News for November 2014

Posthumanism

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.

Posted: November 26, 2014
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Permutations of Difference

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.
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Posted: November 14, 2014
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