A Song For Summer

Amber and myself on Greenlake today

Here is a song I recorded today to celebrate this first week of summer. You can just click the link to stream, or right click to download.

[mp3] Help Me Forget You

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Intertexuality!

Here again is another installment of “Scott is Too Lazy to Blog and Thus Will Paste His School Assignment Instead”

This week we are discussing intertextuality, or the way in which “all texts (films, plays, novels, anecdotes, or whatever) are made out of other texts” (Abbott 101). Here is my response paper (that I will admit was a bit rushed). Please leave comments for discussion!

Side note: a comic that seems suited for this post.

With the quick rise of digital communication and online information, imagining the intertextuality of all narratives is not difficult. As texts emerge in new technological forms (websites, blogs, wikis, e-books), notions of “borders” begin to dissolve. The argument is not that technology is bringing about this new intertextual landscape, but that it is now beginning to reflect the expansive “tapestry” of textuality that has been suppressed by the covers of books and magazines for centuries.

As Abbott points out, ideas of allusion and imitation have long been an active part of narrative discourses. Authors seek to imitate other authors or allude to great works; it is the effort to play a role in the “Great Conversation” of our culture. At times these allusions and imitations are quite intentional; if not noticed immediately in the work, authors or filmmakers often cite others as sources of inspiration. For example, one might have noticed Martin Scorsese’s homage to Stanley Kubrick in the opening scenes of his most recent film Shutter Island. A car winds its way up a hill to the sounds of dramatic classical soundtrack, calling to mind the opening scenes of Kubrick’s The Shining. These types of imitations often play with a culture’s recognition of popular works and serve to both acknowledge the genius of another and prepare the audience or readers with a foreshadow of what is to come.

This type of interplay has been a large part of narrative creation, but Abbott is going beyond this with Julia Kristeva’s concept of intertextuality. Kristeva argues all narratives are comprised of a “pre-existing cultural web of expressive forms” (101), and hence are a result of an “inescapable” link to other texts. While allusions and imitations are “skillful[ly] select[ed]” by the author, intertextuality takes away all intentionality from the “creator” of a narrative. This has several consequences for the interpretation of narrative by the reader. Intentional readings that assume a “single creative sensibility” are problematized by the notion that the text is not whole but rather a node in the larger plateau of information and meaning. Intentional readings limit interpretation to systematic speculation and biographical investigation. Symptomatic readings, however, acknowledge intertextuality and allow the reader the freedom to engage the text not as an autonomous entity but as an open-ended dialogue. These types of readings dissolve the traditional borders of a text and provide the space for engagement and deconstruction.

No where is this type of interpretation and narrative more evident than on the internet. One could argue that websites like Wikipedia or IMDB (or even the ITunes store) are narratives without borders that are connected (usually through hyperlinks) to an immense, unrestrained landscape of information. I have spent hours on Wikipedia by starting on one page and clicking through dozens of corresponding pages. I could easily begin with George Washington’s wiki and in a matter of minutes end up reading about Iranian psychedelic rock in the 1970’s. To strip a

A Sign of the End Times

text of its physicality is todissolve its autonomy. With the rise of e-books publishers are beginning to worry (among other things) about the loss of free-advertising when a reader no longer displays the cover of a book while reading in public. This illustrates the changing nature of the way we understand texts as independent physical works. Kristeva’s concept of intertextuality seems to be somewhat prophetic as technology is illuminating the way texts truly function.

In many ways technology is finally allowing the culture to do away with hierarchies of information. Despite the still-existing problem of information poverty and global access to the internet, the digital revolution is flattening out texts and allowing for factors other than economic vitality to determine the popularity and accessibility of information. With this new lens that advanced technology provides, we can finally begin to see the ways in which texts are always already engaged with and comprised of other texts. Western Enlightenment concepts of independence and individuality are quite irrelevant in this newly realized textual environment. Creativity has become the art of assembling.

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Politically Charged Post

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Masterplots!

In an effort to get myself blogging again, I’m posting here a short response paper for my Elements of Narrative class in which I was asked to ruminate on the idea of masterplots and the way they are utilized in all types of stories. A basic definition of masterplots: “stories that we [as a culture] tell over and over in myriad forms and that connect vitally with our deepest values, wishes, and fears” – H. Porter Abbott, The Cambridge Introduction to Narrative, 46.

Some examples? How about Cinderella? Or any story of an underprivileged youth pulling his or herself up from her bootstraps and making it in society? Both of these go to the heart of American values and are constantly employed in various narratives.

I chose to look at the way masterplots are used in the interpretation of news stories:

April 12, 2010
What is most fascinating about masterplots is the way in which they are utilized in day-to-day political and informational discourses. It is through these structures that we come to interpret even basic events. For example, today a story broke in the news about how Israel is enacting new provisions that could lead to the expulsion of thousands of Palestinians from the West Bank. The Arab-Israeli conflict has lasted so long that the narratives of both sides have been engrained into American cultural consciousness. The masterplot of colonialism and foreign occupation is evoked from the Palestinian side while the pro-Israeli narrative focuses on the past persecution of Jews and the need for security. Every ‘news’ story that comes out of this conflict seems to be interpreted through one of these masterplots. Concerning the story mentioned above, I found both narratives in play and contestation online.
While the story itself was represented somewhat objectively on CNN, the comments on the website highlight the tension between the two masterplots. One user writes, “This is what the Israelis need to do to protect their country. If the rocket attacks from Gaza and the West Bank would just stop, there would be peace.” This user, in the face of an event that seems to be an egregious violation of human rights, interprets the story through the masterplot of Israeli security and thus, in her mind, justifies the action. As Abbott writes, “[Masterplots] create an image of the world in which good and evil are clearly identifiable, and in which blame can fall squarely on one party or another” (48). The CNN user, by reading the story through her preconceived interpretations, has already distinguished the good and bad guy and quickly reverts to a masterplot in order to justify her viewpoint.
Illustrating the pro-Palestinian masterplot is a blog post by Juan Cole, who frames his interpretation through the colonizer-colonized story that became such a powerful masterplot throughout the twentieth century. He writes,
The Israeli right has long favored “transfer” (i.e. ethnic cleansing) as a means of dealing both with Palestinian-Israelis and with Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza…It is no cause for wonder that practical steps are now being taken toward expulsions and deportations of anyone who even peacefully opposes the government’s systematic colonization of the West Bank.
Here Cole utilizes not only the familiar colonial masterplot, but also a discourse of oppression that conjures up images of Nazi Germany (words like “cleansing” and “systematic”) and thus interprets the story through an even more powerful masterplot of Western culture: the

holocaust. By framing the news story in this way, Cole is attempting to rhetorically influence his readers into recognizing what he sees as the basic hypocrisy of the Israeli government as it seeks to gain security by inflicting the same wounds it faced only decades ago on another ethnic group. This Nazi masterplot (one of the more popular in our spectacle-driven political discourse) is also seen on the comments section of the previously mentioned CNN article.
I suppose this news story illustrates both the way in which masterplots are frequently wielded as a justification for ideology and the way opposing masterplots contend for the interpretation of ‘actual’ events. Abbott writes that “national culture is a complex weave of numerous, often conflicting, masterplots,” and this all too apparent in our basic sources of news and information.
One other aspect of masterplots that I’ve recently come across is the way that postmodern narratives gain their rhetorical power by deconstructing and subverting common masterplots. The novel White Castle by Orhan Pamuk for example, employs an Orientalist masterplot: white European is captured by Easterners and is enslaved for years only to return and write an account of his exotic adventures. The novel sets up this common story only to gradually dismantle it as the European comes to realize he is no different from a Turk, but is in fact the same. There is a purposeful absence of the exotic and other common oriental stereotypes and it is from this subversive lack that the true power of Pamuk’s narrative comes. So it seems masterplots can be useful for narratives either in the way they are employed or otherwise deconstructed and reemployed in a new way. In both instances, the rhetorical function of the masterplot comes from the way in which it is engrained in the collective memory of a given culture.

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I’m Writing This To Say…

I have not written since November, but I have plenty to say.
This quarter I’m taking a class on modern Middle Eastern history, and it has given me a whole new perspective on events from the past few decades that continue to play out today.
Most notably is the Arab-Israeli conflict in Palestine, an issue that has been in the periphery of my consciousness since I was a child. I have faint memories of young angry Palestinian faces, checkered scarves, and images of stone throwing on the television.
I always assumed Israel was the good guy. I read about them in the Bible; they were God’s chosen people.

Well, my perspective has shifted dramatically, although I could argue I never really had a perspective up to this point. I hope to write in depth about this issue soon as a means of sorting it out in my head (I never really believe anything until I write it out).

By the end of this quarter (next week) I will have read roughly 4500 pages of text over the past ten weeks. I am taking a European Lit course in which I have read Don Quixote, Joseph Andrews, Pride and Prejudice, Madame Bovary, War and Peace, The Plague, and a 1980 novel from nobel prize-winning french author J.M.G. Le Clezio, Desert (a book I might also write about at length).
I also read John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost, in all its glory (and ancient English spelling).
By next monday I will have written a 10-12 page paper on Tolstoy’s gender-ideals in War and Peace (8 pages done so far) and a 10-12 page paper on duality and balance in Paradise Lost (have…not…started…)
I also have a 6 page paper due friday for my history class on a small book called Palestinian Walks.

Oh, and I have four tests between now and monday as well.
And I might be teaching English abroad sometime in the next year.
And I applied for an internship at Sub Pop Records.

So hopefully this post serves as a justification for my lack of blogg-ness in the past few months. Even though I think there are only two people that check this blog, I write for myself mostly.

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Thoughts on Women and Pacifism

For my U.S. Women and Social Change class I am writing a 15 page research paper comparing the WWI Women’s pacifist movements to second-wave feminist pacifism in the 1980’s. I will be focusing primarily on the gender theories behind these two movements (although my teacher has reminded me to tie it back to some sort of social change).

It’s really quite interesting when you begin to study the rhetoric used in the early 20th century. The feminist pacifists of the time were coming out of the Progressive political ideology that emphasized social welfare and was in many ways a utopian vision. At the outbreak of WWI in Europe, women like Jane Addams (pictured right)–who was famous at the time for her social work–formed peace parties. The platform for Addams’ group (Women’s Peace Party) used gendered language (“nurturing peace”) that articulated Victorian gender ideals. Women were seen as virtuous, morally superior beings in contrast to the morally corrupt, yet naturally stronger men. Progressive women reformers, however, took ownership of this flattering (yet oppressive) social ideal and it turned it against their patriarchal society. If women are so morally upright, why are they not allowed to participate in the public sphere (i.e. politics)?

When war was declared in 1914, American progressives were absolutely astonished that (in Jane Addams’ words) such an “archaic institution” was still present in the world. In response, women pacifists wrote of the need for feminine traits in the government (specifically woman’s suffrage); Motherhood was needed in foreign policy. In the 19th century, these sort of ideas were described by feminist Elizabeth Cady Stanton:

The male element is a destructive force, stern, selfish, aggrandizing, loving war, conquest, acquisition, breeding … discord, disorder, disease, and death. (from Sara M. Evans’ Born for Liberty p. 171)

These gendered notions of war were picked up by the WWI pacifists, who in turn used them as a basis for arguing for suffrage. Based on idealistic progressive ideologies, suffragists of the time believed that women, should they gain representation, would put an end to barbaric (and exclusively masculine) warfare through the feminine nature of peace and reconciliation.

Of course, women gained suffrage in 1920, only to see the country fall into another horrific war 20 years later. But the essentialist belief in a woman’s propensity for peace did not die out. In the 1980’s, following a second wave of feminism in the 60’s and 70’s, new theories of peace and environmentalism began to again emphasize the inherent feminine traits that could contribute towards a better world. Feminist theorists like Sara Ruddick and Luce Irigaray criticized the overwhelming masculization of warfare and urged the immediate uplift of the feminine in an effort to find a new balance in global affairs. They found inspiration from the ideas of Jane Addams, embracing gender difference as the key element of social change.

Though less motivated by the progressive spirit, these feminists were strongly driven by the possibility of nuclear holocaust. Their cause was just as immediate and real as the pacifists during WWI. Irigaray argued on the nature of male/female sexuality. Male sexuality, she wrote, was cyclical and destructive; it mirrored and produced the overwhelming rise of militarism in the 20th century and was heading towards the inevitable orgasm (nuclear detonation). Only with the immediate insurgence of female sexuality could this be stopped.

Sara Ruddick similarly argued on gender difference in her book, “Maternal Thinking”. She advocated a “politics of peace” that included the voice of motherhood. Women, who are so intimately connected to life through the experience of childbirth, have an understanding of peace that men lack. The incorporation of this perspective into the public arena will surely contribute to peace in the world.

Similarities between the two movements are certainly noticeable. Nuclear warfare pushed the second-wave feminists towards a discourse of nature and earth, but essentialist notions of gender difference closely connect the two time periods.

The rise of postmodernism in the 1980’s, however, provided an alternative vision of gender and warfare that rejected these sort of essentialist-based arguments. In poststructuralism, dualities (male/female, war/peace) are rejected as human constructions that conveniently privilege one group or idea over another. Essentialist thinkers like Irigaray, argue many post-modern feminists, contribute to this dualistic notion, and actually provide impetus for more violence in the process. Furthermore, gender roles and ideals are seen by poststructuralists as 100% socially constructed. The idea that women are somehow inherently peaceful in comparison to men is not only false, but restrictive. As humans, we must all take responsibility for peace and justice. To incite gender conflict by these means is merely finger pointing and ultimately just as destructive as war itself.

These two polarized visions have been a contentious field of debate among feminists for the past few decades. Do we embrace and utilize gender difference? Or, are notions of gender difference culturally determined and destructive?

My own opinion lies somewhere in the middle. I believe most culturally accepted ideas of gender are socially constructed (history all but unanimously proves this), but remain open (but certainly not convinced) to the possibility of certain inherent gender differences.

I know its a lot, but any thoughts on the matter?


EDIT: I have located a blog that compiles about 160 photos from the 1983 Seneca Peace Encampment. This was a protest by women against nuclear weapons/warfare.

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This picture makes me so happy/excited.


Here is an article/video on Wes Anderson’s new stop-motion film, The Fantastic Mr. Fox.

very exciting.

that is all.

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