The more closely you look at a word the more distantly it looks back.
-- Karl Kraus

How things withstand the gaze.
-- Walter Benjamin

Too many things, not enough forms.
-- Flaubert







Entry for 5-9-87, The Daily Diary of the American Dream©

Take a look at this plastic piece used to bind 6-paks of cans of soft drinks or beer for easy carrying. Found (one of many) along the side of a road in the U.S., with other litter. Close up, it's intriguing and mysterious.

Snapped onto the tops of the 6-paks by machine at the last stage of the production line, binding the 6 cans into a unit for consumption.

Very elastic yet rip-proof plastic. Easy to stretch to take a can out, yet almost impossible to break--the loose plastic from any single can-hole can be used to dangle the rest of the pack; it will stretch but hold them. Carrying the drinks like this is shown in the ads as a sign of nonchalance and sophistication: dangling the goods, then flinging them down before others as a gift.

The design must represent months (years?) of testing. Finger holes just the right widths for an average-sized (man's) thumb in one and 2 fingers in the other.

Another interesting thing about this structure: the outside edges of the top and bottom pairs of voids are cut off sharply, signifying the fact that this 6-hole piece is just one of a huge number manufactured serially and then cut up individually. It's a trace of the infinite, opening views of endless rows of cans and plastic covers before they are chopped by machine-driven blades into consummable units of 6. (At least something cuts this stuff.)

Viewed close-up, the plastic reveals numbers and other emblems---our postmodern, American hieroglyphs. Production numbers, perhaps, and a company name signifying ownership and its rights (®). Impossible to decode the numbers -- no single batch clearly refers to date and place of manufacture, nor do others unmistakably number the identity of this particular unit. The generic and the specific are impossible to separate without a knowledge of the secret code. Perhaps the patent number owned by the (rich) person who invented this plastic thing-y?

This object really has no name. At least no name commonly shared by the public that uses it. (Except perhaps something like "plastic 6-pak holder.") Usually, this object needs no name: it is used and never referred to, or even noticed; it's thrown out without ever being seen. If we don't name it, maybe, we can dispose of it more easily (that is, more conscience-free). Tossed onto the pavement, or overboard, where sea tortoises find it floating and get it lodged in their gullets. It also may very well last longer than most of our buildings or books.

How much of our experience of the products around us is like this? We are taught to recognize the labels, to ignore a host of other signs murmuring their messages just at the edges of our attention.

Production's objects and signs are multiplying so fast that language can't keep up, much less compose or decompose.

One thing a civilization certainly bequeaths to those who sift through its rubble: the anonymity of objects.

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