the contextual life

thoughts without borders

Posts Tagged ‘philosphy

adventures with math

leave a comment »

i’ve never been a math person. i was the idiot in class who asked, “what are we ever going to use this for?” and thought i was being funny. logic was kind of cool and i like the whole, “if…, then…, therefore…” type stuff and once when we were doing graphs the teacher said that height could never be negative, and i said, “yea, we’d be upside down.” and he said, “whoa, man. that’s deep,” in that mocking, stoner voice, which made me laugh – ’cause it was true. but nope, i am not – and never was – a math person.

but lately, i’ve been reading alain badiou and, as i mentioned before, he likes math. i mean, looooves math. i can’t even get into it because i still don’t understand it. tonight, i picked up those sparks notes quick reference guides. basic math and geometry. it was pretty appalling how little i knew.

i’m curious to know how math fits into our everyday lives. since starting the book, i’ve noticed a change in my photography, the way i see things in a frame.


Written by Gabrielle

November 19, 2009 at 10:46 pm

Posted in books

Tagged with , , ,

the helvetica around us

with one comment

i was in my favorite bookstore yesterday looking for the dvd of Examined Life (opens with video). turns out, it hasn’t been released yet but while i was looking over the videos they had on display, one caught my eye: Objectified. it had a bunch of simple, everyday images in black on the cover. the sticker on the cellophane said something like, “from the director of Helvetica“. being that i am a Netflix subscriber, i made sure to write down both film titles so i could put them in my queue when i got home.

as luck would have it, Helvetica was available for instant viewing, meaning i could play it on my computer at any time. so i watched it that night.

the film opens with typeface blocks cut from steel, a man inking them, rolling a press over them, and showing the end product – a fresh, black, inky ‘Helvetica’ in Helvetica on a piece of white paper. then, Times Square. it turns out that Helvetica is all around us and about 30 minutes into the film, it started to feel a bit oppressive. not the movie, but the fact that we are surrounded – overwhelmingly – with one typeface. i have a fear of walking outside my apartment and going mad from the oneness of our society’s choice in signage.

but, as the film goes on to show, there are reasons to embrace Helvetica. it is bold, clean, and easy to read. it is also the product of the “Swiss style,” which means it is very much concerned with the ‘figure-ground relationship,’ adding to it’s aesthetically pleasing presentation. the pro-Helvetica camp interviewed for the film even went so far as to philosophize about it’s rationality. to the pro-Helvetica camp, Helvetica is perfection.

i must say, i was buying it. i thought back to my zine days where i would toy with my font choices and even handwrite a few things. was i wrong? unwise to the supreme status of Helvetica? i was almost about to drop all my typeface-adventurism when in walked the anti-Helvetica camp – or the ‘we’re-just-not-that-into-you’ camp.

one of these revolutionaries has been my long-time design hero, david carson. i found myself cheering him on, like the dorky kid in class secretly willing the class clown to do the things she’d never dream of doing herself. david carson played with text. it looked weird, it overlapped, it didnt always make sense but it was art. it was rebellion textified.

but, as with many things, there was no simple answer. the pro and the anti camps kept coming back, intertwining and making their equally compelling cases. in the end, i came away with a shocking awareness of just how prevalant and profound something as unassuming as typeface can be.

the quality of Helvetica is astounding. the framing of the shots, the conversations from and observations of the world-renowned designers make this history of a runaway font thought-provoking and entertaining.

Written by Gabrielle

November 18, 2009 at 10:21 am

Posted in art, film

Tagged with , ,

god is math

with 4 comments

right now i’m reading Alain Badiou‘s Theoretical Writings. it’s a collection of his work that claims to be a good introduction to his philosophy. so far, i agree. i had read his Metapolitics a while ago and remember liking it but supposedly, straight politics, which that book was,  is not Badiou’s thing. apparently, it’s math. badiou loves math and seems to have this unnatural fascination with infinity. i dont quite get it yet but i think i’m starting to understand how he feels. throughout all his essays the possibility of ‘the neverending’ plays a major role, bouncing off other peoples’ theories, and explained through vocabulary lessons and analogies.  

for example, Leibniz‘s Pond:

“Each portion of of matter may be conceived as a garden full of plants, and as a pond full of fish. But every branch of each plant, every member of each animal, and every  drop of their liquid parts is itself likewise a similar garden or pond.” pg. 66 Theoretical Writings.

that’s a pretty vivid image of infinity. now take Spinoza. the only thing i knew about Spinoza before reading chapter 7: Spinoza’s Closed Ontology was that he was a Spanish (actually, Portuguese) Jew who lived somewhere around the 1600s and was ostracized  by his community for being blasphemous. i then learned that the story i’d heard wasn’t entirely true but can’t remember what the real story is. in any case, i do know that he had some notion of God that people didn’t like.  now that i’m halfway through the chapter, i know that Spinoza believed in an infinite God who was at the same time One. multiples unified. God, as one omnipotent power, is everything that we are, everything we aren’t, and everything we know, and everything can’t.

to be fair, Spinoza’s theory rest on the notion that our intellect is how we understand this concept of God – and that our intellect is something reliable. this can not be proven and therefore you get a choice to agree or not. or, as badiou asks:

“how is it possible to think the being of intellect [intellect’s essence]… depends upon the operations of the intellect?”

although i see how it would be hard to prove God with concretely/scientifically, i don’t think Spinoza’s idea of God is a dangerous one, and therefore, i’m willing to accept it.

badiou’s love for infinity and obvious approval of Spinoza’s Infinite God made this chapter a lot of fun.

Written by Gabrielle

November 15, 2009 at 5:09 pm

Posted in books

Tagged with , , , ,

notes from a Lost Cause…

leave a comment »

“quotes”, paraphrases, and thoughts on zizek’s In Defense of Lost Causes

“the hegemony of the scientific discourse thus potentially suspends the entire network of symbolic tradition that sustains the subject’s identifications.” pg. 33


democracy requires a non-democratic element for it’s health.  
“if, as the musings of Spinoza and Tocqueville suggest, democracies tend towards cathexis [investment of mental or emotional energy in a person, object, or idea] onto principles antitheoretical to democracy, then critical scrutiny of these principles and of the political formations animated by them is crucial to the project of refounding or recovering democracy.” pg. 103 (zizek quoting wendy brown).


“… the Lacanian Real which, at its most radical level, is the disavowed X on account of which our vision of reality is anamorphically distorted: it is simultaneously the Thing to which direct access is not possible and the obstacle which prevents this direct access, the Thing which eludes our grasp and the distorting screen which makes us miss the Thing. More precisely, the Real is ultimately the very shift of perspective from the first to the second standpoint.” pg. 127

anamorphic: producing, relating to, or marked by intentional distortion of an image.

anyone who is vaguely familiar with zizek will have heard of Lacan. from what little i know of Lacan, i know that his concept of the Real is pretty important. i had a vague sense of what it was just from the name but, as mentioned before in the main post, zizek is an educator and he kindly laid out what he thinks the Real is.

zizek is a name-dropper but he does it well. from reading the russian revolutionaries, german socialists, and anarchists, i’d figured out that the french revolution was a defining moment in europe. everyone who had thoughts of an alternative society had feelings about the french revolution. i also knew some guy robspierre at the head and that something went very wrong and that everyone, both the left and the right, called it the Terror. zizek gets into all this with some interesting analyses. what i liked most was his descriptions of robspierre.

“… for Robspierre, revolutionary terror is the very opposite of war: Robspierre was a pacifist, not out of hypocrisy or humanitarian sensitivity, but because he was well aware that war between nations as a rule serves as the means to obfuscate revolutionary struggle within each nation. Robspierre’s speech “On War” is of special importance today: it shows him as a true peace-lover who ruthlessly denounces the patriotic call to war, even if the war is formulated as the defense of the revolution, for it is the attempt of those who want “revolution without revolution” to divert the radicalization of the revolutionary process.” pg. 161

just from that little bit, you get a good idea about how this guy thought. but the fleshing out of him continues:

“I say that anyone who trembles at this moment is guilty; for innocence never fears public scrutiny” – Robspierre

to which zizek says, ” What can be more “totalitarian” than this closed loop of “your very fear of being guilty makes you guilty” – a weird superego-twisted version of the well-known motto “the only thing to fear is fear itself.” ”  

and finally, robspierre’s totally rebellious “rejection of habit”. zizek defines the “domain of habit” as “a complex “reflexive” network of informal rules which tells us how we are to relate to the explicit norms, how we are to apply them: to what extent we are to take them literally, how and when are you allowed, solicited even, to disregard them…” pg. 171

for example, refusing something because the offer was only meant to be polite – and doing so as if the refusal is really your choice. robspierre didnt play these games. he defied tradition. zizek explains, “… revolutionary-egalitarian figures from Robspierre to John Brown are (potentially at least) figures without habits; they refuse to take into account the habits that qualify the functioning of a universal rule.”

robspierre was obviously an interesting character…

Written by Gabrielle

October 13, 2009 at 9:06 pm

Posted in books

Tagged with ,

writing about the book i read

leave a comment »

zizeki read a ton. it’s what i do. i measure my productivity in page count. one book leads to another, or at least the good ones do – the writers who reference other authors are always my favorite.

sometimes it’s hard to know where to start. with a book by the author or a book about the author?

the other night i went out to my favorite local bookstore. it’s one of the few surviving independents. they have a great political, cultural theory section and i rarely leave without spending at least 40 dollars. this time was no exception. i had picked up ’50 Key Contemporary Figures: From structuralism to post-humanism’ edited by John Lechte. i’ve seen some other titles in the series and had to fight really hard not to buy a few of them. but i picked this one up, thumbed through, and felt only what i can describe as love. i got all warm and gooey inside and wanted to hug the thing while dancing around the store in mock-ballroom fashion. everyone who’s anyone – at least from structuralism to post-humanism – is in it.


i almost made it to the counter – about to escape in under 30 dollars – but instead i was drifting over to the new paperback non-fiction shelf. this was where they had all the latest damning political books. the ones that tell of corporations are running the government and ruining your life. in the sea of all this horror, i saw ‘In Defense of Lost Causes,’ by the slovanian philosopher Slavoj Zizek. ok, so the cover has a photo of a big, rusty guillotine blade on it but it’s zizek and he is very trusting.  

as with many things, i forget how i first came across zizek. i think i read something about him and bought a book off amazon. i found a collection of essays and thought it would it be a good way to start. i was wrong. when it came in the  mail and i had a chance to look at it, i realized that i had no idea what he was talking about. he was referencing people i’d never heard of, using vocabulary that might has well have been another language. the only time i’ve touched it since then has been to clean.

but i didnt give up. zizek is too fascinating a figure to ignore. luckily he’s a cult icon and a media darling. my first full-length exposure to zizek was the film by his name, created by filmstress, astra taylor called Zizek!. the filmmaker follows him around the US and his home in slovenia. it’s just him talking about philosophers and life. he’s actually pretty accessible if he’s talking.  it was suiting that i came to understand him through film since he’s probably best known for his film theory and hitchcock fascination.

zizek is a compelling figure but it’s healthier to see him as a conversation. reading zizek with a bit of skepticism can be a thought-provoking experience. he’s name-dropper but but does a really good job – at least in this particular book – to show you why he is using a specific philosopher to compare his ideas to. in this way he’s an amazing educator; he knows how to speak to his audience. 

In Defense of Lost Causes is the perfect start to zizek’s work.

Written by Gabrielle

October 12, 2009 at 7:45 pm

Posted in books

Tagged with , ,

what i see when i read hegel

leave a comment »

hegel 2

Written by Gabrielle

October 7, 2009 at 3:50 pm

Posted in books

Tagged with ,

%d bloggers like this: