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Now (Exclamation Point) Visual Culture

Nick Mirzoeff’s choice to add the declarative, the imperative, the ambiguous shift-1 keystroke that turns the pinky on its side and flips the bird on the number pad (frankly a radical move in the usual topography of typing) requires a pause for consideration. Perhaps the uncertain terms of this punctuated provocation are metonyms for the larger ambiguity present in the “epistemological anarchy” (WJT Mitchell) that is Visual Culture/Studies. Mirzoeff’s ! is thus rightly undisciplined.

The slammer remains decolonized, so let’s keep that “Now” likewise unbordered and, more importantly, out of time. So plead University of Rochester PhD student Abby Glogower, a student of histories whose subjects pre-date the Now in both the temporal and the imaginary. Where, she asked, is the place for the scholar of the past in a field that addresses and theorizes the nowness of the present. Whereas the present matters, Abby raised the important issue of making room for scholarship that challenges the foreclosure of history’s old hats.

In any case, history is itself a theory. When Hamlet said to Horatio, “There are more things in Heaven and earth than are dreamed of in your philosophy,” he demanded a critique of the universalizing theory (history) that stabilizes and confines things. We ought to look at the past as the Ding-an-Sich that continues to jug out mysterious use values and potentialities. In the Visual Studies PhD program at UC Santa Cruz where I am a student, my cohort’s interests range from the pre-Hispanic Maya to the political activism of net artists. Regardless of time, we are all “media archaeologists” (Giuliana Bruno), charged with surfacing the silent philosophies of the things we encounter. This is a field that is atemporal, ahistorical, anarchic, and can (and ought to) time-travel in order to rewrite our pasts in light of today.

I ask that our past-minded enthusiasts turn the slammer into an imperative. Do not coo to the rocks of the Inka: Demand that they speak and world this world, break it from these histories that already keep breaking the promise of the centered and predictable, progressive and logical. Mine the museum for the pasts that revision our Now (Exclamation Point!).

Sara Blaylock, PhD student in Visual Studies, University of California Santa Cruz


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