Subjectivity, freedom, and the undoing of modernity in Zizek’s Event

Slavoj Zizek, Event (Melville 2014) [image: Melville House Books]

Zizek’s analysis of the concept of an event in his recent book (Melville, 2014) quickly leads him to focus once again upon the concept of subjectivity – and ultimately (once again) upon himself. Nevertheless, the book itself nicely dramatizes in miniature Zizek’s ongoing exploration of ways to recover and defend modern Cartesian-Romantic conceptions of freedom and its value, in the face of various waves and fronts of post-modern suspicion. Continue reading

The End of Mass Culture?

The last few decades have been great for mass culture. Intellectuals used to describe popular music, for instance, as “the sphere that mummifies the vulgarized and decaying remnants of romantic individualism.” They used to claim that consumers “behave like children. Again and again and with stubborn malice, they demand the one dish they have once been served.” Today, we’re more likely to point out that fans use their agency to negotiate with their favorite shows, songs and films, to analyze how, in those negotiations, they resist late capitalism. University syllabi include Star Wars, Harry Potter, and hip-hop, while professors write books about Bob Dylan, film noir, or sci-fi. Television, once exclusively ‘mass,’ is in a golden age: the best realist art of the 21st century, in America at least, is still The Wire; the best political satire, Veep. The most important critical opinions now belong not to New Yorker book reviewers, but to amazon customers. The latest Penguin Classic is Morrissey’s biography.

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Dear Kris: a graph of words

Nearly 20 years ago I was roommates with Open Set contributor Kris Cohen. He went on to be a professor of art history; I ended up in San Francisco as a programmer for startups. This is an age, though, where technologists freely borrow from anthropology, art, and design, and when art and culture are shaped in part by technology and technology’s economic effects. Whenever we see each other, which is too rarely, we have excellent conversations, ones where we examine topics of common interest from perspectives (and using vocabularies) that are often very different. This is the first of a series of letters that I hope will interest both him and Open Set readers.

Dear Kris:

The other day I got my bee in a bonnet about something that I thought would interest you: an easy way to try to look at the cultural balance between men’s and women’s voices. Perhaps you’ll find a way to apply the technique to some of your work. And if not, at least I’ll get to complain about how hard good graphs are to make.

It started with an article in The Guardian’s data journalism blog. They were looking at the frequency of various phrases over time in the New York Times. They had several graphs showing how often particular phrases were used in articles each year, like “Brooklyn” vs “Manhattan” or “Britain” vs “France”. This is the one that really struck me:

NY Times Continue reading