Reaction papers – “National \ Modern Preliminaries” Geeta Kapur

The following is a reaction paper from my MFA critical theory course circa 2012. The selection that it is a reaction to is a section of “National \ Modern Preliminaries” by Geeta Kapur which can be found here –

Jesse Charles
Reaction paper – “National/Modern Preliminaries”

After our in-class discussion of this reading, I feel that I have a pretty good idea of what it is about. The center periphery model as mentioned by Kapur seems to be the key to the whole paper. I want to say that this model is an effect of colonial ethnocentrism in the style of Herbert Spencer, but really it seems more like a parallel. After Franz Boas, most anthropologists have a good idea of what to watch out for in regards to the problem of ethnocentrism, but the mechanics of this type of perspective find homes in all walks of life, not just cultural anthropologists.

The result that Kapur talks about, I think, is a strange kind of marginalization that comes about by kinds of reverse ethnocentric views by a culture of another culture. It is almost as if small nations are locked into an exchange with only one larger nation culturally. One outcome of this is that the perception of “modern” culture is skewed in and by each nation.

For the larger nation, cultural elements from smaller nations are appropriated as novel, frequently without concern for the context with which that element belongs. The idea of modern then for the larger nation remains in that nations own terms and integrates the misappropriated cultural elements from the other as its own. For the smaller nation, this process marginalizes their identity, the large nation viewing them as being in a lower state of development, and to some extent, sees elements of the culture as obsolete. There is a cultural feedback loop in this arrangement such that as the smaller nation strives for modernity (as defined by the larger nation) they may grow to consider their national heritage in the same, negative light that the larger nation does.

The effect that I think Kapur is concerned about is the future inability of the smaller nations to arrive at their own, culture supported, view of modernity.

I think I mentioned in class that this discussion makes me feel guilty. I love learning about other cultures, however I feel like even my own good-intentioned attempts are shaded by American ethnocentrism. It might be an exaggeration, but I feel like all I know about India is food and religion, and even those are colored by my American experience. This leads me to my two big questions on the topic. Have I done due diligence in my learning about other cultures? If I haven’t, then how do I in terms of overcoming my perspective as well as getting access to the information? I can’t answer these myself, but I think they are worth considering.

Reaction papers – “My Mother was a Computer” N Katherine Hayles

The following is a reaction paper from my MFA critical theory course circa 2012. The selection that it is a reaction to is the prologue and Chapter 1 of “My Mother was a Computer” by N. Katherine Hayles which can be found here –

Jesse Charles

Reaction paper – “My mother was a computer”

In our excerpt from “My Mother was a computer” Katherine Hayles seems to set out to explore concepts involved in the topic of post-humanism. I’m not sure why I have such negative reactions to these philosophical writings, but it seems to be becoming more of a trend as time goes on. I might speculate that it’s because I feel uneasy with building entire complex arguments on suppositional information. (alas, this seems to be the name of the game) I understand the intended point, but I can’t help but feel it’s a waste of time. Continue reading

LCD Television Recyclability and Human Recycling Behavior

Here’s a paper I wrote in 2009 about LCD television recyclability and human recycling behavior. The setup for this is that I was working with Purdue anthropology Professor Kory Cooper to consider the human part of a project by a group of Materials Science faculty and students. This project came from interactions with the Electronics Takeback coalition, a group that promotes green design and responsible recycling in the electronics industry.

This project was particularly interesting for me because it merged my two main interests at the time, industrial design and anthropology. It was unfortunate that we weren’t able to get any more dirt from industrial designers of LCD televisions regarding their design choices. I had a hunch that many of the decisions end up being institutional “we’ve always done it this way” or the fact that designers are often too cramped for time to really work on such considerations. I think given what I know now, I probably could wrangle the people to get more information in this regard. It is also unfortunate that this never got published proper. That part was out of my hands. I hope this at least made it to the ETB and they got some use from it. I had fun researching and writing it.

If any of this is interesting to you, check out work by Professor Cooper. He focuses on material anthropology, mostly of Native North Americans, and uses a lot of modern technology to understand the past of objects.

download a PDF of this paper
and a PDF of the annotated bibliography


LCD Television Recyclability and Human Recycling Behavior

Jesse Charles

Purdue University


Consumers buy a lot of electronic devices, which almost all inherently have a short life before obsolescence. The problem I am presenting in this paper is the issue of the post-consumer life of these products and the implications therein. An attempt is made to generate a holistic view of the situation from materials used in manufacture, through consumer behaviors, to product post-life. Also presented are ideas that could help to attenuate negative factors by promoting recycling behavior, encouraging greener product design, encouraging proper e-waste handling and increasing government influence on these issues. The focus in this case is specifically on LCD televisions, one of the most popular kinds of consumer electronics.

Continue reading

“Local” music / “The history of Lafayette Music according to Pat McClimans”

There’s some allure for me in music attached to a geography that I also am attached to. Last week I watched a documentary called “It’s Gonna Blow: San Diego’s Music Underground 1986-1996“. It was pretty good. I’ve gathered some “dots” of information about the San Diego music scene past, but this helped me connect them and make a little more sense of it.

Hearing about some of this stuff in a chronological context reminded me a lot of some things that I saw and heard about in Lafayette. In my formative years (1998-ish) there, I ran a local music website, and at one point around 2001, my friend Pat was kind enough to write me a fairly comprehensive history of the Lafayette music scene from his vantage point. It coincides with the timespan covered in the aforementioned movie quite well, and I’d guess that similar other stories across the country match too. Kind of a Dischord Records to post-Seattle era. I can’t tell if this was a particularly good window of time for music, or if I’m just partial because it’s when I was young and into music.

Anyway, here’s Pat’s history of Lafayette music: Continue reading

Business and design – Street Fighter II

I’m going through my old blog posts and trying to dispense with the many posts I started but never finished. This is one of those..

Based on this amazing “Oral history of Street Fighter II” published by video game website, polygon, I had intended to dig deep into some thoughts on how business influences design positively. This is pretty relevant to me, as most of the time it seems like the constraints that business puts on design cause things to be terrible for everyone involved. (don’t get me started on the computer hardware and software industries’ ploy to keep us buying new releases and new crap to run it on, year after year)

Anyhow, I started this post In February of 2014. I’ve slept many times since then, and therefore can’t remember what my contribution to this discussion was to be, but I still think the text below is worth sharing. Yoshiki was the head of arcade development at Capcom Japan. If you’re unfamiliar with the game Street Fighter II, it was a pretty relevant title at the time just before video arcades were overtaken by home consoles. It’s big contribution to the video game world was the two player, head to head setup. I think games like Gauntlet (’85) were already multiplayer, but not in a head to head way, which really increased both the social aspect (I remember the lines to play SFII at Aladdin’s Castle in Castleton Mall, Indianapolis) but also often shortened the play time per quarter, in a “fair” way.

Anyway, a fun story. Check the full tale at polygon –


YoshikiokamotoYOSHIKI OKAMOTO:

Back in the day, people at arcades weren’t happy. Space Invaders was popular and cost 100 yen ($1) to play. And we were thinking, if you’re playing a shooter and there’s a lot of bullets coming at you, that’s a lot of fun. But if it doesn’t last very long, then developers are happy and arcade operators are happy, but players aren’t happy. So we were thinking really hard about what would make everybody happy.

We thought about putting big machines in arcades, so you would need to spend 500 yen per game — developers would be happy because they would make more money, players would be happy because they would get a better experience, but arcade operators wouldn’t be happy because it would cost a lot to swap these big machines in and out.

So we thought about it more and came to the conclusion that if two people played at once … operators would get twice the money. Players would essentially split the cost so they could both play for longer. We kind of did that with Final Fight since players help each other out, but we realized some players still felt cheated because the game was too difficult … If we dictated the difficulty, players could always get frustrated. But if players were competing against each other, whether they won or lost would be up to them. So we were thinking that could take out the frustration.

On the topic of pop music driving anti-intellectualism..

As I’m trying to establish myself here in San Diego, I’ve found that I’m gravitating towards music again. I’m just a few blocks from a great concert venue that a lot of locals and larger names play, and I think that finding myself in that fray reminds me how much accumulated knowledge, and maybe even skill I have in the area.

While I’ve been thinking more deeply philosophically about music, expression and identity, I bumped into a couple of interesting articles. The first, The Assault on Intellect: How Popular Music’s Lyrics Perpetuate American Idiocy cites work by Andrew Powell-Morris on the topic of “Lyrical Intelligence” wherein the author uses some rubric to determine the reading level of lyrics on the billboard charts over the past 10 years and graphs it all out. The takeaway is that lyrically, pop music is getting dumber.

I don’t necessarily agree with the metric – I think I’d like to somehow measure the depth of the themes of the songs as well as the instrumental maturity.. but nevertheless, it’s a pretty interesting idea, and one that has crossed my mind in the past. Notably, I remember a paraphrase from a friend back in Lafayette on the topic of local bands – “I don’t like local bands; They all try to make their music difficult”. The last half of that certainly has some salience to me. I remember playing in one of my longer running bands, Summerfield, and trying so hard to create something original and challenging. I’ve come to understand this as something of an appeal to ego, but doesn’t make me value it any less. I think the flip side is a band that can go play a three chord song that people enjoy dancing to. Both are valid in their own ways.. Why I’m attracted more to the former, I don’t know. Leaving a lasting mark? Advancing an artform? Self fulfillment from conquering a challenge?

Back to the literature review though.. I saw another article around the same time that referenced a GZA interview on the topic of the absence of lyricism in modern hip-hop. I’ve heard a little of this material before in other interviews with the rapper, but this was a broader collection of ideas. GZA’s criteria of quality aren’t that well organized, but I’ll attempt to capture them in bullet point format here:

  • lyrical
  • Strong
  • Fresh
  • New
  • discussing the art of MCing
  • good analogies
  • good wordplay
  • good sentence structure
  • good visuals
  • not about negative things (?)
  • having a message
  • telling a great story
  • grabbing you / pulling you in
  • understanding life
  • witty
  • intellectual
  • smart rhymes
  • clever rhymes

I see three main themes in these items.. The first is embracing a kind of “meta” culture – describing your rapping skills, and maybe even bragging about them. This is definitely a prominent element in most music styles, but I’m not sure if is really a strong thread in what makes lyrics “good”, at least not for me, from a critical viewpoint.

Storytelling is another theme mentioned by GZA. This one definitely resonates with me and I’ve often cited a good story as the main driver for my preference of hip hop songs. In an era of popular artists bragging about material possessions and success at dubious endeavors, hearing a good story can make a difference.

The last, and largest theme in GZA’s list of preferred qualities seems to be a general intellectual depth and thoughtfulness. Both in terms of being a person with a broad knowledge to draw from but also displaying an aptitude for abstract thinking. This, I think, most relates to the example I cited above about local bands. GZA’s motivations to be creative, innovative and intellectual may be ego driven, but they do also push the envelope of what other artists are doing.

Looping back to the Lyrical intelligence rating, I suspect the criteria used there would probably call GZA’s works less intelligent since the main metric is application of grammar rules – something that is less important to the artist than the wit and craftiness he imbues.

So what?

I guess I wrote this all out to start a conversation with myself about how to make smarter music. I’m going to forego the question of whether challenging music is better or worse than simple music. What is “good” to me? and how would one integrate the conversational tradition of most music lyrics with something more heady?