MEGATRENDS: Food for thought    
 Food for thought0 comments

Make the soundbite, no worse than a bark…

Call it the FOOD “for thought” NETWORK

Subtexting requires you to make explicit the less obvious message in some piece of communication. Any piece of "normal" writing, the more functional the more straightforwardly so, must depend upon many layers of laws, customs, rules, and the many implicit stylebooks of behavior that we internalize growing up in our particular culture. All of those layers together make up the subtext of what you read. A news article? An editorial? A paragraph introducing you to a university or describing a policy or attracting you to a major? A personal letter? Any of these, and a thousand more, were you to read them as closely as a poem, would yield up the sedimentary layers of preceding "texts" on which they depend.

And that's your job. Look over a handful of texts you have in college catalogs, news magazines, publicity flyers, whatever. Each of them invites you to "become" the product of those sedimentary layers as inflected by the surface paragraphs in front of you. Choose between an interlinear layout (alternating, perhaps in different alignment or typeface, its words and your translation) and a two column layout (theirs and yours). By allusion, paraphrase, or translation, give voice to the hidden subtext underneath the surface of the text you're reading.

When a paragraph says, "Those who want to succeed in life choose their college and major with great care," what is it really saying? That you're likely to fail if you don't do as you're told? That only College X can give you what will overcome your inadequacies? That only success matters in our society? That the only model of "success" that counts is a high-paying professional-managerial job? That most majors are B.S. unless they are practical stepping stones to a particular kind of "good job"? That people who wait too long to "want" this kind of career are doomed to McDonald's? What else?

It's amazing how voluminous a subtext comes in with the daily messages we read. Choose one and "subtext" it. A paragraph or two should do it: what matters is the ingenuity with which you unpack all the "hidden" messages riding in underneath the literal content of your source.

This assignment helps attune you to the subliminal effects of the language being used on you like pruning shears of the spirit. Any text will render up its subtext once you no longer simply consume its surface like the Gingerbread house, but try to figure out the witch inside.

Trumping Binaries

Trumping Binaries. One of the classic moves in our daily cultural logic is the binary: the pair of terms that between them judges, apprehends, understands the World. Right and Wrong. Good and Bad. Perceptive and Dull. Western and Oriental. New and Old. Innovative and Imitative. Practical and Impractical. Patriotic and Treasonous. North and South. Urban and Rural. Sophisticated and Naive. Political and Nonpolitical. Left and Right. Human and animal. Animal and plant. Life and Death. Spiritual and Material. Body and Mind.

The list goes on, the pattern remains: cut the world in half, define who gets in and who doesn't, make it clear that one half is better than the other. The more you think about these binaries (pairs of terms), the more unfair they become. In fact, few things are one or the other; the definition of such labels is highly loaded; the obvious value judgments in a label often smuggle in less obvious cultural prejudices; the more ways you look at a thing, the better you understand it. Binaries come to seem like a way of controlling others than of understanding things. In fact, some recent thought has targeted binary thought as one of the most persistent patterns of power in our culture, noting how the categories arise in co-dependency upon one another and create the scale they pretend to find out there. Erase the binary, and you don't even have the continuum between its extremes: you have a multiple, polymorphous, multifarious reality instead. Erase the binary, and reality becomes an open mound of clay rather than prefabricated givens. Get it?

In card games, you "trump" somebody's card when you take the trick by stepping outside the suit that's been led and playing a card from a "higher" suit. Clever debaters "trump" an opponent by stepping outside the opponent's way of describing a situation, trashing its logical terms and producing a "better" way to think through an issue.

Your job is to take a pair of binary terms--it's good to choose a pair that irritate you, or a pair that you deeply believe in--and tie them to a specific representative case through which you "trump" the binaries. You show how woefully inadequate they are for thinking about your case history: how badly they mislead someone trying to be smart about your case, how drastically they simplify its complexities and hide what's really important to think about, how insidiously they control us by pretending to reveal the whole truth and nothing but that truth and by reshaping that case until it "proves" their own worldview. In other words, you erase the binary and discover a multiple, polymorphous, multifarious reality.

With Western and Oriental, for example, we tend to imagine the "Oriental" as everything the West is not. If the West is practical, the Oriental is spiritual; if the West is the most mature expression of the human spirit, the Oriental is somehow its ancient grandparent (endearing, perhaps, but quaint and outmoded). If the West is Reason, the Oriental is Om. If the West is Technology, the Oriental is Meditation, or Art, or something suitably nontechnological. If the West is Democratic, the Oriental is Despotic. See what happens? The West is made into a one-thing rather than showing up in all its diversity; the Oriental is made into a one-thing as well, but not its own one-thing: it becomes the opposite of however the West happens to be thinking about itself when it constructs the binary. To show you this, I might talk about some paragraphs of a history book that make use of the binary in order to "explain" why the West "naturally" dominated the Orient for varying periods of time beginning in the 18th century. I'd need the specifics of my case history in order to illustrate my points, fuel my inferences past the most obvious surface version of the topic, and show you just how this binary opposition serves cultural imperialism.

Get it? Do something interesting.

This project is all about discovering how much richer reality is than any set of terms within which we try to limit the worlds of human experience.

Interlinear Writing

No writer is entirely original. All of us take inspiration from writing we admire, that sticks in our minds, that we read and then think, "I've got to try that." That's what Interlinear Writing is about. Find a piece of writing that you admire. Poems work especially well for this, but only because they're shorter than stories and the page layout is easier. A great paragraph or two from a prose writer could work as well. For a great example, look at Rob Wittig's website which has a piece called "Orchid Bridge." It's based on an old Chinese poem in translation, against which he plays his own lines on a similar subject (EAT ME!)). You can see how the Chinese master has stimulated Rob to structure his late twentieth-century experience in sequence, mood, even detail, while not stifling Rob with anything like a sense of painting by numbers.

If you don't have web access, Rob double spaces his Chinese source, then writes his own poem between the lines, following his model pulse by pulse. It's ok to vary line to line from just substituting words fitting your content to shifting syntax completely in order to adapt the feel of your source text to the new content you are writing about. You will find it interesting to watch yourself prompted to remember details you would have left out, just to fill in the blanks. Thoughts, emotions, shifts of perspective and understanding, all can be triggered by following in the footsteps of your own chosen writing master.

This project makes explicit what all writers work through as they internalize models from work they admire and slowly synthesize their own voice(s) over their years of daily practice. It's easy to feel that poets must be geniuses and we must be dopes just because we never have some magical experience called inspiration. This project won't make you a poet overnight, but it may demystify "inspiration." "Inspired, original poetry" is the result of imitations that have hidden their tracks, crossed lines with other styles similarly imitated, and emerged as the composite we like to call Genius. There's a lot of hard work and patient craftsmanship behind "genius." Try it: you'll astonish yourself.

Yogic Writing

Yoga is a discipline of exercise and meditation that restores flexibility where there was stiffness, fluidity where there was blockage. Yogic writing must do the same to merit the name...

Think for a moment about the character of flexibility, fluidity, flows connecting or crossing, flowing on; think of Being as a river, flowing, gradually loosening your western sense of separate entities that are essentially fixed, defined. To try a bit of yogic writing, you'll want to find some thing reasonably familiar to you that you can shift from its usual metaphors of solidity to this other cluster of fluid metaphors. "A man's home is his castle," we often hear. But what if a home is a river and a (wo)man is a bucket of water? Our theories of interpreting art typically refer to an art object, a thing of solidity and fixedness, and then worry about whether the right interpretation is being reached. What if a work of art is a current in a river, and we, its interpreters, are a stream feeding into that river at some point in its course from the mountains to the sea? That changes things a bit, doesn't it? You wouldn't expect a fluid "person" to achieve a fixed interpretation of a thing that is changing. A pre-Socratic philosopher named Heraclites posed the famous maxim that you can never step twice into the same river; but what does this metaphor about change come to mean if we consider the bank also fluid, if at a different speed, and we ourselves also fluid?

And so it goes in our usual metaphors: are you grounded? Have your head together? Have a solid grasp of this? Gotten to the kernel of the issue? All our metaphors for knowing, understanding, and being belong to the same class of metaphors.

See if you can compose a 250-word meditation in which you surprise yourself: work out the difference it makes when our usual metaphor of your subject matter changes from solid to liquid. How does your attitude or your understanding of your subject change if you portray its inner nature as fluidity? Or your own nature? Or the context in which you encounter your subject?

This project encourages you to discover that metaphors bring whole nests of assumption with them, whole stories about how things are. Changing metaphors at the root level of your conceptual map of the world changes the world as you know it.

There is neither a first word nor a last word. The contexts of dialogue are without limit. They extend into the deepest past and the most distant future. Even meanings born in dialogues of the remotest past will never be finally grasped once and for all, for they will always be renewed in later dialogue. At any present moment of the dialogue there are great masses of forgotten meanings, but these will be recalled again and again at a given moment in the dialogue's later course when it will be given new life. For nothing is absolutely dead: every meaning will some day have its homecoming festival. (Bhaktin 1979, 170)

What We Write and Why

Michael Benton, Alan Clinton, Davin Heckman, Subhash Jaireth, Marc Ouellette, and Matthew Wolf-Meyer

There is neither a first word nor a last word. The contexts of dialogue are without limit. They extend into the deepest past and the most distant future. Even meanings born in dialogues of the remotest past will never be finally grasped once and for all, for they will always be renewed in later dialogue. At any present moment of the dialogue there are great masses of forgotten meanings, but these will be recalled again and again at a given moment in the dialogue's later course when it will be given new life. For nothing is absolutely dead: every meaning will some day have its homecoming festival. (Bhaktin 1979, 170)

I/WE: respons(e)/ibility

The disobedient reader as writer is no longer a shadow on the text, but rather makes the text a shadow of her own (Walker 1995, 11).

<1> To ask why we write is also to ask why we read. The pragmatic answer is "to find proof" -- to find proof of like-minded thinkers, to find support for our own arguments, to discover that we are not alone in our thinking, our assumptions and problems. The transcendental answer is "to educate" -- to inspire our own thinking, to see new realities, to uplift ourselves through another writer's use of language. And the middle road: "Because there is a need."

<2> Why do we write what we write? I think the word "we" needs to be replaced by "I" because writing is ultimately a personal quest, although it is also true that all writing is culturally situated in the sense that I/we don't write in a vacuum, and that language which I deploy to write is already given to me/us; to say "I" is to imply "we" and vice versa -- we are always already writing assemblages.

<3> Because of my life experiences I sense that "reality," "truth," and "knowledge" are socially constructed and reflect power structures. At the same time I retain a humanist belief in an individual's abilities to seek out particular truths. I believe, though, that critical consciousness requires one to weigh their own beliefs and challenge them constantly through interaction and dialogue with other theories and belief systems. I still retain a Romanticized belief in the power of intellectual efforts peppered with an existential pessimism concerning the motives of those who have the power to re-present the resulting "truths" and "reality."

<4> There are three words that can be invoked to illuminate the urge that compels me to write. The first word is respons(e)/ibility. It seems that I, like many others who write, situate myself within Socratic tradition according to which our place is also in the Agora and the bazaar, the places from and in which we can participate in the "great" symposium of humanity. By doing this we become the constituents and the constitutors of the public sphere, one of the important features of which -- that which sustains it as public sphere, to borrow Habermas's words -- is democratic and social communication. One of the essential conditions to maintain such communication is to feel responsible to respond, hence the word respons(e)/ibility. I feel responsible to respond to utterances, speaking(s), writing(s) and acting(s) by other participants. The need of a meaningful communication asks from me, to paraphrase one of Bakhtin's central themes, not only to listen and read but also to speak and write. By adding my voice to the cacophony of voices I try to unsettle the power/knowledge relations that operate within [dominate] the public sphere.

Trans/Pan: translation

Writing is [or can be] a transgression of boundaries, an exploration of new territory. It involves making public the events of our lives, wriggling free of the constraints of purely private and individual experiences. From a state of modest insignificance we enter a space in which we can take ourselves seriously. As an alternative to accepting everyday events mindlessly, we recall them in writing. (Haug 1987, 36)

<5> I write to be human. Learning from Lacan and Derrida, I know that words are never perfect, but all the same there is a kernel of usefulness that enables me to connect with someone else. Whether or not I am doomed through the secular sin of a break with the origin, there persists the desire for community, which enlists perceived similarities for the negotiation of difference -- a return to unity. It is this Burkean notion of rhetoric, which is necessitated by unintelligibility but activated by intelligibility, which animates the spaces of everyday life. The contact between the ambiguous and the unambiguous generates the tactics and practices of making do, which preserves the agency of human existence. Far from the "humanist" prescriptions of the modern era, there is an equally humanist subtext which escapes power in all its forms (science, law, force, rationality) -- a practice of everyday life which is compromised, mobile, mutable -- but always made sane by the desire to love, to build community, to communicate the truth.

<6> The best way to gain the requisite self-awareness of one's own beliefs is to write about them. Once one has gained a conscious understanding of their self (and this must be the first step) then they can begin to use this base as a launching pad to written explorations of the outer-world of "other" individuals, groups, and cultures.

<7> The second word is translation, understood both as "rendering" and "movement." Each time I write, I find myself translating (rendering, moving to and fro) some one else's ideas, concepts, thoughts, and images (the already written, read and seen) into my ideas and images. To a large extent this is because I am confronted with the given-ness of verbal and non-verbal languages. I continually move between langue and parole, between the oral and the written, and vice versa. I continually traverse the routes from the visible (the seen and the shown) to the verbal and vice versa. As if, to use de Certeau's image, I walk and talk at the same time, as if talking/writing would always take me to other places. But writing as translation also tells me that each event of translation is associated with a certain degree of refraction. Like rays of light, ideas, images and thoughts bend, get refracted, change their trajectory. It is, as if, however careful one may not be when one pours water from one jar to another some of it is always spilt.

<8> As a way of mediating between familiar and unfamiliar, writing, in the broadest sense of the word, is an issue of ethical responsibility. It is communication and the context for its reception that generates peace and builds understanding. Learning to communicate, then, is a moral practice that calls writers to approach the truth of clear and honest communication in the most practical sense of the word, even if it is difficult to understand.

<9> It is essential that students, instructors, and theorists resist the pigeonholing process of dogmatic thinking and learn to range across all boundaries/borders, raiding disciplines/movements for useful techniques, using what is at hand when needed, and never fearing (loss of "face," respect, position) to change one's mind when situations and environments prove the present methods inadequate. Perhaps this pedagogical/theoretical parasitism is antithetic to academia? But this stance, this philosophy of writing, is essentially a call for new modes of meaning-making and transdisciplinary sharing in order to track a constantly changing and complex era.

<10> Writing is teaching, reading an education. The best writers are not those who have to prove a point (how good of a writer he or she is), but rather those who can enlighten a reader. The best writers are those who see beyond themselves, see beyond their success, and can perceive the success of their students, of their readers. No writing should be done for the pure satisfaction of the author (although this should not discredit writing); writing should always be done for the satisfaction of a nebulous audience - whoever the author decides it should be. And it should be written to bring out the best in -- to educate -- that audience, to inspire them to think, to change, to write. If the world writes, and if the world reads, maybe we can make use of the Information Age after all...

Return: reflexive

Art is not a mirror held up to reality, but a hammer with which to shape it.
---Bertolt Brecht.

I'm just looking for one divine hammer … I'll bang it all day long.
---Breeders "Divine Hammer" (1993).

<11> Oftentimes we repress our motives to such an extent -- for reasons of efficiency, self-protection, or otherwise -- that they become completely invisible to us. We may even consider "motivation" beside the point and, denying our own crimes, something only applicable to criminals. In the case of professional activities, we may delegate motivational responsibility to the profession itself -- the scientific method, the Hippocratic oath, the Grand Directive. If Nietzsche is to be believed, however, all of our activities can be interpreted as confessions, as "unacknowledged autobiography." Whether or not this is true in all cases, it would seem a fruitful exercise to take Nietzsche at his word, to look for the confessional elements in our most impersonal-seeming endeavors. <12> The third word is reflexive. Metaphorically it means to be able to carry a mirror that would make the bearer aware of the world behind him/her, the cultural and cognitive topography of one's location, which on the one hand helps one to say what she/he want to say but simultaneously limits what can be said. It also means that one is always interrogating his/her own project. This interrogation of what one has written and is in the process of writing doesn't have to be outside the writing. The writing, the text, has to make the reader conscious of this reflexive, the sideways, glance by foregrounding it. Preference, then, should be for writing that reflects the anxiety, the tension and the unsettledness of writing.

<13> Too often academics, especially in the Humanities, receive criticism for being insulated from and even disinterested in the so-called "real world." Saying "I don't know" cannot and should not be a sign of ignorance or weakness. Yet many of us live in fear of being "exposed." Every semester I see posters and receive emails for workshops promising to help instructors overcome "imposter syndrome" in the classroom. The self-help mantra of afternoon Talk TV meets academia albeit in the wrong direction. In the Humanities we have to try to prove the validity and the applicability of the seemingly esoteric work we do. Even Northrop Frye spent most of his career trying to elevate (the study of) literature to the level of a sacrament so that it stopped being a frivolous pursuit. In many jurisdictions there is an ongoing war on teaching, especially at the secondary and post-secondary levels. Teachers and professors are portrayed as lacking in ambition or usefulness. The credibility of educators is constantly compromised by budget-cutting beancounters who see tenure as the refuge of the inept. Understandably, teachers feel threatened when confronted with the prospect of what they do not know. Admitting that one does not know is admitting that "those who can't do, teach." Educators have been facing this cheap slight for years, but we must face the reality that even academics work in a world which measures respect in dollars and cents -- i.e., my research grant is bigger than your research grant, my publications are more prestigious than yours, etc. <14> Looking over what's been written, note that the writing grows progressively more interesting in its exactness and less useful to a general audience, for no one who is reading this journal is able to live our childhoods, nor can we live each other's. It is the dilemma of fascination, what Lacan noted of his seminar on "The Purloined Letter": "For I often say to you very difficult things, and I see you hanging on every word, and I learn later that you did not understand. On the other hand, when one tells you simple things, almost too familiar, you are less attentive. I just make this remark in passing, which has its interest like any concrete observation. I leave it for your meditation." And I do the same.

The cutting room floor:

<15> With my own students I try to maintain the balance of being intellectually challenging with being personally approachable. For me, this is related to the balance between theory and practice, but it all goes back to the basic concept of admitting what I do not know rather than showing off what I do know. A past course I worked on had two main themes: the relationship between mass culture and popular culture and the relationship between resistance and hegemony. Ultimately, these relationships boil down to one: the need to be an individual vs. the need to belong. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer summarizes the paradox perfectly when his friend Hermie, the elf dentist, explains the concept of independence to the young buck. Rudolph responds, "Let's be independent together!" I see this as the ruling paradox of popular culture, but that doesn't solve anything. Recognizing this much is just being clever about being clever. What I want to know, and probably won't ever know, is when, how, and why does a learned behavior, like the paradox of independence, become an instinctive response.

<16> Every user of language has to negotiate its given-ness to satisfy the contingencies of our projects.

Also, I think it has to do with being part of the TV generation, and as a group we were much more visually literate in a certain kind of way than the previous generation, not necessarily in terms of quality, but certainly in terms of quantity. And that sort of sheer mass of data required a different sense of the politics of seeing, and for the people I know, I think the politics of seeing is a more key issue than the art of vision. (Wees 1993, 90-91)

Works Cited

Bakhtin, M.M. (1986) "Methodology for the Human Sciences," Speech Genres and Other Late Essays, trans. Vern W. McGee, ed. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist. Austin: U of Texas Press.

Haug, Frigga, et al. (1987) "Memory-Work as Social Science Writing." Female Sexualization: A Collective Work of Memory. trans. Erica Carter. NY: Verso.

Walker, Nancy. (1995) The Disobedient Writer: Women and Narrative Tradition. Austin: University of Texas Press.

Wees, William C. (1993) Recycled Images: The Art and Politics of Found Footage Films. NY: Anthology Film Archives.

A Closer Look at Government

The vision we're usually given of how political power is manifest in our society typically runs something like this: government at the top, banking, industry, media and military, beneath, and the people beneath this. However, an independent examination of the development of modern political power is more likely to reveal the following arrangement: extended family banking groups at the top, government beneath, facilitating the wishes of this hierarchy, and the media beneath portraying the work of the government to the people as "democracy in action."

It can thus be seen that, in truth, most governments are little more than front organizations for the elite banking cartels. They interface with the public via the media, acting to facilitate social change in a manner that maintains relative social stability, while ensuring that our culture stays in line with any course the elite wish it to pursue. Western governments do not usually allow the public to actually pick who becomes their political representative, merely to choose between individuals selected by the party hierarchy. Neither do the public get to pick the policies the representative will pursue, this is also under the control of the party. To say that this system is open to abuse is a considerable understatement.


The creation of the United States of America represents the pinnacle of the elite's ambitions for world domination. America is, in essence, a prototype for world consumer culture. By encouraging a broad base of racial groups to settle and develop under their constant control, the banking families have been able to slowly direct the natural evolution of a form of social order that humans from any background can adapt to, without a significant number of them becoming sufficiently dissociated to actually take up arms and overthrow the system. This is aided by a highly repressive justice system and backed by the largest prison population on the planet. Now that the technological revolution has facilitated the expression of American cultural values across the world, America is, in effect, expanding until the 50 states actually encompass the whole globe in all but name. Our planet is slowly becoming America.

America is the ultimate control fantasy - consensual incarceration - whole groups of people slowly driven to believe that there exists no way of securely living together other than by the giving up of personal freedom bit by bit.


Total Control


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