Monday, August 2, 2010


Agaben is a very dense reading in that the chapters deal with many different issues and animals alike. The main concept Agaben addresses is the cognitive experience we have between man and animal. My question is, has the relationship between man and animal changed or has animal taught something about man verses what scientists haven't already answered?


There are many ways to describe how animals symbolize our society today. Zodiac signs, domesticated animals, symbolism, learning purposes (the zoo), transportation are just a few examples as to how we see animals. But why do we really look at animals in different ways? Are we fascinated by them, as they are by us?

John Berger explains, “What distinguished man from animals was the human capacity for symbolic thought, the capacity which was inseparable from the development of language in which words were not mere signals, but signifiers of something other than themselves. Yet, the first symbols were animals. What distinguished men from animals was born of their relationship with them” (Berger 9).

I will agree with Berger in this sense that animals can teach us many knew things. As the old cliché, “a dog is a man’s best friend”, suits well. We should look at animals and what they have done for us and in turn have domesticated them to help us as well. Berger also explains that animals lack human language, which in turn is ethnocentric. I could see where Berger would draw this conclusion in that animals can not physically speak to us; they use sound.

My question to Berger is how does communicating and understanding animals become second nature as if we treat them as our own? Does our communication help us as human communicate and understand them better?

FASSIN response.

First of all, I would like to thank all of you for a wonderful class experience.  I learned a lot from all of you.  Merci beaucoup.

For my last post I would like to focus on Didier Fassin’s article “Humanitarianism and the Politics of Life”.  As we discussed in class last Wednesday, Fassin brings up issues that seem to run counter to the common conception of humanitarian aid.  Briefly, I’ll list the “triple problematic of the humanitarian politic of life” discussed by Fassin:  First, it segregates lives that have the convenience of being risked (aid worker) from those that are to be sacrificed (civilian populations in battle zones).  Second, it separates lives within the organizations into lives deserving high protection (expatriates) and those whose lives are treated with limited protection (host country national staff). Third, it separates between “lives that can be narrated in the first person (expatriate) and lives that are recounted only in the third person (those who are being ‘helped)”.  

It is the third point that I want to focus on.  Part of the humanitarian mission is to witness and recount the atrocities of violence and catastrophe.  This practice brings an interesting problem to light as Fassin has explained.  The intervening individual is the one who tells the story to those who will listen.  This always leaves the victim, whose story it is, to remain voiceless. Third person testimonies are what the populations of ‘developed’ nations hear.  Here’s what Fassin has to say about that:  “[R]equirements of defending cause and the logic of their (the aid worker) intervention lead them to what might be termed a humanitarian reduction of the victim.”

This is something I have experienced first hand, and may have been guilty of doing as well (however, my experiences are not as "life or death" as many of the MSF volunteers) In aid organizations there is an occasional smothering pressure for results (number of women and children participating in a training, number of individuals effected by a certain project).  All needs to be documented and submitted to the HQ who in turn send the documentation to Washington, who then decide whether the mission is successful or not, whether there needs to be more or less people involved (affecting the staff – both expats and national), whether budgets need to be cut, etc.  Upper management is constantly encouraging people to do more, yet it often comes across as an emphasis on results on paper, rather than true results.  Those who do well are rewarded, those you have low numbers are reprimanded.  The result is skewed numbers, exaggerated stories and a “humanitarian reduction of the victim”.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Response to Mary Ann Doane and Henry Giroux

In this reading, Doane presents multiple illustrations about the word "catastrophe". The reading may me think that it is the way each separate news station presents the event to the world. For example do the new stations present the event to inform the viewer about what happened and ways that they could help or do they just repeat the same thing over and over again. Looking at the coverage of Hurricane Katrina, the news stations presented ways to help and sayings such as "all proceeds will go to the victims of Hurricane Katrina".

The news segment in class showed that the news station was talk about housing and insurance, when in reality people just wanted to find families and places to live. They only emphasized pictures of what the hurricanes' damage was, instead of listing relief aid and information to viewers as to how they could help Katrina victims. I vote for finiding family first, then work back up from there in finding out the damage of the home. You can always rebulid a home and in the end the rebuilding of a family is stronger.

Looking at the Giroux reading, he presents the article in an odd way. I do not understand all of his argument fully, which should there be about a Hurricane that took many lives.

Overall, what happened to Hurricane Katrina and any disaster (most recently September 11th and after) should never have to approach it as an argument or present a theory, what happened, happened and the damge is done. Now the news stations should be focusing on helping the victims get back on their feet, if anything the news station may present the event as a "catastrophe" and turn it into something bigger. I vote on helping rebuild families, not rebuild a reputation of a news station that is already known for broadcasting the event every day.

Mary Ann Doane version with 9/11 postscript

Dear all,

Some of you asked to see the copy of Doane's article with the postscript about 9/11. I can't find a file copy of the article, but you can find it in this book:


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Time is television's basis

Mary Ann Doane argues persuasively in her essay "Information, Crisis, Catastrophe that "Time is television's basis, its principle of structuration as well as its persistent reference. The insistence of the temporal attribute may indeed be a characteristic of all systems of imaging enabled by mechanical or electronic reproduction." (pg.222). How would you interpret this statement?

When she wrote this things were quite different than they are today. Television indeed is constructed around time or constructs time itself. Our lives used to go around tv shows or news hours. There was something called appointment television and that is to be in front of the tv at a certain hour to see the news or anything that is going on. Today I think time has change in television. They are not able to schedule our time anymore, we decide what kind of information and at what time we want to consume it. Not only that, also time is constructed by social networks and everyday events of people we know. We crave twitter updates and facebook feeds as much as important events, or probably more. What does it mean that today we are helping to construct the history of tomorrow? That we are part of the history? We are not only spectators any more. Would anyone be able to organize this mess and make sense of it? To analyze it. I feel more and more we turn to citizen journalisms in crisis and catastrophe we are checking updates of the people in the place. Is a technological revolution and everyone is collaborating, the tv is only a part of it!

Monday, July 26, 2010

note on crisis ... or catastrophe?

The conversation today reminded me of the series of essays 'The Spirit of Terrorism' by Jean Baudrillard. They have been bound into a slim volume and I would recommend it if you ever want to explore the intersections of 9/11, globalization, terrorism, and mass media through the eyes of a French philosopher.

Tying into Doane's argument is his observation on the fall of the twin towers:

"Among the other weapons of the system which they turned round against it, the terrorists exploited 'real time' of images, their instantaneous worldwide transmission, just they exploited stock-mark speculation, electronic information and air traffic. ... The image consumes the event, in the sense that it absorbs it and offers it for consumption." (27)

He also states, "Terrorism invents nothing, inaugurates nothing. It simply carries things to the extreme, to the point of paroxysm. ... Terrorism is unreal and unrealistic? But our virtual reality, our systems of information and communication, have themselves too, and for a long time, been beyond the reality principle. As for terror, we know it is already present everywhere, in institutional violence, both mental and physical, in homeopathic doses. Terrorism merely crystallizes all the ingredients in suspension. It puts the finishing touches on the orgy of power, liberation, flows and calculation which the Twin Towers embodied, while being the violent deconstruction of that extreme form of efficiency and hegemony." (58-59)

He also says, rather provocatively, "There is no 'good' use of media; the media are part of the event, they are part of the terror, and they work in both directions." (31)

Anyhow, it's an interesting read ... I know some people were offended when we read it as undergrads, I think because he can 'read' something like 9/11 almost as if it were a public performance piece; personally, I think it's poetic and vastly brilliant.