March 4 2003
"The most important social function of film is to establish equilibrium
between human beings and the apparatus."
Walter Benjamin, second version of The Work of Art in the Age of
On television, the real media of the masses, there seem to be two trends
in programs, each seemingly at odds with each other in representing Benjamins
One the one hand is the rise of reality television. It would
be easy to see the truth of Benjamins statement here from some sort
of social equilibration, tied in with the spectacle of the audience responding
to itself, rather than paid actors. There would be the literal incarnation
of the story of Horatio Alger, the "accentuation of hidden details
in familiar objects," the banal linearity of technology meeting the
equally banal (although now made enchanted and fascinated through meeting
its technical double) life of an ordinary citizen, albeit often engaged
in various ridiculous set-ups, games, and other framing mechanisms which
act to set aside the real while simultaneously maintaining it. This "exploration
of commonplace milieu" is thereby lifted out of the ordinary (aufhebung,
as Hegel put it in another context), while fulfilling it, that is, it
becomes more real than real merely by representing the real while at the
same time, the apparatus of representation becomes even more invisible.
It becomes more invisible because it has become interiorized, becomes
the new armature that we begin to wrap around.
"On the one hand, film furthers insight into the necessities governing
our lives by its use of close-ups, by its accentuation of hidden details
in familiar objects, and by its exploration of commonplace milieu through
the ingenious guidance of the camera; on the other hand, it manages to
assure us of a vast and unsuspected field of action."
Benjamin goes on to talk about his concept of the "optical unconscious".
The other hand I alluded to earlier fits almost too handily
into this schema. That is, the incredible number of shows that have to
do with seeing the future, inevitably in alliance with catastrophes of
various sorts, and thereby circumventing the disasters because they were
foreseen. (The reality shows are never about catastrophe although they
are about various personal crises; I always used to think of Baywatch
as the quintessential show for a technological era, one where the concept
of disaster is a necessity for the continuation of the culture, and that
is in fact built in to the very fabric of theculture...but when there
can't be a very large catastrophe then a series of small shocks even of
the most banal, personal kind are necessary/manufactured...which, for
where we live now, seems to be the only kind...also the very definition
of one form of nihilism: 'the expansion of the self to stand in for the
rest of the world'.) One could say that this is a case of the apparatus
over-representing itself, or that the hegemony of the time/space continuum
is an affront to the technological imperative involved (that is to say:
to the human psyche) and that these shows overcome that hegemony while
not overcoming. A bit of bad infinity as Hegel also put it.
In fact, such oversaturation is the only response that representation
can have to such infinitizing notions as fate, various seemingly absolute
catastrophes ... (Benjamins solution to this perceived oversaturation
was the disappearance of aura, the closest that humans usually
get to such infinitizing, bad or other wise.)
well, such notions (ie, vast and unsuspected fields of action)
never really seem to go away, they just get converted into areas underneath
the streetlamp where the item that was lost can be found, because
the light is better there. And the light is always better
with technology because its always noon.
Ive just started reading a new book called Hearing Things,
a sort of theological text dealing with those who have heard the voice
of god in various manifestations. I cant say much about it
but it stuck me that free improvisation has much to do with his thesis
of a certain sort of divine channeled really, communication
and the fact that there is such a fertile underground of those who wish
to speak in tongues so to speak, musically speaking. I would
be loathe to clothe such observations in sacred terminologies just as
I would be reluctant to ascribe the phenomena solely to a secular basis
-- unless one were willing to reverse the terms.
The book Hearing Things shares a lineage with a developing
shelf of other books that deal with the borderlines between some Other
--- sometimes attempting to contact the Other (The Telephone Book,
Speaking Into the Air) or trying to coax/mime the Other into visibility
(Dumbstruck) and Im sure there must be others Im not
aware of. Although mostly these are materialist attempts to come to grips
with phenomena that seem to elude materialist analysis (at least in its
phenomenological impact), they all point outside themselves to an exteriorized
doubling of the human apparatus, at times seeing uncanny effects in the
surrounding technology (the Telephone Book, Speaking Into The Air), at
times almost as if the human apparatus itself was host to various mechanisms
(the prime one being language, through, i.e., Heidegger, etc., or as in
Divine Discourse by Wolterstorff, a linguistic probe from the godhead)
which seek to overthrow the hegemony of the individual subject in favor
of a purportedly much older figure of alliances, pluralities, swarms which
inhabit the individual human frame. The modern battle has been to unify
these competing modalities into the modern personality. (For example,
hearing voices has come to be seen in the modern world, as
a sign of aberration, even though there have been attempts to allow such
internal events as a form of normality, and especially constitutive of
the higher states of creativity and innovation, e.g., see Voices of Reason,
Voices of Insanity: Studies of Verbal Hallucinations, by Leudar and Thomas.
Perhaps the major philosophical attempt to give the swarm a chance is
the work of Deleuze and Guattari.)
It could also be observed that the highest states of technological imbrication
tend to foster this sort of disintegration, creating a new environment
akin to the old allegories in its volubility. Which would indeed seem
to point to the return of the gods (rather than God) in some fashion,
although they may not be in the guise that one would expect -- this time
they may seem even more inescapable.
My mother is having a small medical emergency...nothing major but there
is a psychological aspect to the emergency part if not the
actual symptoms. I was thinking on this coming back from town this morning
and for a moment I could see the sinewy yet invisible musculature
that proceeds from the cradle to the the highest centers of power, and
the very non-power relation that power and its adventures
has to the family, the way that one is raised, the milleau that one is
brought up in, the expectations that parents have of children that cause
them to grow in certain ways ( the president of the US as well as the
president of a corp. as well as the president of the household etc), come
of age and then set up reality and reality-testing in ways that accord
with those early psychological sets. The link between a national sentiment,
or mindset became very apparent, visceral even, for a split second.
The temptation, in times of national crisis, is to believe there is some
bleed from the national psyche to the personal, that somehow ones
abject misery (or ecstatic happiness. or ecstatic abjectness) can be located
outside, in larger social patterns. There is obviously something to such
thinking since even such mundane things as jobs, traffic patterns which
irritate us, songs played on the radio, our economic position have intensely
social bases outside ones self. And yet...at other times, one just
seems to have woken up to a new world (which of course is the same one
as the day before in most particulars).
Something which has always disturbed me no end is the extreme periodicity
which the art world endorses and which, really, the Western world in general
lives and dies by (THAT cycle is different). The idea of planned obsolescence
was made much of in the sixties (there, i did it myself). But you seldom
hear such talk nowadays. It seems to me now to be much clearer that contemporary
culture and production has come to depend on a dropping-out of one thing/event/possibility
and the arrival of another, almost as if our brain couldnt hold
two possibilities in harness together. There is an obvious economic motive
here in all cases. In order to make a living at various things, whether
idea-mongering or object-fabrication, we need to have the felt necessity
to lock onto the new thought. Our salvation might be there. Our next feverish
buzz, or extreme high might be there. Our next fuck might be there. Who
knows what can be there? Who knows what new form of satisfaction of desire
(said desire being created by that same process) can be waiting at that
new thing, at that signpost straight ahead, as Rod Serling put it. If
we run fast enough we might be transformed into butterflies. Maybe transformation
IS channeled by marketing processes ...maybe its as simple as that.
Instead of Philip K. Dicks title of We Can Build You I suppose it
should now be: We Can Buy You.
(This was occasioned by the two volume Art Forum that just came out on
Only a day left until the presidential decree against Iraq goes into effect
and apparently bambardment of the country starts. The amount of effort
to think about it seems insurmountable since everyone is attempting to
do the thinking for me...and in the last analysis it doesnt matter
since it will happen anyway. Im not for the war but I have to confess
with a certain unease with the other side also. dunno what that is exactly.
To some degree the response seems as unthought as the war itself...or
rather, thought to the same degree, that is, purely reactive. Maybe thats
ok. But it seems odd and disingenuous that the same people who are yelling
for international law, UN agreement, would be the first to break it if
it came down to it ... Maybe its as simple as that in the Vietnam
thing my ass was on the line and now its not. although I remember
having many heated idealistic discussions about the morality of the arms
race, etc, in the self righteous ways that only a 19 year old can muster.
And of course no consideration of what a mad man Hussein is. But maybe
that doesnt matter either.
Mostly, to tell you the truth, the world seems like a game of hand-over-fist.
The guy who can grab at least part of the top wins. Civilization is the
attempt to take away the weapons in the game and substitute prestige,
recognition, and goods. Underneath, the same simian visage looks out ...
BUT that small gap between facade and face, face and interior makes all
went to see Dreamcatcher, the new stephen king potboiler.
B-movie schlock, which I like actually, as you know. stephen Kings
films always seem to have the elements of; a group of people trying to
get somewhere or make some connection. In this case a group of semi-adolescent
guys who get together and vacation in the snow covered mountains of Maine,.
and of course during this get together they harken back in memory to their
chldhood together and the outsider kid they bonded to, who just happened
to be an alien and who apparently set them up for events some 20 years
down the road, when the good alien attacks and kills the bad alien. so
there is the childhood memory thing which seems to very often fit in.
And then of course there is what I call the Spinozan Monster, which is
always, in one way or another, a creature that seeds the place with fungi
or replicas, or at any rate some kind of biological material gone wild,
and that attempts to suction humans into an undifferentiated mass of materiality--in
this case mats of red material, like congealed blood except that it grows,
covering everything. And of course there is the military thing, with Morgan
Freeman as an alien hunter endentured by the military, but going off the
deep end. Then another King standard, voices in the head, violent suppression
of some radical Other which tends to pop up inside humans.
All in all, a good drive in experience except in wasnt in the drive