Fact, Character, and Family Narrative

I’d be lying if I said that ‘knew’ Lloyd Parsons, my grandfather who recent passed away, in the sense that ‘to know’ is typically identified. I don’t know the date that he was born, though I could get the information rapidly. I don’t know about all of his travels, or his adventures, or the trials and tribulations that he went though, though I could get that information if I so desired. I don’t know the people that he knows (by and large), nor do I know the relationships that he formed and had disintegrate around him. Given time, effort, and dedication I think I could find out a considerable amount of information on these subjects. In short, I don’t know many of the facts of his life – I lack a comprehensive (or even loosely rigorous) awareness of his life.

What I do ‘know’, or remember, is his smile, laugh, and the twinkle in his eyes. I remember the characteristics that, as a grandson, I saw. I don’t know what attitude or personage that he conveyed to his business partners. I recall the kindness that he displayed towards grandma, and the frank love that he expressed through his advice and reminiscing with his children. I remember elements of grandpa’s character, not the empirical facts that surrounded that character.

It’s as I think of what it means to identify who grandpa was, in tandem with some recent readings in memory and identity as well as work in family narrative theory, that I wonder who’s role he was filling in in the drama that is the Parsons family, and who will later assume that role. Who has been told throughout their life that they are like grandpa? Who manifests his attributes? While we’re typically inclined to thinking of the next of kin (i.e. which of the sons is most like grandpa), systemic family theorists would argue that we need to look at least one generation away from the grandparents – we need to turn to the grandchildren or great grandchildren, and consider who amongst them have been/are being groomed for the role that grandpa held. This shouldn’t be taken to mean that male grandchild X will become an engineer, but that there are traits that have been impressed into the narrative role held by grandpa – who will adopt them? Who will facilitate (and create) the network of relationships born from key characters of his personality?

Systems theorists often point to cases where parents say ‘you’re just like X’ (with X representing grandpa in this case) or ‘why do you have to be like X’ to their children. This parental process of informing a child of who their identity belong to has core formative effects. It creates a space within which the child is permitted to act out (even is the acting out is negative) because it is predicated on already existing habits and behaviours – the actions and characters of the child already have a ‘customary’ place in the family narrative. In asserting that a child is like a particular other family member, that isn’t to say that the child will assume the entirety of that previous role (they will have their own particularities and empirical experiences) but that they take on the characteristics the deceased family member was ‘responsible’ for ‘holding’. What is most important, in all of this, is to look beyond the surface characteristics – who holds a similar job, who has a similar physique – and consider what made that person who they really were.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have the chance to get to know the facts of grandpa’s life. I do know the character of how he presented himself to me and, perhaps selfishly, am comforted by the fact that there is a good chance that I’ll get to see those core characteristics, enmeshed in a unique body with a unique set of particularities, sometime in the future. While Lloyd Parsons will never be born again, we will see core facets of what it was to be Lloyd Parsons again, and that kind of circularity brings me a strange kind of comfort.

Away For a Bit

I’m heading out of town for about a week, and after that am in the middle of a final review of my MA thesis. As a result, my posts are going to be less regular – I’ll try to post some items, but this blog is going to be reasonably dark for the next little bit

Shield the Sources, Shield the Telecoms

The past couple of days have been interesting, to say the least, when looking at recent shifts and decisions in American legislatures. Specifically, the House is looking to shield bloggers from federal investigations by providing them with the same protections as reporters, and that after the telecommunication companies that ‘theoretically’ (read: actually) cooperated with NSA spying activities have refused to cooperate with Congressional investigations that they have been let off the hook. Let’s get into it.

Federal Journalists and Professional Bloggers Shielded

The US has had a long history of journalistic freedoms, but in the face of recent technological advances they have refused to extend those freedoms to users of new journalistic mediums. Bloggers, in particular, are becoming a more and more important source of information in the US – some dedicate their lives to blogging and use it for professional gain. Until recently they have (typically) been refused the same status as traditional journalists, which has made it risky for bloggers to refuse to disclose their sources if hauled into courts of law.

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The Birthing of a Conference

As of this week I’m working with a series of incredibly smart, erudite individuals to set up and run a graduate student conference – I’m excited, but nervous! I want to quickly note what technology we hopefully will be using, and then note some of the immediate challenges standing before all of us, and invite any comments on how to overcome/run around them.

One Down?

First, I think that we may have found an online conferencing system that would really make life easy – the Public Knowledge Project provides a FOSS conference system that is really awesome. I’ve used their open Journal system when submitting a paper to a University of British Colombia undergraduate journal (Prolegomena) and it was a really slick system. I think that (for me at the time) the most awesome part of the system was that I could log in and see how far along the process my paper was. It kept me from harassing the journal editors, which I’m confident is a reasonably common problem with other methods of harvesting and selecting papers.

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Bombs, Bombs, and the Children

In the past several months there have been more and more fractures in the carefully maintained facades of the RIAA and EU’s democratic openness. They have also been the formative months of Nicholas Negroponte’s dream of putting inexpensive notebooks in the hands of the most disenfranchiased youth in the world, a dream that will be realized in a few short weeks. I want to quickly elaborate on the first two ‘bombs’, and then quickly comment on Negroponte’s dream.

Reznor Serves His Walking Papers

Trent Reznor is a brilliant salesperson. Over the course of his last album he used some incredible guerrilla marketing to generate (more or less) free advertising for his album . . . only to have the RIAA threaten to sue his fans! Reznor has been incredibly critical of the record labels for some time, but now he’s free of them! On the Nine Inch Nails’ website he has written;

Hello everyone. I’ve waited a LONG time to be able to make the
following announcement: as of right now Nine Inch Nails is a totally
free agent, free of any recording contract with any label. I have
been under recording contracts for 18 years and have watched the
business radically mutate from one thing to something inherently very
different and it gives me great pleasure to be able to finally have a
direct relationship with the audience as I see fit and appropriate.
Look for some announcements in the near future regarding 2008.
Exciting times, indeed.

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Read History. Be Fearless.

Academic environments are (theoretically) places where students come to be educated – they arrive on campuses after (typically) being cocooned for 16+ years – universities are where students emerge from their cocoons fundamentally transformed.

Plato and Shame

I’ve had the distinct privilege of working with students for more than two years now; the past year and a half as a teaching assistant and the time before that as a tutor. When you work with students, you realize that most of them have incredible potential, potential that you can see pent-up inside of them, but potential that they’re either unable to, or afraid to, release and realize. To address the latter concern in the first day of my tutorials this session I talked briefly about Plato and the straight-from-the-text reading of how absurd men appeared when laughing at the women who trained to become philosopher kings alongside men. The point was this: laughter in the classroom threatens to injure your comrades and, more importantly, marks that the person laughing can’t comprehend the purpose/form of laughter – their mirth demonstrates just how little they themselves understand.

I haven’t had a single person (that I’m aware of) be shamed by having other students laugh at them.

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