Chapter 3 - The news

Chapter III


At the beginning of the previous chapter we asked: “In the form of what type of images are events delivered to our homes?” And we gave the ambiguous answer: “In the form of phantoms”; in this way we pointed out that they are not presented either as themselves or as mere images of the events, but as a tertium.

Is this really so strange, however? Is it not even an utterly everyday affair, to which we only attribute a strange appearance by way of a strange expression? And is this true of any kind of information?

What does this mean?

Let us assume that our coal bin is empty. We are informed of this fact. What information do we receive here? What is “delivered to our home”? The object itself? The empty coal bin?

Or an image of the coal bin that is empty?

Neither the one nor the other, since what we receive is an “object” sui generis, a tertium, which in a particular way is found outside of this alternative, that is, the fact that the coal bin is empty; therefore, a fact. That this fact is not identical with the empty coal bin itself is an obvious phenomenological assertion: the fact itself is not empty; but it is equally obvious that the fact, which is transmitted to us by the report that the coal bin is empty, is not exhausted in the being-image.

Thus, what the news brings us is neither the thing nor its image. Would it not be natural to assume that broadcasts are simply news, due to this structural similarity?

In order to address this question we have to indulge in a digression, that is, we must first investigate the nature of the news in general. This digression is all the more urgent insofar as our arguments up to this point have made it apparent that, in an unjustifiably exclusive way, we have been arguing for the privileges of immediacy.

Section 17

The pragmatic theory of judgment: the informed person is free, since something that is absent is made available to him; he is not free, because instead of the thing he only receives its predicate.

What, then, is news? What is its function?

In making something which is absent known to the person being informed; and this in such a way that the latter, the receiver, knows about what is absent only indirectly, without any personal experience of it, on the basis of a delegated perception. The appearance of the term, “absent”, assures us that we have not abandoned the domain of our inquiry, which certainly involves the problem of the ambiguity of presence and absence. The definition of news demands a more profound explanation.

To speak means: to speak of what is absent: it means: to present something which is not present to someone who is not present.

This relation between presence and absence even applies to the most direct form of speaking, the imperative, since it invites the receiver, that is, the absent one, to listen attentively and participate and therefore he is invited to presence. But while the imperative is directed at the recipient from absence, the information transmitted to the latter is meant to evoke from him that which is ordered. In fact, there is no form of speech that would be anything but senseless noise, if it were not to concern what is absent; nothing that takes place behind the backs of the thing or “person” involved, the “third party”, fundamentally absent; nothing that has any other intention than to make the absent present. Naturally, this relation with the absent has inherited the language of the act of indicating: dico—δεκνμι, for he who indicates refers, fundamentally, to the present only because that which is absent (absent from the vision or the attention of he to whom the indication is directed) and solely with the purpose of bringing to the latter the presence of the object and to provide him with the possibility of directly experiencing or effectively grasping the object.

This possibility does not appear to be allowed to the receiver: he is neither brought closer by way of the news to the object, nor is the latter brought closer to him. Or is it?

It is, since also by way of the news something is made present. Certainly not the object itself, but rather some property of the object; something about the object; a new object, a very special one, which is called a factum, and not by chance, because it has been manufactured from the old object. But the new object is “special” because, unlike the first object, it is fundamentally mobile and transmissible. Despite this difference, however, he who receives the new object, the factum, that is, the receiver, also has the old one; or more precisely: by way of the new he has something of the old. And much more:

The news that transmits the factum prepares the receiver to behave as if the object were present, to include it in his calculations and his practical decisions. The basis of existence of the news consists in giving the receiver the possibility of guiding his decisions in accordance with it.

Viewed pragmatically, the news really makes the object “present” in him and therefore makes him “present” in the object. The receiver is up-to-date on the object. And this word “on” is not merely a caprice of language; it rather points to a “being above something”, the ability to have disposal of something, which the receiver now has over the object and over the situation that has been changed by this power. At the root of the report: “The coal bin is empty”, I am prepared to order more coal. In other words: if the receiver, instead of the absent object itself, only receives something “from it”, only something separate, what is received is not a defective substitute, but precisely what “is separated” from the object; this moment of the object, that really or allegedly interests the receiver and towards which he really has reasons to devote his attention; to which he must accommodate himself.1 Thus, what is important to him is expressed, elaborated and prepared for him in the news; and he is notified in this prepared situation. In the language of logic, what serves as a suitable expression on innumerable occasions for this surprising capacity, but which so seldom surprises the one who “is separated”, this prepared person, is called the predicate. The predicate is therefore a commodity manufactured for the receiver. Given that the news delivers this manufactured commodity, this “fact” separated from the original object, it presupposes a partition; the action of this partition is called judgment.2 For this reason, the news can be separated into two parts: S [subject] and p [predicate]. Instead of the single object “coal bin”, the receiver experiences the factum of two parts: “The coal bin is empty.” However, the news is not divided into two because it is a judgment, but because the judgment has two parts because it is news.

In other words: the predicate, which is usually only addressed in formal logic, has a much more general interest. As we have suggested by emphasizing the “on”, it indicates freedom (of choice): someone who, due to the predicate he has received, has disposal over something that is absent, can incorporate it into his calculations and accommodate himself to it, he has extended his horizon of presence and power, he has become independent of the contingency of his being located in a certain place, he is both here and there. Someone who, by way of the news, receives the relevant (that which “is separated”) as something separated, isolated, prepared and predicated, as a manufactured commodity of the λέγείν, without having to be overwhelmed by the weight of the irrelevant, which is born by all objects of perception, is disencumbered and liberated from his own labor.

On the other hand, however—and only this second perspective is decisive for us—the news also represents a privation of freedom. And, surprisingly, for the same reason that it is an apparatus of freedom; once again, because it does not offer the absent itself, but something “about what is absent”, something “referring to what is absent”. But now this fact acquires a different emphasis. Now we emphasize: the news offers only one part of the absent object; exclusively that part because of which judgment is called judgment; only what is prepared, the “predicate”. The news places nothing else at the disposal of the receiver; that is, even before the latter can form a judgment, it orients him towards a choice, it determines a limine with respect to this choice, it prepares it. For the person who listens to the news, the predicate does not disappear in the subject; instead the subject is lost in the part, in the predicate. All news, as part of what is delivered, is therefore already a prejudice, which can be true, but also false; every predicate is already a prejudice; and by means of all contents of the news, the receiver is spared the object itself, since it remains in the shadows behind the predicate, which the only thing that is actually delivered. The receiver is transformed into a dependant, because he is constrained to a particular perspective (that of the predicate) and because he has been spared the object, which supposedly contains the judgment.

Take it or leave it; that is what the news seems to tell the receiver. “Either accept part of the absent, the absent in its version as a divided, pre-judged commodity, or you get nothing.” The messenger becomes the master of the lord.

Generally, the difference between immediate and mediated experience is absolutely clear. Given that immediate experience, i.e., perception, includes pre-predicated images, while the mediated experience, by means of the news, is divided into the form, “S is p”, there can be no doubt concerning the form of experience or any confusion of the two forms. Even a bookworm or a reader of newspapers, who lives on the horizon of mediated experiences and is nourished on them, hardly ever, at least when engaged in the experience, thinks that he is directly experiencing the mediated (or vice-versa), however much he may later, when some informational content has begun to sprout in his storehouse of knowledge, yield to uncertainty regarding the question of whether this was due to a direct experience or an indirect one.

We shall now address this point.

Section 18

Broadcasts eliminate the difference between thing and news. Broadcasts are camouflaged judgments.

In effect, what is actually ambiguous about radio and television broadcasts consists in the fact that, from the start and as a matter of principle, they place the receiver in a situation in which the difference between living and being informed, between immediacy and mediation, has been eliminated; which results in his being confused as to whether he is facing a thing or a fact, an object or a factum. What does this mean?

As we have seen, the characteristic of the factum consists in its difference with respect to most objects, in its mobility: while the messenger cannot transport a burning house, he can expedite and transmit to the receiver the fact that the house is burning. Thus, in broadcasts the objects themselves are expedited, or at least their phantoms: what comes to me is the symphony, not the fact that someone is playing it; the speaker, not the factum that he is speaking. Transportability, previously the property of facts, appears to have infected the object itself. Has it not therefore been transformed into a fact?

The question sounds odd, since the facts, at least the news that conveys facts, are divided, as judgments, into the two parts S and p. The broadcast images, on the other hand, do not appear to be thus divided. The speaker, to whom I am listening, is “he himself” and not “something about him”. Is this not true?

It is not.

Let us assume that the candidate Smith appears on television in order to present his platform to the voters. It will be taken for granted that this Smith will show what kind of a pleasing personality he is; that he is obliged to smile in the most charming way possible. With this simple assertion, however, we have not fully described his attitude. His charm will be highlighted as his exclusive trait in order to make us forget that he is something more than just this smile. What appears on the screen will therefore be, despite the fact that the candidate Smith (let us call this S) is apparently fully presented, exclusively the fact or the claim that he is a pleasing personality (let us call this p); therefore, it is exclusively the case that “S is p” and, therefore, p instead of S. What we are going to see will therefore be “the subject that is coterminous with its predicate”, according to the formula that we used in the analysis of the news as judgment. We could even have the right to see only this p, since it is not rare for this quid pro quo of subject and predicate to become a reality; that is, that in the end, S is transformed into his own predicate, that he is not—nor can he be—anything but his predicate; therefore, that, condemned to be p, he functions effectively as a professional smile. Frequently, the history of the lie ends up imposing the lie as truth.

The presentation of the candidate achieves precisely the same thing as the news. No, even more, because it is a kind of news that is intended to adorn the fact that it represents a pre-established judgment. And this is in fact a powerful addition, since in this manner the effects that, as we just saw, correspond fundamentally to the judgment are concealed: and with them, therefore, what forms part of the prejudice and the privation of freedom. To persuade the consumer that he will not be persuaded, judgment, transformed into an image, renounces its form of judgment; but by apparently being transformed into the S that acts and which is the object of attention (in the S, whose vivacity does not betray its partition into S and p), it does so in no case as explicitly as normal judgment.

This procedure, although it takes place every day, is philosophically very amazing, since it represents a reversal of the normal sequence. Whereas generally, and basically, the news follows the event that it announces and is accommodated to it, here the factum is accommodated to the judgment. The following phrase has precedence: Senator Smith is a pleasing personality; S recedes behind it and therefore also the image of S, which acts as if it were the man himself, that is, as something that is still not subject to judgment. Actually, however, he is the same man, S, not as p, but himself in his decorated version, which no longer permits any hint of the structure of judgment. What serves as the pretext (in the sense of “to allege”) for the judgment transformed into an image is thus no pretext at all (in the sense of “prepare”, “predict”, “pre-judge”). That is why the expression, “adorn” is completely fitting, because the adornment, which is brought about here, is negative: the judgment surrounds itself with an apparent nakedness, it adorns itself with the ornament of the predicates it lacks.

Section 19

Commodities are disguised judgments. Phantoms are commodities. Phantoms are disguised judgments.

But now it will be claimed that our example is not at all characteristic of the totality of such phenomena. It will be objected that not every phantom is the exhibition of a p, or advertising—since our example belongs to that category—or even a judgment or a prejudice. It must be admitted that not every phantom is engaged in advertising in as penetrating a manner as the candidate Smith, imagined for that purpose. What remains, however, is the fact that all phantoms, as they are delivered to the home, are commodities. And this is decisive because it is as such that they are judgments.

Once again, this sounds odd. What does judgment, which pertains to logic, have in common with the commodity, whose place is in the economy?

The answer is: the predicate.

Every commodity, insofar as it is displayed and offered—and it is a commodity only as such, as an offer—is its own judgment and, furthermore, its own self-praise. Its mere appearance already recommends it; in the display case it is already encountered as the visible prejudice of its own quality. Certainly, however: it is no more susceptible to being broken down into the phrase, “S is p” than our candidate Smith; its quality is not enunciated, at least not necessarily (although it often is enunciated in the text of print advertisements); but in any case it is decorated. And decoration indicates that its p (that is, what “is separated”, its real or alleged quality) is separated from it and, as an enticing bait, is highlighted and emphasized in such a way that all that is visible is its enticing character and not the commodity as a whole. What it offers to the spectator is therefore, first of all the perspective, from which the spectator must “take into consideration” this commodity, which is already determined and provided in advance before it is delivered.

The commodity’s character as a judgment is thus undeniable. While in the previous paragraph we demonstrated that the negative efficacy of the news consists in curtailing the freedom of the receiver, in orienting the latter with regard to the point of view from which he has to take what is absent into consideration, in establishing by means of the predicate and transmitting this point of view as a manufactured commodity; this also describes the function of the commodity on display. Now, instead of the receiver, we have the customer, who is still separated from the commodity by the television screen, and who is still “absent”, and who must be snatched from his absence and attracted by way of the p displayed to transform him into a buyer. But this difference does not obviate the parallel.

At the beginning of our investigation we noted that events transformed into phantoms and delivered to people’s homes are commodities. What is valid for any commodity, that is, that it is a judgment, even if a decorated one, is also valid for them.3 They, too, are assertions about events, despite the fact that, “displayed in their nakedness and adorned with the ornament of the predicates that they lack”, they are offered as the events themselves. Since no judgment is so perfectly faithful, so simple, so seductive as the one that, supposedly, is the thing itself, its power of deception consists in its renunciation of the “S is p” schema outlined above. What we are consuming when we sit down in front of our radio or television is, instead of the scene of its preparation and the alleged thing S, its predicate p; in short: a prejudice that is presented in the form of an image, which, like every prejudice, conceals its character as a judgment; however, since that is still what it secretly is, it spares the consumer from having to take the trouble to make any judgments. Actually, the consumer does not consider this idea, no more so than he would with regard to the other prepared commodities, for example, pre-cooked canned food, which he buys so he does not have to cook it himself. What is true of the news, that is, that it transforms us into dependants, because it shows us (or it even might not show us) the absent only in its version as a manufactured commodity, excused, prepared and “predicated”, is even more valid for broadcasts: we are exempted from making our own judgments; and much more radically insofar as we cannot exempt ourselves from accepting the supplied judgment as reality itself.

  • 1. The theory, which is today so vehemently promoted, that the transposition of the truth in the judgment is eo ipso a distortion of the concept of the truth, must be reduced at the moment when by “judgment” we really understand that which lies at its origin: news. By way of its function as news, that is, by way of that which prepares the absent to be ready to accommodate itself to the present, that is, to treat the absent as the present, the judgment delivers a decisive “de-occultation”. Only the exchange of news, that is, speech, opens up the world, constitutes the truth of man as society and serves as the basis, finally, for “universalism”, which corresponds to logic. [Author’s note.]
  • 2. This argument has an etymological basis because in German, judgment is Ur-teil and partition, Teilung; both words have a common root in the word, teil. [Note of the Spanish Translator.]
  • 3. It would be pointless to speak of broadcasts which openly present themselves as advertising broadcasts for soap or gasoline. [Author’s note.]