Monthly Archives: February 2012

One of the attributes that a good thinker should possess, but that I habitually lack, is consistency and discipline with terminology. I am always using a word or phrase in one context and then discovering that I have been using it in a different sense elsewhere or that I have been using several terms to describe essentially the same idea. A friend recently brought one of these terminological difficulties to my attention. We were talking about encounter, and she noted that I sometimes speak about actively encountering the other, and sometimes about being passively encountered by the other. When I returned to some of the posts I have written on the subject over the years, I realized that this was true of my writing as well as my conversation, and since this point is significant for me, I will try to clarify it as best I can.

I do not believe that we encounter others in activity, but that we are encountered by others in passivity. Activity can open us to the possibility of encounter, can prepare us for encounter, but the encounter itself must always and in every case be experienced in passivity, because any activity of ours that would try to create the encounter would always predetermine the other according to our own intentions and impose ourselves on the other in ways that would prevent us from ever receiving the other as such. The only way to receive the other is in passivity, before we even recognize the other as an other.

Our task, then, is not to manufacture encounter with the other, but to be actively open to the possibility that we will be encountered, that we will be moved in our bellies by the approach of the other. though this encounter will certainly not be from any activity of our own.

I agree, it does seem a little early to be making a second edition of Lindy, but I have some excellent excuses:

First, I was not sure exactly how to do some things in LaTeX the first time around, so my ellipses were all messed up and some of my end punctuation was a little strange, all of which has now been fixed.

Second, I had not discovered how to do Creative Commons licensing through LaTeX, and now I have, so I have included that bit at the front.

Third, I had several people complain that I had not included an About the Author section, so I have now added one at the back of the book.

Fourth, many people were kind enough to send me editing suggestions, so I have now corrected a bunch of typos and whatnot.

Fifth, the original hardcover edition had my name correct everywhere but on the physical spine, which read Hill Jeremy Luke. I have corrected this too.

So, the end result is that there is now a second edition, still printed through Hopefully there will be quite a long time now between the second and the third.

I have been learning a little about LaTeX recently.

For those of you who are unfamiliar (as I was only a few months ago), LaTeX is a program that uses mark-up language (something like html) and a document preparation system to produce documents through the TeX typesetting program. It is used, mostly in academia, to produce publication-quality documents, and is particularly useful when building bibliographies, using graphics, and representing mathematical or scientific symbols.

When I went about trying to self-publish Lindy, my friend Dave used LaTeX to help me mark-up the manuscript and prepare it in a form that would accept, but then I needed to make some revisions, and then I wanted to typeset a short story for someone, and then I started putting the Island Pieces together into a more formal shape, so I figured that I had better learn how to work with LaTeX myself rather than pestering Dave every time I needed something. Unfortunately, this has traditionally meant downloading the entire program and a whole set of additional packages,  setting them up, and doing the sort of computer work that generally ends up making me deeply frustrated with the world and everything in it.

However, as of quite recently, there is another option. ShareLaTeX, which describes itself as LaTeX in the cloud, provides a dedicated .tex editor and typesets to .pdf without having to download any part of LaTeX at all. The site is in its infancy, and it has not been without its growing pains, but the hassle that it saves more than makes up for it, and the creator of the site has been very good with responding to issues as they arise. To this point the service is free, and it will always be free to have a limited number of active projects, but eventually there will be a cost for larger numbers of projects.  I recommend the site to anyone who is interested in experimenting with what LaTeX can actually do.

Even without having to setup the program myself, however, the learning curve for marking up the text in a .tex file was fairly steep for me.  There are bits about LaTeX that make absolute sense, and other bits that make sense once you know them, but some bits remain counterintuitive even once you have used them, especially if you approach learning like I do, by throwing yourself into a project and just troubleshooting your way through it, rather than sitting down to read through a manual.

It took me some time, for example, to discover how to insert blank pages between the table of contents and the first chapter of a book in memoir class.  The newpage and clearpage commands did not seem to produce what I wanted, even when followed by thispagestyle{empty}, which were the standard suggestions for this problem.  Eventually I stumbled upon the cleartorecto and cleartoverso commands, which seem to have done the trick, though nobody else seems to use them in this way.  All of which is to say that learning to markup text for LaTeX has been an interesting experience for me, and though I am fairly certain that I will never make a career of it, I am pleased to be a little more self-sufficient in this respect.

How is it that I encounter you here, in this space, or in those like it, in the spaces that we construct for ourselves and for each other on our screens?

I have, as almost everyone has by now, come to know some people exclusively through the media of the interwebs, through the mediation of our monitors and our applications and our processors and our infrastructures.  I would even consider some of these people friends, though I have never seen their faces, never heard their voices, never taken their hands in greeting, never been face-to-face, and I wonder how these friendships differ from friendships of the face-to-face.

Now, let me make clear that I am not naively representing the face-to-face as an unmediated relation, since it too is clearly mediated, both through the purely physical mediation of the senses and through the cultural/technical mediation of language.  We are never able to escape these things, and thus we never have an unmediated relation of any sort.  I recognize all this.

I am, however, representing the face-to-face as being mediated in decisively different ways than the kind of relation that is mediated by our various teletechnologies, and I am wondering whether teletechnological relation is able to produce the kind of relational encounter that I have described elsewhere.  My concern, in other words, is that the increasing predominance of the teletechnological relation, while enabling an increase in connectivity between people, is reducing the possibility for the kind of encounter between people that I believe is necessary to living ethically in the world.  I might pose the question something like this: Is it possible for teletechnological relation to move me in the belly, to move me to compassion, to make the other appear to me as my neighbour, even while remaining absolutely other?

The trouble is that I arrive at two different answers, depending on whether I am thinking theoretically or experientially.  In theory, at least, I can see no reason why the signs of the other, even mediated by our teletechnologies, should not be able to move me in the belly, to make me respond to the other as my neighbour.  My experience, however, tells me that this happens only very infrequently, that far more often the teletechnological relation hides the other from me in ways that prevent true encounter, that prevent the advent of the neighbour, that prevent ethical relation. It is not that technological mediation hides the other from me in essence, not even that my use and abuse of these technologies hides the other from me most often in practice, but that these technologies become I way for me and the other both to hide ourselves behind the layers of avatars and profiles and monitors and processors.

It is not that the other cannot be encountered throught teletechnological mediation. It is that most of us do not wish to be encountered, and technological mediation provides us with the means to hide ourselves away from any real anounter, far more effectively than the strategies that we use to hide ourselves when we are face-to-face, when we must rely on our capacity to lie and dissemble, when we run the risk that others will see through our deceptions, no matter how practised they may be, when we may find ourselves encountered despite everything we might do.

The question becomes, then, not whether it is possible for me to enocounter the other in cyberspace, but whether I can allow myself to be so encountered, whether I can find ways to be open to the other through the mediation of my technologies.

My children have been leaning about their city and its environs as part of their homeschooling, so today we sat down with google maps to help them locate where they are in relation to the world. My hope was that that they would get a better sense of scale, of how big our city is in comparison with our county, our province, our country, our continent, and our world. We started at the broadest level and narrowed our scope, step by step, until we were at our street. Then I clicked on the street view to let them see their own house.

Up until that final click, they were interested and, I think, grasping the idea of scale that was the purpose of the exercize for me, but after that final click, they were beyond excited. The possibility of seeing an image of what had, until then, only been a map, of moving between map and image with a click, suddenly made everything real to them. From then on, nothing would do but that we had to follow along the streets on the map to find the houses of their friends, their church, their favourite stores, their parks, everything they could think of, to see it on the map. It was as if the idea of scale became concrete for them all at once, as if they could finally understand that the lines on the paper represented, not only the idea of things, but the actual places that they knew.

It was amazing, one of those moments that makes homeschooling my kids so wonderful.

I am standing in the room that was built to be theirs, added as an inner sanctum to what is otherwise only a hunting camp in the bush.  The rest of the cabin is a single room, cedar posts sealed with mortar outside and nothing at all inside, heated by a woodstove, furnished with timber bunkbeds, roofed in tin.  This added room, though, it is sided in split cedar outside and panelled with cut cedar inside, a small room that once had its own wood stove also, when it was theirs, and it had certainly been warm then, though it is cold now.

There are boxes of their things stacked under the window, the bits of their life that were too insignificant to be be moved to the new cabin, the one insulated and plumbed and wired, almost a house.  I leave everything where it is, but I can see some of her spy novels in the tops of the boxes, a framed map of the waters around the island, a picture of their youngest son at the wheel of a fishing boat, an orange safety vest, a piece of wood with a Bible verse painted on it.  There is a cake of green rat poison sitting on top of it all, and there is another in the far corner, a third on the bedside table.  The bed is stripped to the mattress, leaving only coverless pillows, and everything is sprinkled with a fine dusting of pine needles.

In one corner, beside a cake of poison, there are marks on the floor where the woodstove once was.  A hole gapes above it, like a wound that has released the soul of the place, leaving only this behind: the boxes of unwanted things, the nameless green poison, the uncovered bed, the litter of needles.