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Gilles Deleuze on film, in Against the Day by Thomas Pynchon

Friday, January 19th, 2007


I was flipping through Deleuze’s books on cinema this morning, with cinema, not literature, on my mind. But this just leapt out at me. We know that there’s a connecting line between Thomas Pynchon and Gilles Deleuze. And Against The Day, like his previous novels, is at times incredibly cinematic (in a sort of impossible way). So check these passages out. They deal with the kinds of films that create worlds. Deleuze uses philosopher Henri Bergson, whose ideas on the relationship of Past and Present to Time map well to film (since each film creates a strip of its own time, and can create movements through time within itself: flashbacks, dreams, parallel times, etc.). Deleuze describes these cinematic worlds as crystals, each having a kind of genetic purity, or organizational structure. What grabbed my attention were the numerous similarities between the role Iceland Spar plays in the book and this description of the crystal image. The notion that the characters have an actual and virtual image corresponds with the book’s constant population of ghosts, the doubling, the bilocations, deja vus, and so on. Even the references here to mirrors, and the Venetian mirror and multi-sided mirors is particularly weird. The Serpent, postcard, Augustinian Illumination are even mentioned!

Full excerpt is at our Against the Day Pynchon blog, here: Gilles Deleuze’s Cinema Books: Crystals of Time

From Gilles Deleuze Cinema 2: The Time Image

If we take this direction to its limit, we can say that the actual image itself has a virtual image which corresponds to to it like a double or a reflection. In Bergsonian terms, the real object is reflected in a mirror-image as in the virtual object which, from its side and simultaneously, envelops or reflects the real: there is ‘coalescence ‘ between the two. There is a formation of an image with two sides, actual and virtual. It is as if an image in a mirror, a photo or a postcard came to life, assumed independence and passed into the actual, even if this meant that the actual image returned into the mirror and resumed its place in the postcard or photo, following a double movement of liberation and capture.
….
But here we see that the opsign finds its true genetic element when the actual optical image crystallizes with its own virtual image, on the small internal circuit. This is a crystal-image, which gives us the key, or rather the ‘heart,’ of opsigns and their compositions. The latter are nothing other than slivers of crystal-images.

The crystal-image, or crystalline description, has two definite sides which are not to be confused. for the confusion of the real and the imaginary is a simple error of fact, and does not affect their discernibility: the confusion is produced solely ‘in someone’s head.’ But indiscernibility constitutes an objective illusion; it does not suppress the distinction between the two sides, but makes it unattributable, each side taking the other’s role in a relation which we must describe as reciprocal presupposition, or reversibility. In fact, there is no virtual which does not become actual in relation to the actual, the latter becoming virtual through the same relation: it is a place and its obverse which are totally reversible. These are ‘mutual images’ as Bachelard puts it, where an exchange is carried out. The indiscernibility of the real and the imaginary, or of the present and the past, of the actual and the virtual, is definitely not produced in the head or the mind, it is the objective characteristic of certain existing images which are by nature double. Hence two orders of problems arise, one of structure, the other of genesis. First, what are these consolidates of actual and virtual which define a crystalline structure (in a general, aesthetic, rather than a scientific, sense)? And, later on, what is the genetic process which appears in these structures?

The most familiar case is the mirror. Oblique mirrors, concave and convex mirrors and Venetian mirrors are inseparable from a circuit, as can be seen throughout Ophuls work, and in Losey, especially in Eve and The Serpent. This circuit itself is an exchange: the mirror-image is virtual in relation to the actual character that the mirror catches, but it is actual in the mirror which now leaves the character with only a virtuality and pushes him back out-of-field. The exchange is all the more active when the circuit refers to a polygon with a growing number of sides: as in a face reflected on the facets of a ring, an actor seen in an infinity of twins. When virtual images proliferate like this, all together they absorb the entire actuality of the character, at the same time as the character is no more than one virtuality among others. This situation was prefigured in Welles’s Citizen Kane, when Kane passes between two facing mirrors; but it comes to the fore in its pure state in the famous palace of mirrors in The Lady from Shanghai, where the principle of indiscernibility reaches its peak: a perfect crystal-image where the multiple mirrors have assumed the actuality of the two characters who will only be able to win it back by smashing them all, finding themselves side by side and each killing the other.

–Chapter 4: The Crystals of Time

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Finally, a table of contents to all four blogs

Thursday, October 19th, 2006

Hey folks, I finally have a table of contents to all four of my blogs: Social software; Cultural Commentaries; Film; and Music. If you’re like me, you probably don’t navigate blogs by archive postings; so here’s to one of the most basic navigation inventions ever, the TOC.

Webocracy, Mass media, mini media, MySpace, YouTube

Sunday, October 15th, 2006

An article in today’s SF Gate caught my eye. It’s title included the word “Webocracy,” so I knew right away that it must have to do with web 2.0, Silicon Valley, and the like. Like the term “folksonomy,” “webocracy” captures the new in something old. In this case, democracy done online, retooled and perhaps even improved. Folksonomy, similarly, refers to a kind of social economy that bypasses traditional markets but which uses online markets and economies instead. I’m no fan of analogies used as explanations, especially when the new thing isn’t well understood yet. Analogies refer us to something familiar — in this case democracy and the web — but the claim that this thing is like that thing has a communicative function but little more.

Let’s unpack this one real quick then. Webocracy. Is the internet, and more specifically, the world of web 2.0, a new kind of democracy? It is grassrootsy, it does invite direct participation, it does threaten traditional modes of political engagement (e.g. bypass the lobby(ists), go straight to the back, where the power is…) but it’s not a political system. The web is a communication and publishing technology, one that now delivers audio, video, and other modes of information and communication. But it’s not just a technology. It’s becoming an integral part of all manner of social phenomena (to wit, YouTube as the new TV, MySpace as the new marketing media). Technology plus culture give us new social practices.

It’s the new techniques (technology = technique or application of a rationalized method) for communication that fascinate me, and the ones that seem to affect us at the core most of all. I don’t think web 2.0 companies or phenomena represent a new political system, as might be suggested by the term webocracy. The same could be said for the term folksonomy. But there’s a change of mode, of connection, of the relationship between individual and information, individual and individual, and individual and mainstream media taking place whose engine is web 2.0.

I call them talk systems. And where they get interesting is when they offer a marketplace, and they create an economy. I think those are the phenomena catching our attention these days: online markets in which economies based on recommendations and social networking create a different kind of consumption, one that is moved by communication between consumers instead of messaging and marketing by mainstream media. I call mySpace mini media, in opposition to mass media: it’s got all the stuff off a medium, but its content is its own culture (a culture which often refers to mass media messages, images, events, celebs, etc.).

If you figure that a market simply makes goods and services available, and connections between buyers and sellers possible, but that an economy involves the people, their consumption habits, desires, choices, motives, etc, then clearly an online marketplace isn’t enough to get anything going. It’ll need users, and those users will need to know how the market works. It needs to exist, to find expression in common culture (it needs to be seen and talked about). So in addition to a market that connects goods, buyers and sellers, and an economy to organize the people and their economic consumption (note that an online dating service has a market, and an economy), the system has to be seen, has to exist. Here’s where “mini media,” or online phenomena like YouTube and MySpace, veer off from the phenomenon of mass media to launch something new: they exist through the communication of their members.

So where traditional mass media use magazines, newspapers (e.g. print media), radio, and television, all of which broadcast their messages, these new web -based media reproduce themselves through communication among members. Like other media, they exist by observing themselves, but these observations are given us not by pundits, djs, hosts, anchors, journalists… Observations of the medium are produced as ratings, votes, tags, bookmarks, blog posts, comments, etc. A very simple flow gets going (it’s been called viral but it’s got nothing to do with viruses. viruses are duplicated perfectly when transmitted. communication doesn’t work that way, it has to be compelling if it is to circulate). That flow is an economy, one that picks up signs, assigns value, has speeds and crowds…

Talk, talk, talk, is the observation mode of web media. User participation. Social interaction. Instant messaging, posts, comments, email to friends, forward, bookmark, tag and rate, vote, vote, vote. What does all that do? It assigns value, assigns value. It’s a different medium: a mini medium in comparison to the mass media (if you think money), a medium that for the most part serves as commentary on and observation of the mass media (hence its value to marketers), and which is “susceptible” to its own delusions, rumors, gossip, trends, and wipeouts. YouTube and MySpace are not produced by corporations, they don’t occur over those media (radio, print, tv). It’s no accident that these phenomena have remained where they are: online. That’s where they can lay claim to a new social practice: the talk system. And perhaps the talk marketplace, the talk economy. (The term is social media, social software, but the social is talk).

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(cross posted in my social software blog also)
related:
Myspace as mini media

Pay Attention to YouTube!

Wednesday, October 11th, 2006

I don’t normally post the same thing to two of my blogs, but this one’s an exception. This one also differs in one respect. It’s got an extra period in it. See if you can find it. Just kidding. It’s the same.

I’m on a bit of a Marshall McLuhan kick this week, with YouTube’s acquisition to Google still in the air. And Kim Jong Il leaping up and down at the far eastern edge of the map: living, ridiculous proof that power is all about getting attention (Dumb and Dumber: starring Bush and Kim Jong Il). I don’t think Robin Williams could’ve scripted a better skit; nor the South Park team have animated it any better than Kim did himself. Let’s all pay attention to lonely wittle Kim Jong Il.

But back to our original news… YouTube. Why did Google take it when they had their own video service? Because Google’s wasn’t as popular. And why not? Because Google approached video as information. Youtube saw it as television.

This is not about videos, it’s about television, and the future of television most importantly. Which will be why Sumner and Ballmer and Murdoch are still awake at night unsure of whether they just were too stingy. Marshall McLuhan claimed that television was a social medium. Film was not. YouTube is the present-day television, not television. YouTube, aptly named, since “You” (= My) and Tube (= Television) precisely describe television’s reconfiguration in the Communication Age. Yes, and MyTube would’ve sounded a bit weird. But MyTube would’ve seemed a bit, well, narcissistic (ah, the truth about teenagers and MySpace is written in the name!). And it would’ve missed the function of Communication as it’s applied to television. Since television is configured as a broadcast medium, it’s reconfiguration is as a communication medium. MyTube would’ve missed the point. YouTube captures it: television communicates only if it’s seen by others with whom one is communicating (namely, one’s friends, or social network).

The social aspect of television is the reflection: to see others seeing what you’re seeing. To share the experience of watching. Well, we don’t often watch television that way any more. Sharing couches and armchairs, turned and tuned into the same network broadcast, primetime, dinner tray, dog splayed out on the floor thinking it’s all about him. We live in a play-shifted, time-shifted day and age in which communication is as likely to happen asynchronously as it is to happen at all: that is, over the internet and not face to face. YouTube is about watching socially, but of course from one’s own computer, out of synch in time, but in synch in terms of the content.

Google missed this because Google saw video as indexable, searchable, categorizable and taggable content. Flickr misses this because photos aren’t social (they’re a show and tell, which is a bit different because it takes the form of speaker/audience, not broadcast/audience). I watch you watching television. Television directs vision to itself but in the social context of watching together. There’s always at least a peripheral perception of others watching (Not in film — room’s too dark. Social’s not the point there. In fact movies open with a warning to turn off your cell phone. Most definitely not social…ah, but the experience is social, yes. But not the medium.).

The new generation doesn’t sit down to watch prime time tv together. It’s on YouTube, which provides the asynchronicity of experience, personaliz-ability of tags, uploading, favorites lists, channels, and a play duration much better suited to consumption than tv. Content in minutes, not half hour blocks. And played, of course, over the medium that’s mine, that’s mobile, that’s interactive, and that’s connected: the computer.

Google bought YouTube. Makes perfect sense.

North Korea: Sticks and Stones may brreak…

Monday, October 9th, 2006

Sticks and Stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me…

So it’s happened. The event our administration has hoped to head off, to discourage and deter, happened anyways. Asian security policy ought now be chronicled with “before test” and “after test.” For how can Japan and Australia now maintain non-nuclear military postures? What do the South Koreans do? It would be stupid of North Korea to strike South Korea with a nuclear weapon, and sure, the weapon’s design is to deter the United States (it’s as much a gesture and communication as it is a weapon); but the South Koreans can’t ignore it. And the border between those two lands is a hot one.

What a disaster. World responses show just how few options the world has now. Rogue actors — and Kim here is like a rogue actor with a nation state (he’s more nuts than Osama folks) — leave us with no options. Kim clearly wants recognition that the rest of the world has said it will not give (no negotiation with the axis of evil). And he’s succeeding in getting it with the methods he’s chosen: nuclear weapons.

I have no idea what happens next. We’re outside the rules of the game now. North Korea: 1 ; World: 0

Words:

Unacceptable — US
Completely Irresponsible — UK
Provocative — US
Fraught with danger — Russia
Destabilising — India

Dr Strangelove, or How I Learned to Accept Kim Jong Il

Sunday, October 8th, 2006

If it is indeed true that N Korea conducted a nuclear test today, US foreign policy will truly be turned on its head. For everything about North Korea that is true will be like a mirror image of all in Iraq that was false. Washington will wish they only had to deal with the publication of Woodward’s State of Denial. For after Hastert’s denial, our denial vis a vis Korea will make our insistence on Iraq even more untenable. How can any administration project power, be it soft power, moral power, economic power, or the hard military stuff, if its own policies are bipolar? Back when the world was bipolar (read US and USSR), policies at least made some amount of sense. This version of bipolar owes more to psychiatry than it does to international relations! The White House has been living in a “reality” of its own invention, a projection (or transference?) of its own paranoid future, a reality show as seen on Fox News, a narcissism whose reflection on the surface of the world reads just as well backwards as forwards: State of Denial / Denial of State. You want reality tv? Stay tuned!

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My problem with the Law…

Friday, October 6th, 2006

People who know me know that I live by my own principles. I have a constitutional (!) allergy to rules, as well as a generalized condition of avoidance (if not out-right hostility) to dogmatic principles. The law falls under this rubric. But so too do many things opposed to law. Dogmatic violence (“insurgents” in Iraq), dogmatic freedom (US occupation of Iraq), and so on. I’m interested in the intrinsic, the particular, and the spontaneous. That said, of course, it’s not possible to run an economy, or organize society, without generalization (aka, the rub).

Here’s a great passage from Gilles Deleuze’s incredible text on Immanuel Kant’s Critiques. In it he describes the passage from law to imperative/command, capturing the manner in which law departs from value, and becomes oriented itself. The result can only be a shift from the good life to the obedient life…. It’s through a move like this that the law comes to support stupidity.

This became clear to the free speech movement, it became clear to the Panthers, it became clear to King, Malcolm… Why have we lost our sight again, so soon?

“The third aspect of the Kantian revolution concerns the Critique of Practical reason, and might appear in formulas akin to those of Kafka. ‘The Good is what the Law says’ … ‘The law’ is already a strange expression, from the point of view of philosophy which only scarcely knew laws. This is clear in antiquity, notably in Plato’s Politics. If men knew what Good was, and knew how to conform to it, they would not need laws. Laws, or the law, are only a ’second resort’, a representative of the Good in a world deserted by the gods. When the true politics is absent, it leaves general directives according to which men must conduct themselves. Laws are therefore, as it were, the imitation of the Good which serves as their highest principle. They derive from the Good under certain conditions.

When Kant talks about the law, it is, on the contrary, as the highest instance. Kant reverses the relationship of the law and the Good, which is as important as the reversal of the movement-time relationship. It is the Good which depends on the law, and not vice-versa. In the same way as the objects of knowledge revolve around the subject (I), the Good revolves around the subjective law. But what do we mean by ’subjective’ here? The law can have no content other than itself, since all content of the law would lead it back to a Good whose imitation it would be. In other words, the law is pure form and has no object: neither sensible nor intelligible. It does not tell us what we must do, but to what (subjective) rule we must conform, whatever our action. Any action is moral if its maxim can be thought without contradiction as universal, and if its motive has no other object that this maxim. For example, the lie cannot be thought as formally universal without contradiction, since it at least implies people who believe in it, and who, in believing in it, are not lying. The moral law is thus defined as the pure form of universality. The law does not tell us which object the will must pursue to be good, but the form which it must take in order to be moral. The law as empty form in the Critique of Practical Reason corresponds to time as pure form in the Critique of Pure Reason. The law does not tell us what we must do, it merely tells us ‘you must!’, leaving us to deduce from it the Good, that is, the object of this pure imperative. But it is the Good which derives from the law, and not vice versa. As in Kafka’s The Penal Colony, it is a determination which is purely practical and not theoretical. The law is not known, since there is nothing in it to ‘know.’ We come across it only through action, and it acts only through its sentence and its execution. It is not distinguishable from the sentence, and the sentence is not distinguishable from the application. We know it only through its imprint on our heart and our flesh: we are guilty, necessarily guilty. Guild is like the moral thread which duplicates the thread of time.

from the preface of Gilles Deleuze, Kant’s Critical Philosophy.

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Media circus finds no pictures allowed in Amish country

Wednesday, October 4th, 2006


I only just heard on the news this morning that the Amish don’t keep photos. There are no pictures of the girls who were killed. (Let’s assume everyone’s telling the truth; tho if I were an Amish parent I dont think I’d want my daughter’s pic pushed onto the internet by bloodthirsty journalists, would you?)

That’s fascinating. And only moreso given the sharp clash of cultures that’s been the Pennsylvania countryside this week. Satellite dishes and trucks, cell phones and microphones, cameras and lenses and boom mikes and grips and PDAs, Treos, Crackberries, all rigged up and *functioning* in the midst of a culture that chose to tie off its electrical line and make do without electricity. Without radio. Without wireless…

In scenes shot at the scene of the crime, we’ve been shown small groups of Amish men (it’s always the fathers, sons) huddled together, obviously in prayer and contemplation, though stoically so. This is not the picture of a community ripped apart, bleeding at the eyes, wailing in grief and overcome with pain. The Amish have, instead, given the media a quite unusual media situation: calm, accepting, forgiving… No shrines to the girls, no outpouring of flowers, no hand-made signs and sendoffs.

It’s been interesting to see the media deal with this. Obviously they can’t intervene, they can’t become the news they’re there to report. And yet the story reveals the degree to which the media is creating the news. If it weren’t for the sudden descent of a thousand microphones and cameras onto that small spot on the Pennsylvania map, there wouldnt be a story. Wouldnt be a story. Wouldnt be a story.

There’d only have been an event. A loss, a crime, a grieving, a moving along….

It makes you wonder, what does the media want? Does the media want blood, mayhem, sadness, desperation?

If the media provides an observation, a culture observing itself, then this event puts as much focus on the media as it does on the crime. I’ve not seen much discussion of this. Are people asking the media to back out and leave the community to deal with this in its own way? Perhaps the wknd papers and magazines…

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Rajeev Samant at Stanford

Thursday, September 21st, 2006

My friend and old dorm-mate Rajeev Samant has been flown in, business class and not the class that sits on top of the airplane, to speak to the incoming freshman at Stanford this year. That’s 1700 kids at Stanford’s MemAud. I remember that morning back in 1984, President Donald Kennedy advising us to Question Authority. Raj was one of the crazy Indians on campus; it’s good to see that Stanford can still recognize flair and character. After all, he could have been at Oracle all this time, instead of launching an Indian white wine, cultivating his own grapes, opening wine bars in Mumbai, and courting the press for social change. (see him in Time magazine.) Anyways, chalooz Raj!