[iDC] Alan's questions about media theory/ies

Alan Sondheim sondheim at panix.com
Sat Jul 25 19:34:51 UTC 2009

On Sat, 25 Jul 2009, Dean, Jodi wrote:

> I was happy to read Alan's turning us again to work, labor, and play 
> because I was wondering how our recent discussions might link up with 
> these. I confess to not having any concrete ideas on this point 
> (although different trajectories might begin with media or antagonism, 
> or language or assemblages....)
> Alan writes:
> One surely thinks through intelligences, knowings, fields, and it's hard 
> to pin these things down. One thing comes to mind, probably as untrue as 
> any of the above - that labor is externally inscribed, and play 
> internally so - one might walk away from play, change the rules, delete, 
> just as any superstructure's always wobbly? But labor - I mean one might 
> not even know all the rules, and this ignorance is at a cost (having 
> been let go from university once or twice, not to mention other jobs, 
> I'm as sure of this as I am of my own neurosis which blinds me).
> I don't think I agree with the internal inscription /external 
> inscription idea--but it's an interesting idea. There are drives to 
> work; a subject might feel to be at their mercy, even as they push from 
> within. And, what about never learning to play (poor Michael Jackson).
> But maybe I am misinterpreting internal and external here and it has 
> more to do with Venn diagrams or patterns and fields?
> Jodi

I agree with you here, and am having troubles making distinctions (maybe 
because of the heat! - see below) - I wrote the following trying to think 
this through.

First, though, Jackson is a good example of why the scheme's all wrong - 
the complexity of the world doesn't allow for these sorts of distinctions. 
Venn diagrams wouldn't help except in the small, and I think it was 
Herbert Simon who described the world in terms of 'nearly decomposable 
hierarchies' - which seems the real 'miracle' - that one can apply say 
Aristotelian logic with everyday objects, even though this flies apart on 
the quantum and black whole level. So Venn might hold within a purified 
'potential well' at a certain scale and within a certain aegis, but once 
we're within the human, everything's messy. (Which is why I keep, for 
example, issues of culture open - even within the mess, there are things 
at stake, and the more one is open, the better I think.)

Anyway, the internal/external thing is full of holes. But labor embodies a
fundamental exteriority - one is called upon to perform, for capital, for
survival, whereas play 'wobbles,' it's superstructural, not fundamental.
Play is an internal agreement to follow consensual rules; if it becomes a
performance for survival, capital, it's work. These are fuzzy and irreso-
lute ideas, but there's something 'about' coercion in relation to work, and
something 'about' the wobble in relation to play that I want to empha- size.
Things are murkier when rite/ritual are brought into the picture,
sufficiently murky that the distinctin might be useless.

Let's say that labor is a dwelling in an inert world and play a temporary
life within a consensual one. Labor is brute, play is chimera which may or
may not be brute. There's play at the heart of labor as one temporarily
wears or resists a world, and labor at the heart of play. But the latter is
consensual (what _is_ a baseball game), and the former, within its world, is
chosen for one.

More nonsense...

- Alan, trying to think in a loft around 85F.

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