Issue 19 : Fall 2010








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Motor Mouth: Bob Dobbs (Pt2)

by Craig Baldwin

11 Sep 2010

[NOTE: FOR PT1 SEE oz18 SPRING 2010]

Bob Dobbs: ...In the electric age, as we've gotten into TV, which took movies and provided them in your little home so you could have a movie right in your home and you had people doing talk shows and news and it all came into your home and you didn't have to go anywhere [...] the service (surface) effect of television was actually more of human scale. And then you get interactive media in the 1970s and 1980s and personal computers and eventually people are satellite broadcasters with their wired technologies, they can float around the planet.

Now, that's really human scale: you can broadcast to millions of people, you can broadcast one to one. ...The electric age; the post-industrial mechanical-muscular extension age. The electric age is the central nervous system where we become quarks and subatomic particles in terms of communication between people. That reality is really returning to human scale because you can interact and people have what is called electric autonomy. The problem is we still have the fact that you're a human being who likes social reality who likes language and community. How do you relate a community situation to the electric environment after you've been devastated in your perceptions of the mechanical environment? So it is a matter of clarifying. Defining the question and then the answer and saying: We have arrived at a slack state because we have interactive human scale again. That's why DISCARNATE--implying the science-fiction, you-have-been-obliterated, apocolyptic situation--is an inappropriate word for the situation we are in right now.

Craig Baldwin:I liked the electric autonomy part. Let's go back a step or two. I know you have a very complex philosophy, one phrase that comes up quite often is "Menippean satire." Can you explain that?

BD: When the alphabet came in, when the Greek society started to develop in Athens, the individual, like a Socrates, started to categorize ideas (...especially Plato and Aristotle afterwards). They were able to, with writing and the refined state of the phonetic alphabet, start to categorize speech. So speech became the content of writing. Writing was the invisible form. It allowed an individual to read something privately, away from the group, whereas in pre-literate cultures people shared communication acoustically and it was like a hypnotic state where you were trapped in the rhythms of the speech. With writing you can become an isolated scholar, and that's an archetype, OK? Now, out of that Greek period came the problem of the individual who was a novelty in relation to the traditional tribe. The plight of the individual trying to get his identity in relation to the agony of the identity quest of the tribe was acted out ... the tragedy came in, the tragic quest, the fact that an individual could have a tragedy by himself, independently. (It was more of a group phenomenon before writing came in.) So the whole western art tradition of tragedy versus comedy--that was a split caused by the phonetic alphabet in Greek culture. So what were the characteristics of culture before that? When you have the human scale of speech in interaction in early society, people can interact and react to each other immediately. So actually they keep more on their toes. If I wrote you a letter I got six months or so for you to write back to me, so the interactive process slows down, and that has a service--it allows people to become individual and to speculate and develop speech as a categorizing phenomenon. But the disservice is you lose the face-to-face learning skills of the pre-literate, what we call the oral tradition. As a result of face-to-face learning, self-consciousness is created--an ecological self-consciousness. (You know that when you talk you're going to get an immediate reaction, you have a sense of balance, that you have to deal with my reaction right away.) Norman Mailer and them celebrated the black in the 1950s because he seemed to have a neat, hip, self-consciousness and also a sense of being in a prison--which he was, within American culture. In pre-literate societies they didn't have the illusion that writing and visual space gave to the mind which said, "oh, the individual can create his own space away from the hypnotic drum beat of the tribal social rhythm," and it was kinda like a space shot into a new freedom zone. So pre-literate cultures had an innate sense of the prison, the communal bond. As a result of that they created art that was ironic--they were always communicating, but knowing that they were imposing something on someone else and had to deal with the effects. So the modern 1980's phenomenon of irony is a retrieval of a minnipean sensibility of pre-literate cultures. Minnipean satire always satirizes the audience or the person you are talking to, because there is immediate feedback, like on the internet. That's why they call the internet nothing but a bunch of people insulting each other (--it's an oral culture retrieval, because you are interacting immediately). Whereas if you get onstage ... there is a delayed reaction where the audience can't interact immediately and nail the author or whatever (--a slowing down of the interactive process). The basic point is that the theatre stage begins to separate you from the person you're dealing with. The satirical effects of what you're doing are not immediate. In theater they are beginning to play out archetypal categories of individuals, which are ideas. And so the satire is directed towards public icons, not the immediate audience. Whereas with jazz or comedy you're interacting with the audience and they know you're satirizing them, it is direct. There's a delay time in relation to what's being satirized in visual alphabetic tragic/comedic western print culture.

CB: Was Menipus a Greek?

BD: Minnipes lived about 220, 230 BC. This really illustrates it. Aristotle took the new ideas and wrote essays on all the new categories and that was the law for 1500 years or whatever. They didn't think that that was imprisoning, they thought that was great: "We now have something to refer to!" Whereas before writing, it was constant interaction and improvisation. Minnipes shows up and we only had fragments. I think it was Lucian in Rome at the time of Jesus, he found these fragmented writings from Minnipes and what was shocking about them was that he would write prose and verse in the same page. He started to mix it up! It was odd, ironic, underground, bizarre. Lucien and others started writing satirical stuff where they'd say "I'm going to tell you the truth" and then they'd tell a ridiculously fantastic story and then they'd satirize the reader and make fun of them, then they'd bring in real facts, just like the Book of the SubGenius--it's true and it's not true! It's teasing the audience, teasing the enemy. Mixing media. That crossing of boundaries was inspired by Minnipes. It couldn't have happened before writing came in. He was a natural. Mixing of speech and interaction was obvious in pre-literate cultures. It lost its obviousness when the alphabet separated things. There's a tradition starting in the time of Rome (when Minnipes was discovered) going up to the 19th century. Scholars said there was this legacy of manic crazy scholars--usually scholars who wanted to let off steam who would mix different styles and write bizarre stories--and it became called Minnipean satire. ... The philosophy of Minnipeans was cynicism. Their symbol was the dog, because Diogenes, the guy who went around with a bat and a barrel, was considered a Minnipean in his lifestyle. The dog is the perfect symbol for Minnipean satire. That's Fido in Frank Zappa.

CB: How is it today that we live in Minnipean environment?

BD: We're in a post-literate interactive culture, so we are retrieving what is called the oral tradition, but what's really important is we're retrieving more than the oral tradition--the kinetic tradition. Body language, dance, what happens when people communicate with their bodies. And also tactility is the interplay of senses. So we have all three happening in the 20th century. Mixed corporate media is the oral, kinetic, and tactile tradition. Obviously the electric media, the telephone, allows us to interact. So as a result we retrieve Minnipean sensibility because we're interacting with somebody and we gotta be ironic in how we're sensitive in communication with somebody--we wanna wake them up but we also don't want to wake them up to the point where they beat us up. So we are sensitive, we roll with the punches, and perform jiujitsu. That's black culture, they're very good Minnipeans. Any pre- or post-literate cultures are Minnipean. So, Mixed Corporate Media (in the 20th Century electric sense) are naturally Minnipean and the amazing part of Minnipean satire is it makes the audience conscious of itself via advertising, (which is always satirizing the content of the program by being stupid or [being on] whatever irritating level you interpret advertising. Advertising is the great Minnipean satire of the daily interaction of Minnipean Mixed Corporate Media. Because it is self-consciousness. So we become extremely self-conscious collectively and personally in this ironic situation, so that's why the Mixed Corporate Media ... retrieves a Minnipean environment.

[Bob spits.]

BD: Hoik up? Who said Hoik up, you did? You've done your homework.

CB: I am trying to work with these kinescopes, a certain kind of media format where live television was preserved on 16mm film. A prototype.

BD: Yeah I know them. Kinescope, kinetic space--it was halfway between tactile TV and cinematic kinetic space.

CB:I call it the interface between the two [ ? ] ... the 20th century live television to cinema. Has the best of both. You do comment in some of your writings about this period of live television, and early TV (like in the 20s and 30s), then what happened after the war, then as you said the big lockdown where everything becomes scripted. Can you make some comments about the movement the legacy the history the dynamic of live TV in terms of the history of TV. Kinda technical...having to do with forces within TV but also a meta-social, etc?

BD: A lot of modern artists in the 1960s decided that the museum was dead, that they didn't want to present their art in museums, because the museum was visual space--the walls of the western literate tradition. It was the container aspect. The last container medium is the movie, because it is not live but it can contain all--anything that ever happened--as content, even better than a painting or music. So the recording aspect of the movie is the final container medium. TV and radio, when someone can get on and interact live, he's interacting with the worker in his home and getting live data coming into his house, and it's not contained, he doesn't know where it's gonna go, he keeps listening, he's dramatically and existentially involved in the live aspect. That's the difference between TV/Radio environment and movie environment, we know that and understand it, that's cliché. But interestingly, when the satellite environment went up in 1957, the previous environment becomes an art form ... it gets put back inside the museum walls and becomes a container/value system from the past and has an aspect of preciousness to it--tribal/cultural value. So the framing of media, which is the history of art ... how could you frame television? It couldn't be framed--until the satellite went around it. So the satellite comes in in 1957 but doesn't really become an environment until the 1960's when a lot of satellites are up. Telstar in 1962, that was the popularization of the satellite environment in popular culture. So by the mid-60s the satellite is an environment. Therefore it will turn the previous environment, television, into an art form. The museum culture is propped up by the money medium (investors, Wall Street), because they live within visual space which is a container medium. So in the end they have to start propping up the container idea itself. That's why in the 1930s they built the Museum of Modern Art. Andrew Mellon built the National Gallery in Washington D.C. They realized that money was obsolete after the crash of 1929. Visual space could not really function within the electric/radio environment as a controller of social mentality, so they had to invest money into objects, so they took art, painting, and sculpture--all those anti-environmental things. ...[These] became a repository of value because the frame was put around them. ... Since you can't put Dan Rather in a museum, you have to kill live TV. So in the mid-sixties they stopped live TV and brought in laugh tracks and things like that. So, paradoxically, TV becoming an art form meant it was killed. Awright. So then, by 1977 Mixed Corporate Media had disappeared itself, which is a complex process. Then it becomes an afterimage from 1977 to 1990, and a negativland. Therefore, since media don't have a ground anymore, you can retrieve live TV because it can't really be live because everything has disappeared. So you have the retrieval of live TV in the 1950s and 1960s ... Saturday Night Live in 1976.

[Member of video crew comments that Tesla was a clean freak (after Dobbs says he won't stand near something dirty...)]

BD: Was Tesla like that? How'd you know that?

BD: Money-oriented society is a medium where you have to control exchange between goods with a chart of complementality where A=B ... they have to be equal and you have debt and credit, etc. That is the western medium that every new environment has to be appropriated by--it isn't anyone's fault. You use the phrase "programming environment." Programming environment is that culture's use of the new environment in their context. So we have had to take a new medium and fit it back into a capitalist economy. So, always, the previous entertainment media, like vaudeville, become the content of the new medium. And that's the entertainment mafia, so to speak. But it is a culturally conditioned thing. You're programming the content. So ... Ernie Kovacs and these guys, who were a refinement of the earlier Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. ...Like the Internet today, people are worried that it is going to be taken over by the corporate culture and deadened. You can't bring in a new technology without each particular culture fitting it into their past reference point. So it is inevitably going to be watered down, deadened. But for the normal mainstream unconscious, that's actually what they want. They want their cultural myths to continue in the new situation of an environment that wipes out their cultural myths. So they are extra ferocious in maintaining the past cultural entertainment. Remember, entertainment is a package situation which comes out of the industrial age. Minnipean cultures don't have entertainment. Every moment is a work of art. The Balinese: "we don't have art, we try to do everything as well as we can." The visual space in a capitalist environment needs entertainment, so entertainment always becomes the content. What's amazing is that television is a tactile mosaic mesh that's activating your guts and your central nervous system. It doesn't matter what's on the TV, the change is brought by the tactile effect of television. It changes a visually biased culture into a whole tactility thing. So you have in the 1950s and 1960s a drug-taking rock 'n roll apocalypse in American social mores due to the mesh of TV, not the content! And the content trods along eventually looking like a bloody hologram totally oblivious to what's going on and you get Dan Rather--who helped kill Kennedy--telling us where the truth is. The content is absurdity because the content always trots along ignoring that the medium it is using, the host it is using, is doing all kinds of changes that have no precedent!

CB: What I want to pursue is this idea of storage. All this collective media, flotsam and jetsam, is always with us, floating, running on the spot. Can you speculate on the possibility of our increased access to the collective storehouse of all media history.

BD: We never left 1945. See, that's the essential characteristic of language, that was the first medium that could store our experience. Language, words, allowed early humans to store experiences so that they didn't have to go back and relive the experiences. If they had a new situation and wanted to comment on how that related to a previous one, they had a bunch of words that expressed concepts. The essential feature of media is that storage. Language is the first storage. I'm saying that language anticipates all the unfolding means of storage that develop: first writing, then the printed book, and then the newspaper and the movie. The chief characteristic of media is storage. Now what's interesting is that in the electric age we have live broadcast, but we have tape recording so we can store it and yet create new content immediately. So the storage characteristics and the live characteristics occur simultaneously. But, to emphasize the recording aspect: everything that is happening can be preserved. So if someone is born 50 years from now they can relive 1945 or 1922 and it is new for them and it is 2022, so they have the Beatles in 2022. So in that sense all time happens when you have electric recording. That's the akashic records. The movie is the akashic container. Tape recording is the preserving of non-visual and acoustic stuff. The akashic records are constantly being filled up and maintained, juxtaposed with this ongoing "now"-making environment that Dan Rather and the news people keep making up, saying "this happened, that happened, blah blah blah blah" and you gotta react. And we store it and look back but while you're looking back checking what happened two weeks ago, there's new events broadcasting at you, so the culture is always trying to adjust to the present and that's the main activity. The amazing thing is that if you can make new time as well as always storing previous time then kids in an educational situation always spend their time processing previously recorded environments--including books, those's are recorded environments--and so in a hundred years you're gonna have kids put in little wombs where they'll be programmed. They will be sleep-drenched with all this historical recording just as a requirement for citizenship. It seems to be a bias of humans to preserve the past--even though the past is immense! So while we are constantly preserving the past and all time, and we can contain, we have more time to preserve than they did 1000 years ago. We have many more times. Plus we have the new making going on all the time, creating new times. So, all times exist now, plus the non-time of immediate now-making that goes on every day which has no content because the point is that the newsmen just want to look busy [runs in place] --"We're still running!"--you know? So, the jobs are shrinking, the number of people who need to look like they're busy is going down, so the rest of the population sits back and watches TV or reads books or records things. In any and in each of these activities archiving is involved. Everybody is an archivist! That's the situation!

CB: How does that affect our understanding of the concept of time?

BD: Fucking obliterates it! I mean, here's an interesting question--what is the content of media, the most universal content? The most universal content is the user! The human being, and that is what I was saying earlier. The human being continues going along interacting with someone who looks like a human being, but I have a person here with a camera, a whole fucking world on his shoulder! Human beings have a sense of biological time which I call "first nature." All human-created technology and artifacts are second nature--an imitation of first nature. Just like the book is an imitation of the eyeball, which was made by [looks around] who knows what, but we call it first nature, it's biological. So the question is how does our sense of biological time relate to timelessness in the electronic storage world. That's what 'Finnegans Wake' tried to present. It tried to explain and show a painting and a sound orchestra and an image that would give you a perspective on that question. And that question is what I am continuously explaining an answer to. So obviously, we seem to have biological time, but if we start to have immortality drugs, then we're gonna have to decide whether we want to leave this and go to another time. That'll be the existential question. Suicide will become a new avant-garde activity [it isn't already?!? --ed.] But meanwhile we have people who are trying to live lives [--walks in place] and they are actually in an environment where they are everybody else and everybody else's machines, which are angelic and communicating to each other in a satellite environment. So we obviously don't know what time it is. I'll remind you, when Frank Zappa was asked what he really wanted to know he said: "what time is it?" And that was the key question in 'Finnegans Wake' around page 35--the cat asks what time it is. Joyce was really aware of the problem of biological time in relation to media-generated time, which brings us back to media archeology. When was the past, when is the future? We actually don't know what is anymore. So when the baby-boomers see kids replaying the Beatles or whatever, they go "Geez, that's nostalgia." It ain't nostalgia.