Author Archive

The Hidden Geography of Airport Security

June 14, 2009

The balance of force makes some actants stronger than others, but miniature trickster objects turn the tide without warning: a pebble can destroy an empire if the Emperor chokes at dinner.

Graham Harman, Prince of Networks

high tops

On December 22, 2001, Richard C. Reid, a 28 year old British citizen, attempted to blow up American Airlines flight 63 from Paris to Miami with bomb built into his black high top sneakers. One of the airline flight attendants noticed Mr. Reid trying to light a fuse sticking out of tongue of his shoes and was able to detain Mr. Reid (with help from other passengers) from detonating the bomb. Mr. Reid’s decision to try and use a bomb to blow up the airplane was triggered by the United States government decision to use bombs (much more sophisticated than that located in Mr. Reid’s high tops) to blow up parts of Afghanistan.  As quoted in a memorandum published in the New York Times, Mr. Reid felt that “an airplane attack, especially during the holiday season, would cause the American public to lose confidence in airline security and stop traveling, leading to a substantial loss of revenue which would, in turn, hurt the American economy” (Belluck 2002).

 Mr. Reid was conscious of the fact that his shoe bomb would have a ripple affect thought a variety of objects and experiences ranging from the ‘holiday season,’ to ‘airline security’ to ‘revenue’ and finally the ‘American economy’. As Bruno Latour says, “objects – taken as so many issues- bind all of us in ways that map out a public space profoundly different from what is usually recognized under the label of “the political” (Latour 2005:15).  The way in which objects come together to map out public space is what Latour defines as “hidden geography”. This essay will focus on the hidden geography of airport security – the place where the personal and political collide and international politics directly affect personal decisions such as how to pack one’s favorite shampoo and toothpaste for a long trip.

 

plastic bags - airport security

Before I continue, I feel obliged to include a disclaimer. In the last three weeks, I have passed though airport security gates 10 times, on three continents, not counting the surreal airport security system located at the entrance of a hotel I stayed at in Addis Abba, Ethiopia. I do not like airport security and I absolutely dread passing through it and having the intentionality of my objects and myself scrutinized. However I, like Mr. Reid, recognize its symbolic importance in making people feel safe. And as Oshima, a wise character in the Haruki Murakami’s book, “Kafka on the Shore,” observed, “the people who build high, strong fences are the ones who survive the best” (Murakami 2005; 316). Indeed, the United States’ political desire to control our borders and who enters into the vessels that transit them is one of our trademarks, somewhat ironic for a country who relied upon the lack of fences present when they arrived to be able to build its fortune. But I suppose our knowledge of what the lack of fences initially allowed our ‘forefathers’ to do is what inspires the government to build strong fences today.

nunfrisk

 Airport security is an assemblage of things and the result of complicated histories and emotions. It has evolved along with technologies of war and as feelings of hatred and disgust shifted between the U.S. and “X” communist or Non-Christian country. Prior to the 1960s (when “stewardesses” had not yet turned into bitter flight attendants who yell “chicken or beef” with resentment), there was in fact very little airport security. Then, between 1968 and1972 there was a sharp rise in hijackings resulting in 364 registered attempts, largely connected to Castro’s rise to power in Cuba and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (Wells and Young 2003). This prompted the implementation of “sky marshals” on US aircrafts announced as part of Richard Nixon’s anti-hijacking plan on September 11, 1970. Similar to airport police, the early airport security was focused on protecting people once on the aircraft, rather than focusing on prohibiting certain people and objects from boarding the plane. Sky marshals were not as effective as hoped, which led to the Federal Aviation Administration requiring that passengers and their belongings be screened prior to boarding in 1973.  Up until 2002, airport security was primarily a private enterprise regulated by federal laws, yet after September 11th, The Aviation and Transportation Security Act was passed requiring all screenings at airports to be conducted by Federal employees in addition to a slew of policies focused on controlling things. The Transportation Security Administration was formed and later included as part of Bush’s baby,  “The Department of Homeland Security” and has over 54,000 workers nationwide, all of whom have to pass through extensive interviews and criminal background checks prior to being hired (Wells and Young 2003). 

Private security enterprises have benefited from the ‘fear industry’, being challenged to develop new technologies to keep up with the changing nature of war, hate, and people’s goals with airplane attacks.  New technologies to detect biological pathogens, full-body scans to more effectively catch weapons, and mechanisms to detect body temperature and prevent people from boarding aircrafts suspected of carrying the Swine Flu virus have been developed. Things designed to detect other things, with the assumption that because they are machines and technology, they are somehow non-judgmental and able to better detect objects without the error of human judgment or prejudice. Yet can intentionality be discerned on an x-ray screen? Are more than 100 ml of fluid, even nail clippers or scissors bad intentions materialized? No, I would argue that they are evidence of Latour’s assertion that the “Body Politik” is not only made of people”, but rather “thick with things” (Latour 2005: 16) and the laws, businesses, and policies designed to regulate and control them. 

 airport_xray_scanner

While the technology used to detect objects has evolved, the reasons why airplanes are targets of attacks seems to have remained largely the same. The physical body of the airplane (or even arguably that of the people on it) is not the end goal of the ‘terrorist’, but rather the politics of the explosion. The destruction of airplanes is a message that provokes fear, uncertainty and, at least in the case of attacks targeted at the United States, negatively affect the center of US power: the economy. Similar to Latour’s gun, it is not the gun or bomb that is the ‘problem’. The Transportation Security Administration and machines developed to detect dangerous things divert attention to the material manifestations of the assemblage rather the hidden geography of the political landscape that led to the gun, or bomb in this case, being on the plane in the first place. 

 

References

Belluck, Pam. (2002). Traces of Terror: The show bomb case; Prosecutors See Plot in Attempted  Bombing. The New York Times. May 24.

Harman, Graham. (2007). Prince of Networks: Bruno Latour and Metaphysics. Unpublished manuscript.

Latour, Bruno. (2005). From Realpolitik to Dingpolitik or How to Make Things Public. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Murakami, Haruki. (2005). Kafka on the Shore. New York: Vintage Books. 

Wells, Alexander and Seth Young. (2003). Airport Planning and Management. McGraw Hill Professional.

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Stir Crazy: The Power of Pop

May 15, 2009

Stir Crazy

Confinement is an intangible noun that is felt more often than it is seen. A common effect of confinement is feeling restless or to use a common expression, “stir crazy”. In very specific settings, such as prisons or popcorn makers, the effects of confinement are more obvious. For example, in the 1980s classic comedy “Stir Crazy,” Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor found a way to make long term and unjust confinement behind bars funny. Stir Crazy is also the name of a well-known and beloved hot air popcorn-making machine invented in the late 1970s in the United States. Stir Crazy as what Arjun Appadurai would term a “commodity with a social life” (Appadurai 1986) presents an opportunity to explore the complex relationship between objects, humans and science. In this short essay, I will argue that Stir Crazy paradoxically contains, imprisons, and liberates corn for human consumption in a process of what Tim Ingold calls, “creative engagement” (Ingold 2000: 345) between the corn, machine, and consumer.

Corn

Corn is the only grain with a disputed origin (Smith 1999). As with many attempts to uncover histories regarding the disputed origins of things, the academic discussions surrounding corn are fraught with controversy. Yet historians, social anthropologists and archeologists seem to agree that corn has been around for a very long time (roughly 8,000 years) and trace the roots of popcorn specifically back to the Incas, Amerindians and even sixteenth century China (Smith 1999). The controversy surrounding corn in many ways is reflective of its wild, hybrid nature. Its complicated genetic structure and hundreds of varieties reminds us of the “power of things” to provoke human curiosity and shape our relationship with everything from the land, to the economy, to academia.

As a wind-pollinated plant, corn did not lend itself easily domestication and confinement. In “The Origins of Agriculture,” David Rindos (1984) combines the perspective of evolutionary biology with an analysis of cultural change to describe the origins of agriculture. He argues that plants have relied on humans as much as humans on plants. In essence, humans and plants are both the domesticated and the domesticators: humans have modified their behavior due to the biological properties of plants as much as plants have been domesticated and cultivated for human beings. Contrary to earlier perspectives that placed human agency at the center of agricultural revolutions, Rindos argues for a turn to the agency of the crops themselves. For example, he details how isolating small samples of corn caused what is termed as “inbreeding depression” which led to the corn decreasing both its “vigor and yield” (Rindos 90; 1984).

 

The origin of popcorn makers is less controversial.  One of the first popcorn makers was called a “Fire over the Wire,” and made in 1837 out of what today may be known as chicken wire. Corn was simply placed in a box shaped out of wire and held over the fire until it popped (Smith 1999). In 1866, the first patent for a popcorn popper was granted and the first electric machine was made in 1907. There was little advancement in the popcorn machine industry until the 1950s when “E-Z Pop” and “Jiffy Pop” became permanent fixtures in American households. Microwave popcorn emerged in 1976, yet it did not diminish the success of Stir Crazy, the hot air popcorn machine launched around 1978 that is still is popular enough to inspire more than 400 people to write about it on Amazon.com today.

Stir Crazy Diagram

Stir Crazy is a hot air popper meaning that the popcorn pops when outside heat sources convert moisture inside the popper into steam, increasing the pressure inside the machine and causing the popcorn to pop. As the diagram above shows, it has a “popper cover” which serves both to contain the pressure and a bowl for the popcorn when it is done. The “stirring rod” ensures even popping and the “non-stick popping surface” makes it a real crowd pleaser as it is easy to clean. Stir Crazy may have even enjoyed a recent increase in sales after concerns about the “dangerous chemicals” produced in microwave popcorn production was proven to cause a condition termed “Popcorn lung” in microwave popcorn factory workers (Kreiss et al. 2002).

Pop Corn Lung - diacetyl structure

 

“Popcorn lung” was caused by the microwave popcorn workers’ cumulative exposure to diacetyl, a chemical used in the artificial butter flavoring (pictured above). The confinement of the factory workers in the popcorn factory was responsible for the workers inhalation of “volatile butter-flavoring ingredients” which caused the illness (Kreiss et al. 2002: 330). 

foucault

In 1978, Clifford Geertz wrote a review of Foucault’s book “Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison” in which Geertz defined the focus of Foucault’s work as being ‘“confinement” in all its particular, discontinuous forms” (Geertz 1978). Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder would be far from laughing in the prisons Foucault describes in his book, yet Geertz appropriately titled his book review “Stir Crazy” (Geertz 1978). This is of course a digression, but a useful one nonetheless for thinking about the ways in which Stir Crazy could be viewed as an instrument created by humans to confine corn to the point of explosion for our own culinary enjoyment. In this analogy, perhaps those last few kernels that remain while all else has been transformed to white puffs could be seen as “deviant”.

 Yet the inspiration for this object study does not come from bad 80s comedies, a love for popcorn, or even Foucault. It is inspired by “Popcorn Day” which is takes place weekly in one of Foucault’s favorite institutions – the court system. A twenty-year tradition, my father is responsible for popping the corn every Thursday at 1:00 pm sharp as part of his other work duties at the Kansas Judicial Center.

After witnessing my father in action, I too was captivated by the power of Stir Crazyã and understood what had motivated 427 people to write about it. My father and I stared at the popcorn together as it popped: captivated in the Gellian sense by its ability to transform hard kernels into soft editable puffs, and foster relations between me and my father and my father his coworkers. As Stir Crazy worked its magic, the smell of popcorn drifted out into the attorney’s offices letting them know that it was Popcorn Day. Thousands of years of agriculture, archeological research, scientific experiments, product designers, physics, and politics seemed to converge inside the Stir Crazy machine.

Finally (or inevitably as Latour would likely argue), we have arrived at the human component of Stir Crazy, the object. Designed, bought, and used by humans, it is a product of human invention built around the agency of corn.

 References

Appadurai, Arjun. (1986). Introduction: commodities and the politics of value. In: Social Life of  Things. A.Appadurai, ed. Cambridge. pp. 3-63.

 Geertz, Clifford. (1978). Stir Crazy. The New York Review of Books. 24 (21&22). http://www.nybooks.com/articles/8291.

 Ingold, Tim. On weaving a basket. In The Perception of the Environment: Essays in Livelihood, Dwelling and Skill, Routledge, London339-348.

 Kreiss, Kathleen et. al. (2002). Clinical Bronchiolitis Obliterans in Workers at a Microwave Popcorn  Plant. New England Journal of Medicine. 347 (5):330-338.

 Rindos, David. (1984). The Origins of Agriculture: An evolutionary perspective. Orlando: Academic Press.

 Smith, Andrew. (1999). Popped Culture. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press.

Airport Security

May 5, 2009

nunfriskI hope to discuss politics

things

and a moment of breakdown in airport security systems (looking specifically at shoe bombs).

High heeled shoe bomb

Transparent things?

April 28, 2009

I just heard Adrienne Rich read the following poem and it provoked several reflections for me on how things have perplexed, challenged, and inspired us throughout the semester. Before reading the poem, she said it was inspired by the debate of if language is transparent. I am sure that she and Latour would have an interesting conversation about this, yet whether or not it is or isn’t, I suppose what strikes me is how language and things captivate and intrigue us to try and understand. Even if there is no distinction between the literal and metaphorical, the fact that words and things draw us in (returning here to our early conversations on wonder) I think is a demonstration of how perhaps their lack of transparency is in fact their greatest agency.

Transparencies (from “the school among ruins”, 2004)

That the meek word like the righteous word can bully

that an Israeli soldier interviewed years

after the first intifada could mourn on camera

what under orders he did, saw done, did not refuse

that another leaving Beit Jala could scrawl

on a wall:   We are truely sorry for the mess we made

is merely routine    word that would cancel deed

That human equals innocent and guilty

That we grasp for innocence whether or no

is elementary    That words can translate into broken bones

That the power to hurl words is a weapon

That the body can be a weapon

any child on playground knows    That asked your favorite word

                                                              in a game

you always named a thing, a quality, freedom or river

(never a pronoun, never God or War)

is taken for granted    That word and body

are all we have to lay on the line

That words are windowpanes in a ransacked hut, smeared

by time’s dirty rains, we might argue

likewise that words are clear as glass till the sun strikes it blinding

 

But that in a dark windowpane you have seen your face

That when you wipe your glasses the text grows clearer

That the sound of crunching glass comes at the height of the

                                                                wedding

That I can look through glass

into my neighbor’s house

but not my neighbor’s life

That glass is sometimes broken to save lives

That a word can be crushed like a goblet underfoot

is only what it seems, part question, part answer: how

                                                      you live it.

 

The last stanza reminded me immediately of our first essay from Bill Brown. The dirty window, which may make itself present through its grime, does not necessarily permit us to see the meaning of what is on the other side. As Brown himself states, “We look through objects, be we only catch a glimpse of things.” 

masochistic social scientists

April 15, 2009

I understand and agree with Latour’s critique of the tendency of social scientists to draw on prescribed and overused explanations of social inequality such as power, domination, exploitation, etc.  However, perhaps because of my political science and public health background, I am having a more difficult time identifying exactly what inequality is for Latour and how we could study it in a way that would avoid what Latour terms a masochistic approach of “sure defeat while enjoying the bittersweet feeling of superior political correctness” (252).  

I read the following passage for another class and thought of welfare as an example of an “object” generally linked to all of the reductionist concepts Latour finds problematic and wondered if the ANT methodology would be useful in this case —  i.e. from the ANT perspective, how could we approach an object like welfare? Should we even try?  (The segment is from Phillipe Bourgois’ book, “In Search of Respect: Selling Crack in El Barrio,” an ethnography of a crack dealer in NYC):

Primo (the crack dealer): If I was to live in the City, I would have to be homeless. And if I don’t find any work, how would I provide for myself to pay for an apartment to live in. I would have to sell drugs…or…or do something to be able to live. Because if I wouldn’t do that, I would be on welfare. I don’t like to ask nobody for money, you know. I don’t wanna ask anybody for nothing. I want to earn my money.

Willie (friend): Yeah! Before it used to be everybody works, and welfare is like the lowest thing. But now, it is like the style. Now practically everybody is on it, you know. Buy my family works. We never be on welfare. 

Primo: Besides, welfare would put me into something. I would have to go to school, you know, or take some kind of training in order to keep getting the check. So how would I be able to live by myself, support myself, and go to school with the little bit of money I’m going to get from welfare? I would have to do something to get the extra money to be able to live.

a convincing argument to stop savoring the margins

April 8, 2009

Latour’s critique of “modern exoticism” seems to have wide reaching implications for developing a more comprehensive approaches to contemporary “problems” such as environmental degradation, increasing economic inequality, and even disease epidemics. On page 122, in the section “A Perverse Taste for the Margins,” he states:

“We know nothing about the social that is not defined by what we think we know about the natural, and vise versa. Similarly, we define the local only by contrast with what we think we have to attribute to the global and vice versa. So the strength of the error that the modern world makes about itself is now understandable, when the two couples of opposition are paired: in the middle there is nothing thinkable – no collective, no network, no mediation; all conceptual resources are accumulated at the four extremes. We poor subject-objects, we humble societies-natures, we modest locals-globals, are literally quartered among ontological regions that define each other mutually but no longer resemble our practices.”

Our “perverse taste for the margins” is due perhaps that the margins are always the most visible and easy to blame. I thought immediately of our responses to the economic crisis (my own included). Blaming first the bank CEOs, George Bush, and the subject-object we call “Wall Street”. In fact by doing this, we do erase the networks and mediations that create Wall Street, the assemblages of a contemporary market inspired by neoliberalism and hyper consumerism of which we all are a part (including of course our objects so crucial to our identities). Clear oppositions are easier to understand. Having a clear face for a terrorist and enemy is much easier to lobby political support around. People like clear answers and recognizing that there is no divide becomes incredibly messy for politicians and activists because all of the sudden, we are all literally part of the problem. Yet I admit, I am still struggling with exactly how one can mobilize around a network or assemblage — however is this even the point? 

For some reason, airport security checkpoints seem like an interesting unit of analysis here in terms of interactions with humans and non-humans and an intense meeting of networks of technology, humans, material objects, and ideology. In looking for an image to spice up my post, I ran across this link about the dangers of taking off your shoes at airports, as it exposes you to germs from others and possible disease. The site even requests that you send a letter to the president — not of course about the larger reasons as to why such airport security mechanisms even exist, but rather, to install a special floor unit to kill the germs. Therefore, to protect us from technocrats, we must install new machines. Making new things (especially if they can be sold for high prices) seems to be the “American Way” of solving our “modern” dilemmas. As LaTour states, “Protecting human beings from the domination of machines and technocrats is a laudable enterprise, but if the machines are full of human beings who find their salvation there, such a protection is merely absurd” (124 – also citing Ellul, 1967). 

air-port-security-germs

Latour’s Messenger

April 1, 2009

I am now convinced that Latour has higher powers. At 7:15 am this morning, I sat in my room staring at a blank screen wondering what on earth I was going to write about. I went into the kitchen, and was making my morning coffee when a balding, somewhat short man, around 55 in age and wearing a striped shirt and stonewashed jeans, showed up at my door with a large, baby-blue machine in his right hand. He said his name was Spence and he was here to show me how to use the machine.

My roommate, recently operated on for ACL surgery, explained that this was “her machine.” Spence smiled at as both, dragging what honestly looked like a modern day torture device behind him as he entered our apartment. He said that he need to show us how to use it  on a bed. A bed? This was starting to seem like some sort of 1980s porn movie scene – the college roommates, a deliveryman, some indescribable machine that could only operate on a bed…

Alas, Spence was not a NY porn star and rather a man who spends his days explaining orthopedic machines to people all over the city. We set up on the couch rather than bed and I watched as her mother from India (who I had woken up), her from New York, and Spencer all centered their attention on this famous machine. I kept thinking of the example of the human with the gun, and how the four of them become “someone, something” else. A “composition” that could only be understood in the environment in which we observe it.  My roommate the actant.

I wrote down a few of Spence’s well-rehearsed lines. It was obvious this was not the first time Spence had shown people how to use the machine. I was struck by how often the word “easy” came up. It seems we want things to be easy. Maybe that is why machines have replaced humans. Humans are complicated. We aren’t easy. Our blackboxes cannot be taken apart and analyzed by groups of people like an overhead projector (except perhaps in group therapy). Here are just a few examples of  Spencer’s “easy” lines:

 “Relax, take it easy. I’ll do all the work.”

“This is the control. I am going to make things real easy, cause I like easy. See the four buttons on top, don’t touch them.”

“Your machine. Your control.”

“Easier than a TV remote.”

 “I ask that question a lot. How we doing?” [note the pronoun].

“This whole thing is like easy”

“It is now 10 to 8:00, you’re done. It’s that easy.”

“Thank you, and take it easy.”

The conversation about the machine centered primarily on how easy it was to use it. The machine replaces the humans. “Humans are displaced and deskilled” (301). My roommate no longer has to go to the physical therapist. And amazingly, after Spencer left, and we all sat around mesmerized by the machine, watching as it moved my roommate’s leg and down in a slow, mesmerizing motion, her mom said, “I think I can go home tomorrow.” 

cpm(This is a much more modern version than Spencer’s. Unfortunately I was unable to find a baby blue version).

Why we love data

March 11, 2009

As Jane Bennett points out, globalization has turned the earth into a unit of political analysis. Social scientists use a variety of tools to theorize about it, including images  (here Mitchell’s analysis I think could be helpful), and of course, data. I have thought quite a bit about data and graphical representations of it as things over the past few weeks as they come up frequently as representations of social inequality and poor health in some of my other classes. I wonder if we could consider graphs, and in particular a map of trade relations, as a representation of what Bennett terms the “radical kinship of people and things” (463):

 

Chase-Dunn:Average Trade Openness 1830-1992

Chase-Dunn:Average Trade Openness 1830-1992

A graph of trade relations specifically is particularly salient to Bennett’s article. Trade is an action that is regulated by humans, yet the effects of these trade flows and regulations often do thwart human agency, as seen for example by the economic crisis that unfair regulations have contributed to. It is perhaps an example of distributed agency on many accounts as the effects of trade (and the reasons why it is so tightly regulated) is not just about the banana or microchip, but rather much larger political systems of power. The political will behind trade laws is indicative of larger political issues, as such the effects of trade regulations on material commodities like bananas goes far beyond what you pay for one at Fairway. 

In short, I would argue that international trade is also an assemblage in which human agency is often thwarted by the agency of nonhumans. In the example of trade, the clearest example of this would be drought, pests, “natural disasters” that affect the production of commodities to be traded. A less clearer perhaps example is the economic inequality caused by many trade policies which benefit the few over others.  At the present times of globalization, these sorts of occurrences are much like the power outage in that they are felt in places far from where they occur, similar to the concept of the “cascade of effects”  as presented by Bennett. I would argue that social scientists love data because we believe that data demonstrates these cascades of effects. 

I could go on and on, yet I am afraid I will just become even more incoherent…

So to close, and to return to graphs which is where I began, I wonder:  How would a distributive understanding of agency affect our reading then of the following graphs of tax breaks and income distribution?

tax-breaksshare-of-national-income 

(Maps from David Harvey’s book: A Brief History of Neoliberalism, 2005).

Pondering Pollock

March 3, 2009

pollock-in-action1

 

In “On Weaving a Basket,” Ingold attempts to “bring these [baskets] products of human activity back to life” (346) through an analysis of basket weaving.  In reading his articles, I kept thinking of Jackson Pollock as a possible illustration of Ingold’s argument. Pollock’s paintings (perhaps) could be considered as examples both of the materiality of paint in the way it reacts with air, gravity, and  the surface of the canvas in addition to evoking immediately the image of the artist painting it.

The effect can perhaps most clearly be seen by comparing his paintings with other works. For example, in  Tamara de Lempicka’s “Portrait of a Young Girl in a Green Dress (1930),” the viewer’s eyes are drawn to the image of the girl, her use of colors and angular shapes, but not necessarily the paint or the relational process of Lempicka painting:

tamara-de-lempicka1

Whereas in Pollock’s painting below, the lack of an identifiable form (dare I say image?), which Gell may argue demonstrates the painting’s agency in provoking a frustrated or confused response from the recipient, actually brings the materiality of the painting, and its production, to life:

medium_painting_pollock1

Pollock’s paintings remind us that movement is “truly generative of the object.” Is it fair then to envision Pollock’s paintings as an example of what Ingold may term “making as a way of painting”?  Would Ingold see Pollock’s paintings as different from Lempicka, or is it simply that Lempicka’s paintings more effectively hide the material process of its creation? (Perhaps because it “wants” us to focus on the image and our own imagined story of the girl depicted?) 

“The Way Things Go”

February 11, 2009

Speaking of things exerting agency…I have been trying for the past hour to upload a youtube video without luck. The post is of a video currently at the MOMA called “The Way Things Go,” by Peter Fichli and David Weiss.

Gell’s focus on a relational concept of agency seemed to paradoxically give as much agency to things as it takes away.  As I read the book, I kept thinking of this video and trying to imagine what Gell’s would say about it.  In my interpretation, the video is  a counterpoint to Gell’s assertion that “things cannot have intentions” (19). It is a demonstration of the agency of “indexes” as it shows a social relationship of things to one another as opposed to their relationship to their originator (in my understanding, the entire chain reaction would be considered as a “prototype” in Gell’s theory). The video raises a variety of questions in relation to Gell’s theory. One of the most obvious being, is the “way things go” ultimately decided by the way in which the artists arrange the objects or the chemical and physical reactions between the objects that keep the reaction going? Ultimately, I think that Gell’s would consider the video as a prime example of the “paradox elimination” as it clearly demonstrates the “agency as a factor of the ambience as a whole…rather than as a attribute of the human psyche exclusively” (20).  But take a look through your own “optical devices”:

The Way Things Go