Saturday, March 12, 2005

the persistence of soap

Execute this summary: We the People do not want to Form a More Perfect Union. We want to watch one on TV.

This is more about the combinative facility of blogs - as in here and here, but from maybe another angle, helped by some reflections found on Charlotte Street:
if, in order for certain kinds of story to get off the ground you must construct something like a hermetic village, then this also implies that the actual everyday life of contemporary capitalism - characterised by dispersal, atomisation, spectacular 'communities' - is radically incompatible with certain kinds of storytelling and certain story-shaped experiences.
This has to do with hamartia: the way in which our signs wander, err, unrelate to that to which they seem to point. Put another way: We subscribe to master narratives, which, as part of their "mastery," posit the community of us about whom they seem to be. But in fact, there is no such cut-and-dried us, nothing like such a community, except within the narrative. The truth of the representation lies. It lies within the narrative, where it is represented.

Some applications:

1. TV: Sitcoms, soaps, the device-ridden stories (guaranteed to satisfy) used to sell cars and good smelling things on TV. It is shrewd to examine these, because TV genres, while full of echoic modes of recognition, are so helpfully unlike anything in anyone's experience (except for the experience of certain TV characters who feel their lives are not like those on TV).

2. Journalism: Most clearly evident at the local level, in which some town, village, city is posited as being what the news entity (paper, tv, radio news) is about - what it covers. The thing-in-common, now, anthropomorphically "you," "we," "us," covered. Only it's again so riddled with generic narrative strokes that limn the community in ways drawn largely from 19th century fiction, that the reader can only participate by accepting overly broad characterizing hypotheses such as: "half this town consists of born-again used car salesmen." This gets worse, but less experientially obvious, as it rises to the national and international scale.

3. Politics: Within US media, largely a notarized currency of "semantic dead matter." Trained by television reactivism, steeped in journalistic vagaries, the public requires political narratives that are themselves about the exclusion of other narratives. Mr. Bush is the exemplary political speaker for this very reason. The topology of Bushspeak conforms closely to that of Archie Bunker, who would be elected president if he were to run. The moment the presidential mouth opens, the banishment of the dialogic is accomplished. We feel so at one with Mr. Bush because, within his linguistic universe, there is no other. (Except that which is to be extirpated.)
Because the sole office of such phrases is to secure recognition, they are beyond or beneath the level of true /false. Their function is to plug the speaker in to the wiring of the Big Other. (Charlotte Street.)
4. Blogs: More complicated in some ways. There are the blogs that are totally inscribed within the fictions of (1), (2), or (3). These mostly include teens (1) and people who take the news as the master narrative of their world (2), (3). (If you take some fictive genre (the Quest, the Battle of light and darkness, Animal House) as your master narrative, then of course you can rightly say the narrative has truth value - for the world it constitutes for you.)

With blogs, certain de-stabilizings might occur. The "USian Scene" -- the frozen face of impersonal statehood-made-cute that looks exactly the same on televised nightly news, no matter which channel, or which night, or which anchor -- does not rise, intact and monolithic, from reading across diverse clusters of blogs.

Blogs or some other networked mode could help us learn to tolerate fragmentation, openness, uncertainty, modes of incompleteness, deformations of narrative. But that will require reckoning with coercive habits formed by years of schooling in (1), (2) and (3).


Blogger Jon Husband said...

They could, and some other networked mode might, but there's one heck of a lot of unlearning to do, as you've pointed out ... not only that but it's the kind of unlearning that one has to want to engage, and the surround-sense system is structured toi mitigate against that.

long road, horizon very very vague and hazy.

3/12/2005 10:44 AM  
Blogger Brian said...

I think the unlearning is easy. About twenty years ago I switched off TV news. Newspapers as well. Going back I can see how much and how little has changed. In their metapurpose. Of course there's a price. Ignornace. Reading lately, exclusively, on the blogs - with occasional forays onto MSM sites - it's unavoidable - I have found myself increasingly drawn to that which does not fit in. These bits are recombining in my head nightly/daily on some level. Not sure where. I can at this point only best equate it with those deep intimate chats one tends to have with complete strangers when flying or travelling. This sort of reading - reminds me, as yet another aside, of Matin Amis' book The Information, 'where the information comes to you at night' - it causes you to be baffled and unsure, to pursue an evermaturing or developing narrative line. It's a kind of giving up and giving in. Like astral travelling without the wonkiness, or travel, period, without the lineups at customs.

Not only tolerate the fragmentation and openess, Tom, but, for lack of a better word (at this point), celebrate (cringe, forgive me) it, this flaw.

3/12/2005 5:39 PM  
Blogger Jon Husband said...

as you've said, Brian .. seems as if you're getting into linky thinking.

I think it )linky thinking) actually will become interesting, long term ... it's more "naturally" what people do, cognitively ... it's just that the medium wasn't available before .... well, maybe before airplanes and trains and cars, when people didn't move around so much, and lived in one place ... slightly different kinds of links, though.

3/12/2005 8:31 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

The minute you uttered the phrase Jon, it stuck and I was doomed! The mind spidering or the ideas spidering their way into the head, the mind. This linky thinking thing has a bit of leaping in it doesn't it? Like chess pieces. There is structure to the movement, a hovering, a taking out.

Wiping out all learned narrative forms I swear is easy. The unlearning. Giving up the three square meals a day. Giving up control and the need to be controlled - which is symbiotic. It's not just our willingness to have a plan, certitude, and a going forwardness about our endeavours it's a certain sideblindness, a wanton need to ignore that which is laterally connected, that which can change us. The narrative is that we are fully made and we progress according to the itinerary: Chevy, Pontiac, Buick, Cadillac. In order to do so we need the nourishment contained in these templates, briefs, in this narrative arc. Applications 1) 2) & 3). It's almost an applied serendipity this linky thinking thing.

"If you look for things that are like the things that you have looked for before, then, obviously, they'll connect up. But they'll only connect up in an obvious sort of way, which actually isn't, in terms of writing something new, very productive. You have to take heterogeneous materials in order to get your mind to do something that it hasn't done before..."

That I found this morning. I would not have found this without the network. What I find most baffling though, is the often long delayed effect these words, texts - sometimes music, sometimes pictures - have on my mind. There is almost a kinetic time-relased power inherent in these stories - and for me it's usually found in stories, less than theory or opinion, often the most innocent and mundane stories as well, those outside the office of the Big Other - and these will rise in conjunction with each other, like a contrapuntal multisided argument and somewhow make 'sense'. To me. And few others.

And, is this not a very satisfying and enjoyable pursuit? Is there a method to the madness? As we unlearn and release ourselves from these master narratives (only to find new ones) what con we do to develop our facilities, and our memory organ? Or perhaps there's a drug, allowing for the monetization of this alternative recombinative thinking.

3/13/2005 10:55 AM  
Blogger Tom Matrullo said...

Jon, I do think the unlearning is a challenge. Or maybe more than that, since the basic modes of narration are rooted in rhetorical modes at the base of our fewthousand year tradition. But what a Sebaldian leap to himself - to look for unsideblindness and something less trite in narrative, one can do far worse than Austerlitz.

3/13/2005 8:47 PM  
Blogger Jon Husband said...

Sebald's book Austerlitz looks very interesting.

With respect, brian (I hate that phrase "with all due respect", which I don't think can ever be other than condescending, and condescension is sincerely one of the last things I'd ever offer YOU), I understand and agree with your point re: the step of unlearning that involves reducing the input of polluting substances.

What I had going on in my head was (at least in my context) a much deeper form of unlearning ... examining critically, and dissembling if possible (for further inspection) deep belief systems about how one's world works. Based on the one time I met you, and our (for me) very interesting and meaningful conversation, I suspect that you are one of the people I've met in my life who has remained skeptical about much of what we are taught and take in as socialization during the first twenty years or so of our lives ... witness your occasional posts about your son and his experiences with school, for example.

IMO, it's really too bad that more USians don't travel and spend time in other countries and cultures, and it's doubly too bad that the growth of television into an ubiquitous global medium has been increasingly dominated by USian fare and style.

I think the unlearning needs to be deep and sustained, and unfortunately theunconscious socialization many of us North American carry is only aoccasionally pierced by some remarkable book, or a moment in a movie, or some such other experience in interaction with others, and yields a momentary intellectual insight.

Moving that insight into one's belief systems and way of being, feeling it and eventually - somehow- incoporating it into how we live, is usually (I think) a longer and harder process that demands discipline, curiosity and engagement with one's inner life whilst one moves through outer life.

My $.02

3/15/2005 11:34 AM  
Blogger Brian said...

(Hope Tom doesn't mind a couple of snowbords squatting on his patch of beachfront here.)

Well, yes. Okay. Maybe it's not easy, this unlearning, as I was seeing this unlearning as a learning learned in the first twenty years, before the pups become old dogs.

This deep, disciplined curiosity and engagement. My mistake in thinking that everyone has it, to a degree. I know very few people that do not have it. Most of my offline and long-time friends have it. But of course I would generate to those types wouldn't I? Trying to charaterize this type of person, define him? Okay that's hard. But let me try here briefly. This type of person will take details/data presented and with these leap not to a generalization but to an abstraction, will reach not for a conclusion based on facts and conditions but will see in the facts and conditions a Form or structure - none of this negates conclusions and generalzations, it's just different. It's a beginning not an end. In Mr Martullo's words - and I'm probably getting it all wrong here - the truth lies within the narrrative, where it is represented.

3/19/2005 9:34 AM  

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