The Power of Image Transmission

Ohio is the Real World.

I didn’t realize, you see, that all along I’d been living in a simulacrum, in the world of imperfect forms. But now it’s clear.

All my life I’ve seen images of autumn, of winter, and none of them had
anything to do with the world I saw around me. Gold leaves, red,
orange–in California these were alien. Leaves turned brown and fell
off, usually in the same night. In Washington, well, pine trees don’t
change color. And snow? I’ve always lived too close to the ocean to
expect it, except in my childhood in Seattle, and even then, a white
Christmas was something to hope for with tremulous glee, not an
irritant which inevitably leads to frozen cars and salted roads. We even spray snow on our trees, on our windows, truck it in from the mountains just to have it on our lawn for an hour.

All those images? Come from East Coast America, from New England, and
from the Midwest. (Ultimately, they probably came from England, but now
they belong to America’s apple core, this peeled and seeded center.)


This place matches the brochure.

Acorns on the ground, woodsmoke in the
air, red leaves blazing, the sounds of logs being chopped to kindling
in the distance, pumpkins and apples piled up like offerings to some
color-obsessed god. Schoolbuses and damp grey mornings when the gold of
the trees against the sky is almost blinding. Nights so cold the
windows fog. Fires in brick fireplaces, cider and wine. It’s like a
movie–because this is what the movies took their cue from. It’s like
walking into a Currier & Ives lithograph, with slightly–though
only slightly, as there are in fact two lovely chestnuts next
door–fewer horses. And that sense of
unreality-in-reality-in-unreality, that sense of walking in a
recording, is eerie, and beautiful, and terrible. Is this more real
because I have seen it reproduced in every conceivable medium until I
cannot think of autumn without picturing the kind of midwestern fall
that until this very year I had never seen with my own eyes? Or is it
less, because it is so slavish to its copies? Or still again more
because it is the source of those copies? Round and round go the
horses, and the brass ring whisks by like a spinning, golden star.

And what do I do by blogging about it with, putting text up on a couple of
hundred screens around the world, choosing an icon (such sacred words
we choose! Icon, Avatar…), an image of myself which is not myself,
and then a mood icon, still more images which are not myself but which
are understood to represent some quintesstential “me,” though I am
neither blonde, nor a teenager, nor possessed of kung-fu. A goddess’s name in the URL, and not my own. Words on a
screen with a layout that is comprised of still more images, none of
which even attempt to depict me even as accurately as a photograph, (and the photographic icons are somehow less evocative because they are accurate, accurate but empty) but
which are intended to do so, like a red leaf meaning cold, and clouds,
and Halloween candy. Do I contribute to the Myth of Midwestern Reality?
Or do I remove it even further into the realm of images?

Visions, visions, everywhere, nor any one to touch.

Do I taste this mushroom soup, do I smell this woodsmoke, or do I taste and smell film, audio, recorded soup, recorded woodsmoke?

It’s an eerie feeling to know you’ve been living out on the
reality-frontier, consuming like pumpkin pie the images of another
world. The transmission of these images is so pervasive–Christmas =
snow, Halloween = pumpkins and colored leaves and mist–and powerful, and we are so stubborn in their retention, clutching our bottles of spray-on snow,
that it is easy to become disappointed in a non-standard climate, in
the rhythms of an unrecorded cosmography. After all, it isn’t real if
it isn’t recorded, if it isn’t filmed, photographed, blogged. And if it
isn’t real, you can’t really be living in it. You’re just waiting in
line at the entrance to the Real World, to Ohio–because it’s a lie
that all the images are made in California. That’s where the factory
is. But the raw material, that comes from this place, these leaves,
these acorns, these markets and horses and dogs and hens and impossibly
bright squash, piled up so high it’s almost impossible to believe that
they won’t fall, too, one of these days.

***

We drove 22 miles into the country around Farmington
There were meadows and apple orchards.  White fences trailed through the
rolling fields.  Soon the sign started appearing.  THE MOST
PHOTOGRAPHED BARN IN AMERICA
We counted five signs before we reached the site…

“No one sees the barn,” he said finally.

A long silence followed.

“Once you’ve seen the signs about the barn, it becomes impossible to see
the barn.”

He fell silent once more.  People with cameras left the elevated site,
replaced by others.

“We’re not here to capture an image, we’re here to maintain
one. Every photograph reinforces the aura.  Can you feel it, Jack? An
accumulation of nameless energies.”




There was an extended silence.  The man in the booth sold postcards and
slides.




“Being here is a kind of spiritual surrender.  We see only what the
others see.  The thousands who were here in the past, those who will come
in the future.  We’ve agreed to be part of a collective perception. 
It literally colors our vision.  A religious experience in a way, like all
tourism.”




Another silence ensued.




“They are taking pictures of taking pictures,” he said.

–Don DeLillo, White Noise

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