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Garage U: Back in black

Someone writing in crossword

Photo credit: signal the police / Flickr

Cryptic Crossword Class

Join us for a special installment of Garage University. This one-off seminar will take you through the wend and weft of cryptic crosswords. Learn all about anagrams, hiddens and other secret codes that will help you ward off Alzheimer’s. Chris Black (alias CB), who brought us Kanye and Kirkegaard in ‘Hell of a Life’, teams up with Siobhan (alias SL), who regularly polishes off the Times Cryptic Crossword, for this special cryptic tutorial.

Date: Monday 17 March 2014

Time: TBC, likely 4pm

Venue: Brunswick Garage (email garageblackboardlectures[at]gmail[dot]com for the exact address).

Bring: A pen and an inquisitive mind

Provided: A snack of some kind

See you there!


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Abstracts for Lecture #18 ‘Science!’


Also, Zombie Rats and the Resurrection Protocol.

Dr. David G.S. Farmer The Howard Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health Melbourne, Australia

In the context of pub conversation, neuroscientists enjoy a larger-than-average implication of prestige associated with their occupation. However, the primary difficulties faced by the neuroscientist on a day-to-day basis are not intellectual but practical and experimental. They, as much of the remainder of humanity, may enjoy wrangling with issues such as how networks of cells give rise to laughter, memory or consciousness. However, our practical knowledge of how brain networks are constructed fails at a fairly fundamental level. The neuroscientist spends the vast majority of his or her time trying to overcome a prohibitive practical barrier to experimentation and to our understanding of the brain: namely, that neurons are small, numerous, close together and extremely squishy. This makes testing ideas about their organisation difficult. As a result, and despite the fact that neuroscientists with a computational focus create models of unfathomably complex events (e.g. a thought process; a memory), the mechanisms by which networks of cells actually give rise to even the most evolutionarily ancient processes (notably breathing) remain unknown. It is upon this level that the study of our laboratory is focussed. With the assistance of modern tools including optogenetics (Lasers) and ‘the perfused, working-heart and brainstem preparation’ (Zombie Rats) we are attempting to answer to overcome very old practical problems in order to answer some very basic questions. We do this, not because we find laughter, memory and consciousness uninteresting, but because we believe that in studying ancient and life-essential brain circuits we will be able to learn something fundamental about the manner in which neurons are organised.

Narratives in Science

Carmel Wallis 

Science is always right, except for when it’s not. We like to think of science as occurring in a vacuum, or at least as being able to resist the sometimes sexist, racist, or other -ist elements that our society contains. When that can’t happen, however, the results are twice as dangerous, because they not only reinforce those problematic views, but additionally have the weight and authority of “SCIENCE” behind them. Come listen to stories of sexism and sperm that try to illustrate that most of what we think we know is usually just a little bit wrong.

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Lecture #18: ‘Science’

On 23 February 2014 the first Garage Blackboard Lecture for the year will kick off with Dr Dave Farmer and Carmel Wallis lecturing on science.

Dr Dave will be delivering a lecture entitled ‘Zombies, Lazers and the Resurrection Protocol’,  and Carmel a lecture on ‘Narratives in Science’.

Come down to the Garage at around 4pm, and as always there will be a keg of delicious beer to help keep you hydrated in the summer heat, as well as delicious soup.

Abstracts will be uploaded shortly.


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Lecture 17: Language and YOU!

Come to the final lecture for the year, with Chris Lum and John Olstad, 4pm, 24 November 2013.

Apostrophes, linguistics, social politics, and you!

by John Olstad

Do you hate it when people misuse apostrophes? What can you know about someone who does? What is going through the person’s mind who adds an apostrophe to tea’s and coffee’s? The answer is that it is more systematic than you might think; it is completely systematic. What’s more, so-called misused apostrophes fall under a greater universal process called grammaticalisation. In this lecture, I will detail the potential logic behind various apostrophe innovations and explain the basic linguistic phenomena the innovations represent. Additionally, the spellings X’s and X’d can be shown to have different acceptability based on socio-economic class. I will outline the sociolinguistic underpinnings required to properly engage in a discussion of ‘proper’ usage and reveal what I assume to be some surprises as to the status of apostrophe use.

This themed session I’m giving at TiNA this year has three more presentations related to the theme of fun case studies that relate social politics and linguistics, so if there’s time, I could expand a bit beyond apostrophes or leave more time for chats and beer. Whatever you think! I’ll try to get to the next garage blackboard lecture as well.

How do you mean? Understanding ambiguous signs in a shared language

by Chris Lum

Word meanings are fundamental to communication through language. But how do words have meaning? And how do we understand words that can have multiple meanings? This lecture will provide an introduction to how linguists analyse meaning in language before turning to consider how the brain might understand words with related senses. It will be contended that, far from having dictionaries in our brains, we use connotations and metaphor to elaborate our own meaning networks from prototype senses of a word. To a certain extent, speakers of a language can differ in their perceptions of a word’s meanings and nevertheless understand one another due to the role of context in disambiguation. The lecture will highlight the fluidity of meaning and the fact that speakers of the same language can understand words in very different ways.

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Sweet 16: Feminine/Masculine

It’s our Sweet Sixteenth lecture this month! On October 27th, come and join us for beer, soup, and plenty of discussion about masculinity, femininity and constructions of gender. Masculinity expert Joseph Gelfer and feminist babe Ella Francis will be gracing the Garage—the extracts for their talks are below.

Future Masculinity—Joseph Gelfer

Masculinity, as shaped by both men and women, has a profound impact upon the world in which we live and functions as a core problem for social sustainability. Yet few people stop to question the forms of masculinity that have been passed to them, let alone construct a more conscious alternative. Future Masculinity will help both men and women understand how masculinity functions in contemporary society, and how it can be re-imagined for a sustainable future. Many of these problems are directly related to the historical social construction of masculinity: how is masculinity defined? how is masculinity asserted within society? By questioning this social construction of masculinity within our everyday lives, we can make massive changes to society encouraging a more sustainable way of living that can be enjoyed by men, women, children, and the world in which we live.

“Cunt”: the dirtiest word, right after “Feminism”—Ella Francis

While binary thinking continues to dominate the mainstream consciousness the “noble quest” for “equality” between the sexes is merely a farce. Equality, as it’s more widely understood in this context, “presupposes a point of comparison” as Luce Irigaray points out in the first chapter of her book Je, Tu, Nous. That point of comparison being men and positioning women as merely not-men. When I speak of women as not-men here I feel it’s important to be inclusive of trans women, trans men, people who are intersex, those who use gender neutral pronouns and males whose presentation is femme identifying. I cannot and would not speak for them but I feel it’s necessary to point out that so often the quest for equality excludes these people for the sake of maintaining the strict and oppressive binary of man/woman. The prevailing idea of masculinity as strong and femininity as fragile needs to come under scrutiny, concepts such as “reverse sexism” must be ridiculed and binary logic needs to be broken open to prevent continued exclusion and oppression.

When the discussion and debate on women’s issues is infiltrated by men it leads to further silencing of women’s voices. Slut-shaming, victim-blaming and anti-abortion are just some examples of the focus ignoring the empowerment in a woman’s control of her own body as she is silenced in order to make way for issues of morality and blame.

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Lectures: August 25

Gerhard Wiesenfeldt and Bernard Wojcik will be lecturing in the Garage this month! Titles and Abstracts below:

What’s wrong with the humanities?

by Gerhard Wiesenfeldt

The current state of the humanities is often deplored, particularly by their practitioners. The study of humans and their cultural products – as far as it is not solely based on empirical research mimicking something perceived as the scientific method – seems to have gone out of fashion. It is ridiculed as a useless, fringe activity that is a waste of taxpayers’ money for irrelevant niche enterprises about issues that nobody really needs to know. Defences of the humanities frequently verge between the pitiful apologetic (e.g. that it is not that much money that is wasted on the humanities) and the disgruntled aggressive (e.g. that the current neoliberal regime does not acknowledge the proper value of the humanities). Against this reaction, I will argue that the misery of the humanities is largely self-imposed, induced by an unhealthy combination of inferiority and elitism as well as the common lack of reflexivity. I will trace the historical roots of this condition in an attempt to develop a remedy. Unlike this abstract might lead you to believe the talk is not intended as yet another humanities’ bashing.

Meaning and Nonsense: Philosophy and Semantics

by Bernard Wojcik

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Announcing Garage U

Lachlan Ross will be conducting a 6-week short course in the Garage. The course will run on Thursday nights from 6:30-8:00pm. First class is on Thursday the 22nd of August. This Thursday!

All welcome, if you’re interested please email us at garageblackboardlectures[at]gmail[dot]com so we can confirm numbers, and so we can send you more info.

Details of the course below:

Modernity and the Birth of the Individual

Modernity and the Birth of the Individual is a class about the differences between Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft, community/traditional society and civil society/modernity.

Teacher: Lachlan Ross
Qualifications: MA in Social Theory Completed, PhD, in progress …
Outline of the course:
1) Simmel v. FoucaultSimmel: Proposition …
Traditional society is a place of unfreedom, where human beings are locked into rigid roles and social relationships. In communities, it can be said there are no true individuals, no freedom of thought, no ‘social mobility’. The monetization of Europe in the 15th Century initiated a time of freedom, internality, of fluid social bonds, of individuality, freedom of thought, and also freedom of movement.
Foucault: Response
In traditional societies, there is greater freedom, because domination is imprecise. Human beings do not exist for the sovereign, as long as they work, pay tax, and do not transgress the law. Communities have some freedom to determine the contents of their collective existence. Also, because the sovereign says ‘no’, because there are taboos, there are definite places to strike. Communities who are unhappy with the sovereign are able to arm themselves and attack a real site of power. In modernity, power moves from the centre outward, flooding the whole body of society. Disciplinary techniques of power now put every human being under the microscope, and spread out from armies and prisons into schools, workplaces and hospitals. Nobody is invisible to power. For every visible element of societal freedom, there is a dark countermeasure, making human beings docile, impotent, productive, and without targets to attack, should they become unhappy. In short, for Simmel, the trajectory from Gemeinschaft to Gesellschaft is one from unfreedom to freedom. For Foucault, the reverse is true.2) Weber v. Adorno

This is a similar argument.
Weber: Proposition …

Prior to the ‘discovery’ of the Instrumentally Rational type of social action (which is tied in the main to the new logic of 12 Century proto-capitalists), human beings had no hope of being free. Weber is a Marxist in this sense, in that he believes that tradition = unfreedom. At every point of time, an empty horizon must be before one, not a set of automatic traditions, if one is to be free. Unlike Marx, Weber says: Instrumental Reason (one can read ‘technology’ here, until we have the time to flesh the concept out), although it gives us a hope of being free, probably won’t lead to freedom. The problem with rational means is that they become autonomous, solid, and unyielding (they get grotesque ideas of their own, Marx might say, and begin to take on forms that may exist at a great distance from their origins). They become an Iron Cage that we become trapped in, whether they are good for us or not (they forget that they were means, and we do too, and that each specific institution or technology was initiated by a specific human being to perform some specific task, some task to further some specific human interest). We now look upon bureaucracy and progress as natural laws, that human beings could not stand in the way of (if they wanted too). Weber understands that the rational can become irrational if it becomes traditional. Read Weber’s ‘Types of Social Action’ in the Reader if this is unclear.
Adorno: Response
It is not the case that Instrumental Rationality gives us a chance of being free that will probably not eventuate, due to the wont of Instrumentally Rational means to solidify into autonomous ends, to slip beyond our control. Adorno says, rather: Instrumentally Rational means must solidify into autonomous ends—any attempt at ‘world mastery’ must lead to the mastery of us by the means we create to master it—and it is foolish to even toy with the idea that we can make rationality ‘instrumentally’ rational, and use it for our own ends. For Adorno, basically, we have no hope, except to destroy the system and escape from it completely. There is no freedom in modernity. Adorno’s most interesting argument, which we will discuss, is that there is more potential for freedom in totalitarianism than in ‘democratic modernity’. Adorno’s culture industry and Foucault’s absence of the sovereign who says no have exciting resonances, as do, of course, Simmel’s and Weber’s theories of human cultural inventions that develop independent logics.Finally: 3)
Nietzsche v. Castoriadis
This is the strangest argument of the course. It is, basically that for Nietzsche (and Simmel takes this from him) the human being of modernity is nothing like the human being of pre-modernity. They are different animals, who have not been ‘trained’, or ‘civilised’, but have been turned into a qualitatively different thing altogether. Castoriadis counters that human beings are always the same, ontologically speaking, but create vastly different worlds and identities depending upon whether there is a space for their innate creative capacity to be operative or not.


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