Friday, January 21, 2011

Ponzo defined

This is a PONZO ILLUSION. It's the name of my blog and I've never really talked about why I chose that name. Matin Ponzo, an Italian psychologist, came up with the phenomenon when trying to illustrate how an object's size is judged relative to its background. Check it out. These three elephants are all the same size. You can measure them. The converging lines cause them to look different. It is the background that determines our relative perception of an object. It is precisely in that spirit that I began this blog.

Today, when I went to surprise Hannah at work with some tiramisu from Cafe Gratitude, she mentioned that she is rereading Susan Sontag's On Photography. We got really revved up talking about Sontag getting unfairly kicked around the canon since her death, the overemphasis on her relation to Barthes, and other hot topics (the streak!). Hannah mentioned feeling really comforted by the experience of rereading a book that was so vital to our respective intellectual development. I first came to Sontag through a New York Times article about Abu Ghraib, "Regarding the Torture of Others." More that my first introduction to Sontag, it was the first time I had read a deeply philosophic treatment of art and form that was invested in the politics I am committed to. What I mean is, in that article I found a model for a political writing that engaged form. I remember the spring day that I read it at my dad's kitchen table. I brought to high school that following day and talked endlessly about it. I had written a paper a little before then about a popular political poster from the 1960's made by a group called Another Mother for Peace.

At the tender age of 17, I was very frustrated by what I understood to be a weak argument by a group of women who didn't understand the necessity of extremism in the face of violence and war. BAMN. More, I was irritated that a antiwar feminist stance had to be articulated through a concern for children and relied on a sense of the maternal for its pathos -I had just heard about rhetoric. I was offended that the furthest they were willing to go was to suggest war is unhealthy, as if hygiene were more important than clear ethical and moral imperatives not to senselessly murder people. Sontag couldn't have shown up at a better moment. With a fantastically deadpan and methodical argument, her essay calls into question the photographs, the events depicted in them and their reception. And it turns out she hates Dazed and Confused too! Anyway, it was nice to remember a pivotal moment in my development as a thinker. As often happens when recollecting how one's changed, I felt a desire to recommit to the practice I found so inspiring in that article and in the spirit of what I was already doing at 17. I want to think harder about the images and ideas that populate this world. I want to think about them rigorously and with respect to the context and discourse in which they are situated. This is a critical task, but it can also be a fun one and I hope an interesting one.
In thinking about the rise of twitter and tumblr, I've often said that what I hate is the decontextualization. The images on tumblr are stripped of all meaning, context, or way to learn anything about their origin. It is a form that allows as little information as possible so as to be just a slick, floating image. With twitter, ideas are capped before even being able to be formed. It's an echochamber of boring bullshit. That ipad bus ad really nails it.

is this what Apple thinks of social media?

A bunch of garbage where people can report their minutia without saying a single interesting thing about it. If I am going to participate in the internet at all (pre-wingnut freakout future), I want to at least think about my contributions and what sort of exchanges it engenders. Of course, I still want to creep on my crush's flickr. Of course, I look at something on wikipedia everyday. But, that doesn't mean I have to act like a the precursor to a common weather phenomenon like a rainbow is an event whose specialness needs to be echoed forever. I don't think every sandwich deserves an archive. Say something interesting about that very same thing and I'm fine with it. Generate an idea, offer it to the world in the form of a very small readership and call it a day. But, the idea part is key. Seriously though, I can't believe they put the thing in about the sandwich. It's like I don't even have to make a parody it's so stupid already.


 Not to worry, though, for all this highfaluting talk about theoretical commitments, this blog will still have as many dog photos as ever. Especially since next weekend is the SAN FRANCISCO DOG SHOW.

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