Presence of Future Presence of Video: Thing II

Publication TypeJournal Article
AuthorsSondheim, Alan
SourceArt Vu (1994)

The following essay is the result of two seminars at the New School for Social Research, and SVA in New York. A third source was a number of field trips to the American Southwest. In each of these situations, I worked with theory in relation to specific programming frames, suffering the dissolute edge of postmodernity

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[For Leslie Thornton and Tom Zummer] The following essay is the result of two seminars at the New School for Social Research, and SVA in New York. A third source was a number of field trips to the American Southwest. In each of these situations, I worked with theory in relation to specific programming frames, suffering the dissolute edge of postmodernity. The reality of video is equivalent to the reality of everyday life; there is no difference between representation and the physical/material world. The natural is not subsumed beneath, beyond, or "by" the simulacrum; the spectacle has become part of the natural. Any representation is political, of course, since control of representation requires capital and territorialization. Video is simultaneously a panopticon (singularity-eye observing everything through the lens of the absolute) and a membrane (eye-surface equivalent to every representation). A membrane observes itself; quick-time dampens infinite regress (as time speeds up, memory dissolves). History transforms into time-code which plays itself in two directions, at varying speeds, in fragments. [Time-code numerically labels individual video frames for post-production editing.] Video is becoming-digital [encoding the image in a binary format], thereby harboring eternity within, and absolving time completely of directionality. Digital video repeats itself endlessly, with explicit endless variations; digital video bypasses the "truth" of the image, truth itself, by the particulation of every pixel. [The digital image can be copied, modified, and recopied without any loss of quality.] Truth resides only within the hardened structures of linear equations; digital video suppresses the chaotic domain (ranging from noise through fractal mathematics, perhaps including as well the work of Godel, Tarski, Skolen, Church, etc.), replacing it with binary neutrality. Conversely, information flows, becoming-chaotic; ultimately, paths through the video sememe [the "videosphere" of programs, formats, and distribution networks] will be unrepeatable. No longer will flow be managed or manageable; the perception of the flood is the flood of perception. Information eddies around itself. "Intelligence" - artificial or otherwise - plays no role in the midst of these circulations. Value is nonexistent. Inversely, the expanded redundancies of video representation (visual representation) become increasingly fragile; while energy levels for transmission/reception decrease, the overall energy and stabilizing structures of the planet decrease as well, in the face of overpopulation and planetary extinctions. The result is a precarious laminar topology [the "video membrane"] of information holding its own against global onslaught. Information/representation control replaces or exacerbates traditional warfare technologies. Video brings background to foreground, making them equivalent. The visual controls. The visual replaces other senses; aurality becomes a mode of association. Video membrane becomes a transposition of sexual experience, within or without the body. AIDS and video are both distancing functions; the body becomes nomadic, circulating around technological nodes The concept of home slips from its moorings; stable geographic space becomes irrelevant. Postmodern geography develops within this domain of the nomadic, the marginal, and the impoverished, all beneath or within the membrane of telecommunications. Material/physical economies (housing, transportation, culture, vocation) transform from formal to informal; they become flows themselves, carrying bodies with them. Bodies are necessarily diseased. Human habitation (the lifeworld, habitus) becomes increasingly interstitial, liminal. It is not that the human is displaced, but that video occupies, as membrane, the human. The Enlightenment is literally illuminated by LEDs [light-emitting diodes]. It is not that the signifier has no referent; in fact, everything has become referent, and the signifier slips from its moorings as well. It is not that the phallus is everywhere and dominant, but that lack occurs as a potential (direct or indirect) address within a circuit. It is not that gender is irrelevant; gender becomes everything, just as numerous languages classify and subvert gender within nominal classifications. It is not that sexuality becomes plastic or manufactured, but that the video membrane become capable of excitation, arousal, and orgasm. "Autopornography" - "is everywhere. The increasing use of microelectronics in the home, replays of all sorts, registers of sexualities and chemistries beyond the limits of knowledge, transgressions and lines of flight inhabiting the body of dissolution, the universal computer or body transcendent, the pornographic emphasis on fragments and genitals - this is the refolding of flesh back into desire residing on the margins of every narative, residing and breaking through. Philosophically, will and intentionality are replaced by pleasure and transparency; the autopornographers have left the seen..." [Cinematograph 3.] In 1988, autopornography defined the horizon of a body presenting for-others for-itself [autopornography - the introjected exhibitionist construct of sexuality, circulating among sublimating bodies intent on visual display through video.] In 1998, video circulates, replays itself; in 1998, video is literally pornographic, a membrane unfolding the interior. There is nothing "beyond" cervical display (Annie Sprinkle), itself a form of screen. What are the symptoms of this bundle or thicket of transformations? Program content becomes an irruption, irritation of the skin; channels and programs proliferate and compete. Information exhaustion is replaced by individuated paths through the videosphere; audiences becomes subgroups united by video-activity. Technology miniaturizes, subsumes the body; video becomes flesh, located internally. Computer and video merge: Anything that can be well-defined can be represented. The mechanical is eliminated as prototype solid-state storage replaces magnetic media [videotape and disk require moving machinery including reading and writing heads]. Micro-narratives dominate, as video applies itself to re-enactments of crime and negligence. Legal and medical video become standard; televangelism merges with infomercial and political strategies. Information flows from everywhere. Fiber optics permit an enormous leap in channel carrying-capacity; channels generate information. Image-processing reaches from the stars (radio telescopy) to the atomic (tunnel microscopy). Side-scan radar images Venus and subterranean topography; Hubble stores Star-Wars. Satellites position every object on earth within centimeters. Artifical intelligence is buried in robotics, expert systems, microcomputers and emerging nanotechnology; intelligence becomes a bandwidth instead of dialog (Turing test). [Intelligence is "smeared" across hardware and software, no longer (if ever) a measurable thing.] Sexualities flood; occupy fields, discursive formations; are everywhere interstitial, mesmeric. Autopornography merges with traditional pornography as home videos, fax, the telephone and Internet invert the body, turn interior towards eternal display. Every surface becomes subject to excitation; every surface arouses. Vision becomes desire becomes vision. You don't need to see to see. The physical body becomes prosthetic or nodal, within and without control central. It's chosen, makes choices. It displays itself within the habitus. It's both absolutely unavailable and available. Once on the horizon of the network television show, it now becomes absorbed in that horizon. The natural, nature exists, somewhat invaded, somewhat inert, measured and monitored from a distance, alien and alienated. The organization of the electromagnetic spectrum (radioteletype, radio, television, computer transmissions, whistlers), technological and political, becomes an integral part of every landscape. Management and the world collide only with scarcity; the "rest of the world' (South and North) watches "from a distance." The real, reality remain/s philosophically problematic; however, representation now is integral to any description/explanation. The "referent" of semiotics constructs itself upon both the "signifier" and the "significant"; these merge. What is presented in video is consequential, has _real_ consequences; with the emergence of the video membrane, the message is the medium. Either everything is medium, or content constructs. Everything is equivalent; nothing is identical. Flows break and fragment at their nodal points (computer, television, telephone, face). Internally, every flow is equivalent to every other; there is no truth, no truth value there/here. Externally, flows are defined by null sets: 0 = {x: x not-equal x}. [Null sets are composed of those entities not equal to themselves.] What is equivalent within the channel dissolves upon exit. "Exit" is not terminal (there are no terminal points), but impediments within networks. These impediments exist within chaotic domains; there is always an element of unpredictability at the interface. Further, action, human or otherwise, is not completely transformable into data; signifiers and referents leak. Leakages are everywhere; computers are vulnerable to viruses, telecommunications channels to interrupts, the electromagnetic spectrum to pirates, cellular telephony and shortwave to illegal monitoring, and space-time itself to bugging. Leakages also occur as content within programs, as sexualities within the "clean and proper body," as irritabilities. Leakage theory results, continuous and fluctuating forms of containment. Nothing holds for long. Nothing holds: Formats change constantly, from EIAJ video to 3/4" to VHS to Beta to 8mm to Hi8 to SVHS to D1 D2 D3 DV, MII and beyond. [From raw tape to cassette, from analog to digital, from tape to disk to solid state. Dreams of telepathy, telepresence.] As formats change, information is lost [old EIAJ tapes are relatively unplayable]; no matter, since representation itself flows and replaces. Death dies: "Individuals" fade away, are dispersed, fade out in the midst of images. Individual voices, the "voice of the poet," become inaudible; authorship dissolves in committee or within the Internet - intellectual property becomes a losing and duplicated issue. New forms of discourse proliferate; anger flattens with the advent of automatic gain controls. On the other hand, perversions multiply; like truth, become equivalences; nothing is perverse (except perhaps the deliberate failure of a node, the result of everything from snuff films to cutting the power). And finally, everything games; business merges with militarism merges with the arcade; virtual reality, always on the horizon (or defining it), merges with sexual conquest merges with the news. The video eye becomes the video I, observing and playing. Not to play is not to participate; not to participate is to withdraw, lurk, become an empty set. The empty set remains within the grid ( /dev/nul ); through geomatics and geographic information systems (GIS), everything remains. There's no longer an outside; everything's inside-outside in a permanent state of pornographic exhumation. None the less, the sheer inertia of the world remains a given; the vulnerability of electronic and optical representations (which form the central nervous system of everything under discussion) also increases exponentially. The emergence of the CIS out of the USSR is as much a destabilization as a problematic triumph; old ethnic hatreds and territorializations bring the world once again to the brink of mechanized warfare. Overpopulation and the proliferation of armament guarantee increasing conflict. While microchip/data storage costs drop, high-end electronics and formats such as high-definition television (HDTV) ensure that networking will always produce inequality. At least so far, it is capital that has driven electronic development, in particular, crisis capital. Development requires both small independent (Silicon Valley etc.) companies and national efforts (Star Wars, Japanese electronic intelligence research). New formats drive out old, regardless of content; the emphasis is on proliferated choice (more channels, greater bandwidth), increasing resolution (finer detail), greater parallelisms (intelligent systems), and simulation (virtual reality, "surround sound"). The end result is a seamless virtual reality, little different than "our own," eternal and replete with perfect bodies. Nowhere to go, nothing to do, but be. New formats drive out old; old formats disappear with the greater part of the "old content." The elimination of old information is ecologically sound; nothing is lost except data organization. The elimination results in an electronic wasteland or "dump" which becomes physically smaller as throwaway components themselves continue to miniaturize. Paper, too, becomes less and less viable... Consider crisis capital in the midst of all of this. Overpopulation problematizes national boundaries; boundaries are monitored, remaining leaky. Tension increases as the material world pollutes. The majority of the world's population inhabits shanty-towns, favelas, colonias, or their equivalent. Everywhere, video and programming exist. Video rental stores are found in the colonias of Juarez; families have VCRs, AM and FM, but no sewage or running water. Electricity is "stolen" from nearby overhead wires. Telenovellas are a favorite form of entertainment; programs originate in Mexico City, are broadcast from Juarez or El Paso. Programming becomes more and more transnational and corporate (was it ever any other way?); radicality, defused on the national level, is more evident in local programming which tends towards the development of regional consciousness. Within the region, the loudspeaker is the first moment of electronic consciousness, and the video membrane or Internet is the last. But the loudspeaker is portable and inexpensive; even with exponentially-dropping costs, the video membrane remains out of reach for almost anyone. (Even reliable telephone service is non-existent within the colonias.) Beyond national and regional programming, the membrane exists in a fluctuating state. In the colonias, which continue to grow rapidly, choice is limited: television sets are often old, recycled, faulty. While the "twin plants" or maquiladoras (factories supplied by inexpensive Mexican labor, assembling your television or modem) may be connected by microwave link, face-to-face communication reigns in the colonias; the combination of electronics and the street may prove to be an explosive mixture. In these neighborhoods, the old model of the simulacrum is pertinent; representation of a "better life" out there hardly portends the practico-inert of everyday existence - instead, tapping into desire, fetishization, capital. In the future, everything will be available to everyone, and everyone will be everything. The world will split into poverty and image; knowledge, available to everyone, will be an image. Knowing the network replaces "knowing oneself"; the body-in-pain, denying itself or not, will always have an address, a location, within a more or less accessible membrane. Knowledge, becoming knowledge management, means: Know an address, URL, IP. Pain is an accessory. In the future, there will be a new philosophy.