[-empyre-] language, reporting the virtually true

Erik Ehn shadowtackle at sbcglobal.net
Thu Nov 6 02:52:20 EST 2014

approx: "the greatest calamity that the human race can experience is the destruction of a city" (simone weil on the iliad). city as a cloud of ideas or better a coherence and intensity of meaning-making - an instanciation of the human at aspriational ratio to the scale of the human idea.

On Wednesday, November 5, 2014 10:36 AM, Jon McKenzie <jvmckenzie at wisc.edu> wrote:

Thanks for an engaging discussion.
I feel that we’re not only witnessing a vast image of terror but also sensing shock waves from a tortuous infrastructure that runs right through us. The cultural accession—and culture as cultivation, settling, development of people, places, and things—has indeed entailed legacies of appropriation and violence connected to what Rob Nixon calls “slow violence,” environmental and economic violence whose toll over generations dwarfs that of contemporary terror and wars on terror. With the best of intentions, governments, museums, and universities have contributed to this slow terror, which provides the backdrop for the fast and furious terror of ISIS, Boko Karam, Abu Ghraib, Taliban, and Latin American death squads. 

To paraphrase Benjamin: There is no institution of civilization which is not at the same time an institution of barbarism. What to make of this?

If the closure of humanist, disciplinary societies opens slowly and suddenly on to modes of global performativity, then the political assassinations and protests of the 1960s can be read as rehearsing the society of the spectacle of the scaffold, the contemporary mash-up of media technologies and graphic social violence whose brutality channels practices ancient and modern. Opposed in life, Foucault and Debord are now both right: the spectacle is dead, long live the spectacle, with beheadings and mutilations and “torture lite” techniques of psychological degradation and electrical shock all on display. 

As Alfred McCoy, Darius Rejali, and others help show, 20th-c Western democracies resolved the double bind of simultaneously promoting national security and human rights by developing brutal “no touch” interrogation techniques. Abu Ghraib helped expose this cruel knot, which remains uncut today. Human rights are fraying, while democratic torture practices are being bootlegged and remixed in the global theater of cruelty. Infrastructurally, alongside the democratization of media technologies unfolds the democratization of reservoirs of violence, violence stored and reanimated from bodily repertoires, historical archives, and digital databases. The vast image comes from a vast infrastructure, and it would be a mistake to assume that we don't pass through the projection booth.

Blanchot wrote, “Learn to think with pain.” Perhaps we also face thinking (with) the graphic violence of being human(e).


Jon McKenzie 
Director • DesignLab • designlab.wisc.edu
Professor • Department of English • english.wisc.edu
Affiliate • Digital Studies • digitalstudies.wisc.edu
6143 Helen C. White Hall • 600 N. Park St. • Madison, WI 53706 USA
University of Wisconsin-Madison • jvmckenzie at wisc.edu • labster8.net

See smart media at the Digital Salon: go.wisc.edu/digitalsalon

On Nov 4, 2014, at 5:34 PM, John Hopkins <jhopkins at neoscenes.net> wrote:

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>On 04/Nov/14 15:47, Daniel O'Donnell wrote:
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>>You know, I've been wondering about this: since the Taliban blew up the Buddhas
>>and then with the destruction of the domed mosques and manuscripts in Mali and
>>environs, and now this.
>It was painful to watch the video of the Buddha sculptures, especially knowing why it happened. It's always painful to see what we might consider unchanging reality suddenly lose its persistent form and ... change. It acts as a bitter reminder of mortality.
>But isn't it such that cultural accession over time is doing essentially similar things all the time, over the vast reaches of history. And our contemporary focus on, literally, digging up the past and preserving it has limits. (We probably only do so because we have such a glut of energy flowing around our 'developed' world, because re-organizing the past in any form (from library to archive to buildings) definitely takes energy!).
>While the Buddhas were obliterated rapidly, using modern weapons (explosives), time via entropy continually devolves the detritus of the yesterday, and it is only the socio-cultural context (or even 'fashion') that dictates what is saved and what is allowed to slip away into chaos. Contexts change, and what was important in one context becomes passé in another.
>I wonder if there shouldn't be an emergency scanning fund that would help pay
>>for capture of threatened built heritage. Maybe some kind of Unesco thing.
>This is where the question of choice of what to preserve and what to let go surfaces. We are witnessing the procession of history and it seems we are in the moment as powerless as others in the past, watching accepted heritage be ground to dust. It's a strange process to witness. (and interesting that Johannes suggests that "archaeologists and anthropologists will surely confirm that the past cannot be lost" -- once humans have interjected their changes into the world, the change will persist (though it gradually dissipates, never quite to zero, until the universe resets itself...)
>And maybe it's the same as watching a national 'infrastructure' collapse slowly when the national treasury is sapped of resources through war...
>So it goes...
>Dr. John Hopkins, BSc, MFA, PhD
>grounded on a granite batholith
>twitter: @neoscenes
>empyre forum
>empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au

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