Monday, September 30, 2002

Chartreuse

I've been reading up on my new favourite drink - chartreuse verte, the only liqueur in the world with a completely natural green colour, made from 130 plants and flowers, and with a 55% alcohol content (110° proof US). I'd love to score a bottle of Elixir Vegetal de la Grande Chartreuse, which strikes me as similar to absinthe, la Fée Verte. Read about the history of the Chartreuse Monks and their Elixir of Life.

Which IKEA Product Are You?

I took this quiz and, well, here you go:

"I'm STOLLE, the decorative horse! I'm not afraid to be different and sport a few tattoos and piercings. However, I'm purely decorative and serve no practical purpose whatsoever."

Somehow it only seems appropriate to confess that I since I saw these designs, I have been contemplating getting my fourth tattoo ;)

Even though I'm not there

... it seems like Adam is having fun in Goteborg ;) So good to hear!

FYI Adam - "The concept of a tuple space was first described in 1982 in a programming language called Linda. The basic idea is that you can have many active programs distributed over physically dispersed machines, unaware of each other's existence, and yet still able to communicate. They communicate to each other by releasing data (a tuple) into tuple space. Programs read, write, and take tuples (entries) from tuple space that are of interest to them. In general, a tuple is simply a list of values, such as (12, 7, 48) or ("ra", "gg", "mo", "pp") or ("Dave", 33, 125.7). A tuple-space is a public repository or buffer that can contain tuples. The tuple-space serves as an associative memory, in that tuples in the tuple-space can be accessed by matching some or all the elements of the tuples to values or types presented in a template, which is simply a tuple set up for this matching. Client programs can register to be notified of changes in a tuple-space." (Don't worry, I had to look it up too!)

Sunday, September 29, 2002

dublog

There is way too much cool stuff here to repeat. Go now!

Saturday, September 28, 2002

Sweet Cameras

Yutaka Suzuki... Pionyr Praha. Photographs of Prague taken with an antique Pionyr toy camera. (via gmtplus9)

I recently got a quad cam - "One snap of the camera takes four pictures in the span of one second, preserving that moment in time and motion on one single print" - so that I can make little flip books. Very nice.

Changing the way research is done

Paul Ginsparg is a theoretical physicist widely known for creating a computer-based system for physicists and other scientists to communicate their research results. Ginsparg’s document server represents a conscious effort to reorganize scientific communications, establishing a marketplace of ideas of new submissions with minimal editorial oversight and abundant opportunity for commentary, supporting and opposing, from other investigators. Ginsparg circumvented traditional funding and approval mechanisms by developing the software in his spare time and running it on surplus equipment. This system [is] informally known as “the xxx archive,” currently hosted at Cornell University at http://arxiv.org.... All documents are available without charge worldwide through the internet, making the latest results available even for those without access to a good research library. Ginsparg has deliberately transformed the way physics gets done — challenging conventional standards for review and communication of research and thereby changing the speed and mode of dissemination of scientific advances.” See some remarks about the project he delivered in 1994. (via social design notes)

I'm currently developing a site with a similar mandate for the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. Amazing possibilities, limited only by the research community itself...

On another note

This web site gets an unusual amount of traffic from the NIPR - Department of Defense Network Operations (NIPRNet)...

Malaise

There seems to be a case of malaise going around these days. I've had conversations with a half-dozen accomplished individuals in which each has expressed a feeling along the lines of "is this all there is?" And despite the fact that I lead a content existence, I'm inclined to say that's all it is - content. So what's up?

We are all well-educated and passionate people, with relatively interesting jobs that pay well. All of us have people in our lives that we value, and have enough time and resources to do pretty much anything we want. We're all in our thirties, and very few of us have families, children or other constant commitments and responsibilities. So nothing is wrong, and yet it seems that little is right.

Maybe I was spoiled by my upbringing - a time of great adventure and experimentation - but life seems to have become much more static, maybe even boring sometimes. I wonder what it will take to sustain myself - physically and emotionally - for the next ten years. All I know for sure is that I will not be content in ten years if something doesn't give...

Anti-semitism?

Interesting article in the NY Times today about the Campus-Watch web site.

Judith Butler responds to the site: "I have recently learned that your organization is compiling dossiers on professors at U.S. academic institutions who oppose the Israeli occupation and its brutality, actively support Palestinian rights of self-determination as well as a more informed and intelligent view of Islam than is currently represented in the U.S. media. I would be enormously honored to be counted among those who actively hold these positions and would like to be included in the list of those who are struggling for justice."

If things were different

I would be arriving in Goteborg in a few hours for the ubicomp conference.

Friday, September 27, 2002

If I lived in Europe...

I would have tried to attend the Summer School on Ubiquitous and Pervasive Computing...

BTW - has anyone else noticed the conspicuous lack of girls at these high tech get-togethers? ;)

First seminar

This is what I live for ;) Just back from my first seminar (I haven't been feeling well enough to teach before now) and it was wonderful!

A good bunch of students (64 to be precise) that were friendly, energetic and promptly sent out to do an observational exercise. I can't wait for next week's discussion on what they saw and how they made sense of it...

More on the construction of scientific knowledge

Scientists struggle to understand how one of their finest could have fabricated research results.

"Schön acknowledged that the data are incorrect in many of his papers but said that some problems occurred due to 'honest mistakes.' But investigators noted that 'the recurrent nature of such mistakes suggests a deeper problem. At a minimum, Schön showed reckless disregard for the sanctity of data in the value system of science."

Traditional chinese medicine

Update on the health front: I found a new chinese doctor because I'm pretty sure I shouldn't have passed out the other day ;) And so Dr. Li has become my new favourite person. She was Chief of Medicine in Beijing for 15 years, then came to Canada and got an M.Sc. in neuroimmunology. Two sessions so far, and she has eliminated the chronic nausea I have suffered for the past month, and my back is definitely getting better ;) Plus, she's got me thinking about some lifestyle issues - school, work and general hedonism are hard on the body and mind, and I'm not getting any younger ;) It's all good!

Thursday, September 26, 2002

Current listening

More robots

All sorts of fun stuff at the BBC's Robot World site.

Who is doing the saying matters as much as what is being said

Scientific American draws out one of the many ways in which scientific knowledge is constructed.

Wednesday, September 25, 2002

Guilty pleasures

I know this is cheesy, but I can't help loving Smallville;) The new season started tonight.

Not that D & G

The frightfully clever Rik Abel at mememachine will make some wicked Deleuze and Guattari tshirts if he can get ten people who want them. Tell him you think it's a brilliant idea and give some fashion snobs a run for their money ;)

Blessed be the healers

I am tingling all over, and in a good way ;) Back from my trip to the acupuncturist, a wonderful chinese woman who has made me genuinely smile for the first time in weeks :-)

So here's the funny part: it has now been two times in my life that I have passed out from needle shock. The first time was after the piercing of a most sensitive area of my body, and the second time was an hour ago. She put a needle in the back of my knee, and after a pain flew down my calf, I was able to move my back in ways that have been impossible for almost six weeks. Then I felt my body overcome with a searing heat. The next thing I knew, I was lying on a bed and I opened my eyes to this woman laughing hysterically and claiming that "this never happens to Chinese people!" She switched to the suction cups after that, and told me we'd have to work on making me less serious ;)

Add to that a very sexy cab driver (I know, how often does that happen?!) and I had most pleasant thoughts on the way home ;)

Fuck western medicine

Just back from a visit to a specialist in my seemingly never-ending pursuit of healing and this guy couldn't have been more of a dick. This neckless wonder body-builder type with twelve (!) degrees and the bedside manner of Ghengis Khan could only say that there doesn't seem to be a problem, but maybe a CT Scan will help. Oh yes please, fill me with radioactive material and take pictures!

Six doctors in one month unable to help me has made me bitter and agitated. This afternoon I'm off to a traditional chinese doctor...

Tuesday, September 24, 2002

Yet again i cannot sleep

Despite what the post says, it's 2:40am. (Damn blogger!)

I don't remember the last time I was able to sleep through the night.

My mind is racing a million miles an hour - you'd think I'd run out of thoughts sooner or later ;)

WOW man!

Check out this fetish map (via boing boing).

purse lip square jaw google

"... Picking up my purse, I went after them. ... Would you like some?". Biting my lip hard for distraction ... maybe dark eyes, mouth mobile and wide, and square jaw..."

"... but he stops at a construction site to jaw... I pluck a stray hair from my purse... She gets off in Times Square and clops ... Springs truck, and when he gives her lip...

Mimesis, magic & technology

"In the grey region between illusion and the perceived real lies a region of magic. Walter Benjamin suggests that technology can be imbued with the power of magic. When that which looks or behaves real and is not, or breaks the assumed laws of reality, it becomes magical. Benjamin talks about the importance of recognising the social and cultural implications of technology in the age of mediation and reproduction, outlining the danger of being seduced by the power of mimetics." (from a presentation by Richard Brown)

Space flows

“The building may be static, but the architecture is never at rest.” Lars Spuybroek (via embedded:spaces)

Monday, September 23, 2002

It's that time of year again

when doctoral fellowship and scholarship applications are due... I scored an Ontario Graduate Scholarship last year, but I'm still going after the mother lode - a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada doctoral fellowship. It's difficult when one's area of research spans disciplines, but I'm counting on the growing acceptance in Canada for the sociology of science and technology. Wish me luck ;)

Saturday, September 21, 2002

sounds interesting

for readers in europe, or the independently wealthy, dark markets: infopolitics, electronic media and democracy in times of crisis will take place in wien, austria on october 3 & 4.

of interest should be chantal mouffe's non-rationalist take on political theory and formulation of an 'agonistic' model of democracy, as well as geert lovink and florian schneider's seemingly TAZ-inspired take on the digital commons.

i saw a kick-ass presentation on technology and social control by konrad becker this past spring, so at least some of it's bound to be fun and twisted ;)

what i'm reading right now

The Ambiguity of Play by Brian Sutton-Smith.

Architecture from the Outside: Essays on Virtual and Real Space by Elizabeth Grosz and Peter Eisenmann.

The Visible and the Invisible by Maurice Merleau-Ponty.

commentary to follow...

Thursday, September 19, 2002

please forgive my current obsession with my body

given that my back injury has prevented me from participating in a very cool-sounding workshop at the ubicomp conference next week (the trip to sweden is too much right now) - i'm counting on adam to pick up some of my interests and give me a full report upon his return. i know he'll bring some damn fine thinking to the table, and i wish i could be there ;)

on the up side, the radiologist assures me that my spine is all healthy and strong ;) but that does leave me with some serious muscle problems that are interfering with the proper working of some nerves. quite frankly, i've never had much faith in western medicine (maybe it's all those years as an anthropologist dealing with awesome traditional healers) and despite being referred to some snazzy specialist, i'm also crossing over to traditional chinese medicine and acupuncture. maybe these folks will be able to help me - and without scaring the shit out of me ;)

Wednesday, September 18, 2002

newbreed librarian

paul informed me that the kind words below come from juanita benedicto, ex-proprietress of the wonderful, if now defunct, newbreed librarian. sorry to see it go, and now more than a little ashamed i didn't say something sooner ;) be sure to check out the archives!

i'm blushing!

thanks to paul ford at ftrain.com for the link to purse lip square jaw ;)

"This comes highly recommended by a most-favored Ftrain correspondent, who writes of the site: "She strikes me as a person who ingurgitates new ideas and can intellectually feel them out, offering much in return." At first glance, it looks great, with an emphasis on intelligent textiles."

be sure to check out his site and i'd like to hear from the person who can use a word like "ingurgitate" ;)

Tuesday, September 17, 2002

i can't sleep

there are few things more annoying than being exhausted and not able to sleep... you'd think the heavy duty narcotics i scored today for my excruciating back pain would help ;) but maybe it's just the thought of winter approaching and the realisation that i might not get to dazzle someone interesting with my beauty and brilliance...

Monday, September 16, 2002

quiet time

i'm afraid that things are going to be a little quiet around here this week... my back is not cooperating with me and computer time has been limited to the absolutely necessary. i need to heal ;)

special thanks to those who have spent time with me and taken such good care of me over the past few days :-) i've learned that you don't need to ask true friends for help - they come through with love and caring actions when you least expect it...

Friday, September 13, 2002

addition to earlier post

just read this article in the ny times and, at the risk of offending the same people i claimed solidarity with this morning, i admit to sharing the following concerns:

"On this dark anniversary, the unfettered sympathy with which many foreigners reacted to last Sept. 11 gave way to a more complicated amalgam of emotions... There was skepticism about the way the United States conducts itself abroad. There were questions about the direction the United States is taking and the degree to which allies are being consulted... People around the world are back to resenting the United States for its wealth and willfulness and accusing it of its own sins."

I don't think that's why I feel resentment, but something nonetheless rings true in this next statement...

"It is monstrous, horrible — I don't deny that," said Eveline Bureau, 50, of Paris. "But the Americans didn't do anything to avoid what happened on Sept. 11. They have put themselves in danger, and now they put us in danger."

Here's wishing peace and happiness to all of us...

how do you train an information architect?

damn interesting article by george olsen at boxes and arrows right now.

as you know, i am an academic first, but currently make a living as an information architect. truth be told, i've never taken a class on IA - i've taught myself what i could and have learned the rest through trial and error (thanks to clients willing to experiment and learn with me). the only thing i know for sure is that in developing interfaces and cultivating virtual communities, my single greatest challenge has been dealing with people issues. technology inevitably takes a back seat to questions around the production of knowledge and meaning, social learning and interaction. and this is where my academic training has done me right: ten years of university learning in the liberal arts, and specifically in social anthropology, archaeology, architecture, and social space helps me navigate the techno-spaces i build and want others to use.

i particularly appreciate olsen's comments on specialisation and experience. postgraduate degrees mandate specialisation. over the years i have had to fight to go beyond the obligatory course-work and broaden my body of knowledge. cross-disciplinary research remains marginal in the academy, and we are encouraged to publish only within peer-reviewed journals that very few people read, let alone comprehend. ia, as a practice, must transcend traditional boundaries and the academy is indeed ill-suited to provide an education in that sense. add to this the increasing frequency with which grad students move directly from one degree to the next, without any real-world application of their knowledge, and we have a serious problem.

i don't mean to suggest that my experience is better, but i have come to recognise certain advantages. i have been trained across a wide range of disciplines in the social sciences and humanities, as well as developing a solid grounding in the natural sciences. this breadth of training has always been supplemented by my working life - both during, and between, my degrees. i have been afforded the opportunity to test my theories, and have been forced to revise firmly held convictions. i have been well-prepared to deal with ambiguity and to find ways to adapt to constantly changing circumstances - and i believe it is this that helps me work as an information architect...

remembering americans

as if last year weren't enough, in recent days we have been subjected to seemingly endless images and stories of human loss and suffering. i remember - and send my fondest thoughts to all the americans i know and cherish. and to all our neighbours to the south, i wish you peace and happiness for the future.

Wednesday, September 11, 2002

asking better questions

speaking from personal experience, internet plagiarism is indeed rampant - even among university students...

from wired: "Students aren't solely to blame for this trend. Many assignments teachers give are conducive to cheating. It is reckless and irresponsible to continue requiring topical 'go find out about' research projects in this new electronic context. Instead, teachers must distinguish between trivial research and meaningful research, which asks kids to analyze, interpret, infer or synthesize material they have read."

for some reason i always remember the student who simply copied and pasted an entire roger ebert review - and this was in response to an assignment that required the student write a film review focussing on issues of latin american culture and politics...

250 terabits of data per square inch

Single atom memory device stores data. "The scientifically interesting aspect of this research is the emphasis on self-assembly. The grooved alignment structures are naturally self-organising systems."

Tuesday, September 10, 2002

ergodics and play

just read "The Myth of the Ergodic Videogame" by james newman.

"the pleasures of videogame play are not principally visual, but rather are kinaesthetic....What I am suggesting is that, by better understanding the particular types of engagement that occur between players and on-screen characters during play, we may begin to arrive at a point where we don’t have to think about Lara [Croft of Tomb Raider fame] in playable game sequences in terms of representation – we don’t have to think about her in terms of representational traits and appearance – we don’t even have to think about "her" at all...

"The On-Line relationship between primary-player and system/gameworld is not one of clear subject and object. Rather, the interface is a continuous feedback loop where the player must be seen as both implied by, and implicated in, the construction and composition of the experience...

"In recollection of their play, players talk not of playing or controlling but of "being". The concentration on viewpoint (often erroneously referred to as "perspective") reveals an over-reliance on representational models and mechanisms of player/viewer connectivity. It is my assertion here that the degree of participative involvement and engagement with any specific game is not contingent upon the mode of representation."

hmmm...

i love maps...

Ars Electronica 2002 "exhibits current world map projections in which geography legitimated by the nation-state system is overlaid by the reciprocities and points of rupture in our modern Information Society—cyber-graphies of a world of data and information systems whose meridians are lines of economic and political power. Artists as cartographers: a confrontation with topological world models is meant to formulate and / or inspire a critique of the topographic Weltanschauung and patterns of behavior on which it has had an impact."

horizon 2: mimic

not exactly what i was expecting, but still kinda interesting, the second issue of horizon zero looks at robots, automata and cyborgs. i liked the american automata section, and some of the exhibits in sentient circuitry - but i would have liked to see some connections made with the banff new media institute artificial stupidity/artificial intelligence summit, held in august...

please don't ask these men!

i don't know where to begin in expressing my distaste for this web site...

maybe it's this description of model elsa benitez: "WHERE YOU KNOW HER FROM... The cover of Sports Illustrated's 2001 Swimsuit Edition, and a Dolce & Gabbana ad with yummy lesbian undertones."

or maybe it's this ranking of singer avril lavigne: "sexiness = 82. While we aren't terribly comfortable applying these criteria to a 17-year-old, we feel an obligation unto our readers that we are bound to fulfill. So let it be said that Avril is developing into a lovely young woman. Her smoldering lips, big blue eyes and pale skin make for an enticing package, one that will only get better with age...She leans toward the arm warmers and neckties, but doesn't sacrifice the revealing tops and tight pants in doing so. It's a combination that keeps the teenage boys and the record execs pleased, both in their own way."

askmen.com divides women into the following categories: actresses, models, single women, beauty pageant contestants and singers.

i had no idea we had come so far...

sociology of science and technology

welcome to philip thurtle, our department's new resident expert on all things science & tech. i was present during the hiring process, and he got my vote because he struck me as someone who would succeed in convincing undergrads that sociology doesn't have to be the driest discipline on the face of the earth ;) oh yeah, and of course because he will make a fine addition to my phd committee ;)

and despite having finished my coursework, i registered in his graduate seminar on science & tech. very much looking forward to it despite his promise to "limit" our assigned reading to one book a week ;) anyone out there know what "ergodics" means?

Sunday, September 8, 2002

privacy and human rights 2002

"The 2002 edition of Privacy and Human Rights examines the impact of government proposals after September 11, 2001 on privacy and civil liberties. The report documents many new anti-terrorism and security measures and identifies key trends including increased communications surveillance, weakening of data protection regimes, and increased profiling and identification of individuals."

Musical approach helps programmers catch bugs

also from new scientist: "Vickers and James Alty of Loughborough University developed a system that automatically converts computer program code written in Pascal into simple "music"... Vickers and Alty assigned particular musical phrases to different Pascal language constructs, such as conditional statements and loops. A synthesised chord, for example, represents conditional statements such as "IF TRUE". A loop could have an ascending string of synthesised notes associated with it. When different sections of code are put together, they should form a harmonious tune. But if a loop, for example, does not execute properly, the music would not ascend properly and the programmer should hear the error. Similarly, a duff statement would produce a different chord that would be immediately apparent."

elgooG

new scientist reports that "China's widely criticised blocking of the web's most popular search engine Google can be defeated by viewing a strange Google mirror site through a mirror... The mirror site, called elgooG, is a parody of the English language version of Google in which all the text on the web pages has been reversed. The text terms used for searches are also entered in reverse. The site, which returns all the same hits as Google, can be accessed from behind China's 'great firewall'."

Friday, September 6, 2002

open-source emerging government standard?

ny times reports that "governments around the world, afraid that Microsoft has become too powerful in critical software markets, have begun working to ensure an alternative. More than two dozen countries in Asia, Europe and Latin America, including China and Germany, are now encouraging their government agencies to use "open source" software."

right on!

robots that learn

"If you can't program a robot to fly, then program it so it will figure out how to fly without your help. Krister Wolff and Peter Nordin, two scientists at the Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden, have designed a winged robot capable of learning flight techniques."

i can't help thinking of the flying monkeys from the wizard of oz ;)

Thursday, September 5, 2002

i can't believe a year has passed

i spent the first day of classes last year alternately glued to the television and the 'net with feelings best summed up this way. almost one year later, witness the september 11th digital archive: "Sept. 11 was the first major event of the Internet age," said Tom Scheinfeldt, managing director of the archive. "For the first time in history, people experienced this major world event online, through all kinds of media and computer technologies. Someone had to quickly mobilize to preserve a digital record of the attacks."

according to wired, they "began spidering the Web just hours after the attacks to cache corporate, government, media, memorial and tribute websites... They got a fairly broad, deep snapshot of the Web in those couple of months (after the attacks) ... before the government security apparatus was up and running," Scheinfeldt said. "Researchers from George Mason University and the City University of New York have amassed more than 20,000 pager messages, e-mails, digital images, websites and other digital materials since the project launched last January (2,000 of which are currently available on the site). Researchers hope to use the archive to develop free software tools to help historians to do a better job of collecting, preserving and writing history."

i remember Tiananmen square (which incidentally, none of my students do) and thinking that it was amazing that faxes communicated so much to those of us so far away. when the gulf war broke out, my neighbours borrowed a big-screen tv "to watch the war in style," and customers at work most often commented on "how pretty" the missile attacks looked at night. last year, i was most interested in the global response to the events - to read what people all over the world were saying and watching the stories change over the next few days...

i, for one, was grateful for google's caching, if simultaneously horrified by my own propensity for voyeurism...

students of the future

wired news has a story on the possible future - if microsoft gets its way - of tablet pcs in the lives of students. "Students are back to the daily grind. As their teacher lectures, they take notes with a stylus on a thin, clipboard-size computer. When their first paper is due, students retrieve it from their tablet computers and e-mail it to the teacher. After grading the paper, the teacher e-mails it back to the student and cc's the parents."

the threat of one's "permanent record" takes on new dimensions and all this for kids who have never read 1984...

on a related note, "Market research firm NPD Group recently released a list of the most popular back-to-school items: Along with lip gloss and low-rise jeans, students considered PDAs, MP3 players, digital cameras, scientific calculators and notebook computers must-have items." i'm all for gadgetry over butt-cracks ;)

Wednesday, September 4, 2002

marvel this

"just when you thought no one would go near the idea of the world's first superhero prostitute...comes the Pro! An intergalactic bet is taken and superpowers are bestowed upon the most unlikely person on Earth. By day, she is a waitress at a local Denny's, but by night...uh, well...she’s a chain-smoking hooker who's pissed off at the world and she’s got the mouth and the backside to prove it!" - from the image comics site.

philips design

some interesting work is going on at philips design:

smart connections: "Ever since we started developing tools, we have lived in an artificial environment, consisting of our own artefacts. Until now, the artificial objects that we created were unable to 'answer back'. Now, however, objects are almost becoming 'subjects' - intelligent and capable of independent activity. The more objects become 'personalities' in their own right the more both us and them will need to learn to take into account each others' requirements. If adaptability is a key issue, it is then clear that the objects-subjects will have to be designed as open systems - capable to sustain an evolution that is defined within a specific cultural system. This is what we mean with designing Ambient Culture. Ambient Culture focuses on the development of open systems that understand and support the rituals of our living and adapt themselves to people through time and places."

mime (multiple intimate media environments): "The MiME project focuses on the relationship between computer technology and people's experience of their intimate media collections around the home. As computers steadily move into every aspect of personal life, MiME proposes that instead of allowing intimate media to disappear into the computer, artifacts and systems should be designed to better promote human experiences around the collection, storage and sharing of intimate media."

Tuesday, September 3, 2002

extreme sports

in the past week or so of being incapacitated, i have watched an unusual amount of television. but immobile or not, i still would have watched the x games. the original games in philly broadcast while i was away, so i made myself comfortable for the long haul in re-run this weekend - and it was brilliant!

despite the passage of years, i have not lost my love for skate punks and these boys didn't disappoint. add to that snowboarders (where the girls are) and motocross, and i thought i'd died and gone to heaven ;) there are no words to describe how cool - if wacked out - these people are!

just take this ny times quote from 17 year-old chad robbins: "I've broken my leg, my ankle, my toes, both arms, my knees," he said. "Both wrists have rods in them. I've also been knocked out in a coma for two days." Asked why he was so willing to keep defying death, or at least paralysis, he said: "It's worth the rush. Motocross is my life."

hmm...

Sunday, September 1, 2002

songs of love and devotion and other things of astonishing beauty

recently re-read jayadeva's gitavoginda, or love song of the dark lord. an ancient indian lyrical poem about krishna's intensely earthly loves, seldom have i read words of more exquisite passion. i have always enjoyed the ecstatic poems of the sufi - those great songs of love and devotion - and indian qawwali music can be astounding (although my neighbours may disagree). i had the pleasure of seeing the whirling dervishes once, and will always remember feeling on fire as i watched them spin...

this makes me think about the nature of communication. when i listen to the music, i do not understand a word. but i feel it. is it what it represents? the connotations it carries? am i merely succumbing to the exotic? i know enough about the religion and history to be able to contextualise what i hear and see, and i cannot help but to recall the translated words i have read. but it seems to me that what i am experiencing is more of a being and a doing. the music and dance are performed, and by that i mean that their meaning is derived through their performance. they acted on me, and i on them: we created each other, performed each other into existence.

the first time i went to a bullfight, i was nervous and anxious. i had no desire to watch an animal suffer, but in the face of my mother's unwavering insistence that we experience all aspects of the cultures of the countries in which we lived, i silently capitulated. and few experiences in my life would compare to the astounding beauty and eroticism i saw that day. the matador was the most stunning creature i had ever seen: his costume reminded me of a peacock, and his back arched like a suspension bridge when he stood in front of the bull. i was afraid for him, and i resented the animal he challenged. the competition was extraordinary, and enthralled with their dance, i sobbed when the bull finally fell. i looked at the matador and he may as well have been glowing: not a piece of clothing ruffled, nor sweat or a drop of blood. he was perfection and calmness in the face of chaos. when they gave him the ears and tail - the ultimate reward for a good fight - i stood and cheered.

in the buried mirror, carlos fuentes describes the interaction between the bull and the matador, and specifically cargar la suerte - breaking the bull's charge - and the perfect pase, that "astonishing instant of statuesque coupling, bull and fighter enlaced, entwined, giving each other the qualities of force, beauty, and risk, in an image that seems at the same time immobile and dynamic. the mythic moment is restored: man and bull are once more, as in the labyrinth of minos, the same."

is this communication between the bull and the matador to be found only in abstract or symbolic representation? is it an allegorical relationship? do they metonymically switch with each other? or are they only and always what the other makes them?

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