Lenny Nero, I can get you what you want. You just have to
talk to me. I’m your priest, your shrink, your main connection to the
switchboard of souls. I’m the Magic Man, the Santa Claus of the
subconscious. You say it, you even think it,
Strange Days (1995)
The velocity of
contemporary existence has
fundamentally transformed notions of
As digitalized time ticks away, the mind has developed to
cope with a phenomenological blizzard. We no longer appear to live in a real
time experience but alternatively seem to exist in an immediate phospherent
instant. Time cannot be conceived as linear and segmented, but
multi-directional and deep.
And it begins: the journey centres around perception as
the new organizing commodity of society. The seizure of the means of
perception does not merely complement financial capital but ultimately
renders capital, and capitalism itself, irrelevant.
With novel methods of lived perception in the new
millennium, society spins headlong into the very brink of a dark vortex of
digital virtuality. The contemporary instant can, and will, vanish entirely
into that vortex.
The Agricultural Revolution initiated a seizure of the
means of organic production. The Industrial Revolution absorbed the means of
mechanical production. The Information Revolution integrated the means of
symbolic production. But the post-symbolic Virtual Revolution is far more
profound than any of these earlier disruptions, for it seizes the means of
perception itself—the very means of cognition.
It now becomes possible to actually interrupt the stream
of human consciousness, indeed to divert the enormous power of that stream
to our own specific ends. The deepest reservoirs of human perception and
consciousness can be diverted at will, changing the traditional patterns of
consciousness with the “McLuhanesque” abruptions of a channel-break for
commercials—or the finger on the remote control.
Perceptual tests reveal that the human mind derives its
impression of so-called “reality” through an astonishingly narrow and
data-poor series of quick retinal impressions. This very limited visual
tracking—commonly only ten to fifteen percent of our environment is ever
subjected to a direct flow by the eyeball—is assembled into a seamless
perception of reality by the optic centre of the brain (assisted by neural–net
sub processing in the retina and optic nerve). These human organic, wet-ware
visual processors like all processors, can be “hacked.”
With fractal compression techniques, it is entirely
possible to cram more detail into an image than was present in the original
image itself. There is no “image degeneration” with fractal compression—quite
the opposite, the more the image is fractally manipulated, the more
apparently “real” it becomes. Fractal imagery of this type possesses a
virtual and perceptual “density” that a natural object cannot match.
Fractal generated imagery/detail is not “accurate” detail, in the sense
that it is not “true to the original.” The density of fractal detail is
mathematically generated on location.
The virtual image is “better” than the real—and the
human mind senses this superiority on an entirely unconscious level. The
assisted digitalized image carries a “neural impression” of authenticity
that overwhelms the human brain’s perceptual centres. Doubts fade into the
algorithm on an entirely unconscious, organic, cellular level; vision
becomes a conduit for the certainty of an electronically modified “reality.”
Beyond judgment—this is in some sense the last
revelation. The entire ontological structure of Cartesian doubt is rendered
irrelevant by neural-implant science. The fundamental cosmic constants of
life and thought can now be directly engineered. Philosophy’s despotism
with its predilection for Platonic-fascist top-down solutions is subverted.
With the capacity to enhance the perceptual effect, our physical command
over the means of perception and cognition are complete. Here, wet chemical
and dry computer digital engineering converge.
investigate the capacity for augmenting mental functions by physically
linking brain structures to external computer hardware. After locating a
suitable neural connection site, hardware and software of a compatible
format can be developed. The approach generates from straightforward
augmentation, pointing to the additional possibility of gradually
migrating memories, skills and personality encoded in fragile and bounded
neural hardware to faster, more capacious and communicative, and less
mortal external digital machinery—thus preserving and expanding the
essential function of a mind, even as the nervous system in which it arose
was lost. A mind and personality, as an information-bearing pattern, might
thus be freed from the limitations and risks of a particular physical body
to travel over information channels.
* * *
The modern city is no longer a living space filled with
human characters. It is now an inorganic, anti-scenic, two-dimensional
space of information flows and signs. Instantly, junks of information
flash across screens. The so-called “living reality” is becoming more
sparse day by day. The city is an abstract space where all types of
symbols and signs intersect and co-exist.
The over-expansion of the information circle rather
than the over-contraction of the living circle forms our daily experience.
Home, shut up in a narrow space we consume information: TV/PC/24 hr
streams. “Living reality” is getting thinner, while information flies,
swarms, proliferates. Information about war in the Middle East has the
same value as that in commercials of instant noodles and financial
Increasingly we lack experience in direct contact with
others. Only in the consumption of information can we get “existential”
The horrors felt by urban cities are not derived from
the bloody murders frequently occurring in reality, though such events
happen everywhere at every time.
People “get in touch with information, not with each
other.” And so necessarily answer spatial questions when constructing
present urban knowledge.
The city is an active force in constituting bodies, and
always leaves its traces on the subject’s corporeality. Correspondingly
the dramatic transformation of the city as a result of the information
revolution has direct effects
on the inscription of bodies. In The Overexposed City, Paul Virilio
elaborates the tendency in cities today towards hyper-reality: the
replacement of geographical space with the screen interface, the
transformation of distance and depth into pure surface, the reduction of
space to time, of the face-to-face encounter
to the terminal screen.
On the terminal’s screen, a span of time becomes
both the surface and the support of inscription, time literally…surfaces.
Due to the cathode-ray tube’s imperceptible substance, the dimensions
of space become inseparable from their speed of transmission. Unity of
place without the unity of time makes the city disappear into the
heterogeneity of advanced technology’s temporal regime.1
The implosion of space into time, the transmutation of
distance into speed, the instantaneousness of communication, the
collapsing of the workspace into the home computer system, clearly has
major effects on the bodies in the city. The subject’s body will no
longer be disjointedly connected to random others and objects through the
city’s spatio-temporal layout, it will interface with the computer,
forming part of an information machine in which the body’s limbs and
organs become interchangeable parts. This results in the “transbreeding”
of the body and machine. The machine adopts the characteristics attributed
to the human body (“artificial intelligence”—automatons). The human
body takes on the characteristics of the machine (the cyborg, bionics and
computer prosthesis). It is certain that this will fundamentally transform
the ways in which we conceive both cities and bodies, and their
In The System of Objects2 Jean
Baudrillard suggests that “the ambition of objects is to act as
replacements for human relationships” and that objects and technics can
be perceived “as substitute answers to human conflicts.” He is in
essence talking about the principle of displacement and containment—in
other words we transfer onto technology our desires and our fears.
In discussing artificial intelligence, Baudrilliard
describes how we watch the fruits of our imaginings and because “the
automated object” “works by itself” its resemblance to the
autonomous human being is unmistakable, and the fascination thus created
carries the day. We are in the presence of a “new anthropomorphism.”
We watch it doing what we do—the technical object is the projection of
our efficiency, it is “as our own image.”
There will no longer be clear distinctions between
human and machine. Computers—neural implants—can be directly applied
to the human brain. Neural implants will be available that interface
directly to brain cells. The implants will enhance sensory experience and
improve memory and thinking. With advance brain scanning the entire
organization, including the brains memory, can then be re-created on a
digital-analogue computer. With complete detailed maps of the
computationally relevant features of the human brain these designs can be
re-created in advanced neural computers.
* * *
Time. Uncertain, uncontrollable. Sometimes yesterday
becomes like last year, and last year becomes like yesterday. Here, time
becomes episodic, scattered.
The crisis of perception, the automation of perception
threatens our understanding. The synthetic image is essentially a “statistical
image” that can only emerge thanks to rapid calculation of the pixels a
computer graphic system displayed on a screen. In order to decode each
individual pixel, the pixels immediately surrounding it must be analysed.
The usual criticism of statistical thought—generating rational illusions—thus
necessarily comes down to what we might call the visual thought of the
computer, digital optics now being scarcely more than a statistical optics
capable of generating a series of visual illusions, rational illusions,
which affect our understanding as well as reasoning.
* * *
Kathryn Bigelow’s Strange Days (1995) is set
in Los Angeles, during the last two days of the year 1999. Lenny Nero
(Ralph Fiennes) is an ex-cop who deals “clips” for the illegal market
of the Squid—a machine which records on diskette the wearer’s
perceptions during a lived experience. A consumer/user may subsequently
replay the diskette, “re-experiencing” the same event upon all
perceptual levels. As Lenny explains to a new client, “This is not like
TV only better. This is life. Pieces of somebody’s life. Pure and uncut,
straight from the cerebral cortex.”
The narrative makes a neat and clever analogy for
philosophical considerations of consciousness: the realm of the actual
versus the virtual, the ways in which the mind might be disturbed,
refracted, re-created, by a variety of technological energies and
wavelengths through the cerebral cortex’s transpositions by means of
electrical impulses to synaptic tissues and cellular matrixes, in addition
to the role of subjectivities or singularities within the auspices of
consciousness (it has been substantiated scientifically, that drugs like
LSD have had similar liminal effects on the brains mechanisms, its
cellular structures and synaptic mechanism). The very realm of fantasy
becomes “mind-blowing,” literally-real, in the possibilities for mind
distortion and virtual engagement beyond and outside the exigencies of the
real. The techno-euphoria of cyberspatial virtual reality and
video-playback are extended through the direct mainlining of the cerebral
cortex, rather than the computer/TV screen as hardware. The cerebral
cortex becomes the body, becomes the machine, fed by the arteries/cerebral
tissues, which operate as channels, tuned into the drug-like contamination
of the software clips, played through a miniature play-back device, as
small as a computer mouse. Drugs through cyberspatial technologies—a
literal on-line source.
* * *
Strange Days becomes emblematic of the contemporary
condition. Reality has becomes unstable. Human beings can only verify
their “real” status via memory clips of experienced events—the
contrast allowing orientation in present living time-space. Are we in such
a condition? Do we fetishize the memory because so much else has become
dubious? Is it impossible to distinguish a truthful narrative from the “fictive”
in memories? Reality begins to dissolve into the fantasy world of
As religious plays designed to reveal the mystery of
transcendence to men, the earliest theatrical forms were indeed the
organization of appearances of their time. And the process of
secularization of the theatre supplied the models for later, spectacular
stage management. Aside from the machinery of war, all machines of
ancient times originated in the needs of the theatre. The crane, the
pulley, and other hydraulic devices started out as theatrical
paraphernalia; it was only much later that they revolutionized
production relations. It is a striking fact that no matter how far we go
back in time, the domination of the earth and of man seems to depend on
techniques which serve the purpose not only of work, but also illusion.3
In a world that is becoming increasingly virtual, a
transmitted projection of material “reality,” comprehending the
transmission and control of the projection is to control the world and,
with that, the “secrets” of identity and malleability of corporeal
matter. For anything, any belief, adhered to and given “mythic” form
can become manifestly solid and tangible. What is believed can come to
pass; nothing can exist that one does not believe in. At this point
consciousness is not centred in the world of form, it is experiencing the
world of content.
This is in some sense the last “secret,” not that
secrets themselves are impossible in an information society, but that the
entire ontological structure of Cartesian doubt has been rendered
irrelevant by Virtual Science. “Secrets” become meaningless. Paranoia
is meaningless, conventional politics is meaningless and the entire
desperate ordered structure of our lives has to be re-conceived.
It no longer matters who killed JFK, who or what
initiated AIDS, who was responsible for global warming, who took the
children, who crashed the banking system. Within the structural parameters
of virtual engineering it is possible to consciously
manipulate/manufacture the fundamental cosmic constants of life and
thought. The command of the means of perception and cognition can be
The questions of responsibility are grave, and have to
be faced directly. We must observe with complete alertness, with eyes and
nerves attentive—as all that is solid “melts.” And once we/the
individual has “melted,” why stay here? What besides inertia and fear
compels us to this squalid, wrecked, polluted and corrupted corner of
cosmic space-time? We can enter a “theatre” of all possibilities.
Cross “tomorrow’s” bridge.
* * *
Do you like the reality you are watching now?
Consider the real world by the standards of the virtual
universe. Exploring the virtual world of glowing green and red lines, the
exterior cities of America and Japan, become redolent of the deliquescing
cities of science fiction. Los Angeles, for example, is a game of SimCity™
played by a maniac, a satirical dystopia too weird to be anything but
real. In this respect the interior dimensions of the virtual world can be
regarded as constant, reflections of one another. Los Angeles conveys the
idea of a (real) contemporary city which is a maze of social and
architectural vectors, the consequences of a process of fragmentation.
In this context, the city has become a “pre-historic”
concept to the modern virtual world inhabitant: pre-historic in the sense
that real cities date from a time before virtuality, and as such are
little more than the inspiration for further examples of gothic ruins—the
cyber clichés of a post-apocalyptic society or the desolate rural
settlement where occult forces have transformed the stock characters of
70s Americana into a cast of living dead.
The essence of the cyber-world is never to simulate
real life, but to offer a gift of the possible. In virtuality we are
citizens of an invisible city where there is no danger,
The idea of virtual reality has an air of magic; this
seductive medium of illusionary three-dimensional space seems the stuff of
Disneyland and science-fiction films. Why is replicating the
three-dimensional world so fascinating? Over the ages cultures have sought
strategies to record the illusion of depth in a two-dimensional plane. For
example, the Egyptians flattened and overlapped forms, and artists of the
Italian Renaissance invented three-point perspective. This urge to
reconcile the visual experience of our world with an image of it has
continued into our technological age, from the development of photography
to advanced virtual reality imaging. Positioned at a frontier, as
photography was a century ago, soon virtual reality technology will be
accessible to the fields of medicine, industrial design, architecture and
beyond, and the potentials of this medium will offer new and visionary
images of our world.
The “look” of virtual reality is bound to keep
changing as the colonisation of computers and graphics continues to
develop beyond current expectations. For most of the world “virtual
reality” means the psychologically ultimate three-dimensional imaging
medium of the future.
In exploring the potential models of spatialisation
which new digital technologies make possible, it is necessary to stress
that “space itself” is something not necessarily physical: rather it
is a “field of play” for all information, only one of whose
manifestations is the gravitational and electro-magnetic field of play we
live in, and that we call the real world. Given the malleability of
virtual space, and magnitude of the task facing cyberspace architects
required to design electronic edifices and data cartographies for vast and
rapidly expanding new needs, the spatial constructions in many
contemporary virtual reality environments/games allow for almost unlimited
The contemporary post-humanist environment, is an
almost virtual world: it has no real texture, no age and no sense of
decay. In this everlasting present, the sense of a place so real it is
unreal is overpowering.
* * *
A “place” is somewhere that is symbolically marked,
defined by limits or borders, constituted in relation to others (both
within and without) and recognised through memory and tradition (whether
actual or ideologically created). “Place” is thus distinct from “space”
which is its abstraction: spatialisation involves the bracketing out of
so-called “secondary qualities” and symbolic-traditional residues in
order to derive location from co-ordinates and a grid. Atopia as “non-place”
is not the same as a utopian pure space (or literally “non-space/place”)
even if it follows from it.
If the condition for the disclosure of pure space is
the infinite horizon or horizon of the infinite, the horizon of atopia is
not infinite but “indefinite.” Whereas the infinite necessarily
implies a “telos,” a progression, even if asymptotic, towards that
which recedes, the indefinite combines movement with inertia, and a
reduction of identity and difference to the same. Atopia is distinct from
the infinity of pure space in that it is spatially located: as with “place,”
one can enter and leave it. Therefore it is not simply the negation of
place, but a particular type of “positive” place with its own
characteristics and temporality, and associated experiences. We are in an
atopic non-place as we sit in our cars, listening to music, driving along
the motorway; we are in a non-place when at a shopping-mall; we are in a
non-place when we sit in the lobby of a corporate building, waiting. In
each case, subjectivity does not disappear but it is constituted through
our personal mode of address—a credit card number, a game score.
Non-places involve the displacement and destruction of places, since they
are, unlike the abstract “space,” enacted on the same physical level.
Virtual worlds are non-places. But the body can never
be a non-body. This confrontation between non-places and real bodies is
the crux of the problem of the virtual.
Jane: How do you fit all that shit in your head
anyway? Must have been pretty good at memorizing huh?
Johnny: Implant web wired, I had to dump a chunk of
long term memory.
Jane: You had to dump a chunk of what?
Johnny: My childhood
Jane: Your childhood! Really? All of it? You can’t
remember a thing?
Johnny: Maybe there are some residual traces. Every
now and then there is something, but I can never hold on to it.
(Johnny Mnemonic 1995)
In Johnny Mnemonic (the film based on the story
by William Gibson) Johnny is a mercenary, a man of little empathy and
little time for others. He forsakes emotional engagements for secular
remuneration. But he wasn’t always like this. His “job description”
specified the removal of his long-term memories. Once his memories are
restored, he is able to locate himself within a history and realises for
the first time his own (in) humanity.
* * *
One’s own “sense of place” leads to another form
of “Cartesian anxiety.” If only a personalized knowledge can be
authentic, then a generalized urban historical knowledge becomes
impossible. An experienced sense of place is blurred becoming utterly
inaccessible, so too is the existential perspective of every living
A memory is “literally” re-membered, as disparate
fragments of data residing in various parts of the mind create
replications not duplications of an original experience. This process is
one of interpretation rather than reproduction, and as interpretation, it
is a reformulation, a reconstructed version of an experience. As a result
of this process, the perpetuation of memory owes more to the last recalled
event than to an authentic defining moment. A memory is therefore an
animate replication of a replication ad infinitum—we remember
what we remembered of what we remembered, etc. A memory is therefore as
different from and as similar to an initial moment as from other occasions
of prompted recall. It is the product of continuous genesis, and therefore
subject to the contingencies of a precarious ontology.
In Strange Days, to reproduce the playback of
the Squid clips, Katheryn Bigelow uses a rigorous subjective camera and
long sequence shots, without cuts. Events unfold in real time, in a single
take, from a single point of view. The subjective camera does not only
look at a scene, it moves actively through space. It stutters, it starts
and stops, it pans and tilts, it lurches forward and back. It follows the
rhythms of the body, that of the Squid filmer at the “real” time of
taped experience, and that of the simulated perspective of a wearer during
“playback.” Bigelow omits the reverse shots that usually anchor film
narrative. Alternatively, the “Squid” sequences are intercut with
reaction shorts of whoever plays them back. Usually, it’s Lenny. He sits
with the mesh mechanism over his skull. His eyes are closed. His face
strained with ecstasy or horror. His body shudders and mimes action in
empty air. It’s an uncanny sight, the passion is real, but it has been
divorced from any visible/external context.
The dynamic camera, maintained at a neo-zero distance
from the action, produces a compelling effect of “subjective human
vision.” This vision in Strange Days is shared by multiple
viewers: the Squid wearer, the play-back-clip’s spectator, and the film’s
spectator. The compendium effect is that the screen barrier between
spectator and action, between fiction and reality disappears. The
spectator is “there” in the film space.
In the opening sequence of the film the screen is
black; a male voice asks: “You’re ready?” Then we are shown the
detail of an eye. The eyelid blinks a couple of times before closing. “Yeah.
Boot it,” a second male voice answers. After a burst of bright white
static, we see the inside of a car, shown from the back seat in POV. We
are visually and emotionally engaged with one of three apprehensive
burglars, who are preparing to hit a Thai restaurant. We follow them
inside; we swing “our” gun around threatening clients. “We” shout,
run around nervously, and steal money. A police car cuts off the escape
route. Scared and exhilarated, “we” follow one of the other thieves
onto the roof of the building. There is another building ahead of “us,”
the police now in pursuit. “We” jump, miss, fall-screaming, blackness.
After a cut we are shown the main character Lenny Nero removing a
play-back Squid machine from his head.
It was Lenny’s eye that we saw at the beginning of
the sequence. We realise that the subjective images we have seen, as if
they were our own perceptions, were inside Lenny’s visual mechanism.
They were recorded perceptions, coming from the thief’s cerebral cortex.
Thus they were a projection, a reproduction, a double, that had been
replayed to Lenny as the perception of real events. A
projection, not a visual hallucination, since Lenny was aware
he was watching a clip, as the viewer knows that he/she is watching a
In effect those images were cinematic. The Squid
reproduces, mirrors the functioning of the cinematic apparatus. Bigelow,
in making an increasingly transparent cinema, creates the Squid as a sort
of hybrid of perception—half brain, half machine—acting directly on
the reception/comprehension of the brain. This is a cinema which reflects
on itself, on the voyeuristic pleasure inherent to the spectators viewing
activity, on the risks and fascinations of contemporary technological
experimentation, and on the displacement of the subject.
In Paul Virilio’s theorizations, we have lost the old
universe of ideologies, entering into a “new perspective” of “dromology.”
An empire of “immediacy” speed and communication where the self
mutates into a cyborg, half-flesh, half-metal, where existence is defined
by rapid circulation through the technical capillaries of the mediascape
and where culture is reduced to the “society of the spectacle.”4
What lies ahead is a disturbance in the perception of
what reality is; it is a shock, a mental concussion. Experience entails a
loss of orientation regarding alterity (the other)—a disturbance of the
relationship with the other and with the World. It is apparent that this
dislocation, this non-situation, will inaugurate a deep crisis which will
affect the complexion of society.
In The Aesthetics of Disappearance Virilio
suggests that the contemporary subject is prone to a mild form of
epilepsy. This has interesting consequences in the realm of
creative-imaging, since it has been observed that picnoleptic children
faced with absences that they cannot explain and which they must account
for, will begin to “recall” more than actually happened. They will
insert additional details to cover gaps. This is a type of deterrence in
narrative and experience. The best memory is one that interacts with
experience at a median point, manufacturing additional experiences.5
Media, by altering the environment, evokes in us unique
ratios of sense perceptions. The extension of any one sense alters the way
we think and act—the way we perceive the world. When these ratios
change, people change.
Virillo’s speculations provide an insightful analysis
of the complex discourse of contemporary technology. The “virtual body”
does not exist except as an empty site for the convergence of a dynamic
axis traced by three discourses: the digital coding of a technical culture
which is programmed by computer-generated logic; the implosive logic of
the image reservoir; and the imminent violence of the cyclotronic
body-narrative continuity in the information society can only be assured
by a violent speeding up of conscious perception.
Virilio approaches Nietzsche in understanding the
dynamic language of the “will to will” as the architecture of the
power field, across which subjectivity is expressed. In Speed and
Politics Virilio states, “The related knowledge of knowing-power, or
power knowledge, is eliminated to the benefit of moving power—in other
words to study of tendencies and flows.” Virilio writes a purely “circulatory”
theory of power—power as a terminator vector of violent speed.6
Virilio’s metaphysics parallel Nietzsche’s
conclusions in The Will to Power, which emphasizes “suicidal
nihilism.” “Suicidal nihilism” is the inevitable psychological “fall
out” from the dynamic “spirit of willing” which, knowing that there
is no substantive purpose to its willing, would “rather will nothingness
than not will.”7
If, in effect, the relativity of the visible has become
readily obvious, it is that the true obviousness of the implicit has
already superseded that of the explicit. To no longer believe “one’s
own eyes” has become fatal. The loss of perceptive faith
prolongs/extends indefinitely, the loss of religious faith which began the
Enlightenment. If “God is dead,” as Nietzsche says, it is that the
omnipotence of the “gaze” is extinct forever. The absolute gaze of the
Divine/Creator and the relative gaze of the human/observer, both led into
the fall, definitive blindness.
* * *
Virilio’s thought fundamentally comes to represent a
practical manifestation of Nietzsche’s grim diagnosis of the approaching
storm of technological nihilism. The spirit of sacrificial violence which
pervades Nietzsche’s thought is animated in all its dread in Virilio’s
discussion of the spirit of “endocolonization” the war spirit, that
is, which finally liberated of any political or religious limit, colonizes
time (a nowhere space), the city (a nowhere place), history itself (a
nowhere genealogy) and colonel bodies (as empty “boarded vehicles”).
Virilio’s texts operate as “war machines,”
violent speedways which deconstruct everything in their path, from
subjectivity (“polar inertia”) to flesh (“bodies without wills”).
Dromology is a double sign of presenting and absence, which is the epochal
consciousness of the contemporary condition.
What is to be feared, what has a more calamitous
effect than any other calamity, is that man should inspire not profound
fear but profound nausea; also not great fear but great pity. Suppose
these two were on day to unite, they would inevitably beget one of the
uncanniest monsters the ‘last will’ of man, his will to nothingness.
Nietzsche’s correlation of nausea and pity—“to
will to nothingness”—occurs in the complexion of Virilio’s “dromocratic
subject.” In this site, the body is evacuated, transfigured as a blank
“metabolic vehicle,” a speedway absorbing all of the iridescent signs
of the mediascape, trapped in a closed horizon which moves according to
technological, not biological time. Virilio exemplifies the interpolation
of the flesh by speed—the interiorization of the “will to nothingness”
as the dynamic nexus of dromology. A new type of body has subsequently
emerged, “the presence in the world of bodies without wills.” The
metabolic body is invaded by all the strategies—neon minds/electric
egos/data skins—of the grand circuitry of a society constructed upon the
sleek of surface and network feeding into continuous regenerating
* * *
The “televisual experience” is our new exterior
brain. Galaxies of dreams and information—people become more comfortable
with televisual reality than with daily life. A new reality approaches, a
new synthetic materiality giving people infinite access to infinite
alternative realities through data streams of light. These realities will
program, shape and broadcast information, fragmenting terminally the
fabric of reality. Reality will be a multiple series of channels, option
switches feeding the mind.
The accessibility of reality through representation is
qualified by a subject’s suspension of disbelief. Belief in the
authority of representation can be inconsistent with knowledge based on
the subject’s direct experience of the world. What overrides this
understanding are emotional responses to representations. Essentially this
illusion is analogous to a dream state, a wish fulfillment where rather
than images being assumed to be transparent conveyors of being, they are
allowed to become conditioned by projective desires.
As animate consciousness, dreams are composed of images
and thoughts that apparently exist in real time. They present mirrors of
realities and experiences prescribed by individual subjects through the
dynamic of desire. The thought patterns of dreams illuminate and
re-structure a fabricated terrain of experience. As both permutations and
a consequence of desire, dreams are meanings internally contextualized.
Today it is impossible to talk about the nature of
perception, the analysis of objective reality without also talking about
the development of virtual imagery and its influence on human behaviour.
This should be considered primarily in relation to the
philosophical questions of the shattering of the viewpoint—the sharing
of perception of the environment between the animate/living subject and
the inanimate/object-seeing machine. Once the subject is definitively
removed from the realm of direct/indirect observation of virtual images
created by the machine for the machine, instrumental virtual images will
be for us alien.
One of the fundamental aspects of the development of
the new technologies of digital imagery and of virtual images offered by
electron optics—the relative fusion/confusion of the factual and the
virtual; the ascendancy of the reality effect over a reality principle.
The three tenses of action, past/present/future have
been progressively replaced by two tenses “real time” and “delayed
time,” the future having disappeared in computer programming and in the
corruption of so-called “real-time,” which simultaneously contains
both sections of the present and sections of the immediate future.
Dissimulating the future in the ultra-short time of
on-line computer communication “intensive time” will replace “extensive
time” in which the future was still laid out in periods of
With the fusion of the object and its equivalent image
the confusion between presentation and televised representation, real-time
deception will triumph over classic perception. Scrapping the absolute
nature of traditional concepts of space and time is the scientific
equivalent of the deception of regarding the reality of observed facts. In
the face of the devaluation of territorial space, we embrace a distorted
temporality where true/false are no longer relevant. The actual and the
virtual have gradually taken their place.
If in pre-industrial eras the low speeds of various
vehicles structured and geometrized the social landscape through
infrastrucutural necessities, since the acquisition of high speeds, this
structuring has evolved radically. The essential is no longer visible,
except at times; the means of communication and the vehicle –
projectile coalescence concentrate what is essential to the new “social”
space. Since energy’s area has become the locus of power, it is here,
and not there that the critical is from now on played out. The energy
crisis develops in crisis energy, which means the split between reality—the
materialness of the human habit—and unreality—the immaterialness of
a power that is founded only on the violence of energy and on the
ever-expanding extension of its field.9
Time and space become a pure problematic—a
progressive annihilation of the independence between time/space/subject.
It is hard to imagine a society that would deny the
body just as we have progressively denied the soul. This however, is
where we are headed.10
Today this question appears integrated within the
advance of the new technologies of instantaneous interactivity. Now “closer”
to others than our immediate material neighbours, we progressively detach
ourselves from ourselves.
Now we approach the “automation of perception,” the
innovation of artificial vision, delegating the analysis of objective
reality to a machine, it is appropriate to talk of the nature of the
virtual image. This involves the formation of an optical imagery with no
apparent base no permanency beyond that of mental/instrumental visual
memory. The development of visual culture has become innately connected to
the advance of virtual imagery and its influence on human behaviour, and
the “industrialization of vision” with the veritable market in
synthetic perception and the ethical question this entails.
1. Virilio, Paul. The
Overexposed City. Zone ½ (1986):14-39.
2. Baudrillard, Jean. Le System des objects. Paris:
3. Vaneigem, Raoul. The Revolution of Everyday Life.
London: Left Bank Books/Rebel Press (1983).
4. Debord, Guy. The Society of the Spectacle. Detroit:
Black & Red (1977) .
5. Virilio, Paul. The Aesthetics of Disappearance. Semiotext(e)
6. Virilio, Paul. Speed and Politics: An Essay on
Dromology. Autonomedia (1986) .
7. Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Will to Power. New
York:Random House (1968) .
9. Virilio, Paul. The Art of the Motor. Minneapolis:
Uni.Minnesota Press (1995).
10. Virilio, Paul. The Vision Machine. bfi
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