Monday, December 28, 2009


Air New Zealand, crippled with the problem of how to make passengers pay attention to its safety messages, have stripped its crew of clothing and painted uniforms on their naked bodies:

Safety messages within this video are steamrolled by an animal desire to see the penis, the breasts, a tuft of hair, anything. The props of safety like the life-jacket shield the breasts and the audience from what it wants, like panties in a porno. The airline is playing a tease on its captive passenger audience, presenting them with a kind of 'emperor' with no clothes scenario, turning us all into paying perverts.

It's compulsory viewing, you're requested to look "even if you travel with us frequently". Screens are dotted rhythmically down the aircraft, the lights are dimmed and music pumps though the cabin. The passengers eyes glaze over as a parallel reality flickers to life, a naughty dream, a private fantasy. Naked shoulders, men's nipples and breasts, womens curvy upper chests, smooth upper thighs - something about a seat-belt, low around the hips. The video somehow eroticises even the tray table, the arm rest, the strip-lighting along the floor. It portrays the aeroplane as empty apart from the in-flight crew smiling, laughing, showing different positions, saying something.

You wake up! "Your crew are now pointing out your exits", it's finishing, it's over, a painted-on uniform bum walks away down the aisle to the back of the aircraft, leaving us. The overcrowded airplane swarms back into the passenger's consciousness, we're all piled on top of each other like a ticketed orgy, and the girl with the painted bum has gone.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Flying Blind

A panel presentation on the cultural and artistic impact of new media technologies.
Speakers: Gabriel White, Jack Ross, Amelia Harris and David Blyth.
Venue: NZ Film Archive
Date: Thursday night, December 3rd, 2009

The following posts document the event. Thanks to the speakers, the hosts (NZ Film Archive) and the audience.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Gabriel White: A Minor Cinema

: The Aspen Movie Map

The Aspen Interactive Movie Map, 1981


The Wunderkammer

Willem van Haecht, The Picture Gallery of Cornelis van der Geest, 1628
Antwerp, Rubenshuis

I saw this painting by Wellem van Haecht in the Rubenshuis in Antwerp. With touches of fantasy added, the painting depicts identifiable personages and part of the collection of art patron Cornelius van der Geest in a grand chamber in his townhouse near the river Schelde. The room in which the painting hangs today dates from the same period and is similarly overladen with Baroque art, creating a disorientating sense of double exposure. I used a postcard reproduction of the painting as bookmark for the six months I was living in Antwerp.

This elite prism intermingling real and imaginary personalities is not unlike Andy Warhol’s Factory. Warhol with his kaleidoscopically generated abundance, a living parody, is an artist of the Baroque sort. But an even more contemporary analogy can be made between this painting as a virtual gallery and the supremely baroque (and banal) spectacle of the Internet.

Warhol's screen tests, 1964 - 1966

Eu Jin Chua, in an essay on moving images on the Internet entitled A Minor Cinema, notes a certain sense of “estrangement” that pervades the Internet as manifested in the streamed movie. He makes an astute analogy between the fragmentary clips that comprise my Internet debut Aucklantis and baroque wunderkammern: “a sense of filmic fragments containing and unfurling a whole world, each short movie evoking a kind of interior, psychological continent – call it Aucklantis”. (Eu Jin Chua, 2008, p. 140)

The important thing about Aucklantis from the point of view of Chua’s concept of a minor cinema is that the world it evokes is a surreal, interior one.

We have been conditioned to imagine the Internet as a kind of interior space, as if it allows us vicariously to return to the womb or some otherworld. This notional step 'inward' through an external interface makes the Internet into a mythic inversion of reality. A premise of The World Blank series, to which Aucklantis belongs, was to ‘browse’ my exterior surroundings as if they were 'online'. In Aucklantis this calculated estrangement from my surroundings was used to allude to an 'otherworld' (Aucklantis) beneath Auckland. At the same time, I continuously alluded to an othermovie, a Platonic movie if you will, behind the b-grade 'vlog' I appeared to be making. In reducing film-making to a series of prosaic evocations, I was certainly trying to critique (though not renounce) the presuppositions of cinema in general, but I was also inadvertently exploring a sensibility Chua calls "interiorism".

Chua proposes that “the particular limitations and constraints of having to transmit over the Internet are conducive to… an already-extant disposition. (One that is) not even exclusively filmic or solely digital.” (Chua, p. 140) For him, this same disposition is defined by architecture theorist Michael Benedikt as “interiorism”, a kind of minor to the major, or dominant, “exteriorist” sensibility. The interiorist essentially grounds their ontology in terms of immanent, worldly relationships, never supposing to examine anything as from the outside. (Chua, p. 140). Roland Barthes would place the interiorist on the side of music and the text, which for him are subordinated by “things as they are observed”, representation that is. (Barthes, 1977, p. 69)

Interiorism is less distinguishable as a particular set of codes than a certain attitude or 'mode' which influences how and why we observe and represent things. The Warhol screen tests, for instance, play up a certain sense of isolation and imprisonment in exteriority by reducing their subjects to weird simulations, to “things as they are observed”. And yet these "tests" often provoke subtly and movingly personalised reactions (or 'interiorised' simulations). Warhol’s externally fixated gaze brings us perversely to an interior cinema of engaged estrangement.

According to Chua, what distinguishes the interiorist sensibility in art is what Eve Sedgwick calls the “reparative impulse”. Chua argues that “reparative practices”, that is “minor, local acts of art”, may deliver (paraphrasing): a critique free of the paranoia, antagonism and negativity sanctioned by the dominant “exterioristic” disposition. (Chua, p. 141) Relating this back to cinema, he opposes “a dominant cinema of transcendentalising values” with “a minor cinema”, that is, one intimately and surrealistically engaged with the phenomenal world and expressing itself though “affective imbrication”. (Chua, p. 142)

More Minorism

A contemporary work occupying a similar niche to my own World Blank series is Ben Holmes’ On Top of the Mountain series (2005 - 2009). In an essay on that series, I note a similarity between Holmes’ overstated use of pseudo-hypnotic effects and Marcel Duchamp’s Anemic Cinema. Both works infuse a comparable sense of “estrangement” into the cinematic experience by evoking a sense of tedium, pallor and weariness, encapsulated in Duchamp’s word “anemic”, a near-palindrome of “cinema”. (White, Behind the Shops)

Marcel Duchamp - Anemic Cinema, 1926

My purpose in referring here to canonical examples avant-garde cinema (Warhol, Duchamp) is not to identify Minorism with Avant-gardism (though they are associated ideas) but simply to ground the abstract dichotomy of “exteriorist” and “interiorist”, which otherwise becomes a reductive dualism. Likewise, Chua carefully nests his definition of minor interiorism between specific examples of it in art, namely surrealist depaysement (disorientation) and Sedgwick’s “reparative impulse”. These concrete precedents guide us towards a practical definition of “minor cinema” which connects obviously and enlighteningly other forms of minorism.

Perhaps the exemplary (and originary?) exposition of Minorism is Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattaris' theory of a minor literature. This theory uses the works of Kafka as a Czech Jew who wrote in German to demonstrate that all critical language must operate within the confines of a dominant language and culture.

An Internet novelist like Jack Ross who explores the subversive possibilities of appropriated and recycled texts interwoven as blog entries is arguably working in the tradition of minor literature. I invited Jack to come and speak tonight partly because of this parallel between a minor literature and a minor cinema, which I hope might put the question of a minor cinema into a larger cultural, historical and philosophical context.

This brings to me to the purpose of this event, which is not to discuss technological horizons but rather to consider the cultural and artist impact of widely available new media technologies. Understandably, many of us often talk (or complain) about the maddening technical constraints, the incoherency, the transitory value of this technology. But the real question is who these new cultural tools are going to serve and in the name of what. Without doubt, they are designed to favour the dominant language and culture within which critical language has to operate. Hence the need for minor discourses, without which I am suggesting we are “flying blind”.

In another sense, “flying blind” can itself stand for the ‘minor’: a pioneering, engaged “estrangement”, in short a heroic new media amateurism. A canonical example of such heroic technical 'make-doism' is Praise of Folly, which Erasmus wrote in 1509 in the space of a week while sojourning with his mate Sir Thomas More at his estate in Bucklersbury. Aside from being one of the catalysts of the Protestant Reformation, the book is one of the wittiest and most alive things you will ever read (along with More’s own Utopia). Its energy comes firstly from the anarchic spontaneity of the original text but also because the author did not simply pass it over to a publisher. Erasmus personally presided over the printing of the first editions, further invigorating the work with a very hands-on approach. The sense of rugged elegance which characterises the prose is apparent at a glance, as can be seen in this detail from a copy owned by Erasmus himself which shows us a margin illustration of Folly by his friend Hans Holbein.

“Hans Holbein's witty marginal drawing of Folly (1515), in the first edition, a copy owned by Erasmus himself (Kupferstichkabinett, Basel)”.

With its playfully interruptive deployment of Greek script and other inscriptive licences the book emanates the excitement and delight in disruption that must have been felt by writers at the dawn of the age of the printing press, an age coincidentally of great political scandal and turmoil.
Indeed, it is as if the manuscript and the mechanical copy still conceptually overlap at this early stage of the printing revolution. Today, one gets an equivalent sense of exuberant, scholarly experimentation in Jack Ross’s deliberately crude explorations of the possibilities of the hypertext, and furthermore in the way he uses these ideas to push the boundaries of the printed book or "codex" as he calls it. Once again, we see a positive overlap between a newer and older technology.

All this has a lot to do with the theme of purposeful disorientation I sounded at the beginning, which in the case of Humanism is linked with a politicised subjectivism. Far from the stodgy received image of irascible Erasmus, Praise of Folly shows him to be a devastatingly articulate upstart, an improvisor boldly embracing at once a new medium and a new regard for subjectivity. Erasmus' Humanist outlook was interiorist in that it posited an intrinsic grace, an autonomous self-determination in man, opposing the fundamentalism of the Scholastics who believed that “The way to salvation was through the acceptance of norms of belief and behaviour extrinsic to the mind’s need to understand its experience and to the moral aspirations of the individual.” (Introduction to Praise of Folly, p. 25 - my italics).

Erasmus’s use of satirical humour was both humanistic and a tactical measure against being branded with heresy by the
Scholastics. On the other hand, he might not have published Praise of Folly if he’d known it was going to help bring about the Protestant Reformation. This is the folly of all authorship, not to mention a clear case of literature operating within the confines of a dominant language and culture (as Deleuze and Guattari say) whereby the work may even serve purposes abhorrent to the author. Reader’s of later centuries are glad the book was published, regardless. It is surely a cliché of modern culture that any historic act will have multiple destinies.

I recently caught Werner Herzog on some You Tube clip talking about the process of making a film as “a chain of banalities”. True, but the filmic afterlife is also fraught with nuisances. Herzog of course has his eye not on the banalities but on the chain, on the multifaceted nature of any event, no matter how incidental, from which a minor cinema will not detach itself wholly. He knows that the key to his work's survival is in those very banalities that plague him (like some absurd doppelganger as in the photo/clip below). In embracing this chain of banalities the lack of control we have over circumstances now or in the future does not obscure our ideas and concerns. Above all, it thwarts the impulse to accept “transcendentalising values”.

On Exactitude*

Groucho (and Harpo) Marx play the mirror game in Duck Soup (1933)

“The simulacrum is never what hides the truth – it is truth that hides the fact that there is none. The simulacrum is true”.
- Ecclesiastes
(Baurillard, 1994, p. 1)

This talk uses a cinematic backdrop against which I am reciting the text. Some of you may have become absorbed by the moving images on the screen and missed parts of the recital or vice versa. Whichever element has usurped your attention more, then let the other stand for the "minor" principle. Mostly, I'm trying to allude to the suffocating ubiquity of the digital screen as a touchstone for contemporary minor cinema.

I’d also like to relate a story that might connect the argument I’ve given with its cinematic scenery.

I had many experiences of video screens while I was living in Korea. You find them above urinals, in taxis, on the sides of building etc. But there was once when I was hitchhiking on the mysterious island of Ullungdo in the East Sea when I was abducted by Christians. I was taken to a very small theatre and compelled to watch a long choral recital. In this cramped space several cameras relayed the activity on stage onto an imposing video screen behind the choir. In this way the video and sound systems were used much like a magnifying glass to heighten the real performance which effectively disintegrated into a projected and electronically amplified simulacrum. Although I was spiritually unmoved, I could see what a powerful agent this was for creating a kind of closed circuit community, and this made me think about how easily any person, group or society could essentially wind up in Plato’s cave. (Although he was no interiorist, it was Plato who illustrated more memorably than anyone else that it isn’t enough to simply observe the shadowy world of exteriors.)

I learned lately that Baudrillard’s famous ‘quote’ from Ecclesiastes about the “simulacrum” is a Borgesian fabrication, a wonderful example of minor literary subversion. Perhaps embedded in this ingenious misappropriation of a canonical text is a kind of ironic incitement to “return to scripture”, as the Humanists advised. Of course, Baudrillard no longer equates the real with the true and his ‘return’ involves no digging for vestiges in some old parchment, unless that is they help him to play around with the precession of simulacra, the ultimate cabinet of curiosities.


The concept “a minor cinema” reflects a broader disposition, a ghost-tradition even. All the same Chua is very concrete about in suggesting precedents which have been catalysts in the precession of dominant orders. In this talk I have tried to further illuminate Chua’s insight with further examples. To end, I will paraphrase the broad and practical definition given by Chua: opposing a dominant cinema of transcendentalising values, a minor cinema intimately and surrealistically engaged with the phenomenal world and expressing itself though affective imbrication.


* "On Exactitude in Science . . . In that Empire, the Art of Cartography attained such Perfection that the map of a single Province occupied the entirety of a City, and the map of the Empire, the entirety of a Province. In time, those Unconscionable Maps no longer satisfied, and the Cartographers Guilds struck a Map of the Empire whose size was that of the Empire, and which coincided point for point with it. The following Generations, who were not so fond of the Study of Cartography as their Forebears had been, saw that that vast Map was Useless, and not without some Pitilessness was it, that they delivered it up to the Inclemencies of Sun and Winters. In the Deserts of the West, still today, there are Tattered Ruins of that Map, inhabited by Animals and Beggars; in all the Land there is no other Relic of the Disciplines of Geography. - Suarez Miranda,Viajes de varones prudentes, Libro IV,Cap. XLV, Lerida, 1658"
(Borges, 1999, p.325)


Barthes, R. (1977). Diderot, Brecht, Eisentstein. In Image Music Text. Trans. Stephen Heath. London: Fontana Press.

Borges, J. L. (1999). Museum - On Exactitude in Science.
Collected Fictions. Trans. Andrew Hurley. New York. Penguin Books.

Baudrillard, J. (1994). The Precession of Simulacra. In Simulacra and Simulation. Trans. Sheila Faria Glaser. United States: University of Michigan.

Chua, Eu Jin. (2008). A Minor Cinema: Moving Images on the Internet. In The Aotearoa Digital Arts Reader. (2008). Ed. Brennan, S. and Ballard, S. Auckland: Aotearoa Digital arts and Clouds.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Jack Ross: Scroll, Codex, Hypertext...

The only way I can think of to try to understand a paradigm shift when you're in the middle of one is to look for previous examples.

It's important to remember that earlier technologies have a tendency to leave fossilised remnants of themselves preserved inside the new one. Take the shift from scroll to book in late antiquity, for instance. Scrolls are hard to store and very limited in length. The book-divisions in Homeric epics, for instance, tell us how many scrolls it took to write out each poem: 24.

Hollywood movies have accustomed us to see them as continuous strips of print, unrolled vertically like a teleprompter. In fact they were generally read horizontally, with a series of columns unfolding across the exposed area. It was no great stretch to transfer this idea of columns of writing into the idea of separate pages in a book. Sewing or gluing pages into a book (or a codex, to use the technical term) is, however, extremely labour-intensive, and there was therefore a long period of overlap when the two co-existed.

We talk about internet pages, and we speak of scrolling down them. In other words, our ways of thinking about writing in the new medium are still imagined in terms of the technologies familiar to us. We still prefer reading down rather than across - the idea of linking computer screens to make a larger display area should probably be seen as more analogous to fold-out pages in an illustrated book than to any real re-imagination of the medium.

Page design and layout, fonts, chapters and titles, these all come with us as we attempt to transfer our means of expression into the electronic media. At present, in fact, given the tendency of electronic storage systems to decay or become obsolete within a few decades (or even a few years) - also given our lessened attention spans in front of a screen - the technology of the internet actually has more analogies with that of the scroll than that of the book.

Cross-referencing and footnoting is definitely easier on webpages, though. The idea of hypertext, of point and click, while still clearly a development of the concept of indexing, will undoubtedly revolutionise our ways of thinking about information-transfer over time.


I guess the easiest way to talk about my own thinking and responses to the challenges of this new medium is to refer to the experiments I've made to date in how to construct literary texts - and, especially, narratives - in a way that makes some use of its innovations.

My first novel, Nights with Giordano Bruno (Wellington: Bumper Books, 2000), is a meditation on the physical possibilities of the book, or rather, the idea of a single page within a book. It consists of a number of discontinuous texts, scattered throughout according to a set of numerical formulae. No one page follows on from the page before, but each of the various stories can be followed reasonably easily if you care to search for the next page in the sequence. Alternatively, you can read it straight through as a kind of textual mosaic.

When I decided to try and transfer my book to the internet in 2007, I was forced to regard the pages as individual computer pages, hyperlinked to a table of contents which enabled them to be regrouped into their constituent stories. The ease with which this could be accomplished online, though, negated some of the resistanceBruno website, then, while it physically copies the book's text and internal arrangements, could not be said to do the same for the initial reasoning behind that arrangement.

My next novel, The Imaginary Museum of Atlantis (Auckland: Titus Books, 2006), again tried to play with the physical form of a book in what I then saw as innovative ways. Again I used the idea of the individual page, but this time I arranged the text as two separate but intersecting sequences, an alphabetical encyclopedia of Atlantean lore running one way, and a series of automatic writings running in the other direction. Each spread, then, contains two pages different ways up. The reader is forced to decide which way to go when reading it (though, again, it can also be read as a series of mosaics rather than sequentially).

The website I designed for the book attempted to echo this arrangement by arranging the pages on two separate blogs, each hyperlinked and cross-referenced to the other. The physical book already contained a series of putative hyperlinks in the form of footnotes, but of course I was now able to make these "real" hyperlinks, and to join them up in the pre-designed sequences I'd originally had in mind. The book, then, while still primary, has been in some ways re-imagined in its new incarnation. They complement each other, rather than simply echoing each other's form.

The third novel in what I'd now taken to calling my trilogy (the R.E.M. - or "Random Excess Memory" - trilogy), EMO (Auckland: Titus Books, 2008), was based around the idea of crossing the page. Before the advent of cheap, acid-based paper in the mid to late nineteenth century, it was quite common for people writing letters to write vertically down the page, and then turn it round and write the other way, horizontally. Correspondents became quite adept at deciphering such texts, and I wondered if it would be possible to do something analogous on the pages of a book. Could one have, in fact, a literal subtext to the master narrative marching down the page?

The interesting thing to me about this experiment is that it was dictated by my decision to try and compose an internet novel, rather than the other way round. The electronic version of the text preceded its physical manifestation. I wrote a series of texts in the form of separate blogs (I'm addicted to blogs - as you may have noticed - for their cheapness, their easy accessibility, but also, somewhat paradoxically, for their technical limitations. They focus one's mind on the simple problems of textual transmission in a way that a more flexible platform might not). I then hyperlinked my fictional texts to other, "underlying" texts in the hopes of setting up a kind of double-focus in the reader's mind.

My latest experiment has, however, moved away from simply presenting chapters of fictional prose as online pages. Instead I've decided to try and tell a story through pre-existing textual paradigms, specifically online course outlines and lecture notes, a kind of information I've spent a good deal of time working on as part of my job (here's an example: the website for my stage three course in Travel Writing).

I therefore wrote and compiled two fictional course-outlines, Banned Books & Crisis Diaries: each complete with reading lists, lecture schedules, and assignment outlines. The novella I ended up writing (due out from Titus Books next year as part of a larger volume of short fiction) masqueraded as a folder of notes compiled by the teacher of these two courses.

It's titled, accordingly, Coursebook found in a Warzone, and is set in a slightly future version of right here. The putative author of the texts in this folder may have been killed by a sniper, or he may simply have lost his briefcase while crossing the war-torn city (I imagine it a little like 80s Beirut or 90s Sarajevo ... or perhaps modern Baghdad). In any case, the story comes to an abrupt stop. That's one of the reasons that it's subtitled "A Whodunit." There are numerous hints throughout at the author's guilt - or at any rate complicity - in certain crimes. Unusually for the detective genre, though, the crime may be harder to identify here than the culprit.

I think the advantage of this new twist on the internet-as-writing-medium is that it makes use of the kinds of texts which already exist online. Readers of my novella can easily consult the course outlines online, but that won't necessarily help them in understanding the nature of the story. Just as Samuel Richardson in the eighteenth century first wrote a set of letters as an educational primer to polite discourse, then, captivated by the possibilities of the form, composed the world's first epistolary novel, I think it's more interesting to adapt aspects of one's writing to the dictates of the new medium than simply to use it as a mirror of the old.

[Giordano Bruno (Campo dei Fiori, Rome)]

Saturday, December 5, 2009