Hatsune Miku: Post-Human Hologram Pop Star

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“Hatsune Miku is a Piece of Software. She May also be the Future of Music,” so reads the subtitle by Lindsay Zoladz in New York Magazine, which you can you read here. Maybe yes, maybe no, but certainly she’s awesome. A technological object, her ontology’s confusing. “[Justin] Bieber boasts of his many fans and Miku replies, ‘B%^ch please, I have millions of fans and I don’t even exist.’” In the article, Zoladz quotes Tara Knight from UC San Diego. I add my two cents below.

“Hatsune Miku, one of Japan’s most famous pop stars, has been 16 for the past seven years. She wears her cascading aquamarine hair in pigtails that skim the ground when she dances, and according to stats offered up on her record company’s website, she stands five-two and weighs about 93 pounds. She has opened for Lady Gaga, collaborated with Pharrell, and sung more than 100,000 songs, dabbling quite literally in every genre imaginable


Miku is what’s known as a Vocaloid, an avatar of voice-synthesizing software (also called Vocaloid) — roughly, Siri–meets–GarageBand. One fan-written history of Vocaloid explains: “Human voices are recorded in short samples, and these samples are stored in a database which becomes a software for songwriters and producers to use as an alternative [to] a singing voice.




Far more revolutionary is the fact that all her music — including the songs performed in concert — is written by fans, some of whom cannot read music and never felt empowered to write a song before Miku came along. “Miku is seen less as this really special person, like Lady Gaga or somebody,” Knight says, “but rather a conduit through which you can express yourself.” (Crypton has licensed Miku under Creative Commons, so that fans can use her image freely for noncommercial use. And fans retain the copyright on any songs they write, so in some rare cases they can make money off viral hits.”

The clearly undernourished Miku is a fetish –charming, flat, democratic, and utterly winning. Made for television, this clip of her appearance on David Letterman came out particularly well. The sound quality is excellent. Miku does not appear on a screen behind the live band. I can’t help but think that Edmund Husserl would have liked Miku, a phenomenological apparition in three dimensional space. Her image is sized in proportion to the musicians in the band who play around and alongside her. At the start of the clip, she appears from out of nowhere in a flash of light. She moves in synch to the tune. At the end of the song, her image disintegrates back into the dark.

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Affect & Phenomenology (In the Pleasure Attitude with Edmund Husserl)


In the phenomenology advanced in Ideas II, Husserl proved himself to be an accomplished aesthete. He presents consciousness in gorgeous oscillation between the theoretical and the pleasure attitude. Phenomenological consciousness provides no fixed point perspective. Its intuitions are multiple, folding into and out of each other as a constant stream of conversions and modifications. These are theoretical and affective. Instead of one supplanting the other, logically or axiologically, their mutual oscillation, their “striving together in parallel,” is fundamental to human consciousness as such in its self-formation vis-à-vis intentional objects. “[I]n such thematic interweavings, new objectiviites are thus always being constituted” (p.15).

These passages from the chapter on “The Idea of Nature in General” caught my attention:

“But we are no longer performing the seeing in this eminent [theoretical] sense when we, seeing the radiant blue sky, live in the rapture of it. If we do that, then we are not in the theoretical or cognitive attitude but in the affective….[T]hough we have adopted the theoretical attitude, the pleasure may very well be present still, as, for example, in the observing physicist who is directing himself to the radiant blue sky, but then we are not living in the pleasure. There is an essential phenomenological modification of the pleasure, and of the seeing and judging, according as we pass over from the one attitude to the other..That is, all acts which are not already theoretical from the outset allow of being converted into such acts by means of a change of attitude. We can look at a picture “with delight.” Then we living in the performance of aesthetic pleasure, in the pleasure attitude, which precisely is one of “delight.” Then again, we can judge the picture, with eyes of the art critic or at historian as “beautiful.” No we living the performance of the theoretical or judgmental attitude and no longer in the appreciating or pleasure-taking.”

“Living in simple sense intuition, the one on the lowest level and performing it theoretically, we have theoretically grasped a mere thing in the most straightforward manner. When we pass over to the aesthetic grasping and judging of value, we then have more than a mere thing, we have the thing with the ‘what’ charter (with the expressed predicate) of the value; we have a value-thing.”


“On each side there are intentions which strive in parallel: a representing (cognitive, tending toward knowledge) striving versus an evaluating one which tends towards expectations, toward the delighting enjoyment.””

(Ideas II, p. 10-11)

The ideas about affect appear concerning “emptily anticipating horizons of feeling or will, fleeting glances that pre-grasp beauty, following certain indications, but without actually grasping anything at all, but which will suffice for “doxic turn[s] and predication” (p.12).

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No — Peace — Justice — Israel — Palestine


“No Justice, No Peace” is a well-established formula. With orgins in the Black Power Movement, it gets at the asymmetrical conflict over Israel and Palestine. The very simple argument is that Israel won’t enjoy peace without justice for Palestine. Less simple is figuring out the intention of speakers who cite the formula. Is this intended by the speaker to be a descriptive statement that seeks only to describe political reality? Or is it intended as a normative statement meaning that Israel should not be allowed to live in peace without justice for Palestine?

Flip the formula to see the other side of the coin – “No Justice, No Peace.” It’s hard to imagine how to draw up the careful arrangements that might make for justice for Palestine under the conditions of war and violence that threaten Israel. This is not meant to justify the injustice as much as to describe a parallax view of the conflict. Do war and violence reveal the pre-given injustice of a situation? Or do they only aggravate that condition and make it worse?

Spinning in vicious circles, each formula articulates a truth that is as partial as it is brutal and basic. Viewed logically, one term has to precede in order to ground the other. But these kinds of conflict do not lend themselves to logic. In the end, neither party gets what it needs. Morally, the claims must be met simultaneously, whereas politically it’s up to the stronger party to resolve the asymmetrical conflict which the weaker party continues to sustain on this side of a catastrophe.

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Jerusalem (Har Nof)


In the middle of prayer, the atrocity at Kehilat Yaakov synagogue in the Har Nof neighborhood Jerusalem, the terrible desecration today is going to sear into Jewish memory. The fight for Israel and Palestine turns into a bitter and blood-soaked religious war of attrition.

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Transcendental, Psychic, Spiritual — Husserl Ideas II


Philosophy friends, please help me out with this quick takeaway from Edmund Husserl, Ideas Pertaining to A Pure Phenomenology and to a Phenomenological Philosophy, Second Book, where Ideas II surpasses Heidegger’s critique (most likely formed on the Logical Investigations). Two summers ago, I read through as much of Ideas I as made sense to me. What struck me then was a kind of philosophical Impressionism based on streaming and interconnecting flows of consciousness. In Ideas II, it seems especially the case that the transcendental ego stands out not as a stand apart concept, but forms part of a much larger phenomenological model. Most discussions of Husserl focus on the positioning of the subject as transcendental ego, a stable and stabilizing center of intentional consciousness. But what grabs my attention reading him in Ideas II and also in Ideas I as more important is the consistent framing by Husserl of consciousness in terms of flow and modification, his devotion to aesthetic delight, and a playful, tongue-in-cheek, serious but non-committing openness to theological-metaphysical-spiritual  speculation. For now, I want to limit this post to something more basic:

The concerns of Pure Phenomenological and Phenomenological Philosophy are broken into three parts: [1] the constitution of nature (in which bodies are conceived as a mere thing, inanimate and physical vis-à-vis the aesthetic body and the transcendental Ego). [2] the constitution of animal nature (in which the ego is presented as “soul,” a psychic ego, a cognitive-psychological subject that remains unindividuated, dissolved into a system of forces). No longer abstracted from the body, the soul is constituted in relation to body and bodies. [3] The constitution of the spiritual world (in which we see the emergence of an individuated ego, the fullness of a person free in its relation to the world and in excess to material reality). As spirit the ego is considered as human, position taking, valuing, acting, etc.

In part I, The physical world of nature is already conceived as dynamic and dynamizing vis-à-vis different attitudes of consciousness. The constitution of nature, Husserl posits the objectivity of intentional acts of lived experience implicit in attitudes of feelings. These base-form intentional acts of consciousness belong to the pure and abstracted transcendental ego, as a pre-personal stratum. The modification of consciousness basic to this stratum is the shift between the attitude of (aesthetic) delight and the attitude of theoretical cognition (10-16). It’s at this base and undeveloped level that a thing appears as an object that maintains a basic form of identity through the manifold of shifting appearances, in which the world is experienced as intersubjective.  (83-9, 91). The thing appears as a continuously and discretely filled space in sates of constant motion. We sense qualities without qualities (89). That’s why we can’t attribute actuality to appearing things with qualities in themselves. The important thing to note is that the thing appears not as a simple unity, but as a unity of states (91). Things are defined as mobile, alterable, capable of fragmentation and subject to vibrations. (Things split into pieces, animals and people don’t {33,36}). For their part, psychic states are spatial-corporeal. They have “something like spread,” including “empty horizons of possible perceptions” and “new appearances” (36, 42, 38).

In Part II, we see that the pure transcendental ego is not the endpoint or end product of Husserl’s phenomenology, but rather its point of origin; and again, not as a fixed stable point, but posited as different types of streaming lived experience. These includes perception, fantasies, thoughts, valuations, willing) and modified by these different intentional acts. Again, there’s a unity, but it’s not a simple one (104-6, 110). At first abstracted from the body, the transcendental ego mutates, even as it stays itself (110). But in chapter 2 of part II, Husserl proceeds to the human or animal subject as a concrete unity of body and soul. It’s the reality of this unity that Husserl contrasts with merely material reality (146). Here and in chapter 3, it’s made clear, however, that the focus is not on the abstract transcendental ego, but as psychic phenomenon as understood in the natural sciences, dissolved of any individuality into a nexi of bodies (149-50, 180).

In Part III, the spiritual appears finally as spatial and emergent. The spiritual stratum that appears in or as human consciousness is presented as an excess of realty beyond the “merely” physical. It’s in the physical and cannot be separated from it, acquiring thereby spatial determination (186). Unities appear that are no longer unities of nature (187). Not simply transcendental and not psychological-cognitive, the personal ego is a spiritually individuated and individuating formation that emerges out of primitive sensation and intentional relatedness (225-7), latent possibility (264), quasi perceptions (275, 278) and habitual comportments and relations with other people (281ff).

In light of this, I don’t see how it makes sense to keep saying about him that Husserl’s project is based purely on the transcendental ego. That looks like a philosophical straw person.


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Time Machine (Gordon Earl Adams)

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His goal was to control time and space. But is this design-scheme any less loopy than, what, The Star of Redemption? Speculative and “spectacular,” both plans were driven by the powers and force effects of cyclical motion. The only difference is that some people still take Franz Rosenzweig (too) seriously. Ingenious, Jewish philosophy looks like technology.

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Humanities Today — Universities Invest in Art


Two fascinating articles in the Sunday Arts & Leisure section of the NYT about massive investments invested by elite U.S. universities in creating quality museum space on campus. Campuses include Harvard, Princeton, Rice, Stanford, and Yale with costs that run into the hundreds of millions for building sites designed by starchitects like Renzo Piano and Diller, Scofidio & Renfro. You can read the articles here and here.

Heavily dependent on philanthropic donors with deep pockets and big egos, these massive investments highlight a shared vision advanced by university administrators designed to stitch art and the arts into the larger life of the university, and the university into civil society. Stanford now requires undergraduates to take courses in “creative expression,” things like “Aesthetics of Data,” “Visual Thinking,” and “Cellphone Photography.”

It’s easy to be cynical, but you might not get the last laugh. There’s lots of money going into this, and not just money, but also serious intellectual attention and energy. As knowledge becomes more and more visual in its basic constitution, and funded as such, professors in the Humanities might want to consider the way in which a more visual sensibility might bring our work into much broader and lively conversations across the university and the culture at large.

This includes especially the two fields in which I work, Jewish Studies and the study of Religion, both of which stand out as relatively queer and isolated pockets in the university universe, and yet, for all that, or because of that, deeply interdisciplinary. The bet is that art and the arts are the connective tissue that tease varied and contested things and the people who care about them together into a single body-fabric.

A museum is a good place to go, a good place to be, a good “thing” for a university to “have.” But they cost lots and lots of money.

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