Pit Schultz on Sun, 25 Feb 96 23:22 MET

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nettime: fucking screens - Jordan Crandall

fucking screens  

notes toward a diagram

Jordan Crandall

 I am thinking about some graffiti that Warren Niesluchowski
 found on a wall in Paris--VOUS ME DITES, JE T'EDITE--and an
 NEC ad that I found in Newsweek (or was it Time?). 
        "Everything you know about multimedia is about to
 change.  And fast.  Call it 'virtual reality' if you like,
 but before long you'll actually be able to step into
 magazines and other information sources.  Images and words
 will surround you.  You'll be able to control, even touch,
 what you see.  Instead of simply reading or watching the
 news, you'll be able to participate in events.  Sound
 ridiculous?  Think again."

        How does one respond to such an ad?  Aside from the
 obvious fact that the environment it describes sounds
 remarkably like life as it already is, thank you very much,
 and aside from the fact that the ad is evidently geared to
 compel some sort of liberatory experience for a couch
 potato (imagine! -- you can ACTUALLY PARTICIPATE IN
 EVENTS), it is one that nonetheless invites further study,
 because it clearly speaks for some curious drive in the
 contemporary mind.  We might call this the drive toward

        After glancing at the collaged graphic that cascades 
 down the page of this advertisement and noting that it truly
 sucks, one's eye is subsequently drawn to what appears to
 be a surrogate reader (this could be YOU) running atop a
 large field of water, carrying a burning torch, surrounded
 by lines of floating text.  You are to be encouraged by the
 promise that someday--and fast!--you will not be left
 simply reading this ad, but sucked into its very body,
 gleefully sprinting over oceans and frolicking with its
 cut-and-paste images and words (*and* their meanings). 
 Think again!  While to any critical mind this would
 constitute nothing less than a nightmare--one imagines, for
 instance, that the sprinting reader is not gleefully
 running toward the technological sublime but rather running
 from it, like a frightened citizen fleeing Godzilla--it is
 nonetheless easy to get momentarily swept away by the kind
 of adventure it promises.  

        On one hand, you can choose to "step into magazines and
 other information sources" in this way.  On the other hand,
 you can get your ass off the chair and go outside.  Either
 way, "images and words will surround you" and, as the ad
 fails to mention, pull you in all directions by their vast
 networks and the agendas to which they are harnessed.  VOUS
 ME DITES, JE T'EDITE.  What experience is not in some way
 mediated by these representational nets?  Our relations are
 already thoroughly *editorialized*, and instilled with the
 desire toward further editorialization through ever-new

        Our relations are editorialized in two directions. 
 First, in our communication with others--for example, when
 we state our opinions on current events or views on the
 status quo either directly or in the ever-expanding variety
 of media at our disposal.  Second, in the ways that we are
 described by, and form ourselves in relation to, the
 editorializations of others--for example, when we assume a
 position, such as standing for or against something, within
 a normative field that has been established.  The first is
 an externalizing process; the second, an internalizing
 process.  In the internalizing process we describe
 ourselves, and circumscribe ourselves, in accordance with
 the bounds set forth by some entity whose agenda it is to
 contour us in that way.  In the externalizing process, we
 speak the language set forth by that entity:  we speak
 within the conditions set forth by it.  We mime its terms,
 as "thought," and we locate our bodies and relations within
 these terms, as "being" (though not in terms of "thought"
 and "being," since they don't make good headlines).

        Processes of editorialization--inward and outward
 --weave meshes of circuits, in whose patterns we discern
 publicational bodies.  These publicational bodies include
 both publicational forms and the various embodiments
 implicated in their processes of production.  (In the NEC
 ad, they include the reader, the surrogate reader, the body
 of the publication that carries the ad, the corporate body
 of NEC, the body of the advertising agency, and so on.) 
 They give coherence and form to editorial processes, bound
 them, establish conditions for their appearance.  They
 systematize them.  It is the business of publicational
 entities to generate the normative fields within which we
 editorialize, and it is also their business to disrupt
 those normative fields.  The formation of bodies of
 editorialized information is neither top-down nor bottom
 -up, but at all points an open flow.   

        What stands between these internalization and 
 externalization processes of editorial is the interface.  
 The interface was once simply a page, then it was a screen,
 and now it is both and more--as technologies allow multiple
 windowing and extensive ad configurations that allow
 intertextualities and access points between various media
 manifestations.  (For example, the NEC ad offers a toll
 free number, a URL, and notes that "in the future, you can
 just walk over.")  These circuitous editorial processes
 leave before-and-after-effects on interfaces like electrons
 passing through screens in quantum experiments.  These
 traversals constitute codes.  

        We therefore have a diagram of these editorialization
 processes, in the form of a circuit that connects bodies,
 interfaces, and codes.  This circuit differs from
 information and network metaphors in its inclusion of
 bodies--as well as multiple embodiments and their processes
 of incorporation--in the textual process.  It opens up a
 space between codes and the interfaces on which they
 appear, to allow for alternate configurations in ways that
 links-and-nodes metaphors do not.  The transformation of
 "link" to "circuit" generally opens up new possibilities
 for conduction, replacing the disembodied vectors of the
 former with the traversal functions of the latter.  

        But wait:  before I continue to lay out this diagram:  
 Why am I framing it in terms of editorial practices and
 publishing, and not just "information"?   Because the
 former include social practices and group formations that
 the latter "wants to be free" of.  "Publishing" implies
 some kind of social systematization and identification
 through an erotic upload and download process that
 traverses the body (through an interface).  From desktop
 publishing to disks to online conferences to newsgroups to
 zines, e-zines, and Webzines, everyone is transformed into
 a publisher simply by uploading into some larger body, some
 larger system of circulation.  The attraction of jacking
 into a publicational body and uploading can be viewed
 across the board in contemporary culture, especially in
 America, where it has become a religious experience, a kind
 of cosmic ascension--visible in the eyes of the talkshow
 guest as s/he confesses all at the televisual confessional,
 poised at the brink of salvation.  There is also a process
 of fixity and sedimentation at work, as the "soft" body
 --primed and made all the more pliable for new techniques of
 the body--downloads new identifications and group
 alignments, forming communities of mind, sexual identity,
 and politics.  The speed of this cybersexual transloading
 process, and the proliferation and fragmentation of its
 forms, changes our entire experience of publication and
        To consider what kinds of editorial formations and
 publicational bodies are emerging in this landscape, then,
 is to give insight into the kinds of group formations that
 we are defining as they are defining us, and therefore the
 mechanisms and agendas behind their appearance, coherence,
 and modes of control.  This necessitates an exploration of
 the ways that such relations and forms are normalized
 through various means--that is, the practices of
 systematization and containment that publicational entities
 register and initiate.  

        The call, then, is for alternate editorial formations
 that disrupt and outflank these normative practices.  It is
 vital to realize that "normative practices" include not
 only the fixed writer-reader relations of print media, but
 also their variability under the marker of "interactivity." 
 Much of the technotopian rhetoric of the latter passes 
 unscrutinized as we march gleefully into our NEC ads and
 into the digital future.  Not only must interactive
 ideologies be questioned, but also their problematic
 separations of print and digital media, and their network
 or web metaphors.  The circuitry diagram sketched out here
 offers one alternative.  

        By now nearly everyone has accepted the network
 metaphor as the best way to visualize and map new textual
 formations.  Diagrams composed of lines and blocks,
 indicating links and documents, illustrate the new
 paradigm.  However what do these links actually represent? 
 What is the space upon which such a diagram is composed? 
 Why is it so rigidly geometrical?  What is the outside, the
 empty space, that surrounds the text?--an unarticulated
 ground, ready to bear the marks of signification?  Why does
 the diagram employ a modernist, bird's eye view of mapping
 instead of, say, a psychogeography?  Instead of dismantling
 or problematizing the writer/reader division, does it not
 position a new "outside"?  Even in areas outside of
 hypertextual studies, the network metaphor predominates,
 and such questions go unheeded; for example, this metaphor
 completely fails to articulate what occurs on the MOO and
 it limits alternate visualizations of the Web.

        What are the components of the net metaphor?  First, 
 there is "inscription"--the linear encoding on a surface. 
 Second, there is an "interface"--that surface upon which an
 inscription appears.  Third, there is a link.  But what is
 a link, and what does it indicate? A direction of movement,
 potentialized or performed, by some embodied agency.  That
 link is not only a detached vector, then, that connects
 block to block, but also part of some larger circuit that
 connects embodiment to text and interface.  Our diagram
 must then include "incorporation"--that body,
 instantiation, or process of embodiment that encodes and
 forms itself in relation to code.  In the face of the net
 metaphor, the erotic circuit posited here connects
 incorporations, interfaces, and inscriptions in new
 patterns, and these patterns configure through alignments
 and dispersions.  This diagram allows us to position the
 embodied inscriber *within* the textual formation, not on
 the outside of it staring at the page or monitor ("Images
 and words will surround you..."), and to understand the
 extent to which embodiment is a part of the textual
 process, in terms other than as  that appendage needed to
 click a mouse or turn a page.  And, as it is important to
 understand that there are as many embodiments as there are
 inscriptions and interfaces in a given situation, and
 social elements present themselves:  the textual formation
 includes a practice--a social use--and a history.  We are
 therefore dealing with multiple configurations, not
 isolated elements.

        Incorporations, inscriptions, and interfaces align in
 different ways to produce "fields of alignment."  Such a
 diagram could be mapped horizontally, in terms of
 overlapping fields of alignment, which connect to you,
 becoming part of the social-spatial horizon, leaving you no
 distance from them.  So, rather than "nodes" linked in a
 web metaphor, we have fields that align and disperse in
 alternate ways.  There may be many advantages to seeing
 textual formations in this way.  It could allow us to
 include its multiple forms, instead of making misleading
 distinctions between media and forms of text such as
 "print" and "electronic"--in fact, it allows to incorporate
 corresponding formations in alternate contexts, such as
 art.  For "inscription" is generally the making of marks by
 any means, by pen, ink, brush, or whatever, and "interface"
 is generally the field on which those marks appear, whether
 that be a monitor, a printed page, or the control panel of
 a vacuum cleaner.  Indeed, one can think of engaging a
 textual formation as the performing of an activity, like
 vacuuming, in a combination of signification, interface,
 and body--the latter in two senses, the body of the machine
 and the body of the person who performs the activity and
 gives it meaning.  (In the case of the virtual body in
 telematic space, there is yet another body present.)  It
 allows us to maintain productive tensions, such as between
 text and hypertext, where each realm is not parcelled out
 but actively engages, and complicates, the assumptions of
 the other.  If this tensional space is foregrounded, as
 connected through the conduit of my own bodily agency and
 others and intersected through various interfaces, I resist
 parcelling these elements out and locate constitutive 
 editorial relations within a tensional arena.  The immersive
 experience promised by the NEC ad becomes something far
 richer, as does the process of engaging art.  We find
 ourselves *already within* the constructions that bid us
 entry, and we understand the mechanisms through which we
 are seduced to believe otherwise.  

        Within this schema, there are no longer solely
 *representations* of artworks, but only components of the
 very body of the artwork--for, as our relations become
 editorialized, it is in publication-space that artwork is
 formed:  it is here that its coordinates are established,
 and its materiality reworked.  

Jordan Crandall <jordan.crandall@thing.nyc.ny.us>
is the chairman of a project called BLAST:

>>Blast is not really a magazine. It comes in a box with loose
printed matter and objects, and it has neither advertising 
nor subscribers. Its "content" is in flux, entering into new
relationships both inside and outside of the box, and this 
"editorial" is continuously generated by a participatory
system: each participant--whether reader, author or dealer
--is actively involved in the ongoing creation of the
"content" and meaning of Blast.<<

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