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Figuring Mobilities: The Possibilities of Generalization
David Lloyd’s “Mobile Figures” reflects on the historical tropes of Irish debilitation. Lloyd focuses on what, in all its various and ambiguous senses, fabricates the Irish as Irish. The essay illustrates in rich and revealing fashion how Irish (self-)representation invents and reifies them, both giving birth to “a people” and circulating their figuration, at once mobilizing their representation and reifying or fixing them in place.
“Mobile Figures” presses into labor the quintessentially Irish symbol of “the potato” as historical and metaphoric image of Irish history, experience, and national “personality”. The potato becomes key to reading not just the linearity of historical narrative but the relational intersections of political economy, colonial history, reflective and refracted symbology, cultural self-articulation and incisive theoretical interrogation.
As a result, “Mobile Figures” leaves us enriched not just in our comprehension of Irish history but in thinking more generally about how that enriched understanding is enabled. The broader questions with which it leaves us concern how we might go about thinking about our theoretical, historiographical, and empirical practices more productively.
The consequent emergence and circulation of the Irish as “migrant” transforms our understanding of historiography as analytic as much as it makes more complex our comprehension of Irish life. What are the links prompted between the grounds of Irish global circulation—as exemplification and instance, as logical elaboration and representation—and a transformed methodological understanding generated by the technological possibilities of the virtual essay’s macro-mediated form? What interweaving of concepts and significant threads of argumentation are made possible by these technologically-facilitated relationalities? In what ways does this transgress the conventional linearity of the traditional essay, and how does it liberate suggestibility and implication, connectedness, contrast, and the comparative, heterogeneity and linkages?
If the result is a counter-fixity, what is the methodological cartography it prompts? How is this, in turn, predicated on fluidity and flow? And how does it prompt us to focus on the spaces as much between concepts as those represented by them? How are we encouraged to concern ourselves analytically with conceptual intersection and analytic layers, on circulation of ideas, themes, commodities, capital, and the mobilities of people, characterizations, figurations?
In short, what are the significant substantive and methodological lessons to be learned from Lloyd’s remarkable intervention?
- David Theo Goldberg, University of California Humanities Research Institute, 09.14.2005
Beyond the meticulous multimedia design and well-integrated interactive approach, the primary reason for the success of David Lloyd’s Mobile Figures project is its staunch commitment to the academic approach, even with the added new media aesthetic and accoutrements. Mobility acts as a metaphor throughout the project for a number of things, but it is the mobility of scholarly writing and citation that underlies the entire project which I find most interesting. With the three layers of dung, potato, and miasma, the latter constantly filled with floating keywords and dangling signifiers, we are able to discern an overall logic and argument without the rigidity of an introduction or clear thesis. Indeed, the footnote reorients itself from the traditional “dung” position in an essay to a potentially defining throughline in a tangled network of arguments. Lloyd writes in his introduction that he sees this project as open-ended, that users should ideally be invited to add their own argument threads from keywords. In many ways this is the ultimate triumph of the footnote; in a period where arguments tend more toward degrees of difference over emphatic and monolithic statements of truth, this method of “essay” reflects these concerns not as confusion or fear of rebuttal but as a testament to the difficulty in traversing one landscape without stepping into another.
- David Lerner, Univeristy of Southern California, 12.08.2005
Mobile Figures is an exercise demonstrating the mobility of information as seen through the metaphor of the Irish people through the metaphor of the metaphor which consists of potatoes, dung, and miasma. In all honesty the project just seemed to replicate the functions that the world wide web itself performs on a regular basis. By this I mean that the information we search for, or sites we review, lead us to other sites, much like the potatoes or dung lead to one another. The miasma (floating words as one holds the mouse over the cursor) of the world wide web is the very thoughts the user has that directs them to the potatoes or dung (information/sites). While I do recognize the demonstration, I am at a loss for the reason behind it. It seems a redundant project, that really doesn't do anything except replicate the web with the rich history of the Irish people heavily peppered throughout.
I will add that I did appreciate the mobility of the information as you can follow the potato or dung and actually see the criss-crossing visually. It gave me the feel of what occurs when we search and use the world wide web. As the author stated, he wanted the user to feel as if he was thrown into the mire of a swamp, much like one feels when presented with a home page of google. From there the user uses the mobility of the web and its interconnectivity to peruse the desired information/sites. It was nice to have a graphic display of how this process works, but other than that, i must admit the rest is lost on this poor soul.
- John Todd, University of Southern California, 12.09.2005