Medium

“[M]edium proceeds from an older philosophical usage (at the latest since Hegel and Herder) referring to an in-between substance or agency — such as language, writing, thinking, memory — that mediates and constitutes meaning; it resonates no less with esoteric and spiritualist connotations pivoting on an embodied medium’s capacity of communicating with the dead.”

Miriam Hansen, Cinema and Experience (Berkeley: University of California, 2011), 108.

Image taken from University of Chicago website — https://cms.uchicago.edu/news-events/miriam-hansen-memorial-lecture

Why Read Kittler?

Friedrich A. Kittler. Gramaphone, Film, Typewriter. Translated by Geoffrey Winthrop-Young and Michael Wutz. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1999.


The “Translator’s Introduction” (xi-xxxviii) helpfully catalogues (and complicates) media studies in the present, situating Kittler amidst his contemporaries and predecessors. Marshall McLuhan,  Vilém Flusser, Paul Virilio, Arthur Kroker, Jean Baudrillard, and Régis Debray are a few names, as well as Foucault, Adorno, Brecht, Benjamin.  Twentieth-century debates revolving around Marxist claims about use-value are parced as they pertain to media technology (xv) (highlighting the link between ideology and medium). Forays into Lacan beginning around page xvi are baffling and intriguing to me. “Nowadays, Kittler noted disapprovingly, even newspapers regurgitate Lacan’s famous dictum that the unconscious is the discourse of the other, ‘but that this discourse of the other is the discourse of the circuit is cited by no one.'” (xix)

Linguistics and modernism, see page xxvi:

“This alternation between foreground and background, and the corresponding oscillation between sense and nonsense on a basis of medial otherness, a logic of pure differentiality — which on a theoretical level was to emerge in the shape of Saussure’s structural linguistics — typifies the discourse network of 1900. The transcendental signified of Classical and Romantic poets has ceded to the material signifier of modernism.”

Bolz and Lacan — “[…] what Bolz calls a ‘media theory of the unconscious,’ appear as the ‘theory’ or historical effect’ of the possibilities of information processing existent since the beginning of this century.” The translators continue, “Kittler continues to pay sustained attention to the coincidence of psychoanalysis and Edisonian technology, and includes a suggestive discussion of ‘psychanalytic case studies, in spite of their written format, as media technologies’ (89), since they adhere to the new, technological media logic positing that consciousness and memory are mutually exclusive.” (xxviii)

On Nietzsche, Kittler, and “brackets” — pg xxix-xxx

“Building upon Benger, Jochen Schulte-Sasse has for one taken Kittler to task for conflating the history of communication technologies with the history of warfare while ignoring the network of enabling conditions responsible for breakthroughs in technological innovations.” (xxxvi)

Reactionary postmodernism; technological progress and fascism, see page xxxvii


“Gramophone”

But first, a quote from the 1985 preface:

“[…] number series, blueprints, and diagrams never turn back into writing, only into machines.” (xl)

-Transposing understanding of human consciousness upon technological apparati, and Guyau, pg 33 — Writes Kittler, “Phonographs do not think, therefore they are possible.”

-“A brain physiology that followed Broca and Wernicke’s subdivision of discourse into numerous subroutines and located speaking, hearing, writing, and reading in various parts of the brain (because it exclusively focused on the states of specifiable material particles) had to model itself on the phonograph –– and insight anticipated by Guyau.” (38)

-Quote from Rudolph Lothar’s The Talking Machine: A Technical-Aesthetic Essay (1924): “But the capacity for illusion that enables use to ignore boxes and interference and furnishes tones with a visible background requires musical sensitivity. This is the most important point of phonographic aesthetics: The talking machine can only grant artistic satisfaction to musical people. For only musicians possess the capacity for illusion necessary for every enjoyment of art.” (46)

-Quoting Rilke, in regards to Turing and Churchill, a division of “‘the one order of sense experience from the other.'” More on WWII around this area, too. (49)

-Machines and magic; philosophy becoming “delirious,” pg 77.

-In relation to kooky story about Goethe’s larynx, “And once Pschorr has train wheels ‘defeat his victorious rival, Goethe’s larynx,’ the engineer has finally beaten the author.” (78)

-Poetry as archival technology. (80)

-“Lowbrow and highbrow culture, professional technology and professional poetry: the founding age of modern media left us with those two options. Wildenbruch’s third way was eliminated. ‘So listen to the sound of what I declare, and Ernst von Wildenbruch’s soul will be laid bare,’ the imperial state poet rhymed, as if one could simultaneously speak into technological machines and claim an immortal name. From sound back to poem, from poem back to soul–that is the impossible desire to reduce the real (the physiology of a voice) to the symbolic, and the symbolic (an articulated speech) to the imaginary. The wheel of media technology cannot be turned back to retrieve the soul, the imaginary of all Classic-Romantic poetry.” (82-83)

-“Freud introduces his ‘Fragment of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria’ with the audacious avowal that his written ‘record’ of hysterical speeches has a ‘high degree of trustworthiness,’ though it is ‘not absolutely — phonographically — exact.'” (89) In this same vein: “The psychoanalyst’s love of non-sensical speeches has no written or cryptographic equivalent. As if well known, only printed works of literature, not illegible commonplaces, solicit interpretations.” (92)

-What is “n+1″? (pg 111)


More synthesis ought to proceed these ear-marks, but one thing I can say off the cuff is that Kittler’s work has allowed me to consider the how the connection between aesthetics and representation also necessitate considerations of media (and medium); I find his excavations of the historical and material rooting of these links to be mostly delightful and aphoristic, and to appropriately explore literary and historical canons to serve as demonstrations of his arguments.

Attempting to Translate “The Mass Ornament” (TBC)

Siegfried Kracauer. “The Mass Ornament.” In Mass Ornament: Weimar Essays. Translated by Thomas Y. Levin. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995, 74-86.

An excavation which proceeds sectionally, as does Kracauer:

1.

In the first paragraph of this essay, Kracauer sets his readers up for the analysis of popular culture that is to follow, kneading us into a receptive mode through which we might grasp the significance of studying synchronized dancers:

The position that an epoch occupies in the historical process can be determined more strikingly from an analysis of its inconspicuous surface-level expressions than from that epoch’s judgments about itself. Since these judgments are expressions of the tendencies of a particular era, they do not offer conclusive testimony about its overall constitution. The surface-level expressions, however, by virtue of their unconscious nature, provide unmediated access to the fundamental substance of the state of things. Conversely, knowledge of this state of things depends on the interpretation of these surface-level expressions. The fundamental substance of an epoch and its unheeded impulses illuminate each other reciprocally. (75)

Earlier in the spring I stopped after this mysterious first paragraph, wondering how I might apply Kracauer’s explanation of “reading the surface” to my own continuing curiosities about a domain of popular culture which, by its own declaration, pertains more to health and fitness than it does to passive entertainment. Already a few questions emerge here: what does it mean for an expression to be inconspicuous — is it by definition what we are so accustomed to that we overlook its meaning? How useful is the translation of marginalia to decipher the moment when it seems possible that only retrospectively can we decipher its era, when inevitably our own judgments interfere with our ability to discern such relevancy in fringe or frivolous expressions of culture? Continue reading “Attempting to Translate “The Mass Ornament” (TBC)”

“My New Roots”

Sarah Britton. My New Roots. New York: Clarkson Potter Publishers, 2015.

A highly-stylized and comprehensive presentation of a synthesis between slightly contradictory tendencies of veganism and the ancestral diet, carried through tales of local-food celebration with a slight nod to grain-free cuisine and its creative applications of chia seeds.

A design-school graduate-cum-holistic health coach re-locates from New York City to Coppenhagen and finds work at a vegetarian restaurant upon discovery that her American nutrition certificate will not get her a job in Denmark. With continued blogging about her creative successes in the kitchen, “requests for cooking classes and lectures started pouring in.” (7-8) Of the tendency which suggests eating healthy, whole foods is a sure-fire way towards health, as she states an inspiring anathema for health calibrated by the pleasure of eating wholesome and carefully-constructed foods: “I get many emails from readers asking for the nutritional breakdown of my recipes, and I can happily tell them that it doesn’t matter because every one of those calories is good for them. Health is the natural consequence of using whole foods, organic ingredients, and conscious cooking techniques. What you eat becomes something to celebrate, instead of something to scrutinize. For me that means abandoning diets and embracing this way of eating as a lifestyle, because that is exactly what it is. It is quite simply the most liberating way of eating and living.” (11) This expression of the incidental nature of eating well is respectably inclusive, though subject to the foibles of false claims of ideological neutrality. “It’s not about what the food is or isn’t. The bottom line is, it’s delicious and it just so happens to be good for you.” (11)

Continue reading ““My New Roots””

“Grain Brain”

David Perlmutter. Grain Brain. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2013.

When it comes to books about health, sometimes I am already repulsed upon reading the brief author bio in the jacket flap: too successful is this Floridian, president of an eponymous “Brain Foundation.” I have not too much to say about it except that its division into chapters (and narration style) bears strong resemblance to Wheat Belly. Are they diametric twins, addressing audiences who are more concerned for either brain or belly? I’m not sure.

A few notes: Perlmutter is a fan of fasting (182). Also host of anecdotes about business-type patients (a stockbroker on page 205 for example).

A sample of what a day might look like, to be found on page 240:

Wake up, walk the dog: 6:30 a.m.

Breakfast: 7:00 a.m.

Snack: 10:00 a.m.

Bagged lunch: 12:30

After-lunch walk for twenty minutes: 1:00 p.m.

Snack: 4:00 p.m.

Gym: 5:45 p.m.

Dinner: 7:00 p.m.

Walk the dog: 7:30 p.m.

Lights out: 10:30 p.m.

(pg 240)

I am interested in exploring how this genre of lifestyle advice books crafts schedules around these blank places in the day; the pleasure and necessary appeal of moments of self-care stand out as signature points in the day. This is something of a given considering the nature of the subject matter, but it seems relevant to explore as the behind-the-scenes motivator/explanation for the surge in popularity of these volumes.

Boredom, the Supernatural, and the Pursuit of Redemption

~~THE GHOST IN THE MACHINE, ETC~~

March 2015

Cover #4

From January til March 2015, I metabolized research on supernatural beliefs in relation to mental illness, malaise, health food fads, subculture, colonization, herbalism, and also art history into weekly crystallizations of questions, poetry, and drawings. What follows are the results of that experimentation. Some are more closed than others. Make it a treasure hunt for signs of herb school, Thierry de Duve, Walter Benjamin, Sianne Ngai, Marx, and the Paleo diet. In other words, how closely does the fetishization of commodities mirror the sacralization of “magical cures” and what healing power do aesthetic objects hold over us? These are some questions that pop up. Most of what I have to show here is from a not-yet-fully-digested stage (which I guess is the step before shit); there might be something important about these articulations in which the inter-related nature of disorganized material has not yet been stripped of its complexity via a concise synthesis, or at least that’s the wager. Here they are found in ascending order.

Ghost in the Machine #1

Ghost in the Machine #2

Ghost in the Machine #3

Ghost in the Machine #4

Ghost in the Machine #5

Ghost in the Machine #6

Extirpation

Aesthetics and Politics (Verso, 2007): Expressionism

Adorno, Theodor, et. al. Aesthetics and Politics. London, New York: Verso, 2007.


 

Presentation I: Bloch Against Lukács

“The pivotal issue of the exchange – the relationship between Expressionist art and social reality – is not easily arbitrated. [Ernst] Bloch’s defense of Expressionism avoided direct confrontation with the aesthetic premisses of [Georg] Lukács’s attack. Circumventing his opponent’s assumption that the proper function of art was to portray objective reality, in organic and concrete works from which all heterogeneous material, and especially conceptual statement, was excluded, Bloch chose instead to insist on the historical authenticity of the experience that underlay Expressionism. It was thus left open to Lukács simply to remind him that the subjective impression of fragmentation was theoretically groundless, and to conclude that Expressionism, as an art that typically misrepresentated the real nature of the social whole, was invalid. The effect of Bloch’s démarche was to distract Lukács’s attention, and his own, from one of the most crucial issues in the exchange between them. Driven by the ‘impressionistic’ character of Bloch’s defence to emphasize the unity of the social whole, Lukács failed to register its essential point: that this unity was irreducibly contradictory. In this way, an opportunity to debate the problems of the artistic presentation of contradiction – the absent context of Bloch’s remarks on montage, and a stubborn crux in Lukács’s realist aesthetics – was missed.”

(“Presentation One,” 14)


 

First essay in this compilation is an essay by Bloch (1932, subsequently re-published with slight modifications in 1962), translated by Rodney Livingstone.

Close to the heart of this argument between Bloch and Lukács seem to be deliberations about populism in art. At worse, did the idealism and/or emphatic subjectivism of Expressionism facilitate the solvency of Fascism in the era in which this debate occurred? With a less sinister edge, was its emotionalism bourgeois, and thus responsible for perpetuating art forms which are increasingly irrelevant to broader culture?

Tracing historical contention around the significance of Expressionism, Bloch references figures unfamiliar to me, which may be relevant to my own interest in aesthetics (for example, arguments about Antiquity and classical art – Ziegler, Winckelmann, on pages 25-26). An extrapolation of Bloch’s defense of Expressionism might be something of a broader defense against fundamentalism in aesthetics, refuting “Permanent Neo-classicism” and the censorship that is inevitably placed upon artistic experiments when they are given the mandate of carrying on the classical lineage of art as such (20). Questions about the role of art, and the need for propaganda, are raised here by Bloch (20-21). One particularly pithy, and sarcastic, passage: “The result [of such Neo-classicism] is that there can be no such thing as an avant-garde within late capitalist society; anticipatory movements in the superstructure are disqualified from possessing any truth. That is the logic of an approach which paints everything in black and white – one hardly likely to do justice to reality, indeed even to answer the needs of propaganda. What are the Marxist presumptions of this argument (perhaps regarding the role of the work of art towards a revolutionary movement) which are more and less meaningful to my own excavation of the role of art (and aesthetics) in the present?

See pages 25-27 for a brief foray into kitsch and historical debates about popular art. (Bloch defends Expressionism against allegations of elitism, citing folk art that served as inspirational.)

 

Chris Kresser

Who is Chris Kresser? According to the preface of his 2013 book Your Personal Paleo Code (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2013), he is someone who has been deeply moved by his own experience with “serious, disabling health problems that modern medicine seemed to have no solution for.” (x) This personal tribulation led him to seek out “science, wisdom, and trial and error to health himself, and due to that experience, he decided to pursue integrative medicine.” (x) His articulations are to be found on his highly successful website,  and he has a “thriving” private practice. One cannot visit his website without passing through several layers of pop-up invitations to join his list-serv (and receive in one’s email inbox paleo recipes tailored to you).

Your Personal Paleo Code is dedicated to “all who struggle with chronic illness: may this book be a catalyst for healing and self-discovery.”

Its sub-title is “The 3-Step Plan to Lose Weight, Reverse Disease, and Stay Fit and Healthy for Life.”

Who are the clients who fill the rosters at Chris’ private practice? Based upon his in-text anecdotes, often they seem to be people who are at the brink of frustration with the lack of total results they see from their already dialed-in habits.

One example, from Your Personal Paleo Code (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2013):

“Jen, twenty-eight, came to see me complaining of difficulty reaching her target weight. She had started a Paleo diet nine months prior to our visit, and she lost twenty-five pounds — almost all of the thirty pounds she wanted to lose — over the first five months. But no matter what dietary modifications she made, Jen couldn’t lose those final five pounds. ‘It’s so frustrating,’ Jen told me. ‘I’m eating perfectly and exercising every day, but nothing changes. I’m completely stuck.”

I reviewed Jen’s case history, and I noticed she had a habit of staying up until midnight or later. She often used her laptop or iPad at night to check e-mail or chat with her friends on Facebook. She woke up frequently through the night and sometimes had trouble falling back asleep. And though she was often in bed for eight hours, she woke up feeling unrefreshed. I suggested to Jen that inadequate sleep and too much exposure to artificial light at night might be disrupting her metabolism and preventing her from losing those last five pounds. I suggested she try:

  • Getting to bed by ten or ten thirty each night
  • Stopping electronic media use at least two (and preferably three) hours before bedtime
  • Wearing orange glasses that filter out melatonin-suppressing blue light after dark (see below for more on this)
  • Making her sleep environment pitch-dark, cool, quiet, and free of electronic devices (Jen had a habit of leaving her phone on the nightstand)
  • Getting exposure to natural light first thing in the morning by taking a fifteen- to twenty-minute walk outside

After making these simple changes, Jen found the quality of her sleep improved dramatically, and she was finally able to lose those last five pounds. ‘I have so much more energy when I wake up,’ she reported, ‘and I feel much calmer throughout the day. But the best part is that I don’t feel hungry all the time anymore, and I’ve lost the extra weight without even trying.'” (231)

Connections between healthy habits (often with a veneer of “naturalism”) and the ability to maintain as low a weight as possible are frequently made in this book, and often are the first clause of a list which trails ailments which fit more readily into the category of “chronic disease”: how sleep disruption is a metabolic stressor (230, 231), how stress leads to weight gain (244-245))

Despite an emphasis on simulating the healthful conditions of our paleolithic ancestors, Kresser’s advice is well-suited for those whose lifestyle modifications are likely to be accompanied by purchases of various kinds, be it a change in grocery shopping habits or neat little tools for amping up one’s office strength training routine: “The idea is for you to integrate short bursts of physical activity throughout your day. You might, for example, do three sets of push-ups, three sets of pull-ups, and three sets of lunges interspersed with periods of sitting or standing at your desk (or walking at it, if you have a treadmill desk).” Toys suggested: push-up handles, pull-up bar, PowerBlocks, Abdominal wheel, weight bench. (218) That these health suggestions are accompanied by the suggestions of objects are financially inaccessible to many seems to only reflect that Kresser’s genre of advice is tailored to a crowd whose lives follow the rhythms of capitalism yet who expect that this should not interfere with their health, and whose participation in the marketplace is one that affords them the ability to purchase such tokens of health. Part of Kresser’s success undoubtably has to do with how organized his website is. It is something of a clearing-house of alternative health information, in the Paleo vein. Without much scouring, one can easily access articles on hot topics of health; the ambiguity of scientific studies cited is compensated for with the authoritative (and aestheticized) arrangement of the data. Does this adaptation of integrative health advice, formerly fringe, belie more profit-driven intentions on the part of Kresser? In what ways does this tailoring of advice to a more affluent (or health-fixated) crowd — those who unabashedly embrace the imposition of work upon their lives — define this way of addressing the body?

I’m thinking about the ways in which readers whose class backgrounds might differ from the clients whose success stories Kresser cites get caught in the net of performative paranoia, as they seek out remedies to the chronic diseases which are nested in with all the other bodily ills he speaks of. It seems as though the ways in which his health advice center so thoroughly on weight loss that they are not, in fact, suited to those readers who seek out remedies to the chronic diseases. Perhaps this is to say that Kresser, as a phenomena, is less of a health revolution so much as a progression of the market that stokes fearfulness of bodily uncertainty and malaise in exchange for profit, albeit with more successful results. Is this intrinsic to the pursuit of health which revolves around the mediation of information and data?

Kresser capitalizes on more and less legitimate health concerns related to lifestyle, speaking to fringe health fanatics while still presenting as authoritative and trust-worthy to those less inclined to such fanaticism. Often positions himself to re-mediate health-obsession and paranoia, publishing articles on the dangers of over-exercising and excessive carbohydrate restriction, while still very much appealing to a cultural urge to deduce the benefit or risk of habit down to the microscopic level with an eye towards optimizing the body’s performativity. He writes in a colloquial, personable manner while citing scientific studies, and leaves plenty of room for scientific ambiguity.

One perfect example of the ways in which paranoia about product composition (environmental contamination in the lining of the can, or nameable diagnoses with compact acronyms which restrict one from certain types of products — “fructose malabsorption,” or FM for short) gets routed towards purchase of safer products:

Coconut Milk Article

(“Recent research has also tied fructose malabsorption to depression.”)

One more note on the topic of Kresser — but one reflection of the “branding” of a certain way of eating. With this trend more broadly, a diet that is simple, and perhaps the epitome of agrarianism (rather than of the Paleolithic) becomes a token of cosmopolitian identity; opting out of certain kinds of foods, rather than a removal of aspects of self, become ways to put on an alternate identity.