fluidity


… the phenomenon of collecting loses its meaning as it loses its personal owner. Even though public collections may be less objectionable socially and more useful academically than private collections, the objects get their due only in the latter. I do know that the time is running out for the type that I am discussing here and have been representing before you a bit ex officio. But, as Hegel put it, only when it is dark does the owl of Minerva begin its flight. Only in extinction is the collector comprehended.

– Walter Benjamin. “Unpacking My Library.” In Illuminations. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1968: 67.

On the dramatic stage the method of interpreting a theatrical production lies with the actor who expresses the theatrical idea through the creative will of the director and gives it individual form. In cinema, because of its unusually high technological component — the quintessence of the machine and electricity — and because of the surprising significance of montage, the actor takes second place. In view of the fact that cinema must be based on a purely external (i.e. visual) artistic influence on the public the cinema artiste must learn to create the required impression not just by acting with the face but by acting with the whole body; by an expressiveness of lines.

– Kuleshov, Lev. “The Art of Cinema” [1918]. In The Film Factory: Russian and Soviet Cinema in Documents, edited by Richard Taylor, and Ian Christie. London; New York: Routledge, 1994: 46.

For an innovative analysis of Eisenstein’s “film poetics” , see David Bordwell’s The Cinema of Eisenstein. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1993.

The modern social imaginary is … both active and contemplative. It expands the repertory of collective action, and also that of objective analysis. But it also exists in a range of intermediate forms. In speaking … about the typically modern, horizontal forms of social imaginary, in which people grasp themselves and great numbers of others as existing and acting simultaneously I [mention] the economy, the public sphere, and the sovereign people, but also the space of fashion. This is an example of a fourth structure of simultaneity. It is unlike the public sphere and the sovereign people, because these are sites of common action. In this respect, it is like the economy, where a host of individual actions concatenate behind our backs. But it is different from this as well, because our actions relate in the space of fashion in a particular way. I wear my own kind of hat, but in doing so, I am displaying my style to all of you, and in this, I am responding to your self-display, even as you will respond to mine. The space of fashion is one in which we sustain together a language of signs and meanings, which is constantly changing but which at any moment is the background needed to give our gestures the sense they have. If my hat can express my particular kind of cocky yet understated self-display, this is because of how the common language of style has evolved among us up to this point. My gesture can change it, and then your responding stylistic move will takes its meaning from the new contour the language takes on.

The general structure I want to draw from this example of the space of fashion is that of a horizontal, simultaneous, mutual presence, which is not that of a common action, but rather of mutual display. It matters to each of us as we act that others are there, as witnesses of what we are doing and thus as codeterminers of the meaning of our action.

Spaces of this kind become more and more important in modern urban society, where large numbers of people rub shoulders, unknown to each other, without dealings with each other, and yet affecting each other, forming the inescapable context of each other’s lives. As against the everyday rush to work in the Metro, where others can sink to the status of obstacles in my way, city life has developed other ways of being-with, for instance, as we each take our Sunday walk in the park or as we mingle at the summer street festival or in the stadium before the playoff game. Here each individual or small group acts on their own, but with the awareness that their display says something to others, will be responded to by them, will help build a common mood or tone that will color everyone’s actions.

A host of urban monads hover on the boundary between solipsism and communication. My loud remarks and gestures are overtly addresed only to my immediate companions; my family group is sedately walking, engaged in our own Sunday outing; but all the time we are aware of this common space that we are building, in which the message that cross take meaning. This strange zone between loneliness and communication fascinated many of the early observers of this phenomenon as it arose in the nineteenth century. We can think of the paintings of Manet or of Baudelarie’s avid interest in the urban scene, in the roles of flâneur and dandy, uniting observation and display.

– Charles Taylor. Modern Social Imaginaries. Durham: Duke University Press, 2004: 167-68.

Writing has never been capitalism’s thing. Capitalism is profoundly illiterate…. Writing typically plays the role of an archaism in capitalism, the Gutenberg press being the element that confers on the archaism a current function. But the capitalist use of language is different in nature; it is realized or becomes concrete within the field of immanence peculiar to capitalism itself, with the appearance of the technical means of expression that correspond to the generalized decoding of flows, instead of still referring in a direct or indirect form to despotic overcoding.

This seems to us to be the significance of McLuhan’s analyses: to have shown what a language of decoded flows is, as opposed to a signifier that strangles and overcodes the flows. In the first place, for nonsignifying language anything will do: whether it be phonic, graphic, gestural, etc., no flow is privileged in this language, which remains indifferent to its substance or its support, inasmuch as the latter is an amorphous continuum. The electric flow can be considered as the realization of such a flow that is indeterminate as such. But a substance is said to be formed when a flow enters into a relatioship with another flow, such that the first defines a content and the second, an expression.

Electric language does not go by way of the voice or writing; data processing does without them both … Michael Serres defines in this sense the correlation of the break and the flow in the signs of the new technical language machines, where production is narrowly determined by information …

– Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari. Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1983: 240-241.

You cross Europe, the continents, airplanes, faxes, telephones, courier to the four corners of the world…. One cannot sell the same merchandise all the time. One must invent, read, imagine. Because without that, they are not content; they say that you are taking them for fools. Or even declining. You know, Marie, she has nothing more to say. Fit for the trash can.

Insomuch as things go smoothly, there is a hostess (I see her, that’s her, I’m sure) or an assistant who comes to take you to the airport in a taxi. A half-hour at the hotel to refresh yourself. Sometimes it’s been a ten-hour nonstop flight, eh? A cocktail and dinner, then the conference and a drink. Or perhaps a cocktail and the conference, then the dinner. Everywhere the same, in all the cities of the world. Sometimes they are apprehensive, sometimes enthusiastic, or a little wicked. Sometimes, also, a real friend. You are always smiling, Marie, even if you are sweetly telling sinister stories in your talk…. It’s a small world, gestures of the hand, a brief sadness, the suitcases pass through the security checks. Hi, you’re Keiko? Thanks for coming to fetch me. Is Keiko a little stream of cultural capital, she too? Evidently…. The taxi speeds along like a missile through the highways and interchanges. A stream of capital. We arrive; I am going to have my half-hour. The room is on the 58th floor and everything works.

In the shower Marie remembers that their teacher explained to them that as for capital, it’s not only that time is money, but that money is time as well. It’s the good stream that arrives the quickest. An excellent stream arrives scarcely having left. On radio and on television they call that real time, or live time. But the best feeling is to anticipate the arrival of the stream, its ‘realization,’ before it arrives. That’s the currency of credit. That’s stockpiled time, for dispensing before real time. One gains time, one borrows it. You must buy a word processor. It’s incredible, the time one gains. But what about writing? You write more quickly, the page formats, notes, corrections, you see?

Poor Maris, you’ll never get rich, you love scribbling on your paper, too bad. You are a little, sluggish stream. You will be submerged by faster little streams of expeditious culture…. true streams are subterranean; they flow slowly beneath the earth, they make sheets of water and springs. One doesn’t know where they are going to exit. And their speed is unknown. How would I like to be a subterranean pocket of black water, cold and immobile.

– Excerpt from “Marie in Japan” by Jean-François Lyotard  (translated by David Palumbo-Liu) in Palumbo-Liu, David, and Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht (eds.). Streams of Cultural Capital: Transnational Cultural Studies. Stanford, Calif: Stanford University Press, 1997, pp. 47-49.

If the new exterritoriality of the elite feels like intoxicating freedom, the territoriality of the rest feels less like home ground, and ever more like prison — all the more humiliating for the obtrusive sight of others’ freedom to move. It is not just that the condition of ‘staying put’, being unable to move at one’s heart’s desire and being barred access to greener pastures, exudes the acrid odour of defeat, signals incomplete humanity and implies being cheated in the division of splendours life has to offer. Deprivation reaches deeper. The ‘locality’ in the new world of high speed is not what the locality used to be at a time when information moved only together with the bodies of its carriers; neither the locality,  nor the localized population has much in common with the ‘local community’. Public spaces — agoras and forums in their various manifestations, places where agendas are set, private affairs are made public, opinions are formed, tested and confirmed, judgements are put together and verdicts are passed — such spaces followed the elite in cutting lose their local anchors; they are first to deterritorialize and move far beyond the reach of the merely ‘wetware’ communicative capacity of any locality and its residents. Far from being hotbeds of communities, local populations are more like loose bunches of untied ends.

–  Zygmunt Bauman.  Globalization: The Human Consequences. New York: Columbia University Press, 1998. pp. 23-24.

A new vaccine is being marketed, a new job description is offered, a new political movement is being created, a new planetary system is discovered, a new law is voted, a new catastrophe occurs. In each instance, we have to reshuffle our conceptions of what was associated together because the previous definition has been made somewhat irrelevant. We are no longer sure about what “we” means; we seem to be bound by “ties” that don’t look like regular social ties.

Bruno Latour, Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network Theory (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), p. 6.

Whatever it is, it avails not—distance avails not, and
place avails not,
I too lived, Brooklyn of ample hills was mine,
I too walk’d the streets of Manhattan island, and bathed
in the waters around it,
I too felt the curious abrupt questionings stir within me,
In the day among crowds of people sometimes they came
upon me,
In my walks home late at night or as I lay in my bed
they came upon me,
I too had been struck from the float forever held in
solution,
I too had receiv’d identity by my body,
That I was I knew was of my body, and what I should
be I knew I should be of my body.

– Walt Whitman, “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” (1856) from Leaves of Grass (1886 ed.), pp. 57-64.

It is good to love this beautiful city
it is good to love the architecture of this beautiful city
it is good to come to the capital and pass along these bustling streets
in search of all that is valuable in life
in search of all gentle women
this row of cherries that line the street
are there not innumerable sparrows singing there, too?

Ah! the only one able to sleep in the nights of this big city
is the shadow of but one blue cat
the shadow of a cat that speaks of the history of a pathetic humanity
the blue shadow of the happiness we constantly seek.
Just when in search of all our shadows
we think we love this Tokyo even on a sleety day
huddling up against the wall of a back alley there
is that human-looking beggar — what do you suppose he dreams of?

– Sakutaro Hagiwara, “Blue Cat” (“Aoneko”) (1923) in Kevin Doak’s Dreams of Difference (Berkeley, CA: U of California Press, 1994), p. 38.

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