Instrumentality, Time & Memory in the Virtual
Ed Keller ( firstname.lastname@example.org.)
1.0 THE VIRTUAL
I would like to begin with a mise en abyme, a meditation on the nature of the virtual which will throw this essay through its entire trajectory and deposit us in a place where a more detailed development of each of these concepts can occur. As a starting point I find the formulation of the virtual that Deleuze gives us via Proust fascinating :
'Real without being actual, ideal without being abstract.'
This understanding of the virtual insists upon its operative nature; moreover, the operative nature of something that is not, most likely, visible. It is used by Deleuze within the context of the performance of memory as a force that conditions our perception ineluctably and shapes us as subjects. In Deleuze's investigation of the subject through Bergson's idea of memory, virtuality is the key realm within which memory locates itself .
1.1 The Threshold
The role that the virtual plays in its intersection with time, with memory, can be described by a performance value that will be initially termed the Cinematic Threshold. The term, which I take from Deleuze, reminds us of a spectrum of instrumental qualities that are identifiable in film and in photography; as well as in techniques manipulating space, and narrative. The cinematic threshold is a revealing possibility in film, which exposes the previously unseen and unthought. As such it maintains an instrumentality that has a direct effect upon the configuration of our subjectivity; it gives us more than an expanded lexicon; in fact, the main theme that this paper develops is that there is inherent to this cinematic threshold a certain quality that involves us as viewers/participants in such a way that duration is invoked. This is built into the method of the cinema, and to varying degrees into each technology that we live within. So the description of such instrumentalities will be our focus.
1.2 The Invocation of Duration; Speed's role in relation to Duration
One of the special relations developed by the Cinematic Threshold is the involvement between time and certain intrumentalities. As it performs, at the limit condition of our retinal capacity, it invokes time in a particular way which we can call duration (following Bergson). Speed is invoked, as well, for the varying speeds and slownesses present around the cinematic threshold (the slow mo/ the closeup/and so on) extend the retinal limit in a way that would be previously outside of thought. Speed's relationship to time will take on a larger significance (this connexion will be developed through Bernard Steigler's analysis of Nietzsche) in the action that memory plays in configuring our perception, our subjectivities, because of the concern that has been revealed vis a vis our physical limits, and time as the area into which perception descends.
The main trajectories of this investigation are thus revealed. Our concern is, with the configuration and extension of subjectivity, understanding the virtual as the chief realm for those configurations.
1.3 OPERATIVE FICTIONS...(who ever said I was writing anything but fictions...)
Note the model of subjectivity in William Gibson's Neuromancer, Count Zero, and Mona Lisa Overdrive. The individual's perceptual field is not restricted to their own library of experience, nor to a purely retinal model. Telepresence thus becomes legitimized as a realm of experience along with the retinal, and the haptic, in such a way that the individual's extension into the virtual is a commonplace. As well, their access to libraries of other's experiences is a field that extends their personal subjectivity in much the way that our current technology of the hard drive and the Internet might be said to functionally extend our memory, creating a deployed subjectivity. This point assumes not that our subjectivity was ever purely localized, but that the instrumental qualities of our current technology allow a new form of an already existing deployment. The importance of this example is twofold- it opens the question of the virtual as always having been present in the operative nature of any instrumentality, however concrete- and it simultaneously notes the instrumental peculiarites inherent in Gibson's understanding of virtuality.
As noted above, there is an affiliation between the performance envelope of film, which evolves from it's particular instrumental characteristics, and Bergsonian duration. A favorite example from another discipline employing the explicity operative virtual is the work of Max Ernst, specifically his collage novels, which have been the subject of some attention in Krauss and Foster. I use Ernst as an example of a somewhat different understanding of the collage as a model of hyperplanarity/inchoate becoming animal, and thus a perfect site for an analysis of virtuality. This argument depends upon an understanding of the surface of the image in Ernst not as a site for a purely psychoanalytical or textual decoding, but a field of intensities that invoke the inchoate and the savage. Andrew Benjamin's term timing captures the element of this new form of savagery well in it's understanding that the work of the work is to TIME: to throw the subject into duration.
This is a realm that is close to home for architects, but also for the modern filmmaker. Questions of 'presence' will be opened here, vis a vis the interface. It is linked in my mind to the development of modern computer games, which are one of the primary examples of an extension into cyberspace of the operative realm of the virtual in a way that is specifically spatial (as an extension of the subject into a virtual space through telepresence). Marathon, a new game for the Macintosh platform, is a good example.
Power is coursing through the virtual in it's inflections of our everyday freedoms. Any understanding of the virtual must take into account the matrices of power that bound it's practical and passionate uses. The issue of power may be understood via it's two aspects developed by Deleuze, Guattari, and Foucault: puissance and pouvoir. As Brian Massumi clarifies:
'Puissance refers to a range of potential...It may be thought of as a scale of intensity or fullness of existence...puissance pertains to the virtual, (the plane of consistency), pouvoir to the actual (the plane of organization). D&G use pouvoir in a sense very close to Foucault's, as an instituted and reproducible relation of force, selective concretization of potential.' -1000 Plateaus, p xvii
The relation of power to the virtual takes on tremendous force within the Internet. Between the dialogic formation of subjectivity and the instrumentalities of cyberspace can be found one potential escape path from some of the matrices of power I will touch upon. There are conditions which can be drawn from cyberspace and mapped onto other disciplines, as well, so one is not limited to cyberspace's constrained virtuality; however, my main theme recognizes that our society is moving increasingly into the technologized virtual, into a composite or cyborg condition; therefore, I feel it crucial to theorize techniques of the virtual for this deployed base. It is important to note, as well, that computers and the Internet itself accelerate techniques of surveillance, and provide powerful tools for cataloging individuals. This aspect pervades the use of the networked computer and has sinister overtones at best. In theorizing the Internet then, these aspects, which deploy a truly crushing kind of panopticism against the individual, must be considered carefully.
The techniques examined here, within these contexts, do suggest at least the mention of the word resistance. However, I use this word with caution, not seeking to proffer examples of what I consider useless revolutions that we have seen in the past, but to think through the problem in the way that Walter Benjamin devoted himself to mechanical reproduction. This paper's trajectory is an attempt to extend the theories of Deleuze & Guattari, Ensenzberger, Bahktin, et. al. into the consideration of the dialogic as it irrupts across the World Wide Web. Crucial is a theory of the virtual from a viewpoint which assumes not an independent subject, (even in the virtual) but a dialogically configured subject; and one that does not cast aside the elements of aura that Benjamin struggled with, but was unable to incorporate into his socialist schema for mechanical reproduction. Lest anyone cry global village here as a riposte to these issues, let me hasten to add that simply having global telecommunications broadcasts is NOT enough.
[CONTINUE] 2.0 THE CINEMATIC THRESHOLD