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<nettime> Tom Paulus: The Hangups of Being Wired
Andere Sinema on Thu, 17 Sep 1998 10:37:09 +0200 (MET DST)


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<nettime> Tom Paulus: The Hangups of Being Wired


The Hangups of Being Wired
Browsing Through the Telephone Book
By Tom Paulus

"All our lauded technological progress - our very civilization - is like
the axe in the hand of the pathological criminal" (Albert Einstein in a
letter to Heinrich Vangleer, Berlin 1917)=20

Schizo-Chat

"Schizophrenia on the Internet: For those of you with a lot of time on
their hands and a fair knowledge of the English language, the Internet
provides an abundant source of information on schizophrenia. When we say
'the Internet' we usually mean the World Wide Web (WWW): an application
that enables us to 'download' texts and pictures from various computer
sources all over the world. I'd like to know what I can find on
schizophrenia so I consult Netsearch. This is a place on the WWW with
programmes that can look up certain documents on the Web via concise
search words. I select a web browser and type in 'schizofrenie'. 'No
occurrences found' is the answer. So I try the English 'schizophrenia'.=20
Ten seconds later my screen fills up with the first ten titles containing
the word 'schizophrenia'. The total amount comes to 1400. Three hours and
37 modem connections later I've gone through all of the 14 search engines.=
=20
The result is a list of about 2000 different web pages containing the word
'schizophrenia'. The Dutch 'schizofrenie' was also found but not by all
browsers. The word pops up in a couple of Polish or Czech documents and of
course in our own Dutch site 'Nieuwsbank Schizofrenie'". (Jan Halkes,
editor of the Dutch database 'Nieuwsbank Schizofrenie').  Those of you who
want to talk about schizophrenia: you can do so through Schizo-Chat, a MUD
designed for fragmented personalities that can be found at
www.users.lynchburg.net/warper/chat.=20

Schizophrenia: What is it?=20

If you feel sick you can head straight down to the 'Health-Guide Online',
a site that tells you everything you need to know about the when, how and
why of multiple personality disorder. The Health-Guide distinguishes
between 'visible' and 'invisible' symptoms. Among the visible symptoms we
find the folowing categories. Hallucinations: hallucinations occur when a
subject experiences something that isn't quite there; this 'something'
actually appears quite real to the person experiencing it. Hearing voices
is probably the most frequent form of hallucination. Those suffering from
hallucinations often hear more than one voice at a time. In many instances
the voices tell him/her what to do or comment upon what he/she does.=20
Hallucinations during which a subject sees, feels, smells or tastes
something that isn't there, also occur. Delusions: delusions are
convictions of a paranoid or bizarre nature that are false but are
experienced by the delusional subject as true. Certain subjects suffering
from delusions are convinced that other people are putting thoughts in
their head or are listening in to their own thoughts. Gibberish: gibberish
includes confused utterances or speech acts in which ideas jump from one
subject to another without any logic or narrative coherence. This process
is often described as "free association". Other kinds of gibberish:=20
answering questions irrelevantly, drawing illogical conclusions and/or
making up words.=20

fort/da

Our sense of self is shaped by our relation to an 'Other', be it parents
or environment. We can only be who we are by exploring our environment
through speech acts, language that is shaped by the 'Symbolic Order' of
paternal authority. Every single personality is foremost a comunicative,
interactive and/or split personality. Interaction is necessary and
contained since it is enforced by the parental influence and symbolic
logic. In this sense our relationship to the 'Other' is 'parented' by our
initial social environment and therefore precedes the shaping of our own
private personality. In The Tain of the Mirror philosopher Rodolphe Gasch=
=E9
writes that "a minimal unit of self and Other is necessary before all
relations between constituted personalities, entities, or identities. If
all reference to self takes place by way of a detour through an Other, the
self to be itself is traversed, deposited in the Other, reappropriated to
itself by some fundamental impurity. In truth the loss of what has never
taken place, of self-presence which has never been given but only dreamed
of and always already split, repeated, incapable of appearing to itself
except in its own disappearance". Our sense of self is shaped by absence,
by projection onto an Other who will possibly leave our needs unsatisfied.=
=20
In his search for the right information Jan Halkes projects himself onto
an alternate mode of thought, the search engine (that tells him everything
he needs to know), until he automatically comes back to himself ("The
Dutch 'schizofrenie' was also found but not by all browsers. The word pops
up in a couple of Polish or Czech documents and of course in our own Dutch
site 'Nieuwsbank Schizofrenie'"). The projection of self onto a substitute
'medium' was described by Freud in his famous fort/da analysis. The primal
scene goes as follows: the little boy is left at home by his mother who is
'elsewhere' (fort, gone). The child starts to panic because he senses the
absence of his mother. The boy projects himself onto the absent mother, is
'gone' with her until she returns. He can only be 'da', be himself, by
identifying with what is not there, with what is 'fort'. He becomes
himself in his own absence. The child connects to his mother (a long
distance call) and is both 'fort' and 'da'. As we shall see, this primal
scene configures all our communication structures, from writing to the
telephone to the Internet.

Slavoj Zizek uses the fort/da relationship in his own definition of
interpassivity: (1) interaction with a medium, i.e. being more than a
passive consumer; (2) acting through an agent, so that my job is done for
me while I remain a passive observer. Jan Halkes seems to be passively
waiting while the search engine does his dirty work, but actually he's
more active than he seems: he projects himself onto the browser, becomes
the brower while mentally travelling through the Web. He is at once 'fort'
(with the Web brower) and 'da' (passively awaiting the confirmation of his
own suspicions).=20

Anti-Oedipus

Schizophrenia is the Anti-Oedipus. Freud didn't like schizophrenics
because they confuse words with things (they're almost like philosophers
that way!), which disturbs the taxonomy of the Oedipus complex.=20
Schizophrenia caused quite a stur in the psychoanalytic milieu. The most
important (and still only) debate on the illness concerns its
denomination. Every site or psychiatrist uses a different definition of
schizophrenia. While the first distinguishes the myth from the reality
("schizophrenia and multiple personality are not the same thing"), the
second distinguishes the reality from the myth ("the reality of the
disease is that 25% of all known cases is treatable and even curable").=20
Freud's disciples distinguished between three common types of
schizophrenia - the hebephrenic, the catatonic, and the paranoid - that
were endlessly permuted until the whole denomination itself got slightly
schizophrenic. The only consensus within Freudian psychoanalysis is the
emphasis on the catatonic (the withdrawal from reality) instead of the
reconstructive (the creation of new forms of symbolic reality). Jung
mentions the 'word salad' revealed by some of hcases, haphazardly strung
together words and sentences that seem to lead nowhere in particular and
generate as much anxiety in the therapist as they do in the patient. The
very systematicity of psychoanalysis is questioned by this 'word salad',
the seeminly entropic mind of the schizophrenic patient. This entropy,
however, is far more systematic than the rigidly systematic psychoanalytic
practice ever deemed possible. Pierre Janet emphasizes "Le sentiment
d'automatisme" in the testimony of one of his patients: "I am unable to
give an account of what I really do, everything is mechanical in me and is
done unconsciously. I am nothing but a machine".

The idea of the 'word salad' is picked up by R.D. Laing in his classic
study of schizophrenia The Divided Self (1965). The 'word salad' of his
patient Julie results from an overlap of semi-autonomous (language)=20
systems, different voices that want to come out of her mouth all at once.=
=20
The whole of her personality is fragmented by speech acts that lack any
ontological unity. Like Freud and Jung, Laing is distressed by the
relationship with his patient that even causes a certain amount of
existential dread: "In being with her one had for long periods that
uncanny 'praecox' feeling described by the German clinicians that there
was no one there". Nobody's home, the severed connection to the Other
leads to self-doubt or "the 'praecox' feeling described by the German
clinicians. There might be someone addressing us, but in listening to a
schizophrenic, it is very difficult to know 'who' is talking, and it is
just as difficult to know 'whom' one is addressing". Julie talks about
herself in both the first, the second and the third person, sufficient
proof to Laing that her personality consists of different 'systems' since
"Personal unity is a prerequisite of reflective awareness". Julie's
tendency to identify herself as "somebody else", the fact that she cannot
distinguish between what objectively belongs to her personality and what
she has invented, leads Laing to concude that "She is not a person. There
is now only a vacuum." A joke like "Roses are red, violets are blue, I'm a
schizophrenic and so am I" is completely lost on Laing, who is convinced
that the schizophrenic patient has no 'I'.

What's really going on here? What gives Laing the right to distinguish
between 'Self and False Self in a Schizophrenic' (the title of one of the
chapters in The Divided Self)? Laing positions himself on the most
traditional side of the metaphysical divide between subject and thing. He
seems to suggest that there actually is something like an autonomous,
rounded subject that exists only in and for itself, a pure Dasein
uncontaminated by any rhetoric projection. In its more extreme
manifestations such anxious attachment to the idea of a rational, rounded
subject could lead to the kind of autism described by the Health-Guide
(on-line or other) as one of the classic 'invisible' symptoms of
schizophrenia. Those who have read Derrida know that neither identity nor
non-identity have any natural foundation, and completely rely on judicial
agreement. In Mes Chances Derrida writes about the high likelihood that a
speech act - the communication of a rounded, authorial person - never
reaches its destination. The creation of a text, in a letter, on the
Internet, through the telephone, always relies on the creation of a
fictitious author and an equally fictitious audience, neither of which
have a concrete personality. Because the fictitious author has to imagine
a fictitious recipient while composing his message, there's a good chance
that the message will never reach its destination (especially if the
recipient is imagined incorrectly). "If I may now make use of the
apostrophe", Derrida writes, "let me tell you this much at once: I do not
know to whom I am speaking. Whom is this discourse addressing, here and
now? It becomes at least possible to demonstrate that, beginning with the
first sentence, my lecture has not simply and purely missed its
destination". Language - the means through which communication is
established - is almost inevitably schizophrenic. The entropy contained in
the language act is at once the virus in the system and the entropic order
that determines the system's very systematicity. The choice Jan Halkes
makes between 'schizofrenie' and 'schizophrenia' necessarily affects the
result of his Netsearch. 'Schizoferenie' generates 'no occurrences found',
while 'schizophrenia' causes the word salad contained within 2000
different schizo-sites. In both cases the white noise that is inherent to
the system prevents the right message from getting to or getting from Jan
Halkes. It is only when Halkes discovers the proper systematics in his
communication with the system ("The word 'schizofrenie' was also found,
but not by all browsers") that he finds what he was looking for: himself
("and of course in our own Dutch site Nieuwsbank Schizofrenie").=20

Dasein

The fort/da relationship according to Martin Heidegger in Sein und Zeit:=20
Dasein is the reflection of those daily things and occurrences with which
we come into contact. Dasein finds itself mainly in things because it
somehow always already resides in those things. We are all what we desire.=
=20
We understand ourselves and our existence through the things we do and
care for. We can only understand ourselves by looking closely at those
things, because they are the stuff we are made of. Dasein doesn't require
any special kind of observation: it doesn't have to spy on the ego to come
to the self. It is only when Dasein completely surrenders to the world
that its self is reflected in the things it cares for. Dasein must
necessarily be with those things.=20

In weiter ferne, so nah! aka The Thing

The fear of the Other, the Thing, increases as 'fort' and 'da' seem to
coalesce. According to Albert Hofstadter the dynamic order between self
and Other is best described by the term 'Ge-Stell', the totality of all
communications that equals a perfectly closed system. Heidegger identifies
the Ge-Stell with the totality of data that needs to be processed, with
technology. Heidegger was as worried by the imminent technologization of
the world as R.D. Laing by "that uncanny 'praecox' feeling described by
the German clinicians". According to inside sources the philosopher let
himself be seduced by the Nazi ideology becauses Hitler offered the only
valid alternative to further alienation through technology (in which case
Heidegger either consciously or unconsciously forgot that Nazi Germany
proved the apex of the technological revolution in the first part of the
twentieth century). In an interview with 'Der Spiegel' Heidegger confessed
to his unmistakable technophobia: "Ich glaube nicht dass die Technik in
ihrem Wesen etwas sei, was der Mensch in der Hand hat. Das ist nach meiner
Meinung nicht m=F6glich". The technologization of the world would inevitabl=
y
lead to a certain 'Unheimlichkeit' ('uncanniness') in the Dasein, in the
relation between man and thing. "Everything works", Heidegger writes in
The Question of Technology. "That's what's uncanny, that it works, and
that technology continues to rip and uproot man from the earth. I don't
know whether you're frightened. I am when I see TV transmissions of the
earth from the moon. We don't need an atom bomb. Man has already been
uprooted from the earth. What's left are purely technical relations. Where
man lives today is no longer an earth". All things are techn=E9 and
ontological fear increases. Heidegger's essay 'Das Ding' (1950) reveals
the true cause of his technophobia: "All distances in time and space are
shrinking".=20
=09Twenty years earlier Freud had expressed his relative enthusiasm
about the "newly-won power over space and time" and the extraordinary
progress in the sciences and their technological application. "One would
like to ask", Freud pondered the question in Civilization and its
Discontents, "Is there, then, no positive gain in pleasure, no unequivocal
increase in my feeling of happiness, if I can, as often as I please, hear
the voice of a child of mine who is living hundreds of miles away or if I
can learn in the shortest possible time after a friend has reached his
destination that he has come through a long and difficult journey
unharmed?" Freud's optimism appears to be rhetorical trap because reading
on we learn that "If there had been no railway to conquer distances, my
child would never have left his native town and I should need no telephone
to hear his voice". Leave everything the way it is, Freud reasons, because
all progress will inevitably alienate us from life, will saddle us with an
all-consuming death wish. In like fashion Heidegger applauds the fact that
an airplane can now get us to a given destination in one night whereas we
used to need weeks or even months. That radio and television can
immediately provide the information which used to take years to reach us.=
=20
That faraway cultures and civilizations can be brought into the living
room thanks to the miracle of cinema. "Man puts the longest distances
behind himself and thus puts everything before himself at the shortest
range". However: "The frantic abolition of all distances brings no
nearness; for nearness does not consist in shortness of distance".=20
Nearness for both Freud and Heidegger resides in authentic personal
contact, now made impossible by the technologization of the world, the
disintegration of that 'personal unity' Laing considers "prerequisite of
reflective awareness". The technologized world is schizophrenic, falls
prey to "that uncanny 'praecox' feeling described by the German clinicians
that there is no one there".=20

Heidegger's deeply rooted fear of the (technologized) Thing is perfectly
visualized in the film version of his 'Das Ding', John Carpenter's The
Thing. In The Thing a polar expedition is confronted with an alien (and
presumably highly technologized though quite visceral) parasite that takes
possession of a human organism without its host noticing. The ensuing
paranoia is best summed up by a quote from Georges Bataille, taken from
his L'Apprentis Sorcier (a manifesto for the Coll=E8ge de Sociology
discussed at length in Sheli Ayers' 'Virile Magic:
Bataille-Baudelaire-Ballard"): "This is ill of the first order, yet not
felt by the one stricken: Only the one who must contemplate the threat of
future mutilation sees it as harm". Eventually the human organism is found
out to be a deficient host for its hypertechnological guest, an
incompatibility that results in some of the grossest special effects ever
seen on the silver screen. The most notorious mutation/transformation of
'Das Ding' - a severed head sprouts arachnoid legs and casually walks on -
concludes with the significant one-liner: "You've got to be fucking
kidding", the expression of total disbelief and the disintegration of the
Symbolic Order. Words cannot describe and only the scatalogical assessment
remains.=20

Schizophrenic technoman does not only lose his internal coherence, he gets
shut off from the rest of the world, severs his affective ties to all
things. His systematicity gets the better of his Dasein, Pierre Janet's
'sentiment d'automatisme' (Patient: "I am unable to give an account of
what I really do, everything is mechanical in me and is done
unconsciously. I am nothing but a machine") results in August Fordel's
investigation into the automatisms that become apparent when a large part
of the cerebral tissue has been cut away: "The debrained creature becomes
a 'reflex machine', it remains sitting or lying in some favorite position
until roused to reflex action by external stimuli. It is no doubt rather a
bold analogy to compare certain cases of catatonia to 'reflex machines',
although the analogy fairly leaps to the eye". Laing reaches a similar
conclusion after the testimony of Julie's male counterpart, James, who
claims he has no self at all and pictures himself as a human answering
machine: "I am only a response to other people". "The body may go on
acting in an outwardly normal way", Laing concludes, "but inwardly, it is
felt to be acting on its own, automatically". Like James, Julie functions
as an answering machine. According to her mother, Julie never asked for
anything. If she was asked to do something she would do it immediately.=20
She never complained. The perfect little machine. "There is no one there".=
=20
Sein ohne da...=20

fort/da (2)

The latent schizophrenia of Heidegger's technoman, the ontological
headache of cyborg existence (Donna Haraway: "Our machines are
disturbingly lively, and we ourselves frighteningly inert"), is cynically
conveyed in the sci-fi stories of Philip K. Dick. In Dick's 'I Hope I
Shall Arrive Soon' (that can be read as a parody of Freudian
psychoanalysis and Heidegger's Dasein) an astronaut finds himself in a
metaphysical loop when a defect in his ship's cryogenic system wakes him
from his space sleep. His body is still frozen but his mind is at least
semi-operational. Because there is no food or oxygen on board he is forced
to spend the ten remaining years of his voyage in cryogenic suspension,
inside his own semi-operational mind. To prevent the astronaut from losing
his mind because of lack of input, the ship's computer starts feeding him
the undigested stories that lurk in his subconsciousness. This traumatic
interaction between man and psychotherapeutic computer results in a
blurring of the division between techn=E9 and reality. The astronaut's
'dreams' are filled with technology he immediately recognizes as false ("I
don't think you exist", the astronaut provokes one of the computer's
mental holograms. "I'm still in cryonic suspension and the ship is still
feeding me my own buried memories. I'll prove it to you. Do you have a
screwdriver?"). When he finally reaches his destination, after ten years
of simulated existence, his mind has been split. While his wife awaits him
he dreams on about a technologized existence. "'Martine!' he cried out in
the dream of his subconsciousness. 'I'm on the phone', Martine said from
the living room".

Life and its many hangups: the Bell brothers

The inventor of the telephone, Alexander Graham Bell, was a schizophrenic.=
=20
He was also Thomas A. Watson, the neglected partner who helped Bell lay
the electric groundwork for his maniacal plan: sending voices through the
telegraph wire. Bell reportedly had no knowledge of electricity at all and
was looking for someone to help make his dream a reality. Watson was the
technophile he had been looking for. Watson was also a poet (who would
later become the subject of one of his own poems: "Give but one lusty
groan/For bread we'll take a stone/Ring your old telephone!/Ring, brother
Watson!") and a spiritualist. The s=E9ances at the home of George Phillips,
where Watson was a welcome guest, were quite notorious in late nineteenth
century Salem. Scarcely three miles from where the famous witch trials had
once been held, Watson listened to the voices of departed friends and
relatives. The voices weren't always very eloquent. Sometimes the group
had to content itself with a mere knock of a table-leg. Watson's firm
belief in the voices from the unknown made him the ideal sounding board
for the even crazier beliefs held by one Alexander Graham Bell, a young
professor at Boston University who was convinced that the human voice
could travel through the aether. In this context the invention of the
telephone one stormy night on July 2, 1875 can be read as a parody of
Watson's spiritualist encounters. Imagine the following scene: Bell
shouting into an electric cord from the basement of their shared
laboratory, while Watson - ears firmly pressed against the receiver -
awaits the first communication from the netherworld. The first transmitted
voice Watson ever heard was that of a tuning fork (Here Derrida would
point to Watson's earlier dinner conversation about the invention of a new
kind of cutlery: the trident-fork). Bell had all but given up hope when
the sound of a tuning fork accidentally passed through the cord and
reached Watson's unsuspecting ear. Watson had already given up hope when
the pitchfork spoke to him as its sound was picked up out of all the other
noise in the aether. As if he knew precisely where and when to listen.=20
There can be no Bell without Watson because he heard voices where less
spiritual folk had heard nothing at all. The first genuine telephone
conversation addressed the split complementarity of both pioneers:=20
"Watson, come here! I want you!", were Bell's historic words.=20

Years before - in his parental home in Edinburgh - Bell had shouted
similar words to his mother through a device he and his brother had
concocted for their father Alexander Melville Bell, an authority in the
field of speech therapy and eloquence. The 'language machine' of the
brothers Bell, made out of scrap iron, was a lifelike replica of the human
speech organs: a metal mouth with rotating tongue produced nothing but
noise according to Professor Bell but the brothers were convinced it said
something like "Mama, mama". When the boys premi=E8red their invention, Ma
Bell was out grocery shopping. Thanks to the language machine she was also
right there with her Alexander.

Alexander Graham soon grew up to become a worthy assistant to his father
who had developed a speech alphabet for the deaf and dumb. The alphabet
consisted of graceful letters denoting the different positions of the
tongue in the mouth when uttering a certain sound. The alphabet seemed to
work but had yet to convince Professor Bell's sceptical colleagues. A few
of them decided to see for themselves and let their young colleague note
down their spontaneous utterances using his new alphabet. It was up to
young Alexander (who had been waiting outside) to reproduce the exact same
sounds they had made. Bell Jr. performed admirably and reproduced every
sound with astonishing precision. The son proved once and for all that the
father's language machine, the 'Visible Speech Alphabet', really worked.
Alexander only made one small error: one of the sounds his father had
turned intoVisible Speech had been a loud yawn one of Professor Bell's
colleagues had produced with his arms stretched out above his head. Bell
Jr. did reproduce the exact sound of the yawn but forgot to stretch his
arms, which lead the academics to conclude that their colleague's Visible
Alphabet could only reproduce sound and not the accompanying physical
expression. Like the voices at Watson's spiritual s=E9ance, Professor Bell'=
s
alphabet consisted of language without body.

The fact that the language we use on the phone in no way resembles the
body language we use everyday, was amply proven by the lawyer Watson
selected as the first 'victim' of the acoustic telegraph. The lawyer had
to overcome a deep shyness before he was able to pick up the phone and
respond to Watson's 'Hello!' with a childlike: "Rig a jig, and away we
go!" As the first telephone conversation between Watson and Bell ("Watson
come here! I want you!") had already shown, fort/da and regression seem to
go hand in hand.

The telephone never really succeeded in becoming language without body but
Alexander Graham Bell sure gave it his best shot. When the invention was
but a year old Bell received a call from a slightly bizarre inventor who
claimed the telephone could be used without cord or receiver.  When Bell
asked him which experiments he had tried, the man told him about the two
people in New York who had hooked up his brain to an electronic circuit so
they could talk to him day and night. The whole apparatus was in his head;
those who wanted to know the secret would have to screw off the top and
poke through his brains. Bell came to the only possible conclusion: this
man is not an inventor but a dangerous lunatic! Watson wrote down the
whole incident in his autobiography: "He didn't come again and the next
time we heard of him he was in an insane asylum. Within the next year or
two several men whose form of insanity made them hear voices which they
attributed to the machinations of enemies, called at the laboratory or
wrote to us for help, attracted by Bell's supposedly occult invention".
Click. Hangup.

All quotes are from Avital Ronell's The Telephone Book.

Avital Ronell, The Telephone Book: Technology, Schizophrenia and Electric
Speech; University of Nebraska Press, London 1989


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