Theory of Melancholic Rhetoric is a critical reflection on the memory fragments that linger in publicly constructed consciousness as residue from post-9/11 mass media coverage. The mental image of a giant dust plume enveloping downtown Manhattan with its fine particles is permanently scorched into an internationally shared visual memory. Cultural theorists have advanced a theory of “melancholic rhetoric”, referring to the repeated depiction of melancholy citizens during the war on terror which has become common place and framed as a “common sense” cultural narrative. There is a false analogy in associating melancholy with mourning, where the loss of lives from over 100 countries on 9/11/2001 (true mourning) is conflated with a fictitious and imaginary loss of democratic freedom (melancholy, false “loss”). Philosophers argue that “melancholic rhetoric” promotes a political will and ideological grounding within mainstream American culture that is oriented toward bearing preemptive arms and fighting an ongoing, never ending war to maintain neoliberal consumer capitalism.
What other memory fragments might we hold in the private spaces of our minds that we unwittingly share across a global consciousness? These images, constructed by mass media, hold layers of meanings that set discourse agendas and mask ideologies. It is an error to assume that the images and thoughts existing within the internal landscape of the mind belong to us as original thoughts. Many of our fragmented mental images, fantasmagoria, and traces can be revealed as something manufactured by hegemonic discourse, including verbal and visual rhetoric. There is no original.
The addition of text subverts/connotes the images of “melancholic rhetoric”, calling attention to the complex relationship between mass media, image rhetoric, the architecture of thought/ideology (public consciousness), and cultural politics. The audio track is abstracted from the most recent “Royal” wedding, including the uncritical and banal voiceover of fashion reporters who glorify and glamorize the privileged status of the monarchy. Layering elements of the “Royal” wedding onto the reenacted 9/11 footage further complicates the issue. The 9/11 attacks served as a symbolic, trans-political challenge to the global political/economic order and the destruction of the twin towers functioned as the paradigmatic image event (spectacle). The audio and video combination references pop cultural celebration and metanarratives of historically reproduced systems that maintain social and economic disparities on a global scale. How many more “Royal” weddings do we have to witness as non-events on the world’s stage while ordinary lives continue to be sacrificed?
I view my work as an engaged form of scholarship. I seek to open up new spaces for critique within the “null” curriculum that silences and disempowers. Through a connective and dialogical aesthetics, and the pedagogical potential of contemporary art, I believe we can attempt to locate the grounds for basic moral and ethical human treatment across difference. Through relationships and critique, we can develop conscious understandings of our subjectivities within the space of social reconstruction, wherein art becomes a curriculum of what is possible and has yet to be.
Making it: Now.
University of Louisville, Hite Art Institute
III Moscow International Biennial for Young Art.
Moscow Museum of Modern Art
National Centre for Contemporary Art
In the Course of Human Events.
Louisville Visual Art Association Watertower Gallery
Scholarly Publications as Author
Jones, H. (2014). Theory of Melancholic Rhetoric. Visual Arts Research, 40(1), 82-84. University of Illinois Press.
Download as PDF | Jones.2014.Theory-of-Melancholic-Rhetoric
August 31, 2012
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Louisville Courier Journal
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The Moscow News
September 7, 2011
Artwork interprets tragedy of Sept. 11
September 7, 2011
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The Louisville Eccentric Observer
September 3, 2011
Visual Art Review: “In the Course of Human Events 9/11 – 2011”