Friday, 5 September 2014

What's good about popular culture and flea markets

The pleasure I get when watching a science fiction anime is similar to that of visiting a flea market. Like a flea market, the anime brings me the debris of history. Here and there I experience moments of recognition. Some spaceships look like aircraft carriers, soldiers wear WWI German uniforms and Char Aznable wears a samurai kabuto. Yet the scattered remains come in no apparent order and do not seem to form a message. Recycled in popular culture, they become images lacking connection to whatever they once may have signified.

At the same time the opposite process also occurs. As I sift through this refuse the images turn into symbols. This process is at work in dreams as well. In dreams, images are torn from their familiar context and lose the meaning they had in daily life, but at the same time they acquire new ones that are yet to be deciphered but nevertheless, so to speak, radiate from behind their back, like a halo or the rays of an eclipsed sun. The surrealist poet André Breton loved flea markets and travelled to them in search of such meaning, which he hoped would break forth, like a flash, when things were juxtaposed in a shocklike montage. Inspired by the surrealists, Walter Benjamin claimed that every piece of rags or refuse was a potential “dialectical image” which might trigger the sudden flash of recognition, the involuntary memory, which would help dispel the dreamworld of capitalism. 

If this is true, then popular culture is not just a depository of meaningless historical refuse, but also a place where this very debris might turn into an explosive language, capable of awakening and at least rudimentarily articulating a longing for that better future or Utopia, illuminated by which this present can be turned into an object to criticize.

But enough for today! With these words, let me signal my intention to discuss, if I have the time, some works of popular culture – beginning, perhaps, with Gundam or Godzilla – in future posts.

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