Archive for June, 2013

Summer Social

June 27, 2013

With the solstice come the summer reunions, fish fries, get togethers. Days are long, weather is warm, and there’s no end to reasons for communing with one’s fellows. After readings of democracy by Dewey and Ranciere, Ding Politik with LaTour and Irigaray’s “we are at least three, each of which is irreducible to any of the others: you, me, and our work” one experiences a totally new appreciation of this ritualized carnival. Ritualized in that a certain degree of decorum and appropriateness is forever maintained. Carnival in that it comes across literally like something by Bukowski or visually by Reginald Marsh. Nothing like communicative democracy, you say. But context is everything and democracy seems to be the last consideration found at these events. There seems to be more of the primitive power structure embraced so hardily by ancient texts of social anthropology or psychology. Potlatch. One abides. Abides by one’s station, the spouse, or an unwavering allegiance to one’s children, no matter what the history (known or unknown). The groupings of individuals likewise follow what colloquially was once referred to as “the peck order.” Conversations never “communicate” (as in “communicative democracy”), but rather establish positions, areas of influence, boundaries or horizons. Who cares about the “real” world or what “really” might be out there. What one does, where one belongs, how one fits trumps any talk of what could be, or what is possible. It is a material world with a preordained material social order. Celebration is only from within the place of that structure. And, we are here to celebrate summer, aren’t we?
One wonders what all the reading, thinking and imagining with regard to democracy is all about. When it comes to the summer outdoor social, all that seems to evaporate. Where does it go? Was it ever there to begin with? Decisions are already made a priori. The chef’s apron says it all, “Take it or leave it.” Continuity of tradition, of hierarchy and jockeying within that hierarchy (of both immediate social interaction and communally re-created history, tradition) are all that matter. People “wear” themselves – in their clothes, what is written on their clothes, on their bodies with ink, what they arrived in, the beer, wine, liquor, water or pop they are drinking, smoking or not smoking, paper or plastic. Now’s the time to tell the world who you are! But please, don’t speak of “we.” This is home, this is family. Adorno’s “it is part of morality not to be at home in one’s home.” certainly is not at home here. “After all, if you can’t abuse your own family, who can you make fun of?” spoken in absolute earnest and candor by a regular participant, an actor, a player. No, democracy seems to be what takes place when we are all strangers, don’t know each other at all, have no reasons but problems to get together over. What takes place amongst friends, intimates and acquaintances is older, more primitive, primordial. Democracy it ain’t.


June 16, 2013

The Spring 2013 Critical Inquiry offers an interesting extension of Barthes’ punctum. In an article entitled Another Punctum: Animation, Affect, and Ideology, Eric S. Jenkins (re)interprets Barthes’ insights with what is definitely not photography (but may employ it in the process) – animation. Barthes punctum is felt. That contributes more to understanding it than anything else. It is affective, much as the Proustian cookie. Something in the photograph “connects” with the viewer, touches the viewer, wounds or breaks the surface. This “something” is not necessarily the same thing for each viewer. It may be a trivial detail of clothing, or setting, or physical feature, gesture. But it is enough to make the viewer stop and reconsider their assessment and response to the image based on how the image now exists in the world as they (the viewer) know and experience it. Barthes also considers a second degree or level of the punctum, that of how the “traditional” photographic image connects with the viewer through the aspect of time, along the channel of finality – death. THAT, which I am looking at, was but is no more. Call it poignancy if you like, it is as affective as the initial connection with some individual element within the make-up of the image. Barthes dwells on the specific characteristic of mortality found with traditional photographs. Traditional must be stressed as so much could not be said for “photo-shopped”, manipulated images or moving “pictures” – film. Contemporary with the development of film was the development of animation, another type of moving picture. Jenkins realizes that folks respond affectively to animation, so there must be a punctum at play there somewhere. The classical Chinese ink painting theorists would describe this as the image needs a doorway, an entry into the painting. We would call it the point where there is a suspension of disbelief. Animation, animated subjects do not exist, have never been, share our world and experience only through the image, nothing more.

“The punctum of animation, although likewise a punctum of “Time,” is about life rather than death. Gertie [Winsor McCay’s Gertie the Dinosaur, 1914] never lived, so her coming death is unlikely to incur a wounding melancholy. Instead, in animation’s punctum, the viewer senses as alive that which does not live. This sense of life is so potent, this prick so sharp, that even knowing otherwise sometimes cannot prevent the feeling that these characters live. For instance, in an oft-repeated anecdote, famed Warner Brothers animator Chuck Jones mentions to a child that he created Bugs Bunny. The child stubbornly denies his assertion, insisting, “’he draws pictures of Bugs Bunny,’” Jones might depict the character moving and expressing, but Bugs lives beyond the drawings. This child expresses animation’s punctum, sensing as alive that which exists only as image.” (Critical Inquiry Vol. 39 No. 3 pg. 585)

After the end of art (the post modern), what makes for art is greatly in flux. No fixed criteria exist to make this art or not. Everything can be art. Everything is not art. Classical aesthetic theory falls short when one considers popular culture as a fountainhead of art. It is squished flat when one considers the current inter relationship of the market and art. Because some “thing” (concrete or conceptual) has had its five minutes of fame, does that make it art? If some “thing” sells, does that make it art? The higher the price, the better the art? What makes for quality with art if we know that it is art to begin with? On pg. 583 Jenkins writes, “If the punctum is like the passage through a black hole, perhaps animation’s punctum can be envisioned as going through another hole, a rabbit’s hole, like Alice transported to a realm where cats talk, caterpillars smoke hookahs, and the Queen of Hearts barks orders for decapitation.”
Inadvertently, Jenkins himself opens a passage that helps answer some of these questions regarding what makes for art, what makes for quality. Allowing for such a bivalent interpretation of the punctum makes an aesthetic utilization possible. Without doubt or controversy, one of the most beloved manifestations of western art would be that produced by the “category” called the Impressionists. Yet what do we find here? We find individual artists who insisted on always “representing” something that already was (much as traditional photography). At the same time, we find a palette and style that belongs more with that of the Disney studios than the contemporary academic painters of the time. The affective response to Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party or Monet’s Haystack at Sunset near Giverny could be equally described by either Barthes’ or Jenkins’ punctum. The house barely appearing in the summer’s pre twilight haze, the woman holding the dog up, these are trivialities that draw me in. They are not Gertie, in that they never have been. They once were. And yet there is also the aspect of the colors and forms, so much in keeping with Jenkins description of animation. Were I to ever encounter life forms like Renoir’s or a landscape like Monet’s, it would be as Jenkins describes, “Temporal hallucination.” (pg. 584) The contribution to considerations of quality or existence (is it art?) that such an expanded interpretation of punctum provides would be along the lines that it once was (something experienced, shared, coexistent with actual experience) AND the acute sense “as alive that which does not live”. Much as the pre Socratics (and the pre Robert Redford’s) described life (philosophized about life) as a river, one that you cannot step into the same river twice. No! Not even once. Yet we all admit we do step into the river. So considerations of art, its being and quality, have to include what definitely was, as well as what we can never enter into, “sensing as alive that which exists only as image.”