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Happy Trails to You I first heard of The Valve back in late Spring or early Summer of 2005 when I caught wind of an up-coming discussion of an anthology entitled Theory’s Empire. The idea, it seems, was to look at what had by now become capital “T” Theory and, perhaps, hope! hope! lay it… Bill Benzon 03/18/12 0
What’s an Encyclopedia These Days? I remember browsing through the encyclopedia when I was young. We had an Americana, to the Britannica, which just announced that it will cease print publication, and I would spend hours reading from one entry to another. The volumes were heavy and substantial and the set of them gave a visible… Bill Benzon 03/15/12 0
Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations From today’s New York Times: In an acknowledgment of the realities of the digital age — and of competition from the Web site Wikipedia — Encyclopaedia Britannica will focus primarily on its online encyclopedias and educational curriculum for schools. The last print version is the 32-volume 2010 edition, which weighs 129… Bill Benzon 03/14/12 2 03/14/12
Intimate Enemies: What’s Opera, Doc? It is a truth universally acknowledged that What’s Opera, Doc? is one of the finest cartoons ever made. It satirizes opera, Wagner in particular; it parodies Disney’s Fantasia, and, for that matter, it parodies the routines of its stars, Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd. The production was, by Warner Brother’s standards,… Bill Benzon 03/12/12 0
Alphonso Lingis talks of various things, cameras and photos among them A new journal, Singularum, has an interview with philosopher Alphonse Lingis, who translates Merleau-Ponty, writes, travels, and takes photos. I had long resisted buying a camera, thinking that there was something false about collecting images of things seen and people encountered and who have passed on, trying to retain the past.… Bill Benzon 03/11/12 0
Feynmann, John von Neumann, and Mental Models Since George Dyson’s recent history of modern computing, Turing’s Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital Universe, was written in part to restore John von Neumann to prominence, I thought I’d republish a double review, lightly edited, I wrote some years ago: “A Tale of Two Geniuses,” Journal of Social and Evolutionary… Bill Benzon 03/08/12 0
Support Michael Sporn’s Film about Edgar Allen Poe Several years ago I spent a delightful evening at New York City’s Museum of Modern Art viewing retrospective of Michael Sporn’s films. Everyday I check his blog, which is a treasure trove for those interested in animation. Now I’m asking you to support his Kickstarter project, which involves a biography of… Bill Benzon 03/07/12 0
Philosophy, Ontics or Toothpaste for the Mind Writing in, of all places, The New York Times, Colin McGinn, a distinguished philosopher—for only distinguished philosophers get to appear in “the paper of record”—has called for a rebranding of the discipline of philosophy. No, “rebranding” isn’t his word, though it was astutely used by one of the commenters. McGinn just… Bill Benzon 03/05/12 0
Nazi Rules for Regulating Funk ‘n Freedom J.J. Gould has a short piece in The Atlantic that lists Nazi regulations for dance orchestras on Czeckslovakia: Pieces in foxtrot rhythm (so-called swing) are not to exceed 20% of the repertoires of light orchestras and dance bands; in this so-called jazz type repertoire, preference is to be given to compositions… Bill Benzon 03/02/12 0
The Early History of Modern Computing: A Brief Chronology This chronology is from a Guardian interview with George Dyson, who’s just written Turing’s Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital Universe. One of the central features of the book is to restore prominence to John von Neumann, the great Hungarian polymath. 1936 Alan Turing submits his paper ‘On computable numbers, with… Bill Benzon 02/27/12 0
Computing Encounters Being, an Addendum As soon as I finished yesterday’s post on Brian Smith’s On the Origin of Objects, I had a thought: Ahh...so THAT’s why the philosophy of computing leads to metaphysics. If your intuitions about computing are dominated by your practice of arithmetic, well, that’s calculation, and calculation is only an aspect of… Bill Benzon 02/26/12 0
On the Origin of Objects (towards a philosophy of computation) While crusing the web I came across a 1996 book by Brain Cantwell Smith, On the Origin of Objects. Smith is a computer scientist who was, in fact, in search of a theory of computation but found himself smack in the middle of metaphysics. Interesting, no?  Just what computing is, is… Bill Benzon 02/25/12 0
Symposium on Graeber’s Debt Crooked Timber is running a symposium on David Graeber’s Debt: The First 5000 Years. Contributions so far: Seminar on David Graeber’s Debt: The First 5000 Years – Introduction, Chris Bertram The unmourned death of the double coincidence, John Quiggan The World Economy is not a Tribute System, Henry Farrell Debt Jubilee… Bill Benzon 02/23/12 0
The Nightmare of Digital Film Preservation I have distinct memories of the days when the prospect of digital media everywhere led to thoughts of how easy it would be to preserve everything: Digital Will Never Die! The basic idea was that, as digital is All or Nothing, the signal is strong and clear and so resistant to… Bill Benzon 02/21/12 0
Bleg: Subjective Sound, Mad Men and Apocalypse Now I’m interested in the use of sound to emphasize one point of view in a film vs. other points of view. For example in the fifth episode (called “5G”) of the first season of Mad Men, Don Draper is called out of a staff meeting to the reception area to see… Bill Benzon 02/21/12 0
Standard Eye Play This photo doubles the mystery, I suppose. The basic mystery is, of course, that eye, against the black background. Who? What? Why? Male or Female? Merely curious or Homeland Security? The photo increases the mystery by providing a background that situates the eye and its immediate background. But the situation is… Bill Benzon 02/19/12 0
Objects and Graeber’s Debt I’ve been reading my way through David Graeber’s recent book, Debt: The First 5,000 Years. I’m beginning to think it’s a major book, one important outside its ostensible subject matter, which, I assume, is something like the history of economics. I’m thinking, for example, that he has discussions which would interest… Bill Benzon 02/14/12 2 02/16/12
Music and ADD Stanford University recently held a symposium on music therapy that focused on musical rhythm. Some of the work dealt with ADD (attention deficient disorder): Harold Russell, a clinical psychologist and adjunct research professor in the Department of Gerontology and Health Promotion at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, used… Bill Benzon 02/12/12 0
Mad Men A couple of years ago the cool kids began talking about this TV show, “Mad Men.” It sounded interesting but, as I did not (and still do not) have cable TV, I couldn’t watch it. But I do have a Netflix account and have just watched the first three episodes of… Bill Benzon 02/12/12 0
Strange Views, Not so Strange: Cities, Green, and the Rest Whatever’s going on in this photograph, it seems to me, is entirely obvious. It’s not usual, of course, for the foreground to be out-of-focus, nor for the blurry foreground objects to all but obscure the in-focus background objects. In fact, you have to look a bit to see anything in the… Bill Benzon 02/10/12 0
Geoffrey Harpham: In Praise of Pleasure For the past few years the National Humanities Center has been running an online colloquim on the relationships between the humanities and various sciences. That colloquim is coming to an end with a defense of pleasure and the autonomy of humanistic inquiry by Geoffrey Harpham, director of the center. Here’s a… Bill Benzon 02/08/12 0
A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse I just watched The Dirty Dozen, a 1967 war film with an ensemble cast headlined by Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine, Charles Bronson, Jim Brown, John Cassavetes, and Telly Savalas. The premise is simple, if a bit implausible: Marvin is hard-as-nails Major with guts and an attitude who’s tasked with leading a… Bill Benzon 02/05/12 2 02/16/12
ADD: Drugs Don’t Work Long Term L. Alan Sroufe has an oped in today’s NYTimes on the use of drugs to treat ADD (attention Deficient Disorder) in children: Ritalin Gone Wrong. Attention-deficit drugs increase concentration in the short term, which is why they work so well for college students cramming for exams. But when given to children… Bill Benzon 01/29/12 0
More Fishy Business Mark Liberman has a run at Stanley Fish’s recent fusillade against digital humanties, which turns on a pair of plosives in a paragraph in Milton’s Aeropagetica. Fish makes a big deal of Milton’s p’s and b’s while Liberman does a statistical analysis of their occurence in the text and concludes that… Bill Benzon 01/27/12 0
Fish Argues Against Interpretation Via Digital Humanities He’s at it again. Fish has another post contra-digital humanities, this time centering on interpretation. Not surprisingly, he’s opposed, which is consistent with remarks he made about stylistics, including computational stylistics, in one or two of the essays in Is There A Text in This Class? What IS surprising, given the… Bill Benzon 01/24/12 0
The Conversation Continues: What is Graffiti? My meeting with the Semiotics Workshop at the University of Chicago went very well, very well indeed. As you may recall, I was asked to present a paper: Animal, Vegetable, Mineral: What is Graffiti? It was one of the best conversations I’ve ever had in an academic setting. The workshop coordinators,… Bill Benzon 01/17/12 0
Listening is All One of the motifs that returns again and again in these “Inside the Actor’s Studio” interviews is listening. Most recently, the interviews with Michael Caine, Meryl Streep, and Juliette Binoch. Listening is all, listening is everything. The first time I heard that it surprised me. And then became utterly obvious. I… Bill Benzon 01/16/12 0
As Actors Prepare, so Should Critics Learn Every once in awhile I like to listen to a bunch of James Lipton’s interviews with theatre and film people, mostly actors. They’re all over YouTube; just google “Inside the Actors Studio.” I’ve been doing so this weekend. What I enjoy is the nitty-gritty sense of craft, of what actors do… Bill Benzon 01/15/12 0
Animal, Vegetable, or Mineral: What is Graffiti? I’ll be at the University of Chicago next Thursday talking about graffiti in their Semiotics Workshop (details here). The presentation will be informal and is based on a number of slightly revised blog posts. I’ve written the following introductory remarks to the posts. * * * * * Graffiti: Some Parameters… Bill Benzon 12/31/11 0
The Peregrinations of Agency vis-à-vis the Text Back in the ancient days of the 1950s the intentional fallacy was invoked to separate the text from the author, indeed, it was invoked to separate any work of art from its creator. Agency was thus invested solely in the text itself, the autonomous text. It was the critic’s job to… Bill Benzon 12/23/11 0
OOO is Very Abstract, but so is KR Over the past several months I’ve been reading around in object-oriented ontology (OOO)—I’m currently reading an interview with Levi Bryant—and I note that it’s a very abstract way of dealing with the world. Here, for example, is a passage from that Bryant interview: Is use the term “withdrawal” in a somewhat… Bill Benzon 12/20/11 0
Russell Hoban: Disappearances Was the late Russell Hoban an object-oriented ontologist? How’s this sound? More and more I find life is a series of disappearances followed usually but not always by reappearances; you disappear from your morning self and reappear as your afternoon self; you disappear from feeling good and reappear feeling bad. And… Bill Benzon 12/20/11 0
Alenka Pinterič Nina Paley’s started background research for her Exodus project (aka Seder-Masochism). One aspect of her research has been to immerse herself in recordings of the theme song from Exodus, a hit movie from 1960 about a shipload of Holocaust survivors after World War II. The theme song became a hit in… Bill Benzon 12/19/11 0
Community Bands in America In 19th century America, the community band was at the center of community life. Here’s a documentary about them: Meet The Band, a Hindsight Media production, is a one-hour documentary tracing the history of community bands n the United States. We profile four very different bands from around the country and… Bill Benzon 12/18/11 0
New coinage: “Assholocracy” Over at Language Log Geoffrey Pullum is arguing for “assholocracy” as a new addition to the English language. Donald Trump is his favored instance of the assholocrat, but examples are legion: The whole Arab Spring has been a process of bringing down assholocracies. Italy suffered under one until recently. Russia and… Bill Benzon 12/14/11 0
Tank Tankoro, by Gajo Sakamoto Gaja Sakamoto. Tank Tankuro: Prewar Works, 1934-45. Presspop, Inc. 2011. I was browsing in Jim Hanley’s Universe* a few weeks ago and saw a handsomely slipcased volume by someone I’d never heard of, Gajo Sakamoto, about a character I’d never heard of, Tank Tankoro. That I’d never heard of either means… Bill Benzon 12/12/11 0
David Graeber Interview: Anarchism, Debt, and Militarism The White Review has a far-ranging interview with David Graeber, economic anthropologist and OWS theorist. Here he talks about how US overseas military arrangements and foreign debt amount to empire under a different set of names (paragraphing mine): Since 1972 when Nixon went off the gold standard, the world reserve currency… Bill Benzon 12/09/11 0
What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking? When I first got interested in object-oriented ontology (OOO) I wondered just what qualified as an object, metaphysically speaking. I suppose the question was particularly acute because, at that time, I was reading Tim Morton’s early thinking on hyperobjects, which presupposed ordinary metaphysical objects and seemed to extend it in some… Bill Benzon 12/08/11 2 02/20/12
Conference on Psycho-Ontology There’s a conference on that topic at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem on 11-15 December of this year, with David Chalmers, Steven Pinker, Lera Bofoditsky and Jesse Prinz headlining. Here’s how the conference bills itself: Do the operations of the human mind have something to teach us about the fundamental structure… Bill Benzon 12/05/11 0
How Many Tables? Graham Harman has a recent post in which he wonders about tables: Because of something I had to write I was going over A.S. Eddington’s The Nature of the Physical World (or over the Introduction, anyway, which was the relevant part for my purposes). This Introduction is famous for its discussion… Bill Benzon 12/01/11 0
Fantasia and Me You can download a PDF of my Fantasia commentary here. For all most posts on the Pastoral episode, go here. I grew up watching Fantasia episodes on Disney’s TV program and I saw it in theatrical release in 1969. It fascinated me as a child but as a young adult, eh,… Bill Benzon 11/30/11 0
Sunshots 2.0 I’d been taking sunshots before I’d seen any of Terrence Malick’s films, but seeing The Tree of Life heightened my interest in such shots. Recently been shooting the sun through dense thickets of denuded twigs and branches, giving the shots a rather different feel. Here’s an example: The bluish tinge is… Bill Benzon 11/28/11 0
Episode Order in Fantasia: Revealing the Human Mind I began my exploration of Fantasia with an essay arguing that it was a masterpiece of 20th century art. That argument was about the range of material depicted within the relatively narrow compass of two hours. Disney, in effect, said: This is human life in the universe. I now want to… Bill Benzon 11/28/11 0
Be It Ever so Humble, There’s no Place Like Elysium A PDF of a complete set of posts on Disney’s Pastoral Symphony may be downloaded here. I grew up watching episodes of Fantasia on TV, and saw a theatrical version in 1969, which didn’t impress me that much. It wasn’t THAT psychedelic. Then, for over three decades, nothing. I suppose I… Bill Benzon 11/25/11 0
In Plato’s Cave Bill Benzon 11/25/11 0
What’s in a Name? “Pepper Spray” The police use of so-called pepper spray is much in the news and on the web these days, especially as a result of its use at University of California at Davis. According to The New York Times “Megyn Kelly on Fox News dismissed pepper spray as ‘a food product, essentially.” That… Bill Benzon 11/24/11 0
Pastoral 6: All Together Now: Nietzsche, Lorenz, Jakobson Toward a Compositionist Aesthetics in which Nothing is Hidden, All is Revealed In the past several decades the standard modes of literary and film criticism have sought to find hidden meanings. The work was thus conceived as a device to smuggling various meanings though lines of conscious defense. When the critic… Bill Benzon 11/23/11 0
Nature Walk One takes a nature walk, I assume, to experience the natural world. It is not clear to me, however, just how deeply one’s experience of nature depends on a sharp division between nature and society, or nature and culture. To the extent that the nature walk depends on such a distinction… Bill Benzon 11/22/11 0
Intuition and the Real 2: On the March I’ve got another case to add to those in my earlier post on intuition and the sense of reality. This case arose in a long, and often interesting, discussion of the recent evictions of Occupy Wall Street encampments. The discussion has been taking place at Crooked Timber and has involved, among… Bill Benzon 11/20/11 0
Kiddie Lit Back in the middle of 2006 I’d blogged about Kiddie Lit. I’m republishing that post because it’s directly relevent to my recent series on Disney’s Fantasia and, in particular, to the issues of cuteness and familly presented by the Pastoral episode. I note also that I’ve been looking through Nocholas Sammond,… Bill Benzon 11/20/11 0
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