November 2, 2011 § 1 Comment
The title of this post is not mine. It goes back to Mark Osteen’s fabulous book on Don DeLillo‘s fiction and its concern with modern media. But ever since reading that book, the tautological nature of the title, so apt and precise to describe the fiction of DeLillo, has remained with me as a shortcut to a European perspective on America. In a similar way, Liam Cennedy argued that for Europeans, America remained an object of study and also an object of desire (h/t Ida Jahr). Same tautological structure of interest (magic) and despair (dread). Yet, seen from the right perspective, and I speak spatially here, that picture above does make sense to someone driving DOWN the alley in the wrong direction, while for someone driving UP the alley, the letters are just nonsense. The irritated bystander (read: European) perceives the interdiction and the definition at the same time, as mere commands phrased in the same alphabet. This yes/and – no/but structure still seems to capture what many think about America as a cultural space, although the no/but-faction is gaining ground.
Paul Virilio coined the phrase of a projectile image, projecting through space at radiant speed, reflecting on screens and surfaces, thereby reorganizing our perceptions of space at the same time. Now, in addition to these spatial metaphors of images – between the ground floor and the observation deck – there is a temporal dimension of the image, which altogether can go beyond its spatial origins. It’s the visceral and viral image, which resonates in digital time (not space, how anachronistic).
DeLillo was able to capture this mode of being obsessed with images as a fundamental quality of American culture, images as part of the magic, for sure, but also images as the source of dread, of unease, and instability. In Cosmopolis (2003) and Underworld (1997), to name just two, DeLillo weaves the objective certainty of the image into a matrix of uncertain perceptions – phenomenological irritations in the face of photogenic magic. In one short passage, Jeff’s fascination with a video of the “Texas Highway Killer” turns into an ontological journey into the self, an image beyond the consumerist self of wryly calibrated image particles.
Jeff became absorbed in these images, devising routines and programs, using filtering techniques to remove background texture. He was looking for the lost information. He enhanced and superslowed, trying to find some pixel in the data swarm that might provide a clue to the identity of the shooter. (Underworld, 118)
In the constant run of images this clue to an identity is no longer directed at identifying the “Texas Highway Killer” but is used as a vehicle to see an image of oneself gaining shape in an endless swirl of half-codified, half-creative forms of repeated interaction, documented amply in forums and on pinwalls. If there is such a magic of uncertainty, then America might still inhabit the space of attractions. But as the magic of uncertainty of the image surpasses the national turf, it becomes a temporal trope, actualized at haphazard conjunctions of identity processes. One may feel urged to warn: “Do not enter” – “Entrance only” – at your own risk.
Additional background reporting: GC Commentary: BV, JP, JK and IJ.
February 6, 2011 § 1 Comment
Ei Wada (和田 永様, *1987), a Japanese media-musician, is becoming a regular appearance at new media festivals outside of Japan. He appeared in Linz (Austria) and performed at the 2010 ISEA Ruhrgebiet, where he won the Nam Jun Paik Award. Wada exhibits a keen interest in the physical workings of outdated technology and how it can be turned into a creative tool. A prototype for a proactive media archaeology.
The”Braun Tube Jazz Band“, presented during the recent Transmediale Media Festival in Berlin this February, is an assembly of several classic Braun tubes (short for: Television), which are short-circuited by Wada through his body. All tubes are connected to his body, his feet serving as a grounding for the circuit to function. Probably everyone knows the sizzling feeling at the fingertips, when you approach a classical TV screen. Wada exploits this everyday phenomenon for his music. The electric/magnetic field is the source to produce sounds by using two screens as antennas and interfering with his hand in the field of the other tubes. Each tube is variously tuned to a different timbre or octave, related to a umber of effects panels and the usual audio-distortion equipment. For anyone sitting in front of the speakers during the second part, this resulted in quite unpleasant low-pitched noise, while for others further in the auditorium the spectrum was much wider. Image became Sound and vice versa.
Before closing his performance, Wada advised the audience on the proper uses of television. Like McLuhan once philosophized that a TV screen could also be used as a light source for someone reading a book, Wada said that it’s better to hit the screen than watch it. We agree: Hit it. Here. Now. Every day. がんばって、ね。新音楽を見つけるよう。
February 7, 2010 § Leave a comment
Heute is nicht mehr, was es einmal war. Statt sich in die Reihe mit “Gestern” und “Morgen” einzureihen, steht “Heute” heute auf der ersten Seite einer kleinen Boulevardzeitung aus Österreich. Wer gewohnt ist, sich mit philosophischen Kategorien den Zugriff auf den Alltag zu erleichtern, dem steht der Slogan dieses Blattes quer im Mund, denn die Ankündigung “Kein Morgen ohne Heute” läßt für einen kurzen Moment das Apokalyptische und Fragile der Gegenwart aufscheinen. In dieser doppelten Verkehrung der Terme, ist mit “Heute” nicht nur der heutige Tag gemeint, sondern auch die Zeitung selbst, die man in Händen hält. Der oder das “Morgen” bringt den nächsten Tag ins Spiel, bleibt hier aber ambivalent. Es könnte ja auch, der Nutzungsgewohnheit eines Boulevardblattes geschuldet, der Beginn des heutigen Tages gemeint sein. Waren sich die Schöpfer dieser kurzen, einprägsamen Zeile darüber bewusst; haben sie, nach zu vielen Semestern Philosophie, die gezielte Anrufung so alltäglicher (!) Begriffe in doppeldeutiger Absicht und Selbstüberschätzung zur Versöhnung mit ihrer Arbeit wissentlich in Kauf genommen, sogar provoziert? Im scheinbar Alltäglichen ist nichts selbstverständlich, geschweige denn selbst erklärend. Und auch der übliche Mix aus Star News, Wetter und Verkehr, Konsumberatung und doppelbödiger Empörung ist kein so einfacher Weg, den Alltag mit Verständnis anzureichern – weder im Heute noch am Morgen.
Kategorien erleichtern den Zugriff auf die Umwelt. “Wer nicht in Kategorien denkt, denkt überhaupt nicht”, sagte schon Plato. Dem steht der freie Gedanke gegenüber, der sich (meist) nach der Technik der Assoziation und (zuweilen) auch Logik aufbaut. Auch das Gespräch setzt eine Denkart der Assoziation im Austausch voraus, wenn es versucht, einem Thema durch Eingrenzung und Abwägung näher zu kommen. Schon Heinrich von Kleist pries die besondere Qualität des Gesprächs in seiner Schrift “Über die allmähliche Verfertigung der Gedanken beim Reden” (1805). Für den Erfolg des Gesprächs ist die Begrenzung des Themas nötig, gleichtzeitig aber auch die Offenheit gegenüber weiteren Kategorien der Betrachtung. Was eine Datenbank nicht leisten kann, ist einzuschätzen, welche Begriffe oder Kategorien in einem Gespräch von Bedeutung sind, und welche eben nicht. In jener Ignoranz liegt ihre größte Stärke gegenüber dem Neuen, und gleichzeitig ihre größte Schwäche gegenüber der Kontinuität des Gedachten. Ein Begriff allein macht noch keine Kategorie.
July 28, 2009 § 1 Comment
Becoming an author is a really hard job. Publishing a book is even harder. Even today. Not until you can become ignorant of your own text and read it over and over again, the true character of the text will emerge. My thesis on Baudrillard’s early works is now available (in German) featuring in-depth explorations of the Marxist and Semiotic treatises, McLuhans heritage, and Baudrillard in the context of Durkheim’s distinction of profane and sacred practices and Weber’s disenchantment of the modern world.
- Baudrillard in Media and Cultural Criticism: Against Simulation
- From Symbolic to Semiotic Cultures: Collective Representations – Rationality of Literacy and Individualization
- Alienation and Symbolic Exchange: Barthes’ Modern Myths – The Objects and Consumer Society – Need for Difference – Symbolic Exchange
- The Test of the Mass Media and Telematic Subjects: Parole sans réponse and Implosion – The Screen and Telematic Subjects
- Symbolic Exchange in (online) social networks
Graphic concept and typo composition by Katharina Berndt (gluecklichebilder.de). Editor: Jakob F. Dittmar. Available from University Press of Technical University Berlin, Kiepert, or Amazon.de or as a free download of the complete pdf from the publisher.
Theory – 学説 – Theory
The cover image was taken on the streets of Ginza, Tokyo. I wish it was a montage but actually it was all there. “Longchamp” of “Paris” next to a Barbra Streisand-looking girl featuring fashion by “Theory”. What struck me most is the combination of such disparate elements as pure signs. Maybe it takes a long way to Japan to discover this self-referentiality of the sign and the image. The cultural difference aside, it teaches a lesson in Baudrillardian thinking. And maybe theory is not so far away from fashion anyway.
April 16, 2009 § Leave a comment
Reviewing the strange trends that have accompanied media revolutions, it occured to me that Marshal McLuhan’s thesis of new media overtaking functions of older one’s was worth pondering in relation to the Internet. Especially digital network media seem to be endowed with a revolutionary force no other medium has ever possessed. In their alleged annihilation of physical space, of lived experience, of social relations, in their drastic rewriting of the rules of business, and the vast opportunities of self-reflection and creation, the digital (network) media find their way into every conceivable act of interaction.
Yet, a quite opposite thesis would hold that these new media merely facilitate and improve what was already there. Now, everyone can make nice and professional looking pictures with a plethora of easy-to-use digital cameras and imaging software. While the developers are working on the next big hit in interaction design, it’s the bulky Yellow Pages disappearing from the hall. Search engine availability optimizes the use of one of the oldest modern media… the telephone. It has become so common to call someone in case of a knowledge gap or where actions need to be coordinated instead of finding an individual solution to a problem. Formulaic language is introduced, similar to a code pattern, that is exchanged vocally instead of a nuanced written text. The easy availability of contact data forces some to artificially close the channel, block off communication to be able to perform their assigned professional functions. On the back of ready access comes a new culture of exclusivity.
“I pick up my telephone receiver and it’s all there; the whole marginal network catches and harasses me with the insupportable good faith of everything that wants and claims to communicate.”
(Baudrillard: “The Ecstasy of Communication“)
February 27, 2008 § 1 Comment
Do you mean?
Or one of the 172,000,000 other ways of defining it?
Possibly, it was Ernst Cassirer who defined man as a symbolic being, highlighting that as humans we use language and symbols to grasp reality. His monumental “Philosophy of Symbolic Forms” (appeared in three volumes 1923-1929) was an attempt to understand the function of symbols to structure social life, the passing or recurrence of time and the stability the use of symbols gave to human existence. The importance of this work is its insistence on the inner logic of the symbols themselves, the practices associated with their use, which can be totally detached from anything such as truth or reality. Cassirer is an important, and often unacknowledged, prelude to the debates about signs, semiotics and the reality-making qualities of communications media, which have defined most of twentieth century discourse on humans’ relation to their symbolic environment.
The reference to an event or an act as symbolic suspends a relation between symbol and act as logical, as necessary or utilitarian. A monk burning his body in public may not alter the conditions of his sect of being politically suppressed, but the act draws attention to such conditions so as to open a space of reconsideration. A friendly handshake between opposing political factions may symbolize an act of consensus or reconciliation, but the basis for reaching such a consensus will consist in laborious negotiations behind closed doors, heated debate and intricate maneuvering. The symbolic act of cutting a red tape does not functionally distinguish a building site of a highway from a finished highway – the road is the same before and after the cutting of the tape – but symbolically the public investment in the road is acknowledged in the act of cutting the tape, before the highway is put into public service. In all of these examples, the symbolic function of an act exceeds – and in a way universalizes – a plain social interaction.
In looking at the symbolic qualities of an act we simply suspend other modes of explanation for this act, by focusing on the self-referential qualities of symbols and their relations to other symbols. An analysis of media representations that starts with the same preference for symbols – instead of just signs – that the media exhibit, can be an analysis of power and meaning. Those who deploy the symbols are in a position of power to define in which terms, in which symbolic relations a particular question is phrased. A symbol condenses a multitude of other meanings so as to keep each individual meaning in a latent contradiction to other meanings. The symbol is thus ambivalent as to its meaning, which makes symbolic representations a welcome mode of communication for mass media. Through their latent ambivalence symbols address audiences in different ways. Each latent meaning of a symbol sustains one or another opinion, yet the symbol never fully, never completely sustains only one side of a debate. Because the media bring into circulation such ambivalent symbols, they can assume a posture of neutrality, while influencing the debate entirely through their choice of symbolic ambivalence.
This picture was printed in a newspaper with the telling caption “Violent Youth (symbolic image)”. The discussion attached to this image was certainly not dedicated to a particular incident of youth violence, but discussed more general circumstances. This picture is thus not a picture of this young man, at a particular time, shown in the act of attacking; the picture is more likely even staged for the aim of producing a picture. But the attributes of the man in association with the theme bring into play typical symbolic tensions and prejudices. As a scene shot from an action movie this image would create very different impressions, maybe of independence, masculinity, street-wiseness, etc. But as a “symbolic image” for youth violence the image is brings together an entire semantic field of attributes associated with the sociology of youth violence. The picture thus evokes a set of commonplace assumptions about the reasons for such violence and the “typicality” of its perpetrators.
The elements of the picture in a symbolic reading map an entire social existence, marked by body cult (piercings) and carelessness (beard), disguise (hoodie, cap) and open threat (fist), raw and unsophisticated violence (knife), male viciousness (look) etc. All these elements stand in an ambivalent relation to symbols which imply the exact opposite in other contexts: clean-shaven, hightech criminals in suits, who are in fictional contexts endowed with vastly more positive attributes despite the larger scope of their crimes. By bringing up a symbolic tension between what are believed to be the most typical elements of a youthful renegade and its semantic oppositions, the image remains symbolic, not only of a violent youth, but also of the media strategy to prefer symbolic images over merely illustrative ones.