Category Archives: Semiotics

Remediation in Benjamin Calls for 21st Century Arcades Project

Arcades

Arcades flickr photo by lutmans shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license

Bolter and Grusin (Remediation) see new media remediating old until the new media becomes established as a media and media-specific affordances become available. Benjamin sees remediation in new materials. When iron, for instance, was introduced in sculpture it took on forms from wood. Benjamin sees this as a failure to see the new in the old and evidence that these introductions of the new aren’t part of the emancipation from capitalism.

This way of understanding is going two ways: 1) towards a sense that what are declared as new and emancipatory (iron and glass, the automobile, Twitter, blogging … ) are not new; they are too much informed by the capitalist superstructure that still controls false consciousness; and 2), in the other direction, that these new media could be seen as emancipatory if that false consciousness is thrown off.

In contemporary terms, innovation is not going to disrupt the capitalist imaginary which forces an understanding of innovation within its limited and limiting framework. Disruption as it appears at TedTalks, in incubators, in administrative talk is not disruptive of the status quo. Disruption becomes one of the myths we use to imagine what might become but cannot become until the capitalist imaginary itself is disrupted.

Here’s Buck-Morss on Benjamin:

[T]he restorative impulse [is] more evident … in the forms taken by the new technologies themselves, which imitated precisely the old forms they were destined to overcome ….

Under the archaic masks of classical myth … and tradi­tional nature …, the inherent potential of the “new nature”—machines, iron shaped by new processes, technologies and industrial materials of every sort— remained unrecognized, unconscious. At the same time, these masks express the desire to “return” to a mythic time when human beings were reconciled with the natural world.

… According to Benjamin, if the “not-yet” of the new nature is expressed in archaic symbols rather than in new forms commensurate with it, then this condition of modem con­sciousness has its parallel in the inadequacies of development in the economic base. He is most explicit in a passage from the Passagen-Werk exposé. It begins with a quotation from Jules Michelet: “Every’ epoch dreams the one that follows it.” Benjamin comments:

> To the form of the new means of production which in the beginning is still dominated by the old one (Marx), there correspond in the collective con­sciousness images in which the new is intermingled with the old. These images are wish images, and in them the collective attempts to transcend as well as to illumine the in completed ness of the social order of produc­tion. There also emerges in these wish images a positive striving to set themselves off from the outdated— that means, however, the most recent past. These tendencies turn the image fantasy, that maintains its impulse from the new, back to the ur-past. In the dream in which every epoch sees in images the epoch that follows, the latter appears wedded to elements of ur-history, that is, of a classless society. Its experiences, which have their storage place in the unconscious of the collective, produce, in their inter­penetration with the new, the utopia that has left its trace behind in a thousand configurations of life from permanent buildings to ephemeral fashions.27

The real possibility of a classless society in the “epoch to follow” the present one, revitalizes past images as expressions of the ancient wish for social utopia in dream form. But a dream image is not yet a dialectical image, and desire is not yet knowledge…. Benjamin was reluctant to rest revolutionary hope directly on imagination’s capacity to anticipate the not-yet-existing. Even as wish image, utopian imagination needed to be interpreted through the material objects in which it found expression, for (as Bloch knew) it was upon the transforming mediation of matter that the hope of utopia ultimately depended: technology’s capacity to create the not-yet-known.

Buck-Morss continues

Technology, not yet “emanci­pated,” is held back by conventional imagination that sees the new only as a continuation of the old which has just now become obsolete. 115-6

In The Arcades Project, from Buck-Morss, Dialectics of Seeing, p 111-115.

The implications for social media and new media: We’re not there yet. Social media is still remediating the ideologies of mass communication; they are still informing and forming the rhetoric of the new, and are insidious in the techniques of persuasion.

But it can be turned. The phenomena of the digital – the internet, the web, social media, digital phones – can be used as dialectic images of critique in the way Benjamin uses the arcades, flaneurs, prositutes and gambling, iron and steel construction, and fashion to investigate early 20th century Europe. An Arcades Project of the 21st century is being written. Our arcade is the internet, populated trolls, a place for gambling and fashion, architected by packet switching, UX, housing texting, selfies, sur- and suivellance … Our themes are the same as Benjamin’s: false consciousness, repetition, delay, porn …  and a few new ones: simulacra, psychogeography, networks, image, mobility, identity, quantification …

Trump’s discourse unmasks the spectacle at home

From Society of the Spectacle
Debord

Everything that was directly lived has receded into a representation.

The spectacle is not a collection of images; it is a social relation between people that is mediated by images. …

The spectacle is the ruling order’s nonstop discourse about itself, its never-ending monologue of self-praise, its self-portrait at the stage of totalitarian domination of all aspects of life.

Trump’s clandestine business discourse is out of place on the social stage of politics. The result is that it unmasks both discourses as spectacle. It calls attention to the construction of the spectacular. Trump’s attempts to create change are shown everyday to be attempts to control message. In the spectacle, changing message is changing reality. It’s all that’s needed for a win.

The spectacle trickles down. Trump’s daily unmasking of the national administrative political spectacle also unmasks the discourse of other administrative contexts and calls them into his crisis of credibility. So that, locally, university administrators lose their agency as Trump reveals that their actions are attempts to shape the message rather than administrate real change. Declare a win, and you’ve won, but only because “Everything that was directly lived has receded into a representation.”

sounds familiar

Hodge asks us to look to semiosis to understand and act in the politically over-charged moment. 

McCarthyism was constituted in texts and in explosive discursive, semiosic processes that carried the effects very far, very quickly…. Semiosic contexts inflect meanings and are themselves meanings. McCarthy’s strategy included waving a list in the Senate which he claimed contained 205 names of proven commu- nists in public office, which he would not reveal. Waving the list was a multimodal signifier supporting his spoken words. This semiosic situation contains multiple splits. McCarthy’s speech is a surface text split from its real meaning, supposedly known to the speaker but not the audience. The speaker demands absolute trust from his hearers at the same time as he excludes them. We do not need a theory of schizophrenia to see this as a way to provoke paranoia.

Hodge, Social Semiotics for a Complex World. 91.

digital image as interface for viewer production of the real

Or Image for semiosis.


As interface or instrument, the image does not comprise a representation of a pre-existent and independent reality, but rather a means for the new media user to intervene in the production of the “real,” now understood as a rendering of data. “New media,” Manovich concludes “change our concept of what an image is – because they turn a viewer into an active user. As a result, an illusionistic image is no longer something a subject simply looks at, comparing it with memories of represented reality to judge its reality effect. The new media image is something the user actively goes into, zooming in or clicking on individual parts with the assumption that they contain hyperlinks….”

[W]e must fundamentally reconfigure the image. Specifically; we must accept that the image, rather than finding instantiation in a privileged technical form (including the computer interface), now demarcates the very process through which the body, in conjunction with the various apparatuses for rendering information perceptible, gives form to or in-forms information. In sum, the image can no longer be restricted to the level of surface appearance, but must be extended to encompass the entire process by which information is made perceivable through embodied experience. This is what I propose to call the digital image.

Hansen, New Philosophy, 10.

Hansen’s conception becomes a basis for aesthetics as epistemic AND a basis for a rhetoric of experience. The viewer becomes a creator influenced by material context of the perception. This conception does not neutralize rhetorical aims and moves but disperses or distributes them between context, object, perceiver and makes them cognitive or material operators or procedures that shape the making of perception. “Enframe something (digital information) that was originally formless” 11.

This is “a fundamental shift in aesthetic experience from a model dominated by the perception of a self-sufficient object to one focused on the intensities of embodied affectivity. ” 12-13.

This is social semiotics from another angle. The artifact primes the viewer and provides the resources for creating semiosis. v Kress