Alan J Sondheim on Mon, 28 Jul 1997 07:04:15 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> Deflationary Culture


Deflationary Culture: Weather Report, Which Way the Wind Calms Down

{ For the past few years, I have served on an jury for the experimental
section of a film festival. This year, there were around 150 entries in
the category. The specific festival is irrelevant here; its demographics
are broad-based, and calls for entries are distributed by mail, brochure,
and the Net. The following is a somewhat biased, somewhat open, weather
report; errors in interpretation are totally my own. }

Jurying films creates a cultural image, for better or worse - a landscape,
and the landscape this year, built on those of previous years - is that of
a _deflationary regime_ - not postmodernity's _implosion of information,_
but a regime of exhaustion, in which collapse combines with expulsion or
DMZ (demilitarized zone). Implosion intensifies, the key to nuclear weap-
ons; deflation weakens (one might speak of _weak theory_ again), the pres-
sure reaching _degree zero,_ an entropic balance with the surround envir-

Cinematically, this is reflected in stereotypical reiterations of style,
ennui, boredom which doesn't kill, images of breeze-driven waves, oceans
beneath grey skies, a neutral, somewhat politically-correct sexuality,
confused boys, boys and girls concerned with _the look._ Script-urally,
look for the voice-overs, confessionals, flat voices which have nowhere to 
place emotional registers, no _site_ for them.

They're historyless, because history has overdetermined them. They're ahi-
storical, occupying the neutral zone as well. With Warhol it was the _oth-
er_ that was boring, within the factory, looking out; now, boredom has
been replaced by the inoculation of novelty; the planar (lateral) skimming
of the Web immediately comes to mind.

A deflationary regime levels epistemological domains, confuses ontologies; 
the _same,_ Irigarayan and _other_wise, dominates. The signifier turns
tentative; the signified is recuperated as a stain against a backdrop of
unnamed fetishization. Virtual/real, in/out - these terms, and others of
similar structural import - are not only deconstructed, but turned barren,
as if the distinction had never mattered at all. Acts of violence are mu-
ted; the wide-angle, precise-angle replaces the camera too intent to
probe. Texas-flat, midwestern-flat scenery suffuses content, which turns
back, not towards, say Michael Lesy's Wisconsin Death Trip family tragedy,
but towards the anecdotal, story-telling, autobiographical. Being-born
replaces the annunciation; bearing birth replaces enunciation.

Where we are in the culture is waiting for Terence McKenna _to be right,_
knowing exhaustion perhaps only goes so far - but then remembering, say,
Duvignaud's Change at Shebika, where exhaustion was all that went...


During day 2, the piano music was marked - slow, moody, in so many of the
films, somewhat romantic, slow or absent rhythms, the quiescent decay of
European/classical tradition. A shorter category included digital image
manipulation, often reminiscent of blue-screen effect, but harsher, fast-
er. Female nudes, very little frontal, no frontal male nudes. People a-
sleep, _arrayed_ beneath sheets, of course lent back into the dream. More
non-sync voice-overs - a result to a great extent of increasing difficul-
ties obtaining funding. Foliage, or aestheticized cityscapes. Meadows
without direction or vector, wandering. Figures in black. Very few rela-
tionship or overtly queer works. A largely young white demographics, but
with new work from Asian-Americans. Flowers, opera, exhausted magic. 

As if our culture were no longer doomed, as if there were "our" culture,
say Corso, Burroughs, but was past all memorization. As if there were few
others, cultures, multi-cultures, multiculturalisms, those tentative with-
in this our Euro-American topography. What to do when the advertiser comes
carrying no promises, but occupying the landscape with improper media
noise (and that landscape of impropriety in collusion). Every body has a
shell, that is to say ectoplasm migrated from the mouth to desire's image
as coating or masquerade. Little energy, as if to speak were fear, or
rather to speak were theory, but theory has gone to sleep as well. It's as
if everyone dreams everything. Capital _fits_ less than in past years,
that is it's no longer clear that everything is beneath the Sign. As for
signifiers, now of the plateau itself - the plateau signs itself, languor,
lassitude, loosened. A certain loss of saying _I_ in these environments
designed for the precision of _eyes,_ occasionally undercut by female pain
or rage - _there_ at least the voice crosses space, defining it, id, loud
or pleading, as if no one remains within hearing. Surely there is work to
do if a cultural fulcrum were evident - the symptoms are all present, lend
themselves to the Web, zines and anti-media, media, fractally spiraling
everywhere. But what to do, what to do, fretting. Pacing where the bed's
unmade, the breeze flows through the window open to the meadow, white cur-
tains stilled in a landscape perfect for cinematic recuperation. There are
numerous drones, almost metallic, on numerous sound-tracks, and they muf-
fle, sometimes suffocate, almost by accident, perhaps by accident, some
voices of _telling_ display. (Perhaps by accident, perhaps by accidental
purpose, perhaps a purpose.)

The fulcrum, lever, requires a structured topography and a subject of
means. Playgrounds were not in evidence, but a seesaw metaphor might hold
in these withholdings. It is a question of what can be done on the planet,
within certain domains where the signifier has spilled, leaked, dried up -
where the signs are, even the simulacra, and where the crust has broken
through. Weakly theoretical in the undoing, deflationary culture spreads
globally, absorbing inscription itself in its path. There's nothing to
fear but the closing of film labs, increasing hunger of the empire of the
digital; soon hunger becomes consumed by bytes, and both human and other
uneasily coexist within the threat of extinction's future anterior.


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