Photos Spare Cycles MythBusters

Book: Travels in Hyperreality

book image

I'm close to done transcribing my notes for Travels in Hyperreality, so I'm going to go ahead and post them now. The book is a collection of older essays by Umberto Eco, spanning a huge range of issues from Casablanca to Italian terrorism to (as the title suggests) American obsession with hyper-real recreations of historical works (note: several of the essays are a good preface to Foucault's Pendulum).

Quick thoughts

1982 essay on Red Brigades terrorism has some interesting quotes for our time, and even some connections to Castells/globalization (link).

fav quotes:

I think that in order to transform a work into a cult object one must be able to break, dislocate, unhinge it so that one can remember only parts of it, irrespective of their original relationships with the whole. (more)

p. 193

I thought then about how much, in the history of civilization, dress as armor has influenced behavior and, in consequence, exterior morality. The Victorian bourgeois was stiff and formal because of stiff collars; the nineteeth-century gentleman was constrained by his tight redingotes, boots, and top hats that didn't allow brusque movements of the head. If Vienna had been on the equator and its bourgeoisie had gone around in Bermuda shorts, would Freud have described the same neurotic symptoms, the same Oedipal triangles? And would he have described them the same way if he, the doctor, had been a Scot, in a kilt (under which, as everyone knows, the rule is to wear nothing)?


Travels in Hyperreality

Eco goes on a tour of the American hyperreal museums and attractions.

Palace of Living Arts

Wax museums at Fisherman's Wharf

Last Supper recreations


...In other words, the Atlantic coast yearns less for Hearstian architectural expression because it has its own architecture, the historical architecture of the eighteenth century and the modern, business-district architecture. Baroque rhetoric, eclectic frenzy, and compulsive imitation prevail where wealth has no history. And thus in the great expanses that were colonized late, where the posturban civilization represented by Los Angeles is being born, in a metropolis made up of seventy-six different cities where alleyways are ten-lane freeways and man considers his right foot a limb designed for pressing the accelerator, and the left an atrophied appendix, because cars no longer have a cluth -- eyes are something to focus, at steady driving speed, on visual-mechanical wonders, signs, constructions that must impress the mind in the space of a few seconds. In fact, we find the same thing in California's twin-state, Florida, which also seems an artificial region, an uninterrupted continuum of urban centers, great ramps of freeways that span vast bays, artificial cities devoted to entertainment (Disneyland and Disney World are in California and Florida, respectively, but the latter -- a hundred and fifty times larger than the former -- is even more pharaonic and futuristic).

p. 27

...For the prime aim of these wild Xanadus (as of every Xanadu) is not so much to live there, but to make posterity think how exceptional the people who did live there must have been. And, frankly, exceptional gifts would be required -- steady nerves and a great love of the past or the future -- to stay in these rooms, to make love, to have a pee, eat a hamburger, read the newspaper, button your fly. These eclectic reconstructions are governed by a great remorse for the wealth that was acquired by methods less noble than the architecture that crowns them, a great will to expiatory sacrifice, a desire for posterity's absolution.

But it is hard to apply punishing irony to these pathetic ventures, because other powerful people have thought to assert their place in history through the Nuremberg Stadium or the Foro Mussolini, and there is soemthing disarming about this search for glory via an unrequited love for the European past. We are tempted to feel sorry for the poor history-less millionaire who, to recreate Europe in desolate savannahs, destroys the genuine savannah and turns it into an unreal lagoon. But surely this hand-to-hand battle with history, pathetic as it may be, cannot be justified, because history will not be imitated. It has to be made, and the architecturally superior America shows this is possible.

Louvre, Castello Sforzesco, Uffizi, Tate Gallery

p. 35

...We try to think how a Roman patrician lived and what he was thinking when he built himself one of the villas that the Getty Museum reconstructs, in its need to reconstruct at home the grandeur of Greek civilization. The Roman yearned for impossible parthenons; from Hellenistic artists he ordered copies of the great statues of the Periclean age. He was a greedy shark who, after having helped bring down Greece, guaranteed its survival in the form of copies. Between the Roman patrician and the Greece of the fifth century there were, we might say, from five to seven hundred years. Between the Getty Museum and the remade Rome there are, roughly speaking, two thousand. The temporal gap is bridged by archeological knowledge; we can rely on the Getty team, their reconstruction is more faithful to Herculaneum than the Herculaneum reproduction was faithful to the Greek tradition. But the fact is that our journey into the Absolute Fake, begun in the spirit of irony and sophisticated repulsion, is now exposing us to some dramatic questions.

p. 36

The condition for the amalgamation of fake and authentic is that there must have been a historic catastrophe, of the sort that has made the divine Acropolis of Athens as venerable as Pompeii, city of brothels and bakeries. And this brings us to the theme of the Last Beach, the apocalyptic philosophy that more or less explicity rules these reconstructions: Europe is declining into barbarism and something has to be saved. This may not have been the reasoning of the Roman patrician, but it was that of the medieval art lover who accumulated classical reminiscences with incredible philological nonchalance and (see Gerbert d'Aurillac) mistook a manuscript of Statius for an armillary sphere, but could also have done the opposite (Huizinga says that the medieval man's sensitivity to works of art is the same that we could expected today from an astonished bourgeois). And we don't feel like waxing ironic on the piety mixed with accumulative instinct that led the Ringlings to purchase the entire theater of Asolo (wooden frame, stage, boxes, and gallery), which was housed in the villa of Caterina Cornaro from 1798 (and welcomed Eleonora Duse) but which was dismantled in 1930 and sold to a dealer in order to make room for a "more modern" hall. Now the theater is not far from the Venetian palazzo and houses artistic events of considerable distinction.

The Gods of the Underworld

The Sacred is Not Just a Fashion

The Suicides of the Temple

People's Temple/Jonestown/Jim Jones suicides

Millenarian renewal movements

Jim Jones suicides were an instatiation of the same millearian movement as seen in the violent Khmer/etc... movements, and yet Americans are unable to see the symmetry between the two.

Whose Side are the Orixa On?

Striking at the Heart of the State

Modern terrorism pretends (or believes) that it has pondered Marx; but in fact, even if indirectly, it has pondered Norbert Wiener on the one hand and science fiction on the other. The problem is that it hasn't pondered enough -- nor has it studied in sufficent depth -- cybernetics. The proof is that in all their previous propaganda the Red Brigades still spoke of "striking at the heart of the state," cultivating on the one hand the nineteenth-century notion of the state and, on the other, the idea that the adversary has a heart or a head, as in the battles of a bygone age, when if you could strike the king, riding at the head of his troops, the enemy army was demoralized and destroyed.

The multinational's system cannot live in a world war economy (and an atomic world war at that); but it also knows that it cannot reduce the natural drives of biological aggression or the impatience of peoples or groups. That is why it accepts little local wars, which are then disciplined and reduced by shrewd international interventions; and likewise it accepts terrorism. A factory here, a factory there, in upheaval because of sabotage: The system can still go ahead. A plane is hijacked from time to time: The airlines lose money for a week, but to make up for that the newspapers and TV networks make money. Futhermore, terrorism gives police forces and armies a raison d'etre, because if you keep them idle they start demanding fulfillment in some broader conflict. Finally, terrorism serves to justify disciplined interventions where an excess of democracy makes the situation less governable.

Why Are They Laughing in Those Cages?

If we don't accept and recognize, bravely, the inevitability of this behavior (studying techniques to confine it, prevent it, offering other, less bloody safety valves), we run the risk of being idealists and moralists as much as those whose bloodthirsty madness we so reprove. To recognize violence as a biological force is true materialism (historical or dialectical, it matters little) and the Left has been wrong not to study biology and ethnology sufficiently.

On the Crisis of the Crisis of Reason

Let us consider something pleasant, like the crisis fo representation. Even assuming that whoever speaks of it has a definition of representation (which is often not the case), if I rightly understand what they're saying -- namely that we are unable to construct and exchange images of the world that are certainly apt to convey the form, if there is one, of this world -- it seems to me that the definition of this crisis began with Parmenides, continued with Gorgias, caused Descartes no small amount of concern, made things awkward for everyone thanks to Berkeley and Hume, and so on, down to phenomenology. If Lacan is interesting it's because he resumes Parmenides. Those who rediscover the crisis of representation today seem to have charmingly vague ideas about the continuity of this discussion (I am reminded of another joke, the one about the student asked to discuss the death of Caesar: "What? Dead? I didn't even know he was sick!").

5 basic meanings of reason

  1. Reason is a special faculty of knowing the Absolute by direct view; it is the self-knowledge of the idealistic ego; it is the intuition of prime principles which both the cosmos and the human mind obey, and even the divine mind. This concept is undergoing a crisis, no question about that. It has given us far too many headaches. If somebody comes and tells us he has a direct view o fthe Absolute and tries to impose it on us, we kick him. But don't call it crisis of reason. It's that man's crisis.

Reports from the Global Village

Towards a Semiological Guerilla Warfare

A nice connection with Castells:

...As Professor McLuhan has suggested, information is no longer an instrument for producing economic merchandise, but has itself become the chief merchandise. Communication has been transformed into heavy industry. When economic power passes from the hands of those who control the means of production to those who not only control information media but can also control the means of production, the problem of alienatin also alters its meaning. Faced by the prospect of a communications network that expands to embrace the universe, every citizen of the world becomes a member of a new proletariat. But no revolutionary manifesto could rally this proletariat with the words: "Workers of the world, unite!" Because, even if the communications media, as means of production, were to change masters, the situation of subjection would not change. We can legitimately suspect that the communications media would be alienating even if they belonged to the community.

For some time the severest critics of mass culture have been aware of all this, and they agree: "The mass media do not transmit ideologies; they are themselves an ideology." This position, which I defined as "apocalyptic" in a previous book of mine, implies this futher argument: It doesn't matter what you say via the channels of mass communication; when the recipient is surrounded by a series of communications which reach him via various channels at the same time, in a given form, the nature of all this disparate information is of scant significance. The imporatant thing is the gradual, uniform bombardment of information, where the different content are leveled and lose their differences.

..Where the apocalyptics saw the end of the world, McLuhan sees the beginning of a new phase of history. This is exactly what happens when a prim vegetarian argues with a user of LSD: The former sees the drug as the end of reason, the latter as the beginning of a new sensitivity. Both agree on the chemical composition of psychedelics.

Eco attacks McLuhan's abuse of meaning (p. 138):

For example, many of Marshall McLuhan's theses on the nature of the media stem from the fact that he uses the term "media" broadly, for phenomena that can be at times reduced to the Channel, and at other times to the Code, or to the form of the message. Through criteria of economy, the alphabet reduces the possibilities of the sound-making organs but, in doing so, provides a Code for communicating experience; the street provides me with a Channel along which it is possible to send any communication. To say that the alphabet and the street are "media" is lumping a Code together with a channel...

And here, even if we shift the problem, even if we say "the medium is not the message" but rather "the message depends on the code," we do not solve the problem of the communications era. If the apocalyptic says, "The medium does not transmit ideologies: It itself is ideology; television is the form of communication that thakes on the ideology of advanced industrial society," we could not only reply: "The medium trasmits those ideologies which the addressee receives according to codes originating in his social situation, in his previous education, and in the psychological tendencies of the moment." In this case the phenomenon of mass communication would remain unchanged: There exists an exteremely powerful instrument that none of us will ever manage to regulate; there exist means of communication that, unlike means of production, are not controllable either by private will or by the community. In confronting them, all of us, from the head of CBS to the president of the United States, from Martin Heidegger to the poorest fellah of the Nile delta, all of us are the proletariat.

guerilla warfare: "The battle for the survival of man as a responsible being in the Communications Era is not to be won where the communication originates, but where it arrives."

The Multiplication of the Media

...The mass media are genealogical because, in them, every new invention sets off a chain reaction of inventions, produces a sort of common language. They have no memory because, when the chain of imitations has been produced, no one can remember who started it, and the head of the clan is confused with the latest great grandson. Furthermore, the media learn; and thus the spaceships of Star Wars, shamelessly decended from Kubrick's, are more complex and plausible than their ancestor, and now the ancestor seems to be their imitator.

...the conference organized by the Culture Commissioner on Immanuel Kant, which now finds a thousand young people seated on the floor to hear the stern philosopher who has taken as his motto the admonition of Heraclitus: "Why do you want to pullme in every direction, ye unread? Not for you did I write, but for those who can understand me."

Culture as Show Business

This seems applicable to the Castro Halloween celebration:

...First there was street-corner theater, with its Brechtian flavor, and then its younger sibling, the street fair, and then happenings, then, the celbrations: theater as party, and parties as theater.... All subjects on which, as I was saying, a vast theoretical literature now exists; and theoretical literature, as is well known, either kills or at least makes "repectable" spontaneous developments -- which are then no longer spontaneous. Now that festivities have come under municipal management, involving all the less marginal strata of an entire city (and thus entertainment has slipped through the fingers of those who, in fact, were improvising at the margin), we will not be so snobbish as to say that they have lost their flavor, but they have unquestionably become a "genre," like the detective novel, the classical tragedy, the symphony, or square dancing...

"Serious/high culture" vs. show business culture. Tendency to view "high culture" as boring and show business culture as entertaining.

...Why should anyone come from Bologna to Cattolica to hear me talk for less than forty-five minutes, when they can come as much as they like to the University during the year, where admission is free (whereas a trip from Bologna to Cattolica, what with gas, tolls, dinner in a restaurant, comes to more than a theater ticket)? The answer is simple: They didn't come to hear me. They came ot experience the event: to hear also the others, to take part in a collective happening.

Sports Chatter

Eco rails against "sports chatter," a form of idle talk, as it displaces political discourse and "passes itself off as talk of the City and its Ends."

Heidegger quote:

Idle talk is the possibility of understanding everything without previously making the thing one's own.... If this were done, idle talk would founder; and it already guards against such a danger. Idle talk is something which anyone can make up; it not only releases one from the task of genuinely understanding but develops an undifferentiated kind of intelligibility for which nothing is closed off any longer.... [Idle talk does not] aim to deceive. Idle talk does not have the kind of Being which belons to consciously passing off something as something else.... Thus, by its very nature, idle talk is a closing-off, since to go back to the ground of what is talked about is something which it leaves undone.

...sports chatter is the glorification of Waste, and therefore the maximum point of Consumption. On it and in it the consumer civilization man actually consumes himself (and every possibility of thematizing and judging the enforced consumption to which he is invited and subjected).

The World Cup and Its Pomps

...Races improve the race, and all these games lead fortunately to the death of the best, allowing mankind to continue its existence serenely with normal protagonists, of average achievement. In a certain sense I could agree with the Futurists that war is the only hygiene of the world, except for one little correction: It would be, if only volunteers were allowed to wage it. Unfortunately war also involves the reluctant, and therefore it is morally inferior to spectator sports.

...Talk about soccer requires, to be sure, a more than vague expertise, but, all in all, it is limited, well-focused; it allows you to take positions, express opinions, suggest solutions, without exposing yourself to arrest, to loyalty oaths, or, in any case, to suspicion. It doesn't oblige you to intervene personally, because you are talking about something played beyond the area of the speaker's power. In short, it allows you to play at the direction of the government without all the sufferings, the duties, the imponderables of politcal debate...

Falsification and the Consensus

Amusing anecdote about California protest that encouraged people to overpay slightly for their telephone bill, thus forcing the phone company to cut you a check to pay you back one cent.

The new forms of guerilla protest are aimed instead as wounding the system, upsetting the fine network of consensus, based on the certain rules of living together. If this network breaks down, collapse results. That is their strategic hypothesis.

That is to say, if the attack on the presumed "heart" of ths system (confident that a central Power exists) is bound to fail, likewise the peripheral attack on systems that have neither center nor periphery produces no revolution. At most it guarantees the mutual survival of the players of the game. The big publishing houses are ready to accept the spread of photocopying, as the multinationals can tolerate the phone calls made at their expense, and a good transportation system willingly accepts a fair number counterfeit tickets -- provided the counterfeiters are content with their immediate advantage. It is a more subtle form of "historic compromise," except that it's technological. It is the new form that the Social Contract is preparing to assume, to the extent that the utopia of the revolution is transformed into a scheme of short-range, but permanent, harassment.

Reading Things

Two Families of Objects

A thousand ashtrays are useless, but a thousand machine tools makes big industry. At the end of his rounds, the ordinary visitor believes he has chosen. He desires beautiful objects, accessible, and not accumulable, and rejects those that are ugly and accumulable (but inaccessible). In reality, he has not chosen; he has only accepted his role as consumer of consumer goods since he cannot be a proprietor of means of production...

Lady Barbara

This quote reminds me of the "bring an ugly friend to the bar with you" principle:

The destiny of a beautiful song is thus to be all very ugly, except for one little, humble, marvelous central moment, which must die out at once, so that when it returns it will be hailed by the most intense ovation every heard.

Lumbar Thought

p. 193

I thought then about how much, in the history of civilization, dress as armor has influenced behavior and, in consequence, exterior morality. The Victorian bourgeois was stiff and formal because of stiff collars; the nineteeth-century gentleman was constrained by his tight redingotes, boots, and top hats that didn't allow brusque movements of the head. If Vienna had been on the equator and its bourgeoisie had gone around in Bermuda shorts, would Freud have described the same neurotic symptoms, the same Oedipal triangles? And would he have described them the same way if he, the doctor, had been a Scot, in a kilt (under which, as everyone knows, the rule is to wear nothing)?

Woman has been enslaved by fashion not only because, in obliging her to be attractive, to maintain an ethereal demeanor, to be pretty and stimulating, it made her a sex object; she has been enslaved chiefly because the clothing counseled for her forced her psychologically to live for the exterior. And this makes us realize how intellectually gifted and heroic a girl had to be before she could become, in those clothes, Madame de Sevigne, Vittoria Colonna, Madame Curie, or Rosa Luxemburg...

Casablanca: Cult Movie and Intertextual Collage

This is a fun essay because it dissects the movie Casablanca in great detail.

I think that in order to transform a work into a cult object one must be able to break, dislocate, unhinge it so that one can remember only parts of it, irrespective of their original relationships with the whole. In the case of a book one can unhinge it, so to speak, physically, reducing it to a series of excerpts. A movie, on the contrary, must be already ramshackle, rickety, unhinged in itself. A perfect movie, since it cannot be reread everything we want, from the point we choose, as happens with a book, remains in our memory as a whole, in the form of a central idea or emotion; only an unhinged movie surives as a disconnected series of images, of peaks, of visual icbergs. It should display not one central idea but many. It should not reveal a coherent philosophy of composition. It must live on, and because of, its glorious ricketiness.

Eco identifies the specific archetypes, one by one, as they appear in Casablanca.

A Photograph

Single photograph reframes a movement and causes the police to move on it. Milanese gunman photo evoked imagery of the lone fighter instead of that of a mass struggle/revolt.

...Theirs is a different way of organizing space and so that day at the University there was the clash between two concepts of perspective, the one we might call Brunelleschian and the other cubist. True, anyone reducing the whole story to these factors would be mistaken, but anyone trying to dismiss this interpretation as an intellectual game would be mistaken, too. The Catholic Church, the French Revolution, Nazism, the Soviet Union, and the People's Republic of China, not to mention the Rolling Stones and soccer clubs, have always known that the deployment of space is religion, politics, ideology...

Other important photos: * Robert Capa's dying miliciano * Iwo Jima flag * Vietnamese prisoner execution * Che Guevara's tortured body on a plank

De Consolatione Philioshophiae


chiliasm: The doctrine stating that Jesus will reign on earth for 1,000 years.

bricolage: Something made or put together using whatever materials happen to be available

syncretism: Reconciliation or fusion of differing systems of belief, as in philosophy or religion, especially when success is partial or the result is heterogeneous

cenotaph: A monument erected in honor of a dead person whose remains lie elsewhere

contrada: Middle Ages Italian city wards or administrative districts

philology: Literary study or classical scholarship

rara avis: A rare or unique person or thing

unicum: latin for unique

in nuce: in a nutshell

Corybant: A priest of the Phrygian goddess Cybele whose rites were celebrated with music and ecstatic dances.

philosophia perennis: phrase popularized by Leibniz and Huxley; common, eternal philosophy that underlies all religious movements

phatic: Of, relating to, or being speech used to share feelings or to establish a mood of sociability rather than to communicate information or ideas.

creche: A representation of the Nativity, usually with statues or figurines.

armillary: Pertaining to, or resembling, a bracelet or ring; consisting of rings or circles.

Post a comment


related entries.

what is this?

This page contains a single entry from kwc blog posted on December 21, 2004 6:36 PM.

The previous post was DC Baseball.

The next post is Big Bridge.

Current entries can be found on the main page.