Dispatches from the End of Communication
184 pp., 7 x 9 in, 32 b&w photos
- Published: March 31, 2020
- Publisher: The MIT Press
Reports from America's political crisis, exposing a new “iconopolitics,” in which words and images lose their connection to reality.
The political crisis that sneaked up on America—the rise of Trump and Trumpism—has revealed the rot at the core of American exceptionalism. Recent changes in the way words and images are produced and received have made the current surreality possible; communication through social media, by design, maximizes attention and minimizes scrutiny. In Co-Illusion, the noted writer on art, photography, and politics David Levi Strauss bears witness to the new “iconopolitics” in which words and images lose their connection to reality. The collusion that fueled Trump's rise was the secret agreement of voters and media consumers—their “co-illusion”—to set aside the social contract.
Strauss offers dispatches from the epicenter of our constitutional earthquake, writing first from the 2016 Democratic and Republican conventions and then from the campaign. After the election, he switches gears, writing in the voices of the regime and of those complicit in its actions—from the thoughts of the President himself (“I am not a mistake. I am not a fluke, or a bug in the system. I am the System”) to the reflections of a nameless billionaire tech CEO whose initials may or may not be M. Z. Finally, Strauss shows us how we might repair the damage to the public imaginary after Trump exits the scene. Photographs by celebrated documentary photographers Susan Meiselas and Peter van Agtmael accompany the texts.
Where are we? Is it the tower of Babel, collective collusive amnesia, or the end of consciousness? Co-Illusion with its brilliant on-the-spot reportage and striking visuals calls us to more rigorous attention to the propaganda crisis and our fraught future. This book is a meditation, a summons, a brilliant collaboration and intervention for the dark age. Let's have the conversation now.
Anne Waldman, author of Trickster Feminism; founder and curator of The Jack Kerouac School of Poetics, Naropa University
As through a glass darkly, the crackling pages of these daily dispatches testify to the terrifying future that is now upon us. Like theaters of cruelty ablaze with hysteria and witchcraft, the national conventions for the presidency provide a uniquely profound view of the madness of power.
Michael Taussig, Professor of Anthropology, Columbia University
Co-Illusion is a tenacious account of a manipulated, degraded communication era in American politics and perceptions. David Levi Strauss navigates insight and indignity in vivid “dispatches” and brisk reflections. An intrepid and precise interpreter of images, media, and rhetoric, he offers an urgent summons for resistance and reimagination.
Patricia C. Phillips, Chief Academic Officer/Academic Dean at Moore College of Art & Design and independent writer and curator
David Levi Strauss's Co-Illusion: Dispatches from the End of Communication asks the fundamental question about the Trump presidency: 'How did we get here?' An art critic and scholar of photography, Strauss grounds his observations and speculation in a deep understanding of the image, which can upend rational discourse and prevailing wisdom with astonishing speed.
The Brooklyn Rail
Strauss's texts are essential writing today, in a media environment run amok.