Barthes S/Z 465

“… the (realistic) discourse adheres mythically to an expressive function: it pretends to believe in the prior existence of a referent (a reality) that it must register, copy, communicate …”

This short phrase from S/Z contains everything that History ought to be worried about but willfully ingnores.


The Entanglements of Discourse: Media as Narcissistic Field

The ‘exclusion activity’ of discourse was made clear by Debord.

“The spectacle is the ruling order’s nonstop discourse about itself, its never-ending monologue of self-praise, its self-portrait at the stage of totalitarian domination of all aspects of life. The fetishistic appearance of pure objectivity in spectacular relations conceals their true character as relations between people and between classes: a second Nature, with its own inescapable laws, seems to dominate our environment. But the spectacle is not the inevitable consequence of some supposedly natural technological development. On the contrary, the society of the spectacle is a form that chooses its
own technological content. If the spectacle, considered in the limited sense of the “mass media” that are its most glaring superficial manifestation, seems to be invading society in the form of a mere technical apparatus, it should be understood that this apparatus is in no way neutral and that it has been developed in accordance with the spectacle’s internal dynamics. If the social needs of the age in which such technologies are developed can be met only through their mediation, if the administration of this society and all contact between people has become totally dependent on these means of instantaneous communication, it is because this “communication” is essentially unilateral. The concentration of these media thus amounts to concentrating in the hands of the administrators of the existing system the means that enable them to carry on this particular form of administration. The social separation reflected in the spectacle is inseparable from the modern state — the product of the social division of labor that is both the chief instrument of class rule and the concentrated expression of all social divisions.”
Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle, 24

We must realise that the academic is a part of this ‘discourse about itself’ of the ‘ruling order’.

The indefinability of the Past

“.. all concepts in which a whole process is summarised in signs escape definition; only that which is without history can be defined.”


Nietzsche, The Genealogy of Morals, Second Essay, 13


“… in order to blast a specific era out of the homogeneous course of history … [t]he nourishing fruit of the historically understood contains time as a precious but tasteless seed.”


Benjamin, Theses on the Philosophy of History, XVII

It is almost as though Benjamin was addressing Nietzsche’s concerns in his Theses.  Showing that a concern with the those things Nietzsche abhorred (the base, the mass, the majority) were in fact the very means of understanding the past that Nietzsche considered beyond definition.


The Voice of the Reader: the Entanglement of the Reader and the Text

From Barthes S/Z LXIV The Voice of the Reader

“What we hear, therefore, is the displaced voice which the reader lends, by proxy, to the discourse: the discourse is speaking according to the reader’s interest … writing is … specifically the voice of reading itself: in the text, only the reader speaks.”

The involvement of the reader in the text (their interpellation perhaps) is a significant problem as this entanglement of us and the text tends to either render the text a narcissistic field (a mirror in which we read only ourselves) or obscures the discursive regimes that constructed the text by rendering them seemingly subject (or submissive) to our reading.  We must be alive to our discursive entanglement with the text if we are to avoid both traps and build for ourselves an understanding of the text.

democratic structures of a medium must struggle with more hierarchical structures of social and economical power

“Hypertext theoreticians have celebrated how through its de-central, multilinearity ‘hypertext does not permit a tyrannical, univocal voice’. And the democratic potentials of the Internet as a ‘narrow-casting’, ‘many-to-many’ medium instead of the mass media’s broadcasting ‘one-to-many’ mode has also been emphasised. The multiplicity of media based on the computer and the Internet bear some resemblance to the multiplicity of strange spectral devices in the nineteenth century. Internet has opened up a wealth of opportunities and a space for entrepreneurs, and many competing new technologies and media have emerged. Whereas the new media of the nineteenth century were given names with combinations of -orama or -scope, the media of the last two decades has been named with combinations of cyber- or virtual. But the history of cinema, … , shows us that the democratic structures of the medium must struggle with more hierarchical structures of social and economical power. And recent developments on the Internet suggest that American companies … continue to find ways to dominate the realm of the computer and the Internet to an unprecedented extent. … The major corporations are constantly developing ways to capitalise and standardise the rhizomatic space of the World Wide Web. One example could be Microsoft’s (and other companies’) plans to merge digital television and the WWW (Web-TV) so that the multilinear medium of the WWW will become grafted with television – the unidirectional mass medium par excellence.

The celebrated keyword interactivity has more or less come to mean customisation ; that is, a medium which may be adapted to the single customer but not commanded or controlled by the user in any real, significant way. Instead of giving the Internet surfer the possibility of exploring truly different websites, one increasingly sees standardised, commercialised websites that through dynamic HTML are able to deliver a version customised for the individual user, … potentially able to statistically map out the movements of millions of websurfers using their browser. Even multilinearity is getting trademarked … . A tough battle for domination is taking place, and it has become obvious that a seemingly revolutionary technology can be appropriated by the commercial powers, that are furthermore succesfully aiming to disguise its liberating potential for empowering the user in order to empower the corporations instead.”

Pold, Soren(1999) ‘An Aesthetic Criticism of the Media: The Configurations of Art, Media and Politics in Walter Benjamin’s Materialistic Aesthetics’, Parallax, 5: 3, 22 — 35

The iron law of production is the end of thought.

There is a problem in all writing; the pressure towards
conventionality that the social interactions of production push the
writer towards. This is clear in all genres but is especially
problematic in academic writing (i.e. in writing that seeks to analyse
life in society or stimulate such analysis) where such production
pressures are the iron rule of life.

“To exist fully, works of art require audiences as well as authors.
Work that resembles what is already available finds an audience
easily, for it requires nothing of audiences that they do not know how
to do. Work that differs from what is current will have predictable

From H.S. Becker; New Art, Old Art, 26/03/2011 10:55

The work of thought must not, therefore, ever be allowed to fully
exist. For when it does it will have been made into art and will no
longer operate in the realm of thought. Rather it will be a mere
object to be considered. [The Fragmentary]

The Rent of the Bare Life of the People

“In order to function, this capitalism must invest in the bare life of
people who cannot provide any guarantee, who offer nothing apart from
themselves. It is a capitalism that turns bare life into a direct
source of profit.”
Marazzi, The Violence of Financial Capital, p39

Marazzi shows the ‘feudal’ nature of modern consumption society. The
serfdom of consumption must be recognised.

The more we study the capitalism of the post-Great War, post-Russian
Revolutions world the more obviously it resembles the world of
Antiquity and the Medieval.