Friday, February 1, 2013

One of the requirements for my Digital Studies Symposium this semester is that I keep a blog of responses to class readings and guest lectures. I decided to integrate those posts into this blog, because Spoons & Satellites is an amalgamation, a scrap book, an attempt to document all aspects of my life. And since lately all I've been documenting is grief, I'm going to take a break and instead document frustration. Maybe in a few months I'll move on to slightly more positive emotions. Slightly.

I was sitting outside in the bathwater weather that is LA this afternoon angrily underlining passages in Daniel Pink's A Whole New Mind, but I couldn't quite pin down exactly what was irritating me. Then I remembered his chart on page 49 that visualizes shifts between different eras [agricultural, industrial, informational, and conceptual] as a slowly inclining stairway beginning at the agricultural "bottom" and ending at the conceptual "top." And I realized, my god, here is this man, writing what is unquestionably pop science/pop theory about the right brain and its ascendency in Western culture, and yet his chapters, his charts, his figures, his sentences and the words arranged in them are so very linear, so very left brain. Reading about the decline of the left brain and the growing importance of the right brain in such a structured fashion was making me unbearably uncomfortable.

When I read the introduction to the book, I thought, "wonderful, I can use this text to explain to people what it is I'm trying to accomplish in my scholarship:" An escape from the hierarchy of paper [Gary Hall's term], a disruption of the liner, is exactly what I strive for in my work. Last semester I wrote my first hypertext essay, and it focuses on this very subject. It is called "The Digital Failure Manifesto" because it is a series of hyperbolic commands [as is generally required of a traditional manifesto] regarding the state of literary criticism and our goals [and failures] to employ digital technologies to explore new methods of literary scholarship. The central visual metaphor in the project is the Penrose stairs, as they signify both forward movement, as in going up the stairs, and stasis since the stairs only ever connect to their own beginning.
Photo credit: J__Shevchenko 
I anticipated that Pink would explode the traditional pop-theory book and utilize non-linear structures and thought processes to make clear the rupture in thinking he calls for in his book. I was disappointed. Instead I feel like A Whole New Mind offers tips and tricks for how to be a right brained person so as to best maximize your potential, to compete with the current Western cultural circumstances, to progress up that that ever-inclining line from the agricultural age into the future. But that's such a left-brain approach. To imagine that there are tricks to thinking artistically, that those tricks are something you can sell in a book that is available at a Barnes & Noble [another site of abundance Pink doesn't mention in his chapter on the subject] is frustrating for those of us looking to truly dismantel the system. Pink declares, "the MFA is the new MBA" (54) and "Today we're all in the art business" (55). But art is not a business. And we don't go to art school so that we can market our artistic sensibilities. Well, some of us do, but many do not, and even the suggestion that they might is detrimental to the concept of art in the first place.

This is the problem: we want a new way of thinking to reflect this new way of living, but we have to first stop thinking of everything as new, stop tracing genealogies and reinforcing taxonomies. Pink needs to do this in his book if I am ever to take him seriously, and I need to do this in my scholarship if I'm ever to take myself seriously. I am not free from this criticism. I am part of a linear system that views change as progress and experiences as something compartmentalize-able. The difference is, I struggle every day to explore new possibilities [note how I didn't say "find solutions to this problem"] whereas Pink lays out, chapter by chapter, in logically progressive order, how to achieve, how to market, how to "master [the] six aptitudes that [he] devotes the second part of this book" (61). Mapping left brain understandings over right brain functions is not helpful. And though I have to cut the man some slack because he exists in a system that encourages this kind of problematic discussion, I can't forgive him for trying to transform the arts into a vehicle that will help us to reinforce the same ideas of "success" that are partly responsible for getting us into this mess in the first place.

No comments: