The Alan Sondheim Mail Archive

From: Tom Zummer <>
Subject: The Casting of Shadows/Zummer/


  10 abstract questions, and more notes for brutal times

           Thomas Zummer

 . . . government is merely the shadow cast on culture by big business. .
. .

 It was in a recent conversation that the above phrase came up. It was
attributed to Harry S. Truman, and, without checking references, I am
reasonably sure that that is at least a likely attribution. Nonetheless,
I have left it in the form in which it was pronounced, at second hand, a
possible paraphrase, in order to open a series of questions. So much of
what passes for public discourse operates as a paraphrase, even if in
only the most minimal sense, as occurs in the recording and transmission
of spoken dialogue, or the presumed verisimilitude of an unintentional,
unimpeded, camera. Let us begin, then, with the notion of a phrase. From
the Greek phrasis, ^Ìphrase¹ is both a noun and a verb: a phrase is ³(1)a
manner or style of expression, esp. that peculier to a language, author,
literary work, etc..., or (2)a small group or collocation of words
expressing a single notion...(4)exclamatory or exaggerated talk...or,
from fencing: (6)a continuous passage in an assault without any cessation
of attack and defence.² As a verb, to phrase means ³to (3)designate,
describe or (2)put into words, (1)to employ a phrase or phrases, (6)to
divide, or mark off, to perform according to the phrases, or (4)to do (a
thing) away, or do (a person) out of, by phrases or talk.² Here I have
paraphrased some of the definitions found in the Oxford English
Dictionary. And here, I paraphrase Jean-François Lyotard: A phrase is
undoubtable; it is immediately presupposed. To doubt that one phrases is
still to phrase, one¹s silence makes a phrase, or phrases, because the
singular calls forth the plural, and vice versa. In the disputation of
phrases^Ëthis will surprise no one^Ësilence is compelled to an alliance,
and cannot circumscribe an unmarked neutrality. Vulgar slogans can
sometimes be ironically accurate: ^Ìyou are part of the problem, or you
are part of the solution.¹ Especially when silence is prefigured as a
certain sort of phrase, already in dispute, configured within an
asymmetrical power-relation. A differend (in a minimal paraphrasing of
Lyotard), distinguished from a litigation, would be a case of conflict
between (at least) two parties, that cannot be equitably resolved for
lack of a rule of judgement applicable to both arguments.  The legitimacy
of one side does not imply the other¹s lack of legitimacy. Applying a
single rule of judgement to both sides in order to settle their
differend, as though it were a mere litigation, would wrong at least one
of them, and would wrong both of them if neither side recognizes and
admits this rule. Damages result from an injury which is inflicted upon
the rules of a genre of discourse but which is reparable according to
those rules. A wrong results from the fact that the rules of the genre of
discourse by which one judges are not those of the judged genre or genres
of discourse. Especially if one considers diplomacy, for example to be a
genre of international relations. Or the conduct of war, or of enterprise
as genres; perhaps a new genre of interests: war and commerce. As Lyotard
points out, ³...a universal rule of judgement between heterogenous genres
is lacking in general.² Even--paraphrasing again--the most ordinary
phrase is constituted according to a set of rules (a regimen). There are
a number of phrase regimens: reasoning, knowing; describing, recounting,
showing, ordering, questioning, etc. Phrases from heterogenous regimens
cannot be translated from one into the other. They can be linked one onto
the other in accordance with an end fixed by a genre of discourse.
Lyotard¹s examples: dialogue links an ostentation (showing) or a
definition (describing) onto a question; what is at stake in this are the
two parties coming into an agreement about the sense of a referent.
Genres of discourse supply rules for linking heterogenous phrases, rules
that are proper and necessary for attaining certain goals: to know, to
teach, to seduce, to be just, to evaluate, to oversee. To liberate.


 Hegel had once said ³the face of the enemy is always blank,² a phrase
which we may understand as indicating a certain virtuality, a structural
(dis)position in potentia which is always available to be filled in, an
armature to support all of the attributes and attributions--of depravity,
of bestiality, of cruelty and evil--ascribed to a certain species of
other: the enemy. And, like any such phantasmatic field (the cinematic
screen is another), multiple identifications and investments can be made,
upon the same surface, pluralizing, with multiple and permeable
occupations, the entire space. The ^Ìfigure¹ of Saddam is phrased as
coextensive with a succession of proper names: Hitler, Stalin, Tito, bin
Laden, with multiple roles--dictator, thug, despot, psychopath, or with
abstract qualities: evil, cruel, decadent, inhuman. This is not to
dispute any confirmed evidence of the monstrosities conducted under
Saddam¹s regime, but merely to point out that such attributions operate
to precluce or delegitimate certain references, and to legitimate and
emphasize others without recourse to a common ground of reference or of
judgement. That is, these interpermeable attributions appear in/as
phrases operating as/within a differend, even as they lay claim to an
authority which purports to be common, consensual and absolute. The
^Ìenemy¹ is thus an active field wherein, for example, the figure naming
any tactical form of villainy is commutable to that of Saddam Hussein, so
that the ^Ìfigure¹ which is rendered of ^ÌSaddam¹ is, accordingly, here a
paraphrase of Osama bin Laden, there of Hitler or Stalin, each commutable
to the other, each occupying in collusion the space of the ^Ìenemy¹
linked to the phrasing of unconsionable evil, of the necessity of
deposition, and to the claims of an inviolable will to truth. The formal
characteristics of such a logic do not admit any other phrases than those
that conform to the tacit correspondence theory of the truth which is
vindicated by recourse to the register of phrases which have already been
rendered overwhelmingly ^Ìlegitimate.¹
 Consider the logic of another form of commutability: ³(to date) no
^Ìweapons of mass-destruction¹ have been found (the ostensible enabling
rational for the invasion of Iraq); since they must have been there, and
are no longer present, they must have gone somewhere else. Where? Most
likely to Syria. Syria is adjacent to Iraq; it¹s borders are open to any
with a passport from an Arabic country; Syria is listed as a state which
aids and abets terrorism (it¹s on the ^Ìlist¹). Syria is suspected of
having aided and sent supplies and weapons to the Iraq during ^ÌOperation
Iraqi Freedom.¹ So, one must assume that Syria now possesses those
weapons of mass-destruction, and is probably also sheltering high-ranking
refugees from the former Iraqi state. It is therefore now necessary that
Syria give up those, and any other, weapons of mass-destruction, as well
as the Iraqi war-criminals, or face ^Ìvery serious consequences¹ for
noncompliance with the will of the ^Ìworld¹ (a compliance such as would
require weapons inspectors, economic sanctions, and a detailed plan,
available corporate investment potential, and a will to act).² Of course
such weapons, and such criminals may just as readily migrate to Iran, to
Egypt, and elsewhere, and the same logic by which Iraq was diminished
will apply, with the same legitimacy--growing in force by it¹s assumed
^Ìinevitability¹--to these, and to any state deemed undesirable or a
threat to American interests. To such a list one might add Cuba and
Venezuela, and one might begin to speculate a bit more about the future
of other, farther, places.


 Once the form of phrasing has been linked to a presumed
^Ìinevitability,¹ a disymmetry in the disputation of phrases is set into
place which does not silence, but renders ineffective, or ^Ìirrelevant,¹
any dissenting voices. It is a bit like a bully on a gradeschool
playground, whose predation on younger smaller children is seen by others
as a form of strength or exercise of will, so that still others who see
the forms of violation that take place do so within the already
sanctioned and established referential frame. One might phrase it as a
^Ìcondition of possibility,¹ a ^Ìsurvival of the fittest,¹ or a
^Ìpreemptive protection of interests.¹ A default judgement: a judgement
which aligns itself --a judgement which people make--because it is
easier, cheaper, less tragic and less labor- or capital-intensive to make
than thinking or confronting what is happening directly. Because it is a
fait accompli; because it was  therefore inevitable, and other species of
the same phrasing are inevitable, too, a part of the same process, linked
to the same history, and the same power. A succession of paraphrases in

(parenthesis on media): the intercession of  the camera

. . . the camera does not see . . .
       ^ËWalter Benjamin

 In an essay which is perhaps read too often, and too quickly, Walter
Benjamin marks a distinction between the camera¹s optics and human
perception, noting the camera¹s intervention into the sphere of human
visuality, via the substitution of a nonconscious instrumentality in the
place of our own regard. That is, at a remove, in a deferral which
institutes an aporia in perception via certain intercessionary
technologies--photography, cinema, digital media--which is difficult to
discern or to avoid. It is in this gap that a catachretic linkage is
effected such that ^Ìevidence¹ as a material trace is rendered commutable
with the regimen of phrases. An image, senseless and illegible by itself,
is linked via a series of naturalized supplements--paratextual
phrasings--to an order of sense and evidence. And as such it enters into
disputation as a supplementation or negation linking to other phrases.

 For all of its increasing sophistication, the camera remains an
instrument of citation, a ^Ìwriting in/of light¹ which secures only the
most minute trace, or movement, as it flashes by (aufblitzendes), caught,
inscribed in the particulate grain of photo-chemical materiality,
inscribed into the regimen of rules for constituting phrases,
inextricably linked to a register of evidence. There is no interiority to
the photograph, the transmission, the image. Still, when we see what the
camera has recorded it nonetheless engages a reflex within us, one that
perceives light and shadow, movement, and even reflection, as substance,
and, in the case of  photographically recorded images of people, which
compels in us a recognition and response to a presumed other, the
presence of some person or thing seen as having actually appeared before
the camera, within the frame of the image, operating at its presumed
point of origin. Facial recognition is one of our earliest unconscious
accomplishments, hardwired in us even as infants; the camera intervenes
in that, to present a technically reproducible shadow, an apparition of
presence, one which operates at the same time as an index of loss. This
also happens with the reproduction/transmission of images, where the
presumption of the presence of the ^Ìeye¹ of the operator is also linked
to the chain of presumed presences, coextensive with the aperture of the
camera. For Benjamin, it is through the instrumentality of the camera
that ³an unconsciously penetrated space is substituted for a space
consciously explored,² where the naturalization of prosthetic perception
via the camera ³introduces us to unconscious optics as does
psychoanalysis to unconscious impulses.² That is, at a remove, outside
the image or scene, with a compulsion to repetition and the promise of
 recuperation, so that there is an uncanny doubling of the camera¹s
unconscious optics with our own impulses, a technico-philosophical
sleight of hand that purports to secure the whole of the real, by
phrasing the trace-image as ^Ìevidentiary.¹ It is the very definition of
the phantasm. Mediologic perception is folded back into experience, an
artificial memory, naturalized and subsumed, which presents the proleptic
promise of recall, even as it circumscribes a doubled site of loss,
producing a malleable ^Ìreal,¹ which is at every moment a virtual
supplement to the evidentiary. What we thought were sensations have
become ghosts, transfixed in a flash, mere afterimages; we are haunted by
such images, even as those images are haunted by other, absent, traces of
an elsewhere that we have made our own, domesticated fragments which we
have compelled to enter into other relations, different economies of
sense and reference. Linked to phrasing--nostalgia, kitsch, sentiment-- a
presence deferred to an impossible proximity, but never lost entirely.
The patterns of deferred presences may be considered a species of
allusion, and it is within the space of allusion that a complex linkage
and interplay of simulation and dissimulation occurs, through which we
recognize, engage with, and consume images, and their supplementarities.
Our presumption of the verisimilitude of the camera--of its
^Ìobjectivity¹ and it¹s tacit claim to the truth of human presence,
evidence of the eye, or of the hand, of what has happened--is
produced--phrased--according to certain habitual discursive rules, allied
to the seductions of power and interest. This phraseology, which has
persisted as an index to the photographic apparatus since its origins, is
now being aggressively deployed to further contemporary
political-economic interests in a manner which masks and impedes any
heuristic or recourse to analysis by precluding other phrases or
interpretations which fix, or arrest, the mediologic trace as a certain
kind of evidence-in-dispute.
 Thomas Y. Levin has argued persuasively that ³the epistemology of the
³realism² of the ^Ìeffect of the real¹ produced by classical continuity
editing in film is fundamentally based on the referential surplus value
of photo-chemical indexicality.² The history of our apprehension of the
material basis of the photographic artifact as depicting an image of
something has secured for the photograph--and for all subsequent
photographic media-- a powerful, if problematic, signifying presence. If
there was a certain era in the reception of photography where such
artifacts could be unproblematically introduced as, for example, evidence
of culpability or innocence in a court of law, or convincing proof of
political events or natural phenomena, today no such claim to evidentiary
verisimilitude can be presumed, as the consequences of an increasingly
widespread recognition of the  photographic surface as a complex and
hybrid construct become increasingly salient in the public sphere. We
find ourselves tracing the hitherto hidden contours of a constantly
renegotiated and ³generalized pedagogy of verisimilitude² only to have
ourselves cast back, reinscribed into a subject-position wherein our
perception and consumption of images is shaped and constrained by a
register of habits, a regimen of rules, a tracery of assigned

commutability, again

 There is a commutability in the materiality of signs, a system of
equivalences constructed between a trace, an edit, a mark, the grain of
reactive photo-chemical deposition, a pattern of pixels or the disparate
charges of electrons and the relations it establishes to its own
exteriority through patterns of phrasing, forming preconditions for
judgement and action. While there may be an assumed equivalence on the
material axis between the profoundly unintentional tracings in light
which are mechanically produced, or those which have come about through
the intercession of discursive and technological phrasings, we still find
ourselves arrested, silent, alone before the image, a moment before a
flicker of recognition sets in, a recognition that has far more to do
with habit and interest, than with truth or evidence. There is a profound
difference between believing what we see and believing what we are shown.

(another parenthesis on media): immediacy

 There are three primary aspects of the photographic image to be
considered in any consideration of the evidentiary. These aspects are
(1)-armature, (2)-trace, and (3)-relay.

1. The photographic artifact is an armature in that in order to ^Ìappear¹
at all it must constantly support linkage to innumerable and exterior
discursive pattern. The constant possibility of these linkages are
necessary to constitute the persistence of its identity as an artifact.
For example, an overwhelming percentage of photographic processes never
result in a discrete photographic artifacts;  consider video surveillance
systems, which cycle through, overwriting upon itself, in segments of an
hour, two, three, nine, or twenty-four hour increments. It is only when
some extraordinary act--the commission of a crime, or a natural
disaster--occurs that the photographic project is arrested, and an image
is fixed, and linked to  a set of discursive, and often contentious,
 phrases. The arrestment of the image and its inscription into a
discursive field are coextensive.

2. It is through such arrestments, situating or fixing the image in place
within a particular regimen (of rules for evidence, for example) that the
referential is articulated. The presumption (regimen) of presence casts
the photograph as a trace of something which has taken place, securing
for this nascent object, in the very moment of its appearance, an
evidentiary disposition.

3. As such an image is always immanent (a material armature) and never
closed (it is is formed as a trace of something) in that it can be
endlessly linked to orders of verisimilitude (inscribed into the
disputation of phrases as an evidentiary trace of competing or confirming
evidence), and in that manner be tactically deployed.

 The relation between these aspects of the media-image are not
consequential but entailed; they are not progressive, but instantaneous
and simultaneous, and their ^Ìtaking place¹ renders the relation of
interiority and exteriority radically indeterminate, so that technically
reproducible images are incessantly inscribed into the heterogenous
conflict of phrases, shaped--in lieu of the regimen of consensus--by
power and interest. The image is arrested (as what it is/purports to be)
through the register of legitimating/delegitimating phrases, an exterior,
almost auratic, relation to the inaccessible ^Ìtruth¹ of technical
reproducibility. These pre-existing rules of phrasing determine the
^Ìnature¹ within which the technically reproducible image ^Ìtakes place¹
as such. As simple example: in the moment that the jubilant faces of
celebrating children in Palestine were inscribed into the phrasing of the
aftermath of 9-11, a secondary image of the ^Ìenemy¹ was substantiated,
given a face. No matter that it was later revealed that the footage had
been taken some four months previous to the terrorist attacks on New York
City and Washington DC, and was about something else entirely. The effect
had already taken place, the attribution, even if it was disarticulated
and overturned, persists as an unconscious proleptic charge, evidence for
a claim in dispute. A picture of the enemy, without the unnecessary
recourse to truth, was beginning to appear, and would need do no more
that to have flickered before us as an evidentiary trace, if only for a
moment,  to operate as an element in a regulated persuasion to judgement.


 . . . 'consistency' is not 'truth'; 'conviction' is not 'ethics';
'success' is not 'evidence'. . .
        ^ËAxel Idiarté Monito

 The man who had masterminded the terrorist attack on the luxury liner
Achille Lauro in the Mediterranean had sanctuary in Iraq. He has now been
found and detained. This is a good thing; the 1985 attack had been a
despicable and inhuman act, and (hopefully) this responsible man will be
extradited to face his sentence according to international law. More
questionable--though this is a question that is excised from the current
rhetorical phraseology--is how this instance of ^Ìevidence¹ that Iraq is
harboring terrorists may serve as another a posteriori justification of
the invasion (e.g., by having replaced the search for weapons of
mass-destruction, by a pattern of commutable acts of indefinite extent).
It may be true that there are still many terrorists in Iraq (and in
Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Israel), perhaps as many as currently reside in the
United States, or in various European nations. But to link the presence
of any such individual to the policies of a State now, in conjunction
with the current invasion, and not at any other point of his residence,
is gross opportunism and distraction. It is not a question of
culpability--that had been determined in a court of law-- but to question
the rhetorical ellision by which the phrasing of this event serves as a
confirming instance or vindicating ^Ìproof¹ of the right of the current
US political agenda, by ^Ìswapping out¹ or occupying the empty field
within which the rationale of war is (re) phrased. It doesn¹t authorize
simply by saying that it does, and offering a succession of image/phrases
in the evacuated space of ^Ìevidence¹ to support the public image of
policy. Neither could any other similar instances of the attribution of
motive, whether speculative or ^Ìreal,¹  of the ^Ìharboring of
terrorists¹ be directed now, consecutively, to other states, Syria or
Iran, Algeria or Egypt, to serve to authorize military, political and
economic actions. Slavoj Zizek was correct in pointing out the surplus of
reasonings for attack, and that it is a surplus which readily exceeds the
fragile territories of a single target nation. What is most remarkable is
the radical generalization of reasoning coupled with an unnegotiable
assumption of authority, and an overriding will to deploy. It is not
surprising that there is a commensurate anxiety which is already directed
toward the revisionary^Ërewriting a favorable history at the very moment
that it ^Ìoccurs.¹ A revisionism both generalized and immediate, wherein
the paradigmatic shifts in the category of ^Ìevidence,¹ ^Ìproof,¹ and
^Ìrationale¹ are a virtually endless and repetitive succession of phrases
linking ^Ìconsequence¹ to ^Ìreason.¹ It is the same rhetorical formulae,
over and over again, familiar and always at hand--as if war after war
represent just another species of technical reproducibility, whose
auratic presence is a (nostalgic) claim to an absent ^Ìgood war.¹

a regulated and empowered relativism

 What is at stake is the regulation of the interarticulation of phrases
and images. This is, to be sure, a coextensive and permeable field:
images linked to phrases may be apprehended as either or both phrase
and/or image, sutured together to approximate the recognized regimen of
evidence, proof or (common) knowledge. It produces a subject-disposition
wherein ^Ìtruth¹ is again less what you can see than what you are shown.
But it is crucial to look at who is doing the phrasing, to look at how,
and for whom, and to what end, and to whose benefit, the interrelations
of phrases and traces^Ëmediations^Ëare being constructed and regulated.
This operates on a very deep level, where perception, presumption, and
apprehension occur within a framework of unconscious habit and the
naturalization of technical mediations. In other words, in us. At the
same time, the process is also quite simple, even vulgar. When memory is
the remembrance of a memory, someone else¹s memory^Ëas in the case of
media, producing an artificial memory of war as ^Ìthe good war¹ modeled
on the mediations of the Second World War, supported by familiar
rhetorical forms^Ëproduces sentiment and nostalgia which, especially when
so induced, are organized into what one might call kitsch.

 Kitsch is the ability to surpass essential belongings and rest in more
superficial ones, to create an imaginary landscape through accumulation
and camouflage, and to crystallize the continuous movement of life in the
permeable disguise of fantasy.
       ^ËCeleste Olalquiaga

It has to do with investment and reflex, habit and docility--the effect
of a suffusing corporate mentality, and a generations-long nurturing of a
culture of consumption, not only of commodities, but of ideas, and of
naturalized, tacit, recognitions of power, authority, hierarchy and
success, all of the tropes--persuasive phrasings--that have made us who
we think we are, and which allow us to have authorised by abeyance, our
own shallow consumption of the image the series of wars promulgated by
the Bush administration. Investments which allow us to abnegate thinking,
or the rigours of conscience, even the intensities of the labors of
cognition. We are a people who think with our pocketbooks, our wallets,
cable, dish and SUV, who think through running in place on a treadmill in
our gyms, while shopping, through one version or another of ^Ìreality
tv.¹ We think through terror and atrocity and loss at a compensatory
remove, and we always, vigilantly, go about our business.

an uncanny and immediate memory

 Anamnesis/amnesis, memory and forgetting--one taken for the other,
inscribed within each other¹s contours, an uncanny collapse of the
mediations between forgetting and remembrance, constrained to a specific,
present, moment. But there is a dissymmetry in the space of forgetting
when it is occupied by another memory, one which is not bound to the
specificities of place, time, or contingent events, but which
represents--for certain interests-- a tacit allegory of an abstract and
generalized condition such as ^Ìthe just conduct of war.¹ It is not only
as Hegel suggested, that the face of the enemy is always blank, but that
there is a similar and antithetical  blankness always ready to be
deployed, one which grounds the thinking of, and commitment to, a
righteous deployment of force, unmediated by any ^Ìevidence¹ contrary to
the enabling terms of military opposition. An empty counterpart to the
blank countenance of ^Ìthe enemy,¹ an empty semiotic hole whose specific
gravity must immediately be filled: identification and the other, ^Ìus¹
and ^Ìthem,¹ a tacit psychology which authorizes one thing by authorizing
another. An allegory of predation as defense. Such a process may be
called uncanny in that it represents the eruption of the unfamiliar
within the familiar as the familiar. The first five entries on ³uncanny²
in the Oxford English Dictionary all have to do with mischief, malice,
carelessness, unreliability, lack of caution or trust, difficulty or
severity^Ëand uncomfortability, especially as regards the supernatural,
the strange or unfamiliar. In the psychoanalytic register the term is far
more determinate, and heavily theorized, such that it is put into play
with discourses on simulation, mimesis, alterity, the sublime, the
abject, the alien. The space of memory which is occupied by another, more
familiar, memory^Ëfor example with the war in Iraq represented by
personal narratives of the soldiers at the front and their families at
home^Ë masks the phrasing of current events by a familiar trope which
defines a ^Ìmoral¹ stance by reference to a more readily  consumable
model derived from secondary sources, movies, television, other histories
and events in the recent past. Such defining tropes claim an ^Ìimmediacy¹
in every sense of the word, no least because they successfully mask their
origin at a distance from their reference, by masking their process of
mediation. A battle is represented in the way we represent a battle, a
war according to the authorised tropology of war, and persuasion by its
own means. There are similar ways of representing the end of a war.

an opportunism both virtual and reactive (commutability, once again)

 Now, soldiers have become policemen, and policemen have become soldiers;
volunteer police from coalition countries are deployed to occupy Iraqi
cities as a peacekeeping force while the soldiers who they will
supplement and replace currently occupy that civil position. Civilians
have become military, as armed corporate teams occupy strategic sites
such as oil wells, communications centers, and other infrastructural
territories. Such paramilitary forces as had been deployed in Kosovo and
other parts of the former Yugoslavia operate outside the checks and
balances of military law, as well as local civil authority. Criminal
events^Ësuch as brutal slayings, rapes, maiming, pillage^Ëhad occurred
with these groups, and remain unprosecuted. As one such para-civilian
noted, unlike military ranks, these are ³like any group of guys, (where)
there are some good guys and some bad ones.² Halliburton, Dimecorp,
Lucent and other privileged corporate groups  favored by the Defense
Department have been ^Ìauthorised¹ by the Bush administration to
^Ìprivatise¹ Iraqi oil-production, and communications networks, with what
amounts to a corporate para-military occupation force. One might only
speculate on the hidden commutabilities between such terms as ^ÌIraqi
freedom¹ and its counterpart, or what a phrase like ^Ìgiving back (oil,
government, artifacts, etc) to the Iraqi people,² or what the phrase
³Iraqi people² might really mean. Demonstrations in the streets of
Baghdad against American occupation are phrased as a freedom having been
granted to these people by the American occupation (another commutation:
³Isn¹t freedom wonderful?²--George W. Bush).

the museum of public outrage

 Both the traditional definition of museum, and the etymological
complicity proposed by Theodor Adorno, have resolutely to do with what
has passed. In the first definition, from the Oxford English Dictionary,
the word refers to ³the seat of the muses,² or a repository of what has
been inspired by the Muses, whether of a natural order or of the making
of men. For Adorno the word museum was complicit with the word mausoleum,
a repository of dead things. Conventionally such repositories have to do
with artifacts, material, substantive things. This is even the case in
writing--even cuneiform-- whose material armature is but the means of
giving up its immateriality, as Augustine has said, of performing a
³communication with the absent.² With what is passing away.

A society which rashly privileges the present^Ëreal time^Ëto the
detriment of both the past and the future, also privileges the
accident.                 ---Paul Virilio

In the very first sentence of an essay entitled ³The Museum of
Accidents,² Virilio presents us with a dilemma: can the accident ever be
consigned to the past, or a future accident be foreseen? If, in our
contemporary mediate world everything happens, unexpectedly and at every
moment, everywhere, abolishing--as Heidegger claimed--distance by
constant proximity, is there a possibility of the museum? If there is
only a present, within which the past is constantly constructed in the
present tense^Ëas is the future, and its claimed inevitabilities^Ëwhat is
the role of a ³museum²? What might it contain? Or display? Or cover over,
and hide or vouchsafe from public purview? Or should we shift the
registration a bit, reframe the question, and ask what is it that shall
be cordoned off, removed from the ubiquitous present? Let us take a
concrete example: citizens of the United States of America have
traditionally and constitutionally enjoyed the right of free assembly. It
is closely aligned with the right of free speech. When the exercise of
these rights has taken the form of peaceful, organized protest of recent
events/policies (such as NAFTA, the most recent presidential election, or
the invasion of Iraq), the organizers have had to address a broad range
of legislations, local ordinances and court judgements to render their
action ^Ìlegal.¹ In most cases the right of assembly/free speech is
mediated by what have been termed ³protest-pits,¹ secure territories,
often at a far remove from the ostensible or symbolic group towards which
such communications are addressed. In Quebec City protesters of
international trade agreements were enclosed in a secure compound a mile
from the site occupied by the group they wanted to address. Media
coverage of this ³protest-pit² was minimized. The same has occurred with
environmentalist groups. The protest which was to have taken place in
front of the United Nations in mid-town Manhattan was denied, and then
moved to a route several blocks away. Media coverage was intermittant,
with a concentration on a series of small conflicts between police^Ëwho
were generally well-disposed towards demonstrators^Ëand groups milling
around   after the end of the event. The nature, numbers of marchers, and
demeanor of crowds was routinely distorted, in New York City, across the
country and across the globe. Are such ³protest-pits² --whether they are
a physical concentration of demonstrators in a secure, monitored, site or
^Ìre-framed¹ by a media already of necessity in collusion with corporate
interests--our new museums? An exercise of free speech in a past-perfect
tense, removed from any potential for potency and persuasion in the
present--that is to say mediated-- public sphere? Who is being addressed,
if the transmission is controlled, delayed or deferred? Or, perhaps in a
more cynical tone, is there any possibility of appeal to the public
conscience is such a substantive entity no longer exists? Or is a myth,
or a fiction, or another sort of construct entirely?

. . . neither matter nor space nor time has been what it was from time

         ---Paul Valéry

Valéry¹s phrase, from ³La Conquète de l¹ubiquité,² was excerpted from the
epigraph which opens Walter Benjamin¹s essay on technical
reproducibility. Paul Virilio paraphrases Valéry when he says that ³we
might assert without fear of contradiction that ³the time of the finite
world is coming to an end.²² Virilio goes on to say that knowledge marks
the finitude of man, just as ecology marks the finitude of the
geophysical environment. In a constant present, where free speech,
thought and action are circumscribed in a museum-like fashion, is the
overwhelming mark of our finitude the contour of corporate globalisation?

the reconstruction of media

 Um qasr, Iraq, the second week of April, 2003: the first radio station
to operate after the demise of Saddam Hussein begins broadcasting. Five
hundred radios have been given out; there are 20,000 more due to arrive
within days. Lucent Corporation has lucrative contracts to reconstruct
the communications infrastructure throughout Iraq; people will soon begin
receiving phone bills. The reconstruction of media will require the
reconstruction of forms of attention and subjectivity which are more
amenable to the new corporate communications infrastructures than had
been hitherto achieved by a people who had so recently thought of radios
as ³rocks with tails, which made noise² (Abderhaman Munif). The image of
this new people is already being constructed, in advance of those who, in
their own lives, and minds, and marketplaces, will fill in--flesh
out--its contours. ³You are a consumer, or you are a target.² Another
commutation, whose ironic common point is the blank, empty space of
subjectivity: one will be a certain thing, an enemy or a
capitalist--there is no other position, and one will accomodate the image
that precedes the substance. There will be more consumers and there will
be more terrorists. The pictoriality that Heidegger spoke of in his essay
Die Zeit des Weltbildes is a precessionary simulation that requires the
conformity of precise subject-positions. Manipulate the picture, and you
will have controlled the substantive real. This is the primary mediation.

the possibility of an open future

 Now things are quiet, and our is spent; events as they speed into the
past have taken on the definition of inevitability. But it is a
definition which is not constrained to some simple idea of the past, but
suffuses a logic of entailment, or of necessity. An interesting state, as
a past is wiped away--was the persistence of Babylonian artifacts an
unnecessary luxury after all? Who needs cuneiform, in a new world?--and
the future is again a virgin territory, a tabula rasa, unencumbered by
the tangle of laws, references, people, restored to a state of nature--or
at least of undeveloped resources.  At this quiet moment, when the
impulse for even the words you hold before you has seemingly passed, when
the cautions presented herein are almost no longer topical, when they are
overtaken by a silence (of resignation? of the inevitable?) that covers
us, as if we have passed, in this quiet moment it is more important than
ever to look carefully at what is still happening, at what has just
happened, and at their complexities, complicities and resistances. Here,
in this silent aftermath, we must struggle to pose questions.

some questions

1.  Is it possible to see a comprehensive and accurate picture of the
effects of the invasion of Iraq to date? And to base speculations on the
future on accurate models of the shape of the present?

2.  What has happened to domestic legislation, to constitutionally
guaranteed rights and freedoms, and to international law under the
current US administration? What, objectively, is the form of government
of the United States of America?

3.  Can a nation^Ëany nation, every nation^Ë be run like a corporation?

4. Can other nations be dealt with according to corporate interests? How
will such corporate interests change or modify international law?

5.  Has the future of national sovereignty come to an end?

6.  Will Iraqi people be ^Ìre-educated¹ as consumers? Is the only
^Ìdemocratic state¹ the one that is defined, by the US, as a capitalist
state? Are the Iraqi (Syrian, North Korean, etc.) people ^Ìjust like us¹
and do ^Ìthey want what we want¹?

7.  Is there a possibility of any culture other than a global, corporate,

8.  Who claims the right to tell the truth? For whom? To what end? Under
what conditions? What is the role of ^Ìtruth-telling¹ in the contemporary
American political sphere?

9. Is corporate globalism indeed the mark of our contemporary finitude?
Or is democracy still possible? How? Where?

10. Is the separation of state and corporation possible?

one definition and three epigraphs

 Apocalypticism--a relatively recent word deriving from the Greek word
for revelation--refers to a complex of ideas associated with the
'opening' or prefiguring of the end of history, whether it be the
Armageddon depicted in the Bible or more secular versions of final
destruction. Apocalypticism is usually associated with a
self-righteousness of the elect (those privy to revelation or proleptic
foreshadowing) which engenders dangerous forms of fanaticism. The final
end, the end of 'history' one might suppose is an 'endless end' which is
constantly 'phrased,' an 'interminable phrasing' in Lyotard's terms, one
which admits of no termination, no end, no final phrase, a Differend with
a capital 'D,' the excession of all regimens.

  Today is a great day for the history of freedom

     ^ËGeorge W. Bush

  all things are less than
  they are,
  all are more.
     ^ËPaul Celan

  There is no last phrase.
     ^ËJean-Françoise Lyotard

© thomas zummer 2003

Generated by Mnemosyne 0.12.