September 2007

… pasts in … constructed lives are as important as futures, and [sometimes] the more we unravel these pasts the closer we approach worlds that are less and less cosmopolitan, more and more local. Yet even the most localized of these worlds … has become inflected — even afflicted — by cosmopolitan scripts that drive the politics of families, the frustrations of laborers, the dreams of local headmen. Once again, we need to be careful not to suppose that as we work backward in these imagined lives we will hit some local, cultural bedrock, made up of a closed set of reproductive practices and untouched by rumors of the world at large.

Arjun Appadurai, Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization (Minneapolis: 1996), p. 63.

Culture does imply difference, but the differences now are no longer taxonomic; they are interactive and refractive…. Culture thus shifts from being some sort of inert, local substance to being a rather more volatile form of difference.

Arjun Appadurai, Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization (Minneapolis: 1996), p. 60.

Fiction, like myth, is part of the conceptual repertoire of contemporary societies. Readers of novels and poems can be moved to intense action (as with The Satanic Verses of Salman Rushdie), and their authors often contribute to the construction of social and moral maps for their readers. Even more relevant to my purposes, prose fiction is the exemplary province of the post-Renaissance imagination, and in this regard it is central to a more general ethnography of the imagination. Even small fragments of fantasy … show the contemporary imagination at work…. Like the myths of small-scale society as rendered in the anthropological classics of the past, contemporary literary fantasies tell us something about displacement, disorientation, and agency in the contemporary world.

Arjun Appadurai, Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization (Minneapolis: 1996), p. 58.

… there is a peculiar new force to the imagination in social life today. More persons in more parts of the world consider a wider set of possible lives than they ever did before. One important source of this change is the mass media, which present a rich, ever-changing store of possible lives, some of which enter the lived imaginations of ordinary people more successfully than others. Important also are contacts with, news of, and rumors about others in one’s social neighborhood who have become inhabitants of these faraway worlds. The importance of the media is not so much as direct sources of new images and scenarios for life possibilities but as semiotic diacritics of great power, which also inflect social contact with the metropolitan world facilitated by other channels.

Arjun Appadurai, Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization (Minneapolis: 1996), p. 53.

… the World is not a total present, like a circle in space — but a manifest Spiral or infinite Helix in time & motion — proved by Geology”

– Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Entry 27 August 1823, Notebook 20 (British Library Add. ms. 47517) cited in H. J. Jackson, “‘Turning and Turning’: Coleridge on Our Knowledge of the External World” PMLA, Vol. 101, No. 5. (Oct., 1986), pp. 851.

Nature does not glide, or creep, or run but moves by vaults, as the Grasshopper, or the Water long legs, by successive pushes and pauses …

– Samuel Taylor Coleridge, around 1827, British Library Add. Manuscript 34225, fol. 143r, cited in H. J. Jackson, “‘Turning and Turning’: Coleridge on Our Knowledge of the External World” PMLA, Vol. 101, No. 5. (Oct., 1986), pp. 851.

Nature, and nature’s laws, lay hid in night.

God said, “Let Newton be!” and all was light.

Alexander Pope, “Epitaph. Intended for Sir Isaac Newton, in Westminister Abbey” in J. Butt (ed.) The Poems of Alexander Pope (London: 1963), p. 808.

How can we stop fashioning the discipline of film studies into a mirror of postcolonial world geopolitics? Can the neocolonial logic of film studies be corrected by going back to that perennial epistemological question, “Can we ever know the Other as the truly Other?” The problem here is not that this question is too complicated to be sufficiently answered by any response; that is, the problem is not the impossibility of the answer but the formulation of this particular question itself. By construing the Other as the sole bearer of difference, ths seemingly sincere question does nothing but conceal the fundamentally problematic nature of identity of the self.

The so-called imperialist misrepresentation or appropriation of the Other is an oxymoron. The Other cannot be misrepresented, since it is always already a misrepresentation. Imperialism starts to show its effect not when it domesticates the Other but the moment it posits the difference of the Other against the identity of the self. This fundamental imperialism of the self/Other dichotomy can never be corrected by the hermeneutics of the Other or cross-cultural exchange; on the contrary, the latter reinforces the imperialist logic under the guise of liberal humanism, or what Spivak calls ‘neocolonial anticolonialism.’”

Mitsuhiro Yoshimoto, “The Difficulty of Being Radical: The Discipline of Film Studies and the Postcolonial World Order” in Masao Miyoshi and H.D. Harootunian (eds.) Japan in the World (Durham, N.C.: 1993), p. 353.

… the arms race has caused the margin of political security to narrow still further, bringing us closer to the critical threshold where the possibilities for properly human political action will disappear in a “State of Emergency”; where telephone communication between statesmen will stop, probably in favor of an interconnection of computer systems, modern calculators of strategy and, consequently, of politics…. the immediacy of information immediately creates the crisis …”
Paul Virilio, “The State of Emergency” from Speed and Politics: An Essay on Dromology (1977). Mark Polizotti, trans. (New York: 1986), p. 143.

The spectacular consumption that preserves past culture in congealed form, including coopted rehashes of its negative manifestations, gives overt expression in its cultural sector to what it implicitly is in its totality: the communication of the incommunicable. The most extreme destruction of language can be officially welcomed as a positive development because it amounts to yet one more way of flaunting one’s acceptance of a status quo where all communication has been smugly declared absent. The critical truth of this destruction — the real life of modern poetry and art — is obviously concealed, since the spectacle, whose function is to use culture to bury all historical memory, applies its own essential strategy in its promotion of modernistic pseudoinnovations. Thus a school of neoliterature that baldly admits that it does nothing but contemplate the written word for its own sake can pass itself off as something new. Meanwhile, alongside the simple claim that the death of communication has a sufficient beauty of its own, the most modern tendency of spectacular culture — which is also the one most closely linked to the repressive practice of the general organization of society — seeks by means of “collective projects” to construct complex neoartistic environments out of decomposed elements, as can be seen in urbanism’s attempts to incorporate scraps of art or hybrid aesthetico-technical forms. This is an expression, in the domain of spectacular pseudoculture, of advanced capitalism’s general project of remolding the fragmented worker into a “socially integrated personality,” a tendency that has been described by recent American sociologists (Riesman, Whyte, etc.). In all these areas the goal remains the same: to restructure society without community.

Entry 92 in Guy Debord,  Society of the Spectacle (1967). Ken Knabb, trans. See chapter 8.

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