Thesis: the idea of the copy is a form of nostalgia, based on anterior notion of original/copy, a structuralist move.
Antithesis: we are afloat in a sea of signs indistinguishable from the point of view of originary vs. derivative status.
Synthesis: art is the ground, theory the pattern.
Copy: Theories of "the copy" fail because they do not account for the relative position of their own articulation in the shifting spheres of discourse/power. As part of this opacity they project, they fail to acknowledge something as basic as the determinative force of their own syntax. The consequence is a series of indefensible if fashionable conclusions proferred in the heady atmosphere of ungrounded abstraction. Copy = structuralism, and structuralism was born under the sign of the bankruptcy of the European Enlightenment's drive to totalize sweet reason.
Replicate: A biological model predates a mechanical. Turning to biology is turning back. But since we can't get back to the beginning of things no matter how much we would like to establish some base line of certainty, we are pitifully left with tracing any "laws" we can discern in the unfolding of things as arbitrarily cross-cut by the snapshot of inquisition. I use this term because it implies extracting supernatural information under duress, a close description of the so called scientific method. Hence, Darwin. Our best models are nothing but witch doctors dressed up in drab Victorian waistcoats. Freud. Nietzsche. The Neogrammarians. Linneaus. They were all obsessed with tree images, branches and roots, what you might call the family connection, even as the European and North American family was falling to pieces. Thus with the gradual disappearance of the authorizations of controlled lines of descent (the divine right of kings, the revolting fraud of the aristocracy), another ruler had to be smuggled in, this one to be passed off as powerless and immanent. God is no longer up there on a throne but in the appropriately invisible warp and woof of society (cheap fraud of liberal democracy). Copies are no longer struck; things just replicate themselves.
Representation: In the last decade of the twentieth century, representation continues to perplex thinkers. Now a major theme, it has stalled in its self-examining phase. Problematic since its invention and especially since its elevation in quattrocento Italian practice, representation surged onto the popular scene as that scene was being created in the 1830s and after with the invention of stone lithography and photography, both of which revolutionized the commodification oflikenesses. The naive notion of culture as an imperfect reflection of the real was displaced by the equally misguided idea of the real presumably projecting its own reflection (cheap fraud of technology).
Technology: The most obvious point but one which must continually be repeated is that it's not the machines but their social dimension. Under this is included how they interact with one another, the impacts of such processes on human beings, especially on redefining "human being" to "human becoming." The content will have been a summary statement at the end of the chain of stages which technology mediates throughout. With a photographic negative (misnomer: the negative should be the positive, since it is the matrix), a series is generated made up not of copies of something either lurking out there in hypothetical reality or within the photographer's mind(analogue of the misnamed "latent image" in exposed but undeveloped photographic emulsion); the series merely comprises cross-readable duplicates all with identical reality claims, be they strong or weak.
Duplicate: The analogy here has been with us for centuries: numbers. They exist in a timeless realm of human abstraction, a desperate and brilliant ploy for eternal life made by the dying animal. The binarism of splitting underlies duplication, carrying forth structuralism's agenda of paralyzing the senseless flow of things but at a different, much more fundamental pitch. The distance from copy to duplicate is one traveled in reverse, down the pyramid of specialization to the desert floor.
Photocopy: Nothing more than the photograph on paper and not always only on that. With chronologically advancing technology, our link with the machine weakens, then vanishes altogether. Like computer graphics far removed from machine language, the photocopy opens up realms of information transfer the power of which cannot be measured. First, it must be understood that image includes text and refers to a binary process of duplication rather than an object. Then attention is refocused on how an image is generated, since its social value has been evacuated. These empty"objects" are haunted by copy ghosts, purveyors of our Zeitgeist. A dematerialization has occurred, breaking us away from the body of sickness and death. The distance from those images secreted by machines of representation to the raw photocopy image is a measure of electronic duration, whose extremes collapse the human scale into itself.
Simulacrum: Careful to maintain the gnostic split, a simulacrum copies the copy as metacopy. Robbed of the ability to explain, to jam things into the hierarchies by means of which we stop the world, we are finally forced to sit back to witness the passage of these disembodied bodies before us. The classifying mind rests from its centuries-long labor. Defeated. History has vanished into the present perfect tense, now blurring previously maintained borders. A swirling cloud of dust and fire surrounds us. Out of it there emerges art.
GLOSSOLALIA 5: Copyright © 1996 J. Lehmus. All individual works Copyright © 1996 by their respective authors. All further rights to works belong to the authors and revert to the authors on publication. Illustration by J. Lehmus
Illustration by J. Lehmus