grid is without memory. On the grid, there is only numerically determined
position and temporally calculated speed. Once an event is removed from
the grid, the grid's relentless structure swallows it up, leaving no hint
of its existence. On the grid, there are no monuments. Only the grid itself
is a monument to its own endless circulatory nature. When modern New-York
was planned out in the early nineteenth century, laws were enacted requiring
landowners to level hills if they were beyond a certain height. Two purposes
were thereby served: first, that no steep rise or hill should be permitted
to impede circulation; secondly, that no feature of landscape should remain
that might trigger memory. If there are no hills, there can be no places
where such-and-such occured on such-and-such- a night: no Bunker Hills,
no Montmartres. All natural referents had to be systematically removed
from the landscape. (In a similar way, various streams and even the lake
below Canal Street were eradicated).
On the grid, there is only the presentness of unending movement, the abstract
flow of goods, capital, and information. Everything is exchangeable. Nothing
can be remembered since everything can be replaced. Existence is defined
only in terms of position. If position is lost, existence vanishes. Memory
becomes information as it is pushed onto the grids of electronic and photo-chemical
recording. Here, time-past and time-future are pulverized by the esoteric
mechanisms of entertainment-culture. We gaze at a film still, made last
year, of a 1932 movie depicting a future that is already past. The young
actors are old or dead. The costumes of the future are old-fashioned.
Past and future cancel each other out in this temporal equation, leaving
only the present remaining.
Finally, death disappears. The bodies are whisked away. Definitions of
life and death become blurred. Replacement parts prolong life, while media
reproduction extends its visibility. But, simultaneously, life itself
is replaced by the demands of the grid, of speed and circulation and exchange.
This is the origin of Newman's Now. It is also the Now of Existentialism,
and of the various American experimental psychologies of the '50s and
'60s. It is the same Now of the chaotic presentness of Beat poetry and
improvisational jazz. After Newman's death, Andy Warhol commented that
Newman was the only person who went to more parties than he did. Warhol
stated that he thought that since Newman painted so few lines, he had
plenty of time to go to parties. Warhol is also trapped in presentness.
He can't remember anything, so he takes endless constant photographs.
Michel Foucault, as well, was involved in this separation from memory.
His work constituted a memoryless history, a history of only the modem
that depended in its methodology on the obscure archival recordings that
replace memory in modernity. His work made a dramatic break with any past
before the modern era. His history starts only with the Renaissance, when
recorded information began to replace memory, and excludes any study of
Eastern, tribal, or pre-modern cultures.
Only at the end did this change. Foucault rediscovered memory in his final
meditation on sexuality in ancient Greece. The tortured ecstasy of presentness
that had been dominant throughout his work is replaced by the ecstasy
of the memory of ancient times, of the procession of organic life. Did
Foucault turn away as he approached the abyss?