From the moment you become sure of what you are doing in a profession, you are lost – A partir du moment où dans un métier on est sûr de ce qu’on fait, on est perdu. Jean Renoir
OUR ONLY REAL MEDIUM IS TIME
– everything else is a form of distraction. Work that saves lives, done with outstanding skill, always evokes time… where both silence and the understanding of NON-MEDIA* are vital (N-M: that utopian space free from the hegemony of media).
To bring up the words of Arthur Rimbaud, one of France’s most illustrious poets, “La vie est ailleurs/Life is elsewhere,” is not to imply that poetry is a solution – as Rimbaud’s life clearly proves. It is both about remembering the towering vastness of what remains (and will remain) unknown, and the fact that it is actually when we perceive our lack of knowledge that we become most alive.
After teaching at the university level for more than 30 years and moving from film, video, and more recently to new media, it has become clear that much media production revolves around the creation of a large and captive audience. Most so-called “good design” and “smart thinking” are geared towards enlarging the number of viewers through the manipulation of a variety of sensory experiences – a task I like to call the colonization of our eyes/ears and what may lay behind them… the mind.
For many, it is only after facing death that life becomes more tangible; similarly, media may only be perceived after considering such a concept as “No-Media.” Like fish in water, much around us can only be distinguished through the presence of its absence. Perception requires contrast, or to borrow from Taoist philosophy, an evolving dialectic of yin observing yang and vice versa.
At a time when their proliferation is unlimited (the image market offers the carrot, the illusion of containing reality), images prostitute themselves so as to see who, through one more software filter (like a cheap make-up kit), could attract that potential client… It has become necessary to wonder what would constitute a “non-image.” What can we learn from such a concept, such a koan? KINDNESS: does kindness even fit in the picture? Most learning/teaching needs a context, why not enter the urgency of this particular one? Not academic or empirical enough? It is now or never!
Voyeurism or scopophilia is a given, but our “novophilic” environment (our endlessly bleeding love of novelty/gadgets [cf. hemophilia]) survives through the wishful thinking that “just around the corner” the solution to all of our problems will finally present itself to us.
In parallel to the search for a magic technological formula, most teaching revolves around the escapist principle that enough erudition may save us. Socrates, eons ago, cleared the table in a most definite way, but again our wisdom seems cluttered; in order to secure an income and a position of assumed power, a great many individuals and institutions repeat the age-old claim to know, and inadvertently provide a false and dangerous sense of security. As terrifying as it may be not to hold onto a railing, true knowledge cannot be threatened by the idea of not knowing!
THE MONKEY-SEE/MONKEY-DO PARADIGM
Well-known concepts and categories, and the institutions that support them, rather than providing us with an exacting education, constitute what I would call an “eduCUSHION.” We are amused by how easily cats can be distracted by a piece of string, but similarly, just because we recognize some pattern around us, we claim a major victory, forgetting the actual complexity of our experience. We love security and what we know, and as we dream of transcendence, we love what we love… at the expense of our lives; as J.K.Z. has wondered “Is there life before death?
My recent brain surgery (a kind of reboot) may have aroused a desire to break through the looking-glass to perceive what lies beyond the cultural (weapons of) mass distractions. After surviving the most brutal century on this planet, with its 262 million murders, it seems it would be time to look at the difficulties straight in the face.
*About the School of Non-Media.
All the tragedies we can imagine can be reduced to just one: the passage of time. Simone Weil