Monday, April 08, 2002

Reflections on Ted Hughes and ENV321

I like the interpretation that water plays. I also liked the imagery that Maureen brought up with respect to playing. I really enjoyed playing as a kid and still remember getting so wrapped up in things that time just flew past me. That was living in the moment. I miss those days. I have run up agains my stone door and mt knife and my own womb. Responsibilities seems to drag us down once we get into adulthood. Do we ever return to play? Can we ever lose ourselves in play again or is it an innocence that is lost upon us?

I was sad to see the course wrap up last Thursday but I like the way it ended. I enjoyed seeing everyone's art and hearing about their interpretation of the garden. It made me want to learn how to paint. I have always thought it important to be able to express myself artistically because words sometimes fail me.

I took away from this course an appreciation of the broadness and fuzziness of boundaries. I learned that a garden can be anything, anywhere, anytime. I also began to think in a much more critical and philosophical way, which I really appreciate. This is a skill that is not emphasized in the cognitive science. I learned to look at things in a new light and see how our interpretation of things is colored by social, economic, political, religious and temporal forces that most of the time, we don't even question. The course is about being able to extract ideas, turn those ideas around in your head, critize those ideas and place them back into different contexts. The course is also about themes: space, time, gardens, post-modernism, metanarratives.... I never knew exactly how each class was going to turn out. I will miss that.

Just as a footnote, I had a look at some of Jon's photos from Toronto Island. They turned out great and felt that they captured many of the moods and ideas that were swirling around that day. A great field trip.

Wednesday, April 03, 2002

How Water Began to Play-Ted Hughes

I always enjoy Maureen's lectures and look forward to her readings for the week. I think it is because I always learn something new about what I have read, even if I have read it over several times. Someone inevitably has a different take on it. I never thought I could say such a thing about poetry, but there it is.

What I took away from this poem was a sense of saddness, frustration and circularity. When I first read this poem, I thought that water was a victim of sorts, wanting to play with the popular kids and never being allowed. Then, on my second reading, I began to see cyclic aspects to the water. I likened the water's behaviour to the cycling of water in the atmosphere, evaporating and precipitating out as rain over the course of millenia. The end of the poem does not seem to fit with this idea, however, because the water stops "weeping" and falls to the bottom, worn out. I am not entirely sure what this means. I also found the imagery about the womb, the blood and the knife very thoughtful. It occurred to me that this might be a metaphor for the earth, with the womb as the earth itself, sheding its blood from a wound made by the knife of humanity slicing through and into it. I could also be way off-base. I am also curious about a few things in the poem that still have not resonated yet within my brain. What is the stone door? Why did the water want to die? How did the water end up "utterly clear"?

Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature, Foreword and Introduction-William Cronon

The first idea that popped into my head as I was reading the foreword to this article was the similarity of events that happened in the U.S. and in Ontario regarding the undoing of environmental gains. The Harris government was successful in unraveling several decades worth of environmental protection and preservation in a few short years, with his Common Sense Revolution. The counter-resistance has not yet materialized and the small gains that have been made seem to reverse themselves almost immediately (e.g. the Oak Ridges Moraine development). Now on the eve of his departure from politics, the Premier is unrepentant, petulantly claiming that if he were to do it again, he would push forward even faster. Disheartening, to say the least. In a way, I guess, that comes to the heart of the article. Mike Harris is imposing his values and meanings onto nature just as I am imposing mine. I think Cronon makes a good point when he reminds us that the natural world is couched within our cultural world. Indeed, it is a theme that we have been following throughout this course. We view nature through the highly cultured lenses we have on. Nature without our perceptions does not exist. It reminds me of philosopher Gene Spitler's argument that the anthropocentric viewpoint cannot be abandoned, no matter how hard we try to shed it and guard against such intrusions. The dynamism of the natural world adds to this confusion. I do think that environmentalists in the future will have to, at some point or another, acknowledge the cultural and historical intrusions of humans into nature before any real gains can be made. Here again, we come back to the idea of blurring the boundaries between the natural and the unnatural. The natural becomes unnatural and the unnatural morphs into the natural, in our thinking. This reminds me of our first essay which asked the question, does nature exist? I would now answer this question: "Yes, within our culture, morals and mind." Nature does not exist as something separate from culture.

I also found the discussion of our insistence on colonizing areas that are blatantly risky. I remember discussing this phenomenon in my natural disasters class and the conclusions that was drawn was that people often think that disasters happen to "other" people and not them. Then, when they do strike, the inevitable sentiment to come out of the disaster is bewilderment and powerlessness over the unpredictableness of nature. We sometimes have such a love-hate relationship with the earth it is comical sometimes.

Nature, as the One Thing, like God, is an interesting point. We, in North America, tend to view nature in certain ways, which we assume that everyone else must have and routinely impose on other different cultures and landscapes. That way, nature is seen "...as if it had no cultural context, as if it were everywhere and always the same." The example that comes to mind is the remodelling of entire landscapes by Capability Brown and his fellow architects who completely revamped entire sites to fit with their view of nature.

Also echoed in this article was the reference to nature as the morally good and the right. Although I did not quite follow the argument put forth by Cronon surrounding the debate of the gnatcatcher, I tried to put aside my initial indignation to see what he was trying to say about our use of nature in our arguments surrounding it. The idea of Paradise lost and trying to recreate Eden can be seen from both points sides of the debate, although I would argue that there is more to the debate than just underlying beliefs and values. The developers have an idea what the landscape should look like and have become indifferent to the landscape that the environmentalists see as nature, according to Cronon. Pigeon-holing ourselves into our own nature constructs can prevent us from moving forward on many environmental issues. This is another theme that has occurred several times throughout the course.

Another theme that cropped up in this article is the converging of the natural and the virtual. Last week's readings dwelt on this issue in quite some depth. Cronon argues that computers cannot create the perfectly controlled nature in the virtual world becaue the closer it comes to imitating real nature, the more chaotic it becomes. This is somewhat counter to the idea proposed by Wertheim that cyberspace is the new Paradise. This also ties in with the commodification of nature. I love going into the Discovery store and other nature stores. It makes me feel connected and less commercial but essentially what I am buying into is the image that the Discovery store has packaged up for me. My tenuous connection to nature is nothing but commercial ties after all.

What it all boils down to is the meaning of nature and the garden. We shape meanings from nature but not the other way around. We have been debating this since the beginning of September so I don't expect the answer to come to me suddenly in an epiphany. I now think that I know less than I ever did about this question than when I started this course because I now realize the scope, breadth and depth of the issue.

A Map to the Next World-Joy Harjo

Reading this poem, I was immediately struck by the lament for a polluted, abused and taken-for-granted world. Harjo beautifully captures the unappreciation we have for the earth and our forgetfulness of how much we depend on it. She laments over the loss of our indigenous knowledge, much of the Indian culture and our traditional folklore in favor of technology. Technology, no matter how brilliant, will only be just that. Knowedge, however, can become so much more.

The map for the fifth world will be a map for our children, guiding them through the maze of roads, extinction, pollution and destruction and takes them through a history of the generations that came before, leaving behind the great big mess. Yet at the end of the poem, I detected a bit of optimism. If I am reading it correctly, I think that Harjo believes that our future may learn from our map and chart a new course...that we are not doomed to repeat history. At least I would like to think that.
Reflections on Cyborg Manifesto and Katherine Parrish's lecture

As I was surfing the blogs, I came across Kady's entry regarding the Cyborg Manifesto of last week. She described it as chaotic but good. I am inclined to agree. The Cyborg Manifesto, at the best of times, is still difficult, as I mentioned in last week's blog. Even having read it twice, I still came out with new meanings and understandings. I have a feeling it will be like that for several more readings. I also got that same sense from some of my other classmates as well. I also think that Kady brought up a good point surrounding the idea of blurred boundaries. I think the Cyborg Manifesto does indeed blur the boundaries between human and organic. Donna Haraway defines the cyborg on the first page of her manifesto as a hybrid of organic and technologic. I think that particular description rings very true, especially in the twenty-first century. After all, we have people walking around with artificial hearts and pacemakers, metal plates in their heads and pins in their knees. I forsee more of this hybrid emerging in the future and am interested to see where virtual reality and the internet will take us. As an interesting note, the word manifesto, as defined in Webster's dictionary, means "a public declaration of motives and intentions by a government or by a person or group regarded as having some public importance." Thus, I don't think that it was unintentional that Haraway should have chosen to title her piece Cyborg Manifesto. Is can a manifesto be a metanarrative?

With respect to the lecture, I want to comment on the idea of the digital garden, that Katherine brought up. The boundary, she says, is blurred. Boundaries all over the place seem to be blurred. Human-animal, animal-plant, digital-natural. It is an interesting to think of the digital garden as this huge expanse that transgresses many boundaries. I envision the digital garden as being something like the sound garden. A garden that cannot be contained within the bounds of a computer but flows and surrounds us in everyday life. For instance, how often do we hear silence over the course of the day? How often do we not interact with the digital over the course of the day. This morning I have used the microwave, the telephone, my computer and my clock. This brings me to a few questions. Can the garden be defined without boundaries? At what point does it cease to become a garden and become something else? Does it ever cease to become a garden?

I also liked the point that was brought up about the metaphors of location and miscommunication. I often use the expression "I am not following you" or "I am not on the same wavelength." I never thought about why this might be so. Perhaps it relates to the idea of being lost, literally and figuratively. On the whole, an interesting point and an interesting lecture.

Wednesday, March 27, 2002

Reflections on Ursula Franklin

I just wanted to jot down a few quick notes about this reading which were raised by a classmate, Niki Tang. After reading her blog regarding the article, I am tempted to pose an answer to a question she had posed. Niki had asked if it were possible to control noise. I would have to say that noise can be controlled to a degree but not beyond. As stated in Ken's lectures, it is not possible to achieve complete silence. The earplugs worked wonders for the amount of sounds entering my head but I could still hear my noisy world, distantly in the background. I would have to liken noise pollution to visual pollution. Filtering out some of the junk that comes our way is hard, especially during this age of computers and television. One other thing I would like to comment on is the fact that different people respond to noise in different ways. To some, the noise level commonly found in the library would be too much but for others, a restaurant with conversation is not bothersome.

Just a few quick notes about Ken's lecture last week. I was eagerly anticipating what exercise Ken had planned and I was not disappointed. Our discussion of the world without humans lead to heated debates on how much of our information is really visual. Is it more than just visual that we incorporate? Perhaps there is a seventh or even eighth sense involved. I also found the class discussion lively and much more interactive than some of the other lectures, though perhaps I did not gain as much information. Still, it was interesting to hear what people had to say about sound, our reliance on technology and the atrophy of "basic" survival skills. I especially enjoyed Kady's story about the silent communion of people in Fiji and how they revel in the silence of eachother's company. These lectures taught me a new way of examining space.
The Pearly Gates of Cyberspace-Margaret Wertheim

I guess it was only natural that the next space we should consider is cyberspace. After all, it is the new, limitless space that has the potential to fill our spiritual need, according to Wertheim. The search for Paradise in cyberspace at first struck me as odd. Upon reading the article, however, I found that much of it really made sense. I agree with Wertheim that science of the twentieth century and has pushed out the spiritual and filled it with the physical. I was reminded of the discovery by Einstein that the world is expanding and the imact that it had on his theories and thinking. To envision a universe that is infinite and physical is a scary thing. So, in amongst all of the technology and science comes the idea of cyberspace. Cyberspace, at this point, has almost limitless potential, as evidenced by the discussion of immortality and the disemodiment of the mind. It seems scary to think of the mind as completely divorced from anything organic or material. What exactly would human thought be grounded in? Could we even experience, live or sense? Would it be necessary? I enjoyed the thought of cyberspace as the forum in which past, present and future could simulataneously coexist. For me, that would be a form of Paradise. Imagine a place where I could satisfy my curiousity about everything (potentially) and live thousands of lifetimes not otherwise possible. This is not to far off from Medieval ideal of Paradise. Education, knowledge, history, future and harmony all mixing together. I also agree with Wertheim's assertion that the Net is being marketed as that ideal which will fill the spiritual void. Indeed, I think that many have bought into this notion, including myself, to some degree. Why else do people turn to the net for social interaction, information, comfort and entertainment? I would also be interested in reading what criticisms Wertheim has about cyberspace.

A Cyborg Manifesto -Donna Haraway

When I first glanced at this article, I thought one of my nightmares had come back to haunt me. I read this article in one of my Women's Studies classes and found Haraway's ideas almost impossible to penetrate. A second time around, however, has proved to be more enlightening, although I still find this a difficult read. What I took away from her argument is the idea that the cyborg is the most appropriate way to describe women in the twenty-first century. Cyborgs, as I understand it, are a machine-hybrid organism that appropriate describes a lot of the dualism that permeates society. Dualisms, according to Haraway, are persistent in Western culture and often present a paradox. Cyborgs, then, are a way to combine these dualisms into a manageable system or ideology. I found this dualism somewhat at odds with the ideas presented in Wertheim's article, mainly because Haraway allows that idealism and syolism and spiritualism exist. I am not sure how to reconcile this paradox. The cyborg is an appropriate model for the new feminism because it resists efforts to control it and crushed the biased and closed ranks of traditional feminism by incorporating dualisms. It is the feminism for the non-white, non-middle class ranks. I also found her list of "dominations" particularly interesting as each is a trait which can incorporated into the idea of the cyborg. The goddess is dead. The disempowerment experienced by many of the marginalized groups of society can readily identify with this idea--an idea which does not seems demeaning or negatively correlated. One thing I was reminded of as I reread this article was something that came out of our discussions in my Women's Studies class. When Haraway speaks of writing as a tool for the cyborg, I felt I understood how that tool was being appropriated from the oppressors for the cyborg's own use. It is a tool of empowerment. Lastly, I was struck by two ideas in this article that I am still unable to wrap my head around. What does it mean that the "female" does not exist? The other question I have pertains to her usage of the Female Man. What does Haraway mean by this? Perhaps a third reading...?!

Wednesday, March 20, 2002

Music of the Urban Environment

This week I was inundated with music. Once I started paying attention, I realized that music surrounds me every day. I went shopping, for instance, on Queen Street and the first clothing store I entered was playing very loud punk music. It sort of fit with the store image of funky, trendy and young. I zipped through in five minutes or less. In a store called Caban, however, the environment was completely different and hence the music. Jazz played softly in the background encouraging me to linger over the popasan chairs and thick terry cloth robes. I leisurely browsed as did everyone else. When I entered one of the many trinket stores on Spadina, I found that they were playing classical music, which seemed at odds with the store atmosphere. When I hear classical music, I picture myself enveloped in a luxuriously decorated store with dark wood panelling, pristine glass shelves and expensive merchandise. Perhaps I am being a snob. On Sunday, my day was filled with music. On my way to the Roundhouse Garden, we encountered several St. Patrick's Day bands in full uniform blowing heartily on their trumpets and beating their drums. Later on at the Rex, bluegrass filled the smoky air as I sipped my hot toddy. Today, at the Bay, old, sappy songs that were never very good, even at the height of their fame, played in the background. I wonder who chooses the music? Later on in a restaurant, there was silence, except for the low murmur of conversation, which I found unusual. So unusual that I actually noticed when the music was eventually turned on. It wasn't distracting, just noticeable. As a footnote to this week, I would like to write about a musical experience I had two weeks ago at a dive in Kensington whose name escapes me right now. The music was hard, dark and strange. It grated on my nerves. It made me wince and cringe. It annoyed and deafened me. I couldn't hear most of the lyrics for the electric guitars screeching in the background. Occassionally, I could make out a phrase or two: "Humanity is screwed! The world is dead!" but for the most part, I could have sworn the masked lead singer was just bellowing at the top of his lungs. I stayed 15 minutes. That music experience was just too visceral and in my face for me to enjoy. If I was bombarded with that on an elevator, I would get off and take the stairs. Some noise just can't be considered music. This brings me to a question: What is music?

When I am at home, it is rare for me to listen to music, yet I enjoy it immensely. I wonder why this is so? Perhaps I feel overwhelmed by all the sounds of the day and my unconscious wishes for a break. Perhaps I am too lazy to turn the cd player on. Maybe I don't have any good cds. Maybe I don't like what is playing on the radio or on my computer. At any rate, I often hear music in my head. Does that count? Is it still music if nobody else can hear it?

Sunday, March 17, 2002

Garden Reflective-Roundhouse Park, City Core Golf Course and Irish Spring Garden

When we (Ivan, Zoe and I) came upon the Roundhouse Park, just at the base of the CN Tower, none of us was sure that this was really a park. It was surrounded by huge buildings on one side, the Steamwhistle Brewery on another and in the distance, traffic on the Gardiner expressway could be seen and heard whizzing past. The park itself was nothing more that a small green space surrounded by an orange colored path. In the middle of the park, there was a set of birch trees planted in a gravel covered bed and at the far end, there was another set of trees, this time in a large round planter. The only cheerful thing about this park were the small yellow and orange crocuses popping up around the trees and the rusting water tank standing like a silent sentry at near the brewery. The park was utterly dismal and we did not see anyone frequenting it while we were there. In the summer, I imagine that it might be a nice spot but I think it is overwhelmed by the sounds, sights and smells of the city. It is not a relaxing place and I cannot see myself ever planning a trip to this park. Its location seems almost like an accident and I can see this particular spot of land, in ten years, being commandeered for road or parking lot space. Roundhouse park is a historic site, part of the larger discovery walk tour that we could have taken but instead, we opted to follow our own path. That path led us to another small green space with evergreen trees, which was nice, except for the garbage liberally strewn about. It was located in a small ravine at the bottom of a steep slope, wedged in between the skydome and a parking lot. Its location makes it perfect for collecting windblown garbage, which nobody seems to have cleaned up recently. Our depressing walk then took us to the City Core Golf Course. A small, hilly course with sand traps, wind tunnels and railway tracks on one side. We stood at hole two, a 61 yard hole, and wondered how anyone could play such a cramped course. We also found several golf balls on the other side of the hill, bordering the railway track, indicating that many golfers might have felt the same way. Coming from Calgary where the golf courses range for kilometers, even the ones in the city (the back nine holes in at the Shaganappi golf course right smack in the middle of the city, on Crowchild Trail, one of the busiest roads in Calgary, will take you three hours on a good day) are a fairly decent size. This particular course would only take a bad golfer like me a maximum of one hour. The course was also incredibly windy because of the wind tunnel effects its location encourages. At the far end of this course was a driving range that contained three tiers, on which several golfers could practice at once. The artificial greens of the driving range stood in stark contrast to the drab, winter browns of the real grass on the golf course. Nets were set up very high around the driving range so as to prevent stray balls from those hitters on the top tier of the driving range from hitting any buildings and vehicles. It was a strange effect really. From the CN tower, I remember seeing this particular course and thinking to myself how disjointed and unusual this green space appeared in the concrete jungle of Toronto. Zoe wondered how anyone could live in such a spiritless, cheerless, gardenless part of the city and I am inclined to agree. I realize there is not much room for improvement around the harbour front area, because of a lack of space but it is still depressing all the same. I guess the point of the discovery walk is to connect the disjointed pieces of park land that the city could acquire into a more continuous green space. The urban garden solution in big cities. As we were walking up Spadina, thoroughly disillusioned by our garden experiences of the day, a flatbed truck sporting an artifical garden, entitled Irish Spring Garden, drove past. I think it was a float from the St. Patrick's day parade that had wound around University Avenue earlier on in the day. Still, it was the perfect ending to our garden outing. Maybe that will be the future of the garden in the city if space and land becomes to scarce. Portable, rentable gardens. Mobile gardens that come to you.

Friday, March 15, 2002

Reflections on Ursula Franklin and Silence

In tutorial yesterday, we discussed the definition of "silence" and came to the conclusion that silence, as Franklin describes it, must mean "quiet" because there is no such thing as silence, for the non-hearing impaired. I am inclined to agree. Even under very quiet circumstances, it is still possible to hear something, like the low droning of the air circulation in the classroom. Even in the acoustic chamber( ?) with all it's insulation, the composer John Cage could still hear the sound of his nervous system and blood flowing. Unnerving. It might actually drive a person insane not to hear any noise whatsoever.

I also wanted to comment on some of the comments made by whose blog is entitled "100yrs." This blog brought up a good point about the fine line between what is considered backgroud noise and what is disturbance noise. This point was also brought up in tutorial. It is a slipperly slope. What is considered to be distracting sound for some is fine for others. I have often wondered if it was possible to study in Sydney Smith because of all the noise swirling around but I see people doing so. The noise must not bother them. For me, anything louder than a typical library is distracting, when I am studying. Also, the harder the material, the more I must concentrate and the fewer distractions there must be.

Some people in my tutorial did not feel that sound was an assault on human beings, contrary to the argument that Franklin makes. I think that this is particularly interesting, especially when you examine it from a health standpoint. Earlier in my last blog, I had made the point that noise could be related to the smoking debate. I would like to amend this comment by saying that smoking is a much more serious infringement on a person's health than noise. As such, I no longer think that these two effects should be compared. Second-hand noise, although inconvenient at times, causing some of us to lose sleep, does not cause cancer or emphysema like second-hand smoke. I still do think, however, that it is important to realize that silence is a right in certain situations.

I am going to reflect on our blogging assignment this week and really pay attention to what musical sounds are around me, in my space. This is something I have never actively considered having gotten used to it as 'background" noise. It will be interesting to see what happens....

Tuesday, March 12, 2002

Silence and the Notion of the Commons-Ursula Franklin

What a strange little article, I thought to myself as I first started reading. What does this have to do with nature, the environment, the garden or this course? Upon further reflection, however, I found that the space of the soundscape is indeed related in the sense that it is another dimension of the "garden."

Franklin highlights a very important point in the article--silence in the twenty-first century is rare. Technology really has permitted the spread of noise, decoupling it from the source and making it truly permanent. If you placed a cd player on repeat, the sound would never tire, unless the batteries ran out. It is also very scary to think how little control we have over the sounds that are around us on an everyday basis. Franklin's example of the elevator music is very appropriate. Even as I walk around Toronto between classes, I cannot control the fact that I will hear the sound of a car horn at least a half a dozen times, will hear a cell phone play the theme to the "Lone Ranger" or hear the sounds of the construction taking place down the street. It really is an assault because we do not request these noises yet they are foisted upon us, unwillingly in most cases. I liken this to the stresses a tree must feel in a forest that is being taken over for agriculture or the strangeness that a bear must feel when it is suddenly facing the back of highrise instead of the hill that used to be there. Perhaps I am anthropomorphizing.

I like the idea that noise has become "privatized" because it is a common good that is not that common anymore. Sound, or lack of it, is not really a human right. Oh, I know that people have the right to avoid excessive noise like really loud party next door, but the everyday, "normal" level of sound is given as a discomfort that we must bear. I also immediately thought of the smoking debate as a parallel example of this desecration of silence.

One of the things that I always notice when I go camping is the relative silence that surrounds me. I never realize how much sound that my ears take in on daily basis until it is not present anymore. It feels strange not to hear the dronings of the city in the background. Actually, it is sad that I think that silence fits strangely in my brain. I don't even fear the silence, it just is unusual, which is to say that silence has become rare, lIke the home-cooked meal or the hand-made dress that Franklin talks about. She also refers to the strength of collective silence as being one of the most powerful spiritual forces. I can only imagine the spirituality that must come from the silence of the buddhist retreats.

I am confused about a few things in this article, namely the forced silence that Franklin talks about. If an audience is silent so that a speaker may be heard, is it really considered silence? I can see the anticipatory silence that precedes an event like this as being forced silence but to refer to the space in which another is talking and you listening seems contradictory. Another things that I am unsure of is Franklin's suggestion that silence be observed before meetings and meals as a way to reclaim that silence in which unprogrammed events can take place. If people participate in this event of silence, isn't it a type of forced silence because we are anticipating the onset of the event itself? Like audience members are we not courteously engaging in silence so that no sound may be heard? Lastly, what is it that we are enabling by being silent? What unprogrammed and unplanned events is Franklin referring to? And if a tree falls in the forest, does anybody hear? (Sorry, couldn't resist).