Note to reader: this is a postgraduate study blog entry.
I wrote three blog entries this week. Not all are about my postgraduate studies, but they do link-up somehow. I did not post these blogs.
It reminded me of when I was working (in an office environment). When someone or something pissed you off, your immediate reaction is to just reply in a nasty email to tell them what you really think. Drafting the email is probably enough to calm you and most of the time, if you let that draft email sit, you’ll find that after a day or even just a few hours, you can write a better worded email, or that it was completely unnecessary anyway.
That is self-censorship. Growing older is a process of learning more about self-censorship in relation to society. You know more of what makes the society (around yourself) tick and what makes it pissed off. You try and minimise discomfort or confrontation; you want to be a nice person. Or do you really?
In discussions about Darwin’s publication of On Natural Selection, it has been said that he sat on his research for a long time before he dared publish it because he knew that there would be a massive reaction from the public, both for and against his ideas. During the Victorian period, the way the society acts and reacts is very different from what we are used to today. Very little shocks us today, but what happened then with Darwin, was so futuristic (and history questioning) that it would have appeared as somewhat of a knowledge bomb. Of course, there had already been other philosophers who had been slowly paving the way with new ways of thinking and perceiving about our natural world, but none had promoted as precise and dramatic an argument with evidence as Darwin did.
If Darwin had continued to self-censor, would that period of scientific growth had happened? Probably yes. There were other philosophers with similar ideas (perhaps not similar evidences), but it did look like there were others headed towards the same conclusions as Darwin. So, is there a need for self-consorship? If not, why are we so bothered about it?
As Salman Rushdie once asked, “What is the freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist.”
One could argue that Darwin had more than an expression to make. He had knowledge to share which would change the way humans think forever. What does it matter if it offended some people. Surely the impact of the knowledge is far greater than the offence, which is just an inevitable casualty? Also, the reader has a choice of being offended by the article or not, or to respond and react, or not.
I read Chinua Achebe’s ‘Things Fall Apart’ in preparation for one of my lessons next week. Throughout the book, I enjoyed the little folk stories and the main plot that flowed through, written in what seems to be a very sincere voice. The last paragraph of the book, however, killed the entire book for me. The emotions I felt went from questioning (why, would he end it like that) to somewhat understanding (what Achebe was trying to achieve) to being offended and utterly disgusted. That is my personal point of view and I think that it plays from my background, of being from a part of the British colony before and trying to survive as a Commonwealth Citizen and finally being a Londoner and somewhat British.
The point though is that I chose to be offended. I do not hate Achebe for what he has written, and I would probably recommend the book to others, but I personally hate it. What does this mean?
We were told earlier in the week that research comes from clues, curiosity, bewilderment and hate. Those four words can be correctly used for my process in reading Achebe. That is research. It is from my want to know and to understand that I read the book, which then formed into an opinion. It doesn’t stop there though. This opinion could be changed, could be questioned as further knowledge is sourced and analysed. Nothing is final.
It is the curiosity that drives us in research, that keeps us going. Research is not straightforward. The strangest things could lead to a link and discovery without you knowing, which makes discrimination of information difficult. We were advised that if we ever get stuck, we should try to place two things/images that have no relevant or obvious connection next to each other. The more different the better, and that this exercise may trigger thoughts and connections that would have never before.
This idea got stuck in my head. I see connections everywhere and it seems normal or obvious at most times, but when you question whether others see the same connections, I think you will find an array of answers.
Take this image, which has been shared all over Facebook recently as an example:
For many of us, the link is obvious. However, as the photo suggests, the next generation will find it near impossible to understand the link. They will need to do some research, to dig up the history of tape and what our habits were in using the tape to understand this. To do that, they would need to have an open mind and be able to look for the clues, be curious enough to question and persist on the search. When they find out what the connection is, they will probably be bewildered that it is such a simple thing as to rewind the tape that the pencil is used for and they might even hate the notion for its simplicity and somewhat mindlessness, but it is a core part of the culture in the past. We all had to rewind tapes. We had to know which side we wanted to listen to. We could even rewind the tape manually until such spot where our favourite track was. With the digital world today, that action is lost.
I felt that I travelled through a similar journey during the Creative Digital Technology lesson last week when we discussed digitalisation and what are glitch artists and net art. For me, the idea of a glitch artist is a waste of time. Yes, it does explain digitalisation of images well and it does bring a different level of image manipulation into view, but the idea of deleting a part of the source code of the image (character/line/paragraph/etc) to create a version of the image (whether recognisable or not) seems juvenile.
I know that this is an arrogant reaction on my part. Net art is the same. We were shown some old pieces of net art (from ’94) where some artists decided that they did not want how they viewed the internet to be dictated, so they developed their own web browser. You can view any websites with this browser, but it will not show you the information in any comprehensible manner, as the designers of the websites intended. To simplify this action, I would describe it as someone buying a book/novel and then deciding on a random sequence of pages to read. With this example, you could possibly still make some sense of what the author was trying to tell the reader, but with the ‘art browser’, I think the writer/designer/producer’s intentions are all lost.
Were these net artists being rude to website creators? Surely that isn’t very respectful? Does it matter? Many large corporations now sue people when they are misrepresented, even if it is just the case of a logo being stretched the wrong way or filtered with colours that are not part of their corporate schemes. Again, is this offensive? Don’t viewers have the right to view things in any way they want to? Don’t people have the right to interpret things in their own way?
In our lives today, we are obsessed with the idea of choice. Choice seems to represent freedom for humanity in today’s discussions. It really does not, but humanity cannot seem to split the two. I believe in the freedom of choice, BUT (see, it is a VERY BIG BUT), I believe as well that we need to be fully informed before we can be given a freedom of choice. Just by telling someone ‘you can take either the left or right path’ is not enough anymore. What both paths lead to, need to be clearly explained so that an informed decision can be made.
If viewers/audiences want to be able to make a choice in how they view art or websites, they need to know what choices are available first and what it all means. Just saying ‘view this, it is art’ is not enough anymore. I don’t want to stop you from consuming, but I think it is important that consumers look deeper and question what they are consuming. They might learn to understand, maybe respect and perhaps like things that they never used to.
That was what happened with me and poetry. We had to read Tennyson’s In Memoriam for class. I generally have no affinity for poetry and so, when I picked up In Memoriam, I was in despair when I realised that it has 131 stanzas. I gritted my teeth and ploughed on. My initial thoughts were that it was over-romanticised, repetitive and miserable. Though that is not wrong, I was shown in class, after discussions about Darwin and Lyell and the Victorian period in general, how In Memoriam could be read and understood differently. I came away from the class with a new understanding for poetry. I wouldn’t go as far to say that I like it now, but at least I understand it better and can appreciate it for the quality piece of writing that it is.
In Memoriam shall be my reminder from now, about how education promotes appreciation, and that whether you dislike or even hate something, do not be too quick to judge it. You could still hate the object but more importantly, you are able to appreciate the quality of it.