Nature is not natural and can never be naturalized — Graham Harman

Friday, April 19, 2013

Constance Penley 3


Q&A

Q: Sony and the military. How do you map out those partnerships? Where there is conflict? Or a different vision? 

A: The head of philanthropy at Sony. When we came to Blue Horizons she says “my son at Cal Poly...what he would have done with a project like that” and she cried! That became the benchmark for our fundraising. “What are the students shooting their films on?” And I had handwritten list of what was needed--10 Sony cameras. ... and from there we now have collaboration. It was through Blue Horizons. They also supported Green Screen. Finding mutual interests rather than compromise. I hope that’s not naive or corny. 

Q: Bill Arnold (Business). What can you tell us is most applicable to Rice? 

A: You can tell me. Do you have an ecology dept? I don’t know. It’s about brainstorming. What needs to be done and what resources do we have? I can imagine you have had some contentious issues that have arisen. It’s about developing relationships over a very long time. In 1991 UCSB raised what UCLA put IN to its development office! 

Q: What about popular culture? 

A: Our scientists are so chagrined about The Day after Tomorrow. But how about using it as your way in? There is a forthcoming TV series: Cameron and Schwarzenegger are producing 6 or 8 part series on global warming for Showtime. It is a huge endeavor. Will they use time travel tropes? It would be irresistible to see what they do. 

One might think media scholars might only study representations of environment in film. But you might end up doing it on media in the environment. Work on for instance underwater media. Literally underwater media cables and so on. We are always playing with that kind of paradox. 

Q: Aynne. I am working with some computer scientists doing analysis of social media. Navigating the boundaries of disciplines. This is exciting work, working together can be challenging too. “Is this media studies or computer science?” How do you frame it? So it can have multiple types of influence. 

A: I’m a terrible person for advice like that. I have been the luckiest scholar on the planet, getting away with following my fascinations and not carving out a research trajectory. It helps if you have sympathetic admin and deans. The UCSB culture is good that way. You have to have a place where that is rewarded and not penalized. 

Q: is the center in a college? 

A: yes, letters and science. Humanities, Fine Arts, Social Science. 

Q: is there a way in which your practice of media studies has changed or flexed as you have interfaced with scientists and also technologies? At Rice we opened a visualization center, funded by Chevron. I can imagine that being highly innovative. 

A: We say that we do everything from silent film to satellites. We think we are in the forefront of media studies. Remember that broad definition of what counts as media? I have a colleague who just received NSF funding with a computer scientist on how our planet is transformed by being encircled by broadcast and visioning tech. The footprint of those is changing our world. Wireless networks in Zambia. Forensic science: black boxes, crash test dummies. Videogames of course. Cuba as a digital nation. Imaging Tech, Gender and Science on camera obscura (non cinematic imaging tech). 

Q: One concern I have is how to find the bridge between theory and application. A bunch of people turn off when it gets too applied. Or too theoretical. Top notch work and practical. People need to be respected as top notch, specialized vocab etc (esp at beginning). But then to come back up and inspire the public. It attracts me as a challenge but I’m also a little frightened by it. 

A: There are so many answers to that. One thing is looking for opportunities. The NSF increasingly understands the value of interdisciplinarity. Whole sections of NSF fund these projects. They don’t just want to just have media consultants. They like specialists. They didn’t want it to be like a Negroponti project of airdropping computers without trying to understand. Going in there and doing crucial observation. 

The sciences are not just instrumentalizing us now. They see the value of our specialization. The fight is also worth it. Sometimes in the humanities we worry a little bit about resource allocation. The money from our workload is siphoned off for startup packages for those in the sciences. But think of those cross subsidies. What can we get from them too? 

I’d be interested in hearing from you. I’m certain I’ll be hearing it in the papers. What you think is possible for your location? What opportunities, what challenges? 

Q: I just finished my dissertation on cement industry. I ended up working with the builders. They are worried about what is going on and what does it mean. We need to look at the life and aging of highways and overpasses. That is something interesting particularly in this location. It is built for and by concrete. It is also a concrete capital. 

A: This is like my student. I see and think about underwater cables now. 

Q: My discipline is Anthro, Civil Engineering, Cultural Studies.  

A: That was such a good example. 

Q: If you are in Civil Engineering you are adhered to a lab or a grant already defined. But as an Anthropologist...

A: The big project we have is to maintain UC as a public institution. And strengthen the humanities. Going on the defensive never works. “It is good for you” etc. We are trying to link up with the sciences and engineering too. And make the case for the humanities from doing the humanities wherever we get the chance. 

Q: I am a historian by trade. We are the birthplace of the modern oil industry. Our students need breadth for the jobs they are about to do. They are not getting it on energy. Most who come to UH will >> energy related jobs. They need a context on energy and the connectedness with eco. 

Q: I deal with Africa and oil. I see Houston as an amazing treasure trove of data and people. I have just tried to embrace this extreme. My earliest memory as a kid was dead animals on the beach at 7. My Californian parents had a fit when I moved here. The competition between TX and CA is immense and influential for America. This is just as extreme as Hollywood. Juggernauts when it comes to politics. I am afraid for what I say in class. When you castigate oil companies you are taking the easy way out. We have used oil companies as an excuse to keep on doing what we are doing. 

A: You are using your experience to forge new forms of scholarship. How are you going to do it without being knee jerk one way or another? 

Q: Sometimes it requires a therapist. 

A: My head explodes all the time. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s $20 million professorship at USC...In terms of compromises I can tell you that I would never have to deal with that at UCSB. Though we loved him taking our chancellor to China! 


I am being a bit of a Polyanna. Gramsci: pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will. 

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