RANGER AGAINST WAR: Pretty Dead Things <

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Pretty Dead Things

--ISIS and Iraq, 
Arend Van Dam

The image is re-presentation,
which is to say ultimately resurrection, and, as we know,
the intelligible is reputed antipathetic to lived experience
*   *   *

 The type of consciousness the photograph involves
is indeed truly unprecedented,
since it establishes not a consciousness
of the being-there of the thing…
but an awareness of its having-been-there.
What we have is a new space-time category:
spatial immediacy and temporal anteriority,
the photograph being an illogical conjunction
between the here-now and the there-then. 
--Rhetoric of the Image, Roland Barthes

  Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel,
That thou mayst shake the superflux to them,
And show the heavens more just 
--King Lear, Shakespeare  

Wars and elections are both too big and too small
to matter in the long run.
The daily work - that goes on, it adds up
 --Animal Dreams, 
Barbara Kingsolver

ISIS is looking like a one-trick pony, with its latest journo beheading. But sometimes, one good move is all you need. The Afghan national game is Buzkashi, after all, in which a beheaded and be-hooved goat is dragged roughly around the field of play, so it seems playing with dead things can be fun.

The West continues its fascinated horror at these actions, committed even -- especially -- in the face of pathetic begging on behalf of the murdered and their families. Why pretend to care? When the rubber meets the road, the question for most is, "What of me and mine?" and IS is not threatening Kansas, after all.

This is reasonable, as we are neither giants nor martyrs. A martyr would leave his actual family in a lurch, in the name of pursuing the salvation of the universal Family -- the prerogative of very few.

In his book, War, Sebastian Junger mentions the chimpanzees who do not seek to aid their fellows in the face of a threat, but invariably run away from danger in order to save themselves. This self-preservation behavior comports with evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins' theory of the "Selfish Gene", that lives on to fight another day.

For those peoples not burdened by a martyrish savior, the concept of being one's brother's keeper may not have much relevance in the race for survival. But what about those people who do understand the concept of service and martyrdom?

In China recently, members of a forbidden proto-Christian sect bludgeoned a 38-year-old woman to death in a McDonald's restaurant for refusing to give them her contact information. The more remarkable thing, however, is that the murder occurred before the watching eyes of others in the establishment, who were too busy documenting the event on their smartphones to intervene. For those who uploaded their photos to the cloud, it must have been a stellar "capture".

Similarly, the murderous members of the Islamic State (IS) members are mastering the art of social networking, being sure to publicize their gory work on the various platforms, disseminating their handiwork in real time.

A recent NYT piece ("Losing Our Touch") asks if we have entered an age of “excarnation,” where we focus on the body in increasingly disembodied ways "For if incarnation is the image become flesh, excarnation is flesh become image. Incarnation invests flesh; excarnation divests it." And what if, through reliance on the intermediary of the transmitted image, we do lose our sense of touch? Does that equate with losing our compassion?

What is the effect of instantaneous documentation on our tolerance reaction? Will witnessing and documenting preempt the impulse to act?

Chimpanzees, smartphones and brutality ... do you see any nexus here?

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps you are right and smartphones are just a new way for us chimps to show off our inherent brutality.

Or youtube or tinyurl or whatever other new technologies contribute to the mix.

Even domestically within country I fear that the justice system may not catch up.

Thursday, September 4, 2014 at 10:31:00 AM GMT-5  
Blogger Lisa said...

It may be bravado on the killer's side, but what about ours, when we document from the safety behind the lens, and do not intervene?

It is an extremely intimate sort of voyeurism, yet mediated by the camera's eye. The author writes,

"Seen by some as a progressive sign of post-60s sexual liberation, pornography is, paradoxically, a twin of Puritanism. Both display an alienation from flesh — one replacing it with the virtuous, the other with the virtual. Each is out of touch with the body" --

So, perhaps the more advanced and clinical we become, the more estranged from any true understanding, which would require we enlist the sense of touch. We "occupy", versus "inhabit", which would entail an ownership (=understanding). We are all videographers/documentarians now, with the filmmaker's disinterested stance.

Thursday, September 4, 2014 at 3:27:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger Ael said...

My head hurts.

Tomorrow, however, I dig up all the potatoes in the garden. Then, I'll have a full pantry and my back will hurt instead.

Saturday, September 6, 2014 at 10:40:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger Lisa said...


I hope I didn't contribute to making your head hurt ;)

"The daily work" -- THAT matters, and you'll have food in your larder from your good labors, to boot!

Monday, September 8, 2014 at 4:58:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger Ael said...

No Lisa, it wasn't you making my head hurt. It just starts to throb whenever I start thinking about the
"big picture".

On a happier note, I got most of the garden in just before it snowed. Whew!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014 at 6:29:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger Lisa said...


Yes, when one takes the view from above, the brutality is all rather petty, sad and pathetic.

But bravo on your harvest. Snow? Why can't we enjoy "temp trading" like we do with emissions trades. We Floridians would gladly donate 20 or so degrees for some of your cool ... It was 95 today.

Thursday, September 11, 2014 at 2:59:00 PM GMT-5  

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