The lost art of reading

The lost art of reading by David L. Ulin of the Los Angeles Times.

The relentless cacophony that is life in the 21st century can make settling in with a book difficult even for lifelong readers and those who are paid to do it.

[Continue reading…](http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/news/arts/la-ca-reading9-2009aug09,0,4905017.story)

True Blood (2) and the Culture of Vampires

Vampires have become an important part of our current cultural milieu. They exist in various guises and over a number of different media. This is not an accident but a reflection of the zeitgeist that we are living in.

Various commentators have suggested that the reappearance of vampires both as heroes and villains of numerous books and films and television shows suggests an obsession with immortality. Others have referenced Bram Stoker's Dracula which was published in 1897. There are further references to the folkloric origins of the vampire both as metaphor and myth. Combine all of this with further references to the supernatural, the church, demons and monsters and reality seems to be a rather boring and mundane place. And that is precisely the point.

The 'undead' appear in all cultures and there is an obsession with the afterlife in most religions. Vampires don't so much reference immortality as they do history. One of the characters in True Blood, Eric is over a thousand years old. We even see him on the battlefield moments before he is killed by his 'maker' and becomes a vampire. Presumably, since vampires can be anywhere on the earth, they are not only immortal but all knowing. Their knowledge does not let them change their reality. They are stuck inside and outside of history.

However, modern stories of vampires are less transparent, with the vampires actually experiencing some measured conflict not only about their status, but also about their state of mind as well as their emotions. This was brought to the foreground in Buffy the Vampire Slayer with the vampire character of Angel. Somewhat like Bill Compton in True Blood, Angel falls in love with a human and the entire show circles around the existential angst that Buffy and Angel experience as their emotional attachment ebbs and flows. These shows are also connected to the endless procession of TV series which use the supernatural to solve mysteries and murders as in The Mentalist or where the supernatural becomes a source of danger as in Heroes.

The roots of superstition are complex and profoundly intertwined with paganism and spiritualism. One of the most important psychological elements in superstition is projection. Something or someone outside of oneself is responsible not only for our state of mind but for the events in our lives. This sense that control has been lost and that it will be very difficult to regain control is at the heart of nearly all the modern stories that have vampires as their main characters.

Vampires can only reproduce by killing and can only survive on more killing. That sounds a lot like modern definitions of terrorism and is a fair definition of war in general. But, the real underlying fear here is that our society has fallen into a cycle defined as much by anarchy as by societies that no longer clearly know which direction they are headed in and why conventional solutions to differences and crises lead nowhere.

Vampires reflect a deep and embedded nihilism that displaces responsibility for what is happening in the world onto someone else living or dead. After all, from global warming to terrorism to economic collapse, these are not the best of times. Vampires of course cannot see the sun and natural light is their enemy. Darkness, the time of nightmares and dreams and of danger and fairy tales is when they rule.

True Blood which is a critique of vampires and religion and actually links the two is also a brilliant exploration of what happens when magic and sorcery do in fact take over. The results range from endless loss to hope in the midst of decay. In True Blood, the rather medieval charms of shapeshifting are added to the more sinister challenges of witchcraft. In all cases, the universe is out of control and people, normal people if there are any, are always confronting monsters within and without.

The vampires in True Blood actually have a centralized governing structure with a hierarchy and clearly laid out responsibilities. The fact that the male and female vampires can make love to humans even though they are 'dead' suggests quite optimistically that even in a dystopic time sex and love don't die. This is also the central thematic of the Twilight series by Stephanie Myers.

All of this is fundamentally an attack on modernism, on change and on societies which seem to have lost any connections to their roots. There is a deep nostalgia in Bill Compton's face and demeanor. He wants love even though he is dead. He wants to have an impact on a society that discriminates against him. He wants truth where there are only lies. He is charmingly naive and cynical at the same time. He is both young and profoundly aged. He can magically appear from nowhere and move at the speed of light. But, none of this changes the profoundly decayed society that he inhabits. The circle of fear and retribution will only repeat itself. He is history's worst enemy. A great deal is learned only to be lost over and over again. This timeless world of ghosts and screams and fear represents the apotheosis of contemporary angst. Once again as with Six Feet Under, Alan Ball the creator and director of True Blood is a true historian of our times.

ADORATION: Atom Egoyan's new film

Adoration,” the new film by Atom Egoyan is a profound and extended exploration of language and memory through the eyes of a young teenager. In particular, the film tries to understand what happens to a child who cannot comprehend the death of his parents other than through the fragments and ellipses of conversations and comments by relatives and friends.

This is a deeply psychoanalytic film. It is psychoanalytic not because as some critics have suggested it is a coming of age film. Rather, each character has to come to terms with their own role dealing with trauma both within their families and as observers.

The psychoanalyst is the viewer who has to delve into the contradictory narratives that the characters use to justify their state of mind and relations with each other. But, viewers cannot solve the issues, cannot intervene and must struggle on their own with the implications of losing control over the evolution of the story. In some senses, this mirrors the challenges of the main characters. They cannot exert control over their memories or even put those memories into some kind of clear order. It takes an outsider, in this case Sabine a teacher to reestablish some sense of direction for the family.

As R.D. Laing once put it, the problem with families is that everyone has a different point of view of the same experiences, and each person feels that their point of view is the correct one. As a result, families are always in conflict with the memories that they share.

In this case, the child has no memory of his parent’s death other than through the metaphors given to him by his Uncle and his grandfather. The latter blames Simon’s father, Sami for killing his daughter.

What is a child to make of this? The idealizations of memory clash with the realities of a world infected by violence, much of it arbitrary. What if the death of his parents was the result of a terrorist act? Is it preferable to believe that his mother died because of a momentary mistake or because someone perpetrated an act of terror? How does a child interpret the trauma of events like September 11th in the context of personal experiences? How do impersonal events become personal? And what role does the Internet play in opening up the personal struggles of a teenager to the discourses of strangers?

As Simon delves into what turns out to be a true story about a terrorist who sends his pregnant wife on a plane with a bomb designed to destroy it, he learns through the comments of friends and others, that death by whatever means is never romantic. He learns that each person has his or her own history. He discovers the paradoxes of personal discourses, intertwined with myths and illusions and this enables him to make sense of his own history.

It is within this context that Atom Egoyan explores the complex terrain of the conflicts in the Middle East. The death of a couple in a car crash is elevated into a cultural clash. The film tests the boundaries of what can and cannot be said about the conflicts between different ethnic groups bound to ideologies that they often don’t understand. This too is about history and memory. How does hatred develop and why? Simon’s grandfather expresses the classic prejudices of someone who neither understands what he is saying nor the general implications of his words most of which inevitably lead to violence. His violence is discursive. Words matter and more often than not they are used to hurt those whom we do not understand.

Language is this rich space, this fundamental tool of communications that we as a culture have developed and also perverted. It doesn’t matter if it is the Internet or a family supper, what we say and how we say it affects not only how we perceive the world but also how we act within it.

Simon creates a story encouraged by Sabine his teacher that slowly takes on a life of its own. He uses the story to channel his confusion about his parent’s death into a convenient narrative that quite ironically fits into a preconceived cultural pattern in which the accidents of life have to be framed by some sort of rationale. As Simon learns that the value of life lies beyond the trauma of his parent’s death, he decides to purge his grandfather’s influence on him by burning something that was of great value to his grandfather. Simon also burns the Nokia cell phone that he had been using to film a series of interviews with his grandfather before his death. This is one of the most powerful scenes in the film. The cell phone slowly melts, the images on it pixelate, and Simon’s memories are channeled to a new level.

In one of his best books, “We Have Never Been Modern,” Bruno Latour explains that even though time moves forward, history is not so much about the past, as it is about the many ways in which the past and the present always converge. “Adoration” explores this seemingly endless clash between the past, our interpretation of it, and the implications of not putting a personal stamp on the ways in which we interpret our own histories. Truth is the crucial arbiter here. How do we gain access to the truth? Is it through images? Is it through the Internet? Is it through the eyes of a child? Where are the boundaries between innocence and insight?

In the final analysis history can never be reversed. The events of the past such as the death of Simon’s parents cannot be undone. This is the source of endless trauma and unless we can manage it, the trauma takes over not only our daily lives, not only our fantasies but also becomes the very basis upon which we interact with our families and friends.

Much of what we learn in childhood is channeled through the words of our parents and relatives. Many of our memories are the memories of others. The transformation of memory into a discourse we can control is the thematic core of Egoyan’s film. “Adoration” is a masterful story of how this process of transformation and regaining control changes Simon, but it is also an important statement about the bridges that have to be built between childhood and adulthood. Throughout the film there is one constant that unites everyone and it is the violin that his mother played. The acoustics of the violin are like the human voice. In a scene that unites the narrative, (and which we see twice), Simon’s mother stands at the edge of a pier playing a beautiful piece. In the first instance the witness is Simon as a teenager. In the second, it is Simon with his father on the fateful day of his mother’s death. Both instances clash and unite with each other. Time is conflated. All that is left is the plaintiff cry of the violin. Music is always about the evocation of memories.

A Review of Chelsea Girls by Andy Warhol + Video-Puce (in French)

Two PDF's from the distant past. In 1967, Take One Film Magazine published some interesting and important articles on the cinema. It was an independent magazine, one of the few in Canada at the time to take film seriously as an object of study and criticism. I reviewed the Andy Warhol film, Chelsea Girls after a trip to New York. The PDF Download file is available here.

In 1985, I published a piece on the relationship between images, dot-matrix printing and computer technologies. The PDF Download file is available here. This article is in French and was original published in the Journal, Copie Zero.

Calendar: Between the Borders of Cultural Identity, Atom Egoyan's Calendar

To look:
at everything which overflows the outline, the contour, the category, the name of what is.

All appearances are continually changing one another: visually everything is interdependent. Looking is submitting the sense of sight to the experience of that interdependence. To look for something (a pin that has dropped) is the opposite of this looking. Visibility is a quality of light. Colours are the faces of light.

(John Berger, “On Visibility,” in The Sense of Sight)

Calendar, in which Atom Egoyan plays the role of a photographer whose assignment is to take twelve pictures of historic sites in Armenia for a calendar. Arsinée Khanjian plays his wife, guide and interpreter. The film takes place in Armenia and Toronto.

I have come to realise that Atom Egoyan’s films must be understood as the continuing construction of an open ended oeuvre. All of his films are inter¬linked. Sometimes, it seems that he is writing an extended essay on the cinema and television (Family Viewing and Speaking Parts). Other times his films are like extracts from a series of diaries about images, loss and a postmodern context bereft of meaning (Next of Kin, The Adjustor and Calendar). His films search through the living ruins of modern cultural history in much the same manner as an archeologist digs for evidence of a culture’s past. The difference is that his tools are images and images are ‘light’ — a shift¬ing, groundless place where, “Clouds gather visibility and then disperse into invisibility. All appearances are of the nature of clouds.” (Berger: 219) Yet even as this ‘lightness’ recreates the premises of the visible (and how we are able to understand it), Egoyan continues to use the mediums of film and television to explore history and identity. The pursuit is a noble one, but as Calendar so deftly reveals, the result may be one long travelogue where the sensibility of the tourist dominates. There is a strange irony to Egoyan’s decision to use himself as one of the main characters in the film. He implicates himself in an auto-critique of the desires which have governed his relationship to photography and the cinema. He puts himself on the line in a kind of Brechtian play with divided loyalties which break apart and destroy the flimsy foundations of author¬ship.

I have recently discussed Egoyan’s use of images in an introductory essay on Speaking Parts. In the above quote John Berger captures some of the ironies with regard to any analysis of images. His use of a metaphor drawn from nature is not accidental, of course. Egoyan spends a great deal of time in Calendar exploring the act of taking a photograph of historical buildings in Armenia (his country of origin), churches and fortresses, for example, within picturesque natural environments. Although these places are beautiful with rich colour tones, wildflowers and sun-baked fields, they are “tourist” images for which some anecdotal history is provided, but where the depth seems to be mis¬sing. In fact, what becomes important as we look at the old buildings is not so much their connection to the past, but the role they play in triggering questions about the two characters whom the photographer is dependent on for guidance and information. One is a woman with whom the photographer (played by Egoyan) is in love and who is identified as his wife and the other is an Armenian driver who acts out the role of the local “informant”. The photographs are ostensibly being taken for a calendar but in essence we are witnesses over time to the breakdown of the photographer’s relationship to his wife and by extension to Armenia. Thus, all of the monuments which we see are themselves evidence of what cannot be seen. There are histories in the buildings but they only speak through the voice of the driver. In fact the pastoral setting of the images seems incongruent with the war raging in Armenia and with the breakdown of civil life and the economic devastation brought on by the overthrow of communism. How then can this place be spoken of as home? How are national borders defined when identity and place are fluid, moveable and ever changing? Are we the sum total of all of the different nations we now live beside? — all of the different languages we either speak or listen to? How does this hybridization change the spatial and temporal boundaries within which we normally operate?

“A life-testimony is not simply a testimony to a private life, but a point of conflation between text and life, a textual testimony which can penetrate us like an actual life .” Calendar is Egoyan’s testimony to his past, as much as it is a story of the efforts by the film’s characters to understand their own ethnic history. The film explores the many dimensions of identity, which in the late twent¬ieth century means far more than a simple relationship to the nation-state or the recovery of ancestral connections. The postcolonial and postimperial history we are now experiencing has scrambled the meanings of home and homeland. In Homi Bhabha’s terms another history is being written from within a crisis of the sign where language and meaning, discourse and identity have no firm anchors. Traditional notions of subjectivity have been transformed but this is not simply the movement from one stage to another, but a fundamental split in the operations of time and history. “…today, the rapidly expanding and quickening mobility of people combines with the refusal of cultural products and practices to “stay put” to give a profound sense of a loss of territorial roots, of an erosion of the cultural distinctiveness of places… Gupta and Ferguson go on to quote James Clifford: “What does it mean, at the end of the twentieth century, to speak…of a ‘native land’? What processes rather than essences are involved in present experiences of cultural identity?”

Hamid Naficy has commented upon the nostalgic desire to return to the homeland and thus to overcome the double loss of “…origin and of reality…” as a driving force inhabited by imaginary constructions which “…remains alluring only as long as it remains unrealised.” (Naficy: 286) This is of course the dilemma of the diaspora and exile, of cultures which have lost their roots as they have been overrun or destroyed only to be recreated elsewhere, simulated and I do not mean this pejoratively. In some respects, then, for Egoyan we have all become tourists and in the process we have had to develop new ways of dealing with each other which are more often than not mediated by complex technologies such as the camera and the telephone. Salman Rushdie has commented on this in a wonderful anecdote. “A few years ago I revisited Bombay, which is my lost city, after an absence of something like half my life. Shortly after arriving, acting on an impulse, I opened the telephone directory and looked for my father’s name. And, amazingly, there it was; his name, our old address, the unchanged telephone number, as if we had never gone away to the unmentionable country across the border. It was eerie discovery. I felt as if I were being claimed, or informed that the facts of my faraway life were illusions, and this continuity was the reality.”

Some years ago I found myself at a Cambodian ceremony in Melbourne, Australia. There were about eight hundred people in the gymnasium of an old school which had been taken over by the small but growing exile community of Cambodians in Australia. The gym was decorated with the symbols and colours of the homeland. Everyone was dressed up and the smell of incense was heavy in the air. I remember little of the specifics of the ceremony except for the feeling which I had that we were all in a time warp, transported back into a village, participating in the sounds and rhythms and music of a culture many thousands of years old. I understood then how crucial the nostalgia was, how curative and yet how contradictory. As a particular dance reached its peak the people around me began to cry, and as they comforted each other they seemed to me to be both weak and strong at the same time. This it seems to me is one aspect of exile — the ability to implicate oneself so strongly in the homeland and at the same time to go on, to carve out a new life, to break out of the boundaries of geography and time and yet to remain bound by a history which remains static even as things change both in one’s new home and abroad. This is of course the paradox of loss and the base upon which narratives are built. As Rushdie says an original moment cannot be reclaimed here with the result that fictions will be created, ‘imaginary homelands.’ (Rushdie:10) But this is precisely what Egoyan is exploring. How do those fictions sustain themselves? What are the markers we accept and what happens to the ones we reject? How do photographs operate as a fictional bridge?

I mention this in relation to Calendar because of my own background as an immigrant to Canada, as someone who was born elsewhere and for whom that “elsewhere” has never disappeared from the various ways in which I define myself. This very fluid sense of identity is made all the more acute by the situation in Quebec, by the personal signposts which I have for my own past and the efforts by official culture here to eradicate the importance of that history.

It is in the borders between official culture as promulgated by govern¬ment policy and the displacement (psychological, physical, intellectual) which grows from being both a witness and participant to the diasporas of twentieth century life, that a film like Calendar is situated. The film searches for strategies of talking about identity that will not fall prey to the categories of margin or centre. It longs for some coherence in the transnational space of exile and community. Through a series of often funny conversations the film tries to locate the way time and distance work to generate a mental geography within which the markers more often than not are unstable and unclear. At the same time one of the most interesting aspects of the film is the difficulty which the photographer has in under¬standing Armenian. Everything his driver says has to be translated. Often, we don’t get a translation and conversations take place which we don’t comprehend. This is duplicated in the Toronto flat of the photographer where he meets a number of different women in exactly the same setting (…a small dining room table, wine glasses, a bottle wine…). Each time they go off to the telephone and have a conversation with their lovers in their own maternal language. We hear everything from Hindi to German to Spanish to Swedish etc.., and depending on our own backgrounds we either under¬stand the conversations or not. In all instances the women stand near the calendar which had been produced from the Armenian scenes we witnessed the photographer shooting.

The border region inhabited by Egoyan in this film also pivots on temporal displacement. The time is now but somehow it isn’t. The characters seem disconnected from the present, always yearning for something else, for the future, for the past. Yet that is also the paradoxical situation of photo¬graphy both as an art form and as a means of documenting past and present. “In a photograph a person’s history is buried as if under a layer of snow.”

Kracauer distinguishes between the photograph of a person and the memory-image. The latter is what is left when the photograph is viewed outside of the time when it was taken. This distinction is a crucial one. It temporal¬izes the photograph and in so doing heightens the role of discourse, what is said and what isn’t said, about images. No photograph escapes the contra¬dictions and potential excitement of temporal dislocation. There are so many movements in space and time, so many moments within which history must be rewritten, that the conceit of truth must be understood not as an ontological basis for interpretation, but as a site where memory is reinvigorated, even when memories slip from fact into fiction and back. The pleasures of seeing in this instance are invested with desiring, to make the memory real, to generate truth, to manufacture a narrative. The truth becomes a metaphor just as quickly as the image disguises its sudden transformative power. The snow melts and there is a dissolution of memory although the photograph remains suggestively encouraging — as if no historical moment will ever again escape its simultaneous role as event and image, memory and potential arena for debate.

Each encounter Egoyan has with a different woman suffers the same fate. He is left alone to contemplate the love he has left behind in Armenia. In that sense he is locked into a history which is only real within a false kind of romanti¬cism. As in nearly all of his other films the telephone is a device of contact and breakdown, a metaphor for distance and connection. As a technology the telephone is perhaps the most important contributor to the creation of a public space within which the private fantasy of communica¬tion and interaction can be sustained and through which it is often denied. This, I think, is also the role which is played by photography. Distance can be overcome but the photographic print must be narrativized if links be¬tween past and present are to be established.

Calendar is a film in twelve movements, built around the photographs accompanying the months of the year. But the film is really about the memories of times past, when an image somehow connected to its referent and when notions of home and church and tradition could be addressed from within a set of foundations as solid as the buildings we see in the film. Ironically, as the Armenian driver becomes the historian and more fully represents all that is missing from the image, from the photograph, Arsinée falls in love with him. Egoyan is left to his devices in the dining room of his Toronto house or in the darkroom trying to reconstruct a world which, as his own images suggest, has long ago ceased to exist.

CineAction, No 32, 1993

Tenement in the 1940's or How Photography Makes History

The Library of Congress' photos on Flickr

 

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The act of taking a photograph is a way of preserving memories, but is also the way in which history (both personal and public) is produced.

“One day, quite some time ago, I happened on a photograph of Napoleon's youngest brother, Jerome, taken in 1852. And I realised then, with an amazement I have not been able to lessen since: “I am looking at eyes that looked at the Emperor.” (Roland Barthes)

The eyes of the emperor’s brother once looked straight into a camera, in this case ‘manned’ by a photographer whose duty it was to take pictures of the rich and powerful. Jerome’s eyes had been privileged enough to look into Napoleon’s eyes. The photograph as described by Roland Barthes allowed him to establish a relay between Jerome (in the 1850’s) and the modern readers of CAMERA LUCIDA This juxtaposition of time and space is at the root of Barthes’s meditation on photography in CAMERA LUCIDA. Barthes provides us with the social and cultural matrix at the heart of his activi­ties as a viewer and as a cultural analyst. CAMERA LUCIDA is part analysis, part theory, a personal examination of the role of photography in Barthes’s life and an hommage to Jean-Paul Sartre’s book, THE PSYCHOLOGICAL IMAGINATION. An extraordinary number of essays and articles have been written about CAMERA LUCIDA and Barthes’s work. My purpose here is to interrogate the photographic image in historical and cultural terms. Barthes is a focus, but this short piece is designed to raise a primary distinction between photographs and images. My premise is that this distinction will allow us to more clearly understand the role played by the viewer in the experience and interpretation of images.

One of the aims of the project of CAMERA LUCIDA is to discover whether there is an interpretive space betweeen image and photograph which will allow for if not encourages new ways of thinking and seeing. Barthes tests many strategies of interpretation with regard to photographic meaning, but much of the book is governed by an emphasis on death, the death of his mother, the death of photography as a form of cultural expression, the death of the interpreter. “If photography is to be discussed on a serious level, it must be described in relation to death. It’s true that a photograph is a witness, but a witness of something that is no more. Even if the person in the picture is still alive, it is a moment of this subject’s existence that was photographed, and this moment is gone. This is an enormous trauma for humanity, a trauma endlessly renewed. Each reading of a photo and there are billions worldwide in a day, each perception and reading of a photo is implicitly, in a repressed manner, a contract with what has ceased to exist, a contract with death.”

This theme has been researched and commented on by a number of writers but my sense is that Barthes is exploring the meaning of death at the symbolic and imaginary level. Death in this instance speaks to the frailty of memory, but most importantly, Barthes follows the writings of Bataille in recognizing the silence of the photograph in the face of all that is done to it. “Death is a disappearance. It’s a suppresion so perfect that at the pinnacle utter silence it its truth. Words can’t describe it. Here obviously I’m summoning a silence I can only approach from the outside or from a long way away.”

The distinction then between image and photograph is about the cacophony of voices which engulf the silent photograph. My position is somewhat different from Barthes. He is worried about loss and absence. My concern is with the rich discourse which arises from the human encounter with images and the creative use which is made of photographs as they are placed into different contexts.

 

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Editing Time (3)

It seems almost heretical to propose that editing is not at the heart of the creative process in film anymore. As my last post suggested meaning creation in the era of new media is no longer dependent on montage, as much as it is on rhythm, sound and layers of multi-faceted images.

The best example of this is that video images are not produced through a series of frames as films are. On the contrary, the CCD array of your conventional video camera is a two-dimensional grid of pixels with sensors that react to light. (“CCD is an acronym for Charge-Coupled Device. It is the image sensor that separates the spectrum of color into red, green and blue for digital processing by the camera. A CCD captures only black-and-white images. The image is passed through red, green and blue filters in order to capture color.”)

The grid is locked and the pattern of pixels is arranged to maximize the subsequent processing of colour. HD cameras are also dependent on this technology and although the images look very rich, they are the result of complex processes of adjustment based on approximations and compression. The point is that nuances are not the strength of video images largely because the computer in digital cameras is working on black and white images and effectively ‘adding’ colour to them based on a set of mathematical formulae.

What then does it mean to edit this material? What is the impact of using Final Cut Pro and other non-linear editing software packages?

 

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Dawson College Shootings

Today, the violence of our times hit home quite personally with a terrible shooting at Dawson College. The link in the previous sentence summarizes a personal view of this tragedy.

I know the college very well having started my teaching career at another similar college in Montreal. Many things will be written about this event. Nothing can explain the sense of loss that many of us feel, not only for the lives of those who were victimized, but also for the problems that the shooting reveals about our society. This is not a time for generalizations, but for contemplation and thoughtfulness.

Those of us who have dedicated our lives to teaching, learning and building the educational system in Canada can only strive to do our jobs even better in the hope that rationality and optimism will overcome the pain of moments like this.

Hollywood: Is the cinema dying?

There is a myth circulating in Hollywood and in the media that film is dying. True, box office revenues are down. The impact of flat screens in the home as well as DVD's and the Internet is changing the dynamics of viewership and audience. Yes, there are less people going to the cinema and the medium is changing because more people can now make films at home and then upload them to YouTube. There are many more venues in which films can be shown, which dilutes the power and the role of the majors. True, cinemas are closing and those that remain are deteriorating. Yes, there is more variety and many more choices available to people than ever before and this is highlighted by the strength of videogames.

BUT, the real reason that this is happening has much more to do with content, storytelling and the role of images in our society than with any substantial change in audiences. Hollywood has lost the ability to tell stories largely because it is so out of contact with the publics it tries to address. Much of the slack has been taken up by the independent cinema which in relative terms is thriving. Relative, because independent cinema needs to find small audiences and so can survive on less than the mainstream. I know that there are some people who will not be unhappy to see mainstream spectacle-oriented cinema decline, but I am not one of them. But, if the mainstream is to survive, it will have to reinvent itself, shed the marketing departments that dominate the selection of projects (when will producers realise that marketers have basically no understanding of audiences — which may explain why the vast majority of films fail) and develop new models of storytelling and narrative.

In my opinion, the cinema is not dying. The conventional approach to production and distribution is changing, but Hollywood producers still think that they are back in the 1970's. Examples abound. After many years of videogame production, audience building and the growth of production companies, Hollywood took notice and began to make films as if they were like games. The films failed of course because as related as the two media are, the activities of viewing are different. Videogames remain, in my opinion, locked into models of narrative that are as predictable and dry as Hollywood's have become, but at least some elements within the organization of a game allow for new strategies of audience involvement. The documentary cinema has risen in prominence over the last decade both because of reality television and the fact that there are so many stories out there that need telling. One of the few films that grasped this phenomena was "Good Night, and Good Luck" which used black and white film as a way of telling the important and often overlooked story of Edward R. Murrow in post-war America during the McCarthy era.

George Clooney's film took advantage of the strength of newsreels, combined that with close-up cinematography and then mixed in a soundtrack that not only evoked the era, but said something important about the media and their role as purveyors of information and opinion. Clooney didn't get much support from Hollywood for this film, but it succeeded nevertheless.

The cinema is not dying because audiences will always be hungry for stories and for new content that addresses their concerns or reveals experiences and worlds to them that they know nothing about. Ironically, a television series like Deadwood which is shot in the style of the cinema, has become a success largely because it manages to tell stories so well. The characters are powerful precisely as a consequence of the power of the FICTION. Here is David Milch, the brilliant creator of the series talking about his creative process. (From the HBO web site — producer of the show)

Executive producer David Milch warns that Deadwood is not a docu-drama about the famed outlaw town. "I want to make it clear," he says, "that I've had my ass bored off by many things that are historically accurate."

That said, Milch spent months immersing himself in the true stories of the people of 19th century Deadwood, absorbing not just the events, but also the subtle motivations behind them. "I like to read the primary materials; I love reading the Black Hills Pioneer, you know," he says. "I could read that all day. I'm interested in the personalities who were kind of the first prime movers in the community."

What has emerged is a picture of a place finding its own "order" without the benefit of laws. "Deadwood was a place created by a series of accidents. A kind of original sin — the appropriation of what belonged to one people by another people — was enacted with no pretense at all," he says. "You know, the people who landed in Manhattan, they paid 24 bucks. Well, maybe they got a bargain, but they still recognized the obligation to pay. In the Black Hills, the land had just been given to the Indians, to get 'em to move from another piece of land."
“I want to make it clear that I've had my ass bored off by many things that are historically accurate.

Somewhere between David Milch and George Clooney lies a middle ground for the new Hollywood. Go to the Ars Technica site for an interesting analysis on the future of videogames and why they may not be threatening Hollywood at all.

Johan van der Keuken (1)

This will be the first in a series of short extracts about Johan van der Keuken.

In the winter 1984-85 issue of Skrien, the most important and serious of Holland’s film magazines, Johan Van der Keuken wrote the following: “How to return, how to leave behind. The cinematic space of New York, the Lower East side, ‘Loisaida’ as its Spanish-speaking residents so aptly call it and write it: cracked pavement, the rot of a bad tooth, manhole covers, the scars of flames, scorched spot in the city — now left behind, everything forgotten, senile like in Bernlef’s Mind Shadows Suddenly you no longer know a single name, a single place, a single number, you have gone blind from too much seeing.

In 1956, Van der Keuken shot two photographs of a young girl (Yvonne) from different angles and printed them onto the same image. In both instances the two faces are looking outwards from the print to the camera and by extension to the viewer. The photograph is part of a series prepared by Van der Keuken for a film script by the Dutch poet Remco Campert. The script was called, Behind Glass.

Can you go blind from too much seeing? Or is the act of seeing blind to begin with? How many windows, panes of glass, are there between sight and feeling and memory? “You wipe your breath from the window and look outside, says Campert’s script.

The breath is the body. Memories are physical. Often, memories overwhelm breath and the heart races and the body erupts and the “sights are neither present, nor do the sensations of seeing rely on any objects or subjects outside of the eye(s).

Perhaps Van der Keuken shot only one image of two girls, twins, or two girls sisters slightly different in age. Their glance is outwards. Their memories are inscribed on their faces, but I cannot reach them. Their look suggests that I will never know them. They come to me from the past. It is 2006, fifty years after they were photographed. Are they still alive? The photograph neither answers these questions nor necessarily suggests these questions make any sense.

Robert Daudelin recently published a series of conversations with Van Der Keuken entitled, L'oeil au-dessus du puits: deux conversations avec Johan van der Keuken (The Eye Above the Well: Two conversations with Johan van der Keuken)

THE EYE ABOVE THE WELL
(Het Oog Boven de Put)

Directed by Johan van der Keuken
The Netherlands 1988, 16mm, color, 94 min.

THE EYE ABOVE THE WELL explores India’s spiritual and economic condition, moving from the city to the countryside in the region of Kerala as it focuses on the essence of that civilization. Captured without commentary by his gliding camera are a cacophony of distinctly nonwestern sights and sounds: the bustling city streets, the serene landscapes of the surrounding countryside, a family preparing for dinner, an elderly actor performing his mythological drama, a modest country moneylender traveling from village to village, young girls at their singing lessons. What emerges from these encounters is not only a highly evocative sense of lived experience but a poetic vision perhaps best captured by what Cahiers du cinéma called “the aesthetic of diversity.

"Film is not, as is often assumed, a language in which certain combinations of signs refer to certain concepts and in which series of combinations of signs can be arranged into a syntax. Film has no sign and no significance. The sentence "John is a villain" cannot be converted into a combination of cinematic signs." Art from Now (Kunst van Nu), August 1963 © 1999 Johan van der Keuken

To be continued...........

The context for learning, education and the arts (4)

(This entry is in five parts) One, Two, Three, Four, Five)

So why explore the intersections of human thought and computer programming? My tentative answer would be that we have not understood the breadth and depth of the relationships that we develop with machines. Human culture is defined by its on-going struggle with tools and implements, continuously finding ways of improving both the functionality of technology and its potential integration into everyday life. Computer programming may well be one of the most sophisticated artificial languages which our culture has ever constructed, but this does not mean that we have lost control of the process.

The problem is that we don’t recognize the symbiosis, the synergistic entanglement of subjectivity and machine, or if we do, it is through the lens of otherness as if our culture is neither the progenitor nor really in control of its own inventions. These questions have been explored in great detail by Bruno Latour and I would reference his articles in “Common Knowledge as well as his most recent book entitled, Aramis or The Love of Technology. There are further and even more complex entanglements here related to our views of science and invention, creativity and nature. Suffice to say, that there could be no greater simplification than the one which claims that we have become the machine or that machines are extensions of our bodies and our identities. The struggle to understand identity involves all aspects of experience and it is precisely the complexity of that struggle, its very unpredictability, which keeps our culture producing ever more complex technologies and which keeps the questions about technology so much in the forefront of everyday life.

It is useful to know that the within the field of artificial intelligence (AI) there are divisions between researchers who are trying to build large databases of “common sense in an effort to create programming that will anticipate human action, behaviour and responses to a variety of complex situations and researchers who are known as computational phenomenologists . “Pivotal to the computational phenomenologists position has been their understanding of common sense as a negotiated process as opposed to a huge database of facts, rules or schemata."(Warren Sack)

So even within the field of AI itself there is little agreement as to how the mind works, or how body and mind are parts of a more complex, holistic process which may not have a finite systemic character. The desire however to create the technology for artificial intelligence is rooted in generalized views of human intelligence, generalizations which don’t pivot on culturally specific questions of ethnicity, class or gender. The assumption that the creation of technology is not constrained by the boundaries of cultural difference is a major problem since it proposes a neutral register for the user as well. I must stress that these problems are endemic to discussions of the history of technology. Part of the reason for this is that machines are viewed not so much as mediators, but as tools — not as integral parts of human experience, but as artifacts whose status as objects enframes their potential use.

Computers, though, play a role in their use. They are not simply instruments because so much has in fact been done to them in order to provide them with the power to act their role. What we more likely have here are hybrids, a term coined by Bruno Latour to describe the complexity of interaction and use that is generated by machine-human relationships.

Another way of understanding this debate is to dig even more deeply into our assumptions about computer programming. I will briefly deal with this area before moving on to an explanation of why these arguments are crucial for educators as well as artists and for the creators and users of technology.

Generally, we think of computer programs as codes with rules that produce certain results and practices. Thus, the word processing program I am presently using has been built to ensure that I can use it to create sentences and paragraphs, to in other words write. The program has a wide array of functions that can recognize errors of spelling and grammar, create lists and draw objects. But, we do have to ask ourselves whether the program was designed to have an impact on my writing style. Programmers would claim that they have simply coded in as many of the characteristics of grammar as they could without overwhelming the functioning of the program itself. They would also claim that the program does not set limits to the infinite number of sentences that can be created by writers.

However, the situation is more complex than this and is also subject to many more constraints than initially seems to be the case. For example, we have to draw distinctions between programs and what Brian Cantwell Smith describes as “process or computation to which that program gives rise upon being executed and [the] often external domain or subject matter that the computation is about. (Smith, On the Origin of Objects, Cambridge: MIT Press, 1998: 33) The key point here is that program and process are not static, but are dynamic, if not contingent. Thus we can describe the word processor as part of a continuum leading from computation to language to expression to communication to interpretation. Even this does not address the complexity of relations among all of these processes and the various levels of meaning within each.

To be continued........

 

Geographies of Dissent (Final)

Another vantage point on this process is to think of various communities, which share common goals becoming nodes on a network that over time ends up creating and often sustaining a super-network of people pursuing political change. Their overall impact remains rather difficult to understand and assess, not because these nodes are in any way ineffective, but because they cannot be evaluated in isolation from each other.

This notion of networks may allow us to think about communities in a different way. It is, as we know possible at one and the same time for the impulses that guide communities to be progressive and very conservative. There is nothing inherently positive with respect to politics within communities, which are based on shared points of view. But, if the process is more important often, than the content, then this raises other issues. The intersection of connectivity and ideas leads to unpredictable outcomes. Take fan clubs for example. They generally centre on particular stars, films or television shows. They are a form of popular participation in mainstream media and a way of affecting not so much the content of what is produced (although that is happening more and more, Star Trek has continued as a series on the Net) but the relationship of private and public discourse about media products and their impact. Over time, through accretion and sheer persistence, fan clubs have become very influential. They are nodes on a network that connects through shared interests, one of which is to mold the media into a reflection of their concerns.

More often than not this network of connections is presumed to be of greater importance than the content of what is exchanged. This is classically what Baudrillard meant by the world becoming virtual and McLuhan, when he claimed that the medium was the message. Except, that they are both wrong.

The process of exchange, that is the many different ways in which people on shared networks work and play together cannot be analyzed from a behavioral perspective. Take FLICKR for example. There is nothing very complicated about this software. It was developed by two Vancouverites and then bought for 30 million dollars by Yahoo. The software is simple. It allows users to annotate photographs that they have posted to the web site. The annotations become an index and that index is searchable by everyone. The reason Yahoo paid so much is that over 80 million photographs had been uploaded and there were hundreds of communities of interest exchanging images with each other. Most of this is completely decentralized. The web site just hosts the process of community building.

The same elements attracted the News Corporation to MySpace.com and Rupert Murdoch paid over three hundred million dollars for that site or should I say community. Communities become currencies because there are so few ways to organize and understand all of the diversity that is being created within the context of modern-day networks. This is not because the medium is the message; rather, it is because the media are inherently social — social media. And in being social, they reshape modes of human organization and most importantly, the many different ways in which collectivities can form and reform.

(Please note: The last three entries, Geographies of Dissent were presented in a different format at York University, at a conference of the same name.)

 

Geographies of Dissent (1)

I like the phrase, “Geographies of Dissent? It suggests a great deal to me not only about the space within which dissent takes place, but the potential to map the many different types of activities that come under the heading of “dissent?

My orientation to dealing with this issue is from a technology and communications point of view and is governed by what I will call an aggregative approach. That is, there are a large number of activities of dissent taking place within advanced societies that make use of various forms of media and new media. It is often difficult to see how all of these varied engagements are connected or whether they lead to genuine change. Nonetheless, what I would like to explore is how the sum of all these parts adds up to something very important that is not as visible as one might like, but nevertheless may have an impact on mapping the process of dissent in Western countries.

Depending on the vantage point that one takes, and therefore depending on how broadly or narrowly one looks, claims can be made about levels and extent of dissent. The issue of vantage point is crucial. If the perspective I take is governed by a concern for the nature and quality of the public sphere, then my overview will of necessity be broad. If the approach I take is oriented towards communities and more specifically to micro-communities("A microcommunity is a self-organizing collective of individuals who wish to learn about and contribute to a particular research domain, and aspire to enable and enrich each other’s research in this domain."), then I will need to combine a broad understanding, let us say, of the zeitgeist and a more particular and specific understanding of grassroots forms of dissent.

The challenge is to combine a macro-view with a micro-view in a manner that does justice to both sides and at the same time elucidates the importance of both strategies. Of course, all of this is also dependent on the definitions and expectations that one has for dissent and for its impact. A macro-view can make many different claims, among the most important being that social change will not happen unless large numbers of people are involved and unless the changes have a transformative effect on the social whole. This is the democratic paradigm and is why our society continues to believe in a 19th century model of political parties. Inevitably, the macro-view runs into problems when the outcomes to an election for example, point toward a highly fragmented set of constituencies, more lack of knowledge than actual erudition in the choices that are made, and a clear lack of respect by the political parties for the kind of public discourse that would actually lead to new ideas and some measured growth in the learning process.

To be continued.....

Some comments on How Images Think

Professor Pramod Nayar of the Department of English, University of Hyderabad comments on "How Images Think." This is a small selection of a longer review that appeared in the Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology

How Images Think is an exercise both in philosophical meditation and critical theorizing about media, images, affects, and cognition. Burnett combines the insights of neuroscience with theories of cognition and the computer sciences. He argues that contemporary metaphors - biological or mechanical - about either cognition, images, or computer intelligence severely limit our understanding of the image. He suggests in his introduction that image refers to the complex set of interactions that constitute everyday life in image-worlds (p. xviii). For Burnett the fact that increasing amounts of intelligence are being programmed into technologies and devices that use images as their main form of interaction and communication - computers, for instance - suggests that images are interfaces, structuring interaction, people, and the environment they share.

New technologies are not simply extensions of human abilities and needs - they literally enlarge cultural and social preconceptions of the relationship between body and mind.

The flow of information today is part of a continuum, with exceptional events standing as punctuation marks. This flow connects a variety of sources, some of which are continuous - available 24 hours - or live and radically alters issues of memory and history. Television and the Internet, notes Burnett, are not simply a simulated world - they are the world, and the distinctions between natural and non-natural have disappeared. Increasingly, we immerse ourselves in the image, as if we are there. We rarely become conscious of the fact that we are watching images of events - for all perceptive, cognitive, and interpretive purposes, the image is the event for us.

The proximity and distance of viewer from/with the viewed has altered so significantly that the screen is us. However, this is not to suggest that we are simply passive consumers of images. As Burnett points out, painstakingly, issues of creativity are involved in the process of visualization - viewers generate what they see in the images. This involves the historical moment of viewing - such as viewing images of the WTC bombings - and the act of re-imagining. As Burnett puts it, the questions about what is pictured and what is real have to do with vantage points [of the viewer] and not necessarily what is in the image (p. 26).

1st Colloquium on the Law of Transhuman Persons in Florida

Moot Court Hearing On The Petition Of A Conscious Computer

Ray Kurzweil runs a terrific web site on artificial intelligence and other matters related to technology and society. He recently provided the transcript of the court hearing on whether a conscious computer should be treated as a person.

This issue has been raging for some time. It reached its apogee with the discussion about whether "Deep Blue" the computer that (who?) beat Gary Kasparov was actually intelligent. IBM has some wonderful research on this available here.

"We have a petition by BINA48, an intelligent computer, to prevent its owner and creator, Exabit Corporation, from either turning off its power, or if it turns off its power, from reconfiguring it; and BINA48 doesn't want that to happen."

Machines attract and repel us. Although human beings are surrounded by many different machines and rely on them everyday, our culture views them with a great deal of skepticism . At the same time, the desire to automate the world we live in and efforts to link humans and machines have always been a part of the arts, sciences and mythology and have been foundational to the cultural and economic development of Western societies. Automation brings with it many attendant dangers including the assumption, if not the reality that humans no longer control their own destiny. If the interactions were between nature and humans, then this loss of control would be expected. For example, you might anticipate a tornado or a hurricane, but you cannot control them. The fact is that virtual spaces are cultural and technological and are therefore subject to different rules than nature. They are artificial constructs. It seems clear however, that the conventional meaning of artificial will not suffice to explain autonomous processes that build microscopic and macroscopic worlds using algorithms that often develop far beyond the original conceptions of their progenitors. We may be in need of a radical revision of what we mean by simulation and artificiality because of the ease with which digital machines build complex non-natural environments. (From "How Images Think")

Paradoxes of New Media (2)

(The first paragraph connects part 1 and part 2.)

To understand why New Media may have been convenient for both scholars and artists one need only look at the evolution of media studies. Although humans have always used a variety of media forms to express themselves and although these forms have been an integral part of culture, and in some instances the foundation upon which certain economies have been built, the study of media only developed into a discipline in the 20th century.

There are many reasons for this including and perhaps most importantly, the growth of printing from a text-based activity to the mass reproduction of images (something that has been commented on by many different theorists and practitioners). The convergence of technology and reproduction has been the subject of intense artistic scrutiny for 150 years. Yet, aside from Museums like MOMA the disciplines that we now take for granted, like film, photography, television and so on, came into being in universities only after an intense fight and the quarrel continues to this day.

The arguments were not only around the value of works in these areas, (photography for example, was not bought by serious art collectors until the latter half of the 20th century which may or may not be a validation of photography’s importance), but around the legitimacy of studying various media forms given their designation as the antithesis of high culture. Film was studied in English Departments. Photography was often a part of Art History Departments. Twenty years after television started to broadcast to mass audiences in the early 1950’s there were only a handful of texts that had been written, and aside from extremely critical assertions about the negative effects of TV on an unsuspecting populace (the Postman-Chomsky phenomenon), most of the discourse was descriptive.

The irony is that even Critical Theory in the 1930’s which was very concerned with media didn’t really break the scholarly iceberg that had been built around various media forms. It took the convergence of structuralism, semiotics and linguistics in the late 1960’s, a resurgence of phenomenology and a reconceptualization of the social and political role of the state to provoke a new era of media study. In Canada, this was felt most fully through the work of McLuhan and Edmond Carpenter and was brought to a head by the powerful convergence of experimentation in cinema and video combined with the work of artists in Intermedia, performance and music.

Another way of thinking about this is to ask how many people were studying rock and roll in 1971? After all, rock and roll was disseminated through radio, another medium that was not studied seriously until well after its invention (sound based media have always been the step-children of visual media).

So, the resistance to the appearance of different media forms may explain why media were renamed as new media. It may explain why someone like Lev Manovich relies on the trope of the cinema to explain the many complex levels that make up media landscapes and imageworlds. New in this instance is not only an escape from history, but also suggests that history is not important.

There is another important question here. What makes a medium specific discipline a discipline in any case? Is it the practice of the creators? Is it the fact that a heritage of production and circulation has built up enough to warrant analysis? I think not. Disciplines are produced through negotiation among a variety of players crossing the boundaries of industry, academia and the state. The term New Media has been built upon this detritus, and is a convenient way in which to develop a nomenclature that designates in a part for whole kind of way, that an entire field has been created.

But, what is that field? Is it the sum total of the creative work within its rather fluid boundaries? Is it the sum total of the scholarly work that has been published? Is it the existence of a major journal that both celebrates and promotes not only its own existence but also the discipline itself?

These issues of boundary making are generally driven by political as well as cultural considerations. They are often governed by curatorial priorities developed through institutions that have very specific stakes in what they are promoting. None of these activities per se may define or even explain the rise, fall and development of various disciplines. But, as a whole, once in place, disciplines close their doors both as a defensive measure, but also to preserve the history of the struggle to come into being.

To be continued......

mt_foundation-show.jpg

Michel Serres and Technology

SingaporeMT.jpg

Little India in Singapore

The brilliant French philosopher, Michel Serres proposes in recent publications that one of the best ways of understanding history is to think about human events as a series of interconnected folds, a networks of networks in which events that may have taken place thousands of years ago are still connected to the present through human memory and human artifacts.

The folds of which Serres speaks can be visualized as a series of pleated pages in which different points touch, sometimes arbitrarily and other times by design. The metaphor that Serres has developed has another purpose. In order to understand the technologies, social movements and cultural phenomena that humans have created, each point of contact among all these pleats needs to be drawn out in a detailed and narrative manner. Although Serres does not describe this method as stream of consciousness that is sometimes how it reads, to the point where the simplest of objects becomes the premise for an expansive narrative.

For example, (adapting Serres’s method) the notion of networks needs to be understood not only as a function of technology and communications systems, but also through the efforts by nearly every culture and every generation to develop a variety of bonds using any number of different means from language to art to music to political, religious and economic institutions. This suggests that the Internet, for example, is merely a modern extension of already existing forms of communication between people. And, while that may seem obvious, many of the claims about the Internet suggest that it is a revolutionary tool with implications for the ways in which people see themselves and their surroundings. More often than not, its revolutionary character is related to obvious characteristics like speed of communications, which may in fact be no more than a supplement to profoundly traditional modes of information exchange. The intersection of the revolutionary with the traditional is essential to the success of any new and innovative technology and may be at the heart of how quickly any individual innovation is actually taken up by individuals or by society as a whole.

Rust Simulating Decay (On Jean Baudrillard)

This short essay has the following components:

1. An exploration of the lineage and sources for Jean Baudrillard’s very powerful and influential notions of simulation.
2. Some comments on time and decay and history.
3. A few modest reflections on the power of images, imagescapes and image-worlds.

RCA 2 Rust simulating decay.jpg

Let me begin by saying that one way of understanding Baudrillard is to take a careful look at Society of the Spectacle by Guy Debord. I have not got the time in this piece to examine and distill this relationship, suffice to say that Debord’s notions of commodity, spectacle and social organization appear and reappear in Baudrillard and have been a significant influence on Baudrillard’s very strategic manner of writing and speaking.

Debord and the Situationists with whom Debord worked have had an important influence on French cultural theory and philosophy, and this influence is acknowledged from time to time, but not with enough depth and certainly not to the degree that is deserved.


Time slow simulating change

I will mention one crucial aspect of Debord’s approach and that centers on his assertion that time is turned into a commodity within Capitalist societies. As a commodity, time becomes consumable and in so doing becomes one of the foundations for the transformation of everyday life into spectacle.

The key point is that we not only participate in this but simultaneously become viewers of our own lives. In this sense, we cease to have a direct relationship to experience and instead are caught up in a cycle of increasing mediation and loss. Debord and his group grew to prominence during the May 68 period in France. It is not an accident that some of the most important work of the structuralists had appeared by that time, in particular, the work of Levi-Strauss, Barthes and Foucault with contiguous work by Althusser and Derrida.

The intersection of structuralism and situationism is an important part of Baudrillard’s epistemological framework. In Situationist philosophy, the word pseudo appears and reappears as a trope for what is wrong with Western societies. The English translation, however, doesn’t catch an important additional element to what Debord is saying. I quote in French and I will explain:

Le temps pseudo-cyclique n'est en fait que le déguisement consommable n de la dimension qualitative.

Time as we measure it has the quality of the cyclical attached to it, but this is a false quality because in reality it disguises the ways in which time has become commodified, one of many different consumable items in our society.

Time is a commodity because the production process within Capitalist societies transforms time, gives it a homogeneous character and suppresses its qualitative characteristics.

Pseudo, false, suppression, the victory of commodification over quality and the overwhelming effect of capitalist modes of production on the very definitions that can be made of subjectivity, these are all fundamental to Debord and are foundational to Baudrillard. Debord creates an opposition between the natural order and pseudo nature that is dependent on his definition of time. Debord collapses all the various relations among work and leisure into pseudo time exemplifying the increasing distance and alienation that humans experience as a consequence of their transformation into commodities. Not only do the rhythms of capitalist society work against the best interests of participants, they also transform subjects into objects — the needs of production override the needs of producers with the outcome that the masses become silent witnesses to their own oppression.

This combination of Herbert Marcuse, Marx, Heidegger and the critical theorists of the 1930’s like Adorno characterize all of Debord’s work, although one major difference is the anarchist impulse in Debord and his followers.

Since Debord’s death, the anarchist movement has taken Debord as a spokesman and most of his writings are freely available on their Internet sites. Debord’s approach to writing is aphoristic and quite programmatic. Baudrillard reproduces this approach in many of his books, but most notably in America.
I have not treated Debord with the depth that he deserves, not because he was unimportant. Rather, what interests me is his core assumption that culture is in fact pseudo culture, or false culture. It is not too much of a jump to simulation, but before I deal with simulation, let me suggest that Debord viewed the silence of the masses as a sign of their resistance to Capital and that Baudrillard took up that issue in a piece that he published entitled, “In the Shadow of the Silent Majorities?

This initially creative understanding of silence as resistance was not sustained however in large part because the Situationists witnessed the failure of May 68 to generate a broad-based revolution in France. Their disappointment with the “populace? led to increasing cynicism about any form of revolt to the point where they questioned if the people would ever awake from their stupor.

(to be continued......)