Woody Internship at the Getty: Week 2

Sorry this post is a little late! It’s been a crazy week, and because I work sometimes on the weekends there never seems to be a clear “end of the week” when I can write each post. Anyways, week two consisted of more shadowing, plus some more independent activity.

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Against the Sun: Introduction to a Critique of Perceptual Experience (part 2)

(read part 1 here)
In 1936, Walter Benjamin addressed exactly this when he put forth the thesis that “the mode of human sense perception changes with humanity’s entire mode of existence” — that “the manner in which human sense perception is organized, the medium in which it is accomplished, is determined not only by nature but by historical circumstances as well” (222). Benjamin’s historical circumstances were those of the early Third Reich, in which millions of Germans mobilized willingly under the banner of fascism in hyper-aestheticized mass gatherings the likes of which the world had never seen before. The problem was this: how could it be that such vast swaths of people could see the world so differently, so horrifically differently, as to march to total war for the express goals of racial purity, uber-nationalism, and the extermination of the Jew? It could not be for difference in abstract ideology; words alone, without plausibility in lived experience, do not drive humanity to genocidal slaughter — no, it had to be a whole set of material processes at work which “lead to a processing of data in the Fascist sense” (218). Ideologiekritik was not equipped to answer this question.

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Against the Sun: Introduction to a Critique of Perceptual Experience (part 1)

When faced with the extreme heterogeneity of our visual experience in the world, we are challenged to create a comprehensible unity from disparate parts. Too often we think of seeing as a voluntary activity of illumination — the way by which we smoothly add to our vast catalogue of things-in-the-world. We forget the tremendous violence of sight. The plasma-ordnance of the Sun lets loose its light barrage non-stop, now burning in its four billionth year of (blind r)age. And we do not even have the satisfaction of positing a reasonable orderliness to this onslaught, as Plato did in his parable of the cave. Our Sun is neither emissary from Reason nor conduit to an understanding of Eternal Forms. Our great benefactor in the heavens rather operates according to the impersonal whims of nuclear fusion forestalling inevitable gravitational collapse. It laughs at our attempts to replicate its natural machinery in our power plants, not for our current failures to do so but at the inevitability of our success. There is a reason we tell children not to look at the sun.

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