Archive for February, 2011

A Tolerable Start

February 25, 2011

            In an article written for Reuters dated February 24, 2011, Paul Bond reports on the prison sentencing of Zachary Chesser for providing material support to terrorists and communicating threats of violence. Mr. Chesser was instrumental in threatening the lives of, notably, Matt Stone and Trey Parker (“South Park” creators) for their animated, suggested portrayal of the source of Chesser’s religious belief. He is also implicated in threats made on others who came out actively in support of Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s right to create such art. Precedent had been set with the murder of Theo Van Gogh (which Chesser referenced), so, at the time, these were no idle threats.

“Zachary Chesser will spend 25 years in prison for advocating the murder of U.S. citizens for engaging in free speech about his religion,” U.S. Attorney Neil MacBride said Thursday. “His actions caused people throughout the country to fear speaking out — even in jest — to avoid being labeled as enemies who deserved to be killed.”

            In an ironic twist, it is precisely this kind of active intervention by the government in aggressively protecting the constitutional rights of the citizenry that acts as an effective antidote to the swilling of tea. The sentencing of Zachary Chesser is certainly no denouement to the intolerance described within various archive postings (The Intolerable Image, An Intolerable Image II, More Intolerable Imagining). It is, however, a tolerable start.

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February 24, 2011

            Well, as of this week the interest rate on my credit card has gone up 25% and will vary depending on the cost of treasury notes. Did I forget to pay my bill? No. Did I screw up in some way on the ever changing conditions of my card spelled out in fine print on the back of each monthly statement (requiring one of those “as seen on TV” illuminated magnifying glasses to read)? No. The card company simply says they aren’t making enough money off my account. Thus the rate needs to increase to make it worth their while to keep me as a customer. They are being honest and forthright about their need to make more money. This is quite baffling since money is worthless (the Fed is lending it for practically nothing). It’s not like it was wheat or oil and potentially unavailable., And it isn’t as though they are saying that since the price of what is being sold (the money) is so low that we (the sellers) are taking action to get you to buy more. Not that at all. It is more like “we have the market on the product cornered, and now you have no other alternative but to pay us what we decide” (in a sense, through their agency making it potentially unavailable, like wheat or oil).

            Mother Jones came out this week with economic statistics that have been repeatedly available (and touted) since the late 90’s (before the burst of the dot.com bubble). Yes folks, 20% of the citizens of the US of A own 80% of the wealth (leaving the other 80% to scrabble over the remaining 20% of wealth, something they just happen not to mention). And yes, 40% of the people of this same country have no net worth, own nothing (Hey, what do you mean nothing? I just bought the latest iPhone). Even this small blog has repeated various published accounts of these figures since 09. But now they appear in color, with neat little graphics, and have come out in Mother Jones. That should make them really hit home this time.

            Gene Sharp was on NPR being interviewed by Steve Inskeep the other morning. He has written some books that are said to have influenced recent activity in Egypt, Tunisia, etc. I’m dubious about that claim so I thought I’d check my source for slow and poor readers (obvious, at least to my credit provider). Not a copy of From Dictatorship To Democracy to be borrowed within the OhioLink library network. Of 2 copies listed, only 1 is extant. One copy is listed as “Missing” (in action? Is the OWU Library now flying the black POW/MIA flag?). The other copy is out and can’t be requested. Coincidence or conspiracy? (Why is the good stuff always so impossible to get, like it was always for someone else? Separate reality theorists?) Don’t use your democracy and your rights creditors will raise the rates. Where was it written that rights are not given but that they are had (inalienably at that)? Who said liberty is not granted, it is taken?

            All this makes me curious about the math (sort of like Zeno’s racetrack). At which ratio level will the separate reality DeBord theorized crumble and implode? Gadhafi is supposedly worth 38 billion (That makes outsourcing security to guard the gates a prudent business expense). “Is J. Lo too soft for ‘Idol’ eliminations?” When the ratio in the US hits 15% of the population owning 85% of the wealth, will the other 85% sit up and take notice that they are fighting over 15% of the wealth? Or will it need to get to 10%? 5%? (sold American!) Maybe Gadhafi and J. Lo are on to something, only just mismanaging the biopolitics?

            My credit card rate went up because the credit card company said they needed to make more than what they have been making to date. That’s their prerogative. In Wisconsin, as well as other states, folks are being told they will have to give up their rights to negotiate contracts. Rights they “had” previously are to be no more, ostensibly because the state is not making enough money.  It has often been said that a recession is when money goes on strike. The “Economics for Dummies” read is that the paper doesn’t buy enough (the aggregate costs more, no one is buying. They are holding back their money). The exchange centers on something else (gold, oil, wheat, etc.). The exchange is not enough. Money is on strike. But a different read is that capitalism is based on the premise that money (capital) must make money; should “earn” it (I love that word “earn”). Those with the money (remember the 20%?) aren’t “earning” enough, and so insist on making more. Hence, money is on strike (Professor Kanth says it is now homogenous globally). Jeez, I love that word “earn”.

Something That Is And Is Not

February 18, 2011

            Describe, don’t explain.

            The 100 year anniversary of the birth of the great communicator. Ya gotta love the public employees’ union member protesting the union busting bill at the statehouse in Columbus Ohio who said to the reporter: “I’m a Reagan man and this bill is out to destroy the hardworking folks he stood for.” Duh? (For those of you whose long term memory either is not or has degenerated, Ronny promulgated the active undoing of all Roosevelt era programs, policies and institutions, including unions) But I digress. Some folks around today “knew” Ron first hand, like Nancy and his kids as well as business and political cronies, etc. Their narrative representations of the former US of A’s president have an “eyewitness” testimonial appeal that assumes preference and privilege. This is quickly being usurped by the myriad of “documentary” representations on film and video (still and moving, chemical and digital).  Legally, these are ascending in priority to that of the eyewitness account in terms of verification or validation of actual events. Even culturally there is a preference for the machine representation of an individual’s life as opposed to the individual themselves (or their spokesperson) as evidenced by Wojdiczko’s Alien Staff. But Reagan is not, and his representation very much is.

            Some have called for the great communicator to be placed alongside the four other presidents on Mt. Rushmore. At his presidential library there is a “life-size” bronze of him. So now we have Reagan the man, Reagan as represented by videos and film, and Reagan in 3D (I suppose we could have a Disneyworld kind of grotesque hybrid, an “animated” 3D Reagan; an American version of Lenin at the Kremlin. Again I digress). But Reagan is not. So lets try someone who is, a Reagan adorateur, like Joe The Plumber.

            OK, so in our little imaginary hypothetical, we have Joe (waving the little red Reagan book), Joe on video (waving his little red book, shown in real time), and Joe in 3D (life-size bronze, bearing book in hand, er, make that a cold cast bronze). Joe himself is indescribable (even to himself!). The description of Joe, the man, on video is very representable. And the “account” of Joe given in 3D, is describable but unrepresentable.

            Given the preference for the description of Joe on video (over that of the actual Joe, or the account in 3D) we’ll start there. The description on video is “representable” in that what determines the account can be “represented” through a scientific/technological narrative. It can be represented in terms of optics, electronic memory systems, or even electrons, etc. The degree of elaboration regarding this narrative representation (of the description arrived at through the process of video) varies and depends on the importance and primacy of the subject matter. Life/ death issues like accounts of nuclear generated events or medical imaging will receive a much more sophisticated and in depth representation than what goes on with a photo of Fluffy in the snow.  It is curious to note that when considering a representation of the technologically reproductive imaging process (rather than the product), it is haunted by the hierarchical exigencies of Ranciere’s representational regime of art.

            With the 3D account (of the person, Joe), we can describe the process readily enough. But we can’t represent it. A scientific/technical representation narrating what takes place determinant of this particular arrangement of 3D form as opposed to a different arrangement is just not. Sure, we can wave our hands in the air and make noises about mimesis, talent, and artistic enterprise, but by the standards of the preferred medium of description (Benjamin’s reproductive technologies, i.e. video) it is unrepresentable. OK, so we’ve all read Ranciere’s reference of Schiller’s account of the Juno Ludovisi how many times? But a description of the process that rendered that account possible (the what and wherefore of the statue’s making) is totally unrepresentable (by today’s rigorous technological criteria). What is involved with the creation of a 3D account of Joe The Plumber (red book in hand) is quite describable, but totally unrepresentable. It involves something that is and is not. How the piece is made is very describable (in terms of physical materials and mechanical operations). What accounts for the process of its coming into being (from nothing) is not representable, at least not through today’s preferred technologically representational narrative. Is it any wonder that so much 3D ART (in the singular and with a capital) is about the unrepresentable?

What, No Politics?

February 11, 2011

            Jacques Ranciere’s description of politics and aesthetics employs a description of a partitioning of sense that shares like characteristics for each. From this comes the politics of aesthetics and the polemical nature of the image. Ranciere has often referenced Sophie Ristelhueber’s photos of improvised rock barricades on Palestinian roads when elaborating on dissensus within contemporary art. In October 129 (summer 2009), T.J. Demos writes about the Otolith Group, particularly referencing their film work Nervus Rerum. These two artistic productions (the photo work of Ristelhueber and the films of the Otolith Group) are rather contemporaneous, being listed as only a year apart. Their geographic locations are likewise adjacent, both being located in the territory of the occupied West Bank of the yet to be a state, Palestine. Although Ranciere finds Ristelhueber’s work to be exemplary of his understanding of dissensus, I don’t think one could say as much for the Otolith Group’s production (at least not from T.J. Demos account of it).

            Ranciere understands politics through his description of consensus/dissensus. He also finds a like dynamic at play within aesthetics, hence the various overlaps and blurrings found with images, and artists within cultures. Ristelhueber’s work exemplifies dissensus by being “a modification of the coordinates of the sensible, a spectacle or a tonality that replaces another.” (Art Forum, March 2007, pg. 259 conversation with Jacques Ranciere). The curiosity presented in the previous post (Exactly 1,925 Shades Of Color) was that for this “modification of the coordinates of the sensible” to have any bearing, make any statement (other than being a mere statement of coordinates or datum), requires a kind of glue that allows it to be coherent with other coordinates of sense (whereby dissensus becomes possible according to Ranciere). This glue would be that of relevance/irrelevance. Consensus (by definition) commands and polices its use. The Pantone Standards is exemplary of such dominance. T.J. Demos’s description of the Otolith Group’s work presents an even more curious consideration. “Nervus Rerum brings visibility to the Jenin camp, populated by refugees who have no political rights or means of political representation.” (pg. 114 October 129, The Right to Opacity: On the Otolith Group’s Nervus Rerum, T.J. Demos) Sounds like the stuff of Ranciere, doesn’t it? What makes it curious is not whether or not it is exemplary of Ranciere’s understanding of politics and aesthetics, and their elaboration. What makes it curious is the opening of a gap within Ranciere’s account that it provides.

            What makes Demos’s essay significant is the methodology that was employed, and encountered, by the Otolith Group within their production of an image ‘representing’ the Jenin camp. It was as if the subjects of the documentary had turned their back on the documentarians (“This refusal to represent the unrepresented…” pg. 114, October 129). Demos’s point being that the subjects may reject transparency while insisting on opacity. We know this very well in terms of celebrities and the super rich but here it is deployed with a documentary on those ostensibly relegated to the bare life of refugees. (What makes this all doubly ironic is that the juxtaposition of an essay by David Joselit, entitled Citizen Cursor, appears right after one by T.J. Demos in a book entitled Communities of Sense. Citizen Cursor includes an in-depth description of the present day acquisition and exclusive ownership of images by Bill Gates and the super rich! But I digress.) In which case we now have two groups jealously guarding admission to their acquaintance, and who prefer the capacity of living “outside” the consensus to being associated as relevant/irrelevant to it (the mega wealthy and that part which has no part). Could there be more?

            A couple spring to mind. Here in Ohio we have a rather large, and presently dispersed, population of Amish. Being considered relevant/irrelevant to anything outside themselves is not a priority, and they certainly do jealously guard being opaque (ironically, it includes photographic images). Another would be the initial vision and conception of Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam. Being relevant/irrelevant was of no consequence, originally, and remaining opaque was considered beneficial (no cream with the coffee, please).

            The “Ranciere For Dummies” reading of Ranciere would be that dissensus is constitutive of politics and that consensus primarily “polices” the status quo; that dissensus forms around anomalies within the distribution of sense of the status quo (Where two or more descriptions can overlap or be combined to jeopardize the assumed consensus. Ranciere gives the rights of women after the French revolution as an example). This reading produces a sense of the activeness of dissensus as well as the more regulating, administrative aspect of the police. What is not emphasized (or readily apparent) is the quite active instigation/intervention of the police (the consensus) to employ and maintain the glue of relevance/irrelevance throughout. With the occupants of Jenin, the Amish, and the original Nation of Islam, there is (was) a continuous agitation on the part of the consensus to have these entities “reflect” a particular partition of sense. Yet the active insistence of these entities on remaining opaque, and their disregard for relevance/irrelevance resists the political generated by the insinuating police activity of the consensus. But wait, we all just nodded our heads that Ranciere’s understanding of the political rests upon his description of dissensus. (flux anyone?) And therein lies the gap within Ranciere’s thought. What if we can’t rely on the “glue” of equality? What if the “kind of Lacanian” desire for relevance/irrelevance to be reflected in the various partitions of sense is absent? Within such possibilities, politics becomes something else. Ranciere makes no provisions for any partitioning of sense where the glue of equality is not employed (assumed), where the heart is not the desire of relevance/irrelevance.

Exactly 1,925 Shades Of Color!

February 10, 2011

            The works featured at the local arts organization’s monthly shows are resplendent with color. Indeed, color is basic to art and seduces many into taking up the brush. How many of us haven’t wanted to gobble up the water color paint that comes out of the tube? It looks good enough to eat. Color is ubiquitous. Many people think color when you say Art (with a capital in the singular).

            This morning NPR featured a short radio journalism piece in honor of Fashion Week. It was by Ilya Marritz from WNYC. The subject was color, what appears in everything from clothes, to cars, to coffee cups. Inadvertently the short article gave a very brut, but concise, description of the everyday workings of consensus within the global political economy. The feature was built around a rather singular New Jersey company named Pantone “whose only business is color.” This company provides the color standards for which it has no rivals. “There are 1,925 color shades in the Pantone Matching System, each with a unique identifying number.” At the organization and invitation of Pantone, committees of select individuals meet to determine trends.

“But here’s a question that cuts to the heart of what fashion is: Why would any designer want to run with the pack?

John Crocco, the creative director for Perry Ellis, calls color forecasts “a self-fulfilling prophecy.” He says if designers choose to follow such forecasts, then they’ll be “part of what ultimately becomes the trend.”

But if designers disregard the trend, they risk irrelevance — just about the worst thing imaginable for any label.” (Ilya Marritz, WNYC)

            Irrelevance is the heart of Ranciere’s consensus/dissenssus model. Without it, his critique dissipates and becomes inarticulate. True, it (relevance/irrelevance) is not often mentioned and does not take center stage in most descriptions of the partitioning of sense. It (relevance/irrelevance) is this kind of assumed, presupposed ‘glue’ that coheres the various partitioned sensibilities that generate dissensus; causes them to stick to each other rather than just be unique, isolated expressions of individuality. It is not a matter of connectivity (the current favored buzzword) since a partitioning is required to establish the difference that accounts for, and ultimately comprises the dissensus. Connection makes for consensus, as evidenced by the “1,925 color shades in the Pantone Matching System”. No connection, no consensus.  More and more Ranciere’s ‘equality’, as the initiating enabler of dissensus, comes across as a similar kind of glue. This appears to situate it more with a kind of Lacanian desire, the desire of relevance/irrelevance (to have one partitioning of sense reflected in another) than with any philosophic critique. In turn, the philosophic critique of equality becomes rather a supplement, Ranciere’s very description of art and philosophy.