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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) Burial; I noted Burial was rather hard to not know about. Similarly, as we started talking about movies, I argued that David Lynch was practically mainstream. I was wrong, in one very specific sense – Our culture, and specifically the digital realm, has completely obliterated the logic of mainstream/niches. Anyone can play a game of Six Degrees of Bacon on Wikipedia with music, television, literature… and very easily end up here, or here, or 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. I’m not? huh?

    I’m not sure what’s going on. Are those art pieces even modern? Modernism is a period – I’m pretty sure that art piece isn’t from the modern period. I’m not an art history buff at all, in fact, I know little about it, but yeah, no, I don’t think that’s it and I don’t think you got these things right. One further issue is how you just didn’t really say anything about why you think we can never leave representation. I don’t see any sort of an argument and you took less than 200 words to state that there is only representation, and that’s it, without any analysis of sorts? Other people have written books (and books and books and books) about these things. I don’t understand how you could just leave your claim lying around like that with any air of firmament.

    Firstly, I’m not sure if I’m misunderstanding you, or you have misunderstood modern/postmodern entails, but for the sake of clarity let me elaborate very simply Fredric Jameson’s distinguishing. The modern period could be based on a belief that we could use reason to find out the truth about the world. German idealism could be one instance where. like for Hegel, thought, that is, the ideal, can and ultimately corresponds to the reality of the world. “Postmodernism” on the other hand, shows how this is not the case, there is no “one truth” that we are trying to grasp. Foucault shows how concepts are derived historically and contingently, based on many varying factors. There isn’t one “truth” in this sense like how the modern period strived towards. All this said, modern/postmodern has and is being defined in many different ways, and Guy Fox will definitely know more about this than I do, so he could teach all of us, but for the kind of work that I do I am not interested in this issue since to relegate any kind of thought to modern or postmodern is nothing but a distantiated representation that eludes careful thinking.

    Okay, one by one. The loop – yep, I do agree, this is something I have stated on this site before. One further observation that I have, that I think ultimately links back to GuyFox’s post on tide: this is the very problematic of culture. Each cultural group, by this I do not simply mean ethno, or other forms of nation group, but liberals, conservatives, etc, etc, every form of grouping has to be considered cultural in their sense of a shared culture that allows a community. But culture that works through identity has an odd philosophical status – it is always particularized and with a direct mediation that links right up to the universal. Any form of “cultural” identity (a group that watches and knows breaking bad, for example) contains of its group particularties, based on their specific interest, as well as it’s universality. The universality is inscribed within the particularity, and this is why when you leave a group (starcraft or whatever video games) it feels like your whole world has changed.The universality is entirely switched. The “loop” that you call, that I think is a loop of culture, is both “local,” and has to be “global.” This is also how “narcissism” works, it’s never simply a personal affair, despite what everyone believes.

    The point I want to make is this, GuyFox in the tide article somehow draws a nihilistic conclusion that it’s all merely symbolic so there is no real point in fighting each other. I agree. But the trick is that if once you relegate the problemtic of culture to the point of the world, then you cannot leave “class” out of culture. Class has been subsumed by culture in many ways, and it’s definitely complicated, but any form of political struggle can never leave the cultural sphere even if it can transcend it. What this further means is that the rampant dispersion of culture (now this is postmodernism Fabius) is that any political action must treat culture seriously, for there genuinely is universality in culture, it might be merely symbolic, but it cannot be dismissed as merely illusory. When we speak about political rights, when we speak about community praxis, these are all interdependent upon culture, and you cannot simply seperate the “Real” culture from the “false” culture, they have to be considered simultaneously equal, as they truly are.

    I have a lot more to say on this, but I’ll stop.

    Okay Fabius, second issue. The second part of your article makes no sense. As I’ve said – you state representation as god without any form of justification. I really want to refute your claim that everything is representation. Just because everything is a “loop” doesn’t mean everything is representation. I’m not sure if you, or how you conflate this.

    Caveat: all of this is “well known” philosophical discourse so it isn’t purely mine at all. All up to the end of the 17th century, philosophy has always been speaking about God. It isn’t simply that there is a common belief that god exists so everyone writes about it, but that to speak about god allows for a way to get out of representation, to get out of rigid lines of thought. Same goes with art. In the Venetian school there was the Byzantine style of paintings where they painted religious figures and how the portrait of Jesus and his disciples, apostles, are all represented in a certain manner, coded in a particular way where the virgin Mary has, has, has to be looking at the left, and baby Jesus has to look at the right. In the 15th century, a decoding occurred, the style of painting changes across the region, now everyone can look at whoever they want, each in weird directions that is no longer constrained in that way, virgin and jesus can look at each other in weird ways and shit. A whole different way of representation occurs, but one that always attempts in exceeding representation, in freeing different ways, different lines of experimentation. It is impossible to state that everything is representation when representation is continually changing to become “less” represented. Of course, you will state that still everything in the end is ultimately represenational no matter how they try to escape. Again, no.

    Deleuze’s philosophy can be said to be an attempt at overcoming representational thinking altogether, so is Heidegger’s despite their various different attempts that aren’t really on the same playing field. My point is that it would take a lot more than what you’ve written to convince me that everything is representational.

    In the case of which, Tree of Life is still a good movie which you can’t appreciate because you’re caught up, too caught up in representational thinking ;)

  2. Haven’t heard of Burial, seen plenty of Lynch. Truth- the quality or state of being true. True- in accordance with fact or reality. Reality- the world or the state of things as they actually exist, as opposed to an idealistic or notional idea of them.

    This could go on. Thing-an inanimate material object as distinct from a living sentient being. Object- a material thing that can be seen and touched.

    I used to play this game, trying to understand reality through words. What IS reality? What is an atom? What is made of? Atom- a basic unit of a chemical element. But what is an atom made of? Electrons, protons, quarks… what is a quark made of? A point like particle with no spatial extent? So existence is made of non-existence? Energy? What is energy? -power derived from the utilization of physical or chemical resources, esp. to provide light and heat or to work machines. Right but what is it made of? I always wondered, what if matter and energy don’t so much exist as want to exist, and find the experience of existence in relation to each other- in interacting they become real?

    I can’t help but feel that in feeling as a living being and knowing that sense of feeling is an interaction of particles that the ability to feel is something that exists within particles, possible not ONLY in the configuration of “life” as we typically tend to apply the capacity to feel. Awareness- knowledge or perception of a situation or fact.

    If postmodernism is concerned with proving that there is no truth, shouldn’t it back of it’s claims with an understanding of physics? What is the actual evidence put forth that there is no reality? Certainly as limited as is the human mind, it would seem unlikely that a human or any one limited being could have complete accurate knowledge of all of existence. And therefore, any one interpretation would be incomplete and faulted simply by lack of being comprehensive but not necessarily false. And any person who begins the journey of trying to understand reality has a learning and experiential base from which they began to ask questions and from which knowledge base has permitted them to even ask such questions.

    Without language could we yearn for such understanding? And as language and the concepts and ideas within it were given to us, with their faults and limitations, the deconstruction process would therefore include breaking down the errors we bring to the table by virtue of having a concept of reality that has being created with an unspeakably limited knowledge base about reality.

    Why do we want comprehensive knowledge of all reality? What for? What would we do with such knowledge if we could achieve SUCCESS, the final complete achievement at philosophy or scientific understanding? Frequently scholastic types will set of to understand one particular thing with the innate presumption that learning about a particular thing is good or useful. I agree but again with definitions, what is useful? Useful to achieve WHAT? What are we all striving for? Useful of course as defined by humans will usually include a definition that benefits human beings or human interests. In general, we want to understand the world to make things better. When we think of learning as useful we think the learning will therefore create some improvement to our human existence or to someone’s, rather than simply that learning is a fun activity one might perform in an already perfect and not-improvable state of existence. We place an emphasis on learning as superior to not-learning that is much greater than we place on roller skating as opposed to not rollerskating, or sky diving as opposed to sky diving. It is considered a noble persuit because it can achieve something, so what needs to be better?

    What is ironic is often those who leap into the intellectual journey “to achieve something” throw away the very knowledge of what things are needed to be improved. It stops being something to pursue to bring back treasures for actual humans- many in suffering,many with desperate needs, many who NEED the world to be better- and reaches a point of sociopathy- of deconstructing human existence to the point of dehumaninzing the lived experience of living beings, deconstructing whether their feelings actually exist or really matter any how– almost as sick as a criminal can beat a victim without mercy to human suffering, philosophy CAN be used to achieve such merciless and inhuman disinterest in human welfare or proof that such goals don’t “actually exist” or are merely representation of meaningless ideals created by humans for the sake of of their own selfish and meaningless interests.

    Be careful why you venture into the abyss of the human mind. Do you want to bring something out of your journey or simply get lost there? Do you want to come back a hero, or a monster? If you don’t choose what you want out of your philosophy, your philosophy may choose what you will get out of it for you.

    So back to the question of truth, or reality or human perception of reality, perception… why do you want to know? Just because? What is missing in your life that you are seeking? What is missing in the lives of those around you that you feel these types of questions and focusing energy on them is the most useful thing you could do to address the needs you see in your life or those around you? There is nothing wrong with philosophy as a past time, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make it actually useful at the same time. When you look in the eyes of someone you care about, are questions of the reality of their existence at the forefront of your mind? Questions about whether your perception of them is accurate enough to actually merit considering their existence as “real” enough to you that they matter as a human being? Does your life FEEL real? Do human beings feel like representations of the real thing and nothing more? If you want to experience reality, feel it, taste it, live it. It will show itself to you. And in truth, perhaps down to the smallest unit of matter and energy, we all exist in relation to each other, wanting to be seen, wanting to be witnessed, wanting to exist and feel the existence of others. Or perhaps that is only something experienced by humans and extrapolated by my mind onto matter. Either way, if this reality is impartial to human welfare, is there any reason to think that extensive knowledge of reality will improve human welfare unless it is carefully decided on as the goal of thinking endeavors?

  3. @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.

  4. 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?