behavior. In the movie Fight Club, main character (unnamed) meets Tyler Durden, who introduces to him the idea of a fight club. Both work together to create an entire culture around this club. It is later revealed in the film that the two characters as separate is actually deceiving. Regardless of the plot twist, it is interesting to analyze Fight Club from a phenomenological standpoint, particularly in the scene where Durden and the main character initially start the trend that will become the club.
Phenomenology is the study of how something effects the senses. Vivian Sobchack describes the theory as a body experiencing digital and analog forms in different ways. It is all about the body experience, and Sobchack refers to this as a lived body experience. Here, I want to take a look at the four aspects of mise-en-scene and how they are received at the body through macroperception (larger contextual level of body) rather than microperception (specific ways in which the body is affected).
Fight Club is a bodily experience when being watched because of the way the movie captures you before the unexpected plot twist. Everything is precisely calculated as to better engage the viewer to believe all that is happening right up until the plot twist, and this establishing scene of what will be the relationship between Durden and the main character is important for those reasons. This fully engrosses the audience in a phenomenological way to be done effectively.
Cinematic realism refers to how the concept of what is real is portrayed in cinematic texts. This is an ontological question, asking what is real when we observe such texts. The transition of a shift from paintings to photographs and was a largely-contested debate in the early history of cinematic development because of the new ways reality was portrayed.
Andre Bazin touches on this when he claims that in the world of plastic arts – an attempt to preserve the image – the photograph does a better job than a painting because the photograph can objectively capture an image. This calls into question how people understand and record reality, a commonly debated point today.
I personally disagree with Bazin; I think that photographs are highly subjective accounts of a single moment. Every decision when capturing a shot must be taken into account, and all decisions displayed in a photograph create the meaning that the photograph gives. Furthermore, I find Siegfried Kracaeur’s points in “Theories of Film” particular interesting because he explores the different ways reality is conveyed in media, particularly film. Film, Kracaeur says, possesses two properties. The basic property is the presentation of the physical reality while the technical property is the editing done in order to create meaning. Here, Kracaeur touches on the fact that reality can be preserved under whatever context is chosen. He goes on to say that film can have either a realistic or formative tendency. These contribute to the film’s staging, or the impression of reality given in the film. A film can capture a certain essence of a film, as Walter Benjamin asserts, but that aura can be interpreted and/or displayed in a variety of ways based on the intention. All of this contributes to why I believe cinematic realism is highly subjective and one of the main reasons why cinema captures us after all this time. Reality is portrayed in different ways and often to deliver a certain message.
A good example of this can be seen in Edward Scissorhands. Tim Burton uses scenes in the movie to exaggerate the image of suburbia: pastel-colored houses of identical design, the same car backing out of different driveways at the same time, perfectly trimmed front lawns … it’s all exaggerated yet a recognizable image of a commonly-known reality. Because it is exaggerated, it is not an accurate depiction of reality, yet because it is recognizable, it brings out a certain meaning about suburbia – that it and the lives of people in it are redundant and mundane.