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Two Brief Pieces

1. In The Loop

A friend who happens to be a DJ once commended me for knowing (and liking) here. Finding out about any one of these is trivial; Pitchfork – paradoxically, by which I mean not paradoxically at all, Mecca of “alternative” music – publishes reviews on Mogwai and Isis and Burial (and how). The Guardian and just about every other news-outlet will review any new David Lynch movie. There are no mainstreams and niches, there are only loops of varying sizes.

“Haven’t heard anything about Starcraft 2 competition in a while” – “Yeah, the game is kinda dead now.” It wasn’t dead, of course – my friends and I had simply stopped visiting TeamLiquid and r/starcraft, had stopped playing the game ourselves, had stopped watching streams of tournaments. We hopped out of the loop, and afterwards felt like reality had fundamentally changed. It is for the same reason that the “reddit hive-mind” up-votes completely contradictory “AM I THE ONLY ONE WHO HATES/LOVES/IS INDIFFERENT TO [Kanye West, IdrA, drug legalization, math, reality, ron paul, cats]“-threads on any given day, and that people will complain equally about liberal and conservative circlejerks, about Terran and Protoss balance whine… Because all of these are highly insulated loops of roughly similar size, and one can always easily tune in and out of them. Breaking Bad, “the greatest show on earth” (nope), has had less than two million viewers throughout most of its run, yet everyone you know seems to talk about it. On the other side of the spectrum, it is entirely possible to have never heard about Beyonce, or Lady Gaga, or Justin Bieber, or [...] – let alone to have heard a song by them.

Mainstream and Niche imply the logic of a dichotomy; but there are only Loops, and all of us are parts of various Loops – and while some (Beyonce, The Simpsons, Michael Bay) may be larger than others (Burial, Homeland, David Lynch), who themselves are larger than even smaller ones (Rosetta, Rectify, Michael Haneke) (different media of art too – television as more popular than theatre etc..), it is nevertheless utterly trivial to find one’s way into any one of these Loops, and just as trivial to not enter any such Loop. There are differences in size, sure, but there is no single Mainstream, and there is no true Niche.

(The 90s might have been, though I do not know, I didn’t live in them, the last instance of a time of exclusive subcultures through which one identified; now one is part of numerous loops, which one however never completely identifies with. The only thing that matters now is how eclectic your music collection is. Subcultures were a highly conservative kind of art curation wherein one liked highly similar works of music – now one picks the “cream of the crop” of any number of highly dissimilar Loops – a method of curation that is either far more or far less complex.)


2. Glitches

The simulacrum is never that which conceals the truth – it is the truth which conceals that there is none. The simulacrum is true.

An email by Nachlasse, on The Tree of Life:

 I think Malick is a wonderful director. I’ve never noticed such beautiful camerawork – and one really has to pay attention here. Throughout the film there are shots of people walking, first – the mom teaching the baby how to walk by holding him and following him step by step – notice, the camera shifts in a tempo that follows a walking step, the camera is not merely moving, the camera walks with them literal-fucking-ly, out of step with both the mom and the child, but with them, after them, through the tempo of the walk. Malick does this throughout the film with walking scenes, there was one where Sean Penn was walking in the desert that is filled with hole-y rocks, and he’s sidestepping and moving and walking in this dessert, and the camera moves as if it were hinged onto a horizontal pole, and swung from left to right in a tempo that lags after Penn moves. I am so sorry to all of you, but this is fuck shit brilliant. Who’s doing the walking? Who is the camera? The camera is the very subject of the subject, the subject that is through being the subjective. [...]

Fabius doesn’t like this film and I can understand why. Scrubs allows us to believe in a distance, that what is genuine, within life, is always hidden through the mediation of something not. This distance is not the same distance in the tree of life. Fabius like scrubs, and only because of this, does he need to fully immerse himself into the movies, the games, that he wrote about. This is a different type of immersion from tree of life. [...]


I rarely understand Nachlasse, he is wading knee-deep in Heidegger and I have never read a line by Heidegger. So I can only offer an interpretation of what I think Nachlasse was trying to convey and let him correct me if I am wrong, but basically, Tree of Life is supposed to avoid the pitfalls of representation, it is not representation, it is short-circuiting representation, it simply is. I’m not buying it,  everything on the screen is representation, there is no different type of immersion, this is representation, not only representation, but representational techniques par excellence, a neat trick, I will grant, but therefore only a more sophisticated kind of representation.

Within literature, Modernism, so university tells me, was a crisis of perception, of finding truth, can truth be found, can we even get there. Post-Modernism, so university tells me, says that truth is not only unreachable, but rather that there is no truth. Modernism was about finding a new entrance, Post-Modernism says there isn’t one, or maybe lots of them.

This is modernism, no longer the attempt to paint (photo-)realistically, but the surface is giving way to what might be a psychological portray, a representation not of the face (although through the face) but rather of the emotions of the person portray, the inner workings – we are trying to find a deeper level of truth.


Remember, we can never leave representation, but we could at least act like it; try and use “a neat trick”, so why not use the momentary disruption of the digital glitch to insert a “deeper” truth, to at the very least act as if we were breaking representation and could show a moment of pure, unfiltered reality? But there is nothing beyond the glitch. The glitch offers no deeper truth, does not even try to do so. The simulacrum is never that which conceals the truth – it is the truth which conceals that there is none.

The glitch, in disrupting the screen, gives way to nothing at all, only inert emptiness staring back. The screen is true.

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4 Responses

  1. @Fabius: Hmm. Aren’t there still people who pride themselves in connaisseurship? Who may not be able to tell a stout from a pilsner but could tell you which direction the hillside in Kenya was facing where their coffee was harvested? Who might not know the first thing about Stravinsky but have all the Diana Krall bootlegs?
    But you might be right. Eclectic snobbery requires far less patience and lends itself far easier to top 10 lists by public experts than the painstaking compilation of knowledge and experience about some particular topic. To the extent that loops rule, they probably have throughout the age of mass culture.

    As for modernism, representation and glitches, there are things that resist representation. Isn’t there anything you know but won’t say because saying it would corrupt it? Ever ask yourself why Taoism and Zen are often related in koans? Or why so much scripture from many religions is related via allegorical narratives? Some sublime ideas or sentiments can’t be represented, so they have to be induced obliquely instead. This is why my self-help pieces come across so hacky. They’re representing what ought to be ‘incepted’.

    Nachlasse is right about much of that, but there’s another way of reading the Tide piece. It’s not just that everything is symbolic and meaningless, because there’s a difference between a symbol, which is necessarily meaningful, and a sign, which isn’t. Tide has a certain use value in washing, a certain commodity value in the store, but when it’s valued so much more highly than Gain despite being basically the same, it’s sign value. The point I was trying to make was to encourage people to consider carefully how they evaluate the things they value. Can you really be so attached to a flag that is supposed to connect you to millions of people you’ve never met and would probably punch after 5 minutes in person? But you can absolutely be attached to the dollar store pocket knife your great uncle, who was the only adult to recognize you, gave you on your 10th birthday. All symbols are signs, but not all signs are symbolic.

    Class fine and good as an aggregation of economic conditions, but it breaks down for identity and culture. This is, first, because everybody self-identifies as middle-class. Even people who identify as working class do so in order to keep themselves in the moral middle class, neither utterly destitute and shiftless, nor bourgeois and decadent. Second, class suffers from the same sort of trouble as flags because of the ridiculous scale. If you identify as lower middle class, and that’s supposed to be a cultural attribution that allows for community identification, you identify with how many other people in that moment? A billion maybe? There might be certain social (gesellschaftliche) similarities, but it is implausible that you share much in terms of community (gemeinschaft).

    And for the record, much modern philosophy is also about god in the sense that the sentence ‘Don’t think about pink elephants’ is about nothing so much as pink elephants.

    @Mandude: There’s a difference between rejecting physics and everything in it and rejecting the possibility of representing that part of reality synoptically, nomothetically and meaningfully. The standard model of physics is utterly trivial. It’s like Aristotelian biology: you have a taxonomy of objects. Congratulations. Only the implications that relate back to us and the stories we tell ourselves about the world and our place in it are of any interest, and here’s where it gets hairy. Even putting aside for a moment that once you get down to muons and gluons and neutrinos, you’re basically just dealing with symbols in a formula that are too abstract for anyone to really apprehend, we still have to attach meaning to those things, and only then does the question of truth become really interesting. The vertigo you feel when you realize that you consist almost entirely of empty space, and how much of the universe is just vacuum between particles? That’s interesting. But what does it matter if you believe in an immaterial soul? Then space and matter are just kind of a projection surface. But for there is no subsurface arbiter for such questions running on electromagmetism somewhere under the Alps. And many of the Truths there will be of the sort I was describing above that defy representation. So how do you care and fight for things that matter but that you can neither prove nor represent.

    Oh, and your comment there is actually a post. Submit that sort of thing, and you’ll get posted, yo.

    The modern/post-modern dichotomy is such fun that we often forget the third term it excludes: the premodern. It contained much brutality but also considerable wisdom.

  2. mackytrajanJanuary 7, 2014 @ 7:40 pm

    So good.

    On piece 1:

    This is absolutely true; culture is now a global commodity. You’ve stated it very well with your proposition of loops. In my personal experience, late 2000′s (which coincided with the popularity of smartphones) was the very last of insulated, underground movements. I think YouTube, Grooveshark, Pandora, etc. have practically eradicated “indie.” Not indie as in indie rock, but indie as in the hipster approach of having a niche, as you said. The internet allows us to skip through and pass in and out of subcultures which are completely blurred now. Unknown artists can be found on YT’s Similar List just as easy as word of mouth.

    Look at how many different kinds of remixes there are. Just a couple days ago I found a remix of Gangnam Style mixed with an entire album of Linkin Park. This doesn’t even make me blink anymore. You can now find dubstep remixes of classical music, folk covers of classic gangster rap, country artists doing electronica, etc. There are so many examples of the blurring of what was once insular communities.

    Reddit is a very good example of this. It is a community which has a very definitive way of approaching subjects, but yet vacillates back and forth between polarizing opinions on subjects. Just look at how many times Reddit attacks itself. I have never seen an internet community that has as much of a love/hate relationship with itself as Reddit. This isn’t the simple case of having differing views on subjects; Reddit’s inherent structure supports popular opinion. Instead, this is actually one of the first internet communities that has had to deal with the unstable volatility of massive appeal which drives people who may support one opinion to the other side due to the nature or number of people who hold the opposite view.

    I think you are very much correct that the 90′s (or at least 2000′s) was the very last of insular communities, everything is global.

Got insight?