Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Something about Borges

I've been reading some stories by Borges and I'm going to write a paper relating his writing to modern day perceptions of reality and new media. In some way.

Some of my thoughts:
In "the Circular Ruins" there are possibly different degrees of "realness", and in light of modern technology it presents us with questions about whether more real, tangible things are of greater value. The character in the story creates a man in his dreams that becomes real in a perceptible sense, but is concerned with the creation being sad about his unrealness. When we create or acquire things like music, images and programs on computers, they are are less tangible and in a sense less real, but our perception of this kind of thing as valid property has changed, as evidenced by intellectual property laws and things like that. In the Web 2.0 era, digital matter has perhaps become even less tangible, with more network-based programs and cloud computing, the data is in a much less tangible place than the CPUs or disks we might have in our homes. The servers and networks we are connected to are invisible to us. We don't know where they are, and for the most part we have no idea how they work. As far as we can tell, the exist in a separate dimension from the real space that we inhabit.

I'm curious about how this generation is adjusting to this shift of consciousness and becoming increasingly entrenched in a different, less tangible world (not unlike the character in the story, whose life and work becomes increasingly invested in dreams as he sleeps). Is it worse to be entrenched in this digital world? Does digital property have the same value? In a brief moment, I could download an "album" of music out of thin air onto my laptop which is physically connected to nothing, whereas my father at my age had to go to a record shop and buy a physical record album. Does the record or even a CD have more value than an mp3? Digital sales have shown us that to many of the "digital natives" generation, it doesn't really. There's also a lot to consider about the nature of digital relationships.

So there are a lot of questions here but no answers. How do I feel about the "digital world"? Well, I'm kind of ambivalent. Personally, I'm trying not to live in the digital world so much. It's way too easy to waste time. But I can see the value and the power of it. I'm not opposed to using social networking and related technology. There's not really anything less real or less valid about ideas or artwork shared online.

(So, I did a google image search on "circular ruins" to find a cool picture, and came across the photo above on the blog of none other than the awesome David Byrne. It's a Mayan ruin from his travels to the Yucatan. He talks about this very story and how it relates to Mayan culture. I need to go back and check this out)


  1. Your circular ruins thing is very interesting, and I just had a brain wave as I was reading your last little blurb about Mayans. Um, is there any way that new media and digital media could be compared to perhaps a Mayan perception of the world? I mean, you are relating both online media and the Mayans to Borges' magical realism, so why not? I don't know...maybe that's a ridiculous stretch.

    here is a link to an article about intellectual property and new media. there are several other pages w/ related topics on this site too.

  3. You mentioned that you personally are ambivalent to the "digital world" and that it is an easy way to waste time. Yet it is also a powerful tool that we can use for many different aspects. I've noticed that younger kids are completely enveloped in the "digital world". It is being incorporated in the education system. Should we be worried that the future will involve isolation and only socializing through social networks? I don't know, it is something to think about.

  4. You might find it interesting to read some more current literature that addresses the uncertain realities created by online communities.

    "Snow Crash" by Neal Stephenson was a well-reviewed science-fiction novel written in the early days of the interweb. I've read it, and it's a page-turner. Also, according to wikipedia, it popularized the term "avatar" for an online presence.

    Also, an even earlier (1984) novel called "Neuromancer," by William Gibson, has recieved even higher praise, and is credited with popularizing the term "cyberspace."

    Both novels might be interesting to compare with the more magical/fantastic themes from Borges. Would they be a natural modern-day translation of Borges' themes?

  5. I'm really interested by what you were saying about the digital world being less tangible. While these intangible things become more and more real to us, since we spend an increasing percentage of our time interacting with them, can it make the physical world around us seem less real? This makes me think of those life-imitating virtual worlds that some people can get so caught up in that it becomes more real and important to them than the outside world. It's something entirely invented and unreal, but realistic and enticing enough that it becomes reality to some.

  6. Going along with Katherine's comment on the increasing realism of the intangible, I found a great post someone had done on her blog expressing her own perceptive elaboration on the subject.

    She's also provided a couple of links in her post if you're interested in the source of her thoughts. It sounds promising enough. Hopefully it can help give more concrete examples to flesh out your own ideas.