Uncertainty and Identity

It’s nice to be back to writing my journal of useful ideas, as part of Dr. Frank Moretti’s “Theories of Communication” course at Columbia University, Spring 2010.  We jumped deep into dense reading, including “The Bottom Billion” by Paul Collier (2007), “Fear of Small Numbers” by Arjun Appadurai (2006), Pauchari’s lecture about climate change and Bilger’s article entitled “Heart Surgery: The quest for a stove that can save the world” (New Yorker magazine, 2009).

One concept that I found interesting for our discourse relates to ways authors interpret the current state of “Uncertainty” among people and ethnic groups, and its relationship to globalization.  In “Fear of Small Numbers” Arjun Appadurai claims that not only are we living a reality of social uncertainty in social life which makes us suspicious and doubtful toward the State, but this feeling intensifies in light of the affordances of globalization, i.e. the speed and outreach capacity of the circulation of ideological elements (p. 5).  This creates a new volatile relationship between certainty and uncertainty in the era of globalization. The feeling of social uncertainty, along with the anxiety of “incomleteness” could escalate violence under the conditions of globalization.

Furthermore, when Appadurai characterizes the new term globalization through three factors he uses words that enhance the feeling of uncertainty related to the globalization era.  For example, on page 36-37 Appadurai explains that the term “globalization” is difficult to understand because of its speculative and abstract forms of finance capital, peculiar power of the information revolution and the mysterious and almost magical forms of wealth generated by electronic finance markets (which enlarge the gap between rich and poor).  His choice of words add to the anxiety around the feeling of our inconsistent and vague identity.  This reminds me of one of the conclusions deriving from the first classroom discussion – words matter!

Finally, Appadurai’s “full attachment” (1998) concept, along with Sach’s lecture about sustainable development demonstrate possible connection between homicide and inequality to environmental, political and economical instability. When forces of social uncertainty are allied to other threats to security and well being, violence could be a perceived solution and even a community-building motif.  Sachs asks how can we keep the peace while helping the most vulnerable populations – the extreme poor, while protecting the environment?  This, he claims is the challenge of the new generation.  The knowledge is handy, the technological developments are readily available… however, how do people with the access use this wealth of communication and potential influence to improve social justice and pull up the mass who is trapped in extreme poverty, diseases and political violence (which goes hand in hand according to Sachs)?  The answer is that being among the privileged with the power and the wealth bares within a responsibility for proactive action!


January 26, 2010. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , . Columbia University Doctorate. 2 comments.

“History of Communication” Final Blog Post

Throughout the semester we examined some points in history that provoke thought about human development, media communications, and the impact of technology on society.  In this essay I wish to relate some of those ideas to current educational opportunities.  Specifically, I wish to discuss the connection between history of communication, present educational opportunities afforded by digital technology, and student’s individual goals.  Inspired by the text we read and the blogging practice that we were engaged in throughout the semester, combined with face-to-face classroom discussions lead by instructors and students, I assert that student-centered education and user-driven media communication could form a fruitful bond, which (when used thoughtfully) could enhance a positive educational outcome and assist on the creation of better opportunities for disadvantaged communities.

One experience that inspired me was an “Upgrading Your Curriculum” workshop that I participated in (as part of my research fellowship at “Harlem Schools Partnership”, Teachers College, December 15th, 2009) presented by Dr. Heidi Hayes Jacobs.  In her www.Curriculum21.com resource network Dr. Jacobs emphasized the importance of the connection between our heritage (the richness of our individual and collective background), our community (i.e. the classroom), and (this is the weakest link) – the student’s future goals.  Through web technologies teachers and students from around the globe could enhance the practice of knowledge sharing and discourse regardless of geographical and other boundaries.  This affordance could be especially valuable for third world countries or poor neighborhoods, which may not have the same educational wealth; yet through digital technologies and effective outreach initiatives could leverage on the ability to transport teaching and learning methodologies via new channels of communication.  One organization that explores such opportunities is the Columbia Center for New Media Teaching and Learning.

Early in September we examined the globalization phenomenon and technological advance from multiple perspectives. Responding to Deibert (1997) and McClintok’s (2009) text, and reading “Globalization: A Very Short Introduction” (Steger, 2009), I realized that there is more than meets the eye regarding new communication technologies and its effect on human thought.  Although there seemed to be a consensus among classmates that the Internet is the main cause for globalization, I was intrigued to investigate (collaboratively and individually) the meaning of Internet technologies in becoming significant in our daily lives, on a personal, commercial, professional and political level.  How did this change (dependence) come about?  What is the effect of such cultural shifts on abstract thinking and deep discourse?  Examining such changes from the historical, scholarly and critical points of view became a curiosity for me related to my learning experience at the “History of Communications” course, and reflections on my blog posts allowed me to connect ideas to my personal experience and interest.

Our readings, blog postings and class discussions challenged the cultural, social and fragmental engagement in multi-media pieces of web-based interactions.  We read Homer’s Iliad (written version is usually dated to 8th Century BC), and Havelock’s Preface to Plato (1963), discussing the influential tradition of oral poetry in Ancient Greece.  By way of my blog posts I was pondering over questions like what is the meaning of “the truth” in today’s context?  Is there one “truth” (as described by Plato’s cave allegory)?  Should educators support students to acquire information as a quest after their own truth?  Does the transparent display of multiple perspectives of “the truth” mean that there are different fragments of “the truth”, depended on the context and the given moment?

French theorist Bruno Latour added a political layer to people’s perception of “the truth”, claiming that (political) epistemology refers to the integration of politics and scientific validity into everyday life, and that people tend to use Science (the politicization of “the sciences”) as the ultimate explanation of something (Latour, 2004).  Latour’s critique of the Cave allegory, followed by the classroom discussion prompted me to read more of Latour’s recent work, which inspired my blog post, suggesting that Latour’s recent view about globalization and modern technology is that it is utopian and “homeless” (Latour, 2009).

Therefore, on the one hand we examined emerging technology’s strength and value from the historical perspective, suggesting that there is a great benefit for speed and convenience of interaction (Carey, 1989), as to variety of forms and mobility of communication.  On the other hand, such developments create a new arrangement of power and control (Berlinger, 1986).  This means that only those with access to new technologies (i.e. Bill Gates and Warren Buffett as discussed on my blog post) will have social power and status, ultimately being accused of monopoly, while increasing the gap between the “have” and “have not”.

Furthermore, the choice we are making as a society to validate and accept the new way of communication could lead us to dig our own grave of submission to Capitalism (Moretti, in class, 2009) and neglecting our sense of self.  The final text by Birkerts (1994) argues that book and literature reading was our “agency for self-making”, inwardness and self-reflection, whereas digital technologies are sacrificing our souls for the sake of “nasty” electronic post-modernity.  As a society, we are accepting and practicing quantity over quality.  There are two sides to the coin.

In summary, it is important to understand the historical, philosophical, critical and sequential process of communication and emerging technology in order to consider the usage of digital communications as a teaching and learning tool.  Educators will often find both benefits and disadvantages, and will have to make a decision according to specific goals and circumstances.  For example, the “History of Communication” professors’ choice for blogging formed a specific structure of interaction within the class.  For me, some of the benefits of blogging as a learner include transparency of the thinking process, peer-pressure of public display that adds to a competitive nature, out-of-classroom dialogue and self-expression (“life is a stage”); access to multiple perspectives and ultimately the enhancement of a classroom community (“imagined community”?), by which people’s blogs exposed their “selves” and their ideas.  The casual tone and richness of personal examples can be regarded either an advantage or disadvantage – on the one hand it creates an eye-level friendly dialogue environment, but on the other hand it neglects a formal and more rigid structure appropriate to scholarly discourse.  Another disadvantage can be the amount of time spent on the computer searching and producing a blog artifact in place of reading and writing.

Finally, the blogging practice relates to my personal goal as a student, which is (among other goals that are more academic in nature) acquiring new media production skills so I could be better prepared for future employment.  As an Ivy-League school Teachers College at Columbia University is preparing me to be one of the future professionals who would carry their knowledge in a 21st Century skills package.  As a result, I would feel empowered by my new capability to produce and maintain a blog, and even accumulate eyeballs and comments to my blog journal.  I already learned how to redirect my own URL (www.PazitLevitan.com) to my blog, and refer to it from other social networks platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter.  This will, without a doubt, increase my socio-economic status, and will be regarded as a great benefit on my resume, assuming that most jobs that I will apply for would have appreciation to “cutting-edge new media technology skills”.  Would anyone be hired for a prestigious job in the academia without such digital communication skills?  Without intending to do so, another Capitalist is being produced through the choice to conduct a blogging-centered classroom.  Having said that, I assure my blog readers that your servant blogger cares about the “have not”, and with my newly acquired digital media literacy I will seek the education, empowerment and improvement of the lives of the less fortunate – those who did not have the academic opportunity to be trained with new media competence.

December 17, 2009. Columbia University Doctorate, Family. Leave a comment.

“All advertising advertises advertising” (Marshall McLuhan, 1964)

I wonder if McLuhan’s media theories would have been as controversial had it been introduced today.  Published 45 years ago, McLuhan’s book “Understanding Media: The Extension of Man” (1964) displays original and thought-provoking ideas about media consumption and its cultural, social and political implications, focusing on the medium (and type of information delivery), rather than the content.

The advertising industry leveraged on the idea that “the medium is the message” before other industries, and paid McLuhan top dollar to consult on matching specific content with a specific medium according to an advertising goal.  For example, according to McLuhan’s distiction between hot and cold media the television, as a cold medium is “above all a medium that demands a creatively participant response” (p. 445).  This means that the most appropriate personality for television would be a person “who looks as if he might be a teacher, a doctor, a buisessman, or any of a dozen other things all at the same time is right for TV… the cool TV medium cannot abide the typical because it leaves the viewer frustrated of his job of ‘closure’ or completion of image” (p. 438).  Ideal type of television display would be a relatively short, non-scripted conversation between individuals, where the televised display takes into consideration the high degree of participation required from the viewer, and could therefore present complicated situations, consisting of some process to be completed.  The ideal televised personality would know how to improvise, and be aware her/his gestures, verbal details and posture, in order to sustain intimacy with the viewer.

On the other hand, cinema or a stage production is a hot medium, requiring much less participation on behalf of the viewer.  The cinematic medium can afford to be longer, incorporate a script, and engage in a close-up cinematography.  The difference in the medium could be one of the reasons that I would feel more compelled to see a movie on a wide screen, in a dark theater, rather than on television; I am more easily immersed in the participation experience, perhaps due to the “hotness” of the medium.

Three ideas of McLuhan’s text provoked an internal discussion about new technology and education:

1. How would McLuhan define internet technologies today?  A decade ago McLuhan already suggested the new technologies aim for “total participation” on behalf of the user.  Therefore, my guess is that McLuhan would have defined web communications as a cool medium. His statement “today each one of us lives several hundred years in a decade” suggests that the speed of information transport, combined with new types of media create a more condensed and fragmented communication systems, which are defined by the medium.  This goes hand-in-hand with the notion that young children today interact very differently than myself, and I interact differently than my parents.

2. McLuhan coins the term “a global village”, which foresees the cultural shift in society, deriving from developing technologies and a ‘shrunken’ globe.  He focuses on the fact that the speed of information delivery and accessibility to multi-geographical sources of information is changing the way people communicate and exchange information, and therefore (without the bureaucratic approval) creates a new professional and social culture, breaking old boundaries and creating new conventions.

3. McLuhan’s view of education is interesting.  He suggests that productive learning is an experience and the interaction between teachers and students can be inspired by the interactions among “hot” and “cold” media.  For example, television is more suitable for a learning situation than a book (or even a classroom: “Television is teaching all the time. It does more educating than all the schools and all the institutions of higher learning.”), since it presents situations which consist of some process to be completed.

While I agree with McLuhan that “you are the medium” and through communication processes, participation levels and types of learning experience there would be different level of engagement and outcome, I also believe that by analyzing the television as a cold medium and relating it to an educational setting, a student could get disengaged after a short period of time.  Therefore, the educational system should re-evaluate the “lecture-style” information delivery typical to some classrooms, and create a more participatory (yet thoughtfully fragmented) experience, which facilitates the student in “being the medium”.

December 14, 2009. Columbia University Doctorate. 2 comments.

The Control Revolution by Beniger

“Because technology defines the limits on what a society can do, technological innovation might be expected to be a major impetus to social change in the Control Revolution no less than in the earlier societal transformations accorded the status of revolutions.” (Beniger, 1986, p. 9).

Meet Bill Gates, a software wizard who, through his innovative technological skills and determination to allocate a new political and social power structure for source code writers (publically commencing with the “Open Letter to Hobbyists“, 1976), had become a very powerful man.  As he developed as one of the wealthiest and most influential people in the world, he was also accused of practicing monopoly as the Co-Founder and CEO of Microsoft, ultimately making Mr. Gates a controversial person.

Meet Warren Buffett, one of the most successful investors in history, who collaborates with Bill Gates on investing in American technology companies and in philanthropy, contributing to making the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation be the world’s largest foundation (controlling about $37 billion).  Together with Mrs. Melinda Gates the philanthropists direct their fortune toward three broad issues: global health, global development and programs in the United States that largely have to do with improving education.

Gate’s digital revolutionary products, the dynamics between these technologies, the government and the mass, followed by Buffett’s economic support to it (making it a new system of control technology) would go hand in hand with USC Professor of Communication James Beniger’s original thesis (“The Control Revolution“, 1986) that the Industrial Revolution made it necessary to control processes at a faster pace and in a more complex way, leading to a long standing global information society with a new distribution of power. By the chronology and analysis of new communications technologies that emerged in the 19th century (photography, telegraphy, printing, motion pictures, wireless telegraphy, and magnetic tape recording), followed by early 20th century communication technologies (radio, television and computers), Beniger argues that governments and businesses gain control and authority, as they support such technologies in various ways.

Beniger’s text is more of a historical description of the origin of the information society, and less of a critique.  Much like Mr. and Mrs. Gates who dedicate the remainder of their lives to philanthropy, publicly committing that 90% of their fortune will continue to be allocated for humanistic causes even after their passing (CNBC, 2009), there is still a critical controversy about how they gained their fortune in the first place.  Ultimately, if you believe in Capitalism you would admire the bunch and be grateful that they are using most of their fortune for meaningful philanthropy.

Finally, an interesting question came up at the beginning of the Q&A video clip that I posted above (April, 2009). A finance student asked “how do you instill ethical leadership through your organization?”  I found Buffett’s answer to reflect on the importance of the public display, suggesting to pay close attention to “new journalistic” possibilities afforded by today’s communication technologies:  “We can afford to lose money but not a shred of reputation, and therefore I ask managers to judge every action they take…by the journalism test. How would they feel about any given action if they knew it was to be written up… by a smart but unfriendly reporter?”

And I thought to myself, although it seems that the new journalistic style (i.e. via social networks like facebook) has a public display that is self-articulated and presented only to a group of friends, one must be careful of lack of privacy (for example, the White House party crashers were revealed through their facebook photo display).  Moreover, once again the concept of “public reputation” has a new meaning through new technologies, requiring the individual to construct their identity (identities) extremely carefully and in a web-culture-savvy manner using new technologies.  This goes back to an argument that I am touching on via my blog – new media communication literacy is forming itself as the new tool to gain social and political power.

December 7, 2009. Columbia University Doctorate. 2 comments.

Human Relationships Redefined

Does the invention of a major communication system redefine society and human relationships?

“It was not, then mere historic accident that the Chicago Commodity Exchange, to this day the principal American futures market, opened in 1848, the same year the telegraph reached that city. In a certain sense the telegraph invented the future as a new zone of uncertainty and a new region of practical action” (Carey, 1989, p. 218).

James W. Carey in Chapter 8 of the book “Communication as Culture: Essays on Media and Society” (1989) asserts that the telegraph as a new major medium received validity, and had therefore become significant as a commodity, affecting people’s lives both commercially and personally.

When I read this text I thought about the effect of Internet technologies.  I could have replaced “telegraph” with “Internet Communication Technologies”, and still get the same validity of the message, in today’s context.

Carey’s coins “Transmission Model” (p. 204), which was a new model to think about communication, displacing older views of communications (i.e. religious) with practical theory of everyday life, mediated by technology.  The cultural shift deriving from the shortening of travel time for people (the railroad) affected the culture.  Therefore, Carey makes the connection between the telegraph, railroad and postal system.  Such commodities satisfied people’s new perception about communication efficiency, activity and cost.

The Internet has a similar effect on cultural and social perception in the sense that web communication revolutionized people’s perception on efficiency, activity and cost – both commercially and personally.  Today emails are considered a legal documentation, while increasing its credibility as a main channel of communication.  Much like the the telegraph of the 19th century, the ‘universalism’ of human relationships support such technological developments.

Current Internet technologies may include images, video, pop-up icons and acronyms within the message.  Therefore, there is a new possibility of “layering” an emotional expression on top of the raw text, extending the capacity of the message that the telegraph had – both in length of the message, time duration of delivery, place (i.e. mobile phone delivery), essentially re-shaping the culture of communications.

Such comparison between the telegraph and Internet technologies brings to mind the question of  “what comes first, the chicken or the egg?”  Does the cultural shift of society’s values and beliefs (emerging of new needs) triggers the emergence of new communication systems, or do technological developments emerge first, and gradually developing a new culture?  My opinion is that human relationships are being dynamically redefined first (as a result of pursue of control, among other factors), and communication technologies follow.  Ironically, it seems like systems could appear to be more sophisticated and “developed” than the human relationships it serve.

November 25, 2009. Tags: , , , . Columbia University Doctorate. 1 comment.

Reflections on my Origin and Nationalism

Family in Jerusalem

Jerusalem - "territorial and social space inherited from the prerevolutionary past"?

Here I am a young child in Jerusalem on a family trip, smelling the spices of the old city, feeling the sharp edges of the physically cold (and colorfully warm) nostalgic and ancient stone, making a connection to my community through stories about our nation’s history, struggles and victories… how could I not feel pride and responsibility for growing up Jewish in a declared Jewish State?

Benedict Anderson, in his book “Imagined Communities” (1983) argues that nationalism is a cultural artifact of a particular past, and that as such it has been legitimated with a profound emotional legitimacy.  Nationalism invents nations and communities, which is spread out much beyond a certain boundary of one nation.

According to Anderson, the cultural roots of nationalism have a strong affinity with religious imaginings.  Religion attempts to explain destiny.  Nationalism, with its two cultural systems (“religious community” and “dynastic realm”) are imaginable mainly through the medium of a sacred language and written script.

Reading this week’s text I remember growing up with the embrace of the Hebrew language as a part of my deeply-rooted culture.  It is our biblical (classical) language, our historical language, our scholarly language and our cultural Jewish language.  Even though less than seven million people speak the language on a daily basis, its sacredness and cultural meaning as a community signifier goes way beyond its numerical reach.

My life is filled with visual representations of the sacred community, available anywhere, anytime.  Whenever I need an injection of a sense of belonging I can read Israeli news in the Hebrew language on my mobile phone by one finger tap.  I live in New York City, raise American children, yet I still stand up silently every year for one minute in honor of Hebrew soldiers who sacrificed their lives for the Jewish Nation – I do it almost automatically.

Intellectually, it may be controversial to salute people who kill and sacrifice their lives for a piece of land, especially when knowing that the Middle East conflict is still alive and so painful (to people on both sides).  I wish I knew what to do to end this violent conflict.  On the other hand, the emotional aspect of nationalism that Anderson touches upon and its power to to connect people and thinking through cultural and historical context resonate with my sense of belonging to a Jewish and Israeli culture.

Additionally, Anderson claims that print-capitalism made it possible for more people to think about themselves, and to relate themselves to others in profoundly new ways.  I wonder whether new computer-mediated technologies change the way communities are imagined.  In my opinion, it does not change communal cultural bonding in a profound way.  People find their own “imagined communities” online in a similar manner that they do offline. Online social networks are just as “limited” as other communication networks.  As a professional Internet Marketer and Online Communications Developer who has attended various workshops and panel discussions debating digital communications I remember one message being highlighted within the industry – THINK GLOBAL, ACT LOCAL.  “Localized” messages reach people on a visceral level.

As Anderson writes on page 6: “All communities larger than primoridal villages of face-to-face contacy (and perhaps even these) are imagined. Communities are to be distinguished, not by their falsity/genuineness, but by the style in which they are imagined”.

November 16, 2009. Columbia University Doctorate, Family. 4 comments.

The One Will Kiss the Other

Notre-Dame De Paris

Notre-Dame de Paris as "the bible of stone"

Victor Hugo in the book “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” (1831) argues that the printing press, the bible of the word, will kill architecture, the bible of the stone. Transferring and preserving information through architecture has become simpler and easier through the book, and most importantly has been embraced by the mass as a new system of communication.

“A book is so soon made, costs so little, and may go so far! Why should we be surprised that all human thought flows that way?” (p. 180)

Hugo’s tone seems a bit bold, determining that architecture’s appeal will soon vanish, and swipe with it human thought.  Historical media innovations (i.e. cinema, then television, and now the internet) do reflect on major cultural shifts. However, it does not necessarily disregard a previous and major communication system.  On the contrary, it may even be inspired by the previously-accepted system (i.e. early cinema being inspired by stage productions), developing a new and nostalgic reputation for that system, forming a unique place for it in our collected memory and in our daily lives.  This is how I view architecture today.

Will this be how my children will view the book as they immerse themselves in digital and mobile information literacy?

October 29, 2009. Columbia University Doctorate. 2 comments.

Bruno Latour about inside the Cave, outside the Cave, and in short, a search for space

Bruno Latour and Peter Sloterdijk about "Networks and Spheres" at Harvard University, 2009.

Bruno Latour and Peter Sloterdijk about "Networks and Spheres" at Harvard University, 2009.

I had to revisit this week’s text “Politics of Nature” by French Theorist and Science Philosopher Bruno Latour (2004) in order to understand and process his view about “Science” versus “the sciences”, nature versus politicized nature, and political ecology (with and without parentheses).

Latour argues that (political) epistemology refers to the integration of politics and scientific validity into everyday life, and that people tend to use Science (the politicization of “the sciences”) as the ultimate explanation of something, and stop it at that.  Such practice is harmful to a discourse as it short-circuits discussions, while attempting to define the scientific inquiry as ultimate truth.

As a result, even with progressed scientific findings, observations are essentially centralized by a few people and political streams (i.e. the Green Movement, politicizing nature), missing out on a democratic discourse and alternative world views.  Thus, Latour argues that Western political thought has confused Science with the sciences (the daily life activities, deeply rooted in the social), paralyzing itself from questions and challenges, reducing itself to the prison of the Cave.

“Since Enlightenment can blind us only if (political) epistemology makes us go down into the Cave in the first place, there exists a much simpler means than Plato’s to get out of the Cave: we not climb down into it to begin with!” (pg. 16).

Facts should not be separated from values, and (political) epistemology causes just that.

Following the discussion group and class participation I was intrigued to read a more recent text by Latour, possibly connecting his social and scientific theory to current technological developments and identity hybrid.  An interesting presentation entitled “Spheres and networks: two ways to reinterpret globalization” (February, 2009) explores global space in search for a “sustainable, durable, breathable, and livable” school of thought, or as Latour defines it – “a thought experiment” (though it is impractical, it should be able to discriminate between arguments).

Latour offers a distressing portrait of human development, arguing that “modernists have no place, no hookup, no plug-in for harnessing in any plausible way the revelations of science about what it is to be material and objective”.  We may assume that we live in the sweet honey of scientific objectivity (“Science”), but in fact Latour says as he turns to the school of Architecture and Design at Harvard University, Modernism itself is homeless.  More than we need real-estate we need a “realist estate” : An artificial construction instead of a utopian one.  If there is one thing we should not recycle, it is the notion of nature.

Once again, more questions than answers, and more food for thought.

October 17, 2009. Tags: , . Columbia University Doctorate. 3 comments.

Plato’s “Repbulic”: The Lovers of Wisdom and Truth

Allegory of the Plato's Cave

Allegory of the Plato's Cave: The virtue of wisdom "belongs to something more divine" (p. 212)

Is preparing a person to lead an examined life a feasible educational objective? What claim on educational practice should it have?

Plato’s allegory of the cave (Chapter 7) asserts that the knowledge of “the forms” (ideas) constitutes the highest sense of reality.  Only those who seek intellectual knowledge are free from imprisonment, and see the truth.  In order to do that, one must leave the visual realm and enter the thinking realm.

However, once a person experiences intellectual enlightenment, s/he must come back to the cave in order to educate the mass.  This part of the allegory suggests that educators have an ethical role in society of facilitating the ‘freedom process’ (refered to as the “turning of the soul”) for the people, who are sitting inside the cave bonded and chained, staring at shadows on the wall.

And I ask, what’s a person to do if they like to stare at shadows on the wall?

Yesterday I felt overwhelmed by the written word and by life in general, so I escaped to watch some shadows on the wall, permitted by semi-new technologies – I went to the movies.  I got immersed in a cinematic experience created by the Cohen Brothers, entitled “A Serious Man”.  The film portrays a Physics professor (enlightened by Plato’s definition – both in terms of his outstanding mathematical knowledge and didactic qualities and practice), whose world is falling apart despite his high intellect, ethical values and dedication to education.  The falling apart process becomes his everyday reality, his existential truth and his great suffering.

Reading this week’s text and watching the movie raises many questions in my mind, i.e. why should people be literate? Why should it matter if the person doesn’t know what “s/he missing”?  Is one reality (‘truth’) higher or more valid than another? Isn’t reality merely a perception and can change from one person to another or be triggered by a mood or an event?

More questions than answers…

Another question is how are people who possess the philosophic gift use their intellectual powers?  Why would they return to a cave when there is a threat for their lives and great resistance by the prisoners?  This was one interesting aspect of the film: The Physics professor was a serious man with intellectual curiosity, seeking truthful living with educational intensions. Nevertheless, and possibly as a result, it was not accepted with love in society, weighing in a great despair for the man and his family.  What autobiographical message does the film bring about related to truth seeking, intellectual value and education?  Food for thought.

Here is a trailer of the film.  Plato would have loved the last line about the Rabbi.

October 7, 2009. Columbia University Doctorate. 4 comments.

The drama and its discontents: Homer, Plato and Havelock.

The Combat of Mars and Minerva (1771) by DAVID, Jacques-Louis

The Combat of Mars and Minerva by DAVID (1771)

This week we read Homer’s Iliad (Book 1) and Eric Havelock’s “Preface to Plato” (1963) relating to Plato’s writing about “Mimesis”.  The readings describe the influential tradition of oral poetry in ancient Greece.  Both Plato and Havelock critique reciting poems as a method that influences the people, yet not conveying the “truth”.  Starting with Homer, such poets imitate their dramatic perception of real life through repetitive story telling, capturing the attention of the audience through the live performance of the characters as an improvised concert.

Why should we express a concern about telling a story through stage dramatization accompanied by live music?

First, the historical evidence that we oral poetry was the main form of entertainment raises a question of why were people (living in 110-750 B.C.E.in ancient Greece) not seeking other forms of communication?

Subsequently, I wonder what has the influence of oral poetry been on the history of communication, education, preservation of information and perception of “the truth”?  Hevelock claims that the audience in such performances got so engaged that their identification with the characters on a deep emotional level prevented them from distancing themselves, and therefore they did not reach an abstract thinking capacity.

As a mother of young children I ask myself why do I go to great length exposing my preschool children to repetitive storytelling that is expressed through performing arts with a musical background?  Would “Peter and the Wolf” as a book trigger my son’s abstract thinking more than the same book delivered on stage accompanied by the Philadelphia Philharmonic Orchestra?  I’m not convinced.  Perhaps it is the fact that I do have access to a variety of storytelling ways, including interactive storytelling and artifact production through new technologies allow for experimentation with new type of communication, storytelling, idea exchange and multiple perceptions of “the truth”.

Going back to Homer’s Iliad, it seems that such new technology (i.e. make your own “Peter and the Wolf” digital variation of the story) go hand in hand with a multi-layered complexity of today’s philosophical thinking and culture.  We are no longer a character with one main trait as prudence (Athena), sense of submission (Zeus), aggression (Arias) and eroticism (Aphrodite).

September 24, 2009. Tags: . Columbia University Doctorate. 3 comments.

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