Fragments on Absence

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I.

“While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.” — 2 Corinthians 4:18

“My hunch is that the affective outline of what we’ve lost might bring us closer to the bodies we want still to touch than the restored illustration can. Or at least the hollow of the outline might allow us to understand more deeply why we long to hold bodies that are gone.” -Peggy Phelan (1997)

 

I have been thinking about presence and absence. More specifically, my attention has been drawn to the more phenomenological-oriented concepts of presence and absence, the experiencing of the absence, experiencing the more potent presence within the absence.

The death of a loved one can create an emptiness around which their daily routines and possessions continue to orbit. The hairbrush, the favorite chair, preferred groceries unopened, their own private rituals (of which only the ephemeral remain but not long), knitted blankets, books, photograph albums, medical supplies, etc. Everything that populates a world, even if that world is mostly contained in only a few rooms, remains and points to the emptiness that has taken the place of the body.

My family has experienced two deaths within as many months. We were left reeling, shocked by the loss. Still unable to fully process the loss of Anna’s mother, Linda, we were given the news of Eleanor’s dad, Austin. Everything seems to point toward the emptiness in the universe left by their departure.

St. Augustine Lighthouse on the day prior to Eleanor’s birth

 

In 2013, there was a sinkhole that opened up in Seffner, a small town east of Tampa, that swallowed a man, pulling him into the unending fissure. He was never found. The earth took him. One moment, he was sleeping in his bed. The next, he was lost completely. The man’s brother claimed that he heard his voice calling out to him from the chasm. Then, it went silent.

At around 8 p.m. on Good Friday, Eleanor spoke with her father on the phone. They talked about Easter plans and family. Conversations with three-year olds can be difficult when video is not involved. Disembodied voices. At approximately 11:30 p.m., her father was gone. His disembodied voice was the last communication with her. Then, silence.

Now, silence.

 

II.

How do you create the foundational supports needed for a toddler to grieve? You share stories. You read to her, provide analogous situations with characters she trusts. You listen to her. She is going to move quickly from one idea to the next, and within that motion, she will say something that stops you. She’ll ask for you to draw Christmas trees that represent both her great grandmother and her father. She’ll want to see both of their names, their full names, written next to her full name. Then, she will just play.

 

Austin, Eleanor, and Kaylla in 2014

 

The next day, she’ll tell you that she thinks you need to grow hair “just like daddy’s.” She’ll forget that her daddy is not picking her up from school, and you’ll have to open the wound again. You’ll reread age-appropriate books about loss and grief that have characters that are elephants, pigs, and fish. She’ll depend on these stories sometimes. Other times, she will not want to hear these at all. Most likely, this will be because she doesn’t want to stare directly at the absence. The absence is too painful. It is too painful even when it involves elephants, pigs, and fish.

How do you support your wife through her grieving? You listen to her. You share stories. You read to her. You give her space to think. You watch her heart break into pieces, knowing there is nothing you can do about it. You listen.

Even when she is silent, you try to listen.

 

III.

I keep thinking of the visual, of language and story, because it is what I have that I can understand. We all need some balance for our equilibrium during times of stress, and these are my balances. However, these things are insignificant concerns when experiencing the loss of a loved one. They only serve to help put my mind on something other than the loss.

I keep thinking of works of art that famously confront the absence, like Rauschenberg’s Erased de Kooning Drawing (wherein the artist actually erased a drawing by Willem de Kooning in 1953). The erased work was mounted in a gold-leaf frame, its absence made iconic, an almost religious object.

I am remembering Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s Wrapped Reichstag, Berlin(realized in 1995). The Reichstag, wrapped in a womb-like white sheet, was rendered absent but not invisible. The fact that the prominent and historically significant building was “hidden” made it more present.

I am remembering the power of the fourth photograph snuck out of Auschwitz by members of the Sonderkommando (described and analyzed by Georges Didi-Huberman), blurry with foliage and empty of the human figures of the other three photos. Yet, their absence (and the absence of the brave photographer) seems more like presence, with the knowledge of history.

Easter marked just over a month since Linda’s death. It was the first major holiday since she left us. I try to see her mother through Anna’s memories of childhood and her father’s memories shared while she was in the hospital. I want to see a true picture of her. There is a photograph of Linda and Anna walking together on Easter Sunday. Anna looks to be about Eleanor’s age and smiling, and her mother looks elated and confident. John described her as a tough lady, someone that would fight for what she loved. Linda loved her family. She loved her family more than herself.

 

Anna and Linda on Easter Sunday

 

We received the call from Anna’s brother that she had died . We had just visited her two days prior. Her brother and his wife were visiting that evening just before she died. We did not see it coming. She was making a much quicker recovery than had been anticipated.

Linda was excited to see everyone, wanted to not waste time. She kept saying that she had a second chance. When we were not able to be there with her at the rehabilitation center, she was using Facetime throughout the day with John to keep connected while recovering.

Then, Linda was gone.

Our daughter, Kendyl, and I went to the room to collect her things, photographs, Eleanor’s drawings, her clothes.

The staff had a difficult time producing her phone, which seemed inexplicable to me. She was tethered to the device. It was her connection to the world outside of her room. It carried her voice to those she loved.

The staff found the phone. Linda was still gone.

 

IV.

Maybe presence is more potent after the loved one has left their recognized form? In their absence, we truly see them, recognize them, miss them. The total awareness of the fact that they will not be returning stops thought.

Anna shared that she felt her mother’s absence this last weekend while at a family gathering. The feeling was intense and stayed with her the entire evening. There were no real words to convey the intensity or to define the feeling any better. There was a break in language that morning, no one knew what to say when her mother’s ashes were spread. Wittgenstein wrote, “The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.” The limit of our known world is the end of life. When confronted with death, we can lose our ability to communicate.

“What does it mean to write what is not there. To write absence.” -Kate Zambreno, Book of Mutter (2017)

When confronted with the unknown, I grow more obsessive. It is a defense mechanism, a protection from the fear of the unknown, the chaos. It is a way to escape acknowledging the absence directly. So, my mind tries to reach for references, ones that seem to circle the trauma:

Derrida’s concept of “trace,”

Blanchot’s “always-already past,”

Or Barthes’s search for feeling/connection in a photograph of his deceased mother.

We are language. Our language, whether in image or text, creates a picture of our world. When we are very young, we begin to learn how to use language to control our environment. We ask for things, and if we use our manners, we sometimes get those things. We learn to name things. We learn our own names. We can identify things and potential things. We develop the ability to effectively predict things. Progressively, we begin to formulate our identity with language.

Sometimes, the very same language that connects us, that creates our world, fails.

I can’t truly write about Linda’s absence, just as I can’t truly write about Austin’s absence.

I can’t write about these things, because I don’t know if I can handle looking directly at them, giving words to them. So, I write their presence instead. I write their presence, and I write around the absence.

 

V.

“Out of this same light, out of the central mind,

We make a dwelling in the evening air,

In which being there together is enough.”

–Wallace Stevens, Final Soliloquy of the Interior Paramou

 

From the moment Anna introduced me to her mother, she accepted me, loved me. Linda immediately recognized something about our relationship, something she understood.

 

“Signs are arbitrary because language starts with a negation of loss, along with the depression occasioned by the mourning. ‘I have lost an essential object that happens to be, in the final analysis, my mother,’ is what the speaking being seems to be saying. ‘But no, I have found her again in signs, or rather since I consent to lose her I have not lost her (that is the negation), I can recover her in language.’” — Julia Kristeva, Black Sun (1992)

 

I remember Linda’s voice, the rhythm and dynamics of her speech. I remember her mannerisms, her countenance when she was completely engaged and when she was obviously not. Anna and her siblings have so much of her captured in their memories, a complex tapestry of their perception of their mother. I remember her joy at our wedding, during the final moments of daylight, the blue hour. In my handful of perfect moments that define and capture Linda for me, I see her and John watching me marry their daughter, listening to our vows, witnessing our commitment to one another.

 

I see her sitting in her chair, sharing her recipes with Anna one Christmas, written on aging paper, crumbling from touch. I can picture Linda directing the baking, John performing the action under her guidance. I didn’t actually witness this. I have only ever heard of the stories from Linda and John. But, it sits as part of my memory just as if I were there.

 

I remember their personal stories, their shared life. When they arrived home after their wedding, their refrigerator was full, John’s parents providing this appreciated gift. They have told me this story more than once. They both acknowledge it as one of the sweetest gestures they received.

 

John and Linda

I remember how gentle John and Linda were in the hospital when she was finally able to speak again. I remember how their hands touched and how they held one another closely. I will always remember how he whispered to her after she had left her body.

I remember the day Eleanor was born, the smile on Austin’s face. I picture his singing to Kaylla as she was in labor. I didn’t witness this either. I was in the waiting room. Anna recounted this to me more than once. She held onto this memory, maybe because it showed his true nature. Young men are difficult to understand, their actions are usually at least part mystery, even to themselves. Austin had a young man’s temper, a young man’s frustration with the world. He also had a young man’s dreams and a drive to create his world in the appearance of these dreams. He was a rich tapestry of memory, and on the night of Eleanor’s birth, he was profoundly gentle. This memory and the memory of him with Eleanor, patient and hopeful, are how I think of him.

 

Austin and Kaylla, July 2nd, 2014

There is a lightness in being able to articulate these thoughts, being able to commit them to language. I don’t know how the next few months or years will unfold. I know that our family has become closer, more protective of one another. We are discussing more, working to understand one another daily. Language, like life, can end abruptly, without warning.

I have no idea what I set to write here, and I don’t think it’s finished or complete.

I know I need to start thinking about presence more than absence.

I need to hold time for a little longer, be completely present.

 


 

 

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A Partial Record of My Education

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“Those who love wisdom must investigate many things.” – Heraclitus

“I write-and talk-in order to find out what I think.” – Susan Sontag

In 2014, I graduated with my doctorate in education, and this seemed miraculous to me. A sustained focus, logical arguments, and the synthesis of an area of literature were inherent in the task of writing a dissertation, and I didn’t feel like I’d ever be able to live up to this challenge. As a child, I felt most comfortable with image and sound based communication. Music and visual art are such a large foundation for my thinking. I’m pretty certain this had to do with my mother taking me to museums and libraries, playing records in the living room regularly, and encouraging my growing interest in drawing.

Images could convey ideas that were both at the surface of my thinking and buried in my subconscious. Painting or creating something visually interesting and potentially communicative was something that came naturally. The imagery did not have to mirror reality. It could be completely conceptual. I was driven by the need to play with things that had an uncertain end. Not being driven to an actual destination, instead being propelled forward with intuition and curiosity, liberated me from having to make any sense of what I might be feeling in a way that would communicate to another. It was a drive to create.

This drive has pulled me in many directions at once. I have obsessively composed with sound, painted primarily textural (if not always aesthetically pleasing) images, and sometimes incorporated sound with paintings. Notes and small drafts of “diary” or journal entries have always been included as well. The outcome of these experiments was a amalgam of forms. I’m never quite certain how a thing may turn out…what form or hybrid it may take finally. I don’t even know if the outcome is the final version of a thing.

My default thinking is in fragments. If there are connections between the ideas or works, I have no knowledge of it during the process. It is always a dive into the unknown.

The past two months have included more than a few occurrences of fragmented thinking and organization that has not yet solidified into a coherent statement or group of thoughts. My regular lists of reading, listening, and watching have increased. I have rapid and incomplete connections between ideas and forms (text, image, sound, memory, etc.).

notebook march 2017

March-April 2017 Notebook, Thinking in Lists (more)

Recently, I have been reading Sloterdijk’s Spheres trilogy (Bubbles, Globes, and Foams) that have finally been translated, Hito Steyerl’s The Wretched of the Screen (2013), Kate Zambreno’s Book of Mutter (2017), Kafka’s late writings, Wittgenstein’s late writings on culture and aesthetics, Kadinsky, Susan Sontag, a biography on Eric Dolphy, so many disparate essays, and massive amounts of poetry.

Lately, I have been awed by the visual artwork of Rosy Keyser, Titus Kaphar, Fernando Zobel, Hito Steyerl, Julie Mehretu, Rebecca Horn, and Agnes Martin.

As I have written before, my sister told me once that whatever I put into my head must eventually come out. In what form will it arrive?

It eases my mind to know that others seem to have the same attraction to this process of discovery (like Sontag’s diary entry below).

From Sontag’s As Consciousness is Harnessed to Flesh: Journals and Notebooks, 1964-1980 (with my scribbles)

Probably due to the Sloterdijk, the fact that Eleanor is beginning to trace the letter O, and my attraction to the simplicity of the ensō, circles and spheres have dominated my visual thinking. I seem to find them everywhere. From the Book of Genesis to NASA’s documentation of space trash, I seem to collide with imagery that represents a circular/spherical containment or a cyclical process.

 

Day 5 of Creation (Book of Genesis Illustration, 1493 Nuremberg Chronicle)

From Alberto Manguel’s Curiosity (2015)

Iannis Xenakis- from Formalized Music: Thought and Mathematics in Composition (1992)

Iannis Xenakis- from Formalized Music: Thought and Mathematics in Composition (1992)

Quotes re: Phenomenology, Body, & Language

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“Saying that I have a body is thus a way of saying that I can be seen as an object and that I try to be seen as a subject, that another can be my master or my slave.” – Merleau-Ponty, The Phenomenology of Perception (1962)

“This is why I write: to unfold the electrical mat of my nervous system.” – Bhanu Kapil, Ban En Banlieue (2015)

“The enlightened man says: I am body entirely and nothing beside.” -Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1883)

“Our own physical body possesses a wisdom that we who inhabit the body lack. We give it orders which make no sense.” -Henry Miller, Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymous Bosch (1957)

“My favorite arts are the ones that can move your body or make a new world.” -Anne Boyer, Garments Against Women (2015)

“Writers…were out there creating a new language, one that I intuitively understood, to analyze our art, our world. This was, in and of itself, an argument for the weight and beauty of our culture and thus of our bodies.” -Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me (2015)

“The fluidity of the injured body’s referential direction is here manifest in the verbal habit of evoking all casualties as a single phenomenon once the war is over.” -Elaine Scarry, The Body in Pain (1985)

“There is only one antidote to mental suffering, and that is physical pain.” -Karl Marx

Education within the context of oppression includes “teachers talking about reality as if it were motionless, static, compartmentalized, and predictable. Or else he expounds on a topic completely alien to the existential experience of the students. His task is to “fill” the students with the contents of his narration-contents which are detached from reality, disconnected from the totality that engendered them and could give them significance. Words are emptied of their concreteness and become a hollow, alienated, and alienating verbosity…Education thus becomes an act of depositing, in which for the students are the depositories and the teacher is the depositor. Instead of communicating, the teacher issues communiqués and makes deposits which the students patiently receive, memorize, and repeat. This is the “banking” concept of education, in which the scope of action allowed to the students extends only as far as receiving, filing, and storing the deposits. They do, it is true, have the opportunity to become collectors or cataloguers of the things they store. But in the last analysis, it is the people themselves that are filed away through the lack of creativity, transformation, and knowledge in this (at best) misguided system. For apart from inquiry, apart from the praxis, individuals cannot truly be human. Knowledge emerges only through invention and re-invention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other.” -Paulo Freire, The Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1970)

“Shifting how we think about language and how we use it necessarily alters how we know what we know.” -Bell Hooks, Teaching to Transgress (1994)

“We take the oppressor’s language and turn it against itself. We make our words a counter-hegemonic speech, liberating ourselves in language.” -Bell Hooks, Teaching to Transgress (1994)

“We reconstruct for ourselves the order of the world in an image, starting from limited, countable, and strictly defined data. We work out a system for ourselves, establishing connections and conceiving of relationships between terms that are abstract and for that reason possible for us to deal with.” -Simone Weil, “Forms of the Implicit Love of God” (from Waiting for God, 1951)

“This is the crime of which I accuse my country and my countrymen, and for which neither I nor time nor history will ever forgive them, that they have destroyed and are destroying hundreds of thousands of lives and do not know it and do not want to know it.” -James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time (1963)

“Let us keep in mind the speech of the depressed- repetitive and monotonous. Faced with the impossibility of concatenating, they utter sentences that are interrupted, exhausted, come to a standstill. Even phrases they cannot formulate. A repetitive rhythm, a monotonous melody emerge and dominate the broken logical sequences, changing them into recurring, obsessive litanies. Finally, when that frugal musicality becomes established on account of the pressure of silence, the melancholy person appears to stop cognizing as well as uttering, sinking into the blankness of asymbolia or the excess of an unorderable cognitive chaos.” – Julia Kristeva, Black Sun (1989)

Sontag-like notes taken regarding course design in 2010

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These notes make little sense out of context. However, I save almost everything that I write or think about in writing. These wqere some notes (with lots of attached digital studies to back up my thoughts) in 2010-2011. I originally kept track of all of this, because I was trying to figure out the best way to explain solid course design from the perspective of UI/UX commonly associated with social media and gaming. That was pretty much a failure, but I was able to plant the germ of thought around these concepts with several individuals who had never thought about the motivational or social constructivism that should be a part of learning online (the same way these play such a vital role in face-to-face instruction). When I write things down, I tend to really remember them, even if I don’t return to the notes. Each of the studies or books contained in the notes have been read and considered prior to adding them to my thought process.

“Learning guides” and personal touch in online learning experiences:

Research behind “Learning Guides” showing up to talk to the learner at least five times during a lesson (Big Ideas, etc.)

Important to remember-

Wang, N., Johnson, W.L., Mayer, R.E., Rizzo, P., Shaw, E., & Collins, H. (2008). The politeness effect: Pedagogical agents and learning outcomes. International Journal of Human Computer Studies, 66, 98–112.

Mayer, R.E. (2005). Principles based on social cues: Personalization, voice, and image principles. In R.E. Mayer (Ed.), The Cambridge handbook of multimedia learning (pp. 201–212). New York: Cambridge University Press.

Moreno, R., Mayer, R.E., Spires, H., & Lester, J. (2001). The case for social agency in computer-based teaching: Do students learn more deeply when they interact with animated pedagogical agents? Cognition and Instruction, 19, 177–214.

Component 1: Multimedia Approach (illustrations over text, spken text or narration over printed text only)-

1. Seminal 2007 Study Link- http://www.scribd.com/doc/33972230/Richard-E-Mayer-Applying-the-Science-of-…

2. Novice-level users of technology and multimedia – attached below

3. Last text and cover attachments include a short couple of pages from e-Learning and the Science of Instruction: Proven Guidelines for Consumers and Designers of Multimedia Learning [Ruth C. Clark, Richard E. Mayer]- Breaking all sorts of copyright rules here…(and this is not a part of our coursework here in ID…but, this is an important book synthesizing these ideas and used at other state universities, like USF and UCF).

Responsive Design and User Interfaces

1. Examples and clear definitions of adaptive/responsive web development templates:

a. A List Apart (One of my favorite web blogs for design- definition of this component…Link)- http://www.alistapart.com/articles/responsive-web-design/

b. Examples using Goldilocks (attached below)

c. These things can be templates for further work-

http://designshack.net/articles/css/5-really-useful-responsive-web-design-p…

d. Defined through image (attached below)

e. Excellent example of a website (other than Boston Globe, which is brilliant) that “knows” what you are viewing it on- www.thinkvitamin.com

f. What I am using for UI wireframing and basic design- Keynote Kung-Fu and hotglue.me

2. Examples of Cascading Style Sheets (CSS)…specifically for CSS3:

a. Really cool (examples of how content can live in a variety of amazing style sheets using CSS3)- www.csszengarden.com

b. http://demo.marcofolio.net/3d_animation_css3/

c. http://filamentgroup.com/lab/responsive_images_experimenting_with_context_a…

d. When can I use specific things????- http://caniuse.com/

3. Jason’s favorite UX/UI designer:

http://jamesadame.com/50769/453451/gallery/dunkin-donuts

More information-

Why it’s important and what it looks like-

http://uxmag.com/articles/designing-for-context-the-multiscreen-ecosystem#.…

The Designer’s Rise to Upper Echelons of Business Community-

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/mark-c-curtis/the-designers-rise-into-t_b_1…

Really great, innovative design takes lots of work. Simplicity is so complex. These guys rock at it.

http://www.fjordnet.com/

And, when you just want to get “cool”-

http://mrdoob.com/137/Voxels_liquid

Badging:

Social networking can be leveraged as a tool to promote deep communication and learning between learners and as a way to validate accomplishments of those learners. Badging and the curating of shared knowledge within this network (participants’ shared knowledge may be examples of lesson plans, videos, blogs, photos from the field, etc.) is a powerful way to building a structure that allows for meaningful learning in an online environment. This shared responsibility for curating the uploaded artifacts helps to motivate the learner and can be used to help assess the contributions and the outcomes of applied learning for every participant.

I have attached Baker’s 2007 AERA published paper as the “touchstone” document from which a great deal of research has been based.

 

Ease of Use:

IMPORTANT STUDY (as important as Roger’s book, Diffusion of Innovations, IMO):

  • Davis, F. D. 1989. Perceived usefulness, perceived ease of use, and user acceptance of information technology. MIS Quarterly 13( 3): 319– 340. (attached)

  • Rogers, Everett M. 1962. Diffusion of Innovations. Glencoe: Free Press. Most recently revised 2003 (5th edition).

and, just because I like these books, and I’ve found them to contain a lot of truth:

Malcolm Gladwell’s Tipping Point (1st chapter attached)

http://www.gladwell.com/tippingpoint/

Norman’s The Design of Everyday Things

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Design_of_Everyday_Things

Learning activities:

Image