Religion and Media edited by Hent De Vries and Samuel Weber (Cultural Memory in the Present: Stanford University Press) Any inquiry into the relationship between religion and media must begin by pursuing several central questions and interrelated areas of research. First, the explicit return of the religious as part of the agenda in philosophy, cultural criticism, and political theory is motivated by religion's reappearance as a highly ambiguous force on the contemporary geopolitical stage. These disciplines will have to catch up with the scholarship that anthropologists and historians have steadily produced on religious matters. In addressing the relationship between religion and media in its complexity and in sufficient detail, one must get all the relevant‑empirical‑facts and figures right. Only then can one pose more general questions such as: What is it about religion and media that has contributed to the transformative changes we are witnessing today? In what sense or to what extent are these chances something‑radically‑unprecedented?
Second, anthropologists, literary and political theorists, and philosophers alike need to understand the systematic difficulty of reconceptualizing "religion," "media," and the multifaceted relationship between them. What allows for their mutual interdependency? How does the structural resemblance between, for example, special effects and the miraculous complicate questions like the one recently formulated in The Economist, in an article entitled "Deus ex computer": "How does a new medium tell the old, old story?" Surely, new media never merely convey the same message, albeit on a different scale and at a different pace; they bring about a qualitative leap and instantiate a certain supplementary ambiguity as well. It is with this ambiguity that institutionalized religion struggles,"
McLuhan's account of media as an "extension of man" implies everything that Derrida and others have discussed under the heading "prosthesis," including what Derrida, in "Faith and Knowledge," brings to mind by quoting Bergson's invocation, in the final sentence of Les Deux Sources de la morale et de la religion (The Two Sources of Morality and Religion), of a certain "mechanicity" that produces gods. Bergson speaks of it as "the effort required to accomplish, down to our refractory planet, the essential function of the universe, which is a machine for the making of gods." He notes not only that the human race carried from early on the imprint of a "spiritual impulse" and under its feet found "a miraculous treasure," but also that "mysticism calls for mechanics" just as much as "mechanics would demand a mysticism."
Third, and finally, inquiry into the nature and modalities of media of the very concept of medium‑are necessary"' An element of technicity belongs to the realm of the transcendental, and a certain religiosity might belong to the domain and function of the technological as well, as we saw earlier." In selecting "Religion and Media," rather than "Religion and `the' Media," as our central theme, we have pointed to this basic complementarily. The issues at hand reach far beyond the changes brought about by the mass media, new media, and information technologies that in this century have revolutionized the structure of communication, of transmission, and thereby‑directly and indirectly‑of tradition, historicity, and temporality. These relatively recent transformations form merely the prism through which the complexity of the medium‑of any medium and of mediatization as such‑manifests itself more clearly than ever before, although the historical and theoretical investigation of any medium (ancient, modern, visual, textual, acoustic, printed, or electronic) might, in principle, reveal the same mechanisms, even the same logic, at work. Not only computer‑mediated forms of communication have reconstituted institutions and practices in radically novel ways.
The present volume explores these multifaceted problems in various complementary ways: centrally by offering historical and systematic accounts of divergent views on religion and mediatization (Part Two), then by presenting a selection of critical and anthropological studies that broaden and deepen the analytical scope of the volume as a whole (Part Three). These respective avenues of research, which offer a panoramic survey of the current debate, are preceded by explicitly theoretical explorations of the concepts "religion" and "medium" (Part One), including the transcript of a roundtable with Jacques Derrida and an interview with Samuel Weber.
Samuel Weber's essay "Religion, Repetition, Media" examines the movement of repetition as a key in the enigmatic and indissoluble relationship between religion and media. Following Gilles Deleuze, Weber argues that repetition must be understood, not as a concept, but rather as a blockage of the concept. This logic of repetition gives rise to the configuration of religion and media. To flesh it out, Weber looks at Kierkegaard's experience of repetition (Gjentagelsen), in particular, at how it must inevitably begin with loss. In this experience, one can begin to discern how repetition is "directed toward the future, toward the possibility of taking back." Weber concludes that this logic of repetition is the juncture in which the modern media converge with a certain "`return' of the religious, if not of religions."
Jacques Derridds introductory remarks at the conference roundtable in Paris, entitled "Above All, No Journalists!," engage the secrecy that inscribes the religious event and the relation of media to this secrecy. This is particularly significant, Derrida claims, when one begins to consider the globalized mediatization of religion today. Initially Derrida picks up the argument of "Faith and Knowledge," which I have discussed above, and is concerned with how the mediatization of Christianity, what he calls "globalatinization," is tied to the history of the world development of media insofar as one is confronted with the "real presence" of the religious act. Derrida later turns to the "return of the religious" with regard to media. He argues that in the context of Christianity the incarnation of spirituality is produced in the media; as medium, mediation, and remote message. Derrida concludes that this relation not only brings together the religious and the mediatic but, by reintroducing the fiduciary, links up again with the question of "faith and knowledge."
Samuel Weber's analysis is further amplified in an interview with Laurence Rickels, entitled "Theory on TV: `AfterThoughts,"' which expands on the motifs discussed by suggesting, first, that "the transformations of the media, particularly the audiovisual, televisual media, are being played out against the backdrop of a certain experience of visual perception, which constitutes the largely unquestioned basis of what most people consider to be `real"'; and, second, that this basis is increasingly being shaken. What results is a possible questioning of the "self‑evident quality" of visual experience, that is to say, of the dogmatic assumption that "seeing is believing." What is more, Weber suggests, "in an age of rapidly expanding media, the world of `sense‑perception' is experienced as increasingly `uncanny."' Both Heidegger and Benjamin would seem to have provided some conceptual tools for clarifying the mechanisms of this displacement. But so do contrasting references to Western Christianity, to "Let there be light," the Holy Scriptures, New Testament allegory, the sacraments, the Madonna, Luther and the Counter‑Reformation‑in short, to the ancient and modern constitution of "religion."
Offering a foil for these matters, the opening part of this volume concludes with two fundamental essays that explore the general concept of "religion" as it will function in many of the contributions that follow, including those focused on more specific and local, historical and contemporary, examples of its practices and rites.
First, Jean‑Luc Nancy's "The Deconstruction of Christianity" raises a question that precedes reference to the "globalatinization" of which Derrida speaks in "Faith and Knowledge." Nancy's preliminary question addresses a more generally genealogical topic that concerns what Heidegger, in Identitdt and Difrenz (Identity and Difference), called the "onto‑theological constitution of Western metaphysics." In Nancy's words: "In what way and up to what point do we want to hold onto Christianity? How, exactly, through the whole of our tradition, have we been held by it?" He thus suggests that Christianity‑the Christian or Christianicity‑is the "JewGreek" that, according to Derridas "Violence and Metaphysics," constitutes "our history." Two correlative claims are important here. One is borrowed from the Italian philosopher Luigi Pareysson, who notes, "The only current Christianity is one that contemplates the present possibility of its negation." The other consists in the complementary insight, which Nancy formulates: "The only current atheism is one that contemplates the reality of its Christian roots."
Second, Talal Asad critically evaluates the comparative study of religion, starting out from Wilfred Cantwell Smith's The Meaning and End of Religion. Smith's pioneering attempt to de‑essentialize the definition of religion especially interests Asad. Asad argues, however, that throughout his argument Smith retains a residual essentialism, thus papering over questions that are important for comparative studies of religion. Asad focuses on two issues that emerge from an anthropological engagement with Smith's book: first, the analysis of religious experience must be sensitive to the role of religious practice within the making of this experience; second, the analysis of religion must aim to understand secularism "not merely as a political ideology that structures the modern liberal state, but as an untidy historical complex that includes behavior, knowledge, and sensibility in the flow of everyday life."
Part Two of the volume investigates the historical and systematical elements of our topic and opens with Gertrud Koch's "Mimesis and the Ban on Graven Images." Her topic is the relationship between representation and its limits, especially in film. She focuses on the engagement of early Frankfurt School Critical Theory with the prohibition of images, and evaluates the strengths and weaknesses of this engagement as it takes shape in the opening chapter of Horkheimer and Adorno, Dialektik der Aufkzdrung (Dialectic of Enlightenment), and continues to inform Adorno's later Asthetische Theorie (Aesthetic Theory). Koch evaluates its struggle with the concept of mimesis in light of its strengths and weaknesses in dealing with some crucial examples in visual analysis. Koch's analysis runs parallel to‑and amplifiesthe ones that, from a different perspective, have been attempted by authors such as Moshe Halbertal and Avishai Margalit (in Idolatry) or by W J. T Mitchell and jean‑Luc Marion (e.g., in The Crossing of the Visible), and transposes them into cultural and interpretative discourses, with a keen eye for their technicity and mediatic construction.
Haun Saussy's "In the Workshop of Equivalences" follows a handful of Jesuit missionaries to seventeenth‑century China and shows how the resulting attempt at communication across cultural territories already plays out recent concerns about the status and fate of information exchange within globalism. Saussy's analysis of the interactions of these missionaries and their Chinese interlocutors focuses on the role of printing as a central device in information exchange. In particular, Saussy points to the writings of Yang Tingyun, a prominent interlocutor of the Jesuit missionaries. Here, Saussy claims, one can discern "an allegory connecting various points of the Chinese and European imaginations of power" that is also a model for a global media culture.
Burcht Pranger's "Images of Iron" examines the locus of the Christian faith in the absence of its central figure, Christ. He demonstrates how the resurrection scene, in which Matthew confronts Christ's absence from his grave, is central to the development of the Christian faith and its effort to give a locus to this "loss of body" Pranger's concern, however, is the paradox that emerges between a locus of Christian faith and the ineffability of the Christian God of negative theology. Following the work of Scottus Eriugena and Joyce, Pranger demonstrates how both writers use visual loci within their discourse (nature and river) to hold together the "inexpressibility of the human and the divine, on the one hand, and the accuracy of expression, on the other: negation and affirmation, darkness and light, sin and redemption."
Manfred Schneider's "Luther with McLuhan" discusses Luther's revision of sacramental semiotics within the context of contemporary media theory. In particular, Schneider examines how Luther's effort to critique Roman Catholic dogma through his revision of the sacraments depended on his employment of the medium of print. In fact, through the printing of books, Schneider claims, Luther was able not only to critique the Roman Catholic church, but more importantly, to consolidate his revision of sacramental semiotics. In other words, printing made it possible for Luther to organize a political space of symbolic and cultural unity.
Jenny Slatman's contribution, "Tele‑vision: Between Blind Trust and Perceptual Faith," analyzes how faith and seeing are inextricably bound up within the medium of tele‑vision. She argues that a reversibility between viewer and viewed, in which the viewer is seeing and seen, not only situates the viewer in the visible world, but, in consequence, keeps the visible world as something always "over there," outside the complete apprehension of the viewer. She demonstrates how this also applies to the tele‑viewer insofar as what he or she sees is dependent on the eyes of another seer, specifically, the camera. However dependent upon what the camera presents, the televiewer, Slatman contends, always remains outside the camera's reach. The chasm between the visible and the invisible thus becomes a moment that requires of the tele‑viewer both faith and seeing.
Paola Marrati's essay, "`The Catholicism of Cinema,"' examines Deleuze's books on cinema in the context of his philosophy of immanence. Because cinematic images do not depend on subjective representation and can liberate dimensions of movement and time as yet unexplored, they have in themselves a power of thought. Marrati argues that Deleuze's account of cinema displaces his previous conception of a "thought without image" and leads him to a new approach to the question of immanence in terms of "belief." Like some filmmakers (e.g., Rossellini), Deleuze now analyzes the problem of modernity as the problem of a lack of belief in the world, that is to say, in the possibilities of creating new forms of life. According to Deleuze, cinema as well as philosophy can contribute to the "conversion of faith toward immanence" by exploring new dimensions of life.
Mieke Bal's "Mission Impossible" concludes Part Two. She addresses the forms religion takes culturally, whether as a personified god or in some other form of spirituality. Bal focuses on how, in consequence of a desire for both spirituality and authority, God becomes a fashion phenomenon within the media. In a close reading of Geoffrey Hartman's 1999 Tanner Lecture, "Text and Spirit," Bal asks how for Hartman text and spirit are bound up with a certain notion of religion as authority. She argues that this need not be so, that the notion of attention so central in Hartman's account can also be understood as the performance that makes "art socially interactive and potentially effective." Following this model of attention, Bal concludes, one finds that, although not bound to specific forms, such as a particular religion, text and spirit are nevertheless inseparable insofar as the "spirit" is what inhabits the text from within.
Part Three of the volume conveys empirically informed, critical, and anthropological approaches. It opens with James Siegel's powerful "Kiblat and the Mediatic Jew." Siegel discusses the nature of anti‑Semitism in Indonesia and its material increase during the regime of President Suharto, exploring how the fear of Jewish influence from abroad led to a concern that Islam was slowly being corrupted. Siegel demonstrates how the anti‑Semitism implied in these concerns comes to play an implicit role in the everyday politics of religious diversity in Indonesian society. In particular, he focuses on the medics tacit appropriation of anti‑Semitism in its accounts of the violence between Muslim and "Chinese" communities. By drawing on how the word "Jew" comes to indicate a menace to Indonesian society, Siegel argues that "Chinese give the Jewish threat . . . a body and thus a place in Indonesia."
Patricia Spyer's "The Cassowary Will (Not) Be Photographed" questions the modernist tendency to celebrate the native's refusal to be Photographed as a sign of primitivism and auratic presence. Taking as her example the ways in which the Aru community of Indonesia frames its annual performance of the cassowary as a site of "tradition" versus a ritually excluded "modern" comprising the Indonesian state, religion, and technology, she argues that the aura emergent in this setting presupposes the very modern that it excludes as the necessary audience for which the performance is staged. The prohibition on photography during the performance must be understood, then, not simply as an auratic injunction but rather within the context of a relation that, framed as modernity versus tradition, can just as readily be seen as photographer versus photo‑ready event. In the age of technological reproducibility, aura does not stand on its own but is instead always already secondary to a spectatorial first.
Julius Lipner's "A Remaking of Hinduism?" analyzes the image of religious Hinduism in the Western media and the manner in which this image has historically been appropriated by Hindu intelligentsia in fashioning a Hindu identity. Lipner examines how Western images of religious Hinduism emphasize its sensational nature, making it appear irrational and uncivilized. In reaction to this image, Lipner claims, there emerged, among the "Westernized" in India, the counter argument that Hindu polytheism is not inferior to Christian theism. According to Lipner, the Hindu intelligentsia's appropriation of the Western image maintains "a context of Hindu solidarity that cuts across political, religious, and social divides." Following an analysis of two recent television serials, Lipner concludes, however, that in relation to mass media, such images of religious Hindu identity are far from settled.
Rosemarie Bernard's "Mirror Image" concerns the relation of mass media and the Shikinen Sengu rites in Japan. Bernard analyzes how the Japanese television (NHK, Japanese Broadcasting Corporation) production of this rite not only attempts to democratize and secularize it, but how, in so doing, it also aims to recuperate, through the "aura" of this age‑old tradition, a Japanese cultural identity in the present. Through the apparatus of television, the rite is at once kept safely at a distance, and distance is overcome, insofar as the images transmitted have no spatial or temporal location. According to Bernard, the dynamic of distance and proximity both destroys the "aura" of this performance, subsuming it in a secular, democratic nation, and reinstates it by framing images of nostalgia and loss.
Mahmood Mamdani's "Reconciliation Without Justice" deals with the religious perspective that guides the present politics of reconciliation in South African society. Mamdani reviews Kadar Asmal et al., Reconciliation Through Truth, and its effort to put forward a politics of reconciliation. Concerned that the notion of reconciliation espoused by Asmal remains obfuscated by the moral fervor of the metaphor of the Holocaust, he points out that this metaphor is inappropriate and misleading for understanding the politics of reconciliation in South Africa, insofar as it promotes a response based on rage rather than a search for healing.
Rafael Sinchez, "Channel‑Surfing," deals with various television images used within the Maria Lionza possession cult in Venezuela. He focuses on how, within the Maria Lionza cult, lives unfold against the backdrop of populist movements and explores the tensions and creative compromises that arise as members of the cult utilize various television images (in what he calls "channel surfing") as imaginative resources for the social transformation of the public sphere. By focusing on the sociocultural effects that emerge from the relation between the media and the Maria Lionza cult, Sanchez aims to draw attention to the "constitutive relation" between the Maria Lionza cult and television.
Werner Schiffauer's essay, "Production of Fundamentalism," concern, the relation between media and the Turkish Islamic revolution movement led by Cemalettin Kaplan. It examines not only how this movement uses media to present an image of itself, but how, in the process, this image becomes indistinguishable from the movement. Schiffauer argues that through press reviews of the movement's journal, in which certain images of Kaplan and the movement are created, he and his movement may in turn define themselves via these images. As this dynamic interplay continues, however, the movement and its representation become almost indistinguishable. According to Schiffauer, the relation between culture and religion is not an essential incompatibility but a dynamic by which fundamentalism is produced as something radically different.
Michael M. J. Fischer's "Filmic Judgment and Cultural Critique" investigates filmic discourse within pre‑ and postrevolutionary Iran. By analyzing representative films and filmmakers from the 1970s to the 19gos, Fischer examines how Iranian filmic discourse works as a form of cultural critique similar to ethnography. He argues that, by marking out a public space for portraying the social dramas of everyday people working through the possibilities, limits, and consequences of moral dilemmas, much Iranian film is not mere mindless entertainment, but a form of cultural critique that contests the master narratives of the moral discourses of traditional Iran. From this perspective, Fischer argues that Iranian fllmic discourse must be recognized as a key voice in an ongoing critique of the religious and ethical ideals of Islam and the Islamic Revolution.
Andrew McNamara's contribution, "The Aboriginal Medium," discusses the place of contemporary Australian Aboriginal art in the European discipline of art history. McNamara frames his analysis around the term "contemporary" and the responses it provokes with regard to Aboriginal art. On the one hand, the notion "contemporary" suggests an incorporation of Aboriginal art within the European discipline of art history. On the other, it invokes Aboriginal art as the "other" of Western discourse insofar as it suggests cultural self‑preservation, self‑representation, and even selfdetermination. McNamara aims to explore how the professional discourse on Aboriginal art tends to oscillate between these two poles, often conflating them.
Rex Butler's "Before the Law" examines the possibility of judging Aboriginal art within the context of Eric Michaels's "Bad Aboriginal Art." Butler is interested in how Michaels wants to deflate the notion of a metalanguage for judgment, while sustaining a notion of universality (Law) that would be neither transcendent nor immanent. Through a close reading of Michaels's analysis of the Yuendumu Doors, Butler shows how his account of the historical details of their construction allows him to claim an unmediated relationship with Aboriginal art. For Michaels' the relation with Aboriginal art, like that with most art, is possible insofar as such art is premised on a "differential," in which there emerges a "pure gesture marking an absence." Butler concludes by turning to Kafkds parable to suggest that the Law is not an absence that lies beyond the Doorkeeper, but only the effect of our assuming it is so.
We conclude this volume with two documents. The first is Theodor W Adorno's "The Religious Medium," from his essay about the 1940s radio evangelist Martin Luther Thomas. Adorno asks how Thomas's radio addresses work to transform religious leanings into politically violent propaganda. He argues that Thomas's overplaying of Christian elements through such devices as "personal experience" implicitly appeals to nonChristian instincts, especially opposition to established, institutionalized religion. Thomas then uses this "speaking in tongues" as a technique for further perverting Christian doctrine into an instrument of hate propaganda (particularly, anti‑Semitism). Although the explicitly Christian doctrine of Thomas's radio addresses would initially appear to distinguish it from Nazi fascism, Adorno holds that in its implicit appeal to nonChristian elements it results in a similar end. That Adorno's analyses continue to have a relevance seems clear.
Second, we include a central section from Niklas Luhmann's magnum opus, Die Gesellschaft der Gesellschaft (Society as a Social System), which addresses the location of religion, or of the religious, within systems theory. According to Luhmann, recent thinking within systems theory suggests that a self‑referential system, a system that produces the elements it interrelates using those very elements, makes "religion," the desire for transcendence, unavoidable. The recursive circularity of the self‑referential social system exposes a paradox, a condition that cannot be resolved but always demands further description. Yet, because further description will necessarily remain with the recursive circularity of the self‑referential system, the end result will still be paradoxical. In the desire to transcend such paradox, Luhmann contends, lies the location of religion, of the religious.Needless to say, this panoramic survey of critical, systematic, and empirical work in philosophy, cultural analysis, comparative religious studies, and anthropology is far from exhaustive. Other concepts and other topics could have been chosen to illustrate and interpret the relationship between religion and media, as well as between media and their alleged religiosity. One obvious entry into this complex matter might be the intersection between the religious, media, and the political. Indeed, the most diverse political theologies seem part and parcel of the issues that the present volume seeks to investigate. Another might be the implications of this intersection for down‑to‑earth laws and rights, transnational belonging and multicultural citizenship, tolerance and hospitality. Such matters are in need of detailed study in their own right, and we hope the present collection may contribute crucial theoretical building blocks for any such endeavor.
Reading the Figural, Or, Philosophy After the New Media by David Norman
Rodowick (Post-Contemporary Interventions: Duke University Press) applies the
concept of “the figural” to a variety of philosophical and aesthetic issues.
Inspired by the aesthetic philosophy of Jean-François Lyotard, the figural
defines a semiotic regime where the distinction between linguistic and plastic
representation breaks down. The new electronic, televisual, and digital media
has explicitly challenged this opposition, which has been the philosophical
foundation of aesthetics since the eighteenth century. Rodowick—one of the
foremost film theorists writing today—contemplates this challenge, describing
and critiquing the new regime of signs and new ways of thinking that such media
To fully comprehend the emergence of the figural requires a genealogical critique of the aesthetic, Rodowick claims. Seeking allies in this effort to deconstruct the opposition of word and image and to create new concepts for comprehending the figural, he journeys through a range of philosophical writings: Thierry Kuntzel and Marie-Claire Ropars-Wuilleumier on film theory; Jacques Derrida on the deconstruction of the aesthetic; Siegfried Kracauer and Walter Benjamin on the historical image as a utopian force in photography and film; and Gilles Deleuze and Michel Foucault on the emergence of the figural as both a semiotic regime and a new stratagem of power coincident with the appearance of digital phenomena and of societies of control.
Scholars of philosophy, film theory, cultural criticism, new media, and art history will be interested in the original and sophisticated insights found in this book.
Author Summary: Although these essays were written over a period of seventeen years, they emerged from a common research project responding to what was, for me, a fundamental intuition. Although I am a child of the seventies, and thus of a visual semiology inspired by the linguistics of Ferdinand de Saussure, a form of structural analysis inspired by Claude Levi‑Strauss, and a theory of ideology forwarded by Screen, my encounters with deconstruction and its critique of logocentrism convinced me early on that a linguistically inspired semiology was inadequate for the study of visual culture. Moreover, with the explosive appearance of Music Television in 1980 and the increasing proliferation of digital technologies and digital imaging throughout the mass media thereafter, I also came to the following conclusions. Contemporary electronic media were giving rise to hybrid and mutant forms that semiology was ill equipped to understand. Moreover, the creation of a social theory and mode of philosophical analysis adequate for understanding the new images also seemed to require a deconstruction of the aesthetic philosophy, ingrained for more than two hundred years, that was inhibiting cultural studies from understanding this phenomenon in its depth and complexity. New media were emerging from a new logic of sense‑the figural‑and they could not be understood within the reigning norms of a linguistic or aesthetic philosophy. For these reasons, mass culture has always posed a problem for the idea of the aesthetic. (This is nowhere more clear than in the philosophy of Lyotard, as I will discuss in chapter 1.) The new media have exacerbated this situation. Philosophy traditionally considers the aesthetic as a separate domain of experience whose unity is preserved in two ways. First, it defines the self‑identity of the arts through the opposition of linguistic to plastic expression and then produces a hierarchy of value based on this opposition that renders thought equivalent to linguistic sense. Second, the aesthetic is distinguished from the social and from everyday life as a separate philosophical domain. Paradoxically, the modern idea of the aesthetic was invented at a point when the value and meaning of artistic work became increasingly deracinated from its prior religious and political contexts, instead circulating in the paths of commodity exchange. In other words, there is an inverse ratio between philosophy's assertion of the "disinterestedness" of art and the historical transformation of aesthetic value by the forms of commodity exchange.
Therefore, as a philosophical problem, the concept of the figural as presented in this book is meant to intervene in three areas: as a semiotic theory that comprehends what the image becomes when freed from the opposition of word to image; as a social theory that contests, through a deconstruction of the aesthetic, the dominance of art and social life by the commodity form; and finally as a theory of power that unlocks the figural as a historical image or social hieroglyph wherein the spatial and temporal parameters of contemporary collective life can be read as they are reorganized by the new images and new communications technologies.
The figural, then, describes a general transformation of the discursive field, both in the history of philosophy and in the visual history of the twentieth century, which has been dominated by photography, cinema, and electronic as well as digital media. Chapter i introduces the figural in its variegated forms. I begin by discussing Lyotard's radical transformation of the concept of discourse in Discours, figure as well as his aesthetic essays of the seventies and eighties. Here discourse becomes figural when its proper forms are disordered by spacing and desire. In his later discussions of postmodernism and the sublime, Lyotard raises the political stakes of the figural while introducing to it a temporal and historical dimension, though not without entertaining certain contradictions involving aesthetic judgment and the ontological status of art. Where this chapter begins by exploring how a concept of discourse is disordered by the figural, I conclude by discussing how visuality is rendered as a paradoxical concept in its encounters with the figural, and in the technological transformations of space and perception that are the hallmarks of the "new" media. Here reading the figural requires not only a critical genealogy of the aesthetic but also an analysis of the spatial and temporal architectures of power produced by audiovisual regimes.
Chapter 2 continues laying out the philosophical stakes of the book. While wishing to maintain the "figural" as a heuristic and mobile concept, here I make my most direct case for defining it. The figural is treated not only as a transformation of discourse but more importantly as a means for understanding the functioning of power in given societies. My point of departure is Gilles Deleuze's reading of the work of Michel Foucault. Two concepts are especially important here. First is the diagram as a cartography of strategies of power. In many respects, this concept resembles the historical image as discussed in chapter 5: it shares with Walter Benjamin's thought the quality of immanence, and with Siegfried Kracauer's a sense of the abstraction of social space by capitalist relations of force. Second is that of the audiovisual archive. In Deleuze's reading, every epoch is defined by its own practices of knowledge and strategies of power, which are composed from regimes of visibility and procedures of expression. The example of the audiovisual archive demonstrates with philosophical precision how the figural operates as intercalations of the expressive and the visible in different dimensions of space: correlative space, which associates what can be said with what can be seen or observed; complementary space, which establishes relations between discursive and nondiscursive spaces as the institutional basis of power; and collateral space, where enunciation is defined by specific mutations of plastic space and linguistic reference, figure and text. The Modern era required a strict separation between plastic space, which organizes representation, and linguistic reference, which excludes it. But in the era of electronic and digital communication, the figural is increasingly defined as a semiotic regime where the world of things is penetrated by discourse, with its ambiguous power to negate and divide or differ, and the independent weight of things congeals into signs that proliferate anonymously in everyday life. This is a condition that Foucault characterized as similitude. Here the figural disturbs the collateral relation that divides figure and text into two separate streams, one characterized by simultaneity (repetition‑resemblance), the other by succession (difference affirmation). Lessing divided the linguistic from the plastic arts by opposing succession to simultaneity. Now the temporality of "discourse" has thoroughly permeated plastic space, and this is one way of reading the figural.
Chapter 3 returns implicitly to Lyotard in taking up problems of figure and text as a general transformation of discourse, though here in the domain of film theory. This chapter examines the contributions of contemporary film theory to the figural by looking at two approaches to "filmic writing" ‑Thierry Kuntzel's concept of figuration, or semiotic "constellations" in the film‑work, and MarieClaire Ropars‑Wuilleumier's theory of cinecriture. In both cases, deconstruction is invoked to think the figural as that which eludes the opposition between the linguistic and the plastic arts. Kuntzel's approach is modeled on Freud's notion of the dream‑work as read through Derrida's essay "Freud and the Scene of Writing." Here film's logic of signification reprises the plastic and mutable qualities of dreaming and fantasy life in that the logical relations (conscious and/or unconscious) that bind images into a discourse are intelligible only in the degree in which the presence of the visual field is broken and the text of the film is understood as a figural script. Alternatively, Ropars focuses on modernist film practice for her theory of filmic writing. Looking at modernist montage strategies, she proposes to replace a theory of the sign with the model of the hieroglyph‑a hybrid written and imaged form of figural activity that confounds the phonocentric model of signification. However, her theory assumes oppositions based on aesthetic value, as well as a model of enunciation and textual system, which nonetheless reinvoke many of the semiological and aesthetic concepts she wishes to deconstruct.
Chapter 4 takes a closer look at the philosophical paradoxes of the aesthetic as introduced in chapter r through a critical reading of Kant's Critique of Judgment as played out in Jacques Derrida's book Truth in Painting, and his essay "Economimesis" I trace a genealogy of the aesthetic as a concept of modern philosophy that emerges slowly throughout the eighteenth century in the work of Christian Wolff, Alexander Baumgarten, and Gotthold Lessing, passing through Kant's Third Critique, and finally culminating in Hegel's Lectures on Aesthetics. Here Derrida's concepts of the parergon, economimesis and exemplorality demonstrate how the idea of the aesthetic supposed a systematic retreat from the social and historical forces informing representational practices that were, and continue to be, concomitant with the increasing commodification of art. In asserting the value and self‑identity of autonomous art as free of monetary value, and by proclaiming the autonomy of the aesthetic as an interior and subjective activity as opposed to social and collective ones, idealist philosophy creates an inverse ratio between the ontological and the historical. Here the idealist elaboration of the aesthetic as an ontological question increasingly excludes consideration of the (capitalist) material and historical forces continually transforming representational practices and aesthetic experience. Assertions of the autonomy and universality of the aesthetic become ever more shrill in direct relation to the dominance of representational practices by the logic of commodities and the emergence of a mass public, a process that has been reconfirmed by the controversies involving the defunding of the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities by cultural conservatives. By demonstrating the ontological insecurity of the aesthetic, deconstructive philosophy helps produce a critical genealogy that may liberate new concepts for critiquing the permeation of capital into all areas of cultural experience, and for understanding critically the social function of new media as a figural discourse.
Chapter 3 examines the figural as a semiotic concept where the model of the linguistic sign is replaced by that of the constellation and dream‑work in Kuntzel, and the hieroglyph and filmic writing in Ropars. In Chapter 4 the figural is treated as a philosophical concept whose force demonstrates the ontological insecurity of the aesthetic. Chapter 5 examines the figural as a historical concept in the idea of "historical images" elaborated in Walter Benjamin's and Siegfried Kracauer's studies of film and photography. "Spatial images are the dreams of society," wrote Kracauer in the 1920S. "Wherever the hieroglyphics of these images can be deciphered, one finds the basis of social reality," Through the concept of the social hieroglyph, or the spatial forms of an emergent mass culture, the role of critical theory is to decipher social tendencies revealed in ephemeral cultural phenomena while unlocking the specific forms of historical knowledge they communicate. The culture of the mass, despised by traditional aesthetics, contains a measure of reality in the form of social knowledge no longer accessible through Art or Philosophy. This is why history is important as a form of intermediate knowledge, as Kracauer's final book, History: The Last Things before the Last, makes clear. Both Kracauer and Benjamin considered the concepts and logic of aesthetic philosophy to be an obstacle to understanding the social knowledge embedded in mass cultural phenomena and the space‑time of everyday life. Neither traditional art, whose ideal is the identity of nature and form, nor idealist philosophy, which defines reason as the identity of thought and being, can comprehend the social hieroglyph because nature has been transformed by capital, and the isolated interiority of the aesthetic subject has disappeared into the mass. Through Benjamin's concept of mimesis as "nonsensuous similarity," and Kracauer's concept of the social hieroglyph as an allegorical form, the historical image is defined as a figure capable of representing and comprehending those dimensions of social and aesthetic experience under capital to which philosophy and art are blind. These two thinkers particularly valued film and photography not only for preserving and communicating this historical knowledge in an "alienated" form but also for redeeming the utopian potential of mass culture as a form of nontotalizing knowledge.
Chapter 6 extends this line of thought in another direction by examining Gilles Deleuze's two‑volume theory of film in the context of the philosophy of history, specifically that of Michel Foucault. In Cinema 1: The Movement‑Image and Cinema 2: The Time‑Image, Deleuze argues that a tectonic shift marks the history of audiovisual culture in the twentieth century. The displacement of the movement‑image by the time‑image involves a turn both in the order of signs, requiring two different semiotics, and in the image of thought that characterizes the philosophical orientation of the two regimes. Although Deleuze insists that his two books are not "histories," in this chapter I argue that the shift from the movement‑image to time‑image can also be understood as the displacement of a Hegelian philosophy of history‑in‑images with a Nietzschean conceptualization of history articulated through new audiovisual forms in cinema, television, and digital media, no less than in the philosophical influence of Nietzsche in the writings of Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze and Mix Guattari, and other French historians and cultural theorists. In French film since 1958, a new orientation of the visible with respect to the expressible‑of image and sound as well as movement and time‑also marks a new conceptual relation with questions of history, memory, and politics wherein the figural is considered again as both time image and historical image.
In the era of the figural, thought relies no less poignantly on opening a space in language responsive to the figural transformations of the eye than on releasing figures in space as discourse or expression. However, the machinic processes of the figural are also organized by technologies of control: the dream of the individual's total control over information is simultaneously the potentiality for absolute surveillance and the reification of private experience. The task of chapter 7 is to inquire whether we have indeed entered a new historical era, fueled by the increasing predominance of digital technologies and computer-mediated communications, that Deleuze called "control societies." If so, this era will be defined by its own specific knowledge practices, strategies of power, and modes of subjection. I argue that three fundamental questions need be asked to understand digital culturally. First, how is the nature of representation changing with respect to the digital creation, manipulation, and distribution of signs? Second, how is the form of the commodity changing along with its determinations of the space and time of the market and the nature and value of exchange? And finally, how is our experience of collectivity changing; or in Deleuze and Guattari's terminology, how are our "collective arrangements" in social time and space being restructured by the new communication architectures of digital culture? In exploring these questions, I also argue that we need a social theory that is as attentive to creative strategies of resistance as it is to mechanisms of power and social control. Thus a social theory of digital culture, as a new regime of the figural and a mutation of the audiovisual archive, should be able both to critique the models of social control and surveillance imposed by "cybernetic capitalism" and to evaluate the new modes of existence that appear as contemporary communications technologies reorganize and reconfigure the lived spatiality and temporality of everyday life.In these new modes of existence, we might locate new possibilities for living, both resistant to, and critical of, the forces of global capital.
The Language of New Media by Lev Manovich (Leonardo Books: M I T Press) In this book Lev Manovich offers the first systematic and rigorous theory of new media. He places new media within the histories of visual and media cultures of the last few centuries. He discusses new media's reliance on conventions of old media, such as the rectangular frame and mobile camera, and shows how new media works create the illusion of reality, address the viewer, and represent space. He also analyzes categories and forms unique to new media, such as interface and database.
A complete examination and presentation of a rigorous theory of new media. Discusses how categories and forms unique to new media work with the conventions of older media, how new media has been influenced by media from the middle ages and other historical media, and how a number of elements of film theory, such as spatial montage, applyManovich uses concepts from film theory, art history, literary theory, and computer science and also develops new theoretical constructs, such as cultural interface, spatial montage, and cinegratography. The theory and history of cinema play a particularly important role in the book. Among other topics, Manovich discusses parallels between the histories of cinema and of new media, digital cinema, screen and montage in cinema and in new media, and historical ties between avant-garde film and new media. [Review pending]
Age of Propaganda: The Everyday Use and Abuse of Persuasion by Anthony R. Pratkanis and Elliot Aronson (Freeman) Drawing on the history of propaganda and modern research in social psychology, this book reveals mass persuasion in action -- not just the tactics, but why they work so well, and how we can protect ourselves from manipulation.
Americans consume 57% of the world's advertising while representing only 6% of the population, and half of our waking hours are spent immersed in the mass media. Persuasion has always been integral to the democratic process, but increasingly, thoughtful discussion is being replaced with simplistic soundbites and manipulative messages.
Drawing on the history of propaganda as well as on contemporary research in social psychology, Age of Propaganda shows how the tactics used by political campaigners, sales agents, advertisers, televangelists, demagogues, and others often take advantage of our emotions by appealing to our deepest fears and most irrational hopes, creating a distorted vision of the world we live in.This revised and updated edition includes coverage of the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal, recent election campaigns, talk radio, teen suicide, U.F.O. abductions, the Columbine shootings, and novel propaganda tactics based on hypocrisy and false allegations.
Intertextuality and the Media: From Genre to Everyday Life edited by
Ulrike H. Meinhof, Jonathon Smith (Manchester University Press)
Semiotic theory has greatly influenced many academic disciplines in the past few decades. This collection of essays, edited by Meinhof (German, Univ. of Southampton) and Smith (lecturer, Italian studies, Univ. of Wales, Swansea), is particularly concerned with the concept of intertexuality as defined by Julia Kristeva and Mikhail Bakhtin and how this concept is manifested in human reaction to the popular media. The introductory essay thoroughly explores intertextuality as a concept, the following six essays study specific cultural phenomena, and the final essay effectively challenges the very theory of intertextuality itself. The essays frequently overlap in ways that the editors could not have predicted, which makes the book a whole that is more than the sum of its parts. All of the essays are thoughtful and perceptive, whether they discuss the British television show Spitting Image, the game show Wheel of Fortune, or advertisements for Irish beer. The essays have a decidedly Western European slant, so the book will be appropriate for European culture collections. Recommended for academic libraries and media studies collections.
Excerpt: Chapter‑by‑chapter synopsis
In Chapter 2 Helen Kelly‑Holmes focuses on three advertisements for Irish‑branded beers, to investigate the interrelation between intertextuality and the formation of national and cultural identities. She argues that contemporary commercial texts draw on many different narratives and myths of Irishness whose contradictions and inconsistencies undermine older hierarchical certainties about what constituted Irishness and Irish culture. The inconsistencies of these 'unofficial' texts offer mutable, depoliticized versions of Irish identity which are more positive and, ironically, less stereotypical than the crude cliche linking Irishness ‑ for the English ‑ with violence and terrorism.
Chapter 3, by Ulrike Meinhof and Jonathan Smith, begins with a reassessment of generic classifications of the popular British TV programme Spitting Image as political satire. Partly because it has made frequent use of puppets representing well‑known figures from political life ‑ and also because it frequently makes reference to news and current affairs ‑ a generic classification as political satire seems an obvious one. However, the chapter argues that these political figures blend into the spectrum of characters seen on television, because they appear alongside many other puppets which represent real and fictional characters from a wide range of other TV programmes and genres. Rather than being political satire, Spitting Image dramatizes instead an interplay of generic TV formats. This indiscriminate straddling and effacement of the boundaries of genres echoes and dramatizes the unpredictability of the processes of reception described by Bachmair. The effect is a kind of generalized TV pastiche, a fictionalized version of the entanglement of media texts with direct lived experience.
Chapter 4, by Ulrike Meinhof and Theo van Leeuwen, focuses
on the series Rock 'n' Roll Years. Exploiting heavily the televisual possibilities of multimodality, this programme is even more of a generic hybrid than is Spitting Image. By juxtaposing a soundtrack featuring a selection of rock and roll music from a particular year with frequently memorable news clips from the same year, the programme defies clear‑cut genre expectations ‑ is it a news compilation with musical accompaniment or an illustrated music programme? The alignment of musical and verbal phrasings of popular songs with news images from the same year has calculated functions of commenting ‑ sometimes ironically ‑ on images and news stories, but also of supplying these with mood and atmosphere. However, these different combinations of different types of coding are not the sole factors in the production of meaning: viewers interviewed base their responses on a variety of different social and cultural resources selected according to their social and political background, age and cultural tastes.
In Chapter 5 Kay Richardson focuses entirely on viewers' responses as they attempt to make sense of a television genre which most viewers experience as being difficult: that of economic news. Richardson discusses the character of the resources which viewers use in attempting to make sense of such news programmes. The emphasis here is on the intertextual complexity of viewer discourse about such news. Richardson distinguishes between three types of resources which viewers draw on: first, extra‑textual resources which are explicitly intertextual, such as references to the press, television and books. Secondly, those which have a more abstract character, such as 'general knowledge' ‑ which must be derived from other texts but is not represented as being so by the viewers studied. A third category of resources derives more directly and explicitly from personal experience.
In Chapter 6 Lothar Mikos and Hans‑Jiirgen Wulff again emphasize the continuities between everyday experiences and situations and those produced for television. Their case study of the TV game show Wheel of Fortune shows entertainment TV to be a multidimensional cultural practice. The concept of intertextuality is complemented here by the neologism 'intersituativity' to point to a whole network of situations linking the players in the studio with the viewers at home in ways that exceed the limits of language and text as these are conventionally understood.
Chapter 7, by Ben Bachmair, takes the analysis of this interconnection between media and everyday life to its furthest point. Here, viewers' discourse shows only the most highly personal and strongly encoded references to media material (which the analysis therefore struggles in some instances to identify). Differentiating between two sharply contrasting ways in which people make meanings in the context of everyday life, Bachmair shows through case studies that rather than reproducing or repeating textual meanings (mimesis), individuals create their own meanings by incorporating a wide range of symbolic material into their own everyday performances (poiesis). Bachmair concludes by stressing the importance of lifestyle ‑ that is, a horizontal rather than a vertical and hierarchical differentiation ‑ as the new form of social demarcation.In the final chapter Gunther Kress aims to challenge the category of intertextuality by suggesting that it exists to patch up a problem caused by starting with the wrong theory (of text and language) in the first place. Discussing a set of texts ranging from a pamphlet about the poll tax to a child's simulation of a newspaper, Kress argues that they function as mere punctuations of a continuous process of semiosis ‑ that is, as temporary realizations of meaning in language and other semiotic forms. Kress's ultimate demand is for a wholesale revision of existing categories of text, genre and language with a view to constructing a new, more inclusive and more dynamic theory of semiosis.
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