Tag Archives: television

Rifling my proto-blog

My WordPress dashboard indicates that, as of today, I have published 200 posts on Makurrah’s Blog since I moved over from Typepad in early January of this year.  While I like the look, the roundness of that number as a minor milestone, I also know that it is inaccurate, in that five of those 200 posts themselves contain multiple entries from an earlier blog, fledgling, that I migrated to WP in early 2010.  And although I don’t often return to that material, I am on occasion prompted to rifle my little proto-blog to retrieve a source or a citation.

I recall reading on one of the blogs-that-try-to-help-bloggers that I used to consult more than I do now that it was not only perfectly okay, but in fact a great idea, to re-blog one’s earlier posts as a way of calling attention to contributions or interventions that readers might have missed.  Since there aren’t many citations that remind me so forcefully about the crux of this blog’s project (and my work more generally), and since I am confident that I (if not all of my readers) will experience its re-reading as something akin to splashing cold water on my face, I will take my chances and reproduce here a post that was originally published on fledgling on 9/29/2009  under the title “Hectic Presumptions.”  Should you desire, you can find it on this blog by scrolling through “fledgling‘s archive, September 2009.”  Oh, and don’t miss the October (x2), November and December files.

09/29/2009  Hectic presumptions 

In the belief that thinking can proceed in part via stepping-stones of thought made accessible by those who have gone before, let me quote (as I have more than once) an account provided by my friend and mentor Werner Hamacher in an incisive essay entitled “Journals, Politics”:  

Many years ago – it might already be twenty – Max Horkheimer recommended a little experiment during a television interview. He suggested reading newspapers a few weeks or months after their publication. With this he bent over to pick up a stack of rather gray papers that lay next to his chair. I cannot recall his comments on this piece of advice. But one can imagine that the effect he had in mind was supposed to be both philosophical and political. Indeed, the effect of this small postponement on the reader, on his perception of time and on his attitude to news and published opinion, should be considerable. The reader of these old papers will notice that the imperatives, attractions and threats heralded in them reveal themselves as such only to the degree that they no longer directly affect him. The judgments that the newspapers imposed on him at another time can now be dismissed as hectic presumptions. In the future he will no longer so easily obey the regulations of the newspapers and their time…. Horkheimer’s is a piece of political advice that looks forward to the suspension of coercion and to its transformation for another way of life.  

Users, students and teachers of social media stand to gain, philosophically and politically, by conducting for themselves an analogous experiment that would introduce a small postponement in the hectic reverse chronology that governs these media, and exercises its own forms of coercion.  

Posted at 12:01 PM in Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink

**********

Once more, a sense of re-loading, from plentiful ammunition, for my argument about the realist ideology that underpins many of the claims currently being made for the “real-time” Web.

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Culture, History and historiography, Journalism, Media, Reading and writing, Tech, Weblogs

Media 101 (or is that 2.0?)

What follow are some edifying formulations on “media” from Clay Shirky’s Cognitive Surplus:  Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age (Penguin, 2010, 26-27).

Because we are increasingly producing and sharing media, we have to relearn what that word can mean.  The simple sense of media is the middle layer in any communication, whether it is as ancient as the alphabet or as recent as mobile phones.  On top of this straightforward and relatively neutral definition is another notion, inherited from the patterns of media consumption over the last several decades, that media refers to a collection of businesses, from newspapers and magazines to radio and television, that have particular ways of producing material and particular ways of making money.  And as long as we use media to refer just to those businesses, and to that material, the word will be an anachronism, a bad fit for what’s happening today.  Our ability to balance consumption with production and sharing, our ability to connect with one another, is transforming the sense of media from a particular sector of the economy to a cheap and globally available tool for organized sharing.  (26-7, emphasis added)

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Journalism, Media, Reading and writing, Tech

My “epistemology of media lag argument,” part 2

The link below will take you to Google Books and an extract from a chapter of my first book, In the Event:  Reading Journalism, Reading Theory, which appeared in 1999 as part of the “Meridian:  Crossing Aesthetics” series edited by Werner Hamacher for Stanford University Press.  The material in question, then, appeared in print roughly eleven years ago, which was nearly two years after I had submitted the completed manuscript for publication.  At that time, the machinery of academic book publishing worked slowly, and the lag between submission and light of day was significant. 

 http://books.google.com/books?id=4dM8_FUOxggC&lpg=PP1&dq=In%20the%20event%20deborah%20esch&pg=PA61#v=onepage&q&f=false

In order efficiently to provide a brief context for the specific material I want to recall, I will simply quote from the characterization that appeared – and still appears – on the back of the book.

Assuming the burden of reading imposed by the correlation of the order of language and the order of events, this book argues that the possibility of reading and writing history is tied to the endurance of traces of the past and their coming to legibility, allegorically, at a given time.  Through attentive readings of a range of texts – including theoretical writings, diaries, newspaper reports, and “live” television broadcasts – In the Event elaborates the ways in which allegory disrupts our presumptions of continuity and simultaneity between the image (whatever its medium) and what we take it to represent.

The author demonstrates that a theoretical corpus must be understood not merely as a discrete set of arguments, but as work that takes place in time and on which time itself is at work.  Against the temptation to regard a text (including a text of philosophical aesthetics or critical linguistics) as explained or defined by a fixed temporal context, this book emphasizes the textual operation of time.  This attention to temporality opens the possibility of reading the notoriously difficult and resistant text of television.

Next comes the summary version of the part of the book most relevant to the case I hope to make over several forthcoming posts:  an argument, based on what I think is a telling instance or example, about the illusory nature of the “real-time” Web, aka Web 2.0.

The book’s central chapters analyze the seductions of “live” broadcasting:  an incisive account of news coverage of the [first] Gulf War, for example, reveals how the unproblematic articulation of “live” television with the real has its impulse in a broader realist ideology that finds its opportunity in the failure to reflect on the distances of space and time that characterize the medium….  Here, and throughout the book, the readings argue that what we take to be historical events are actually produced, even constituted, by an array of discursive technologies, including language itself.

[En passant, it has been my experience that copy-blogging one’s own past work leads to more wpm and fewer typos.]

Bear with me as I elaborate, over a series of posts, an argument about the ways in which a version of the realist ideology that underpins common conceptions about “live” broadcasting is also at work, in a manner and to an extent that are mostly unacknowledged, in the vaunting of the “real-time” Web.

Leave a comment

Filed under "Real-time" Web, Books, Current events, History and historiography, Journalism, Media, News, Reading and writing, Tech

“the x factor” (“The West Wing,” part 4)

In both instances [the New York Times editorial and the Boston Globe report], a journalistic appeal to progress in the form of late-breaking bio-medical developments (“The newest AIDS medications,” “recent advances”) operates in effect to overlook, if not to excuse, the unmistakable racism inscribed in language that may or may not simple imitate TV.  (In the scene from “In this White House,” the audible irony in Toby’s response to the question “What’s the problem?” – “They don’t own wristwatches.  They can’t tell time” – has the thinly-veiled racism of the fictional pharmaceutical executives as its target.)  The promising advances signaled by the new treatment regimens (which effectively date this episode of The West Wing, relegating it with dispatch to the cultural archive) may indeed reduce the burden on those who have access to these therapies, whatever their circumstances.  And what such “progress” may mean (and portend) for the millions presently living with HIV/AIDS is difficult to overestimate.  What it emphatically does not mean (as this series of posts attempts to make plain) is that “there is no need to tell time.”

On the contrary, the need – the unavoidable imperative – to tell time has perhaps never been more urgent.  Part and parcel of the work of correlating the order of events and the order of language in the face of the interminability of AIDS, telling time is itself at least a twofold task, as the archive of the pandemic instructs us.

1.  It is first of all a matter of accounting for the multiple specific temporalities inscribed in the virus, in the epidemic-turned-pandemic and in its artifactual remains to date, among which would number not only the episode of The West Wing but also the journalistic reports that speculated on its impact on the subsequent policy debate.  In the latter cases, for example, we are obligated to recognize the time that divides the scripting of “In this White House” from its eventual broadcast, as well as the interval between the episode’s airing and the adoption of its language by American policymakers, which is partly co-extensive with the time of the “recent advances” in treatment regimens cited with the effect of side-stepping the racist overtones of the bureaucrats’ arguments.  Far more importantly, these documents from the archive of the pandemic raise the matter of the (much longer) time between drug development in the west and access to “the newest AIDS medications” in sub-Saharan Africa, and with it that of the (still longer) time between the date assigned to the official inception of HIV/AIDS in North America and any consequential attention to its global impact.  Ultimately, they summon us to reflect on the variable temporalities of what we call human lifetime and on the diversity of the times death takes.  Under the pressure of reading, they remind us that what has become a widely-accepted state of affairs, and indeed a norm – that vastly divergent lifespans can and shall co-exist, that life expectancy of, say, thirty-seven years in some parts of the world can and shall obtain alongside life expectancy of more than double that figure in others, and this for an unspecified period of time to come – is also legible as a damning indictment of a shameful history.  In these and innumerable other instances, the need to tell time translates as the imperative to discern – which is to say, to read – the time in question, the always crucial variable that is never quite the same from one reading to the next.  Only a work of reading attentive to time as the x factor can ground a responsible theoretical consideration of the temporal and historical questions with which the pandemic never ceases to confront us.

Leave a comment

Filed under Culture, Death, History and historiography, Journalism, Media, Reading and writing

“the x factor” (“The West Wing,” part 2)

To return to the matter of the “very direct relation…between the minutes of meetings and minutes of agony” (Berger) adumbrated in the episode of The West Wing:  That “time” is the answer to the question Josh poses to the pharmaceutical executives – “What’s the x factor?” – and to its more generalized version – “What’s the problem?” – was underscored in the subsequent scene:

Executive:  I think there’s a more fundamental problem than marginal cost…a hard truth that should be faced.

Toby:  What’s that?

Executive:  If tomorrow we made AIDS medication free to every available patient in your country, as much as they needed for as long as they needed it, it would likely make very little difference in the spread of the epidemic.

Josh:  Why?

Executive:  Anti-HIV drugs are a triple cocktail.  It’s a complicated regimen that requires ten pills to be taken every day at precise times:  two protease inhibitors every eight hours, two combination RT1 pills every twelve hours.

Josh:  What’s the problem?

Following an uncomfortable pause that required no translation, Toby supplied the response that the corporate representatives evidently preferred to leave unspoken:  “They don’t own wristwatches.  They can’t tell time.”

That these lines, uttered with unmistakable irony by an actor portraying a fictional character in a dramatic television series, may however improbably have found an afterlife in other media and left a mark on the contemporary historiography of the pandemic is readable in the headline of a newspaper report published several months after the episode first aired:  “Activists wonder if life imitates television in U.S. policy on AIDS.”  In a sequence of events that may recall, for readers of this blog, the passage from Anne Carson’s “TV Men:  Lazarus” cited in a recent post – “As you and I are an imitation of / TV” – two American officials alluded to the language of “In this White House” in the context of a policy debate about increased global funding for the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS, and the putative, artificially constructed trade-offs between the two priorities:  a debate with profound consequences for sub-Saharan Africa, home of the vast majority of the estimated 36.1 million people who were living with HIV/AIDS as the bureaucrats argued their positions.  In a report for the Boston Globe that was subsequently picked up by a host of other news organizations, journalist John Donnelly inquired:  “Has The West Wing influenced Washington’s policy on AIDS in Africa?  That’s the question AIDS activists are asking after two senior officials said distribution of AIDS cocktails would be complicated by Africans’ inability to tell time”  (John Donnelly, Boston Globe, June 18, 2001).

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Current events, Death, History and historiography, Journalism, Media, Reading and writing

“the x factor” (“The West Wing,” part 1)

In the context of the preceding posts drawn from the manuscript of The Brevity of Life:  What AIDS Makes Legible,  I am tempted to engage another example, one more instance of an artifactual remnant of the pandemic to date in yet another medium, and within it a genre, whose impact and longevity seem destined to be of the slightest.

In an episode of the television series The West Wing, broadcast by NBC in October, 2000 under the title “In this White House” [season 2, episode 4], one of the multiple subplots evoked some of the medical, economic and geopolitical stakes of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in sub-Saharan Africa.  Particularly telling were two scenes organized around a meeting in which the White House communications director (Toby) and the assistant chief of staff (Josh) sought to broker an agreement between the president of a fictitious African nation and the heads of several major pharmaceutical corporations.  In each of the scenes, the tense conversation around the table was further unsettled by the ongoing, not-quite-simultaneous two-way translation provided by the president’s aide.

Josh:  How much would it cost for you to provide free drugs to the Sealese Republic, Kenya and the Republic of Equatorial Kundu?

Pharmaceutical executive:  I have no idea.

Josh:  Why not?  We’re talking about 130,000 patients, 200 milligram pills three times a day, every day.  What’s the x factor?

Executive:  We don’t know how long they’ll live.

Toby:  We know where.

In this equation, whose stakes are nothing short of life and death, the crucial variable proves to be time:  specifically, time as duration, as the “how long” inscribed in the life expectancies of the hundreds of thousands, indeed millions of lives that, painfully and shamefully, depend on the outcome of such conversations around such tables.

(Writing late in October 2002 under the title “Where Are We?”, John Berger provides an eloquent analysis of the pain and the shame in question, which saturate and perhaps exceed the history of the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

Everyone knows that pain is endemic to life, and wants to forget this or relativize it.  All the variants of the myth of a Fall from the Golden Age, before pain existed, are an attempt to relativize the pain suffered on earth.  So too is the invention of Hell, the adjacent kingdom of pain-as-punishment.  Likewise the discovery of sacrifice.  And later, much later, the principle of Forgiveness.  One could argue that philosophy began with the question:  why pain?

Yet when all this has been said, the present pain of living in the world is perhaps in some ways unprecedented.  Consumerist ideology, which has become the most powerful and invasive on the planet, sets out to persuade us that pain is an accident, something that we can insure against.  This is the logical basis for the ideology’s pitilessness.

I write in the night, although it is daytime.  A day in early October 2002….  I write in a night of shame.

By shame I do not mean individual guilt.  Shame, as I am coming to understand it, is a species feeling which, in the long run, corrodes the capacity for hope and prevents us looking far ahead.  We look down at our feet, thinking only of the next small step.

People everywhere under very different conditions are asking themselves:  Where are we?  The question is historical not geographical.  What are we living through?  Where are we being taken?  What have we lost?  How to continue without a plausible vision of the future?  Why have we lost any view of what is beyond a lifetime?….

The shame begins with the contestation (which we all acknowledge somewhere but, out of powerlessness, dismiss) that much of the present suffering could be alleviated or avoided if certain realistic and relatively simple decisions were taken.  There is a very direct relation today between the minutes of meetings and minutes of agony.

Does anyone deserve to be condemned to certain death simply because they don’t have access to treatment which would cost less than $2 a day?  That was a question posed by the director-general of the World Health Organization last July [2002].  She was talking about the AIDS epidemic, in Africa and elsewhere, in which an estimated 68 million people will die within the next eighteen years.  I’m talking about the pain of living in the present world. [John Berger, “Where Are We?”, Harper’s March 2003, 13-14, emphasis added])

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Culture, Current events, Death, History and historiography, Journalism, Media, Reading and writing

A sort of tomorrow (Stephen Andrews, part 10)

It is fitting, then, that the final sequence of “Untitled” (2000-2001), subtitled “the future” (deliberately rendered in the lower case), should take the form of a multiply-mediated citation of Derek Jarman:  a series of blue frames traversed by the scan lines that Andrews produced by videotaping a vacant television screen, photographing the resulting tape as it appeared in turn on his monitor, then photocopying and transferring the frames onto the mylar strips.  The last part of “Untitled” is thus readable in part as a homage to Jarman, as Blue itself is readable in part as a homage to the work of Yves Klein.  More specifically, Andrews’ photocopy transfers stand as so many mute (or “still”) commemorations of the eloquent testimony in the voiced soundtrack of Jarman’s final film, which is pointedly not reproduced, but rather entrusted to the viewer’s fallible memory and unpredictable sense of responsibility.  Attesting to the distance, the mortal difference between Blue‘s provenance and its own – “Untitled” (2000-2001) is of a time that Jarman did not live to see – Andrews work proffers a series of afterimages of what is itself an afterimage:  “the future” figured, poignantly, as “a short sequel of sorts.”

In the context of this blog’s trajectory of readings, Andrews’ inexact visual quotation may also evoke one of Seneca’s own citations in “De brevitate vitae,” enlisted to substantiate his claim that life, whatever its duration, “is long if you know how to use it”:  “so much so that I cannot doubt the truth of that oracular remark of the greatest of poets:  ‘It is but a small part of life we really live.’  Indeed, all the rest is not life but merely time” (Seneca, trans. Costa, 60)  [adeo ut quod apud maximum poetarum more oraculi dictum est, verum esse non dubitem:  “Exigua pars est vitae, qua vivmus.”  Ceterem quidem omne spatium non vita sed tempus est].  Because, as the philosopher’s English-language editors and translators acknowledge, “The quotation has not been identified,” what Seneca bequeaths to us is but a “prose rendering of an unknown poet” (Seneca, ed. Costa, 117 n4).  The erstwhile “greatest of poets,” relegated by time to the rank of unknown, lies degraded in the compost of cultural memory, surviving in and as a prosaic paraphrase of a brief remark, partaking of the shared fate that Andrews’ work never lets us forget.

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Culture, Death, History and historiography, Media, Reading and writing