me hut journal march 2003  

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 its Reproducibility

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 Benjamin’s idea above.

One the one hand is the rise of ‘reality television’. It would be easy to see the truth of Benjamin’s 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."

W. Benjamin

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 ... (Benjamin’s 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 it’s always noon.
I’ve 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 can’t 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.

March 5
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 I’m sure there must be others I’m 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.

March 8
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.

March 12
The temptation, in times of national crisis, is to believe there is some bleed from the national psyche to the personal, that somehow one’s 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 one’s self. And 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 couldn’t 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 it’s as simple as that. Instead of Philip K. Dick’s 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 the Eighties.)

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 doesn’t matter since it will happen anyway. I’m 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 that’s 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 it’s as simple as that in the Vietnam thing my ass was on the line and now it’s 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 doesn’t matter either.
march 24
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 the difference.

march 25
went to see Dreamcatcher, the new stephen king potboiler. B-movie schlock, which I like actually, as you know. stephen King’s 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 wasn’t in the drive in.



robert cheatham