Archive for October, 2009

(Not This) Old House Rerun

October 31, 2009

I was watching an old rerun of House. His friend left, ostensibly because he was enabling House to “spread misery” since House couldn’t get involved in any real relationships, etc. (all the things that make the unsocial out to be ogres, onerous and inhuman). I was wondering why I like House. I realize that the character, House, embodies everything “ideal” we find in our machines, our created intelligence robots with their perfect memory and recall, their ability to (re)search through associations and connectivity, their fantastic, unerring mechanical skills (we prefer them to a surgeon’s hands when it comes to operating on our hearts), their ability to always win at any game, etc. Indeed, the reason these machines were created in the first place is to make up for what all we continuously err at, for what we lack (Could it be that they are lack? Why they are so desired?). Like House, they are always correct. Now put all those characteristics into a human and, voila, you have House. Previously, before shock and awe, budget accounting involving trillions, and global warming, you had Spock. And before Spock, there was Dr Who. And before that- I’m sure with research one could go on and on through the likes of Sherlock Holmes, etc. But now House is the center, the main character of this current narrative, this TV drama. In the original episodes of Star Trek, Spock was an adviser, an assistant, a “supporting” character to the central hero, the all too human William Shatner. Before that, Dr Who was a Rudy Maxa kind of travel guide. His compatriots would find themselves in totally bizarre and unknown locales which only Who knew how to navigate. These travelers primarily witnessed the drama that played out with every visit and encounter, like spectators at a sporting event. The events took center stage like tourist attractions but didn’t actively engage the visitors (save to trap or threaten them). Like all good travel guides, from Hermes on down, Who facilitated this witnessing, and made it possible for us to immerse ourselves in the curiously imagined worlds at the center of this show. Unlike Spock, Who in no way advised or supported the human involvement in the unfolding of events. In House the human element is now relegated to the periphery, the margins, the contingent (everyone but House). Their story, or rather stories, swirl around his flawless functioning. The central, or essential, is now the perfection (that we all rely on in order to stay alive). This (new) center (or essential) is unbearable (why the friend leaves- because he “enabled” it). It is unbearable not because it is a lie, but because it exposes the lie. Of course, that is the whole attraction of the show. Through focusing on the unerring perfection of House’s genius (comparable only to what we expect of our machine creations), the contingent humanity is exposed for what it is -the lie that is the cohesive thread for an identity that is not. The narrative does all this without ever naming or indicating it (the “essential” lie) as such.

Addendum to “Last night I had a dream about reality”

October 28, 2009

Is everything described in waking, myth or history? Some say science is myth/history, that is, that it is subjective (myth and history are by definition subjective). Scientists claim they are objective; that the functions and interactions they describe are so regardless of any subject, like mathematics, they just are so (like the functions and interactions in my dream). What Lec wrote becomes relevant when one realizes the incredible effort being made to digitalize all description, so as to “marry” it to the objectivity of science in “real time” (since the digital code is a mathematical one and therefore is simply considered an extension of the objectivity of science). We all prefer a “scientific” doctor to treat us when we are ill; one who is not subjective but can deal with the objective “reality” of the physical body and whatever sickens it. My dream was of just such an objective, everyday, social reality. My feeling upon waking was as Lec described it. It all becomes interesting when one asks “why do we need myths and history to interact socially?” Why can’t we simply interact objectively, like psychopaths without a social conscience, purely on empirical reasoning? For me, the answer to the last question is where my art interest lies- other artists who are dealing with this in their art, as well as my own. In what way does myth and history make social interaction possible; that without it, social existence becomes unbearable (why psychopaths are described as having no social conscience, no subjective connection to the “reality” of others)? I keep returning to Bakhtin and carnival and the circus and magic, where the focus and emphasis is on the subjective, NOT on the objective (Bakhtin’s dialogic where another perspective is necessary in order to understand something, to know something, to experience something). Today the emphasis is gradually shifting, like the melting of the polar ice caps, to a more and more objective description, an objective reality.

This invites a strange combination for making art, almost in the binary sense. In making a drawing, the white and black interact to create the drawing. With this strange, meta-combination (of objective and subjective perspective), the objective is not eschewed. It is acknowledged, has the focus or priority. Yet at the same time, the subjective is not disavowed. It is allowed to play, to run riot. It is roughly parallel to Ranciere’s emancipated art where the art object taps or unlocks capacities. With magic, the magicians focus the attention on one area, one thing, while something else occurs. With carnival, there is a thumbing of the nose at the rules or hierarchy of the preordained, legitimate reality. There is the (in)famous Bush “So what?” Objectivity, with its rules and hierarchy is not changed, but simply disregarded for what it is; the rules and hierarchy do not apply here, have no reach, are without power. With circus, there is a total and complete celebration of the subjective. There is a complete overturning of priorities. The objective plays a secondary, subliminal role. Yes, there is gravity. Yes, there is weight and volume, etc. What is central and overriding are the skill, daring-do, and the subjective ability to subordinate the body, nature, etc. (note that it isn’t to subordinate the “laws” of nature but nature as a subjective entity). I’m thinking of a small bronze. It is entitled Three Figures with a Planar Surface. Three figures appear to be seated at a table, only the table has no legs, the figures have no chairs to support them. Acknowledgement of the objectivity of the material, the piece itself as an object, is given by there being no “table legs or chairs.” That in itself says it is a bronze casting, an art object. The material (and the very process of production) is what holds this composition together. But the more one focuses on that, the more the subjective aspects of the arrangement of these figurative bodies in space, their juxtaposition with the flat surface, their gestures, comes into play. Yet there is nothing that references the subjective as primary, as origin, as focal point. The subjective is allowed to run riot, to play out as the viewer intends, much as Ranciere suggests.

3 figures with a planar surface

“Last night I had a dream about reality”

October 25, 2009

Last night I had a dream about reality.

It was such a relief to wake up.

Stanislaw J. Lec


            Last night I actually did have such a dream. It was as though a sentence had been imposed, a curse. The fellow in the dream was to live his life within the identical same context as his former had been, only without the history. In this case he was involved with some rural activity and found himself within a farming community where the various folk were identical to those he interacted with previously, only he had no historical handle, no myth with which to have a connection (i.e. a co worker was a different physical entity, yet the job and relationship were as before). His only connection to them, and they to him, was his function, their interaction. So while functioning with them, he couldn’t (or didn’t) animate them with any stories or background, no shared experiences or memories. The functioning and interaction was matter-of fact, with the all encompassing (enshrouding?) pall of “who are these people? What am I doing involved with them? Shouldn’t there be something more, something significant in our interaction?” Everything was done as it ought to be done, as it was meant to be done, by definition in terms of how things function, as though according to a mathematical description of a function. Yet it was likewise totally and completely meaningless. What more, to even ask that it have meaning was meaningless for there was no history, no myth with which to relate it to, connect it to, by which to reference it. People acted with each other, within the functions we have grown accustomed to, that are taken for granted, that we have all come to expect. Yet there was no reason to be had for any of it. What was even worse, there was nothing exchanged within the interaction; as though it is really history and myth that are all that can be exchanged, the only things possible or of value, the exchange of which constitute the only sustenance of meaning. It was such a relief to wake up.