Two separate forms of disconnection, I’m on about here. One, I’m reading Pico Iyer, on the recommendation of ___, and the other, I’m getting annoyed with some kind of glitch in my on-campus net service.
Getting internet connection for free is cool. Sort of. It’s cool when it works, but for the last few days, it’s only been working sort-of. Connection drops out for a little while, or else I get flagged as having a virus — ha, yeah, the Ubuntu Linux system is so vulnerable to computer viruses! The University server seems to think that continuous connection with updates, like, say, googlemail, must be a virus since the connection is repeatedly used throughout the night. (P2P servers also seem to get this response.)
And I don’t know exactly why, but addresses get blocked… partially. I can connect to my googlemail account, but if I try to load the main Google search page, I get blocked. Same goes for my classes website… I can load the site admin pages, but not the main frontpage. This is, all of it, quite annoying. And when it started, on Friday, I called the office to ask the secretary to call computer services, and they seemed, she said, to have no idea what the hell she was talking about.
And then, service came back to normal again, and I was scratching my head again.
Ah well… if things cut out again tonight, I’ll complain and ask that someone come tomorrow to fix it. At least I’m on a relatively light schedule for the next week, in terms of using my net connection to get classwork done. I have one lecture to prepare, and the rest of the week, I’m meeting with writing students, and/or meeting with drama classes in their various groups. Next weekend promises to be busy, as I’ll be editing the five plays written by the students in various drama classes… but after that, the drama classes will mainly consist of coaching and rehearsal, which is cool. For the Pop Cultures in English Speaking Countries class, I have another 4 or 5 lectures to prepare, and maybe a test… I told the students we’d be doing final projects, but one said she’d prefer a test with essay questions. We’ll see… either way is easy for me, so I might as well give students a choice. But I do like to deviate from the standard practice of giving tests when possible. I think too many tests are foisted onto students here, and passed off as a measure of learning instead of what they really are, which is a measure of medium-term memory.
In other news, I’m slowly reading bits and pieces from several books these days: a couple more stories in Ted Chiang’s Stories of Your Life And Others, I think one more in Bruce Sterling’s Crystal Express, and I’m about a third of the way through Alfred Bester’s The Stars My Destination, which is an excellent read by the way. Wolfram’s A New Kind of Science, the guidebook to Myanmar, and the October/November issue of F&SF are sitting on my table, dejectedly awaiting my attentions, but they’ll have to wait a little longer. I’ve dug into two other books that are quite fascinating.
One of them is Greil Marcus’ Lipstick Traces, which is a kind of rollicking wild ride connecting historical things like the Situationist International and dada and old Christian heresies with the Sex Pistols and punk rock. Just as that sounds, it borders on ridiculous, and the first time I started to read it, I decided it was just that. But now, on closer reading, I’m finding it just so crazy it might make sense. Not that Johnny Rotten was reading Medieval mystical texts, or consciously aware of borrowing from dada or the SI, but you know, culture does kind of accrete, trickle down, and end up repackaged. So anyway, it’s interesting, and I’ll probably bring tiny bits of it into my discussion of punk rock today.
The other book I’m reading, Pico Iyer’s The Global Soul, will also, in tiny, digestible particles, make its way into a lecture I’ll be giving in a few weeks, which is on global Anglophone pop culture. I don’t mean how British pop songs get on the radio in America and Canada and Australia, but rather, the way that, because of English being a kind of widespread auxiliary language, there are things that spread beyond the “Anglosphere”, and yet there are things that don’t, or at least, that don’t survive the transition out of English. (One example, in fact, is punk. Punk in Korea, in my experience, is outwardly a lot like punk in the Anglosphere, but the inner oppositions and conflicts enunciated by punk just are absent, or anyway, very different.) Another example is the SF geek culture. This exists around the world, but as James Gunn and others note, SF just isn’t that popular in a lot of the world. In China, it’s starting to get more popular but remains kind of “kids’ stuff”. There isn’t really an large, dedicated subculture of adults in Korea who are into SF literature or media; SF in games is popular, but there it’s often just a masque of other forms of war. But the really mind-shattering books, the really discomfiting films, the dangerous ideas that live in SF are ones that cores of people in Australia, in England, in America and Canada, Western Europe, and the old Soviet block all found compelling… but for many societies, SF remains a foreign thing. Why?
It’s not just because of English, obviously, but yet, where there is English, we find SF fandom. Those countries with dedicated fanbases to SF are also often countries where lots of people study English. I don’t think English actually is the crucible of the SFnal sensibility, though, but that there’s some kind of strong correlation between the kinds of political and economic structures that happen to be in place–that happen to have been put in place–in those countries, and the attraction of SF to what I’ll come out and call its future-imaginative elite. And yeah, obviously there are connections to technophilia, to techno-futurism, to the inroads science has made in disenfranchising, or at least complicating, the central role of religion as arbiter of what is desirable or undesirable.
Anyway, the Pico Iyer book is about the breakdown, and yet the continued existence, of the barriers between those worlds–the one that is spanned by a kind of meta-culture, and the ones that exist in isolation from one another. It’s a fascinating look at the kind of wonderful-freedom and terrifying-anomie that can coexist in a person who is living just that little bit further into the future than most of us, the bit of the future where nationstates really look like discomfiting, narrowminded abstractions, where borders seem to look more like conventional abstractions than useful laws, where “Who are you?” is a question that depends largely on context, and where identity is necessarily fluid because, after all, the rest of the world simply hasn’t caught up to living that way yet. At least, that’s what it looks like, 40 pages in.
It seems to be so largely bound up in our relationships with technology.
Ah, technology. There’s a truck somewhere in the neighborhood that’s vending something, I’m not sure what. It’s too far from my home for me to guess what the guy’s selling, but not too far for me to be annoyed by the droning of the voice blasting from his truck. Sometimes I wish that would be made illegal, that disturbance of the peace. It’s strange what gets done with technology, in societies where the rules of public conduct, and the sense of what is good for everyone collectively, are different.
But before I even finished writing the paragraph above, the droning cut out and the fellow moved his truck on to the next little neighbourhood, and now, I’m left with only the faraway clanging of construction, so far off that sometimes the sound of the wind in the branches of trees outside overwhelms it.
I should go… I have student meetings in a couple of hours, and need to get over to the gym today.