UNDERCURRENT #5: Abstracts

UNDERCURRENT #5 is finally available online after an extraordinary series
of delays. Issue #6 is also in the works and should be out by the end of
this winter. Below is the introductory overview of the new issue. The
full hypertext of every article is available for free online at this web


UNDERCURRENT #5 Fall '97 Introductory Abstracts

The fifth issue continues to braid together several thematic strands taken
up in prior articles. Most obvious of these is the second part of
"Virtual Battlefields" by Warren Sproule, continued from the last issue.
In this conclusion to Sproule's argument for a sociology that can account
for the effects of real warfare in an era distracted by postmodernist
virtuality, we find a canny critique of the theorists of war. The author
concludes with a call for a "greater concentration on 'cracks' within, and
shards of 'reality' glimpsed through, the constructed images of
globally-dominant states increasingly given over to violent armed
intervention, bolstered by forms of social theorising which passively
deny, or actively support, such activity."

As though to answer this call, yet with at least two surprises of its own,
is Floyd Rudmin's study of the history of war-planning against Canada by
the American military: "Questions of U.S Hostility Toward Canada: A
Cognitive History of Blind-Eye Perception". To be more exact,
Rudmin's object is not so much this collection of war plans, exercises,
and spying in itself (although those are represented in impressive
detail), but rather the cognitive avoidance of such facts by the press,
the public, and by prior scholars of this very history. Rudmin's case
study of this systematic avoidance of unpleasant implications is also an
exemplary instance of an interdisciplinary approach he calls "cognitive
history." a method that combines social history and cognitive psychology,
in particular the work of Icheiser. Cognitive historiography may well
become an adjunct to studies of social memory, ideology, and the sociology
of everyday knowledge.

But we are blind about much more than international relations, according
to "The Spectacle of Information" by William Brown. Everyday life has been
colonized by an inward turn of capitalist expansion in its historic
invention of consumerism. This intimate invasion of consciousness has been
greatly assisted by forms of mass entertainment, most recently of digital
networks. Everything has already been packaged, commodified, and
distributed: "Wars, riots, law enforcement, criminal justice, elections,
political scandals, investigative journalism, expert opinion of all
stripes, predictions and forecasts, and news, traffic and weather reports
(to name just a few) are produced, distributed and consumed as
entertainment products. Even commercial advertisements for products are
produced to be consumed as entertainment, as integrated 'info-tainment.'"
As it reaches the schools, this has become edu-tainment. Brown updates Guy
Debord's critique of the society of the spectacle for the advent of the
Information Age by analyzing how information becomes a commodity and how
"data" mystifies this process.

Speaking of computerization, in a sequence of vignettes about her
experiences with computers as a male domain, Sharon Jansen reflects on the
old question, "Why do fools fall in love?" Her witty essay on "Men &
Microchips" comes up with a couple of new answers to the old question: "
Yet it's not simply the illusion of engagement that is so dangerous here.
Nor is it that these machines--so dutiful, so obedient, so available, so
prompt--are, after all, so absolutely controlled and manipulated by the
men who use them. It's something more. It's the flattering picture that
these machines offer to the men who love them, for through their computers
these men are free to engage themselves, to create themselves, to be who
and what they will--effortlessly. At no time since the Renaissance has
male self-fashioning been so seductive or so easy: 'O supreme generosity
of God the Father, O highest and most marvelous felicity of man! To him it
is granted to have whatever he chooses, to be whatever he wills.' Giovanni
Pico della Mirandola would have loved to spin on the Web.

Finally, in an essay that addresses a hotbutton issue in the culture wars,
Alan Sikes analyzes the implications of "Social Protest and the
Performance of Gay Identity" in a manner that transcends existing
polemics. After reporting about his participation at the big 1993 March on
Washington for Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Equal Rights and Liberation,
Sikes explores how the latest theories of identity and subjectivity speak
to a set of dilemmas and paradoxes found in gay discourse. Sikes points
out a discursive instability there between notions of "difference" and
"sameness". Essentialist assumptions about identity seem to sprout up from
within the rhetoric of difference, even within its newer "performative"
versions which parody heterosexual subjectivity. The "difference"
highlighted by such campy performativity falls back into an "essentialist
trap" in which homosexual identity is assumed to be unproblematized. Sikes
closes with the recognition "that one must live with a sense of 'doubled'
consciousness--aware of the contingency and instability of one's own
identity position, yet cognizant of the powerful way in which this
position organizes and even enables our existence."

Please feel free to browse and/or download each article from our website.
Erick Heroux


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