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Archive for May 2008

ads denied the product (hdtv)

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The task before us, it has just occurred to me, is deeply analogous to the problem faced by those who make ads for high definition television sets and services – ads that will be seen on the very low definition sets that they wish to replace… The problem, of course, is that you can’t really show the virtues of the product that you’re trying to sell – the high d become low d on the viewer’s set.

They try metaphor, jokes and metaphor…

Denied the ability to present the thing itself, at other times they present instead the viewer, the viewer’s engrossed apparatus of sight. Didn’t Deleuze, in his work on the cinema, call shots like this “affect images”? If we cannot see what they are seeing, we can at least see them seeing what they are seeing, and feeling what they see….

One of the more sophisticated tricks is simply to suggest that you actually are seeing the new image – to hyperbolize what is already possible in order to give a sense that the change has momentarily arrived…

…but of course, this can lead to conceptual distortion and the problematic suggestion that it’s not the set that needs changing but simply the programming available for it. If we stuck with what we have no, but filled it with neon-piping and just the right sort of chiaroscuro, perhaps we might save ourselves a trip to the electronics store after all.

It is odd. Obviously, I’ve not seen every hdtv ad ever made. But one would think that someone would figure out that it would be far easier (wouldn’t it?) simply to demonstrate the deficiency of the screen that the viewer has rather than to suggest, indirectly, what the viewer does not yet have. Hold a page of text in the middle distance, and ask them to read it. Fill the screen with a painting, and ask the viewer to examine the brush strokes. But, on the other hand, it is also easy to understand that the promise of the new and better, even if it remains invisible, only promised but not yet delivered, would have more hold that the exposure of what’s missing now.

It is our problem as well – how to relate to the apparatuses of communication and representation, how to deal with the fact that they may well be ill-equipped to represent what needs representing.

More to come…

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May 22, 2008 at 1:07 am

Posted in ads, aesthetics, teevee


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I’m moving in the next few days, so I’m spending the night reducing the stacks of magazines that have built up over the past five months. So, some links so far:

John Pilger had a good one in the New Statesman on Venezuela, and the US’s tacit war on it, last month
Marina Warner on Beckett’s Babble in the TLS

Lynsey Hanley in the New Statesman on British documentary films and the promise of social democracy.

Weak blogging, I know. But I’ve been marking exams and busy at home. Normal service will return shortly, I promise.

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May 22, 2008 at 12:07 am

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nervous country

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What is somewhat interesting about this video, to my ears, is the absence of Tennessee accents. Why can’t they find any real drawlers for this vid? Just the one guy with his pool table and his rack o’ rifles? You gotta love, though, the Tennessee GOP pressing the takeaway as: “What I love about my country is the great number of afghan immigrants! they’re so entrepreneurial!”

Also, this, god…

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May 19, 2008 at 6:32 pm

Posted in ads, america

why bother with art?

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In his Principles of Literary Criticism of 1924, I.A. Richards is invested, among other things, in describing “a morality which will change its values as circumstances alter, a morality free of occultism, absolutes and arbitrariness, a morality which will explain, as no morality has yet explained, the place and value of the arts in human affairs” (52). And in putting the project this way, we find evidence of a problem that is at once understandable, familiar, and frustrating. In short, what is the last clause – the bit about the arts – doing in the sentence? The establishment of a morality attuned to the modern situation is a noble task, no doubt, but why must it also be one that can explain the value of the arts? What if one was to come up with a morality that fulfilled all the other conditions, but simply didn’t have room for the arts?

The answer, in part, has to be that the shape of Richards’s project is determined by his line of work. It is an English professor’s sort of morality – and perhaps, moral social organization – that he is working towards.

For those of us who work via the humanities, particularly the artistic humanities, it is an uncannily familiar situation. The development of a politics from and in support of artistic production, along with all of the other great things that we’d like included – it’s a very strange task. It explains why we tend to love those political thinkers who made space for art, or who kept art at the center of their politics. William Morris, the Constructivists, the various auto-poeisis types like the late-Foucault and Deleuze. For obvious reasons, it’s difficult for us to deal with a vision of society that didn’t make room for the production of good novels and poems, good pictures and films. But of course, backed against the wall, we’d also admit that these things really aren’t of central importance to the project of social amelioration. They are tools or supplements, garnishes or indirect manifestations of social health. For the fact of the matter is that it may well be that a more perfect society could be an unfavorable location for the production of the sort of art we are used to esteeming as great or even worthwhile.

But on the other hand, we are all familiar with the specter of the rationalized society in which there is no room for art, artistic pleasure, or perhaps even pleasure itself. Art can serve as a metonym for the color of life; where there is no art, we imagine, there is only faceless gray, the utterly minimum dwelling. This vision of rational society, even if it is only a spectral scapegoat, is something that we are obliged to negotiate with, for it is a powerful counter advertisement to the ad without products that solicits buyers for the thing we are trying to sell.

Beyond all the ambiguities, the question that Richards’s statement forces upon us – a question about means and ends, and which are paramount to us – is a question that we must deal with if those who for through and for aesthetic production are to frame a politics more effective than symptomatic.

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May 8, 2008 at 7:31 pm

Posted in aesthetics, criticism

systemic fallacy

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The following paragraph is from an essay by WJT Mitchell in The Life and Death of Images, a new collection of essays published here by the Tate itself, in the US by Cornell.

Although the Abu Ghraib image is generally reproduced as a singular, isolated, iconic form, it implies an address to and relation to other that is a central feature of the tortured and dying imago dei in Christian iconography. We know that the torturers are not far away, and we know from the pornographic images that they were having a good time, giving the ‘thumbs-up’ sign to the camera as they gloated over their victims. But this, too, is a central feature of the photographs, which, like the canonical scenes of the passion of Christ, incorporate the torturers as an essential part of their iconography. Did Lynndie Englund know that a frequent motif in scenes of the mocking of Christ is the leading of him on a leash? Certainly not. These tableaux are not to be taken as expressions of the intentions of the torturers, but symptoms of the ‘system behind the system’ that brought them into the world.

I’m interested in the last line. That is, I’m interestedly resistant to the last line. What do you think? I’m not going to show the images again – they’ve been shown enough, and those are human beings that we’re seeing, the purpose of the photos was to humiliate, and that’s that. But, remembering back, are they “symptoms of the ‘system behind the system’ that brought them into the world”? And what does that have to do with traditional Christian iconography?

I am nervous about a quasi-Jungianism that’s slipping back into the game. I guess I don’t believe in any “system behind the system,” at least not one that looks like the one Mitchell seems to be leaning on here. But then again, I’m definitely not an intentionalist either, in the Hirsch / Michaels mode…

I’ll put it this way. Unless the complex history of Christian representation is bracketed as “what I, and I alone because of my training, can find in this image,” I am not sure what the top of the paragraph is up to, especially given what happens at its end.

What does it matter? We dance over the particularities of the thing. We lose sight of the beam in our own eye, the suffering human being in the shot, as we paranoiacally speculate about the sprinkler systems that run under the image’s lawn.

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May 8, 2008 at 1:21 am

Posted in aesthetics, torture, war

an “iPod government” vs. the EITC

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From the New York Times this weekend:

On many budget matters, Mrs. Clinton’s instincts seem similar to her husband’s. Both favor carefully crafted tax credits that can help people who most need it, that come with relatively modest price tags and that seem likely to survive a divided Congress.

Mr. Obama sometimes talks of his vision of an “iPod government,” with simple programs that people can understand. He also talks of persuading voters and members of Congress, including Republicans, to support his plans.

Ah, whether through coyly rendered insight or dumb luck, the reporter here is on to something in the arrangement of these two paragraphs. The policy opposite of an “iPod government,” in the best possible case of what that might mean is in fact the system (a mainstay of neo-liberal regimes of the last decade or so) of shifting from direct social disbursements to the tax credit form of funds delivery. Google around for “unrecovered tax credits” and you’ll see why this might be the case.

You might start with the wikipedia article on the Earned Income Tax Credit, which includes the following paragraphs:

Millions of American families who are eligible for the EITC do not receive it, leaving billions of additional tax credit dollars unclaimed. Research by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and Internal Revenue Service indicates that between 15% and 25% of households who are entitled to the EITC do not claim their credit, or between 3.5 million and 7 million households.

The average EITC amount received per family in 2002 was $1,766. Using this figure and a 15% unclaimed rate would mean that low-wage workers and their families lost out on more than $6.5 billion, or more than $12 billion if the unclaimed rate is 25%.

To translate this into UKese, look here. And here’s a graphical representation (what else?) of just why the EITC is a symptom of a politics of neo-liberal complexity, rather than true socialist simplicity:

Easy enough to figure out what’s coming to you, eh? Try it yourself to see. This is the “survival of the fittest” version of the welfare state, designed to fail. Born of actuarial anticipation rather than humane and good faith efforts to help. Perhaps most important of all, even if it does work, it’s designed in such a way that almost no one can understand how it works, or even what it is in the first place. But this too is the point, for if the citizenry was to move about with a sense that they in any sense are thought to be entitled to a living, well…. we simply can’t have that, those are waters that we don’t dare to sail into, etc etc…

Sadly, I’ve not really seen any signs that Obama actually means to take the project of (best case) iPod governmentality up. I suppose there’s more to say – about the difference between best and worst case simplicity, what lies between those poles, and what in the end I think all this might mean… As always more to come…

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May 5, 2008 at 1:16 am

a way of seeing ways of seeing

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Almost hesitant to post, lest someone notices and I won’t be able to finish, um, archiving these, but all four episodes of John Berger’s Ways of Seeing are up on YouTube. Here’s the first of 16 separate slices:

I’ve never been able to get or see a full copy before. I’ve called libraries, specialists stores, trolled the distant reaches of the p2p world. And now, finally, here it is…. Happy May Day to me, and to everyone. Couldn’t have asked for more…

(via wood s lot, where you can find a link to a site with links to the rest…)

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May 1, 2008 at 12:35 pm

Posted in aesthetics, berger, teevee, video

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Just started reading John Roberts’s The Intangibilities of Form: Skill and Deskilling in Art After the Readymade, which is excellent from the get-go, potentially impasse-breaking, etc. More later on this book. But for now, a paragraph near the start:

What I am proposing in this book is a model of the ‘post-expressivist’ artist which actually takes on the challenges of expression and representation that now confront the artist of the new millennium. This means retheorizing what we mean by the artist as critic and representor in a world of proliferating doubles, proxies, simulations, etc. For what is increasingly clear (beyond the recent moments of the radical negation of authorship in conceptual art and critical postmodernism) is the need for a model of artistic subjectivity which refuses the bipolar model of interiority and exteriority on which modernist and anti-modernist models of the artist are usually based. (13)

Just for now: how absolutely unimaginable is that paragraph in a present-day work of literary criticism? The present tense verbs in the first sentence, the sense that a theory of art might be developed with actual application today – unthinkable. Sadly so…

Beyond disciplinary dysfunction and seemingly terminal wrong-footedness during poststructuralism’s ebb tide – and these are enough of a problem, believe me – the other thing that prevents the writing of aesthetics (rather than simply the history of aesthetics) is that we don’t know what we mean when we apply the a-word to literary works in the first place.

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May 1, 2008 at 9:42 am

Posted in aesthetics


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