Alan Sondheim on Thu, 3 Apr 2003 04:03:31 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> BOTHERSOME REALITY - by Tom Zummer


           Thomas Zummer

 . . . all bothersome reality appears as if wiped away.
         -- Alfred Polgar, 1912

It is 2003.
In 1912, Alfred Polgar had been speaking of the cinema, drawing a
comparison between its economies and those of the stage, where the
possibility of puncturing the illusion of theater is always in potentia a
fragile and unstable image. Perhaps we have to return, again, to such
instances to remind ourselves of the genealogical chain of virtualities
by which media stabilizes its image -- that is to say, its world --  putting
the world into a picture, advancing a tactical isomorphism, a reflection,
a conduit to the realities that are taking place. In, for example, a war.

 The problem is that there are TOO MANY reasons for the attack...

Slavoj Zizek is correct in pointing out that there are far too many
reasons for having invaded Iraq. Each reason standing in for another, so
that the stabilities of persuasion operate in a deferred circumlocution.
In other words, that as soon as one argument meets objection there is a
default to another closely aligned (public) argument. No matter that they
might be,  at one level at least, contradictory, they are all 'good
reasons.' And they all address the question 'why?'

  (pre)tending the war

Of course it is a question of media, of mediation. Reality comes to us by
way of a fictional fashioning -- it is an artifact -- but it is the heuristic
criteria for determining the disposition of such artifacts -- the truth of
media -- that has come under assault, or more precisely, is caught up as
just another casualty, the tacit allusion to the telling of a lie or the
withholding of a truth (military disinformation) holding place for,
occupying the space of truth. Such things are not simple or singular,
their affectivity does not rest upon some sort of clarity or persuasion,
or a recourse to evidence. Just the opposite. Neither are they a very new
phenomenon. We the presumed 'consumers' of the war, find a subtle
familiarity in our collusion with reports of "a dying regime" of a
"dictator's last days" of "Operation Iraqi Freedom" of "our brave men
and women at the front" and so on. It is as if we, the audience, can
pretend once again to 'fight the good war,' a war whose image has been
shaped in terms of nostalgia and presumption, under the names of values
and ethics that are, and should be, a common allegience in the public
sphere. But who is being addressed?

It is necessary to perceive that the time and content of this address is
artificially produced. It is an artifact. Telepresence -- 'Live'
transmission -- is an artifact, as are we who occupy the position of its
subject. Jacques Derrida points out that, within the framework of media,
as soon as you speak, in the very moment of enunciation, your words are
no longer your own, they have been swept away, transported in the very
moment of their emergence, to another place and time, outside of your own
control, under the control of another. Speech in the very moment of its
production is an artifact which does not belong to you. In a sense
Foucault's idea of an 'authorial function' has suffused everything, and,
in a strange series of successions from divinity to anonymity, casts
'us' into a position where one may have recently mourned the 'death of
the author' and now find ourselves somewhere else, mourning the 'death
of the public.' The 'audience' in its classical configuration, in what
we thought was a receptive/reactive, even analytic or critical posture,
is also a recent casualty, though its malaise may have been
preternaturally drawn out.

The question again, is 'who is being addressed?'

There is a sort of 'default-judgement' that comes into play when we are
put into -- or find ourselves in -- a position of familiarity which requires
a certain kind of response, in order to break the arrestment, and move
on. The idea, as we are told, that once the 'war has commenced,' that
once such an 'event' has taken place -- no matter that it is far removed
from our own judgement, intent, desire, trepidation, etc. --  we must
'rally behind the president' and 'support our troops in the field.' But
who are we who are being addressed in such a manner? We who
'disappeared' when such judgements as to invade Iraq were made? Who is
being addressed when we march (with our legal permits) in the streets,
with clever signs and slogans (no longer forms of communication at all,
it would seem), and make our oppositional presence known (but to whom?)?
Who is the addressee of public demonstration? Certainly it is not the
rulers. Neither is it to an immanent, substantive and effectual entity
presumed to be the 'public,' such that there is recourse to public
opinion, the possibility of communication, persuasion, freedom of debate.
Nor is it even to ourselves, though we and those close to us may feel
some immediate release, and gratification, in making noise and waving our
arms around. Sadly, we are just a 'crowd,' a mass, as Benjamin has put
it, already, in the very moment of our imanence, an artifact. And all
that wesay and do, in the very moment of its articulation is swept away,
not ours. The 'unconscious optics' of the camera seem like such a
quaint, even charming, notion when cast into the sphere of contemporary
media. Apparently the only viable position offered is to align oneself
with/against a phantasmatic, imaginary substantitive community: America.

What of sentiment and nostalgia? In whose service are these reflexes,
impulses which originate within us, secured and assigned? In whose name,
and to what purpose?

To fuel what poll?

Consider the 'embedding' of journalists and camera crews with the
military in the Iraqi desert, in command centers, and vehicles throughout
the theater. It is a form of total surveillance. There is no 'freedom of
access' which is not coextensive with immediate control of transmission.
The moment of free speech is precisely alloyed to a condition of
mediation and control. Whether we are here or there, there is everywhere
a desperate clinging to notions of the subjectivities, the figures and
tropes, the individuals and public, the good people, that we all think we
still are. 'Embedded media' is little more than crowd control.

It is not even necessary for someone like George Bush, Donald Rumsfeld,
et al/inter alia to understand this, to have thought it through or to
even have a clear grasp of how it works, for their programme to be
effective. In fact, such clarity might even be detrimental to their
aggressive opportunism.

And what of we small people, who have been able to do very little, we who
still have an archaic faith in the value of asking questions?

For example, what is the current definition of 'interests'? What is the
definition, and here I mean a pragmatic one, of 'American interests'? I
will leave aside for a moment the problem of consensus, since it involves
forms of communication that may no longer be possible. Does the term
'Americaan interests' imply economic, that is to say, corporate
interests? And are those corporate interests expressed globally? And what
does this 'authorise,' setting aside -- once again -- questions of legality
or right?

But if we glance back at those questions of legality, what is to be done
with Article I, section 8, of the Constitution of the United States of
America? Last year the U.S. Congress, with leaders of both parties,
surrendered their warmaking power to George W. Bush, an act which in
itself is unlawful. The founding fathers (one of the most common usages
of the trope apostrophe) had most emphatically placed the power to make
war in the hands of Congress. They did not want some arrogant or brooding
successor to King George III to plunge their country into war. Instead
they wanted a collegial body of many elected representatives to decide
openly whether war was necessary, appropriate, legan or right.
Unfortunately, there is now no judicial remedy for any citizen to
challenge assigning the warmaking power to the President. C'est fait
accompli -- the default-judgement of an absent public has already accepted
this state of affairs.

What has become of categories such as 'the Right' and 'the Left'?

How might one analyze the current regime in Washington? It seems to act,
like a corporation, without serious consideration of public and
consensual checks and balances. Like a corporation if aggressively
protects its 'interests.' Like a corporation, it does not make allies,
but engages in 'hostile takeovers' and acquires subsidiaries. Commerce
and free enterprise are global. You are a consumer, or you are a target.

Who will pay for the war? Obviously the Iraqi's with their resources,
will have to subsidize a great deal of the intended reconstruction of
their nation, directed by a U.S. assigned private sector. It is, to some,
a win/win scenario. How does a promise (of tax cuts, bills for
appropriation of monies for 'homeland defense' or to offset the cost of
public support of the war) secure our collusion [sentiment, outrage,
nostalgia, etc.] and mask the corporate interests already busily at work
on Iraqi soil?

Who is next?

Shock and Awe -- how do we disengage the conjunction between two terms that
do not seem to 'rhyme' with each- or any others? Where do we situate
this 'and' in order to demonstrate the presumed affinity between the
shock of the people who see (themselves under) relentless attack, and
those who experience awe of what had been thought, so very recently,
could never have come about. Again it is, among other things, a question
of who is being addressed. One must see that it cicumscribes two distict
points of address: shock to Iraq, and awe to the rest of the world, a
tacit and exemplary communiqué to Iran and Saudi Arabia, Syria and North
Korea, the European Community and the United States of America. A
conjunction that veils a threat: that there is a commutability between
these two terms, that the conjunction is a 'two-way street,' and
'obstruction' carries a risk.

Who is empowered to render a judgement to not recognize consensual
international authority, like the UN, NATO, international law, treaties,
agreements, or the sovereign governments of nations? Saddam Hussein?
Slobodan Milosovic? George W. Bush?

What is a 'rogue state'?

How much can we trust what is told to us by such 'leaders'? People who
no longer even bother with evidence, but ask us to rely on their 'gut
feeling' of the rightness of their actions  [ I feel this is right
because (I feel) this is right] and the events that they precipitate.
Isn't  the acceptance of this a matter of faith? That is to say, a
default judgement which is the precise opposite of 'democracy'?

What about such things as free speech, privacy, and freedom of
information when there are apparently blockages (technical and/or
political) of internet sites and addresses which convey undesirable data
and images, or come from foreign sources? Are you having problems with

How do we, small people who lose our voice every time we open our mouths,
who have no access to data or evidence or indeed any measure of what
transpires, how do we attend to the world? What possible criteria can
come into play to determine what is really at stake? Or how long an
agenda has been operating? Or where or when? Or for whom? There is no
direct evidence (not only is there no place left to go in the
contemporary world, but there is no evidence of anything, a situation
masked by rather safe academic disputations about 'simulation,' the
'post-modern' and 'hyper-realities.' Perhaps these definitions are in a
sense important after all, holding place like a stone where something
absent has left its remains, marking a place where something might still
be thought?

But what if  -- slowly and relentlessly, and on all fronts -- the image is
punctured? What if the illusion of American policy under the Bush agenda
is revealed to be other than it says it is? And what if the means by
which thinking is regulated are shown not to be natural, reflexive,
inviolable, true and right? What would happen then?

    [ Part 2, Application/MAC-BINHEX40  31KB. ]
    [ Unable to print this part. ]

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