The new ekphrasis of the V-shape

“Recessions start when no one sees them coming,” was the title of a Forbes article from May 2019. Economic forecasting, its author wrote, doesn’t usually include the likelihood of a recession: “When have you seen more than a handful of economists, stock market strategists or government agencies project the economy shrinking for two quarters in a row?” Now, obviously things look quite different. Thanks to the evidence rammed into reality and “our” perception/construction of it by SARS-CoV-2, the “handful” of economists and other pundits who expect a recession have multiplied considerably, in fact they have become the large majority.

What is a recession? Definitions differ slightly from national context to national context. This is the US National Bureau of Economic Research‘s (NBER) short version: “A recession is a significant decline in economic activity spread across the economy, lasting more than a few months, normally visible in real GDP, real income, employment, industrial production, and wholesale-retail sales. A recession begins just after the economy reaches a peak of activity and ends as the economy reaches its trough. Between trough and peak, the economy is in an expansion. Expansion is the normal state of the economy; most recessions are brief and they have been rare in recent decades.” Apart from clarifying some of NBER’s and other economists’ basic assumptions about the economy (e.g. expansion being its “normal state”), the language is revealingly close to ekphrasis, it describes or rather evokes a landscape of peaks and troughs, of brevity, rarity, and temporality. The entire language of economic boom and bust, of surge and slowdown, of cycles and conjunctures, naturally relies heavily on metaphor, on slippage between word and image.

 

 

Hence the current conversation on recessions as V-shaped, U-shaped, L-shaped, W-shaped, etc. (recession shapes being helpfully summarized by Wikipedia), may also be discussed in terms of rhetoric and aesthetics. This is how classicist Froma Zeitlin introduces the subject of ekphrasis, probably most pertinently here: “Ekphrasis is a slippery topic. Although [normally understood] as a rhetorical figure (or figure of speech), its uses and functions far exceed this single classification. Whether defined as a rhetorical exercise, a literary genre (or mode), a narrative digression, a species of description, or a poetic (even metapoetic or meta-representational) technique, the properties associated with ancient ekphrasis are not in doubt. First and foremost are the qualities of enargeia (vividness), sapheneia (clarity), and phantasia (mental image), which, taken together, aim to turn listeners (or readers) into viewers and to evoke an emotional response through an appeal to the immediacy of an imagined presence. Yet, beyond this brief definition, the word ‘ekphrasis’ immediately ushers us into a whole set of questions regarding its intermedial status in a potential contest between verbal and visual representations, the uses of mimesis with regard to verisimilitude (reality–illusion; truth–fiction), and its cognitive, psychological, and mnemonic values in the cultural expectations of its era. It would not be hyperbole to suggest that no other rhetorical term has aroused such interest in recent years among classicists and non-classicists alike, involving aesthetic considerations, theories of vision, modes of viewing, mental impressions, and the complex relationships between word and image.”

It may appear somewhat far-fetched, perhaps even frivolous, to render the upcoming/ongoing recession in aesthetic terms, but there is no way one can avoid admitting the metaphorical nature of much of what is happening right now. The image of the V-shape recession, a sudden deep trough, followed by a quick surge—for a few, and particularly the Germans with their economic strength and infamous intransigence when it comes to economic solidarity (e.g. their refusal to accept “coronabonds” to help their European neighbours), this image is now ((in the wake of V-irus) coming close to being analogous to the V-ictory-sign. Thus the Kiel Institute’s most recent headline reads like premature cheers of triumph: “GERMAN ECONOMY: V(IRUS)-SHAPED RECESSION AHEAD.” TH

 

 

April 1st, 2020, 02 / Rosa Mercedes
Interface

Paul B. Preciado on Indigenous models for “stopping the world,” via Artforum: “Every culture has invented procedures for isolation, for fasting, for breaking the rhythms of eating, sexual activity, and production. Those caesuras serve as techniques for modifying subjectivity, activating a process that disrupts perception and feeling and can ultimately generate a transformation, a new way of becoming. Certain languages of Indigenous shamanism call this process ‘stopping the world.’ And that is literally what happened during the Covid-19 crisis. The capitalist mode briefly stopped. […] we could say (drawing on the Brazilian anthropologist Eduardo Viveiros de Castro’s analysis of Tupi rituals and shamanic practices) that they usually include at least three stages. In the first, the subject is confronted with their mortality; in the second, they see their position in the trophic chain and perceive the energetic connections that unite all living things; in the final stage, they radically modify their desire, which will perhaps allow them to transform, to become someone else.”

July 26th, 2020, Tom

On the occasion of the film festival “Reconstructing Realities,” the Broadway Cinematheque in Hong Kong will show the film “How to live in FRG” (1990) from Harun Farocki.
The screening will take place on Saturday, July 11, 2:30 pm (local time) at the Goethe Institut Hong Kong.
Online booklet: https://bit.ly/bcXForum50

Reconstructing Realities – A Film Programme to Celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Berlinale Forum

The screening will be followed by the talk “Harun Farocki’s Imitations of Life” with Doreen Mende, co-founder of the Harun Farocki Institut.
Time: Jul 11, 2020 04:00 pm Hong Kong SAR / 10:00 am Berlin time
Language: English

The talk will be held on Zoom, registration here: https://forms.gle/tyLfKLwBYNUutoLz6
After registration, you will receive an email with the link and the login information to join the talk.

https://www.goethe.de/ins/cn/de/sta/hon/ver.cfm?fuseaction=events.detail&event_id=21884136&

July 8th, 2020, HaFI

Avery F. Gordon, in an interview conducted by Katherine Hite and Daniela Jara in Memory Studies:  “Non-participation is one modality of what I call being in-difference. Being in-difference is a political consciousness and a sensuous knowledge, a standpoint and a mindset for living on better terms than we’re offered, for living as if you had the necessity and the freedom to do so, for living in the acknowledgement that, despite the overwhelming power of all the systems of domination which are trying to kill us, they never quite become us. They are, as Cedric J Robinson used to say, only one condition of our existence or being. Running away, living apart, squatting, communing, feral trading, bartering, self-managed currencies, human, debt, labour, knowledge strikes, boycott, divestment, non-policing, throwing your shoe at an occupying president: the ways of non-participation in the given order of things are many, varied and hard to summarize. And they are taken up for a variety of reasons, including the failure or irrelevance of states and the US–European post–World War II social movement model.”

July 7th, 2020, Tom
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