Thursday, June 23, 2011

Gaston Bachelard – The Poetics of Space: The attic and the basement

Gaston Bachelard – The Poetics of Space - summary and review
part 1 - 2 - 3 - 4
The Poetics of Space
The house, says Gaston Bachelard in "The Poetics of Space", is a body of images which gives the illusion of stability. He offers a vertical image of the house which is created by the polarity of the attic and basement which denote, for Bachelard, irrationality and rationality respectively. The reason for going up to the attic is rather obvious for the attic not only shelters us from the weather but it also makes apparent the whole structure of the house. The attic, in Bachelard's The Poetics of Space, is a metaphor for clarity of mind. The basement, on the contrary, is the darker, subterranean and irrational entity of the house. Both this sites appear in our dreams and produce varying kinds of them.

Bachelard relies on Jung to account for his psychoanalytic metaphor in which when a person hears suspicious sounds coming from the basement he rushes to the attic to see what they are, fearing to go down to the basement.

One of the problems with this metaphor introduced in The Poetics of Space is that urban homes do not have an attic nor basement, contrary to the countryside homes which Bachelard obviously has in mind. Therefore Bachelard concludes that urban homes lack the vertical quality of intimacy. The urban boxes, as Bachelard puts it, have neither roots nor a space around them. Their relations with space have become artificial. the only way urban residential apartments can offer the experience elaborated upon by Bachelard in The Poetics of Space in by employing our imagination, and here Bachelard describes his own personal experience in a Paris apartment in which he had to mentally imagine his room and the city as nature, turning the sofa into a boat rocking on the waves, and the city into an ocean. 

Gaston Bachelard – The Poetics of Space - summary and review
part 1 - 2 - 3 - 4

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Gaston Bachelard – The Poetics of Space: Topoanalysis and Topohpilia (summary)

Gaston Bachelard – The Poetics of Space - summary and review
part 1 - 2 - 3 - 4

The Poetics of Space
In his "The Poetics of Space" Gaston Bachelard introduces his concept of "topoanalysis" which he defines as "the systematic psychological study of the sites of out intimate lives" (The Poetics of Space, p.8). He then proceeds to assert that "in the theatre of the past that is constituted by memory, the stage setting maintains the characters in their dominant roles" (ibid). What Bachelard means is that memories of the house and its various parts are not something remembered but rather something which is entwined with the present, a part of our ongoing current experience. Bachelard writes about the desire to stop time. The way to transcend history, to produce that space which suspends time, is through imaging and hallucination. Unretrievable history is fossilized, memories stand, they do not move, and therefore for Bachelard it is space, not time, which invokes memories. Bachelrad therefore searches, through is topoanalysis, the experience and not the process, the essence and not the contingent and fleeting.

In order to give an account of mental life a biography is insufficient for Bachelard who asks for a topoanalysis of places, houses, in subjective terms. The topoanalysis examines the intimacy of the house room after room, space after space. These are not actual material rooms or spaces, but rather the dreamed, imagined, remembered and read places, which allow us to come closer to the core of mental experience.

The psychoanalytic subconscious, Bachelard holds, is "normal" whenever it conveniently and blissfully dwells in place. Bachelard does not elaborate in this respect but what is implied in the introduction to The Poetics of Space is that such blissful dwelling is the sense of feeling at ease, feeling at home. Psychoanalysis calls the subconscious into the conscious in order to help the "homeless" find their sense of being in place. Topoanalysis, as an aid for psychoanalysis, will examine the spaces through which we can exit the shelter of the subconscious and enter the conscious of our imagination.

With these intimate spaces being spaces of bliss, topoanalysis is related to topophilia (the love of place) - the love for those places exposed by topoanlysis. And through the concept of topophila Bachelard examines those spaces of intimacy he most esteems – the rooms of the house.

Poetry's capacity, Bachelard holds, to summon the subconscious is not dependant on its ability to describe space, but rather to direct or set a bearing towards it. Only an implied description will enable us to bring forth those sought after feelings which might vanish if intellectualized.     

 To his notions of topoanalysis and topophilia introduced in The Poetics of Space Bachelard adds the physical dimension, arguing that our house is engraved into our flesh. The body it better in preserving detailed memories than the mind is. Other memories are harder to trace and these can be revealed only by means of the poetic image. For Bachelard, poetry's main function is to give us back a state of daydreaming, which is something history, psychology and geography are incapable of. 

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Gaston Bachelard – The Poetics of Space - summary and review
part 1 - 2 - 3 - 4

Gaston Bachelard – The Poetics of Space: The house, the image of the house and mental space (summary)

Gaston Bachelard – The Poetics of Space - summary and review
part 1 - 2 - 3 - 4

Our soul, argues Gaston Bachelard in his "Poetics of Space", in a place of dwelling. Therefore the house is an especially suitable site for phenomenological research of the intimacy of the inner mental space. For this end, which Bachelard terms "topoanalysis", we need to perceive it in both its diversity and unity, in its aspects as well as in its totality of essence. The house for Bachelrad is the source of poetic images, which bring up both its complexity and unity. This is because poetry enables us to experience the house instead of just verbalizing it.

The house for Bachelard is not an object to examine and describe. On the contrary, one of the key notions of Bachelard's The Poetics of Space is that one should transcend mere description in order to grasp the essential qualities of space, the intimacy of the house, the protection and bliss that it grants us. A phenomenological examination of the poetic representations of the house, Bachelard holds, will enable us to experience the meaning of the home space. In the introduction to The Poetics of Space Bachelard notes that the phenomenology of the poetic expression is the phenomenology of the soul and not the mind, and it is aimed at a core, initial and essential strata of our experience of being. By reconstructing a subjective consciousness which gave birth to a poetic image of homw we discover an individuality we can connect with by means of our analysis, what Bachelard terms inter-subjectivity.

The Poetics of Space by Gaston Bachelard | Summary &Study Guide
Bachelard speaks of thought, daydreaming and dreaming invoked by the house, actions which resurrect the past and connect it with the present. When we enter a new house we are flooded with experiences of prior homes, which are not memories but something rather different. In this state all of the homes of our life trace back to the early house of our childhood. As Bachelard puts it "we are never real historians, but always near poets, and our emotion is perhaps nothing but an expression of a poetry that was lost (The Poetics of Space, p.6). 

Gaston Bachelard – The Poetics of Space - summary and review
part 1 - 2 - 3 - 4

Gaston Bachelard – The Poetics of Space – summary and review

Gaston Bachelard – The Poetics of Space - summary and review
part 1 - 2 - 3 - 4

Gaston Bachelard's "The Poetics of Space" ( La Poétique de l'Espace, 1958) is a phenomenological interrogation into the meaning of spaces which preoccupy poetry, intimate spaces such as a house, a drawer, a night dresser and spaces of wide expansion such as vistas and woods. In the opening chapter of The Poetics of Space Gaston Bachelard places special emphasis on the interior domestic space and its component: the various rooms and the different types of furniture in it. Bachelard attempts to trace the reception of the poetic image in the subjective consciousness, a reception which demands, so Bachelard holds, great openness and a focus on the present experience while eliminate transient time.

The house is, for Bachelard, the quintessential phenomenological object, meaning that this is the place in which the personal experience reaches its epitome. Bachelrad sees the house as a sort of initial universe, asserting that "all really inhabited space bears the essence of the notion of home" (The Poetics of Space, p.5). Bachelard proceeds to examine the home as the manifestation of the soul through the poetic image and literary images which are found in poetry. He examines locations in the house as places of intimacy and memory which are manifested in poetry.

Bachelard explains his focus on the poetic image for it being the property of the innocent consciousness, something which precedes conscious thought, does not require knowledge and is the direct product of the heart and soul. This direct relation of poetry to reality, for Bachelard, intensifies the reality of perceived objects ("imagination augments the values of reality", The Poetics of Space, p.3). Poetry, Bachelrad holds, is directed at one and the same time both inwards and outwards, thus establishing his future discussion of inside and outside which is so familiar to anyone dealing with the theory of space.

Bachelard determines that the house has both unity and complexity, it is made out of memories and experiences, its different parts arouse different sensations at yet it brings up a unitary, intimate experience of living. Such experiential qualities are what Bachelard finds it the poetry and prose he analyzes. Home objects for Bachelard are charged with mental experience. A cabinet opened is a world revealed , drawers are places of secrets, and with every habitual action we open endless dimensions of our existence.

In "The Poetics of Space" Bachelard introduces his concept of topoanlysis, which he defines as the systematic psychological studying of the sites of our intimate lives. The house, the most intimate of all spaces, "protects the daydreamer" and therefore understanding the house is for Bachelard a way to understand the soul. 

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Gaston Bachelard – The Poetics of Space - summary and review
part 1 - 2 - 3 - 4

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Michael Benedikt – Cyberspace: First Steps – Introduction – summary

Cyberspace: First Steps
What Michael Benedikt is essentially postulating in his introduction to "Cyberspace: First Steps" is twofold argument regarding cyberspace: that cyberspace is the current manifestation of the collective human endeavor to organize and preserve information, and that is the highest degree of this effort.

Benedikt describes how, with the advent of computer technology and virtual reality, a new world has emerged which is indifferent to physical constraints, a world without a place which is in constant state of change. In a sense, for Benedikt, cyberspace does not exist if existence is taking as being in place and time.

Benedikt argues that a geographical mental space has always existed for human cultures as a form of collective memory, functioning as a realm of agreed upon truths, forms and symbols that do not submit to space and time. What is special about our era, the era of cyberspace, is that this mental space is slowly taking up actual form.

Benedikt adopts Karl Popper's distinction of three types of worlds. World 1 which is the physical world, world 2 of subjective consciousness and world 3 of objective consciousness which contains actual constructs of human consciousness. For Popper, everything man creates is a part of the abstract world 3, with cyberspace being for Benedikt the epitome of this world of manifested intellectuality. The new cyberspace does not replace the old constructs of world 3, it just redefines them.

Benedikt examines four "threads" that for him combine to create the new world 3 of cyberspace. The thread of mythical content, the material history of symbolic manners of representation, the history of architecture and the history of mathematics. He illustrates how these threads evolve through human history since its very begining to reach their epitome in the new abstract yet very concrete new world 3 of cyberspace.    

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Mark Andrejevic – – "The Kinder, Gentler Gaze of Big Brother: Reality TV in the Era of Digital Capitalism" – summary – part 4

Mark Andrejevic –   – "The Kinder, Gentler Gaze of Big Brother: Reality TV in the Era of Digital Capitalism" – summary – part 1 - 2 - 3 - 4

For Mark Andrejevic, reality TV shows like the Big Brother promote an almost exhibitionist lifestyle in which work is living and living is work, without us even noticing it. Consumers turned producers actively participate in the process of production without having any control on the means of production, much like in the reality TV.

Furthermore, Andrejevic argues that in which, like in Simmel's "The Metropolis and Mental life", the individual becomes one of a thousand in goes unnoticed, submitting to surveillance becomes a means of individuation and provides the promise of authenticity which receives institutional ratification. Big brother's gaze no longer threatens to homogenize everything, for this is a new type of mass individualization which represents a new phase in consumerism. The paradox of surveillance based economy, Andrejevic holds, is that it gives off the illusion the individuals count, while in reality wishing to count them into data and marketing algorithms.
Towards the end of "The Kinder, Gentler Gaze of Big Brother: Reality TV in the Era of Digital Capitalism" Mark Andrejevic argues that the promise of democratization in the era of internet capitalism in not for a democracy in which anyone can participate in the vital public sphere (such as Facebook), but rather one that offers the participation in politics as a celebrity. With politics reduced to public relations, the meaning of the on-line revolution is not the democratization of the public sphere but rather the equating of the notion of celebrity with personal promotion.
Mark Andrejevic –   – "The Kinder, Gentler Gaze of Big Brother: Reality TV in the Era of Digital Capitalism" – summary – part 1 2 - 3 - 4

Mark Andrejevic – The Work of Being Watched

Mark Andrejevic –   – "The Kinder, Gentler Gaze of Big Brother: Reality TV in the Era of Digital Capitalism" – summary – part 1 2 - 3 - 4

According to Mark Andrejevic in "The Kinder, Gentler Gaze of Big Brother: Reality TV in the Era of Digital Capitalism", internet based economy is dependent on subverting the distinction between sphere of consumption, manufacturing and leisure which was established with the rise of mass production. This end is accomplished, among other things, through techniques of surveillance which incorporate leisure and consumption into the production process of information. An additional feature of this digital capitalistic paradigm is that of active customization and consumers' active role in customized production. For this end surveillance is crucial and it is established by equating surveillance with self-expression and creativity. This type of so-called democratization of production brought about by the internet, Mark Andrejevic holds, is also manifested in the domain of reality TV shows, which promote the 'work of being watched".

Mark Andrejevic's analysis of TV shows such as The Real World and Road Rules (with reference to the Big Brother) shows that this type of reality shows are ruled over and regulated by producers, but can still argue to be "reality" on account of three features: first, reality TV uses non-professional actors . Secondly, reality TV shows are unscripted. And thirdly, the fact that reality TV shows do not present exceptional moments but rather track everyday occurrences as a kind of panopticon.

Much like the model of mass customization, in reality TV viewers/consumers are the ones who produce content which is then repackaged and sold back to them. For Andrejevic, shows like the Big Brother promote a type of subjectivity in which self exposure is a form of honesty as personal realization and as means for (financial and other) gains. Summiting to surveillance is viewed and presented by reality TV shows as the unification of work and creative living, and this for Andrejevic helps reinforce the conditions on which flexible consumerism in the era of digital capitalism can thrive on.

Mark Andrejevic –   – "The Kinder, Gentler Gaze of Big Brother: Reality TV in the Era of Digital Capitalism" – summary – part 1 2 - 3 - 4

Mark Andrejevic – – "The Kinder, Gentler Gaze of Big Brother: Reality TV in the Era of Digital Capitalism" – summary – part 2

Mark Andrejevic –   – "The Kinder, Gentler Gaze of Big Brother: Reality TV in the Era of Digital Capitalism" – summary – part 1 - 2 - 3 - 4

In "The Kinder, Gentler Gaze of Big Brother: Reality TV in the Era of Digital Capitalism" Mark Andrejevic argues that the late capitalistic need to monitor and predict consumption patterns leads to heavy reliance on market research. New internet based techniques have shifted this burden to consumers themselves; promoting the notion that surveillance works for consumers in allowing them to receive personally customized products and advertizing.

Customized production does not only run on direct interaction with consumers, but also creates secondary markets for information gathered and organized by middlemen. Consumer labor is therefore a source of profit for corporation both in a direct manner (that is, the fitting of products for specific consumers) and in an indirect secondary manner of turning consumer labor into a tradable good (that is, the monetizing of information). For Andrejevic the problem here is not (just) that of privacy, but that this system expands and strengthens the rein of organized corporations on non-organized consumers. Access to information is only one-sided, and only extensive data-bases, available only to large corporations, are useful in these e-commerce new ball game.

For Andrejevic, internet based economy requires more than technological and organizational means, it also necessitates the transformation of lifestyle in a manner that will be consistent with the need of digital capitalism. No profit can be made through the options of customization offered by the internet unless consumers will willingly submit their own private information and submit themselves to surveillance. In this respect reality Television shows such as the Big Brother, The Real World and Road Rules occupy a crucial function of reshaping our sense of privacy and by valorizing self-exposure as a means of personal expression.  Reality also helps to establish the logic of personal gain which can be had by cooperating with surveillance, as Andrejevic puts it: "reality TV replicates the promise of interactive commerce: that viewers/consumers will have a greater ability to particiapate actively in the production process".

Mark Andrejevic –   – "The Kinder, Gentler Gaze of Big Brother: Reality TV in the Era of Digital Capitalism" – summary – part 1 2 - 3 - 4

Mark Andrejevic – "The Kinder, Gentler Gaze of Big Brother: Reality TV in the Era of Digital Capitalism" – summary

Mark Andrejevic –   – "The Kinder, Gentler Gaze of Big Brother: Reality TV in the Era of Digital Capitalism" – summary – part 1 - 2 - 3 - 4

In "The Kinder, Gentler Gaze of Big Brother: Reality TV in the Era of Digital Capitalism" media researcher Mark Andrejevic offers a link, even a homology, between reality TV shows such as Big Brother, The Real world and Road Rules that are based on constant surveillance and the development of e-commerce and the internet economy which is based on consumer data. Andrejevic's main argument is that reality TV helps define a specific type of subjectivity which is in line with the needs of internet and surveillance based economy. For Andrejevic, this form of subjectivity is one which equates openness to surveillance with self expression. This submission to surveillance, valorized by reality TV shows like the Big Brother, is crucial for the needs of customization that characterize the on-line economy. "The Kinder, Gentler Gaze of Big Brother: Reality TV in the Era of Digital Capitalism" was written before the time of Facebook, which makes Mark Andrejevic a kind of prophet of the age in which everyone, perhaps inspired by reality TV, is more than happy to share his personal information with anyone who is interested, including everyone who is interested in selling him exactly what he needs.

Mark Andrejevic views the current information revolution as an extension of Fordism and Taylorism: a rationalization of production and manufacturing by means of heavily relying on gathered information. The rise of Post-Fordism of flexible capitalism ("flexibilism") has brought about the development of new methods of information harvesting, analysis and utilization. Andrejevic relies on the work of David Harvey who argued that one on the ways flexible capitalism works is by relying on extensive information about manufacturing and consumption. Access to information and control over it have become a vital corporate necessity.

The logic late flexible capitalism epitomizes, so Andrejevic argues, with the current paradigm of "mass customization" – the configuration of products to meet individual consumer needs by using digital information systems. This system relies dramatically on consumers' willingness to submit to surveillance, and this willingness, Andrejevic argues, is at least to some extent inspired by reality TV shows like the Big Brother.

Mark Andrejevic –   – "The Kinder, Gentler Gaze of Big Brother: Reality TV in the Era of Digital Capitalism" – summary – part 1 - 2 - 3 - 4

Friday, June 17, 2011

Simon Frith - The Aesthetics of Popular music

Simon Frith - "Towards an Aesthetic of Popular Music" - summary
part 1 - 2 - 3

In the last part of "Towards an Aesthetic of Popular Music" Simon Firth examines the reasons which allow popular culture to fulfill its social functions which were identified in the preceding parts of "Towards an Aesthetic of Popular Music". He offers four points for future analysis.

Frith's first point concerns the manner in which 20th century popular culture has absorbed musical conventions of African-American music. His second point is the predominant place voice has in modern popular music and the fact that we react to the singer's voice whether we understand the lyrics or not, and that says something of their narrative structure. Frith's third point is that popular music is open to genre analysis and classification of the different ways in which music uses narrative structure to produce patterns of self identification and to express different emotions. Frith suggest the classification of popular music genres through their ideological functions and in accordance to the manner to present themselves as art, community of emotion.

For Frith, popular music has been, for the past 50 years, an important way in which we learn to understand ourselves as historical, ethnic, gender and class subjects. Pop music has the ability of positioning us in society but also a capacity to subvert social structures. As Frith puts it "pop tastes do not just derive from our socially constructed identities; they also help to shape them". Additionally, pop for Frith has an individualizing effect – "what pop can do is put into play a sense of identity that may or may not fit the way we are placed by other social forces", and this is why, in the end, Frith wonders whether the value of popular music is that is has "some sort of collective, disruptive cultural effect". 
Taking Popular Music Seriously (Ashgate Contemporary Thinkers on Critical Musicology)

Simon Frith - "Towards an Aesthetic of Popular Music" - summary
part 1 - 2 - 3

Simon Frith - The Social Functions of Music

Simon Frith - "Towards an Aesthetic of Popular Music" - summary
part 1 - 2 - 3

In "Towards an Aesthetic of Popular Music" Simon Frith offers four functions of popular music which account for the manner in which value judgments are made. The first function of popular music that Frith notes is that of self definition and of creating a place in society. The pleasure of popular music is the pleasure of identification "with the music we like, with the performers of that music, with the other people who like it". Being a "fan" is being a part of something which says something about you, and Frith describes the fan hate mail he used to receive after negative reviews he wrote as a rock critic.

The second function music has according to Frith is that it provides "a way of managing the relationship between our public and private emotional life". In this respect Frith notes the obvious fact the many pop songs are love songs, and this is because "people need them to give shape and voice to emotions that otherwise cannot be expressed without embarrassment or incoherence". Love songs are a way of allocating emotional intensiveness and even shape to intimate feeling in a way that seems richer and more convincing. "people do not idolize singers because they wish to be them but because these singers seem able, somehow, to make available their own feeling – it is as if we get to know ourselves via music".

The third function of music that Frith lists is the shaping of popular memory, and the organization of our sense of time. Music has a "stasis" quality which enables it to stop time. On the other hand, "music in itself provides out most vivid experience of time passing" which is why music, at least good music, always has something nostalgic about it.

The fourth and final function of popular music according to Frith is that "popular music is something possessed". People feel like the "own" their preferred music in a manner which is not (only) material. As Frith puts it "the intensity of this relationship between taste and self definition seems peculiar to popular music – it is 'possessable' in ways that other cultural forms (except, perhaps, sports teams) – are not". According to Frith, an aesthetic of popular music is one which explains value judgments in relation to these four functions of poplar music for "in pop, transcendence marks not music's freedom from social forces but its patterning by them".
Performing Rites: On the Value of Popular Music

Simon Frith - "Towards an Aesthetic of Popular Music" - summary
part 1 - 2 - 3

Simon Frith – "Towards an Aesthetic of Popular Music" – summary and review

Simon Frith - "Towards an Aesthetic of Popular Music" - summary
part 1 - 2 - 3

In "Towards an Aesthetic of Popular Music" Simon Frith examines the question of value judgments of pop music and the function of these judgments in shaping the experience of listening to popular music. Frith rejects the widely held notion that "serious music matters because it transcends social forces; popular music is aesthetically worthless because it is determined by them". On the contrary, according to Frith it is this sociological constructivist approach which enables an aesthetic of popular music.

Frith is asking about the nature of the link between certain social groups or subcultures to certain types of music. To start answering this, Frith claims that pop music preferences are not only the product of out socially constructed taste – they also take part in the construction of this taste. Frith also argues against the notion of popular music as essentially a commercial function for "even if pop tastes are the effects of social  conditioning and commercial manipulation, people still explain them to themselves in terms of value judgment".

Frith holds that popular music is a kind of Althusserian ideological apparatus which tells people who they are, and it does so by defining "its own aesthetic standard". Popular music for Frith does not (only) reveal taste, it creates it. When relating to measures of popularity like pop charts Frith argues that "their use is always for the creation (rather than reflection) of taste communities… 'women's music… is interesting not as music which somehow expresses 'women', but as music which seeks to define them".

The pop music experience according to Frith is that of positioning. Popular music is more open to personal appropriation than other forms of culture. On the other hand, while being a function which allows the formation of a personal identity, popular music is still determined "out there" and creates an imagined community of affiliation around it with which people can identify through music. And as Frith concludes the first part of "Towards an Aesthetic of Popular Music" – "other cultural forms… can articulate and show off shared values and pride, but only music can make you feel them".
Music and Society: The Politics of Composition, Performance and Reception

Simon Frith - "Towards an Aesthetic of Popular Music" - summary
part 1 - 2 - 3

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Anne Allison – "The Japan Fad in Global Youth Culture and Millennial Capitalism" – summary and review

In "The Japan Fad in Global Youth Culture and Millennial Capitalism" (in: Mechademia: Emerging Worlds of Anima and Magna") Anne Allison attempts to explain the enormous popularity of Japanese cultural products among western, especially American, youth.

Allison argues that American youth feel that the translation gap between their culture and Japanese culture isn't unbridgeable and asked whether the 'j-cool" trend represents a shift is the global cultural power of the United-States.

Millennial Monsters: Japanese Toys and the Global Imagination (Asia: Local Studies/Global Themes)

With Japanese imports into American culture become less "odorless" or transparent and display identifiable Japanese features, Allison argues that the juxtaposition of different cultural codes is a global model which is different model of Americanization. The Japanese fad, Allison holds, is a global fantasy of mixed the known and the exotic unknown in an indefinable location. The fascination with Japanese cultural products is related to an attraction to something which is different (the fantasy of the Japanese cultural code) but at the same time real as in being from a real existing place (Japan). Fantasy and difference, otherness, are routed in a place which can be studied and visited. In other words, the attraction for Japan among American youth is a mixture of fantasy and realism which create what Roland Barthes called "a myth" – a place which is between the real and the imagined, the familiar and the strange.

For Allison the attraction towards Japanese products represents a new type of global imagination which gains hold with the decline of American "soft power". This is also the decline of a monolithic monochromatic cultural code which is being replaced by something more suitable to the contemporary mental state of "being in a world where the only sense of home is to be found in a constant state of change".

Allison argues that this new cultural code lends itself very comfortably to capitalism. Japanese cultural products supply a fantastic sphere (with erotic aspects which Allison attributes to Freud's notion of polymorphous perversity) of "perpetual transformation… that extend into cyber frontier, promises (new age) companionships and connectedness, albeit in a commodity form. This Japanese (imagined) cultural code fits in with the experience of worldwide post-industrial youth. The capitalistic dream world is a place in which progresses in always possible and pressing but final fulfillment is never possible. The nomadic situation of always being out of place, on the way to someplace else is completed with the sense of being able to continually reshape, to build polymorphic attachments in a state of constant flux that has no end other than itself.     

Victoria De Grazia – Hollywood and Cinema Culture – review

Based on "The Star System: How Hollywood Turned Cinema Culture into Entertainment Value"  in "Irresistable Empire: America's Advance through Twentieth Century Europe" by Victoria De Grazia.

Irresistible Empire: America's Advance through Twentieth-Century Europe

Victoria De Grazia analyzes the role of American culture and American cultural industries in the process of cultural globalization during the first half of the 20th century. In one of the chapters of "Irresistible empire" she reviews the way in which Hollywood cinema came to dominate European theatres. Her approach focuses on the industrial aspects of the culture industry such as technological innovations, financing, professional standards, studio size and function etc. in this De Grazia situates Hollywood's success not in the its quality of content but in organizational, technological and financial circumstances.

De Grazia holds that unlike the American film industry, European cinema was not perceived nor produced as a form of entertainment but rather as a means of expressing national of cultural traditions. The financial power of the American film industry, says De Grazia, slowly pushed aside this notion and tradition of filmmaking and replaced it with the production and consumption of cinema as entertainment. With American films filling theratres throughout Europe, local industries were forced to adapt and start producing entertainment of their own in order to compete with the products that came from America, and thus cinema, from a form of art or a medium of culture and tradition, became the entertainment focused industry we know today. 

Richard Peterson – "Why 1955? Explaining the Advent of Rock Music" – summary and review

What is interesting about Richard Peterson's "Why 1955? Explaining the Advent of Rock Music" is his analysis of the production of culture and its characteristics as the background mechanism which facilitates change in popular culture.
In "Why 1955?" Peterson relies on his former model of "institutional constraints" for analyzing the production of culture in the light of institutional structures and modes of production. The institutional constraints model of the production of culture aims to demonstrate how changes in style and nature of cultural products and the emergence of innovative and groundbreaking trends can be explained through institutional constraints which influence, directly or indirectly, the production of culture.

The institutional constraints of the production of culture introduced by Peterson are: technology and technological innovations, law and regulation, career patterns, market structure, industry structure and organizational structure. The main point of the institutional constraints model is that the production of culture functions along the various workings of these "constraints" which shape to at least some extent which cultural products gain wide circulation. In "Why 1955?" Peterson uses the production of culture model to offer an explanation of why it 1955 which saw the rise of rock music in popular culture.

In explaining the advent of rock music Peterson does not resort to an attempted explanation of the meaning of the new musical style (like, for instance Dick Hebdige in "The Meaning of Style") but rather he assumes that rock music was "there" in the sense that audiences were at a certain point in cultural history in which such music could fit their needs. What Peterson is asking, as suggested by his title "Why 1955?", is what were to conditions, "institutional constraints" which allowed for the rise of tock music. Peterson shows how changes in the 50's in technology which allowed easier and wider circulation of even small firms and marginal (for the time being) artists, in legislation and regulation and the structural state of both the industry and organizations can explain the rise of rock music. 

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Dwight Macdonald – "A Theory of Mass Culture" – summary and review

As a cultural critic, Dwight Macdonald combined a leftist, even radical, stance with cultural conservatism and elitism, two features of his thought which are manifested in his 1957 "A Theory of Mass Culture". in talking about a theory of mass culture Macdonald expresses his cultural conservatism in worrying about the statue and future of the accomplishments made by western culture and high art in the 20th century. Macdonald views popular culture as a threat to high culture with its wide circulation of shallow content and widespread popularity.    

Macdonald opens his theory of mass culture by stating that he prefers mass to culture to popular culture. popular can refer to the wide spread consumption of a cultural product that can be of good quality (like Mozart of Tolstoy). Mass culture, however, is in Macdonald's eyes related to nature of culture in industrialized societies. Upholding a prominent view argued for by sociologists of his time, Macdonald sees the industrialized society as one in which traditional social structures such as the community collapsed only to be replaced by a mass society of mutually alienated individuals (Macdonald relies on Riesman's concept of "the lonely crowd".

Mass culture, for Macdonald, is the culture of mass society, which is characterized by vulgarity, kitsch, homogeneity and standardization. These attributes position mass culture in Macdonald's view in opposition to the refine nature and diversity of high culture. mass culture's massive power is threatening high culture which cannot compete with mass culture's popularity.

Macdonald's "A Theory of Mass Culture" should be read as expressing a common view of its time, the post second-war days of the cold war, the beginning of a consumer society in the USA and early television broadcasting. Subsequent cultural developments, especially during the 60's and with the rise of cultural studies weakened many of Macdonald's conservative views on mass culture.  

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Michel De Certeau - Walking in the City - review

One of the key notions in Michel De Certeau's "Walking in the City" is expressed by his assertion that "urban life increasingly permits the re-emergence of the element that the urbanistic project excluded".  This urbanistic project is, as De Certeau describes, that of standing on top of the tallest building, out of the city's grasp, and looking down at the objective totality of the city, and as De Certeau says: "the fiction of knowledge is related to this lust to be a viewpoint and nothing more" to be "a totalizing eye".

But De Certeau prefers, as his title suggests, walking in the city instead of viewing it. He argues that walking in the city has "its own rhetoric" and with people's limited scope as the move about and write their own course of subjective use of the urban space "the network of these moving, intersecting writings compose and manifold story that has neither author nor spectator".

For De Certeau, the pedestrians of a city create it through their walking about, as an objective mass made of subjects which escape any planned or regulated scheme of the city. The pedestrian, while walking in the city, has his own style, which is a sort of language which speaks about the city and take part in creating its meaning. In walking in the city, the pedestrian gives new meanings to places and streets which are not the same as those originally assigned to them. Pedestrians, for De Certeau, create the meaning of the urban space by applying their imagination on it through the manner in which they move about the city "linking acts and footsteps, opening meanings and directions, these words operate in the name of an emptying-out and wearing away of their primary role. They become liberated spaces that can be occupied".

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Susan Sontag – On Photography – The Heroism of Vision (photographic seeing) – Summary and review

On Photography. Susan Sontag (Penguin Modern Classics)
Susan Sontag's "The Heroism of Vision" (in "On Photography") is a discussion about the relation between beauty in truth and their development throughout the history of photography. Almost right from the beginning, Sontag holds, photography was all about discovering what is beautiful in the world, and it was so successful in this task that photography became the standard of what is beautiful. In other words, photography creates the beautiful to the point in which sunsets are banal because they look too much like a photograph.

But the camera also has a relation to truth, and towards the end of the 19th century it became apparent that the camera could lie, and at that point, Sontag argues, photography became even more popular. Photography has the capacity of forging reality for the sake of its own aesthetic needs. This, along with photography's technical advantage of easy use over painting, gave photographers permission to document everything and produced a new kind of vision, photographic seeing, that could reconcile the need for truth with the need for beauty. With photographic seeing, photography seized to merely document the world and has turned into a norm of how things appear, transforming our perception of reality and realism.

With the rise of photographic seeing the assumption the photographs provide an objective image gave way to the view that photography doesn't only document objects, but also the way a person sees these objects. Photography, in other words, is not just a report about the world, it is also an assessment of it. Photographic seeing meant the ability to find beauty in what everybody sees but ignores on account of being too ordinary. The photographer's aim became the idealization of everyday life through the way of seeing that only a camera can produce.

Sontag describes photography's early fascination with close-ups, holding that the beautiful became at one point simply everything unavailable to the naked eye and that photography was all about the new refreshing manner in which an object was presented. Thus photography changed vision but indorsing the idea of vision for the sake of vision.

For Sontag, one of photography's great successes was in its strategy of transforming living things into objects and objects into living things, the function of alienation and the ability to use the camera's claim for realism to see things in a new way.

Photographic seeing is for Sontag both intensive and cool, yearning and disengaged, but it has to maintain its shock element in order to stay relevant and continue its effect on vision before it becomes banal. This is what Sontag calls "the heroism of vision" – the camera's ability to transform reality into something beautiful which is the result of its weakness in telling the truth. 

Books by Susan Sontag and about photography you should definitely read


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