Questions surrounding reality and thoughts about A5 edits.

Questions surrounding reality and thoughts about A5 edits.

I am super interested in this story with the World Press Photo Awards. It ties in with issues I’ve been looking at and thinking about quite a lot recently. My mum, an ex journalist told me the other night when she was working in SA, it was not unheard of for photographers to carry props around in their bags (what, with all that equipment too?) such as a child’s shoe for instance which they might place strategically at a car accident scene to evoke more of an emotional trigger (Barthes’ punctum) in readers. They were all at it, she said. I’m not a journalist and my own photography is a mixed bag of caught moments and set up stuff, although I tend not to set anything up in Calais/Dunkirk. People are too busy getting on with things and I’m an observer, and I certainly don’t have any desire to make my presence a thing. In fact if I had an invisibility cloak that would be best! (I did witness another photographer asking someone to jump over a puddle so she could re-enact the famous HCB image, which I was quite surprised by, I must say – see the PDF below re my thoughts on photographing in that area. She’s a nice woman. But young and I just think she hadn’t thought such an act through.)  But sometimes someone might ask me to take a picture of them at which point I will say, sure, just move over here where the light is better. Perhaps I want to get a good picture because I am planning to print and give it to the family*. Lines are drawn and I suppose that is the point. With all the current hoopla about ‘fake news’ one can see why this is so contentious. But I would say the journalist in question has repeatedly asked his friends to stand in as subjects and got them to pretend to be things that they aren’t in order to tell a story, which of course is fantastically unethical. But is it ethical to take pictures of people in awful situations in the first place? SA photographers my mother knew back in the 80s were taking pictures of people being necklaced for goodness’ sake, why is that ethical? And what of the burning monk? Why stop and photograph him rather than put out the fire? And would saving him when he didn’t want to be saved be ethical or not? Nevertheless, there is a world of difference between asking one’s mate to pretend to be a prostitute and taking a picture of someone you’re talking to in a spot that is lit more appropriately than the spot she was originally in. Also, captions can carry some responsibility too. We seem to have lost touch with what it is to be genuine. We are like lost little crazy robots who don’t have access to certain parts of our programming.

Language, be it syntactical or visual can either be brimming with substance, or it can be the opposite of that. A lie might be an empty, vacuous vessel (unless instead of the intended content it contains something about the liar). Or perhaps it’s like a nice looking cake which you bite into and find only the contents of the rubbish bin, smooshed up rotten food, or worse. It would obviously be great if people just stopped lying. But that’s not going to happen, so we need to reconnect with a part of ourselves that sees through nonsense. And find the courage to call it out when we see it too. I have often thought, “that’s not true” about things people say, but been too afraid to speak the thoughts aloud and I suspect culturally, we more or less, all function in that way. Because when someone looks at you and says, I see what you’re really saying, it can be quite unnerving. We’re not used to it.

And all of that is made even more complex by the fact that sometimes people’s relationship with truth is rather slippery and all over the place. In other words, they might not know how to be truthful. There’s that word truth we all have so much trouble with….I’ve tried to avoid using it but it’s tricky. There is no truth, we are told. Tell that to someone who has been beaten senseless by an abusive partner.

And – this is really important – we need to stop feeding and creating a desire to consume certain types of image, such as a shot of a supposed prostitute’s arse on the bed, taken from the floor. I mean if someone wins an award for such an image then more photographers are going to take images like that. Surely such a picture is just about satisfying some male sexualised visual desire. The photo award industry have something to answer to there too.

I’m not sure about how this might fit into any re-edits for A5. I have been looking at Plato’s Ideal Real as suggested and started to venture in Derrida’s absence/presence.

Two things have sprung to mind – my son downloaded a game which allows you to build a virtual world from scratch. He has created a family – based on our own. Only he has made it ‘ideal’. In it, his father still lives in the family home and he has the baby sister they all want (lucky me, 4 children!) He is using the virtual world to form a narrative, which is informed by ideal narratives he sees around him. Film, TV and books provide us with ideals where things make sense and there are beginnings, middles and ends (even if they’re jumbled up). This is the direct opposite of Self’s argument which I analysed in A5. A computer games is giving my son the tools to make narrative. He still needs narrative. He seems to need it more than ever, despite Self’s assertion humans are evolving beyond the need for narrative. Outside of narrative, things don’t make sense. They are merely random events.

The presence/absence suggestion is more complex. I have touched on it in an article I’ve prepared for Just Shelter whose work I document in Calais, in relation to the way in which western culture defines itself by how it relates to non-western culture. “I’m not that, therefore I’m this”. I’m not yet sure how I can bring it into the essay but am thinking about it. Here is a draft PDF of the article which I will refer to in a talk/discussion re a slideshow of images from the area responsible-photography-just-shelter-2017

Image (c)SJField 2017

*Added later and re-edited -I have just looked through the slideshow I am preparing for the talk and there are two or three images in the Dunkirk section where I was specifically asked to take the picture. None are great images to be honest, but they show something I want to express to the potential people coming along. In the main, the rest of the images are more interesting, with all their chaos and obvious observational context. I have looked at the initial images I took and really thought about how I impacted on them, if at all. An interesting exercise.

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Notes: 5.2 Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulations

Read Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulations and make notes:

“Simulacra are copies that depict things that either had no original to begin with, or that no longer have an original.[1] Simulation is the imitation of the operation of a real-world process or system over time.[2]” (Wikipedia, last updated 2016)

  1. “Simulation is no longer that of a territory, a referential being or a substance.
    It is the generation by models of a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal.” (1) Baudrillard refers here to meta-objects in language that don’t relate to physical objects. At the most extreme end, people’s profiles on Facebook or other digital sites don’t die when they do. It has been suggested the time will come when a computer programme will be able to take the digital data we leave behind and re-create a simulated version of ourselves (although why anyone would want to is the question… ) Mind transfer to a computer is, it is claimed, within reach. At which point existence can move forward entirely as a simulacrum. (Our awkward excreting fallible bodies may no longer hinder us under such circumstances, and I can imagine people being hooked up mentally to some online world while their physical bodies are left behind in some form with tubes taking care of the real stuff) . When Baudrillard wrote this paper in 1981, he can only have imagined the levels of digital reality that we live with now, although he does seem to have done a pretty amazing job doing so. However, language has worked on this level for some time as objects that don’t really exist make up our understanding of reality… i.e. words. Culture surrounding children for instance is a case in point and Baudrillard focuses on Disneyland. He describes this fantasy place as “the perfect model of all the entangled orders of simulacra” and exists to hide the fact that Disneyland is America, just as prisons exist to hide the fact that society operates as prison, keeping its subjects incarcerated. He refers to a map in a story Elsewhere online we are told “A specific analogy that Baudrillard uses is a fable derived from “On Exactitude in Science” by Jorge Luis Borges. In it, a great Empire created a map that was so detailed it was as large as the Empire itself. The actual map was expanded and destroyed as the Empire itself conquered or lost territory. When the Empire crumbled, all that was left was the map. In Baudrillard’s rendition, it is conversely the map that people live in, the simulation of reality where the people of Empire spend their lives ensuring their place in the representation is properly circumscribed and detailed by the map-makers; conversely, it is reality that is crumbling away from disuse.” (Wikipedia) This makes me think about the hoopla that child rearing is infused with, from the paraphernalia surrounding infancy to the terms people use to describe stages such as ‘terrible twos’. This paper is very difficult to get one’s head around fully and at the moment I can sense it right on the very outer edges of my understanding and am constantly alert to the fact that I risk imposing my own worldview onto his theory.
  2. “In this passage to a space whose curvature is no longer that of the real, nor of truth, the age of simulation thus begins with a liquidation of all referentials – worse: by their artificial resurrection in systems of signs, which are a more ductile material than meaning, in that they lend themselves to all systems of equivalence, all binary oppositions and all combinatory algebra. It is no longer a question of imitation, nor of reduplication, nor even of parody. It is rather a question of substituting signs of the real for the real itself; that is, an operation to deter every real process by its operational double, a metastable, programmatic, perfect descriptive machine which provides all the signs of the real and short-circuits all its vicissitudes. Never again will the real have to be produced: this is the vital function of the model in a system of death, or rather of anticipated resurrection which no longer leaves any chance even in the event of death. A hyperreal henceforth sheltered from the imaginary, and from any distinction between the real and the imaginary, leaving room only for the orbital recurrence of models and the simulated generation of difference.” In this passage the most obvious thing that I think of is money, as we head into a cashless society. We will no longer have coins and notes that represent something of value in the bank. Instead we will have merely the idea of it in digital form being moved around the online world only. Does money even relate to anything substantial you can pick up in the bank any more? I’m not sure it has done for some now. My children want to buy in-app purchases  – they would be paying for a digital event in a game that takes place and then disappears. It feels like giving money away for nothing to me but to them it feels natural to be paying for something that doesn’t exist except as a moment’s experience. What is the difference really between what they want to spend money on and the machine that promised to shove pennies over the edge in arcades when I was a child? Each is as pointless as the other and merely encourages more and more empty spending. But where is the line drawn between meaningless and pointless spending and useful spending? If I buy an apple I can eat it. If I buy a pink-lady apple I can eat it and perhaps enjoy the feeling of having bought a more expensive apple. (Mind you, if I buy apples from Harrods, I wouldn’t enjoy them at all because they might have cost £25 each but it’s what’s in my imagination that stops me from enjoying them, my relationship with money, which as I’ve said is probably quite close to an idea nowadays, although a very powerful one – simulacra )
  3. “Simulation is the operation of a real-world process or system over time”. The internet is possibly a digital version of processes that are organic and animalistic, and in times of less complex, social organisation, it may be argued occurred as a matter of course. Social contagion is the phenomena where ideas and behaviours spread between people and groups in a way that seems automatic and unspoken, and groups need not be in direct contact. Mirror neurones seems to play an important role. Perhaps the internet has brought this potentially* real process into a symbolic, computerised manifestation as the real function of social interaction slowly disintegrates. Is it up to us to make moral judgements about where the interaction is based? In organic consciousness or digital connections? We have a long way to go before we fully understand the processes. (See Deborah M Gordon’s article on ant culture and then end of the division of labour metaphor been applied to human constructed society). However, “To dissimulate is to feign not to have what one has. To simulate is to feign to have what one hasn’t. One implies a presence, the other an absence. But the matter is more complicated, since to simulate is not simply to feign: “Someone who feigns an illness can simply go to bed and pretend he is ill. Someone who simulates an illness produces in himself some of the symptoms” (Littre).” (2) Human consciousness is extremely powerful and feigning illness can  lead to real illness. E.g. A culture of sickness it might be argued encourages more illness.

Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulations at first seems bleak and depressing however, I think is important to read it with as little moral value judgement as possible. (what we can understand of it – it’s very tricky to get to grips with) The Holographic Theory that has been developed in quantum physics circles might be connected in a very literal way (which was done in The Matrix) to some of Baudrillard’s ideas. There are even those who insist that a theory suggesting our world is a simulation will be proven at some point in the future. (Solon, 2016) But as things stand, until that branch of science makes more sense to people in the non-scientific world  Adam Curtis’ Hypernormalisation seems a more useful interpretation, where he looks at the themes covered by Baudrillard such as living in a world that is disconnected from the real and finding ourselves affected by economic simulations and the machinations of those in power. As for our online world, an obvious and direct example of how powerful simulated worlds are is in an article about how women feel when they’re sexually harassed online in games. ““No bodies touched,” Dibbell wrote in the Village Voice. And yet, to the victims, the violation was real: “posttraumatic tears were streaming down her face – a real-life fact that should suffice to prove that the words’ emotional content was no mere playacting.” (Wong, 2016) I suppose my problem with the idea that a simulated world is somehow not ‘real’ is because you have to wonder what we mean by real. An actor is still real even if he’s using the words given to him by a writer. The scene he acts in is a real scene. The motions he relies on to convey the narrative are simulated but if he’s any good they will be genuinely felt, alongside another sense of reality managing the mis-en-scene. The All Blacks simulate rage and aggression in the ritualised chanting they do before each game. It then becomes very real and helps them to win most of their matches. The women in the online game felt abused and violated by the  men they were playing with who harassed them. When we see a film, we’re really seeing a real film. The boundaries are not as clear-cut as we may think. It might be argued we simulate civilisation to hide the fact we’re all sociopathic animals who struggle with inner non-civilised drives, some more successfully than others.

Baudrillard PDF –

Wong, 2016 –

Solon, 2016  –

Wikipedia references:

Robert Goldman; Stephen Papson (2003-08-30). “Simulacra definition”. Information technology. St. Lawrence University. Retrieved 2015-08-04.

Jump up ^ J. Banks; J. Carson; B. Nelson; D. Nicol (2001). Discrete-Event System Simulation. Prentice Hall. p. 3. ISBN 0-13-088702-1.

Research notes A5: Gathering my thoughts

I continue to look at the assignment 5 question, “What is reality?”

It is, no doubt, a deliberately vast question that has many, many answers. And none of them absolute in any case. Perhaps I should merely write about the lines and circles that make up the letters, which lead to the word REALITY and represent the sounds, which are shapes made by the body and air, that arbitrarily represent the idea, which is itself a metaphor – as all words are……

Or one might simply say, there is no reality… which I may well conclude.

I wrote to MB to ask if a) concentrating on language seemed suitable (a fellow student told me it was too big a subject which obviously caused concern) and b) to request direction towards a key paper by any of the people we have been looking at or someone else’s that I might anchor my discussion around.

I explained the seeing the film Arrival, which looks at the way in which language might shape perception and our understanding of time, amongst other things, followed by a visit to the Tate where I experienced Philippe Parreno’s Anywhen in the Turbine Hall. I noticed that both these works were exploring non-linear narratives. Both cultural texts are filmic,  –  visual and aural. However, the experience of Anywhen is also affected by actual time, the building space, and other people in a  more active way than we are used to in a normal cinema setting.  So, in that regard I had not thought to myself, I am also looking at film as a subject to tackle in this essay. I said in my email, “I think I would like to concentrate on language – and how it relates to the Real.”

MB replied “A very suitable if overwhelming topic. Dealing with language, ‘the real’ and film and the relations between them will be very tricky to say the least” (Belshaw, 2016)

So my first thoughts were – language is so weird because sometimes we don’t actually know what we’re saying, or we think we’re saying one thing and it is read as something else. So I had to think really hard about the element of film. Had I indeed suggested that I wanted to look at this triangular relationship – Film, Language, Real?

I know I have been thinking about moving image a lot lately and investigated if it would be possible to include a moving image module on my pathway. It is not, without changing pathway and I am limited by the OCA time scales so I have decided to stick with my current pathway, photography.

I am increasingly interested in film as a medium. This is not surprising; a history of film runs though my family ‘veins’, which certainly influenced early ideas about self. My grandfather, who I never met, was a film distributor in London in the 30s, 40s, possibly 50s. I don’t know exactly when he lost his business or how really. There are quite conflicting stories from various parts of an extremely disparate global – and I use these words in the loosest terms possible – family network. My father was born in 1939 and my grandfather was much older than my grandmother at the time. I know the end of my father’s rather expensive schooling was paid for by a charity or someone other than my grandfather due to this big financial loss, and the family had to move from a mansion in North London to a small basement flat off Baker Street. This change had a huge effect on my father and I am aware my aunt left the UK for Canada as soon as she was old enough, sixteen in fact (which actually doesn’t seem quite old enough). My father had memories of very well-known people visiting the house during his early childhood. His perception of women was heavily influenced by such characters, no doubt. When I was a little girl I was given book after book about movie stars. I had dozens of them. Large books filled with portraits of famous actors. Merle Oberon and Vivienne Leigh were my idols, amongst others. It’s almost like I was being given a continuous and repetitive visual guide to staying trapped in an imagined version of 40s Hollywood. I managed to accidentally leave the books behind in Manchester when I left in 1996. I only realised on the train heading back to Bournemouth that I’d forgotten them. I was very sad about leaving that part of my life anyway, although knew it to be the right thing, however, I felt the act of leaving the books behind was somehow representative of letting go or even rejecting something.  So film and the still photographs of the people who populated Hollywood’s early days is hugely important to me in some way. Because of this, I felt I needed to really look at the way MB had interpreted my email – relating the Real, language and film – even though I had not considered I was in fact looking at film per se.

The next extraordinarily complicated statement from MB related to how I might approach the differences: “An analytic approach would want to begin with what language, film and reality are before venturing to say how they relate to one another. A continental approach would have no truck with separate identities and see them as differentiated in their relatedness. That would fit Saussure’s theory of language which most continental thinking adopts: ‘…in language there are only differences without positive terms.’ Likewise there are no films as such only differences between them. This means we see things according to things already seen. Hence the real is not simply ‘out there’. Relatedness is wedded to temporality in terms of memory, anticipation and the like, which is very handy for film studies.” (Belshaw, 2016)

An analytical approach – this seems like a simple enough and straightforward approach, if not a little pedestrian.

The rest of the email made very little sense to me so, obviously, I felt that was the way to go, if indeed I stay on this path of relating the Real to language and film. If I do head down this path I need to revisit Saussure and perhaps delve deeper rather than merely looking at the Introduction to Semiotics which was a good place to begin, and may well prove enough at this level.

However, I keep going back to language, and then on to narrative, and how they both at times frame and contain, but also distance us from the Real. (see Lacan’s ideas about talking therapy connecting analysands to the Real) I think about Genesis in the Old Testament and see how it describes the beginning of culture and in particular language. A binary system which is how we comprehend things is set in place. If something is not good, it is bad. If it is not day, it is night. If it is not male, it is female.

I think about the current distaste for such binaries and the tension between those who wish to hold on to them. Last night my friend told me her teenage daughter often rolls her eyes at her, and says,”Oh mum, you’re so binary!” (And my friend is a relatively open-minded, progressively-thinking human being….) And I consider my middle son’s insistence that he is neither male nor female, he prefers the term ‘other’ when filling out online forms. Now, he may indeed be grappling with gender but I’m pretty sure he isn’t. I’m fairly certain it is merely a rejection of the way in which we have structured our reality for so long. And I don’t think he’s doing it in some way-out, remote, fringe thinking. There does seem to be a very definite collective social tension between clear, static boundaries and more nebulous, flexible and organic ones at the very core of our social being – reflected in language. Until recently, I do not recall anyone regularly using the word binary. Now 8 and 12 year olds do as a matter of course as they question the fundamental way in which we categorise reality. This is reflected in the film Arrival and perhaps also in Anywhen.

What’s more there is an interest in the art world, which explores collective consciousness especially in relation to recent technological advances, which is in itself a rejection of the culture of individualism. (And of author-gods, as explored in A4). Recently I was contacted by Matthew Aldred, which was good timing, considering what I am looking at, as he is managing a project for his MFA with the OCA called Grey Matters, which explores collective intelligence. More here. With the apparent disillusion in many spaces with fixed structural language, and a move away from linear narratives, we seem to be exploring and trying to understand an alternative way of perceiving reality. And that seems intrinsically linked to the advances we’re seeing in science and technology, and in particular, in relation to quantum physics. When we all believed God was the top of our chain of being and He appointed someone to the position of King (or Queen, more rarely) then we could be more certain about what was what. Now that science is presenting us with more and more possibilities about the nature of our existence we seem to be no longer satisfied with the way in which culture is demarcated as described in Genesis. Also the very building blocks of our existence is now so confusing, even to the scientists, the apparent ‘simplicity’ (at least in terms of binary positions , i.e good/bad) provided by Genesis may no longer be applicable or useful. If we view ourselves in terms of a super organism rather than individuals we may have to embrace redesigning our entire moral compass for starters.

  • With all of this in mind I need to look at the following in more detail:
  • Genesis
  • Narrative  – (from Rob Townsend’s latest assignment)
  • I want to see Arrival again and also revisit Anywhen in the Turbine Hall.
  • MB has advised me to read Chapter 5 of Hal Foster’s Return of the Real, which I have started. I am happy to say that I am finding this far less tricky than I did when I first picked up that particular book.
  • Relook at Lacan’s Real (and other interpretations)
  • Look at Saussure  – work out what continental approach actually means
  • I also need to keep in mind I only need to write 2000 words and must aim to get the essay in by end Jan, and that this is a level one course which serves to underpin further study, so getting too carried away trying to understand concepts in quantum physics for instance will not be helpful at this stage.
  • I need to remember to write analytically and not merely descriptively
  • Other books/people that may be worth looking at (perhaps in the long term, if not in relation to this assignment although if there is any time, I will certainly do) –
    From Mandy Thatcher – Small Arcs of Larger Circles: Framing through other patterns by Nora Bateson
    From Mathew Aldred – The Self Illusion Bruce Hood
    David Eagleman
    Physicist David Bohm’s work

NB – argument against nebulous meaning  –

Notes: Assignment 5 research cont…

I realise I left out so much from my post last night when I was trying to jot down all the ideas I’ve been having.

As I said the central thrust of what I want to explore when answering the question, “what is reality”  is to do with language and how it shapes and is shaped by our perception of reality.

I keep trying to remind myself about the phrase “explore issues surrounding the real” from the assignment question.

Just some things:

  • In relation to Genesis which I mentioned, it starts with a description of the process of naming, classifying and separating things. It’s about language being assigned as much as anything else. God said this is light, this is the land, this the sea…. ect.
  • In a conversation I had with Mandy Thatcher, who I am working with on a joint project, described in an earlier post (see personal projects) I made the note – “language hides the Real, because of language we don’t see the Real”. Instead we see the symbolic and Imaginary.
  • We were discussing narratives. I described my thoughts on the way two cultural texts, the film, Arrival and the Turbine Hall piece, Anywhen both explore non-linear narratives and instead play with different sorts of narratives. Mandy suggested that people often want easy narratives. They want to be able to say “In the beginning…” but often life doesn’t present us with them.
  • I am making very slow headway through Iragary’s first book as I have been so busy with work recently. But hopefully I can read more over the coming weeks. She explores language in great detail, and how Freud’s language in particular classifies gender differences, often in quite a strange way. Mandy has been looking at Foucault’s Docile Bodies, and how language embeds a control-system in us. Mandy and I are looking at active bodies in the work we’re doing, along with aiming to avoid predictable narratives that she feels people are often (unconsciously) eager to pin on her, or Freud pinned on women in general
  • Women, and not only women, but Others have not been the keepers of language in our western history. I am more and more aware of this.
  • I am also constantly reminding myself to be weary of western and 20/21st century solipsism.
  • Another thing that has been on my mind in relation to language is thinking about the difference between barriers and boundaries. Society functions by having structure around which we exist. Language gives us foundations and internal structures upon which our existence rests. Without the structures, the boundaried, we’d be left floating about the place without anything to hold on to.
  • Forgive the mix of metaphors but language  also gives us an interface with which we are able to interact and understand the world, comprehend reality, perceive reality.
  • Currently there seems to be an awakening, or a further reveal (as society is only now ready following earlier shifts which we had to absorb and let settle), that language we have traditionally been exposed to can be limiting and unhelpful. An example of this can be found in a recent email I received from British Land, who I have done a little bit of work for, which addresses stereotypes and the way in which advertising images shape our perception:
    “A recent Lloyds Banking Group report found that just 19% of people featured in ads are from minority groups, and of that 19% only 0.06% of people portrayed are disabled or from the LBGT community and just 0.29% are single parents. These figures are drastically out of kilter with the wider UK population where disabled people represent 17.9% of the population, the LGBT community 1.7% and single parents 25%. The same challenges arise with race and gender.
    And it’s also true if we look to British Land marketing and communications. Recent feedback flagged that we embrace stereotypes – such as that of women with shopping bags – without thinking. Our marketing is heavy on alpha males and of conformity with the pin stripe suit culture.” (Stephens, 2016)
  • In the feedback for A4 MB says, “To begin with, you staked a claim on the oppositional arguments that directly challenge patriarchy and in this case the ‘author-god’. But you then recognise that such a stance may inadvertently oppose itself.” (Belshaw, 2016) Staying with this complex predicament, Mandy and I talked yesterday about how having  labels can be counter productive, especially in the debate surrounding feminism and patriarchy. In the desire to achieve equity certain terms are conceived which it might be argued pose the risk of leading to greater division. However, both of us also acknowledged that the naming of things seems an important step in the continuing evolution from a patriarchal society towards something less Power-Over-the-Other based. What’s more, this is the only language we currently know. Since any form of non-signed language (whatever that may be…) is disregarded so much in favour of signed language  we can only rely on such categories and classification.  (At drama school we would do an exercise which we referred to as the school of fish. A group would move around the studio in formation, without speech, or planning, or logic and yet after practising for several terms we became adept at following, knowing when the leader had changed, knowing when there was no leader, etc, etc. The other time when I have communicated in this way is with my babies; knowing when they wanted feeding, were scared, wanted holding, needed sleep, often without any obvious sign such as crying. In fact, in many cultures crying in babies is far less frequent than it is in ours. There are complex reasons for this – but too much of a discussion for here). So the classification of things which is so embedded in human existence and viewed as the ultimate clear sign of our superior position in the chain of being is what we rely on to identify states, views, opinions that would benefit from being dismantled and reconstructed in alternative ways.
  • Finally, Mandy has quoted in her dissertation often from a book called Small Arcs of Larger Circles: Framing through other patterns by Nora Bateson and it seems immensely relevant.

Notes: Assignment 5 Research

Here are some very disparate notes to record the ideas in my head relating to the final essay we must write for UVC

What is reality?


Explore the REAL in contemporary society….

  1. Genesis – “In the beginning God created Heaven and Earth….”

(lots of stuff in-between) … to Enlightenment…. and then to

….Nietzsche  – “God is Dead”

2. Language is a constructed filing system for identifying ideas and transforming thoughts into actions. (i.e. Please feed the baby while I am away but not the red berries, they make him sick…) Syntax enabled people to communicate highly complex and very specific ideas, leading to technology and science. Classification and mental filing systems – we believed placed us at at top of apex of chain of being, another filing system. (See current exhibit at Welcome Trust which explores the fallibility of classification systems) Our ability to invent incredibly precise language has also led to scientific thought and understanding that reveals the mental filing system we’ve been using is actually not as ‘accurate’ as we once thought it was. Gender is fluid, animals use tools, there are lots of shades between black and white and both of those are not really colours at all but like shades on spectrum vary and change according to light. The filing system, the categories and classifications, we have to admit are nebulous and forever shifting. Things are no longer fixed as they once were.

The Kinks, Lola: “She walked like a woman, talked like a man, it’s a mixed up, muddled up, shook up world……”

3. Dada – meaning dissolving, language makes meaning, language becomes meaningless.(clip from Cabaret Voltaire?) Now is not the first time categories have been challenged. Institut für Sexualwissenschaft was brutally destroyed by the Nazi’s (subplot in Amazon’s Transparent)

4. Today and the most fundamnetal of western mental ‘filing’ system, that of linear narrative, is being questioned. If there was no beginning, there can be no end….no truth, no reality

Although some disagree  – interesting argument against Post Modern annihilation of ‘meaning’  (see the whole idea of truth and therefore definitive objective facts about our lives has been eroded.

Post truth politics (fashionable term right now) means we don’t trust our ‘reality’ one little bit.

a) Examples of current cultural texts that explore the disintegration of linear narrative  – Philippe Parreno, Turbine Hall, ANYWHEN “nonlinear narrative”

b) ARRIVAL  – Protagonist learns new language which enables her to perceive time in a non-linear way. There is no past, future or present.

Style – Many similarities in the styling, sounds, disorientation, technology, BUT MAIN SIMILARITY IS THE DECONSTRUCTION OF WESTERN NARRATIVES WITH BEGINNING, MIDDLE, END. But meaning is found another way…

The above explore meaning outside of western linear narrative. But nevertheless for now our language is in danger of failing to give us meaning. Our language cannot be trusted to give us firm narratives with beginnings, middles and ends. Without meaning, we can no longer rely on a sense of reality as we have understood it for so long. We are currently adrift and the unraveling has been going on at least since …Nietzsche and explored by Dada and Surrealists.

We’re in a state of extreme flux.

5. Old western reality: Triangle of God, Father, Holy Spirit,

which may have been replaced in time by Lacanian triangle,

New reality: Imaginary, Symbolic and Real

But our Symbolic cannot be relied on and our Imaginary is playing havoc with our relationship with the Real

(Once there is no structure and langauge has dissolved entirely, we are left with meaningless narrative. Or fake news. Or pathological liars. (See Craig Malkin’s Spectrum of Narcissism 1 – 10 Linear although it goes back and forth. In fact it and every other diagrammatic symbol could be circular.) Pathological liars destabilise Others’ realities. Others lose site of their own realties. Without reality there is a sense of being stranded high and dry, lost, anxious, disorientated.) – Probably irrelevant in 2000 word essay 

Language shapes reality. Language contains meaning. Meaning in language has dissolved and become nebulous. Dissolution of meaning leaves us without a reality we can hold on to. We cannot grab hold of reality. We are lost in non-reality. The Real is there but we don’t, can’t see it. As described by Debord. Brecht tries to show it with alienating affects – a form of deconstruction. Adam Curtis blames individualism. In Arrival and also Anywhen at the Turbine Hall, both cultural texts are concerned with allowing us to see a new way of experiencing narrative. “In the beginning God made the Heavens and …..”  – perhaps no longer applicable, certainly no longer believable…

Looking for something to anchor this discussion with in a similar way to how Death of An Author underlined A4.

Finally, Will Self’s article is interesting here too…Do we no longer need stories? 

Since posting this I have written another post where I added and built the themes I’ve looked at here.




Notes: The Female Gaze

Notes: The Female Gaze

In my refection for A4 I mentioned that perhaps, had I seen the full body of work as edited by Isabelle Mège before beginning the assignment, I might have concentrated on one or more of the few images taken by women in her collection to see if there was a noticeable difference in the way gaze comes across. Instead I looked at the question of authorship focusing on Barthes’ Death of An Author to explore something of Mège’s work. However, I continue to wonder what might be meant by a ‘female gaze’. Is there even such a thing? Or is it something that needs to be constructed to counter what we understand of the male gaze.

Does it need to be a female gaze as such? Although of course one can understand why anyone would want to take ownership of such a term. Instead, however, perhaps there is simply a need for a less violent gaze, a less divisive, less deriding, less damaging gaze. But even the word ‘Gaze’ seems violent, no matter that gendered term we prefix it with. This sense of violence takes us back to the opening sections of the UVC course when we looked at Otto Fenichel’s essay about the origins of looking. He tells us, “looking has the unconscious significance of devouring.” (Fenichel, 1954, 1999; 327) And is that a male perception born out of a male gazed world? Or a biological reality?

Do females really want to devour males in the way that males have fed on females for centuries? Really? I’m not sure but perhaps my lack of certainty about feminine visual hunger is simply down to the constructed reality in which we live, rather than anything biologically imperative. Apart from anything else, as is becoming abundantly clear, sexuality is not always so well defined, and the binaries we have existed with for so long are possibly becoming redundant.

I recently watched the You Tube video that Mandy Thatcher sent me, as mentioned in an earlier post. It is a key note talk from Jill Soloway, an American Film and TV writer, director and producer. She created, directed and co-wrote the television series, Transparent, which explores gender and sexual fluidity, amongst other things such as family, love, ambition, friendship, and loss. I have mentioned it here before briefly. I very much enjoyed watching it because it was different. As well as being entertaining it was gentle, warm, immensely funny, touching and moving. Even so, it is not aneamic or thin in any way. There are plenty of robust scenes and characters. But there are no shots, as described by Soloway, which hark back to The Love Boat genre of television; opening shot of boobs in a bikini, in front of which is Pina Colada, pan back and camera follows torso of women carrying Pina colada to the table – boobs, Pina Colada, boobs, Pina Colada, boobs, Pina Colada, boobs. And then the scene begins. (Soloway, 2016) Instead “unlikeable Jewish people become likeable” because they are surrounded, as described, by warm lighting and soulful music. (Soloway, 2016). Soloway normalises Other with a great deal of compassion throughout the series.

Her talk about the female gaze is bound to attract negative as well as positive attention. Some of the things she says are challenging and might be questioned. She is also very right indeed about much and the end of her talk is moving and honest. Soloway describes how she thinks of the female gaze in three sections.

  1. Feeling seeing – Soloway emphasises the entire self needs to be engaged in the camera work. She explains how the camera operator should be grounded and connected to the work. The opposite of this might be a detached camera person. I am certain that many camera operators have always worked from both positions and I am not sure that we can accurately claim ownership of ‘feeling seeing’. Many films made from a male gaze point of view will have been shot with a great deal of feeling. I have seen camera men working and photographers of both gender too – and they are often ‘in their bodies’, perhaps ‘feeling’ their way through the work. How the mechanical eye separates us from the scene or the picture being photographed is the interesting thing, and how people manage it too. It is possible to distance oneself from the action in front of us when concentrating on technicalities. At times that is useful no doubt. I see what Soloway is getting at here but I’m not sure it can exist only in the domain of the female gaze. The Love Boat ran for years and I suspect there may not have been much time for feeling or working from within the body from anyone on that type of production schedule. Transparent is so good because they made the time, perhaps were able to work for less than they might have done because they believed in the script and so were committed, and were led by a passionate and compassionate director.
  2. Show the viewer what it feels like to be on the receiving end of the Male Gaze. (But no more rape scenes, says Soloway, please no more! (2016))
  3. Look back. This she says is the most challenging and perhaps most dangerous.

We can look again at the pictures of the prostitute painted by Manet and included in Berger’s Ways of Seeing (2016)

Olympia, Manet, 1865

“”Shocking” was the word used to describe Edouard Manet’s masterpiece when it was first unveiled in Paris in 1865.” (, 2010)  She looks back, and it was very daring in those days. We can see things have changed since women often look out in images, although magazines are still populated by passive female faces looking either wistfully into the distance or look out alluringly, waiting with her mouth open for who knows what to be popped in it. It might be seen as challenging for a women to look directly out in some instances. And the fact the model in Manet’s picture was a prostitute is accompanied by the assumption that ‘well behaved’ women would not look directly at a viewer in that way.

There is much more to say and I will continue to explore this subject, perhaps to include in A5 where I hope to explore language and reality.  Soloway’s talk is really worth watching. It is moving and funny. She talks passionately about the way in which Others are treated in film and society. But I am not sure I have a complete picture of the female gaze yet, if such  thing exists, or if we should even call it that.

Image (c)SJField 2014 (2010). Olympia, 1856 by Edouard Manet. [online] Available at: [Accessed 7 Dec. 2016].

Soloway, J. (2016). Jill Soloway on The Female Gaze | MASTER CLASS | TIFF 2016. [online] YouTube. Available at: [Accessed 7 Dec. 2016].

Berger, J. (1972). Ways of Seeing. London: BBC, Penguin, p.46.

Notes: The Is-Ought problem

I was asked to look at the Is-Ought problem; Scottish philosopher, David Hume’s question about the way people present arguments, which he says is flawed.

For instance:

We evolved to eat meat therefore we ought to eat meat.

Hume says there is a gap in the thinking process here and a more valid argument would be

We evolved to eat meat, we ought to live consistently with our evolution, therefore we ought to eat meat.

Just because something IS doesn’t mean it OUGHT.

We are told in various online films but specifically in a short film on The University of Aukland’s website that (nd);

  1. You can’t draw moral conclusions based on what has occurred previously.
  2. When making moral arguments there must be at least one moral statement in the premise before reaching a conclusion stating moral facts.

The other good video is made by  Radio 4/Open University .

So, I suppose I need to watch out for the way I and others make arguments when writing these essays. We mustn’t assume something OUGHT to be just because it was or IS.

In a way then I suppose the Tweet I saw earlier today (which Richard Prince had re-Tweeted) is dispensing with IS-OUGHT assumptions.


(Acker, 2016)