ESotSM

“Blessed are the forgetful….”

In a beautiful coincidence, I have to watch this, my all-time favorite movie, for a class discussion on my birthday.

Professor Tinkcom asks us to consider how sci-fi shapes cultural perceptions of science and technology. This is my response essay, and it was damn hard to write.

Memory and the Myth of the Individual

There is a person you sometimes wish you could forget. Pause for a moment and think of them.

That thing you’re feeling right now––regret, nostalgia, annoyance, bitterness, longing––that emotional reality of shared memory is what it is to be human. But that emotional reality is an ever-evolving one, forming a cyclical memory of memories. As Heraclitus wrote: no man can step in the same river twice, for neither the man nor the river is the same. Day’s piece touches on this when he quotes Kaufman, “You’re a completely different person, it’s a completely different memory.”

Eternal Sunshine is addressing the myth of static individuality, acknowledging that we are not individual, but dividual, that our identity is a mosaic of pieces dependent upon the perceptions and shared experiences of others. There are versions of ourselves out there, in the minds of others, that we would not recognize if we met them.

Joel-the-physical-person is confronted with Joel-in-Clementine’s-mind when Carrie tells him, “She decided to erase you almost as a lark.” He is deeply hurt by this because he realizes that not only does he no longer exist in the mind of the woman he loves, but that the version of him that did live there was less important to her than he had hoped. In this moment, Clementine-in-Joel’s-mind becomes despicable to him, and it is only through the erasure process that he re-encounters things about Clementine-the-physical-person that he did (and does) love.

This depth of connection is not limited to romantic, heterosexual relationships. Notice the variety of items held by the nameless characters in Lacuna Inc’s waiting room: there is evidence of children, friends, and even pets on the verge of being erased. To be allowed into the experience of another is a profound, even spiritual experience from which no one emerges unscathed. Joel may erase his conscious recognition of Clementine, but he cannot erase the person he has become because of her. Or, as Day writes, “I cannot become you, and neither can I remain what I am (and likewise for you).”

In our world of repression, rather than erasure, the process of forgetting begins with missing someone. I have always loved the nuance in the French word “to miss,” manquer. Its syntax is unique: to say, “I miss you” is tu me manques, you cause me to lack, you have become a part of me that is now empty. If this person does not return, that part may only be filled by new experiences that connect and bring new sense to the emptiness.

At its core, “Lacuna” is a false concept, revealing the flawed logic in Dr. Mierzwiak’s procedure. One meaning of this Latin word is a missing piece of a manuscript. But the human experience is not a linear manuscript. It is not merely a hole or a space left in Joel’s and Clementine’s consciousnesses, but a winding path of unfillable emptiness that, in the end, leads them back to Montauk, back to each other. They can no more remove themselves from one another than green paint can return to wholly separate blue and yellow. I find McGowan’s words true, “if every memory has a connection to the whole and to every other memory, such a process becomes unthinkable. One cannot eliminate Clementine because she is everywhere.”

It is possible that our networked existence is too complex and too fragile to ever be successfully manipulated by any imagined technology. But as these ideas inch closer to possibilities, Eternal Sunshine (and the deep connection that viewers tend to feel toward the film) becomes an increasingly significant contradiction to the assumption that the human mind is an individual entity that can be digitized, mechanized, or even quantified. The person you thought of a few minutes ago is tangled up within every other person and experience you have known.

We are destructively and inextricably bound to one another.

References:
William Day, “I Don’t Know, Just Wait”
Todd McGowan, “Eternity Without Sunshine”

Katie

christie makes

Creativity and Resilience (thoughts from class)

This post first appeared on the blog for Dr. Linda Garcia’s course “Networks and the Creative Process” at Georgetown University. We discussed the relationship between society and creativity in consideration of Weimar Germany.

 

In the first pages of Peter Gay’s book “Weimar Culture: Outsiders as Insiders” I was most struck by this descriptive phrase: “exiles… did their greatest work in enforced residence on alien soil.” The names of these exiles are not so foreign to us: Albert Einstein, Erich Fromm, and the sociologists of the Frankfurt School. This prompted me to think about what it means to be a social outsider, and how that often fuels creativity.

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Life in a Small World

Years ago, I was a blog-happy missionary, bouncing around the world with nothing but a 65-liter frame pack and a lot of good intentions. I came home with a lighter pack, but a heavier load of the stories and images and love of people… like Isaac in Malaysia.

Just after he dropped us off at the train station to leave his city of Ipoh, Isaac sent me a goodbye text. It said, “See you in a small world.”

I haven’t seen Isaac since then, but our world is definitely small, and I definitely see him in it. I will never hear or read the news without picturing the faces of my friends. So with Ukraine spinning into chaos lately, this is what it looks like for my world to be small: (more…)

Scrapbook Pages

One of my classes this semester focuses on creativity. We’re looking at what it means to be creative, how creative people change their domains, and how the architecture of their social worlds matter. But we’re also making scrapbooks to document our own creative process. If it weren’t for the book I have to read each week, it would hardly feel like a class at all. This act of putting pen to paper–freely–has given me space to just be myself. No parameters, no word counts. Nothing is more musical to a grad student’s tired ears.

As I’ve built my scrapbook and delved into how and what I create, I’ve realized that I most enjoy making things–and I care that much more–when it’s something I share.

So here are a few pages I’ve assembled so far. I’ll be sharing more as I continue to work.

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cocacola

Superb Owl Commericals and Social Assumptions

On Sunday, I had two thoughts immediately following the multi-lingual “America is Beautiful” Coca-Cola ad:

“Wow, that was stunning.”

and

“…cue the backlash.” *cringe*

As an anthropology enthusiast,  former world-traveler, and general people-lover, I enjoy such celebrations of cultural diversity. (…even when it comes from a company like Coca-Cola, who doesn’t exactly have a clean history of ethical marketing. But I’ll set that aside for a moment.) Even so, I was not able to enjoy Coca-Cola’s celebration for long. I quickly anticipated what the fringe conservatives of the Internet would say in the name of patriotism, and I knew what articles the left-leaning blogs would write to properly shame them. I think we’ve all grown accustomed to this pattern.

But when the inevitable public shaming of all of the mean response tweets did appear in my newsfeed, it revealed something alongside ignorance and racism:

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