Archive for the ‘ Media and Technology ’ Category

Annotation: Rachel Adams’ “The Ends of America, the Ends of Postmodernism” (2007)

Peer-Review: 0

Adams, Rachel. “The Ends of America, the Ends of Postmodernism.” Twentieth Century Literature: A Scholarly and Critical Journal. 53.3 (2007): n. pag. Web. 12 Sept. 2010.

In this essay Adams asserts that postmodernism is giving away to a new phase of American literature, where authors pointedly explore the effects of globalization in a multicultural, transnational context beyond the borders of the US nation-state. She explicitly compares Pynchon’s canonical postmodern work, The Crying of Lot 49, with Karen Tei Yamashita’s Tropic of Orange, which she asserts is reflective of this new American literary globalism. She notes that unlike traditional postmodernist works, this emerging group of contemporary American writers are often immigrants themselves or come from an immigrant background and while they may rely on some familiar postmodernist forms they distinguish themselves through their acute concern about “the vast inequities, economic interconnections, and movement of people and goods associated with globalization” (print 2). Adams explains that Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49 and Yamashita’s Tropic of Orange are apt for comparison because both novels take place in California and posit Mexico as a significant player in shaping US socioeconomic politics and identity.

She asserts that Pynchon presents California as:

a place that values superficiality over depth…where neighborhoods and downtowns have been eradicated in favor of vast, sprawling networks of freeway, and where faceless new information industries have made workers ever more alienated from the products of their labor (print 5)

Adams describes how the novel is characterized by an overwhelming sense of Cold War paranoia, political exhaustion and disillusionment towards potential for progress. Mexico just signifies another dead end, “adding to the clutter of signs whose meaning may amount to no more than endless deferral and information overload” (print 7).

Adams argues that Yamashita deliberately diverges from this representation of California as an entirely superficial, materialistic, alienating and dead city. Tropic of Orange conversely presents California as “a nodal point where globalization threatens to erupt into environmental and human catastrophe, but also where people find themselves creating unlikely coalitions that might work to remedy these problems” (print 3). While Adams admits that the Hypercontext Grid that prefaces the actual narrative offers readers a misleading sense of order, she emphasizes that characters such as Gabriel come to accept that chaos by “recognizing its likeness to the ubiquitous technology of the internet” (print 9). She notes that Emi is the character most deeply connected with the Internet and communications technology in the novel. Bitter and sarcastic, with little regard for the past or cultural diversity as a model for the future, Emi, Adams asserts, is representative of the traditional postmodern antihero. She further argues that Emi’s “unsentimental elimination” in Tropic of Orange suggests that the future has no place for such a character and “belongs instead to characters like Gabriel or the community organizer Buzzworm, who are both more respectful of the past and willing to harbor utopian visions of the future” (print 9).

Adams also notes how Yamashita diverges from the consideration of Cold War geopolitics of many postmodernist works, aligning the geographic and topographical shifts in her novel to “the massive demographic and perspectival shifts introduced by contemporary globalization and linked to the long history of conquest and colonization in the Americas” (print 10). She further emphasizes that Yamashita presents a vision where “America’s future is tied to Latin America and Asia” (print 10). Contrary to Pynchon’s representation of Mexico, Adams describes how Yamashita’s configuration of US-Mexico relations directly alludes to economic policies such as NAFTA and CAFTA (print 11).

She additionally discusses how this hemispheric focus is reflected in the very form of Yamashita’s novel, which employs a “creative fusion of Latin American-inspired magical realism with allusions to such Anglo-American sources as hard-boiled detective fiction and Hollywood film” (print 11). In addition to the movement of Southern people to the North and geographic border shifts, Tropic of Orange dramatizes the “melding of Northern and Southern cultural forms…evident in the novel’s structure, which vacillates between the linear, goal-oriented model of plot development of the Anglo-American detective novel and cyclical understandings of time indebted to Amerindian sources such as the Mayan codices” (print 11).

Adam emphasizes that Yamashita deliberately presents the voices and perspectives of racially marked characters that have been traditionally marginalized, silenced, or omitted from the historical archive. She notes that while globalization has “resulted in the dispersal and intensification of economic disparities,” it also opens up new possibilities for resistance and protest. Adams particularly points to the bands of homeless people who take over the abandoned cars on the LA freeway that have been entirely gridlocked by a major traffic accident. These individuals essentially create a functional society with its own system of order. She emphasizes that “the dreaded gridlock does not bring urban life to an end. Instead, the crisis forces people to see and feel the city differently, as they experience it by foot” (print 13). Adams accentuates that this a significant difference between Yamashita and Pynchon because the characters in Tropic of Orange do not become completely immobilized or wallow over their total lack of agency. She admits that the ending is rather ambiguous as Gran Mojado dies in his final match with SUPERNAFTA but notes that this defeat is matched “with the reunion of a truly global family—the Singaporean Bobby, Mexican Rafaela, and their son Sol,” which offers readers some sense of hope for the future (print 13).

Adams finally concludes her essay by expressing her enthusiasm over this new global shift in American literature, characterized by “the recent realignment of the field’s geographic parameters to reflect multiple Americas that are more mobile and expansive than the borders of the US nation-state” (print 14).

Oh sorry meant to point out the the (print #) citations are for my own personal reference because I pasted the essay into a word document. I just wanted an easier way to locate quotes and such. ^^

Annotation: Johannes Hauser’s “Structuring the Apokalypse” (2006)

Peer-Review: 0

Hauser, Johannes. “Structuring the Apokalypse: Chaos and Order in Karen Tei Yamashita’s Tropic of Orange. Philologie im Netz. 37 (2006): 1-32. Print.

In this essay Hauser asserts that Karen Tei Yamashita’s Tropic of Orange exhibits apocalyptic features as a narrative “of a world on the brink of border-defying chaos” (3). He calls attention to the literal topographical shifts in the novel that destroy national boundaries, re-erecting them in new locales. But in spite of this seeming chaos, Hauser argues that Yamashita presents a very structured novel. “Chaos and order” are therefore “not only opposing poles; they are parts of the representation of a reality” where readers must grapple with an aesthetic of instability, constant movement, and transformation, which are characteristic of the contemporary globalized world (4).

For the purposes of my own research Hauser’s discussion of “Technological identities” is particularly relevant (6). Hauser asserts that Emi adopts an anti-identity politics where she anxiously attempts to present herself someone as far from a stereotypical Asian American female as possible. Yet Hauser notes that her extreme anti-identitarian stance only reinforces her “veritable fear of ‘falling’ into any category” (6). He suggests that Emi turns to “modern computer and communication technologies” in her attempt to fashion a non-ethnic identity (7). But Hauser emphasizes that she merely emerges as an “ethnic cyborg,” where “her behavior is simultaneously deeply invested in paradigms of ethnic ascription and of technological progress” (7). He goes on to describe how Tropic of Orange presents a world run by “[i]nformation technology,” where the media scrambles to report exciting news and people rabidly consume that information as they are continuously bombarded with more updates (8). Hauser accentuates that despite Emi’s efforts to fashion a “non-identitarian identity” by relying on information technologies, that media “is not free of ideological content, its potential to distribute contents on a mass scale allows it to spread engendered and racializing categories globally” (7, 8). He asserts that because of her hatred for the corporate multiculturalism that ethnically brands her, Emi is compelled to establish an almost organic, biological relationship with media technologies which places her in an even more precarious situation as she becomes “defenseless against their contents, be it a multinational marketing campaign, the accentuation of consumerism, or abusive ethnic and racial stereotypes” (10).

In contrast to Emi, Hauser notes how Gabriel exhibits a kind of “ethnic nostalgia” (11). He notes how Gabriel attempts to construct a vacation home in Mexico, which he imagines to be an exotic space that simultaneously connects him to his ethnic roots. But Hauser emphasizes that Gabriel actually establishes a kind of colony in Mexico, introducing foreign trees to an environment that will not support their growth. He ultimately suggests that “Gabriel’s nostalgia creates spaces which are as unreal – and as compromising – as Emi’s technophilian cyberspace’ (12). Hauser significantly notes how Gabriel eventually gets drawn into virtual reality all together by the end of the novel.

Hauser goes onto describe the magical realist elements of Yamashita’s narrative, suggesting that “Magical realism defines a highly complex spatial representation in the novel… It breaks up causal linearity which sets this narrative mode into analogy with the moving tropic and the transition in geography” (14). He also makes a provocative observation about the magical realist moment where “Rafaela meets Bobby in her dream” in which the “vision, the situation and the scenery bear a resemblance to cyberspace in their barren emptiness and the cyber-sexual implications” (14).

In his essay Hauser not only describes how Yamashita blurs the borders between transnational and local spaces but also the distinction between the biological and technological. He notes how human beings are presented as machine-like workers, while the organ trade treats human organs as spare mechanical parts. Hauser asserts that this “blurring of the boundary between organic life and man-made technology” is both a reflection of the effects of globalization as well as popular works of science fiction and cyberpunk. He calls attention to some potentially problematic discourses and representations, suggesting that “[i]f machines are like organic beings, human beings can also be treated like mechanical objects” (17). Hauser then goes on to describe Manzanar’s vision of LA as an organic, “cyborg city, partly human, partly machine” (25).

He finally concludes his essay with a pointed discussion of how the structure of Yamashita’s novel, which deliberately encourages “reflective activity on the part of the reader” (28). Hauser asserts that Hypercontext Grid at the beginning of the narrative is a kind of map Yamashita gives her readers “with which to ‘drive’ in the book” (28).

Annotation: Wendy Hui Kyong Chun’s “Control and Freedom” (2006)

Peer-Review: 0

Chun, Wendy Hui Kyong, “Control and Freedom.” Control and Freedom: Power and Paranoia in the Age of Fiber Optics. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2006. 247-297. Print.

In this essay Chun discusses how Internet commercials by companies such as Cisco Systems instilled feelings of paranoia in their viewers, implying that if they were not wired they would fade away into technological obsolescence. After September 11th, however, Chun notes that this consumer urgency to get the most up-to-date hi-tech product was displaced by a new paranoia about the Internet as a potentially dangerous tool for terrorists. She describes how “the U.S. military demanded new security measures in order to prevent what it called an ‘electronic Pearl Harbor; and the Senate passed sweeping new electronic surveillance measures” (257).

In the rest of her essay Chun goes on further to describe how Internet and more general technology users are subject to a vexed experience of control-freedom. She offers face-recognition technology (FRT) as one example. Chun emphasizes that while FRT has the potential to overcome problems of human error and racism often associated with police tactics such as racial profiling, this technological solution to maintain our “freedom from terrorism” also requires subjects to place themselves under overt surveillance. Chun expresses additional concern over how technology has been increasingly framed a means of upholding civil liberties, problematically belying the urgent need for actual political, legal action.

Chun further explores the popular webcams that have increased freedom by democratizing celebrity as amateur video bloggers, for example, became famous off publishing their work to sites such as youtube.com. Chun, however, calls attention to how these webcams epitomize the vexed relationship of control-freedom as they eerily resemble surveillance cameras. She describes “camwhores” who film themselves and offer Internet audiences a “live show” of their private lives, in their homes or at work. Chun emphasizes that while these “camwhores” appear to be in a position of vulnerable openness, viewers are subjected to a similar vulnerability as their vision is carefully controlled and manipulated. Chun ultimately concludes her essay by encouraging individuals to embrace the vulnerability that comes with our experience and usage of the Internet because it can open new exciting possibilities for democracy.

Annotation: Wendy Hui Kyong Chun’s “Scenes of Empowerment” (2006)

Peer-Review: 0

Chun, Wendy Hui Kyong. “Scenes of Empowerment.” Control and Freedom: Power and Paranoia in the Age of Fiber Optics. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2006. 129-170. Print.

In this article Chun discusses how the Internet was initially marketed as a means for overcoming and even eradicating the “race problem.” She asserts that MCI’s (Media Control Interface) commercial “Anthem” deliberately displayed racially marked individuals to accentuate cyberspace’s capacity to liberate these people from the limitations of their flesh. Chun accentuates, however, that such logic problematically disowns accountability for acts of individual and institutional racism, displacing racism as a burden “othered” users must solve themselves. She claims that MCI’s commercial forwards the notion that “these others are happy with their inequality in real life because of their virtual equality elsewhere” (136). Chun further argues that this inequality cannot simply be addressed by spreading access to unwired areas in the world. Too much emphasis on the problem of access, she asserts, obscures other inequalities such as how English remains the dominant web language and that programming jobs are consequently often outsourced to English-speaking nations. Chun’s article focuses on how race is dangerously proliferated through the Internet as a commodity to be consumed. Users are extended the opportunity to become a transcendent postmodern subject that can “pass” as any race, gender, etc. But Chun notes that this “passing” problematically occurs outside of history and specific socio-political contexts where racialization is a vulnerablity.

Chun concludes her essay with an important reference to the Mongrel search engine, which works to combat racism online. Users who input racist search terms find themselves linked to antiracist sites. In this way the creators of Mongrel disrupt the supposed control and mastery of the “user” by exposing them to their own vulnerability on the web. The sites associated with Mongrel importantly do not offer authentic images of the “other” but rather work to debunk the notion of authentic information and an authentic “other” all together. Chun asserts that Mongrel and other web innovations challenge old frameworks of democracy and open up new possibilities of how democracy can be achieved. She offers Wikipedia as one interesting example where information is open and non-authoritative because “there are no authors” (170).

Annotation: Mimi Nguyen’s “Queer Cyborgs and New Mutants” (2003)

Peer-Review: 0

Nguyen, Mimi. “Queer Cyborgs and New Mutants: Race, Sexuality, and Prosthetic Sociality in Digital Space.” AsianAmerica.Net: Ethnicity, Nationalism, and Cyberspace. Eds. Rachel C. Lee and Sau-Ling Cynthia Wong. New York: Routledge, 2003. 281-305. Print.

In her article Nguyen critiques the uncritical celebration of the cyborg as a “transcendent figure of the technological sublime” (284). She admits that cyborgs do help denaturalize essentialist notions of identity as fixed to a rigid material body. Nguyen writes, cyborgs have been popularly depicted as able to “generate new bodies and design new selves in the choosing and fusing of new parts in a potentially endless process of consumption and self-invention” (286). Cyborgs therefore support a concept of identity as fluid and flexible. The ease with which cyborgs can replace or alter parts of their material body also suggests that one’s interiority is not necessarily tied to one’s flesh. Nguyen accentuates that this disjunction can also be understood with respect to people who have queer sexual identities such as those who identify themselves as transgender or engage in drag. But rather than sanguinely glorifying the power of these queer cyborgs to reconfigure their bodies and endlessly reinvent themselves, Nguyen stresses the need to analyze what it means to be a queer cyborg and to engage in “cybernetic drag” in specific social and political contexts.

She offers the example of Karma, a Vietnamese cyborg in the New Mutants series of Marvel comics. Nguyen asserts that Karma’s mutant state recalls the traumatic history of the Vietnam War where the United States used biochemical weapons such as napalm. She emphasizes that this causal history should not be ignored in the celebration of Karma’s mutant powers. Nguyen further elucidates Karma’s vexed position as a cyborg who must masquerade as a normal human being or be otherwise marked as a freak, yet her Vietnamese-ness already distinguishes her as “foreign” and “freak-ish.” Nguyen ultimately encourages her readers to not merely entertain the fantasy of a cybernetic existence but rather what it means to be a cyborg in a specific historical, social, political context and all the discrimination that may come along with that.

Annotation: Thuy Linh Nguyen Tu’s “Good Politics, Great Porn” (2003)

Peer-Review: 0

Tu, Thuy Linh Nguyen. “Good Politics, Great Porn: Untangling Race, Sex, and Technology in Asian American Cultural Productions.” AsianAmerica.Net: Ethnicity, Nationalism, and Cyberspace. Eds. Rachel C. Lee and Sau-Ling Cynthia Wong. New York: Routledge, 2003. 267-280. Print.

In this essay Tu discusses how the online porn industry thrives from the presence and representation of Asian bodies. She emphasizes that contrary to claims about cyberspace as virtual and immaterial, web industries such as porn reaffirm that bodies really do matter online. Porn sites, in fact, make gender and race hyper-visible as users are encouraged to input these qualities in their search for a desired sexual object. Tu reveals that the online porn industry also problematically reinforces and perpetuates Orientalist notions about Asian women, “that they are exotic and hold limitless sexual knowledge, yet docile and eager to please” (268). With the Internet as the vehicle of information transmission, these stereotypes and fantasies regarding Asian women are even more troublingly circulated to a mass global audience.

Yet Tu does not view the Internet as merely a vehicle of oppression as she notes the work of people such as Mimi Nguyen. She deliberately names and describes her site, “Exoticize This,” in provocative terms to jam and disrupt digital pathways, redirecting users looking for porn to a web page that discusses Asian American feminist issues. Kristina Wong’s mock porn site, BigBadChineseMama.com, strives to further a similar project as Nguyen, by displaying Asian female bodies that do not correspond to Orientalist fantasies, ultimately shattering those myths. Tu in addition describes Bindigirl, a fascinating work of digital art by Prema Murthy. She notes that in the bio of this pornographic Asian female avatar, Bindi recognizes her hyper-sexualization and the failure of technology to liberate her. Bindi’s pointed awareness of herself as a sexual object leads her to demand money from her viewers, which can be interpreted as some kind of resistance. Murthy’s use of CU-SeeMe technology, which requires people who view her art to specifically interact with it and become a part of the performance is also displaces users from the usual position of passive voyeur to literally experience how it feels to be watched and recorded. While Tu ultimately celebrates the work of these individuals who are introducing much-need politicized art to the Web, she also recognizes the potential danger of these artists relying on irony and humor to convey their messages, which can be easily misinterpreted.

Annotation: Wendy Hui Kyong Chun’s “Orienting Orientalism, or How to Map Cyberspace” (2003)

Peer-Review: 0

This annotation was written in reference on my paper: “The Haunting Realities of Cyberspace in Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash.” See my prospectus here.

Chun, Wendy Hui Kyong. “Orienting Orientalism, or How to Map Cyberspace.” AsianAmerica.Net: Ethnicity, Nationalism, and Cyberspace. Eds. Rachel C. Lee and Sau-Ling Cynthia Wong. New York: Routledge, 2003. 3-36. Print.

In this essay Chun discusses how cyberspace narratives perpetuate Orientalist fantasies. She emphasizes that authors employ Orientalism to make “electronic spaces comprehensive, visualizable and pleasurable” and how conceptions of cyberspace have become deeply intertwined and even inextricable from those Orientalist ideas (4). To explicate her argument she analyzes William’s Gibson’s Neuromancer and Mamoru Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell.

Chun offers a helpful discussion of how cyberspace functions as a new frontier to be explored and colonized. She asserts, “Like all explorations, charting cyberspace entails uncovering what was always already there and declaring it ‘new.’ It obscures already existing geographies and structures so that space is vacuous yet chartable, unknown yet populated and populatable” (7). Chun suggests that while cyberspace and its real world counterpart, the Internet, appear as a new and untouched terrain to be claimed, this stems from the imperialist fantasy of initial contact. Chun ultimately calls for a more nuanced analysis of cyberspace as not just a “new frontier” but rather technology that is programmed and structured in specific ways. She parallels efforts to spread Internet technology to Third World countries as an extension of imperialist missionary movements, where “spreading the light” in terms of both religious faith and knowledge is disturbingly intertwined with capitalistic endeavors to make profit. Chun’s description of cyberspace as an apparently “new frontier” steeped with “old” imperialistic legacies is characteristic of most cyberpunk narratives, which present futuristic technologies and settings that are hauntingly familiar.

In her essay, Chun discusses how the future portrayed in these fictional works looks Japanese. Yet the images of Japan are highly selective and do not suggest a modernized, hi-tech society but are rather anachronistic, featuring ninjas and samurais “drawn from Japan’s Edo period” before the country’s contact with the West (12). Chun cites Johannes Fabian’s theory of “denial of coeval” as one explanation, where “the native other,” is treated not existing or evolving at the same time and is therefore more primitive and inferior.

In her analysis of Neuromancer, Chun asserts the American hacker “cowboy,” Case, emerges as the imperialistic figure who jacks into cyberspace—the new “Orient.” Chun discusses several scenes where cyberspace is described in exoticized ways that parallels it with an Oriental beauty to be once again penetrated by a white imperialist. She suggests further that the Japanese in the novel are depicted as “mechanical mimics (imitators of technology)” to further reinforce American technological superiority and repress anxieties about Japan as an economic threat.

Chun asserts that Mamoru Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell employs a similar form of Orientalism, but from Japan to China and where America is associated with bad technology. She suggests that in the film Hong Kong is orientalized “into a flood of information,” just as Japan was in Gibson’s novel, presented a mass of data for the hacker to penetrate. Chun also importantly notes how Hong Kong posed an economic threat to Japan in the same way the country appeared as a dangerous rival to the US. Cyberpunk fiction therefore emerges as a means relieve economic anxieties by depicting the “other” as inferior mimics or “‘soulless’ informatics” (26). Chun additionally cautions the American interest and fascination with anime. She suggests that viewers may take voyeuristic delight in gaining insight into Japanese culture and appropriate it as an American product. But I argue that the Orientalism that Japan perpetuates with respect to Ghost in the Shell demands for a more nuanced examination of the power relations between the East and the West and the recognition that they are not simply unidirectional.

Chun concludes her essay with a discussion of the popularity of Asian porn, which has revealed a flexibility in the definition and category of “oriental.” She notes that on these sites, some Russian and mutilated, disfigured women are represented alongside those females conventionally conceived as “Oriental.” Chun suggests that the interest in this selection of women suggests an association of “Oriental” with “submissive and lacking” (29). She states further that the Communications Decency Act to censor certain violent and disturbing materials from being featured on the Web was passed because of a specific concern about how the Internet encouraged people to cultivate and indulge in “‘excessive’ sexuality” (30). She suggests that the Internet has been often promoted as a vacation or recreational space where individuals feel that they are no longer subject to normal laws or restrictions and can assume secret identities. Chun ultimately leaves readers to contemplate the implications of policing or not policing sexuality on the Internet.

Chun’s essay offers me a helpful understanding of how the Metaverse in Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash is not simply a “new frontier” but also embodies old imperialist and Orientalist legacies.