Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Bar Bets Are Dangerous: A Theory.

The author happily washing down a serving of crow and theorizing with a little Kittler at my elbow.

The folks at Hyperallergic decided the debate between Michelle Vaughan and I, and I lost. I'm OK with that. The point of this blog is that theory and history and art should be fun, that art has no borders that need to be protected, but that what is at stake is what we believe about ourselves and out times, and those beliefs should be defended (if not to the death, at least until dinner time, and it's time for dinner). The debate with Michelle has been all that. Best of all, I have enjoyed reading the comments, emails and Twitter-snark that surrounded the back and forth. 

A long while back in a comment thread about a not totally unrelated idea some calling themselves "bert" and Joshua Noble suggested I read Friedrich Kittler's Optical Media, it arrived just in time to comfort me in my defeat. I haven't read far, but here is what I was thinking about when I learned that I would have to start planning a meal for my friends:
Besides the old ritualistic meaning of "carnival progression," the word "theory" - the primary word of Greek Philosophers - meant nothing other than "look," "observe," "a feast for the eyes," or even "pageantry," and first assumed the meaning of "a scholarly teaching"after or through Plato. 
Michelle wrote to tell me it was a "win-win," and I can't agree more. Congratulations Michelle and Bon Ap'!


  1. Thanks Powers. It was super fun to see what crazy stuff you were going to write next, and hopefully I wiggled out of some of your traps (ie; like graffiti not being art, sheesh).

    Well played, and you are definitely a more gracious loser than I. But I guess you've had some practice at losing bar bets, eh?

    Get your granny's recipes out and your chemistry book. You'll come up with something!

  2. ah awesome! i hope you're enjoying. if you ever have the energy (it took me a year to read, so be forewarned) and the interest in obscure 19th-century Teutonic literature, Kittler"s "Discourse Networks" is a real killer.

    and no knock on michelle, but if i were a party to the vote, you would have won!

    is Brakhage someone that ever comes up in art-school education? to me he's the irrefutable evidence that cinema is, "the art of our times." just surprised people like him, Bruce Baillie, Frampton, Menken never materialized in the debate

  3. I did a three year apprenticeship followed by a year of independent study with a figure drawing instructor and a couple more years working for artists and then 7 years of art school, somehow I still feel like an autodidact (which is to say my knowledge is spotty and peculiar).

    I hada bit of a WTF moment reading the introduction of Optical Media, it reads a bit like an apology for Kittler's cranky style. I worried that you and Joshua might have betrayed me, but so far I am really enjoying it. I'm sure you'll get some sense of my progress with it, as the spring goes forward. Thanks again for the recommendation.

  4. Yeah the beginning is definitely bombastic. Kittler loves overstatement and promotes a kind of cult of personality, he's a pretty divisive figure in Germany for that reason. But he's created such an interesting perspective on the intersection of science and culture that, for me, it's worth putting up with the ego.

    Also: Stan Brakhage!

  5. Berts: I'm 100 pageges in on Otical Media, have made it through the Counter Reformation, am now deep into the Enlightenment and loving Kitler. I like that he takes it back to Jesuit Mystery Plays, the distinction he makes between open air allegorical theater and the illusionistic theater of darken architecture, but can't help wondering why he only takes perspectival imagery back to Brunelleschi. Where is David Hockney?

    It looks like the lectures were originally published in 2002. Are you a German speaker? Has Kitler written anything more recently that acknowledges Hockney's ideas?

    BTW, I very intentionally avoided any discussion of avant-garde film - deciding instead to bind my fate to lighter fare - which is why I parsed the difference between Transformers 2 and 2012.