October 2007

… whatever is remote assumes the right of imposing on us.

– Fontenelle, Plurality of Worlds (1686), p. 150

Let us compare the screen on which a film unfolds with the canvas of a painting. The painting invites the spectator to contemplation; before it the spectator can abandon himself to his associations. Before the movie frame he cannot do so. No sooner has his eye grasped a scene than it is aready changed. It cannot be arrested. . . .  The spectator’s process of association in view of these images is indeed interrupted by their constant sudden, change. This constitutes the shock effect of the film, which like all shocks, should be cushioned by heightened presence of mind.

– Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” [1936] in Illuminations: Walter Benjamin Essays and Reflections (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1968), p. 238.

By close-ups of the things around us, by focusing on hidden details of familiar objects, by exploring commonplace milieus under the ingenious guidance of the camera, the film, on the one hand, extends our comprehension of the necessities which rule our lives; on the other hand, it manages to assure us of an immense and unexpected field of action. Our taverns and our metropolitan streets, our offices and furnished rooms, our railroad stations and our factories appeared to have us locked up hopelessly. Then came the film and burst this prison-world asunder by the dynamite of the tenth of a second, so that now, in the midst of our far-flung ruins and debris, we calmly and adventurously go traveling. With the close-up, space expands; with slow motion, movement is extended. . . .  a different nature opens itself to the camera than opens to the naked eye—if only because an unconsciously penetrated space is substituted for a space consciously explored by man. . . .  the camera intervenes with the resources of its lowerings and liftings, its interruptions and isolations, its extensions and accelerations, its enlargements and reductions. The camera introduces us to unconscious optics . . .

– Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” [1936] in Illuminations: Walter Benjamin Essays and Reflections (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1968), p. 237.

The form of centrality which, as a form, is empty, calls for a content and attracts and concentrates particular objects. By becoming a locus of action, of a sequence of opeations, this form acquires a functional reality. Around the centre a structure of (mental and/or social) space is now organized, a structure that is always of the moment, contributing, along with form and function, to a practice.

The notion of centrality replaces the notion of totality, repositioning it, and rendering it dialectical. Any centrality, once established, is destined to suffer dispersal, to dissolve or to explode from the effects of saturation, attrition, outside aggressions, and so on. This means that the ‘real’ can never become completely fixed, that it is constantly in a state of mobilization. It also means that the general figure (that of the centre and of ‘decentring’) is in play which leaves room for both repetition and difference, for both time and juxtaposition.

– Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space (1974). Donald Nicholson-Smith, trans. (Oxford: 1991), p. 399.

How and why is it that the advent of a world market, implying a degree of unity at the level of the planet, gives rise to a fractioning of space — to proliferating nation states, to regional differentiation and self-determination, as well as to multinational states and transnational corporations which, although they stem this strange tendency towards fission, also exploit it in order to reinforce their own autonomy? Towards what space and time will such interwoven contradictions lead us?

– Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space (1974). Donald Nicholson-Smith, trans. (Oxford: 1991), p. 351.

If the natural utilization of productive forces is impeded by the property system, the increase in technical devices, in speed, and in the sources of energy will press for an unnatural utilization, and this is found in war. The destructiveness of war furnishes proof that society has not been mature enough to incorporate technology as its organ, that technology has not been sufficiently developed to cope with the elemental forces in society. . . . Instead of draining rivers, society directs a human stream into a bed of trenches. Instead of dropping seeds from airplanes, it drops incendiary bombs over cities; and through gas warfare the aura is abolished in a new way.

Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” [1936] in Illuminations: Walter Benjamin Essays and Reflections (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1968), p. 242.

I would call back at least for literature this world of shadows we are losing. In the mansion called literature I would have the eaves deep and the walls dark, I would push back into the shadows the things that come forward too clearly, I would strip away the useless decoration. I do not ask for this to be done everywhere, but perhaps we may be allowed at least one mansion where we can turn off the electric lights and see what it is like without them.

Jun’ichirō Tanizaki, In Praise of Shadows (1933-34). (Stoney Creek, CT: Leete’s island Books, 1977), p. 42.

As our train emerged from one tunnel, the mountain roads suddenly flashed into sight, he gazed up and heaved a deep sigh. I was struck by this. Listening to him then describe the fullness of his heart, how gazing upon such mountain roads a stream of childhood memories came welling up within him, I keenly felt that the ‘country’ exists beyond my comprehension. It is not so much that I do not know the country as that I do not understand the notion of a ‘birthplace,’ or a ‘first home’ or a ‘second home’ — indeed, what home of any kind in fact is. When there is no memory, there is no home . . . . Looking back I see that from an early age my feelings were distorted by an endless series of changes occurring too fast. Never was there sufficient time to nurture the sources of a powerful and enduring memory, attached to the concrete and the particular. I had memories but they possessed no actuality, no substance. I even felt they were somehow unreal.

– Kobayashi Hideo “Literature of the Lost Home” in Paul Anderer, ed. and trans. Literature of the Lost Home (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2000), pp. 48-49.

We have to recognize that geographic localization seems to have definitely lost its strategic value and, inversely, that this same value is attributed to the delocalization of the vector, of a vector in permanent movement–no matter if this movement is aerial, spatial, underwater, or underground. All that counts is the speed of the moving body and the undetectability of its path.

Paul Virilio, “The State of Emergency” in Speed and Politics, pp. 107-108.

The media are the privileged instruments of the Union. They alone are able to control the social chaos of American panhumanity; they are the guarantors of a certain civic cohesion, and thus of civl security itself. Inversely … American democracy will make no real efforts to integrate its ethnic minorities, its factions, into a constant civilization, into a truly community-oriented way of life. For segregation is what sanctions the system’s hegemony of the media, on which rests the nature of the American State’s authority.

Paul Virilio, “Essay on Dromology” in Speed and Politics, pp. 107-108.

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