With the conclusion of his essay “On The Phenomenology Of Giant Puppets: Broken Windows, Imaginary Jars Of Urine, And The Cosmological Role Of The Police In American Culture” (Possibilities: Essays On Hierarchy, Rebellion and Desire, 2007) David Graeber speculates on the threat posed by puppets (real, imagined or theoretical?). According to Graeber, not only are puppets targeted for destruction by state security forces during demonstrations but pre-emptive operations are executed to exterminate them prior to deployment, during construction. The official reasons given are always ostensible and fictitious. He cites specific instances and events. For Graeber, the police embody the state’s single interpretation of reality which grants them license, authority to interpret individually. Hence, to “question” or appeal to an alternate interpretation is to undermine that authority, outlook or decision on the nature of reality. Graeber claims the puppets do precisely that by actualizing, making real the possibility of some other interpretation. As the police embody the single interpretation of the state, the puppets “embody” an alternate presentation. The police legitimize their violence on the basis of license. Giant puppets license illegitimacy. The puppets perform this without the reliance on or need of any form of dominance. The imagined possible, no matter how ridiculous or absurd, has always been a threat to the single interpretation. In the straight line (no exceptions) logic of dominance, this appears as “See it my way or don’t see it at all.” The appeal to authority, an authority, the authority underlies such rigor. One variation of this theme is that all (and any) imagined interpretation is reserved for the authority itself, arbitrary or not. The single interpretation is the burden of the subjects of that authority (sometimes cynically given as the “privilege”). The State, God, The Prophet, The Law, Buddha, etc. enjoy (within their domain) the richness and multiplicity of possibility, as well as its origination, dissemination, destruction, etc. The subjects of said author cannot operate within the every day amidst such a richness of possibility (hence, the puppets must go). Although such an approach appears quite pragmatic (a variation of Real Politik), it likewise reveals extreme discomfort. It is as though it exposes an almost elementary condition of ordained determination, the lack of ability to handle the conceptual generative capacity of what is termed “the universal and the particular.” If subjects are possessed of imagined interpretation then God, The State, etc. no longer have monopoly over its generation, becoming restrained to just one version. If subjects are possessed of multiple imaginings then God, The State, etc. simply become one of many possibilities. Etc. “See it my way or don’t see it at all” is the violent manifesto of domination. Anything imagined always escapes the interpretation of dominance.
We were in the man’s apartment. The walls were covered with paintings, prints, and drawings created by him as well as others – abstractions and figurative representations of people, places and objects. There were also sculptures and found objects, knick-knacks and fragments along the same lines. My friend asked if the man had any photos of his family, past, etc. There was not a photograph to be found displayed anywhere. He was surrounded by family and past. Each of the works resonated with what had passed, was gone – never to be retrieved. His memory must not have been digital or in color, Kodachrome or even black and white. Yet living vibrated there through these disparate creations. While there I noticed a nuthatch had landed on a feeder outside the window. Seen head on, its “face” appeared as some carved image on a Northwest Native American totem. These massive objects pre-date photography, let alone digital. Those carvings that have survived continue to resonate an affect. What is to be done with affection? It is not a document, so how could it be a memory? Are memories documentaries? Perhaps the document is the 21st century version of a fetish, an idol set aside (and above) to insure that a specific outlook continues homogenously throughout; an ideological ADT guaranteeing the security of interpretation from intrusion or tampering.
It is said that capitalism always eventually appropriates and subsumes everything, for which there is no alternative. The plethora of global struggles to elaborate an alternative (“As we walk we dream”) rely heavily on an appeal to what folks like Jacques Ranciere and others elucidate as “capacities”. Here was a man who managed to not be identified by a photo ID. Like the nuthatch outside his window, identity was created through his vitality, moment to moment.
There she was at the outdoor arts and crafts show hidden behind her work (the only shady spot to be found). Not a pretty woman, with bad teeth wearing overalls and work boots, she displayed portraits of exquisite detail featuring various animals, wild and domestic. She was literally behind her work.
Dorothea Lange was featured on a PBS American Masters episode. Of particular note was that Lange had been laid off by the FSA around 1940 and this completely disoriented her. Prior to this, though not well paid, she and her work had the connection of support that allowed entry into migrant workers camps and entitled her to photograph their conditions and inhabitants (for which she became famous). After the outbreak of the Second World War, Lange was picked up by the WRA to document the internment of American citizens of Japanese descent. Her work proved too good and was impounded by the Army that had hired her. After the war she went on to document the conditions of sharecroppers in America’s south through various impromptu, on site portraits.
Today’s artist is not found behind the work but rather is contained in the surface of the work (“if you want to know all about Andy Warhol, just look at the surface of my paintings and films and me, and there I am. There’s nothing behind it.” Andy Warhol). Lange’s legacy is tainted by the question of whether the haunting portraits of Americans (as Americans) were unified by Lange herself (ala’ Woody Guthrie) or whether the unity had to do with the political economy of the time, which gave her a job, a purpose, cover and a mission. Would Lange have done what she did without taking a position with the FSA (and the WRA)?
Today, though not in the form of the outdoor arts and craft exhibitionist, the contemporary artist is expected to initiate and take ownership of an enterprise such as Lange had formed organically through her job involvement and the passage of time. Not only is the exceptional artist expected to have the “vision” of all the implications of their work, but they also are expected to obtain all the necessary connections and funding to bring it to fruition. Alternately, the subjective individual artist not pursuing such a socially visionary route is expected to draw from their own personal archives for portrayals within which they can be found, neither behind nor solely on the surface.
In either case, the unspoken question is where does the unity lie? As so many of today’s “social events” verify, unity is found through the discrete portrayal of the event’s participants themselves (through the near instantaneous documentation appearing on social media, etc.). This further implicates the contemporary social documentarians, along with the visionary arts entrepreneurs and subjective artistic interpreters, as discrete units within an abstract cohesive entirety entitled “Art”. This coordinates well within the operational determinants of a contemporary capitalist political economy that emphasizes personal choice and the freedom (and responsibility) of “rugged individualism”. The conditions of Lange’s pre-existing unity, promoting and spurring her creativity (and outcomes), as well as the pre-supposed unity of the subjective artist, with her viewer audience supporting her individual personal statements, are long gone. Today’s American culture emphasizes continuous discrete differentiation from any singular unifying definition.
To the list of reasons for making art add “In Shklovsky’s view, law and fortuity were at output-input ends of the cognitive processor called art. He never used exactly these words, of course, but did claim that art was a processing device. What this device processed was art’s raw material, be it the experiential material of life or the semantic material of language. Why people needed art, Shklovsky theorized, was to experience that material anew. That experience involved seeing the lawfulness of the fortuitous and the fortuity of what we take for laws. He called the latter process defamiliarization; as to the former, the simplest example is rhymes.” (From the massive Spring 2014 Comics & Media issue of Critical Inquiry, an essay entitled “Charlie Chaplin and His Shadows: On Laws of Fortuity in Art” by Yuri Tsivian, pg. 71). Of course, flags immediately appear with question marks on them regarding what “art’s raw material” could be. Tsivian expands what he gives as Shklovsky’s components to include media, technology, brands, pop culture icon’s, etc. (“the semantic material of language”). The gist of his article gives a “rhyming” of real or imagined interpretations/understandings of Charlie Chaplin within his time that presented an expression of, or belief in, a Chaplin that was not exactly Chaplin at all (himself or what was portrayed in his films). These in turn were (potentially?) reciprocated by Chaplin within his later work. All of which very much reminded me of a friend’s work (what little I am aware of it) that seems likewise to follow or parallel this, save at a much more compressed manner and pace, very much involving “art’s raw materials” coupled with media (video, digital imaging, etc.) processed through the “lawfulness of fortuity” (the “rhyming” with images, media, etc. that are available and my friend’s intuitive integration within the work). Personally I’m becoming more interested in what Davis gives in the translation of Aristotle’s Poetics (Aristotle’s Poetics: The Poetry of Philosophy by Michael Davis 1992). Aristotle’s definition of man as being a mimetic animal (innately and intimately) and his (Aristotle’s) presented account of this precisely through the utilization of these parameters and manners were impressive. I know Michael Taussig emphasizes this, but anthropologically (not philosophically). But if one considers this innate capacity/necessity to imitate as the “processing device” by which we experience the world (something Lacan parallels), one is left with what Zizek describes as the parallax view – the pencil half submerged in a glass half filled with water appears split or broken when viewed. One and the same pencil? Is what we imagine and articulate conscientiously, or with reason, etc. (“the semantic material of language”) the same as everyday life (“the experiential material of life”)? In everyday life, consider how the Newark (Ohio) Farmers Market differs from the Granville (Ohio) Farmer’s Market. There is a difference present that is more than geographic. Just recently a conversation with a vendor who does both markets confirmed my own view in that she expressed the same assessment (without prompting). My experience is that in Newark, the interaction is akin to Jacques Ranciere’s description of Jacotot’s pedagogy in The Ignorant Schoolmaster: Five Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation. There, the teacher, the pupil, and the book ALL had something uniquely individual to say, express, or contribute (an imagining, different with each element). The book was the thing in common between teacher and pupil (a kind of fulcrum point). At the Newark market, the items offered by the vendor are analogous with “the book”. In Granville the buyer’s imagination reigns supreme, with the vendor and items offered either fulfilling this projection or falling short. This emphasis on the imagined world, and assessing whether what is actually present (the real world) meets the imaginer’s expectation/criteria conforms with the traditional pedagogy of the adjoining university, and what spawned its evolution. The preeminent feature/priority is self-awareness (in the tradition of Descartes), and how to make the world work for the subject (of the self-awareness), fulfill the subject’s projections. The projections, like the self-awareness itself, are all imagined (if one reads Aristotle by Davis’s account. This mis-identification of self-awareness is what makes for tragedy.). It isn’t that those at the Newark market are not self-aware. Rather, it is how they respond to, prioritize, or integrate this “imagining” that makes for difference. With Granville, it is the very priority by which all else is arranged hierarchically. It is where the emphasis is placed that accounts for the difference. Personally I integrate Zizek’s comprehension with Aristotle’s via the imagining of a Mobius strip. The cognitive processor, which defines art, is like the twist that makes the strip possible, makes for the union suit that unites north and south, making the two sides one. It is this simple twist that art provides, even better, that imitation supplies which reinforces “seeing the lawfulness of the fortuitous and the fortuity of what we take for laws.”
“Here Are the Threats Honeybees Face—and What’s Helping Them Survive” (By Lauren Wade, Takepart.com June 20, 2014) is another one of those say nothing, hand wringing articles that masquerade as concerned, environmentally conscious online (land) fill. When the line “Honeybees are integral to American agriculture, pollinating more than a third of the crops we grow.” appears in an article followed immediately by graphic descriptions of bumps, bruises and lacerations suffered by apis mellifera, you know the writer hasn’t a clue, let alone knows how to be critical about what she is covering. To say that a partner or spouse is integral to a relationship or marriage and then discuss relationships or marriage is one thing. But to say a battered partner or spouse is integral to a relationship or marriage, and then write about what the battered spouse or partner is suffering without involving or critiquing the rest of the marriage or relationship is to show intellectual sloth at best, ignorance at worst. When a politician uses that line, you know they’re painting a Warner Bros. picture of farming, talking about Porky’s little friend Buzzy Bee not feeling very well (“Poor Buzzy. What can we do to help?”). If “Honeybees are integral to American agriculture,” then maybe we ought to look at what the other integral parts of agriculture are doing, to the bees as well as the rest of us. We shouldn’t let the politicians, as well as writers, get away with such drivel when discussing abusive relationships and battered (integral) partners. “Ain’t nobody’s business but my own” doesn’t cut it anymore.
“What was contemporary art?” by Octavian Esanu appeared in the first print edition of ArtMargins. ArtMargins sounded so inviting before it came out. It is put out by MIT press, publishers of October. ArtMargins is based on the acknowledgement that art, art theory, and culture are no longer found at/driven by the center (places like NYC, Paris, London, etc.) but are now located on the margins (places like South America, eastern Europe, etc.) The emphasis was to be what is occurring/being written there today. I’ve allowed my subscription to lapse since (in the model of October) the publication (as a de facto center) has manipulated direction and gravitated to special interests. Also, it is mostly art historical, what happened/was written 50 years ago. Sigh. But Esanu’s article was very enlightening and exciting because it was fearless in situating economics with art. He writes of the transition period in Eastern Europe when institutional socialism was being displaced by free market capitalism, and George Soros’s foundations were pouring big bucks in to convert artists to entrepreneurs. Previously, under state socialism, artists woke up in the morning within their domiciles and ate their breakfast and went to their work site knowing that tomorrow they would likewise get up in the morning within their domiciles and eat breakfast before going to the place where they labored as artists. The emphasis in their production as artists was in what they produced, and how it contributed within the framework of the state socialism. Soros lured artists out of this co-op or unionized disposition, outlook, mindset through grant funding. The grants offered emerging artists large sums of money, recognition and exposure. However, Mr. Esanu (who was employed administering these funds) points out that after that, there are no further resources for the “established” (not emerging) artist. The lure is to get artists to strike out on their own and continue after the heady success made possible by the grant award. No longer could an artist concentrate solely on their discipline or craft. Rather, they now had to concentrate on how to fund their domicile and breakfast first, then on honing their art skills. It is a very subtle article but it extends its insight on how the aesthetics, what was considered as “contemporary art”, changed to accommodate the new economics of capitalism (the art produced needed to fit within the criteria and parameters of the grant requirements. The imaginary was dictated by what would promote the aspirations of the grant providers.).
Communist culture was always presented by the west as being driven and dominated by “The Party”. The aesthetic ostensibly revolved around what served, promoted and reproduced The Party’s interest. The west, on the other hand, cloaked itself in a rhetoric of freedom and choice, “free” market and the choice of multi-party government. Never was heard the term “Capitalist Party”. Esanu’s article brings that to mind for unless the art produced serves, promotes and reproduces the tenets and interests of the Capitalist Party, it is not (youthful angst Punk culture aside). This all begs the question “what is art?” though it is only someone on the margins like Esanu who is willing to consider the economic influence on the answer. At the center, it is assumed as a given (that there is art, that there are artists) without any question as to whether it is a means or an end or neither. If art is of The Party, then the artist becomes a mere originator of propaganda. If art is not of The Party, then how is it to be evaluated? Even more pressing is how is it possible if it is not of The Party? Boris Pasternak addressed this while living ensconced in a culture of The Party. His epic Dr. Zhivago is critiqued variously, from the standpoint of Russian literature/poetry, to one of resistance, to one of pure art, to just being a great love story. It does, however, present the picture of folks who live out their lives as who they are within a system that requires justification at every turn. This, I guess is the crux of what art is and what it is to be an artist today, whether Communist or Capitalist, whether to justify oneself through how one is serving the aspirations of the revolution or the market. Those savvy individuals attuned to working within The Party, live comfortably under either economic system. Those who deem poetry and art to have some other abstract value, do not. But they continue to create, without serving The Party. Aside from being masochists, one wonders why? Which again leaves the question of what is art, what is it to be an artist?
Zanesville Ohio’s downtown “Arts District” first Friday gallery hop comes to mind for it seems to cover the entire spectrum of art/artists in one fell swoop. From the university professor “high end” art (why high end? Because it serves The Party?) to primitive and outsider art, it is all there arrayed next to each other at the same time within close proximity. Few, very few, pay for their domiciles and breakfast from their labor as artists; even fewer with any degree of security. So is there a place for art within our society (rather, do we have a culture driven by art) or is it merely a utilitarian expression of a Party function (to serve, promote and reproduce the values of The Capitalist Party)? A good start in answering any of these questions is to admit that, well, there it is in front of us. And that the folks associated with its existence will do so under whatever economic system they find themselves (something Pasternak presents with Zhivago). In that sense, we find ourselves with what the academics describe as “the subject”. Here lies the entire struggle of the artist and art. The subject, independent (not!) of the environment, the economy, or is it the subject transcendent of the environment, the economy (shades of Emerson!)? Or is it possibly the subject bearing witness to whatever it is to be a subject (“I exist. I matter.”)? Witness to whom? And why? What need is there of witness to getting up in the morning in one’s own domicile, eating breakfast and heading off to work?
Alison Levine is this amazing person whose bio reads larger than life. One of only a few persons to have completed the Adventure Grand Slam (scaling the highest peaks on all continents along with skiing to both poles), she has done it while encumbered by some pretty debilitating ailments. She has leveraged her ability to overcome both outward and inward adversity into a lucrative enterprise as a motivational speaker/business consultant. This capitalizes on the analogy drawn between extreme business environments/conditions and those she conquered in her adventures. Strategies, tactics, actualities center around thinking and knowledge coextensive with summiting and polar conquest.
The end of net neutrality is inevitable no matter what candidate B. Rock repeatedly promised regarding its inviolability. His own appointed FCC commissioner is already drafting plans to make it otherwise. The fly in the ointment of Alison Levine’s ultra-heroism (or should we say heroine-ism?) is the speculative (and theoretical) possibility of the end of mountains. OK so mountain topping in West Virginia immediately springs to mind, but also Mt. Washington in New Hampshire where one can scale it by a well-trodden path if one chooses or one can just drive to the top on a paved highway. Then again there’s Dry Branch Fire Squad’s Ron Thomason’s “Testosterone Poisoning”. What if all the challenges and discoveries have been made? Folks today maybe have to make things up like who can hold their breath the longest or eat the most sushi or hot dogs. The motivation is all still there only entrepreneurial leverage of the accomplishment might require a bit of selling. Thomas Picketty’s “Capital in the 21st Century” has supposedly made common knowledge of another disparity to meeting the challenge (hot dogs or Everest). It seems that increasingly folks are earning their money the old fashioned way, as in the Victorian era of “Testosterone Poisoning.” They are inheriting it. Capital gained without inconvenience is much like ascending Mt. Washington by car. The unspoken underbelly of all this is the recent tragedy that befell the sherpas who make the ascent on Everest not only a possibility but an actuality for so many thousands. To say “convenient” would disparage the legitimate overcoming of physical duress (and disease in the case of Levine). Just the same, convenience, expedience, and immediacy usually always trump challenge for most, save die hard adrenaline junkies. Which brings us back to net neutrality and some of the reason’s its days are numbered. On the one hand folks expect it to be there like gas, electricity or water. On the other, by its very nature, it is composed of what once conquered must ever be created anew – literally as something new. It is located within a cosmogony of expected and anticipated change, development, upgrade, and planned obsolescence. Unfortunately this is at complete odds with regulated, specified and monitored fundamental public utilities like gas, electricity, or city water. Any change there is a huge undertaking. The siren’s irresistible entrepreneurial call of folks being willing to pay (and pay handsomely) to get to the top of the summit the old fashioned way – immediately, conveniently and without hassle – makes net neutrality’s end loom larger than life.
Ralph Waldo Emerson, think of him what you like. He did write an essay entitled The Poet which appears in The Portable Emerson, Viking Press (pg.241-265). This is a curious work. In addition to revealing his thoughts on poetry and being a poet, it sheds some insight on art and what it is to engage in it. To fathom any of this is to indulge in Emerson’s cosmogony. To enter there is to frequent archaic, or near archaic words, like soul, form, higher, true, spirit, genius, heaven, etc. So, so, so, we do use some of these in today’s everyday speech, but does our usage reflect the connotation of Emerson’s time, let alone Emerson himself? Emerson likewise considers conditions, situations and transformations that today we would, perhaps, relegate to the realm of social science, not art or philosophy. Abiding these archaic words and processes (someday our own, like “consumer” or “too big to fail” may become archaic), let’s consider the rudimentary cosmogony The Poet sketches out (for purposes of its own facility). Emerson’s tabula rasa would have been nature, to which he refers continuously as well as dedicates a complete essay of its own. But, you say, tabula rasa infers no innate ideas, is meant to be a blank. There’s the rub. Nature determines all (much as the ancient Chinese Tao) but the poet or artist determines nature through naming/language. “The poet is the Namer or Language–maker… the poets made all the words… Language is fossil poetry.” (252) On 247 he says of his birthday “then I became an animal”. On 242 he writes “We were put into our bodies, as fire is put into a pan to be carried about;” which leads to the oft repeated “for we are not pans and barrows, nor even porters of the fire and torch bearers, but children of the fire, made of it, and only the same divinity transmuted…” So there is something other than animal that goes into the make-up of what it is to be human. On 243 he states “For all men live by truth and stand in need of expression. In love, in art, in avarice, in politics, in labor, in games, we study to utter our painful secret. The man is only half himself, the other half is his expression.” (Quite a secret indeed!) He continues anew with “Notwithstanding this necessity to be published, adequate expression is rare.” Not only is it guarded and contained internally, discretely (“painful secret”) but release is seldom, and necessary. What could he be talking about?
By my count, Emerson uses a form of “express” or “expression” 20 times in this 24 page essay. He does not use it lightly, but quite specifically, deliberately. “This expression or naming is not art, but a second nature, grown out of the first, as a leaf out of a tree.” (253) reinforces the earlier “man is only half himself…” while underscoring development (how we go from being pans carrying fire to “children of fire”). On 254, in describing a sculptor and his work he writes “The expression is organic, or the new type which things themselves take when liberated.” Expression is an integral part of our life and its development. The composition of freedom employs it.
Expression is part of what it is to be. It is necessary, yet hidden, requiring development (its association with liberation). It is part and parcel of nature (organic), associated with how nature is grasped, understood or described (as the tabula rasa, which is undifferentiated until named or become part of language). In describing forms of poetry he asks if it isn’t that “we participate the invention of nature?” He begins to answer this with “This insight, which expresses itself by what is called Imagination, is a very high sort of seeing, which does not come by study, but by the intellect being where and what it sees…” (255) This, in a sense, is a very active form of mindfulness (involving the body by inference since the animal is the pan that carries the fire about). It is consistent with the original Namer or Language-maker disposition to our being half ourselves, half our expression. “”Things more excellent than every image” says Jamblichus, “are expressed through images.” …Every line we can draw in the sand has expression:” (247) This expression, this naming or language making, this invention of nature while continuously part of nature (by writing on its tabula rasa of indiscriminate form) includes images “but also hunters, farmers, grooms and butchers, though they express their affection in their choice of life and not in their choice of words.” (249) “The poorest experience is rich enough for all purposes of expressing thought.” (250) It is a lived expression.
For Emerson, expression is more than what label is on one’s jeans, or what kind of burger or tattoo is desired. Contemporary use of ‘expression’ differs from the lived experience specificity required by Emerson’s thought (within that cosmogony). Today’s connotation is more one of choice and will, part of consumption. Expression once was linked to a modernist kind of genre of visual art, music, performance. Emerson’s “expression” encompasses these but likewise differs. “Hence a great number of such as were professionally expressers of Beauty, as painters, poets, musicians, and actors” (256) recognizes the difference between expression as a necessary half of our being, and expression that becomes commodified (like selling half of one’s being as laborers sell their labor). He differentiates by stating “Art is the path of the creator to his work…. The painter, the sculptor, the composer, the epic rhapsodist, the orator, all partake one desire, namely to express themselves symmetrically and abundantly, not dwarfishly and fragmentarily.” (262)
We do not wish to entertain it, but we do live with a contemporary cosmogony. Folks like Neil deGrasse Tyson reinforce our fundamentals that we are composed of all the same elements that are found throughout the universe, hence are children of the universe. Consciousness comes from neural synapses, and character is for the most part predetermined by DNA, with a little by environment. All well and good. It differs little from Emerson save that for Emerson the consciousness spawned the science (through the lived experience making for the lived expression of naming, language-making) rather than the science spawns the consciousness (something our systemic culture elides for purposes of efficiency). Emerson’s outlook has spirit producing body, a reversal of today’s body producing spirit. Expression is the production of body (the physical, “animal” experience) by spirit. It is not just that physical experience is, is something (which science does) but expression is the affirmation of self within the universe (of physical, animal experience). The hand making an image inside the cave of Lascaux was affirming “by the intellect being where and what it sees.” Contemporary thinkers like Bruno Latour or Jacques Ranciere remind us that science and sense are political, social, “participate [in] the invention of nature” through naming, language-making. “The other half is his expression” emphasizes the innate place and importance of expression, of lived experience. For Emerson lived experience is facilitated by imagination, not separated from it.
Emerson’s (“expressed”) use of expression casts a pall on the sustainability of today’s “Consume, conform, keep quiet” survival mode. It likewise calls into question the morality of contemporary economic justification for the mobility of labor – of folks needing to reinvent themselves through education to “be” certified nurses, waitresses or pipeline welders because the market is saturated with teachers, writers or furniture makers. The greatest contribution of Emerson’s “expression” of expression would be within today’s art and culture. Expression, lived expression, provides a handle by which to critique art, so much of which is systemic, genetically engineered art made from whatever can be appropriated without regard to any living or experience whatsoever.
With the previous post (Neverland 2-19-14) Frontline’s Generation Like was looked at through some of the writing of Stanley Cavell. Within the quoted work (The Claim Of Reason) Cavell sometimes refers to society as “our lived skepticism” (our skepticism as to the existence of others). Slavoj Zizek’s philosophical investigations of individuals, collectives and culture are much more reliant on the social. Zizek writes from a “continental“ perspective integrating Marx, Lacan and Freud as well as popular culture and Christianity into his writing. The Parallax View (2006, considered his magnum opus) appears a good quarter of a century after Cavell’s The Claim Of Reason. Unlike Cavell’s lived world, the nascent social media considered by Frontline’s documentary was up and running, though barely (Facebook 2004, YouTube 2005, Twitter 2006). The Parallax View devotes quite a bit of space to the Wachowski brothers’ The Matrix, that period’s Hunger Games. On page 313 he writes:
“[T]he ultimate strength of the film, however, is nonetheless to be located at a different level. Its unique impact is due not so much to its central thesis (what we experience as reality is an artificial virtual reality generated by the “Matrix,” the mega-computer directly attached to all our minds) as to its central image of the millions of human beings leading a claustrophobic life in water-filled cradles, kept alive in order to generate energy (electricity) for the Matrix. So when (some of the) people “awaken” from their immersion in Matrix-controlled virtual reality, this awakening is not an opening into the wide space of external reality, but first the horrible realization of this enclosure, where each of us is in effect merely a fetuslike organism, immersed in the amniotic fluid… This utter passivity is the foreclosed fantasy that sustains our conscious experience as active, self-positing subjects – it is the ultimate perverse fantasy, the notion that we are ultimately instruments of the Other’s (Matrix’s) jouissance, sucked out of our life-substance like batteries.
This brings us to the central libidinal enigma: why does the Matrix need human energy? A solution purely in terms of energy is, of course, meaningless: the Matrix could have easily have found another, more reliable source of energy which would have not demanded the extremely complex arrangement of a virtual reality coordinated for million of human units. The only consistent answer is: the Matrix feeds on human jouissance – so here we are back to the fundamental Lacanian thesis that the big Other itself, far from being an anonymous machine, needs a constant influx of jouissance. This is the correct insight of The Matrix: the juxtaposition of the two aspects of perversion – on the one hand, the reduction of reality to a virtual domain regulated by arbitrary rules that can be suspended; on the other, the concealed truth of this freedom, the reduction of the subject to an utterly instrumentalized passivity.”
Compare this with some of what we find in the transcript of Douglas Rushkoff’s Generation Like (Rushkoff is the correspondent as well as one of the writers and producers):
“SETH GODIN, Author, Blogger: Why on earth would someone spend all those hours to make a YouTube video of them doing something absolutely stupid and insane? They’re only going to get a check for $3 for doing it.”
“DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: In other words, instead of selling the product to the audience, the idea is to get the audience to sell the product for them. They want to make the interactions seem open and transparent, but all that transparency takes a lot of planning.
DIMITRY IOFFE, CEO, TVGLA: It’s all about trying to figure out this pipeline of connected pieces that are going to continue that audience to be essentially your best marketer because that’s the hope.”
“BRIAN WONG, Kiip founder: There are nuances on how you present things that create different psychological responses. We don’t even call ourselves ads to consumers. Terminology we use is “rewards” and “moments,” and there’s really no mention of “ads” or even “media.” As we go out and we experience the world, the things that make the most impact on us are the ones that come up serendipitously. So that’s the psychological principle we’re offering.
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: Serendipity by design.”
“CEILI LYNCH: You get, like, 10 sparks or 15 sparks for sharing something or making something on Tumblr, whatever, Twitter, Facebook. So that’s basically what they use to, like, show how many— you know, how much stuff you’ve shared. This is basically how I find out, like, news about The Hunger Games and Catching Fire, like, casting information, you know, like, who’s on what magazine cover, like, stuff like that.
CEILI LYNCH: It’s a lot of work to, like, do all of this. It’s— like, it takes a lot of time to, like, retweet everything, to like everything. So I was liking and sharing all these posts for, like, four to five hours. My hands were so tired after! It makes me feel like a worker, but it’s all worth it in the end because I get more sparks.”
“JANE BUCKINGHAM, President, Trendera: Your consumer is your marketer, and I think that’s a real shift because it used to be a one-way conversation of the marketer to the consumer, and now the consumer is doing as much as the marketer is in getting the message across. There is this unique moment where they are wanting to be as much a part of the process as a company will let them be.”
“ACTOR: [“Hunger Games”] You really want to know how to stay alive? You get people to like you.”
“CEILI LYNCH: They have to, like, do things in order to get people to like them.
TYLER OAKLEY: [on video] Push the Like button now.”
“[I] may be wishing to convey that you just do not know who or what I am. Far, accordingly, from wishing, or sensing a need, to define criteria with which we would be mutually attuned, I wish, or sense a need, to convey how perfectly, originally, I satisfy the criteria. We could say of my condition, or you could say it, that I had made myself morally incomprehensible, as Kierkegaard in effect says of Abraham. (There is the modern man for you: knife in hand, full of readiness to sacrifice, but in the absence of God, and of Isaac, and hence of an angel in the wings.) (The slave and the outcast have been made morally invisible.)
One in this condition does not feel unknown for the reason that the fact of his or her sentience is taken to be unknown. Why should a dog, a horse, a rat, have life, and be known to have it, and others not? Expertise cannot be required to know of this life, but then what appreciation is wanted, what sentiment or sensibility would be fine enough to vibrate to one’s originality? Human beings do not naturally desire isolation and incomprehension, but union or reunion, call it community. It is in faithfulness to that desire that one declares oneself unknown. (And of course the faithfulness, the desire, and the declaration may all be based on illusion. The conceptual connection, however, would remain as real as ever.) The wish to be extraordinary, exceptional, unique, thus reveals the wish to be ordinary, everyday. (One does not, after all, wish to become a monster, even though the realization of one’s wish for uniqueness would make one a monster.)”
(The Claim of Reason: Wittgenstein, Skepticism, Morality, and Tragedy by Stanley Cavell, 1979 Pg. 462-463)
Cavell’s insight, written pre the age of social media and just post the age of free love, becomes acutely perceptive in light of Frontline’s recent critique of social media, “Generation Like” (2-18-14). The paradoxical relationship of the need to be exceptional and unique in order to be “liked” and belong, to be part of an “online community”, could not have been anticipated, or elaborated better. “(And of course the faithfulness, the desire, and the declaration may all be based on illusion. The conceptual connection, however, would remain as real as ever.)” Generation Like reveals the “illusion” appropriated by capitalist marketing (for profit everything avails itself to appropriation). What more can be said of this moral incomprehensibility? (There is the adolescent, holding video recorder in hand at arm’s length, full of readiness to cash in as the new Michael Jackson, but in the absence of the blinding lights of a vast stage, and an adulating hoard of grasping ticket holders, and hence of a Bubbles waiting in Neverland welcoming the royal pretender home.)