Anders, The World as Apparition 3

•February 11, 2018 • 17 Comments

[More 1950s philosophy from Anders on radio and TV, from section two The Apparition. The one-way unilateral nature of old media, the medial making of reality into unreality, an apparition, how synchronicity and multi-tasking is loss of self, fragmentation of the senses and not being in the present, how the technologies of distraction serve the powers that be by distracting from confronting the boredom and void at the centre of a world of largely personally meaningless work and over-busy leisure…This is as far as I have translated so far. More to follow when I have time to do more…]

II The Apparition

The world is delivered into our homes. The events are delivered for us. But as what are they delivered? As events? Or only as their representations? Or only as news about the events?

In order to be able to answer this question which guides the following paragraphs, we shall first translate it into a slightly different language, and ask: what are the transmitted events like when they arrive at the receiver’s end? In what state is the receiver when they arrive? Really present? Only apparently present? Absent? In what way present or absent?

§ 11 The relationship between human and world becomes unilateral, and the world, neither present nor absent, becomes an apparition

On the one hand they seem to be really ‘present’: when we listen to a radio program broadcasting a war scene or a parliamentary debate we are hearing not only news about the explosions or about the speakers but we are also hearing these things themselves. Does that not mean that the events which we once could not participate in, nor were allowed (or had) to participate in, are really here with us now in the present, and we with them?

And yet, not really. For can we call that situation a real, living ‘presence’ in which the world’s voices have the right to free access to us while we remain without rights and have no voice in any of the transmitted events? When we can answer nobody, whoever might be speaking, not even the person who seems to be addressing us, and when we are not allowed to intervene in any of the deafeningly noisy events surrounding us? Does not a true presence imply the reciprocity of human and world? Has not this relationship here been amputated? Has it not become unilateral, i.e. the listener can hear the world but the world cannot hear the listener? Is the listener not condemned to a situation of ‘don’t talk back’, and is this dumbness not an expression of powerlessness? Is not the omnipresence we are presented with a presence of the un-free? And is not the un-free person actually absent, since he or she is treated as if they were not there, as if they were air, as if they themselves had nothing to say? […]

It would be utterly comprehensible if a heckler interrupted these questions and declared all this hoeing and froing about whether what is transmitted by media were present or absent to be meaningless. I can hear him saying: “What radio or TV delivers are images, representations, not presence! And that images do not permit intervention and treat us like air, well that is obvious and has in fact long been recognised under the philosophical heading of ‘aesthetic appearance’ [the ‘as-if’ nature of art].”

However plausible his argument may sound, it is wrong. For one – and this is a basic phenomenological fact –, because there are no ‘acoustic images’; even the gramophone presents us with a symphony, not with an image of a symphony. […] It is not mere images that we get via the media. However, we are also not really present at the real event either. The question of whether we are present or absent is indeed meaningless. But this is not because the answer is ‘image’ (and thus ‘absent’), but, rather, because the uniqueness of the situation created by the medial transmission is its ontological ambiguity: i.e. because the transmitted events are simultaneously present and absent, simultaneously real and make-believe, simultaneously there and not there, in short, because they are apparitions.

§ 12 In TV the image and what it depicts are synchronous. Synchronicity is the degenerate form of the present

The heckler will continue: “But what might be valid for radio is not the case for television. Surely no one can deny that television delivers us images.”

Surely no one. And yet, these are not ‘images’ in the traditional sense either. In the history of human image-making until now it has always been an essential characteristic of the image that there be a, albeit tacit, time difference or ‘time gradient’ between the image and what it was depicting. […] Whether constructions which lack this ‘time gradient’ may be called ‘images’, is doubtful. Such, however, are the images TV transmits.

Although they, as films, proceed within time, there can no longer be any talk of there being a temporal relation between them and that which they depict. What we have called the ‘temporal gradient’ has now shrunk to zero. They appear simultaneously and synchronously with the events they depict. Like telescopes, they show us present events. Does not that indicate ‘presence’, and are constructions which show things that are present still ‘images’? […]

The achievement of the TV transmission consists in its presenting the synchronous or almost synchronous in such a way as to seem like an authentic present; to give the appearance of real, concrete presence to the only formally present; to completely eradicate the inherently diffuse borderline between the two ‘presents’, and thus between the relevant and the irrelevant. Every TV transmission declares, in fact correctly, “Now I’m here – and not only I, the transmission, but I, the transmitted event.” And through this “now I’m here”, via this present actuality, it makes itself into a phenomenon that transcends all image-likeness; and since it is equally not a really present something, it makes itself into an intermediate something, an intermediate object between being and appearance which we have just called, speaking of the radio transmission, an appearance or ‘phantom’.

With respect to the weakening of the borderline between the two presents there would not only be nothing to object against, properly done it would even be welcome. For today there is much too much that we unjustly push aside as ‘merely synchronous’, as adiaphoron [Stoic Greek term for ‘morally indifferent’, PL-N], although it really impacts on, and can be impacted by, us, although it is nostra res [Latin: ‘our thing’] and most concrete and threatening present. The danger of parochialisation is no less than the danger of false globalisation. Technology for widening our moral horizon of the present far beyond our immediate sensuous surroundings would thus indeed be necessary.

However, TV does not enable this widening. Rather, it dissolves our perceptual horizon so completely that we no longer really know an authentic present; and even regarding those events which should really concern us, we display only that seeming degree of interest we have learned to display from the pseudo-‘presents’ delivered to our homes.

Unnecessary to add that the number of delivered phenomena of ‘presents’ is unlimited. […] Events that fall out of the global Now do not exist, and thus there is also nothing that could not be transformed into a supposedly present something. But the more is made present, the less it is made present. Among the radio and TV fans I have met, I would not know of a single one who has been educated into becoming a ‘friend of the world’, or even a ‘man of the times’, via their consumed daily portion of simultaneities. However, I have met quite a few whose daily media diet has made them ‘world-less’, bereft of relationship, distracted, has made them a ‘man of the now’.

§ 13 Digression: Flashback to a burnt-out passion. The Distracted Person lives only in the Now. The Devices produce an artificial schizophrenia – the Individual becomes a ‘Di-vidual’

[…] Of course it was no accident that these poets [like Apollinaire, Werfel] emerged in the historical moment in which the technologies of distraction and dispersion in the form of illustrated magazines etc. began to become mass commodities. However, these poets simply desperately attempted to force together the dispersed, whereas the purpose of the technologies of distraction and entertainment media was the opposite, namely to produce distraction or enable it. What distraction (usually understood much too distractedly, namely as a mere metaphor) intended was to remove people’s individuation, or more exactly to remove their consciousness of this loss by taking away the spatial location of their principium individuationis [principle of individuation]; i.e. by placing them in a situation in which they were ubique simul [simultaneously everywhere], always also elsewhere, no longer taking up a certain location, never finding themselves in themselves, never in something real, in short, finding themselves nowhere.

One will object that the victims of these distraction technologies were not victims, that industry and its supply of distractions was simply fulfilling a demand. This is not quite untrue, but also not quite true, since the demand itself was produced.

One cannot expect that people who are pressed into the narrowness of specialised, personally meaningless employment and exposed to boredom, will simply be able, or even want to, or even be able to want to, find back to their proportio humana [human proportion], their true selves (if they still exist) at that moment when that pressure and boredom stops, i.e. at the end of the working day. Rather, since the ending of the constricting pressure is like an explosion, and since those suddenly liberated from their work no longer know anything in their work but estrangement, they, unless simply exhausted, rush to a thousand strangenesses, no matter which, to everything that is geared to renewing the passage of time and creating another time signature after the long lull of boredom: i.e. to rapidly changing scenes.

There is nothing that so completely satisfies this understandable hunger for omnipresence and rapidity of change like radio and TV programs. For these simultaneously cater for greed and exhaustion, tension and relaxation, speed and inactivity, manipulation and leisure – they serve it all up together. Indeed, they even spare us from even having to rush towards this distraction since they rush towards us – in short, it is impossible to resist such manifold temptation. No wonder then, that the curse of being everywhere and nowhere at once that weighed so heavily on those early-modern poets has now become the (apparently) carefree and normal leisure condition, i.e. the condition of all those who are over there while sitting right here, and who, being so used to being simultaneously everywhere and thus nowhere, that they actually do not live anywhere anymore, at least not in any place, not in an apartment, but rather, at most, in their unhomely place or point in time which changes in every moment, in the Now.

But in this way the distraction of the contemporary person has not yet been completely described. For its pinnacle is to be found in a condition which one cannot describe as other than ‘artificially produced schizophrenia’. This ‘schizophrenia’ is not just a side-effect of distraction machines but rather one which is explicitly intended and is also demanded by the customer, albeit not under this label.

What do we mean here by ‘schizophrenia’?

We mean that state of the ego in which it is cut up into two or more parts, or at least into two or more partial functions, into entities or functions which are not only not coordinated but also not able to be coordinated; and which are not only not able to be coordinated, but upon the coordination of which the ego places no importance; and upon which the ego not only places no importance, but the coordination of which the ego even energetically rejects.

In his second meditation Descartes had described it as impossible ‘à concevoir la moitié d’aucune âme’ [‘to conceive of half of any soul’, PL-N]. Today the halved soul is a common phenomenon. In fact there is, for the contemporary person, or at least for that person during his or her leisure time, no habit as characteristic as the habit of giving oneself up to two or more disparate activities at the same time. The man sunbathing, for example, who is acquiring a suntan while his eyes are skimming through a magazine, his ears are participating in a sporting match, his jaws are chewing gum – this figure of the passive simultaneity-player and multitasking non-doer is a common international phenomenon. […]

If one were to ask this sunbather what is ‘actual’ activity was, where his soul ‘actually’ was located, he could of course not answer. He could not answer because the question about the ‘actual’ is already based on a false assumption, namely that he is the subject of the activity. If one can still even speak here of ‘subject’ or ‘subjects’, then these can only refer to his bodily organs: in his eyes located in the magazine images, in his ears located in their sporting event, in his jaws located in the gum chewing – in short his identity is so fundamentally disorganised that the search for ‘him himself’ would be the search for a non-existent. He is thus not only dispersed over manifold localities but over a plurality of single bodily functions.

[Anders Footnote: If it is correct to view a tumour as a disease sui generis, namely as the condition in which the central energy of the organism is no longer able to keep all the cells in line with the result that these now begin to independently and rampantly grow, then the autonomisation of the single bodily functions we are talking about here is the psychological analogy of a tumour.]

The question of what drives such a person to this disorganised busyness, what makes his single bodily functions so disconnected, independent or apparently autonomous, has really already been answered. But let us repeat: it is the horror vacui [‘horror of emptiness’], the fear of independence and freedom, or more exactly, the fear of having to himself articulate the space of freedom which his leisure provides him with, the vacuum his leisure confronts him with, of having to fill his own leisure time himself.

His work has so finally habituated him to being employed, being dependent, that he cannot cope with the task of being independently self-active the moment his work stops; for he can no longer find the ‘self’ which could drive this self-activity. Every leisure time today has a secret affinity with unemployment.

If he remains thrown back onto himself at this moment then he breaks up into his single bodily functions because he himself as a central organising principle is missing. But of course these single functions are just as habituated to merely being used as he himself is. Thus they – every single one of them – reaches for the nearest available content at the moment of their ‘unemployment’. […]

One kind of content is certainly not enough, rather every organ needs its own content because if only one organ stays unemployed, this unemployment could provide a breach through which nothingness could flood in. To just listen or look or view is thus quite insufficient – quite apart from the fact that the exclusiveness of such a ‘single activity’ would demand an ability to abstract and concentrate and that ability does not exist where an organizing centre is absent. […] In short, every organ has to be ‘occupied’ in order to be secured against the void. And ‘being occupied’ is a much better description of this condition than is ‘being busy’.

Since, however, this occupation should not consist of work (for we are talking about leisure), it can only be consumable stimulants which occupy the bodily organs. Every organ, every bodily function thus follows its aim of consumption and desire for consumption. […]
Every organ thinks it is suffering from hunger when, instead of being occupied, it is exposed to the void, i.e. when it is free. Every moment of non-consumption feels like deprivation, for which the chain-smoker is the prime example. Thus, horribili dictu, freedom (freedom = non-activity = non-consumption) becomes identical with deprivation. This is also the reason for the demand for consumer items that can be ceaselessly consumed, items that thus do not contain the danger of satisfying. I say ‘danger’ because satisfaction would limit the time of enjoyment and thus dialectically again change into not-consuming, i.e. deprivation. This is the explanation for the role of the never-ending gum and the eternally playing radio.

[Anders Footnote: At the same time the background to ‘passive simultaneity-playing’, albeit completely transformed, is the ideal of maximal work productivity and the economy principle. Transferred to leisure, this means: with the sweat of one’s brow one attempts to achieve as much leisure as possible at one go, everything that is ‘fun’, crossword puzzle and gum and radio music etc. all at the same time. And this because otherwise one would be wasting leisure.] […]

Today the new normal is the simultaneous delivery of completely disparate elements, not just the objectively disparate but the stylistically disparate, not only the stylistically but also the culturally disparate: today no one finds it strange, for example, to be having breakfast looking at a cartoon and experiencing the thrust of the knife through the sexually breast-enhanced chest of the jungle girl while the triplets of the Moonshine Sonata simultaneously trickle into one’s ears. And nobody has difficulties taking in both at the same time. – It is only recently that academic psychology had still rejected the possibility of simultaneously consuming two such completely disparate phenomena and moods. […]

Until now cultural critique had seen the destruction of the human exclusively in the latter’s standardisation, i.e. in the fact that only a numerical individuality had been left to the individual who had been transformed into a serial being. Now even this numerical individuality has also reached its end: the numerical rest has itself been ‘divided up’ again, the individual transformed into the ‘divided’, cut up into a plurality of bodily functions. The destruction of the human can obviously go no further, the human not become more inhuman. All the more abstruse and hypocritical is thus the ‘renaissance of holistic perspectives’ so passionately and portentously celebrated by current psychology, which in fact is merely a manoeuvre to hide the fragmented shards of the human under the academic cloak of Theory.

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Anders, The World as Apparition 2

•February 8, 2018 • 5 Comments

[Second part of my translation of Anders, on radio and TV and their politically, culturally and psychologically disenfranchising effects, and image-as-commodity, the disappearance of the distinction between appearance and reality in the transmitted image/event…the latter notion a decade or so before Debord’s Society of the Spectacle and decades before Jean Baudrillard…]

§ 4 Since the devices relieve us of speaking, they transform us into the politically infantile and disenfranchised

Since the devices relieve us of speaking, they also rob us of our language, rob us of our expressivity, our opportunity to speak, even of our desire to use language ‒ just like gramophone and radio music rob us of our self-made house music. […]

Just as little as they still bake their own bread do they form their own ‘word-food’. Words are no longer something one says but something one hears, speech no longer something one does but something one receives. […] The final result of all this must be the same everywhere: namely a type of person who, since he or she no longer speaks, has nothing more to say, and who, because he or she only listens, constantly, is a listener, an order-taker. The first effect of this limitation to listening-only is already apparent. It consists, in all civilised languages, of a coarsening and impoverishment of, and an aversion to, speech. However, this is happening not only in speech but in the coarsening and impoverishment of experience, and thus of humanity itself, since the ‘inner world’ of human beings, its wealth and subtlety, cannot continue without a wealth and subtlety of speaking, and this is because it is not only true that language is the expression of the person but the person is the product of his or her speaking, in short, because the person is as articulate as he or she himself articulates and as inarticulate as he or she does not articulate.

(Anders Footnote: We have already once before experienced a preliminary act to this now universally occurring impoverishment of language: namely in the impoverishment of the art of letter-writing which fifty years of telephoning have brought to pass, indeed so successfully brought to pass that the letters which the moderately educated wrote each other a century ago now seem to us contemporaries to be masterpieces of empathetic exactitude and precision. Because a person is as articulate as he or she articulates, what has been impoverished is not only the subtlety of expression but the subtlety of the person him- or herself.)

§ 5 The events come to us, not we to them

[…] That events – these themselves, not only news about them – that football matches, church services, atomic explosions are coming to us, that the mountain is coming to the prophet, the world to people instead of people to the world, that is – next to the production of the mass hermit and the transformation of the family into a miniature audience – the truly revolutionary achievement of radio and television.

This third transformation is the real object of our inquiry. For the latter is dealing with the strange changes that the human being is undergoing as a being to whom the world is being delivered, as well as dealing with the no less strange consequences which that world-delivery has for the concept of ‘world’ and for the world itself. In order to show that these are truly philosophical questions, let us list a few of these consequences (to be further discussed in the course of our inquiry) in fairly non-systematic order.

1.If the world is coming to us instead of we to it, we are no longer ‘in-the-world’ but exclusively its Land-of-Cockaigne consumers.

2.If the world is coming to us, but only as an image, it is half-present and half-absent, i.e. apparition- or phantom-like.

3.If we can conjure the world up at any time (not manage it, but turn it on and off), we are the possessors of god-like power.

4.If the world can appeal to us without us being able to appeal to it, we are condemned to silence, i.e. to servitude.

5.If the world is perceivable to us but only that, i.e. not able to be changed, we are transformed into eavesdroppers and voyeurs.

6.If an event which has taken place at a particular place can be sent and made to appear as a ‘transmission’ at every other place, then the event has been changed into a mobile, almost omnipresent product and has lost its special quality as a particular, individualised expression of place.

7.If this event is moveable and appears in virtually numberless copies, then it belongs to the category of serial production; if the transmission of the serial product is paid for, the event is a commodity.

8.If the event is only socially important in its reproduced form, as an image, then the difference between appearance and reality, between reality and image, has been eliminated.

9.If the event in its reproduced form becomes socially more important than its original form, then the original event will have to follow its own reproduction and thus become the mere master negative of its reproduction.

10.If the dominant experience of world feeds on such serial products, then – in so far as ‘world’ is still understood as that in which we are – the concept of ‘world’ has been eliminated, the world lost, and the human attitude created by the transmissions made ‘Idealist’. […]

Point 1 has already pointed out that for us as radio and television consumers the world no longer appears as an external world within which we are, but as ours. In fact the world has strangely translocated: although it does not exist – as in the vulgar formulas of Idealism ‒ ‘within our minds’ or even ‘within our brains’, but because it – instead of taking place outside ‒ has now found its place in my room as a consumable image, as a mere eidos [Platonic Idea], this translocation closely resembles that performed in classical Idealism. The world has now become mine, my idea, […] a ‘notion or (re)presentation for me’. The Idealist aspect lies in this ‘for me’. For ‘Idealist’ in the most general sense is every attitude which transforms the world into mine, into ours, into something to be manipulated, into a possessive pronoun, into my ‘idea’. […] Common to all Idealisms in the most general sense is the premise that the world is there for the human being, either as a gift or as something freely produced – so that mankind really does not belong to the world, is not a part of the world, but represents the opposite pole to the world. […]

However wide the devices radio and television may open the windows to the world, at the same time they make the world-consumer an ‘Idealist.’ […]

§ 6 Because we are being delivered to, we do not ‘walk the world’ and remain without ‘pedestrian’, i.e. immediate, experience and ‘worldly’ wisdom

Because we no longer need to actually travel or move towards a world that is now moved to us, that which was once called ‘experience’ has become obsolete. […] It is obvious that the category of ‘the experienced person’ is becoming more seldom from day to day, and that the appreciation of the older and experienced or ‘well-travelled’ person is declining. Since, as with the airplane pilot, and unlike the rambler, we have become un-needful of walking paths, there has been a diminution of knowledge about the paths and ways of the world we once walked and travelled and that had made us ‘travel-wise’, ‘worldly-wise’ and experienced; thus the paths and ways themselves decay. The world is becoming pathless. Instead of ourselves stretching our legs, the world is now stretched out before us, ‘laid-by’ for us in the sense of a reserved commodity, a lay-by, and instead of us transporting ourselves to the events, the events are now disported before us. […]

[These expressions] reveal a way of being, a relationship to the world of such abysmal wrongness that even Descartes’ mauvais génie trompeur [nasty deceiving demon] would not be capable of dragging us into a more erroneous one; a way of being that, if we apply the term ‘Idealist’ in the previously defined manner, is ‘Idealistic’ in the most emphatic sense. This is so in two ways:

1.Although we are in fact living in an estranged, alienated world, the world is being presented to us as if it were there for us, as if it were ours and like us.

2.We ‘take’ (= view and accept) it as such although we are sitting at home in our armchair, i.e. although we are not effectively grasping and taking it in like a ‘voracious animal’ or conqueror, and do not or cannot effectively make it our own, at least not we the average radio- and television consumers. Rather, we ‘take’ and accept the world as such because it is served up to us as such in images. We thus become voyeuristic rulers over apparitions of the world. […]

§ 7 The home-delivered world becomes chummy, cosy, pseudo-familiar

[…] The deception we are talking about consists in the fact that – although living in an estranged, alienated world ‒ we as film-, radio- and TV-consumers, but not only as such, seem to be on intimate, first-name terms with everything and everyone, with people, landscapes, situations, events, even with the most outlandish, indeed especially with these. The hydrogen bomb explosion on the 7th of March 1955 ran under the cosy name of ‘Grandpa’. We call this process of pseudo-familiarisation (which has, for reasons we shall see in the next paragraph, no name): the ‘cosyfication’ or ‘chummyfying’ of the world [die Verbiederung der Welt]; ‘chummyfying’ and not ‘currying favour with’, because what is happening is not that we are embracing ‘the other’ or most alien as close ‘chums’, but rather that we are being delivered strangers, things, events and situations foreign to us as if they were familiar, on intimate, first-name terms, i.e. in pally fashion. […]

While our neighbour, whose door we pass by each day for years, usually does not know us and does not bridge the distance between us, those film stars, those foreign girls whom we never meet or will ever meet in person but whom we have often seen and whose physical and psychological details we know better than those of our female work colleagues, these stars are presented to us as old acquaintances, as ‘pals’; when we talk about them we are automatically on first-name terms with them and call them Rita or Myrna. The delivered world has been made one-without-distance, and our relationship to it has as well; the gap between the two has been eliminated. […]

If this familiar, first-name relationship is to work and if I am to have something to call by its first name, then the images have to start the process with their being intimate in character themselves. In fact, there is no show that does not have this intimate quality, this aspect of being-on-first-name-terms, and there is no person delivered into our homes who does not have this quality. If I turn on the President, there he suddenly is, sitting right next to me by the fireside to have a chat with me although he is a thousand miles away.

(That he is dispensing the transmitted cosiness in millions of items is by the by). When the news reader appears on the screen she – in intentionally unintentional fondness ‒ throws me the deepest of looks, just as if there was something going on between us. (That there is something going on between her and all men watching is by the by). When the family in the radio soap starts expanding on its worries it drags me into its confidence as if I were its neighbour, GP or church minister. (That it is dragging everyone into its confidence, that it is there in order to drag everyone into its confidence, that it is the perennial family next door, that is by the by.) All these people arrive as intimate or indiscrete visitors, in already pseudo-familiar, ‘pallied-up’ condition. There is not a smidgin of otherness left about those flying into my home. And this is true not only of the transmitted people, but especially of the transmitted world as a whole.

[…] We are thus systematically turned into buddies, mates, pals, cronies of the world and universe, and into nothing but cronies: for there can of course be no talk of the thus conditioned feeling any true fraternity, pantheism, love of the distant, not to mention any sense of ‘oneness’. […]

§ 9 ‘Chummyfying’ or Pseudo-Familiarisation is a cleverly disguised form of estrangement and alienation itself

We have, however, with these examples and indications not yet demonstrated the main root of ‘chummyfying’; we have also not made plausible the reason for the strange fact that this process does not have its own name, despite the manifold and diverse evidence for its existence. It is highly remarkable that the phenomenon could have remained so secretive although it is no less powerful, no less symptomatic of the times, no less fateful than is the phenomenon of alienation or estrangement, of which it is the apparent antagonist. […]
However, is ‘chummyfying’ or pseudo-familiarisation really the antagonist of alienation?

It is nothing less than that. And with that we come to its main root, to that root which also clarifies the reason for its previous namelessness. For the main root of ‘chummifying’ is, as paradoxical as it may sound, alienation itself.

[…] The simple question of whether ‘chummyfying’ benefits or harms alienation dissolves the very notion of viewing ‘chummyfying’ as the antagonist of alienation. For the answer to that question is unambiguous: it benefits alienation. In fact its main achievement is to screen out the causes, symptoms and miseries of alienation, to rob the person who has been estranged and alienated from his world, and whose world has been alienated, of the ability to realise this fact; in other words, to make alienation magically disappear, to deny the reality of alienation and estrangement in order to keep open the way for its untrammelled functioning, and to do this by ceaselessly populating the world with images of the pseudo-familiar, by presenting the world itself (including its most distant regions in space and time) as one enormous Home, as a universe of cosiness. The reason for ‘cosyfication ‘or ‘chummyfying’ is located in this achievement. Behind it stands its sponsor: alienation itself. […] The two operate like a harmoniously cooperative pair of hands: one hand pours the balm of familiarity and cosiness into the wound of alienation that the other has inflicted. It may even be the same hand, for in the end the two actions can be seen as one process […]

Alienation disguised as ‘chummyfying’ or pseudo-familiarisation aims, through images, to maintain in people deprived of their world the illusion of their actually possessing their world, indeed a universe, which in every detail is familiar, like them, theirs. What it achieves is to make them forget what an un-alienated life and an un-alienated world even looks like. […]

Why should the forces that estrange and alienate our world from us want us to turn our gaze on themselves? […] It is remarkable that they, by leaving such a widespread and public everyday phenomenon as pseudo-familiarisation or ‘chummyfying’ unnamed, should really succeed in keeping it secret. Yet that it is so, is irrefutable. That is why they deliver their images, yet do not disclose the form of their delivery. And they can do this without qualms because we, the ones to whom these images are transmitted, just let ourselves be duped and, as the duped, feel completely healthy. It is as if we have been wounded by alienation and estrangement, made incapable of noticing that we are under the control of the drug of pseudo-familiarisation or ‘chummyfying’, too drugged to still feel that we are in fact wounded […]
The world and man’s place within it have been distorted because the world is ordered in concentric rings of closer and more distant circles around man and this is part of the very structure of human being-in-the-world; and because he for whom everything is equally close and distant, for whom everything is of equal concern, is either an indifferent god or a human who has been stripped of his human nature. But we are not talking of Stoic gods.

There is indeed nothing that has so fatally estranged us from ourselves and the world as the fact that we now continually spend our time in the company of those false pals, those phantom slaves which we, still half-asleep – the alternative between sleeping and waking having given way to that between sleeping and listening to the radio –, order into our rooms as the first piece of world for our royal morning audience; and we do this in order to be spoken to, looked at, sung to, energised, consoled, mollified or aroused, to begin the day that is not our own. There is nothing that makes the estrangement from ourselves so final as our proceeding with our day under the rule of these pseudo-friends, for even if real company were available, we prefer staying with our portable chums: we no longer see these as substitutes for real people but as our true friends. […]

I am convinced that today there are countless people who, were one to confiscate their radios, would feel more cruelly punished than those prison inmates whom one deprives of their freedom but leaves with their radios; after all, the latter can continue to live out their reduced lives, their world and friends are still available – so what has really changed? In contrast, those deprived of their radios would be immediately overwhelmed with the panic and anxiety of being left standing in a void, of suffocating in loneliness and reality-loss. […]

§ 10 Whether alienation is still an ongoing process

Perhaps, however, there is something wrong about the argument that our dependence on our ‘chummyfied’ friends and world is alienating us contemporaries from ourselves. Not because this argument is being taken too far but because it has not been taken far enough. Perhaps there is a no longer justifiable optimism contained in the supposition that we media consumers, nourished as we are on substitutes, stereotypes and phantoms, are still people with a ‘self’, and could thus still be prevented from being, or finding, ‘our selves’. Has not the moment long passed in which ‘estrangement’ or ‘alienation’ would still be possible as an ongoing action and process, at least in certain countries? Do we not already find ourselves in a state in which we are no longer at all ‘our selves’ but rather those surrogates which have been shovelled into us day in day out? Can one rob the robbed, undress the undressed, alienate mass humans from themselves? Is alienation still an ongoing process, or is it not rather a fait accompli?

Those ‘psychologies without a psyche’ [behaviourism], in which notions like ‘ego’ and ‘self’ were mocked as ridiculous metaphysical relics, were for a long time in turn mocked by us for being falsifications of the human being. But were we right? Was not our mocking pure sentimentality? For was it really these psychologists who had falsified humanity? Were not they already psychologists of the falsified human, and were they, robots themselves, not justified in pursuing ‘robot-ology’ instead of psychology? And were they not justified in their untruths because the humans they were treating were already inauthentic humans?

Anders, The World As Apparition 1

•February 5, 2018 • 10 Comments

[My translated extracts from a great and prescient book written in the 1950s by German philosopher Guenther Anders. Still highly relevant in our age of frenetic digitalisation, total TV/screen worlds, and nuclear weapons of mass destruction. When I started translating a few years ago there were no English translations readily available. There are now a few. First, here is Anders’ background:

Günther Anders, born Günther Stern in 1902, died 1992. Son of well-known child psychologist William Stern. Studied philosophy under Ernst Cassirer, Martin Heidegger and Edmund Husserl. Intensive reading of Heidegger in the 1930s. Met philosopher Hannah Arendt when both were students of Heidegger in 1925 and married her in 1929 (Arendt became Heidegger’s secret mistress). His plan of becoming a professor failed in the increasingly hostile, anti-Semitic atmosphere at German universities in the late 1920s, and was also not helped by a negative report by the Frankfurt School’s T.W. Adorno on Stern’s professorial project (with theologian Paul Tillich) on ‘philosophical reflections on musical situations.’ As an essayist for journals and newspapers, he took on the pseudonym of ‘Anders’.

After Hitler’s seizure of power, politicisation and, like his well-known great cousin Walter Benjamin, he emigrated to Paris and poverty in 1933. He divorced from Arendt in 1937 and emigrated to the USA. His 1936 French publication Pathologie de la liberté influenced the origins of Sartre’s influential existentialism. In the US Anders wrote poems, fables and a ground-breaking work on Franz Kafka (Kafka – For and Against, 1951).

His most significant philosophical work, The Outdatedness of Man – On the Soul in the Age of the Second Industrial Revolution (1956, second expanded edition 1980) – from which we are translating the sections on radio and television – anticipates important elements of later critiques of the media and technology. Due to the US atomic bomb attacks on Japan, Anders became increasingly active in the anti-nuclear movement. Right up to his death he remained a vociferous critic of nuclear weapons and nuclear power.

This first section is about how TV dissolves the traditional home and family…]

Günther Anders

Radio & Television: The World as Apparition and Master Copy

(in: The Outdatedness of Man. On the Soul in the Age of the Second Industrial Revolution, 1956. Original title: ‘Die Welt als Phantom und Matrize’ in: Die Antiquiertheit des Menschen. Über die Seele im Zeitalter der zweiten industriellen Revolution, Verlag C.H. Beck München. The other sections of the book in English translation are titled: On Promethean Shame; Being without Time: On Beckett’s Play ‘Waiting for Godot’; On the Bomb and the Roots of our Apocalypse-Blindness. All italics as in the original.)

1 The Home-Delivered World

§ 1 No means is a mere means

The first reaction to the critique of radio and television presented here will be: such generalisations are illicit; after all, it is exclusively a question of what we ‘make’ of these media, of what use we make of them, what purposes we use them for, whether for good or bad, humane or inhumane, social or anti-social purposes.

This optimistic argument stemming from the era of the first industrial revolution is well known. It lives on with equal naiveté in all camps. Its validity is more than doubtful. The freedom in using technology which it presumes, its belief that there are parts of our world that are nothing but ‘means’ to which ‘good purposes’ can be attached ad libitum, is pure illusion. The media themselves are facts, facts that form us. This fact – that they form us no matter what ends we use them for – is not made to disappear by semantically reducing them to mere ‘means’. Indeed, the crude splitting of our lives into ‘means’ and ‘ends’ which grounds this argument has nothing to do with reality. […]

Of course we can use television for the purpose of participating in a church service. However, what ‘forms’ or ‘transforms’ us as much as the service itself – whether we wish this or not – is the fact that we are in reality not participating in the service but only consuming its image. This picture-book effect is obviously not only different from the ‘intended’ purpose, but its very opposite. What forms and un-forms us are not only the things or events mediated by technology but also the means, the technologies themselves. These latter are not only objects of potential use but ones that already prescribe their use by virtue of their predetermined structure and function, and thus also prescribe the way we act, prescribe our lives, in short: prescribe us.

§ 2 Mass consumption today is a solo act – every consumer is an unpaid cottage-worker for the production of mass humans

[…] The Schmidts and the Smiths now consumed the mass products as a family or even alone. The lonelier they were, the more they consumed. The phenomenon of the mass hermit had arisen, and today they sit hermit-like in their homely shells in millions of versions, each cut off from the other yet each the same as the other – not in order to withdraw from the world but in order not to miss, for God’s sake, a single moment of the world-as-image. […]

Consumption and production here merge. If consumption is spread out, decentralised, so is the production of mass humanity, and that production occurs everywhere there is consumption, in front of every radio and TV set. Everyone is employed as a cottage-worker, as it were, a cottage-worker of a highly unusual kind. For he or she performs their labour – that of their own transformation into a mass human – through their consumption of a mass commodity, through their leisure. […] The act becomes completely paradoxical by virtue of the fact that the cottage-workers, instead of being paid for their labour, have to pay for it themselves, i.e. for the means of production (the apparatus and, in many countries, for the transmissions themselves) by means of which they let themselves be transformed into mass humans. They thus pay in order to sell themselves; they must purchase their own unfreedom, even the one they co-produce, since this too has become a commodity.

Even if one rejects the disconcerting cognitive act of viewing the consumer of mass commodities as the co-producer of the mass human, one will not be able to deny that an effective ‘massification’ in the form of mass meetings is no longer necessary for the manufacture of the type of mass human needed today. Gustav Le Bon’s observations on the mass events that change humans have become antiquated since de-individualisation and a flattening of rationality are already being realised at home. Mass spectacles in the Hitler mode have become unnecessary: if one wants to make the human into a nobody (even proud of being a nobody), one no longer has to drown him or her in seas of human bodies or cement him or her into massive constructions made up of masses. No de-individualisation, no disempowering is more successful than the one that apparently maintains personal liberty and the right to individuality. If the process of conditioning occurs separately in each person, in the individual home, in solitude, in the million solitudes, then it works even better. It remains completely confidential because the procedure calls itself ‘fun’, because it doesn’t tell the victims that it is demanding sacrifices of them, because it allows them the illusion of their privacy, or at least their private space. […]

§ 3 Radio and television become the negative family table; the family becomes a miniature audience

[…] The opportunity which this kind of consumption in fact provides consists of completely dissolving the family, albeit in such a way as to maintain or even take on the appearance of cosy family life. But dissolved it is, for what now reigns in the home via TV is the transmitted – real or fictional – external world. This world reigns so absolutely that it makes the reality of the home itself invalid and phantom-like, not only the reality of its four walls and furniture but that of its shared life. When the distant comes too close, the close is distanced or blurred. When the apparition becomes real, the real becomes apparition-like. The real home is now degraded to the status of a container and its function is reduced to containing the screen for the external world. […] The last remnants of homeliness, shared life and family atmosphere that had still existed, even in the most standardised countries, have thus been eliminated. […]

One could already observe decades ago that the symptomatic social furniture piece – the massive living room table standing in the middle of the room and which gathered the family around itself – began to lose its gravitational force, became obsolete, disappeared after house renovations. Now it has found a true descendant in the TV set; only now has it been replaced by a piece of furniture that can take it up with the table in its social symbolism and power of conviction, which, however, does not mean that the TV has now become the centre of the family.

On the contrary, what the device symbolizes and incarnates is the family’s decentralisation and ex-centricity: it is the negative family table. It does not deliver the collective centre but rather replaces it with the family’s collective vanishing point. Whereas the table had made the family centripetal and obliged those sitting around it to allow the shuttle of interests, glances and conversations to move back and forth and continue the weaving of the family cloth, the screen makes the family centrifugal. Family members now do not sit facing each other; the arrangement of chairs in front of the screen is mere juxtaposition and the possibility of seeing, of looking at, each other, only exists by mistake, the possibility of talking to each other (in case one still wants, or is able, to) by accident. They are no longer together, they are next to each other, mere onlookers. There can no longer be any talk of a family cloth which they are weaving together, or of a world they are negotiating together or in which they are participating together.

What is happening is merely that the family members are – simultaneously, at most together but never collectively ‒ flying out towards a vanishing point into a realm of the unreal, or else into a world that (since they themselves are not really participating) they really do not share with anyone; or else if they do share it, then only with all those millions of ‘soloists of mass consumption’ who are simultaneously staring at their screens just like them. The family has now been restructured into a miniature audience, the living room into a miniature auditorium and the movie theatre has been made into the model for the home. If there is anything left which the family members not only simultaneously, not only next to each other, but rather really experience or do together, then it is only the shared hope for the time, the labour for the hour, in which the device has finally been paid off and their togetherness finally been ended once and for all. The unconscious goal of their last togetherness is thus its elimination.

The Flight of Little Boy

•February 1, 2018 • 4 Comments

[Older poem about Hiroshima and a psychoanalytic take on the pilot that dropped the bomb, Paul Tibbet. The photo shows the bomb, Little Boy.]

The Flight of Little Boy

– 6th August 1945.

Paul Warfield Tibbets piloted the plane
that dropped the bomb on Hiroshima.
The name of the plane was Enola Gay.
The name of his mother was Enola Gay.

His father was a distributor of sweets.
One day he hired a plane to fly over
a racetrack in Florida as a promotional stunt.
Twelve year old Paul flew along too. His job

was to toss handfuls of Babe Ruth Bars
to the crowd below. From that day on
he knew he had to fly. The name
of the Hiroshima bomb was Little Boy.

In his book Flight of the Enola Gay
he wrote ‘my job, in brief, was
to wage atomic war.’
The flight back
from Hiroshima was uneventful.

When he landed he was awarded
the Distinguished Service Cross.
Later he said he was not proud
of the death and destruction

but he was proud that he did his job
well. Tibbet’s father was a believer
in discipline and sent him off at thirteen
to a military academy, which Paul liked.

We do not know if he missed his mother.
We do know that aged sixty-one he piloted
a restored B-29 at an air show in Texas
that dropped a miniature fake atomic bomb

complete with miniature mushroom cloud.
Five years before his death he said
he would do it all again against
America’s current enemies.

I’d wipe ‘em out, he said.
If the newspapers would just cut out
that shitty ‘You’ve killed so many
civilians.’ That’s their tough luck

for being there. Before dying at ninety two
and fearing a marked grave
could become a source of protest,
he requested his ashes be scattered over

the
great
maternal
ocean.

People Have the Power

•January 26, 2018 • 4 Comments

Patti Smith and Joan Baez with Patti’s People Have the Power (check out Patti’s original great video as a young woman), a bit of nostalgia from my generation, grey-haired, voices weaker, bodies weaker, still keeping the spirit, the energy of joy, strong among the gloom, passing on the flame…

Meet Evo and Eva

•January 6, 2018 • 1 Comment

[I’m doing a bit of mythologising here. It’s about Evolution, as individuals, as a species, as universe. From we to I, from I to we. From we to he and she. Outwards to inwards to outwards. From then to here, here to then. Thus our many skins, costumes, masks, swarming with beings. Thus, together, we are in the process of becoming. So, meet Evo and Eva, double-sexed, protean, You-Are-It incarnation of Evolution, most recent of our many masks. The painting above the two poems is from Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights. There is a jump-cut of a few million years between the first and second poem.]

Evo & Eva. A Short Theodicy

The trouble all started
when Evo thought
he’d screw a mirror
onto the shoulders
of an ape. Nice idea.

A step up
from working out
how to pile up rocks
for the next time
zoo visitors come
to stare and snigger.

Reflecting himself
in his fairground mind,
now Evo as ape
knew he was more
than rock or ape.

Subtle new feelings
rippled through him
in unexpected cataracts
demanding more
than gesture and grunt.

Evo let the Word de-
scend like a flaming
dove through long chains
of untried synapses.

And the Word was
an ephemeral hand,
condensed gesture,
the collective poetry
of desire, fear, dream
here/there, now/then,
a singing body
exuberant, depressed,
dying.

The Word became a tree,
a rib, some convenient
mud. Evo wanted
an Eve to be
his other, mother,
daughter, sister, self.

And so it was.

Then like a snake
he snuck up
on himself
pretending
to be an apple, Eva,
divine command
crying out
for a bit
of holy
disobedience.

What bliss:
both human love
and eternal banishment
from himself
just for the fun
of seeking
himself again
in otherness
and creating
all the heights
and horrors
of human history
along the way.

Mind you Eva
had a slightly
different perspective.

Herstory. But that’s
another story.

[Jump-cut forward a few million years.]

Now & then, if it’s quick

Eva Kwong-Gonzalez wakes [Finnegan!]
To the beeping of her smartphone.
Yawns, stretches, rubs her eyes,
Checks if Evo’s still sleeping.

Eva grabs her phone on the way
To the bathroom, scrolls thru
A few emails, messages, tweets
Sitting on the warmed toilet seat.

She washes her face with dead
Water, combs, deodorises, TV
In the background giving off news,
Time updates every few minutes.

Eva gulps down a quick coffee,
Shoves QuickOats into the microwave.
The electric garage door emits
Her shiny Toyota into the fast lane.

Is that a bank of storm clouds
Thru the tinted window? At
The station she’s lucky to get
A spot, then a seat on the train.

A few Facebook likes on her laptop
Before she catches up with
The next part of Game of Thrones.
In her building they’ve changed

The elevator musak. Check more
Emails, stored messages, move
Data from nowhere to nowhere,
Hours pass thru her like empty dreams.

Under the fluorescent flicker aircon
Hums, the faint smell of aldehyde.
After a sandwich, coffee, yogurt,
A quick game of table tennis.

More calls, more swivelling before
The screen. As evening rain pelts
The glass towers, Eva hurries home.
Evo’s bought Thai takeaway, then

A video game with the kids, a red
Or two with Game of Thrones.
A few more emails on the phone.
Lights out. Exhausted, Eva’s willing

Enough if it’s quick.

Found by the Wayside

•December 31, 2017 • 3 Comments

[Some recent haiku, first three written on train to Sydney. I found the surreal feeding hydrant by the wayside in Sydney. Happy New Year folks.]

Found by the Wayside

The silence!
The voices in the train
Fill my skull

The dead tree
Near the Colourbond fence
Proud against the sky

The fragment of foil
Stuck in the dust road
Glitters in the sun

Plucking the yellow hazel leaf:
The tree laughs life
Into leaf and nut