Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Reflections on Serial Production and the Reversal of Dialectics

What could potentially unite reversal of dialectics and serial production begins with Benjamin in Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction:

"Dialectical thinking involves moving through contraries without ever letting one term gain precedence over its other—or apparent opposite—as most oppositional thinking tends to do.  In dialectics each term only has significance in relation to its apparent contrary or other.  Benjamin begins by assuming the main tenet of dialectical materialism, which states that the the means of production determine the nature of cultural production, or, more technically, the substructure determines the superstructure.  However, he goes on to show that the superstructure changes much more slowly than the substructure, with the effect that cultural phenomena always lag behind the conditions that produce them.  For this reason, he is observing the conditions of present culture at the point of their earliest development and with an eye for the present state of productive (and reproductive) technologies.  His mode of observation (as he puts it) is designed to draw attention to changes in the conditions of production as a way of intervening in the process.  His theses are, thus, regarded as weapons in the war against fascism."-

For a good but light and funny summary of Marx's dialectics, drawing on Hegel, have you seen this:

Serial production can be related to dialectics in the conditions of production. The conditions of production regulate social relations, and for Jean Baudrillard they controlled human communication. Going back to Benjamin you probably know about the Aura and the idea of distance in the object no matter how close, the sanctity of art and the regime of craft over mass production. Benjamin saw the mass production of the communicative experience as a threat to free society, he was of course referencing the rise of fascism in Europe. Nazi propaganda and the domination of the State over mass culture was the birth place of many of his ideas.

Then Baudrillard adapts Benjamin's ideas to suit the age of mass digital communications and the totality of signification we live in today. Reversal of Dialectics (RoD) comes from Adorno, a friend and colleague of Benjamin. I have read Foucault on discourse and some if it reminds me of RoD. The idea that dialectic thought or association creates meaning is something that can be used to understand the importance given to a text, idea, action, statement or group of ideas or beliefs. If we follow the concept of serial production, where uniformity, mass production and consumption, standardization, universal access, and mobility are considered paramount to communication, art and culture, then we can see a whole set of relations imposed upon human beings according to those qualities.

Take the example of folk culture.

"Folk culture refers to a culture traditionally practiced by a small, homogeneous, rural group living in relative isolation from other groups. Historically, handed down through oral tradition, it demonstrates the "old ways" over novelty and relates to a sense of community. Folk culture is quite often imbued with a sense of place. If elements of a folk culture are copied by, or moved to, a foreign locale, they will still carry strong connotations of their original place of creation." -

In serial production is can be said that a sense of place is lost. This can be demonstrated though the use of RoD: by showing the elements present in serial production and how they effect a (lack of) sense of place that result from any representations they attempt to articulate.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Inventing Turing

Last night I attended Reflections on Alan Turing's Life (1912-1954), which included "a personal reflection on being a gay logician by Bob Lubarsky" and the showing of the film Codebreaker. The lecture by Dr. Lubarsky was frankly a disappointment, as it centered the life of Turing on his homosexuality. The man himself thought nothing unusual about liking men and did not see any reason to change his orientation, even if he could. He did not belong to any sort of gay clique, but merely went about his life loving men. This status as a man who chose love over what could be described as common sense, due to the illegality of being gay at the time and the problems it could cause, makes Turing an aesthetist in the humanist sense of the term.
"This notion of aesthetics is more closely linked to its early eighteenth century etymology: aisthesis - sense experience, experiences that are both cognitive and evaluative and bodily, sensual, somatic; 'That territory is nothing less than the whole of our sensate life together - the business of affections and aversions, of how the world strikes the body on its sensate surfaces of that which takes root in the gaze and guts and all that arises from our most banal, biological insertion into the world' (Eagleton 13)" Quoted in Kennedy and Giddings, New Media: A Critical Introduction p13 (2003)
CODEBREAKER tells the story of one of the most important scientists who ever lived. Alan Turing set in motion the computer age and his World War II codebreaking helped save two million lives. Instead of accolades and praise, Turing faced public disgrace because he was gay. This drama documentary broadcast in the United Kingdom in late 2011. Now distribution plans are being developed to bring this unique film to a worldwide audience.
The film Codebreaker is a moving tribute to Turing who really was very ahead of his time and a brilliant thinker. Turing also came across as an original, humorous and kind man, if not somewhat naive. One of the thoughts I took away from the lecture and film was that Turing was precariously balanced between so many separate forms of knowledge, social circles, professional affiliations, classes, and institutions of power during the final decades of his life. I believe this, along with the barbarism of the enforced hormone treatment he underwent following his conviction for 'gross indecency', led Turning to commit suicide at the age of 42 after years of legal, social and professional harassment arising from his homosexuality. But what of Turing's inbetweenness? His role in history sits with his pattern-reading mathematical work. But in thinking further about what he did, I see Turing as an interdisciplinary humanist in the body of a mathematical scientist. The genius of Turing was his ability to use a ordered system for a creative ends. His work challenges C. P. Snpw's 'two cultures' idea.
[Snow] diagnosed the loss of a common culture and the emergence of two distinct cultures: those represented by scientists on the one hand and those Snow termed 'literary intellectuals' on the other. If the former are in favour of social reform and progress through science, technology and industry, then intellectuals are what Snow terms 'natural Luddites' in their understanding of and sympathy for advanced industrial society. In Mill's terms, the division is between Benthamites and Coleridgeans. —Simon Critchley
Turing was not a 'natural Luddite', but at the same time he was a visionary scientist. His vision was within a common culture of innovative science that resulted in a new and creative symbolic order.
"Turing was hooked on this idea of heuristic problem solving, and that he speculated on building sophisticated machines by “making use of guided search.” Well before the breakout of war, Turing had conceived of a general computing machine that stored programs in memory. The world’s first large-scale, electronic computer, Colossus was used at Bletchley to break other Nazi codes, and Turing found additional inspiration for pursuing ideas of machine intelligence. “Nowadays when nearly everyone owns the physical realization of a universal Turing machine, Turing’s idea of a one-stop shop computing machine is apt to seem as obvious as the wheel,” says B. Jack Copeland"
And what about those today who persist in the idea of the 'two cultures'? How does the work of Alan Turing and its obvious legacy (i.e. "nearly everyone owns the physical realization of a universal Turing machine")? The Sokal Affair is one example of the two cultures paradigm still defining the boundaries of interdisciplinary research.
The Sokal affair, also known as the Sokal hoax, was a publishing hoax perpetrated by Alan Sokal, a physics professor at New York University. In 1996, Sokal submitted an article to Social Text, an academic journal of postmodern cultural studies. The submission was an experiment to test the publication's intellectual rigor and, specifically, to investigate whether such a journal would "publish an article liberally salted with nonsense if it (a) sounded good and (b) flattered the editors' ideological preconceptions.
The Sokal Affair is primarily an example of bad scholarship, but the idea that a scientific fact can be applied to social reality is a total reversal of the vision Alan Turing seem to have in his work. The division between the technology and its meaningful application is not present in a binary system where computation is the underlying code of practice. By practice I mean that the technology in Turing's Automatic Computing Engine was a system of systems, a principle rather than an object. the technology Turing envisioned ordered the understanding that was necessary to operate the technology. This Saturday 23 June 2012 is the 100 anniversary of the birth of Alan Turing.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Antipodes Bite Back

In 1983 The Birthday Party called it a day. Not that many people noticed that one of the most harsh and discordant post-punk bands had disbanded. The Birthday began in the early 1970s with school friends Nick Cave and Mick Harvey and the final line up coalesced around 1978 with Tracy Pew and Roland S Howard. Just the names alone give you some image of the band following its own path cut through an undergrowth of urban decay, body disassociation, psychosis, biblical horror and Baudelaire intoxication.

To my mind The Birthday Party represent a high point in Australian post-colonial culture. There is little that is referential in the body of work left to us by them in regards to the antipodean largely pan-European culture of white Australia. I see the theater of Bertolt Brecht and Dada and its roots (Rimbaud, Lautréamont) as possible inspirations for the songwriting and performance of The Birthday Party. However works such as Nick the Stripper leave one wondering what the hell was going on in St. Kilda in 1981.

While Nick Cave has made his mark on the world of music since The Birthday party dissolved, I have grown more and more interested in the work of the recently deceased Roland S Howard as I get older. Nobody played guitar like Howard, who seemed to turn it into a weapon, stabbing out out into the air with vicious chords that somehow crystallized into strange rainbows of color he invented himself. This is the aural equivalent of absinth.

A documentary has been made about Howard, "Autoluminescent Rowland S. Howard" (2011)
From myth to legend Rowland Howard appeared on the early Melbourne punk scene like a phantom out of Kafkaesque Prague or Bram Stoker’s Dracula. A beautifully gaunt and gothic aristocrat, the unique distinctive fury of his guitar style shot him directly into the imagination of a generation. He was impeccable, the austerity of his artistry embodied in his finely wrought form, his obscure tastes and his intelligently wry wit. He radiated a searing personal integrity that never seemed to tarnish. Despite the trials and tribulations of his career, in an age of makeover and reinvention, Rowland Howard never ‘sold out’. With recent and moving interviews, archival interviews and other fascinating and original footage, AUTOLUMINESCENT traces the life of Rowland S Howard. Words and images etch light into what has always been the mysterious dark.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Putting Machinima in (or out of) Cinema: A Roundtable on Films Made in Virtual Worlds

 Monday, 11 June 2012 17:15 - 19:00 
Location: Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH)
Alison Richard Building
7 West Road
Cambridge CB3 9DT
, Seminar room SG1, Ground floor

Jenna Ng ((Facilitator), Newton Trust/Leverhulme Early Career, CRASSH) University of Cambridge)
William Brown (Lecturer in Film at the University of Roehampton, London)
Sarah Higley
(Professor of English at the University of Rochester, NY)

'I am excited by [machinima] essentially because it can be personalised - it should perhaps become like letter writing used to be - one to one in abundance - where everyone had his or her own handwriting. Don't put it in the cinema - you will kill it.'
Peter Greenaway

Machinima - films created in game or virtual worlds - converges cinema, animation, video games, television, puppetry, performance, music video and social virtual worlds, among others. No other media form in history pulls off such a smorgasbord of media in its makeup, or so defies placement in the mediascape. The challenge is to locate machinima's hybridity, preferably (as Greenaway implores) without killing it, in the process re-visiting our definitions and conceptions of cinema and, indeed, the future of the moving image. Beginning with a short reel of a few machinima films, this roundtable seminar features three speakers who will discuss machinima as an emerging media form. Does machinima provide a new visual regime for the digital moving image? Or might it provide new answers to what cinema is - or will be - in its slippery dialectic between the real and the virtual?

Open to all. No registration required
Part of the Cambridge Screen Media Group series.