Thursday, October 9, 2008

ARTICLE: Rudolf Arnheim: In Praise of Blindness

"The wireless artist must develop a mastery of the limitations of the aural. The test of his talent is whether he can produce a perfect effect with aural things, not whether his broadcast is capable of inspiring his listeners to supplement the missing visual image as realistically and vividly as he can."
                                                                      —Rudolf Arnheim, "In Praise of Blindness," 1936

Arnheim discusses the use of the radio as a means of transmitting art. He describes the radio (or “wireless” in his dated parlance) as something incomplete in real experience but not lacking, if successful, because it creates a whole experience for the listener.

In order to succeed in this form the broadcaster must “develop a mastery of the limitations of the aural”. Arnheim is of the opinion that aural performances that inspire the listener to imagine the work visually have failed to provide the necessary components of experience to the audience.

Arnheim makes the distinction between two types of broadcast: the radio play and the relay. A radio play (take for example Radio Tales of the Strange and Fantastic) “is self-sufficient, completes itself in the aural” whereas a relay simply rips the audio wholesale from an event very much rooted in the real world and reliant on other sense (a live theatrical production or a sporting event, for example).

Arnheim describes silence, what he calls “the acoustic void”, as having a necessary and complementary role in the radio play, much like an empty stage. For the relay, however, silence suggests to the listener that there is much that they are missing and destroys any illusion of unity in the work."


Arnheim, Rudolf. 1936. “In Praise of Blindness; Emancipation from the Body,”
               in Radio (trans. Margaret Ludwig). London: Faber and Faber, pp. 133-

"In Praise of Blindness" and many other readings can be found in the excellent Radio Text PDF from Self Learn Los Angeles [PDF LINK DEAD]

ARTICLE: Errol Morris: Which Came First, the Chicken or the Egg?

An entry from Errol Morris' blog for The New York Times.
Which Came First, the Chicken or the Egg?

Errol Morris presents us with a discussion of the way in which a meeting between academia and photography has captured an obscure moment from the Crimean war and in doing so preserved (or created) the extra-photographic narrative of Roger Fenton and his assistant: daring wartime photographers or cowards; master craftsmen or disingenuous cheats.

This piece not only demonstrates Mr. Morris' abilities as a documentary researcher but it also goes beyond the extant work on the topic; extending this discourse with the article. His researcher's journey is prompted by only two sentences from Sontag's On Photography. Through his attention to these sentences Morris uncovers a controversy in academia and extends the debate regarding the propriety of Fenton's photographs of “The Valley of the Shadow of Death”. By proposing a contest to the readers of the New York Times, Morris further extends the discourse initially represented by a mere two sentences and a few footnotes. This discussion raises important questions regarding authorial intentionality and critical interpretation.

Morris' focused inquiry reveals a criticism of Sontag's assumed authority within On Photography that is made clear by Morris' careful wording and footnoted critique of Sontag's unwillingness to include the photographs in her work. His blog assumes the voice of a video documentary complete with transcriptions of interviews and sometimes abrupt transitions suggestive of film editing techniques. Within this form is encoded Morris' critique of Sontag's authorial voice and polarization of an unclear discussion regarding not only the circumstances of two dated wartime photographs but also of a very dead man's bravery and character. Morris likens the cultural function of photographs to Ruskin's pathetic fallacy, a comparison that I agree with as both are results of technology's influence on 19th century thought.