The Light We Carry With Us: Part IV

(Read Part III here.)

Don’t Call Me Post-Human

As I have attempted to mine the discourse of fear and loss surrounding an eschatological understanding of humanism, I’ve returned again and again to the idea that this fear has been the engine fueling our speculations surrounding a future in which the world may end, and that these speculations have leapt into focus particularly with the development of globalization. But to think the end of the world in this sense, we also have to consider what it means to be human or inhuman, superhuman or subhuman, or, as we now say with such liberality, post-human. As part of this exploration, I’ve been questioning the value of posts, and not one troubles me more than the use of such a prefix in this context. At the core of any useful definition of humanism is the belief that deep down, we’re all the same. The idea, however, of adding a prefix to the term implies that there is a whole range of experience and action that exists outside the scope of this definition. And somehow, applied to, say, you, the addition of the prefix doesn’t so much seem to imply that you’re out of the club, so much as that there was no club to begin with. The almost simultaneous declaration of the death of humanism and the birth of postmodernism in the last fifty years certainly supports the “no club” outlook. However, the concept of what it would mean to be post-human, in an ontological sense, and the assertion that we live in a “post-human present,” as Rosi Braidotti, in discussing Donna Haraway’s cyborgs, asserts (203), seems to me to be, as are so many posts-, unproductive and overly abstract at best, and at worst, potentially dangerous.

Speaking of the post-human present in an ontological sense is a risk because, in a biological sense, the post-human is far more than a vague concept or critical trend. As Nick Bostrom points out, the biologically post-human is one possible form of apocalypse involving human extinction, in which we don’t die out so much as evolve into something altogether different. Bostrom outlines the characteristics of a biological “post-human condition” as such:

  • Population greater than 1 trillion persons
  • Life expectancy greater than 500 years
  • Large fraction of the population has cognitive capacities more than two standard deviations above the current human maximum
  • Near-complete control over the sensory input, for the majority of people for most of the time
  • Human psychological suffering becoming rare occurrence
  • Any change of magnitude or profundity comparable to that of one of the above

It seems to me that if any of those critics touting the ontologically post-human present were thrust into the kind of future that Bostrom describes, they would not be so quick to label the experience or existence of 6 billion struggling, scrambling humanoids on the planet as something(s) post-. With the biologically post-human emerging as a sort of apocalyptic event, it is perhaps neither kind nor pragmatic to reject the idea of humanism in favor of post-humanism because it has been ill-defined or insufficiently helpful in the past. Post-humanism, as a useful term, can only be defined in an apocalyptic sense, as an end, and a loss of something instinctual, refined into a social agreement, which can, in a very loose sense, be called the human project. Our fear of the end of the world, and the constant playing out of this apocalypse or that in literature is, I believe, a product of the very basic fear of the project failing, in other words, of having to face the specter of becoming non- or post-human. Non-human in the sense of deceased, yes, but most significantly in the sense of transforming into something else, something less than we are now, and also, something less than what we could have been, or ought to have been. We human beings are tremendously afraid of failure, and always there is this fear that the future will catch us before we’ve really had a chance to succeed. In this sense, the fear is that we become post-human before we’ve had a chance to fully, as a global society, be human. To apply the term “post-human” or “post-humanist” in any other sense is, I believe, to do the project a disservice, and to risk its integrity in favor of what Jameson calls that “increasingly closed and terrifying machine” of totalizing critical analysis.

In the narratives I’ve explored throughout the course of this essay, the post-human moment came at the moment of, or after, the end, in which survival was defined by a choice to reject one’s humanity, or to lose it to unavoidable cataclysmic forces. Medea’s murder of her children, the burning of the Okie camps, the cannibal’s society of The Road—these are the post-human moments that we fear and that have driven our speculations surrounding the end ever since human beings grasped on to the idea of being in possession of something that could have an end. Human history can be defined as a litany of atrocities, but we could never have gotten this big or this hungry without a governing global narrative which doesn’t so much state as hope that we will succeed and not fail, live and not die, that we will be something, a thing perhaps ephemeral, perhaps unattainable, but ultimately worth striving towards, regardless. To step outside of this narrative is to become, by varying degrees, post-human. But although the post-human moment, the moment, as I frame it, of apocalypse, happens all the time, we do not live in a post-human world, nor is it useful to characterize it as such while we still have something to lose, and still peer into the future to contemplate the horror of that loss.

Rejecting the idea of posts in favor of a consideration of the future in which we prepare ourselves to be human in the face of catastrophe is the next step. In an age where the very nature of globalization itself seems to carry the threat of global catastrophe, where the outcome of events taking place halfway around the world seems to impact our personal stake in the human project, how do we prepare ourselves to adopt an eschatological humanism, to, as McCarthy puts it, “carry the fire?” Do our cultural narratives prepare us? Does the homogenizing effect of capitalism? If this isn’t a growing concern endemic to our time and place—one far more important than the question of whether or not we are today living in a post-modern post-human post-apocalypse—then perhaps it should be.

Works Cited

Berger, James. After the End: Representations of Post-Apocalypse. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1999.

Booker, M. Keith. The Post-Utopian Imagination: American Culture in the Long 1950s. Santa Barbara: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2002.

Bostrom, Nick. “The Future of Humanity.” Nick Bostrom’s Home Page. Oxford University: Selected Papers, 2007. Accessed Oct. 2009. www.nickbostrom.com.

Braidotti, Rosi. “Post-human, All Too Human: Towards a New Process Ontology.” Theory, Culture & Society Vol. 23, No. 7-8 (2006): 197-208. Web.

Euripides. Medea. Trans. E.P. Coleridge. Adelaide: ebooks@Adelaide, 2004. 24 Nov. 2008. http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/e/euripides/medea/.

Ewans, Michael. Opera from the Greek: Studies in the Poetics of Appropriation. Hampshire: Ashgate Publishing, 2007.

Griffiths, Emma. Medea. New York: Routledge, 2006.

Harvey, David. “Time-Space Compression and the Postmodern Condition.” Modernity: Critical Concepts. Ed. Malcolm Waters. Vol. 4: After Modernity. New York: Routledge, 1999. 98 – 118.

Jameson, Frederic. Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. Durham: Duke UP, 1991.

McCarthy, Cormac. The Road. New York: Vintage, 2006.

Steinbeck, John. The Grapes of Wrath. Stockholm: Zephyr Books, 1948.

The Light We Carry With Us: Part III

(Read Part II here.)

American Literature, Eschatological Humanism, and the Ability to Carry the Fire

I’d like to return to a point that I just touched on above—the assumption that globalization is making us better, kinder, wiser, and that all these qualities are somehow more human than a survivalist kill-or-be-killed mentality, or an Enlightenment-era “rational man” philosophy. Certainly, our pitiless capitalist economy is no proof of this, as Jameson so memorably put it, “this whole global, yet American, postmodern culture is the internal and superstructural expression of a whole new wave of American military and economic domination throughout the world: in this sense, as throughout class history, the underside of culture is blood, torture, death, and terror” (57). And Jameson is right, of course. You can’t drink a latte without contributing to human rights violations taking place the world over. You can’t drive a car without destroying the planet for future generations. But it’s also true that capitalism, globalization, technology, and awareness of a collective future trajectory has allowed for the development of an ideology encompassing human rights as tangible somethings which can be violated. The last bloody half-century has also been shaped—particularly in developed countries—by the civil rights struggle, environmental activism, engagement with the suffering of people who occupy space wildly different from our own, a growing sensitivity to mental health, and an unabashed obsession with teaching the younger generation—before the reality of the world interferes—to be nice to everybody, to be gentle with animals, to share our toys, and to think about how it would feel to be in someone else’s shoes—not for any other reason than because, shoes or no shoes, we are all human. As naively conceptualized or poorly executed as these liberal humanist ideals may be, they do represent a deeply preservation-oriented response to a real fear—the one stemming back beyond the god that comes to separate the wheat from the chaff on judgment day—the fear that humanity is a unique possession, and that it is something we can lose. That we kill or be killed. That survival ultimately comes down to us or them, you or me, that when faced with that decision, I will inevitably choose me, and that therein lies the vanishing point of humanity—both of the species, and of the condition.

In American literature, one of the best expressions of this uniquely eschatological tension can perhaps be found in John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, in which the private apocalypse of one family stands for the end of an era, and the question of us or them is as simple, at least superficially, as the one of starvation versus survival. “Think Pa’s gonna give up his meat on account a other fellas?” Tom says to Casy when the preacher asks him to join the strike. “Think Ma’s gonna wanta starve that baby jus’ ‘cause a bunch a fellas is yellin’ outside a gate?” (468) And he’s got a point. As much as Steinbeck’s Okies care for each other and despise the great owners, in the end the need to survive robs us all of the desire to engage in any sort of human project other than that of self-preservation.

The story opens with Tom Joad’s release from prison, and the murder he committed sets the tone for the entire novel. “I’d do what I done—again,” he tells the truck driver who picks him up on the way to his father’s farm, “I killed a guy in a fight. We was drunk at a dance. He got a knife in me, an’ I killed him with a shovel that was layin’ there” (29). Instantly, there’s something relatable about Tom’s actions, something that appeals to the survivor in all of us. His actions are not inhuman, or even counter to the basic makeup of a “good person.” “Why shouldn’t a person be able to defend herself?” The reader thinks. “No one expects you to just lay down and die!” And so Steinbeck begins the process of systematically stripping everything away from the Joads. Tom returns to a family whose livelihood has been crushed. They head west with everything they own packed on to a truck, and slowly they lose those possessions as well as members of their tribe. Finally, much as drought did back east, a cataclysmic rain comes to drown the remnants of the family whose ancestors tamed and worked the wild country. But as a part of that same American tradition, the Joads are tough, and they fight for survival with a practical bravery that is portrayed by Steinbeck as both tragic and necessary.

Sixty years later, much has changed as Cormac McCarthy writes The Road—an American fable of post-apocalypse that recalls The Grapes of Wrath in many ways. The journey tale format, the slow stripping away of self and possessions, the itemization of each meal, and most of all, the lyrical prose paintings of the merciless landscape, make The Road the distinct apocalyptic narrative descendent of The Grapes of Wrath. The differences exist in that, for the man and the boy of The Road, the human world really has come to an end. In fact, for the boy, the world as it is today never existed. He knows only the wasteland, and yet, the burden is upon him to carry the last spark of humanity—what McCarthy calls “the fire”—left in a place where Steinbeck’s cruel landowners have become monstrous cannibals and the suffering Okies permanent transients.

In The Road, all the humanistic ideals mentioned above as so distinct to a culture of late capitalism are embodied by the boy, who has never seen them or experienced them but who has become a perfect simulacrum of an ideology so flawless and uncomplicated that it’s original never actually existed. The boy has been burdened, or graced, with nothing short of an absolutely uncompromising humanism, given to him by his very probably one-time liberal, humane, altruistic parents, who—prior to the end of the world—likely shared a philosophy similar to that of most upper-middle class parents in the developed world today. This liberal humanist ideology is also found in The Grapes of Wrath in the form of the preacher, Jim Casy, who has lost his faith in God only to find a deep, and at the time, fairly esoteric, faith in humanity, “’Why do we got to hang it on God or Jesus?” Casy asks Tom Joad. “’Maybe,’ I figgered, ‘maybe it’s all men an’ all women we love; maybe that’s the Holy Sperit—the human sperit—the whole shebang. Maybe all men got one big soul ever’body’s a part of.’ Now I sat there thinkin’ it, an’ all of a suddent—knew it” (27). “You can’t hold no church with idears like that,” Tom responds doubtfully, but half a century later, the concept is standard in every American kindergarten classroom and corporate team-building weekend. It’s only with the crushing experience of daily social interaction that we begin to develop a sense of how to embrace this ‘heal the world’ ideology by tempering it with a realistic sense of self-preservation. In The Road, however, the boy has little opportunity to interact with others, and so he carries it all, the human project, Casy’s idea of the “one big soul,” and he cannot bear to be part of violence, even against those who threaten his life. He wants to help everyone he and his father meet on the road, no matter how scanty their own supplies or suspect the encountered party. The man has instilled in him the qualities that would earn a gold star for a schoolboy but that seem useless and even dangerous in McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic landscape, wherein the post-human—the cannibals who keep slowly butchered live captives in a cellar and roast newborn children on spits—have truly won the day.

In The Road, as in The Grapes of Wrath, it is the humanity of humanity that becomes the crux of the story. In the grimmest of circumstances, our ability to “carry the fire” becomes everything, becomes more important than food, health, and even our own survival. As the preacher takes a killing blow to the head in defense of his cause, as Rosasharn offers her breast to a dying man when the world is disintegrating around them, so the boy—however road-hardened—follows but cannot sanction his father’s kill-or-be-kill instinct:

Just help him, Papa. Just help him.

The man looked back up the road.

He was just hungry, Papa. He’s going to die.

He’s going to die anyway.

He’s so scared, Papa.

The man squatted and looked at him. I’m scared, he said. Do you understand? I’m scared.

The boy didnt answer. He just sat there with his head bowed, sobbing.

You’re not the one who has to worry about everything.

The boy said something but he couldnt understand him. What? he said.

He looked up, his wet and grimy face. Yes I am, he said. I am the one (259).

In a way that is both childish and deeply empathic, the boy knows what every other human being left in the wasteland has forgotten, that it’s better to be dead than to be completely outside of humanity. Better to chase the little boy he spots one day into a trap, or allow their meager stores to be taken by another, rather than to reject the basic contacts and collisions that make us human, rather than to become like his father, who, in a horrific but ultimately practical sense, has more in common with the cannibal others than with his own son. As the last and most perfect humanist in a world without humans, the boy is poised at the end of a long chain of signification, the links to which he cannot grasp and therefore cannot contextualize with the temperance of suspicion, wariness, or the instinct for self-preservation that, in the end, can make such others of us all. The man’s greatest terror, throughout the story, seems not to be that he will lose the boy so much as that the boy will lose this eschatological humanism, “the point of no return which was measured from the first solely by the light they carried with them” (281). The father, the man, knows that the precious vessel he has created is all that’s left of humanity in a world that has become effectively post-human. And here the man’s fear stands for the cataclysmic terror that I see both as a cornerstone of humanity traceable in narrative visions of private apocalypse throughout history, and as so much a product of globalization and the humanist implication of living in a global culture.

The Light We Carry With Us: Part II

(Read Part I here.)

Globalization and Thinking the End of the World

Theorists often point to World War II as marking the death of our belief in a utopian future—a sharp cutting-off point between the young days of the earth, and a sort of grim second life for humanity defined by postmodern ideology which itself is (post) apocalyptic. M. Keith Booker identifies “a loss of utopian vision [which] can also be associated with the social, psychic, and cultural fragmentation that Jameson and others have association with postmodernism” (5). And James Berger goes so far as to position the second half of the century as a sort of post-apocalyptic wasteland, wherein the looming specter of nuclear holocaust, and the concept, and vision of holocaust itself, has created a new era defined by dystopian, apocalyptic, and post-apocalyptic fears (Berger xiii). In short, the “senses of the end of this or that,” which Frederic Jameson links so closely to a cultural logic of late capitalism, have become dominant. And this equation is traceable to a point. However, while the post-trauma that rocked the human psyche in the aftermath of near-nuclear world war has had a tremendous shaping influence on the past half-century, I’d like to be done with posts- in general, which seem to me to be easy enough to remove from the conversation without encountering a lack of things to say. Instead, I would like to point to the onset of globalization as having been much more significant in the development of a fascination with public apocalypse, the fear of nuclear war a symptom of a larger new consciousness at play which has far more to do with the evolution of apocalyptic fears than with those goons of postmodernity, capitalism and technology. It is the happening of globalization itself, rather than, say, the writings of Jean-Francois Lyotard, which has propelled the discourse of fragmentation, heterogeneity of culture and experience which has exploded grand narratives and called objectivity into question, and simultaneously, it is the dialectically opposite fact of the world as a single place, and humanity as a single, invested species, which sets the stage for what comes after.

While post-thinking has been an interesting foray into wrapping our critical noggins around the changes wrought by globalization over the course of recent decades, it is perhaps not a useful enough tool to carry us forward. If we are as plagued by fears of a public, collective end to our world as cultural currents would seem to indicate, then we are, paradoxically, parts of a whole that is fragmented, a subjectivity that has become objectivized, and more concretely, a commodification of history and culture spurred by a capitalist ideology that in the very violence of what David Harvey calls “time-space compression” has actually brought us—us people on the planet—closer together. The fact that, as Harvey puts it, “money and commodities are themselves the primary bearers of cultural codes” (111) has served to make the transmission of those codes more accessible. While post-thinking is right to fear the culturally homogenizing effects of global capitalism, this increased accessibility may be fundamental to a new conception of humanism. We may be different, but we are all inextricably connected now, and this connection, inevitably, ups the stakes of the human project, and demands critical and discursive tools that not only frame the present, but prepare us for the future.

It’s no coincidence that a growing sense of our connectivity as a global culture should come hand-in-hand with an increased apprehension of the future. Following Frederic Jameson’s sense of the abandonment of “thinking of future change to fantasies of sheer catastrophe and inexplicable cataclysm” (46), Harvey links postmodernity and capitalist culture to a “loss of a sense of the future except and insofar as the future can be discounted into the present” (104). However, other theorists posit that we are more aware of the future now than ever before. Following economist Robert L. Heilbroner’s thesis in Visions of the Future, Nick Bostrom argues that since World War II, conceptions of the future have changed to take into account how rapidly technology is altering our understanding of and engagement with the world. Replacing the industrial revolution-era belief that the future was predictable and controllable is the sense of a rapidly changing present poised to bring about dramatic, frightening, and abrupt future shifts that are difficult to anticipate (Bostrom 7). I find this latter theory on technologized society’s engagement with the future more intriguing than Jameson or Harvey’s. While our awareness of the planet as a single place has been defined by the disorienting and compressing realities of technology-driven warfare and capitalism, a newly growing concept of humanism, situated in a global context, is also developing, and it is from this reality that the true depths of a future-focused apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic contemplation springs. The more we learn about the world around us, the more humanity—and the planet itself—becomes a project that we are all working on. Concomitantly, the idea that the whole world could end before we’re finished said project gains substance, solidifies, not only with a study of the future, of extinction risk, of technology, of transhumanism, but through the stories we tell about how it might be if the world were to end, and then, what would become of our families, this planet, all these humans? What would become of us?

It is in this contemplation of us—an us that has the potential to comprise every person on the planet—that postmodernism becomes not so much a cultural dominant as a transitory phase between what came before and what comes next—a placeholder as the world scrambles to adjust to a new global consciousness. If there can be an us, if there is some sort of great and unified human project, then maybe, we think, we can be saved. We can avoid the fire and brimstone, the nuclear bomb, or the environmental cataclysm, the alternative too terrible to contemplate, except, of course, that we do contemplate it. Ever since before Euripides took every single thing there was to take from Medea, and simultaneously turned her into something other than human, we’ve been contemplating it. The only difference now, with the onset of globalization, is that we’ve been slapped in the face by the outer extremes and inner reaches of humanity, and now we can imagine what it would be like to lose not only our own, but every last shred of it.

(Go to Part III.)

The Light We Carry With Us: Part I

Narrative Visions of Apocalyptic Futures, Eschatological Humanism, and Kicking Post-Thinking to the Curb, for the Present

The world is always ending for someone, somewhere. While there is a tendency in literary and cultural studies today to link narrative explorations of the end of the world to a postmodern climate of thought, the idea of apocalypse—in the sense of the end of an era, or a moment of cataclysmic upheaval—has been playing out in literature since long before old St. John went to Patmos. In fact, the tendency to peer constantly towards the end, to contemplate cataclysm, may be one of the defining characteristics not of any particularly post- ideology, but of being human, and of a humanism that perhaps transcends the relativist humanist principles that postmodern thought labels as problematic and even “dead.” That cataclysmic moment can be defined, I believe, as one in which the human is separated from that which is distinctly non-. While my exploration of this moment is grounded by the idea that narratives of the end are nothing new, I do acknowledge that they have changed over time, particularly in response to the creeping specter of globalization. But the entanglements of a global society should call for new and exciting iterations of humanism, not its rejection. Because globalization has revealed to us the geographical limits of humanity, what it has to offer, and stands to lose, we now approach contemplation of a possible end to it—this big human project—with a growing sense of what is at stake, and hence, with an enormous sense of trepidation. While future studies consider the dangers of technology, and the potential threat of human extinction, or evolution into something post-human, it not only becomes a trend in literature and culture to explore these same ideas, it places the onus on us to examine the value of our global society and of humanity itself, and furthermore, to explore the ethical implications of the postmodernist trend towards decrying humanism as a dead concept at a time when exploring a global humanist philosophy may be far more useful than attempting to define what it is to be post-human.

Through a series of mini-essays, I will now explore each of the ideas touched on in the above paragraph. My intention is to use literature and critical theory as tools to delve into topics of globalization, humanism, and future studies, in order to unearth the patterns and ideologies that drive our fascinated obsession with the end of the world.

Medea, and a Theory of Private Apocalypse

With the exception of religious texts and their cultural products, the mainstreaming of eschatological speculation is a relatively recent phenomenon. However, the private apocalypse—the end of a world—a city, a family, a life—if not the world proper—is a perceivable subgenre that can be found throughout history and world literatures. It is definable as an extreme of the tragic form, distinct in the thorough and systematic way in which an entire world or life is stripped down, doors to potential futures shut, leaving nothing remaining in the world of the tragic figure but a species of existence barely recognizable to the audience—darkness, and a wasteland to wander, as in Sophocles’ Oedipus the King, or a species of dystopian half-life, outside of the realm of human experience, as in Euripides’ Medea.

Indeed, it is with absolute precision that Euripides peels away every facet of Medea’s world. As the play opens, she is already an exile from a home that she left behind in ruins. Now, rejected by Jason, friendless, and humiliated, she faces a second exile. Her fate to this point is tragic, but the utter destruction of her world takes place only after she is driven to lay waste to it rather than continue in a life wherein, as she laments, “How short of my hopes I am fallen!” Determinedly, Medea herself becomes the bringer of “utter destruction,” crushing the house around her by poisoning Glauce and Creon. Finally, in a controversial touch added by Euripides, Medea murders her children. Her motives Euripides portrays as the products of conflicting passions: she does it to wound Jason, she does it to protect her children from scorn, she does it because she can’t bear to allow them to live apart from her, she does it because of a long-held and complex rage at the role of motherhood. Ultimately, however, the murderous impulse seems to come from the author himself, who in an effort to create a performance of perfect tragedy, in fact succeeds in performing an eschatological act. Life, the world, as Medea has known it—and as we, as human beings, frame it with family, society, and a sort of agreement to all be a part of this big human project—has disintegrated absolutely. Medea exits in a fiery chariot pulled by dragons, reminding the audience at the last moment that she is a child of the gods, and therefore not quite a creature governed by human law, or perhaps, human emotion. She is headed for Athens where a new life ostensibly awaits her, but the audience is left wondering what kind of life that can possibly be.

Euripides’ play was not so well-received as it might have been at the Dionysian festival where it was first staged. Much scholarship has pointed to the addition of her filicide as the reason for the audience’s unfavorable reaction to the “deeply confrontational tragedy” (Ewans 60), and I would argue that this is the point that turns the play from a satisfyingly cathartic tragedy into a performance of private apocalypse. Unlike the traditional tragic form, the private apocalypse travels to an area of human nature beyond which most audiences are willing to follow. Medea, from the first portrayed by Euripides as a character who moves dangerously outside of contemporaneous gender boundaries, does, in fact, choose a path that goes beyond what the average audience member (of ancient Greece or of today) would like to encompass in the realm of that which is not only ‘properly’ feminine, but ultimately, that which is ‘properly’ human. While it’s true that infanticide is not as rare, either historically or culturally, as we’d like to imagine, it may also be argued that it is never an act performed lightly or moved beyond easily, particularly when it’s performed as an act of murder rather than of abandonment or neglect. With this final act of destruction, Euripides takes Medea into that other world where human laws do not apply, that place beyond the end, and in doing so he turns her into a goddess-like figure. This transformation serves a function, encompassing actions that must, we tell ourselves, be something other than human, something non-human, and in this final act of stripping away, the world, as we know it, comes to an end. As Emma Griffiths frames it, “Either Medea is divine, and the gods can come among us and exact revenge for our crimes with savage force; or Medea is mortal, and sometimes mortal crimes go unpunished” (77). Whichever scenario we choose, the result is the same—something apocalyptic, something that whispers about an end of the human project, has taken place.

The concepts I explore above—the private apocalypse, the narrative act of stripping away, and the idea of going beyond the human, into something other—as being definitive characteristics of eschatological narrative, will be expanded on in the coming sections. The act of thinking the end of the world, the private apocalypse, and what comes after, can be traced from Greek tragedies up through biblical texts, Arthurian legends, Shakespearian tragedies, and (a personal favorite) Dickensian serials. But I’ll leave this subject for now, to leap ahead and over continents to the America of the 20th century, where the privacy of the apocalyptic moment has become publicized, and where, as I hope to suggest, the phenomenon of globalization has brought new challenges to the table, both for a theory of humanity, and for those of us peering into the possibility of its end.

(Go to Part II)

The Buzz at GigHive.com

I write two weekly blog posts about the emerging independent music industry for GigHive.com, a networking community for indie musicians and industry pros of all types.

October 2009 – Present

I got involved with GigHive in the fall of 2009. The founders were looking for a knowledgeable blogger who could quickly research and produce engaging posts about relevant industry trends. The site launched officially in December, and since then, our focus has been getting the word out to the indie music community and driving traffic and new membership to the site.

Since beginning to work with GigHive, I have:

  • Produced two in-depth posts per week on indie music news, as well as DIY career-building strategies.
  • Organized and implemented GigHive’s first digital compilation album release – Hark to the Buzz!
  • Arranged and conducted interviews with industry experts.
  • Driven site traffic using social media and cross-promotional link building campaigns.
  • Built relationships with other significant sources of indie music news and information in order to solidify GigHive’s presence in the online music community.

Visit a directory of all my Buzz posts here.

Statement of Purpose Final

Grad school application deadlines have come and gone. Thanks to all who offered feedback and support during the process, which was, perhaps not surprisingly, grueling. Since many great folks were so involved in the ever-evolving applications, I thought I’d post the final version up here to show you the results of your efforts!

Statement of Purpose

Reading Frederic Jameson (1991)
I see sunlight
negotiating tree branches
myself, ten years old
unmindful, careless
of the weighty thoughts at work
Upon the world.

During my undergraduate career in English literature, I became very interested in the idea of the world. Along with globalization, we are inevitably confronted with the concept of this thing, this planet on which we all live and upon which we must learn to get along, despite the challenges of our many voices, many motives, and multivalent needs. In literature and across disciplines we attempt to think our way through space, time, self, community, history, future, change, and loss as we move towards becoming a fully-fleshed global society. The task of finding balance and concord? Seemingly impossible, and rich with portents of homogeneity that make it, perhaps, inadvisable. The alternative? Geopolitical fragmentation, ecological upheaval – as speculative fictions say again and again, “the end of the world.”

But the world is always ending for someone, somewhere – Medea, King Lear, Esther Summerson, Dwayne Hoover – and then resolving, again and again, into the grim dystopias or second-chance utopias of our societal narratives. So? Can literature save the world? I once thought the question naïve and the subject matter outside the purview of all but the most esoteric scholarship. However, the particular impact on academic discourse of what Suman Gupta calls the “entanglements” of globalization and literary studies has me eager to return to the field of English literature to further explore what began as my very undeveloped interest in the world, and the imagined mechanics, in literature, of its potential to end.

Toolkit

In the five years since completing my degree, a successful career as a creative consultant and content developer has allowed me to engage with currents of globalization in two distinctly nonacademic ways that inform my approach to the study of globalization in literature/literatures of globalization.

First, I’ve worked almost entirely online, and have felt like an active participant in one of David Harvey’s “fierce rounds” of space-time annihilation, as the internet has caused the slow and often unquantifiable effects of globalization to rocket forward. In an era wherein the old standards of mis/communication are losing meaning under a crush of electronic data, I believe that my intimate knowledge of the flow of online discourse will be a useful resource to my studies and to my colleagues.

Next, my work has allowed me to live a location independent lifestyle. Over the last five years, I have been able to live and travel wherever I (as a white girl with a Canadian passport) chose. This position has been simultaneously liberating and deeply troubling. Having experienced first-hand the realities of transnational and even post-national culture – borderless for some, heavily guarded for others, scandalously inexpensive in the context of its devastating environmental impact – I bring to my academic studies a grounded knowledge of the sublime and monstrous dichotomies at play in a world increasingly vulnerable in terms of geographical and mis/communications borders.

Based on my academic and professional backgrounds, I am fascinated by questions of how literary study devises to navigate globalization, of the impact of globalization on literature, and vice-versa, of the tensions between developing global literary theory and keeping practices small, sustainable, local, and of how the shifting nature of global communication is impacting the production of literature and literary study.

Focus

As my particular area of interest has long been on this idea of what Ihab Hassan so lovingly calls, “the great world,” I would best love to engage with the fearful and fascinating exploration of its potential to end as it has evolved throughout the history of literature. There are several useful approaches to this subject: the private vs. public cataclysm, the politics of posthumanism, the imagining of dystopian vs. utopian futures, the influence of geopolitical shifts on our fear of destruction, the impact of ecological crisis on our narrative vision of apocalypse; the list goes on and offers itself up as a rich source of nourishment for thoughtful critical engagement.

Debatably, the type of literary exploration that I propose resists periodization, working instead towards building bridges of discourse across and throughout histories and places. However, I do believe that the entanglements of globalization and literature call for just such a discourse, and that my proposed focal point(s) will not only flourish under these conditions, but may well answer the silly question: can literature save the world?

The Terrible Truth About Investing In Social Media

This was originally an email I sent to a prospective client. He suggested I turn it into a blog post.

Maybe you’re a startup, or a company starting a new website, or maybe you’re from the old internet, and you’re on the lookout for ways to get hip and current. If so, beware of falling into the trap of social media and other SEO marketing crap!

The ‘Guru’ Trap

As a content developer and creative consultant, I’ve often been involved in the process of contracting professionals to help grow a web presence. These professionals might be anything from web developers, to SEO firms, to hot, new social media marketing companies.

However, all these self-proclaimed gurus have one thing in common: they will promise you the world, without ever once mentioning that there is no magic formula for generating web traffic or guaranteeing the success of an online marketing campaign.

Cultivated Engagement

Over the course of many past projects, it’s been clear to me that what most people are looking for (and online, what folks are hyper-sensitive to) is a little authenticity. Brand building and growth of site traffic happens when you can get people to genuinely engage with and become excited about your project, something done successfully by the ‘brilliant’ web team for the Obama campaign.

Believe this: no amount of trickery, social network-building, or forcefeeding of links to the interwebs will make that happen without some honest engagement.

Here’s a good little example (one of many): social networking experts will let you pay them sixty bucks an hour to friend 10,000 people for you on Twitter, and run a nonstop feed on your profile posting links to your site or promotion. A lot of those 10,000 people will friend you back, but most of them will be spambots or other Twitter marketers with self-motivated interests, and that doesn’t equal a successful social media campaign.

Conversely, energy put towards social media development would be better used connecting with people on Twitter that might actually care about what you have to say, sending them personalized messages telling them about yourself, and inviting them to check your offering out. Candidly working towards making friends and engaging sincere interest is what social media is all about. It can be a wonderful thing, but this core principle often gets lost when trying to turn the social multiverse into a marketing tool.

The Big Secret: BE REAL!

Before investing in any packages or promises, most online ventures would be better served by getting out there, meeting colleagues, and developing real relationships. You can do this by:

  • Using social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn to not just randomly build a following, but connect with those who have similar goals and interests.
  • Find and contact websites similar to yours, TELL THEM WHAT YOU’RE DOING, and ask them to write a review of your site/product.
  • Blog about what you’re doing and ask people to read your blog, or guest post on relevant networking sites.
  • SUPPORT other projects! This is the best thing you can do. By reaching out, you show you’re a good presence to have in the community.

Garlic Will Not Save You

If you actually have a good idea or product – for example, a presidential candidate like Barack Obama – these strategies will grow your web traffic. On the other hand, if your idea is stupid or played out, there’s nothing gonna save you.

Semi-tragically, if you fit into this latter category, you’re not going to be able to pay anyone any amount of money to tell you that you fit into said category. There are a million shifty marketing gurus out there that will suck you dry, leave you flat, and THEN tell you that none of their strategies worked because you had a bad idea to begin with.

Unfortunately, this type of vampirism is the name of the game. The trick is to figure out how to become a player, rather than some capital-sucker’s prize.

Miscellaneous Blogging

I do a lot of writing on request or off-the-cuff that I tend to forget about as soon as it goes live. I’ll try to post links to my random fits of guest blogging here, so check back for new stuff every once in a while!

Why I Don’t Own A Car

I wrote this post for Go Green and Save the World, a blog by Mr. Sam Jones, whom I met when he contacted Hotcards on behalf of Bacchus Press in the interest of doing a link exchange. It’s always great when you meet someone new online and there are various different ways in which you can help each other!

Statement of Purpose

After five years out of school, I want back in. I’ve been working on applications to several different MA and PHD programs, all of which require a funny little essay called the ‘Statement of Purpose.’ Your SoP is supposed to break down all your hopes, plans, and expectations for your future academic career into 500 or so succinct words. Rumor is that this thing can make or break your entrance into a competitive program. Let me know what you think!

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Draft #4

I finished an Honors B.A. in English in 2005, anxious to burst forth onto the scene of literature and history and take my place, Lil Wayne style, as “the greatest writer alive.” If I didn’t have a best seller within the year, I decided, I’d go back to school and get some more learnin.’ Ahem.

I began my new career by writing a very bad novel. While I was waiting for the agents and publishers to come knocking, I took some work online as a freelance writer. Five years later, I’m living a location independent lifestyle, which has taken me first across Canada, and now Europe. It happened that there was no limit to where I could go – one community opening doors into the next, borders between nations as simple to cross (for a white girl with a Canadian passport) as the thoroughfares connecting neighborhoods of a city.

Bad novels forgotten, over the last few years of immersion in online culture and location independence, I’ve become fascinated by the question of what role literature has to play in an increasingly interconnected, transnational and even postnational world. In as little as the last decade, the internet has caused the slow and often unquantifiable effects of globalization to rocket forward, and we’ve moved into an era wherein the old standards of mis/communication are losing significance under a landslide of electronic data.

The shifting nature of how we communicate, and hence, read, write, and tell stories, may be the most powerful and shaping force on culture and global society today. I’m anxious to return, now, to academics because I believe scholars of English literature to be the navigators and bridge-builders of this force. Not only do I want to be one of these bridge-builders, I know that it is within this arena that my strengths, and the skills I’ve developed over the past decade, can be put to the best possible use.

My goals right now are broad, but I know that I can focus them during the course of my studies. I’m particularly interested in literature produced at the height of empires – British and American – in the contexts of relevant political, ethical, and eco-critical thought, and I want to bring this all to bear on the global culture we’re living in today. I want to explore our literary fascination with ‘the end of the world,’ and unearth how our relationship with the fear of eco-crisis and a dystopian future is changing because of globalization. At the risk of ranting, suffice to say that I am swimming in ideas, and all they need is the shaping force of research, writing, and academic discussion to turn them into something(s) focused and complete.

I believe in the tremendous potential of literary studies to do good, create understanding out of difference, present solutions to major political, ethical, and ecological problems, and even prevent disasters that have plagued human society in the past. In short, I believe in my discipline’s ability to build bridges of thought, ideas, and discourse that can go around the world. And at a time in history when language and communication seem on the brink between fragmentation and the creation of something altogether new and perhaps wonderful, I want to be a part of the research, teaching and writing that will connect us and allow us, as a global community, to be/come something good, whatever that may be.

ElectroScribe goes to Cairo

egypttattooI’m about to leave Amsterdam for two weeks in Egypt. However, as I already had my vacation this summer, the plan is to be able to work the entire time I’m there. This will be a true test of location independence.

Of course, the major hurdle I’ll have to overcome is finding regular, consistent, fast access to the internet. Although a lot of my work can be done offline, I need an internet connection to stay in contact with employers and follow through with deliverables.

The word on the street is that Cairo is a good city for finding internet access. From what I’ve heard and read, there are WI-FI connections everywhere, and Vodaphone also offers mobile internet throughout Egypt.

I’ll be arriving late at night on a Friday, so the idea is to dedicate the weekend to prep time. By Monday, I’ll have access to a stable connection that’s not too expensive, and, ideally, a comfortable place in which to do 5 to 8 hours of work a day.

Hmm.

If I let my imagination run wild, by Monday I’ll not only have failed to secure a connection, I’ll be relieved of my computer, my wallet, and all my worldly possessions, and either dead or in prison. But obviously, I can’t let me imagination run wild.

Nervous in Paris

Me being nervous in Paris. Where I speak the language and have been many times before. Cairo should be no problem!

It seems to be a sad fact that, despite the amount of traveling I do, I’m a very nervous and even frightened guest in a new land. Particularly if that land is extremely exotic. And let’s face it. Egypt may be the most exotic place I ever visit.
Anxiety-induced fantasizing aside, I’m hoping to use this working trip as an opportunity to inspire my writing, and provide my employers with some exciting fodder.

For example, my goal is to take a bunch of pictures of the advertising on the streets in Cairo, and post about it on the Hotcards Print and Design blog that I write. The idea is to show how location independence doesn’t hinder my ability to perform, and can actually benefit my clients.

I’ve got my fingers crossed that cost of living won’t be too high in Cairo. Plane tickets and accommodations have already been pretty expensive. Now the trick will be to focus on making more money than I spend on surviving, and hopefully, immersing myself in Egypt’s unique and amazing culture.

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