Dissertation Word Play
by Beauchamp Art
Throughout the essay are a number of word plays, puns, ironic or paradoxical turns of phrase, that are intended to illicit an entertaining or stimulating response, to break up the otherwise dense, daily academic body of text, making use of linguistic dexterity, which is often very subtly applied, so much so that it may be easily overlook. Extracts have been taken from the essay, with a brief description of the particular play on words that has been used, and why this is appropriate for the context.
Any citations and references here all refer back to the dissertation, unless otherwise stated.
“Disconnecting from the Network severs the extended nervous system. The loss of a smart-phone may be tantamount to digital decapitation, the sudden realisation of isolation, coupled with financial concerns and online orphaning.”
I made my description of digital decapitation sound like the actions of a guillotine by using an alliteration of ‘s’ phonemes to suggest the sweeping motion of the descending blade, then a run of ‘t’ and ‘d’ sounds to suggest a sudden cutting stop, as the phonetic flesh is impacted, immediately followed by a the ‘sudden isolation’ of the head being removed from the body, momentarily aware of its face as the brain shuts down running through memories of previous anxieties and the fear of the loss of the self; and the alienation now felt between the bifurcated body.
“Mother Media’s spoon-fed data. Life becomes habit, self-fulfilling, addictive [Braidotti, 2013: 134] and easily exploitable.”
Here the media is anthropomorphised as a maternal figure offering content as metaphorically represented sustenance. However, this is also a sublet reference to Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting, [Welsh, 1993] in which the the protagonist Renton visits ‘Mother Superior’, a drug dealer who provides him with heroin, an opiate that is frequently prepared by heating the substance in a metal spoon, ‘cooking up’ in preparation for the intravenous injection of the narcotic substance (‘Mother Superior’s name stems from the length of his habit, referring to both a drug habit and the religious habit worn by nuns).
Here then it may be suggested that the media product is acting as the ‘opium of the people’, a term coined by Karl Marx regarding the role of religion within society. Thereby, the word play here could be seen to reference both Welsh’s use of this analogy, as well as Marx’s original statement, which may be effectively paraphrased as ‘Media is the opium of the masses’. Hence this is immediately followed by Braidotti’s description of life it itself being a habit.
“Age of Mechanised Mass-Media Reproduction”
A play one the title of Walter Benjamin’s frequently quoted, ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’; much as “art has always been reproducible” [Benjamin, 1936], any title or caption can too be reproduced, appropriated, borrowed, referenced, stolen, or otherwise be removed from its original context and reformulated into a new one to create new meaning. Every reproduction is both unique and identical, it can be completely the same as those either side of it, but is thereby defined by its position relative to other copies, and how that forms a new context (or at least the ways in which it may alter itself and its neighbours).
Similarly to how quotations and paraphrases within the essay may take the worlds as they were written or spoken, but the act of reproduction alters them, even in the subtle act of reproducing the word from the page or screen into the mind of the reader, it is translated from graphical notation to an abstract, programatically-driven language (in so much as not only will no two people read the same word even if it is written identically, but the same person reading the same word twice would be affected differently by the second viewing), a state of perception in constant flux, the flexible phenomenology of phonemes and photographs.
“The beauty of concision […] is that you can only repeat conventional thoughts”
The middle of this sentence has been substituted for an ellipsis, thereby making the statement more concise, which is intended to be read ironically/self-reflexively, as the quotation is referring to the problems concision and compressing information
“Smoke mirrors light pollution”
The word order suggests ‘smoke and mirror’, a magic trick for creating illusions, hiding things from the audience and the spotlights; which may also be seen as a metaphorical representation of the role of the computer monitor or television screen that seeks to obscure the viewer’s perspective through media. In other words, the ‘screen’ literally represents a ‘screen’, a flat surface to block one’s view.
“Individuals retreat into an electronic Tower of Babel, a global skyscraper […] Fig. 2 Cécile B. Evans (2013) AGNES.”
Less of a word play, more an underpinning metaphor of the Tower of Babel, which is referenced near the start of the text, then in the particular image of Evans’ AGNES, taken as a screenshot from the Serpentine Gallery website, that features a depiction of the tower (painted by Pieter Bruegel the Elder in 1563), along with a Bob Dylan music video and other references to him, an effective non sequitur that reflects the babbling discord of languages usually associated with the Babylonian monument (given the Biblical events of Genesis 11: 4-9), another fitting metaphor for the confusion of mass communication, from a historical/mythical context compared to the contemporary networking capabilities.
“Former Italian president and media magnate Silvio Berlusconi”
A ‘media magnate’ is wealthy and influential business person who’s industry is involved with the Media, however a ‘media magnet’ would be one who attracts the attention of the media, both of which are true statements here. Hence the use of the (near) homophone.
“The topology of algorithmic categorisation versus the unconscious associations of memory priorities different connections between events.”
Here what is being described is the ‘topology of algorithmic categorisation’, in other words, the study of the form (metaphorical/abstract rather than spacial) surrounding that subject matter. However, the ‘topography of algorithmic categorisation’ would refer to the mapping of the subject, in other words, how the users would interface with that data (in the form of a database, spreadsheet, or other graphical representation). Similarly to the magnate/magnet distinction, this is a deliberate use of two words that almost sound the same to suggestively confuse or bifurcate the meaning of the sentence. Nevertheless, whether topological or topographical, both instances would regard establishing a means of ordering and understanding an abstract concept, that of the organising of non-linear memories.
“A portrait by proxy”
Proxy may be used to defer to a secondary source, but is also used within the semantic field of computing, as in ‘proxy server’, meaning a remote or intermediary between network clients to access resources.
“Overabundant information may intermittently overload”
This is intended to form an approximate verbal palindrome by mirroring the prepositions which posit the reader into resolve two frames of movement, so the sentence moves to go ‘over – in’ to ‘in – over’, hopping momentarily into the the verbal rabbit hole.
“Citing the unseeable”
A pun using a homophone of ‘citing’, as ‘sighting’ to play against ‘unseeable’. Essentially; ‘putting in quotation marks that which cannot be referenced visually’. When in reference to [Fig. 5] González-Torres’ piece, this could also be said to be ‘giving voice to ghosts’, in other words, allowing something to speak which would normally not be able to do so, specifically referring to the depiction of deceased figures who are not show directly, rather through visual allegory.
This also is intended to be a structuralist remark, as it immediately follows a citation from Sontag, who is making reference to the “pseudo-presence” of photographic representation, using the semantic field of linguistic structure/grammar (‘citing’) to reflect on how the text functions as a “tissue of quotations” [Barthes, 1967: 142], much as the image (or world-as-cinema) acts a series of visual references to other imagery/previously seen phenomena or subjects. Thereby offsetting semiotics against semantics, as well as suggesting a logical paradox as one cannot literally show something that cannot be seen, but only describe its lack.
Moreover, this self-referential structural loop also continues in this subsequent description, in as much as I have quoted Barthes on how texts only excises as a selection of quotations, forming one unified body. The self-aware word play could be considered a Post-Modern trope as much as it could be a Structuralist one, or even a Pop (Art) trope, as it draws attention to its form, but also uses this to make one point about how it is written, and another point about the unreality of imagery specific to the text in question. Not just being aware of form, but using this to inform a related critique.
Mediator & Plato’s Cave
A number of the cross-references within the glossary (indicated by “See also: …”) were intended to be potentially amusing, such as listing “Plato’s Cave” as a cross reference for “Mediator” alongside News Corp, Rupert Murdoch, Silvio Berlusconi, implying that groups such as these would rely on a similar principal of individuals being unable to accept a true depiction of the world, so rely on mediated depictions of reality; the shadows in the representing the mass media.
There are also a number of articles that refer to one another, creating a non-linear ordering of the information, and a feedback between subjects, reflecting a thematically self-reflective, post-modern and deconstructive structure, that makes reference to the confusing nature of the information overload at the heart of the essay.
Jörmungandr & Ouroboros
The two aforementioned principals are both exemplified in the “See also: …” cross referencing of the Jörmungandr description, which refers to “Ouroboros, Ragnarök, Tangled Hierarchy.” Ouroboros then refers back to the Jörmungandr article, create a loop between their narrative, appropriate for the subject which is cyclical subject in itself; which is why Tangled Hierarchy is also referenced, as this to reflects the looping of the various articles, and the lack of conclusion with the Glossary
Empire the Size of a Provenance
This article describe a map that engulf the subject due to its breadth of detail, which the Glossary, and the essay in general, could be observed to be doing to itself.
- Barthes, Roland. (1967) Death of the Author. Aspen. USA
- Benjamin, Walter (1936) The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. UCLA School of Theatre, Film and Television. Accessed 10.2.2014
- Welsh, Irvine (1993). Trainspotting. Secker & Warburg. Scotland.