2011-09-01

On rivalry and retribution (lecture)

rIsabelle Loring Wallace
VCC Lectures
Lecture: October 3rd, 2011, 5:00 PM
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ON RIVALRY AND RETRIBUTION: SACRIFICE AND RITUAL IN THE ART OF PAUL PFEIFFER

Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Morning after the Deluge, Fragment of a Crucifixion: if Paul Pfeiffer’s titles are any indication, his is an art deeply engaged with Judeo-Christian narratives. But to what end, these thematics and the analogies they engender? Indeed, what do game shows and athletes have to with crucifixions and apocalypses? And what might it mean to align contemporary culture with these biblical narratives and themes?

Drawing on the work of literary critic RenĂ© Girard, this paper considers the work of Paul Pfeiffer with an eye to these questions, arguing that Pfeiffer establishes compelling parallels between various biblical narratives and aspects of contemporary-culture as defined (and dominated) by technology’s omniscient and all-seeing eyes. Fleshing out the comparison Pfeiffer seems to make between the vengeful eye of an all-seeing, Old Testament God and our own culture’s relentless surveillance by mass and new media, I suggest that Pfeiffer also aligns various biblical sacrifices – namely, the Old Testament sacrifice of the word by flood, and subsequently, in the New Testament, the sacrifice of Jesus by God – with the contemporary sacrifice of the world (or more accurately, reality) by new technologies that have radically restructured our relation to both time and space. Arguing that Pfeiffer thus sets the stage for a new interpretation of new media, I suggest that he treats new media as an enactment of dynamics at the very heart of the Judeo- Christian tradition, perhaps for the purpose of decatheting the primal trauma described therein.


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