Hansen – New Philosophy for New Media (2004)

The foreword by Tim Lenoir, "Haptic Vision: Computation, Media, and
Embodiment in Mark Hansen’s New Phenomenology," lays out groundwork on the "deterritorialization
of the human subject" in terms of digital media, detachment and problems of
reference.  Lenoir touches on Hayles’ account of post-humanism (also Bill
Joy’s "Why The Future
Doesn’t Need Us"
), Shannon & Weaver’s signal-based model of information, and
Donald McKay’s alternative communication model.  Overall, it’s more than a
worthwhile thumbnail of Hansen’s project in the context of other works only
semi-familiar to me: Kittler’s Gramophone, Deleuze’s Cinema 1 & 2:,
and Henri Bergson on the body as image:

The body is itself an image among other images–in fact a very special kind
of image Bergson calls a "center of indetermination," which acts as a filter
creatively selecting facets of images from the universal flux according to its
own capacities.  The body, then is a source of action on the world of
images, subtracting among external influences those that are relevant to its own
interests.  Bergson calls such isolated image components "perceptions."

Lenoir’s foreword solidly marches us through the conceptual surrounds to
Hansen’s concerns with embodiment, enframing and the relationship of image and
body which has been redefined by digital technologies.  I keyed especially
on the notion of post-medium, something Lenoir critiques as an extreme
position from Kittler: post-medium–"when media disappear into information flow,
when information no longer needs to adapt" (xvii).  Affect is central to
Hansen’s project, and so it makes sense, given this contrast with the idea of
post-medium, that Hansen would extend Bergson’s stance with emphases on vision,
touch and self-movement: body and image.  The sharpest part of the foreword
comes near the end with the discussion of affective cognition.  According
to Lenoir, "affect provides the bond between temporal flow and perceptual event"
(xxv).  Summarizing neurophenomenologist Francisco Varela, Lenoir notes
"that affect precedes temporality and ‘sculpts’ the dynamics of time flow"
(xxv).  Taken to questions about the visceral interaction between body and
image, these affectively sculpted dynamics transform the "thresholds of the now"
incumbent to new media. 

Well yes of course, and there is the part of the book by Hansen. 
Introduction (1-15):  When aura, as from Benjamin, vanishes (or rather
submerges into the dull wash of commonplaces); when, as Rosalind Krauss might
argue, the post-medium condition has burdened us with "the possibility for the
universal and limitless interconversion of data" (2); and when, as Kittler might
contend, "digital convergence promises to render obsolete the now still crucial
moment of perception, as today’s hybrid media system gives way to the pure flow
of data unencumbered by any need to differentiate into concrete media types"
(2), we need not to surrender the body to these seemingly dehumanizing forces. 
Hansen asks, "Will media matter in a digital age?" (1).  We might find in
his project an affirmative response, one that, by involving Bergson’s Matter
and Memory
, establishes the body as a kind of medial nexus: "the body
functions as a kind of filter that selects, from among the universe of images
circulating around it and according to its own embodied capacities, precisely
those that are relevant to it" (3).  Perception is always embodied, then. 
The body becomes an affective aggregator, inevitably selecting among (a
plenitude of possible) perceptual experiences and leaving out the rest. 
The enframing body wreaks havoc on idealized, ocularcentric notions of frame:
"Beneath any concrete ‘technical’ image or frame lies what I shall call the
framing function of the human body qua center of indetermination" (8).

In chapter one, "Between Body and Image: On the ‘Newness’ of New Media Art,"
(21-46), Hansen argues that "the body’s centrality increases proportionally with
the de-differentiation of media" (21).  We experience variously encoded
realities (physical, virtual, hallucinatory), and we experience, in the digital
era, changes in the "body’s scope of perceptual and affective possibilities"
(22).  New media embodiment stands (if hologrammatically?) among
such realities and possibilities.  Specifically, Hansen critiques art
historian Rosalind Krauss and media studies scholar Lev Manovich.  Krauss’s
"pulsatile dimension," which she applied to Duchamp’s Rotoreliefs and
James Coleman’s Box (on Tunney-Dempsey boxing) which involve the viewer’s
body in the "filmic fabric" (28), privileges the work over the body and thus it
isn’t quite adequate to account for the aesthetic (synesthetic?) experience of
projects such as Douglas Gordon’s 24-Hour Psycho (Hitchcock’s film at a
"disjunctive" two frames per second (29)) and Paul Pfeiffer’s The Long Count
The bulk of the chapter turns critical attention to Lev Manovich’s The
Language of New Media
. Hansen sees Manovich’s reliance on film as
overwrought–too dependent on models of cinema-frame-image that bear out
culturally and historically, confining the "polymorphous possibility" of the
digital image (35).  Hansen also regard Manovich’s discussion of VR as
privileging the physical to the representational, a mistake which is even more
glaring in consideration of the telepresence interface (40) (simulators for
surgery, etc.).  Manovich’s work, ultimately, is too cinematically
determined, according to H. 

"All forms of cognitive act arise from coherent activity of subpopulations of
neurons at multiple locations" (xxiv).
"The philosophical problem [Bergson] faces is how to reconcile the specific
aggregate of images that appears to my body functioning as such a center of
indetermination and the aggregate of images that comprises the universe as a
whole… (4)
"Affection of affectivity is precisely what differentiates today’s
sensorimotor body from the one Deleuze hastily dismisses: as a capacity to
experience its own intensity, its own margin of indeterminacy, affectivity
comprises a power of the body that cannot be assimilated to the habit-driven,
associational logic governing perception" (7-8).
"Correlated with the advent of digitization, then, the body undergoes a
certain empowerment, since it deploys its own constitutive singularity
(affection and memory) not to filter a universe of preconstituted images, but
actually to enframe something (digital information) that is originally
formless" (11).
"As I see it, the reaffirmation of the affective body as the "enframer"
of information correlates with the fundamental shift in the materiality of
media: the body’s centrality increases proportionally with the
de-differentiation of media" (21).
"Far from being the source of a reductive unification of diversity, the body
is the very place where such diversity can be retained in a nonreductive
aggregation.  As such, it is itself an integral dimension of the medium"
"The body, then, impurifies vision constitutionally, since, as Krauss points
out, there would be no vision without it: like the affective dimension of
perception, the corporeal holds a certain priority in relation to vision" (27).
"Because digitization allows for an almost limitless potential to modify the
image, that is, any image–and specifically, to modify the image in ways that
disjoin it from any fixed technical frame–the digital calls on us to invest the
body as that "place" where the self-differing of media gets concretized" (31).
"Recent phenomenological and scientific research has shed light on precisely
how and why such manual, tactile stimulation functions as "reality-conferring"
in the sense just elucidated. Phenomenologist Hans Jonas, from whom I borrow
this felicitous term, has shown that the disembodied (and hence, supposedly most
"noble") sense of vision is rooted in an and dependent on touch for its
reality-conferring affective correlate" (38).

Figures: Benjamin (1), Bergson (4), Deleuze (6), Manovich (9), Krauss (23), Duchamp (26)

Terms: extended mind (xx), movement-image (xxii), machinic vision (xxiii), haptic
(xxiii), embodied perception (4), time-image (6), body’s framing function (8), philosophemes (25), ergodic (39), hallucination (41), cinematic metaphor (42), visual-bodily cross-mapping (39)


  1. I’m reading Manovich now, trying to get a sense of his project, and Hansen’s arguments definitly put a shadow over LNM and its different emphases–programmability, montage, loop/narrativity, and so on.

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