Here is a slightly patronizing way of summarizing the methodology of Slovenian philosopher, Slavoj Zizek; address a relevant social issue (such as vioHere is a slightly patronizing way of summarizing the methodology of Slovenian philosopher, Slavoj Zizek; address a relevant social issue (such as violence) and certain ideological perspectives that have been applied to it, cut and paste seemingly disparate examples of high and low culture arbitrarily throughout the text, draw reaching connections between the two, and hopefully attempt to arrive at an intelligible conclusion or thesis. This became apparent during my reading of Violence, part of Picador's BIG IDEA'S/small books series and what is, more or less, Zizek's most accessible work to date.
It starts out with the relatively lucid premise or distinction of three types of violence; subjective (clearly identifiable, direct), symbolic (language or forms of), and systemic (objective; political and economic). After the groundwork is laid out for this commentary on violence, Zizek then starts in on his typical fugue-like series of a variety of subchapters. In each of these, he'll be bringing up a good deal of Lacan, Hegel, and Marx. Approaching surface-level, logical assessments of violence with paradoxical and ironic reasoning, Zizek rambles on about subjects such as the Paris riots of 2005, Bill Gates and subversive entrepreneurship, torture, religious fundamentalism, atheism, and Benjamin's concept of Divine Violence.
I'm not even going to attempt to paraphrase the respective chapters of Violence, and I'll take the deserved criticism for my own lazy criticism here. However, I must say that I do this out of a dismissive attitude toward Zizek's writing style. He is like a kid in the candy store of cultural theory; too excited by the endless possibility of example and analogy at hand to really make a focused point. One second he is criticizing Sam Harris and his controversial, but rational, opinions on political torture, then he suddenly makes the transition into the "Judeo-Christian-Freudian" (ugh) weight of the concept of the Lacanian notion of the Neighbor and the significance of the physical distance and proximity of this Neighbor (the Other being tortured) to the level of ease with which one is able to torture. Granted, he is still following Harris (sort of), but his "point" here is so utterly bloated, and the ones that follow are even more digressive and trivial.
The man basically needs to stick to public lectures and debates, and even those can be interminable. Maybe I'm not even making the greatest point about what is wrong with his writing, but at around page 170, I was about to throw this book against the wall. He's good for an occasional, cultural-studies-type joke, but as I've said before, the man is a completely shallow thinker. ...more
This was basically one of your average bargain theory books. At this point anything that hasn't been reprinted since 1970 probably doesn't serve as aThis was basically one of your average bargain theory books. At this point anything that hasn't been reprinted since 1970 probably doesn't serve as a great introduction to whatever subject matter it is covering. But...what the hell, it was a quick read and it contained some decent essays. I particularly enjoyed the essay on Merleau-Ponty, a thinker who, when one reads about, subsequently finds it irresistible to put off reading any longer. A selection from Claude Levi-Strauss's the Raw and the Cooked serves as the most clever editing decision. Also, a shining example of how structuralism is the sort of theoretical discipline that can, nay, is intended to be utilized across a broad spectrum of subject matter. He is another author that I cannot wait to read. Even the excerpt from the Insistence of the Letter in the Unconscious was a perfectly lucid example of Lacan (because I've never noticed him to be).
The second half drags a lot, and this is probably because it contains most of the Structuralist lit-criticism stuff. The structural symmetry of Corneille's Cinna is analyzed through the use of various diagrams displaying how the plot, combined with character motivation can work in a cyclical way, thus making the actions of each character sort of universally the same. Aside from this, there is also an essay concerning Baudelaire, poetic structure, and a whole lot of semantics. The obvious problem that I found with the last two is that both writers seem to assume that the average reader of this collection of essays on the subject of Structuralism has a comprehensive understanding of French syntax (which I certainly do not (would like to though)). The very last essay was actually sort of funny. Basically, a group of anthropologist martians kidnap a harlequin (?, I know right). In order to gain a more sufficient understanding of human life they ask her what the difference between literature and books is. Not a bad approach, but far from subtle. She replies in true linguistic structuralist fashion, describing the elements or aspects of literature that books have that might make them literature, as well aspects of the book that might make it an example of literature. It's similar to a grade school teacher attempting to teach their students about Marxism using elementary math and examples of apples and oranges.
I'm not even sure why I read this thing. It's obviously dated, the spine broke in half almost immediately upon finishing it, and I spent most of my time half-interestedly reading it while sitting on a bar stool (which in a major way accounts for my vague recollections here). I don't know. Read it? Don't read it? Who cares.
Michel Foucault (a thinker who personally rejected both the postmodernist and poststructuralist labels commonly attached to his writings) was once askMichel Foucault (a thinker who personally rejected both the postmodernist and poststructuralist labels commonly attached to his writings) was once asked "what is postmodernism?" Sure enough, he answered that somewhat silly question with yet another regressive sort of question. He said that before we begin to concern ourselves with the question of what is meant by postmodernity, we need to adequately understand exactly what was meant by the classification of modernity, that cultural specter that continues to haunt most contemporary theory. It's a simple enough idea, not to mention logical. Regardless of what words, symbols, or labels we use to identify historical movements, it is important to be aware of certain historical movements as cultural conditions, ones that influence art, economics, social life, and politics. More importantly, we should be able to describe the characteristic features of these rather unique movements. The problem is that postmodernism has the reputation of being to contemporary theory what the Kantian antinomy is to western philosophy; which more or less means that people tend to view it as an evasive style of thinking that skeptically deconstructs itself on purpose. While that idea is somewhat postmodern in itself, it isn't necessarily true. Fredric Jameson, a thinker who was one of the foremost pioneers of postmodern theory, makes it clear (for the most part) that it isn't all bullshit, but that it still sounds like it.
The Cultural Turn is a collection of Jameson's most popular essays on the subject of postmodernism (connecting the most eclectic array of subjects and examples; architecture, television, film, painting, Marxism, Hegelianism, urban planning, literature, etc.). The book almost functions as a light introduction to his rather daunting masterpiece, Postmodernism, or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, a text that I've heard fucking horror stories about. The first two essays (Postmodernism and Consumer Society, and Theories of the Postmodern) stand out as the most lucid and readable. They also contain most of his explanation of the transition from modernism to postmodernism, the most notable aspect of this being Jameson's notion of the "death of the subject", by which he means that the struggling "individual" of the traditional modernist piece of art becomes replaced by the object against which, or within which they are struggling. Thomas Pynchon describes this pretty well in his introduction in Slow Learner when he says, "Somewhere I had come up with the notion that one's personal life had nothing to do with fiction...". Of course he follows with, "...when the truth, as everyone knows, is directly the opposite". It shows though because the characters in Pynchon's novels may resemble him autobiographically (honestly, who knows?), but their respective struggles seem to mirror something more powerful and profound than individualistic, existential despair. Pastiche is also important to Jameson, being what he calls the most common example of postmodern, artistic expression. He distinguishes it from parody because he feels that pastiche does not mock or satirize the original, but replicates it to the point where the pastiche becomes a creation unto itself. Through the replicative work of art we find an originality that is inevitable. This was a technique that William Gaddis used in the Recognitions several times. Especially in the way the main character Wyatt Gwyon creates faithful replicas of Flemish masterpieces that are such accurate reproductions that they almost look better than the originals.
In the chapter entitled Antinomies of Postmodernism, Jameson goes on at length about the way in which perpetual change becomes cyclical through its attachment to fashion and media change. This is something that Jameson refers to as a temporal paradox; absolute change equals stasis. I think that this, to some degree, explains the nature of the cliches about postmodern theory. Naturally, most people have a problem with negativist deconstruction in the sense that it makes everything seem fucking impossible. The postmodern buzzword entropy comes up, and everyone rolls their eyes in reaction to a thought process that seems to arrive at no functional conclusion. Not that I don't find that to be a reasonable response. I simply think that this particular version of stasis makes sense in a culture so saturated with closed systems, simulacra, and revisions of revisions. It all does seem somewhat cyclical.
Transformation of the Image was the one essay that I almost found completely unreadable. I remember something about Debord's image-driven spectacle being synthesized with phenomenology and aesthetics in an attempt to explain the commodity fetishism of the image in popular culture. See! Even my explanation doesn't make that much sense (or any). Along with the End of Art History (in which Jameson goes on and on, utilizing Hegelian dialectics to come to some crazy-ass anti-conclusion that I hardly understood as an intelligeble idea), and the Brick and the Balloon, the essays that close out the book are the most trying. Honestly, Jameson's writing can occasionally make Derrida seem lucid in comparison. Culture and Finance Capital was a piece that I found prescient and profound enough. I like the idea that capital as a concept in late capitalist markets has become a paper or symbolic abstraction. Therefore, even Marxian concepts such as use-value and commodity fetishism become blurry ideas. To an extent, money itself has become a commodity, etc.
All in all, these essays were engaging enough. Jameson demands a lot of attention though. And his writing style is just so fucking convoluted. He seems to be taking his cue from the Frankfurt School, and is obviously a stalwart admirer of Theodor Adorno, whose influence permeates this collection of writings. For anyone interested in Marxist critical theory in this particular vein, I might suggest reading Zizek or Eagleton instead. I find both of them far more comprehensible than Jameson....more
The unavoidable influence of Walter Benjamin's essay "Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" is openly admitted at the end of chapter threThe unavoidable influence of Walter Benjamin's essay "Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" is openly admitted at the end of chapter three entitled "Self-Portraits".
"Walter Benjamin, a theorist who for some readers must have been lurking behind each of these pages, did not say it best when he said that through replication the original has lost its aura...What withers in the age of mechanical reproduction is not the aura, the Happen-Stance, of works of art but the assurance of our own liveliness".
Having read Benjamin's fabulous essay, after reading the works of William Gaddis, another man who had a sort of lifelong obsession with artistic authenticity and the paradoxical effects that industrial reproduction has had on it, I felt compelled to read a more updated account of this ceaselessly fascinating cultural concept. The question obviously is; does Culture of the Copy offer any new insights? Well, yes and no.
For starters, Schwartz's book reads like a lot of contemporary cultural studies texts in that it can do one of two things as an academic discipline; offer theoretical connections of some of the most trivial aspects of culture, or make an overriding theory concerning some of the most trivial aspects of culture seem even more trivial than its relative examples. This sounds confusing, but I believe that it is intended to be to some extent. Schwartz seems to do a little of both here. Culture of the Copy is divided into about eight chapters, seven of which have their specific category of reproduction. Vanishing Twins, deals with actual biological copies. After this, they seem to biologically descend into more synthetic non-human examples of copy. What follows is an encyclopedic account of reproduction; daggeurotypes, mimeographs, film, photography, parrots and monkeys (apparently metaphors for our second nature), prosthetic limbs, theatre, camoflage, virtual reality, war simulation, etc. You get the idea. There is very little in the way of historical anecdote/example that Schwartz leaves out.
Of course, this vast scope, coupled with almost psychotic erudition was, ironically enough, what made this book seem like large pile of unrealized potential. Scwartz's ideas are intriguing, and he is ultimately making a point here. It's just that reading Culture of the Copy can seem forgetable due to the fact that the occasional theoretical commentary that he offers is consistently inundated by anecdote after anecdote (the bibliographical references top out at around 180 pages!). It's an impressive range of supporting references, but it seems like he just didn't want to edit out anything inessential here. Then again, thinking about that makes me think twice, I mean isn't this endless cutting and pasting of information, in itself, an example of the Culture of the Copy? Is Schwartz's book essentially mimicking it's own subject matter through its structural aura? Well, even if it is, I find it mildly annoying. This sort of postmodern trickery just doesn't make for a focused study. As historical sketch, it functions a little more efficiently, which is why Schwartz should have avoided offering too much commentary. He certainly should have avoided refuting Benjamin's ideas. It just sounds embarassing. It hardly even makes much sense because he almost seems to agree that when people desperately strive to remain close to the essence of a work of art by reproducing it, they become distanced from the uniqueness of a reproduction. Benjamin clearly states that time and space influence originals and copies to the point where they are almost just as unique as each other. Schwartz claims that we should be wholly aware of these cultural metaphors. So, in a way his study of reproduction is just an elaboration of Benjamin's idea.
I hate to think that I'm just being obtuse here, and essentially not reading in between the lines. However, on the last page Schwartz seem to reassure me that I was not alone in thinking that his book was a rather drawn out series of contradictory theorizing
"This book has never been intended for the congregation of either/or. It is rather for the congregation of and/also, and it bristles with contradiction".
Ok. So this basically permits you to write an aimless study? There just isn't any closing argument here. It seems like a book that he should have never stopped writing, and very well could have if he wanted to.
For any reader with an interest in the theme of copy/reproduction, I suggest Benjamin's essay, or even the Recognitions by Gaddis. This book will frustrate to no end.