Collage courtesy of ©Cindy Fournier (2018) – Photography by ©Lara Fournier (2018)

Introduction: 

Relations of Domination & Power in the Aesthetics of Representation

First of all, and for reasons of word count as well as time limitation, it matters to understand this essay as an introduction to an ambitious experimental research about the obscure “question of the relationship between social being and forms of thought, or between capitalism and cognition“ (Toscano, 2014, p.1226), rather than a finite answer to the set research topic in what sense could ideological signs be cultural signs? (see note 1). Inspired by the philosophy of design by Deleuze and Guattari (mentioned in Marenko, B. and Brassett, J., 2015) (see note 2), it suggests providing the fields of communication sciences and critical studies with a philosophical approach of the construction of identity within contemporary mass media culture.

The reason for such an interest arises from the fact that “[h]uman language is no longer assumed to offer the only meaningful model of communication. Time and process are increasingly seen as crucial to explanation (Abbott, 2001) because they offer a direct challenge to fixed categories […]“ (Thrift, 2004, p.59), here to representations and discourses. Referring to Thrift who addresses Latour’s (2002) perspective of connectivity as overcoming “[s]pace [being] no longer seen as a nested hierarchy moving from ‘global’ to ‘local’ (Idem), contemporary society seems indeed to spread “a feeling that time is being increasingly rarefied“ (Lipovetsky, 2005, p.51) (see note 3). Similarly to Lipovetsky, present research would not consider as central matter in hypermodern time “class against class, but time against time, future against present, present against future, present against present, present against past“ (Lipovetsky, 2005, p.49).

In this regard, and to better explain how ideological and cultural signs entwine in today’s culture (see note 4), Durham and Kellner’s (2012, p.82) perspective of ideology represents a relevant starting point, observed as “an imaginary relation to real relations.“ In other words, embodied practices interacting with affect (see note 5) sets the framework here (Thrift, 2004, p.70) (see note 6).

Present culture still appears “predicated on the drive for more and status based on consumption and wealth“ (Arnold, 2001, p.32). However, and as its motor, capitalism has reinforced the abstract nature of society (see note 7). Therefore both ideological (see note 8) and cultural (see note 9) signs will be assumed here as both belonging to “systems of representations [that] have become objects of consumption“ (Lipovetsky, 2005, p.14). This research proposal follows then the 1960s media and cultural theory assuming the omnipresent political aspect of all cultural representations, and more recently the 1980s turn towards “more complex notions of the politics of representation and construction of meaning[,]“ with audiences able “to perform oppositional readings […] showing themselves to be active creators of meaning, and not just passive victims of manipulation“ (Durham and Kellner, 2012, p.17). In the words of Larry Gross, “representation in the mediated ‘Reality’ of our mass culture is in itself Power” (cited in Durham and Kellner, 2012, p.16).

Consumption of Identities:

Longing for and Appropriation of the Otherness through Desire

Interestingly, the matter of the late twentieth century, the one that has hypnotised people not with their own body image “but [with] that which can construct in reference to the images that surround them“ (Arnold, 2001, p.92), has entered present century’s liquidity (see note 10) and its floating signifiers, a term developed by Baudrillard (cited in Rocamora & Smelik, 2016, p.229) […]. “[A]s constructions of technical, narrative, and ideological apparatuses“ (Durham and Kellner, 2012, p.17), the concept of representation should not only be perceived as “representations of the real, reproductions of natural objects“ (Idem). Following Durham and Kellner’s (2012) train of thought, the notion of image as representation, enters the familiarity of the everyday life as cultural artifact, however presenting itself as extraordinary cultural artifact. In other words, it can be “helping people to see and understand things they’ve never quite perceived like certain novels or films that change your view of the world“ (Durham and Kellner, 2012, p.4).

While supporting the idea that “ideology is rooted in the concept of imagery“ (Mitchell, 1986, p.4), such system of beliefs and interests assumes then the role of a “mental activity that projects and imprints itself on the material world of commodities, and commodities are in turn the imprinted material objects that imprint themselves on consciousness“ (Idem, p.163). Similarly to Plato’s Cave (see note 11) in Mitchell’s (1986) and cinema in Murray’s (1993) works (see note 12).

To briefly conclude by opening with desire and its role within representations of cultural identity in present ideology of consumption, as well as by crediting Baudrillard (mentioned in Clarke, D.B., Doel, A. and Housiaux, M. L., 2003, p.256), ideological and cultural signs supposedly join in setting “a virtual relation of desire;“ the symbolism that they embody “refers to lack (to absence)“ indeed. “Getting a bit of the Other“ (Bell Brooks cited in Durham and Kellner, 2012, p.309) echoes the same desire as for souvenirs, “whose materiality has escaped us, events that thereby exist only through the invention of narrative“ (Stewart, 1984, p.135).

Arguing that ideological signs materialise from the constant consumption of identity’s context of origin (culture), the discourses emanating from their imaged representations point to a longing for the Otherness (see note 13). A materialism without matter (Toscano, 2014) creating a space that allows the hypermodern fractal entity to recover some utopian cohesion (see note 14).

Cindy Fournier – /C.

NOTES

1 It is such a broad interrogation that trying to answer it in such a short piece would not have done justice to the academic community and ethos.

2 “[…] [T]he practice of creating concepts, and design, as the practice of materialising possibilities, […] in articulating concepts through creative, tangible, embodied, material, designed means“ (Marenko and Brassett 2015, pp.1-2). This research aims indeed to re-articulate the focus of both postmodernism and the post-structuralism movement, which invokes materialism “in a remarkably dematerialised thinking,“ as resumes Toscano (2014, p.1126).

3 “[…] [S]ociety cannot be thought of outside of its intertwining with them [media]“ (Rocamora, 2017, p.507).

4 “[…] A set of discourses, stories, images, spectacles, and varying cultural forms and practices that generate meaning, identities, and political effects“ (Durham and Kellner, 2012, p.4).

5 To be understood as a form of thinking: “[…] [f]irst, systematic knowledge of the creation and mobilisation of affect have become an integral part of the everyday urban landscape: affect has become part of a reflexive loop which allows more and more sophisticated interventions in various registers of urban life. Second, these knowledges are not only being deployed knowingly, they are also being deployed politically (mainly but not only by the rich and powerful) to political ends: what might have been painted as aesthetic is increasingly instrumental. Third, affect has become a part of how cities are understood.“ (Thrift, 2004, p.58)

6 “[A]n ‘ethic of cultivation’, an ethico-political perspective which attempts to instil generosity towards the world by using some of the infrasensible knowledges that we have already encountered on a whole series of registers (Connolly, 2002)“ (quoted in Thrift, 2004, p.72). The concept of affect also leads to pay “much greater attention to how new forms of space and time are being constituted“ (Idem).

7 Following Haug (1987, p.168) : “[a] pair of pants, a cigarette, a drink are now ‘more’ than just pants, cigarettes and drinks. Their consumption induces an imagination of identity. In this regard commodity aesthetic will model needs and the way in which we experience their gratification, thus dramatically influencing everyday culture.“ To complete with one my recent work with the example of fashion, “[t]he fact is that fashion today still ‘displays the promise and the threat of the future, tempting the consumer with new identities that shift with the season and express the fragmented moralities of cultural diversity and social uncertainty [,]’ as pointed out by Rebecca Arnold (2001) (cited in Salecl & Schroeder, 2016, p.4). Fragmentation of temporality and identity then reflect on the post-postmodern reality as recurrent themes“ (Fournier, 2017, p.16).

8 “[…] [I]deologies also reproduced relations of domination in the arenas of gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality, and further domains of everyday life“ (Durham and Kellner, 2012, p.5).

9 “[…] [C]ultural representations are never innocent or pure, that they contain positive, negative, or ambiguous representations of diverse social groups, that they can serve pernicious interests of cultural oppression by positioning certain groups“ (Durham and Kellner, 2012, pp.16-17).

10 “Advanced capitalist economies now face the severest liquidity crisis ever as the economy itself begins to liquidate. Capital begins to disappear“ (Kroker & Cook, 1991 [1986] [1988] p.iv).

11 The standard interpretation of the allegory of the Cave might easily be applied to Marx as well: ‘The artificial objects correspond to the things of sense and opinion….and the shadows to the world of reflections, eikones.’ In the interplay of these ‘things’ and ‘reflections’ arises a dialectic – an idealist one in Plato’s case, a materialist one in Marx’s“ (Mitchell, 1986, p.163).

12 The latter separates two types of cinematic signs, the specialized codes, or “rhetoric of the screen,“ (Murray, 1993, p.3), and the cultural signs, or “codes constitut[ing] the iconographical, perceptual, and other codes of given social groups“ (Idem).

13 “Cultural flowers are continually picked by the ideological powers and handed back down from above as ‘unwithering’ artificial flowers, integrated into the vertical structure of the ideological. Conversely, ideological phenomena can be ‘profaned’, appropriated by the popular masses and assimilated in their own process of culture and identity“ (Haug, 1987, p.65)“

14 “Now, it is the postmodern body as space, linked together by force fields and capable of being represented finally only as a fractal entity. The postmodern self, then, as a fractal subject – […] “ (Kroker & Cook, 1991, p.v).

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Books

Arnold, R. (2001) Fashion, Desire and Anxiety: Image and Mortality In The 20th Century. London: Tauris

Baudrillard, J. (1990 [1979]) Seduction. New York: St. Martin’s Press (English Edition transl. by Brian Singer)

Clarke, D. B., Doel, A. and Housiaux, M. L. (ed.) (2003) The Consumption Reader. London: Routledge

Deleuze, G. and Guattari, F. (1987) A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Durham, M. G. and Kellner, D. (2012) Media and Cultural Studies. Keywords. Wiley-Blackwell

Haug, W. F. (1987) Commodity Aesthetics, Ideology & Culture. New York: International General

Johnson, G. A. (2010) The Retrieval of the Beautiful: Thinking Through Merleau-Ponty’s Aesthetics. Illinois: Northwestern University Press.

Kroker, A. & Cook, D. (1991 [1986] [1988]) The Postmodernism Scene: Excremental Culture and Hyper-Aesthetics. New York: St. Martin’s Press

Lipovetsky, G. (2005) Hypermodern Times. Cambridge: Polity Press (Editions Grasset & Jasquelle)

Marenko, B. and Brassett, J. (2015) Deleuze and Design. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press Ltd.

Mitchell, W. J. T. (1986) Iconology. Image, Text, Ideology. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press

Murray, T. (1993) Like A Film. Ideological fantasy on screen, camera and canvas. London: Routledge

Rocamora, A. & Smelik, A. (2016) Thinking Through Fashion. London: Tauris & Co. Ltd.

Stewart, S. (1984). On Longing. Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection. London: The Johns Hopkins Press Ltd.

Online Articles

Rocamora, A. (2017) ‘Mediatization and Digital Media in the Field of Fashion’ [Internet] Fashion Theory, 21:5, pp.505- 522. Available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/1362704X.2016.1173349 [Accessed 2 October 2017].

Thrift, N. (2004) ‘Intensities of Feeling: Towards A Spatial Politics of Affect’ Georg. Ann., 86 B (1), pp.57-78 [Accessed 27 June 2017]

Toscano, A. (2014) ‘Materialism without matter: abstraction, absence and social form.’ Textual Practice, 28:7, pp.1221-1240 Available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/0950236X.2014.965901 [Accessed 4 April 2018]

Other

Fournier, C. (2017) ‘Perception and Pertinence of Haute Couture in 2017’ University of the Arts London – Central Saint Martins. MA Fashion Critical Studies Dissertation Research

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20 June 2018

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