Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Landscape (etym. dub.)

Further Thoughts on the Moving Image Research Network seminar

Landscape: the land's kip. (1) kip, a place to lay your head; a doss house, but in earlier times without the negative connotations; poor man's hotel; the land where Piers Plowman stretches out to dream pestilence and revolt, belling the cat and the harrowing of Hell. (2) sleep, as in the sleep of the Giant Albion, or the Sleeping Lord, who with his knights drowses the centuries under many hills. The land sleeps, and we who walk it are its dream

Landscape: the land escapes (1) when we try to seize it with our maps, satellites, geographic information systems and Street Views, land is what evades our surveillance (2) land is the terrain of escape

Landscape: the land wandered by the scapegoat, the wilderness beyond the pale where sins go to be absolved

Landscape: the land's a cape: a stylish but always out-of-fashion garment we wrap around ourselves to keep our icy anti-migrant feelings warm

Friday, June 22, 2012

Moving Image Research Network

A great final seminar for the Moving Image Research Network established by Cate Elwes: Patrick Wright quizzed Englishness via Patrick Keillor's Robinson in Ruins (currently subject of a show, the Robinson Institute, at Tate Britain); Cate Elwes spoke on what, at the end of the day, Rachel Moore would describe as the embarrassment of landscape. I wonder if the problem might be expressed like this: that the embarrassment right-thinking liberals feel in the company of skinheads is that, by the logic of possession and rights which defines our polity, they do possess more rights. For other citizens, the citizenship claimed by indigenous people is excessive and therefore embarrassing. In the case of indigenous Australians, especially, the obvious truth that they have been mugged, violently robbed and abandoned by the wayside without land or standing, the embarrassment is tangible: we know we cannot "give it back", as the old Midnight Oil song has it, but we know we have it - immorally, and only legally because we wrote the laws.

Eu Jin Chua gave a great paper drawing on classical film theory and emphasising the centrifugal in Bazin and the endless in Kracauer to argue for a rethinking of WJT Mitchell's claim that landscape is unavoidably imperial. We discussed whether the antagonist of landscape film (La Region Centrale, for example, or Chris Welsby's work) isn't 'classical' landscape but, today, geographic information systems, satellite imaging and Google's Maps and Street View; so that the value of pictorial acounts is precisey that they are not (no longer) the dominant visual technology for dominating worlds (probably that function was the map anyway, in its various forms, especially since Cook's voyages). Susan Collins gave us a brilliant view of what happens when an artist takes on the technologies of pictiral landscape and turns them towards that endless centrifugal role Eu Jin described.

But the day belonged to John Akomfrah, who showed one short film and part of another - Call of the Mist and The Genome Chronicles, both distributed by LUX. As skilfully interviewed by Pratap Rughani, the extraordinary quicksilver mind there, the shift from personal grief to the politics of production to aesthetics to postcoloniality, with constant shards of oblique insight. In his films, like Collins' motion-stills, grain and grading and the fine separation of modernity into romance and hardware provoke wonderful imaginations of a world hung between the pre-Christian and the post-human. Beauty is not only a refusal of the present: it is a wound in the fabric of the world where the future's light can flash, however dimly, in. The whole series has been illuminating and enchanting, and makes you hopeful for the future of its firstborn, the MIRAJ journal

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Revolution Earth

We have epublished our novel Revolution Earth through Amazon. It's a kindle version: there are apps for reading Kindle for iTunes and Android etc; to read on Mac or PC, Amazon do free downloads of Kindle readers. The book is available for download from Amazon worldwide. For the traditionalists, we're hoping to to a print-on-demand version when we can For updates and news, check @lambertnagle on Twitter or visit

Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Photo Of Roland Barthes' Mother

Every visualisation is a predication, which presumes as anterior to it an object (or event) of which it is predicated. But it is only a predicate: the real of which it is predicated is produced as Real by the fact of its absence from its predication. It is not simply that representation somehow misses its goal, but that in representing we constitute the object of representation (the referent) as missing.

The famous image of his mother that Barthes adduces in his plea – much repeated – for the privileged indexicality of the image is pointedly excluded from his book. It is a classic case of the fetish; that which stands in for the impossible sight which itself is evidence of an absence of that whch one may be but not possess, or possess but not be. The union of image and Real which would constitute the object as true (as statement of the truth, as indexical union of symbol and Real) is the fantastic resolution of the absent body of mother, site of the primal absence on which not only the fetish but the impossible origin of originary separation constitute the “I” as subject of the object – the Real – for which it never ceases to hanker, and of which, in consequence, it makes, in consort with its symbolic media, its endless representations.

In the escape of the real, and even more so in the perpetual assertion of an I from which it has escaped but which nevertheless perpetually names it as its own lost Real, lies the origin of the split subject who needs what it cannot possess – its originary and imaginary unity – and who therefore creates fetishes that not only stand in for what has been lost but unify the proliferating symbols surrounding it.

The photograph, as a crystallised form of time past, is absolute in that it is time that has fulfilled itself. In so doing, it is no longer a temporal object but spatial, time become space at the moment it fulfils itself. A photograph is thus evidence of an ending and a completion. Such absolute completion is inimical to life in the sense that life is intrinsically temporal because it is unfulfilled. What Barthes' photo give him is an image of a life fulfilled, as it can never be for the living. Life is divided and unfulfilled: the image offers itself as whole and complete. What is whole and complete cannot do – it can only be (It is actual). If Barthes is right, and the photo of his mother exists as a whole and complete image, and is thus an index, then any other effect it has is supplemental. Yet Barthes affirms specifically what the image is for him (and underlines it by denying his readers the chance to see it, so cancelling any proliferation of readings). This 'for him' of the image is an action, an effect of a cause. But if the photo causes an effect, it no longer 'is' in its absolute fulfilment. The photograph of his mother desires to reach out to the son, with a desire that is only possible because it is unfulfilled, reaching across time to fulfil the lack in the son. In their mutual need, Barthes and the photo of his mother must exist together in a cycle of desire and lack; and Barthes clearly felt that circle needed to be exclusive: a monad constructed of mutual absence constructed as co-presence, and a co-presence that divides the unity of the image in the necessity of its presence to its uniquely privileged but equally bereaved and abandoned viewer. That which is unity cannot act on itself (this is why it was necessary to construct the Holy Trinity); and that which is whole and complete has no resources left to become other than it is (that is, to become a cause) nor any reason to seek a fulfilment it already possesses.

So we must recognise that the photo of Barthes' mother is incomplete. It must be so in order for it to function as it does for Barthes, as evidence that 'she was there'. It can serve as a fetish, as unitary image that disguises lack, because it is itself divided and lacking. Only thus can it have the effect of truth, the subjective effect caused by the photograph as agent. The truth of the image depends on its not being the whole truth.

In the Epistemological-Critical Introduction to the Origins of German Tragic Drama, Benjamin distinguishes origin from genesis. Origin, he insists, is historiographical: as Agamben notes, origin 'manifests itself only through a double structure of restoration and incompleteness' (Potentialities 156), only to be completed inits own history, its trajectory through time and the accounts given of it retrospectively. For Benjamin, the past is the object of redemption, but a redemption which must rip the elements – events, ives, deaths, things – out of the hands of heritage to allow them to stand again naked to Judgement. Origin is not that nakedness: it is the unredeemed ascription of existence to what is actually the effect of the very historicisation that constructs its particularity, peculiarity, even singularity. Every claim of origin, every cathexis we build with origins, is a fetish: an absolute symbolic unity cast over the radical incompleteness of every moment of life, human technical or physical, today, millennia ago, last week. 'Origin' constitutes the living, striving, desiring and dying past as fact: as the actual in which action is exhausted by completion, that needs nothing but its description to be resolved, absolved and effectively refused in its untidy becoming, turned instead into the datum, the Aeschylean horror of “What is, is”.

The absent image on which is built the theory of indexicality is absent because it is both holy and abject. It is a picture of his dead mother, birth, death, desire, prohibition, the tangle of emotional identifications and veilings of the maternal in any son, gay or straight. The image is an index and whole because it cannot be seen, and only on that condition, a condition which, by making the image invisible, ensures that bizarre twist: that in order to exist as evidence of his mother's existence, the index itself must not exist. It is not therefore that Barthes mother did not exist, nor that the photo didn't or doesn't, nor even the poetic absence of the image that intends to prove the indexicality of all images. It is instead that, as index, an image flickers constantly between its own non-existence and that of its referent. Either the image predicates the truth of the object it constitutes as object, or it confronts its own existence as constitutive predication. Since it cannot do both at once, it oscillates around the polarity of its own temporality, its performance of history as heritage, its refusal to be merely data. It is only on condition that we abandon the concept of image as truth that we can truly love an image.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Luxuries we have to afford

Given the failure of politics to secure the good life, we are convinced that we should take on such matters at the level of individual action: ethics, for example the ethical choices we make as shoppers. Alas, we then discover (or are told) that ethical choices are a luxury that the poor cannot afford. We return to the politics of TINA: there is no alternative to the market, or to electoral politics, except worse things, and so we must accept things as they are, and hope that the experts will provide us with technical solutions to the problems they generate, and the continual flow of new things that will ensure that essential feature of capital, growth.

There should be a major discussion on why the state is the patron of arts, science and sport, the three big recipients of cultural funding (I exclude technology form science: I refer here to the pure sciences like astronomy, which have little chance of repaying investment through patents). The terms of that debate will illuminate how migration, the movement of people, has been allowed to take the form of a cultural issue, excluded from the sacrosanct trans-border economic flows of money, goods and data. Migration is spoken of as an economic issue, from time to time: we cannot afford migrants, they are a luxury. But then even the economy is spoken of in economic terms, as if there were no other way to describe or analyse exchange, even though, once again, we recognise that economists are in the large, especially those in charge of governments and the instruments of the Washington Consensus, have failed us abjectly in recent years.

The Western Code (described by Walter Mignolo in The Darker Side of Modernity) can be thought of as software that, like a user's agent on a site like Amazon, exists, as Jaron Lanier once had it, to hide the user's profile from the user. We speak of human rights and mean only the rights of citizens. We speak of citizens' rights when we know that nazi Germany and James Callaghan's Labour government of the 1970s both rescinded citizenship, from German Jews and Ugandan Asians respectively, and that such denial of responsibility is indeed integral to the project of modernity, because whoever is not a citizen has no rights, except the rights we elect to give them under the terms of the CRSR, which are the rights of those that have no rights, that is, no rights at all.

"Culture", defined as that last remaining area over which states can still exercise some control, is not a luxury: it is the whole point of creating wealth. Like ethics and like the freedom to travel (which we grant so easily to objects and money), it is a luxury we must afford, because the pursuit of wealth for its own sake has created such poverty as to deny even what is necessary to an increasing proportion of the world – human, of course, but also that green and living planet which, if we are to believe economic imperialism, we also cannot afford.

More Noise

from a talk at the Lighting the Cave symposium, Central St Martins, may 2012

The noise of knowing, the chafing that wakes us up from contemplation of the pure and timeless entities of the Spirit: this is proof against two Platonic (and positivist and Heideggerian) principles – that it is an "I" that knows, and an exclusively human "I" at that (and from those humans the elect); and that the 'object' of knowledge can be, by the properly trained mind, known. That which we recognise as object is already misrecognised.

Against this the noise of doxa says: it is not I but we who know, a we which always precedes any I. And against the inherence of truth in the object rather than the relation, noise answers: there is no truth that is not already a collusion, and one that occupies and generates time. We can never confront, in a terminal moment, the ideal Being, because it and we are changed utterly in the encounter and will always change.

This is because knowledge is always mediated but also because knowing, the mediation of knower and known, is fundamentally environmental. As we construct ourselves and our order, we construct our environment, and the environment, far from passive, evolves in response. Knowledge is the co-evolution of polis and physis, mediated as ever by techne. Our long shadows lie across the landscape we have made, and its dappled shadows shape us in return. Skiagraphy, shadow-play, is our privileged medium and technique, not of discovery but of recovery, an ecology of shadows, the diffraction of rectilinear unity into its native, pulsing multiplicity.