Answers Without Questions

 Rut Blees Luxemburg , photography.

Rut Blees Luxemburg , photography.

“According to a 19th century theory, the pain of
separation could be reduced by having a portrait of the deceased;
it served as a way to preserve a mental picture of them. Because
of the relative expense of photography most families did not have
many such portraits. Death portraits were often the only portraits
families would have of infants or elderly people in the 19th century.”

Heather Cameron

“I think my generation shares this ironic position, even after the sincere enthusiasm of the sixties, which, after all, led –
ironically – to Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and George Bush.”

Martin Jay

“I think a literary translation will capture some of what has
been lost in Freud: an unconscious and a conscious
ambiguity in the writing, and an interest in sentences, in
the fact that language is evocative as well as informative.”

Adam Phillips

“…is the general principle of a new “political anatomy”…. The celebrated, transparent circular cage with its high tower, powerful and knowing, may have been … a perfect disciplinary institution; but … one may “unlock” the disciplines and get them to function in a diffused multiple, polyvalent way throughout the whole social body.”
Michel Foucault

I think that film and TV, and internet and iPhones have altered how people see, or look at things. Altered our gaze. And not too many people would dispute this, I don’t think. But I also think these alterations have come with an ideological imprint. And additionally, they have therefore affected how stories are told, but also how people listen. It may be that people’s ability to listen is more affected than the gaze. The idea of hearing comes out of Judaic antiquity, and seeing, as the primary organ of perception is Greek. This has always been the general and reductive inherited wisdom. I am not certain it is entirely true, but there is something, certainly, in the visuality of the Greeks that has been passed down to the contemporary Western world.

Teresita Fernandez

Teresita Fernandez

From the Greeks came images as metaphors; that the *truth* was something revealed, unclothed, naked. The Greek visual was one that supported a model that resembled an onion, a peeling away of superficial or obfuscating images in order the better to *see* the naked unadorned truth at the core or center. Now, Hans Jonas (and Martin Jay) believe that from this Greek visual emphasis came ideas of Being, a fixed truth, privileged over Becoming, and that there was a general de-temporalizing of thought. I am not sure I fully accept this, but I suspect it is largely not incorrect. That idea of a visual distant, a horizon, a perspective, was Greek, from Parmenides to Plato, and this sense of visual primacy clearly influenced Greek writing, the poets and dramatists, as well as the philosophers.

That surveying gaze seems a particularly western notion, and one that may well have started with the Greeks but seems more directly substantiated by the class relations born in feudalism, and then depicted in a sense in Renaissance painting, but also was influenced, or was given a narrative, in a sense, by the Christian church. And then that ideological addition is one that perhaps came with optical technology, but has increased dramatically over the last 20 years, or 30, with the rise of a surveillance state.

Birde Vanheerswynghe

Birde Vanheerswynghe

Foucault’s writing on the Panopticon exercised a good deal of influence, and it has planted the seeds for several strains of thinking vis a vis optical technology and societal control. One distinct branch has to do with Deleuze’s ideas of predictive analysis, of CCTV and various panopticon technologies, and which is at heart a sort of science of manipulation. The other branch is control by way of more passive computer sorting of images; employment of facial recognition, etc. Mass classification. But all of this is grouped under authority and state management of crowds and the masses. How much these realities are changing actual individual perception is unclear. But I suspect more than is assumed. I also think, and Deleuze suggests something like this, that this surveillance model is already partly obsolete. The architecture of control, the accelerating of class polorization, and the brutal militarized domestic police apparatus (in the U.S. anyway) is now so acute that CCTV is redundant. But it is also accepted now, if rarely spoken, that surveillance technology doesn’t work very well. This is very rarely posited in discussions of growing authoritarian policing and crowd management and disciplining. The surveillance technology doesn’t work. Facial recognition does not work. I have written about this several times, so I don’t want to repeat the obvious here, but the effect of this tacit understanding of the flaws in surveillance technology, and in mass classification (think California DMV for example) is that new forms of control, more draconian solutions to managing the poor masses, are developing rapidly.
Angelina Pwerle

Angelina Pwerle

Culturally, there is a counter trend I suspect, or I sense, in how the Panopticon model, and the idea of an inherent authoritarian quality to the gaze, is being tacitly rejected. There is a sense in much abstract art, actually, of the elided gaze. The gaze that does not work as a gaze that is expressive of visual primacy, but one that is a gaze of scoptic failure; of doubt. The art of visual doubt. And this is not, to be clear, the message of the work I am thinking of, nor the provincialisms of identity themed manipulations. The new gaze, the post panopticonic gaze, as it were, is one of an aesthetics of the non-classificatory.

“…the functioning of panoptic power rests in its essence not upon visibility (the fact that the
subject is visible to the eye that observes), but upon the visibility of visibility i.e. that conscious registration of being observed on the part of the subject (seeing and recognizing that he is being seen) is what induces in the subject the disciplining of his own conduct.”

Majid Yar

The modern, or really the post modern, over the last thirty years, has really demonstrated that Foucualt’s description of visibility, for the inmate, to be the desired condition for his incarceration. And as far as that goes, it’s true. I am conscious all the time of being observed when I am in the U.S., at least in bigger cities. That is, however, partly a subjective paranoia. And that paranoia is also manufactured, of course. But I think the issue here is what one means by visibility. The fact is the Panopticon model is only useful as a metaphor, really, for structurally the surveillance apparatus works in completely other ways. As Majid Yar puts it, the core issue is the visibility of visibility, the conscious awareness of being visible. Statistically, something like only 35% of people are aware of any particular area of their city being under CCTV surveillance. Hence the deterrent and disciplining aspect of close circuit surveillance is limited. Except that I think this is both wrong in terms of percentages, but also wrong in terms of the causality of disciplining the masses. One may not be aware of a CCTV system, but one is still aware of being visible. All the time. That is what paranoia is and does. The conscious awareness, of temporal visibility, might be close to nothing. But the unconscious and well trained guilt of the citizen is always there, and in that respect the contemporary CCTV system does not exactly alter the Dostoyevskian reality of life in the city.

Bellevue Hospital morgue,  NYC. apprx. 1890.

Bellevue Hospital morgue, NYC. apprx. 1890.

And visual surveillance technology doesn’t exist in isolation. Surveillance is, today, a system. And it is a system that relies on a lot of secondary sub systems that enforce this goal of control. The state — thinking of the U.S. anyway, is always bent on *total* control. The stated or often unstated goal is always *totality* of some variety. The intention is conscious and really never varies. The government doesn’t say they want to cut down on this or that, they say they want to eliminate this or that. Total information awareness. That is the ideal and that’s been the ideal since WW2.

Notwithstanding this goal of totality, the CCTV systems in urban centers in the U.S. and UK are thought of as having minimal impact on people’s behavior. That is what security experts tell you anyway. It is interesting that in Yar’s short essay on visual entropy (via an analysis of Martin Jay’s book Downcast Eyes)that an example that is used to explain the marginal affects of normalizing behavior under surveillance scrutiny, is the Big Brother reality TV franchise. I am not sure, really, just how many layers of weird are contained in that example. I mean, its funny in one way, but it also makes a certain sense. Except I am not sure it makes the sense that the author intended. Contestants on TV shows, or maybe one should call them participants, are in a situation far removed from daily life. So far removed that as an example, it is pretty much worthless. Nobody living in NYC or Los Angeles or Chicago or London is living in a situation that mirrors a reality TV show. Except…except from a subjective narrative standpoint. And this is perhaps the crux of the matter. For the stories people employ to describe their lives to themselves, or to family and friends, are increasingly, I think, stories that are culled from mass media. And people behave as if they are in a reality TV show, even if their idea of what a reality show might be like is highly distorted and personal. The distortions then become a kind of Rorschach test, on the one hand, and a form to newly inscribe reality, and more narrowly, of newly imbuing images with meaning.

Harry Mitchell, photography.

Harry Mitchell, photography.

In other words, I think for many people in the U.S. today, and U.K., behavior is starting to mimic that seen on reality TV. I hear people talk in ways that sounds as if they think they are being recorded or filmed. The most obvious example is in the way people will hold opinions. I hear people express opinions in a way that sounds as if they are answering a question. Except there is no question; but that is exactly how reality TV shows are often edited. The question is cut, and the viewer only hears an answer. The question is sometimes cut out but it is obvious what is was, and in other cases the question is completely mystified. Partly this feels like how *identity* is established, or built, today. I-am-what-I-answer. Reality TV is often built around the mundane and banal holding of opinions. Someone doesn’t like the blue wallpaper in their newly redecorated kitchen. They hold forth on this dislike of blue, explaining their feelings, but rarely analyzing where these feelings originate. There i s almost no psychoanalytical self examination in reality TV. There is very little questioning of anything on historical or social levels.

There is another layer of subjective perspective here, and that is how participants in reality TV talk to the camera. That conceit is so commonplace now that it barely registers as curious or unusual. But who is being addressed? The viewing public? What does that mean? And here there is a confluence of several factors relating to photography, and to rituals that have developed out of photography and photographic images. Yar quotes DeCerteau in relationship to resistance. And DeCerteau was essentially pointing out that Foucault had a rather one dimensional description of the individual subject. The idea from DeCerteau was that subjects can, and usually do, have multiple and even conflicting or contradictory relationships to authority and even more to ideas and practices of surveillance.

Rena Effendi, photography.

Rena Effendi, photography.

Going back to Descartes, actually, there is a philosophical position that relates to how the subhject *views* the world; that the *I* is taken out of the world, in a sense.

“By lifting the ego out of its immediate entanglement in the world, Descartes establishes the
apodictic certainty of self as a result of the clarity and distinctness with which it perceives itself.”

Rudolph Gasche

But perhaps it is Lacan that is the best reference for talking to the camera. The mirror phase, without getting into detail here, posits an idea of how young children begin to understand themselves in relation to their reflection. Elena Cologni writes: “Anyone looking in a mirror, even seeking to discover their true identity, discovers first of all a fixed image of themselves, a persona to which they try to restore movement and life by a whole range of grimaces, facial gesticulations and minuscule, perverse gestures of defiance. They are
attempting to act and influence their persona. It is the same in photography. Every self portrait is inevitably by its very nature a doubling, an image of the other.”

Simon Hantai

Simon Hantai

More germane is a quote from Merleau-Ponty that Cologni uses:

“Thereupon I leave the reality of my lived me in order to refer myself
constantly to the ideal, fictitious, or imaginary me, of which the
specular image is the first outline. In this sense I am torn from myself,
and the image in the mirror prepares me for another still more serious
alienation, which will be the alienation by others. For others have only
an exterior image of me, which is analogous to the one seen in the

There is a connection here, obviously, with the instrumentalizing of language. One that even precedes Descartes. Lacan saw the mirror image relating to a sense of self alienation. Just how much the derealization of the other impacts the subject’s sense of inner self is a huge question, but clearly the child is situated in a specific social matrix that reinforces certain aspects of fear, or of losing oneself. There is a sense in Lacan, as in Wilhelm Reich, of the building of character armor to protect the self against this uncertain world, and potentially destabilizing other. Now Martin Jay sees a tradition of optical privileging playing a role in western philosophy and reinforcing a distinct experience of alienation. That the subject is stuck in this rivalry of the mirror stage. And Cologni perceptively points out (as does Jay) that in dreams the subject is not as reliant on this optical primacy. Dreams accept the subject who is both viewed and viewer.

“One of the aspects of representation relevant to self-portraiture is the
characteristic straightforward gaze looking outward. This specific gaze is at
the very centre of the major system of representation introduced in painting
during the Thirteenth and Fourteenth centuries and carried through the
Renaissance to the Seventeenth and Eighteenth centuries and beyond. This
system, called ‘one view point perspective’ or ‘single vanishing point
perspective’, for centuries fixed the painter’s position in front of the model.”

Elena Cologni

Paleolithic art, Magura Cave, Bulgaria.

Paleolithic art, Magura Cave, Bulgaria.

The contestant in Big Brother, speaking to the camera, is a form of self portraiture. It is also not. For the portrait is part of a manufactured narrative, and one of audience manipulation. The portrait is part of an entire system of entertainment. And such entertainment contains something morbid in its edited fragmentation. The contestant is not at all clear who he or she is speaking to, or why. As useful as Martin Jay is, his political understanding is pretty limited. And it is exactly at this point, where ideology imprints the ways our reflection looks back at us that his vaguely liberal academic vision is to be questioned. For there is something in this that brings to mind Adorno and disenchantment. As an almost side-bar observation, I continue to be amazed at the hostility that Adorno elicits in the U.S. even now.

The development of prints in the 15th century allowed for a production of stable repeatable images. This provided a sense of stability for science, but the impact extended far beyond just science. The development of graphs, maps, and other inscriptions provided visual codes that carried a certain authority. It was also optical privileging in a sense. And vision was narrowed, images were ‘read’ more than seen. But the important thing is that graphic codes took on authority — this was, as I wrote last time I think, an establishing of evidence. Objectivity was visual. But it was graphically visual. And here one again returns to questions of cave art and early alphabets and the role of visual stability in forms that could be reproduced, after a fashion. Consistency. Now one of the things that a narrowing of visual experience entails, through a reading or lexical system, allows for abstract *unseen* concepts to be ‘explained’. Early graphical expression was often simply mimetic, at a rudimentary level. Later more complex language systems, obviously, extended the realm of meaning. Knowledge production, as Johanna Drucker puts it.

“Our visual and cognitive capabilities conspire in a radical pre-selection of visual stimuli. And our organism adapts itself, lazily–but sensibly–ignoring visual “information” that it seems not to need.”
Johanna Drucker

Edgar Martins, photography.

Edgar Martins, photography.

But in a highly coercive world of mass manipulation and solicitation, the subject’s relationship to his or her own reflection, or the ‘idea’ of this reflection (Big Brother, the TV show) becomes obsessive and fetishized. So to return to the surveillance state, this system highly predicated upon ideas of the evidential authority of data, of specialized graphic codes, or of computer produced information, is going to be one that is ever more distant from actual lived experience. And this speaks to my suspicion that contemporary behavior and self performances are linked to something morbid and even masochistic. The nihilism of graphic reading based on earlier graphic reading that is based on still earlier graphic reading seems enormously important.

Here is another quote from Drucker:

“The history of perspective and representation of space encode the subjective position of a viewer in their schemes.
The metacritical language for describing the way these systems work defines dynamic principles functioning in all images (every image is produced from some point of view or standing point). Seeing a landscape and its legible but complex logic as a way of ordering and organizing information emphasizes its structure as a knowledge system rather than a representation or illusion.”

Angelina Pwerle

Angelina Pwerle

This is the hidden significance of a surveillance society. The logic of the landscape, the very idea of the landscape upon which the subject gazes is one in which history is embedded in profound ways. One can imagine a future hyper surveillance state in which arrests are (sort of like Phillip K. Dick’s pre crime department) predicated on algorithms and where guilt is a given, so that random people are arrested, all of whom accept their guilt, and have anticipated their own arrest, relieved to finally be chosen. De Certeau pointed out that authoritarian states liked to ridicule the poetics of space; that is the local folklore and knowledge of neighborhoods and small communities. They like to call such things *superstitions*. And such non-quantifiable experience is now spoken of in derogatory terms.

London cab drivers call it ‘the knowledge’, the skill and memory of that vast city. Same for many tuk tuk drivers in Bangkok, or guides to the medina in Fez or Tangier. Today anything other than GPS is treated with scorn. Anything else is quaint, at best. The U.S. instinctively has shown a hatred for what the Puritan imagines is superstition. It is part of this nose to the grindstone sobriety of Protestant labor, and it is somehow a part of what makes American masculinity what it is. In any event, De Certeau is very cogent when he speaks of tactics and strategies. When he speaks of the ‘deserted places of memory’ it is in conjunction with travel, and with walking, and with that activation of memory and of the exploration of space (poetic space). Angelina Pwerle is a very interesting artist, in that she comes from the communities of indigenous people in Australia, in Ngkawenyerre, Utopia in the Northern Territory. The sense of labor intensive care is quite compelling, and something unmistakably ceremonial comes through in her work. She worked, like many Aboriginal artists, in Batik, and later on canvas, painting with bamboo sticks mostly. The theme is always a collective dream. The Hosfelt Gallery somewhat fatuous copy reads “The Bush Plum is a native shrub found throughout the drier areas of Northern and Central Australia. Because of its significance as a food source, the Bush Plum is a totem for many Aboriginal people and has a Dreaming story associated with it. In Pwerle’s paintings, the Bush Plum is depicted as a field of minute dots or particles created with the fine point of a bamboo stick. The meticulous execution of the painting becomes a performative and meditative process. The miasma of dots creates a sense of depth that evokes topographical or cosmological imagery.” Now this connects to both De Certeau and to the burgeoning surveillance state. Total information awareness it the exact opposite of its title. Partial misundertanding non awareness. I have had many disagreements with both leftists and right wingers regarding the technological capabilities of the West. And in a sense I subscribe to a position that both accepts a sort of hegemonic control apparatus, backed up with a massive custodial system of gulags, while at the same time recognizing that this giant octopus of disciplining and punishment is inherently haywire, is short circuiting constantly, is the manufacturer of a constant stream of misinformation.

Craig Phillips, first winner of "Big Brother", UK. 2001.

Craig Phillips, first winner of “Big Brother”, UK. 2001.

Surveillance somehow begs questions of the uncanny I think.

“In an almost totemic way, historiography is infected by what it touches as the past always seems to overhaul the present. And thus the real not only reveals itself in discourse, it also makes a disturbing appearance when writing is confronted with its own limits or, in other words, when the factory of history suddenly has to face its industrial waste. In psychoanalytic terms, we could speak here of the return of the repressed.”
Alex Demeulenaere

The subject addresses the camera. Reality TV is the most un-real of experiences. The new landscape of reality TV is one in which ‘non-actors’ perform the role of themselves. They are situated in some nether region of mass culture. All reality TV carries with it a quality of the Inquisition. Participants feel compelled to confess, to anything. The non actors speak their lines, unscripted, except that whole issue becomes problematic, and they are talking to *you*. Of course Big Brother remains the most acute recreation of a Panopticon landscape. That was in fact its entire point. I was living in London in 2001 during the original UK edition of this franchise. It is hard to describe exactly how huge this show was that year. It was the daily topic for all water cooler conversations in workplaces. The country was in thrall to this curious exercise in humiliation. But then it was more than that. It touched on an uncomfortable unconscious recognition of captivity. It was both sado-masochistic, voyeuristic, and exhibitionistic, sure, but it was more about the arbitrary guilt or innocence of the contestants, and the ability to reward or punish people one didn’t know, and yet felt you did know. People suddenly sensed they knew Craig Phillips better than most of their friends or family. And with that came an uncanny experience of losing grasp of oneself. But that experience, the unsettling one, was managed. For after all one could vote. The show would return the following evening.

Bernard Piffaretti

Bernard Piffaretti

Natalie Collie writes…..“De Certeau’s framework thus rests on a central distinction between the ordinary practitioners of the city, living “below the thresholds at which visibility begins”, and the city as place, as an abstract concept and map produced and imposed from above by the panoptic eye of the planner or cartographer. The bodies of walkers “follow the thicks and thins of an urban ‘text’ they write without being able to read it.”

This is the waste product of instrumental language, and maybe of all language in the sense that images come to be read, become lexical. And the mimetic re-narration of reality TV is one in which the author of the existing text is both unknown and unknowable. The surveillance system, of mostly hidden cameras, renders the landscape one in which the viewpoint is obscured, it is as if that optical privileging that began, perhaps, with the Greeks is now subverted. At least operationally. The language of this public spectacle is increasingly free of material and concrete description. At least the media text one encounters. The urban landscape today is one in which class segregation is acute, but also in which bureaucratic social production is more pronounced, and more linked to security. The precepts of the security state are that control is about identification — keeping track of threats in the person of this or that criminal or terrorist. Except, again, the system mostly does not work. So identity is conjecture. Identity is fluid, and only a tool for surveillance and the authority structure. Human software for the Domination System. The racist underpinnings are also rather obvious and draconian. The numbers of black men, in particular, but also brown and native american are so disproportionately huge that it defies comprehension, really. Surplus humans, needed fuel for the authority machine. The rest of the population simply adjusts to the endless cordons and restrictions and funneling strategies of the police and government. One is not even remotely free to go where one chooses in the American landscape. There is an order, a progression, and a set of instructions to follow.

Benoit Aquin, photography.

Benoit Aquin, photography.

Most people hardly notice any longer the spatial manipulations of today’s urban areas. In a sense people unconsciously navigate through these micro systems of discipline. Gilles Clement, in The Third Landscape, opens with: “The Third Landscape – an undetermined fragment of the Plantary Garden -designates the sum of the space left over by man to landscape evolution – to nature alone. Included in this category are left behind (délaissé) urban or rural sites, transitional spaces, neglected land (friches), swamps, moors, peat bogs, but also roadsides, shores, railroad embankments, etc. To these unattended areas can be added space set aside , reserves in themselves: inaccessible places, mountain summits, non-cultivatable areas, deserts; institutional reserves: national parks, regional parks, nature reserves.” This is interesting in terms of aesthetics, I think. For one of the qualities of artists like Pwerle, but a host of others, everyone from R. H. Quaytman to Dan Walsh or Toba Khedoori, is re-inventing a lost visual grammar, a lexical index that is almost tantric; it suggests another sort of abstraction, really. This can be found in narrative, certainly, in a sense Robert Walser was one precursor, and even Bernhard. In all mediums I might find examples of an idea that constitutes resistance to the occupation of space, and of *reading*, by the authority apparatus, by the state.

Part of the fascination with ruins is linked to Clement’s notes. There are several photographers today, Lynne Saville, in New York, Dhruv Malhotra in New Delhi, who wander night landscapes excavating the uncanny and often unseen characters of a new visual script. Clement himself is not politically radical in any sense (Parc André-Citroën is a very nice space, though, in the 15th, in Paris, off Boulevards des Marechaux). It is important to understand that these interstices in the familiar landscape of mass social occupation are often unintended, are the residue or surplus or waste of the machinery of the government. They are almost always non-institutional spaces.

Paul Noble

Paul Noble

Mladan Dolar observed that one is ‘always already’, meaning one is always already something, and something obedient. As soon as one listens, one already obeys. But *not* listening is tacit obedience, too. Hence, the listener, or the viewer, must be open to see or hear (per Benjamin) in a certain way. That is not just mushy new age sensitivity training, it is an idea that posits concentrated listening of some sort, or viewing. And being able to hear what is behind the command, what is beyond the kettling area.

The American image of landscape is pastoral. It is a nostalgic imaginary of English pastoral life circa 1820. Perhaps later, 1860. It is the rural landscape of Thomas Hardy, and as Raymond Williams points out in the opening chapter of The Country and The City, this idealized pastoral or neo pastoral vision was one that even the British literary establishment wrote of romantically as early as the late 19th century. In fact, really, all this was occurring even earlier. The point here is that mass culture today, certainly from Hollywood, is awash in idealized pastoral landscapes, often ideologically colonial, but cosmetically accessorized with 19th century trappings. As a side bar, it is now part of the total culturally fungible that classic works of literature are made into TV shows that bear ABSOLUTELY no relationship to the original. Currently Beowulf is upon is, a CGI monster fest, as is Jekyll & Hyde, also a special effects monster series, the latter with an extra helping of colonial set design. One wonders at this because I am guessing very few people who watch Beowulf have ever heard of Beowulf –not even in junior high school. End side bar. Williams also points out that the conceit of a ‘golden age’ is a comforting fiction. The reality has been, in England anyway, of a gradual enclosing of commons, and a emphasizing of punishment and control. Also that the ruling class, the aristocracy, has always reserved their deepest scorn for what he calls the luxurious poor. This is a hallmark of U.S. ruling class sensibility as well. In fact the U.S. Brahman class hates the idea, above all other ideas, that anyone in the working class ever get to share in the privileges of the rich.

Dhruv Malhotra, photography.

Dhruv Malhotra, photography.

But I want to return to two things here; one is the sense of resistance that is found is rejecting the tacit parameters of mass culture, and two, the specific sense, for many, of a psychic cancellation that is being reached today.

“…what’s behind the growing obsession with a zombie apocalypse in popular culture. And this may require exploring this genre’s popularity as expression of anxieties about a world revolution. Am I reading too much into yet another zombie movie? Perhaps. Yet the fact that insurrections are mystified as the result of a “contagion” triggered by a “virus” that abruptly turns humans into uncontrollable crowds of zombies should not totally surprise us. This is how elites have always regarded insurrections: as pathological events inexplicably created by irrational hordes blinded by primitive, unsophisticated, impulsive desires. This is how Gustave Le Bon, the father of the “sociology of crowds,” responded to the uprising of the people of Paris in 1871: by claiming that radicalized multitudes are nothing but zombie-like, scary “hordes.”
Gaston Gordillo

Masato Seto, photography.

Masato Seto, photography.

Now Matt Davies wrote an interesting piece on Hollywood and the security state, in which he said…“We found that the tendency to assume that international politics and popular culture are separate and that international politics has priority and more gravitas was shared by most of the proliferating studies in IR that have looked to popular culture. We argued instead that international relations and popular culture lie along a continuum and that to treat artefacts of popular culture as illustrations of international politics strips the popular and the cultural of the politics they produce and express.” And this is correct. If anything, often anyway, politics are illustrations of popular culture. Now, Gordillo makes an excellent and really perceptive point when he says that the Zombie franchise is a fear (among others) of not being prepared. Prepared for the Zombie apocalypse, except that the Zombie is *us*. Prepare to prevent your own organizing of resistance. Prepare to abort your own revolution.
Lucas Rahn

Lucas Rahn

The kitsch landscape of Hollywood is one reflected in much contemporary art, only in what is called (perphaps not surprisingly)’zombie formalism’ (per Jerry Saltz); a minimalist decorative market driven and decorator friendly (as well as easily reproducible) brand of bland abstraction. In a sense then the work of Lucien Smith is to painting what CGI unintentional neo pastoral settings are for Hollywood. This stretches a point perhaps, but the unseen can carry an unsettling material condition. Gaston Gordillo wrote…“The people of Gaza have long been punished by the Israeli state for refusing to live in a ghetto, but in July and August 2014 the punishment was particularly severe, for Palestinian dared to use militarily the only space they can control: the underground. One of the most powerful militaries in the world became vulnerable to attacks by combatants moving through an invisible network of tunnels carved out in the crust of the Earth: the only part of the terrain that the Israeli military cannot master. In response to the tunnels, the Israeli military unleashed such levels of violence on Gaza that it killed 2,300 people, most of them civilians, and reduced thousands of homes and Gaza’s civilian infrastructure to rubble. This destruction was the reactive response to the perceived power of the underground to help poorly armed men outmaneuver a high-tech military that can see almost anything except what lies underneath the planet’s surface.”

The whole piece is here;

The surveillance state is an effort at normalizing captivity. It is also intended to make people self monitoring. And this is partly the appeal of Big Brother, I think. In fact, all reality TV. The shared behavioral aspect, but also the normalizing of this fragmented narrative and picture of the self. The answering of unasked questions, the sense of speech as a form of constant interrogation, and the assumption of visibility. This is exactly Foucault’s point, I think…

“…to induce in the inmate a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power. So to arrange things that the surveillance is permanent in its effects, even if it is discontinuous in its action; that the perfection of power should tend to render its actual exercise unnecessary; that this architectural apparatus should be a machine for creating and sustaining a power relation independent of the person who exercises it; in short, that the inmates should be caught up in a power situation of which they themselves are the bearers.”

Dan Walsh

Dan Walsh

The effects, however, are tied into how people now digest narrative, and experience space. And more, the effects create new forms of invisibility, psychically, and a kind of mental illegibility.

“In rendering all mixed-up cities as problematic spaces beyond the rural or exurban heartlands of authentic national communities, telling movements in representations of cities occur between colonial peripheries and capitalist heartlands. The construction of sectarian enclaves modeled on Israeli practice by US forces in Baghdad from 2003, for example, was widely described by US security personnel as the development of US-style ‘gated communities’ in the country. In the aftermath of the devastation of New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina in late 2005, meanwhile, US Army Officers talked of the need to “take back” the City from Iraqi-style “insurgents.”
Stephen Graham

Hans Haacke

Hans Haacke

But there are cultural and aesthetic correlations to what Graham lists here….“Jersey-barrier blast walls, identity checkpoints, computerized CCTV, biometric surveillance and military-styles of access control protect archipelagos of fortified enclaves from an outside deemed unruly, impoverished, or dangerous.” The new immigration crises, as it is perceived by the West, is an extension of colonial logic — what Graham has called *Inner city Orientalism*. The sense of infallibility of new technology, and the tacit belief in bureaucratic efficiency (Internal Revenue, NSA, et al) all goes toward normalizing a form of discontinuous ‘reading’ of images and this in turn finds reinforcement in things like reality TV. Still, the artistic expression today that finds most resonance is that which mimetically engages with those opaque interstices of landscape. The landscape that is no longer a nostalgic Euclidean pastoral — the space of non-ownership and mystery.

There are dangers in romanticizing obscurity however, and in blankness being its own justification. And more, in a celebration of vacuity. The recent reports (which I wrote about) of people pretending to Asperger’s condition speaks to the latent anxiety inherent in societal training of obedience. The social production of the compliant and reasonable adult. Compliant and reasonable is actually talking to an invisible audience in answer to questions you haven’t heard. The basic mimicking of the fragmented psyche. To be alive means to be visible on CCTV.

The schadenfreude of Reality TV in one of inversion. It is not only enjoying the misfortune of others, it is enjoying one’s own relationship to such spectacles, in the sense that viewing is tightly wound up with being viewed; one cannot watch without being assured one is being watched. People have come to identify with the camera. Not only with the implied authority of the camera, but with the technology itself. Bourdieu noted the power of habit, the comforting quality of familiar activity and relationships. Today, that geometric space of 20th century Capitalism (skyscrapers, and military hardware) has gradually become the recorded geometric, except it is also gradually losing the quality of phallic narcissism, and is being replaced with financial lexical surveillance — the loss of self has become the acquisition of security.


  1. Paul Sprawl says:

    Thanks for the thought and writing.

    Unlike Gaston Gordillo’s take on zombies as metaphors for insurgents, I tend to think of zombies as the cancelled selves of whom you write. Since the fifties, Sci-fi has used various metaphors to talk about society’s dehumanizing trends. Perhaps the metaphor has mutated with the popularization of these formerly fringe stories. Maybe it has acquired ambiguity.

    I find it somewhat comforting and amusing to contemplate the ineptitude of full spectrum surveillance, as portrayed in the absurdity of the East German Stasi in Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s, “The Lives of Others”. The comical side of fascism.

  2. thanks, specific references are also important for context

  3. Don Harrington says:

    keep this wonderful stuff coming

  4. Thanks you again. This may also be of interest (via @FrankPasquale)

  5. John Steppling says:

    @ paul………yeah, I think that’s valid, but I think this is partly what is so interesting now with the Zombie theme, its so overdetermined. Its a projection of ruling class fears, but it also represents several other things, and the popularity of it suggests hidden desires for cleansing and this reconstruction fantasy.
    And bas, thanks for that.

  6. Paul Sprawl says:

    Yes. It’s also somewhat related to all things that change their expected patterns. Demonic possession, climate change, dreams of machines running on their own.

  7. Michael Griffin says:

    First thought when the zombie franchise began to take off was medical. I’d been reading accounts of the Irish ‘famine’. The starving near-dead among the dead, stumbling weak and less than semi-conscious, void of coherent speech, seeking, reaching toward. Identical images.
    This will carry over onto plague victims, and other forms of partial, post-catastrophic surviving, if we come to that.

    Very grateful for the art that accompanies these pieces, as well as the erudition.

  8. John Steppling says:

    great observation. And that in turn brings to mind notions of health & illness. Georges Canguilhem wrote a great book, The Normal and The Pathological; which influenced Foucault a lot. There is some connection I think in this doubling effect with zombies.

Speak Your Mind


To Verify You\'re Human, Please Solve The Problem: * Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.