Winning and losing…what?
I’ve agreed to review this new book, Co-illusion: Dispatches from the End of Communication (MIT, 2020), for Source Magazine, a journal of contemporary photography. It’s a very short review — just 300 words — but I’m having trouble. The book describes the author’s experience of a change in the way Americans speak, write and photograph political news, that is, they way they represent and share the nation’s political life. The very dark conclusion is that we no longer have a shared political life, that words and images have become so detached from any reference, so arbitrary and malleable, that it is no longer possible to have any meaningful exchange of perspectives. “The coming campaign…” he writes in a dispatch dated three months before the US presidential election of 2016, “is not going to be about competing policy proposals and plans, but about the nature of Reality.”
The first half of the book book is in the author’s own voice — informed, articulate, observant — and ultimately frightened. The second half — after the election — is taken over by the voices from the other side, Trump himself, his staff and supporters. There is no trace of concern for the Constitution (“it’s a nice set of guidelines, but it doesn’t apply to me.”) no respect for precedent, above all no interest in words or images being fair or accurate or graceful or persuasive.
The book is clear, careful, and beautifully written — published at one of the most respected and innovative presses anywhere. It’s clear which side it’s on, and which side we readers will almost inevitably take. And it implies that we’re losing. The winners speak “the language of Twitter — based on resentment, recrimination and revenge — and the techniques of reality TV — deflection, distraction and disinformation…” I want to think there are more than two sides, that there is some way past the impasse.