Now Playing: The Screen

Resetting Theory


NOW PLAYING: THE SCREEN

a brief cultural critique

fast-forward history:

western civ. introduces the illusion of depth to the flat plane, the illusion of pictorial reality, which rules the roost for ± a few millennia. then, 1915, kazmir malevich paints the canvas black. same year, cinema fully came into its own. multimedia, all framed within one flat screen: the art of fresco, symphonic form, and rituals of drama stretching back from the stone age to the ancient greeks. painting with light across the fourth dimension. then, america ascendant after ww2, a quasi-empire in the west, hollywood its cultural capital, having rolled out more than planes …

flashback:

the movie theater reached its acme in its architecture: the palace, an acre of seats in a wonderland of dreams. entrance fee: a few cents. we’d all go out to it, rubbing elbows in the mix of event (since film itself is lifeless, identical to itself each time its shown, even in an empty room, varying only as event). maybe tonight a live orchestra, some tap-dancers, a cartoon, then a double feature. over time, public space shifted to the domestic: playable, in the privacy of one’s own home (and with it a revival of victorian morality?). no longer “what’s out,” but “what’s on.” on the “the tube,” the personal screen …

yesterday:

in the run-up to april 7, 2009, the sidewalk where i live became a boulevard of broken dreams: homeless tv sets perched on the curb, out in the fog. analog tv, once america’s favorite media, gone with the wind. like the sun-baked faces of houseless veterans of a bygone war, the abandoned boxes seemed to me more than disposable culture, with its dislocation and dispossession: their obsolescence whispered to me also of the rise of another culture entirely, as yet unknown …

today:

shifting more than gears, we’re now witnessing the screen in more and more aspects of daily life. i wouldn’t say “branching” into, (meaning, organic life), but just multiplying (like a virus — at the lowest level just under what we know of as life): not necessarily truly vital growth …

question:

is this phenomenon a nifty swiss-army knife of sweet options, or is it life stretched thin and thinner? now, for the flat plane’s illusion of depth do we substitute the illusion of multidimensionality? illusion, because as the 35-foot screen is reduced to 3.5 inches, does it flatten the texture of daily life more and more, as it multiplies in scope, with more and more media squeezed through one lone screen? more and more ways of saying less and less? …

notes in the margin:

as h. allen smith said, scratch below the thin veneer of superficiality, and you’ll find … another thin veneer of superficiality. the physical texture and palpable rondure of daily urban life around me often feels increasingly not just scrunched, pinched, squeezed, but squashed, ironed down, steamrollered. so thin, if turned sideways, it might be purely invisible. (baby, baby: where

did
our
love
go ? ) …

Gary Gach is author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Buddhism (now in a third edition, as he discusses on Fora.tv); editor of What Book!? ~ Buddha Poems from Beat to Hiphop; and translator from Korean of Ko Un (as he discusses at Moe’s Books for the launch of Flowers of a Moment). He’s currently hosting Haiku Corner online. This CTheory event-scene is from Screening as Event: A Phenomenology of Film, work-in-progress. Homepage: http://word.To