Skip to content

Wall Calendars: Structured Time, Mundane Memories, and Disposable Images

Abstract: An analysis of everyday artifacts can reveal their hidden assumptions, and also their psychocultural implications. Common disposable wall calendars are such an object; they offer a perspective on the nature of time in our culture. They offer to structure temporal experience and manage mundane memories through the use of disposable images. These calendars are taken for granted by those who use them, and pass unexamined as a part of everyday life. Through synchronic analysis, this article unpacks hidden assumptions concerning the spatial, commodity nature of time embodied in disposable wall calendars, noting its connection to modernist ideals. Described is the postmodern sleight-of-hand that allows calendar images to distract us from the implications of this temporal structuring. An illustrative comparison is presented to the different temporal perspective presented by certain types of electronic calendars.
Every year in the fall, they emerge in mall kiosks and the corners of bookstores. Shrink-wrapped in plastic, often fitted with a temporary cardboard stiffening piece, they sparkle for a few months until the coming of the New Year, at which time they are marked down for clearance. They offer a series of images, and a convenient place to mark appointments. After purchase, they are unwrapped, splayed open, and displayed on kitchen and office walls, where they pass quietly as part of everyday life, though frequently marked upon to remind one of an appointment. Their shrink warp and cardboard spine are immediately discarded, prefiguring the fate of what remains after just one year. They are printed, disposable wall calendars, and they contain hidden cultural assumptions about the nature of time.

This type of paper calendar is quite familiar to most of us, even if we don’t happen to use one ourselves. They usually feature a series of humorous, exciting, or tranquil images, one per month. One month is displayed at a time. The image and its caption fill the top half of the calendar, and the bottom half contains a rigid grid that separates the month into days, each a uniform small box, marked with a number. These are arranged in columns by day, usually starting with Sunday.

Most of us would agree on the surface reasons why we buy and use them. First, they offer a series of images that please us. Some calendars feature exciting material, such as sports scenes, automobiles, attractive celebrities or models, and so on. Others feature tranquil scenes, such as waterfalls, mountains, lighthouses, and the beach. Still more show humorous or whimsical scenes such as animal antics or popular comic strip characters. We like to have these kinds of images in our environments, and this is not to be understated. Based on taste and personal preference, we select images that suit our personalities and needs, perhaps to soothe us, make us laugh, or to proclaim or reinforce our identification with particular interests, say a certain sports team.

The second obvious use is to serve a memory function. After all, that is their explicit purpose: to have a place to mark appointments, and a visual way of checking quickly whether or not there is something going on during a particular day. Calendars are tools for memory. In this, they are the exact opposite of a diary: diaries are for detailed, personal information, kept over years, while these calendars are largely for impersonal information, and they are designed to be disposed of when the year is out. The point could be made that a list of one’s doctor’s appointments, for example, is quite personal, but a list of appointments is far less intimate than a description of someone’s in-depth thoughts and feelings. Evidence for this exists in the fact that the calendars are usually displayed in a semi-public place in a house or apartment, such as a kitchen wall. These areas are open to roommates, family, and friends, and the calendar entries must withstand an occasional examination. Of course, it is possible that semi-private entries be written in a sort of code, abbreviation, or shorthand, if they make one nervous about such scrutiny.

A more subtle aspect of memory enhancement is that they offer a list of days and their numbers per month.

Their owners do not have to recall continually which months have 31, 30, or 29 days, and what day of the week holidays fall on. Ordinary days, too, are conveniently numbered so that a quick glance will resolve any doubt as to what day the second Thursday of the month happens to be. This is useful for making appointments, of course, but it also serves as a cultural binding by providing and enforcing a temporal frame of reference. In conjunction with watches, clocks, and time announcements by radio and television stations (among other things), calendars align an individual’s notion of time with everyone else’s, by providing a common set of temporal markings that everyone can refer to. “Thursday, the fifteenth of September” in a particular calendar year, must be the same for everyone, much the same as noon and midnight must also be.

These notions about the uses of calendars are familiar to everyday experience, and common sense as well. Disposable wall calendars provide aesthetic pleasure, serve to enhance memory, and tell us which days are which. But in providing these functions they also ask something of us in return: they ask that we understand time in a particular way.

Calendars offer a graphic presentation of the ordering of time. They provide a visual schematic structure of it, and this abstraction is what makes them useful. But this abstraction presents a very clear picture of how time is to be understood. Each day space, each little box in which to write appointments, is identical. They are the same shape and size, and therefore they are equivalent. Pragmatically, this is quite appropriate: appointments that need notation can arise on any particular day. The only way to optimize space availability for every day is to make all days equal.

Time, qualitatively, is not uniform, however. Certain days pass by quickly, and certain days seem torturously long. Monday mornings, in particular, for many people working the standard week, are much longer than Wednesday afternoons. This is a generalization, but specific events in one’s life can also impact perception of time, as Edward T. Hall has noted.1 Awaiting a tooth-drilling session at the dentist can seem very long, and time spent at a sporting event or concert can seem to pass quickly. Our days are uneven, due to mental states such as anticipation, enjoyment, and boredom, as well as physical states such as fatigue or arousal. Besides perceived speed of time passage, certain days have more importance and significance than others do, such as anniversaries and birthdays.

Wall calendars of the mall-and-kiosk sort give every day equal billing. Of course, these calendars cannot anticipate our individual moods and feelings, or our dentist appointments, or know our wedding anniversaries. They are mass produced objects, and because they are fixed in form before we get them, they cannot be adjusted to conform to our experiences, ideas, and perceptions. But what of the fact that the weekend day spaces are the same size as the weekdays, or that each day of the typical workweek is presented as equivalent? It’s not out of the question to think that calendar manufacturers could make the weekend days larger. After all, some business-oriented day planners often compress Saturday and Sunday in a single space, since it’s assumed that you won’t be making many business appointments on weekends. Larger weekend spaces on kitchen calendars might even make perfect sense if one has a day planner that takes care of weekday appointments, and a wall calendar at home for weekend and night activities.2 Such a wall calendar would be a compliment and a converse of the business planner. It is very possible, and perhaps even sensible, to make home calendars with larger weekend slots, but this does not happen. Wall calendars present weekends and holidays with as much gusto as they present a typical Wednesday, though the holidays are given a faint line of textual annotation.

Disposable wall calendars, then, offer a modernist perspective of time. I use the term in quite a specific sense: “modern” as mass-produced, one-size fits all.3 (Henry Ford once claimed that a customer could have a Model T car in any color he or she wanted, as long as it was black. This is the essence of what I’m getting at: “modernist” in a Fordist sense.) Every day is uniform to quantitative experience. That’s what calendars suggest, and the idea is reinforced in our society through the use of digital watches and clocks.4 Time is a quantity that can be measured, bought and sold. And it is all the same stuff, mass-produced and as neatly packaged as the calendars themselves. As Edward Hall has pointed out, this conception of time is not universal; it is culturally dependent. The fact that some users of these calendars check off or make an X through every day that passes is evidence for calendars presenting a modernist experience of time. Each day is crossed out like so many identical items from a production line.

Each day is numbered, and the numbers are uniform: the same size for every day, and the same position in the day box. These markers serve as serial numbers, identifiers for each temporal chunk. They also contribute a spatial metaphor to our understanding of time, in that each day can be understood as a “place” where appointments can be made.5 Each day becomes a little compartment into which bits of one’s life can be filed, and all of the boxes are the same. Day spaces are containers for appointments, and days themselves are containers for events. Those who cross them out the space when the day is finished understand them as disposable containers – a small-scale analogy to the calendar itself. Further, most of these calendars feature two small boxes near the bottom, each containing a list of the days of the upcoming and previous months. These mini-month thumbnails show us that the structures of the months before and after this one are the same. All months are grids of uniform empty containers, despite the monthly shift in day numbers and names.

It’s fair to say, then, that calendars offer to structure our experience of time, if we let them. Further, they offer to structure it in ways that are not consistent with our phenomenological temporal experience, but rather in ways consistent with an abstract cultural ideal of time. The grid offers to make our time uniform, exploitable, and more efficient. Time is a machine that we must comply with, and it grinds on in a uniform manner despite whether or not we have something important or trivial planned for a particular day. Under the surface, calendars proclaim that time is a commodity, and we are wasting it if we are not being productive and efficient. After all, shouldn’t we use time to the best of our abilities constantly? Our days are numbered, in more ways than one; and time is, after all, money. This is a Taylorist stance, and it directly contrasts with everyday lived experience.

The days of the week are lined up in columns, allowing us to make generalizations about our schedule for particular blocks of time. Wednesday nights, for example, may all contain one’s children’s soccer games for a particular month, so it’s useful to line them up in order to classify them. They are distinguishable because they are placed in columns, but it’s also worth noting that the column headers are small and uniform. The words “Wednesday”, “Thursday”, and so on drop from our vision as our eyes proceed down into the grid. It is useful to line the days up this way for analysis, but ordinary days offer up no labels (other than numbers) once our vision proceeds down into the center of the day spaces. The calendar’s message of uniformity is present on multiple levels: whether you are lost in the grid, or scanning down a column of indistinct Wednesdays, all spaces are equivalent.

What are we to make of the fact that these calendars start with Sunday? Whatever the historical circumstances were that led to the current configuration, grids that start with Sunday offer a particular slant on how we should understand the workweek and the weekend. Again, the grid of day spaces is a modernist understanding of time, a cultural ideal, and it contrasts with lived experience. It could be argued that in everyday conversation, we describe the weekend as a block of free time, distinct from the working week. But to present it as such on a calendar is to privilege it, bring it to our attention. That is explicitly against the time-as-resource model presented so far. By splitting up the weekend on either side of the working week, the calendar resists privileging our supposed leisure time, and instead marks Sunday as the secret beginning of the work week: a day of rest in anticipation of labor. Those who experience an uneasy feeling of restlessness on Sunday afternoons perhaps have been graphically reminded that work begins in the morning.

An interesting anomaly to the mechanistic presentation of time is the phases of the moon. Some calendars offer these as they occur throughout the month: new moon, full moon, and so on. These are assigned usually only to the particular day of their occurrence; not every day contains a moon phase indicator. These phases of the moon usually pass unnoticed by calendar owners, unless they happen to be astrologers, sea captains, lycanthropy buffs, or others with a special interest in them. A more rationalistic presentation of the phases of the moon would feature a small moon icon in every box, showing the current phase. This would proclaim that each day was uniform, despite the current state of celestial objects in the night sky. Of course, this sort of presentation would clutter up available space with information only of interest to a specific few, so it’s easy to understand why it is not done. But it is not easy to understand why the phases are currently incorporated at all. A cynic might see them as a superfluous design consideration to lessen the starkness of the grid. Perhaps we can imagine that they are included as a nod to stargazers and romantics, though a cynic might see their incorporation as a nod to superstition. Even so, the moon has been the object of mysticism since time immemorial6, and the incorporation of its phases into disposable wall calendars can only be seen as a humanistic gesture, particularly in the manner in which they are presented.

It is tempting to see the images on these calendars as a humanistic gesture as well. After all, what makes us purchase a particular calendar is the set of images it features. The day spaces on different calendars are more or less equivalent, and this is well known by the manufacturers and purchasers alike. The evidence for this is that there is almost never a preview on the back of the sealed calendar package showing the day spaces; rather it is the series of images that is shown. It is assumed that there will be a standard grid for entries, showing numbers, names, and orders of days. The images are what sell the calendar, and a cynic might be inclined to dismiss them as a mere marketing device, a way to differentiate otherwise identical products in the marketplace.

There is more to it than that. We enjoy the images, of course, but when you get right down to it, what is the relationship between the photo or illustration and the rest of the calendar? In other words, how does the presence of the image interact with the spatial commodity presentation of the grid of day spaces? My contention here is that the image serves as a wrapper for time filled with mundane memories. After distracting us from the process of keeping mundane appointments (or the emptiness of not having any appointments), the image becomes the psychological garbage bag in which time is filed when it is finished. Disposal of the image serves to lock away forgettable days, and to purge unremarkable bits of life. Old dentist appointments are relegated to oblivion. The destruction of the images distracts us, and we do not consider that we are symbolically disposing of a year’s worth of our lives. This is by no means a humanist conception of kitchen calendars.

To explore this idea further, let’s first return to the surface use of the images. They are comforting, because they either excite us about an activity or person, calm us because they feature tranquil images, or amuse us with a humorous or whimsical pictures or illustrations. The majority of these calendars are photographic, and photographic images have their own piece to say about our understanding of time. Photos, some have argued, are timeless. A photograph freezes a moment in time, capturing it and preserving it long after it has passed. Susan Sontag has suggested that this property is surreal, and rightly so. Others have suggested that the play of images is postmodern. Images are decontextualized information that we view in totally different circumstances from which they were created.

A postmodern understanding of photography suggests that all photographs are on equal footing. You may object that some have more artistic value than others do: compare an Ansel Adams calendar with the current supermodel of the week variety, for example. But considered as a medium, each photograph is on equal footing with the others.7 Yes, there are various techniques and levels of artistry involved, but each is nothing more than a slice of light captured on film – and in this case, mass produced as part of a disposable wall calendar. The calendars are sold for roughly the same price no matter what the content, and they are not segregated in different departments of the store by artistic merit or subject type. Buying one is the same as buying another, despite the questions of taste and personal preference involved. (Illustrations are a different category of object, but they have similar properties: they are also atemporal and have equivalency among themselves.) From a postmodern perspective, one image or set of images is not privileged over another.

This is also apparent from the fact that the calendar images are disposable. True, they are modern in the sense that they are mass-produced, but they are postmodern in that they can be thrown away. The same images or similar ones will circulate next year; there is no need to preserve the calendar images against permanent loss to culture. There is a general sense that the images, while providing comfort, are quickly replaceable with more of the same. They are not unique objects, and as such have equivalent value with others of a similar type. Our society is filled with such transient images, from the flickering, ever-changing television set, to the short visits at multi-screen, constantly updated Web sites, to disposable magazines and billboards quickly passed. Photographs on calendars have a sense of timelessness, but it is a cheap sense of it.

Monthly calendar images are designed to help carry us through the passage of time. The name of each month is presented near the grid, but this is lost on the calendar because of the clear visual dominance of the image. It may be January, but the photograph of the sports car is what can be seen most clearly, and from further away. This is not to say that people forget the name of the month by any means; recall that they need that information to function adequately in society. Rather, the photograph serves as a distraction from the passage of time, and the filling of that time with mundane appointments (or nothing at all.) This works because pictures all contain multiple meanings.8 They can have no single, distinct meaning the way that an algebraic equation can. Even if we take into account the fact that same individual repeatedly views the image, changes to mood and circumstance will pull out different associations and make practically every viewing a new experience. This contemplation, this series of associations, serves to distract us from the passage of time. Recall that the calendar was selected and purchased with this sort of repeat-viewing in mind.

Further, the distraction takes us away from the calendar’s hidden modernist message: that time is a resource to be exploited. The image is a red herring that draws us away from the idea that we might be wasting bits of our lives; it defers the very grid structure that the rest of the calendar presents. Time is something swept under the rug, and all of our missed opportunities, unfulfilled goals, and lack of direction is subsumed into the maw of the image. All of our mundane appointments (or worse, our lack of mundane appointments) become glossed over. Life slips past into nostalgia, its present tense deferred through a sense of disposable timelessness.

The image serves as a stand-in, shifting a highly structured temporal discourse into the whimsical, humorous, or serene. It covers over the surreal and disturbing act of throwing away an old calendar, which according to the modernist grid, represents unexploited resources. We are caught up in the disposal of the images, and the trivial details (or the lack of them) of the previous year are purged in a way that does not leave much room for direct contemplation. Thus, the image serves as sort of a “wrapper”for the grid. It’s like the opaque trash bag that prevents deep contemplation of rotting groceries on the curbside. We get to purge the mundane appointments and their surrounding emptiness from our minds, but we are disassociated from the process. We get a sense of closure on time spent by throwing away something associated with it, but we are distracted from analyzing the contents of our grids by the powerful rhetoric of the image.

We also get smaller closure on mundane events every month, when we turn the calendar page. We change the picture, and get a new object to contemplate, or perhaps even invest with associations of everyday events. (It does not matter if the mundane appointments become associated with the monthly image, or if the contemplation of the mundane is completely lost in contemplation of the image. The result is the same.) This is an easy transition, since the object in the picture or illustration is usually similar to the previous one, due to the fact that the calendars typically have a single theme. Another month, another lighthouse. A consistent set of objects allows for smooth transitions between months, and demonstrates continuity between months. This is soothing, anesthetizing, much as contemplation of individual images can be comforting. Each month is a little different from the rest, the images tell us, but they each are similar. Time goes on, life continues, and the world remains stable. It is only at the end of the year when an abrupt change to a new calendar may be made, and New Year’s celebrations, resolutions, and other purging and purification rituals accompany that change.

Throwing away the calendar, then, throws away the series of mundane appointments contained in it. The forgettable aspects of life are symbolically disposed of by discarding a concrete physical object. The images can be subconsciously vested with mundane associations, because we know their eventual fate. Their disposal is a purging activity with a ritual dimension. This is not to say that the disposal is done with any sort of ceremony or reverence. On the contrary, it is usually not done with much thought about the implications. Time is elusive, appointments are transient, memory is fleeting, and the calendar is a tactile object that serves to represent, categorize, and summarily dismiss certain types of experience. Thought may even be given to preserving a few of the images, but the calendar grid itself, as a time record of sparse, forgettable appointments, does not receive that consideration.9 After all, any thoughts or moments worth preserving would be recorded in a permanent form, perhaps in a journal or diary. Important series of mundane events, like dentist appointments, are tracked by the appropriate professionals. The calendar goes into the trashcan or recycling bin, and a new one is placed on the kitchen wall.

Interestingly, the postmodern image serves as a container for the modernist time structuring, which itself serves as a container for everyday experiences.10 We are presented with a formal way to understand time – a cultural ideal – and a convenient way to purge unimportant memories. The postmodern play of images distracts us from the fact that our lives may be boring, repetitive, or empty. It could be argued, that given the circumstances, this is a humanist gesture, but I contend that to distract one from emptiness through numbness is merely adding insult to injury. The calendar images serve as metaphors for the months of the year: a series of similar items that serve individual tastes and needs, but under the surface point out how pointless the distinctions really are between a series of images – and by extension, days, months, and even years. From a modernist perspective – which the calendar uses to mark time – life should be structured and memorable. This would provide an increase in efficiency by allowing one to analyze and correct his or her mistakes, and see overall patterns that may not be particularly adaptive. It requires a postmodernist sleight-of-hand to make time and memory disposable, particularly if it already has been coded in a modernist way.

These wall calendars reflect the culture that created them, naturally, but acceptance and use of them reinforces their biases. We buy into a calendar’s notion of time by purchasing and using it, perhaps unaware of the possibility of creating alternatives, or unwilling to undertake the task of doing so. Even if no appointments are ever entered into the day spaces, the calendar serves as a visual representation of an ideal structure of time, and the changing images still stand in for forgettable moments.

We can see the assumptions of wall calendars more clearly by comparing them to newer forms of calendar, particularly certain types of electronic calendars. Electronic calendars have markedly different biases. First, they seldom feature photographic images or illustrations. These can be problematic since they may eat up available bandwidth on email or the web. In other words, the time and effort spent loading an electronic calendar image is usually not worth it. Physical calendars are static objects with a good deal of permanence, at least in comparison with the electronic variety. It is true that physical calendars are designed to change once a month and be thrown away in a year. But they persist upon the wall without a source of power, and only change when we change them, unlike a flickering television image or a transient Web page. Electronic calendars generally take up space on a computer workstation, portable organizer, or email window that needs to be cleared for other activities, and they are silent if we turn off our desktop machines or pocket assistants. They do not need a photograph to alter their aesthetic impact, since they do not persist in the social environment.

On another level, electronic calendars do not need pictures for a different reason. Recall that the function of the images on disposable wall calendars was to serve as a postmodern wrapper for a modernist conception of time. Physical calendars are based on the technology of the printing press, which has biases toward modernist viewpoints.11 Electronic calendars, however, are based on electronic technologies, which have postmodern biases.12 In the case of electronic calendars, the calendars themselves are postmodern. They are fleeting, ephemeral, turned off (or minimized) and accessed anew every time they are used. The medium itself is postmodern, and therefore it requires no image as a label to wrap time and experience in.

Typically, electronic calendars do not need to be purged every year, but rather can be set to self-purge after the events themselves expire. The conception of time provided by this type of electronic calendars is a sort of perpetual present, a very postmodern way of understanding temporal experience. It allows one to look into the future, of course, but typically does not present time as a grid. Rather, these sort of calendars typically offer a series of lines that scroll up or disappear as the events and times listed on them come to past. This sort of model prioritizes what is immediately happening, and is in stark contrast to the physical calendar model. In the paper calendar, all time is equally privileged. Each day, even the current day, is the same as the next and the last, and it is only by referencing the current day on the grid that one can tell where one is in the month (to use the spatial metaphor). This is perhaps what encourages some people to cross off the days as they happen – it helps to delineate the present from the past and future, something that disposable wall calendars do not provide. Electronic calendars, on the other hand, privilege the present at the cost of deleting the past and distancing the future.

To summarize, disposable wall calendars offer us a modernist conception of time, and a postmodern wrapper in which to dispose of it. Under the guise of offering pleasant images for our personal environments, they offer to allow annotation of time while on another level, structuring it for us. Yet through the presentation of images, these calendars defer contemplation of the very structure they establish. Our memories of mundane activities can be purged at the end of the year by throwing away the calendar. The disposable wall calendars is an intricate tapestry of time, image, and memory that can be described as anaesthetic, at best, and at worst, a species of temporal complacency propaganda.

Notes

1 Hall lists several dimensions of subjective time perception, including urgency. See Edward T. Hall, The Silent Language (New York: Anchor Books, 1959), 149.

2 Of course, this model does not account for people who work irregular workweeks, or work occasionally. But then again, neither do the business planners, which assume a standard workweek.

3 My version of modernism here is similar to Stuart Ewen’s take on “the modern” as “naked, if aestheticized, principles of mass production.” See Stuart Ewen, All Consuming Images – The Politics of Style in Contemporary Culture (New York: Basic Books, 1988), 137. Ewen describes a streamlined, aerodynamic version of modernism, as a historical aesthetic development; here we concerned with an almost pure representation of function and mass production. Interestingly, this definition is not incompatible with Jean Francois Lyotard’s conception of the modern as something relying on a “metanarrative” or grand, underlying motivational mythos – in this case, “Efficiency” and even “Progress” might fit the bill.

4 Marshall McLuhan described the impact of clocks thus: “The mechanical clock, in short, helps to create the image of a numerically quantified and mechanically powered universe. […] Time measured not by the uniqueness of private experience but by abstract uniform units gradually pervades all sense life….” McLuhan sees clocks as numbing, among other things. See Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1994), 145-156.

5 Hall discusses a compartmental view of time, and the fact that each section of time is understood in American culture as a resource – and that this view is not universal. See Edward T. Hall, The Silent Language (New York: Anchor Books, 1959), 6-22 and passim. Clifford Geertz describes a Balinese conception of time that is quite different from the one in the present discussion. Geertz’s presentation of Balinese time, in fact, is the opposite of the American ideal embodied in kiosk calendars: for the Balinese, time is dissected into chunks not for its exploitability, but rather for the rich meanings it many contain. See Clifford Geertz, The Interpretation of Cultures (New York: Basic Books, 1973), 391.

6 Alexander Marshack suggests that markings on a bone fossil from 28,000 B.C.E. represent moon phases. See Alexander Marshack, “The Art and Symbols of Ice Age Man” in David Crowley and Paul Heyer (eds.) Communication in History: Technology, Culture, and Society (White Plains, NY: Longman Publishers, 1995), 14-16.

7 Susan Sontag describes this in her book On Photography (New York: Anchor, 1977), 78. Walter Benjamin further suggests that mass-produced images are numbing, and that the “aura” of an individual masterpiece painting, for example, has no equivalent in a mass-produced work. Their commonplaceness destroys their potential for mystique, and diminishes the audience’s ability to respond to the producers in any meaningful way, or become heatedly involved. Thus it can be argued that mass produced images are desensitizing, and devalued. See Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” in Walter Benjamin Illuminations (New York: Schocken Books, 1968), 217-242. Combine that with McLuhan’s idea (in note 4) that measured time is numbing, and we have anesthesia on three levels: the grid, the image, and the interplay between them.

8 Sontag notes that photographs all possess multiple meanings, and that they equate each passing moment with mysticism, speculation, and fantasy, ibid., 23. My take on this is that this quality makes them ideal for repeated viewing on disposable calendars as time passes, a sort of red herring to distract one from the segmenting and disposal of time. Of course, photos each have a distinct subject, and thus cannot have an infinite variety of meanings. The subject of the photo rather suggests a range of meanings.

9 If someone were to cut out and save an image from a calendar, it would necessarily follow that the liberated image would have to be disassociated from the rest of the calendar. Investing such an image with such energy necessarily entails changing one’s conceptions about its status. If it’s something worth cutting out and framing, then it can no longer be understood as part of a disposable temporal management system. It can be argued that this change in status has much the same effect as throwing the image away, or else that the accumulated burden of mundane associations would be left behind in the remains of the calendar when the image is cut out. Whatever the case, such a salvaged image is in effect redefined as something else.

10 Jean Francois Lyotard, in his book The Postmodern Condition, describes such an operation, albeit in different circumstances and on quite a larger scale. Building on the work of Ludwig Wittgenstein, he notes that we need to use rule sets (such as science) even though they may be difficult to justify from other perspectives, and subject to change. Lyotard notes that we can use a “temporary contract” model even as the epistemological foundations beneath our knowledge structures may shift, and he calls this operation paralogy. I generally liken paralogy to the notion that we can build houses that are designed to be portable. Even if we pick up the house and move it every few years, we can continue to use it to fulfill our needs for living space. The structure remains stable despite the fact that the ground underneath it may change. The calendar presents a modernist grid that remains temporarily stable despite its postmodern context and eventual disposal. But in this case, we are moving the house constantly, and we are so distracted by the movement that the house itself becomes a secondary concern. See Jean Francois Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984), 66 and passim.

11 Elizabeth Eisenstein discusses the standardizing biases of the printing press, as does Walter Ong. See Elizabeth Eisenstein, The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1983), 52-56 and elsewhere. See also Walter Ong, Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word (New York: Routledge, 1982), 117-136. Or for a bolder claim: “The uniformity and repeatability of print permeated the Renaissance with the idea of time and space as continuous measurable quantities.” From Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1994), 176.

12 Some of these biases are toward the collapsing of hierarchies of any form. For a discussion of electronic media and collapsing hierarchies of identity, age differentiation, gender, the public sphere, and behavior, see Joshua Meyrowitz, No Sense of Place: The Impact of Electronic Media on Social Behavior (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985). James Carey also discusses the collapsing of space and geography brought on by the first electronic medium, the telegraph. See James Carey, Communication as Culture: Essays on Media and Society (New York: Routledge, 1989), 215-222 and elsewhere. Steven Jones suggests that the Web has biases toward the postmodern ideals of collage and pastiche, that is, drawing together diverse materials. See Steven Jones, “The Bias of the Web” in Andrew Herman and Thomas Swiss (eds.) The World Wide Web and Contemporary Cultural Theory (New York: Routledge, 2000), 178.

Author: Michael C. Zalot is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Culture and Communication at New York University. He holds an M.A. in Communication Arts from Montclair State University, and a B.A. in Communication Studies from The College of New Jersey. His area is Media Studies, though his broader research interests include human interaction with all technologies and cultural artifacts. He also has research interests in popular music studies, particularly at the junction where popular music intersects with technology.

Published inIssue 2.3Issues
© 2000, Journal of Mundane Behavior. Permission to link to this site is granted. All copyright permission and reproduction requests beyond "fair use" must be approved jointly by Journal of Mundane Behavior and the individual author, and should be directed to the managing editor.