Archive for the ‘medium’ Category

Our Lady of the Tombs

May 18, 2008

Nothomb‘s novel Acide Sulfurique is trying hard to be as close as possible to abstraction, leaving almost any concrete description of events behind the curtain. The reader’s imagination is not supposed to complete the missing parts, for the abstraction is the essence here, a skeleton to be perceived and experienced in its bear form.

The story is, therefore, deliberately simple: a reality show named “Concentration”, representing a Nazi concentration camp. The Kapos are elected in an American Idol style of filtering, while the prisoners are randomly abducted from the streets. From this point on it’s a chain of almost pure concepts: animals’ wagons stuffed with people of all ages; numbers tattooed on the prisoners’ hands; dehumanization; starvation; rape; death. Added to these concepts are omni-present cameras that capture every possible audio-visual signals. Materials are edited, and then there’s the daily night show. In the society of the spectacle the rating is great, but when it starts to stagnate “interactivity” is introduced into the show, the audience being asked to participate in the daily “death selections” (performed so far by the Kapos) by means of sending SMSes with the prisoners’ alpha-numeric IDs whose life are to be taken. Remind you – anything in this camp, on this show, is real.

And although intuition warns that this kind of book is about to fall into the banality trap, the opposite happens. Because no description – but the evocation of the above concepts – is provided, banality is avoided. Moreover, the fact that the book is mainly structure, allows Nothomb to introduce a surprisingly powerful technique – an effectively shocking one – which turns you, the reader, into as hideous collaborator as those disgusting-yet-all-human audience of the concentration show.

Our lady of the tombs gives you, reader, a choice: you can restore your human simulacra by closing the book and not reading it further, the equivalent of shutting down the TV set. Or you could keep on reading and see yourself turning, in real-time, into a disgusting voyeur of a hideous reality. And as she’s aware of the weakness of the human nature, she gives not one but two chances for redemption.

Personally, I obeyed the 2nd call, closed the book and intended to not reading it further. Personally, I failed, the cheap curiosity taking over my previous act of honor. Just like anyone else in Nothomb’s book, I couldn’t resist watching.

Rest some of the questions raised by the form:

Can this really happen? (Of course it can – it already did!)

Yes, but can it really happen today? Well, ask yourself the following questions:

1. If such a show exist, how many people will watch it? [“unfortunately many will“]
2. In our “participation age”, with all its technological mediums of mass collaboration and of induced transparency – how many will actively participate in the executions by sending SMSes, or by Twittering their candidates for the daily death selections? [Many will. Some others will think about it, but will refrain from actively pushing the voting buttons]

But wait! There’s no need to actively push the buttons any longer! They no longer need your vote; they can do with your twittered thought! All you need is to think the alpha-numeric IDs of your candidates and your thought will be automatically encoded then transmitted into the show’s Twitter channel.

That’s a great solution, for after all even God blames no one for just thinking!

Acide sulfurique (Sulphuric Acid) by Amélie Nothomb

Lyotard: Against Input/Output Philosophy

February 1, 2007

I was listening this morning to a fragmented lecture by JF Lyotard on post-modernism. I liked what I heard, although I’m not convinced that I understood anything. Yet using my right to freely interpret, here is my understanding of this fragment, which elusively explains what’s post-modernism through an observation of what has happened to philosophy and what is the role of story telling in our culture.


Since Kant, Philosophy has gradually lost its status as a meta-science, a science that provides the knowledge-of-the-self for all other sciences, and even – defines all other sciences. From this omniscient perspective, Philosophy has crashed down.

Why did it crash?

Lyotard doesn’t explain, but I could understand, and I might be just as wrong here, that Philosophy crashed because rational, linear discourse is always limited. Plato, Descartes, Spinoza and many others, always got to the point where they needed another medium in order to proceed.

What is this other medium?

Rising up again, the Philosophy returned to what has preceded it and to what has been its subject of negation and fighting for a thousand years – the stories, the legends, the myths. I’m not talking about their content, but rather about their form, the story telling as an explanatory medium.
The story telling, le recit, was that tool used when all other tools have failed. And so, post-Kant continental philosophy has started to develop a new brand of Philosophers, who excelled not [or not only] in mathematics, science and analytics, but rather in… story telling. And stories themselves have been repositioned as containers of philosophical value. And all this is Modernism.

So what is post-modernism?

Clearly, this modern phenomenon met the resistance of the utilitarian philosophers, implicitly labeled by Lyotrard as the Input/Output philosophers who, like any other cost-oriented scientists, are measuring philosophical narratives by their outcome: this is what went in, this is what came out – did we gain something out of it?
Those I/O philosophers, says Lyotard, can find themselves and did find themselves helping out hideous regimes to justify their acts, and its because of that, I think, that Lyotard defines post-modernism as a preference for short stories and limited narratives over never-ending epical narratives, which tend to provide a total framework.

Foucault, audaciously defined his writings as fiction, stating that his books are “experience books, as opposed to truth books or demonstration books”. And in his essay “What is Enlightenment?” he speaks about his preference to short fiction. Naturally, I’m doing an analogy here, but you will be able to see it in the following excerpt:

[…] the historical ontology of ourselves must turn away from all projects that claim to be global or radical. In fact we know from experience that the claim to escape from the system of contemporary reality so as to produce the overall programs of another society, of another way of thinking, another culture, another vision of the world, has led only to the return of the most dangerous traditions

(and see also Questions to which answers are not the right answer)

Methods and Black Squares – The Logo?

January 2, 2007

A proposal.


FoucaultPticon, Draft#1

December 15, 2006

McLuhan Tv set should be inside too.