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Detournament of Retrospective Desire - De File
Does Collecting Make You Feel Dirty?
Detournament of Retrospective Desire
My favorite theorist of allegory is Walter Benjamin. He was interested in the perception of decline, the way artists have confronted the feeling of belatedness that seems to be an integral part of the modern experience. For centuries, people have been afflicted with the sense of having been born too late. The strange thing is, as Benjamin noted, that this feeling goes hand in hand with the relentless "progress" promoted by a capitalist economy. Not surprisingly, this perception has often been most acute during periods of political regression. Denied the opportunity to transform the social order, people turn their attention to transforming their personal lives. They give themselves the "makeover" they can't give to society. But these attempts at personal transformation are shadowed by the prospect of what could have been. No matter how many fads they run through, no matter how many items they purchase in order to refashion their identity, they can never completely escape the political tragedy of the recent past. This was true of the German Baroque that Benjamin pondered in The Origins of German Tragic Drama. It was true of Paris during the Second Empire, to which he devoted his vast, unfinished Arcades Project. And it was true of the post-WWI era in which he conducted his analyses. The 1970s have much in common with those periods.

Benjamin was no pessimist. At one point in the Arcades Project, he declares his goal to be showing that, in reality, "there are no periods of decline." He believed that, even though you can't literally go back in time, you can still make good on the promise of the past.

But in order to do so, you have to reinterpret it. Benjamin called this process Eingedenken, which translates literally as "remembering into." It provides the means to actualize the potential in what could have been. Where a more conventional approach to history sees refuse, it sees raw material. It redeems. For Benjamin, it would still be possible for us to connect with that spirit that has been missing since 1969. The trick is to distinguish between what we can't change — our forward motion in linear time — from what we can — our attitude towards a million dreams deferred.

Tags: , , , ,
Mode: backward glancing
Muse: Thirteen - Big Star - #1 Record/Radio City

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chrisglass From: chrisglass Date: April 28th, 2005 06:42 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Deep thoughts you've put forth here, stuff I didn't know before. This
Benjamin character sounds worthy of investigation and your writing about Hotel California is sublime.

I was just reading up on Steven Johnson's Everything Bad is Good For You with nuggets that are getting tossed around the web like "Watching TV Makes You Smarter" and "Imagine an alternate world identical to ours save one techno-historical change: videogames were invented and popularized before books."

Tangent? Perhaps.

My interpretation of things began with a media rich childhood, with heavy doses of engineering (Legos) thrown in. When my pops hooked up the Odyssey2 videogame system to the TV, I made the connection between monitor and input device. That evolved to critical thinking with text based adventure games (Zork) when computers with real keyboards made their way onto (my) scene.

What folks dimiss as pop distractions, I found understanding.

And that forward motion in linear time, it would seem natural that I'd grow bored of the adventure games that went from text to flat to 3D. That I'd learn how to make the mouse do whatever I needed it to do onscreen.

And then, in lieu of contempt or boredom, I'd start reading. And thinking. And finding myself in some whacked out time period that could potentially alienate.

When it seems to be all too much to think about in a single evening, I'm damn happy I read your words (even though they make me think more.)

And your wife's lucky, as I'm sure you are too.

Viva Eingedenken.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: April 28th, 2005 06:53 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Thanks so much for the thoughful response. Sometimes what I put forth is too turned in on itself to inspire comments. You really seem to have grasped what I was trying to achieve, though, which was to recontextualize the original piece on "Hotel California" and the photograph as a way of provoking readers to ponder what they'd like to redeem and what role self-interest plays in that desire. There I go again.

Let me just say, "Thanks," and move on to the less involuted admission that I always wanted to play Zork. For me the Infocom game was Enchanter. I wasn't very good at it, but it opened my mind to a world of possibilities. My friend and colleague Eric at Printculture -- link on my LJ page's sidebar -- is working on video games. I'll pass your words onto him.

In other news, I should also point out how much I love reading about your encounters with musicians. I wish I could be there. No Cochella this year I take it?
chrisglass From: chrisglass Date: April 28th, 2005 07:07 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Naw, frankly, Coachella was too fuckin hot.

The thing up in WA, Sasquatch , seems more interesting, but oh so far away. Oddly enough, in driving distance is Lollapalooza, and although the lineups are not Coachella, I bet they'd be better events. And here I thought Coachella was dead. I think the new format as festival is a great idea.

Travel's odd this year for me. I'm trying to work less for clients and work more on some projects that might pay off in the long run. So I'm being skimpy, but enjoying it.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: April 28th, 2005 07:19 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Yeah, I actually could drive to Coachella pretty easily but opted not to because it sounded too hot and crowded. I don't feel old most of the time, yet am noticing more and more that I only want to go to shows under the conditions I like best. I've become so picky. Of course, my lungs' dislike for cigarette smoke is partially to blame.

The Lollapalooza thing in Chicago does sound good. I've always wanted to attend an All Tomorrow's Parties. Looks like I'll be sticking close to home, though.
From: (Anonymous) Date: April 28th, 2005 02:03 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
This is very touching and admirable, and also very characteristic, your "faith," in a way, in theory, and in so personal a way. It made me think about psychoanalysis, also a reinterpretation of the past that makes the forward-moving possible, though perhaps in a less hopeful way than you might have it. Laura
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: April 28th, 2005 02:25 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Thanks for the kind words. I'm not sure how hopeful I was in writing it. It's one of those cases where the inspiration to assemble precedes the formulation of clear intentions. I knew I wouldn't to recontextualize my prose and the photo, to "detourn" them, but I wasn't sure what meanings I wanted to disseminate. Mind you, I was thinking about how the time lag between the impulse to assemble and a clear sense of the purpose of that act of assembling is the very problem that confronted Benjamin while working on the Arcades Project and one for which Adorno reproached him. I do know that I wanted the unexpected juxtaposition to free up some energy in both text and photo, to put them in a relation of productive tension. I suppose it amounts to a kind of self-critique, a question about whether my motivations are too abstract or a revelation that my abstract motivations are a cover for more viscerally felt ones.
kdotdammit From: kdotdammit Date: April 28th, 2005 02:31 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Isn't it funny how the poem or whatever you call it I wrote about this picture is about not wanting to be looked at and for everyone to stop staring at me and for me to stop looking at me, but here I am for everyone to see? It's weird seeing something so deeply, deepy personal put into this context. Not that it's a bad thing. It's just a weird thing.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: April 28th, 2005 06:15 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I had that contradiction in mind. I've been thinking a lot about the idea of looking into the past, which we can do only through a process of substitution, looking at the images that conjure up the past for us. What I see when I look at the photo is obviously not what you see when you look at it. But your entry "Window" was partially about my looking and mine is an invitation for you and others to look at me looking, for better or worse. I'll be honest: I can't stop looking at that picture. It calls to me with remarkable intensity.
elizabeg From: elizabeg Date: April 29th, 2005 04:56 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I really loved this entry, and loved your responses to Laura and Kim above. And I knew from the very moment I read Benjamin's name that reading you would break me just a little on the inside, in a beautiful way. In the middle of the night when I was still awake and reading (which I haven't had the impulse to do so much as in undergrad and it makes me sad, like something lost) I think I wanted reading you reading Benjamin to make me want to cry. It seems absurd, I know, but I wanted to be sure I was still feeling things (that personal reaching that I read from LB calls faith) in theory. I will write you soon--
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: April 29th, 2005 05:46 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I'm glad it moved you. I feel strange about the whole endeavor. I think I did more than I wanted to do. I'm not sure if it was the right thing to do either.
elizabeg From: elizabeg Date: April 29th, 2005 06:15 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I wanted to cry and did not and it felt to me like I wanted it for all the wrong reasons. So perhaps this is as close as I could be to my own more and less?

Writing an entry with a very cursory allusion to a theory question now. To lock, perhaps. Students, you know.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: April 29th, 2005 07:13 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
You know those spikes they have in parking lots, the ones that will cause extreme tire damage if you go the wrong way? I think the air is flying out of me.
elizabeg From: elizabeg Date: April 29th, 2005 07:35 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
My chest contracts, breath leaking out into chest cavity, even when I cross those spikes going in the right direction. Sometimes, Charlie, there’s force in excess of directionality.

I am sending you Anne Carson.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: April 29th, 2005 07:42 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I'll need it.
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