[iDC] Vision

saul ostrow sostrow at gate.cia.edu
Tue Jan 24 14:00:09 EST 2006

my apologies in advance if this feels like a hammer

Circumscribed by the discourses of post-structuralist thought, those 
who identified themselves with post-Modernism’s cultural reformation 
seem to be intent on discarding the historical narratives and 
methodologies that  identify and inform the goals of cultural 
liberation and self determination. The effect of this is not only 
undermines our the ability to analyze,  evaluate and act, but also 
curtails our ability  to self-reflexively address what underlies our 
assumption that this dismantling of the "subject" at this time is 
something  desirable.  The result of the residual effect of modernist 
romanticism that has been left in tact forms the basis for the popular 
conception that liberation can be achieved via a self affirming 
subjectivism, meant to  create within itself an individual sense of 
authority and power to define all things accordingly -- in other words 
we come to know our limitations.

The post-modern individual, therefore seeks self affirmation in the 
good life, that is the pursuit of individual ends as such culture 
becomes the means for means to discover their own distinctive 
personality and give self-expression to it.  Yet, this conception of 
self is vulnerable to a mass media model,ing which turns the collective 
experience of the alienated self into a series of mixed messages and 
perceptions that represents all difference as merely relative. As such 
the  self is  made susceptible to the permutations and changes in 
fashion that order both the forms and contents of a cultural 
marketplace fashion, style and novelty have become the symbolic value 
substituted for the standards, criteria and values once promoted as the 
substantiative content of both common and critical culture. Culture, 
given the economic needs of the culture industry, is not capable of 
generating deep structural changes, for by its very nature it is only 
suited to circulate a dizzying array of competing images, visions and 
messages as to what form our desires may take.  As such, the contested 
territory of competing political solutions gives way to culturally 
defined niche markets pandering to a subjectivity that is 
narcissistically concerned with its own development in the name of 
self- fulfillment and the common good.

Today with our sense of isolation and alienation within both the 
private and public spheres, the promise of cultural redemption seeks 
its realization in the consumption of the goods offered up by a 
commercially constructed mass culture rather than some hard won sense 
of self-improvement.  Access to mass culture via ever expanding 
networks of distribution that makes its messages omnipresent creating 
the illusion that education and self-reflexivity are no longer 
necessary – and just might be the cause of our present unhappiness.  
This is of course in counter distinction to the traditional promise of 
cultural self-improvement offered up by high culture which is far more 
demanding for it requires work and self – reflection. Though rewards of 
this endeavor are promised to be greater, the symbolic value of mass 
culture’s are more like those of religion in that they are open and 
available to all.  What makes this new secular faith even more 
appealing is that one need not wait for their reward, it can be found 
in the market place of commodified goods and ideas. Culture’s symbolic 
value as a regulator of social change has displaced the political as 
the means of ordering the social sphere. This has qualitatively altered 
political as well as cultural life globally.

On Dec 10, 2005, at 1:18 PM, Trebor Scholz wrote:

> There can't be a uniform answer to the question of what to resist. 
> There are
> many sites of resistance and we need to look hard to not cancel them 
> out. If
> we are too confident about our vision it may be harder to see that of 
> the
> other (and to relate to it). Personally, I locate hope in extreme 
> sharing
> networks, in discursive gatherings such as this one, in art production 
> and
> distribution, in direct human encounters with others, in the 
> production of
> texts ...  This is where I see my commitment right now. Resistance I 
> define
> for myself in defining a vision. I agree that work needs to be 
> meaningful
> and useful to others. It's hard to figure in advance what will be 
> useful or
> consequential though.
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