(Gabor Bora) (by way of Pit Schultz ) on Thu, 1 May 1997 02:12:05 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> zkp4: interobjectivity

Gabor Bora:


1 The Concept of Interobjectivity

A./ Objective Vacuum; Stable Void

Isaac Newton regarded space as a container. An existent in itself,
independent from -- and as the space for creation presumably prior to --
things that fill it. Being an antagonist to Descartes in respect of the
possibility of the void, Newton marvellously legislates the Cartesian
division of the world into subject (the thinking substance) and object (the
extended substance). The object, the extended substance, is mediated to the
subject by pure extension: there is a homology between the observed and the
medium of observation. Space becomes the facilitator of pure observability;
Newtonian space outlines a media philosophy.
        There could be a universe with nothing but empty space in it.(1)
Space guarantees exactly this quality: objectivity. Space is as independent
from the things in it as a pure instance of observation is independent of
the observed; sharing the same objective space, a subject can consider an
object objectively. It is space that helps things to become objects. (A
Universe with nothing but empty space, where Being and Nothingness would
happen to be the same, would be better than our one: it would be a world
without the possibility or need of a proof of gravitational force. It would
be the perfect Newtonian world, except for the fact that there can be no
Newton in a universe with only empty space.)
        Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz criticised Newton -- the discoverer of
the Law of Gravitation -- for not being able to give an account of the
gravitational force. Newton saw it as an immaterial force, God's
omnipresence. Leibniz disagreed rather for physical than metaphysical
reasons: he refuted immaterial forces in Nature. (This is one of the themes
of a debate between Leibniz and Clarke, a spokesman for Newton.) As an
alternative, Leibniz considered space as a relational quality. It is not a
container, it doesn't have an own, independent existence, it is rather a
result of the relations between things. Gravitation cannot be explained
with action in distance, there must be something material connection
between things. In this case space is not an independent variable, it is an
effect of things, an effect of, and dependent on, gravitational attraction.
(I am deliberately forgetful of Leibniz' theory of aether in the place of
        Thus, space in its Leibnizean formulation can be seen as
interobjectivity: the result of that things are connected, and the way of
their connectedness. Things in space and space show a mutual dependency;
what follows is that there is no possibility of completely pure cases of
relation between subject and object: the space of observation is not an
independent variable any more. Subject and object share the same place, but
this space is not an independent entity, it is effected by precisely this
subject-object relation, thus, it always has an unclear, interobjective
part. The task for this Leibnizean interobjectivity is: to clarify
relations, clarify the mutualities. Interobjectivity is radically different
from objectivity as Newtonian science has it. No theory of space without
objects, hence no theory of an observation from nowhere, from the alleged
objectivity of the empty space.
        Interobjectivity destroys subject-object relation. The next step to
take is to clarify what is the place of the observing subject within
interobjectivity. The task for the thinking of interobjectivity is the
clarification of the mutual effects and mutual effectedness. The observer
effects the observed system; but what is more important, the moment of a
subject-ification of the observed produces at the same instance the
objectification of the observer. The observer does not have the position of
a subject related to an object but becomes object itself within
interobjectivity. Interobjectivity is the case or theory of the elimination
of the 'anthropological predicate' (as Gilles Deleuze calls it). (2) The
Leibnizean thinking of interobjectivity radically differs from the Newtonian
objectivity. There is no space without objects, as there is no possibility
for an external observer positioned in the objectivity of space.
Interobjectivity destroys subject-object relation. Immanuel Kant's
transcendental subject achieves something similar but in the opposite way.
Kant folds the entire subject-object relation within the transcendental
subject (outside of experience). The Leibnizean resolution folds the same
relation into the object.

B./ The Best Beast of All Possible Worlds

There is a little book by Vilém Flusser & Louis Bec, entitled
_Vampyroteuthis Infernalis_ (3). Vampyroteuthis is an imaginary beast, but
it is only slightly on the less real side of the threshold between fiction
and non-fiction, if this threshold itself is not completely fictive. It has
a well-defined place within the Darwinian taxonomy of the animal world. It
is an octopus, a really huge one, living ten thousand meters below the
surface of the ocean. Being a result of a different evolutionary line, it is
defined, as an antipode to us, not only genealogically but existentially
too. Now, the hypothesis of conceiving this monster is a remarkable
operation that provides us with an example of interobjectivity. It takes us
into an interobjective relation to ourselves. It is not self-observation,
not even introspection: these are no good ways, producing a space of
observation that is similar to the Newtonian one, emptied, fixed and
objective. No, the way Flusser & Bec chose is radically different. It is
similar to hermeneutics' Horizontverschmelzung: it is a fusion of two
different 'Lebenswelts' in a phenomenological manner. It is
Lebensweltverschmelzung. That means, it creates the relative space between
Vampyroteuthis and us (somewhat in a rather Merleau-Pontyan than Husserlian
manner). Both beings, the human one and the Vampyroteuthis are inhabitants
of the same planet and the result of the same -- however, bifurcating --
evolutional process.

The fusion of the Lebenswelts is thus taking the shape of a cultural
criticism. The more radically the result of an evolutionary process differs
from our one, the evolution leading to human beings that is, the more
disgusting we find a living thing. The most disgusting ones are those that
have different symmetries, different segmentarity, no spinal column, etc.
Darwin gave this chauvinistic attitude to evolution -- the measure of
disguise -- the form of a scientific evolutionary taxonomy.
Lebensweltverschmelzung, the fusion of the lived worlds, is on the contrary,
a biological hermeneutics that can lead to a better understanding of
ourselves. The procedure reminds, again, of Leibnizianism: instead of the
one and only existing Lebenswelt, the human one, it works with the
Lebenswelts of possible worlds. The actual and the possible -- our world and
the world of the Vampyroteuthis, having a well-defined place within the
Darwinian taxonomy -- land up on one side; the other side is the
incompossibility, the non-ability of co-existence. Interobjectivity
approaches the Lebenswelt in a way where there is no reality and
fictionality as opposed to each other, but actuality and virtuality on the
one side and impossibility on the other.
        The initiation of interobjective horizons is not exceptional, not
even unusual in the phenomenological activity of Flusser. When, for example,
he compares our behaviour working on the keyboard of a computer with that of
monkeys when searching for parasites in the fur of each other, the
description relativizes the human Lebenswelt in a single step. The point of
departure is not the significance or the meaning of the observed, but rather
the gesture. The observed activity is thus not an intellectual one, but a
kind of socially pregnant connoisseurship. The horizon of the consideration
is not the actual, but the virtual: the human aspect, the possible subject
is relativized and becomes a part of an interobjective horizon. -- What all
this demonstrates is, that interobjectivity is an example of post-humanistic
thinking. (The more common posthumanistic thinking prefers real groups' real
interests to the abstract interests of humankind, finding out that these
transcendental interests practically worked oppressively in the name of the
emancipation of mankind as a whole. The posthumanism referred to here, is
instead bracketing out the ideal notion of humanity.)
        If it is necessary, this phenomenology of the gestures continues
displacing the horizon until the human gesture, in this case the work on the
keyboard of a computer, looses its human determination, it has no dimension
of a subject any more.

2. Interobjectivity as a Relationship Between Communication and Information

A./ Connection Versus Content

Until now, I shortly introduced the concept of interobjectivity. This was
necessary because the idea is easy to misunderstand. As it should be clear,
it doesn't have a simply opposing relation to intersubjectivity: the
opposition appears only when applying the concept to the phenomenon of
        To begin with, let's assume two certainly illegitimate distinctions
-- they may be instructive: (1) a unit of communication, and (2) that the
unit contains two parts: contact and content. These two, then, correspond
respectively to a communicative and an informational value. Often
fundamentally different, they are, however, not opposed to each other. They
stand for distinct orders. Contact forms the connection between
participants, by touch, signs, telepathy, etc.; it works as a string or as
adhesive between communicators. It arranges a relation, whereas the content
belongs to an order of information. Its value is measured by unexpectedness,
i.e., by informing of something hitherto unknown or forgotten, whereas
contact is rendered by a communicative value, ensuring that the
communicators are bound to each other, it uses the well-known, it works with
familiar riffs, with repeated phrases. In isolation, contact handles
relations, assuring the communicators that there is a communication between
them (similarly to the phatic function in Jakobson); the pure presence of
communication is stressed: something is shared, there is a togetherness,
there is a relation. Pure content, deprived of the riffs of contact is cold
communication; it would produce an interobjectivity, it would be
information of objects. Contact in itself has no object. As Michel Serres
provocatively put it, "I shall call poor that which has no object. Myth has
no object, nor does theatre or politics." (4) They only have relations.
        Now, there is no communication without both contact and content; the
one can, however, almost entirely take the part of the other, they are
indivisible, they are nevertheless connected. And exactly the way in which
they are actually connected can turn us into mere functions of communicative
apparatuses. Contact can be objectified, it is then the source of
surveillance and manipulation - and conversely, contact can be the only
content in a communicative act, "[t]he message becomes the object itself,"
to quote Serres again. (5) To have an object, for communication to be an
interobjectivity, means to stress content, while not transforming contact
into content. Vilém Flusser's phenomenological-cybernetic approach gives a
cardinal lesson in just this. It provides us with objects that inform us.(6)

B./90s versus 60s

The goal of the distinction is the unfolding of a cultural dynamic. A
surprising drama took place during the 60s: advanced and complicated
cultural forms, from 'nouveau roman' or existentialist cinema to free-jazz
and electronic music, became overshadowed. (This progress was carried out
differently within the different genres, starting with fine arts, within ten
years.) These cultural tendencies had the ability to articulate the
existential conditions of the time in such a degree that situations in real
life could be recognised  due to their preceding articulations in the
novels, films or pieces of music; now, they slowly landed up in a vacuum,
not dissimilar to the Newtonian one. As if the conditions were dislocated,
moved away, so that the series of articulations previously tightly connected
to the conditions they articulated, now began to be able to articulate
nothing but their own articulatedness. They became forced back into their
own enclosures.
        These tendencies were quite neutral -- if not adversary -- towards the
official ideology of High Modernism, but this doctrine turned out to be true
of them, these cultural forms arrived at a state of hyperautonomy. An
avant-garde became rearguard, as if it were. Hyperautonomy is a parodical
form of the autonomous work of art: author and recipient are virtually
identical. (The most exposed genres proved to be music and 'frozen music' --
architecture.) What disappeared was not the public, it was rather an unbound
valency, a relation. Instead, what appeared was limit, boundary, the
liminal. They became overshadowed because there emerged cultural forms
articulating that unbound valency, that relation: often poor in content,
they were rich in the ability of making contacts, highlighting communication.
        During the 60s, there was a vast turn towards communicability.
Communication was reinvented by pop, by telephone hacking (that communicated
from a site to the same site, making a loop around the planet) etc.
Successively, the communicative value became stressed and the informative
one ignored. By the 70s, the vast majority of (mass)cultural products were
user-friendly interfaces of nothing, familiar repeated phrases of the
already known. They suggested contact in any possible way, becoming what
Jean Baudrillard calls 'the ecstasy of communication' - thus simulating and
abusing contact instead of providing it. Contact, togetherness, shared
experience, and the flow of cultural signs of these. The shared became
sliced into pieces: communication killed information.

Now, my somewhat optimistic view is that during the 90s, there is a reversal
taking place. The drama of the 60s repeats itself with a conceptual
transformation from communication versus information into contact versus
content. And with a reversal. Not in the way that content is becoming the
exaggerated part, but rather, by a growing consciousness of what is contact
and what is content. The networks of communication still appear to be the
networks of contacts (as a delayed effect from the 60s, in advertisements as
well as in the majority of the analysis of the networks, contact is still
stressed). At the same time they are producing a need for some content, or
at least a consciousness of emptiness when contact takes place without
content. Communication becomes informed, content becomes more interesting
than contact. As it seems, today those cultural forms are most effective
that articulate this certainly fictitious difference between a state of
having contact and a state of having object, to being informed. And I
assume, this articulation will lead into the next century.

Information wants to be free. Sure. But availability as freedom is far from
enough: it is no more than the plain fact of contact as connectivity.
Freedom wants to be informed.

------------ Notes:

1. Voltaire tells us, "it is not certain that there is a cubic inch of solid
matter in the whole universe." Quoted in: Alexandre Koyré, Newtonian Studies
(London: Chapman and Hall, 1965); p. 167.

2. Vilém Flusser & Louis Bec, Vampyroteuthis Infernalis, (Goettingen:
Immatrix Publications, 1987)

3. Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition (New York: Columbia University
Press, 1994.) p. xxi.

4. Michel Serres, "Panoptic Theory" in: Kavanagh (ed.) The Limits of Theory
(Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1989); p. 27.

5. Serres, op. cit. p. 46.

6. For a plea for cybernetics, a suprising one because it is outside
technological thinking, see: Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick and Adam Frank: "Shame in
the Cybernetic Fold: Reading Silvan Tomkins", in: Critical Inquiry, Winter
1995, volume 21, Nr. 2; pp 496-522.


The text is an abridged version of a paper read at the '6th International
Vilém Flusser Symposium -- "Intersubjectivity: media metaphors, play &
provocation"' March 15-16 1997, Budapest Hungary.

G.B. is lecturer at the Department of Aesthetics, University of Uppsala,
Sweden. His current research fields are: Baroque aesthetics and A.
Baumgarten; weak ontology and experience/experiment; the aesthetics of
complexity and self-organization; etc.

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