Nettime mailing list archives

<nettime> part 1: ecologies of self-display
chcrandall on Wed, 21 Oct 2009 22:56:23 +0200 (CEST)

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

<nettime> part 1: ecologies of self-display

Jordan Crandall
talk for Artivistic 2009
17 Oct 2009

Part 1:
ecologies of self-display

In many ways, when we think about visual phenomena, we think in terms of
voyeurism.  Most of our analytical models concerning representation,
power, identity, and desire are built on the primary status of
spectatorship and voyeuristic separation.  Film theory, drawing on
psychoanalysis, has always focused on voyeurism, and questions of
spectatorship have reigned supreme in visual studies and media theory for
quite some time.  This spectator has been imperiled -- denaturalized,
constructed as disempowered, shattered -- but the key questions have
nearly always revolved around its status.  A focus on observation, on
scopic power, on visual mastery, has dominated what little attention has
been given to the contrary:  exhibition, display, and submission.

But much recent work challenges this dominance -- work using blogs,
webcams, profiles, live journals , lifecasting, and so on, especially the
kind of work presented here at Artivistic.  Enabled by networking
technology and a DIY ethos -- as well as, of course, eros -- a new culture
of erotic exposure and self-display has emerged.  We don't just want to
watch:  we want to show.  We want to reveal our most intimate lives.  We
want to solicit the attention of others, act for unseen eyes, and develop
new forms of connective intensity -- as if this were somehow the very
condition of our continued existence, the marker of our worth.

This new culture of erotic exposure and self-display challenges all of our
analytical models.  Consider our models of desire, for example.  In the
psychoanalytic tradition, desire is polarized between lack and possession.
 In Lacan, the subject is imperiled, incomplete, characterized by a
primary lack or absence:  a lack that compels us to seek fulfillment
through the gaze of the other -- an unseen watching presence.  The
imagined gaze observing us becomes a form of validation, a kind of
ontological guarantee of our being. It serves to put us in our place -- to
subject us.  In this way subjectivity is built on an anguished
interrogation of the other's desire (what does he want of me?).  As
Laplanche would have it, this is often repressed as a "hidden" psychic
logic to be uncovered -- a "secret" that the other knows, but that we
don't know. We want to understand the terms of the other's address:  in
the other, we pursue the secret of our own desirability.

Certainly, these new erotic cultures of exposure and display can be seen
as driven by the need to perform for the gaze of the other -- the Big
Other, the symbolic order.  Through this performance, one is written into
existence -- installed in the symbolic order of things.

But what if we also consider that these new cultures of self-display are
not just about insufficiency or lack, but also abundance?  What if we
shift from a problematic not of reduction but of amplification?  Already
Bataille would have us do this:  to focus on not filling something that we
lack but of channeling the surplus energies that we already have.

Consider that these cultures of self-display are less about possessing
something from a distance, than the evacuation of this distance:  the
cultivation of an extreme intimacy, a mingling, a channeling of energies. 
In this way they could point to a new relational mode:  a new relational
mode whose foundational structure is not built on difference.  Think about
this: what do we have if we challenge ourselves to focus on the absence of
relation?  Foucault, also, called for new relational modes.  To explore
this terrain, we can, as Leo Bersani has described it, shift from a logic
of psychology to one of spatial dissemination:  from thinking in terms of
analyzable identities to those of unstable, emergent presences.  Here
there is no longer a hidden psychic logic to be revealed but an
extensibility to be traced.  And here Latour's actor network theory has
much to offer, in its shift from reduction to extension, understood in
terms of the self:  not a reductive self but an amplified or extended
self.  We don't reveal what's hidden so much as open up an abundant flow
-- a conduit, an extensibility.  And what we end up with is not a
privileging of difference but of a kind of sameness.  As Bersani would
call it, an im-personal narcissism.

Here desire is constituted less as a differential dance between bodies
than a network path:  a new geometry of intimacy.  We can apprehend less
through difference and lack than through correspondences,
synchronizations, extensions, contacts, channels -- formal and affective
alliances or affinities.  Here one can think less of apparatuses than of
ecologies; less of repressive than emergent structures:  active, unstable,
emergent systems and strata of the body/self as distributed in nature, as
nature.  The basis of ethics shifts from a self-contained subject to a
distributed subjectivity.

To extend the self is to cultivate a loss of self:  a self-surrender or
exposure. One does not look from afar, fortifying the self, but rather
enters into the fray, exposing the self.  This drive to "give in" to
something or someone --  an intimacy by way of the blurring of positions
and distinctions -- involves is a privileging of surrender, rather than
control.  Or at least, giving it a place at the table.  Could we consider
that the drive to be immersed in something is at least as constitutive as
the drive for separation?  Immersive exposure as much as voyeuristic
detachment?  To submit to something, as much as to master it?  Exposure as
much as concealment?

But perhaps we can go even further and think of bodily exposure,
submission, and relinquishment as more primary than visual mastery,
possession, and control.  If you ask people honestly what they most
fantasize about, do you think it's involving control or relinquishment? 
Perhaps this is the unadmissible foundation upon which the labyrinth of
desire is built -- only to be intuited in the realm of erotic fantasy or
the secret chambers of the intimate.  Perhaps in this new
technologically-aided world of self-display, this condition is being made
all the more apparent:  a fantastical dimension that yearns to be
expressed, shared and somehow incorporated into the real.

Instead of analyses built on the basis of spectatorial control, then,
could we develop instead those based on exposure and relinquishment? 
Which is not to say that spectatorship would disappear entirely; rather,
it gets resituated, diffused, unfolding within a condition of exposure.  
The act of looking from afar, fortifying the self, emerges out of a more
primary condition of being in the fray, exposing the self.  Mastery could
be rethought to emerge from a basis in submission:  one gains from the
situation through what one gives up to it.

What does it mean however to "give it up" in the face of power?  Does this
necessarily involve a complete surrender to the controlling gaze -- that
gaze that wants to measure, claim, make accountable, in ever-greater
degrees of granularity?  Perhaps there are other ways of understanding it
in terms of the management of surplus energies -- appropriating,
modulating, the terms of exchange, thus transforming the technology of
control into a technology of self.

>From such a viewpoint -- a basis in surrender and exposure -- the
connective intensities that drive these new forms of self-exposure and
display are those not of fulfilling lack but expending excess.  The allure
of showing is on par with that of sacrificing.  Can we begin to view the
profile as a sacrifice as well as a solicitation?  Or rather, as a
double-edged solicitor!  To show yourself is also to show your fetishistic
substitutions:  offering them up as part of your self-identity and your
very body as an incitement to extension.  Objects, as exchangeable
components of the self, become agents of extensibility.  They act.

Here we can see the advantage of thinking in terms of dynamical systems,
rather than in terms of apparatuses and their mechanisms of separation and
difference.  We can think subjectivity and identity in terms of emergent
systems:  or in terms of ecologies of self.  Instead of one-way vectors,
we are challenged to focus on dynamical encounters.  Instead of a vector
from sender to receiver -- a sender and receiver with fixed roles -- we
can focus on a reciprocal dynamic of encounter wherein roles can change or
emerge.  Presence as presencing.

These new media phenomena are not only texts to be read but solicitations
to be heeded -- they are conductive excitations embedded within networks
of erotic exchange.  As such, we are challenged to revisit issues of
authorial intent and originary motivation.  But we must be careful not to
fall into the trap of binaries, nor into that of privileging language: 
there are pleasures and affective stimulations -- connective intensities
-- that motivate these new acts of connection, sharing, and erotic display
to account for, for all players on the circuits of production and
reception, including both displayer and watcher.  These texts must not
only be decoded but their circuits traversed, in affective, implicated
ways that not only destabilize one-way analyses, but also their
deflections of libidinous investment.

Jordan Crandall

#  distributed via <nettime>: no commercial use without permission
#  <nettime>  is a moderated mailing list for net criticism,
#  collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets
#  more info: http://mail.kein.org/mailman/listinfo/nettime-l
#  archive: http://www.nettime.org contact: nettime {AT} kein.org