Lost in the Theatre of Data, Dada, and Emotional Manipulation

It is not only information that they need – in this Age of Fact, information often dominates their attention and overwhelms their capacities to assimilate it…What they need, and what they feel they need, is a quality of mind that will help them to use information and to develop reason in order to achieve lucid summations of what is going on in the world and of what may be happening within themselves…what may be called the sociological imagination.

— C. Wright Mills, The Sociological Imagination, 1959

‘Our own death is indeed, unimaginable,’ Freud said in 1915, ‘and whenever we make the attempt to imagine it we can perceive that we really survive as spectators.’  It is thus the very habit of military situations that turn them theatrical.  And it is their utter unthinkableness: it is impossible for a participant to believe that he is taking part in such murderous proceedings in his own character.  The whole thing is too grossly farcical, perverse, cruel, and absurd to be credited as a form of ‘real life.’  Seeing warfare as theatre provides a psychic escape for the participant: with a sufficient sense of theatre, he can perform his duties without implicating his ‘real’ self and without impairing his innermost conviction that the world is still a rational place.  Just before the attack on Loos, Major Pilditch testifies to ‘a queer new feeling these last few days, intensified last night.  A sort of feeling of unreality as if I were…

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