Speaking back to Techno-Orientalism (a partial syllabus)

From my class attempting to move the inquiries of Techno-Orientalism beyond the study of English-language writers – here’s parts of the syllabus I got to teach this quarter to a motivated set of students at UCR. I wrote this (and am sharing it) in the hopes that those who consider teaching classes or thinking about this topic try to include the voices of SF writers and critics from beyond the English-language world in their discussion. What happens when writers/filmmakers (who are Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Irish) who have consumed techno-orientalist media speak back?

Seminar in Comparative Literature: Techno-Orientalism

Professor Kathryn Page-Lippsmeyer|Contact: katep@ucr.edu

Course Description: This course surveys and interrogates the theoretical construction of Orientalism through its engagement with technology in the literary and visual imaginary of science fiction.  Techno-orientalism, a term coined by Morely and Robins, is defined as the Othering of Japan by the West that sees it only as an advanced technological dystopia. More broadly the techo-orientalist mode fetishizes Asia as the exotic future. In this course we consider the critical, material, and historical conditions that gave rise to the exotification of Asians through literary technologies, and how those constructions are, in turn, engaged with by writers and artists from Asia themselves.  Additionally, we will explore the geopolitical logics that emerge from these fictions, including the legacies of globalization and high-tech labor, occupation and imperialism, and the relationship between science fiction and literature.  Prerequisites: This course is open to graduate students in good standing and undergraduate students with approval of instructor; all literature will be read in translation and all films are subtitled in English.

Fictional imaginings (short stories, novels, films, etc.):

Doyle, Arthur Conan. “The Speckled Band.” The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes: The Novels. New York: W.W. Norton, 2005. 227-263.

Dick, Phillip K.  The Man in the High Castle.  1962.  New York: Vintage, 1992.

Abe Kobo. Box Man. Trans. E. Dale Saunders. Knopff/Vintage Press, 2001.

Blade Runner. Dir. Ridley Scott. Warner Bros, 1982.

Gibson, William. Neuromancer. Penguin, 2000.

Liu Cixin. The Three Body Problem. Translated by Ken Liu. Macmillian, 2014.

Oshii Mamoru, dir. Ghost in the Shell. Bandai Visual, Manga Entertainment, 1995.

Oshii Mamoru, dir. Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence. Production I.G., 2004.

Bacigalupi Paolo. The Windup Girl. San Francisco: Night Shade, 2009.

McDonald, Ian. Evolution’s Shore. New York: Bantam, 1995.

Pak Min-gyu. “Road Kill” Trans. Esther Song. Azalea: Journal of Korean Literature & Culture. Vol 6, 2013. 135-155.

Theories and critical texts (a partial list)

Said, Edward W. Orientalism. New York: Vintage Books, 1979.

Morley, D. and Robins, K. “Techno-Orientalism: Japan Panic.” Spaces of Identity. Global Media, Electronic Landscapes and Cultural Boundaries. London: Routledge, 1995, 147-173.

Delany, Samuel R.  The Jewel-Hinged Jaw:  Notes on the Language of Science Fiction. Rev. ed. Middletown: Wesleyan UP, 2009. Chapters 1-4 (page 1 – 43)

Sakai Naoki, “Translation,” Theory, Culture & Society 23.2-3 (2006): 71–86.

Jameson, Frederic.  Postmodernism, Or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. Durham: Duke University Press, 1991.

Sohn, Stephen Hong. “Introduction: Alien/Asian: Imagining the Racialized Future.” Melus 33.4 (2008): 5-22.

Roh, David, Betsy Huang, and Greta Niu. Techno-Orientalism: Imagining Asia in Speculative Fiction, History, and Media. Rutgers UP: 2015.

Park, Jane. “Re-Orienting the Orientalist Gaze.” Global Media Journal 4.6 (2005): 1-15

Song, Mingwei. “Variations on Utopia in Contemporary Chinese Science Fiction.” Science Fiction Studies, Vol. 40, No. 1, Chinese Science Fiction (March 2013). P 86-102.

Brown, Steven. “Machinic Desires: Hans Bellmers’ Dolls and the Technological Uncanny in Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence.” Tokyo Cyberpunk: Posthumanism in Japanese Visual Culture. 13-54.

Ueno, Toshiya. “Japanimation and Techno-Orientalism.” The Uncanny Experiments in Cyborg Culture. Ed. Grenville, Bruce. Vancouver, B.C.: Vancouver Art Gallery, 2001.223-231 http://www.t0.or.at/ueno/japan.htm

Ueno, Toshiya. “The Shock Projected Onto the Other: Notes on ‘Japanimation and Techno-Orientalism'” The Uncanny: Experiments in Cyborg Culture. ed. Grenville, Bruce. Vancouver, B.C.: Vancouver Art Gallery, 2001. 232-236

Hayles, N. Katherine. How we Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics. Chicago, Ill: University of Chicago Press, 1999.

Hollinger, Veronica. “Humanity 2.0: Retrospective, Abjection, And The Future-To-Come.” Mark Bould and Rhys Williams, ed. SF Now. Paradoxa #26.

Smith, Eric D. “Introduction: The Desire Called Postcolonial Science Fiction.” Globalization, Utopia, and Postcolonial Science Fiction: New Maps of Hope. New York: Palgrave, 2012. 1-20.

Lozano-Mendez, Artur. 2010. “Techno-Orientalism in East-Asian Contexts: Reiteration, Diversification, Adaptation.” Counterpoints: Edward Said’s Legacy. Edited by Telmissany, May, and Stephanie Tara Schwartz. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, pp. 185-210.

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Entertaining Summer Articles

Just a few headlines that caught my eye in the last month or so:

Institution to create lifelike android of famed writer Soseki
Apparently they’re going to be building a robot Soseki so that Japanese literature can at last achieve the perfect fusion of technology and aesthetics.

Renowned novelist Natsume Soseki (1867-1916) is set to return 100 years after his death–as an interactive robot.

“My father and I and my grandfather Soseki were not the most friendly people, so we’d all be grouchy toward those whom we didn’t like,” said manga columnist Fusanosuke Natsume, the 65-year-old grandson of the famed writer. “But people can see that we’re all kindhearted and have a sense of humor once we open our arms. Personally, I want to see the android smiling.”

Fiction should be marketed as ‘good,’ not ‘Korean’
Translators are particularly conscious of how texts are freed from their source language and move out into the global community…

“When a writer succeeds on the international stage, they become, for an audience, an international writer,” Smith said at a forum on Korean literature’s global expansion held Sunday as part of the Seoul International Book Fair. Smith jointly won the Man Booker International Prize last month for her English translation of Korean writer Han Kang’s novel “The Vegetarian.”

“Murakami is not ‘Japanese literature’ any more than Han Kang is ‘Korean literature.’ Fervent Murakami fans are not, by and large, spurred on by this passion to read more Japanese literature — they want to read more Murakami,” the British translator said.

Is Japan ready for the LGBTQ revolution?
An article that really talks about the popularity of exhibits that don’t try and moralize or impose conservative standards on the media of previous eras. I got to see the Ikeda-Mostow Panel about the exhibition and the notion of a “third gender” at AAS in Chicago this year, and the ensuing audience discussion was fascinating.

Ironically, Japan’s rich artistic tradition complicates prevailing norms and attitudes, revealing a culture that reveled in diversity. Where did that disappear to?

Well, some of it made its way to Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum (ROM). A current show running through Nov. 27 — “A Third Gender: Beautiful Youths in Japanese Prints” — displays mostly ukiyo-e woodblock prints focused on ebullient and bawdy representations of sexuality from the Edo Period (1603-1868), a time when Victorian values and Christian guilt had not yet cast a shadow over Japan.

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It’s been some time since I posted here – the trouble with writing every day is that at times it seems there are only so many words to go around. Most of those words for the last two years have been spoken for by the text of my dissertation. But today I submitted the finalized document to the Graduate School for their review. This entire process is not quite done (they have to review it first, and I will possibly have to make some changes), but it is in the very final stages. And since it is, I thought I’d acknowledge those who helped me achieve this work.  This then is the only part of my dissertation that I’ll publish informally: my acknowledgements.

For five years Professor Akira Lippit has served as not just my dissertation committee chair, but as my mentor, advisor, and my inspiration. I always left our meetings filled with confidence, new insights, and the knowledge that I was fully supported in this endeavor.

I am also grateful for the feedback, encouragement, and advice of an incredible committee. Professor Henry Jenkins tirelessly offered transformative comments and his perpetual engagement continually inspired me to work harder. Professor Satoko Shimazaki challenged my thinking about the project’s scope and place, and her encouragement gave me conviction to believe in my own analysis.

While at USC I also received a great deal of informal support. I am extraordinarily thankful to Professors Anne McKnight and Kirsten Cather who, despite no longer being my formal advisors, continued to offer mentoring, encouragement, and critical interventions throughout this journey.  They gave me foundational tools, and I hope my own work reflects in small part their intellectual rigor and commitment to scholarly excellence.  Moreover, I am grateful for the mentorship of Professors Miya Mizuta, David Bialock, Sunyoung Park, Vanessa Schwartz, and Laura Serna. Miya encouraged me to do the preliminary research for this dissertation in her Art History class, and her comments on early drafts were invaluable to a scholar trying to find her voice. Without David I do not think my qualifying exams would have properly prepared me for the work you will read in these pages. Sunyoung’s timely comments on my prospectus made me rethink this project into manageable proportions. Vanessa tirelessly created a community of interdisciplinary scholars that made it possible for me to receive critical feedback. And Laura directed the Visual Studies writing group in that community – it it was her insightful feedback that propelled me forward from one chapter to the next.

The project took on intelligent shape through the feedback of countless scholars and friends in writing groups, associations, and at conferences. In Japan, my dinnertime conversations with Tatsumi Takayuki and Kotani Mari helped me think through the present day implications of my project. The thoughtful commentary of members of the USC Graduates Studying East Asia (GSEA) ensured my work was coherent and engaged with the larger discourses of Asian Studies. Some members of the GSEA have been there from the infancy of this project, and I really appreciate the fact that Melissa Chan, Amanda Kennell, Li-Ping Chen, Yunwen Gao, Chad Walker, and Haiwei Liu were willing to think through my work with me time and time again. I particularly want to thank the Visual Studies writing group: Umayyah Cable, Luci Marzola, Joshua Mitchell, Feng-Mei Herberer, Lara Bradshaw, Alison Kozberg, Kevin Driscoll, and Roxanne Samer.  These dedicated and kind scholars were not only generous with their comments, they provided shining examples of the kind of intellectual work I hope this project displays. A chapter of this dissertation was presented at the Visual Studies Research Institute’s “Objects of Knowledge” series, where I am deeply grateful Brian Bernards was my respondent because he gave me further insight in how I would like to speak to multiple audiences.  Other chapters were presented at conferences for the Association for Asian Studies, the Science Fiction Research Association, and the American Comparative Literature Association. The project benefited not just from the audience members’ questions and suggestions but from fellow panelists’ unstinting encouragement and feedback.

This dissertation was generously funded primarily by the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures, and the support of Endowed Fellowships organized through the Graduate School at the University of Southern California.  Preliminary training and research was supported in part through the Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowship coordinated by the Center for East Asian Studies at USC, and in part through the Nippon Foundation Fellows Scholarship coordinated through the Inter-University Center for Japanese Language Studies in Yokohama, Japan. The research for this dissertation was conducted at the National Diet Library in Tokyo, the Harvard-Yenching Library, the Inter-University Center for Japanese Language Studies, and the East Asian Library (part of the Doheny Memorial Library) at the University of Southern California.

Over the course of this journey I gathered a group of people from whom I hope I never stop learning. They offered unstinting support in ways too numerous to adequately acknowledge here. But I will try. Helen Page is more than a mother, she is an inspiration and a shining light, and I worked through so many of my fears and my intellectual tangles with her that this work is almost a joint endeavor. Ingrid Levinthal has been my comrade and my confidant: her insights reassured me when I thought everything was going wrong, and her willingness to spend three days a week on my couch writing meant I actually wrote it. Jon and Judy Lippsmeyer may never have become Japanese literature experts, but they also never wavered in their unstinting parental care and bountiful faith in me that made all of this possible. Sam Timinsky, little brother I never knew I needed, offered thoughts on everything from sentence structure to housemate wrangling. Christine Shaw has been my guide through the labyrinth of academic requirements and my cheerleader, always ready to remind me to celebrate life even while she offered line-by-line edits on funding applications. Lola Shehu watched over me and mother-henned me, and kept me on track. Tyler Wilson reminded me when to be sane and when not to be, and made sure I never forgot the wider world out there. And last, but not the least, Elizabeth Barrows kept the light on for me, listened patiently to all my worries and fears, and gave me hope that I could do this and held my hand when I worried I couldn’t.  And look, I really did!

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Writing the history of Science Fiction art

Chapter title: “A Century of Science Fiction Art: Historical Overview to About 1975”
Author: Robert Weinberg
Title: Science Fiction And Fantasy Artists Of The Twentieth Century: A Biographical Dictionary
Editor: Jane Frank

Incredibly helpful and simultaneously frustrating essay by Robert Weinberg opens this comprehensive biographical dictionary of American and British science fiction artists and illustrators.  The idea that one must collect every name and their own personal history into one space is another sign of the collector-ethic that is pervasive throughout the semi-professional history of science fiction.  It compliments works like James Gunn and Isaac Asimov’s Alternate Worlds: The Illustrated History of Science Fiction by compiling a lot of information about the individuals who make up the science fiction illustration field (whereas Alternate Worlds loosely classifies and broadly historicizes science fiction writers and movements by categories like “aliens” and “robots” and “alternative worlds”).  

Weinberg’s strengths are that he discusses the production of science fiction art as part of a material history of publishing.  Beginning with Albert Robida, a French illustrator of Jules Verne, he ties science fiction artwork to science fiction magazine publishing through the end of the 19th and into the 20th Century.  Indeed, from the perspective of this essay, the history of science fiction artwork is not necessarily the history of sf literature, but rather the history of science fiction periodicals. Technological developments in periodical, newspaper, and print publishing (and the expansion and contract of those fields) translated into changes in sf art. The advent of “pulp” magazines (publications that used cheap wood paper) not only transformed the landscape of publishing in the US, but also created a need for eye-catching cover illustration to draw in readers.  These illustrators came from the newspaper world as photographs began to dominate over illustrations in newspress.  Thus the first style of cover design was “accurate, crisp illustrations for reproduction on inexpensive paper” like Joseph Clement Coll’s work. This expanded into the technically detailed (and architecturally inspired) Amazing Stories covers by Frank R. Paul in the mid 1920s, that, due to his training in architecture, better illustrated complex mechanical structures than people.  In the 1930s new periodicals entirely devoted to science fiction abounded, and the art styles diversified in order to fit on smaller format seven by ten inches magazines, with artists’ subject matter diversifying to differentiate publications.  Wesso’s paintings for Astounding Stories featured more action and more complex human subjects.  J. Allen S. John, who originally began illustrating for Edgar Rice Burroughs’ adventure stories, contributed action-oriented fantasy art for Weird Tales, while fashion designer Margaret Brundage introduced the “voluptuous woman clad in scanty garments” style to sf covers. These covers all illustrated a dramatic scene of the novels appearing in the magazine, and became increasingly revealing of plot twists and crisis points.  

Due to another boom in magazine publishing in the 1940s, artists were increasingly in demand and they artwork they created was increasingly varied.  These artists were also the first who were themselves science fiction fans, and the artwork changed its character due to their own interests.  The last and probably most important trend for my research is the influx of non-SF or non-magazine staff illustrators who took up the brush in the 1960s, coming from the avant guard and surrealist schools of art to illustrate the more surreal and socially transformative science fiction. 

Weinberg points out this expansion drew artists in part because they could make a living at illustration – science fiction book publishing well into the 1960s was not a wide enough field to support an illustrator dedicated to science fiction artwork alone, but the magazines provided not only space for experimentation, but financial support.  

Unfortunately this essay often loses track of major trends in science fiction art in favor of focusing on the history of this shifting publication marketplace.  In part this is likely due to the diversity of subjects – but Weinberg also assumes an acquaintance with the works of certain artists and so doesn’t bother to describe them (St. John is a perfect example).  Additionally the criticism occasionally veers into the “good/bad” binary without offering particular or detailed criticism of an artists work. It becomes a history of names and assumption of an acquaintance with an illustrator’s individual style.  Frustratingly the discussion of non-American art is entirely absent, except for a very few comments about particularly popular British illustrators.  The science fiction world is constructed entirely as American and occasionally British – which would be fine except that it purports to be comprehensive and originally pays homage to French illustrators. 


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Book interview: Modern Girls on the Go!

My interview with Alisa Freedman on her edited volume Modern Girls on the Go just came out and is up on the Fembot Collective website.  If you have a minute take a look!

Fembot’s Books Aren’t Dead (BAD) interview for December 2013 is now available on the Fembot website. In this BAD interview Kate Page-Lippsmeyer (Doctoral Candidate, University of Southern California) talks with Alisa Freedman (Associate Professor, University of Oregon), co-editor of Modern Girls on the Go: Gender, Mobility, and Labor in Japan (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2013). You can listen to this interview at: http://fembotcollective.org/blog/2013/12/01/books-arent-dead-modern-girls-on-the-go/.

Both the podcast and the transcript for this interview (as well as BAD’s past interviews) will be available for download in the near future. BAD is Fembot’s series of monthly interviews with feminist authors of recent books on media, science, and technology. For those who are interested in participating in the ongoing BAD project please contact the BAD editor, Hye Jin Lee (hyejinjlee@gmail.com), or Carol Stabile (cstabile@uoregon.edu).

About Modern Girls on the Go: Gender, Mobility, and Labor in Japan (Description from Stanford University Press website):
This spirited and engaging multidisciplinary volume pins its focus on the lived experiences and cultural depictions of women’s mobility and labor in Japan. The theme of “modern girls” continues to offer a captivating window into the changes that women’s roles have undergone during the course of the last century.

Here we encounter Japanese women inhabiting the most modern of spaces, in newly created professions, moving upward and outward, claiming the public life as their own: shop girls, elevator girls, dance hall dancers, tour bus guides, airline stewardesses, international beauty queens, overseas teachers, corporate soccer players, and even female members of the Self-Defense Forces. Directly linking gender, mobility, and labor in 20th and 21st century Japan, this collection brings to life the ways in which these modern girls—historically and contemporaneously—have influenced social roles, patterns of daily life, and Japan’s global image. It is an ideal guidebook for students, scholars, and general readers alike.

About the Author:

Alisa Freedman is an Associate Professor of Japanese Literature and Film at the University of Oregon. Much of her interdisciplinary work investigates the ways the modern urban experience has shaped human subjectivity, cultural production, and gender roles. She strives to show how literature and visual media can provide a deeper understanding of society, politics, and economics. Alisa has published widely on Japanese modernism, urban studies, contemporary youth culture, media discourses about gender norms, humor as social critique, and the intersection of literature and digital media. Her work in progress include books about Sesame Street in Japan and changing images of working women on Japanese television and a series of articles on popular culture representation of Japan’s lost generation. Additionally, Alisa is engaged in a research and teaching project on the future of the book using Japanese literature as an example and is involved in several literary translation projects. Alisa has served as Resident Director of OUS study abroad programs in Tokyo and is currently Undergraduate Advisor for the Japanese Culture Major.

Laura Miller is the Ei’ichi Shibusawa-Seigo Arai Professor of Japanese Studies and Professor of Anthropology at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

Christine R. Yano is Professor and Chair of Anthropology at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa.

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On Japanese Cyborgs infiltrates tumblr

Due to my own digital constraints (and the fact that I’m spending a year abroad in Japan studying Japanese, not researching) I’ve created a tumblr to house some of the more visual aspects of my online research. Well that an anything that seems related or useful.  Unsurprisingly it’ll be at onjapanesecyborgs.tumblr.com.  Feel free to visit there as the activity here is … somewhat lacking!

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I passed!

Just a short note to say that all of the preparation contained in the previous posts helped me to achieve my goal – I passed my qualifying exam and am now ABD (All But Dissertation)!

Now the real fun begins – the true research!  Although the posts on this blog will slow down, I will be concentrating more on creating quality content rather than quick reminders of the texts that I am reviewing.

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Postmodernism, or the Logic of Late Capitalism by Jameson

Begins by situating postmodernism at the point at which the “frontier between high culture and so-called mass or commercial culture” is effaced.  “[A]estehtic production today has become integrated into commodity production generally” (56)

The Postmodern is the “force field in which very different kinds of cultural impulses — what Raymond Williams has usefully termed ‘residual’ and ’emergent’ forms of cultural production — must make their way.” (57) and in that sense it is not a mode but instead a cultural dominance.

He characterizes it as having the following features:

  • a new depthlessness (which is all about the new culture of the image or the simulacrum)
  • a consequent weakening of historicity (both to public “history” and private temporality) that determine new types of syntax or syntagmatic relationships
  • a whole new type of emotional ground tone
  • the deep constitutive relationships of all this to a whole new technology (that is itself a figure for a whole new economic world system that he sees as multinationalism)

He locates the first signs of this in architecture and art, in the ideas that there are only partial pictures of something being offered in Warhol’s work (instead of totalizing wholes being gestured at), but also a flatness and a “waning of affect”

“Waning of affect” means a deconstruction of the “aesthetic of expression itself” so that the modernist thematics (alienation, solitude, social fragmentation) are then all discreted as “metaphysical baggage” related to ‘truth’ (which is also something postmodern seeks to abandon.  Instead of depth we get textual play, discourses, intertextuality and ultimately simulacra (that aren’t concerned with evoking the real).

“This shift in the dynamics of cultural pathology can be characterized as one in which the alienation of the subject is displaced by the fragmentation of the subject.”

Thus pastiche constitutes not a feeling of wholeness, but of connection, which replaces parody.  Additionally in language the signifier isn’t in a one-to-one relationship with the signified, but instead meaning is created through “movement from Signifier to Signifier: what we generally call the Signified – – the meaning or conceptual content of an utterance — is now rather to be seen as a meaning-effect”  (72)

His concrete example of the poem “China” points out that its meaning is created through sentences whose “referents [are] another image, another absent text; and the unity of the poem is no longer to be found within its language, but outside itself, in the bound unity of another, absent book.” ( 75)

Jameson’s conclusion discusses how artists identified as the hight of high culture modernists could be, because of their vanguard nature, actually considered postmodernists with a small twist.  He goes on to talk about reconsidering people like Proust from a postmodernist turn (gendered, queered, raced) and how it starts to get interesting when you look at the fact that not only is there a tension between modernity / modernization / modernism, but that different cultures have used different words AND each term has a specific time-referent too.  Uneven development across the board.

Starts moving into POMO though:

Perry Anderson reminds me, however, that in this respect the deepest and most fundamental feature shared by all the moternisms is not so much their hostility to a technology some (like the Futurists) actually celebrated, but rather their hostility to the market itself.  The centrality of this feature is then confirmed by its inversion in the various postmodernisms, which, even more wildly different from each other than the various modernisms, all at least share a resonant affirmation, when not an outright celebration, of the market as such.  (304-5)

goes on to talk about the waves of modernism, starting from a collusion with certain types of industrial process, but then also about views of the world, different political moments, economic breaks.  suggests “late moderns” are “those who persist into postmoderinsim.”  (305)

suggests that we don’t need to lament the death of the “great heroes” of modernism with all their moving & shaking charisma (no pathos), but look at “our social order” that is “richer in information and more literate, and socially, at least, more “democratic” in the sense of hte universlization of wage labor….this new order no longer needs prophets and seers of the high modernist and charismatic type, whether among its cultural producers or its politicians.  (306)

…I think we still do admire the great generals (along with their counterparts, the great artists), but the admiration has been displace from their innate subjectivty to their historical flair, their capacity to assess the “current situation” and to evaluate its potential permutation system on the spot.  (306-7)

“uneven development” is the reason why the “great writer” has dissappeared –

Modern art, in this respect, drew its power and its possibilities from being a backwater and an archaic holdover within a modernizing economy: it glorified, celebrated, and dramatized older forms of individual production which the new mode of production was elsewhere on the point of displacing and blotting out.  Aesthetic production then offered the Utopian vision of a more human production generally: and in the world of the monopoly stage of capitalism it excercised a fascination by way ov ethe image it offered of a Utopian transformation of human life.  (307)

Hot damn.  so modernism is this whole idea of handcrafting that comes as a legacy of an entirely different age.  This then suggests postmodernism IS DIRECTLY A RESULT OF MODERNIZATION (at least, in my opinion).

He goes into talking about reading Kafka not as psychological text (oedipal), nor as theological (salvation), nor as “marxist” (bureaucracy-as-nightmare/Empire=bad), but instead as a text where the modern (work week, housing, etc) is always interrupted by the “old fashioned”/archaic (political structure, baroque buildings).  It’s this

peculiar overlap of future and past, in this case, the resistance of archaic feudal structures to irresistible modernizing tendencies – of tendential organization and the residual survival of the not yet “modern” in some other sense – that is the condition of possibility for high modernism as such, and for its production of aesthetic forms and messages that may no longer have anything to do with the unevenness from which it alone springs.  (309)

AH, so here’s where he talks about POMO – it’s where the past has FINALLY BEEN SWEPT AWAY WITHOUT A TRACE. (309)  there’s no longer a sense of the past, historicity, collective memory…. so postmodern then has no time – everyone is at the same “hour”,

modernism is characterized by a situation of incomplete modernization, or that postmodernism is more modern that modernism itself.  (310)

so we’re also not interested in the word “new” anymore, we want to MAKE ourselves modern, it’s an action we take not something thrust on us.  So in the modern period “new” was keenly felt because the old traditional was still around, but now we’ve emptied everything of content it all actually is NEW and that category has lost its meaning.

This is also why these works were all about the celebration of the self — because they had this idea that the self was totally linked to the society and object world, and if they were in upheaval, so was the sense of self.  So the notion of modernism is tied to radical social movements (not expressing values but emerging in a “space opened by them” 312!!)

III. Cultural reification and the “relief” of the postmodern  (313)

If modernism thought of itself as a prodigious revolution in cultural production, however, postmodernism thinks of itself as a renewal of production as such after a long period of ossification and dwelling among dead monuments.  (313)

He starts talking about the “relief” and “release” of postmodernism, the feelin that there was a geenrational change that could upend power structures.  He points out that in the University this transition happened at the same time that there was decannization (suggesting that Pound was added to the cannon and then the cannon was thrown out).  Architecture, though, you can see it when the state appropriates the forms of modernism:

Utopian forms now degraded into anonymous forms of large-scale housing and office construction.  The modernist styels then became stamped with just such bureacuratic connotation, so that to break with it radically produces some feeling of “relief,” even though what replaces it is neither Utopia nor democracy, but simply the private-corporate constuctions of the post-welfare state postmodern.  (314)

Leads to reification:  “the effacement of the traces of production” !!

So the consumer can consume without guilt, so that there is “relative silence” so that one does not feel one’s privacy or body is being violated.

however, reification of culture he defines seperately –

The feature of reification I want to insist on in this realm of cultural products is what generates a radical separation between consumers and producers.  Specilizaiton is too weak and non-dialectical a term for that, but it plays its part in developing and perpetuating a deep conviction within the consuemr that the production of the product in question – attributable no doubt to other human beings in the generic sense – is nonetheless beyond anything you can imagine; it is not something the consumer or user has any social sympathy for whatsoever.  In that respect, it is a little like the feeling nonintellectuals and lower-class people have always had about intellectuals and what they do: you see them doing it, and it doesn’t look very complicated, but even with the best will in the world you don’t quite get it, you don’t see why peopel would want to do things like that, let alone trust yourself to form an idea of what it is they actually do.  (315)

Funny how he does this but uses academics as his example since it’s NOT a low culture thing.

Anyway, he wants to talk about reification like this:

in this sense of the way in which a product somehow shuts us out even from a sympathetic participation, by imagination, in its production.  It comes before us, no questions asked, as something we could not begin to imagine doing for ourselves.  (317)

We can consume it, no problem, and it’s set up for us to do that, but we can’t actually imagine producing it.  He suggests that “great modernist works” set themselves up to be reified in this sense — they were products of “genius” and so no one could create them without “specialist or expert qualification” except their disciples.  And so postmodernism comes along and says whoever wants to indulge it can create.  The price?  “the preliminary destruction of modernist formal values….along with a range of crucial related categories such as the work or the subject.” (317)

IV.  Groups and Representation (318)

Suggests that postmodernism is marked by the splintering of class into “groups” which are smaller, have less universalizing potential, and tend to also have far more restricted types of aims – and that this movement from class to group is in part because modernism’s promise of class “revolution” failed.  So now the people are represented by “minorities” that tend to resist totalizing/universalizing theory… and instead you get “micropolitics”.  These groups then become the “substitute for a dissappearing working class” (320).  So then the subject, that once was idealized as an individual creating the grand narrative, becomes the “subject-position” that is occupied as one affiliates oneself with different groups during different moments.  So the ‘subject’ (as much as there is one) can be a part of different groups at different times (or different groups at the same time).  He talks about the identification of people as “homeless” which marks them as a part of a group that has to be / can be  dealt with by the state and by others around them — their individuality is erased and they are contained within the group conceptually.  He suggests this is one of the other markers of postmodernism – that there is an “ideological category that slowly moves into place to cover” the individual (322).  How this works on the micro-macro level are that politics (and economics and any other ics) are no longer able to retain a sense of individual resistance that then is based on some kind of ineffable “totalizing” morality — (which is the way it used to work in modernism, when the two levels local and global were easily coordinated).  Now the local is specific and not able to be “generalized”.

V.  The Anxiety of Utopia

The Postmodernist is afraid of utopia for two reasons –
1) that utopian thinking leads to despotisim & is dangerous (leads to massacres, Stalin’s camps, Pol Pot, etc)
2)  that the reconciliation of subject & object in utopia somehow equals the “simplification of life, of the obliteration of exciting urban difference and of the muting of sensory stimulus” (235)

Those who resist also, somehow, are afraid of the resurgance of a “primal unity” that is affixed to the “inevitable past” that arises from this.

There’s also a notion that the imagined utopia does not actually come from a revolution, but instead from some kind of conservative impulse, and so there’s anxieties about “utopian” dreams that then get criticized for being reactionary rather than revolutionary.

VI.  The Ideology of Difference

So, here’s the good & the bad – the ideology of groups and difference doesn’t get rid of tyranny.  (sadface).  It does, possibly, shred up the notion of consensus.  “consensus becomes the illusion of consensus”  The problem is that consensus is equated to “representative democracy” so that once you recognize groups you start to recognize democracy is a farce.

What will concern us here for another moment is, on the one hand, the suitability of the general ideology or rhetoric of difference to articulate those concrete social struggles, and, on the other, the deeper implicit representation or ideological model of the social totality on which the logic of groups is based and which it perpetuates… the media and the market. (341)

He suggests that “difference” is “booby-trapped” because it’s opposite is “Identity” – and so “difference” becomes a buzz word of liberal tolerance (which might, in fact, be not difference but “tolerance of difference” which is possibly “the obliteration of genuine social difference in the first place” (341). So neo-ethnicity (as a type of difference) is/became a yuppy matter of fashion & the market, or possibly offensive (a non-jew who identifies jewish), not a real recognition of anything.

And Differentiation is problematic because:

If what is historically unique about the postmodern is thus acknowledge as sheer heteronomy and the emergence of random and unrelated subsystems of all kinds, then, or so the argument runs, there has to be something perverse about the effort to grasp it as a unified system in the first place.  (342)

He has a point here — the only problem is that there’s a balancing act between ignoring that there are narratives and requiring a master narrative.  But, back to his perspective

He links again late capitalism to postmodernism by talking about global concept of postmodernism — that where once

precapitalist modes of production achieved their capacity to reproduce themselves through verious forms of solidarity or collective cohesion, the logic of capital is, on the contrary, a dispersive and atomistic, “individualist” one, an antisociety rather than a society, whose systematic structure, let alone its reproduction of itself, remains a mystery and a contradiction in terms. … this paradox is the originality of capitalism, and that the verbally contradictory formulas we necessarily encounter in defining it point beyond the words to the thing itself (and also give rise to that peculiar new invention, the dialectic)…(343)

after some huge blathering about how classes are fairly limited and that institutions are kinds of groups, he comes back to why groups are slightly more mobile.  They:

seem to offer the gratifications of psychic identity (from nationalism to neoethnicity).  Since they have become images, groups allow the amnesia of their own bloody pasts, of persecution and untouchability, and can now be consumed: this marks their relationship to the media…

The political horror of consensus – mistaken for a dread of “totalization” – is then simply the justified reluctance of groups that have conquered a certain pride in their own identity to be dictated to by what turn out to be simply other groups, since now everything in our social reality is a badge of group membership and connotes a specific bunch of people. (347)

So then he goes into the notion that once you’ve got these groups resisting (or noticing the problems with) consensus, you also have the “death of the subject” (because the group comes to stand in for the subject.  So he goes back to Marx, and suggests that Marx finding the proletariat as the new subject of history hasn’t been replaced – but the class of the proletariat is too dispersed into groups and into the global system to actually get a coherent “genuine” class consciousness.  Also, the “ruling class” stops being identified as individuals who own the means of production and become institutions (hey Foucault, here you are!) and so there are no “levers” of production to control/manage.  Instead the only “visible” entities left are the Media and the Market.  And you’ve got “power” relationships between groups.  (he talks in earlier paragraphs about the rise of the media as an entity that is somehow separate from groups).

Media is split into media culture, media politics (what to show), and other types of things.  The end of “privacy” means we have an enargement of what constitutes the “public” sphere — only of what we’ll stand to watch, and then he suggests that “media” failed to come into being — it’s not yet “media”:

the example he gives this is Kennedy’s assassination.  The media culture set in place in the 40s & the 50s gave rise to THE media event of his death — it created a unique collective experience, trained people to read such events in a new way, not because of Kenndy’s public position, but how it was handled–

television showed what it could really do and what it really meant – a prodigious new display of synchronicity and a communication situation that amounted to a dialectical leap over anything hitherto suspected. (355)

it was the shock of the communication explosion, scarring the mind with radical difference, born out of violence and the private as public, “to which collective amnesia aimlessly returns in its later forgetfulness” …. that makes it “available for new semiotic combinations”.

VII.  Demographies of the Postmodern

Who appears in the media though?  The person who “compels recognition of my existance and my status as a human subject.” (356) They are the people who clamor for recognition in the public space.  They are the ones who have been invisible before, but are now everywhere.  The visible “other” and this is an act of violence “by which you force yourself on another’s attention.” (357)

We need TO explore the possibility that there exists, in what quaintly used to be called the moral realm, something roughly equivalent to the dizziness of crowds for the individual body itself: the premonition that the more other people we recognize, even within the mind, the more peculiarly precarious becomes the status of our own hitherto unique and “incomparable” conscionsess or “self.”  (358)

He suggests too that demography, the fact that there are more people alive at the moment now than there have been throughout history, has this weird effect of legitimating the present and “consigning the past to oblivion” because who cares about it?  based on the overwhelming numbers WE “outnumber the dead” and the past doesn’t have anything to tell us about it.

Goes into a long discussion about Sartre’s perspective on this, including a quoted passage that even when one is alone the rest of the world pushes in on one – even though Sartre is a modernist there’s the essence of the postmodern fear in his modernist writings.

VIII.  Spatial Historiographies

Talks about Lefebvre’s notions of new kinds of spacial imagination that acknowledges different types of experienced time as well.

So even if everything is spatial, this postmodern reality here is somehow more spatial than everything else.  (365)

this is a reaction against the  canonized critical dependence on temporality of high modernism -a reaction against that he discussed earlier.  And then what happens next is nature is “effaced” and everything is modernized and mechanized.  (except that then he talks about the denaturalization of the natural).

What you get is two types of historiographies:

‘fantastic historiography’

you make up a chronicle (368) that resembles something real (secret history of the mongle)… it has a semblance of historical verismilitude, and retains genre form of historiography but allows all kinds of content


you underscore a fictional intent by including real-life figures unexpectedly appearing and dissapearing, using collage effects, newspapers, etc.

both tell us about a postmodern sense of history where the real impacts the fictional (and vice versa).  It also doesn’t attempt to resolve contradictions but instead ratifies them. History becomes spatial – so the news is conveyed via newspaper column that juxtaposes events without reflecting on their interrelatedness.

The “solution” to a juxtaposition – Alaska, Lebanon – that is not yet even a puzzle until it is solved – Nasser and Suez! – no longer opens up historiographic deep space or perspectival temporality of the type of a Michelet or a Spengler: it lights up like a nodal circuit in a slot machine (and thus foreshadows a computer-game historiography of the future even more alarming). (374)

Repression and “the ideological mechanisms whereby we avoid thinking historically” are also spatial – they give us a blueprint of reading where we can defuse information, where things can coexist with each other instead of canceling each other out.

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Excellent discussion/review of the Monstrous Feminine



In almost all critical writings on the horror film genre, monsters tend to be defined as male, and women are only conceptualized as victims. It is also believed that women only terrify when represented as man’s castrated other from the Freudian position. However, in her monograph The Monstrous-Feminine: Film, Feminism, Psychoanalysis, Barbara Creed challenges this patriarchal view by arguing that the prototype of all definitions of the monstrous is the female reproductive body, and women primarily terrify because of a fear that she might castrate men.

In Creed’s view, all human societies have a conception of the monstrous-feminine—of what it is about woman that is shocking, terrifying, horrific, and abject—which also reflects folklore of “vagina dentata.” The term “monstrous-feminine” not only implies a simple reversal of “male monster,” but also emphasizes the importance of gender in the construction of female monstrosity.

Through appropriating Julia Kristeva’s theory…

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The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction by Walter Benjamin

Benjamin, Walter. “The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction.” Illuminations: Essays and reflections. Hannah Arendt, ed., Harry Zohn, trans. New York: Schocken, 1969. pp. 217-252.

For Benjamin film can provoke/train the masses, and this is his answer to Adorno & Horkheimer (in some sense) about the masses being totally subsumbed by the system.

Recaps (quickly) that Marx saw Capitalism as increasingly exploiting the proletariat, but also creating the conditions that would abolish capitalism. But, he suggests, Marx (or those who came after) who have thesis about “the art of the proletariat after its assumption of power or about the art of a classless society” aren’t as useful as those who look at “the formation of revolutionary demands in the politics of art.” Traces the history of art-as-reproducible (Mechanical reproduction of a work of art is something new).  Starts with Greeks doing stamps, then to woodcuts, then to engraving, then to lithography (when transition to mass culture was achieved because content was daily life AND lots could be printed) to photography, and then to sound film. The most significant impact is exhibited in two areas, and it’s these two areas we should look at “the reproduction of works of art and the art of the film.” (220) Reproductions lack the markers of the original’s creation within a space and time (including physical history, changes in ownership). “The presence of the original is the prerequisite to the concept of authenticity.”  (220) BUT – “process reproduction”  (like photography) can actually show things the “original” can’t.  “Technical reproduction can put the copy of the original into situations which would be out of reach for the original itself.”  (220)  IE: things move out of the cathedral or the museum & into the home.

AURA:  the “authority” of the object, the historical grounding, the notion that the object came from a specific place & passed through specific hands, etc.  However “the technique of reproduction detaches the reproduced object from the domain of tradition.  By making many reproductions it substitutes a plurality of copies for a unique existence.  And in permitting the reproduction to meet the beholder or listener in his own particular situation, it reactivates the object reproduced.” (221)

“During long periods of history, the mode of human sense perception changes with humanity’s entire mode of existence.” (222) IE one read things differently, slight lines, ‘ear’, etc. “And if changes in the medium of contemporary perception can be comprehended as decay of the aura, it is possible to show its social causes.” (222)

“The uniqueness of a work of art is inseparable from its being imbedded in the fabric of tradition.  This tradition itself is thoroughly alive and extremely changeable.” (223) He notes the first art was in service to religious ritual, and art’s “aura” is never free of ritual function.  This is art’s “use function” – even if the ‘ritual’ is a secularized one of the “cult of beauty” or “l’art pour l’art”.   HOWEVER “for the first time in world history, mechanical reproduction emancipates the work of art from its parasitical dependence on ritual.  To an ever greater degree the work of art reproduced becomes the work of art designed for reproducibility. … the instant the criterion of authenticity ceases to be applicable to artistic production, the total function of art is reversed.  Instead of being based on ritual, it begins to be based on another practice – politics. (224)

“With the different methods of technical reproduction of a work of art, its fitness for exhibition increased to such an extent that the quantitative shift between its two poles turned into a qualitative transformation of its nature …. by the absolute emphasis on its exhibition value the work of art becomes a creation with entirely new functions, among which the one we are conscious of, the artistic function, later may be recognized as incidental.  This much is certain: today photography and the film are the most serviceable exemplifications of this new function.”  (225)  Talks about the way photographs moved from portrait to documentation of historical events as emptying out the “cult” (ie: religious / iconographic) status from photographs).  With Atget’s photographs there is a “hidden political significance” because it has an agenda that is more than preservation.   Captions become signposts to tell the reader the significance they can’t understand without them.  (and basically every frame preceding a certain sequence in a film acts as a caption to it)

“The audience’s identification with the actor is really an identification with the camera.  Consequently the audience takes the position of the camera; its approach is that of testing.  This is not the approach to which cult values may be exposed.”  (228-229) “for the first time – and this is the effect of the film – man has to operate with his whole living person, yet forgoing its aura.  For aura is tied to his presence; there can be no replica of it. ” (229)  Also, the film is an assemblage of discontinuous moments, and can even be made up of unintentional moments (like if an actor doesn’t flinch well enough at a fake gunshot, they can bring him back on the set and film him without warning him that the gunshot is coming to get the right feeling).

“Nothing more strikingly shows that art has left the realm of the “beautiful semblance” which, so far, had been taken to be the only sphere where art could thrive.” (230)

point 1) the ‘star’ of the film has no way of engaging with the public during the film, but does so outside of it, thus you get cult of personalities – and as long as the studio bankrolls you’ll get personalities only concerned with the studio’s money

point 2) with widespread “extension of the press” you don’t have the death of the author but instead the opportunity to transition from reader to author on the part of ANY & EVERY reader.  AGENCY!

point 3) in film, when you have actor playing themselves you’ve got the same thing.

Because the film excels in erasing its own devices it’s totally different than theater. “Thus, for contemporary man the representation of reality by the film is incomparably more significant than that of the painter, since it offers, precisely because of the thoroughgoing permeation of reality with mechanical equipment, an aspect of reality which is free of all equipment.  And that is what one is entitled to ask from a work of art.”  (234)

“Mechanical reproduction of art changes the reaction of the masses toward art.” (234) “Painting simply is in no position to present an object for simultaneous collective experience, as it was possible for architecture at all times, for the epic poem in the past, and for the movie today.  (234-35) Film is much better at showing psychology because it allows for precise “statements of the situation” (235)  There is a “mutual penetration of art and science.” (236) So it has both artistic value AND scientific value (these used to be separated).  This is one of the “revolutionary functions of the film.” (236)

In Section 14 he suggests that film is the legacy of Dadism – “Dadaism attempted to create by pictorial – and literary – means the effects which the public today seeks in the film.” (237) These effects are the destruction of aura and “distraction” or the production of outrage.  Dadaist art “hit the spectator like a bullet, it happened to him, thus acquiring a tactile quality.  It promoted a demand for the film, the distracting element of which is alos primarily tactile, being based on changes of place and focus which periodically assail the spectator.” (238)  The spectator doesn’t have agency here, but they do have form – they are no longer contemplative, or wrapped up in the art, but instead assaulted by it.  It has a materiality that can confront them, and this is particularly useful because it shifts just from the spectral/visual into the embodied. “For the tasks which face the human apparatus of perception at the turning points of history cannot be solved by optical means, that is by contemplation, alone.  They are mastered gradually by habit, under the guidance of tactile appropriation.” (240) Even the ‘distracted person’ can form habits, and it is the role of film to inform those habits. Tactility here is about being able to be materially affected.

In the Epilogue Benjamin points out how this tactility can, in some cases, go wrong: in any attempt to “render politics aesthetic culminate in one thing: war.” (241)  He goes on to say that the destructiveness of war is proof society “has not been mature enough to incorporate technology as its organ, that technology has not been sufficiently developed to cope with the elemental forces of society. The horrible features of imperialistic warfare are attributable to the discrepancy between the tremendous means of production and their inadequate utilization in the process of production…” (242)  This is a kind of tactility that has run amuck.  Yet I think for Benjamin there is still hope in the production of film to be able to assault those who consume it with something that will prompt them to change their habits.  It is still a top down scheme of production, but a hopeful one.

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