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Algorithmic Aesthetics

Bodies and Subjects in the Era of Big Data

Andrew J. Ball

Though the authors in this general issue of Screen Bodies engage with a wide array of media, they express a shared group of concerns. Namely, how recent technological advancements and the big data cultures of the Information Age are altering social norms concerning the body, the subject, and intimacy. The first two articles focus on increasingly data-oriented cultures that have given rise to aesthetics derived from quantification and mathematics. In “Qualities Over Quantities: Metric and Narrative Identities in Dataveillant Art Practice,” Amy Christmas examines the “surveillant aesthetic” present in three multimedia art projects—Hasan Elahi’s Tracking Transience (2002 to present), Jill Magid’s Composite (2005), and Heather Dewey-Hagborg’s Stranger Visions (2012–2013). Christmas argues that these artists explore new modes of subject constitution and constraint, and reveal the potential of “dataveillance” to bridge formerly disconnected processes of “quantitative (metric) and qualitative (narrative)” self-formation. Similarly taking up questions of aesthetics, the “quantified self,” and its relation to narrative, Kallie Strode examines the datafication of beauty in “Narrating (Sur)face: The Marquardt Mask and Interdisciplinary Beauty.” Strode reflects on the ethics of quantifying beauty and looks to the plastic surgery method patented by Stephen Marquardt, who has developed a model of facial beauty using the golden ratio. The Marquardt mask, she argues, exemplifies an algorithmic aesthetic that is being applied to the reformation of bodies. Along similar lines, in “Cyborgian Salariats” Stephanie Bender argues that the individual is subordinated and rationalized by modern technology. Bender examines how Sasha Stone’s photo essay “Hundred-Horsepower Office” presents an optimistic vision of a new kind of subject, the Weimar-era white-collar worker, a human-machine assemblage that combines the body and modern office technology.

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Jonathan A. Allan and Cliff Leek

This special issue of Boyhood Studies takes two terms—boys and storytelling—and positions them alongside one another. In some ways, we take seriously Charles Dickens’s oft-quoted notion that “A boy’s story is the best that is ever told.” What does it mean to take the stories of boys and boys’ stories seriously? Are they really among the “best that [are] ever told”? In the space of education, and with declining literacy rates among boys, what does it mean to study storytelling? Or, what might it mean, to borrow a phrase from Carol Mavor (2008), to “read boyishly”? In this special issue, we hoped to bring together scholars working on the relationship between boys and storytelling, to consider the kinds of stories that boys are told, and to also consider the stories that they are not told. Our goal was to consider the importance of storytelling in boys’ lives as well as the importance of the storytelling of boys’ lives. That is, we were interested in boys as both real and embodied, as well as in the fictional boys that populate the literary universe. The issue presented here brings together a host of perspectives that all work to explore and expand the literary and cultural study of boys and storytelling.

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Cuisines traditionnelles d’Algérie

l’art d’accommoder l’histoire et la géographie

Rachid Sidi Boumedine

Pour les touristes, la cuisine de l’Algérie n’est pas codifiée comme celle des autres pays voisins. Conscient de la variation climatique et la diversité des productions agro-pastorales, ainsi que de l’histoire du contact avec les anciennes civilisations de Rome à Ottomane, Abbasside, Perse et Andalus l’auteur montre l’importance et la richesse de la nourriture. Dans les milieux urbains, les aliments des migrants rappellent leurs origines. Des plats comme «dolma» et «kefta», des sauces de tomate ou l’utilisation du cumin en sont témoins et l’auteur souligne bien les relations historiques et toutes les adaptations locales. Un autre sujet abordé par l’auteur c’est l’ordre et la manière de la présentation des repas, différents selon les situations : une fête, une occasion particulière ou bien un repas quotidien et de tous les jours. Autrement dit, les repas sont considérés comme un cadeau impliquant un rituel ou une continuation des relations. La nourriture identifie les classes sociales et explique les relations entre les gens. Elle n’est pas donc la simple compilation d’ingrédients, mais une donne culturelle ayant une identité à la fois sociale, économique et historique explorée historiquement par l’auteur.

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Ken Parille, Kenneth Kidd, Jay Mechling, Victoria Cann, and Edward W. Morris

Reading Characters, People, and Properties

In this piece, I reflect on superhero comic books I read in my childhood and adolescence, noting that as I collected and read stories featuring the character known as the Silver Surfer, I slowly began to realize that the character’s traits, as established in the first comic in which he appeared, seemed to change in comics published later. In searching for explanations for these changes, I began to pay attention to a comic’s credits, recognizing that different writers and artists understood the character in different ways and often felt no obligation to maintain a consistent approach. I eventually realized that a comic’s credits sometimes misrepresented the labor invested by each of the story’s creators. This long process led to an ongoing interest—in both my writing and teaching—in the ways that our interpretation of a story and its characters can be enriched by understanding the conditions under which it was produced.

Books of the Heart

What might reflecting on favorite books from our childhood tell us about our past and current selves? This short meditation on that question first considers reading memoirs and experiments in rereading, and then reviews some favorite books from the author’s own childhood, speculating on their appeal and potential significance for identity consolidation.

The Fantasy of the Boy Scout Handbook

Born and raised in Miami Beach, Florida, I opened my new Boy Scouts of America Handbook for Boys in the summer of 1956, at age 11, in anticipation of moving from the Cub Scouts to the Boy Scouts that fall. I found in those pages a fantasy that moved me deeply, a romantic fantasy of hiking and camping in the wilderness with a band of boy buddies. That fantasy has deep roots in fiction for boys and in books like the Handbook, appealing to the boy’s desire to escape the surveillance and control of adults and to fashion a community of “lost boys” in a wilderness setting ideal for strong male bonding in friendship.

“I Never Had Any Friends Later on Like the Ones I Had When I Was Twelve. Jesus, Does Anyone?”: Reflections on Learning about Boyhood through Stand by Me

This piece offers reflections on the 1986 movie Stand by Me, drawing on some of the main themes and contextualizing them in relation to my own childhood as a girl growing up in the 1990s. I reflect on how in my rewatch of the movie, I was struck by the ways that the class positions of the boys echoed my own experiences of transition and liberation through education. I also reflect on the significance of seeing boys cry and be scared—feelings that the boys at my school were policed out of performing in public.

Boy Genius: Reflections on Reading The Great Brain

Based on reflection and analysis of a formative childhood text, this essay disentangles the relationship between reading, intelligence, and masculinity. The author argues that although reading fiction appears to encourage empathy, books written specifically for boys may contain detrimental messages about masculinity. The analysis reveals that the popular Great Brain series reinforces notions of whiteness, ableism, and masculine superiority. These messages are reinforced by the books’ emphasis on pragmatic “genius” and the savior trope in boyhood.

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Folktales, Folksongs, and Proverbs in Lur/Iranian Daily Life

Erika Friedl Melds Folklore and Ethnography to Develop a New Anthropological Genre

Mary Elaine Hegland

Erika Friedl, Folk Tales from a Persian Tribe: Forty-Five Tales from Sisakht in Luri and English, Collected, Transcribed, Translated and Commented on by Erika Friedl (Dortmund, Germany:Verlag für Orientkunde, 2007); Folktales and Storytellers of Iran: Culture, Ethos, and Identity (London: I.B. Tauris, 2014); Warm Hearts and Sharp Tongues: Life in 555 Proverbs from the Zagros Mountains of Iran (Vienna: New Academic Press, 2015); and Folksongs from the Mountains of Iran: Culture, Poetics and Everyday Philosophies (London: I.B. Tauris, 2018).

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The Greek Catholic Community and its Collective Memories

Religious Orders, Monasteries and Confessional Dynamics in Lebanon

Rodrigo Ayupe Bueno da Cruz

This article analyses the role of the Salvatorian and Chouerite monastic orders and their principal convents in producing collective memories among the Greek Catholic community in Lebanon. Based on ethnographic fieldwork conducted in Lebanon over the course of several months between December 2014 and 2020, I argue that the historical importance of both orders in the Patriarchate’s foundation and the popularity of some of their local symbols, priests and museums have transformed them into privileged places to transmit community memories. Last, these collective memories have contributed not only to constructing a Greek Catholic identity but also to maintaining this community within the Lebanese political-religious field.

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The History in Procession

Shiʿite Identity Formation through Frames of Arbaʿyin Pilgrimage Narrative

Ahmad Shekarchi

This article investigates emerging patterns of pilgrimage in the context of Shiʿite Islam and studies the case of Arbaʿyin based on two weeks of participatory observation, walking from the al-Faw peninsula in the far south of Iraq to the city of Karbalâ. I identify three narratives in this pilgrimage—tribal, ideological and orthodox—and discuss their commonalities and differentials. The maʿāzīb system of the tribal narrative is the core of the comparison, yet each narrative is interrelated with the others through the central themes of war, political Islam and religious seminaries. In the last section, I explore recent transformations of these themes as well as the pilgrims’ configuration. The tribal narrative of Arbaʿyin presents itself as a rival to the ideological narrative pilgrimage. Although this narrative is based on the social structure of a tribal system, it struggles with new transformations and challenges in form and content.

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Identity in Sensible and Ephemeral Experiences

Religion, History, Society and Politics Revisited through Everyday Life Practices, Tourism, Symbols and Rituals

Soheila Shahshahani

In this introduction I try to bring together the commonalities of articles which are about many different topics, including food, nationalism, rituals, the creation of icons, the importance of tourism, language, and celebrations that give meaning to the lives of very diverse people. Perhaps the Middle East as the crescent of civilisation can be comprehended in a nutshell in this collection of articles, which are written mostly by anthropologists but also by a political scientist and sociologists, to show the viability of methodology of anthropology.

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The Interaction between Language and Ritual in the Pilgrimage of Shabe-Arus (Wedding Night)

An Anthropological Comprehension of the Mystical and Transnational Role of the Persian Language in Konya, Turkey

Alireza Hassanzadeh and Somayeh Karimi

The Persian language, which can have various manifestations and functions, is one of the main elements of the Shabe-arus (Wedding Night) ritual (17 December, Rumi Mausoleum, Konya). Along with other significant elements such as Samâ and mystic music, the Persian language has a significant role and function in the mentioned ritual. Employing an anthropological approach, this study examines and analyses the role of the Persian language in the ritual. The main research question concerned the Persian language’s position and role and the analysis, explanation, and recognition of this role. This study shows that the mystical context of the ritual gives transnational significance and function to the Persian language in the Wedding Night ritual. This meaning is strongly indebted to the mystical paradigm in Rumi’s mysticism, which is represented as the junction of the ritual and language, granting the Persian language an intercultural and multisensory dimension.

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A Love That Lasts Beyond the Grave

Animals, Companionship, and Death in Muslim Societies

Itamar Toussia Cohen

‘If I have a bird, or an animal, and it were to die, what should I do?’ ‘Is it forbidden to read verses over the deceased animal, especially when some people may consider the animal part of the family?’ These questions, excerpts from posts in online Islamic advice forums, enfold several notions not usually associated with Muslim societies, such as the practice of non-utilitarian petkeeping, the sentimental anthropomorphisation of house pets, and a deep concern for the spiritual well-being of the departed companion. This article examines the convergence of interspecies companionship and death by exploring the possibility of an Islamic animal eschatology; the material attributes of death, funerary rites, and burial architecture; and the history of emotional relationships between humans and nonhuman animals in the Muslim world.