Book Updates

I updated my book in progress yesterday, uploading new versions of the introduction, chapter one, and chapter two. Read it here

My book, presently titled Culture in the Age of Networks. A Critical History takes on a seemingly impossible task (I am drawn to those, apparently): how to periodize the contemporary. During my education as a scholar, postmodernism was a topic of heady debate. If some of that debate was blather, it also helped us understand our milieu. Today, however, such discussions are all but non-existent. We do talk a great deal about the impact of technology or the economy, but in doing so, we compartmentalize discussion and debate to our detriment. This book sets out to understand the outlines of our culture as a whole. 

The introduction elaborates that argument in much more detail.

Chapter One "Time. History under Atemporality" addresses the question of atemporality, a matter that Bruce Sterling and I have bounced around between us in detail via our two blogs. It also serves to ratchet the book deeper into its methodological argument. Take a good look at it. As Bruce suggests in a talk on atemporality "This is a problem in the philosophy of history." Yes, that sounds onerous and I suppose it is, but we live in onerous times. 

Chapter Two "Space: Pervasive Simultaneity and the Financialization of Everyday Life" looks at the changes in space. For just as time is being called into question, so is space. Both modernity’s abstract, gridded space and postmodernity’s hyperspace are being overridden by the space of the network. This chapter looks at manifestations of network space, in particular, the spread of simultaneity from something that takes place in mass media to something that takes place in everyday life as well as the techniques of financialization that value space in new ways.

It’s a bit painful to watch my progress. I had hoped for a draft by the end of last year, then by the end of the summer. Now I’ve set my sights for the end of this year. It may still be possible. The first two chapters correspond to spring and summer of this year which suggests a completion date of December 2011, but Iam optimistic that it’s going to be much, much earlier. These were difficult chapters to write and involved me digging into a huge swath of information. Moreover, they set the scene for the book in ways that I hadn’t expected. I don’t pretend that the final four chapters won’t have surprises, but I think it likely that they will move considerably more rapidly, especially since I have drafted parts of them for other audiences (e.g. my essay for Turbulence’s Networked project forms the core of the poetics chapter). 

So today I’ll be sitting on my porch, working on the chapter on Publics. Since I’ve already drafted a bit of it, I’m about 1/4 of the way through already which is a considerable relief. So onwards … to try and get a handle on just what we mean by "networked publics."  

 

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forty years ago

Perhaps, forty years later, it is time to put the self-aggrandizing myth of 1968 to rest. Much as I’d like to believe that 1968 was a great moment for the Left, it was actually a point of closure, not of opening. 

Instead, when we think of 1968, for tonight at least, let’s think about not the rebellion of a hip generation coming of age but about a product of technology originated under the Nazis and finished by a government waging a Cold War. If the origins were bathed in innocent blood, the circumstances all wrong, the moment is still one of the greatest achievements of humanity.

Forty years ago the crew of Apollo 8, Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and William Anders, became the first men to fly around the moon. It was a feat of great audacity, the first manned flight of an Apollo capsule atop the mighty Saturn V stack, a Hondo Civic-sized capsule atop a structure taller than Lever House packed full of compressed explosives. On lift-off, the rocket produced more sound than any other man-made phenomenon save the Bomb. If its origins were in military technology, unlike any other manned rocket built, the Saturn V was effectively useless for military purposes (the Vostok rocket that launched Gagarin, the Redstone and Atlas that launched Mercury, the Titan that launched Gemini, the Proton which launched Soyuz were all derived from ICBMs and the Space Shuttle was envisioned as having a military role). The race for the moon may have been mad, but it was as good as madness could get. Instead of building bombs, we raced to the moon.

To the 68ers, the moon shots seemed ridiculous, what could such an expensive effort tell us about the problems of Earth, they asked?  

But, then, on December 22, 1968, the inhabitants of the Earth gazed back on it for the first time.

Below is the image of Earthrise, as taken by the Apollo 8 astronauts. Is there another image from the twentieth century as moving, as important? 

We realized ourselves, alone on a fragile blue sphere adrift in space together. Is it beyond imagination to think that without this photograph we would have blown ourselves up? All at once, during the darkest time of winter (for those of us in the Northern hemisphere) it became apparent that the world was one. Soon after the flight, Borman received a telegram, "You saved 1968." And perhaps a whole lot more.

Here’s to Apollo 8 and to all that was good about the space program. 

 

 

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