CxC: a progress report

It is snowing hard here in Montreal. Night has fallen. From my window, I can see cars laboring past and bundled figures trudging home to dinner. Time to stoke the fire, pour a glass of wine, install a cat in my lap, and reflect on CxC.

1) CxC (Culture by commotion) began as shameless self promotion. It’s aim was to make the three books from the Culture by commotion series available for down loading (without charge) on line. This is my attempt to do an anthropology of contemporary culture.

The books were designed to be “draughty,” encouraging and recording comments from readers. The first book now, Plenitude, has comments built in but it’s links are now down. The second book, Transformation, is done but not yet drafty. That will be fixed in the next few months. The third book, Commotion, is only 3 essays done. I have no idea when I will finish it. Soon. I am hoping it will happen sometime in my lifetime.

2) thanks largely to the encouragement of Leora Kornfeld and Lars Meyer, the website has shifted. In the redesign, that should be up in the next few days, the trilogy has been moved to the “back” of the site, and in the foreground we have moved the CxC projects. These are

2.1 the Pudgie award, designed to acknowledge the best writing and production in the area of contemporary culture. There are several winners and we are awaiting the design of the award itself. This is now taking shape in the desert outside Santa Fe.

2.2 the Pepys project. The first description of this project went up 5 days ago. It gives weblogers a template to use to document their lives and opinions more broadly than is now usually the case. The notion here is to encourage bloggers to capture things that will make their reflections useful to anthropologists and historians in 100 years. This is what I used to do as the head of Institute of Contemporary Culture at the Royal Ontario Museum in Canada some years ago. We have some amazing work being done by bloggers but much of this work assumes that the reader occupies the same cultural space as the writer. In 100 years most of them will be worthless. The Pepys project is designed to get bloggers to supply some of assumptions and context they are now assuming. Yes, it’s extra work. But as I say in the Pepys the reward can be something like immortality.

2.3 the journal project. you are now reading an entry and this project treats various bits and pieces of contemporary culture, including, recently, the strange film career of Ben Affleck, the Drew Bledsoe paradox, and the migration of value from colourless capital into the material culture of our world.

My preoccupations here are, usually, how our culture works as a culture (whatever the post modernists say, we are still a culture), how culture and commerce interact in the construction of our world. My great frustration as an observer is how often people buy the Frankfurt line that says our culture is corrupted by commerce. This is sometimes so, but what we really need in the post Frankfurt era is an anthropology that shows how they interact. Only by seeing the culture in the commerce and the commerce in the culture can be hope to give a proper account of what our world is. None is us is entirely happy with this state of affairs, but it is what, and who, we are. Not to talk about this connection is like a 1st century Roman writing about the empire without talking about Rome. That’s what I think, anyhow.

2.4 The cXcX project: This came out of the work with Leora and Lars. The quid pro quo of this relationship was simple. They help me with the redesign of CxC and I help them with the business plan and model for their new venture U-biquity, a system of hardware and software that will help museums go wireless. As I gave advice, I came to realize that my years of consulting and my year teaching at the Harvard Business School actually gave me something of value to pass along. It then occurred to me that this is something that could be built into CxC. The idea is still taking shape, but as it stands it will be something like an exchange (the last x in cXcX) that will bring together young entrepreneurs in the area of contemporary culture (and generally, film, documentaries, multimedia companies, websites, magazines, zines, and so on) and people with managerial experience and investment capital. As it is, there are now so many producers of contemporary culture, it is very hard for the good ones to find their way into the clear light of day. cXcX, if it happens, will help bring the best entrepreneurs and the best “godfathers” as we are calling them, together.

2.5 the Sophie project. This is, or will be, an attempt to create a virtual creature on line. A kind of Mona Lisa Overdrive creature (apologies to William Gibson). The idea is to offer an impression of Sophie on line and in the world, and let web visitors do the rest.

That’s where things stand. People who would like to participate are encouraged to make contact. Ah, the snow plows have arrived and my cat has decided that it is time to play. He knows best.

1 thought on “CxC: a progress report

  1. maria

    I really like the idea of your proposed Web Pepys project, as the Web is an excellent medium for archiving those discrete elements of life that, once the years go by, amount to a coherent — and interconnected — narrative of the past. Isn’t it funny, how the very immediacy of the Web, of the blog post, can become such a valuable historical tool!

    Some bloggers (and I can’t recall the specific sites now, but someone reading this might) have embarked on such projects as taking a picture of themselves everyday to illustrate the passage of time (one did it for a year, capturing himself in various locations, the other one I am thinking of takes the same headshot of himself everyday form the same angle).

    There is also a new site,, to which you can upload a picture of a ticket stub you saved, along with a story of your relation to that stub. You can view stories and stubs by countries, types of events, etc.

    I think it is great that you are encouraging people to develop some anthropological skills in their blogs.

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