Monday, 6 February, 2012

It’s easy to see … why cyberflânerie seemed such an appealing notion in the early days of the Web. The idea of exploring cyberspace as virgin territory, not yet colonized by governments and corporations, was romantic; that romanticism was even reflected in the names of early browsers (“Internet Explorer,” “Netscape Navigator”).

[…] However, anyone entertaining such dreams of the Internet as a refuge for the bohemian, the hedonistic and the idiosyncratic probably didn’t know the reasons behind the disappearance of the original flâneur.

In the second half of the 19th century, Paris was experiencing rapid and profound change. The architectural and city planning reforms advanced by Baron Haussmann during the rule of Napoleon III were particularly consequential: the demolition of small medieval streets, the numbering of buildings for administrative purposes, the establishment of wide, open, transparent boulevards (built partly to improve hygiene, partly to hamper revolutionary blockades), the proliferation of gas street lighting and the growing appeal of spending time outdoors radically transformed the city.

[…] Something similar has happened to the Internet. Transcending its original playful identity, it’s no longer a place for strolling — it’s a place for getting things done. … [I]f today’s Internet has a Baron Haussmann, it is Facebook. Everything that makes cyberflânerie possible — solitude and individuality, anonymity and opacity, mystery and ambivalence, curiosity and risk-taking — is under assault by that company. And it’s not just any company: with 845 million active users worldwide, where Facebook goes, arguably, so goes the Internet.

It’s easy to blame Facebook’s business model (e.g., the loss of online anonymity allows it to make more money from advertising), but the problem resides much deeper. Facebook seems to believe that the quirky ingredients that make flânerie possible need to go. “We want everything to be social,” Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, said on “Charlie Rose” a few months ago.

What this means in practice was explained by her boss, Mark Zuckerberg, on that same show. “Do you want to go to the movies by yourself or do you want to go to the movies with your friends?” he asked, immediately answering his own question: “You want to go with your friends.”

[…] IT’S this idea that the individual experience is somehow inferior to the collective that underpins Facebook’s recent embrace of “frictionless sharing,” the idea that, from now on, we have to worry only about things we don’t want to share; everything else will be shared automatically. To that end, Facebook is encouraging its partners to build applications that automatically share everything we do: articles we read, music we listen to, videos we watch. It goes without saying that frictionless sharing also makes it easier for Facebook to sell us to advertisers, and for advertisers to sell their wares back to us.

Evgeny Morozov on “The Death of the Cyberflâneur,” New York Times
Friday, 7 October, 2011

With the passing of [Steve] Jobs this week, we are also mourning a man who defined a new kind of worker. The Jobs world-view consecrates the sacrifices of an ambitious, dedicated, and committed professional class that seeks recognition and passion in creative work. The language of love and intimacy is central to this career project. Over the past two decades, IT hardware manufacturers have made fortunes selling products through an association with the fantasy of satisfying, challenging work.

[…] When iPads and smartphones function as the signifiers of what it means to live the good life, freedom no longer entails liberation from labour. It is instead to be found in the release of personal productivity, in an ever-growing number of locations, with technology as conduit. As images of mobile devices continue to invade public spaces and airwaves, their middle-class address should not go unnoticed.

— Melissa Gregg, “How Steve taught us to love our Jobs too much,” The Conversation
Friday, 2 September, 2011
[W]e increasingly talk about “zero” tolerance. But in case we think this means we should abandon tolerance we are reminded that globalization, which we must enthusiastically embrace, is to be supported because it brings freedom, opportunity and liberalisation to the whole world. Globalisation annihilates tradition, smashes the borders of the nation state, allows the free flow of capital, ideas and trade. Globalisation celebrates diversity and tolerance. This most ruthless form of capitalism, in promising us the freedom to identify as part of a global community, makes the nation state itself obsolete; and through the marriage of capital and digital technology we are even promised that we can transcend the limitations of physical and temporal space. But when it comes to dealing with the most manifest development of this globalisation, the displacement and homelessness of millions of people around the globe, we are then told that we must secure our borders, that we have to affirm our nationhood.

Christos Tsiolkas, “On the Concept of Tolerance,” from Tolerance, Prejudice, Fear, 2008.

(Altered excerpt available on ABC’s The Drum.)

Tuesday, 23 August, 2011
The necessity of being up-to-date in order to obtain recognition explains why the concept of modernity is so frequently and so emphatically invoked by writers claiming to embody literary innovation, from its first formulation by Baudelaire in the mid-nineteenth century to the very name of the review founded by Sartre a hundred years later—Les Temps Moderne. One thinks of Rimbaud’s famous injunction (‘One must be absolutely modern’); also of the modernismo founded by Rubén Darío at the end of the nineteenth century, the Brazilian modernist movement of the 1920, and ‘futurist’ movements in Italy and in Russia. The rushing after lost time, the frantic quest for the present, the rage to be ‘contemporaries of all mankind’ (as Octavio Paz put it)—all these things are typical of the search for a way to enter literary time and thereby to attain artistic salvation. — Pascale Casanova, The World Republic of Letters, 2004 (trans. M. B. DeBevoise).
Sunday, 14 August, 2011
Egon Schiele, Self-portrait with hands on chest, 1910.
Charcoal, watercolour and gouache. Kunsthaus Zug, Stiftung Sammlung Kamm (via National Gallery of Victoria)

Egon Schiele, Self-portrait with hands on chest, 1910.

Charcoal, watercolour and gouache. Kunsthaus Zug, Stiftung Sammlung Kamm (via National Gallery of Victoria)

Wednesday, 20 July, 2011

Change may mean you have to stop doing things a certain way; it doesn’t mean you won’t find better alternatives. Shifting is what industries do. To paraphrase a comment on my last article: “Conductors, guards, milkmen, dustmen, stable-hands, sail-makers, blacksmiths, riveters, SEC linesmen, deckhands, all lost their jobs when technology rendered them redundant. If you are not educating your children for a world where a working boiler exists only in a museum then you are the fool.”

Regardless of pollution, we’re still dealing with finite resources. They’ll run out someday, and someone’s going to need to make the transition. There’s no reason why this generation shouldn’t be the ones to put their hands up.

Australia can afford a carbon price, and needs to make CO2 pollution less simple and desirable for industry. No, a tax alone won’t save the world, but examples need to be set. Opponents hide behind the argument that we shouldn’t bother if everyone else isn’t doing it. Sure, there’s no point me personally not driving home wasted, because even if I do kill a couple of people, it’s hardly going to touch the road toll, man. I mean, overall. It’s a couple of per cent at most. Look how many people China are going to kill this year! No, I don’t want a biscuit. I’m driving.

It’s bewildering, then, that the arguments of all four lobbies - pokies, mining, tobacco, and polluters - have been accepted by media outlets, and therefore by a lot of people. Clearly they are the arguments of those with the greatest interest in nothing changing.

— Geoff Lemon on Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard versus the mining/tobacco/pokies/carbon corporate lobbies, in ”Australiar and the idiot dilemma,” The Drum (via Australian Broadcasting Corporation).
Sunday, 10 July, 2011
[T]he word [macadam] isn’t French. In fact, the word is derived from John McAdam of Glasgow, the eighteenth-century inventor of modern paving surface. It may be the first word in that language that twentieth-century Frenchmen have satirically named Franglais: it paves the way for le parking, le shopping, le weekend, le drugstore, le mobile-home, and far more. This language is so vital and compelling because it is the international language of modernization. Its new words are powerful vehicles of new modes of life and motion. The words may sound dissonant and jarring, but it is as futile to resist them as to resist the momentum of modernization itself. It is true that many nations and ruling classes feel—and have reason to feel—threatened by the flow of new words and things from other shores. There is a wonderful paranoid Soviet word that expresses this fear: infiltrazya. We should notice, however, that what nations have normally done…is, after a wave (or at least a show) of resistance, not only to accept the new thing but to create their own word for it, in the hope of blotting out embarrassing memories of underdevelopment. (Thus the Académie Française, after refusing all through the 1960s to admit le parking meter to the French language, coined and quickly canonized le parcmetre in the 1970s.) — Marshall Berman, All That Is Solid Melts Into Air: The Experience of Modernity
Monday, 13 June, 2011
Lee Miller, Women With Fire Masks, Downshire Hill, 1941

Lee Miller, Women With Fire Masks, Downshire Hill, 1941

(Source: weimarart.blogspot.com)

Friday, 6 May, 2011

It was true that local characters and scenes slotted effortlessly into a global script. Muscled teenagers in big shorts crowded the nation’s shopping malls. On neat estates where every house replicated its neighbour, young women pushed strollers containing babies of such plush perfection it was difficult to believe they would grow up to eat McDonald’s and pay to have their flesh tanned orange. There was comfort to be derived from this sense that the nation was keeping up with the great elsewhere. What claim does a new world have on our imagination if it falls out of date?

But a stand of eucalypts in a park or the graffiti on an overpass might call up a vision of what malls and rotary mowers had displaced. Australia was LA, it was London; and then it was not. Here there was the sense that everything modern might be provisional: that teenagers, news crews, French fries might vanish overnight like a soap opera with poor ratings. The country shimmered with this unsettling magic, which raised and erased it in a single motion.

The past was not always past enough here. It was like living in a house acquired for its clean angles and gleaming appliances; and discovering a bricked-up door at which, faint but insistent, the sound of knocking could be heard.

— From The Lost Dog, by Michelle de Kretser
Thursday, 24 March, 2011
All neighbourly content and easy talk are gone,
But there’s no good complaining, for money’s rant is on.
He that’s mounting up must on his neighbour mount,
And we and all the Muses are things of no account.
— From William Butler Yeats, “The Curse of Cromwell,” 1938

(Source: poetryconnection.net)

Thursday, 17 March, 2011
[T]he Australian airwaves still resounded late last week with talk of the earth cooling. There is no point covering up the truth. We are living through an awful contest between knowledge and ignorance. — Professor Ross Garnaut, speaking this week to the National Press Club.
Thursday, 3 February, 2011
The perfection of clocks and the invention of watches have something to do with modern nervousness, since they compel us to be on time, and excite the habit of looking to see the exact moment, so as not to be late for trains or appointments. Before the general use of these instruments of precision in time, there was a wider margin for all appointments, a longer period was required and prepared for, especially in travelling—coaches of the olden period were not expected to start like steamers or trains, on the instant—men judged of the time by probabilities, by looking at the sun, and needed not, as a rule, to be nervous about the loss of a moment, and had incomparably fewer experiences wherein a delay of a few moments might destroy the hopes of a lifetime. — George Beard, in American Nervousness, a book popular in the U.S. at the end of the nineteenth century, in which the author claimed that neurasthenia was caused by “modern civilisation” itself, marked by the five elements of steam power, the periodical press, the telegraph, the sciences, and the mental activity of women. 
Thursday, 27 January, 2011
Mobility seems self-evidently central to Western modernity. Indeed the word modern seems to evoke images of technological mobility—the car, the plane, the spaceship. It also signifies a world of increased movement of people on a global scale. Perhaps most importantly, though, it suggests a way of thinking in terms of mobility—a metaphysics of mobility that is distinct from what came before it. — Tim Cresswell, On the Move: Mobility in the Modern Western World, 2006
Friday, 24 December, 2010
Anna Krien, Into the Woods: The Battle for Tasmania’s Forests, 2010 (cover image via and further info at Black Inc.: The Inc. Blot).

"I make friends with a girl who has nothing to do with trees. She’s a rare find. She takes me out to the coast where she and her sisters used to go to find shards of porcelain plates and teacups and saucers. It is a bit of a mystery why the hill and rock pools and dunes are filled with broken crockery. She thinks it had to do with a bacteria, a disease maybe, that prompted settlers to walk their favourite tea-sets and dining plates down to the water and smash them on the rocks before burying the fragments deep in the soil so people wouldn’t smuggle them back into the colony and start the germ up all over again. When we get there, someone has built a huge sandstone gate where once one could walk down to the beach. We backtrack a little, look for electric wires and step under an ordinary paddock fence. Following it down to the sea, we studiously ignore the ‘Trespassers Keep Out’ sign posted in the dirt.
[…]At the end of the day we finish fossicking and tread back along the kelp now heaving with the incoming tide. The broken plates looked like shells, just as curious and gentle, not like they don’t belong at all.
It is a relief to find beautiful traces of us.”

I finished this within 24 hours of starting, and was moved to tears during the final chapters early this morning.

Anna Krien, Into the Woods: The Battle for Tasmania’s Forests, 2010 (cover image via and further info at Black Inc.: The Inc. Blot).

"I make friends with a girl who has nothing to do with trees. She’s a rare find. She takes me out to the coast where she and her sisters used to go to find shards of porcelain plates and teacups and saucers. It is a bit of a mystery why the hill and rock pools and dunes are filled with broken crockery. She thinks it had to do with a bacteria, a disease maybe, that prompted settlers to walk their favourite tea-sets and dining plates down to the water and smash them on the rocks before burying the fragments deep in the soil so people wouldn’t smuggle them back into the colony and start the germ up all over again. When we get there, someone has built a huge sandstone gate where once one could walk down to the beach. We backtrack a little, look for electric wires and step under an ordinary paddock fence. Following it down to the sea, we studiously ignore the ‘Trespassers Keep Out’ sign posted in the dirt.

[…]At the end of the day we finish fossicking and tread back along the kelp now heaving with the incoming tide. The broken plates looked like shells, just as curious and gentle, not like they don’t belong at all.

It is a relief to find beautiful traces of us.”

I finished this within 24 hours of starting, and was moved to tears during the final chapters early this morning.