Friday, 31 August 2007

Invisible Cities: Psychogeographical Research in the Philosophy of Sound (plus updated resources links)

Thought it was about time to update my communications resources again. Have pasted below only a small sampling of what is available by clicking on the urls at the bottom of this post.

Have chosen an image from the "Burning Man" festival as it seems to connect with the kind of techno tribalism I've seen Graham St John talking about on the Dancecult listserv (his latest posting is about Berlin's so-called "fuck parade"). Speaking of Burning Man, this topic is covered quite extensively in the Leonardo Music Journal. I'd be interested in doing a cross-comparison with the more obviously alien/monstrous kind of collective effervescence I analysed in my earlier post on "the sociology of the secret", but it has to be remarked, the chosen image is uncannily suggestive of a possible crossover.

Journals and publications

Leonardo Music Journal - A yearly multimedia publication of the International Society for the Arts, Sciences and Technology and the MIT Press, Leonardo Music Journal (LMJ) and the LMJ CD Series publish writings and sounds by artists from diverse areas of the world who are inventing media, implementing developing technologies and expanding the boundaries of radical and experimental aesthetics.
Soundsite - published on System-X, a journal covering Philosophy of Sound and Sound Art for practitioners and theorists.
Switch Vol.2 No.1 - This issue of Switch focuses on an area that includes a broad spectrum of artists and theoreticians who use creative thought and experimentation with new technologies to speak the ancient language of "Sound" in new ways. Includes reviews of Sound Culture '96.
WFAE Readings: Selected Online Articles, Journals and Newsletters. - An excellent resource for sound researchers. The material here is divided into two collections. The first features online articles which exist on other servers world wide and are linked here for your convenience. The second collection features journals and other resources which have archived articles which you can access through those specific sites.

Intute: Arts & Humanities Guide (very comprehensive guide to theoretical resources, with emphasis on cultural studies approach aesthetics etc). Is complementary to my previous posting on Australian electronica as it links to the soundsite webpage which is primarily a forum for Australian experimental sound artists. Moreover, interested researchers should be directed to the excellent EARS project:

"The ElectroAcoustic Resource Site (EARS) project, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), "has been established to provide resources for those wishing to conduct research in the area of electroacoustic music studies". The project aims to develop a structured Internet portal, providing citations and/or direct links to texts, titles, abstracts, images, audio and audio-visual files, and other relevant resources. The current EARS website presents the results of the project's preliminary phase - a dynamic e-Glossary and Subject Index to electroacoustic music. The glossary provides an alphabetical list of terms. The subject index allows thematic access to terms, via six high-level subject headings: Disciplines of Study (DoS), Genres and Categories (G&C), Musicology of Electroacoustic Music (MEM), Performance Practice and Presentation (PPP), Sound Production and Manipulation (SPM), and Structure (Str). Each term within the glossary and subject index links through to a definition, with cross references to other terms and links to sub-sections. The project is co-ordinated at De Montfort University's Music, Technology and Innovation Research Group. The site describes electroacoustic music as an "an interdiscipline that has developed as a symbiotic interaction of disciplines including music composition, acoustics, psychoacoustics, theory of perception, cognitive science, phenomenology, computing, signal processing, amongst many others".

This site has links to many resources in not only English, but also French, German, Italian and Spanish.

Note: Intute search on "electronic music" research resources gives 151 results, of particular interest in light of my recent "hauntological post" is the Invisible Cities project, as it is about acoutistic psychogeography. Could prove to be an interesting comparison and contrast:

"Invisible Cities is the free online archive of a curated art project of the same name, funded by British Council Arts. 24 international sound artists were asked to create "an intimate series of portraits of the world's cities painted with sound", as five-minute audio works. These works are archived on the website as standard MP3 files, together with a page for each artist giving curatorial details and a description of the artist and their work. The Invisible Cities archive is hosted by Fallt Publishing, a British-based record label specialising in electronic music. The website will be of interest to practicing sound artists, as well as to curators and academics interested in areas such as psychogeography and how 'spirit of place' can become embodied in an audio work".

Other Intute search results here:

Perforations: Special Issue on "Hauntology"

Perhaps k punk has talked about this on his site, but I hadn't heard of it until some random googling brought it my way. I cannot yet vouch for the theoretical approaches adopted in the individual essays, but I can say, from an initial inspection, the collection looks very promising. It will be interesting to find out though if the contributors deem fit to mention Avery Gordon's earlier sociological study Ghostly Matters. In any case, k punk discusses the space of the Overlook Hotel in The Shining, while other essays ruminate on topics as diverse as David Lynch's Inland Empire, the legacy of Joy Division, and the christification and commodification of Che Guevara (includes streaming audio and video).

Hauntologies, or Spectral SpaceCall for Submissions

"This issue of Perforations asks for informed speculations in art, literature, architecture, and aesthetics concerning the ethereal others which are never quite present or absent : including uncanny presences outside the frame of representation, anamorphic blurs of concepts or images; leaking, stained, or spectral spaces, disappearing figures or soluble identities; of all that sometimes works like miasmas, pneumas, and vapors; and all possible manifestations of specters (real or imaginary). This includes speculative revenants of repetitions of all sort including catastrophic trauma (the spectral delays/deferrals of Freudian 'nachtraglichkeit') as well as any embeddings of notions of 'eternal return,' as having hauntological portent for communities and thought to come.
In its entirety, the issue seeks to selectively map an ephemeral cartography (a haunto-topography) of the range of barely discernible ghosts, these "ontological specks" or "pathological kernels", that traverse the instrumental Cartesian worldview of "clear and distinct" entities. Authors are asked to chase and capture the multiple potential meanings and effects of their favorite ontological spectre".

----------------------------------------- Formed in 1991 to examine issues of theory, art, culture and community in a saturated age of technical media, Perforations is perhaps the longest continuously running journal on-line.
The call for perforations 30, HUT TECH, will be released soon.

Thursday, 30 August 2007

Tomorrow's People?

I have to applaud artist Alistair Gentry, not only for his creative visualisation, but for the sceptical analysis he has presented of genomic hype, both utopian and dystopian, in the essay I've pasted [below]. Gentry's insights are augmenting the greater sense I'm trying to develop of how reductionism is inconsistent with biopostmodernism in many telling ways. Not the least of the implications here, with respect to dystopian forecasting, is that neoliberalism will face considerable challenges in converting the human body into the final frontier for complete colonisation/commodification. The variance in state regulation should also remind us that we may not therefore witness one possible scenario: the reenchantment of biology as a means for capital to remonetarise itself after the United States risks destroying its economy by blowing out a huge global debt in its so-called "war on terror" (with opponents taking a stand against Occidental rationalism seemingly devoid of spiritual purpose). According to the dystopian scenario, the upshot of all this is that the U.S. would become the standard bearer for the worst of both possible worlds, as it sought to evangelise genomics as a means of realising its "manifest destiny" through a neoliberal military/industrial/biotechnological complex. This would in turn foster globalisation of the dynamic as other sufficiently wealthy, industrialised countries sought to compete in the marketplace. The realisation of such a nightmare would be something comparable to the Weyland Utani Corporation in the Alien series, the recognisability of which lends those films a continual rhetorical power.
In other words, I'll continual to use the xenomorph motif as the banner for this blog, but I'm starting to (well trying to) pursue an even more differentiated evaluation of the prospects that may await us.
The { } Age
Pamphleteers of the 18th century didn't mince their words. And neither does Alistair Gentry, writer and artist, here speaking out on the idea of Enlightenment.

Enlightenment is never evenly distributed: not even in the minds of enlightened people. There are always a few little scars of former ignorance, always a corner of an eye still cacked up with a residue of former irrationality. Edinburgh’s favourite monument, Walter Scott, wrote in Ivanhoe of Jews being ‘watchful, suspicious and timid.’ He also describes the character Isaac as suffering from typical Jewish ‘obstinacy and avarice’. While it was hardly an original slur, Scott did at least admit that Jewish people might have good reason to be suspiciousof the Christians who exploited, persecuted and insulted them somercilessly. Another bright spark of the Scottish Enlightenment, David Hume, wrote rather more bluntly that he was ‘apt to suspect the negroes to be naturally inferior to whites’.Moving back to the present, the constant attacks on religion by Richard Dawkins (of Selfish Gene and memetics fame/infamy) are almost as intemperate, irrational and dogmatic as the fundamentalists that obviously whip him up into such a paddy. He’s never claimed that any of his favourite books justify people being executed, censored,covered or blown up – unlike many of the radically unenlightened religious people who I agree are burdening us all these days. He’s undoubtedly the proud owner of a serious intellect, and does still have some legitimate grip of his high horse’s reins. Unfortunately, the whole approach of his ‘Brights’ group has an unreconstructed technocratic and patrician character that the likes of ‘Sir Wally’ or ‘Racist Dave’ would probably have recognised with an approving little nod. Even the name these ‘Brights’ have awarded themselves partakes of the familiar combination of slapworthy nerdiness and obnoxious arrogance thatsome scientists just can’t seem to help or shake off. It’s no coincidencethat the phrase ‘nobody likes a smartarse’ originates in Britain, but the scientific community still occasionally seems unable or unwilling to accept that they’ll never get anyone to listen or engage in any kind of meaningful debate when the first thing they do is flummox people with jargon or just plain piss everybody off with their bad attitude.Even science’s occasional stars who have social skills (Susan Greenfield springs to mind) sometimes wrestle unsuccessfully with the deeply rooted distrust that entangles any kind of intellectual activity. That suspicion is probably more ingrained and more pronounced inour culture than it has been for some time, and it comes from the top as well as the bottom. This is after all a period in which celebrities have their autobiographies written for them at 20 years old. It’s an era in which you needn’t even pretend you’ve done anything worth while to be celebrated and rewarded. What you say is less important thanwhat you can get – or get away with – by saying it. You don’t necessarilyneed to have achieved much more than brand recognition to be in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery; have you seen the TV personalities (sic) on the walls there? I can simultaneously read, speak and wear an earpiece, too. Following that curatorial logic ad absurdum, they should have some paintings of people who can pat their heads and rub theirtummies simultaneously, because that demonstrates a similar crossingpoint of competency and inconsequence.Artists also frequently battle anti-cerebral bias at every level, from curators who should know better, right up to government, who at this stage you’d hardly expect to have much time for anyone who’s tooclever. Making art is your job? Really? And it takes you how long? You can’t be as essential to the wellbeing of society as Kirsty Wark is.Even some artists still seem ambivalent about the value of thought and ideas, a fact usually betrayed by their pusillanimous avoidance of the consequences or implications of what they make. Oh, I just do the work. I’m thinking primarily of the cutters and shitters here, literal or otherwise; the ones who never seem to have got over an adolescent anxiety about the human body and social relations.Failure of paternity is also a recurring criticism of scientists, partly thanks to the long shadow cast by a century and a half of mad, bad, fictional scientists – the Frankenstein effect, cousin of the Van Gogh effect for artists – but there’s undeniably some validity to it as well. Some scientists and artists are only just beginning to think about actually exercising a modicum of responsible control over what messages they’re sending out, rather than merely dismissing anyone who disagrees with them or doesn’t get it as not being very Bright.Golden ages and utopiasdon’t exist. At least not in the present. Firstly, the word utopia means simply ‘no place’. It does not exist. Ceci n’est pas un endroit. Secondly, in Thomas More’s original Utopia, people have to follow strict and rather arbitrary rules. The usual rich old men are in control, and everyone else must always be doing something productive. There’s a constant buzz of puritan prejudice against anything that makes life enjoyable. The state regards atheists as untrustworthy at best, at worst positively seditionary. I certainly wouldn’t want to go there, and Dickie Dawkins would have an apoplexy within five minutes of stepping offthe boat. Actually, I was wrong. This country does exist, it’s called the USA and I never want to live there either.Despite my derision-with-hindsight, More and his peers considered what he was writing so radical that he hid behind a character and published it in Latin so the masses didn’t get anyfunny ideas. His circumspection not withstanding, he still ended up being the only headless, posthumously canonised lawyer to provokeso many complicated daydreams. Now there are as many perfect worlds as there are people with imaginations. But all utopias arealike; they’re always hedged around with rules, or literally hiddenfrom the outside world. They have to be; otherwise they’d implodeunder the pressure of how people really are. The fictional Shangri-Laonly functions because almost nobody can find it; its various Marxist,Feminist and Otherist kin ditto. The progressive or radical utopia– the kind Enlightenment thinkers might have hoped or imagined that their reforms might bring about – has to lie elsewhere and most likely far in the future as well. Conservatives tend to look backwards because the present is always such a let down. The unenlightened mourn idealised historical utopias of decades or centuries past. Of course these never really existed either. You can’t know whether you’re having a golden age or not while you’re in one – or while you’re not in one, as the case may be. That’s because you only know about the past by the fragments of it that hang around in the present, and in not knowing the future you can alsorarely predict whether any given aspect of it is going to improve or deteriorate. Other people will come along later and decide whether on balance what you did made things worse or made things better.Sometimes it’s neither. Sometimes you just make things different.Dolly the sheep is not real. She’s in the National Museum of Scotland, but she is non-existent. If you’ve ever seen a real sheep,orsmelled one, you know that the thing you’re looking at there is not a sheep. Dolly’s all white and fluffy, like she’s been in a tumble dryer. In fact, she could quite easily have been laundered since she’s now just a skin with glass eyes stretched over a taxidermy form. And anyway, just because a museum or anyone else says an object is whatit is, doesn’t necessarily make it so. They say it’s Dolly, but it could be any sheep, or not a sheep at all. Ceci n’est pas une sheep.Although she’s being presented as an icon in a Madame-Tussaud’s-do-the-Beckhams sense, Dolly’s actually more like an icon on your computer’s desktop. Something you click on and the whole back end does some kind of inscrutable maths, automagically unloading a whole nexus of issues, complexes and imagery in yo’ unsuspecting ass: motherhood and family – though, despite her mumsy name, she’s actually named after Dolly Parton, a crude reference to herbeing cloned from a mammary cell; we have the mental scars froma hundred B movies – Dolly was originally called 6LL3, which I likebetter because it’s so sci-fi; our ambivalence and squeamishness about farming; Jason and the Golden Fleece; birth, death and our selfishfear of how both change our lives when we’re not the ones checkingin or out; our awareness of nature’s cruelty versus the equally certain knowledge that human beings can be sick bastards; our love of cute animals versus our need to slaughter things and eat them; Nazis; the hope that someone clever will do something to save us all before our own terrifying moral weakness does us in.I’m absolutely fascinated by all this. There’s enough material for a whole career’s worth of work, if I wanted to be the ‘Genetics Guy’ for the rest of my life, like Rachel Whiteread’s the ‘Casting Empty Spaces Lady’ or Ron Mueck’s the ‘Quite Realistic Figures Made a Bit Bigger or Smaller Bloke’. I don’t, as it happens, but it’s still absorbing. I’ll be satisfied with making a film about genomics that doesn’t feature the double helix, cell nuclei, pipettes and test tubes, or spewing readouts of Gs, As, Ts and Cs. Another thing that interests me (and that many scientists seem to fret constantly about) is the widespread idea that genomics and the ever-increasing mastery of DNA are innovationsas revolutionary as the wheel or the printing press. The consensus in the field seems to be that it isn’t, and that media speculation about the whole thing has mostly been highly irresponsible and unrealistic, exaggerating the risks or giving false hope. It’s also about narratives, which are a major concern in all mywork – the narratives that are imposed on complex ideas and issuesby the mass media, and the narratives that we all either consciously or unconsciously participate in, scientists very much included. Craig Venter, for example, was a driving force behind the Human Genome Project and obviously sees himself in a heroic role. The ‘human genome’ sequence is less universal than you may imagine; it’s rumoured that a large proportion of the DNA for the projectcame from one male donor. The biggest bitches suggest it was Venter himself. Beset by this kind of speculation, he’s now sailing round the world, living out the tragic rejection part that’s apparently necessary to his Joseph Campbell story arc. The fact that thinking about her provokes all this suggests Dolly is one of the more useful non-existent things. There’s a lot of research going on to do with every aspect of how we live and function (ormalfunction) as human beings, and a lot of thinking about that research and what we’re going to do with it. A large proportion of it is happening in Scotland without most people having any idea it’s going on. The Wilmut team made hundreds of defective clones in Edinburgh before 6LL3 was born six years ago. Though it is a bitweird, in reality there’s nothing particularly sinister about it. But who knew? At the Genomics Forum where I’ve been working on a film, there are specialists in security, plant genomics and intellectualproperty (among others) which gives you some idea of how many andhow long are the tentacles of genomics. I’ve been at meetings where scientists themselves are surprised at how little they know of what other professionals, other institutions or other countries are doingwith DNA sampling, stem cells or the industries and pseudo-sciencesthat are rapidly growing up around them.In the future, some of these things will improve some peoples’ lives. A few of them will do things to individuals and our society that are unremittingly horrible. There’s no golden age occurring and therenever was. It’s a crypto-Enlightenment if it’s anything at all, just a lot of stuff happening. Some of it we understand and some, not so much.That may seem either pessimistic or pedantic distinction. Same as it ever was, same as it ever was.Except I think everything’s a little bit better than it ever was, if only because we’ve got several millennia’s-worth of other peoples’ mistakes and break throughs to cushion us.Not for all of 6.6 billion of us. Most of us don’t appear to be seeing much illumination from our Enlightenment. But there are only two directions possible, and backwards is my least favourite. I can’t imagine why anyone would want to abandon progress and in doing so inevitably go back to a time where you could be old and used-up at 40, or see ten of your 15 children die before they hit double figures.Alistair Gentry is artist in residence at the ESRC Genomics Policy and Research Forum, University of Edinburgh 02 (DiscussDisgust) 29 January at the Genomics Forum. Salon 03 (Social Science) 12 March.

Tomorrow's People: The Challenges of Technologies for Life Extension and Enhancement.

Featuring webcasts and a review of the intriguingly titled Nano-punk for Tomorrow's People.

Tuesday, 28 August 2007

The Ships Landed Long Ago: Afrofuturism and Black SF

The latest issue of the US-based academic journal Science Fiction Studies is a special issue devoted to Afrofuturism edited by edited by Mark Bould and Rone Shavers.

The articles include

"The Ships Landed Long Ago: Afrofuturism and Black SF" (full text)
[Mark Bould]

"Ethnoscapes: Environment and Language in Ishmael Reed’s Mumbo Jumbo, Colson Whitehead’s The Intuitionist, and Samuel R. Delany’s Babel-17"
[Isiah Lavender, III]

"Droppin’ Science Fiction: Signification and Singularity in the Metapocalypse of Du Bois, Baraka, and Bell"
[Darryl A. Smith]

"Come Alive by Saying No: An Introduction to Black Power SF"
[Mark Bould]

"'Only by Experience': Embodiment and the Limitations of Realism in Neo-Slave Narratives"

[Sherryl Vint]

"'On the Receiving End of the Colonization': Nalo Hopkinson’s ’Nansi Web"
[Jillana Enteen]

"Is This The Future? Black Music and Technology Discourse"
[Nabeel Zuberi]

Derridata, you'll be interested in this...

....I've crossposted this from another blog as it updates my earlier posting "somewhat ironic in light of previous post". It has the additional benefit of including a [slightly provocative] comment (or is that testimony?) from one of Derrida's former students. I'm a bit late in getting to this, but it is obviously worth archiving on this site:

From The Chron. Supposedly, the text of the letter Derrida sent to the UCI Chancellor is here, though its authenticity cannot be confirmed. It reads in pertinent part:
… First, as concerns probability, I can testify on the basis of what I have been told by many colleagues (including Dragan, obviously). It would seem that the allegations of the plaintiff are unfair and in bad faith (I will not yet say perverse). When there has been neither any coercion or violence brought to bear on her, nor any attack (moreover very improbable!) on the presumed “innocence” of a 27- or 28-year-old woman, where does she find the grounds, how can she claim to have the right to initiate such a serious procedure and to put in motion such a weighty juridico-academic bureaucracy against a respectable and universally respected professor? I have also heard said that all the legal procedures were not observed in the conduct of the inquiry, notably in the way in which the administration informed (in fact failed to inform) our colleagues of new aspects of the law. I have especially heard said that, without even envisaging all sorts of intermediary stages, the provision of a whole range sanctions or warnings, a recommendation has already been made to apply the worst possible sanction of last resort: the exclusion of our colleague from UCI. Why has such a precipitous action been considered? Why go so quickly and so far? …
Again, it is not clear this letter was actually written by Derrida, though the text seems to comport with the description of the letter in the Chron article.

This entry was posted on Friday, July 20th, 2007 at 7:59 am

One Response to “Another Update on the Derrida Papers/Kujundzic Sexual Harassment Controversy”
lizlosh Says: July 20th, 2007 at 10:57 am
As someone who actually studied with Derrida in graduate school and always had very positive, nonsexist interactions with him, I am very sorry to see some of the troubling claims in this letter. Based on the fact that the website that hosts these documents appears to be created by his colleagues in the interest of disclosure and circulating accurate information in the public sphere, it seems to be the genuine article.

Monday, 27 August 2007

Australian Electronica: A Brief History

Thanks for the tip off Derridata about this one, I can only hope you're able to get a new computer soon so I can look forward to more of your postings!
Although their study goes back to early important Australian precursors such as composer Percy Grainger, I've copied and pasted a brief excerpt (link pasted below) to the section where they discuss the '80s scene. Anybody interested in earlier stuff can find a fascinating compilation in the August issue of The Wire, while the following piece reads like an exciting companion piece to some of the territory Frith covers in Art into Pop, and Simon Reynolds in Rip It Up, And Start Again. This is a useful supplement in the sense that Reynolds was forthcoming about how space and problems of organising a coherent study prevented him from covering comparable Australian developments.
The initial intrusion into rock and the beginnings of electronica

"The mid-1980s saw many changes in the composition of the electronic music scene, internationally, which was preceded by another extremely fertile period within popular music cultures during the late 1970s. This period presents a very significant break within the history of popular music, and is often portrayed (in a restricted manner) as the punk rejection of the pseudo-baroque complexity (many would say pretentiousness) of musical fusions that arose in the mid-1970s (such as jazz- and progressive-rock). Examples of the latter include Australian bands Spectrum, Ariel and perhaps even Blackfeather — although, like much music of the 1970s, some of this found a uniquely Australian flavour in its tinges of blues and boogie (for example, in the music of Matt Taylor and Chain). Punk did play a significant role in Australia via bands such as The Saints, The Boys Next Door, Radio Birdman and many other groups that emerged in the late 1970s in reaction to the stilted nature of the rock establishment. However, Australia has often seemed happier to mix musical styles than many other places, and this was true of punk. First, although much of the punk ethic was imported, there did seem to be many instances of ‘authentic’ Australian punk music, which were themselves transformed, as these imports settled into Australian spaces and mixed into Australian milieu. Secondly, as we shall see, punk was quickly accompanied by, and mixed in with, the rise of electronica. This once again suggests that the often noted vastness of space within Australia, together with its distance from many of the places from which it imports rhythms and refrains, are not necessarily the problems they are sometimes taken to be. Both allow for a complex series of shifts in the events of rhythm and refrain.
Wherever it came from, and wherever it went, the punk ethic was liberating, and not only for punk itself. This was in part because of the rejection of overly slick production methods which had the advantage of taking popular music out of the hands of the record companies and ‘their’ bands (who could afford the studios). Yet, as we have begun to suggest, the events of the late 1970s in Australia were much more diverse than this particular punk reaction.
Other mutant musics, rhythms and refrains — along with structural innovations — were also emerging. All these together lay the ground for what was to come. So it is important to note that punk was accompanied by several other emergent musics. One of these musics was found in rap and hip hop. [2] Punk was also accompanied by the beginnings of another, very different version of the do-it-yourself music ethic — electronica. Indeed, punk, hip hop and electronica were mutually enabling at a structural level. They shared an ethic of DIY self-production that could be turned towards musical experimentation by those able to create their own electronic devices and sounds in a manner not premised on traditional musical abilities. They opened popular music more to the joy of playing with ‘noise’. They often worked against the mainstream reception (and use) of popular music in favour of diverse minority groups — or simply the disaffected. Again, the significant role that punk did play for these other musics was that it made a break with major labels possible. This allowed the development of 'independent’ labels more able to release local and experimental deviations from mainstream music. Bruce Milne's Au Go Go label in Melbourne, Phantom Records, and Steven Stavrakis's Waterfront Records in Sydney were among the most successful. As we shall see, significant early electronic labels such as Innocent Records in Melbourne and Volition in Sydney provided the model for producing and selling electronica that has proliferated into the present. That the late 1970s contained all these tendencies is perhaps best seen in post-punk's immediate embrace of excess — even if in a somewhat ironic manner in groups such as Essendon Airport, Makers Of The Dead Travel Fast, Tch Tch Tch, and Scattered Order. Indeed, this was the moment when electronic music (that is, music that began to foreground synthetic sounds) made its first incursions into mainstream and alternative rock in Australia via many bands, such as Not Drowning Waving, the Reels, INXS and Brendan Perry's Marching Girls (and later Dead Can Dance). This moment was a perfect example involving a set of refrains that ‘opens the circle not on the side where the old forces of chaos press against it but in another region, one created by the circle itself’ (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987: 311).
So the cradle of electronica in Australia is found to have a diverse number of hands rocking it".

Laying an Olive Branch at Dylan Trigg's Door?

Ah, not really. Mr Trigg has since made contact with me on a few occasions in an attempt to clarify his position in relation to the critiques I had made of his work, and by extension, the typology of a "philosopher" I thought he represented. I'm not making any retractions as I still stand behind what I originally wrote, but seeing my references to the necessity of an alternative social epistemology necessarily also involves a functioning public sphere, I feel obligated on these grounds to appear as democratic as possible. Afterall, I don't pretend to play God by refusing to be held accountable, by denying folks the right of reply. No, as Kant would say, people are mature, they can decide for themselves (i.e. assuming anyone else reads this obscure blog).
Trigg also made it clear why he preferred a private correspondence in the form of email, rather than the over heated atmosphere he claimed to have encountered in his previous flame war with k punk et al. He did not give permission to repost his correspondence here, asking me instead to consider rewriting my original post. I have not complied [sic] because I don't feel it is justified on rational grounds. Afterall, to accede to such a request would mean I was convinced by Trigg's response. I am not. Moreover, in principle that is also an unreasonable, and perhaps even an outrageous request, for a published author to make of the administrator of a tiny blog such as this, presupposing as it does a desire to exercise control that seems completely out of all proportion. I am therefore left with no alternative other than to compromise by offering a very brief selection of the issue that I think concerned him most. I hereby faithfully present Trigg's side of the story:
"More importantly, though, you are mistaken to suggest that my presentation of decay leads only to malaise. Far from it. The whole point of that exercise – and the book – was the production of new modes of discourse, which don’t rely on what is absent. This is exactly what I was arguing against – i.e. the supposed alignment between fragmentation and deficiency.

And I am far from having “the institutional protection of a corporate body.” I am a research student, which hardly grants me special powers or even funding."
My response was to concede it may be presumptuous on my part to assume Trigg was already enjoying the benefits of tenureship. But what I think his interlocutors such as K punk, and by extension myself, were really driving at, was how much of a factor an ambition to climb the scholarship ladder or that of the "professional writer" may be playing in the building of Trigg's public profile. Trigg did not comment specifically when I raised the issue of [future] "wanting" with him, but the glossy homepage (replete with photos of the author, lists of activities etc) hardly speaks to the anonymity and lack of a public persona that Trigg might otherwise claim in his defence.
Again, given Trigg's request for privacy, I will only offer a very small sampling of how I responded to the first point he raised above regarding malaise and decay. My counterargument was that the lack of a social epistemology among Continental philosophers was a contributing factor to an ineffectuality that can, even inadvertently in the face of avowed intentions to "engage" with the world", foster malaise. To my mind it is a seemingly subtle paradox that in actuality places severe restrictions on the feasible production of the "new modes of discourse", which Trigg invests so much in. Trigg responds as if I hadn't factored into my assessment his consideration of any need to move beyond malaise, when what I actually posted was that he offered the wrong kind of "redemption", a "metaphysical" redemption. The problem with this that I elaborated is that it in effect leads to the same end result, irrespective of whether this was Trigg's original intention. On this basis I characterised Trigg as a "decadent" philosopher, content to merely "play" among the ruins, as "the real" required effort was seemingly neglected. As I wrote to Trigg:
"I think I understand what you mean about "eternal" problems in a philosophical sense, but my point was the more sociological one: it is ironic how even the emphasis on the flux of difference can coalesce into an avant garde formalism (isn't this topic indirectly raised in the upcoming Deleuze symposium at Sussex University?). Something else follows from this; little attention is paid by philosophers of many stripes to how questions of ignorance can transmute from questions of truth to questions of quality. What I mean by this comment is a more robust means can be developed for confronting the classic epistemological problem of ignorance of ignorance: ignorance squared. Unlike philosophical scepticism, quality can encompass functional issues of how information will be put to work, the recursive question of, "who guards the guardians?" In this sense, to speak of "eternal" practices by philosophers, is to indicate a reinventing of the wheel, by people who do not reflexively situate their own knowledge practices, inasmuch as there is a disparity between the epistemology and its conditions of production and dissemination. Perhaps it might be said then that this peculiar admixture of assertion and silence is a characteristically philosophical vice with a very long, if not quite an "eternal", lineage".
I can only call it as I see it, so it is now in the lap of the gods as to whether further contributions to this debate are forthcoming or not. Mr Trigg, I am not offering you anything else even approximating a gracious gesture, other than my agreed silence about the other details of our private correspondence. This is chiefly because I think the exchanges have become somewhat repetitive in both style and substance, letalone the fact that they are by and large conducted at crosspurposes (to say nothing of suspicious tactical evasions).

Saturday, 25 August 2007

Gottfried Helnwein

Je est un autre, RIMBAUD (but what of the combined effects of associations with Marilyn Manson and Scientology?).
"Till now, Gottfried Helnwein has largely skirted the insider art market with its traditional bias for originals and exclusive objects so as to reach the consumer in the directest and fasted way via industrial poster and cover-picture production. After his first sensational cover on "Suicide in Austria" for the Viennese political and cultural magazine PROFIL (1973), Helnwein acquired the undeservedly prejudiced image of being a journalistic photo designer who supplies large-circulation pictorials, metropolitan billboards, and the befuddling poster industry of youth culture with psychoshocks. For instance, his affectionately hagiographic paintings of idols such as Mick Jagger, Peter Alexander, Muhammad Ali, Niki Lauder, Joseph Beuys, and just recently of Marlene Dietrich are criticized as having little to do with art and much with public relations; they are regarded merely as a stylish tribute to hedonistic consumer culture and its mass-media contents.
Looking back today, Helnwein doesn't see himself as a painter, photographer, illustration designer, or a style artist from some other artistic category, but rather as being in the vicinity of "conceptual art", which tries to eliminate the subjective limitations of the separate visual media, techniques, styles and strives for an objectivation of artistic formulation via a fusion of all visual communication forms. Like Cindy Sherman, he works out a strategy of projective masks and mirror images revealing to the art viewer his own thinking and wishes. The subjectless staging of the viewer's reality become more important than the subjective likeness or reality by the artist. Here, it will be shown how this reorientation from the self-portrayal of the artist to the self-search of the viewer is done, paradoxically, with Helnwein's "self-portraits".
Helnwein's experimental versatility can scarcely be pigeonholed. His art contains works reminiscent of the Little Masters [of the German 16th Century] as well as bizarre-fantastic drawings in the tradition of Redon and Kubin. Also, his active commitment to "anti-psychiatry", anti-authoritarian education, disarmament, and more ecological consciousness is usually forgotten. Helnwein takes motifs and forms popular culture and uses them partly as caricatures and partly as grotesque alienation. His annoying hypernaturalism is unsettling and borders on ironic exaggeration. The Brecht-Benjamin maxim, "Don't take up the good old [elements], but the bad new," was already a determining factor of his beginning in the early seventies. The academically trained painter from Rudolf Hausner's Viennese School confesses today to have learned more from rock music and Walt Disney than from Mozart and Leonardo da Vinci.
One day, he decided on success and started looking for a form of communication which is popular, easily understood, entertaining, and which justifies its existence in the masses' interest in it. Thus, crossing boundaries to work with such things as photography, comic strips, science fiction, juvenile media, and painting, as well, was an obvious practical consequence. At first, Helnwein took up the mental clichés and colloquial speech of everyday life as a new, fresh subject matter, as had pop art and American photorealism, but then he found his way to less static, open picture forms the content of which was scarcely defined and didn't take on a sharply contoured meaning until the viewer's imagination was projected onto it. Behind the reception-aesthetic opening and reduction of the work of art to a relative role is the old idea of the plebiscitary participation of the public, which, to be sure, is currently aimed, in the light of post-modernistic ideology, at a more-or-less non-committal, playful participation by the person interested in art.
Helnwein's newest works shows him as an expert in picking up contemporary catastrophe perspectives and crisis moods. As emotional elements it contains almost all manifestations of violence such as war, torture, rape, sexual obscenity, fascism, in molded-over historical and in up-to-date form. Most recently, he has distributed them on monumental surfaces of two, three, and more parts, so that one seems to be witnessing the staging of a limitless run of pictures. Helnwein's hope of having his art approach the life process by scenically expanding and dramatizing the traditional panel picture can be traced back to his early actionist forms.
Actionistic self-portrayals in the manner of a happening featuring his injured and bandaged body go back to his student days at the HIGHER GRAPHIC INSTRUCTION AND EXPERIMANTAL INSTITUTION (1965-1969) and the ACADEMY OF VISUAL ARTS in Vienna (1969-1973). They may be regarded as biographical, artistic, or less conscious accompanying circumstances to his other graphic productions. From the beginning, photographic actions were used as stimulation and models for his painting. Appearances and manifestations reminiscent of happenings in his typical pose as a cripple all bandaged up in a wheelchair are the content of the vernissages of his exhibits. In 1972, Helnwein realized that an action as staged reality is an independent form of expression.
This was the time of the student revolt at the Vienna Academy, in which he was prominently involved, of the protest action against violence and terror in the "Galerie D." during an exhibit of paintings of deformed children, the "Blood-for-Helnwein" event, a blood donation drive together with the Red Cross, and finally, a five-hour "silent action", during which he is shown standing, kneeling, and squatting among the passers-by on the street. In this silent protest against the indifference and insensibility of people in everyday life, he used a partly disgusting, partly pitiful masquerade of bandages and surgical tongs deforming his head. Since then, they have become part of the aesthetic "uniform" of his self-portrayals and self-portraits.
At the same time that he painted pictures of injured and abused children, from 1969, around 1971/72 the bandaged child became the most important figure next to the artist himself and the martyr allied with him in his actions. The child is the embodiment of the innocent, defenceless, sacrificed individual at the mercy of brute force. As an innocent "child of light", whose head and hand injuries emit light rays like self-radiating stigmata, he is heroized into a sufferer and saviour figure, just as the artist is. In a photography sequence of 1972, this light mysticism is expressly transferred to the self-portrait of the artist as a martyr. The scars and bandages of the face of the grimacing artist in the photographs are transformed by a grattage technique into radiant white trajectories.
As shown also by his many actions with children in public, the group portrait with children has become a permanent subject for Helnwein. His commitment to the rights of children has nothing to do with "infantomania", as manifested in a socially isolated "children's culture", in a commercialized "children's media", in the child as a pedagogical subject, and in the ideological transfiguration of one's own childhood.
Helnwein must also be set apart from Viennese Actionism as he does not reduce the child's body to mere aesthetic material (as in the "material actions" of Günter Brus, Hermann Nitsch, and Otto Muehl), but instead endows it with a symbolic function in representing defenceless, sacrificed man. The sexualistic concept of the child in (Freud-influenced) "Viennese Actionism" is countered by the moralist and utopian Helnwein with the child as a sexless salvation figure. The tendency to a patriarchal transfiguration and idealization of an innocent, sacrificing child-man embracing children and artist as the sole creative interest group and excluding the female, which is assigned to the sphere of the other aesthetic objects, is the main feature distinguishing Helnwein's world of pictures from the pan-sexualism and libido anarchy of the Vienna action group of old. The idyllic group portrait of the artist as Man of Sorrows with maltreated children also has a biographical, an autobiographical aspect, since his own children Cyril, Mercedes, and Ali have advanced to the role of models for his live and photo actions.
In the seventies, happenings and actions were commonplace intermedia events. For the Rudolf Hausner pupil Helnwein they were an additional means of expression apart from painting and photography and not the only avant-garde form possible, as "Viennese Actionsim" had claimed. Helnwein didn't know anything about this socially and culturally isolated group until 1975, when the gallery owner Ursula Krinzinger told him about it; she also pointed out similarities in his self-portrayals with the "bandage actions" of Rudolf Schwarzkogler, who had committed suicide in 1969. Helnwein knows that like the "Viennese Actionists" he stands in the tradition of the body-language expression of Gerstl, Schiele, and Kokoschka.
But whereas the aesthetic crossing of boundaries of the already historic Viennese action artists were meant as a dadaistic-destructive overthrow of panel painting and, in the footsteps of informal and action painting, as esoteric art centred on its creative process, Helnwein, in adhering to a mass-media-influenced, generally understandable, realistic depiction method, is after an approximation of art and everyday life, a socialization and democratization of the art experience in the technologically advanced reproduction media. This entertaining post-aura art is aimed at the everyday person. He is to be rattled in his living and thinking habits, sensitized and encouraged to change from consumerism to activity affecting the social process. Like painting, happenings and actions are too limited, to the point of being anachronistic, to help post-aura art attain simultaneous collective reception.
The actionistic form of depiction thus remains limited to a stimulating and accompanying role in Helnwein's idea of non-verbal communication. All the same, it is the most important source of picture material. The photographic actions and self-portrayals, the psychodramatic role-playing and photo actions of a reality copied in the studio and staged with models also contribute as raw material and preliminary form of each picture composition to its scenic temporalization. This leads in the new multisectional "Retabel" pictures and cyclical photograph sequences such as WAR AND PEACE, FLOWER-AND-LIGHT CHILD, ROSE OF SHAME AND THE SONG OF DEPUTIES, to the limitless run of pictures with a broad thematic scope reminiscent of historical and genre painting.
The martyr-like self-portrayal of the artist with his head bandaged and mouth distorted is a frequently varied main motif in Helnwein's picture production. In the diptych IT'S ONLY ROCK ('N' ROLL, BUT WE LIKE IT) (referring to Keith Richard), the expressive photograph of the Man of Sorrows in the tradition of Schiele's body-language self-portraits is complemented by a blood-stained, almost "monochrome" or "tachist" canvas. It is reminiscent of informal pictures by Nitsch and Rainer. But the last thing Helnwein is after is quotations from art history, an affiliation with "Viennese Actionism", or the monochromatic painting of Yves Klein. He works predominantly with the trivial myths, symbols, signets, and idols of everyday life; he has (much like Renzo Vespignani) a sharp eye for the nostalgic devotional objects and pictures of fascism.
The necrophile demonism of Nazi nostalgia, the military look and uniform fetishism of youth culture with its sad-masochist impulses, its weakness for "outta-sight" weapon aesthetics and war-like masquerading are just as much subject matter as are the heroic-pathetic gesture and the mime of the great emotions. The action photographs (staged in the studio) devoted to the heroic image of the "dead soldier" are so balanced emotionally that in this monumentophilia, piety and lack of respect, fascination and hate balance out. The model and the actor of this photo action is the artist himself. He would like to be an identification figure and claims a universal-humanitarian deputy function for himself.
The CUP OF PASSION, a triptych in acrylic paint and photography of 1986, combines the bull-like commander's head of Mussolini with a fantastic fairy-tale scene in which a frail, child-like creature is confronted with an extraterrestrial monster. The irreal and real horror pictures on the side wings are hinged together by the still life of a tipped-over cup with its contents spilled on the floor. The meaning of this composition remains vague, but the mood it evokes should be dissonant and full of conflict. The viewer, who as a rule is set in his prejudices, is to be disoriented, irritated, and rattled by ambiguities. Helnwein thinks the picture would lose its "tremendous power" and suggestive effect by combining it with a message, explanation, and social criticism. So he leaves it at toying with the viewer's shock; for him, it is enough to have evoked the fragmentized sensation of fascination and pain, seduction and falsification.
The non-committal and irresponsible aspect of this toying is obvious. On the other hand, works of art are not morally bound, they are neither sermons nor philosophical commentaries. Even so, the artist must be asked if today we again need visual instruction on the fact that fascism no doubt was and is also an aesthetic seduction, that it never came on the scene as bare violence, but in romantic make-up, very attractive and stylish? The victims and perpetrators of fascism appear at the same level by virtue of an artistic mannerism smoothing all ideological differences over in a splendidly staged horror fetishism. The total aesthetic impression of Helnwein's paraphrases of fascism is that of a memento mori, and unsettling iconography of martyrdom with no prospect of resistance or hope. The sensuality, the fascinating substantiality of crime, the vitalities of the acts of violence are in danger, in and by virtue of the work of art, of being made relative to mere human individual, culinary, and eroticist proportions, which must not be conceded to fascism.
Helnwein knows no positive father and leader figures. In the vacuum of authority left by the "fatherless society" (Mitscherlich), their place is taken by the corrupt hero, the dead soldier, the doppelganger, the children and fools, the undependable ("pre-oedipal") mama's boys, and other crisis figures of the late-capitalistic state. The role of the romantic martyr figure is correspondingly ambivalent and full of conflict in Helnwein's stagings. In his photographic diptych A TEAR ON A JOURNEY (1986), he again takes up the popular nostalgic pictorial tradition of World War II and its collective experience.
The Two-part picture consists of a reproduction of an old war photograph showing a bomber squadron approaching and the self-portrait of the artist as a half figure with his head bandaged in white. As an attribute of his martyrdom, a white swan is faded into the background - wearing an eye bandage in turn and abstrusely stigmatized - embodying the suffering creature, which in Helnwein's iconography is, like the child, one of the light and redeemer figures allied with the martyr-artist. (In DEATH OF EXPERTISE, this context is visually evident.) The demonstrative sacrificed gesture of Man of Sorrows is grotesquely alienated and turned into its opposite by his authoritarian commanding pose, the representative bust with the head raised in semi-profile and folded hands. His gold-braided black fantasy uniform, the sleeve of which is adorned by the artist's name as an infantile insignia of rank, is equally suggestive of a commander and violent person as of a stigmatized victim.
With this ambivalent self-portrait in the pose of martyr and leader, Helnwein condensed the contradictory positions of victim and perpetrator into a single figure; both have an aesthetic fascination, thus permitting the applause of repression on the part of old and neo-Nazis. Just as in his three irritating Hitler paintings, in which (in Dali's footsteps) the surreal condensation of the picture of a saint and caricature, of beauty and terror is elevated to a compositional principle, he must provoke the repulsion and mistrust of everyone demanding moral outrage and disgust at the aestheticism of violence, but who in so doing are in the way of a rational treatment of this subject by those wanting to arrive at a concrete concept of the aesthetics of violence and its seductive powers, whether from historical interest of just to see for themselves.
Helnwein already belongs to a generation for which it is just as much a matter of course to use the pictorial heritage of National Socialism and the current Nazi nostalgia as subject matter, without feelings of guilt (but this doesn't amount to assent, either), as it is to take up the reports of the catastrophes and atrocities of today. Like the group of school pupils and young people his art is directed at, he reflects any politically decreed banning of pictures and compulsory moral shock as an indirect form of taboo of sensitive subjects of most recent German history.
Nonetheless, the question arises whether with the limited expressive possibilities of an art in the medium of painting, photography, and montage techniques war, destruction, torture, and a complex machinery of violence such as fascism, entangled as it was with economic crisis and state control mechanisms, can be made aesthetically commensurable. Trying to portray barbarity on the level of human faces and bodies or compressing the experience of violence into an anamorphous victim-perpetrator figure runs the risk of raising the violent political circumstances to the psychological level of masochistic pleasure and sex murder.
The artist who tries it must be aware that he is walking a tightrope between coming to terms with and glorification of a basically impossible subject. The beauty of depravity, the fascinated staring at violence which had already brought Dali to "paranoid-critical" fantasies over the leather shoulder strap cutting into Hitler's fleshy back, make the guilt and the secret assent of art, which goes ahead and treats the incommensurable anyway, all too apparent.
Knowing that the simple metaphores of good and evil, domination and bondage of traditional contrast montage will not do justice to complex social reality, Helnwein has chosen a dynamic dramaturgy of pictures intended to induce to activating equivocality in doppelganger-like pictorial puzzles and to get the visual message now run aground in comparisons, antitheses, and contrasts moving again from scene to scene. The project of an "exhibit opera" now being planned with Peter Zadek and Hans Neuenfels is thus aimed at a fusion of pictorial and scenic forms, a synthesis of exhibit and performance in an open space of time transforming the pictorial content into a horizon of meanings, symbols, and analogies.
Helnwein, whose first work was actionism in parallel to, but not influenced by "Viennese Actionism", is equipped for the temporalization of the picture. By inserting scenic and actionistic motifs, his new large-format, multisectional history and genre pictures, a combination of acrylic and oil painting with photography, take on the aspect of self-portrayal, sometimes even as role playing, in which the artist and his models respect universally human situations and destinies; the pictures thus gain an additional narrative, dramatic element. This permits associating greater, unaccustomed contexts with the objects of the montage, this affording a greater scope to the viewer for coming to terms with it than the schematic construction of opposites and contrasts of traditional antithetical photomontage.
The visual thriller and shocks, the pictures of violent and embarrassing subjects still used by Helnwein, the photographs of his penitent and accusing grimace have most recently been interspersed by monochromatic colour fields added as a kind of meditative resting zone or pause for thought in the noisy view of the objective and figurative motif (WEEP LORD, FOR WE ARE NIGH!, THE GOD OF SUB-HUMANS, II, IT'S ONLY ROCK' N' ROLL . . . ). Helnwein supplies the culturally conditioned viewer, even the museum-goer, with more "food for conversation" and imaginative freedom of movement by inserting pictorial quotations taken from art books or albums on cultural history (such as on the "Biedermeier in Austria"), and by alienating them in linking them to the self-portrait of the artist as Man of Sorrows, he initiates an intra-pictorial dialogue (as in THE SECRET ELITE, photo triptych, 1986).
The grotesque montage of an aggressive photograph of a grimace with romantic pictures quotations of the wild heather rose of a Biedermeier interior aims to alienate and disillusion the manifestations of "wholesome" bourgeois introvertedness. In the ROSE OF SHAME AND THE SONG OF DUPUTIES, a photo triptych of 1986, this is done by a sexual rape fantasy, a shocking unmasking of the "untouched", dewdropped rose blossoms as a feminine chastity symbol, with the screaming mouth of the Man of Sorrow, hideously distorted by surgical clips, singing it's song as "proxy" for the raped female organ. In this self-portrait, the artist's doppelganger role again confronts us as martyr and satyr in one and the same person.
Helnwein always had his eye out for kitsch in working with clichés an stereotypes on the aesthetically trivial level, so that the picture can function as a wall of projections of the viewer's private and social wishes, hopes, feelings of happiness and anxiety. His anonymous pictures are meant as mirror images for everyone, aiming to reach a collective similarity of people depicted and to blow up the specialization of the individual portrait.
In BLITZKRIEG OF LOVE (1986), Helnwein has found an emblematic, ambiguous visual formula for the problems of relations between the sexes, so that man and woman can be seen as a couple, as parents, or as jealous adversaries in a small family fighting over "their" child. The child appears on the middle panel of the photo triptych between the parents as being totally bound into the father-son relationship: "Standing at order" in the war game with the macho father and dressed as a bandit. Here, as elsewhere, it is hard to pin the artist down as to his own standpoint in the war of the sexes, as he always manages to raise the content of the picture to a non-subjective, unprejudiced, "impartial" plane which can only be interpreted through the active eye of the viewer. His ambivalent, doppelganger-like self-portraits as victim-perpetrator are also meant to be taken as more than exalted body-language stagings of artistic autism, but rather as symbols of collective suffering and collective guilt.
Even though Helnwein did his "self-portraits" in various styles in the manner of Bacon, de Chirico, or Jones and not simply in a realism of his own and has arranged them like a polyglot handbook of style or a catalogue of wares, this only goes to show that in this syncretistic kind of presentation (every style is beautiful, which is reminiscent of Warhol's "everything is beautiful"), the artist - in keeping with his criterion of success - is counting on all kinds of viewers and keeps an emotional identification pattern in readiness for each (usually underscored by the title of the picture). In subjectless mass-culture, the relationship between art production and its reception, the cultural communication process of "transmission" and "countertransmission" between artist and public becomes more important than the self-realization of the artist's individuality in an incomparable personal style. If this development was still being discussed an deplored in the sixties as a crisis of the work of art and its autonomour creative nature, in the current tendency to cross and smooth over all boundaries between art and everyday aesthetics it is hardly a subject for discussion. Helnwein is exemplary for this development. His work is indeed an appeal for a model to explain it in terms of the aesthetics of reception and of its motivations.
The central importance of the "self-portrait" in Helnwein's work, the mutable art of a doppelganger, is no accident. It becomes the projection surface of world events. "The artist doesn't make history, history makes him" (Auguste Comte). The artist's doppelganger role as victim and perpetrator, martyr and satyr, penitent and accuser, proxy and self-portrayer, moralist and autist, and in many other metamorphoses embodies and stages the antagonistic social forces on a stage of his inner-world consciousness.
Just as for many painters today, all of the important political subjects have slipped back onto the functional plane for Helnwein, too; they can no longer be adequately shown by rational means on the visual, phenomenological plane unless one uses a tendentiously informative, partisan form of presentation. Helnwein didn't fail to see the bottleneck and tried to combat it with scenic-actionistic addition of icons to triptychs and whole series of pictures; but of course without succeeding or even intending, in this rich "interlacing" of associates of the single pictures to an "exhibit opera", to solve the basic conflict between morals and aesthetics in the iconic depiction of fascism. He doesn't touch up the contradictions, he doesn't protest, either, but symbolically evokes the phenomenon in our consciousness.
With Helnwein and the generation of today's thirty-year-olds, the oppositional, romantic life feeling of the artistic avant-garde has reached a final, radical climax. The artist as unsuccessful, disappointed adversary of the bourgeois becomes a self-styled martyr of a revolution which has not achieved the emancipation of the individual. The age of the negative heroes and dead warriors is dawning. The victim is filled with inner meaning and mystified. The symbolism of sacrifice in the repeated self-portrayals with his wounded likeness seems importunate.
In the first version of THE GOD OF SUB-HUMANS, a photographic triptych of 1986, the middle panel shows the artist as a tortured Man of Sorrows in a white penitential robe with a blood-stained head. He is flanked by two pictures showing his martyr pose to be in the hands of the powers of destiny: war and peace, chaos and order. The left side of this secular winged altarpiece shows an enlarged reproduction of C.F. Friedrich's MORNING IN THE RIESENGEBIRGE (1810/11) from his well-known series of landscapes of the Cross. The painting is "complemented" on the right side by a documentation from World War II, the enlarged photograph of an airplane with the swastika shortly before take-off on a mission.
The romantic landscape picture in art was once expression of man's intimate relationship with nature, the unity of self and being. The romantic artist didn't intend to imitate creation, he wanted to carry it out himself, in analogy to the divine "original act", to exist directly. Contrasting as it does in Helnwein's composition with the implements of war. Friedrich's painting, which, with its peacefully majestic landscape in the clouds and a couple reaching the summit, has been interpreted as an allegory of faith, is transformed into an apocalyptic depiction. The romantic longing for a fusion of the self with the absolute, with nature, with being, as symbolically expressed in the sun-struck mountain climber on the summit crowded by a Cross (the climber is also possibly a self-portrait of the artist), appears in the scenic montage with the war picture as broken and disillusioned.
The romantic mountain climber, the hidden, incidental self-portrait of the artist in Friedrich's landscape painting, is stylized in Helnwein's "winged altarpiece" to the central figure with the characteristics of a martyr. Here, the relationship of man with nature is ambiguous, entangled in mysticism and destruction. The mood of Helnwein's picture is ambivalent regarding both war and peace. The idolized man of romanticism is negatively symbolized and as a doppelganger reduced to a "God of the Inferior", whose demonic nature is allied equally with sacrificial suffering and victimizing violence and suppression.
In the triptych THE PROOF (1986), the hangman and the hanged "pose" together, with Hitler and his blood-thirsty marshalls Göring, Keitel, Dönitz, Himmler on one side as a representative group portrait of the Nazi Reich, with a photographic self-portrait of the artist in the middle, bandaged and alienated as a body hanging from the rope, flanked on the other side wing by the oil and acrylic painting of a head-shaped, bloody mass of flesh.
The self-portrait for the artist's blindfolded unbent head covered with blood occurs twice in his triptych THE SILENT GLOW OF THE AVANTGARDE (1986). The middle panel shows an enlarged reproduction of C.D. Friedrich's POLAR SEA, a depiction of a catastrophe of 1823/24 which is generally interpreted as a romantic allegory of the force of nature overpowering all human effort . Helnwein compared the "quietly theatrical" ecstatic attitude of his self-portrait with the heroic pose of the figure of the suffering figure of Sebastian and generalizes both to the stigma of the artist in the 20th century, making him a kind of saviour figure. In addition, its poetic title sets the viewer onto the right track. The visual montage of the modern artist as Man of Sorrows with Friedrich's landscape painting projects the dashed hopes of the romantic rebellion into the present, to the protest thinking of modernity, which has become introverted and masochistic, and its crossing of aesthetic boundaries.
Is romanticism making a comeback? No; actually, it had never left modernity. But its rebellion is confining and introverting itself in the "body metaphysics" of contemporary artists to its own flesh and blood. Thus, the comeback of romanticism leads for Helnwein, too, to stressing just once of its partial aspects, the stylizing in the form of a self-portrait of a protest introverted to martyrdom which historically was once linked in a contradictory way with social opposition, rebellion, and utopia".

"Helnwein's painting - both cheekily and totally in homage - appropriates the great paintings, "The Polar Sea" (1824) by the leading German Romantic landscape artist Casper David Friedrich. Helnwein here re-renders the painting in a gloomy, cinematic blue-black duochrome, and hugely magnifies it from its original scale (about 1 metre by 1 metre 30), although the foundered ship still seems dwarfed and pulverised by the splintering ice sheets. It remains a fine example of that particularly Germanic celebration of heroic humanity dashing itself against the majestic cruelty of nature.Helnwein, in his wry title and borrowing of the image, is suggesting an uncomfortable paradigm behind Friedrich's painting - a perpetual sense of momentous revolution within nature, raw humanity and indeed artistic culture. These ideas pervaded Friedrich's work, as well as that of composer Richard Wagner and philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche - all of whose works were later so mistakenly absorbed into the "superhuman" aesthetic of Nazi ideaology and doctrine.
Further reading:
Peter Reichelt, Helnwein and Scientology (H A S):Lies and Treason, 1997

Serial Desire: The Culture of the Copy

Finally found a companion piece to Jon Stratton's piece "The Desirable Body", an excerpt from which I included in my previous "Man Made Woman" posting. In keeping with the theme I here copy directly from an overview of another piece I'm interested in chasing up. The images chosen are also intended to prove a theoretical point. Many years ago Raymond Williams argued that an invention becomes an available technology through means of mass serial production. This will usually involve a playing it "safe" by showcasing a previously available cultural form, with a pre-established audience. For example, television initially imitated vaudeville stage productions, while compact disc concentrated on classical music (little outgoing expense in the form of artist royalties, technically suited to showing off high fidelity to convince sceptical consumers to invest in the technology). Little wonder then that pornography exploded on the internet, and how much discussion of imitation of "lifelikeness" concentrates on its possible sexual applications. To be fair, this was hardly the intention of Duane Hanson's beefcake sculpture that I've chosen, concerned as he was instead to imbue everyday people with a quiet dignity, but who could reasonably argue that such work is not open to misconstrual by those more interested in precursors to the future realisation of their own desires?

The Culture of the Copy Striking Likenesses, Unreasonable Facsimilies

The Culture of the Copy is an unprecedented attempt to make sense of our Western fascination with replicas, duplicates, and twins. In a work that is breathtaking in both its synthetic and critical achievements, Hillel Schwartz charts the repercussions of our entanglement with copies of all kinds, whose presence alternately sustains and overwhelms us.Through intriguing, and at times humorous, historical analysis and case studies in contemporary culture, Schwartz investigates most varieties of simulacra, including counterfeits, decoys, mannequins, ditto marks, portraits, genetic cloning, war games, camouflage, instant replays, digital imaging, parrots, photocopies, wax museums, apes, art forgeries, not to mention the very notion of the Real McCoy.At the same time Schwartz works through a range of modernist, feminist, and postmodern theories about copies and mechanical reproduction, posing the following compelling question: How is it that the ethical dilemmas at the heart of so many fields of endeavor have become inseparable from our pursuit of copies -- of the natural world, or our own creations, indeed our very selves?The Culture of the Copy is a stunning, innovative blend of microsociology, cultural history, and philosophical reflection that will fascinate anyone concerned with problems of authenticity, identity, and originality.

July/August 1997 Contents
ExcerptSincerest Flatteries
Schwartz is the author of, among other books, Century's End: A Cultural History of the Fin de Siecle from the 990s through the 1900s.
The first American book on photography re-touched an English book, Photographic Manipulation. Sermons on honesty were read out from the pulpit by Victorian ministers who had handcopied them from printed books so as to seem to have an original text at hand. A Boston Globe story on the swiping of a commencement address in 1991 was allegedly swiped by The New York Times. Lexicographers responsible for defining plagiarism have been accused of plagiarizing definitions. A University of Oregon booklet plagiarized its section on plagiarism.
Given this compulsion to repeat that which bears on repeating, plagiarism in our culture of the copy appears inevitable. Inevitable, as one famous estimate had it, because the number of different ideas the human mind is capable of is 3,655,760,000, and while there may be a slight hope that all the ideas have not yet been bespoken, there is a high probability of coincidence of unconscious repetition. "As if there was much of anything in any human utterance, oral or written, except plagiarism!" wrote Mark Twain. "The kernel, the soul -- let us go further and say the substance, the bulk, the actual and valuable material of all human utterances -- is plagiarism." He was writing to Helen Keller, who herself at the age of twelve had unconsciously (re)written and published as her own a story read aloud to her years before.

The Ruination of a Philosopher: The Case of Dylan Trigg

I can't believe I was so late getting to this one. It was a bit of a shock to have posted a harmless enough sounding preamble to a study on "The Aesthetics of Decay", only to discover too late that it was boobytrapped. For what I discovered through further investigation was how much the interest in hauntological psychogeography relates to the earlier typology I developed in my posting "The Conservative Revolt Against Bourgeois Society". On this reading, the author of "The Aesthetics of Decay", Dylan Trigg, is comparable to the anti-hero Aschenbach in "Death in Venice"; confronted by a melancholy inability to reconcile the material and ideal. Therefore it is not surprising that Trigg should go out of his way to portray blogging as by and large a virtual graveyard, a forum for failed writers and crackpots. It necessarily follows that the heavy emphasis on Continental philosophy in his work should be construed as evidence of a failure to understand that culture can be redemptive, but that this redemption will be interpretive, not metaphysical. The problem illustrated in this instance is how philosophy majors tend to focus on "eternal" problems, to the point where insufficient attention is paid to the lack of innovation with respect to producing "answers". Sometimes it seems then that the winds of change barely register on the weather aerials protruding from Continental philosophy departments. Consider in this light the lyrics from the Joy Division song "Colony" as capturing the melancholy of the decadent Trigg standing among the ruins:

"A cry for help, a hint of anaesthesia...A cruel wind that blows down to our lunacy And leaves him standing cold here in this colony".

In other words, Trigg's forecasting is so bad because he fails to properly grasp how fragmentation has 2 faces. Certainly it can result in various forms of anomie, but it can also free people up to create new communities through discourse. Trigg's major issue, from the perspective of academe's ivory towers, is essentially the same as the carping of journalists that blogging will facilitate the "virtual" ruinisation of the Fourth Estate (a claim contested by Jay Rosen in my previouis posting). Trigg differs though in wanting to have his cake and eat it too: he'll play the part of the decadent revelling in the despair, playing among the ruins, but, at the end of the day, he wants the institutional protection of a corporate body, namely, the university.

It should also be pointed out that Trigg's response to his critics, especially k punk's spirited self-defence, (which also mentions that Trigg had previously twice requested to have k punk link to his "side effects" blog), is, to put it mildly, disingenuous. Trigg attempts to in effect repudiate the entire subfield of the sociology of knowledge, by claiming that the search for "hidden motives" is illegitimate. It would be more appropriate, he suggests, to tackle his arguments on their "own" terms. But it is difficult to see how long and for whom such an alternative could remain plausible. Afterall, Trigg announces [on his homepage] his future research agenda as including the cultural significance of "trauma", when the secret is repressed, and the kinds of paradoxical effects this can generate. Doesn't the entire associated psychoanalytical program Trigg chooses though in this instance betray his puerile reasoning that it is wrong to search for "hidden motives" when critically reviewing his work? In other words, this sounds like a rather large second bite from the same aforementioned cake.

Lastly, but hardly least of all, the misogyny of Trigg's chosen means of expression in his rebuttal should also not go unremarked. What kind of a misguided cretin refers to anyone as a "cunt" anyway? Why the pictures of a man receiving oral sex and a woman exposing her crotch on a train, to illustrate his postings on spatio temporal dynamics on his blog?

If one applies to the case of Trigg Steve Fuller's mission statement of why the production of a "social epistemology" is indispensable, then the gulf between the sociologist and the philosopher playing Cassandra becomes evident. The former believes that their knowledge claims should be held accountable and submitted to critical interrogation in public forums, the latter does not. In the final analysis, what is at stake in the comparison of Fuller with the likes of Trigg is the difference between, to redeply that old Bad Seeds's album title, "Your Funeral, My Trial". Or, if preferred, Stove's summation (on this blog's sidebar) of why deficits in empirical knowledge are produced by philosophers.

Below are some choice cuts from the original flame war between k punk et al and Dylan Trigg:

You cunt’s just have to look for hidden motives, don’t you. Now I've got every geek and his pedantic friend typing my name in Google.
I couldn’t have asked for more.

Posted by: Dylan at August 18, 2004 09:17 AM

Errr... I thought it was a piss-take. If it was, it was most amusing. Dylan, if it was serious, it... just wasn't very good. And... a bit miserablist, IKWIM. Sorry mate.
Oooh, playing at soldiers in abandoned urban wastelands -- big fun!
a man of character, a man who acts, is essentially limitedYes. In the tarot, the Fool (a good card, BTW!) is capable of anything in potentia; but the minute you make a commitment, those potentials collapse (to be replaced by the strictures of the Tower etc.). Common sense innit. Posted by: paul "the mover" meme at August 18, 2004 10:47 AM

NB: There is a follow up post elsewhere on this blog entitled Laying an Olive Branch at Dylan Trigg's Door?

Thursday, 23 August 2007

The Fourth Estate: A Virtual Ruin?

Jay Rosen's "Pressthink: Ghosts of Democracy in the Media Machine" is turning into a useful antidote to the kind of media studies I railed against in my "Come in Mr Wark, Your Time is Up" posting. It's also worth pointing out that much theoretical work needs to be done in the interest of counterbalancing the dystopian Virilio meets Ballard meets Baudrillard readings of the militarisation of our society. To my mind, not a bad place to start is actually a bit of "virtual" ethnography i.e. reading some of the blogs created by soldiers. Considering the rather large available sample size, it should become possible on this basis to reach some conclusions about how representative the cross section of views are. Why is this significant? Well, for starters, if there is diversity in the heart of the "machine" itself, then one can question the one sided dystopian emphasis on the technological remodelling of sensory perception (as per ahuthnance's post on "Nazis on speed", to which this posting is a partial rejoinder). This doesn't imply becoming a fully fledged technophile, but it does offer some means of correcting the theoretical balance, especially important, it would seem, given the current convergence of media/military studies around the topic of "asymmetrical warfare" (further posts on the latter topic are forthcoming).
For starters, here are some useful Principles of Citizen Journalism:
Here is Kevin Anderson's astute summation of the current situation:
"The reality is that media is no longer simply about consuming content. People now want to create, comment and contribute. But blogging is more than just giving average citizens a voice — it’s about a new activism that is more than virtual. A study last year by PR firm Edelman found that blog readers were interested in both expression and action — attending public meetings on local issues, writing to their political officials, and contacting the media to express their opinion.
Before I joined The Guardian, I was a reporter with the BBC, working in Washington DC and London. In June 2005, the BBC made a brave admission that its coverage of the Iraq War gave an incomplete picture of daily life for average Iraqis. So we launched the ‘One Day in Iraq’ project, I worked with the blogging Fadhil brothers who wrote ‘Iraq the Model’ and also with milbloggers — soldier bloggers with the US military."
Kevin Anderson is the Blogs Editor at The Guardian. He blogs at
And so onto Rosen's more expansive examination of what is at stake:
The People Formerly Known as the Audience

That's what I call them. Recently I received this statement.
The people formerly known as the audience wish to inform media people of our existence, and of a shift in power that goes with the platform shift you’ve all heard about.
Think of passengers on your ship who got a boat of their own. The writing readers. The viewers who picked up a camera. The formerly atomized listeners who with modest effort can connect with each other and gain the means to speak— to the world, as it were.
Now we understand that met with ringing statements like these many media people want to cry out in the name of reason herself: If all would speak who shall be left to listen? Can you at least tell us that?
The people formerly known as the audience do not believe this problem—too many speakers!—is our problem. Now for anyone in your circle still wondering who we are, a formal definition might go like this:
The people formerly known as the audience are those who were on the receiving end of a media system that ran one way, in a broadcasting pattern, with high entry fees and a few firms competing to speak very loudly while the rest of the population listened in isolation from one another— and who today are not in a situation like that at all.
Once they were your printing presses; now that humble device, the blog, has given the press to us. That’s why blogs have been called little First Amendment machines. They extend freedom of the press to more actors.
Once it was your radio station, broadcasting on your frequency. Now that brilliant invention, podcasting, gives radio to us. And we have found more uses for it than you did.
Shooting, editing and distributing video once belonged to you, Big Media. Only you could afford to reach a TV audience built in your own image. Now video is coming into the user’s hands, and audience-building by former members of the audience is alive and well on the Web.
You were once (exclusively) the editors of the news, choosing what ran on the front page. Now we can edit the news, and our choices send items to our own front pages.
A highly centralized media system had connected people “up” to big social agencies and centers of power but not “across” to each other. Now the horizontal flow, citizen-to-citizen, is as real and consequential as the vertical one.
The “former audience” is Dan Gillmor’s term for us. (He’s one of our discoverers and champions.) It refers to the owners and operators of tools that were one exclusively used by media people to capture and hold their attention.
Jeff Jarvis, a former media executive, has written a law about us. “Give the people control of media, they will use it. The corollary: Don’t give the people control of media, and you will lose. Whenever citizens can exercise control, they will.”
Look, media people. We are still perfectly content to listen to our radios while driving, sit passively in the darkness of the local multiplex, watch TV while motionless and glassy-eyed in bed, and read silently to ourselves as we always have.
Should we attend the theatre, we are unlikely to storm the stage for purposes of putting on our own production. We feel there is nothing wrong with old style, one-way, top-down media consumption. Big Media pleasures will not be denied us. You provide them, we’ll consume them and you can have yourselves a nice little business.
But we’re not on your clock any more. Tom Curley, CEO of the Associated Press, has explained this to his people. “The users are deciding what the point of their engagement will be — what application, what device, what time, what place.”
We graduate from wanting media when we want it, to wanting it without the filler, to wanting media to be way better than it is, to publishing and broadcasting ourselves when it meets a need or sounds like fun.
Mark Thompson, director general of the BBC, has a term for us: The Active Audience (“who doesn’t want to just sit there but to take part, debate, create, communicate, share.”)
Another of your big shots, Rupert Murdoch, told American newspaper editors about us: “They want control over their media, instead of being controlled by it.”
Dave Winer, one of the founders of blogging, said it back in 1994: “Once the users take control, they never give it back.”
Online, we tend to form user communities around our favorite spaces. Tom Glocer, head of your Reuters, recognized it: “If you want to attract a community around you, you must offer them something original and of a quality that they can react to and incorporate in their creative work.”
We think you’re getting the idea, media people. If not from us, then from your own kind describing the same shifts.
The people formerly known as the audience would like to say a special word to those working in the media who, in the intensity of their commercial vision, had taken to calling us “eyeballs,” as in: “There is always a new challenge coming along for the eyeballs of our customers.” (John Fithian, president of the National Association of Theater Owners in the U.S.)
Or: “We already own the eyeballs on the television screen. We want to make sure we own the eyeballs on the computer screen.” (Ann Kirschner, vice president for programming and media development for the National Football League.)
Fithian, Kirschner and company should know that such fantastic delusions (“we own the eyeballs…”) were the historical products of a media system that gave its operators an exaggerated sense of their own power and mastery over others. New media is undoing all that, which makes us smile.
You don’t own the eyeballs. You don’t own the press, which is now divided into pro and amateur zones. You don’t control production on the new platform, which isn’t one-way. There’s a new balance of power between you and us.
The people formerly known as the audience are simply the public made realer, less fictional, more able, less predictable. You should welcome that, media people. But whether you do or not we want you to know we’re here.
Especially important is how Rosen commences his "It's a Classified War" piece by reaffirming the working principles that have defined the experiment of a free press, an experiment that is at least 250 years old. But why do we hear so little about the Fourth Estate from the technological dystopians. My fear is that their silence serves an enabling function for "the other side" who sincerely believe to the contrary that the greatest threat is the excesses of a "liberal" media:
"Precisely because no one elected the press it must find other means of securing its legitimacy. These are inevitably political in nature; they involve persuasion and “public opinion” as well as the protections of law. Whether the journalism is handcrafted and opinionated, or mass-produced and just-the-facts, the press isn’t trustable unless it is independent of the people in charge, and stands apart from interest groups competing for power. So independence is one means of securing legitimacy. Verification before publication is another. Transparency is a third. (Bill Keller in speeches: “As your math teacher might have said, we show our work.”) William Safire was, I think, wrong when he asked himself on Meet the Press “who elected the media to determine what should be secret and what should not?” and answered with: “the founding fathers did.” The institutional press, its fourth estate identity, and what Ben Bradlee recently called “a holy profession” (because “the pursuit of truth is a holy pursuit…”)— these are all modern inventions".
Do we have to nostalgically look back on military ruins as the only available means of escaping our contemporary society organised around the logistics of speed? I believe this could be a contributing factor to any interest in hauntological psychogeography, but another way can be found forward, Rosen et al seem to suggest, if we invest more in developing the speed of transmission and circulation in a creative democracy.
Finally, after all that, here is a link to the Black Five group of military bloggers/podcasters. Do they fit Wark's paradigm only? :