Today we experimented with the critical practice of troping– cataloging icons and schematizing them into a coherent system. We compiled a pattern of images which speaks to a broader popular sense of the cultural “meaning” of California. Those icons took the form of specific sites (Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Hearst Castle) and objects (surf, oranges, sunshine)– symbols of California in a collective imagination. This activity is not meant to be merely descriptive but productive (a process sometimes termed semiosis or signification). For instance, our emphasis on locations associated with the production of images and information (Hollywood, Hearst Castle, Disney) establishes California as a place where signs are manufactured and disseminated. In the contemporary global cultural economy California–and, more specifically, locales such as Silicon Valley and Hollywood– function as nodes, points of production and transit in an ever-circulating, networked flow of information (visual, aural, textual). The origins of this situation– a ceaseless waterfall of bytes– lies with what Theodor Adorno called the Culture Industry.
West’s Day of the Locust performs just this kind of work. Think about the tropology of that novella, the system of images which West deploys in order to create his version of Hollywood. West’s Hollywood is a realm of ersatz, decontextualized appearances: bungalows designed as Samoan huts or Rhenish castles, people dressed as yachtsmen and Swiss mountaineers, studio lots crowded with plaster minarets and scrim ocean liners. The characters who populate this world are insincere; they are performers: Faye, Harry, even Tod. And those others, the figures West defines as the people who come to California to die, are an audience, enraged because they understand that they have been cheated. The violence they enact at the novel’s culmination represents the violence of those who have been betrayed. Indeed violence runs throughout the story, from Tod’s fantasies about Faye to the epistemological violence of a world of illusions, one which is farcical and grotesque. The subjects (the individuals) such an environment produces are ultimately monstrous, fascistic, zombiefied insofar as they cannot begin to understand the rapacious desires which drive them.
For Tuesday, read the following pdfs (3 pages total). We’ll attempt to pry apart the zombie connection and foreshadow some of the ideas we’ll be encountering shortly.