15 September 2009

the anti-Ring of Gyges

The object of the computer is not a man, nor is it this or that human face or body. In this sense it breaks with those arts (painting, photography, cinema) that fixate upon the embodied human form--the face, but not always, the hand, but not always--and its proximal relation to a world, if not as their immediate subject matter then at least the absolute horizon of their various aesthetic investments. The computer has not this same obsession. It aims not for man as a object. The reason is simple: because the computer is this object in and of itself.

This is why we do not cry at websites like we cry at the movies. It is why there is no "faciality" with the computer, why there is no concept of a celebrity star system (except ourselves), no characters or story (except our own), no notion of recognition and reversal, as Aristotle said of poetry. If the theater screen always directs toward, the computer screen always directs away. If at the movies you tilt your head back, with a computer you tilt in.

But, you say, there is more affect than ever today, is there not? The net is nothing if not the grand parade of personality profiles, wants and needs, projected egos, "second" selves and "second" lives. This is true. The waning of affect comes at the moment of its absolute rationalization. At the moment when something is perfected, it is dead. This is the condition of affect today online, and it is why the object of the computer is not a man: because its data is one.

Might one go so far as to make the ultimate leap, then, and assert the following: that the computer is an anti-Ring of Gyges. The set up is reversed. The wearer of the ring is free to roam around in plain sight, while the world, invisible, retreats in absolute alterity. The world no longer indicates to us what it is. We indicate ourselves to it, and in doing so the world materializes in our image.

// Alex Galloway, "The Anti-Language of New Media"

1 comment:

John McVey said...

I've encountered the but-does-it-make-you-cry motif a few times recently. e.g., Jessica Helfand's Can graphic design make you cry? at DesignObserver, in August. And then there's James Elkin's book on painting and tears (though that may be another topic).

Your excerpt from Alex Galloway is interesting, and I'll read the rest of it. One thought is, though, that we (or I) do respond emotionally to some web-viewed things. An example for me was some reports about the recent "Station Fire" in the San Gabriel Mountains behind Los Angeles. Some of these reports were in local blogs, or the blog of an astronomer in charge of the Mt Wilson observatory (or part of it). These reports were about a place I am emotionally connected to, which may make this the exception that proves the rule. but in any event, these reports were like letters from the field, and were moving.

is there more affect today, or less? dunno. I'm generally pretty dry, though, and take the affect where I find it, which sometimes is through the machine.