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Saturday, November 11, 2017

Can You Appropriate Your Own Culture?, by Jaya Saxena, Racked

On a trip to India six years before I got married, I bought a wedding sari. My grandparents and I visited a sari factory just outside of Chennai, and as I watched a woman weave gold flowers into bright red silk, I decided that I should buy one, just in case. I had thought about getting married in vague and hypothetical ways, and who knows, by the time my wedding day came, I might want to forgo the white wedding dress and do it the way my Indian grandparents had.

I did get married, and the sari stayed neatly folded in my bottom drawer. It was beautiful, but not right. This wasn’t just because we weren’t doing a Hindu ceremony, or because I absolutely loved my gold wedding dress covered in sequins. It was because I worried that, in a sari, I’d look like I was wearing a costume. (Never mind that a wedding dress is a costume all its own.) Who was I, this half-white woman who’d been to India twice in her life, to wear this?

Ideology Is The Original Augmented Reality, by Slavoj Žižek, Nautilus

However, this magic effect of SixthSense does not simply represent a radical break with our everyday experience; rather, it openly stages what was always the case. That is to say: In our everyday experience of reality, the “big Other”—the dense symbolic texture of knowledge, expectations, prejudices, and so on—continuously fills in the gaps in our perception. For example, when a Western racist stumbles upon a poor Arab on the street, does he not “project” a complex of such prejudices and expectations onto the Arab, and thus “perceive” him in a certain way? This is why SixthSense presents us with another case of ideology at work in technology: The device imitates and materializes the ideological mechanism of (mis)recognition which overdetermines our everyday perceptions and interactions.

And does not something similar happen in Pokémon Go? To simplify things to the utmost, did Hitler not offer the Germans the fantasy frame of Nazi ideology that made them see a specific Pokémon—“the Jew”—popping up all around, and providing the clue to what one has to fight against? And does the same not hold for all other ideological pseudo-entities that have to be added to reality in order to make it complete and meaningful? One can easily imagine a contemporary anti-immigrant version of Pokémon Go where the player wanders about a German city and is threatened by Muslim immigrant rapists or thieves lurking everywhere. Here we encounter the crucial question: Is the form the same in all these cases, or is the anti-Semitic conspiracy theory which makes us see the Jewish plot as the source of our troubles formally different from the Marxist approach which observes social life as a battleground of economic and power struggles? There is a clear difference between these two cases: In the second case, the “secret” beneath all the confusion of social life is social antagonisms, not individual agents which can be personalized (in the guise of Pokémon figures), while Pokémon Go does inherently tend toward the ideologically personalized perception of social antagonisms. In the case of bankers threatening us from all around, it is not hard to see how such a figure can easily be appropriated by a Fascist populist ideology of plutocracy (as opposed to “honest” productive capitalists). … The point of the parallel between Nazi anti-Semitism and Pokémon Go is thus a very simple and elementary one: Although Pokémon Go presents itself as something new, grounded in the latest technology, it relies on old ideological mechanisms. Ideology is the practice of augmenting reality.

Asian-American Cuisine’s Rise, And Triumph, by Ligaya Mishan, New York Times

So begins the $285, 19-course tasting menu at Benu in San Francisco. The egg is a traditional Chinese snack, often called (poetically, if inaccurately) a 1,000-year-old egg, preserved for a few weeks or months in lye or slaked lime, salt and tea. It’s sold by street vendors, tossed into stir-fries and scattered over congee throughout China, parts of Southeast Asia and the world’s Chinatowns. To more than a billion people, it is an utterly commonplace food.

But to present it as an amuse-bouche at one of the most acclaimed fine-dining restaurants in the United States, to a predominantly non-Asian clientele, is radical. For despite America’s long, complicated love affair with Asian cooking, it is hard to imagine such a food, so alien to Western culinary ideals in appearance, aroma, flavor and texture, being served in this kind of setting, let alone embraced, a decade ago.

In Search Of Silence, by Steven Kurutz, New York Times

Erling Kagge, a 54-year-old Norwegian explorer, author and publisher, was sitting one morning last month in the private gardens at the Church of St. Luke in the Fields, a green oasis of relative quiet in the West Village of Manhattan.

“You never find a place that is total silence,” Mr. Kagge said. “I’ve been looking, and I have not found it.”

Terra Incognita: 'The Planet Factory' And 'The Undiscovered Islands', by Genevieve Valentine , NPR

To be human is to wonder where we are. We look at the the ocean and imagine the far shore; we look into the night sky and imagine someone waving back. Life is uncertain and frightening. Our fears need maps. We want to understand what we're looking at.

Two recent books look at the very human (sometimes all-too-human) process of trying to make sense of the known universe: The Un-Discovered Islands: An Archipelago of Myths and Mysteries, Phantoms and Fakes, by Malachy Tallack, and The Planet Factory: Exoplanets and the Search for a Second Earth, by Elizabeth Tasker. They're so stylistically and scientifically disparate as to seem unrelated, but reading them in close succession makes for something greater than the sum of its parts — a joint atlas of human guesses in a world that seems destined to confound us.

'Wonder Valley' Is An L.A. Thriller That Refuses To Let Readers Look Away, by Michael Schaub, Los Angeles Times

Pochoda has a real gift for pacing, and she's a remarkably psychologically astute writer; it's hard not to feel at least some kind of sympathy for all the characters, even the ones capable of monstrous acts of violence and selfishness. It's a gorgeous portrayal of, as one character puts it, "the place to be when you don't belong anywhere else, when you've done things that make the straight world an impossible place to live."