Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Viewer as Sovereign

Lauren Neal
MCM1201C: Imagined Networks
Blog Post #2 (performatively tardy)

From lecture by Dr. Wendy Chun (general paraphrase):

Pastiche is the imitation of a peculiar or unique, idiosyncratic style (a blank parody). Pastiche ‘cannibalizes the styles of the past,’ resulting in a weakening of historicity and giving rise to the lived possibility of experience history submerged in a series of NOWS.

A culture of exchange (where one thing can be and is always swapped for another) provides the platform for pastiche’s ability to perpetuate the experience of history as a ‘series of nows.’ In the words of Lee & LiPuma, there are “reciprocal performance acts of promising and agreeing [that] create a quasi-objective social totality that then governs [people’s] actions” (193)

In this sense, promises and agreements are performances; or, the acts of promising and of agreeing are performative acts. Thus, promises/agreements – or the exchange and juxtaposition of various styles, as well as the ‘modern;’ or, rather, ‘postmodern’ tendency to substitute and/or surrogate one for the other as if second nature – seem to beg an audience. “The exchange of promises creates a transcendent authority,” a viewer/overseer of sorts. Lee and LiPuma elucidate this role as a “sovereign or sovereign state, which subsumes the individuals within it” (200). We can think of this sovereign as capital itself, or any other guiding ideological principle with control over the rules and regulations of the exchange. “The sovereign is a third-person authority that transcends the ‘I-You’ exchanges of promises that constitute it; the sovereign is not one of the parties of the contrast that creates him as a sovereign” (200). A surplus of power always creates a sovereign; thus, there is a promise of a sovereign, a promise of a third part: a promise that something can and will take the place of the sovereign capitalist accumulation.

Media, film in particular, seems the logical instantiation of this theory – that all exchanges, promises, and the like – create a sovereign authority. There is always a third party viewer to assess/read the juxtaposition of elements comprising the misé-en-scene of a frame, elision of time, etc. Films like Old Boy and Kill Bill, Vol. 1 beg the question: where are the ‘authentic’ origins of cultural traditions, clothing, etc., which both films appropriate so well? And, if we can somehow manage to trace the historical trajectory of such (which would prove rather difficult), who can we say owns the product of their juxtaposition, their blending, their confrontation? If Appadurai is correct in hypothesizing that such disjunctures and meetings (supposedly ‘equal exchanges’) always, in fact, leave behind a residuum, then who can claim ownership over the mesh? To whom to we accredit cultural ‘trends of blend?’

Perhaps constant appropriation is the answer to an excess of capitalist growth and profit? If each sovereign or witness or viewer or a promise/exchange takes ownership of the result of the exchange.

"Images of agency are increasingly distortions of a world of merchandising so subtle that the consumer is consistently helped to believe that he or she is an actor, where in fact he or she is at best a chooser" (Appadurai, 16); and, if this is true, then perhaps the answer is to ensure a voyeuristic position at times, in order to assume the role of not actor or chooser but OWNER.

"The past is now not a land to return to in a simple politics of memory. It has become a synchronic warehouse of cultural scenarios, a kind of temporary central casting, to which recourse can be had as appropriate, depending on the movie to be made, the scene to be enacted, the hostages to be rescued" (Appadurai, 4)

When we ‘own’ or are “sovereign” over the residuum of an exchange or promise made, we can ‘cast’ our own – or, at least, the ‘appropriate’ – “temporality” in which to situate this new, merged phenomenon.

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