Dears, I'm sorry, I've so neglected you. I've been busy running up and down the country, avoiding colds and flues, and finishing university. Here's a wee video, and an accompanying essay. More soon, OAO. x
'‘Anthropology has had no lack of interest in the visual; its problem has always been what to do with it.‘ (MacDougal 1997)
I understand anthropology as an endeavor, primarily of understanding culture - one’s own, and that of the many ‘Others’. The well documented problem of early ethnographers to empathise and integrate properly so they may understand another culture, manifested itself most dramatically in the sphere of religious belief - belief in forces - even from a less personally invested, agnostic viewpoint - seemingly at odds with the world of the rational, pragmatic, western anthropologist.
Turner, and Evans-Pritchard (1962, 1975) gave unpartisan, positive, placating experiential accounts of living the reality of the Witchcrafts they encountered, later Rosaldo (1993) shone a light on the most remarkable transference of belief and will only after an extreme empirical breakthrough in the event of always-unexplainable, universal ascent from life.
Not just through belief but through the myriad of learned cultural communications in an alien language -jokes, sarcasms, lies, and the like- and through differences even so far as in which of the physical sense are primary - sound or vision?(Gell 1995)- must the anthropologist attempt to completely tilt with their new, every-day mooring of reality.
Additive to the anthropologist’s struggle through foundational, opposite aspects of culture, is how to put it on a page. When one’s unthinking habits are transcribed, with utmost seriousness into academia, it can on inspection provoke a bemused dismissal of irreverence. Rosaldo again remarks upon this in a short essay, illustrated by his example of sitting at a breakfast table a relatives house and parodying a running commentary, in classic ethnographic descriptive style, of the family’s morning routine, much to their amusement.
He then goes on to describe how subjective his supposed objectivity was - by drawing on his not fully formed knowledges and opinions of the family’s histories and relations to each other, and even his mood at the time. (Rosaldo.1993)
And this is in a western and fully familiar - even emotionally- environment.
So the gulf of possible interpretation, presentation and subsequent scholarly analysis can be logically
assumed to increase exponentially, the more alien the surroundings.1
What we are confronted with, in attempting, without even getting into the possible philosophical or existential futility surrounding even this task, is a world so divided by so many different factors, from street to house, town to city, country to continent. With so many abstract macro economic and political forces also at play, on show, and in ever-increasing communicated medium, it can become difficult to know what we are looking to find, and what we are seeking to achieve?
As Deleuze mused, upon self-reflectiveness in thought, that ‘..everything is so “complicated”, that I might be another..For we are so sure of living again (without resurrection) only because so many beings and things think in us’.(2004)
So what can the visual do, in it’s instantaneous, highly communal, empirical character, that we may be able to try to experience, the reality of others?
It’s method may not have to lie in attempting a hyper-reality - as this is still to some extent subjective; which way is the camera pointing, who is talking, what have they at stake in their testimony?
It is for all these subjective truths that I see fit to attempt to take a surrealist approach, that concentrates not through the filter of spoken communication but is provided a soundtrack constructed, as has been attempted throughout history by the utopian-minded since the myth of babel, of number - rather than simply trying to transcribe this back into corruptible, linguistic form, I intend to apply this to shape, sound and vision.
Moving beyond ethics, morals and social conscious Visual anthropology has the chance to work with the unconscious.
The basic premise of the film I have produced2 is that I shall be presenting, eventually, through the pulsating mass of voices, messages, noise and cultural debris one wades through in a packed, multicultural metropolis, a clearer experiential method of empathizing with persons with whom one does not share knowledge or friendship - as well as the obvious previously outlined differences in linguistic cognition.
A soundtrack is formed through the usual crowd snippets of conversation that accompany a journey in the city, overlaid with a speech concerning the point of the piece read by many different voices, with visual accompaniment of city scenes, particularly in busy places such as Deptford junk market, strewn with unwanted items of all calibers. In the final few minutes this develops into music which attempts to fulfill the aim outlined in the soundtrack before, creating a droning trancelike harmonies, made by putting letter shapes into a Spectrograph3. The pictures which accompany this, instead of big anonymous crowds and strangers focus in on individuals slowly with their permission and interaction.
Not claiming to be absolutely accurate scientifically or psychologically, but working fromthe academic point of view that an allegory can be used for understanding in a certain way,
the project utilizes one alphabets shapes and numbers into sound and harmonies, as a way of experiencing in a more immediate way, specially selected ‘unificationary’ words.
This is intended to create a trancelike empathy through messages contained in the music, which is formed out of a highly significant system.
The alphabet chosen in this short example is the Hebrew alphabet, many reasons including that it is a ‘holy alphabet’, and thus has numbers ascribed to letters, which in turn are used, through a system called Gematria, to form links and patterns with other words and phrases, lending meaning here and there. The assumption behind this technique is that the interrelatedness is not coincidence, it is ‘Gods speech’.(Parfitt 1988)
In this current period of history, a technological revolution in communication has given us the enshrouding concept of the ‘global village’, the ‘global information society’. We are supposedly united in a democratic republic of technology, different languages transcribed but still transferred and not experienced. We see and hear each other through an ‘empire of 0’s and 1’s’(2.2003). What Mattelart calls ‘the ideology that dare not speak its name‘ is an accelerating force of action and experience. ‘Apps’, instantaneous preformed functional technological applications become a dominant form of connection to some sort of pulse. At the same time as scholars revisited the early utopian yearning for a universal language, in the 17th and 18th centuries, the rise of rationalism in this enlightenment made the ‘cult of numbers‘ concrete. Developments in mathematical reason constructed a prototype for truthful discourse, measuring ideological value as well as the logical.
Shapes and symbols are recurring as significant through certain modes of philosophical and psychological thought, the psychoanalyst Jung theorizing heavily on so called “Mandalas”, symmetrical totemic patters and crests created to represent meaning, drawing aesthetically from both religious and mathematical symbology as well as more ingrained social symbolisms, as evident in paintings from the Romantic and Symbolism period. These recurring shapes, circles with crosses, and other shapes contained themselves carry similarities to commonly produced generic examples i analysis of children's first attempts to draw and express themselves graphically.
By enacting these symbolisms in the ways in which new technology will allow, it is possible to experience them off the page and thus more subconsciously, and this is why I have taken a music approach.
In studying more transcendental ways of experiencing theory, I revisited the work of american 20th century Beat poets, particularly the Dream Machine, as brought into being by Brion Gynsin. This machine, which it is easy to make following mathematical calculations cutting holes in cardboard, affixing this to a 45rpm turntable (originally designed for a 78 but with calculations changed to accommodate new turntables), funnels a light, placed in the centre, through onto the closed lids of the eye at the rhythm said to emulate that of the Alpha frequencies in the human brain, which are highly active when dreaming. The machines are used for relaxing, losing consciousness and spacial awareness and basically simulating symbolic lucidity in the mind.
I made one of these machines and used some of the flickers recorded to overlay onto my footage when the trancelike parts are supposed to be enacted.
What I have wanted to create is an experience that does not have to be analyzed moralistically or ethically, common preoccupations of anthropology a a discipline, that shows both life as it exists and strives for understanding on another level difficult, for cultural reasons, to attain. I made mention of a psychoanalyst earlier, and while I do not find fundamentals of such disciplines infallibly true it is worth considering, as Mircea Eliade (1976) did, that theories, such as Freud’s, however denounced by academics including respected anthropologists as they were, nevertheless were extremely popular to the layman, and cemented themselves into culture, perhaps reveling something in their popularity.
I shall end by presenting the soundtrack spoken throughout the first half of the film, for clarity.
‘Compared with music all communication by words is shameless; words dilute and brutalize; words depersonalize; words make the uncommon common.
Is it that those who speak different languages inhabit different sensory universes?
That structures of different language as the foundationary process for thought means that the sense world is experienced in different grammatical orders; and therefore entirely differently in terms of significance,immediacy..is that just a blue cat or is that cat blue?
Which defines, is defined by, can be forgiven, prejudiced, how does this affect our mood?
In any metropolis one is surrounded by hundreds of ‘world world’ commentaries inside our co-inhabitants. If Rome is the eternal city, London is the village ad infinitum, tracelessly changing constantly, devolving into ever more globing complexities, dirts, residues .
Here we are a mass of different thought structures, to add complexity to our different personalities and value systems.
Language shapes perception, but there are other languages of behaviour life-long-learned, indentured by the physicality of surroundings.
A further problem that comes in trying to understand another’s beliefs, of existing truly within the other’s ‘Every-day’ is fraught with more layers than usual of functional, theoretical cul-de-sacs of applied contextuality, when combined with the troublesomeness of an alien semiotics.
Cultural fictions, tidily tied up definitive theories capture the public imagination of what surely must constitute the public. Fictions are the first kind of story we hear as children, and transport us to a world where everything is known, contained, just so.
What aesthetic provides a profane for every sacred?
Provides the backdrop that communication aspires beyond in spite of?
What 2 and 3D structures provide fodder for the 4th dimension of time, life, emotion, experience?
The sights and sounds that form the hypnotic repetition of the every day?
What gnosis is inherent and inherited from which patterned wall paper?
Each culture has it’s identity-styles, to shape and be shaped by the language which holds it captive.
Could these shapes be the key to the unconscious of another?
Is Pattern recognition the necessary shortcut to embracing another Familiar?
A solution of understanding ones situation en mass, micro and macrocosmically, quantifiably and allegorically, is irresistible to anyone, and the lure of such Laws have shown themselves in humankind's ancient devotion to Dogmas, in modern periods called fads ; despite protestation to their falsehood, nevertheless obliviously and gleefully bound into becoming The Popular Way, the public unconscious, wants, needs, nostalgias, and drives, if pushed to analyze
For a philosophy to be a-la-mode, it need not be true.
The gaping hole of secularism reason and ration in the west is plugged with various yearnings for humility, mystery, unity taking shape in romantic youth cultures, fight cultures, shopping cultures, cult cultures, Occultisms, new-ageisms, psychoactive drug trends the latter all aiming at some very defined graphic allegorical map for the senses.
Music isa complex cultural universals, a pathway to physical response, we understand as a group, often suspended from traditional time, depending on a more varied narrative than the traditional beginning, middle, end.
Music relies on number, and here we may embody the globally indisputable logic of mathematics.
These Numbers have helped form false or holy hermetic links in the formation of human thought
If we could combine all these nationalisms, cliche’s, stereotypes, over a bonafide numerical algorithm, deducted through our few universals, patterns, leaps in the dark, could we provide this empirical fiction with which we could shortcut conscious reason and complexity and dive into an experience mapped culturally by the existing graphic elements surrounding them? Fictions are the first things we understand as children, as we learn to tell our own tales.
If we use sound to embody a shape can we feel it as a word that made sense, would it resonate? This may all be an illusion’.