Archive for December, 2008

This blog dilutes your ether ;)

Posted in Uncategorized on December 28, 2008 by xypeter

Susan Sontag writes, “Cameras are the antidote and the disease, a means of appropriating reality and a means of making it obsolete.” And she writes, “a capitalist society requires a culture based on images.”

Putting those two things together, we see that images are the stuff of capitalism, always stirring it up, bringing it down, and resuscitating it. Some people such as Virilio say that “in cinema there is no longer such a thing as an ‘accurate’ reflection.”  This seems defeatist to me, because when we abandon the concept of accuracy (i.e. truth), then everything becomes the same. That is, some kids’s dumbass internet story lie is presumed to have the same level of authenticity to a carefully told and very representative story, or to a photo of a dead soldier. That kind of moral relativism is my chief criticism of postmodernism.

What makes something an “image”, a “spectacle” or “cinematic”? An image seems to me to be as described: a picture. To be cinematic, it must carry some grand aesthetic such as beauty or horror. In his brilliant essay, Guy Debord says that imagery rises to the spectacular when it becomes not a mere collection of grand images, but a social relation among people, mediated by those images: “The spectacle of the moment is when the commodity has attained the total occupation of social life.”

And once again, I fear that the increasing noise-to-signal rate of the interweb is killing spectacle. Paris Hilton is not spectacle, and she’s nearly the biggest thing we’ve got. It almost seems the only spectacle we can have is Obama, precisely because we have a completely shared and common view of him. (His decision not to use the internet while in the White House might maintain him as our sole source of spectacle.)

This blog is not a spectacle. Its existence, and the way that academic discourse and every other discourse flows out into the ether willy-nilly, dilutes the ether to the point that there ain’t no ether. I hope that when our society deigns to produce its occasional future spectacle, people won’t be reading my writing and missing it!

I assume this is the last post in this course blog, so Mwahs Everyone for a great course. Ah, the delicious randomness of our chance meeting in time. P

lack of reflections (relating to 12/16)

Posted in Uncategorized on December 28, 2008 by xypeter

Sterne worries that: “Adorno and Horkheimer’s analysis of mass culture has been much maligned in the past few years as elitist, but a serious reading of their work shows their attention to many of the issues now dominating the analysis of mass culture — the increasing concentration of media ownership and the commodity status of entertainment — as well as their attention to the aesthetic dimensions of mass-cultural agreement.”

Obviously I agree with all of them.  As if there were not enough problems with the internet, the infinitely increasing rate of data (i.e. noise) means that because everyone is not reading the same thing in the same format, there becomes less and less coherence in society. Per Sterne, paraphrased from William Kenney, “it takes both a shared cultural sensibility and a standardized, industrialized record business to get the same recording to the different people in different places so that they could listen alone together.” By this measure even this very blog (despite its obvious brilliance) is a nail in the coffin of civilization.

I am touched by Taussig’s quote of Benjamin that the meaning or feeling in a billboard is not the billboard, but rather, “… not what thje moving red neon says–but the fiery pool reflecting it in the asphalt.”

Our friend Mr Peter Asaro asks, “What are the implications for aesthetics… human perception,… consciousness… poilitics…. that we have to learn to ‘see’ and ‘hear’ through a new technological media?” But, that is the wrong question. The implication comes not from the learning but from the doing.  Once again, when we take media from the physical to the digital, it becomes divorced from its most important cultural meanings, which is the path that leads to apocalypse.

the chasm of the anti luddites (relating to week of 12/9)

Posted in Uncategorized on December 28, 2008 by xypeter

Our friend Mr Peter Asaro asked, although I think it is a loaded question, “given the hyper-reproducibility of media over the internet, including mp3s and digital images, is ‘authenticity’ still relevant to art”?

I’m sure everyone expects me to play the luddite, and I won’t disappoint, even to the degree that it makes everyone label me totalitatarian; but I think there is an importance to authenticity. That’s not to say there isn’t a use to fakery — it is funny, useful, makes friends and enemies, makes life exciting, etc.  However, there is both meaning and beauty in the printed item which does not accrue to the digitized one.

A simple example and a complex one. The simple example is a newspaper versus its online equivalent. In a newspaper, part of what we pay for is to see the fonts, sizes, spacing, humor in the design, etc, which is what the newspaper editor intended. There is meaning in the design itself (and in its fixed nature).  The relative importance of stories, designs, fonts, placements,  in, e.g., “The New York Times Week In Review” is utterly lost in the online version. While the online version may contain what is in the print version (although in fact it doesn’t), it will never convey the feelings in the printed one.

A more complex example is a printed magazine or book.  A printed magazine (especially one with photos, etc) is more meaningful (hence more relevant) than its online version, because the printed magazine is a physical item that can be and often is emotionally conveyed to the end user — it is precisely the artisinal nature of a magazine which conveys the meaning hence value. In fact, although the internet can do many things that print cannot, the “printed delivery” form of interpersonal relation cannot by definition exist on the internet.

I am aware of my detractors inspired by Walter Benjamin who suggest that this argument defending high culture is a prelude to fascism. (“All efforts to aestheticize politics culminate in one point,” WB writes. “That point is war. War, and only war, makes it possible to set a goal for mass movement on the grandest scale while preserving traditional property relations.”)  But, didn’t the sexual revolution aestheticize things sans war? Or was it a war?

High culture is not constant. Yesterday’s trash is today’s opera; and in the future Justin Timberlake might be of the same genre as Shakespeare, which was in its era labeled low. If we have a war over these classifications, it will be because there is so much of a chasm between academic discourse and popular culture that nobody knows what either one is, because they are or should be the same.

missing that sub subject which cannot be mentioned (relating to week of 11/4)

Posted in Uncategorized on December 28, 2008 by xypeter

Although I’m sure it was not his intention since I was not born in 1948, I would like to thank Norman Wiener for confirming my theory about technology–namely, that its progress is like a bell curve where the right hand end drops off the page into an abyss. Or, to restate, the more of it there is, the less good it does.

As Wiener points out, “an investigation of the stock market is likely to upset the stock market”; further, investigations of the social sciences can “never be good to more than a very few decimal places.”

This to me seems to be the problem with the movement from books to computers and thence to cyborgs — books have nuance and therefore are more scientific because they are deductive.  Computers and cyborgs, paradoxically, because entirely digitally-based, will always have a margin of error.  And because that which determines what hormones do, for example, is within this margin of error, that seems to me a limit of technology.

Or, put even more simply, in artisan terms, this is a question of vector versus digital specification.  Take fonts.  There are two kinds of font shapes — digital and vector.  A digital font will eventually pixellate at large size: that is, it reaches a margin of error where it no longer describes a letter.  However, a vector font is described by formula. Because it is deductive, it has a much smaller margin of error (that is, only the margin of error in the formula itself, but not in its results).

To design technology to replace ourselves, we would have to write a perfect vector formula. While this is no doubt theoretically possible, doing so would require breaking the theory of limits which is that a curve approaching an infinity limit never reaches its limit.  And this to me, because it seems impossible, seems to rule out recreating human intelligence.

According to Hayles, Wiener’s problem is that cybernetics “can potentially annihilate the liberal subject as the locus of control.” Hayles notes that Wiener is concerned by the demise of sexuality. I’m interested but not surprised that both of them are concerned that, as Hayles says, “the science of control might rob its progenitor of the very control that was no doubt for him one of its most attractive features.”

Hayles and Wiener both miss both a general understanding or subtle feel for the sadomasochistic aspects of this subject.  I don’t expect them to address it in academic writing; but due to the family nature of our audience, I’ll just say that that is where the missing coefficient lies.

Image, Spectacle, Cinematic…

Posted in Uncategorized on December 24, 2008 by giord538

When I think about an image I usually think of a photograph. As Susan Song states “…it is also a trace, something directly stenciled off the real, like a footprint or a death mask”. Photos are so real- while a painting may come close it will never be the same. I appreciate paintings and various types of art work but a photograph will capture my attention most and I think the reason is how real that Image is. We pass by Images everyday but when you have the photo in your hand and time is still you can analyze and imagine and reflect on the image bringing it to life.

A spectacle to me is usually a live event such as a Prize fight, Super Bowl or World series.  I guess because when I think of spectacle I think of an event at its highest form, something that doesn’t happen often. The event becomes more of a spectacle when you are actually there to take it all in. For example if I see a photograph of a football team introduced to the crowd running out to the field during the Super Bowl at first glance it is just that a team running on to the field, but being there live and hearing the fire works and the roars of the crowd as well as the players themselves all fired up smashing helmets and breaking through banners it becomes more of a spectacle. Slow moving images and timely composed music may make the same spectacle cinematic, which at that point I would say it isn’t a spectacle anymore but that is just my interpretation. So I would say that it depends on the audience whether or not something is an Image, a Spectacle or Cinematic.

The Spectacle of the News Media

Posted in Uncategorized on December 24, 2008 by loragrass

Susan Sontag wrote of people who truly believed that their image—captured on film—was really a small part of their soul.  A glimpse of the inner person.   The property of the individual, stolen by the camera.  For some reason, thinking about this: 

kimphuk-napalm-girlA horrible private moment of a little girl, that became the property of the world.  Her pain was our pain.  This image became cinematic in one girls pain. 


For some reason in thinking about spectacles, I kept coming back to this: 


The entire OJ Simpson saga—from the murders, to the low-speed chase; the acquittal to the conviction last month have been a media spectacle that spanned 14 years.  A made for television spectacle, which really belonged to the media.  The audience long ago let us know that they were OJ’ed out. The media watched for 14 years, reporting OJ Simpson’s every move.  Waiting for the inevitable.  Simpson’s downfall. 

There were parts of the OJ case that could be considered cinematic.  The chase. Johnny Cochran’s poetic closing argument. Dominick Dunne’s face when the verdict was read (which looks a lot like his face in the glove picture).

The media has the capability of making events into spectacles. The Simpson case is proof.  And when they do, it belongs to the media and the audience, but more to the media, they create the spectacle, take pride in their ownership, and when it’s over, they report on their reporting of the spectacle.  

Beauty lies in the eye of the shutter controller

Posted in Uncategorized on December 23, 2008 by mediasaucy

Susan Sontag presents important distinctions about the differences between cultural meanings of taking a photograph in China versus Western cultures. To those newly ingratiated in “photo culture,” taking a picture is more than whimsy, it is a ritual, Sontag says. It involves organization and posturing. The capture of a moment is always with intent, and those new to photo culture don’t spend frame of film flippantly, they metre them so that each photo is a document, a placeholder in time.

She also points out the different value photographed people of the past placed on having their portraits taken versus the way that we, as casual users, collect many, many images of ourselves. The older generations might just have one enlargened family portrait, for example, while now that the means for taking pictures is more affordable to the everyday user, we snap away without restraint.

Still, in taking pictures, Sontag points out that there is still a sort of moral code of what is acceptable and aesthetically beautiful, versus those things that one morally should not capture on film. In a way, photography is subject to the mores of society by what the censors would deem tasteful vs disgraceful.

“Not only are there proper subjects for the camera, those which are positive, inspirational … and orderly, but there are proper ways of photographing, which derive from notions about the moral order of space, that preclude the very idea of photographic seeing,” she wrote.

Sontag uses the example of some of the shots in Michelangelo Antonioni’s film Chung-Kuo and the reactions of critics that he intentionally went after what was old and ugly, sides of humanity that should not be seen, and therefore produced an undesirable film. But Antonioni was only approaching his medium with hoesty; he was including some of the most human moments, such as a person blowing his nose or using the bathroom–things that people do every day, but those things that the moral sensors find displeasing to see close up or discuss. (Think of all the times someone has pointed a camera at you and ordered you to smile, even though you don’t feel like smiling. Doesn’t that moment of dishonesty and play at a transformation more disfiguring? A smile on someone’s face could look almost grotesque at the wrong moment, say like at a funeral).

What is appropriate at a time is represented by staging. Whereas, sometimes reality can be absurd, and when those moments are captured by film they are most marked, sometimes shocking–always worth remembering.

Timing can separate a portrait posed by a wedding photographer from a snapshot captured by a photojournalist. A snapshot occurs in the moment; in a portrait or staged shot the moment is scripted and it takes time to organize.  One is meant to convey a deliberate sentiment, the other is simply meant to chronicle–like taking the temperature on a thermometer–and is, at its most innocent, completely objective.

Filmmaker John Waters is an interesting specimen and a deep advocate of free speech and spontaneity. In his films and other graphic art, intentionally pushes the envelope to test how far audiences will tolerate things that are considered foul, distasteful and deviant. In his early work, he was known for using transvestites and ex-hookers as his film stars–people who by their characteristics would not be deemed suitablet to be placed before the viewing public by Orthodox Hollywood types, but whose very quirks and ideosynchricies he embraced and shoved out onto center stage.

John Waters’ movie, “Pecker,” is full of parody and critique about the world of the photographer as artist. He uses this movie as a vehicle to dissect the critics and collectors of the art world, and to poke fun at postmodern aesthetics of value and beauty in art for its many paradoxes.

At one point, the main character’s art agent, looking to replace him after her dumps her, introduces him to her newest client–a blind photographer. With the blind photog, Waters plays on the idea of spectacle and photographer capture. During a dance party scene, the blind photographer bobs up and down, spasmodically snapping away with elation. As the viewer, we know that his snapshots can have no composition nor intention–the most anyone can hope for is that when developed anything even appears in the frame.  And if anything does, it appears without context, except that it was snapped by a blind photographer. So, there the art’s meaning & worth belongs only to the reputation of the artist, and can have no essence or “aura,” and very likely little aesthetic worth.

This is an amusing critique on art photography, because most people consider that its value is its great power to replicate, as Sontag discusses, and the power of the image to usurp in meaning and worth the position of the original. If we can’t “See” God, could he appear in one of the blind photographer’s photographs? And even if he did, would we recognize him? Afterall, we don’t know what he looks like.

Is art only valuable because it resembles something, or is the “spectacle,” of something more real? Without the real, is it really only the “nothing of nothing”?