How can gaps become manifest without white noise? When it's all filled in, when there are no more 404s, when the links loop us back or just repeat, when the wait time is nil, when Amazon and You Tube and iTunes knows what we want before we do, how can the gap introduce itself?
Mediation is not the problem. Representation is not the problem. Rather, media is immediate, reactions proceed actions. Someone's always there--Facebook, Twitter, somewhere.
One way: the stutter, the glitch (like in the Matrix), the unexpected repetition, the double take. And the thing is, the gap or obstacle has to be more than that which catches us in our looking: we are already mesmerized by our spectatorship. We already think that we are active spectators, creative speakers, political spectators, hence we mistake looking for making, seeing something happen with making something happen.
The mashed-up recombinant field depoliticizes juxtaposition, irony, satire, gesture, bricolage, montage. The fact of fragmentation--nose job, implants, great legs!, partial objects--already means that the problem isn't naturalized wholes, the constraint of narrative, the givenness of relations that present themselves as logical. Fragments, segments, samples, pieces--parts without sums. Recombination: just another option or opinion. What else is out there?
Breaking out of the drive that captures us in our self-reflection--that's the challenge,
I saw this in the NYT yesterday: www.nytimes.com
Mr. Walk’s team meets weekly to discuss tweaks to YouTube’s software. During a recent meeting, a small group of engineers and user interface designers were brainstorming what might be the next big step in the site’s evolution: pages that would immediately begin playing a stream of clips tailored for a user, instead of offering lists of suggested videos. The idea is to push more videos at users in the hope of allowing them to abandon the keyboard and increasingly experience YouTube from the couch.
“On YouTube, every 45 seconds, you are stuck at a decision point,” Mr. Davidson said. “Any time there is a decision point, people may leave. We don’t want to take out the interactivity, but the default user experience should be a lot easier.”
We are used to thinking about consumerism in terms of the multiplication of choices. Communicative capitalism likewise relies on the equation of political choices with consumer choices via entertainment (opinion, interests, sports, betting, gambling, politics qua spectator sport on which we bet). Numerous critics (appearing as early as Thucydides) lament the sporting, speculative approach to politics, the sense that politics is a primarily a game, and a game that is fixed (what matters is behind the scenes). Debord attuned us to thinking in terms of the spectacle (and the conspiracy underlying it). The multiple choices are an illusion masking an underlying fixity: the fix is in, the game is up, or, its played between opponents for whom the rest of us are no more than pawns, food, feed.
It's rather different, I think, to find explicit emphasis on attempts to eliminate decisions, to wipe it out, to enrapture spectators so that we forget that we can just walk away (one reason why political strategies of refusal are not nothing). We are used to be told that freedom is choice, not that our decisions should be hidden from us, displaced from view.
On the phone in a hideous computer tree we keep answering, waiting, choosing options (last year I wasted 90 minutes for a free phone). It's hard to hang up. Once we are in, our inertial tendency is to stay in.
Decision points: in writing--ends of sentences, ends of paragraphs, ends of pages, ends of scenes, ends of arguments, ends of chapters. Both narrative and visual convention keeps us going, keeps us engaged, prevents us from thinking in terms of decision points (that's also part of the pleasure, the book that we can't put down). In film: primarily scenes but also angles--we can cut out when there's a cut. In formulaic films, we can guess that the beginning of a battle scene is a good time to go to the bathroom. Television: commercials. That's when we can leave; that's our decision point. That's when there are options.
When I was kid, our television only picked up three channels (although I loved playing with the antenna and the uhf dial, wondering if I could find secret messages). In between: white noise, dead air, static--it looked like the inside of a car in a snow storm. Turning from one network to another we passed through the white noise, the space where we were momentarily free from interpellation. No one was trying to sell us something, tell us something.
White noise was frightening, don't get me wrong. Poltergeist captured that to good effect (although if memory serves the effect is derivative of the Outer Limits). Were there subliminal messages? A pattern? It's as if from the beginning we had a hard time imaging a space free from messages, a space that wasn't telling us anything at all.
Perhaps because of our fear of noise, our fear of non-meaning, our fear of what it could mean to be a spectator with nothing to see or a being outside of interpellation, we stopped imagining dead air--remote controllers let us zap right past it. We could avoid messages we didn't want and dead air and quickly look for something that might detract us. We could easily find our own capture, that is, our own opportunity to be liberated once more from the dilemma of a decision. Remotes let us both convince ourselves of a kind of agency--we don't have to make ourselves available to every advertisement--and let us avoid the white noise of empty space, a space where we might have to let our minds rest, drift, or think.
VCR's: even better. No more white noise at all. Just the messages we wanted, when we wanted. But, when there isn't much to see, much worth recording, then we risk confronting decisions again. 800 channel cable and satellite tv helped. Digital eliminate even more of the empty, wasted space, the spaces where we might as little questions, reflect, or decide.
The promise of user generated content: we are all so creative, so empowered, so connected. It's all there--if you want it. The thing is, we lose the sense of wanting, of desire, because it's already there, filled in, no gap.
YouTube, though, thinks we are still at risk of deciding, thinking. The very abundance of options, of messages, of voices, has come through to the other side: excess and lack, two sides of the same phenomenon. So, now more than we can want will still be there, but now we won't have to think about what this might mean, we won't have to figure it out, think about it, or decide.
A kinder, simpler You Tube.
Ideal of the post-democratic multitude.
Leaving aside the unfortunate evocation of Clinton era politics (reinventing government)--which could be mine, but I'm too tired after the red eye back to look it up--there is something impossible (but necessary) about an injunction to dream differently. But maybe that's the point.
Our mistake in emphasizing either dreaming or waking is forgetting the connections between the two, their imbrications and links, the way each persists as a gap in the other, and even the way that there are moments when they blur such that we can't tell whether are asleep or awake (then again, this could be simply my extension of the early hours waiting this morning at JFK, neither awake nor asleep).
The nihilism of misplaced realism is the way it remains stuck in wakefulness, as if dreaming were a retreat (Lacan points to how in waking we flee the Real of the dream). Frequently, and with increasing intensity, perhaps as we approach the Real of Capital in today's continued condition of undeniable, unavoidable, crisis and excess, some on the left, hands over their ears and screaming, repeat, repeat, repeat that we've learned that socialism is a dead exercise, that communism is no ideal, that any, any, any evocations of a Party, or discipline, or--heaven forbid--taking over the state and having the state take over the economy are, slap/slam, slap/slam, slap/slam, misplaced dreams.
But maybe that's the point. To place the dreams of communism again in our setting, to reset them, to occupy them and extend them and use them to change and distort what we've woken up to. The same dream in a new setting is not the same dream.
Since I was young, I've dreamt versions of the same dream. It usually involves exploring a house or houses. And in each dream, I remember the previous ones. I know where the rooms lead, where the hidden staircase is, where the scary places are. Each new dream adds something else or each of my wakings is different and so what I recall or accent is different.
In State and Revolution, Lenin makes the withering away of the state depend on the spread of accounting, surveillance, and discipline throughout the population. When society becomes a factory and an office, when the tasks are so simple that anyone can do them, the parascitic elements of the bourgeois-military state are no longer necessary (of course, it goes without saying that this aspect of withering away is only possible after the revolutionary overthrow of the bourgeois state and the establishment of a proletarian state). Too many so-called leftists write today as if we can have the withering away without the revolution, as if the withering away would necessarily be a human withering (or maybe this is why they are so keen on animals and objects; they know full well that this is no human withering at all, that the fundamental edifice of police power protecting the finance sector doesn't and hasn't wither away at all, that humans persist as so much refuse, accumulating as themselves as the new surplus). It's the way that they deny antagonism.
They should go back to sleep.
White noise. Signal to noise. The setting, the manifold.
And, the between signals: a space/time that has diminished so as to be barely perceptible. White noise has been cultivated, taken over, colonized, developed, made useful.
But could the becoming useful of noise, the development of white noise and occupation of what were spaces between, could this also be a becoming noise of the background? So that the fact of noise persists as an artifact of the limits of our attention and focus. By virtue of focus, components and blocks of noise become signals. They become for us. Our excision of them from the manifold, like a framing or sampling or remixing or collecting or archiving, is what distinguishes signal from noise.
The mistake we make is to think that their meaning is prior to this excision rather than a result of it.
But what about their truth?
If the symbolic always necessarily involves bracketing and exclusion, this not that, then what does this mean for the truth of what is included and what is left out? Currents in late 20th thought proceeded as if what were left behind had a more compelling truth, a truth that was more than a shaping and more than a necessary condition (a difference, then, between a fundamental fantasy which is Real because it insists rather than exists). So anything that was other to mainstream science, mainstream medicine, or mainstream politics was not just excluded in the production of the mainstream but true by virtue of this exclusion. It's as if a claim to truth somehow came to accompany critiques of exclusion, as if establishing the fact (and then the illegitimacy) of an exclusion depended on establishing the truth-value of the excluded.
What is the effect, then, of the setting of the decline of symbolic efficiency? A flattening and extension and re-manifold-ing (non-all) that occasions the end of games and procedures of truth and falsity and the proliferation of the neither true nor false.
One might think that the results are the possible and the credible, but these float away as well (or only flourish in the hothouses of insular communities of discourse, communities ever more porous even as they are ever more defended). Without conditions to determine the parameters of credibility and possibility, in fact, in the face of outright disbelief in the face of the actuality of the unlikely, anything is possible.
But if anything is possible, nothing is (as well).
Zizek argues that the little piece of the real that supports our fragile symbolic reality must appear to be found rather than produced. Yes, any old object can serve. But we have to think that its fascinating power comes from it rather than from its place in the structure.
Is not this part of the appeal of found footage and outsider art? We think that we have come across something that is Real, appealing because it is not part of the established system, not produced for us and our consumption.
So how does this work with You Tube? Are we finding pieces of the Real or are they produced for us? The fissure or gap here is irreducible. The answer to both questions is yes and no. The experience of the gap is what drives us.
While I was in Belgium last week, I went to an exhibit at the Strombeek gallery in Brussels that highlighted work by Johan Grimonprez (director of Double Take). One of the pieces was a sound piece, an interview with Karen Black. One doesn't listen to the interview with headphones but in a small, round room with a platform in the middle. The room is dimly lit, with a paraphrase of a line from the interview (about Alfred Hitchcock not having a belly button) written in white on one of the dark blue walls. One can sit or lie down on the platform--I bet 4-5 people could lie on it without crowding each other. Most of the interview involves Karen Black's recollecting working with Hitchcock on Family Plot.
The piece feels intimate, maybe too intimate (I wonder if it feels the same to people who have never seen Karen Black). It feels more intimate than it would if one were reading it or even than it would if one saw the interview on television. The dark space, the enveloping sound, the vulnerability of lying down in a public space all amplify the intimacy, the intrusion. One gets absorbed in or enveloped by her voice, caught up in it, at risk of giving over to it. Her voice feels more intimate than it would if one were listening to it with headphones or earbuds or on a laptop in an office--with all those versions of personal media we are less exposed in our hearing, less vulnerable to others' seeing us and maybe hearing us hearing (hearing us hearing could be linked to a version of a primal scene or to hearing ourselves being heard).
She does impressions--of Hitchcock, of different accents. These seem risky, outrageous--why is she performing so much, why is she so over the top--but even quick attempts to dismiss them--well, she is an actress, after all--can't bracket the excess and intensity of her enveloping voice.
It's her voice, in all those impression; her voice, pretending to be Hitchcock.
And how is it, then, that with vocal doubles we experience two people but one voice? The pleasure is the imitation, the impersonation, the slight exaggeration and bringing to our attention the eccentricity or uniqueness of what now echoes as an original. But the uniqueness only resounds as 're', as a repetition, as the approach to the original that isn't. With the vocal double, we hear the one who is speaking and know that it is him, but we also hear another--only rarely do we mistake one for the other, we know the difference (and that knowledge is a component of the very possibility of impersonation, of a vocal double--we could compare the vocal double, then, with the voice-over or the voice of an animated character).
I don't like hearing my voice. I don't listen to interviews or podcasts that I've done. I loathe listening to answering machines or voice mail when I have to hear my voice (although I should confess that this sometimes reverses itself as I listen over and over again to my greeting, somewhat repulsed, but still unable to stop listening and re-recording, perhaps in an attempt to eliminate the excessive part, the part that I can't quite control--and, no, it's not just the southern accent, although it could be related to the oddness I hear in the attempts to displace it).
Even doubled or impersonated, the voice is Real. Even recorded voices, taped voices, are Real--we can tell the difference. On the phone, we can hear if something is wrong--sometimes it's easier to hear that something is wrong than to see it--appearances can be deceiving. I don't like talking on the phone very much, either, wary of the exposure that is more intense than a face to face encounter, likely because face to face we see the reactions of the other.
Surrounded by music and noise, do we lose voice(s)? Or are we protecting ourselves from their intensity? Are we, vulnerable bare lives, barely subjects, whatever beings, at the mercy of the imaginary and the Real and denuded of Symbolic protections, do we need the noise to avoid the voice (and might schizoanalysis fail insofar as it risks trivializing the intrusion of voices without bodies)? And how has contemporary pseudo-politics worked to block from us the radicality of the Real voice, inducing us to refer to any misrepresentation or exclusion as a loss of voice or a denial of voice when really adding to the cacophony is the surest way for the voice not to be heard?
The voice is singular.
Can there be a Real voice of the people?
When we say that someone did a double take, we are saying that they looked again, looked back. They saw something and rather than assimilating what they saw into the manifold of impressions, they were pushed, impelled, to look at it again. With a double take, it's not that the person chooses or decides to look again, to look back; rather, they find themselves already looking back.
What makes one look again?
A rupture or a glitch, a disconnection or seam, a fault line in the manifold of impressions that, somehow, is more than that manifold. The plenitude of sensory impressions, the multiplicty in which one persists, at that moment exceeds itself. Some kind of excess in the field calls attention to the field.
The Lacanian term for that excess rupturing the field is the gaze. The gaze, then, isn't what the viewer sees; it's what makes her look and become aware that she is looking. The gaze confronts the viewer in her viewing, disturbing it, denaturalizing it, making what was formerly seamless appear with seams, with cuts, with splices.
In a media setting filled with interruptions, with cuts and splices, segments and seques, the gaze, rather than becoming more apparent, retreats. The field itself seems comprised of bits of footage, multiple layers of impressions impressing themselves into layers. Interrupting this field of interruptions thus becomes a challenge: what makes one interruption different from another, what lets it rupture the field of interruptions, what lets it become an opportunity for an encounter with the Real of the gaze rather than simply another moment in the imaginary?
Perhaps because I've been teaching the Republic, perhaps because my thinking looks back more easily than forward (or even around), I wonder if the interruption of the gaze in a field of interruptions depends on something like what Plato describes as a summons--a sensory impression that extends in opposing directions, that impresses a contradiction on the senses, calling forth some need to understand. On the one hand, we could describe this as a lack, insofar as their is a lack of understanding. On the other, it is just as easy to think of the situation as one of surplus, an abundance which pushes the one who senses in conflicting directions.
And the summons can only summon so long as it remains in conflict, opposed. If there is a resolution, the conflict or opposition becomes only apparent, imaginary, and not Real.
In a field of interruptions the gaze manifests itself as an interruption of the interruptions, perhaps as a bracketing that makes us say, 'but wait! there's more' and that in so doing calls us to look back on our looking. What makes this interruption the work of the drive is that we find ourself already lost in it, already having turned.