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Date: Fri, 3 May 1996 23:25:21 +1000 (EST)
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To: Mary Jo Watts <mwatts@rci.rutgers.edu>
From: Robert Clements <clemensr@mailhost.world.net>
Subject: Re: GG: War paragraph

I'm not sure if this follow-up is strictly relevant to the rest of the list
(hence i've directed it personally); but if you wish to relay it to the rest
of the list, i certainly have no objections.



At 14:08 2/5/1996 EDT, Mary Jo Watts wrote:

>[quote from GG's essay editted]

>It seems GG is really trying to expand the French Canadian theologan,
>Jean Le Moyne's, idea of "the charity of the machine."  There are some
>serious spiritual issues at hand for GG in his notions of technology
>that I think are intricately tied to his performances of music.  I
>would venture to say that, on some level, he played the piano as a
>medium to convey these ideas.  Is he a serious thinker to be contended
>with (at least as seriously as Marshall McLuhan is being taken these
>days!) or a piano player that had to justify his playing to himself and
>the world (like Schoenberg and his intricate 12-tone system)?  Is he both?

Interesting that you consider GG's arguments are theologically derived -
without this knowledge, i used the expression "theological" to discribe his
arguments in my post. While i was not intending to be complimentary, neither
was i intending to be totally dismissive... while i disagree with his
conclusions; the observations which lead him there are not without insight.
The same might be said of a lot of the material of McLuhan (or Brecht, which
was my chosen analogy).

I'm not sure if you would agree; but from the additional paragraphs, i feel
i guessed the basic strokes of his morality fairly correctly. To me, it's
totally about image - & with additional illumination, i would suggest this
non-ethical morality would be dangerous if it was workable (fortunately, the
technology which distances the participant from the consequences of his/her
actions also informs the observer of those consequences; & in the process,
reinstates the impact the participant is sidestepping... if it didn't, the
avoidance of consequences could make total war an (apparently) viable

>As for the "dissecting and analytical" abilities of the WWW-- I'm
>thinking in terms of film, and film theory where the "shots," the
>montage (or editing) and the framing all "dissect" the image.

The belief of film theoreticians that the processes of cinema (or
photography, etc) "dissect" an image has been one of aesthetic's great
sacred cows... & i'm no Hindu. In fact, they "assemble" an image; which is
precisely the opposite approach. Attempts to break-down the integrity of the
image-making process by filmmakers like J-L Godard & Resnais have inevitably
backfired; because the fragmentation (if it succeeds at all) is inevitably
reintegrated into a new assemblage whether the filmmaker likes it or not.

>is certainly a moral difference between the grammar of Hollywood
>cinema and, say, Luis Bunuel's films!

It _does_ depend on the Bunuel films you mean; but i'm not sure the gulf
between his language of storytelling & that of Hollywood is as wide as you
imagine (_what_ the language is used to talk about is another thing
entirely). Much of his audio-visual sense was based on skewering the
Hollywood (or perhaps i should say commercial cinema, which also includes
Europe & (for two decades) Latin America) of his time... from "Un Chien
Andalou" thru "Simon of the Desert" to "The Obscure Object of Desire", you
see "mainstream" images used slightly out of kilter. The effect is striking
because it's subtle... not the other way around (admittedly, because we're
seeing his films through a temporal telescope (as it were) this may not
always be obvious).

>I *think* this is what GG's
>getting at.  I'm afraid that in its current state the WWW *is*
>passive, "eye and ear candy." Could there be an intellectual
>WWW compliment to GG's Bach, which (most of us) find to be
>penetrating, analytical, dissecting (the counterpoint), etc...?  Are
>people passive to bad news because of the commercial incentive the
>stations have to frame and edit their stories in the journalistic
>equivalent to Hollywood film?  Why does GG think that art is not
>inevitably benign?  

The last point is the easiest to answer - even for a thinker who inevitably
turnsd inwards, there's too much evidence "out there" to seriously consider
the alternative proposition (unless you deliberately define art as having a
moral/ethical component... a definition virtually noone would recognise).
Leni Reifenstahl's film "Triumph of the Will" & Du Ming-Xin et al's
revolutionary ballet "Red Detachment of Women" are textbook examples of
obscene masterpieces... absolute artistic triumphs in every sense except
one: basic ethics (besides these works, Mapplethorpe's stag pictures just
seem self-indulgent).

One might argue (again, theologically) that GG's whole idea about the use of
technology to penetrate art (sounds oddly phallic, doesn't it?) was an
attempt to hide from (what was to him) the terrible reality of this point.
Assuming that he "believed" in art (as you can tell, i don't); when he found
himself faced with art which was clearly amoral, he used his essaying
process as a new, transcendantal art which hopefully avoided the cul-de-sac
(a bit like the ex-Communist when he referred to the God that failed).
Unfortunately, it doesn't....

Is the WWW passive? Yes. Is that a good thing? The question borders on the
meaningless (what do want by "good"?). The WWW is passive because (at
present, at least) it can only be what the users want it to be... if they
want it to be Gouldian, they have to follow Capt Picard & "Make it so!".

On the whole, though; i'm happy enough with the WWW in its present,
infantile state. By accident (literally) it has achieved remarkable things.
This is a specific, personal example:

I've had the chance to assemble two entended posts to this thread where
generally i can provide little to this group... why? Obviously the subject
interests me - but a little problem with a broken foot has given me an awful
lot of time to think. Even if my present (fortunately temporary) absence of
mobility was permanent (as is the case for many people); the net would still
give me the chance to exercise my mind (or alternatively, shoot off my
mouth)... because _i_ have to choose, not the net. I define it for myself
(not for you or anyone else, of course)... but i (or we) can only do that as
long as the net remains passive. If it becomes focused, "moral" in GG's
sense, it becomes exactly like any broadcast structure, defining (or, to
make my argument more consistent, "assembling") rather than simply
transmitting... & the odds are, the defining will be a lot more superficial
than you or i would like.

Actually, i'll go so far as to say, if there had been any thought of
morality or ethics (Gouldian or otherwise) when the net was being assembled,
it would never have been created in any usable form. As i said, it all
occurred by accident....

Conflating style & content with a deliberate piece of Gouldian intellectual

Robert Clements