To Interact

06Mar13

Flusser, Vilém. ‘To Interact’ Into the Universe of Technical Images trans. by Nancy Ann Roth (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011) pp.51-60

p.51
Technical images are not mirrors but projectors. They draw up plans on deceptive surfaces, and these plans are meant to become life plans for their recipients. No longer people but rather technical images lie at the center, [of contemporary society] and accordingly, it is the relationships between technical images and people by which society must be classified, for example, by groups such as cinema-goers, television watchers, or computer users.

Explanations for people’s needs, wishes, feelings, and knowledge are to be found in technical images.

pp.51-52
The relationship between technical images and people, the interactions between the two, are therefore the central issues of the coming cultural criticism, and all other issues are to  be grasped from this point.
p.52
A technical image is directed toward a person. It presses in on him and finds him in even the most secret reaches of his private space.
Technical images press through countless channels (television channels, picture magazines, computer terminals) into private space. They replace and improve the distribution of information that once occurred in public spaces and in so doing block off all public spaces. People don’t go from the private into the public any more because they can be better informed at home and because there is essentially no public space left to which to go.
One single technical image, namely, film, appears to run counter to the insistently projective orientation.  In this case, it looks as if images are projected against a publicly erected screen and that people must go to a public space, the cinema, to see these images.
And if cinema were in fact a theater, that is to say, a place of visibility, of “theory”, then one could say that film is a case of a technical image showing its viewer how to see through appearances and liberate himself from the image. Unfortunately, this is a mistaken view.
pp.52-53

Film is shown in cinemas not to awaken a political and philosophical consciousness in its viewers but because it relies on a technology from the nineteenth century, when receivers still needed to go to the sender.

p.53
Films are being replaced by electronic recording technologies, and cinemas will disappear.
The penetrating force of technical images drives their receiver into a corner, puts him under pressure, and this pressure leads him to press keys to make images appear in the corner. It is therefore optimistic nonsense to claim to be free not to switch the television on, not to order any newspapers, and not to photograph. The energy required to withstand the penetrating force of technical images would project such a person out of the social context. Technical images do isolate those who receive them in corners, but they isolate those few who flee from them even further.
However, the reception of technical images does not end the communication process. Receivers are not sponges that simply absorb. On the contrary, they must react.
On the outside, they must act in accordance with the technical images they have received: buy soap, go on holiday, vote for a political party. However, for the interaction between image and person under discussion here, it is crucial that receivers also react to the received image on the inside. They must feed it.
pp.53-54

The images have feedback channels that run in the opposite direction from the distributing channels and that inform the senders about receiver’ reactions, channels like market research, demography, and political elections.

p.54

This feedback enables the images to change, to become better and better, and more like the receivers want them to be; that is, the images become more and more like the receivers want them to be so that the receivers can become more and more like the image want them to be. That is the interaction between image and person, in brief.

pp.54-55
Flusser gives examples: one in a cinema when the projector shakes, and another of a scientist watching a football match on television.
p.55
The image shows a political party for which it wants us to vote, and we want the image to show us the party because we want to vote for it. This circuit can’t be closed, however, for then the images would fall into entropic decay. They would always be the same images, reproduced ad infinitum. To get better (to always give the receiver something new, to be able to program innovatively), the image must get feedback from somewhere other than the receiver.
pp.55-56

The images feed on history, on politics  on science, art, on events of so-called daily life, and not only from current but also from past events.

p.56
A photograph shows a political demonstration, a film a battle that has been fought this week, a television program a reconstruction of a nineteenth century laboratory, a videotape a Renaissance building.
In this way, it begins to look as though technical images were windows through which the receiver, having been driven into his corner, can observe things that are happening outside, and as if these images could always renew themselves because new things are always happening and because the sources on which they draw (past history) could never be exhausted.
On closer inspection, however, both the windowlike character of technical images and inexhaustability of history oriented to past and future turn out to be in error.
Current events no longer roll toward some sort of future but toward technical images. Images are not windows; they are history’s obstructions.
And this initiates a novel sort of interaction, a feedback between image and event. The event dines on images, and the images dine on events. The moon landing was to produce a television programme, and a mission to the moon was on the television broadcaster’s schedule. Part of getting married is to be photographed and weddings conform to a photographic program.

This will become increasingly clear for all events. Our historical consciousness defends itself against this new conception of history. We look for examples to establish that there are interactions free from the pull of technical images (e.g., the relatively image-free war in Afghanistan.

p.57

In its first, current phase, this reversal of events from the future to the image causes events to speed up. Events are caught in the undertow of the images and roll against them more and more wildly. One political event follows another more and more precipitously, a scientific theory is introduced, an artistic style replaces another almost before it has been established. The life span of a model is now measured not in centuries but in months. Progress accelerates. Yet the models don’t fall over each other to change the world, but always,in theory eternally, to be shown in images. The linearity of history is turned against the circularity of technical images. History advances to be turned into images – posthistory.

Although the length of time images have been sucking up history is sort compared to history’s full duration, the first signs are appearing that this source is exhausted. Images are beginning to scratch at the bottom of a well thought to be bottomless. It makes no difference whether the images draw from the present or the past. For them historical categories have lost their meaning.

pp.57-58

For these images, the universe of history is nothing more than a field of possibilities from which images can be made.

p.58
And once there is an image, everything is in the present and turns into an eternal repetition of the same, whether it is about a battle in the Lebanese War or in the Peloponnesian War. In this way, the images reach back to transform the past into a current program design to program receivers  as the past is reduced to serving as a source of images.
What we call “history” is the way in which conditions can be recognised through linear texts. Texts produce history by projecting their own linear structure onto a particular situation. By imposing texts on a cultural object, one produces cultural history, and by imposing texts on a natural objects (which happened relatively recently), one produces natural history.
Such historicizing of conditions affects people’s perspectives. Because nothing need repeat itself in a linear structure, each element has a unique position with respect to the whole.
This dramatizing state of mind characterizes historical consciousness. It stands in opposition to a pre-historic state of mind, for which everything in the environment (as in an image) must repeat itself, for which time moves in a circle, bringing everything back into its proper place, and for which the point is not to change the world but to escape just punishment for interfering with it.
Technical images translate historical events into infinitely repeatable projections.
p.59
A consciousness appropriate to technical images operates outside history. Stories and texts become materials for images.
For technical images, history and prehistory are pretexts from which to draw nourishment.
In their current first phase, technical images can still constantly renew themselves by feeding on history. But history is about to dry up, and this exactly because images are feeding on it, because they sit on historical threads like parasites, recoding them into circles. As soon as these circles are closed, the interaction between image and person will, in fact, become a closed feedback loop. Images will then always show the same thing, and people will always want to see the same thing. A cloak of endless, eternal boredom will spread itself over society. Society will succumb to entropy, and we can already confirm that the decay is on us: it expresses itself in the receiver’s zeal for the sensational – there always have to be new images because all images have long since begun to get boring. The interaction between image and person is marked by entropy tending towards death.
pp.59-60
These images [technical] are programmed for an eternal return of the same; they were invented for this specific purpose: to bring an end to linearity, to reactivate the magic circle and a memory that eternally turns, bringing everything into the present.
p.60

Such a rupture of the magical circle between image and person is the task we face, and this rupture is not only technically but above all existentially possible. For images are beginning to bore us, in spite of the contract we have with them.

The traffic between images and people is the central problem of a society ruled by technical images. It is the point where the rising so-called information society may be restructured and made humane.

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