Medialogies: Reading Reality in the Age of Inflationary Media

Medialogies: Reading Reality in the Age of Inflationary Media


>>From the Library of
Congress in Washington D.C.>>Georgette Dorn: Good
afternoon, I’m Georgette Dorn and I’m the Chief of
the Hispanic Division. It’s a great pleasure
to welcome all of you to this wonderful library and
this wonderful collection. We have the most extensive
Latin American, Spanish and Portuguese collection in
the world, and not just books and periodicals, but
also manuscripts, maps, voice recordings, music,
films and even artefacts in the [inaudible]
collection and more than 7 million maps and atlases. So, it really is worth
being in and beginning with the Hispanic reading room because it’s a beautiful
reading room in the Jefferson Building
on the second floor. It is the oldest foreign area
reading room in the library. It began in 1939, so it
is now a great pleasure to welcome here David Castillo
and Dr. William Eggington, and Patricia, and I’m not
sure what your last name, but Talia will introduce you. And it’s a pleasure to
introduce Talia Guzman-Gonzalez who is the, la madre de
este evento tan importante, Talia Guzman-Gonzalez [ Applause ]>>Talia Guzman-Gonzalez:
Thank you, everyone and good afternoon
for, you know, welcome to the Library
of Congress. My name is Talia Guzman-Gonzalez
and I am a reference librarian and Lusen Brazilian specialist
in the Hispanic Division. It is my great pleasure to
welcome you to this presentation of medialities, reading
reality in the age of inflationary media
composed a cuatro manos by two great scholars David
Castillo and William Eggington. I am very thankful to Patricia
for agreeing to being here and moderating the conversation
that I’m sure is going to be really provocative
and exciting. I will keep my introduction
short so we can move on to the event, but I would
also like to invite everyone to stop by the lobby and see
the exhibit that the people from Rare Books and Special
Collections put together for us today with
some wonderful items, including the first
edition of Don Quixote, so please stop by
and take a peek. So, our speakers today
are David Castillo, David Castillo is the Director
or the Humanities Institute at SUNY Buffalo and Professor
of Spanish in the Department of Romance Languages and
Literature where he served as Chair between 2009 and 2015. He’s the author of “Baroque
Horrors, Roots of the Fantastic in the Age of Curiosities”,
published in 2012 and he is also the co-author of
“Zombie Talk, Culture, History and Politics”, published
in 2016 among other books. His fields of research
includes early, modern and Baroque studies,
Spanish Golden Age, fantasy and horror and cultural
criticism. William Eggington is the Decker
Professor in the Humanities and the Director of the Alexander Grass
Humanities Institute at Johns Hopkins University where he also chairs
the Department of German and Romance Languages
and Literatures. He’s the author, editor
or translator of more than a dozen books including,
“How the World Became a Stage”, published in 2003 and “The
Man Who Invented Fiction, how Cervantes ushered in the
modern world”, published in 2016 and that we had the pleasure
to present here in the library. His research and teaching
focuses in Spanish and Latin American literature,
literary theory and the relation between literature
and philosophy. Patricia Vieira is an
Associate Professor of Spanish and Portuguese, Comparative
Literature, and Film and Media Studies at
Georgetown University and she’s also Associate
Research Professor at The Center for Social Studies of the
University of Coimbra. She’s the editor of five
books and the author of five books including
“Cinema no Estado Novo: a encenacao do regime”,
published in 2011 and the forthcoming book that’s
going to come out in 2018 is “States of Grace: Utopia
in Brazilian Culture”, which hopefully we’ll have
her here at the library to talk about it soon. She also coedits the book
series “Future Perfect: Images of the Time to Come
in Philosophy, Politics and Cultural Studies”
and she cocurates a “Philosophical Salon” at
the L.A. Review of Books. I should let you know that
all of their books are here at the library, so
you’re welcome to come and read them here with us. So, please join me
in welcoming David, Will and Patricia
to the library. [ Applause ]>>David R Castillo:
Bueno, hello everyone, it’s a great pleasure
to be here talking about this wonderful
collaboration that Will and I have worked on. The collaboration itself was
wonderful and the results, it’s for you to judge
[laughter]. By the way, I’ve just
convinced Will to go ahead and write a sequel to the
book, so watch out for that. The tentative title for
the sequel is “Humanists to the Rescue” [audience
laughter] and now we’re on record, so we have
to go ahead and do that [audience laughter]. All right, what I’m going
to try and do here is spin through a series of slides
that I have put together as a spin off from
the book for an event that the UB Alumni Relations
Office hosted last night here in town. I had way more time to go
through the PowerPoint there, so excuse some of the crankiness
here because I’m going to really try to
cut this down into about 15-20 minutes, we’ll see. All right, how did we get here? This is one of the most
interesting quotes you’ll ever read, I think. Ron Suskind, New York
Times Magazine contributor, in the summer of 2002, after
I had written an article in The Squire that
The White House didn’t like about Bush’s former
Communication Director, Karen Hughes. I had a meeting with a Senior
Adviser to Bush, he expressed: “The White House
is displeasured.” And then he told me something that at the time I didn’t fully
comprehend, they said that guys like me were in what we call
the reality-based community which he defined as people who
believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study
of the discernable reality. I nodded. — That’s not the way
the world really works anymore — he continued — we’re an
empire now and when we act, we create our reality and while
you’re studying that reality, judiciously as you
will, we’ll act again, creating other new realities
which you can study, too. And that’s how things
will sort out. We’re history factors and
you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do —
So, this is from Dr. Who, 1977, “You know, the very powerful and
the very stupid have one thing in common: they don’t alter
their views to fit the facts, but they alter the
facts to fit their views which can be uncomfortable
if you happen to be one of the facts that
needs altering.” [Audience laughter]. There is a brand-new
technology that allows for diminished reality. [ Video playing ] I’m just going to play
a little bit of this. [ Music ]>>David R Castillo: All right,
well you get the point there. Things just disappear
in front of your eyes and the technology is so fast that really actually
once you program this, the actual filtering, it
can happen in real time, so let’s see if I can
get back to, all right. [ Music ] Oh, it’s going backwards now. There we go. So, one possible application of this diminishing reality
technology: “Take Google Glass, the company’s overhyped
‘smart glasses’ which can automatically snap
photos of everything we see and store them for posterity. But smart glasses
could do so much more! Why not edit out
disturbing sights that haunt us on
the way to work? Just last year the futurist
Ayesha Khanna even described smart contact lenses that could
make homeless people disappear from view, ‘enhancing our
basic sense’ and, undoubtedly, making our lives so
much more enjoyable. In a way, this does solve the
problem of homelessness — unless, of course, you happen
to be a homeless person. In that case, Silicon
Valley would hand you a pair of overpriced glasses that would
make the streets feel like home. To quote an ad for Samsung’s
fancy TV sets, ‘Reality. What a letdown.'” All right and here we go, this
would be augmented reality. [Video starts].>>Everything started
with this selfie. It shows 18-year-old Syrian
refugee Anas Modamani [phonetic] with the most powerful
woman in the world. The photograph was taken when German Chancellor Angela
Merkel visited a refugee shelter in Berlin. Modamani had just
arrived in Germany and was full of confidence. Today, almost one and
a half years later, he has disillusioned. His picture went
viral around the world and it is haunting him. [ Speaking Arabic ] Since 2015, it has
been used three or four times for fake news. [ Speaking Arabic ] The first time my
picture was linked to the terror attack
in Brussels. [ Speaking Arabic ] The last time they said
I was involved in a crime where six attackers set fire
to a sleeping homeless man in a Berlin subway station. [ Speaking Arabic ] All these allegations
are absolutely untrue, but they were published
on Facebook and shared more than
1,000 times. Again, and again, Anas Modamani and his lawyer reported
the images and asked Facebook
to remove them. The company says it did. “We are sorry to hear about
Mr. Modamani’s concerns with the way some people
have used his image. We have already quickly
disabled access to content that has been accurately
reported to us by Mr. Modamani’s
legal representatives, so we do not believe that
legal action here is necessary or that it is the most effective
way to resolve the situation.” But for Anas Modamani,
that’s not good enough. His lawyer says the images
are still in circulation on the platform and he’s taking
Facebook to court over it. We want Facebook to delete the
picture from the whole network and for them to make sure it
cannot be uploaded anymore. Anas Modamani cannot find out
himself where his picture is, it has been shared
more than 1,000 times. The only one who is able
to do so is Facebook and Facebook is also
responsible for making sure that the picture is not
circulating any longer. The trial starts today at The Regional Court
in Southern Germany. The case could have
enormous repercussions if the judges decide that
Facebook can be held accountable for the distribution
of fake news.>>David R Castillo: Well,
so the trial took place and Facebook was not
held accountable. So, I guess it’s this one
that’s working — Yes, got it. So, yes. Nothing happened there. Let’s see — This is another case, it’s
a little bit long-ish, so I’m going to — Maybe
we can play it later if there is a question about
fake news, if people want to talk about this
a little bit more. This is a case in
Idaho actually, it was reported about
a week ago. So, Facebook agrees to
release ration pars ads, pledges deeper look at
2016 elections, Zuckerberg, as you may remember,
projected the criticism at first saying shortly
after the election that it’s a pretty crazy
idea to think that fake news on Facebook influenced
the election in any way. He added that voters make
their decisions based on lived experience,
but Facebook had to change its tone early
this month when it disclosed that a ration company known as The Internet Research
Agency had bought more than 3,000 politically charged
ads worth about, I don’t know, about $150,000 on its
platform during key periods of the presidential campaign,
often dealing with issues such as race, immigration
and gun rights. We got a Twitter response:
“The ration hoax continues, now it’s ads on Facebook,
what about the totally biased and dishonest media coverage
in favor of crooked Hillary? The greatest influence over our
election was the fake news media screaming for Hillary Clinton.” Of course, you may remember
these instants here. Let’s see, this may not
play, but very quickly, this is the famous interview where Kellyanne Conway
coined the famous expression “alternative fact”. So, shortly after I picked up
this article from the internet: “The public relation society
of America put out a statement on alternative facts
condemning the phrase and equating them to lies. Since Conway’s statement many
people have recognized the moral and political issue we face if our government isn’t being
entirely truthful to us. The statement has been called
‘Orwellian’ in reference to George Orwell’s 1984, which by January 26th had become
the number one Best Seller on Amazon.” So, the question is,
is this reference to Orwell’s stoking novel
justified and I picked up some quotes from the book
that seem to make the case. This is straight out of 1984: “A
few lines of print and a couple of fake photographs and what
wasn’t imagine an hour ago is now a fact. There is need for moment
to moment flexibility in the treatment of facts. If the facts say otherwise,
then the facts must be altered. You must get rid of
those 19th century ideas about the laws of nature. We make the laws of nature. We can shut them
out of existence.” Global warming. There would be no art, no
literature, no science. Any age, anyone? This is the world we’re
preparing an endless pressing, pressing, pressing upon
the nerve of power. We could also turn to Aldous
Huxley’s dystopian novel, A Brave New World, even earlier,
1931, “In Amusing Ourselves to Death, originally
published in 1985, Neil Postman makes the point
that while we are fixated on the Orwellian nightmare
of a totalitarian state built on information-suppression
machines, brutal policing, and physical and
psychological repression, our world is inching closer to the brave new world
described by Huxley. A society built on the
promise of a limited and instant gratification
in which humanity is drowned in stupefying, addictive,
sedating and trivializing
media-technologies. As he writes, ‘What
Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that
there would be no reason to ban a book, for
there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would
deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who
would give us so much that we would be reduced
to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth
would be concealed from us. Huxley feared that the
truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared that we would
become a captive culture. Huxley feared that we would
become a trivial culture.” Sure, 1984 and A Brave New
World are eerily relevant, but so is Don Quixote. What do the very
powerful fear the most? Clue: Donald Trump did not
attend the traditional roasting of the President at
the Press Court Dinner. Spanish fascist ideologue and supporter Ernesto Jimenez
Caballero feared the devastating effect of Cervantes’s humor,
which in his own words “had the power to
ridicule the mystical and blind pride of
Imperial Spain”. He was referring to
the historical empire of the Habsburgs as well as
its resurgence or reincarnation in the fascist Spain
of the 1930’s. Remarkably, Jimenez Caballero
called Cervantes’s irony a weapon against stupor,
while noting that the stupor of the people is not only
desirable, but necessary to advance the cause of empire. For him, the publication of Don
Quixote was the devastating blow to the blind pride
of imperialism that marked the beginning
of the end of all the great
adventures of Spain. Amazingly, Walter Benjamin
agreed with him from the left. Benjamin thinks of
Cervantes’s humor as the ultimate example
of true critique. He’s explicitly referring to
Don Quixote when he writes: “The magic of true
critique appears precisely when all counterfeit
comes into contact with the light and melts away. What remains is the
authentic, it is ashes. We laugh at it. So, where should we
look today for this kind of devastating critique
of empire?” About here. Steven Goldberg uses
truthiness on the debut episode of The Goldberg Report. Truthiness is a quality
characterizing a truth that a person making an
argument or assertion claims to know intuitively from the
gut or because it feels right, without regard to evidence, logic and intellectual
examination of facts. He particularly applied it to the President George Bush’s
decision to invade Iraq in 2003. Goldberg later described
truthiness to other institutions and organizations, including
Wikipedia, which is our source for this slide, by the way, truly Cervantine there [audience
laughter] Goldgberg refreshed truthiness in an episode of The
Late Show with Steven Goldberg on July 18th, 2016
using the neologism “Trumpiness” regarding
statements made by Donald Trump during
his presidential campaign. According to Goldberg, while
truthiness refers to statements that feel true, but
are actually false, Trumpiness does not
even have to feel true, much less be true [audience
laughter] As evidence that Trump’s remarks
exhibit this quality, he cited The Washington Post
column stating that many of Trump’s supporters did not
believe his “wildest promises” but supported him anyway. And now I have a snippet of —
Let’s see if we can pick it up. I think I may have
to go out of here. Well, that was a bit from the
roasting of President Bush at The Press Court Dinner. I think it was like 2006. The basic point that
Goldberg was making is that President Bush was his hero because he did not change
his mind, he was steady. He believed in the same
things on Monday that he did on Wednesday, regardless
of what happened Tuesday [audience laughter]. So, Don Quixote revisited. “The hero of Cervantes’s
novel did not feel the need to change his mind about the
things he knew to be castles, giants and armies, just because
these things looked and acted like inns, windmills
and herds of livestock. The famous knight errant was
absolutely certain that shined on the barber’s head
was Mambrino’s helmet, regardless of the fact
that, on closer inspection, the object admittedly looked
and felt like a barber’s basin. President Bush did not see the
need to adjust his convictions about global warming or Iraq’s
weapons of mass destruction, despite ample evidence
to the contrary, just as Don Quixote continued
to hold to his “giants” and his “armies of knights” even
as he encountered, first hand, the bruising reality of
windmills and livestock. If, as the above quoted fascist
ideological Jimenez Caballero suggested, the central
tenet of empire, its defining characteristic
is its necessary mystical and blind pride,
then the real enemy of empire would not be the
properly designated “axis of evil” but the
demystifying irony that both Jimenez Caballero
from the right and Benjamin from the left attributed
to the Cervantine legacy, a rich comedic tradition
that continues to hold counterfeit notions to
the piercing light of truth. From this perspective, the
fact that SNL is at the height of its popularity at
this very moment in time, ought to be taken
as a hopeful sign. This is a nice title there,
“I’m American, so can you”. “America again, r- becoming the
greatness we never weren’t”. This is from 2012, the book
itself, although it reads as a parody of MAGA,
Make America Great Again. So, back to Cervantes,
ridiculing the blind pride of anti-smarts, reality proof,
empire building fundamentalism. In 1615, Cervantes published a
collection of theatrical pieces with the heading “Eight Plays and Eight Interludes
Never Performed”. The collection included
two humorous interludes that are relevant in light
of the present discussion, The Election of the
Mayor of Daganzo and The Stage of Wonders. In The Election of the Mayor
of Daganzo, candidate Humillos, a name based in a
clever word play that suggests both being
proud and smoke screen, campaigns for the
highest office in town. A college graduate asks
him a left-field question: “Can you even read, Humillos?” The Candidate’s response
is a straightforward as it is priceless. “Certainly not and no
one will be able to say that a single member of my
kin will ever apply themselves to learning those chimeras that
drive men to the stake and women to houses of ill-repute. I come from uncontaminated
Christian stock.” In The Stage of Wonders, the
producer tells the audience that his show will single out
anyone who is contaminated by non-Christian blood, for
no one can see the wonders that are shown in it if they
belong to a tainted race. While the stage remains empty
for the entire performance, everyone in the audience
will have to pretend to see the dramatically
announced wonders to avoid the stigma of
contamination and that shows that they are indeed members
of the exceptional community of legitimate Christians
and true Spaniards. If we could play with
Colbert’s language a bit, what the producer of Stage of Wonders is telling his
prospective audience is essentially this: “I am
Spain and so can you”. Cervantine lessons
in reality literacy. Where would Cervantes go
today in search for truth in our age of truthiness? Surely, he would tell
us that the truth is to be found among the victims
of our own stages of wonders. The pieces of the world
that are removed from you by those diminished versions
of reality that shield us from what we don’t want
to see, say the homeless; and also the victims of
our augmented reality, say the Syrian refugee who has
become an alternative fact, whose sole purpose is to justify
our own fears and to allow us to double down on
our chosen reality or perhaps the truth can be
found in the Netherlands. [ Video playing ] I have to end it there. All right, so Will–>>William Egginton: OK, so what
we thought we would do is have David give this presentation
largely related to the current part of
the book, the book’s focus on contemporary culture and —
Clicked the exit, all right, I’m going to have to not speak
and do at the same time, so yes, if you don’t mind I
need to find mine — now and that’s great Talia. And then what I could do is
very briefly show a case study of the focus that the book has
on the Early Modern period, so the early 17th century at
the heart of a great empire. Then Spain, even though
they were scumbags, right? [Audience laughter]
Failed, totally failed. So, the book was called
“Mediology’s Case Study: Emblems in the Framing
of Justice”. So, what I wanted to do was
actually show some reproductions of some emblem books from the
early 17th century as an example of one of the fundamental
points of mediologies, which is that out analysis of — And so let’s take
this great example that David was talking about,
diminished reality and the ideas that certain companies, even
Google Glasses, were thinking about this making, in
essence, your way of walking through the world more pleasant
to yourself by being able to edit out in real time
aspects of your social reality that are disturbing to you. So, editing out homelessness
was the idea that was actually published at
the time and you saw it working with stuff on your bathroom
or stuff on your desk. Well, the first thing that
one could say is, “well, this is just very technological
and obviously it depends on enormous technological
abilities to do that”. Part of David’s and my point in
mediology is that the function of editing out doesn’t have
to be purely technological, it can happen through what
we consider, what we call in the book “framing techniques” and those framing techniques
have been available in all times in cultures one could say, eh? That our understanding
of basic reality depends on how we frame it narratively,
how we frame it in terms of interpersonal relations,
how we frame it in terms of expectations, but
that new media emerges and always adopt framing
modes at the time. And so, if we have electronic
media in the 20th century, in the Early Modern period,
so around the beginning of the 17th century the newly
emerging empires were taking advantage of the media
that they had at the time. One of them was obviously
the print culture and you have fantastic examples
out on the hallway of some of the great best sellers
of the time and we will of course referring to
some of them ourselves. Others were theater. The theater in Spain
began for the first time in the early 17th century
to attract up to 90% of the newly burgeoning urban
populations who would go to see the theater and
they would be going and watching the same plays. How are these forms of newly
popular culture helping to frame reality? We thought we’d take an
example from emblem books and let’s make sure that I’m
pressing the right button to do this. Good. So, this one comes out
in 1610, very, very popular, one of the great
circulating books of the time and they’re made with a
combination of printed page, so using the printing
press and woodcuts and the woodcuts are
very high quality. This is from Sebastián
de Covarrubias whose also well-known for having
produced one of the most important
dictionaries of the time, the Diccionario de Autoridades. And so, we’ll take
an example here so that I can actually
read it with my poor eyes. I’ve found ways to have taken
the actual — There we go. So, the structure of an
emblem is a woodcut print and then a saying underneath,
so it’s a combination. The readers are supposed
to reflect upon an image and here we have an
image of that’s supposed to represent a king,
that’s power but it’s also aging terribly
and suffering and it has its paw on the world this lion as
it has the crown on its head and then underneath, or in
the banner there is a saying, and in this case it says: “What
do you think it means to rule?” Question, and then the
answer: “To serve while dying”. So, servir muriendo. The emblem turns the table
on the common complaint of the abusive power to will
power is to suffer abuse in the service of the
common good, it is to give up all pleasure and
selfish desires to become consumed by sacrifice. The face of the lion, like
the steers body is sagging, the skin loose and hanging aged
early by the cares of office. The front right paw placed
with paternal protection over the world is the void
of the violence and fear, the great beast’s claws
would normally project — it radiates instead a
father’s benevolence. So, then let me go
to another one. Covarrubias in the next one
is shifting the suffering of sovereignty inward in an emblem depicting the
fatal outcome of the easy road of self-fulfillment as a
wide-open net of pleasure. A word he uses in the emblem
is “gusto” that narrows into the death trap of the
great satanic fisher of souls. So, just as people’s proper
protection requires the self-sacrifice of the sovereign
in the previous emblem, this emblem directs its
reader toward the sacrifice of his own pleasure, linking as it does all pleasure
to damnation. A watchful, prudent eye must
be watchful first and foremost of its own desires is the
message that we’re meant to receive from this emblem. We can see the positive
counterpart to this ammunition [phonetic]
in the 1665, a little bit later, festival book called
Luces de la Aurora — I just flipped forward
several hundred years to a great [inaudible]
turn of the 20th century of the great book, Luces de
la Aurora or Lights of Dawn. In this emblem and let
me find this one here, this is over on the left side
here of the page, we’re treated to inversion of the traditional
moral faetons [phonetic] fall rather than a cautionary
tale of the dangers of uninhibited ambition of
leaving one’s natural station in life and flying too high. The author of this
wonderful book of emblems, Francisco de la Torre, reads
faeton as morally exemplary. A self-sacrificing model of altruism whose flaming fate
is worthwhile suffering as long as the intent was noble. So, the theme of self-directed
suffering in the service of greater morality is what
we’re starting to glean from this reframing that’s
happening through this group of emblems and it’s
rampant in Covarrubias, especially in the
realm of education where the whip is shown in
several cases as being essential to the civilization of students,
to their happiness and even as in this personalization
of the pedagogy of violence to life itself and
that’s what you see. You see the tools of pedagogy and central indent is actually a
whip for flaying peoples’ skin. So, the emblems motto is: “Dolor
les doy y juntamente vida.” Pain I give them, so it’s the
personification of this whip and at the same time,
life says the whip, but it also specifies
the kind of students who will benefit from its rigor. The word specifically
is “lerdos”, the oafs and the slow witted. Those, in other words, who
haven’t the self-discipline to tame themselves will
benefit and even gain life from punishment, but
not all students need to be shaped in this way. As Covarrubias writes in another
emblem dedicated to the theme of education, this one here,
so it’s in the very same book. In fact, it’s only
separated by a few pages. Teachers should spare the
whip on well-born children for whom its rigors
are more likely to cause their generous spirits,
naturally generous spirits to cower and make them waste
their time in useless exercises. The comparison between
these two views on corporal punishment is
eye opening, in agreement with the tendency of this age, Covarrubias accepts a
foundational distinction between kinds of
men, kinds of people, already present in
their children. There are those whose blood
destines them to be leaders, whose natural generosity
makes the imposition of suffering unnecessary and
even potentially detrimental and for these, literally in
Spanish, sons of something, “Hidalgos” the base term
for the gentry of the time, literally signified already
having something in them, a proclivity to choose
suffering over pleasure. It is meanwhile the oafish,
the weak, those lacking in such natural attributes,
such lineage, who should not be spared
the lash if only out of duty and compassion for their likely
fate, free from its scar. So, what I think to draw us back
to the contemporary applications that David was making
in the opening, this should make us think about
the assumptions of neutrality, immediacy, equality
that lead one to assume that one’s position, for
example, in life is a direct and unmediated expression
of personal worth. Crucial for any justice
system then, we would argue and we would try to argue
in mediologies and we talk about media literacy as being
fundamental for any kind of social change is to be
self-aware of the sorts of filters that determine our
notions of guilt, of innocence, of virtue and responsibility,
and the point of the book then is to show
how the very strategies that are determining
those notions for us today under the pretense of
simply “Look out there, it’s just reality unmediated,
unaltered in any way,” are in fact not dependent
specifically on technologies, but rather are built into
the way that old technologies as well are perfectly capable
of manipulating reality. All right.>>Patricia Vieira: Thanks. So, I want to thank
David and Will for this very [inaudible]
provoking introduction and I thought that
before we move on to a more interactive Q&A
it might be useful for you to talk a little bit about
the framing of your project because the whole book is
structured around a dialogue between what you call the
two inflationary ages. The one of the 16th and
especially 17th century and then the contemporary period
and you really based the book on a dialogue between these
two-time frames so to speak. And it might be useful for
those who maybe haven’t not yet read the book or
the entire book for you to explain how this dialogue
provides entry points into understanding some
contemporary cultural and political phenomenon that
you were illustrating, David, at the beginning with
some of these examples. So, how this comparison
between the 16th and especially 17th century and our current period might
help us understand some of the things we
have been living through in the last few years.>>William Egginton:
David, can I jump in?>>David R Castillo: Sure.>>William Egginton:
David always comes up with fantastic examples
[audience laughter] so he’ll just jump
in after that, but –>>David R Castillo:
You killed me there.>>William Egginton: No, no. I have full confidence,
I have full confidence. In fact, I’ll start with
an example that you said to me this morning, so that
I was walking to meet David and I get a text from
him that says: “Oh, look at this article.” and I proceed to
read this article on my phone while walking
to him and it is an article about how we’re so addicted
to technology in our phones, that we’re getting all
of our news by our phones and we’re not even noticing it. I’m reading it and I’m shaking
my head and saying: “Yes, this is completely true.” [Audience laughter] as
I consumed the exact, you know the — And what I
think the point that we want to make is, what
is our definition of inflationary media is an
inflationary media, again, is somewhat independent from
the technological specificity of the media. What inflationary media
do, it’s a kind of media that causes those who are
immersed in its world to begin to lose sight of the
distinctions between how that media is framing and the
reality that it is framing, in other words, its media
that necessarily is capable of blurring the frames of
representation of causing us to begin to lose sight
of that distinction between what the reality it
is that we’re talking about and the means that
we’re using to represent and talk about that reality. So, we can go from tiny little
examples like that to ones from the Early Modern period, this we don’t actually
discuss directly in the book, but when theater was introduced
and turned really into one of the first performative mass
medias throughout the 17th century in more countries
than just Spain, throughout Western
Europe, at the same time, critics had to start
paying attention to — And there was great debates
about the unities of, which were, like, how do you
write a good theater play? And they took very
serious the possibility that if they weren’t paying
attention to unities of time and space, that people might
be sitting in the audience and forget that they’re actually
in an audience watching a play. Now we think about, oh, you have
to get to the early 20th century when the Lumiere brothers were
showing a film of the train at the Gare de Lyon coming in
and then people would get up and run away because it was
a technological innovation. I think this example shows that it isn’t necessarily
technological innovation, that you can have critics
very seriously debating in the 17th century when
there’s no such thing as film or highly realistic images in
film debating the possibility that people are not going
to get that what’s happening on the stage is in fact a
theatrical representation and we have to insert
a certain separation, a certain artificiality
to ensure that they don’t fall
into that trap.>>David R Castillo: Thank you, I got my own microphone
[audience laughter] This is the microphone for examples
[audience laughter] All right, since he put me on the spot,
here’s an example for you. In the second quarter of the
16th century – I’m from Granada, Patricia and I were
talking about this earlier, and you know, Granada was
one of the last bastions of Moros presence in Spain. In 1492 is the date of the
so-called discovery of America and the date of the final
expulsion of the Mores from Spain, from Granada
and the Jews as well, and it’s also the date
of the publication of the first Spanish
grammar by Nebrija. In any case, the region of the
Alpujarras on the South side of Sierra Nevada became
historically relevant in the second half of the 15th
century when the Moriscos, the descendants of
the Mores rebelled. The rebellion lasted
three years, it took Philip the Second three
years to crush the rebellion and after executing the leaders
and the great carnage that came with the oppression of the
rebellion, then the Moriscos of Granada took a
different tact. They decided to try
a cultural rebellion and what’s interesting is
that they must have managed to realize that they had
been essentially written out of Spain, they were
effectively being written out of Spain by so called
historians, actually many of them disciples of
Nebrija of the [inaudible] who had been commissioned
by the [inaudible] to effectively invent
genealogies of Spain to prove that Spain had been Catholic
essentially before Christ [audience laughter] All the
way back to Noah’s descendance. Now, the Moriscos realized
that that version of Spain, that reframing of Spain as essentially always already
Catholic was effectively writing them out of existence, so they
decided to rewrite themselves into history by doing
their own reframing. so, they put together
a nice series of fake archaeological artefacts
that they aged artificially, these were the famous
lead books of Granada and they planted these fake
archaeological artefacts all over the hills of Granada, on
the other side of the Alhambra, a part of Granada that now
has been named as Sacro Monte, The Sacred Mountain and these
naming comes from the planting of these archaeological
artefacts. In any case, they were supposed
to be found by neutral parties. Peasants ended up finding
them over a period of months and they brought them to
the authorities of Granada. Of course, the authorities
of Granada figured, well, they need to be translated,
who here can speak Arabic? So, the same people who planted
them received the archaeological artefacts for translation. Now, they were written
in Arabic characters, but they were gibberish,
they didn’t mean anything and there was real
thinking behind that, they wanted for these findings,
these alternative facts, to have the flexibility
to adjust to the tongues. So, basically, they started
translating the artefacts and interactively they were
kind of gaging the reaction of the Grenadian gentry and
based on their reaction, they would continue
the translation, but in essence what they were
constructing was an alternative history of Christianity in
which the first disciples of Christ were Arabs
and they spoke Arabic, which is why Arabic
could not be expelled as a language from Spain. So, here we have a real case
of fake news, fake histories. Fake history against
the fake history, reframing against reframing, which essentially brings
us back to our present. This is why we think that
to look at the two periods of inflationary media, side by
side, to create the dialogue between them, can
be fruitful for us.>>William Egginton:
Just a quick follow up because I know Patricia
has more questions, maybe one or two more, but this also leads
directly to what we consider to be the urgency of the call
towards the end of medialogies that David just submitted. We’re working on the idea of
expanding that because those who dialogue already about this
with the book have been asking when you call for more
humanities at the end of the book, what
shape would that take? And part of our point is that
it’s not to say, “Ah, well look, this set of people who
intervened created this set of alternative facts and they’re
just responded to by this set of alternative facts, so we can
all throw our hands in the air and say, “Well it
all just depends on the frame that
it’s given you.” No, we believe that there really
is an answer to that and that that is ultimately what the
humanities are capable of doing. Philology, looking at texts,
making decisions based on arguments and
interpretation, textual evidence and that this is what we
call not just media literacy, which is a part of it,
but reality literacy. If it’s true that reality
is constantly under assault, if you will, and we have
to accept that it is and will be the best
tools for discerning and then ultimately engaging
in rational discourse about reality, are precisely
those that are inculcated in educated and worked on, developed through the
disciplines of the humanities. History, philosophy,
literary theory, literary history, etcetera.>>Patricia Vieira: Yes,
that was actually going to be my next question, so
what would be the antidote to this proliferation of fake
reality upon reality and so, but I have a number
of other questions, but I think that given the
time, it might be better to open the floor for questions from the audience
or comments or. Yes, here and then there.>>I was just wondering
what – This new phenomenon of people having a voice
and commenting on media which I think is in a
[inaudible] What role does that play in this age
of inflationary media? The fact that everyone
can comment on an article that is fake and what happens
after everyone’s discussing –>>William Egginton: Well I
think it’s a great question and it’s one that I think
demonstrates exactly the cautionary note that
we’re sounding, right? Because in an age of
inflationary media you’re going to have, if you will,
what I would call, and I think David would agree
with me, a kind of facade of democratization
occurs, right? So, ah, the more people
who are commenting and making this point,
the more media the better, the more democratic and
ultimately, we get to the truth that we see it doesn’t often
necessarily work that way and that discernment becomes
extremely important, right? And the discernment involves — it’s not easy, it involves
study, it involves education, it involves knowing languages,
cultures, precisely that which in the present day end
up being de-emphasized by educational regimes that are
focused on a purely economic and instrumental outputs. No, you have to learn exactly
this in order to be able to get a job programming or
you have to learn exactly that. It’s probably true that
learning these exact set of skills might get you a job, but it doesn’t necessarily
expand you as a human being or allow you these
sorts of discernments that would permit a truly
democratic society to function. David were you looking for –>>David R Castillo: Yes, I’m
looking for something that –>>Patricia Vieira: David is
going to show us something.>>Do you want to take
the other question?>>Patricia Vieira: Yes, sure. It was that lady over there.>>Yes, so, thank you very
much for this, it’s intriguing and synergizes a lot with my
own thinking over the years. I was a graduate student
in the 80’s and 90’s and when I’m thinking
about for those who may or may not have been in
that scene at that time, but the humanities at that
point were in a huge period of self-reflection and
crisis almost of what’s come to be called constructuralism and I’m not sure what
we’d call it after that, post- constructuralism? But the idea that what I’ve been
reacting to personally coming out environment, when
I hear about facts in the media right now is like
there is no such thing as facts because that’s what I learned
in graduate school, OK? There are no facts, what
there is is evidence and then there are
cultural constructs that we, as a society, have come to agree
upon as facts and if you look at it more on the science
side and you can, you know, someone like Structure
of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn, the way that
science comes to the point where it will agree that
something is a [inaudible] fact, but at the base of it,
it’s all an agreement and what I’m thinking about is
I look very much look forward to your next book because
I want to hear more about what the humanities can do
about this, but I almost wonder if this isn’t a natural backlash
because the progression would be to politicize a little
I was also caught up in the culture wars of the
time and political correctness and so, I remember having
defended something I said in public once in an alumni
magazine because I was accused of political correctness
by a 1950’s era graduate who read the quote of what I
had said, it was about slavery, the legacy of slavery. And so, we had people
like Dennis Desouza and the closing the
American mind and he’s still out on Twitter every day, right? Saying bizarre things.>>William Egginton: Desouza
wrote Liberal Education. Allan Bloom wrote the –>>Oh, yes, you’re right. I got that wrong, thank you. You’re paying more attention to
these things in the recent world than I’ve been but anyways,
sort of, to the extent that the academic
left is aligned with the post-constructuralism
that took over much of the humanities
and social sciences in that time maybe we’re
in a period of backlash and I wondered if you could
address that aspect I f–>>William Egginton: We are
100% in a period of backlash, there’s no question about that. The question that I
have is the extent and I think this is demonstrable
because we like to talk in terms of textual evidence,
you can look at plenty of textual evidence
and immediate evidence that in the 2016 elections,
one of the boogeymen that was brought around as those
that we need to react toward or put down our Post-Modern
professors and famous quotes “We have become too
politically correct.” and there was a lot of
rational political correctness. I think what’s interesting
is that again, using our methodology to
look how things are framed is to examine to what extent in
fact political correctness and Post-Modern professors
have the kind of power that is claimed to justify
this kind of political reaction and not only to what extent
they have that kind of power, which is in fact
I think minority and certainly exaggerated
in the extreme, but to what extent the
interpretations that these sorts of claims are based on are in
fact accurate interpretations of what even the philosophers
that were being banned about during the 1980’s
were in fact saying. So, everything is just text, there is no outside
to this text. Everything is interpretation and
there is no such thing as truth. Many of these were in fact
either quotes taken completely out of context, like people
didn’t actually understand or take the time to
really confront or deal with the philosophies
that they were applying or were simply fabrications
themselves, claims that such and such said this when
they didn’t say it at all. Again, a truly grounded
humanistic discipline is one that pays attention to texts,
that pays attention to history, to standards of evidence
and isn’t willing to simply take something at
“Do your first Google search, come up with an answer
and say ah, ok, see? This is what happened.” and move on from there. I think that’s what
we need to get back to a certain skepticism, a
certain being aware of where of what are the grounds of
the claims you’re making.>>David R Castillo: And
here’s where paying attention to the filters really
can be useful, so a word like “skepticism”. The term has been
hijacked in upright circles to justify the said interest
of those who would prefer to bury their head in the sand
when it comes to global warming. It’s our responsibility
as humanists to rescue and the notion of skepticism
from that hijacking. The same can be said
about doubt. Doubt is absolutely
necessary for thinking, part of the problem,
as we see it, with our media technologies
is it frames out the possibility of thinking. It steals time from us, time
that’s necessary for thinking. The speed of communications is such that we really
have no time to think. Before we can think
we have to doubt. Doubt has been also hijacked by
the same market forces, so it’s, again, our responsibility as
humanists to rescue that term from that nefarious place.>>William Egginton: So many
other terms: liberty, freedom, community, faith
have been hijacked and often then become terms
that are automatically assumed to have one set of constituents
and one kind of audience. No, not necessarily,
look at the history. Look at how these terms
have been used in the past. Look at the kind of
values that they’ve managed to mobilize in the past.>>David R Castillo: And
the other point we made in mediologies is that the
place where we find ourselves, this crisis of reality in which
we find ourselves is directly connected to the
widespread of fundamentalism that is the result of the
silent [phonetic] of information that comes with a certain usage
of social media, for example. So, it’s not really the result
of, you know, skepticism taken to its, or this kind of
Postmodern doubt taken to its ultimate consequence
it’s actually the result to fundamentalism, the notion
that I can feel justified in my own beliefs regarding of
any evidence based knowledge that may resist it, that
may become obstacles to it to the extent that
I can [inaudible] in my media [inaudible] and
say a combination of faux news and report news and, you know, feel like my beliefs are
reinforced every day, then I don’t really have to talk
to people who think differently. that’s what we call in the
book reality entitlement, so which for us is really
a symptom of fundamentalism and we talk about fundamentalism
as being equal to fragmentation as opposed to postmodern
thoughts.>>I’m not secure
about your views on contemporary literature. Some people don’t study
humanities and might get some of the benefits by
reading literature. What are your thoughts on current literature
or current fiction?>>David R Castillo: So,
for example, you know, I’m just re-reading Dystopias
and now it seems like — I’m fascinated by
the cultural terms. So, I think Talia mentioned that in 2016 we coauthored
this book called Zombie talk, it was a time when zombies
had become very prevalent and I was interesting in
reading zombies as a symptom of our anxieties, you know,
you can think the bonfires as effective — And we could
even imagine the possibility that we would want to
become vampires [laughter] in a form, but zombies? Who would want to
become a zombie? So, really that kind of
brought me to thinking about why the popularity of
zombies, what kind of anxieties, you know, individual and collective anxieties
were being exercised or dealt with through the representation
of zombies and I think at this point, you know, I mentioned that 1984 was the
number one selling book in 2017. The success of The Handmaid’s
Tale is another example.>>Going back to the [inaudible]
Tale is not really drawing from what [inaudible] I’m
just curious about that.>>David R Castillo:
Right, so there is a new way of Dystopias right now and
they are coming out like crazy within five or ten years
we’re going to have to examine the whole
canon of Dystopias. They are coming out with
incredible speed and we have to, once again, try to, you
know, figure out what is it that makes Dystopias such
powerful tools to relate, to comment to our world and
the same thing could be said about humor so I
showed there a couple of books by Steven Goldberg. There is more of a– In some
ways, we’re going back to a time where traditional genre
divisions don’t hold that well, so we thought, you know, the talk show commentators
are now book authors and the other way around, we
have shows that turn into books and books that turn into
shows, but the theme of irony is another very
powerful weapon right now in our world and this speaks
to a certain need that we have, we believe, to examine filters and irony is a very
powerful weapon to do that because it implies
a certain obliqueness that allows us to
see a double image, sort of in an anamorphic way.>>William Egginton: We think
one of the potential powers of literature and reading
books, not just analytic books and nonfiction books but actually fictional books
is the power of literature and the written word
in particular, but we do analyze television
shows and we talk about movies, but that literature and the
written word has a focusing the attention on invisible filters. You don’t see these filter
per se but they’re there, the filters that we spend the
entire book talking about. Literature can animate the
senses to pay attention to how our reality is posed for
someone who is living in it, how a particular media
environment situates something for someone who’s
imbued or immersed in that media environment. We talk a lot about
Cervantes which is, of course, old literature, but we also
make the argument and it’s one that I went into
great length to work out in my intellectual
biography of Cervantes the man who invented fiction, that why
I make this outlander standing claim that he invented
fiction is because we have certain
expectations in modern fiction all of
which can be traced past back to what he was able to do with
the text it was precisely that. Our expectations of characters as being three-dimensional
people that we can somehow relate
to, that integrate themselves with our sense of
empathy with something that he created and
how did he do it? By making other characters
who are both bewildered by and capable of analyzing
and thinking critically about their relationship
to media and to the truth laying outside
that media, so I think often about a wonderful interview,
and you should look it up, I can’t remember what
publication published it but it was an interview between
the novelist Marilynne Robinson and our former President
in which he expressed, because he’s a great
reader of novels and he expressed this worry
in an age that is reading less and less literature in the
sense of the presentation of realistic characters
that we can have empathetic relationships with. What is it doing to our
capacity to empathize? And the neuroscientific
research on precisely that topic does give
some credence to the President’s
sense of alarm, right? Because apparently
reading novels, more than any other consumption
of fictional narratives in other words, media in
what we call a hotter way where you have less of
an ability to filter and use your own
imagination to create. Reading novels in particular
ignites our ability to empathize with those who are
different from us, all right? And this is something
that we see in the history of the modern novel from as far
back as Cervantes up to novelist like Valeria Luiselli or Karl
Ove Knausgaard or so many others that I could think of.>>Patricia Vieira:
Any other questions? I do have a question and
you refer in the book that today’s mediology
turns copies into things, so things that proliferated
as copies become reality and this tends to sideline
reality itself, right? And you link this to the
current ecological crisis because reality as such
becomes expandable and so, you can just expose of it. And I was wondering if
you see also literature or the creative arts,
let’s call them like this, as a way to counter
this phenomenon.>>William Egginton: I think
very much we do and we think of literature and creativity and
the arts as one of the only ways of countering this phenomenon. So, what you’re referring to
is in the second age of media that turns copies into
things, our idea of the world as a totality of the world
being a representation that gets packaged
into something that is itself bottomless,
so the world as that what supports us becomes
something like a commodity which means it has and end, it
can be thought of as a resource that we can expend, and of
course, we need to think about it in those terms, but
at the same time once we think of the very source of
life itself, of everything that we are, not as something
infinite and grounding but as one granted
very, very big, but one resource
among many this kind of opens the door
into a scary future. You begin to think of
everything in terms of potential commodities,
people are commodities, life sources are commodities
as opposed of thinking about what is the potential
value of these sources of these things in their
own terms, not in terms of what they might be
calculable in dollars. We do find that art and
literature are precisely anchors that keep us from
falling entirely over the cliff in that sense.>>David R Castillo: Yes, and we also mentioned
the tourist industry, sort of the ultimate
paradigm of that kind of dialectic negation
that takes place. In the book we also
mentioned a recent example of the American Airlines
mural that is displayed over the JFK security area, you
know, it’s called the skyline of the world and it
shows a rather unreal, Disney World-like
picture of globalization where you have Eiffel Tower,
with the Empire State Building with other landmarks
throughout the world, the skyline of the world. As you walk through security,
the reality of you having to take your shoes of,
take your belt off, you know, do a spread eagle. It’s funny, don’t know how
much you actually to share of this reality, but a Spaniard
that shaves only inconsistently, coming through security, the notion that one the one
hand you have unlimited movement of the mural, where
you are a citizen, you are being interpellated as
a citizen, a global citizen, a citizen, skyline of the world and at the same time you’re
taking your belt off and going through increasingly
oppressive measures that show you the exact
opposite, you know, that opens up the room
for question to think about if this image is true
and what is it negating? Like the tourist industry,
like Disney World, you know, it negates oppression,
colonialism.>>William Egginton: The
90% of the population who doesn’t have
the capacity to walk through security
to another country.>>David R Castillo: Exactly, yes and that’s part
of the thinking. Once we look at the
world in these terms, once we train ourselves in
the art of reality literacy, in a way you can apply
that skill to literature, to the American Airlines
Mural, to the tourist industry in search for that
allusive manifestation of the truth in the
filter itself.>>Patricia Vieira: Well, I’d
like to thank David and Will for this wonderful presentation,
I believe there is going to be a book signing
outside, so first of all, thank you for [applause].>>This has been a presentation
by the Library of Congress. Visit us at loc.gov.

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