Thursday, December 14, 2017

Structuralists behaving badly at Johns Hopkins

The Quarterly Conversation has just published an essay excerpted from Cynthia L. Haven, Evolution of Desire: A Life of René Girard (Michigan St. U. Press 2018). Here's an passage from the excerpt about the response to Lacan's mysterious send-up of Freud, “Of structure as an inmixing of an otherness prerequisite to any subject whatsoever.”:
[Angus] Fletcher called him out in his first comment: “Freud was really a very simple man,” he explained. “He didn’t try to float on the surface of words. What you’re doing is like a spider: you’re making a very delicate web without any human reality in it . . . All this metaphysics is not necessary. The diagram was very interesting, but it doesn’t seem to have any connection with the reality of our actions, with eating, sexual intercourse, and so on.” At least, those are the heavily edited words from The Structuralist Controversy, which don’t capture the hysteria and pandemonium (Donato’s careful hand would rework this section).

At the event itself, rather than Donato’s diplomatic recreation of it, Fletcher’s voice had taken on an accusatory tone—“Vous, vous monsieur . . .” He attacked in a British-inflected French, while Lacan insisted on replying in his inadequate English. “Lacan was enjoying every bit of this. He was like a Cheshire cat,” said Macksey. “Angus just went ballistic.”

“I should have been aware, and wasn’t, the state that Angus was in. Angus is a very bright guy.” Elsewhere in the room, Girard was “trying to climb under the chair, it was so embarrassing,” he said. “René felt we owed something to the Ford Foundation, from whom all blessings flow . . . I would watch him. He was the senior member of the troika—at moments, he seemed to be thinking that the wheels had come off and we were rolling downhill.” Girard’s concern regarding the Ford Foundation was understandable, since “Lacan particularly set Peter [Caw]’s teeth on edge”—perhaps from the moment of the big bear hug.

Macksey felt that the microphone had to be kept from Wilden at all costs. Someone passed the mic to Wilden nevertheless. “At that point Tony lit into Lacan, saying this was your great opportunity, this was your first exposure in the United States. All you had to do was just talk your language and you don’t know diddly squat about the English language.” Goldmann jumped into the melée, attacking Lacan on procedural grounds as well.

The Structuralist Controversy gives little indication of this discord—remarks were toned down later to reduce the decibel level, and much of the action was between the lines, anyway. According to Macksey, “It got to be about midnight and things were just going on wildly and Rosolato says, ‘Oh, he always does this to me. He schedules me to talk right after him and then there’s no time.’ So Nicolas Ruwet, who is a Belgian linguist, read a paper that I thought was more exact and applied overt structuralism more than most of the people who were participating had done. But nobody paid attention to that paper. Alas.”

Back at the Belvedere, Lacan started calling everyone in Paris—Lévi-Strauss and Malraux among them—giving his version of the events. Eventually, he would run up a $900 phone bill from the hotel. “People in Paris thought a small revolution had occurred,” said Macksey. But the revolution would take place the next day.
The last day of the symposium, when Derrida delivered the paper that "deconstructed" structuralism. 

H/t 3QD.

My impressionist camera at work


Should I refuse to watch a movie because Harvey Weinstein was involved?

Alas, I'm SOL because I've seen many films he's produced. But going forward?

The New York Times has a short story about a publicaly searchable database, Rotten Apples, that "informs users which films or television shows are connected to those accused of sexual harassment or worse." You enter the name of a movie or show and it returns a list of people associated with the project who have allegations against them. "Each result is linked to a news article about the accusations." If there are no allegations, you'll be told that. So, I searched on "Kill Bill" and "Pulp Fiction" (both of which I've seen) and sure enough, Weinstein's name popped up.

The tool was created by one Hal Wagman and three others.
The tool is purely informational and is not intended to condemn entire projects, said Mr. Wagman, who likened it to Rotten Tomatoes and IMDB.

“We’re definitely not advocating for boycotting anyone’s films,” he said. The team instead wants the tool to help people make “ethical media consumption decisions.”

Bekah Nutt, a user-experience designer at Zambezi and a team member, hopes that the tool can shed light on how pervasive the problem of sexual misconduct is.

“It became interesting to think about the wide-reaching careers of those facing allegations,” she said. “Every article would spotlight the big projects everyone knows about.” This tool, she said, allows users to see “the full-range of their careers.”
What's an ethical media consumption decision?

Salma Hayak just published an article in the NYTimes about the hell Weinstein put her though to make Frida, about the life of Frida Kahlo. I've never seen the film, but it is the kind of film that interests me. Should I refuse to watch it because Weinstein brokered the deal that make the film possible? What of the work Hayak put into the film despite horrific harassment from Weinstein, and the director, Julie Taymor, and all the others involved with the project? Should I refuse to see their work because of its unfortunate association with Weinstein?

Peer review is known to be ineffective in the sciences

So why is the practice continued? Writing in Times Higher Education, Les Hatton and Gregory Warr identify various problems and then observe:
We are not the first to identify these problems, so we might ask why peer review retains its essentially unassailable status. We suggest a two-fold answer rooted more in socio-economic factors than the dispassionate review of scientific research.

First, peer review is self-evidently useful in protecting established paradigms and disadvantaging challenges to entrenched scientific authority. Second, peer review, by controlling access to publication in the most prestigious journals helps to maintain the clearly recognised hierarchies of journals, of researchers, and of universities and research institutes. Peer reviewers should be experts in their field and will therefore have allegiances to leaders in their field and to their shared scientific consensus; conversely, there will be a natural hostility to challenges to the consensus, and peer reviewers have substantial power of influence (extending virtually to censorship) over publication in elite (and even not-so-elite) journals.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Teaching World Literature

More to the point, world literature is a phenomenon of the southern United States. The 11 southern states contained only 14 percent of the nation’s population, but they accounted for half of our adopters. True, there were world literature courses that didn’t use any anthology, while others might assign one of our rivals and therefore wouldn’t show up in our statistics. But despite these caveats (Norton has over 80 percent market share), it was clear that world literature was thriving in the South, unsettling any easy generalization about red states and blue. 
The popularity of world literature in the South was so surprising to me -- and to pretty much everyone I have talked to -- that I decided to visit some of our adopters. When I asked them why their institutions were so invested in world literature, they explained that while many coastal elite universities had given up on Great Books courses during the canon wars, the more conservative southern colleges had held onto them. But gradually those institutions transformed what originally would have been Western literature courses into world literature courses. (This account dovetailed with another result from the surveys: a separate anthology of Western literature was losing adopters, and we have since decided to phase it out).
More than fiction:
The interests of students in the South also dovetail with another feature of world literature: the importance of religious texts. Our current understanding of literature as fiction is recent. Anthologies of world literature, which cover 4,000 years, use a much wider definition -- namely, significant writing, including religious, philosophical and political texts. The Buddha and Socrates are as important as Virgil or Shakespeare.
H/t Jonathan Goodwin:

A touch of red


The problem of state capacity in India

Lant Pritchett famously labelled India a flailing state—one where “the head, that is the elite institutions at the national (and in some states) level remain sound and functional but that this head is no longer reliably connected via nerves and sinews to its own limbs.”

Pritchett’s diagnosis of the Indian malady has been interpreted by many scholars as a problem of institutional manpower and institutional design. There is a new revival of discussions on state capacity to execute plans, and a new focus on redesigning and staffing public institutions. [...] This problem of state capacity has an element of truth and urgency. Almost all of India’s governance problems can find links to the lack of manpower in state services. [...] 
This crisis in state capacity cannot be solved anytime soon. Though India’s population, especially the youth, should be in line for these jobs, there are two major problems. First is the old problem of state budgets. India has a very small tax base, with a minuscule fraction of its citizens paying income tax. There needs to be a reduction in government spending in other areas and an increase in revenue to support the much needed manpower. Second, the Indian workforce is not skilled enough to be recruited for these jobs.
However, perhaps the state can be trimmed back:
An alternative interpretation of Pritchett’s famous diagnosis is that with flailing limbs, perhaps the head can issue fewer commands, and engage in fewer actions. Essentially, both streamlining and shrinking the ambit of the regulatory state to a size that can actually be effectively enforced. The size of the Indian state in terms of its manpower may be small, but its size in terms of regulation is gigantic, and most of this regulation is either unenforced, or selectively and perniciously enforced.

Sometimes seeing is hearing

Heather Murphy in the NYTimes:
This week, in an improbable turn of events, the sound of silence went viral.

An animated GIF showing an electrical tower jumping rope over delightfully bendy power lines began to spread. The frenzy started when Lisa Debruine, a researcher at the Institute of Neuroscience and Psychology at the University of Glasgow, posed this question:

When she asked Twitter users in an unscientific survey whether they could hear the image — which actually lacks sound, like most animated GIFs — nearly 70 percent who responded said they could.

Once you “heard” it, it was hard not to start noticing that other GIFs also seemed to be making noise — as if the bouncing pylon had somehow jacked up the volume on a cacophonous orchestra few had noticed before.
It turns out that this phenomenon has ha name, visual-evoked auditory response or visual EAR, and has been under investigation:
The ability to “vEAR” is not limited to scenes where one would expect to hear a noise, they say. One lab study found that more than 20 percent of people could hear flashing lights in silent videos. A range of motions, abstract patterns and even colors evoke sound for some.

The act of hearing a visual highlights the trippy fact that our senses do not operate the way we often assume, with crisp boundaries between them. Smelling, hearing and tasting all “speak to each other and influence each other, so little things like the color of the plate you’re eating on can influence how food tastes,” said Mr. Fassnidge.
We know, in general, that our senses are constantly involved in predicting or "guestimating" what's next. In the case of vEARing the guestimation crosses sensory borders so that we hear where there is, in fact, no sound, but there should/could be.
Using electrical brain stimulation, we have also found tentative signs that visual and auditory brain areas cooperate more in people with vEAR, while they tend to compete with each other, in non-vEAR people,” Dr. Freeman said in an email. “So people who claim to hear visual motion have brains that seem to work slightly differently.”

Individuals with frequent or advanced vEARing may have a form of “synesthesia,” a neurological phenomenon in which one sense feeds into another, he said. In other types of synesthesia, sounds might be linked to colors or words with tastes.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Green and white (to complement with the blue below)



From distant reading to computational criticism: Canon/Archive @ 3QD [#DH]


As far as I can tell literary studies will remain committed to pre-computational intellectual formations for the foreseeable future and will do so from a position of quasi-aristocratic superiority over crass calculation, of which it will remain fitfully ignorant.

One might say that my participation in the academic blogosphere is framed, for the moment, by engagement with the work of Franco Moretti. It began with a so-called book event at The Valve, a now dormant group blog I joined late in 2005. Jonathan Goodwin had organized an online symposium about Moretti’s Graphs, Maps, Trees. It went live on the web on January 2, 2006 and had contributions by 15 people. Eight of us were Valve contributors: John Holbo, Ray Davis, Matt Greenfield, Amardeep Singh, Adam Roberts, Bill Benzon, Jonathan Goodwin, and Sean McCann. There were guest appearances by seven: Franco Moretti, Matthew Kirschenbaum, Timothy Burke, Eric Hayot, Steven Berlin Johnson, Jenny Davidson, and Cosma Shalizi.

I have no idea how many people contributed comments to those discussions, which unfolded over a period of three weeks. Most, but not all of these authors held academic posts (I did not). Two, I believe, did not have doctorates. The contributors came from all over the place and I wouldn’t hazard a guess about their backgrounds. Some were academics, I’m sure, and some where not. The symposium eventually became (self-published) book: Jonathan Goodwin and John Holbo, eds. <i>Reading Graphs, Maps, and Trees: Responses to Franco Moretti (Glassbead Books 2009).

That was over a decade ago. It was a collective event that took place outside the ordinary confines of the academic world – my use of confines is, of course, quite deliberate.

At the time Moretti was talking about distant reading. He had not yet become involved with computing and, necessarily, with people who know how to program then. He formed the Stanford Literary Lab in 2010 with Matthew Jockers, who had computer skills that he did not. The Lab issued its first pamphlet in, I believe, January of 2011: Quantitative Formalism: an Experiment. It was signed by Moretti and four others: Sarah Allison, Ryan Heuser, Matthew Jockers, and Michael Witmore. The most recent pamphlet, no. 16, was issued in November of this year: Totentanz. Operationalizing Aby Warburg’s Pathosformeln, by Leonardo Impett and Franco Moretti.

That first pamphlet had been submitted to a prestigious journal but was turned down in terms that suggested that the intellectual method itself was being rejected, not just that particular argument. And so the group decided to sidestep the world of formal academic publication and publish its work in the form of stand-alone pamphlets. This is common enough in technical disciplines, where work will be published in the form of technical reports – though that work will sometimes/often then by published in journal form as well; but it was unheard of in the humanities.

My point, then, is that the literary lab has worked at the edge of the academic world. It is located at a prestigious university, and its pamphlets bear the imprimatur of that university. But they do not exist in the world of formal academic publication.

Moretti, who is now retired from Stanford, and the lab have now gathered eleven of those pamphlets into a book:
Canon/Archive: Studies in Quantitative Formalism by Franco Moretti (Author, Editor), Mark Algee-Hewitt, Sarah Allison, Marissa Gemma, Ryan Heuser, Matthew Jockers, Holst Katsma, Long Le-Khac, Dominique Pestre, Erik Steiner, Amir Tevel, Hannah Walser, Michael Witmore, and Irena Yamboliev, published by n+1.
Note the term, quantitative formalism. Moretti now refers to this approach as computational criticism rather than distant reading, though some in the field use the latter term.

I have written an essay/review about the book and published it in 3 Quarks Daily, December 11, 2017, which is not an academic journal: Moretti and the Stanford Literary Lab: Computational criticism in two senses and the prospect of a new approach to literary studies.

The epigraph to this post is the final sentence of that essay/review.

Will the future of literary studies unfold outside departments of literature and their associated societies and journals?

More later.

"To the moon", Trump said, "and then Mars"

I don't quite know what I think of this (NYTimes):
WASHINGTON — At a time when China is working on an ambitious lunar program, President Donald Trump vowed on Monday that the United States will remain the leader in space exploration as he began a process to return Americans to the moon.

"We are the leader and we're going to stay the leader, and we're going to increase it many fold," Trump said in signing "Space Policy Directive 1" that establishes a foundation for a mission to the moon with an eye on going to Mars.

"This time, we will not only plant our flag and leave our footprint, we will establish a foundation for an eventual mission to Mars," Trump said. "And perhaps, someday, to many worlds beyond."

Back in June, China's space official said the country was making “preliminary” preparations to send a man to the moon, the latest goal in China’s ambitious lunar exploration program.

Trump's signing ceremony for the directive included former lunar astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Harrison Schmitt and current astronaut Peggy Whitson, whose 665 days in orbit is more time in space than any other American and any other woman worldwide. [...]

"And space has so much to do with so many other applications, including a military application," he said without elaboration.
The militarization of space? No. Though obviously that's already started with spy satellites in earth orbit.

Space exploration is expensive, and Trump wants to give a big fat tax break to his wealthy buddies. No.

And space ought to belong to all humankind and not be the object of nationalist competition. 

Still, tentatively, Yes.

Gateway (Manhattan in the deep distance)


Monday, December 11, 2017

Neuroscience Needs Behavior, and literary behavior is among the richest there is

Not only that, but it leaves records of its unfolding in the form of texts. Our task is to "reverse engineer" the activity by analyzing the texts. Something more easily said than done. My most recent attempt: Calculating meaning in " Kubla Khan " – a rough cut (Version 2).

* * * * *

 2017 Feb 8;93(3):480-490. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2016.12.041.

Neuroscience Needs Behavior: Correcting a Reductionist Bias.


There are ever more compelling tools available for neuroscience research, ranging from selective genetic targeting to optogenetic circuit control to mapping whole connectomes. These approaches are coupled with a deep-seated, often tacit, belief in the reductionist program for understanding the link between the brain and behavior. The aim of this program is causal explanation through neural manipulations that allow testing of necessity and sufficiency claims. We argue, however, that another equally important approach seeks an alternative form of understanding through careful theoretical and experimental decomposition of behavior. Specifically, the detailed analysis of tasks and of the behavior they elicit is best suited for discovering component processes and their underlying algorithms. In most cases, we argue that study of the neural implementation of behavior is best investigated after such behavioral work. Thus, we advocate a more pluralistic notion of neuroscience when it comes to the brain-behavior relationship: behavioral work provides understanding, whereas neural interventions test causality.

* * * * *

In my 1978 dissertation, Cognitive Science and Literary Theory, I asserted that the project of cognitive science was to investigate a five-way correspondence between: 1) neuroanatomy (micro and macro), 2) behavior, 3) computation 4) ontogeny, and 5) phylogeny. Of course, that's not so much cognitive science as it is psychology, and I knew it at the time.

Dead leaves rainbow for a Monday

20171210-P1140772 HiSat VP

20171210-P1140772 HiSat B

20171210-P1140772 HiSat G

20171210-P1140772 HiSat Y

20171210-P1140772 HiSat Or

20171210-P1140772 HiSat R

Touching males

Andrew Reiner, "The Power of Touch, Especially for Men", New York Times:
Of course, it would not be surprising if recent allegations of sexual assault by public figures make people even more skittish about initiating or receiving physical contact.

Indeed, many men self-police their hands around each other. In younger men this manifests in the ubiquitous “No homo!” response if they accidentally touch another guy, and in older men it translates into the same awkward discomfort (read: fear) that I, and many men, experience when faced with reaching out to another male, even an intimate. Yet these reactions are a relatively modern phenomena. Men shared the same bed with strangers in early American taverns, and scholarship is unearthing letters — including ones from Abraham Lincoln — revealing how men sometimes nurtured same-sex friendships that were more emotionally and physically intimate in nonsexual ways than the relationships they shared with women. Some 19th-century tintypes, such as those collected in the book “Bosom Buddies: A Photo History of Male Affection,” illustrate this.

The psychologist Ofer Zur notes that for most 20th- and 21st-century American men, physical contact is restricted to violence or sex. As the sociologist Michael Kimmel, who studies masculinity, said in an email, touch between straight men can occur only when physical contact “magically loses its association with homosexuality” — as happens in sports.

The fear that girds the lack of platonic touch among American men also fuels the destructive force of their hands, a 2002 study in the journal Adolescence found. Dr. Field was the lead author of the study, which looked at 49 cultures. “The cultures that exhibited minimal physical affection toward their young children had significantly higher rates of adult violence,” she said. But “those cultures that showed significant amounts of physical affection toward their young children had virtually no adult violence.”
See my old post, Bleg: When Did Male Friendship Lose Its Warmth?

Is America too large and diverse for effective governance?

Ross Douthat in the NYTimes, "The Baker and the Empire":
The United States has the rules of a democratic republic but, increasingly, the cultural divisions of a sprawling Old World empire. We are governed by a Constitution, by the power of national majorities (or minorities with good luck in the Electoral College), and our laws are basically uniform across the land. But the scale and diversity of our country is vast and wild, encompassing immigrants from every part of the world and a native population riven by racial divisions, ideological wars, and a widening religious chasm.

Democratic life requires accepting that your own faction may be out of power roughly half the time. But in a culture this diverse and divided we trust our fellow citizens less, we share less with them, and we fear that any political defeat will leave our communities at their mercy, that if we lose power we will be routed and destroyed.

Meanwhile because we are so distant from our rivals, we cannot recognize that they share the same fears about what will happen if power is in our hands — or else we dismiss those fears as the pleadings of a wicked claque whose destruction is entirely merited.

As a conservative Catholic who works in a liberal milieu, I watched this happen after Obergefell v. Hodges. For its opponents, the same-sex marriage ruling was less frightening for what it did than for what they feared might follow: not just legal same-sex nuptials, but a sweeping legal campaign against the sexual revolution’s dissidents, in which conservative believers would be prodded out of various occupations, while their schools and hospitals and charities would be fined and taxes and regulated and de-accredited to death.

And liberals who felt ascendant in the Obama years simply couldn’t accept this fear as something to be managed and assuaged; to them, it was either ridiculous alarmism or a cloak for bigotry. [...]

This kind of cycle of incomprehension and aggression tends to destroy republics if it isn’t broken, if leaders can’t compromise ideological principles to maintain civic peace, if partisans can’t imagine how the world looks in communities vastly different from their own.