Saturday, December 31, 2011

The last dying image of Basil al Sayid


If art means something, it means truth. But truth -even in its most non-hyperbolic manner- shows itself as it performs. The video above documents the last seconds of Basil al Sayid, an activist journalist of the city of Homs, as he films his own death. He had recorded dozens of videos of the daily civilian slaughter by Assad's Syrian militias. This time Al Sayid ran out of luck and wаѕ shot іn thе head.

In the video we don't get to see his face. Life can only hold up the image for a few seconds: it gives us a point of view from the floor into Al Sayid's arm and gray jacket. Then, as people scream, the image goes black. A  pure slice of reality can be quite brief.

If this is not art, what is it?

Al Sayid's death captured on video, settles a lingering question in Rainer Maria Rilke's Ninth Elegy, the idea that in a world of fading, crumbling reality, images becomes invalid:

Speak and bear testimony. 
More than ever
the things that fall away, the things that can be experienced, for
what replaces them, displacing them, is an act without image.*

Al Sayid's interrupted, unforeseen last image bears testimony to truth. 
*Translation, introduction, and commentary by J. B. Leishman and Stephen Spender ( New York, Norton, 1963).

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Fuck you, Great Comrade Kim Jong Il!


The video above, of weeping crowds of North Koreans mourning the death of The Great Comrade Kim Jong Il, has prompted numerous reactions in the West. While many pundits and bloggers see the video as an over-the-top show of genuflection typical of totalitarian societies, a befuddle NYTimes calls it "a real demonstration."

¿Real 'cause it happens?

We need to find out what's behind the massive sobbing and wailing. This is not a fake demonstration. Certainly, these people feel a sense of loss which points to The Great Comrade Kim Jong Il, which only complicate things. Let's not ignore that this is a public performance with an automatic component. The event follows a social script that gives the people the green light:

Time to weep at the Square!

Precisely! The contagious and clamant sobbing has an inscrutable surplus. On the one hand, who wouldn't cry if one's face appears on Korean National Television? More importantly, for the first time in their lives, the North Korean people have the chance to mourn their fate. Shedding tears is a primordial response to the nightmare they live, which -oddly enough- they have come to love and desire. The reverse side is unlike the public one: How could they not, indeed, weep? If the Great Comrade Kim Jong Il was alive, how would this once-in-a-lifetime public presentation be possible?

In a perverse and unconscious way, the death of the Great Comrade Kim Jong Il has brought forth a long time repressed (and much needed) social catharsis. The North Korean people can express with tears something absolutely unthinkable, unsayable:

Fuck you, Great Comrade Kim Jong Il!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Art Basel: What are you wearing?

Miami Art Basel, Audi S4 Pavilion 


As part of its Art Basel coverage, The Miami Herald displays 26 photographs of models, artists, designers, etc., which takes journalism to new heights of branding hokum. Half the pictures show details of shoes (including the designer's name and some vapid remark).

For example, we know that so and so...

"wears snakeskin Balenciaga sandals that she bought this summer in Istanbul"
"wears Nike sneakers he designed with his son Jordan, using his Chicken Kitchen colors"
"wears sneakers she picked up on Broadway in New York, for $15"
"wears Valentino shoes printed in pheasant feathers" (visibly so)
"stands under Erwin Wurm's "French Police Cap" (visibly so)
"wears Frederick's of Hollywood shoes, that she ordered from the catalog"
"wears gold Y3 sneakers on which he removed the laces" (visibly so)

In a  photo a Sue Hosteler dons a Lichtenstein dress while posing in front of a (who else?) Lichtenstein sculpture. A "cow girl" poses in front of a Keith Haring acrylic.

We are so indebted to the Miami Herald for this in-depth piece!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The space of an idea


This is a spatial alienation, whereby a society that radically severs the subject from the activity that it steals from him [also] separates him in the first place from his own time. Social alienation, though in principle insurmountable, is nevertheless the alienation that has forbidden and petrified the possibilities and risks of a living alienation within time.- Guy Debord, The Socierty of Spectacle

After the 2008 financial crisis, there is an increasingly cynical perception of the legitimacy of the traditional view of politics. How could the system get subverted from the inside? By softening regulations, surrendering government's power to enforce the law in the hands of capital. The financial crisis of 2008 exposed the system's inner dysfunction. It revealed a relation between government and capital that subverted the very foundation of separation of powers.

An existing space may outlive its original purpose and the raison d'etre which determines its forms, functions, and structures; it may thus in a sense become vacant, and susceptible of being diverted, reappropriated and put to a use quite different from its initial one. A recent and well-known case of this was the reappropriation of the Halles Centrales, Paris's former wholesale produce market, in 1969-71. For a brief period, the urban centre, designed to facilitate the distribution of food, was transformed into a gathering-place and a scene of permanent festival -- in short, into a centre of play rather than of work -- for the youth of Paris.

Which brings me to Occupy Wall Street (OWS). The protesters started with a simple premise: Occupy a park in lower Manhattan. It was an act of resistance, but the occupation implied a certain permanence, a visibility. Sure, they were protesting, but more than that, the occupation was a way to exercise a political right, a face-to-face engagement with an ancient practice in the Stoa. 

Those weeks of discussions were not in vain. They emerged as a 99%. A pretty strong message, if you ask anyone. I find Many of the people that comment about the Occupy movement have no idea of what's going on. read come of the comments in the New York Times columns, or what callers or so-called experts say, even silly comparisons of what Gandhi would do if he was an OWS member. Here are some from Tom Ashbrook's radio program "On Point":
"We the people" is a socialist, sentiment. Any government policy with intent to improve the lives of majority of Americans in any way, is 'socialist' in the eyes of those who wish to twist the narrative in a way to benefit the few. Media outlets have done a pretty good job at supporting this story line. 
These lack a credible political message. They are all over the place... that's why people don't buy it. 
To the (much heard complaint) that OWS is not pursuing a political goal here is this response (by Diane Peel):
Occupy doesn't want to be a political party and I hope we can stick to it. I was trying to think what it is like and then it occurred to me. It's a lobby, only a lobby for the American people. It's sad that in a representative government it's come to this, but it has. We don't have much money but we have lots of voices and a ton of creativity. 
She got this response by a Prairie_W:
You mean Occupy doesn't want to tell us what to think?  Isn't that a little (should I use this word? it's so out of style!) democratic of them? Sorry, Diane.  We have become people who look to specific opinion-makers to tell us what to believe and even how to feel. 
Obviously, the reader doesn't bite the old political bullet because it is exhausted. Yes, OWS is political but of a different kind.

They get the idea that OWS is a "camping" movement. I'm surprised that OWS has been able to translate a Zeitgeist. The movement makes for an "unconscious decision" to produce the space for an idea. And what's the message? Isnt' it obvious, the message is OCCUPY!  What?

The region from which injustice emanates. Wall Street is a symbol. What matters is what it represents, the power it yields. The mingling of politics and capital, and the ways in which capital has perverted the democratic process. 

OWS has brought a new old way of doing politics: open-ended, participatory, face-to-face, space-bounded, committed. 

Democracy or oligarchy

OWS has shown that people are being brainwashed by the system. We thought that the political sphere seemed was legitimate. The system had us doing certain things, choosing certain candidates, voting, getting together at city hall to watch elected politicians falling sleep and totally oblivious of current events. OWS has a different story: the code has been manipulated and turned against the people. OWS senses that the idea of ​​"politics" as we knew it so far is worn out. to be elected one needs powerful patrons. Financial interests are able to coerce the interests of the people, many of whom are robotized by slogans and campaigns.

In other words, after the 2008 crisis, it has become obvious that the old political system in Washington just does not care about democracy, but the enjoyment of power.

OWS has reserves. The system may evict the protesters, but they cannot crush the idea. Zuccoti Park is now a symbol.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

UC Davis officers placed on leave

UC Davis officers placed on leave.
Two UC Davis campus police officers have been placed on paid administrative leave over their controversial use of pepper spray on student protesters, university officials announced Sunday. A video that showed an officer dousing a group of students who were huddled on the ground Friday quickly went viral on the Internet, drawing outrage and calls for the chancellor's resignation.
The university decision is fair, but let's not be naive. It was the video of the pepper-spraying going viral that did it and not the concern of the consequences of the policing methods on campuses throughout America.

Wall Street is feeling uncomfortable

Huffington Post publishes a memo of a lobbying firm to one of its clients in Wall Street. Let's quote the paragraph in full:
Leading Democratic party strategists have begun to openly discuss the benefits of embracing the growing and increasingly organized Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement to prevent Republican gains in Congress and the White House next year. We have seen this process of adopting extreme positions and movements to increase base voter turnout, including in the 2005-2006 immigration debate. This would mean more than just short-term discomfort for Wall Street firms. If vilifying the leading companies of this sector is allowed to become an unchallenged centerpiece of a coordinated Democratic campaign, it has the potential to have very long-lasting political, policy and financial impacts on the companies in the center of the bullseye. It shouldn't be surprising that the Democratic party or even President Obama's re-election team would campaign against Wall Street in this cycle. However the bigger concern should be that Republicans will no longer defend Wall Street companies -and might start running against them too.
Two things transpire from the memo: 1- Republicans are the party of Wall Street. 2- Wall Street is feeling the sting.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Friday, November 18, 2011

A new Europe for the 1%


In Greece and Italy the technocrats have taken the reins of government (Spain and Portugal may follow).

€urope is now divided into two: one poor, one rich. Germany and France are the 1%. In the poor Europe, political power is a theater to maintain social order to ensure the uninterrupted flow of capital (from Europe's center to Europe's periphery).

Who benefits? The 1%: Germany, Europe's main exporter, and poor Europe's 1%.

Germany comes to the rescue with a debt package, so that poor Europe may continue buying German manufactured products. The asymmetric relation will feed the prospects for the next crisis -yes, there will be another crisis.

Meanwhile, the imposed austerity measures on the 99% achieve the opposite of what they seek to solve. "Austerity" is a narrative designed to internalize debt guilt, to prevent social unrest, and keep business as usual (unfavorable labor contracts, low wages and fewer corporate regulations).

Who wins? Europe's 1%.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

When the duty of protection becomes incoherent: New York Police Department gives in to the interests of the 1%

Update: Supreme Court Justice Michael Stallman orders that protesters can come back to Zuccotti Park.  ruled against the protesters:
The movants have not demonstrated that they have a First Amendment right to remain in Zuccotti Park, along with their tents, structures, generators, and other installations to the exclusion of the owner's reasonable rights and duties to maintain Zuccotti Park, or to the rights to public access of others who might wish to use the space safely. Neither have the applicants shown a right to a temporary restraining order that would restrict the City's enforcement of law so as to promote public health and safety. Therefore, petitioners application for a temporary restraining order is denied.
What demonstration is needed?  

The New York Times 

The Huffington Post

The Washington Post

El País, Spain

Le Figaro

The Independent

Frankfurter Allgemeine

In the middle of the night and preventing access to the press, New York Police swept the Occupy Wall Street encampment. The powerful forces of Wall Street, now led by Michael Bloomberg, prevail over American civil society. Zuccotti Park was too much of a challenge for the interests of the 1%. Of course, this will not be the end of the movement.

The 99% is regrouping. A new phase has begun.

Monday, November 14, 2011

To torture or not to torture

During the last republican debate, the topic of torture came up. Ron Paul and John Huntsman agreed with the present administration that water-boarding constitutes torture. On the other hand, Bachmann and Cain  endorse Cheney 's doctrine: Water-boarding is not torture.

Here is a United Nations Convention definition of torture:
...any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him, or a third person, information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in, or incidental to, lawful sanctions.
Wouldn't it be better for Cain & Bachmann to just admit they are in favor of torture?

Monday, November 7, 2011

And God created corporations

Failure of markets, inappropriate macroeconomic politics, excessive speculation, inappropriately valued currency, doctored exchange rates, cross-border and intra-firm transfer prices, bad timing of short-term debts, strong black market, abuse of monopoly power, inadequate legal and financial infrastructure, non-protection of ownership rights, lack of accountability and transparency, inadequate standards in financial reporting, crony-capitalism, bribery, corruption, lack of truthfulness, trust and social responsibility, greedy investors and institutions. (Paraphrasing John Dunning's Global Capitalism at Bay).

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Rego et ses Commandos

I still dream of Africa
some frightening that wake me in a cold sweat
some leave me bland
red cars zoom past reminding me
walks on sand dirt filled in the hollow of success
disgust me.

And where is time?
Rolling over the sea on the backs of waves
air filled next to lizards running up your walls.
Africa still haunts me.-- AkOsUa

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

the inequality of conditions usually maintained by political institution, is calculated greatly to enhance the imagined excellence of wealth

Honoré Daumier, Gargantua
There is a numerous class of individuals, who, though rich, have neither brilliant talents nor sublime virtues; and, however highly they may prize their education, their affability, their superior polish and the elegance of their manners, have a secret consciousness that they possess nothing by which they can so securely assert their pre-eminence and keep their inferiors at a distance, as the splendour of their equipage, the magnificence of their retinue and the sumptuousness of their entertainments.-- William Godwin

Occupy Miami (Alicia Cruz)

Alicia Cruz, a young activist, talks about the latest at Occupy Miami.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Tom Friedman to Wall Street: "Stick to being bulls. Stop being pigs."

Excellent article of Tom Friedman in the New York Times: 
Our Congress today is a forum for legalized bribery. One consumer group using information from calculates that the financial services industry, including real estate, spent $2.3 billion on federal campaign contributions from 1990 to 2010, which was more than the health care, energy, defense, agriculture and transportation industries combined. Why are there 61 members on the House Committee on Financial Services? So many congressmen want to be in a position to sell votes to Wall Street.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Monday, October 24, 2011

when does desire become complicit in its own repression?

Jenny Holzer, 2002

as desire is realized but not quelled, another focal object of longing is found, a short-lived joy of realizing a desire will transform itself into boredom. soon, desire will focus on some new desideratum whose realization becomes anticlimactic. in such case, desire is likely to re-initiate the cycle.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Ted Sider, the truthseeker

alFrEdO tRiFf

Lately, I've followed Ted Sider's ideas with interest. But I cannot fathom why he thinks himself a prophet battling the forces of evil. I found the fragment below in his paper "Ontological Realism" (the red underline is mine):
Thoroughgoing Goodmanian skepticism about similarity is a breathtakingly radical metaphysical hypothesis, and is utterly unbelievable. Just try to believe that every grouping of objects is just as good, objectively speaking, as every other, that no objects "go together" simply because of the nature of things. I predict you will fail. If all groupings are equally good, then the world is an amorphous collection of objects. Any linguistic community is free to choose any groupings they like for their predicates, describe their surroundings in those terms, and formulate laws of nature using those groupings. Provided they say true things in the resulting language, they succeed as inquirers just as well as any other linguistic community. We can describe the world of color using the familiar predicates, but we would lose nothing beyond convenience and familiarity by shifting to the language of 'grue' and 'bleen'. Surely that is wrong. The world has an objective structure; truth-seekers must discern that structure; they must carve at the joints; communities that choose the wrong groupings may get at the truth, but they nevertheless fail badly in their attempt to understand the world.
for "utterly unbelievable," Sider spends a bit of engaging effort. Don't you think?
"all groupings are equally good"? Who said that? Not Goodman, professor Sider.
"I predict" & "truth seekers" is enough for me: Behold! Sider, the prophet of Philosophy! 
"carve at the joints" makes me think of roast turkey.
under(standing) always (under)stands.

Let's start with this Goodmanian motto: "Identity or constancy in a world is identity with respect to what is within that world as organized." (WW, 8)

Sider surely understands that there is different fit of rightness for voodoo and quantum physics, since they both work within their world-versions. Goodman is obviously more interested in physics than voodoo,* but he still maintains that "grouping" depends of your context and needs: 
The many stuffs -matter energy, waves, phenomena- that worlds are made of are made along with the worlds. But made from what? Not from nothing, after all, but from other worlds. Worldmaking as we know it always starts from worlds already on hand; the making is remaking. (WW, 6)  
I can see Sider grinding his teeth in discontent. Either you get it or you don't.
All Goodman quotes taken from Nelson Goodman's Ways of Worldmaking (Hackett Publishing, 1978). * "The pluralist, far from being anti-scientific, accept the sciences at full value. His typical adversary is the monopolistic physicalist who maintains that one system, physics, is preeminent and all-inclusive, such that every other version must eventually be reduced to it or rejected as false or meaningless." (WW, 4).

Thursday, October 20, 2011


democracy vs. plutocracy
citizen vs. stockbroker
opportunity vs. impunity
cooperation vs. competition
tent vs. mansion
solidarity vs. anonymity
protestor vs. financier
civil disobedience vs. lobbying
paradox vs. deceit
resistance vs. pertinence
stability vs. volatility
equilibrium vs. expansion
sovereignty vs. consumerism

Monday, October 17, 2011

Sure, let's thank corporations for the air we breathe

aLfReDo tRiFf

The above illustration, which is getting wide circulation in market-oriented blogs is posted by a John Hinderaker. Each arrow points to a distinctive well-known brand product. The illustration has the pedagogic aim of exhibiting the protesters' bad faith, which consists of wearing products made by the corporations they criticize. Hinderaker relishes the following platitude:
I've always wondered: where do people who don't like corporations work? Do they seriously want to turn the clock back by centuries –it would take some research to figure to how many– to a world in which the only forms of business organization are sole proprietorships and partnerships? And who do they think designs, manufactures and distributes the products they use? Elves? 
Hinderaker confounds "work," an essential productive human activity with "wage-labor," an economic category, as if the former was a sufficient condition of the latter. A more perverse conclusion of his argument is that since we're all consumers, we are forced to accept -even justify- corporative excess as a blessing. We should fall on our knees & thank Gap for the opportunity to purchase a pair of jeans at fair market price!

Additionally, we should be grateful for Gap's being-there, as it were, for as long it exists people will hold jobs. Is Hinderaker referring to those in the production-line in China or Indonesia, making $7 for a 12-hour day, or America's retail, where being a manager earns you $7.50 an hour without commission? In Hinderaker's bureaucratic paradise, people hold jobs not because they are competent at doing something. Rather, work becomes an undeserved gift bestowed on individuals by a corporate superstructure.  

Hinderaker's corporate genuflection is not surprising, but he distorts the real aim of this movement, which is not to denounce corporations for just being corporations, which is vapid, but to denounce corporate excess, i.e., unethical corporate-friendly legislation, unfair corporate tax breaks, irresponsible corporate deregulation and its dramatic aftermath: lack of opportunities, unemployment, the crumbling of American manufacturing and organized labor, urban blight, etc, etc.

(Hypothetically speaking, I don't have to thank Gap for the jeans I paid for, nor wearing Gap jeans renders me impotent to denounce Gap's unethical corporate practices).

 Occupying what?

In this context, to "occupy" shows this group's determination to seize possession of, and/or maintain control over a place. This is not done by force, but peacefully. It's a right enacted by consensus. To put it simply: There is the real space where protesters camp (Zucotti Park, Miami's Government Center, etc), and there is an symbolic space of freedom. "To occupy" is to connect the two. Occupy Wall Street (or Occupy Miami) protesters define a new political space:

1- They now dwell "outside" for the sake of all of us. 2- Their place takes over -and opposes- Wall Street's "center." 3-  Their "occupation" makes for a primal event. What is it?

Wall Street is the "center" of the 1% that rules the remaining 99%. This brutal wealth gap exposes financial capitalism's unfairness. Acting as a gate of capital flowmation into the periphery, Wall Street's inflowence erodes region, place and borders. It downgrades political space by reducing local government control and packaging whatever is left of the public sector as commercial venture. No wonder Occupy Miami has camped outside Miami's Government Center, an emblem of a democracy hijacked by the opportunistic strategies of capital.

Yeah. we've dwelt in the wrong place for too long!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

aesthetic meatology

is this consumption a motif representing power and affluence or (of its absence) representing deprivation?

aesthetics today is predicated on an ultimate fantasy of all like things consuming and being consumed by one another; such that eating is not an extension but rather the origin of all motifs. aesthetics can be thought as a form of meatology (Photos: Tyler Shields)

Sunday, October 9, 2011

if economics is the science that studies the production of wealth under a system of division of labor why is there so little labor available?

here is a riddle: our middle class desperately needs to build businesses of their own, but our system is based on  financial markets and institutions which makes it possible for individuals to earn a return on capital without having to employ that capital in businesses of their own. additionally, these individuals generally find work in banks.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Graham Harman's tool-being vs. Dasein's revenge

alFrEdO tRiFf

Debating metaphysics is a waste of time —of which I gladly partake at times. If metaphysics had a church, I'd post Bas van Fraasen's empirical manifesto on its door:
1. No form of inquiry into the nature of the world should be immune to the possibility of error or failure.
2.Correct logical or grammatical form should no be considered sufficient to render claims about the world substantive.
3. The epistemic status of one's criteria for theory choice should be linked to the epistemic status of one's theories.1
This is not to say the metaphysical enterprise is without merit. Metaphysics can be entertaining, even productive. As we shall see, metaphysics doesn't have to be entirely disconnected from the world.

While looking at a Heidegger compilation for my class, and I bumped into Graham Harman's Heidegger Explained which I found a cool introduction. This book led me to Harman's first book, Tool-Being. I was immediately attracted to Harman's flair for rhetoric and his clear and combative prose. It's through Harman that I learned about the Speculative Realism movement. The more I read Harman, the more I disagreed about his depleted version of things.

My take is that Harman is not doing thing-metaphysics as much as Dasein-metaphysics. Harman's metaphysics is an ongoing drama of thing & Dasein wrestling for power.

Harman's tool-being 

What is human life when seen from the vast expanse of future aeons? "Enough time, enough weight on top, and we're all squeezed into crude oil."2 The thing was here before us and will be here after we disappear.

It was right after the bang that,

... the fluid Mass, but downward purg'd
The black tartareous cold Infernal dregs
Adverse to life: then founded, then conglob'd
Like things to like, the rest to several place
Disparted, and between spun out the Air,
And Earth self ballanc't on her Center hung.-- Milton's Paradise Lost (7, 240).

Tool-being metaphysics may deserve a place in philosophy, but let's not forget that Dasein's imperialism is not far from the apprehensions of tool-being's fetishism. Even more dangerous is this: what if the thing becomes -thanks to the metaphysician's legerdemain- Dasein in drags?

So, let's introduce the characters of this metaphysical performance:
Dasein &
tool-being and the resulting doubles:

What's tool-being? It boils down to Daseining the universe sans Dasein. Harman takes the qualities traditionally reserved for humans — as he puts it— all the way down to the bowels of the earth!
The human being can no longer be viewed as a "creature of distance" (...) Dasein's movement actually occurs in the opposite direction. Dasein moves down into the bowels of the earth. Consciousness is not an epiphenomenon, but an intraphenomenon. (TB, 226)
Here's a quick five-point sketchy map:

1. Implode Zuhandenheit & Vorhandenheit, "two irreducible faces of the same entity" (TB, 31). Why? For Heidegger, Dasein and being (Sein) make up a hermeneutical whole. We cannot understand being without understanding Dasein, as Heidegger argues in sections 2 and 4 of B&T, whereas the notion of being (Sein) is also implied in that of Dasein, so that we cannot understand Dasein without understanding being. So, by taking Dasein's involvement out the picture, things can come to the surface. Power to beings!

What preexisting theories can one possibly entertain which are seemingly akin to this realm? Vitalism? Too bio-oriented for Harman.3 Hylozoism? Judging by this: "I am not claiming that material objects have souls; I simply lack the general term other than 'encounter' that would be painfully sterile," it remains a possibility. (TB, 30). So, get things to think!

2. Destroying Dasein's empire over things means degrading its moods.

Harman presents Heidegger as having been ready for a great discovery he actually missed: "It is clear that the liberating power of Heidegger's theory of equipment lies in its subversion of the traditional dominance of Vorhandenheit. The problem is in the additional assumption, often encouraged by Heidegger that human existence is the hero that frees entities from the present-at-hand real.  (TB, 19).
This is what Harman does with Heidegger's equipment in Section 3: 
Heidegger's tool analysis yields insights so fundamental that they cannot be confined to officially sanctioned tool-items (...) In brief: Heidegger has told us about beings in general, but nothing at all about tools in particular (...) For if structure of tool-being can be found in any entity whatsoever, animals and human beings must have the mode of being equipment.
Thus, "here as before there is a tendency to take two modes of being that can actually be found every where at all times, and to try to segregate them from one another in two distinct types of being." But this is precisely Heidegger's enterprise, the two modes offer a fundamental insight for Dasein's analysis. Harman is right that everything hinges on this distinction. In other words, freeing things from the tyranny of Dasein takes dismantling its proprietorship over theory. What's left? Harman doesn't care (why should he?)4

Dasein's Space is dispatched in a summary fashion: "It's useless to object that ontological place is spatial insofar as it makes up the ground of ontic space. For as we have seen, ontological place is the ground of everything." Yes and no. This is a misrepresentation of Heidegger idea of spatiality, which shows a gradual development from his B&T days to 1935's "The Origin of the Work of Art," to "The Thing" (delivered in 1950) to "Building Dwelling and Thinking" (1951). Discounting this development is to throw away 30 years of conceptual growth of oppositional threads. What started with "space" ends with the idea  "locality" and it concerns the thing!  

Edward S. Casey points out in The Fate of Place that the spatiality of "The Origin of the Work of Art" is no longer that of Dasein's "being-there." The work of art is not comprehensible either in terms of craft or ready-to-hand alone. This self-sufficient presence that Heidegger belabors as "The Open" will be transformed later, in his "Conversation on a Country Path" (1944).

Here, Gegend ("region") becomes a dyad: Gegnen ("regioning") and Gegent ("that which regions"). To be in a region includes "things and thoughts." Casey tracks the term "nearness" to Heidegger's 1950 lecture "The Thing," where "nearing" has very little to do with equipment -as Harman pretends- and more with the thing itself. Now, "in the default of nearness the thing remains annihilated," so, Casey poits out, "nearing is the thinging of things."   

Casey's analysis takes us into a built constructed thing, "the bridge" that Harman is so fond of in Tool-Being:
This remarkable passage reinscribes in terms now familiar to us -most notably, Stätte, Platz, but this is done in a way that constitutes a new composition, indeed a new vision, of place. For "place" is nothing "preexisting" --as "positions" are in a world space-- but arises with the bridge regarded as a thing. This first operation transforms what otherwise be a mere spot or position, a "simple location" into a full fledged location. On the far side space, on the near side localities.5 
Why does Harman dismiss this development? He forgets that we may take needless detours only to end up at crossing paths. If tool-being analysis supposedly takes into account the thing-itself, one wonders how much of what's left out could actually be incorporated to the thing.

It is as if the process of selection reflects more Dasein (the metaphysician's interest) than the thing itself. One wonders if what's demoted, as Dasein-like, could not in principle become tool-being material. Is this an error in interpretation?

Why can the thing not be ahead-of-itself, anticipating its own annihilation? Why can thrownness not be a form of thing external causality? Could Angst be reformulated as a form of thing-possibility?
Why is tool-being not free?

Harman's entity-ruled authoritarian paradise is legislated by Dasein ventriloquizing the thing as Ereignischaraktere.6

Van Gogh, A Pair of Shoes, 1886.
There are moments when Harman is betrayed by his shadow:
I do not make the claim in the name is a relativism that would liquidate all existing distinctions between being, so that all interpretations of any entity become "equally true" (TB, 97). 
Which brings us to the art of ventriloquy. Talking about things requires us to try to get below, to appropriate the voice of the things. English and German Romantics did it successfully. Heidegger has great moments, in the Origin of the Work of Art and The Thing. This only makes it harder for Harman, who is wearing so many different hats that at times he forgets which is which. One jumps from Harman, to Harman-as-Heidegger, to Harman-as-thing, and vice-versa, to Harman ventriloquizing himself!

3. Hide the thing. Make it withdraw! 

Heidegger's fixation with withdrawing harks back to Avicenna's idea of wajib al-wujud bi-dhatihi, "that which is self-withdrawing." Why is this important? Withdrawing assures Harman (as it did with Heidegger before) a lettre de course into deeper regions of Being and/or tool-being.

In essence, Being's oblivion, inasmuch as this means the Being's withdrawal, remains essential to Being. This is Being's Kapital! No wonder Heidegger's Being played hide-and-seek all along. Who needs epistemology when you have hermeneutics?

he motto goes: If you see it, you don't, if you don't, you see it.
If the being of the hammer withdraws from all of its relations, it is equally true that hammer-being is not a present-at-hand atom descended from the skies to breathe life into mere derivative relations. Instead tool-being is a form, a kind of formal cause that acts as a substance with respect to its surroundings. but which is born only as relational composite of its internal elements. On the other hand, the hammer is a vast surplus beyond human praxis, no less than beyond human theory. (TB, 171)
Harman's withdrawal is different than Heidegger's, not anymore a strategy of Being playing a Wessen/Unwessen game with princess Aletheia. Harman's withdrawing becomes tool-being's sole behavior! Isn't that moody enough?
The exact status of this system remains and must remain, inaccessible. Otherwise it would revert to the conditions of presence-at-hand (...) the tool is what withdraws from any particular expression of perception, including linguistic ones. (168)
Here is Harman-as-thing (or is it the other way around?)
Quite apart from the bridge as something perceived, there is the subterranean tool-being. The bridge is set loose on the earth as a distinct and independent power, giving birth to a universe in which canyon-effect and river-effect are more or less neutralized, partially surpassed in their former roles as obstacles. (TB, 220)
Alright, but words, not things, are doing the job of presenting. Things are not talking, Harman is. In fact, Harman's book could be entitled Who is talking? Above, in purple we have the voice of tool-being. For example, "loose on the earth," which is meant as thing-talk cannot be imagined without some sort of bridge-and-the earth relation, something which is prohibited to tool-being.

Can tool-being say no! to the metaphysician's straight jacket? Imagine the following conversation between the relational side and the tool-being-side of the same entity:
Relational side: Hey, I just underwent a radioactive decay, wow!
Tool-Being side: Good God, I felt nothing.
R-side: What do you mean? It felt like a f*** explosion!
TB-side: That's between you and the outside. Our sides are compartmentalized, You are sensuous, I'm subterranean.
R-side: How does "subterranean" feel?
TB-side: Er, subterranean-like.
R-side: C'mon mine Freund. Can you do better than that?
TB-side: It feels, er, "in vacuo." I can't even tell anymore. To say it, I must use sensuous words, which belong in the phenomenal realm.
R-side: Are you a noumenal freak?
TB-side: I think... I am... 
R-side: What?
TB-side: (the words become an imperceptible echo) ... withdrawing.
One has to pity tool-being's Dasein-imposed isolation. We must not forget that there is a powerful rhetoric of opposites going on here. The more tool-being withdraws, the more important its revelation becomes (for whom? Who else but Dasein).

4. Theorize without theory. Harman moves swiftly through his Section 6. The order here is to subvert:
"...even theory is unable to free us entirely from the unthematic contexture; there will always remain a depth to the entity that eludes any theoretical view." (TB, 59)
How can one write this and go on theorizing leaves me bewildered. Let's see: It's trivial that theories leave always aspects to be further adjusted, tweaked or reinterpreted. The reason is that theories are not a priori mandates, but built —or splintered— from previous ideas.

In that trivial sense Heidegger is right that theory interprets things in a way that abstracts from the global context of significance. Ideally, the new theory will be tested for adequacy, i.e, simplicity, consistency, fruitfulness, which amounts to explanatory power (or justification, depending your take). Besides, a theory is true (or valid) until proven false (or invalid), meaning that a theory is not necessarily true (or valid) forever. Unless there is a non-trivial conclusion that there is a structural impossibility of theoretical prehension, which is what Harman means. Part of the world is forced to withdraw from our view.

I agree with Pierre Keller's comparison between Husserl & Heidegger's theorizing styles. according to Heller, for Husserl one cannot develop general claims about human existence, whether "existentials or conditions of the possibility of any human existence except by considering the idea of what it is o exist as a human being in a context-independent manner." 7 Same with Harman: One cannot legislate the essence of the universe ventriloquizing Dasein's angst-driven transcendence from a rocking chair. 
Our awareness does not penetrate back behind objects into the systems of tools, but lingers in the sensuous zone of rain drops and handshakes and bright colors. In each instant, we contend with a set of irreducible elements or stock characters, with objects populating the earth." (TB, 47)
Am I alone in hearing noumenal overtones in the paragraph above?

This is not something Harman wants us to notice (though Dasein creeps through the back door to reclaim its place). In the end, as much as he fights for the thing, Harman forgets that Dasein is also a thing (not only that things are Dasein, which is his claim).

5. Another victim of Harman's steamrolling over Dasein is the "as-structure." Harman dispatches it readily: "Theory cannot be distinguished from other experience by appealing to the as-structure, since the "as" can never bring us the least bit closer to the things themselves than we already were." There is a brief toying with Heidegger idea of metontology8 only to get ready for the revelation in Section 9.

Up to this moment, Harman proceeds quickly by leveling and demolishing distinctions. As we know the only thing left is ready-to-hand and presence-to-hand as two sides of the same coin. But he cannot keep deferring an explanation that he owes from the start: Where is the beef?

Get ready for Heidegger's "On the Essence of Ground." Dig this Harman-as-Heidegger nugget:
... the presence of an object to though is only possible on the basis of a prior state of transcendence.
What follows deserves attention: 
Heidegger says just what we would expect him so say: that the beings that emerge in our transcendence are born from the robust power of a hidden depth, unearthed from the dark empire of a prior execution. Transcendence is a "not" that surpasses the anonymous real of tool-being: "That which is surpassed is precisely only beings in themselves, i.e., every being that can be unconcealed and become unconcealed to Dasein, and thus even and precisely that being as which 'it itself' exists."
For Harman-as-Heidegger, theoretical statements interpret things in a way that abstracts from the global context of significance in terms of which we orient ourselves in the world. That doesn't mean that theoretical propositions interpret the world in terms of objects which have no essential connection to each other.

Harman simply accepts Heidegger's insight that because there is no meaningful way of articulating what the object is independent of one's understanding of the world, the relation between statements or beliefs and objects is really an imperialistic way of construing what is. Yet, what Harman-as-Heidegger is doing is theorizing as not-theorizing. The safe-conduct is transcendence: 

"... phenomena are partly liberated from their occluded action into some sort of tangible form."

Harman finally reveals the arcanum:

Now you see it: "Überschwung! the "freeing of entities into the clearing where they are encountered." (TB, 91)

Now you don't: "But predictably enough, Heidegger also tells us that beings are never completely transcended, as if they were somehow able to become transparent at a glance." (TB, 91)  

Let's follow now Harman-as-Heidegger, in this tautological platitude:
Thus, whatever contours of objects may be illuminated through Dasein's transcendence, other possibilities remain whatever withdrawn. The objectification of things never offers full monetary equivalent of their dark and silent labor, since no such objectifying can exhaust their reality. "In accordance, with both ways of grounding, transcendence outstrips and withdraws at the same time."
Aber natürlich!

Harman understands he's on shaky ground: "It should be reemphasized that Heidegger is in no position to identify Dasein as the source of transcendence." For being so non-atomic,9 tool-being reminds one of Schrödinger's cat paradox: Accept that the cat is both dead and alive. If you open the box, you see it either dead or alive. As he doubts Dasein's transcendence, Harman inadvertently produces this false dilemma:

"This does not prove that only humans transcend, as if objects surrounding us were only dreary present-at-hand lumps that needed human touch to come to life."

For tool-being sans Dasein, click here (skip to 1:07).  The only problem for Harman mind-experiment is that the toys are not alone. They are being filmed by Pixar's non-toy camera! 

Here is Harman-as-Harman on behalf of the thing, now appealing to pity:
Perhaps entities are actually rendered bland or unidimensional only through their contact with humans. Perhaps instead of liberating objects into a clearing, Dasein is actually guilty of chloroforming the things, of pinning them down like the exterminated moths that bulk up an amateur's private collection. (My italics).
One can tell Harman is no too comfortable with Heidegger's Angst. Why? One can connect the dots of Angst to epiphany: Angst leads to fruition in resolution, which opens up a field for the authentic exercise of freedom. Now, Dasein becomes free from the tyranny of the meaningless domination of the anonymous "they." How will Harman connect Angst to tool being? By displaying nothingness as nothingness? 


Ray Brassier, another speculative realist, and a Harman ally, has a similar point to make about Harman's metaphysics:
It is not enough to evoke a metaphysical distinction between appearance and reality, in the manner for example of object oriented philosophies since the absence of any reliable cognitive criteria by which to measure and specify the precise extent of the gap between seeming and being or discriminate between the extrinsic and intrinsic properties or objects licenses entirely arbitrary claims about the in-itself. For an example of object oriented philosophies see Graham Harman, Guerrilla Metaphysics: Phenomenology and the Carpentry of Things.10
After all is said and done one is left with two options: Either reject Einstein separability (locality) or reject objective reality. Most physicists take a mechanistic explanation of the Bell’s theorem, which results in some violation of locality. The detailed explanation of how one can get to assume that the observer may affect the things observed in quantum mechanics is rather complicated. It needs a summarized explanation of Bell's theorem which cannot be explored here. Yet, the result I want to draw is similar to Pascual Jordan, one of the major early contributors of quantum theory: 
Observations not only disturb what has to be measured, they produce it. . . . We compel [the electron] to assume a definite position. . . . We ourselves produce the results of measurement.11
Quantum mechanics, more than any other mode of measured observation opens the possibility that consciousness is just a euphemism for a participatory constituent of physical reality. Harman ignores this important vector in his tool-being analysis. Dasein, as part of the totality of things, brings forth a different angle to this discussion. When Von Neumann traces the act of observation back to the very edge of our mind, he's doing intraphenomenal Husserlian reduction. Is that undoing Harman’s tool-being and taking us back to point one? Not necessarily. This is more like a Hegelian Aufhebung

Then Harman's motto: consciousness is an intraphenomenon, makes sense but now from the opposite (and forgotten) axis of Dasein's thinking. Consciousness can be approached as an complex & organized form of tool-being, which of course has nothing to do with eliminative and other reductive materialisms. I advance that this is the best way to solve the riddle of correlationism that Harman et. al. pursue so diligently.

All my notes are taken from Graham Harman's Tool-Being: Heidegger and the Metaphysics of Objects (Open Court, 2002). 1 See Anjan Chakravartty's Metaphysics for Scientific Realism (Cambridge University Press, 2009) p.  23. 2Gene Ray's "Note to On the Advantage and Disadvantage of History for Life." Catalog for an exhibit Cuban Museum of Arts and Culture, December 1992. 3 "A substance is not one kind of entity amongst others, but a way of being belonging to all entities, even those which seem at first to be mere composites." Or, "... since every relation can also be regarded as an entity, the world is jampacked with entities: there is no room for nothing in ontology. (TB, 11).

So, Don Quixote = Cervantes = Pierre Menard = Jorge Luis Borges.

I'm sure Don Quixote (a stubborn Spaniard of the old school) would protest to this leveling. Flooring his world of adventures, imploding imaginary with non-imaginary? That's his business, not ours! Does it matter that Quixote is not Cervantes' author, but instead Pierre Menard? What if Cervantes was "really" a Spanish cross-dresser by the name of Dulcinea?
4 Dasein is always in a state of mind or mood which discloses how it is and how it encounters something that matters in the world. This is fundamental to Heidegger's project. For example spatiality emerges from Dasein's equipmentality because these entities that are ready-to-hand have a place even if it changes from moment to moment. 5 Edward S. Casey, The Fate of Place: A Philosophical History (University of California Press, 1998) p. 269-280. 6See Vincent Vycinas Earth and Gods: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Martin Heidegger (Martinus Nijhoff, 1961). p. 40. Just as all meaning-contexts point toward Dasein, so the spatiality of the implements is based on the care-taking (the to-be-in) of Dasein. "Encountering the handy things in the space of their surroundings is onticly possible only because the Dasein itself, in respect to its to-be-in-the-world is 'spatial'."  7Event character. Never mind that to properly understand event character one needs to bootstrap it with Heidegger's temporality, which is disqualified by Harman: "You can say what you like, but Heidegger has no theory of time." (Harman's italics, TB, 65). 8Peter Keller, Husserl and Heidegger on Human Experience (Cambridge University Press, 1999). p. 143, 145. 9In a lecture of 1928, Heidegger promised a metaontology as the ontology for which fundamental ontology merely paves the way, taking up the question of the status of entities insofar as they are independent of human existence. Gerry Stahl puts it clearly in his Marx and Heidegger
Even in Being and Times there is a tendency, developed in Heidegger’s later writings, to talk of man as "being there" in a "clearing of Being." This circumstance is prior to the hermeneutic "as" and can perhaps be construed, as follows: Beings are present to people and as present are given with certain meanings. While these meanings are to be attributed to the subjects manifold of signification, the presence of the beings is independent of this subjective hermeneutic sieve, prior to it. "Being" applies to this latter level, as the determination of the character of the presence of beings as given beings in general, not as the determination of the meaning of individual beings or even of the system of their possible meanings. 
The question is not whether Heidegger ever achieved that idea, but whether it is achievable at all, i.e., to presuppose that one can conceptualize being independently of one's conceptualizing.  10 "To withdraw from the context of the world is not to become an atom" (TB, 170). 11 The Speculative Turn: Continental Materialism and Realism, Levi Bryant, Nick Srnicek & Graham Harman Ed. (, 2011) p. 51. 12 Evan Harris Walker, The Physics of Consciousness: The Quantum Minds and the Meaning of Life (Perseus Books, 2000). p. 136. Though I disagree with other conclusions of Professor Walker, I agree with this one:  "(...)  The way out of our difficulty, the path we must take now, is to try to understand what was previously rejected. We must recognize that objective reality is a flawed concept, that state vector collapse does arise from some interaction with the observer, and that indeed consciousness is a negotiable instrument of reality. Our entire conception of reality must now be rethought. We stand at the threshold of a revolution in thinking that transcends anything that has happened in a thousand years. Now the observer, consciousness, something self-like or mind-like, becomes a provable part of a richer reality than physics or any science has ever dared to envision."

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Earth, air, sea, life and plastic bags


The plastic bag is a thing of this world. A derivative of petroleum or natural gas, the plastic bag is a close relative of other esteemed domestic household objects: the salad bowl, the cheap kitchen clock, the asthma inhaler-device, the computer chassis, the CD we listen to. It figures as a part of our Teflon coated pans, the acrylic paint on our walls; as alloy to wind-resistant windows, even corn starch.

Every day millions of plastic bags are carried out of our malls and supermarkets. They wind up everywhere, peppering park's greenery, polluting the streets. A dense layer of flotsam (choking marine life) and jetsam (drifting to shore) dirtying our beaches.

Innocuous container or recalcitrant matter?

In his essay "Plastic Materialities," Gary Hawkins explores how things have the power to capture us in new relations. His idea is to show a less obvious perspective of the thing. In American Beauty, Ricky, the aspiring film maker and pot-head, is obsessed with beauty. He videotapes a plastic bag as it floats, to-and-fro, at the mercy of the wind. Ricky's video shows the thing-power, a "depth from which objects rise up towards our superficial knowledge."* Here's Ricky's narration:
It's one of those days when it's a minute away from snowing. And there is electricity in the air, you can almost hear it right? And this bag was just... dancing with me. Like a little kid begging me to play with it. For fifteen minutes. That's the day I realized there was this entire life behind things, and this incredible benevolent force that wanted me to know there was no reason to be afraid. Ever... Video's a poor excuse. I know. But it helps me remember. (PM,  p. 135)
One can think of other examples, such as this, where the plastic bag becomes a "chair-bag."

Ryan Frank, Plastic Bag Chair, 2008.

Frank re-presents the material, but the plastic bag's form becomes aestheticized, subsumed, concealed.    

Shipwrecked: My Life for a Bag, 2010.

British artist Claudia Borgna, above, presents the plastic bag as an organized society of ready-mades. The bags stick together as a kind of ghostly soul-buddies. Is this a real accumulation of thing-power?

What is thing-power
Thing power is a kind of agency, it is the property of an assemblage. Thing-power materialism is a (necessarily speculative) onto-theory that presumes matter has an inclination to make connections and form networks with varying degrees of stability. Here, then, is an affinity between thing-power materialism and ecological thinking: both advocate and the cultivation of an enhanced sense of the extent to which all things are spun together in a dense web, and both warn of the self-destructive character of human actions that are reckless with regard to other nodes of the web.(PM, p. 135)
I'd like to read Bennet's thing-power with Shvetashvatara's holistic glasses. The old Hindu sage would agree that all things "are spun together in a dense web". But "the self-destructive character of human actions" is as much part of the web as the rest. If the living and the non-living are connected, then creation and destruction become connective possibilities.

Shvetashvatara is not afraid to talk thing-power from the bottom up:
You are a woman, you are a man, you are a boy; also a girl. As an old man you totter along with a walking stick. As you are born you turn your face in every direction. You are the dark blue bird, the green one with red eyes, the rain-cloud, the seasons, and the oceans. (...) You live as one without a beginning because of your pervasiveness, you, whom all beings have been born. (Shvetashvatara Upanishads, 4.2-4.4)
In a perverse geological sense, we are walking plastic bags!

If ecology is going to address living and non-living, then clouds, air, trees, earth, sand, proteins, viruses, humans, plastic bags are all part of the whole. What's the point of differentiating when everything is (a part of) Brahman?**

We cannot think outside the whole. There is a democracy of creation and destruction everywhere. If we destroy ourselves that's inside the whole. Only by facing this predicament we can understand how to deal with our mounting ecological problems.

On the other hand, this sea turtle is out of the loop.*** Though part of a network that includes sun, sand, sea, predators, plastic bags, etc, it cannot fathom the subtleties and contradictions of thing-power. We have to find new ways to deal with our living/non living dichotomy.

Is it really about them or about us?

* Jane Bennet, Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things, (Duke University, 2010) p. 2. ** Brahman doesn't have to be God. Just the totality of all things put together. *** Plastic bags are among the 12 items of debris found most often in coastal cleanups, according to the nonprofit Center for Marine Conservation. Marine mammals, seabirds, and sea turtles can become entangled in the bags, and sea turtles can mistake them for food such as jellyfish, then die from starvation resulting from intestinal blockage.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

We can vote out our liars (c'mon Tom!)

In a recent article for the NYTimes Thomas Friedman belabors this phrase: "Dictators are falling. Democracies are failing." He gets the dictator part right, but -not surprisingly- fails to see what happens in his own backyard: 
Of course, there is a big difference between America and Libya. We can vote out our liars, unlike certain Arab — and Asian — countries.
Can we Tom? Are you so sure? What if our voted-out liars get replaced by other liars? What does that say about our system?

Monday, September 5, 2011

Barbies get bruises (yeah, right)


This photo by Tyler Shields, of Glee actress Heather Morris, caused a stir. An article in Shine makes this point:
Moral compass rule: You just shouldn't use deeply painful subjects like violence, abuse, or slavery (ahem, Vogue Italia) to sell your surface, expensive product. If that doesn't work, make-up artists, designers, photographers, and ad execs should consider this: bruises, burns, and scrapes don't make people want to buy things.
I agree, but are we not becoming too moralistic? In any case, I don't think moralists should worry. Here is why:

Tyler Shields is playing with heavy visual codes. I propose to define something as being x-"code" if it works in the context it is exported to. Clearly the code here is (domestic) abuse. Shields' photo above is not really code. Why not? He flirts with violence but he's out of context. He presents a mug-shot version of an attractive, white, young woman with a black eye. Heather Morris, the model, looks straight into the camera with an almost defiant expression. Though beaten, she remains coldly composed, as if to put beyond any doubt that she is in control. Which is why her face doesn't export.*

Either Shields is oblivious to abuse-code or he wasted Morris' time -you are not dumb to try code without some subversive idea. Had he used a black or a Latino female subject, his photo would've been fuzzier (momentarily, I defer to analyze whether fuzzier is better or worse). Shields should've couched Morris how to feel a bit under her skin the drag of existential humiliation that comes with brutality, falling to the unyielding pull of poverty & addiction, until there is little left of her self-esteem to even look straight at the camera.

Just to complicate things a bit. How about this one?

A gleeful Rhianna looks at the camera. She exhibits her -still visible- shiner under a bit of mascara. Whereas the received mark of violence is confined to police mug-shots, Rhianna turns it upside down: Bruise now becomes makeup, a redefinition -rather, incorporation- of code. Violence is met with a resoluteness of a different kind. Absorbed by beauty -not glamor- brutality is deprived of its ominous stigma. A long shot from Tyler Shields' bruised Barbie.
* Morris' self-conscious shot brings to mind actors' uncanny ability to feign emotions. How matter-of-factly an expression of credible hair-rising fear suddenly turns into a happy face.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

YouTube is MeTube


In the Internet age, when the line between "happenings" and publicity stunts has blurred, can performance art still resonate with the public?

James Wescott tries to answer the question posed by "Room for Debate" @ the New York Times:  
Whereas the performance itself opened up vertiginous depths of empathy, the online experience was addictive and alienating. Through the alchemy of the Internet, the performance loses some of its luster. From gazing to gawking, total immersion to idle browsing, the level of engagement is no longer the same. But at least more people could engage with it than the few who are part of the art world. Watching performance art online seems to license the kind of cruelty that live performance in the '70s sought to confront through brutal enactment of vulnerability and pain.
How could YouTube kill performance art? A Brobdingnagian percentage of YouTube users have the foggiest idea of what performance art is. On the other hand, why not seeing YouTube as a pre-MeTube whereby empathy becomes inpathy, yet another step towards informance, the ipseity of selfism? 

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Postmodernism is dead. D'oh! What's next?


I find this piece on the "death" of Postmodernism written by Edward Docx, which speaks of a style of analysis now fashionable in some circles, i.e, that of killing the dead all over again. The writer generalizes certain events as unique of a period (postmodernism), which can easily be found in the preceded period (Modernity). If so, Docx is simply ruling as different what is in fact the same. Predictably, if something comes after something else, it has to be different. 
Well, the best way to begin to understand postmodernism is with reference to what went before: modernism. Unlike, say, the Enlightenment or Romanticism, postmodernism (even as a word) summons up the movement it intends to overturn.
Not so fast. How do you know the dead are "really" dead? Postmodernism is necessarily postmortem just because it has a retrospective at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Next, we should be happy to accept that to generalize is to characterize, i.e., to generalize.
Over time, though, a new difficulty was created: because postmodernism attacks everything, a mood of confusion and uncertainty began to grow and flourish until, in recent years, it became ubiquitous.
Let's leave aside the hyperbole. It's not clear what the writer means by "attack," or whether he is correct in assuming  that postmodernism "attacks everything" (which wouldn't save postmodernism itself from the attack, thus rendering it dead on arrival). Docx is either ignorant or he's talking about a different world. When it comes down to "attacks," Modernity makes postmodernism looks like a peacenik.1 Its history that of constant ideological revolutions: Kepler vs. Ptolemy, Kant vs. metaphysics, Darwin vs. religion, Marx vs. capitalism, Freud vs. Victorian morals, Heidegger vs. the modern Cartesian subject, Wittgenstein vs. logical analycity, Frankfurt School vs. traditional aesthetics and enlightenment, etc, etc.

Either you account for these events as "internal" to Modernity, or they become "external." But if Modernity has "external" events, how do you explain it? Is Modernity a "physical" global epoch engulfing everything, or is it just an epochal discourse prevalent in the West? 2 Is one postmodern by being inside the 1970's-1990's or by defending a particular worldview? Docx seems oblivious to these mounting problems, yet he manages to plow ahead:
Unlike, say, the Enlightenment or Romanticism, postmodernism (even as a word) summons up the movement it intends to overturn. In this way, postmodernism might be seen as the delayed germination of an older seed, planted by artists like Marcel Duchamp, during modernism’s high noon of the 1920s and 1930s.
The underlined metaphor above, taken from the natural sciences, gives this idea of process. If postmodernism is a "delayed germination", then processes can slow down or speed up. But there is an elephant in the room: Process is how we talk about time. That is to say, natural change requires, or perhaps is time. Docx handles time like a ruler:
In the beginning, postmodernism was not merely ironical, merely gesture, some kind of clever sham, a hotchpotch for the sake of it.
What beginning? How do you cut process? Do you simply say: "I know when I see it"? What if what appears as different is just another "delayed germination"? Don't forget you're always in the present, which makes your observation either relative to the past or predictably paradoxical. Why? Because of becoming

Hegel, a modern and a romantic, analyzed time in terms of becoming. But surprise! As that constant exchange of coming-to-being and passing-away, becoming slips through your fingers. That is to say, when you see it, you don't.3 Docx doesn't seem aware of this paradox. He identifies "what is" from "what is-not" -as if he was "outside" the process. Sure, he can always retort: "Oh, but I'm talking about history." I find the whole business predictably circular: The author is in the weird predicament of attending postmodernism's vigil while having  no f**** idea of who is the surviving next-of-kin sitting besides him at the funeral.
1 My talking of Modernity instead of Modernism doesn't change a thing. What I'm getting at is this: Is Modernity everything there is? Can there be an "other" of Modernity? 2 Isn't it obvious that both the discourse and counter-discourse on Modernity are West-centered? 3 "The being which, in being, is not and in not-being, is." (Philosophy of Nature, §258; Suhrkamp 9).