On the first night of the CRESC conference on objects here in Manchester, Chandra Mukerji gave an interesting talk on the move from personal rule to impersonal rule in the 17th century, highlighted by her own work on a canal built at the time. I won’t reply to that paper now, though I would suggest her work would have bolstered with references to similar accounts of that time period beyond Weber (Marx and Foucault’s long meditations on this period are notable, as well as all the writings of the anti-royalists of the period). In any event what I wanted to write about quickly is Mukerji’s use of powerpoint. I’m not contesting her work, but actually the form.
It’s actually a great pedagogical example for structuralism. That is, no matter what one wants to say etc. the very structure or place in a given structure one inhabits determines one’s actions. (Think of Lacan’s essay on Poe.) So whereas in Lacan, you have the subject-supposed-to-know, with Powerpoint, you have the subject-who-comes-off-like-they-know-little. Points are put up on the screen that, by the very structure of how powerpoint works, end up sounding so banal that whatever critical point you want to make it lost. A few examples: Discussing the canal, I learn “water generally flows downhill,” that “forces of nature often frustrate man’s ambitions,” that the “ocean has destroyed numerous ships over the years.” By the end, you’re so frustrated by the banality of what you’re being told–which can be supplied by a promising 5 year old–that you might lose the point that this is actually an author who has just published a wonderful and tightly argued book on this topic. But powerpoint obliterates that and I have yet to see a complicated theoretical point that can make it through the powerpoint filter. It is a thought destroyer and I’ll resist using bullet points in presenting this issue. Use it for quotations and artworks. No for presenting ideas in your paper. Though, you now know that water does tend to flow downhill.