Posts Tagged ‘Mass media’

Together or Alone

Monday, March 25th, 2013 | Posted by Sarah Jury

I will never know where you are while I write this, or where you are while you read it. Do you sit alone like me; feet tucked under a folded-down duvet, clothed in soft jersey – a Sunday-morning-style of working-from-home? In my last post I mentioned the anonymity of the screen in the room; the secrecy of the users gaze. Since, I’ve been researching aloneness and sociability.

Contemporary working methodologies include “think groups” and “ break-out areas” and are concerned with game theory; collaboration has become a strategy as well as an art practice. Within artist-run studios and post-studio practices collectives share tasks and ideas to mutual benefit, but where does leave the introvert who works best alone; what of the Anachorites, when idiorrhythmia calls?

Sloterdijk writes ‘Psychologist-philosophers of the early Modern ages had made it clear that the interpersonal space was overcrowded with symbiotic, erotic and mimetic-competitive energies that fundamentally deny the illusion of subject autonomy.’ [Sloterdijk, Peter, Bubbles (Semiotext(e) 2007) pp.207.] Philosopher Wittgenstein suffered from this lack of ‘subject autonomy’ and noted that he could only think clearly when outside the academy; away from other academics and institutions. He retreated to Norway:

WittgensteinHouse

Wittegenstein’s cabin in Skjolden, Norway

 

Where could I find this isolated place now? I ask this question while alone in my room I have conversations popping up as texts and Tweets on my phone, as emails and Google chats pop up on my laptop screen. I have Facebook and Skype set to “invisible” and am contemplating downloading ‘Freedom’, one of the study aids that block your computer from receiving the internet for a pre-set time:

Screen Shot 2013-03-23 at 15.31.32

‘Freedom’ – when did the internet become something we needed ‘freedom’ from?

When I do retreat to a rural heaven, I take my computer and can’t help but to key in the Wi-Fi code, and therefor continue to be connected to the very same international network. Unlike the many classic literary gents (T.S. Elliot who finished The Wasteland while on retreat in Margate, Orwell who wrote Nineteen Eighty-Four on the Scottish island of Jura), wherever I go my position on the network remains un-removed. I question how the relevance of location has changed since we are constantly surrounded with this same network of peers and information; plugged into the same Gmail program, the retreating artist must go further, to “get away”. For those accessing this blog post, total removal from “the” globalized society, is an extreme action and quite difficult to come by.
When listening to the narrative of any of Oliver Laric’s Versions film works, the infinity of content online is brought to my attention through his narrative essay. Since information on the internet is infinitely duplicated and is expanding in all directions, the source of the information becomes untraceable, and eventually, irrelevant. Information is removed from its original context as soon as it becomes digitally accessible, this philosophy could be carried across to our own geographical location. The geographical setting of origin becomes unimportant if the digital network, the same network that we access every day and the traveler, easily accesses everywhere. It doesn’t matter where we are. Perhaps when the 20% of us who are served by telecommunication found “Globalization”, lost original context.

What becomes of the introvert who traveled to find solitude, does he/she now have nowhere to retreat to, or does this person find a new, intermediary space? Shyness becomes less compromising now that popular digital communications provide a regular mode through which to communicate, protected by one sort of visor (screen/ keyboard/ microphone) or another.

The idea of Anonymous is that you’re fucking alone until you get to 4chan, and all these people think like you, and then all of a sudden you’re not alone, you’re with 500 others, they all know the same jokes and the same interests as you, “here is your culture”, you meet you’re own people, finally. [Mike Vitale, friend of Anonymous during Project Chanology.]

The rise in digital collaborative forums such as Anonymous, Reddit, 4Chan, server lists, reduce the social handicap that the introvert has been dealt with in the past allowing a guise through which to effortlessly access a peer group. Looking for similar social interaction stay at home mothers founded netmom and adolescent pre-teens divulge their most intimate concerns to group feedback on the comments pages of  Wikihow and Teenspot.
“Girly chat” is not really the same though is it – when it’s limited to anonymity and removed from your girlfriends. Gregg Housh, internet activist associated with Anonymous, joked about Anonymous’s members ‘who are not socially good, they still live at home at 23 and half of them virgins,’ and in the 2013 Storyville BBC documentary How Hackers Changed the World: We Are Legion went on to divulge that a number of them admitted to ‘getting laid’ at the first physical gathering during the scientology protests of 2008. My point here is something about the importance of physical interaction, even the platonic kind. Questioning the effects of the impossibility of it on the internet, and how that’s effecting online communication.

I have a colleague who’s obsessed with ASMR (Auto Sensory Meridian Response):

Screen Shot 2013-03-23 at 15.25.03

The strange ASMR YouTube videos of people folding towels, stoking their faces with soft brushes or applying make-up are made by people who have found that watching these videos provokes a ‘tingling feeling which begins around the scalp and can often travel all around the body particularly down the back and into the persons arms and legs’ [http://www.asmr.co.uk/]. The draw is relaxation not sexual pleasure, but, maybe like porn, the visual sequences broadcast physical sensation through the screen. Having spoken about concerns of physically reductive online social-lives, to find this group of people who’s brains have developed to experience this ‘tingling sensation’ on the body without physical touch, crosses one of the limits of the screen.

ASMR is a very new fad, it is not yet scientifically researched as far as I can see but physical stimulus has been a heavily researched as a psychological effector, since the beginnings of erotology. This ancient and continually existing study is dedicated to physical stimuli and sexual behaviors and subjects long biography quantifies it’s own psychological importance.

Magnetosophical theory is a development of erotology, towards platonic physical stimulus, and has been researched by philosophers, anthropologists and psychoanalysts including Plato and Freud.  Magnetosphy addresses intersubjective intimate space and argues that our bodies are imbued with magnetic forces that, like planets in the cosmos, respond to each other – are drawn to each other. In the previously mentioned book Bubbles Sloterdijk evaluates every type of human-to-human intimacy including the magnetosphical, to claim that intellectual connections entail physical proximity, to grasp ‘the uppermost heights of cognition’. If indeed the ‘magnetic fields’ coming from another’s body really can take our thoughts to otherwise un reached places, this would reaffirm why working collaborations, which are played out face-to-face, are a vital method of practice.

Without the possibility for this physical interaction, can message boards, server lists and forums ever attain to similar qualities as face-to-face communication? Skype might take us closer to physical togetherness but the “magnetism” between two bodies is still voided through the disjunction of the screen. ASMR only serves to relax the viewer, and so far hasn’t expanded to look at the possible transmission of physical connection within two-way social communication. Are what we gain from almost always being connected, and a shyness-sensitive inclusiveness, worth the sacrifice of physical-social interaction? One risk is that the shield of the anonymity of the screen leaves users more reckless, but one benefit is that it distributes more voices to be heard, and therefore attains to a greater and more unilaterally satisfied community voice.

Terminology and the Draw to the Unknown

Wednesday, December 26th, 2012 | Posted by Sarah Jury

Internet or internet: as a proper noun the ‘Internet’ is a specific place, and refers to one specific Internet Protocol Network where as the common noun ‘internet’ refers to the larger inter network of Internet Protocol Networks that we generally think of when we use the word internet. Language for that large part of our lives (the internet part) is made up of metaphor and metonym, to reach into a reality that at its outset couldn’t be comprehended without use of terminology that related to physical experiences, which the general public was already familiar with. At this point I’d like to refer to Ben Vickers’ project introduction for ATARAXIA: Survey #1 below:

“A note on networks. “Networks are not a thing, they are a way of understanding and representing the world. A social networks perspective seeks to understand the way in which discrete units – nodes – are connected and affected by the relationships between them.” Ben Vickers, http://www.or-bits.com/08accordance/087bv.php

Recently I heard a student do a lecture at Goldsmiths University, during which he said that we no longer surf on the internet, but swim, there are currents and we are submerged; a metaphor that relays how the relationship between who is a resource to who: internet content -> <- user, has become mutually balanced in the last five years, due to the amount of receptive content, thus repositioning the users self, in context of the data stream.
Data stream.
Swimming in a stream of content.
We can take ‘walks’ (swims), (basically just whole journeys) on the internet, in so many different ways. Look at Bernhard Garnicnig Soundwwwalks, where he leads the viewer through a sequence of online sites that combine to build a complex audio texture that is then peeled, back page-by-page to silence, he calls these online performances ‘walks’.

Tron, The matrix, both are extended metaphor representations of what is behind the internet interface, because our brains can’t comprehend what dark matter is without subjective narrative and physical architectural identity. As our generation has grown up with this technology, I want to grasp it in real terms, dark matter included. I want to be able to understand it’s true, coded, electrical and invisible form, and not to rely on fictional illustrative allegory. I’m feel frustrated at how much I lean on the right, creative cerebral cortex of the brain and how little my left hemisphere gets involved in comprehending what must be a complex coded system of O and I’s.

Leaning through these physical metaphorical terms, also extends to social network theory, where identity of the internet is analogized from theory of place. For Certeau, it’s a practice space, an extension of the space of experimentation with practical function or without. Marc Augé ‘s theory of non-space has been posthumously protracted to a forth stage, by myself and others, to include non-space on the internet, such as the search engine home page, frequently updated news sights, image search listings; these places are transient and lack any solid or static sense of place, such as a chat room or online archive does.

George Lakoff argues that ‘metaphors can create realities’ ‘cultural change arises from the introduction of new metaphorical concepts and the loss of old ones’ [Lakoff, G. & Johnson, M. Metaphors We Live By (IL: University of Chicago Press, 1980),]. Is this true? We have metaphorised the space of the internet and now there are virtual realities and technological systems that begin to bring the physical place of the internet to the room you are sitting in. Has the metaphorical language has built the use, or the other way around?

Over use is what happens to a word when it means too much. What does it mean to talk about the internet when we are on it, in it, constantly. Doesn’t it become redundant and, like saying ‘ I’m on earth’ totally standard. What would happen if we didn’t have this word – the internet – would we all get specific; speak about spending time in live video communications, online broadcasting, email servers, specific news streams, archive sites, or even just a specific YouTube video. Wouldn’t that necessity, force open the web to be less of the mystery place we all go to for hours, and over time, make our negation of it more transparent and comprehendible.

Then I realise – this is exactly what we do want : the MYSTERY place –  the nameless void of knowledge.  When you say ‘I spent the day in the library’ the reply isn’t always followed with ‘which books did you look at’. Like this, the phrase ‘I’ve been surfing the net’ affords the researcher secrets. This over used, broad term ‘the internet’ lends us a closed door; you could be reading Heidegger or you could be looking at cat memes, nobody needs to know where you’ve been on your screen.

The DeLillo chapter that Marialaura Ghidini and the Accordance show reference also depicts the ‘invisible system’ and the surrounding mythology that has grown around that; the myth of what we cannot see to understand. So there are two unknowns, how the system works, and on a personal level, how our neighbors interact with it. Rather than trying to pin down the language and make everything transparent, I think these ambiguities and unknowns are employed by users of the internet. The specifics lost in analogous and loose terminology leave spaces for creative development.

The Excluded Middle

Thursday, February 16th, 2012 | Posted by Nathan Witt

 

The law of the excluded middle is the constant demand imposed upon statements to be true or false, it is both the exclusion of abandoned facts and the affirmation of everything leading up to the demand. The poor thing is often outside of the finite conclusion- made by whatever reason, in whatever fashion; as a result of verificationism and the desire for meaning. Things that exist outside of the definition of the thing, the informe, as Krauss put it, put to one side in favour of an ancient simplified polemic.

Artists are in a constant state of availability, ready for a talk, to verify their intentions, or to confirm and allay the doubts of the audience who have claimed the artist’s ideas before the work was even made. Imagine the luxury of being an artist who can say nothing, who is not present; which is, hypothetically, what apparently exists in theory, where culture claims these things and the artist is left regretting having thought for that split second- or for having the temerity to trust in the idea. Usually it is a social pre-requisite to trust the idea- manifest in the expression “artistic integrity”, which is another social aberration that is claimed by the audience/ outside world.

The size of the middle in this context is obviously vast and impenetrable, although the latter rests upon the finiteness of language understood by individuals. Intuitively, though, the middle is both epistemological and humungous; it is the part representation of something inconceivable and overwhelming in comparison to ourselves- and people’s perception of the truth lies within that. The dichotomy is the easy bit; is the finite ontic phenomena and in this instance a utility for determining- and demanding- some kind of result or, rather, a utility that is analogous to a situation of demands that are ultimately our responsibility in accepting or rejecting. There is so much time at the extreme end of things and monolithic texts, continents, oceans, the atmosphere, physically and socially inhumane living conditions, vacuums, pressure, the literal length of time that exists, history; they all serve as a deterrent for thinking in the middle. It’s intimidating.

What seems evident is our willingness to try and attempt some kind of ontological epistemology, to become luminous beings and to, either in rationalism or intuition, submit as much of ourselves to the question and absorb as much of the question into ourselves. Defining the point where/ when this occurs seems a trivial thing in comparison to the potential- or suspected bulk- of the phenomena and the nobility and braveness required for people to participate in this difficult and ambiguous situation. That vastness is linked to knowing- or gnosis- a person suspects what things are- or may be and it is intuited but there always exists the doubt of being unable to prove or realistically comprehend as to what its actual size or value is and lots of other things we relentlessly ask. Asking questions is difficult; getting answers is rewarding but in a [perverse] temporal/ suspended way. The pessimist in me would say I have received no answers when actually I answered questions that have led to this statement, I suppose awareness, in this case, is a reflection of the person, whether they are grateful for what they have or not.

The emotional side of truth is difficult to reconcile socially, where one person’s burden is another person’s gain and art as an empathetic environment to the trials and tribulations of humanity. Personally, there is still a desire to fuck things up. In the middle there exists great swathes of judgmental and conceited behavior, the attributes of people being passed on to this ridiculous anthropomorphic form of art we invent when we discuss something phenomenologically. It is the guise of positivity as a form for change, which prevails in social behavior and art but where cynicism and negativity and skepticism, which are all essential and vital forms of scientific analysis, are abandoned, or discouraged- considered inappropriate. Science has an advantage over art in that it call really recreate the most destructive force of negativity for its means, placing responsibility of its users. The Internet moderates itself morally, outside of the realm of its designers and moderators, by the way it discourages certain aberrant social behavior- the troll, or the way a person leaves Youtube comments alone, who should know better, where a retarded sub culture exists (I’m not going to say youth). The Facebook page and the Twit feed and before that, writing itself, are all forms of socially moderated behaviour and it is easy to look for either personal conceits or the wider sociological conceits- or, specifically, conceits endemic to artistic practice. The professional versus the wannabee versus the nobody versus the anarchist versus the nice person versus the idiot versus the tourist versus the sycophant versus the genius versus the talented- ad infinitum. The judging continues.

How do you define responsibility as an artist who doesn’t own their ideas? Who is not needed to be present? Firstly it is a statistic miracle that a human can exist, secondly it is a miracle that a human can be happy when they look at certain aspects of the world objectively- and what happens to artists is a trickle down effect of a diminishment of being, where, if they were to be silent enough, an inversion would occur- like a social void or a black hole, where language and society is left with nothing to take and then starts to consume it self like ourobouros: the snake eating its tail. It is strange to think that this has occurred by talking, whether it pre-empts the scenario is a different matter.

 

Upside down x-ray of a snake that had swallowed a heating blanket

Tuesday, January 17th, 2012 | Posted by Nathan Witt

The bookshelf and the spell check, illiteracy in Microsoft Word (2005)

 


Dictionary of Proverbs/ Baudrillard’s Ecstasy of Communication/ Dictionary of Superstition/ Deleuze and Guattari: 1000 Plateaus/ The Two Sources of Morality and Religion/ The Architectural Uncanny/ Being and Time/ Situationist International/ Anti-Oedipus/ The Social Contract/ The Nose/ Lights Out for the Territory/ Of Grammatology/ Clytemnestra/ Oedipus/ Electra/ Alcestis/ Medea/ ETA Hoffmann/ Orestes/ Lysistrata/ The Eumenides/ The Theban Plays/ Baudelaire’s The Generous Gambler/ The Napoleon of Notting Hill/ Melmoth the Wanderer/ Barthes’ The Eiffel Tower/ Rousseau’s Confessions/ Steppenwolfe/ Little Arthur Rimbaud and Paul Verlaine/ Will to Power/ Grossmith’s Diary of a Nobody/ What is Literature?/ Blanchot/ The Arcades Project/ The Stones of Venice/ Kristeva/ Nausea/ Juvenal’s Satires/ Anais Nin/ The Anatomy of Melancholia/ Beyond Good and Evil/ Suite Ventienne/

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The Prince/ Henry Miller/ The Return of the Real/ The Robert Crumb Handbook/ Madness and Civilization/ World View/ Fathers and Sons/ The Russian Criminal Tattoo Encyclopaedia/ Mark Twain/ Ovid/ Aesop/ Ray Johnson’s a Laugh/ The Man who was Thursday/ Doge and Dogaressa/ Richard Prince/ Sigmar Polke/ Priories and Abbeys of England/ Romanesque/ Ruscha’s Leave Any Information at the Signal/ Modern Man in Search of a Soul/ Why Do Women Write More Letters Than They Send?/ Barthes’ A Lovers Discourse/ Straw Dogs/ Herodotus The Histories/ The R Crumb Handbook/ Francis Wheen’s Karl Marx/ Manners and Morals/ The Moment of Self Portraiture in German Renaissance Art/ John Julius Norwich’s A History of

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Venice/ Venice and the Renaissance/ Piranesi/ Gustave Dore/ Debord’s The Theory of the Derive/ The Parisien Prowler/ Post-Humous Papers of a Living Author/ The Species of Spaces/ Down and Out in Paris and London/ Lord Jim/ Madness and Civilization/ The Object Stares Back/ Ray Monk’s Bertrand Russell Vol 1/ Ray Monk’s Bertrand Russell The Ghost of Madness 1921-70/ CT Onion’s Oxford Dictionary of Etymology/ The Compact Oxford Dictionary/ The Oxford Dictionary of Art/ The Hutton Report/ Chris Burden’s When Robots Rule and The Two Minute Airplane Factory/ Jamie Shovlin on Naomi Jellish/ Jeff Wall/ Raymond Pettibon/ Bruce Nauman/ Mike Kelley’s Catholic Tastes/ Wells Cathedral/ Caravaggio/ From Constable to Delacroix/ Moliere Three Plays/ Candide/ Mythologies/ A Lovers Discourse/ Life A Users Manual/ The Man Without Qualities/ Zazie on the Metro/ L’exercises du Style/ The Lives of the Artists/ Myth of Sisyphus/ The System of Dr Tarr and Professor Fether/ Dave Hickey/ Augustine’s Confessions/ The Critique of Pure Reason/ Erasmus’ In the Praise of Folly/ Helene Cixous/ The Aenid/ Lyotard’s The Post Modern Condition/ Lyotard’s Confessions/ Poetics of Space/ Aristophanes’ Birds, his Wasps, his Frogs and his Clouds/ The Secret Heresy of Hieronymous Bosch/ Prometheus Bound/ Gogol/ The Prisoner of Venice/ Rabelais/ Camus’ Fall, his Plague, his Rebel and his Outsider/ Faust/ Faust/ Faust/ Arrian’s Campaigns of Alexander/ Writing and Difference/ Blanchot’s Friendship/ Derrida’s On Friendship/ Betty Radice/ Michael Wood/ The Confidence Man/ Geoffrey Chaucer/ Being and Nothingness/ Bataille/ Johannes Itten/ Catholic Tastes/ Breakdown/ Plato/ John Ruskin’s Sesames and Lilies/ Harrison and Wood/ Revenge of the Crystal/ PD Ouspensky/ CG Gurdjieff/ Lucretius’ De Rerum Natura/ JK Huysmans’ Against Nature/ Paradisio/ Purgatorio/ Inferno

 

The mystery of advertising and the city of the future

Friday, December 9th, 2011 | Posted by Federico Campagna

Preamble: the flood

As we witness the fireworks of global finance exploding in the sky, together with the narratives and hopes of the last three decades, we might be missing the silent activity that swarms around our feet. On the muddy ground of today’s semiotic life, the sudden lack of our attention to the moves of semiocapitalism has not led to any slowing of its processes of transformation of our internal and external environments. Language, affects, emotions, attention and meaning continue to be subsumed by the production system, maybe now more than ever. They are extracted from us in rivers, they are conveyed into the catching areas of Capital, and then stored within the mighty dam of Marketing. There, they are supposed to work by inertia, pushing the engines of economic production with their sheer weight. It used to be called the advertising circle, then it became the totality of semiocapitalism.

In particular, people seem to be relieved by relinquishing ownership on functions of production and management of abstractions. They have been encouraged to do so for decades, endlessly urged by marketing to get rid of their heavy burden of immateriality and to give it to the experts. The experts, however, have promised more that they can deliver. The level of the flow keeps increasing, much faster than the construction of the dam that contains it. As more and more semiotic functions are handed over by individuals to the marketeers, their sheer amount is ultimately overwhelming them, escaping the rigid grids that had been built for their containment, overflowing, becoming floods. As it is in the nature of floods, they change the tamed, useful nature of water-for-consumption into the unusable, and potentially threatening qualities of water-in-itself.

And yet, from the devastating indifference of floods, many a civilization has risen.

 

From description to incarnation

The ultimate scope of marketing is increasing the sales figures of a certain product, a line of products, a brand or a network of brands. This scope can be reached through a myriad of paths and techniques, following short-term and/or long-term strategies. One of the main marketing strategies is promotion, that is, the provision of information about a product /brand(truthful or not, actual or virtual, it does not matter) to the potential customers. Promotion reaches its pinnacle in the use of the techniques of advertising.

In the second half of the 19th century, advertising started as the mere description of the qualities and properties of the objects for sale. Ads merely described the qualities of the products, possibly presented in emphatic terms. Around the second decade of the 20th century, and especially with the first encounters of art and advertising (as it happened with Futurism), advertising started developing the semiotic aspect of promotion. As it became even clearer at the end of the 1950s, advertising focused more and more on the semiotization of the products, through the insertion of values (that is, of the representation of abstract ideas) into them. The product became the symbol of a certain idea, that is, it acquired semiotic value. Through use, the purchaser could interact with the abstractions represented by the product, and appropriate them for him/herself. For example, if a bottle of shower gel represented ‘cleanliness’, the interaction of the individual with that product would lead him/her to appropriating the noun ‘cleanliness’ through its transformation into the adjective ‘clean’. Through use, the ideas represented by the product would transfer to the user and, in doing so, the user would transform objective values (nouns, represented by the products) into subjective attributes (adjectives, acquired by the individual)

In the 1990s, marketing paired advertising with experiential techniques. The interaction between individual and product changed. The appropriation of the ideas represented by the object would no longer happen through simple use, but had to unfold according to the rules of an experience. As defined by marketing, an experience is a ritual set of strictly normed actions, which ultimately leads to the magic appropriation by the individual (or individuals, in the case of collective rituals) of the ideas represented by an object. Differently from use, experience expands its normativity beyond the simple interaction between user and object, going to cover the setting of the surrounding environment, the relationship between the user and other users, the relationship between that specific experience and other specific experiences, and so on.

During the early 2000s, another transformation took place. It was as if advertisers had decided to react to the increasing prestige of experience-managers, by giving new legitimacy to their dying art. In their presentation of the product, advertisers transformed the values contained within it into functions. As opposed to a value, which is the representation of an abstract idea, a function is the process of performance of that idea. A function is the endless process of transformation of the noun into the adjective. In the past, such functions were performed by individuals through use of the products, while, in this new presentation, products already perform the use process within themselves, that is, they already, by themselves, digest the ideas they once used to merely represent and provide their buyer with ready-made subjective attributes which s/he can appropriate as his/her own. If, in the 1960s, a shower gel contained ‘cleanliness’ and, though use, made the individual ‘clean, the same shower gel in the 2000s would already be ‘clean’ in itself, and would pass this ready made adjective to its user. It is worthy noticing that, because of their internalized functions, the 1960s users created each one for him/herself his/her specific way of being clean, while the 2000s users would all participate equally to the same ‘clean’ attribute, as pre-constructed by the product.

Of course, this appropriation still has to unfold according to the rules of a ritual experience, rather than those of simple use. Only the precise obedience to the rules of the ritual makes it possible for the user to appropriate the output of the function constantly in progress within the object. For example, although a pair of nike trainers already perform, within themselves, the function of transformation of the noun ‘sportiness’ into the adjective ‘sporty’, through their correct experiential use the purchaser is still able to appropriate the attribute ‘sporty’ as his/her own.

During the last few years, this evolution has gone even further.
On the one hand, individuals have ultimately accepted to relinquish their ownership of virtually all functions of production and digestion of abstract ideas and to give them to the marketing departments. In doing so, individuals have de facto externalized such functions into products, through the mediation of marketing (more exactly, of semio-marketing such as branding and advertising). It is no longer individuals, but objects, who deal with the abstract world of ideas and bring them to Earth.
On the other hand, the permanent exposition of products and brands to the universe of abstraction has transformed them from hosts of the representation of ideas, into incarnations of those ideas. Products and brands now incarnate the abstractions they once used merely to represent. They have evolved even beyond being transformative machines, which digest ideas. Ideas have eventually ‘possessed’ the objects, turning them into their earthly incarnation.

At the same time, the path of experience seems to have ultimately dried up. The interaction between individual and object no longer consents any appropriation by the individual of the ideas contained in the object, nor of their adjective, digested version. The almost perfect coincidence between ideas and objects has closed any possible opening to the insertion of humans within their relationship. The functional cycle happening within the object has finally closed, leaving outside the humans. The object takes the noun of the idea, transforms it into an adjective and finally appropriates this adjective, thus incarnating the idea and simultaneously making itself a subject. For humans, there is nothing left to do but to witness the miracle.

 

Smirnoff

Let’s take, as an example, a 2008 advert for Smirnoff Vodka. From the bottom of the ocean, with great profusion of CGI, all sorts of objects start to emerge and to fly out of the water. Cans, tins, cars, crashed airplanes, shipwrecked vessels, ruins of submerged civilizations… What’s going on? The camera swiftly moves inside the water, until it reaches the bottom. There, lying on the sand, we find a bottle of Smirnoff. ‘Ten times filtered’ – we read – ‘Extraordinary purification.’

Smirnoff is not just pure. Smirnoff is purity. If you place it on the bottom of the ocean, it cleans up the whole mess down there. If you place it in your house, you have a fragment of purity glowing on your shelf. That’s why you must buy it. But if you drink it… Ah! If you open it…. The magic goes. Purity disappears. You are left with some very common vodka, which is not even that good (incidentally, good quality vodkas need to be filtered only once, while poor quality vodka has to be filtered repeatedly). Why does the magic (and the ideas) disappear the moment the individual interacts with the object?

If we are to attempt to answer this question, we must borrow from religious categories. The ‘incarnation’ which happens in the product has to be taken literally. Smirnoff incarnates purity, like Jesus incarnated God. This means, first of all, that while Smirnoff is purity, purity is not Smirnoff. Smirnoff is ‘the chosen one’ for the incarnation of purity, but it is ultimately replaceable. No inner, specific qualities of Smirnoff make it the best candidate for this task. Similarly, God’s decision to choose Jesus of Nazareth and to make him Christ – him, among all his brothers and sisters – was completely arbitrary. However, once chosen, the object of incarnation ceases to be merely the host of a value and becomes one thing with the idea.

By definition, the contact of the believer with the mystery of incarnation always happens on a non-equal level. Even when conveyed through the magical means of the communion, the immaterial transference between incarnation and simple individual always encounters failure. In the mouth of the believer, the body of Christ necessarily turns into some simple, tasteless wafer. Of course, this impossibility is not to be blamed on the side of the perfect mystery, rather on that of the imperfect believer. It is the inadequacy of the believer, his/her innate shortcoming, his/her natural inability to host the Spirit, which is the reason for such failure. No wonder, then, that the newly evolved world of advertising induces anxious and depressive responses from the consumers. Like the Jewish

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and Christian religions, advertising also relies on the idea of original sin, and functions on the perennial begging for forgiveness by the believer. The main difference being, on the one hand, that the god of advertising is neither merciful nor a god of love, and, on the other, that this vengeful god keeps changing the complex rituals which promise (but never deliver) a temporary truce with its believers.

 

Testimonials of ideology

What can we call those products which no longer represent, but incarnate ideas? Certainly, we can no longer call them commodities. The paradoxes of the mystery of incarnation have turned their use value to nothing, while they have also made impossible the comparison between commodities, which is at the basis of the definition of exchange value. Also, their given market price can no longer be explained as the congealed amount of labour contained within it, as the process of semiotization escapes the normal accountancy of work-hours. Such products resemble virtual currency within the financial system, that is pure and abstract clusters of values. But they are useless currency, since their owners cannot interact with them on any other level but that of possession. For this reason, we can probably define these products as pure reserves of value, as exemplary and pure stockpiling. These products embody that same process of rapture of earthly functions into super-human abstraction which is typical of ideologies. However, these are particular types of ideologies.

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While typical ideologies, such as those who had such great success during the 20th century, still required the active intervention of humans in order to take place outside of the realm of ideas, these new ideological constructs require less and less human participation. They simply require the proclamation of faith which is implicit in the act of purchase by the consumer of the incarnated object, and his/her subsequent guarding of the sacred object through a possession which never involves use. Buyers of such products no longer are users, but witnesses. They behold the fragments of ideas that they have purchased and they witness their perfect functioning outside of any possible human intervention.

There is only one category of individuals who can still claim the possibility of interacting with incarnated products. While they are still technically humans, they really are not. They are testimonials in advertising. They are often chosen among celebrities, but can also be random, beautiful people who were raptured into the world of direct relationship with the idea. Their relationship with incarnated products is of the object-to-object type – which is the reason why it can still function. When a testimonial interacts with an incarnated product on a TV screen or on a billboard, the transference of values actually happens. When the testimonial of l’Oreal uses l’Oreal’s shampoo, s/he actually becomes more beautiful, s/he actually ‘is worth it’ – as the slogan goes. When a testimonial eats organic food, it actually makes him/her healthy. While, for a non-raptured consumer, organic food functions (that is, performs the ‘health’ function) only as long as it is kept locked inside the refrigerated safety box in the kitchen.

It is as if the church of consumerism had turned from the catholic spectacle of opulence and participation, into a (modified version of) the orthodox mystery. In Greek orthodox churches, priests perform most of their actions behind a wall, which separates them from the community of the believers. Testimonials, like orthodox priests, enter in contact with the mystery of incarnation in a place that is separate from the crowd attending the mass, to whom they turn their back. However, in the church of consumerism, someone has placed a mirror in that separate room, and the believers can still see the reflection of the priests participating in the mystery. This mirror is capitalism, that is, of possession through purchase, which is the last possible way of witnessing the mystery.

 

The city of the future

Which position are we to take in the face of these transformations?
I believe that we should welcome the complete closure of the circle of meaning produced by advertising with joyful hearts. By incarnating ideas into objects, late capitalism has given us a parting gift before its coming demise. Once dangerously floating above our heads under the name of ideologies, abstract constructions of absolute values are now trapped within inanimate objects. Capitalism has performed a voodoo trick, for which we should be grateful.

If Smirnoff wants to have the monopoly on the idea of purity, it is most welcome to do so. Actually, we should help it to do it even more. Artists should team up with advertisers, pushing the boundaries of incarnation even further, closing the circle of perfection. So that abstraction might never escape again, and never again swarm above us like a murder of crows. We have battled for centuries against the dangerous power of ideas, and we might finally be reaching victory thanks to the unwitting help of semiocapitalism.

This does not mean that we will ever be able to do without abstraction. The tendency to create absolute, idea values is part of human nature, and a part of us is and always will be longing for the presence of abstraction and ideology within our lives. However, if up until now the ideologies of modernity necessitated our active intervention and sacrifice in order to exist among us, we can now be satisfied by witnessing their presences, trapped within fully semiotized, incarnated products.

We should let the discourse started by the latest form of advertising develop to its ultimate consequences.

Little by little, incarnated objects will take over our living spaces. Like the house of the neurotic, which is immaculate and perfect in order to perform the function ‘calm’ on behalf of its incapacitated owner, our cities will progressively take over all the abstract functions that we always struggled to perform. And like the neurotic, we will slowly realize that if we want our houses to perform those functions, we will eventually have to move out. And we will move out of our houses, out of our cities. The perfect city of the future will be the complete pantheon of absolute abstractions incarnated into objects, devoid of any human eyes. We will enter them in silence, to dust the objects and the glass walls of the skyscrapers. We will have to make sure that everything remains in there as we left it, that nothing ever breaks. And, once a day, we will have to watch the ads for the products trapped in there, which we will no longer need to buy, just to remember that they have taken upon themselves the plague of ideology for our salvation. Then we will go back to our new homes, outside of the perfect city of abstraction, where our worst desires will remain safely locked. And we will be free, forever. Free from Humanity, from Purity, from Beauty, from Health. Free to be human, to be pure, to be beautiful, to be healthy.

This text derives from a conversation with Robert Prouse