Benedict Seymour on Wed, 13 Feb 2002 22:09:34 +0100 (CET)

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Re: <nettime> Memo Mori


Your piece reminded me of another writer's comments on the interoffice
memo. Adorno in his memento mori for the subject, Minima Moralia: 'that,
instead of letters, they send each other inter-office communications
without address or signature, are random symptoms of a sickness of

The real poignancy of the WTC (ie the one going on before its destruction
made it a news item) lies not in the fragile scraps of paper and their
evidence of obliterated lives but rather in the papers' bald testimony to
lives already not lived. Confetti for the 'decay of experience'.

I enjoyed your piece and the apposite connections it made but I have to
say I always thought the plastic bag scene in American Beauty is the
film's nadir, its symptomatically failed attempt at a utopian image. This
failure is perhaps linked to the slightly false note that 9-11 elegies in
general seem to strike, honouring the dead but failing to denounce the
living death and its structural exploitation. The image of the empty bag
is intended by the writer to stand in opposition to the 'official' beauty
of American consumer capitalism, a poor thing filled with transient life,
worthless yet more valuable than official, objectified beauty. However,
its just as good an image for the mad dance of capital as it is for what
escapes it, yet another animated thing in a society reduced to objects. In
this respect the aura of the antic bag is merely a continuation of the
object-worship the film addresses, a sidechapel. The bag epiphany is bogus
because the bag's emptiness ends up as affirmative as the destruction of
the WTC, another, if convoluted, proof of the ultimate rightness and
superiority of the American way of life. The plastic bag may suggest the
horror vacui of consumerism but it also consoles with a spectral presence,
its beauty becomes an elite commodity (art) of value to the discerning,
stylishly alienated consumer who yearns for spirituality in a world of
things. As the image of a consoling 'magic-in the-ordinary', a numinous
intervention untrammelled by a sense of the ordinary's mystified horrors,
it's really just a gentrified piece of new age kitsch, albeit an arte
povera one.

In this image the strategies of evanescence and ephemerality earlier
pursued by Duchamp and Warhol, not to mention their conceptualist progeny,
are finally reified, subsumed under Hollywood's relentless drive to create
affirmative representations of consumer society. The fleeting beauty of
the bag indicates that this margin of freedom is now also property, just
like other forms of intangible creativity colonised in the last decade.
Jameson says somewhere that 'in postmodernism all beauty is meretricious'
and AB's plastic bag seems to be the very epitome of this
sublimity-gone-twee. Nothing is now really something; too too solid, like
a museum of WTC relics (as you imply, only in the minds eye or in the
actual encounter can the fragments have their pathos and keep their

Yours with (email) address and the closest I can get to a signature, Ben

----- Original Message -----
From: Mark Dery <>
To: <>
Sent: Thursday, February 07, 2002 8:26 PM
Subject: <nettime> Memo Mori

> A belated Elegy in a Corporate Graveyard, along with some musings on
> invisible literature...
>  Memo Mori


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