“…but distraction often uncovers a surprising array of thoughts and feelings, epiphanies and meanings. Distraction may act as a productive model for recognizing all that surrounds the primary event of sound—to suddenly hear what is usually out of earshot. It allows or nurtures the ability for one to appreciate the sounding environment in all its dimensional complexity. Distraction may in the end function as means for undoing the lines of scripted space, loosening our sense for performing within a given structure, and according to certain expectations; to exceed or to fall short of the assumed goal. To be distracted is potentially to be more human.”
Existence simulates, it dissimulates, and it dissimulates the fact that even when it is dissimulating and playing a role, it continues to be authentic existence, and thus with an almost inextricable malice, binds the simulacrum to true authenticity.
Blanchot, M. (1965), The Laughter of the Gods. In Blanchot, M. (1997), Friendship. Trans. Rottenberg, E. Stanford, CA, Stanford University Press. p.179.
Just throwing out a couple more quotes taken from “The Love of Art” by Pierre Bourdieu and Alain Darbell,* first published in France in 1969. This book is essentially a report and analysis of a series of public surveys conducted at museums around Europe with the aim of understanding the audience for those institutions and addressing the perceived need to expand their reach amongst the population. The book is arguing against an assumption of innate or “natural” cultural sensitivity which can somehow be “activated,” pointing to the role of the social environment in which we grow up and length of our education in the formation of cultural receptivity which needs an equivalent input later on in life if the individual is to be acculturated (as it were). Needless to say, “class” gets heavily implicated in the receptivity (or not) of cultural material.
I mentioned in a comment over at HomeShop’s blog, that I had fortuitously picked up a copy of Slavoy Žižek’s Violence last night. I only had time to read the Introduction (“THE TYRANT’S BLOODY ROBE”), but the ideas outlined there seemed apposite to the last part of my article on Gentrification on the blog, displaying in themselves strong links to Agamben’s thought. The following are selected quotes, pulling out the parts which relate to my own interests (and undoubtedly doing great violence to Žižek’s overall meaning in the process):
“… we should learn to step back, to disentangle ourselves from the fascinating lure of this directly visible “subjective” violence, violence performed by a dearly identifiable agent. We need to perceive the contours of the background which generates such outbursts. A step back enables us to identify a violence that sustains our very efforts to fight violence and to promote tolerance.
“This is not a description which locates its content in a historical space and time, but a description which creates, as the background of the phenomena it describes, an inexistent (virtual) space of its own, so that what appears in it is not an appearance sustained by the depth of reality behind it, but a decontextualised appearance, an appearance which fully coincides with real being.
“Does this recourse to artistic description imply that we are in danger of regressing to a contemplative attitude that somehow betrays the urgency to ‘do something’ about the depicted horrors?
“There are situations when the only truly ‘practical’ thing to do is to resist the temptation to engage immediately and to ‘wait and see’ by means of a patient, critical analysis.”
I’m in the process of editing a short piece based on last November’s -empyre- online forum on Media Arts in China, to be published in Contemporary Art & Investment Magazine in the near future. In the process I was reminded of an interesting comment made by Robin Peckham, one of the participants, referring back to an interview he had done with Isaac Mao about the concept of Sharism (the full interview can be found here). The quote is interesting to me because of current attitudes to privacy in the Chinese context, current events, and how this affects everyday life.
RP: […] how does privacy fit in with the context of Sharism?
IM: I think privacy is becoming more important. Sharism gives people a better sense of the social spectrum. Previously, we only had two polar modes: private and public, and of course we don’t like our private things to become public. However, we are now living in a spectrum that we never sensed before. Some things are private at some times, but at others they are not, depending on the context or who we are with. This is a spectrum that we can manage and come to consensus on what kind of information we can share or don’t like to share. Sometimes I share different things to different people. It’s a kind of strategy. We intuitively manage privacy now. Of course sometimes I don’t like to share my private phone number and private address in some places, like perhaps in China. But in other countries it may be different, depending on cultural difference or safety.
But we are seeing changes. In China, many dissidents and activists are open up their personal information. Why? Because previously they just wanted to close it down to protect themselves without being tracked by the government. Someone might want people to know his position so he can do things secretly. But now many are opening up this information because they see the social power. Once they’ve opened up their position, home phone, and travel plans, more people in the cloud know where they are at the same time as the authorities. He is protected even as he is tracked. This has happened over the past two years.
Dan Edwards: I noticed in a lot of the footage in the film [Ou Ning’s Meishi St (2006)], Zhang [Jinli] is filming the police, but the police have cameras too.
Ou Ning: Yeah, it’s very interesting. You can say that digital technology has had a great impact on Chinese political society. You can see at the end of the film during the demolition process, there are so many cameras on the scene. That means that there are some cameras from the police station, some from our team, some from NGO organisations. The digital technology has brought some opportunity to the people to document history by themselves. This is a great change in China. Before that, history only had one version, by the Chinese Communist Party, but now with digital technology history has different versions. History has a Zhang Jinli version, a Security Bureau version… there’s a lot of different versions, not just one version. That is a great progress in the political situation in China.
Some quotes from Terry Eagleton’s The Ideology of the Aesthetic.
On the 3rd Earl of Shaftesbury (1671–1713), David Hume (1711–1776) and Edmund Burke (1729–1797):
What art is not able to offer, in that ideological reading of it known as the aesthetic, is a paradigm of more general social significance – an image of self-referentiality which in an audacious move seizes upon the very functionlessness of artistic practice and transforms it to a vision of the highest good. As a form of value grounded entirely in itself, without practical rhyme or reason, the aesthetic is at once eloquent testimony to the obscure origins and enigmatic nature of value in a society which would seem everywhere to deny it, and a utopian glimpse of an alternative to this sorry condition. For what the work of art imitates in its very pointlessness, in the constant movement by which it conjures itself up from its own inscrutable depths, is nothing less than human existence itself, which (scandalously for the rationalists and Utilitarians) requires no rationale beyond its own self-delight. For this Romantic doctrine, the art work is most rich in political implications where it is most gloriously futile.1
On Friedrich Schiller (1759–1805):
The aesthetic is a kind of creative impasse, a nirvanic suspension of all determinacy and desire overflowing with entirely unspecific contents. Since it nullifies the limits of sensation along with its compulsiveness, it becomes a kind of sublime infinity of possibilities. In the aesthetic state, ‘man is Nought, if we are thinking of any particular result rather than of the totality of his powers, and considering the absence of any specific determination’2; but this negativity is thereby everything, a pure boundless being which eludes all specificity. Taken as a whole, the aesthetic condition is supremely positive; yet it is also sheer emptiness, a deep and dazzling darkness in which all determinations are grey, an infinity of nothingness. The wretched social condition which Schiller mourns – the fragmentation of human faculties in the division of labour, the specialization and reifying of capacities, the mechanizing and dissociating of human powers – must be redeemed by a condition which is, precisely, nothing in particular. (108)
- Eagleton, Terry (1990) The Ideology of the Aesthetic. Oxford, Blackwell Publishing, p.65. All subsequent references to this text will be given parenthetically after quotations.
- Schiller, Friedrich (1967) On the Aesthetic Education of Man, ed. Elizabeth M. Wilkinson and L. A. Willoughby. Oxford, p.146.