Monday, March 21, 2005

All you need to know of the world can be found in the Marx brothers.

in the woods
they’re sanding something down to essence

bsmoffat responded to a brief request for an example which I'd left on his blog, there where he'd cited a definition of allegory and then asked what happens when a symbol becomes literal.

I find his response triggering synapses, and rather than wait for some modicum of sense to sink it all, I'll just try to put some of the connections out there. First Brian mentions the Bible and takes a pass. He then turns to
Democracy. Where The Vote, a symbol (or symbolic act) of the representative form of democracy has been reduced to its literal level, where the Vote, that act that symbolizes for some the beginning of the democratic process, and a relationship between citizen and representative, is now seen as an end, as though The Campaign is democracy and the rest of it - the making of laws, the debating of issues etc. - has been taken care of, with the Vote, which is now, more than a political action, an abdication of responsibility.

Democracy has been reduced to one second in a booth, and when exported - franchise-style - The Vote becomes the singular self-justifying measure of its success. People have been given a "choice" and they have exercised that "right". But, like walking into a McDonalds and choosing between a Big Mac and a Fillet of Fish, the Act does not necessarily guarantee that you are getting food. Reducing The Vote to its literal level (choice, as opposed to, say, election, the subtle difference being that he that is chosen represents those that voted for him, and that he that is elected represents everyone in the electoral body), more or less wipes out democracy's 2.5 millennia evolution.
Among the synaptic sparks: the reduction of duree, the deliberative process generating its own narrative development (which would include the quest for a representative political leader, along with the wannabe representative's representations about her/his representativeness, the discussions with voting peers vis a vis said representations, the internal processing of same along with the discussions, the impressions, affective states, responses to political ads, spin, off the cuff remarks, party affiliation, social and ethnic quotients, policies, degree of estimated effectiveness of the candidates, hair, humor, impact various taboos that grow daily in size and variety, seeming mental stability and the like, all subjected to algorithmic review by the mental black box hibernating some decision which is destined to be carried not only to the ballot box, but beyond it to the arena in which representational democracy is allegedly carried on), following the narrative arc to its issue, i.e., the vote made flesh, Servant of the Vox populi...

[the reduction of that] to

the single stabbing finger on the touchscreen, collapsing into a single jerk what was, hitherto, the result of "democracy's 2.5 millennia evolution."

Very much what Walter Benjamin saw in his essay on motifs in Baudelaire, who was fascinated with the acts of gaming: the throw of the dice, the laying down of the bet, the mechanical, repetitious act of the gambler whose entire intercourse with fortune has come down to one roll, one slam of the slot, one shot, fired, it must be said, not so much at random, as at the random

death and his diminutives, the clock and the seasons
now mute and powerless to count the ways

Brian continues: Or, something along those lines. When the complexity of the symbol is reduced there is a transference of power. Where there was an opening up, there is a shutting down.

Opening and shutting in the same gesture, the rhythm of the automaton, the assembly line worker making nothing but the same gesture again and again, the whole of human creativity and labor reduced to a one-armed bandit in a Las Vegas toilet.

Brian is talking of the mode of the symbol, and its reduction. The symbol, the prime modality of art and politics, the rich and connotative dimension in which we have synthesized the "subjective" and "objective" worlds, flattened into gestural stutter: vote, void, vuoto. This acceleration of something that once had the luxury of time and development, this compression into a mute, powerless thing to be counted only the way the dead are toted up, listlessly, the mindless thump of Diebold machines
And for those that have a way with the manipulation of symbols and language - an audience of the literally minded is more easily swayed than a pack of children at a Punch and Judy Show.
The symbol reduced becomes a puppet, void of vow, intent, aim. The voiding millions, arms extended, stabbing at names on machines whose results in turn are the puppets of programmers nowhere near these theaters, is the discourse of representational democracy.

Which might be something for the Happy Tutor and Timothy Burke, among others, to ponder as they deliberate upon the fate of rational discourse in the day. It has accelerated. Become another sort of thing. A missile, a gamble, forgetful of its origin and heedless of its end.

As Benjamin noted in this citation from Alain:
The basic principle . . . of gambling . . . consists in this: . . . that each round is independent of the one preceding . . . . Gambling strenuously denies all acquired conditions, all antecedents . . . pointing to previous actions; and that is what distinguishes it from work.
it was the cry of a lone Mallard,
lost from the Mallard Convention,
crossing the busy street without a crosswalk.

[Thanks and apologies to Ray Sweatman for the title of this post & riffs & and getting his name wrong. Sheesh.]


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