“WELCOME TO THE TERROR DOME”
or THE POST-MORTEM CONDITION
More than anything else in society, mourning must be diluted and distilled;
the corpse is beautiful and the “hardened survivors” odor free.
Alongside this disturbed relationship to the dead, mass media culture
conducts that endless work of mourning Freud called melancholia.
… The cult of the dead in any given culture is coextensive with the media
extensions of the senses current in that culture. Psychoanalysis, our culture’s
institution of mourning, keeps open lines of communication with the deceased
which are precisely lines of telecommunication. Freud’s disinterment of the
phantom voices of the superego, for example, coincides with the advent of
phonographic or radio recording…just as photography and film project and
animate those phantoms which, in Totem and Taboo, haunt those who are unable
to grant the dead proper burial.
Lawrence Rickels in
Aberrations of Mourning
…death now leads nowhere, and least of all,
toward any sort of <BR (transcendental) beyond. Death remains, as it were,
enclosed in the world of immanence: the dead do not depart, or if they do so,
it is only to return as revenants, as ghosts. Instead of defining identity,
death returns as the shadow that splits life into a life that consists
largely in passing away, and a death that has nowhere to go but back to
the living. Living and dying tend to overlap. Mourning…responds to this
confusion with the theatrical reanimation of a world emptied of meaning.
Samuel Weber in Genealogy of
Modernity: History, Myth ,and Allegory
in Benjamin’s Origin of the German
Perhaps the main component of modernity is its uncanny
doubling and its porosity.
What were formerly the opaque surfaces attendant to most facets of the world
picture (with the exception of the spiritual) have given way to punctured surfaces.
The steady application of scientific/technical methodologies has cut through
the textures of everyday life to reveal a disquieting substrate — which in turn
yields yet another substrata and so on. The exact nature—and significance for
the everyday, the popular—of these portals, cuts, perforations (and in someplaces
they are so dense as to resemble amputations) is not clear, although for the everyday,
clarity is not necessarily a virtue as long as movement can be made. (It seems to be
increasingly the case that this movement is of the category known as the performative,
which doesn’t know ‘true’ from ‘false’, rather than progress which presents itself
as a winnowing process, a gradual coming closer. From Rickels’ point of view, progress
not only attempts to make the corpse speak but also to extract an apology for its demise.
Friedrich Kittler addresses this as: “Every medium that brings the hidden to the light of
day and forces the past to speak contributes, by gathering evidence, to the death of Man.”
[Discourse Networks, 1800/1900] However, it is far from clear that techne arrives on the
world scene whole with nothing to hide and with all facets visible. Permit us one further quote, :”
…the fascination for the freak and the occult…is always on the way to technology. Science
acquires its staying power from a sustained struggle to keep down the demons of the
supernatural with whose visions, however, it competes. The repression of this terror produces
the counterfeit tranquility of sound scientific procedure. Science is always an operation on horror,
opening the theater of its repression. [Avitall Ronell, The Telephone Book] )
What does seem increasingly evident is that these ‘cuts’ in the ‘flesh’ of the world
(we are dialing Merleau-Ponty here and not, necessarily, the New Age) do cause un-canny shifts
in the borderlines of numerous once-opposed phenomena: organic vs mechanical,
the automaton vs the freely-willed, perceptual ratios (eye vs ear),
identity (inside/outside), etc.
These alarming disturbances, shifts and instabilities at the borderlands of the sciences
and arts do feed back to the everyday (how could they not: they come from it.
But then the ‘everyday’, like technology, is not a simple thing ); though perhaps this
relationship is not the linear one that Enlightenment apologetics have often tendeed.
In fact we are awash in a sea of perforations, surfaces sliding past us in the cut’ of
the virtual reality that television, for example, creates, scintillating not-quite-whole images
that refuse to settle into distinct (as in virtuous) forms. Most often they meld together
in a seething caldron of fused monstrous forms which, while quite explicit, recede almost daily
from clarity; delerium, hallucination and hysteria are now inscribed in technical systems.
An hysterical, feverish re-alignment, recalibration is under way and has been for
Perhaps one form of the ‘post-modern’ is that penetration of modernity into the everyday
(the transfer ‘post’ here being capital, as Fredric Jameson has pointed out).
The cuts, punctures, perforations and slippages are no longer confined to the
academy—no matter whether arts or sciences—but have saturated everything, precipitated
out through the technical media. Bodies and minds both become flayed, perforated surfaces
and it is still not clear what can be seen through the vents (which also become invasion points).
How incredibly reversible these words are! Are we talking of vents—or leaks? A whole
allied set of words comes into play: sieve, net, matrix, veil, all versions of porous membranes,
of holding, straining, releasing, forming, discarding, revealing/concealing, all at the
same momemt, an indeterminate moment which yet has a sediment—the speedy disappearance
that Paul Virillo speaks of, the incalculable differance of Jacques Derrida,
the fragmenting master narratives of Jean-Francois Lyotard, the weedy rhizomatic madness
of Deleuze/Guatarri—even these begin to recede in the distance as the Great Abjection
and Mourning begins to settle in. And the typically American pragmatism can be nothing
but a final strangled capitulation to this mourning in the form of an irish wake: Finnegan’s
non-sense. We will do anything to get past the grief. But the dead still arise;
in fact, horror of horrors!, they increase in number. The haunting takes place daily.
The air is filled with specters. In the hypersphere of simulation the dead walk among us
yet and refuse to let go; mummies with cryptic threats, they speak; they cast images
onto the walls of the media cave. We now live with the exact reverse of the vampire;
what is not there casts a very real image. What a situation! What is there, does not
necessarily reflect, and what is not there does: vampires and ghosts <> desire/fetish
and onto-theological relics.
The uncontainable engines of technique continually present glossy seductive surfaces
(like the technicolor rear end of a rutting baboon) while at the same time presenting the back
of the mirror. And there is either more of the same tools, all somehow contained in that
thin silvered surface—-or the further hermeneutic adventures of vampires, ghosts,
dopplegangers, monsters, aliens (if we’re so afraid, why do we rub our hands in glee?)
—-the return of mourning, which could very well be called the mourning of the (technical)
So we are left with this: how do you put something you can’t see, a boundary,
a border condition, into motion, make it perform? Is the performative for the
perforative simply the showing/concealing of the concealing/showing? It seems to us
that the technical media carry the burden of this re-formation. However, the old question,
bequeathed to us by the dead (and Martin Heidegger who is of course also dead):
do we grasp it, or does it grasp us? Previously (to what?), the showing was in the telling;
after the cut…?
Now where did I leave that TV Guide?
A certain onto-technologic no longer takes place on the factory floor. Rather
its venue has more in common with staging and the performative and the performance
than the productionist metaphysics of the assembly line (although it would be
foolish to conclude, as some are now only too rash to do, that the virtualities
of information somehow transcend the forced production of the assembly line).
The new reality is The Age of Performance, of the interrogation and prodding of
every little piece of the universe until it explodes into action—duly captured
on video, of course. A society-wide injunction to perform can only take place
in a technical media intensive culture. The Benthem/Foucault Panopticon has now
truly settled into place in world culture but certainly not with the linear
nineteenth century certitude that saw the invention of that particular
carceral optic. Much better now if, through the omniscience of the
metastasized ‘stage’, we can now, seemingly of our own volition, ‘perform’
our way into a new state of grace, both psychologically and socially.
No matter that the ‘performance’ stays in the virtual state since,
if we believe Rickels, the media-ized state (and State) calls for a
sublated mourning, implanted remembrance, and phantomization.
J. L. Austin’s criteria for the performative
(that is, happy or sad rather than true or false)
certainly bleeds into performance, for the
‘theatrical’ (either in its guise of theory,
the formal stage, Baudrillardian hyperreal staging,
capitalized materiel, or Heideggerian Ge-stell)
cannot be said to be true or false: It’s connection
with human kind’s phenomenal reality is too deep for
such ‘mere’ epistemological categories (at least as
the proponents of those who proclaim from those various
stages would have it).
Yes, there are many promises to keep – and break.
The onto-techno-logic certainly intends to keep its promise.
One we may live to regret, whether in the keeping
of that pact or in its breaking.
Now, as the rap group Public Enemy rap-sodizes through their massive speakers:
WELCOME TO THE TERROR DOME!