Alison Ross, Walter Benjamin’s Concept of the Image

This will be fascinating.

Progressive Geographies

Just published – Alison Ross, Walter Benjamin’s Concept of the Image.

9781138811485In this book, Alison Ross engages in a detailed study of Walter Benjamin’s concept of the image, exploring the significant shifts in Benjamin’s approach to the topic over the course of his career. Using Kant’s treatment of the topic of sensuous form in his aesthetics as a comparative reference, Ross argues that Benjamin’s thinking on the image undergoes a major shift between his 1924 essay on ‘Goethe’s Elective Affinities,’ and his work on The Arcades Project from 1927 up until his death in 1940The two periods of Benjamin’s writing share a conception of the image as a potent sensuous force able to provide a frame of existential meaning. In the earlier period this function attracts Benjamin’s critical attention, whereas in the later he mobilises it for revolutionary outcomes. The book gives a critical treatment of the…

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Mark Currie on Memory, story and forgetting

Event: Saturday 15th November at Stroud Valleys Artspace (SVA), as part of my sister-in-law Emily Joy‘s ongoing exhibition Gifts for Mother Mnemosyne

Mark Currie photograph

Mark Currie, Professor of Contemporary Literature, Queen Mary, University of London

Mark Currie spoke about Memory, story and forgetting, drawing on his readings of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s Min Kamp and Bernard Stiegler’s philosophy of technics and time.

I only went along because there was nice food promised, and I’m interested in Stiegler’s ideas of technics and transindividuation. I ended up making a couple of pages of notes and thought I might as well write them up here before the cobwebs become too thick on this blog.

Mark’s talk was fascinating, and just long enough to cover the topic in enough detail to keep the listener interested, without going on too long. There was a generous amount of time for questions and discussion afterwards, and Mark engaged very helpfully with a range of questions on the materiality (or not) of language; mass digital photography; the validity of the idea of a “present moment” and the various parts of the self that may be drawn forth in the writing process.

Mark’s talk was based in part on his works on the philosophy of time and narrative in literature, such as his About Time (Edinburgh University Press, 2006).

Steigler and Knausgaard, memory and writing

Stiegler’s work refers to the delegation of memory to various technologies. In a connected way, Knausgaard’s autobiographical writing exemplifies and problematises the idea of “memory narratives” and raises the question “what is memory?”

Currie used the example of religious confession to illustrate how in the process of writing, the gap between the “narrated” and the “narrator” converges. In confession, there is an initial temporal and moral distance between the “sinner” (narrated) and the confessor (narrator). The confession can only happen once the confessor has achieved some distance from the version of themself that committed the sin. The distance cannot be too great, as there must be continuity of identity for the confession to have any validity. Yet as the story catches up with the narrator, this distance narrows, and there is a transformation, and an assimilation of the prior self into the current self. This assimilation is part renunciation of the past; part reconciliation.

About Time cover image

About Time (Edinburgh University Press, 2006)

Knausgaard’s writing explores the tension between fiction and truth. His work is full of ‘memory failure’, where he regularly admits he “cannot remember anything” about his childhood. This connects to one of Stiegler’s central themes in exploring memory: retentional finitude. Currie explained this as “you can’t remember everything”, though assured us it was a bit more complicated than that. Writing is clearly an example of a memory technology, a grammatisation of memory. Other examples might be photography or sculpture or rituals of sociality or of individuation. In Husserl’s phenomenology – this was new to me – the concept of retention refers to the aspect of present experience that is oriented towards the past (protention, towards the future). The Kantian concept of finitude applied to the idea of retention implies that we don’t have any direct access to the past, but only access to it mediated via the retentional aspect of our present experience, and this gap between the past “in itself” and our memory of it is therefore always a mediated, technologised one. Technologies are the bridges over the gap, but we can never go back across the bridge. These are notoriously unreliable bridges.

Stiegler posits that memory is constructed via originary exteriorisation; memories are not ever held in our minds in a pure, untechnologised state, but are only possible via exteriorisation. As any writer knows, and as Knausgaard makes explicit, the exteriorising technology of the writing process make remembering possible, gives it enough materiality to become an object one can work with; creatively producing memory. As Latour would suggest, it is only through forming alliances that memories – like Pasteur’s microbes – become real enough to work with. They are not isolated objects, but networked ones.

The elimination of delay, and the industrial production of the present as memory

Re-imagining Pluto picture

Currie then moved on to talk about the inseparability of memory and imagination, drawing on Paul Ricoeur. While memory might be seen to be focused on a real past (in the retrospective, Epimethean mode), and thus distinguishable from imagination (focused on a non-real or counterfactual past or future), Currie claims they are inseparable, an aporia – a contradiction which we cannot disentangle.

Stiegler’s idea of the ‘elimination of delay’ is intended to describe how industrial technologies such as digital photography make possible the instantaneous production of memorial artefacts, thus enabling the past to be always with us. Yet it seems to me that it is the very disposable, minimal-value, ubiquity of most digital photos – I mean snaps, not works of art – that makes them so forgettable. We have thousands of them stored on hard drives, yet who bothers to look back, to go through the archives, to enjoy the experience of the compression of temporal distance, that photography was supposed to give us? A century or more ago when photographs were rare, their value meant they were much more likely to be remain part of the delay-eliminated, phenomenological present than the instantly obsolete modern-day snap.

When we* stream our lives hour by hour on facebook, instagram and twitter, are we doing so in order to create some kind of record of the day for an imagined future observer? For Currie, drawing on Henri Bergson’s concept of the “memory of the present”, we create our sense of consciousness by projecting forward a future self, imagining it looking back at the present moment. An “envisaged memory”. The self-observed self is spatially (“over there”) and temporally (“back then”) distant; in the former case, the mirror is the relevant metaphor, in the latter, memory is the modality we are working with. Currie claims that there is a convergence here, in the tendency of our spatial, “mirror-like” mode of self-consciousness to become memory-like, and our temporal, memorial self-consciousness to become mirror-like.

Knausgaard explores this, as he wonders, in repetitive temporally separated passages about what is seen in the mirror, about his uncertainty of memory and experience. “What is it that has engraved itself in my face?” … “What is it that has etched itself into you?” he asks of his reflection, expressing the uncertainty of what is real, what is remembered, what is imagined, what kind of thing this self is, and the void of uncertainty about what its history really has been. What is it that I am?

For Martin Hägglund, this “juxtaposition of superimposition”, where two moments separated in time are brought together spatially in experience, creates the parallax required for the creation of a space into which the conscious self can expand. This “schism of consciousness,” where we step away enough in thought to consider ourselves as thinking, reflects the originary nature of memory as the space of the creation of the self; our memories are not actual retrospectives, but are the aspect of retention in the present moment; envisaged memories of our future self which we are not yet, but are always already in the act of creating.

Relevant: John Campbell on The Structure of Time in Autobiographical Memory (PDF)

It’s worth wondering what participation in ubiquitous social media technologies means for these processes of self recreation.

* And as my friend Bill commented after the talk, it’s as well to be cautious about assuming that “we” are all always involved in these networks of sociality. Many people are not, even in modern Britain, and many people reserve the right not to be drawn in to them.

Tim Ingold on Anthropology, Ars, and Self-Transformation

synthetic zero

Tim Ingold on Anthropology, Ars, and Self-Transformation

thanks to:

http://allegralaboratory.net/slow-food-for-thoughts-ingold-on-anthropology-art-and-self-transformation/

Link to the video of the lecture: here

“Comparing the work of anthropologists with the work of artists, Ingold declares: “I believe that the real people who are doing anthropology these days are artists. Anthropologists have for the most part of them settled for something else. What they call ethnography”. In Ingold’s view, the purpose of anthropology is not to convert ethnography into data, as grist to the mill of scientific generalisation. Rather, to practice anthropology is to join with those among whom we work, in a speculative inquiry into the possibilities and potentials of human life in the one world we all inhabit. Anthropology, in this sense, is not a positive science but an art of inquiry. He goes on: “The only way you can know things is through a process of self discovery. To know things you have…

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Tim Ingold on Anthropology, Ars, and Self-Transformation

synthetic zero

Tim Ingold on Anthropology, Ars, and Self-Transformation

thanks to:

http://allegralaboratory.net/slow-food-for-thoughts-ingold-on-anthropology-art-and-self-transformation/

Link to the video of the lecture: here

“Comparing the work of anthropologists with the work of artists, Ingold declares: “I believe that the real people who are doing anthropology these days are artists. Anthropologists have for the most part of them settled for something else. What they call ethnography”. In Ingold’s view, the purpose of anthropology is not to convert ethnography into data, as grist to the mill of scientific generalisation. Rather, to practice anthropology is to join with those among whom we work, in a speculative inquiry into the possibilities and potentials of human life in the one world we all inhabit. Anthropology, in this sense, is not a positive science but an art of inquiry. He goes on: “The only way you can know things is through a process of self discovery. To know things you have…

View original post 57 more words

Ethnography as theory

I’m at the University of Warwick for a seminar on ethnography as theory. The two papers we were asked to read in advance have duly been read, and I’ll be interested to see what we make of them and of other sources during the short event. I’m quite prepared to be very out of my depth, but fully Iooking forward to this, I do love a bit of a natter about theory.

The Nader paper I read first, and was not hugely impressed by. Nader is clearly an experienced researcher, and presented a history of the ways in which an ecological or holistic perspective (contra a scientific perspective) has been used by anthropologists from Malinowski to Leach, but has always been tempered by the inevitability of the implication of the ethnographer with colonialist attitudes etc. This is seen in the desire of the ethnographer, in aiming to avoid treating their research subjects as Other, to go to the other extreme and to try to portray Them as Like Us, imposing an alien standard of rationality onto Their practices. Nader explains how Gregory Bateson’s Naven allowed the practices of other cultures to stand as exotic and nonsensical to Western eyes, challenging ideas of interpretation/translation and rationalisation by showing how non-holistic forms of description can allow a more naked and less ideological form of ethnography to be undertaken.

Candea’s paper, on the other hand, the post-PhD ruminations of a much younger researcher, I found really interesting and full of sentences that drew me in and made me think differently. My copy of the paper is covered in asterisks, underlines and marginal comments. In a much longer paper than Nader’s, Candea starts with a compelling analogy, using Peter Jackson’s approach to filmmaking and the Dogme approach to set up a framework within which to discuss freedom and constraint in approaches to “realism”. Candea is frank about his own experiences and doubts as a novice ethnographer, and discusses the idea of constraint and the drawing of arbitrary boundaries as an essential methodological step in ethnographic research that ought to be paid more attention.

His paper can be summed up in one five word phrase
         Boundedness is a methodological issue
(Candea, 2007:172)

There are many subtleties within each paper that I haven’t time to write about now… time to go find the room :-).

I hope to post again later with my thoughts after the event.

Lovely bit of writing by “Noir Realism” introducing more about Latour’s latest, epic, project. It really feels like Latour is weaving a very subtly complex thread between opposing dualisms… addressing conceptual and vital ecological issues in a way that ends up so strange and weird, yet I do find it helpful. Latour gives anthropocentrism (for that is ultimately where he has returned to) a good name.

alien ecologies

Just discovered through Adam Robbert’s site, Knowledge Ecologies (click here), that a provisional portion of Catherine Porter’s upcoming translation of Bruno Latour’s An Inquiry into Modes of Existence is now available: click here (pdf).

“Is there a way to bridge the distance between the scale of the phenomena we hear about and the tiny Umwelt inside which we witness, as if we were a fish inside its bowl, an ocean of catastrophes that are supposed to unfold? How are we to behave sensibly when there is no ground control station anywhere to which we could send the help message, “Houston, we have a problem”?”

– Bruno Latour, Waiting for Gaia

It appears that Bruno Latour is seeking a new epistemic-ontological account that revises our understanding of Science and Modernity, and “objectivity through trust in a scholarly institution” without leaving those who serve such institutions the sense that the sciences no longer serve the…

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