Posts Tagged ‘Walter Benjamin’

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Île de la Cité

April 19, 2015

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The city surrounds the island, the flow of the two rivers breaks the urbanscape of buildings and the crush of industry is composed of cars, families, machines. The island itself is the same. Surrounded by water, the buildings push against the limits of land and reach toward the opposing shore. Within these labyrinths of survival, we find that what is within the island is also without. One is the shadow of the other, refractions of light revealing lines on the portrait of civilization. But it is not the similiarities that engage us to cross these boundaries. It is the distance. The break that separates the one from the mass. The experience of the bridge that either prefaces the experience of one, an island alone in itself, or the one, whole, together, with all.

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“Museum of Me”: Architecting Identity and Walter Benjamin’s Historical Materialism

June 13, 2011

A museum is defined as a building in which objects of historical, scientific, artistic, or cultural interest are stored and displayed. Already known for being the architects of what is inside your computer, Intel is now branching out to what is inside of you. Specifically, this is being achieved through an application that filters your Facebook activity and regurgitates it into a virtual “Museum of Me” (or you, depending). On the cool side of the spectrum, it is pretty fascinating to see the lineage of relationships, portraits, and taste. Aesthetically, the “Museum of Me” paints a pretty picture of who you are, or who you would like to think you are.

The Intel App creates a video tour of your Museum. Featuring your name, photos, friends, likes, and networks, the video is a visual summary of everything you have ever clicked on while logged into Facebook. If the information were to be presented outside of a “museum” context, such as for corporation research or consumer profiling, the shear amount of information available would be overwhelming. Not to mention the horror if the “Museum of Me” were being used as a visual introduction to potential employers. In short, the “Museum of Me” project articulates just how impossible it now is to filter which parts of your identity your friends, family, businesses, and employers have the ability to access.

But does this breaking down of filters mean that we are able to more consistently be who we are? For some it is enough, but for others the “Museum of Me” fails to fit. And here are the reasons why:

If history is a narrative constructed from selected cultural artifacts, the question is who, or what, is to decide what is significant? In “On the Concept of History” Walter Benjamin asserts the importance of blasting historic structures and reveling in the pieces, separate from an architected structure. In this regard, he states the following:

The historical materialist cannot do without the concept of a present which is not transition, in which time originates and has come to a standstill. For this concept defines precisely the present in which he writes history for his person. Historicism depicts the ‘eternal’ picture of the past; the historical materialist, an experience with it, which stands alone. He leaves it to others to give themselves to the whore called ‘Once upon a time’ in the bordello of historicism. He remains master of his powers: man enough, to explode the continuum of history.”

Central to the concept of historical materialism is the paradox of the transition of time, where time is simultaneously beginning and ending. If time is constantly narrowing and expanding, then the experience of the present cannot be roped into a single narrative (there must be at least two for the beginning and end of time, if not an infinite amount of other possible twists and turns!). In contrast, Historicism argues for the limitation of historical perspective and an authoritarianism to interpretation. More crassly, Benjamin likens the historian who writes an objective history from a set perspective to a whore who gives up the goods for capitalist interests. In contrast, the historical materialist blasts the narrative of history and through this action ascends his power.

Now, how does this relate to Intel’s “Museum of Me”? Intel has created an App to reflect the activities, faces, friends, and likes that are logged into the Facebook world. This is a historical narrative of your life, and on a literal level is accurate. Intel is not lying and the narrative has been built on tangible evidence. However, when a blast of historical materialism is applied, there is no more Museum, simply refuse from the explosion. A discarded photo, or shard of familiarity no longer represents the set narrative. However, the potential for meaning has been exponentially expanded. Because authentic significance is simultaneously a beginning and an end of time, the encounter with historic artifacts is unlimited once the form of Historicism has been dissolved.

In terms of identity, one of the joys of Facebook is that it allows the individual to create a public face. To make photo portraits, post relevant articles, network, search, and comment to our hearts delight. However, is this the entire picture? One narrative says yes, but for some this is not enough. The narrative deconstructs, the spiral toward Self shifts, and suddenly we are once again left with the Other—unknown possibilities abound.

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La Luz y El Campanero: Symbolism in 1925 Burgos, Spain

June 7, 2011

 “ In the fields with which we are concerned,

knowledge comes only in lightning flashes.

The text is the long roll of thunder that follows.”

[On the Theory of Knowledge, Theory of Progress]

Walter Benjamin, Arcades Project

The above photograph was taken from the bell tower in Burgos, Spain in 1925. This photo was included in a photo retrospective on Castilla Leon, published in the Spanish periodical El Pais, June 7, 2011 . In Spanish the bell tower is called el campenar and the bell-ringer is el campanero. Throughout Spain, bell towers are found in the central part of each town and city. While graphically striking, this photo also has strong symbolic meaning.

In the picture you see the inside of the bell tower. A man is actively ringing one of the bells and gazing into what is being illuminated beyond the interior walls of the tower. An additional bell makes up part of the window frame directly facing the photographer. Through this window the outline of the grand gothic cathedral of Burgos is clearly visible.

Traditionally, a tower is a symbol of hope and freedom. Throughout history, the tallest building within a community is also the most important. Originally, the church, or spiritual house, held this position. Then the government, or political power, strategically moved higher. Now, the economic skyscrapers reign from on high. One can easily imagine how hope and freedom has been executed and disillusioned by each institution. Ranging from existentialism, to corruption, and the sustainability challenges of consumerism that now define capitalism.

However, in this photograph, we find that the church is still the central tower within the community. Symbolically a tower represents high hopes and aspiration. It strives to connect the earthly with the heavens. The individual who is looking out from the tower prevails over the environment below with a sense of superiority. However, in this image, the environment within the tower is dirty and broken, the face of El Campanero is not turned downward, rather outward, suggesting an alternative reading. To hear a bell, which is certainly a signified by the picture, represents a warning, or a call to order. It can also be the beginning of something new, both literally and figuratively as a method of the unconscious to prepare for the future. Finally, the symbolism of seeing the outside of a church denotes sacredness and spiritual nourishment. The church is equated with the things you revere and your value system.

While the initial instinctual response to viewing this photograph is positive, understanding the symbolic relationships reinforces this impression. Inside the tower of hope and freedom and man rings the bells as a call of attention to the future. El Campanero does not look downward in superiority, rather his face is fully illuminated and looks outward, slightly smiling into the intensity of the light. The church in the background reinforces the overwhelming feeling of optimism. However, the hope that is being discovered in the sound, light, and squalor of the bell tower is directly juxtaposition with the distanced splendor of the church. In this image, the light that captivates the ringer of the bells asserts a greater authority.