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The process of reading a film goes in stages, the first of which is a moment of sheer jubilation in the image. . . a moment, as it were, untroubled by screen and frame, prior to the articulation of cinema. Awareness of the frame then breaks this initial relation, the image now seen in its limits; the space which, just before, was the pure extent of the spectator's pleasure becomes a problem of representation, of being-there-for -- there for an absent field, outside of the image ('the fourth wall'), for the phantom character that the spectator's imagination poses in response to the problem: 'the Absent One'.

A Deathly Hallow

Crucially, what this realization of absence from the image at once achieves is the definition of the image as discontinuous, its production as signifier: the move from cinema to cinematic, cinema as discourse: 'The revelation of this absence is the key-moment in the fate of the image, since it introduces the image into the order of the signifier and cinema into the order of discourse.' What then operates, classically, is the effacement (or filling in) of the absence, the suturing of the discourse -- its movement as in a continuity of articulation -- by the reappropriation of the absence within the film, a character in the film coming to take the place of the Absent One posed by the spectator; suture as 'the abolition of the Absent One and its resurrection in some one': 'the pure field of absence becomes the imaginary field of the film and the field of its imaginary'.

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It played for him--certainly in this prime afterglow--the part of a treasure kept at home in safety and sanctity, something he was sure of finding in its place when, with each return, he worked his heavy old key in the lock. The door had but to open for him to be with it again and for it to be all there; so intensely there that, as we say, no other act was possible to him than the renewed act, almost the hallucination, of intimacy. Wherever he looked or sat or stood, to whatever aspect he gave for the instant the advantage, it was in view as nothing of the moment, nothing begotten of time or of chance could be, or ever would; it was in view as, when the curtain has risen, the play on the stage is in view, night after night, for the fiddlers. He remained thus, in his own theatre, in his single person, perpetual orchestra to the ordered drama, the confirmed "run"; playing low and slow, moreover, in the regular way, for the situations of most importance. No other visitor was to come to him; he met, he bumped occasionally, in the Piazza or in his walks, against claimants to acquaintance, remembered or forgotten, at present mostly effusive, sometimes even inquisitive; but he gave no address and encouraged no approach; he couldn't for his life, he felt, have opened his door to a third person.


Screen door opens with a double click


Such a person would have interrupted him, would have profaned his secret or perhaps have guessed it; would at any rate have broken the spell of what he conceived himself--in the absence of anything "to show"--to be inwardly doing. He was giving himself up--that was quite enough--to the general feeling of his renewed engagement to fidelity. The force of the engagement, the quantity of the article to be supplied, the special solidity of the contract, the way, above all, as a service for which the price named by him had been magnificently paid, his equivalent office was to take effect--such items might well fill his consciousness when there was nothing from outside to interfere. Never was a consciousness more rounded and fastened down over what filled it; which is precisely what we have spoken of as, in its degree, the oppression of success, the somewhat chilled state--tending to the solitary--of supreme recognition. If it was slightly awful to feel so justified, this was by the loss of the warmth of the element of mystery. The lucid reigned instead of it, and it was into the lucid that he sat and stared. He shook himself out of it a dozen times a day, tried to break by his own act his constant still communion. It wasn't still communion she had meant to bequeath him; it was the very different business of that kind of fidelity of which the other name was careful action.

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Muse: Bob Mould - It's Too Late - Black Sheets of Rain

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When the clearing up is over, sometimes all that remains is confusion

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From W.G. Sebald, The Rings of Saturn --
There are indeed moments, as one passes through the rooms open to the public at Somerleyton, when one is not quite sure whether one is in a country house in Suffolk or some kind of no-man's land, on the shores of the Arctic Ocean or in the heart of the dark continent. Nor can one readily say which decade or century it is, for many ages are superimposed here and coexist.

Nature's Revenge

How fine a place the house seemed to me now that it was imperceptibly nearing the brink of dissolution and silent oblivion. However, on emerging into the open air again, I was saddened to see, in one of the otherwise deserted aviaries, a solitary Chinese quail, evidently in a state of dementia, running to and fro along the edge of the cage and shaking its head every time it was about to turn, as if it could not comprehend how it had got into this hopeless fix.

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In his book The Essence of Christianity, Feuerbach offers an exceedingly thorough critique of the religious impulse. Like William James, he agrees that religious beliefs express the relation between individual human beings and a world that dwarfs them. Religion, he writes, is "consciousness of the infinite." The problem is that it is a false consciousness.

Feuerbach insists that the infinity which human beings feel connected to by their religious beliefs is their own creation. Understanding his argument requires that we set aside all religious beliefs to recognize that we have no indisputable, objective proof that gods exist. But we do have overwhelming evidence that gods exist for human beings. People can clearly imagine the existence of a primal power that is omniscient, ominpresent,and omnipotent. Feuerbach's point hinges on this power to imagine the infinite. If an all-knowing, all-powerful, ever-present power exists in our imagination, it is already inside us. There is something infinite within us. If religion is "consciousness of the infinite," it "cannot be otherwise than human beings' consciousness of, not their finite and limited being, but rather their infinite being."

What is this "infinite being?" Feuerbach argues that we are able to imagine something infinite because we are conscious that our individual human lives are part of human history and that our individual consciousness is part of the collective consciousness of humankind. Thus, though human beings are mortal as individuals, they achieve a kind of immortality by understanding themselves as a species. By contrast, animals possess instincts which ensure their survival, but no consciousness of themselves as members of a species. Their perspective on the world is limited to their own experience. Human beings' consciousness, on the other hand, is capable of grasping what exceeds their individual experience. Indeed, "consciousness in the strict or true sense and consciousness of the infinite are inseparable; limited consciousness is not consciousness." When human beings imagine infinity, they are really imagining their own immortality as a species, what Feuerbach calls their 'species-being.'

Religions conceal this process from believers. When people hold religious beliefs, they imagine that infinity is the province of the divine, not the mortal. A gulf appears to separate human beings from the infinite, one they can only bridge by surrendering to a higher power. A desire to collapse this gulf leads leads believers to imagine that this higher power is incarnated in a physical being or contained in a spiritual force. In other words, they ascribe this higher power to something outside themselves. Without realizing it, they project what is really a human power to imagine the infinite onto an external object, whether animate or inanimate. This external object is then seen to embody power that human beings lack.

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From Ernst Bloch, "Discussing Expressionism" in Theodor Adorno et. al., Aesthetics and Politics--
Lukács's thought takes for granted a closed and integrated reality that does indeed exclude the subjectivity of idealism, but not the seamless 'totality' which has always thriven best in idealist systems, including those of classical German philosophy. Whether such a totality in fact constitutes reality, is open to question. If it does, then Expressionist experiments with disruptive and interpolative techniques are but an empty jeu d'esprit, as are the more recent experiments with montage and other devices of discontinuity. But what if Lukács's reality -- a coherent, infinitely mediated totality -- is not so objective after all?

What if his conception of reality has failed to liberate itself completely from Classical systems? What if authentic reality is also discontinuity? Since Lukács operates with a closed, objectivistic conception of reality, when he comes to examine Expressionism he resolutely rejects any attempt on the part of artists to shatter any image of the world, even that of capitalism. Any art which strives to exploit the real fissures in surface inter-relations and to discover the new in their crevices, appears in his eyes merely as a wilful act of destruction. He thereby equates experiment in demolition with a condition of decadence (22)

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Muse: The Real Snow White - The Cure - 4:13 Dream

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It’s true that I prefer not to identify myself, and I’m amused by the diversity of the ways I’ve been judged and classified. Something tells me that by now a more or less approximate place should have been found for me, after so many efforts in such various directions; and since I obviously can’t suspect the competence of the people who are getting muddled up in their divergent judgments, since it isn’t possible to challenge their inattention or their prejudices, I have to be convinced that their inability to situate me has something to do with me.

I don't feel that it is necessary to know exactly what I am. The main interest in life and work is to become someone else that you were not in the beginning. If you knew when you began a book what you would say at the end, do you think that you would have the courage to write it? What is true for writing and for a love relationship is true also for life. The game is worthwhile insofar as we don't know what will be the end.

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I can't say I feel relieved or satisfied; just the opposite, I am crushed. Only my goal is reached: I know what I wanted to know; I have understood all that has happened to me since January. The Nausea has not left me and I don't believe it will leave me so soon; but I no longer have to bear it, it is no longer an illness or a passing fit: it is I. So I was in the park just now. The roots of the chestnut tree were sunk in the ground just under my bench. I couldn't remember it was a root any more. The words had vanished and with them the significance of things, their methods of use, and the feeble points of reference which men have traced on their surface. I was sitting, stooping forward, head bowed, alone in front of this black, knotty mass, entirely beastly, which frightened me. Then I had this vision. It left me breathless. Never, until these last few days, had I understood the meaning of "existence." I was like the others, like the ones walking along the seashore, all dressed in their spring finery. I said, like them, "The ocean is green; that white speck up there is a seagull," but I didn't feel that it existed or that the seagull was an "existing seagull"; usually existence hides itself. It is there, around us, in us, it is us, you can't say two words without mentioning it, but you can never touch it. When I believed I was thinking about it, I must believe that I was thinking nothing, my head was empty, or there was just one word in my head, the word "to be." Or else I was thinking . . . how can I explain it? I was thinking of belonging, I was telling myself that the sea belonged to the class of green objects, or that the green was a part of the quality of the sea. Even when I looked at things, I was miles from dreaming that they existed: they looked like scenery to me.

I picked them up in my hands, they served me as tools, I foresaw their resistance. But that all happened on the surface. If anyone had asked me what existence was, I would have answered, in good faith, that it was nothing, simply an empty form which was added to external things without changing anything in their nature. And then all of a sudden, there it was, clear as day: existence had suddenly unveiled itself. It had lost the harmless look of an abstract category: it was the very paste of things, this root was kneaded into existence. Or rather the root, the park gates, the bench, the sparse grass, all that had vanished: the diversity of things, their individuality, were only an appearance, a veneer. This veneer had melted, leaving soft, monstrous masses, all in disorder—naked, in a frightful, obscene nakedness.

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Muse: Nausea - X - Los Angeles & Wild Gift

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From B.F. Skinner, Beyond Freedom and Dignity--
Genuine positive reinforcement can be misused because the sheer quantity of reinforcers is not proportional to the effect on behavior.

Reinforcement is usually only intermittent, and the schedule of reinforcement is more important than the amount received. Certain schedules generate a great deal of behavior in return for very little reinforcement, and the possibility has naturally not been overlooked by would-be controllers (34).

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The whole of May 6th was marked by demonstrations which turned into riots in the afternoon. The first barricades were thrown up at the Place Maubert and defended for three hours. At the same time fights with the police were breaking out at the bottom of the Boulevard Saint-Michel, at the Place du Châtelet, and in Les Halles. By the early evening the demonstrators numbered more than ten thousand and were mainly holding the area around the Place Saint-Germain-des-Prés, where they had been reinforced only after 6p.m. by the bulk of the march organized by the UNEF at Denfert-Rochereau. On May 8th Le Monde wrote:
What followed surpassed in scope and violence everything that had happened throughout an already astonishing day. It was a kind of street fighting that sometimes reached a frenzy, where every blow delivered was immediately returned, and where ground that had scarcely been conquered was just as quickly retaken. . . There were dramatic and senseless moments which, for the observer, seemed rife with madness.
And on May 7th L'Aurore noted: "Alongside the demonstrators could be seen bands of young hoods (blousons noirs) armed with steel bars, who had come in from the outlying areas of Paris to help out the students." The fighting lasted until after midnight, especially at Montparnasse.

For the first time cars were overturned and set afire, paving stones were dug up for the barricades, and stores were looted. The use of subversive slogans, which had begun at Nanterre, had now spread to several parts of Paris. Insofar as the rioters were able to strengthen the barricades, and thus their own capacity for counterattack, the police were forced to abandon direct charges for a position strategy which relied mainly on offensive grenades and tear gas.

May 6th also marked the first intervention of workers, blousons noirs, the unemployed and high school students who that morning had organized important demonstrations. The spontaneity and violence of the riots stood in vivid contrast to the platitudes put forth by their academic initiators as goals and slogans. The very fact that the blousons noirs had fought in the streets shouting "The Sorbonne to the students!" marked an end to an entire era.

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For Walter Benjamin, the aura of a work of art is a function of two qualities: its presence and its cult value. The aura signifies all that is eliminated when “the technique of reproduction detaches the reproduced object from the domain of tradition.”Not surprisingly, given the definition of the work of art’s presence as “its unique existence at the place where it happens to be,” the aura is conceptualized in spatial terms as the “unique phenomenon of a distance, however close it may be.”


Interestingly, the etymology of the word "aura" aligns it, not with the senses of sight or hearing -- the senses that the mechanical reproduction of cultural artifacts is meant to satisfy, but with the senses of touch and smell. In Greek, the word meant "breath" or "breeze," precisely the sort of sensations that frustrate our impulse to copy the world. We can do a good job of capturing the sound of a concert and can even, with enough camera coverage, make it paradoxically more visible than it would be to any individual concert-goer. But we haven't come to close to distilling the feeling of being there: the aroma of smoke, liquor and sweat; the bracing contrast between the packed interior of a venue like Plush and the outdoor patio; or even that waft of cotton that drifts through the air every time a T-shirt is plucked from a box and handed over the merch table. That's what missing in the reproduction and must be imperfectly conjured in words that were not there at the show, but come now, as memory reminds us of what we're missing.

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Muse: Merry Go Round - Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks - Live - 2007-01-09 Plush, Tucson

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From Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, Convolute N--
It is not that what is past casts its light on what is present, or what is present its light on what is past; rather, image is that wherein what has been comes together in a flash with the now to form a constellation. In other words, image is dialectics at a standstill. For while the relation of the present to the past is a purely temporal, continuous one, the relation of what-has-been to the now is dialectical: is not progression but image, suddenly emergent.

The dialectical image is an image that emerges suddenly, in a flash. What has been is to be held fast -- as an image flashing up in the now of its recognizability. The rescue that is carried out by these means -- and only by these -- can operate solely for the sake of what in the next moment is already irretrievably lost.

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When Thomas Frank's book The Conquest of Cool came out, I was torn between the appeal his incisive critique held for me and my reservations about its purpose. As much as its bite appealed to me at a time when too much cultural analysis was unwilling to draw blood, I worried that Frank had made mordancy an end in itself. A decade later, the differences I then perceived between The Baffler's political aesthetic and my own have been softened by nostalgia for an era that seems absurdly remote, like the Roman Republic viewed from the year 1000. Today, I'm far more likely to identify with Frank's work than to identify the ways in which it clashes with my convictions.

My metamorphosis has been facilitated by the ever-expanding access we have to cultural evidence that makes what I once regarded as Frank's exaggeration for effect seem like a model of understatement. The Presidency of George W. Bush has turned showmen into servants of modesty. And then there's the wealth of material available in collections like the Prelinger Archives, which reminds us that the madness of the present conjuncture represents the convulsions of a longer durée:

While the 2000s are probably the low-point of American history, at least as it is viewed from the perspective of foreign policy, the 1960s for which I still have vast born-too-late longing were not much better. But the confusion they introduced into consumer culture was considerably more intense. Those children, myself included, who were conceived in the Summer of Love were born into a Spring of Hate. And do-it-yourself refrigerator decoration: "Commodify your failure to dissent."

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At the lunch break, the presence of the wives, who otherwise keep out of the action, is gratefully acknowledged. Opening the back doors and trunks of the Land Rovers and other cars, they break out elaborate dishes for the hungry guns.

In the middle of the grouse-shoot day, guns, beaters, dogs and distaff spectators take time out for a picnic lunch. The spread, packed by the ladies, includes fancy pâtés, cheese and cakes, along with more solid fare. The lady above, ignoring an imploring spaniel, is passing around her fruit cake. Plainer and less high-toned food is brought for the hired beaters, who eat separately after helping the dogs retrieve fallen birds.

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From J.G. Ballard, The Atrocity Exhibition (1969)--
Elements of an Orgasm. (1) Her ungainly transit across the passenger seat through the nearside door; (2) the conjunction of aluminized gutter trim with the volumes of her thighs; (3) the crushing of her left breast by the door pillar, its self-extension as she swung her legs on to the sandy floor; (4) the overlay of her knees and the metal door flank; (5) the ellipsoid erasure of dust as her hip brushed the nearside fender; (6) the hard transept of the door mechanism within the absolute erosion of the landscape;

(7) her movement distorted in the projecting carapace of the radiator assembly; (8) the conjunction of the median surface of her thighs with the arch of the motor bridge, the contrast of smooth epithelium and corrugated concrete; (9) her weak ankles in the soft ash; 10) the pressure of her right hand on the chromium trim of the inboard headlamp; (11) the sweat forming a damp canopy on the cleavage of her blouse-- the entire landscape expired within this irrigated trench; (12) the just and rake of her pubis as she moved into the driving seat; (13) the junction of her thighs and the steering assembly; (14) the movements of her fingers across the chromium-tipped instrument heads.

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Muse: Atrocity Exhibition - Joy Division - Heart And Soul

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From Ferdinand de Saussure, Course in General Linguistics--
The linguistic sign, being auditory in nature, has a temporal aspect, and hence certain temporal characteristics: (a) it occupies a certain temporal space, and (b) this space is measured in just one dimension: it is a line

This principle is obvious, but it seems never to be stated, doubtless because it is considered too elementary. However, it is a fundamental principle and its consequences are incalculable.

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Muse: a memory of Cabaret

PROFILE
Charlie Bertsch
User: cbertsch
Name: Charlie Bertsch
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ABOUT DE FILE
You're looking at content from my Live Journal, which I have been keeping since 2003. I consider it a personal blog, though it lacks stream-of-consciousness revelations that typify that genre.

That said, if you manage to discern the confessional mode within entries that are superficially tight-lipped, I will reward you handsomely. Or at least pretend to do so.

In addition to reflections, however mediated, on my daily activities, De File features periodic excavations of material from my "files," a revelation sure to disturb anyone who has seen my garage. It's an experiment in integrating past and present, perhaps with a little redemption along the way.

Politics is always on my mind, but rarely explicit here. I’m working on a theory about what personal writing like this does to literary identification and why some people resist its pull so powerfully. But my goal is to make that theory dissolve in my practice, a density in liquid.

You'll note that I have links to blogs not on LiveJournal directly above, as well as assorted websites of note. The blogs I read regularly on LiveJournal itself fall under "FRIENDS" at the top, for those of you unfamiliar with LJ’s workings.

You can write me. I'm "cbertsch" before the circle-a and "comcast.net" after it.
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