Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The Two Lessons (At the Moving Picture Show)

By Will Carleton, published in The Motion Picture Magazine in 1911:

Near the ne-er-lifted curtain we sat, clasping hands,
And awaited the coming of seas and of lands,
And of forests whose branches bore fruits of surprise,
Springing forth - leafy miracles - plain in our eyes;
And of cities that glistened in wealth-laden camps,
As if fifty Aladdins were there with their lamps;
And the women and children and men! who, tho small
To the objects around them were greatest of all.
There were those that came out of the mansion's rich gates,
Or that nursed in the hovels their loves and their hates;
There were sailors who courted the sea, foul or fair,
There were birdmen who swam thru the treacherous air;
There were people from all of the corners of earth,
With their comedies, tragedies, sorrows and mirth;
Tho they gave us no sound, tho they spoke not a word,
All they said that was worthy the hearing, was heard.
There was nought that seemed waiting the wizard's command,
All the world to us came, at the touch of a hand.
Still, no treasure that white-stretching canvas would win,
But could fade out as something that never had been.
So I asked, as we came from the dusk-sheltered spot,
"That was surely a picture of life, was it not?
"There is nothing that winsome or lovely may seem,
"But may fade like a vision, and die like a dream."
"Yes, 'tis life acted over," she blithesomely said,
"For it shows there is nothing on earth, that is dead;
"Nought we wish, if our efforts no energy lack,
"But howe'er it may vanish, may some time come back."

Monday, October 31, 2005


Hey Gemma, I've noticed that you've been pretty quiet on your blog of late.

Yes, I haven't even looked at it for about a month. I've been very stressed writing the introductory chapter for my thesis, and so I cut out all potential distractions.

Surely a few minutes on a blog wouldn't make much difference?

You'd be surprised. I still like reading other people's blogs, and so when I've had a spare moment that's what I've done. But I'm a slow writer and I often like writing longer posts, so I just decided not to. I think I made the right decision - I have a lot more free time again now.

How do you feel about your chapter, now that you're working on the next one?

Well, Chapter One is finished for now, but I know that I'll probably need to rewrite it at the end of the PhD - after all, it is the introductory section. I might end up entirely removing the section on film-induced tourism as postmodern practice, but at the moment I just need to bury it for a few months. I'm so happy to be working on a new chapter now... yes, so happy!

Can you briefly tell me about this chapter?

Hmmm. Well I am historicising film-induced tourism in this chapter, focussing on the post World War Two era and the birth of the leisure industry. The Mike Todd film Around the World in Eighty Days (1956) is a useful text here for the chapter's organisation, mainly because it allows me to make productive connections between modernity (the birth of tourism and cinematic technologies) and postmodernity, through its dialogue with the Jules Verne novel that was serialised in the 1870s.

That sounds really interesting!

[She reddens]. Oh, thanks! Yes, the more that I research this topic the more interested I become. But I feel this intense need to just write the thing now. I feel so incredibly behind.

You know, everybody who is writing a PhD says that.

But in my case it is true!! Really, it is! I need to use this panic to force me into swift writing now.

Why have you had so much trouble during the initial writing of your PhD?

A number of reasons, but it comes down to the fact that your self is really your worst enemy.

Should I feel offended by this?

You know what I mean. I kept feeling like I wasn't quite good enough for the project, that I wouldn't be able to do the topic justice. Everything that I wrote looked like childish scratchings on sand at the beach, and just as easy to wipe out again. To continue the metaphor, time was the encroaching and inevitable water. So I started and restarted, and felt that I would never finish. It was an awful feeling.

But a necessary feeling to experience, nonetheless?

Absolutely. A lot of people have tried to give me advice about how to handle my PhD - I've been to student-designed sessions and all - and so I've been aware of the rights and wrongs for a long while. And yet, and yet... I couldn't help but make the same mistakes I was told not to make. For me, I needed to learn by doing everything wrong first, a real trial by (mis)fire. Lacan was right when he wrote that experience is not didactic.

It all sounds very dramatic.

And yet the lack of action made it feel like the opposite of drama. But, perhaps I may have felt a need to narrativise the whole process, adding trials as a way of making the denouement all the more exciting. How very English department of me. Or perhaps I need to think this now - of cause and subsequent effect - because it becomes a way of justifying my period of relative inactivity. I need to function with the end in mind.

Speaking of endings...

Yes, I'll finish the sentence for you: speaking of endings, there must be an end.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Love Of Ruins

Earlier in the week, I was checking my email in my department's postgraduate common room when I noticed that an old built-in drawer in the room seemed slightly ajar. I opened it up further, and discovered that inside the unlocked drawer were various remains from European and Middle Eastern antiquity - tile fragments from Phrygian mosaics, Etruscan stoneware, a broken vase, the crumbled remains of a knitting nancy. All ruins, but how had I never noticed that they were here before? I was excited by what I had found, and told a senior academic in my department, who brought up the keys to the other (locked) drawers, and then discovered two more drawers of antiquities - one drawer containing beautiful Egyptian turquoise jewellery and figurines and even a carved scarab beetle. And wonderful hand-written letters written to the university from around 1913. It was amazing. They would have made a tidy sum on ebay, although my thoughts lay closer to: these items belong in a museum!

It turned out that the Classics department used to own the floor, and they had just never bothered to take away all their things when they moved out. Some other postgrads had known about the items for months and years, so it wasn't like I was the first to discover them, just the first to actually bother telling someone else about them. I think that the Classics department have taken the items back now, where no doubt they will be locked up and forgotten about in another chest of drawers!

It is fitting that I find these crumbled ruins as I continue to make ruins of my own through my writing (this article by Cornelia Vismann draws the connection between language and ruins, she writes that philology can be etymologically described as a "love of ruins"). As my thesis continues to take shape, it leaves behind even more remains that will hopefully be recycled back into the project at a later point. Here's the beginning of a chapter that no longer exists, a kind of a requiem for an introduction. It is on the discursive connection between cinema and tourism, using Benjamin writing about, well, ruins. I wrote it around a month ago:

Our taverns and our metropolitan streets, our offices and furnished rooms, our
railroad stations and our factories appeared to have us locked up hopelessly.
Then came the film and burst this prison-world asunder by the dynamite of the
tenth of a second, so that now, in the midst of its far-flung ruins and debris,
we calmly and adventurously go travelling.1

In the passage above, Benjamin’s words, from his 1936 essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” indicate the longevity of a discursive tradition in continental critical theory connecting travel with cinema. Here, Benjamin radically turns about the usual paradigm of the modern world as a milieu liberated from the temporal and spatial constraints of the ancien regime. Although the urban industrial world has been associated with imprisonment and monotony since Blake and his “satanic mills”, Benjamin also sees the urban architectural markers of the modern real world that are so often associated with speed, action and novelty – the taverns and the streets - representing stasis, quagmire, non-movement. In this imagining, even railroad travel does not take one where one would want to visit: he focusses on the station(ary) and enclosure rather than on the train itself.2 It is only cinema, a passive activity held in a darkened, enclosed interior space, that Benjamin privileges as the paradoxical apparatus enabling “adventurous” exploration, a way of escape for people from all levels of society. This phantasmagoria of the modern world may be constructed from destruction and loss, but this debris is effaced, unrecognised. In an example of the ambivalence that characterises so many of Benjamin’s thoughts about his era, the idea of travelling through “far flung ruins and debris” simultaneously evokes two images: in the first instance, with some sense of exigency, there is the image of those who unwittingly tread on what they cannot see (hence the “calmness” in the midst of this destruction); secondarily, it conjures up an almost Romantic vision of the original grand tourists in Europe who visited and traversed the crumbling buildings of the classical world for pleasure. Thus, travel and cinema are intrinsically connected: modern tourism begins with the love of ruins, and as Benjamin notes, the cinema cannot help but create new ruins of its own.3

1. Benjamin, Walter. Illuminations. Translated by Harry Zorn. London: Pimlico, 1999. p.229.
2. Given the subsequent events of World War II and the uses given to mass train transportation in Europe, these words seem tragically prescient.
3. Jacques Derrida writes on Benjamin’s ambivalence in a famous passage: “One could write, maybe with or following Benjamin, maybe against Benjamin, a short treatise on the love of ruins. What else is there to love, anyway? One cannot love a monument, a work of architecture, an institution as such except in an experience itself precarious in its fragility: it has not always been there, it will not always be there, it is finite. And for this very reason one loves it as mortal, through its birth and its death, through one’s own birth and death, through the ghost or the silhouette of its ruin, one’s own ruin—which it already is, therefore, or already prefigures. How can one love otherwise than in this finitude? Where else would the right to love, even the love of law, come from?” See Derrida, J. “Force of Law: The Mystical Foundation of Authority.” Cardozo Law Review, Deconstruction and the Possibility of Justice. 11:5-6 (1990): pp.920-1045.

I cannot really use this paragraph any more because I decided against a specific theoretical chapter on "virtual tourism," choosing instead to incorporate sections of it into other chapters on actual, film-induced tourism. So, I demolish my work in the hope that it will provide the foundations for something far stronger in the future, although my fear is that it will become part of a mound of forgotten ideas that will need to be excavated in order to be of any value for me. You should see how many copies of earlier drafts lie waiting for me on my desk.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Touring Claude Lane

Claude Lane - one of the San Francisco locations used by Hitchcock in Vertigo (courtesy of Vertigo...Then And Now). The whole film is an appropriate metaphor for the ambivalence of my study situation and life at the moment - full of enclosed and claustrophobic spaces on one hand, pushed against vertiginous heights, reeling, perhaps falling, as I try to put things into sense (or sentences). Even last night I thought the chapter I was working on seemed straightforward - only to realise this morning that I had wandered into another conceptual laneway: large sections were just alleys of words, that if salvalgable, will be demoted to footnotes...
Anyway, forgive me for not being around lately - I have been very busy!

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

On Bliss

“For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye,
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils."

In anticipation of reading Anne Friedberg's forthcoming monograph The Virtual Window: From Alberti to Microsoft, I've been considering the connections/differences between older and newer visual virtual frames (which, as I've said before, was one of the central impetuses for starting this blog in the first place, because it aids me in historicising the concept of film-induced tourism). My most recent thoughts relate the computer screen, the Picturesque and tourism into a particular line of flight. This has come about largely due to talks with friends and my new job. Lately, I've been doing some casual office work for a digital imaging company, and in-between tasks - more vacantly than pensively! - I often find myself sitting in front of my PC staring at its standard desktop wallpaper "Bliss" (for Microsoft Windows XP), which shows serene green hills, a deep blue sky and fluffy white clouds. The hill in the foreground is dappled with cloud shadow and what you can't see in the detail of the image (above) are the tiny daffodils dotted in the foreground and some distant purple mountains in the background. This type of imagery (and the colour scheming of green and blue) is very typical for Microsoft, of course, tying in with that 1990s new media aesthetic of freedom, en plein air, travel and open-mindedness - where would you like to go to today?- that Tom Frank has written so clearly about before.

With my thesis topic in mind, the other day a friend was talking to me about the tourism potential of the "Bliss" landscape - he had heard that this image was now a sought-after tourism destination. I tried to research this tip, but unfortunately I couldn't find very much information about it at all, I couldn't even establish whether the photo is real, hyper-real, or a composite of the two... The most I could find on a real-life Bliss location was Microsoft's New Zealand webpage offering their own rather cute "Kiwi-style" variants of Bliss available to download, using an image of a hill from North Otago dotted with sheep (in the winter shot, the sheep are wearing scarves).

So, no real "film tourism" link, but it's made me think about the prominence of the Picturesque in tourism more generally. Bliss is literally taken right out of Wordsworth (so the visual answer to Where would you like to go to today? is I wandered lonely as a cloud...). Wordsworth's site of inspiration was, of course, the Lake District in Northern England that remains a Pictureseque tourism destination (and a literary tourism one), photographed time and time again in very similar ways. I was delighted to find that one person on a personal homepage accompanied by numerous blissful photographs of the region even makes a reference t0 my blogsake, the Claude Glass:

"The north top is still rough and trackless but it is well worth the extra effort to visit this superb vantage point. I have accumulated a fair bit of evidence of historic access to this hill. Apparently it was one of the seven 'stations' around Derwentwater which were visited by Victorian tourists. It was the custom to turn one's back on the scene and view it through a convex mirror, a Claude Glass, to better appreciate its artistic qualities."
A thought: proto-photographic technologies such as the Claude Glass (it's also been called the Claude Lorraine Glass) created an image, but it was particularly ephemeral one - unless you decided to sit down and paint out the image in front of you, you could not take it home and look at it afterwards and fetishize it the way that you could with a photograph, it would have to remain a part of what Wordsworth calls the "inward eye." You had to be there - it was exclusive, you could not show it to distant friends. And yet the Claude Glass still shares one feature that allies it with our most recent photographic development - both the Claude Glass and the modern digital camera allow the viewer to see the final image at the place of origin..
We can at least say that Microsoft's "Bliss" continues the long tradition of the Picturesque and also a technological process that has its origins in the 18th century - it is a virtual Claude Glass too!

Friday, July 15, 2005

Very Film + Tourism

This afternoon I was fortunate enough to meet up with Chris Mayer from Australian Film Locations and speak with him about the pragmatics of scouting for film locations both within Australia and overseas. Chris started his (Sydney-based) company in the early 1990s, and has noticed a considerable expansion of the film locations industry since that time. It was fascinating to hear so much about the locations industry from a person working within it, and I learned a lot about an area that is often difficult to find any written information about.

And today I noticed another film + tourism connection (a TV one, this time). On my way to the meeting on a creepingly-slow tram from South Yarra to St Kilda, I noticed a number of large billboards promoting the Very GC tourism campaign for for the Gold Coast. Of course, this newly abbrieviated name for the Gold Coast (with its Valley Girl connotations of "very") is a rather particular reference to the popular US teen show The OC - indeed, there is no disguising the key demographic that this campaign is marketing towards. Perhaps unsurprisingly then, in the "key industries" page, we find that the "Creative Industry" is listed as one of the region's key industries. To quote from the webpage:

Australia's Gold Coast inspires creative industries.

It must be in the water.

Or the city’s sense of innovation. Or the sense of possibility, of vision and accomplishment.

Whatever the reason, Australia’s Gold Coast draws creative people – and now operates a thriving industry with film, music performance, recording and production.

Academy Award winning film professionals John Cox and Peter Frampton are based within the Gold Coast. Gold Coast City has 75% of the value of Queensland’s film and television drama production with its wide choice of locations, broadband communications, cost savings and production and post-production facilities.

Gold Coast universities and colleges foster creative talent with music, multimedia and theatrical training courses. Events also draw on creative talent with the Gold Coast Film Festival, In the Bin Short Film Festival while Gold Coast hosts the Australian international movie convention.

Real life, Very GC.

In actual fact, it is not just a tourism campaign so much as it is a lifestyle campaign - the "people" of The GC are apparently "alive", "savvy", "open" and "motivated." The web page also tells us that younger Australians migrate to the Gold Coast a lot. The cartoon illustrations (reminiscent of Tiki artist Shag)celebrate cafe culture, palm trees and the beach. Interestingly, cartoon pictures compete with real photographs for prominence on the site - maybe because photographs cannot approximate the fantasy-scape of the television-film connections that are being forged? Finally, this injunction to the reader:

Visit Australia’s Gold Coast and meet the locals. You may even become one.


Wednesday, July 13, 2005

This time it's personal...

I have little time for much blog writing at the moment, but the response on Glen's page about writing in a personal style and the business of blogging has prompted me into making a few brief comments here of my own. First of all, I was extremely surprised that Glen received attack for referring to the concept of the "personal is political" as if it was a defunct concept, no longer relevant or worthy of attention in contemporary culture or in academic writing. It is even more important precisely because this characterises a lot of what is being written in academia in the moment. This informative article by Anne Brewster in the most recent edition of Australian Humanities Review provides a sound definition for the undeniable growth of what has been named the "personal turn":
"The personal turn can be seen as part of a trajectory, from the 1980s onwards, of the humanities and social sciences's growing interest in experience and memory, especially that of minoritarian constituencies—such as working class subcultures, women, youth, and racial and ethnic minorities. During the 1980s and 1990s there was also an expansion of writing investigating renovated ethnographical methodologies, which sought to develop new ethical practices of embodied knowledge production. Some of the work in this broad field drew on personal narratives in an effort to deconstruct the binaries between public and private memory, between 'objective' and subjective modes of discourse and between specialized knowledges and everyday life."
It's a trajectory that comes straight from post-structuralism, and perhaps especially (at least, with regard to Australian feminist fictocritical experiments) from the psych et po movement in Paris in the 1970s, writers such as Cixous, Irigaray and Kristeva. A lot of what I'm reading for my thesis at the moment fits into this "personal turn" Brewster specifies, and at the moment this means the interdisciplinary work that has been published on travel and cinema taken from such fields as feminism psychoanalysis cinema geography architecture tourism history anthropology, books that include Giuliana Bruno's wonderfully-written Atlas of Emotion and Sam Rohdie's work on geography, modernism and cinema, Promised Lands, that I have blogged about before. Such works are quick to establish connections between the tour and the personal - in both texts mentioned, the "tour" becomes the central organising structure. Perhaps the popularity of the personal in these texts is partly because form and content align and so it is a narratological strategy that allows an alternative, non-linear "tour" against the usual paradigms of cinema studies and tourism studies that are most often inappropriate on their own for thinking through and developing any new, rupturing concepts.
For me, one of the most interesting aspects about the rise of blog culture is that it fits neatly into this trajectory of the personal turn in academic writing. If academic blogs start to become more and more common as they certainly seem to be becoming so, and if they continue to inspire more "personal" (I keep wanting to use quotation marks here) styles of writing, then of course this prevalence in turn will begin to raise a whole new set of questions about the political or ethical value of utilising and sustaining such personal discourses. If one can currently posit that the personal voice in intellectual writing still provokes speculation upon the current epistemological practices of culture and society because of its ability to textually defamiliarise (a concept that Brewster touches upon and one that remains a concept of eternal return for almost all of my thoughts on politics and writing), what happens when the shock of this style wears off? If the personal voice is thoroughly absorbed or integrated into academic writing, will the personal simply become part of the latest form of self-promotion? Then again, whatever meaning is currently attached to this idea of the "personal" is unstable and is likely to reformulate, and so there is a further question that needs to be asked: if blog writing and the personal voice become commonplace, what indeed will the personal become?
Anyway, enough unanswerable questions for now - I meant it about not having much time to write at the moment! But to finish, anyone who hasn't read it already should read this article by Ian Cook that I'm very grateful to my lovely housemate for discovering and passing on to me on the weekend. Cook began to write his doctorate in Geography at Bristol University that was "supposed to trace connections between the retailing of one kind of fresh tropical fruit which was being sold by the major British supermarket chains in the early 1990s," which ended up turning into an autobiographical account of the process of writing his dissertation and the pitfalls of the British academic establishment. This article (the director's cut!) shows us how very brave and political the process of combining the personal with academic writing can still be.