Jordan Crandall (by way of Pit Schultz <pit@contrib.de>) on Thu, 24 Jul 1997 03:43:55 +0200 (MET DST)


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<nettime> Pumping Up



Recently I saw a man wearing one of those sandwich panel ads that
transform the body into a walking billboard.  Only he wasn't walking,
but running down the street, with a frantic woman chasing after him. 
Did she want the man or the image?  Did he/it take something from her? 
We will never know, since she was running out of steam -- she wasn't fit
to catch up.   I thought, to optimize this pursuit, she should head for
'Better Bodies,' which is one of the places where bodies are being made
fit to catch up to the images.   

Here the body sandwiches itself into a machine, pressed against a smooth
contoured surface that has been molded to couple with it, holding it
rigid.  Securely in place, joints aligned, attention and orientation
adjusted, it performs precise, prescribed movements along optimized
ranges of motion, internalizing a rhythm of repetition that becomes
nearly habitual.  The goal is to 'pump up' and literally morph the body
into some idealized image held in one's mind like a carrot at the end of
a stick.  This image is a composite, patched together or collated from
vast arrays of representations and self-reflections.  Fragmentary and
fleeting like a music video, these image-fragments beat to the pulses of
the repetitions - 1! 2! 3! -- as one interpolates one's body into
them, while simultaneously pummeling them directly into the body
substrate, plying it through sheer force of will.  Regarding oneself in
the mirror, one sees the idealized images superimposed, stacked up upon
and within one's reflection, shuffling, merging, and separating to the
beat of the repetition scansion --  7! 8! 9! -- and its pulsatile
'deep vision.'  Through the conduit of image, enforced temporality,
body, and machine, one changes the very contour of the flesh,
simultaneously downloading and internalizing the image while uploading
the body into the realm of representation.  Gasp!

And now a short rest between sets.

Sometimes these images are split into the 'before' (fat) and the 'after'
(buff), into which one might interpolate one's own condition:  a
sequential, filmic 'reading.' However it is nearly impossible to assess
where one stands in the spectrum:  the 'real' body is always shuffled
into the deck.  Image and corporeality, present and future, are enmeshed
in an oscillation that beats to the rhythm of routine.  This engages a
'deep reading' or deep vision, which, as it channels through the
'stack,' sees 'through' as much as scans the surface.  The exercise
chart, whose blank spaces between commands are filled in after enaction,
becomes a calculus for the body on the road to fitness:  a complex mesh
of commands and movements that provides instructions and inscribes their
results.  This is what remains of 'the image' and 'the text':  a deep
stratified field, on the one hand, and on the other, an exercise manual
( __ set = __ reps).

Wherever there is an image there is an incomplete body running after it,
endeavoring to catch it or interpolate itself into it.  

And now, step onto the jogging treadmill for 20 minutes of
CARDIOVASCULAR ACTIVITY.  A television screen is projected directly
ahead for motivation.  Running on the rubber belt of the treadmill like
a rat on a wheel, one runs toward images which one will never 'get to'
or achieve, while the machine measures the rhythm and feeds it back
continually on a readout, comparing it to the value optimized for one's
age and fitness level.  To be under this value is to be inadequate to a
cultural norm, encoded by and transmitted through the conduit of the
machine; to be over it is to excel; to extricate oneself (or collapse)
is to 'give up.' The machine is optimized according to certain values
and norms, coupled with the body in the interest of fitness, performing
readouts and analyses through its signal conduits, projected in the
language of rhythm.  The image makes the body fit to see it; it makes
the body adequate to its frequencies.  But the image is also a result,
constituting itself in response to the patterns of the viewer it helps
produce.  This inseparable body-machine-image complex, as an apparatus
of exercise, habituation, sedimentation, transformation, is inextricably
involved in a 'setting into motion', instituting a compulsion to 'run
toward,' often through the conduit of an optimization frequency.  

Consider the commercially-fueled print or television image.  This image
produces a viewer and a viewing capacity adequate to its
desire-producing demands; it mobilizes that viewer down the road to the
store to 'achieve the image'; it provides a shopping environment that is
in many ways an extension of the magazine or television environment; it
records the patterns in this circuit and employs them to optimize its
continuance and effectiveness.  But of course the reverse can occur: 
the viewer can be held stationary, while the image runs toward it. The
body sits parked in front of a television set or computer screen, nearly
immobile, as vast worlds of images rush across the surface, overlaying
upon one another in distance-construction.  The body seems nearly
zombified, dislodged from its condition only by momentary distractions
or intrusions, as accelerating images channel directly into the captive
mind.  This is however a REST between SETS:  a preparatory stage toward
the institution of new mobilities.  The viewer's responses are couched
in metaphors of travel, tiniest flicks of the finger institute vast
changes that are often registered as movements across enormous
distances, and powerful desires to move across real or constructed
geographies are produced, either to get to a particular 'place' or
nowhere in particular (as in surfing).  Travel metaphors are channeled
into the viewer's language:  one does not 'say' so much as one 'goes';
speech and action are collapsed into the 'I went.'  Does it lead to an
all-out immersion, when the distance between symbol and referent
seemingly collapse and the receptive body is 'swallowed up'?  No.  A
rigid viewer must to be constituted in order to channel mobilizing
circuits into and through it, erupting, as if through wormholes,
interior mobilizations that 'open out' elsewhere.  The immobile body is
a body being made fit for re-mobilization.

It is not a question of distance vs. immersion, or the aesthetics of the
image:  the image is at the service of the optimization frequency,
registered in the conduits connected to the treadmill.  

The space between the viewer and the image is a social space.  The
social actors are corporeal and representational, near and far, real and
fictitious, as is the space in which they are situated.  One moves
through a stack of windowings on the computer screen or through the
layered environments on the television, in complex, overlapping social
formations.  Newscasters make eye contact with the viewer in order to
generate a bubble of intimacy and trust while both are transported
through dynamic landscapes of crisis (a 'transport' that is as hybrid
and contradictory as the space and social relationship that it marks); a
subject is hailed in a networked environment and compelled to click, to
'go there,' moving through overlapping formations in which its own
status shifts.  Both visual and linguistic techniques are employed as
mobilizing devices, driven like wedges into speech and space in order to
catapult positions into motion, all the while smoothing over the
disparities with a seemingly unified plane, a plane that houses flows
and uniformly-formatted stacks shuffled in hierarchies of intimacy and
distance, a plane that houses colonies of actors, for whom (and in place
of whom) logos and icons stand as imploded frames, worlds, and
personae.  From one window or frame to the next, or between series of
levels within frames, or through the wormholes provided by logos and
icons, a language of travel is constituted, a language whose demands
technology and reality hastily endeavor to meet.  It would seem this
language emerges in terms of deep overlappings and varying degrees of
'closeness' to the viewer:  a pushing-pulling visual and semiotic
mechanism that is parlayed along the z-axis, generating various intimate
or distant social relationships, between which a subject is compelled to
travel, sliding into and out of various embodied forms in repertoires of
segmentation, movement, and unification.  The 'here' is fragmented; the
desire for 'there' is created; the means of travel to get 'there' is
provided; and the achievement of that goal is made temporary and
incomplete.  At work are procedures of unification and coherency,
shuttled back and forth in conceptions of destination and arrival, or
better yet, a movement between simply for the sake of mobility, a
mobility equated with freedom.

What, exactly, is transported?  The viewer adjusts within itself in
order to respond to and incorporate the senses of movement and location
portrayed on the screen and its accompanying communication forms.  And
so, too, does the screen representation adjust 'within itself' according
to the changing norms of the viewer. The viewer-agency (as well as the
representation, but that is another story) is 'held' together in
temporarily stable condition inside a 'coherency device' as it is moved
along a trajectory registered as travel, oriented through a complex of
interlocking mechanisms that participate in producing bodily faculties
and awarenesses.  The figure of the 'vehicle' may be helpful in
articulating the operations of this coherency device and the
constitution of its occupant.    

The vehicle is embedded in, and constituted by, historically specific
sets of communications technologies, code-structures, materials, and
bodily capacities, ensconced in a type of transport. While the body that
occupies the vehicle is often not visible, its patterns and forms can be
interpolated through the vehicle's signal conduits and morphology, which
always generate and register a 'fit' between technological conditions
and the conditions of the occupant.  The vehicle couples with a subject,
locks onto it and defines its parameters of movement through molded
parts and arrays of components, which may involve 'mobile peripherals'
or direct insertions into the body.  But it is also produced through
embodied practices (although increasingly annexed to market research)
and its components bear the impressions of the use-patterns that inform
them.  Linked to the counter on the machine, it transports that which is
counted.  Its 'interior' is a model for a subjectivity, a bubble of
interiority driven through a landscape, a landscape that sometimes
configures on a 'window' as a function of the conditions of travel. 
Such a subjectivity might be elsewhere, accessed through various means,
or constituted by overlapping vehicle formations.  Instituting a 'here'
against a 'there,' it generates a space; instituting a 'now' against a
'later,' it generates a timeline.  The vehicle accompanies the body, the
virtual body, or the about-to-be-embodied subject, registering its
patterns and contours while helping to adjust those patterns and
contours according to emerging requirements and optimization demands,
often in the name of progress, self-improvement, and adequacy.  It
advances toward the surgical, the digestive, the interiorized routine. 
It endeavors to produce a fit occupant.

Time to re-fuel with MetaForm(tm) -- 'optimized food' for the
high-performance body!    


Jordan Crandall


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