Hyperarchival Realism, Surveillance, and the Control Society

Christine Jun for Dazed Digital has posted an  A-Z list of some incredible contemporary art that engages with technologies of surveillance in “The dA-Zed Guide to Surveillance: Drones in the Sky, Whistleblowers in Jail: How Art is Responding to Big Brother’s Watch.” Of especial note is Robin Hewlett and Ben Kinsley‘s Street with a View, which was done a number of years ago while both were pursuing Master’s of Fine Arts degrees at Carnegie Mellon University, just down the street from me. I have met Ben a few times and had the opportunity to talk with him about this project while he was working on it. A pic (and a link to the Street with a View at Google maps):

Street with a View

I especially appreciate Hewlett and Kinsely’s hyperarchivally realist work here for integrating the archival processes of contemporaneity, the all-surveilling  eye of Google and their maps, the social and local residents of the area, and what in the end is pretty high-concept performance art. Simply wonderful. (And that they somehow got Google to come out and take part, all the better. I also probably should have posted something about Street with a View years ago, but I’m glad being pointed toward Dazed Digital‘s A-Z list reminded me of how excellent this happening was.)

Two Very Different Archives

David Pringle at a website devoted to the work of J.G. Ballard put up a list of the books Ballard read up until age 26. Pretty neat.

And did you hear? It’s official. Commercial art’s primary purpose is to collect data on you. Or at least that’s what Gawker is reporting about Jay-Z’s new album, Magna Carta Holy Grail. “It is not so much an album as a co-branded multimedia content delivery platform, Presented By Samsung™ Galaxy™ . . . . But now another, more unsettling use for the new album has become clear: It’s a massive data-mining operation. Fans used to obsess over album liner notes; now they freak out about terms-of-service.” Art used to be something we put in archives, museums, and libraries. Now it invades our home and puts us in archives. This is hyperarchival realism. Welcome to contemporaneity.

Notes on This is the End

This is the End 2013

So, let’s get this out of the way quickly. This is the End (dir. Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen, 2013) is a terrible movie. (I had a previous inkling that it was going to be pretty wretched.) It is adolescent (if self-consciously so), puerile (viz. Satan’s giant phallus), and misogynist, among its other sins. Perhaps most damning: it is poorly imagined. There are a number of other ways that actors playing themselves in a movie about the end of the world at James Franco’s house could have gone. Seriously. This is a brilliant premise[1] but This is the End is embarrassing.

Despite this pretty damning opinion, the spirit of The Hyperarchival Parallax’s subtitle obliges me to give this onanistic bropocalypse its due. For if nothing else, the film is somewhat fun. This is largely due to the constant metafiction the film is engaged in: Michael Cera is a degenerate, the Back Street Boys exist(ed) (right!?), Aziz Ansari is not generally liked, etc. And this is funny/interesting b/c each actor plays themselves.[2] (Or at least it is supposed to be [and often is] funny.)

But the true failure of This is the End lies in never asking itself what its basic premise means.[3] Namely, what does it mean to make a film about the “Christian” Apocalypse with a cast of goofballs (who made it big for whatever reason) playing themselves in 2013? Yes, the film is self-aware about how indulgent of a film it is (is it really though?), but if you are going to parody the currently (very) popular craze with representing megadeath and mass-destruction[4]—and in a time of danger, a time of surveillance, climate change, war, revolution, torture, and disaster—without once asking why one might make such a film nor why such a film might be interesting, timely, or important at this late and exhausted date in 2013 . . . this is a mistake.

To my mind, This is the End is a product of the 2013 orgy of disaster (see fn. 3) finally turning in on itself. And it is about time. (Whatever one may think about David Foster Wallace’s irony or sincerity) This is the End is very necessarily ironic in this time of serious-ass superhero movies destroying significant amounts of urban real-estate over and over. But it is not ironic enough. There are too many dick and fart jokes, and not enough acknowledgment of what it is and what it is doing: that it is metafiction satirizing contemporaneity and its multiplying disastrous projections of national fantasy. This is the End, if nothing else, emphasizes that we should be wary of the sincere expression of eschatological national fantasy at the present time.

[1] It really is. Though I will refrain from speculating too much how differently this film could have gone, it is a tempting activity.

[2] Though this is also to assuredly stress that the film could have benefitted from a quick refresher course on John Barth, Thomas Pynchon, Cynthia Ozick, David Foster Wallace, etc. Maybe especially Wallace’s “Westward the Course of Empire Takes its Way” (1989).

[3] Its other true failure rests upon its mistaken idea that, at the end of the day (literally), experiencing the end of the world w/ your friends would be kinda fun.

[4] It appears that every week a new film that imagines really massive destruction or post-apocalyptic waste will come out for the remainder of the summer. (In fact, there are a number of them playing right now!) In 2013 (just off the top of my head) we’ve seen: Olympus has Fallen (dir. Antoine Fuqua), which imagines a terrorist attack on the White House; there is the forthcoming White House Down (the new Roland Emmerich joint), also imagining a terrorist attack on the White House; there will be the xenocide of Ender’s Game (Gavin Hood); the nepotism of After Earth (M. Night Shyamalan); the (weirdly) promising looking Elysium (Neil Blomkamp); Oblivion (Joseph Kosinski) . . . ; Pacific Rim (Guillermo del Toro), which looks like it will bomb; The World’s End (Edgar Wright), another eschatological buddy-movie; World War Z (Marc Forster), Brad Pitt’s “adaptation” of Max Brook’s compelling and interesting novel of the same name (2006) (that came out today and according to Vanity Fair the film looks to be wanting); and of course finally there is Man of Steel (dir. Zack Snyder, 2013), a film I’m still puzzling over, which imagined something like two trillion dollars in damage to downtown Metropolis. There are many more such films coming out this year.

Quite simply, 2013 is the year of disaster porn. It’s everywhere. It even comes in the guise of children’s fantasy. Transformers (1984-1987) and Action Comics (1939- ) have been repurposed into visions of Armageddon and mega-death. Think about this for a second.

More selfishly, this summer blockbuster movie season is yet another reminder that a critic of the writing of the disaster will never be out of work. We are in the age of frequent, diverse, ubiquitous, and excessive disaster. It is multiplying. This is the point. The multiplication of real or imagined disaster scenarios in contemporaneity requires its own archive. Trying to deal with the reality of this requires what I have been and will continue to call hyperarchival realism.

Archiving the Hyperarchive

A pretty great video about The Internet Archive is here. “Library of Alexandria 2.0 will exist for (hopefully) many more centuries than version 1.0 did.” And not only is The Internet Archive archiving the Internet, it’s trying to preserve real live books as well. “Burning books isn’t the problem; people get flooded–there’s so much information.” Hyperarchival realism, indeed.

Dissertation Defended

On a bit of a personal note, yesterday I defended my dissertation, “The Apocalypse Archive: American Literature and the Nuclear Bomb.” As I move now toward turning it into a book, the first thing I’m gonna change will probably be the title. Onward toward more nuclear criticism and hyperarchival realism.