Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Monoform: An Introduction

This post is meant to serve as a companion piece to some of the ideas presented by Gene Youngblood in my previous entry on Expanded Cinema.

[Another post related to the Monoform can he found HERE.]

"I think that the historical resistance by many activists to actually challenging the mass audiovisual media is a very serious problem. My personal belief is that until this subject is pulled up level with the other subjects being protested, I genuinely do not believe that the anti-globalization protest will ever reach its true fruition. If we leave the cinema and television and the radio in the present position they're in, we will never get there."
--Peter Watkins

Above: Two excerpts I uploaded from the documentary The Universal Clock: The Resistance of Peter Watkins (2001) - directed by Geoff Bowie.

* * *

Below: Excerpts from Peter Watkins' incredible essay The Media Crisis. The essay goes into much greater detail concerning the Monoform, the hegemony of the mass audiovisual media (MAVM), and why all of this is crucially important to our lives. (Watkins is also one of the world's great filmmakers. For a good introduction to his work, see Punishment Park).

* * *

"This latest information from the media on the global environmental crisis does not, however, mention another crucial question mark - one which is also related to human activity, but which is never discussed publicly: the role of the mass audiovisual media in the current state of affairs.

Society at large still refuses to acknowledge the role of form and process in the delivery and reception of the mass audiovisual (MAVM) output. By this I mean that the language forms structuring the message contained in any film or TV programme, and the entire process (hierarchical or otherwise) of delivery to the public are completely overlooked, and are certainly not debated. In turn, this lack of critical public debate means that over 95% of all MAVM messages delivered to the public are now structured by the Monoform.

- the Monoform is the one single language form now used to edit and structure cinema films, TV programmes - newsbroadcasts, detective series, soap operas, comedy and ‘reality shows’, etc. - and most documentaries, almost all of which are encoded in the standardised and rigid form which had its nascence in the Hollywood cinema. The result is a language form wherein spatial fragmentation, repetitive time rhythms, constantly moving camera, rapid staccato editing, dense bombardment of sound, and lack of silence or reflective space, play a dominant and aggressive role.


George Orwell said that if we cannot command the way we speak, we cannot command the way we think. We are now rapidly losing that capability, for we are losing the essence of the very language we use; and since language is an essential part of how we describe (and thus perceive) the world, the corruption within the MAVM is grave indeed.


At the most fundamental level, what MAVM professionals have accomplished over the past 20-30 years, is to effectively imbed into contemporary society a psychological ‘climate’ underpinning the consumer ideology. A climate wherein the subversion of language, and the relentless standardisation of how we perceive space, time, rhythm and process in human communications (both audiovisual and personal) are perceived as ‘normal’. In other words, the agenda of consumerism which saturates the MAVM’s output is reinforced at many subconscious levels by a hidden, hierarchical process - with its own subterranean social discourse which we appear unable (or unwilling) to identify or acknowledge.

This carefully inculcated climate - injected into our very psyches by the restless and fragmented language forms of the MAVM, and by the whole apparatus of the world commercial cinema - has led to seriously reduced attention spans; to a lack of tolerance for sustained process or for any form of communication that takes longer than ten seconds; to a growing loss of history (especially among young people); to an increased need for constant change. All of which has helped to shape a society visibly ever more privatised, insecure, and restless. A society where competitive thinking, egotism, personal gain, and an indifference to violence and suffering are increasingly the ‘norm’ - where genuine plurality and community interaction are vanishing into the past.


In an attempt to differentiate their work, a number of filmmakers are even elevating their own assault on the audience. A study of recent documentaries (The Corporation, Supersize Me, Michael Moore's films[1], others critical of George Bush and the Iraq War, etc.) reveals a style and pattern wherein the personality of the filmmaker is often as important as the subject of the film itself. And once again, the audience encounters a tornado of rapid editing; fragmented talking heads; twisting and cork-screwing camera work; clever digitized animation; and a theatrical in-your-face disrespect for the nearest corporate figures. All of which is heralded as cutting edge, radical and relevant - but which in fact barely masks a disingenuous and authoritarian relationship to the audience. Some of these films even claim to be critical of the media - but not only is their own language form centralised and hierarchical (a double-irony in the case of Manufacturing Consent, which features Naom Chomsky), they also never actually critique the form and process of the MAVM (including in their own films).

[1]: This reminds me: Godard famously criticized Moore for unwittingly supporting Bush through his use of form. "Moore doesn't distinguish between text and image. He doesn't know what he's doing."

Professionals within the MAVM might challenge my apparent intolerance for the Monoform, claiming that I lack an understanding of the ‘nuances’ of the role of the MAVM in our society. As I write in the book, I am perfectly aware that the MAVM has - on occasion - produced interesting and significant films using the Monoform. But the problem is not only within the structure of the Monoform itself (at least when used in moderation), since it is just one filmic language-form amongst many other possibilities; the crisis arises when this language-form is applied in a repressive, all-consuming, undebated and mandatory manner, and when we centralise the production and reception of nearly all audiovisual media around this one closed and rigid form.


In 1993, Mexican media tycoon Emilio Azcarraga Milmo, who publicly supported the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), and who referred to himself as a "soldier of the president", openly stated that a television company's responsibility is to "entertain the poor and distract them from their sad reality and their difficult future." Referring with gratitude to the tranquilizing effect of Azcarraga's soap-operas, a ruling member of the PRI stated: "It's better to use tear-jerkers than tear-gas."

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Her Week of Wonders

"The stars were shining brightly. How wonderful it would be to sit in a carriage and have it take her far away, to someplace without these strange beings who terrified her!"

valerie and her week of wonders
(press play, then proceed)

broadcast valerie
valerie and her week of wonders
valerie and her week of wonders

"Involuntarily, she put her right hand to her ear as if to check that her earrings were in place. Both were gone."

valerie and her week of wonders

"Valerie flung herself into bed and clamped her fists over her ears to block out the sounds of the vanishing night."

valerie and her week of wonders

"She was so exhausted she didn't have the strength to undress. She lay down and fell into a deep sleep."

valerie and her week of wonders
valerie and her week of wonders
valerie and her week of wonders nezval
valerie and her week of wonders jaromil jires
valerie and her week of wonders
valerie and her week of wonders
valerie and her week of wonders
valerie and her week of wonders
valerie and her week of wonders

Shake your earrings over my head
Lay down your dreams on my pillow
Before bed

valerie and her week of wondersvalerie and her week of wonders nezval jiresvalerie and her week of wondersvalerie and her week of wondersvalerie and her week of wondersvalerie and her week of wondersvalerie and her week of wonders

Good night, my gentle magician,

hear your nymph as she sobs aloud.

Hear her weep in her dejection,

as the night weaves her a shroud.

Good night, my golden-haired maiden,

Good night and may you sweetly sleep,

and when you wake, my ladylove,

for ever and aye your secret keep.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Quotes IV

"The suburbs dream of violence. Asleep in their drowsy villas, sheltered by benevolent shopping malls, they wait patiently for the nightmares that will wake them into a more passionate world..." —J.G. Ballard, Kingdom Come

"The human race sleepwalked to oblivion, thinking only about the corporate logos on its shroud." —J.G. Ballard

"Democracy is also a form of worship. It is the worship of Jackals by Jackasses." —H.L. Mencken

"Art is like capitalism’s pet rat in a cage. It’s kept around to help ameliorate the spiritual debt and bad conscience of a money-oriented system." —Justin Vicari

Hectocotylus: I forget the name of the syndrome that animals develop after being caged for a long period of time... The one that causes them to pace in circles... Anyway, there's evidence that similar sorts of things happen to people when they live in cities for long periods of time.

the curator: That reminds me of something I saw at a zoo once; a porcupine or beaver or something was standing on its hind legs grasping the bars of its cage and swaying back and forth desperately, clearly out of its mind... I can't even think of a strong enough word for how horrible it was to watch. Then a woman saw it and pointed it out to her kids and husband, saying "Look! It's dancing! It's dancing!" The difference is that people outside of cities can usually see how insane city life is, but city-dwellers point to themselves and say "Look! We're dancing! We're dancing!"

* * *

"Looking at the stars always makes me dream, as simply as I dream over the black dots representing towns and villages on a map. Why? I ask myself, shouldn't the shining dots of the sky be as accessible as the black dots on the map of France? Just as we take a train to get to Tarascon or Rouen, we take death to reach a star. We cannot get to a star while we are alive any more than we can take the train when we are dead. So to me it seems possible that cholera, tuberculosis and cancer are the celestial means of locomotion. Just as steamboats, buses and railways are the terrestrial means. To die quietly of old age, would be to go there on foot." —Vincent van Gogh

"Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see." —Neil Postman

* * *

"The first thing that we demand of a wall is that it shall stand up. If it stands up, it is a good wall, and the question of what purpose it serves is separable from that. And yet even the best wall in the world deserves to be pulled down if it surrounds a concentration camp. In the same way it should be possible to say, ‘This is a good book or a good picture, and it ought to be burned by the public hangman.’ Unless one can say that, at least in imagination, one is shirking the implications of the fact that an artist is also a citizen and a human being." —George Orwell

"...for the last forty years, our thought has been trapped in hollow structures of language, a stale, dead but immensely successful rhetoric. This has represented, in my view, a defeat of the intelligence and of the will." —Harold Pinter

Foucault: I was telling you earlier about the three elements in my morals. They are (1) the refusal to accept as self-evident the things that are proposed to us; (2) the need to analyze and to know, since we can accomplish nothing without reflection and understanding—thus, the principle of curiosity; and (3) the principle of innovation: to seek out in our reflection those things that have never been thought or imagined. Thus: refusal, curiosity, innovation.

* * *

"If you switch on television it's just ridiculous and its destructive. It kills us. And talk shows will kill us. They kill our language. So we have to declare holy war against what we see every single day on television. Commercials and – I think there should be real war against commercials, real war against talk shows, real war against "Bonanza" and "Rawhide", or all these things." —Werner Herzog

"There is an analogy, it seems to me, with the previous generation's experience of boredom. The two emotions, loneliness and boredom, are closely allied. They are also both characteristically modern. The Oxford English Dictionary's earliest citations of either word, at least in the contemporary sense, date from the 19th century. Suburbanization, by eliminating the stimulation as well as the sociability of urban or traditional village life, exacerbated the tendency to both. But the great age of boredom, I believe, came in with television, precisely because television was designed to palliate that feeling. Boredom is not a necessary consequence of having nothing to do, it is only the negative experience of that state. Television, by obviating the need to learn how to make use of one's lack of occupation, precludes one from ever discovering how to enjoy it. In fact, it renders that condition fearsome, its prospect intolerable. You are terrified of being bored — so you turn on the television.

I speak from experience. I grew up in the 60s and 70s, the age of television. I was trained to be bored; boredom was cultivated within me like a precious crop. (It has been said that consumer society wants to condition us to feel bored, since boredom creates a market for stimulation.) It took me years to discover — and my nervous system will never fully adjust to this idea; I still have to fight against boredom, am permanently damaged in this respect — that having nothing to do doesn't have to be a bad thing. The alternative to boredom is what Whitman called idleness: a passive receptivity to the world." —William Deresiewicz, The End of Solitude

"Extreme BUSYNESS is a symptom of deficient vitality, and a faculty for idleness implies a catholic appetite and a strong sense of personal identity." —Robert Louis Stevenson

* * *

"Man should not be ready to show that he can live like a badly-fed animal. He should decline to live like that, and should either steal or go on the rates, which is considered by many to be a form of stealing. As for begging, it is safer to beg than to take, but it is finer to take than to beg. No; a poor man who is ungrateful, unthrifty, discontented, and rebellious is probably a real personality, and has much in him. He is at any rate a healthy protest. As for the virtuous poor, one can pity them, of course, but one cannot possibly admire them. They have made private terms with the enemy and sold their birthright for very bad pottage. They must also be extraordinarily stupid. I can quite understand a man accepting laws that protect private property, and admit of its accumulation, as long as he himself is able under these conditions to realise some form of beautiful and intellectual life. But it is almost incredible to me how a man whose life is marred and made hideous by such laws can possibly acquiesce in their continuance." —Oscar Wilde, The Soul of Man under Socialism

"It will be a marvellous thing - the true personality of man - when we see it. It will grow naturally and simply, flower-like, or as a tree grows. It will not be at discord. It will never argue or dispute. It will not prove things. It will know everything. And yet it will not busy itself about knowledge. It will have wisdom. Its value will not be measured by material things. It will have nothing. And yet it will have everything, and whatever one takes from it, it will still have, so rich will it be. It will not be always meddling with others, or asking them to be like itself. It will love them because they will be different. And yet, while it will not meddle with others, it will help all, as a beautiful thing helps us by being what it is. The personality of man will be very wonderful. It will be as wonderful as the personality of a child." —Oscar Wilde, The Soul of Man under Socialism

* * *

"It was in the black mirror of anarchism that surrealism first recognised itself." -—Andre Breton, 1952

"Andre Breton shall return through mirrors in the year 2071." -—Roberto Bolaño, Amulet

"There are books for when you're bored. Plenty of them. There are books for when you're calm. The best kind, in my opinion. There are also books for when you are sad. And then there are books for when you are happy. There are books for when you're thirsty for knowledge. And there are books for when you're desperate. The latter are the kind of books Ulises Lima and Belano wanted to write. A serious mistake, as we'll soon see. Let's take, for example, an average reader, a cool-headed, mature, educated man leading a more or less healthy life. A man who buys books and literary magazines. So there you have him. This man can read things that are written for when you're calm, but he can also read any other kind of book with a critical eye, dispassionately, without absurd or regrettable complicity. That's how I see it. I hope I'm not offending anyone. Now let's take the desperate reader, who is presumably the audience for the literature of desperation. What do we see? First: the reader is an adolescent or an immature adult, insecure, all nerves. He's the kind of fucking idiot (pardon my language) who committed suicide after reading Werther. Second: he's a limited reader. Why limited? That's easy: because he can only read the literature of desperation, or books for the desperate, which amounts to the same thing, the kind of person or freak who's unable to read all the way through In Search of Lost Time, for example, or The Magic Mountain (a paradigm of calm, serene, complete literature, in my humble opinion), or for that matter, Les Miserables or War and Peace. Am I making myself clear? Good. So I talked to them, told them, warned them, alerted them to the dangers they were facing. It was like talking to a wall. Furthermore: desperate readers are like the California gold mines. Sooner or late they're exhausted! Why? It's obvious! One can't live one's whole life in desperation. In the end body rebels, the pain becomes unbearable, lucidity gushes out in great cold spurts. The desperate reader (and especially the desperate poetry reader, who is insufferable, believe me) ends up turning away from books. Inevitably he ends up becoming just plain desperate. Or he's cured! And then as part of the regenerative process, he returns slowly - as if wrapped in swaddling clothes, as if under a rain of dissolved sedatives - he returns, as I was saying, to a literature written for cool, serene readers, with their heads set firmly on their shoulders. This is what's called (by me, if nobody else) the passage from adolescence to adulthood. And by that I don't mean that once someone has become a cool-headed reader he no longer reads books written for desperate readers. Of course he reads them! Especially if they're good or decent or recommended by a friend. But ultimately, they bore him! Ultimately that literature of resentment, full of sharp instruments and lynched messiahs, doesn't pierce his heart the way a calm page, a carefully thought-out page, a technically perfect does. I told them so. I warned them. I showed them the technically perfect page. I alerted them to the dangers. Don't exhaust the vein! Humility! Seek oneself, lose oneself in strange lands! But with a guiding line, with bread crumbs or white pebbles! And yet I was mad, driven mad by them, by my daughters, by Laura Damian, and so they didn't listen." —Joaquim Font in The Savage Detectives

Friday, May 08, 2009

e.g. scooters, vacation, fall

In light of the new Star Trek movie opening today all across America, I wanted to preface this excerpt from Expanded Cinema by asking: Why do so few intelligent people take film seriously?

Most intelligent people seem to know that the best songs are usually not the ones played on the radio and the best books are rarely the ones that make bestseller lists, so they make it a point to seek out alternatives to commercial entertainment in these areas. Intelligent people also know that the books sold at their local supermarket are not books worth taking the time to read (even going so far as to think less of people whose reading list is made up of these kind of titles). When it comes to cinema, however, the overwhelming majority of the very same intelligent people go to their local multiplex to catch the next Hollywood movie and watch many of the same titles that can be rented from the vending machines at their local supermarket... In all the other arts, intelligent people usually know better (or at least pretend to!), but when it comes to cinema, what most people want is entertainment -- the ignorant and intelligent alike.

Below, Gene Youngblood gives some compelling and insightful reasons as to why this is and why it matters.

* * *

"The prevailing messages of the so-called popular media have lost their relevance because a socioeconomic system that substitutes the profit motive for use value separates man from himself and art from life. When we're enslaved to any system, the creative impulse is dulled and the tendency to imitate increases. Thus arises the phenomenon of commercial entertainment distinct from art, a system of temporarily gratifying, without really fulfilling, the experiential needs of an aesthetically impoverished culture.

The mass public insists on entertainment over art in order to escape an unnatural way of life in which interior realities are not compatible with exterior realities. Freedom, says Brown, is fusion. Life becomes art when there's no difference between what we are and what we do. Art is a synergetic attempt at closing the gap between what is and what ought to be. Jacob Bronowski has suggested that we "ought to act in such a way that what is true can be verified to be so." --Gene Youngblood, preface to Expanded Cinema (1970)

Art, Entertainment, Entropy

"The current generation is engaged in an unprecedented questioning of all that has been held essential. We question traditional concepts of authority, ownership, justice, love, sex, freedom, politics, even tradition itself. But it's significant that we don't question our entertainment. The disenfranchised young man who dropped out of college, burned his draft card, braids his hair, smokes pot, and digs Dylan is standing in line with his girl, who takes the pill, waiting to see The Graduate or Bonnie and Clyde or Easy Rider — and they're reacting to the same formulas of conditioned response that lulled their parents to sleep in the 1930's.

bonnie and clyde arthur penn
We've seen the urgent need for an expanded cinematic language. I hope to illustrate that profit-motivated commercial entertainment, by its very nature, cannot supply this new vision. Commercial entertainment works against art, exploits the alienation and boredom of the public, by perpetuating a system of conditioned response to formulas. Commercial entertainment not only isn't creative, it actually destroys the audience's ability to appreciate and participate in the creative process. The implications become apparent when we realize that, as leisure time increases, each human will be forced to become a creative, self-sufficient, empirical energy laboratory.

D. H. Lawrence has written: "The business of art is to reveal the relation between man and his circumambient universe at this living moment. As mankind is always struggling in the toil of old relationships, art is always ahead of its 'times,' which themselves are always far in the rear of the living present." Jean-Jacques Lebel stated the same idea in different terms when he described art as "the creation of a new world, never seen before, imperceptibly gaining on reality."

We've seen that man is conditioned by, and reacts to, certain stimuli in the man-made environment. The commercial entertainer is a manipulator of these stimuli. If he employs a certain trigger mechanism, we're guaranteed to react accordingly, like puppets, providing he manipulates the trigger properly. I'm not saying the artist doesn't resort to audience manipulation; we know he often does. The point, however, is the motivation in doing so. If the artist must resort to trigger mechanisms to make himself clear, he will; but it's only a means to his end. In the case of the commercial entertainer, however, it's the end in itself.

Plot, story, and what commonly is known as "drama" are the devices that enable the commercial entertainer to manipulate his audience. The very act of this manipulation, gratifying conditioned needs, is what the films actually are about. The viewer purchases it with his ticket and is understandably annoyed if the film asks him to manipulate himself, to engage in the creative process along with the artist. Our word poetry derives from the Greek root poiein meaning "to make" or "to work." The viewer of commercial entertainment cinema does not want to work; he wants to be an object, to be acted upon, to be manipulated. The true subject of commercial entertainment is this little game it plays with its audience.

clockwork orange ludovico technique
By perpetuating a destructive habit of unthinking response to formulas, by forcing us to rely ever more frequently on memory, the commercial entertainer encourages an unthinking response to daily life, inhibiting self-awareness. Driven by the profit motive, the commercial entertainer dares not risk alienating us by attempting new language even if he were capable of it. He seeks only to gratify preconditioned needs for formula stimulus. He offers nothing we haven't already conceived, nothing we don't already expect. Art explains; entertainment exploits. Art is freedom from the conditions of memory; entertainment is conditional on a present that is conditioned by the past. Entertainment gives us what we want; art gives us what we don't know we want. To confront a work of art is to confront oneself—but aspects of oneself previously unrecognized.

The extent to which blatant audience manipulation not only is tolerated but extolled is alarming. Alfred Hitchcock, for example, in his interview with François Truffaut, finds merit in his ability to manipulate preconditioned needs for formula stimulus. Speaking of Psycho, Hitchcock frankly admits: "It wasn't a message that stirred them, nor was it a great performance, or their enjoyment of the novel... they were aroused by the construction of the story, and the way in which it was told caused audiences all over the world to react and become emotional."

It is essential to understand that Hitchcock openly admits that he didn't even try to expand awareness or to communicate some significant message, but only exploited a universal tradition of dramatic manipulation in order to supply his audience with the gratification it paid for. The audience sees itself and its dreams reflected in the film and reacts according to memory, which Krishnamurti has characterized as being always conditioned. "Memory," says Krishnamurti, "is always in the past and is given life in the present by a challenge. Memory has no life in itself; it comes to life in the challenge [preconditioned formula stimulus]. And all memory, whether dormant or active, is conditioned." It is this process that the entertainment industry calls audience identification.

To a healthy mind, anything that is primarily art is also immensely entertaining. It seems obvious that the most important things should be the most entertaining. Where there's a difference between what we "like" and what we know to be vital, we have a condition of schizophrenia, an unnatural and destructive situation. I speak deliberately of a "healthy" mind as one capable of creative thinking. Filmmaker Ken Kelman: "The old cinema removes experience, making us see things along with (or through) a protagonist with whom we identify, and a plot in which we are caught. Such an approach tends toward not only a lack of viewpoint, of definition of whose experience it is, but also filters the power of sight into mere habit, dissolves insight into vicariousness. The spectator is reduced to a voyeur — which is, increasingly, the individual's role in society at large."

Minimalist painter David Lee: "When people do not trust their senses they lack confidence in themselves. For the last few centuries people have lacked confidence. They have not trusted their experience to provide a standard for knowing how to act." It is quite obvious that most of us not only don't know much about art, we don't even know what we like. Krishnamurti: "One of the fundamental causes of the disintegration of society is copying, which is the worship of authority."

Imitation is the result of inadequate information. Information results in change. Change requires energy. Energy is the result of adequate information Energy is directly proportional to the amount of information about the structure of a system. Norbert Wiener: "Information is a name for the content of what is exchanged with the outer world as we adjust to it and make our adjustment felt upon it ... to live effectively is to live with adequate information." From the cinema we receive conceptual information (ideas) and design information (experiences). In concert they become one phenomenon, which I've described as the experiential information of aesthetic conceptual design. This information is either useful (additive) or redundant. Useful information accelerates change. Redundant information restricts change. If sustained long enough redundant information finally becomes misinformation, which results in negative change.


To satisfy the profit motive the commercial entertainer must give the audience what it expects, which is conditional on what it has been getting, which is conditional on what it previously received, ad infinitum. Inherent in the term "genre," which applies to all entertainment, is that it must be probable. The content of westerns, gangster movies, romances, etc., is probable in that it can be identified and comprehended simply by classification. The phenomenon of drama itself usually is not considered a genre, but is in fact the most universal and archetypical of all genres. Drama, by definition, means conflict, which in turn means suspense. Suspense is requisite on the expectation of known alternatives. One cannot expect the unknown. Therefore expectation, suspense, and drama are all redundant probable qualities and thus are noninformative.

Drama requires a plot that forces the viewer to move from point A to point B to point C along predetermined lines. Plot does not mean "story" (beginning-middle-end). It simply indicates a relatively closed structure in which free association and conscious participation are restricted. Since the viewer remains passive and is acted upon by the experience rather than participating in it with volition, there's no feedback, that vital source of negentropy. Norbert Wiener: "Feedback is a method of controlling a system by reinserting into it the results of its past performance... if the information which proceeds backward from the performance is able to change the general method and pattern of performance, we have a process which may well be called learning." Fuller: "Every time man makes a new experiment he always learns more. He cannot learn less."

In the cinema, feedback is possible almost exclusively in what I call the synaesthetic mode, which we'll discuss presently. Because it is entirely personal it rests on no identifiable plot and is not probable. The viewer is forced to create along with the film, to interpret for himself what he is experiencing. If the information (either concept or design) reveals some previously unrecognized aspect of the viewer's relation to the circumambient universe — or provides language with which to conceptualize old realities more effectively — the viewer recreates that discovery along with the artist, thus feeding back into the environment the existence of more creative potential, which may in turn be used by the artist for messages of still greater eloquence and perception. If the information is redundant, as it must be in commercial entertainment, nothing is learned and change becomes unlikely. The noted authority on communication theory, J. R. Pierce, has demonstrated that an increase in entropy means a decrease in the ability to change. And we have seen that the ability to change is the most urgent need facing twentieth-century man.

The notion of experimental art, therefore, is meaningless. All art is experimental or it isn't art. Art is research, whereas entertainment is a game or conflict. We have learned from cybernetics that in research one's work is governed by one's strongest points, whereas in conflicts or games one's work is governed by its weakest moments. We have defined the difference between art and entertainment in scientific terms and have found entertainment to be inherently entropic, opposed to change, and art to be inherently negentropic, a catalyst to change. The artist is always an anarchist, a revolutionary, a creator of new worlds imperceptibly gaining on reality. He can do this because we live in a cosmos in which there's always something more to be seen. When finally we erase the difference between art and entertainment — as we must to survive — we shall find that our community is no longer a community, and we shall begin to understand radical evolution.

* * *

Retrospective Man and the Human Condition

John Dewey: "When art attains classic status it becomes isolated from the human conditions under which it was brought into being and from the human consequences it engenders in actual life experience... when, because of their remoteness, the objects acknowledged by the cultivated to be works of fine art seem anemic to the mass of people...

offret tarkovsky the sacrificebresson hands balthazarkiarostami the wind will carry us
...aesthetic hunger is likely to seek the cheap and the vulgar."

winslett the readerthe dark knight batman bale slumdog millionaire danny boyle award
The history of popular entertainment, in terms of its conceptual content, can be divided into three general categories: (1) idealization, which corresponds to states of happiness in which life is seen as a heavenly experience and man is characterized by his most noble deeds; (2) frustration, an expression of the conflict between inner and outer realities, when what is is not what should be; (3) demoralization, generally expressed as "the blues." In commercial entertainment cinema these three formulas are followed religiously, almost without exception, and usually comprise the nature of the message. They are the human condition, that which is taken for granted, the given, the facts of life. Everyone has ideals, everyone is frustrated, everyone gets the blues. But this information is redundant; we must go on from there.

Commercial entertainment is "popular" and not what we call art because it doesn't go on from there. To insure the widest possible acceptance of his message, the commercial entertainer must speak a common language. He copies, repeats, or imitates that which already exists within the grasp of the so-called average man. And the majority of us embrace it because it offers security, a crutch, in the knowledge that the miseries we suffer are shared by others. But art transcends the human condition. The artist doesn't want to hear our problems and our dreams — he already knows them. Instead he wants to know what we're doing about them, and he gives us the instruments we need for the task. The symbol is the basic instrument of thought; those who create new symbols — artists, scientists, poets, philosophers — are those who, by giving us new instruments to think with, give us new areas to explore in our thinking.

A rather indignant woman once asked me how I could have the nerve to suggest that an "abstract" film like Brakhage's Dog Star Man could be more important than an immortal classic like Renoir's The Grand Illusion. The new consciousness takes the view that films like Renoir's do not contain one single insight into the nature of the human condition that has not already been absorbed by the collective consciousness. Bob Dylan: "How many times must a man look up before he can see the sky? How many ears must one man have before he can hear people cry?" And my own question: how many times must we acknowledge the human condition before it becomes redundant? How long must we tolerate the same facts of life before we begin seeking new facts? We intuit that the human condition has expanded since yesterday, but the popular arts aren't telling us. The human condition does not stop with what we know about ourselves. Each genuinely new experience expands the definition of the human condition that much more. Some are seeking those new facts, those new experiences, through the synaesthetic research of expanded cinema.

dog star man grand illussion
Barbara Rose: "The new art... posits an entirely new world view which shifts cultural values from a death-oriented, commemorative, past-enshrining culture to a life-oriented, present-oriented civilization... In this sense [Claes] Oldenburg's monuments represent, as he contended, not the appearance of something, but its disappearance... the tomb, the memorial, the shrine, the monument, all belong to cultures that commemorate."

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Story from North America

I found a link to this fantastic video here.

(My favorite line: "...finally you're becoming human!" I like the idea that human is not what we automatically are but something to aspire towards.)

Monday, May 04, 2009

"God be with those whose main supply has been diverted straight into Wombland!"

Below is an excerpt from Buckminster Fuller's introduction to Gene Youngblood's Expanded Cinema (1970), and following it are some of my thoughts. (I'm going to post a more interesting excerpt from Expanded Cinema shortly.)

* * *

"At all times nowadays, there are approximately 66 million human beings around Earth who are living comfortably inside their mothers' wombs. The country called Nigeria embraces one-fourth of the human beings of the great continent of Africa. There are 66 million Nigerians. We can say that the number of people living in Wombland is about the same as one-fourth the population of Africa. This 66 million Womblanders tops the total population of either West Germany's 58 million, the United Kingdom's 55 million, Italy's 52 million, France's 50 million, or Mexico's 47 million. Only nine of the world's so-called countries (China, India, Soviet Union, United States, Indonesia, Pakistan, Japan, and Brazil) have individual populations greater than our luxuriously-living, under-nine-months-old Womblanders.

Seemingly switching our subject, but only for a moment, we note that for the last two decades scientists probing with electrodes have learned a great deal about the human brain. The brain gives off measurable energy and discrete wave patterns disclosed by the oscillograph. Specific, repetitive dreams have been identified by these wave patterns. The neurological and physiological explorers do not find it extravagant to speculate that we may learn that what humanity has thus far spoken of mystifiedly as telepathy, science will have discovered, within decades, to be ultra-ultra high-frequency electro-magnetic wave propagations.

All good science fiction develops realistically that which scientific data suggests to be imminent. It is good science fiction to suppose that a superb telepathetic communication system is inter-linking all those young citizens of worldaround Wombland. We intercept one of the conversations: "How are things over there with you?" Answer: "My mother is planning to call me either Joe or Mary. She doesn't know that my call frequency is already 7567-00-3821." Other: "My mother had better apply to those characters Watson, Crick, and Wilkerson for my call numbers!" And another of their 66 million Womblanders comes in with, "I'm getting very apprehensive about having to 'go outside.' We have been hearing from some of the kids who just got out. They say we are going to be cut off from the main supply. We are going to have to shovel fuel and pour liquids into our systems. We are going to have to make our own blood. We are going to have to start pumping some kind of gas into our lungs to purify our own blood. We are going to have to make ourselves into giants fifteen times our present size. Worst of all, we are going to have to learn to lie about everything. It's going to be a lot of work, very dangerous, and very discouraging." Answer: "Why don't we strike? We are in excellent posture for a 'sit-down.'" Other: "Wow! What an idea. We will have the whole population of worldaround Wombland refuse to go out at graduation day. Our cosmic population will enter more and more human women's wombs, each refusing to graduate at nine months. More and more Earthian women will get more and more burdened. Worldaround consternation—agony. We will notify the outsiders that, until they stop lying to themselves and to each other and give up their stupid sovereignties and exclusive holier-than-thou ideologies, pollutions, and mayhem, we are going to refuse to come out. Only surgery fatal to both the mothers and ourselves could evacuate us."

Another: "Great! We had might as well do it. If we do come out we will be faced with the proliferation of Cold War's guerrillerized killing of babies for psycho-shock demoralization of worldaround innocent communities inadvertently involved in the abstruse ideological warfare waged by diametrically opposed, equally stubborn, would-be do-gooder, bureaucratic leaders and their partisans who control all of the world's means of production and killing, whose numbers (including all the politically preoccupied individuals around the Earth) represent less than one per cent of all humanity, to whose human minds and hearts the politicos and their guns give neither satisfaction nor hope. Like the women in Lysistrata who refused intercourse with their men until they stopped fighting, we Womblanders would win."

* * *

When I read this I immediately replaced telepathetic communication system (is "telepathetic" even a word anymore?) with the Internet. Using this example, Wombland would either be the comfortable area where we sit in close proximity to our computers (most literally) or the comfortable mental state shared by all of us who are lucky enough simply to own computers. In either case, even amidst the greatest inter-linking communications system ever devised, the Wombland revolution has yet to take place. Is this because Wombland is too abstract a place? Perhaps, but I think the real reason is far more obvious: We -- the privileged people of comfortable Wombland -- know that the best way to stay in Wombland as long as possible is to keep our heads down and our mouths shut.

A more frightening view on why there has been no "Wombland revolution":

"So is this century of runaway global warming – hidden for a while by the sedative-haze of consumerism – going to be Ballardian?

Ballard suspects that we always pined for a pacific land of plenty – but once we achieve it, we can't adjust our primate brains. We start wanting to smash it up and bring it down, restoring the old, violent world for which we are evolved."