Being-before-a-window 🪟

“Being-before-a-window,” another unshakeable phrase, albeit in German-made-English translation, from Byung-Chul Han’s Hyperculture: Culture and Globalization, a 2005 book recirculated in English in 2022. Han discusses windowing as a semi-stable in-between, a kind of high perch that gives the exhilaration of looking upon so much all at once, while also being isolated and closed off. “Windowing is thus the hypertextual mode of experience” (44), he writes. In the multimonitorium, tabs abound.

We read the first three chapters of Hyperculture for last evening’s class session in ENGL6344: Rhetoric in Digital Environments, but we didn’t read through to this point in the book about how “windowing […] can produce monads with windows whose Being-in-the-world turns out to be a Being-before-a-window” (45).

This was on my mind and even on my tongue! late this morning after we stopped at Virginia Tech’s Parking Services building there along the midslope of Chicken Hill, immediately adjacent to those noticeably dilapidated and windowless “poultry research houses.” We agreed, how unusual is it that those stinky sheds linger right there at the edge of the football stadium parking lot. But then as we drove along Beamer Way, pedestrian after pedestrian was walking, along the sidewalk and sometimes without warning veering into the street (many obstackled was the driving course), but walking with a cell phone up, with a cell phone appearing to hold each walker’s weighted focus. Being-windowed, being-windowless, it’s a close close call, which is living better and which is living least.

As a driver of a car with a glass windshield, I, too, was a being-before-a-window, in a sense, but the device-held walkers were beings-before-a-window in an even more conspicuous way. How is this anything new? It’s not, not really. Han was onto this in 2005. Beings-before-a-window have proliferated cellular multiplicative ever since. What I noticed today was that, with the fresh, unquittable phrase, Being-before-a-window, I felt a certain some kind of way about our evidently become yet more glassboxed, homo fenestra ogling panes and light meanderingly if bumpily. That some kind of way is faintly longing but not quite sad, blue-hued, sort of wishing Being-in-the-world was still in the lead. I know better because I know the changeover and the fight, because I know too what it is to walk about as a being-before-a-window. Han draws a parallel between Leibniz’s (possibly soulless) monad and this being-before-a-window, though the shift is from one kind of closed-offness to a slightly different state of existence, the window open to the world, and the window sealing off from the world.

Melodic Recombination

Linguistically, Is. now comes up with delightfully unexpected sequences: phrases (borrowed from cartoon characters, muppets, us, or wherever), nursery rhyme snippets, lullaby lyrics, and personal observations. Conversation with her is increasingly adventurous, experimental, spontaneous, and thoughtful.

For instance, for the past couple of days, she has sung the alphabet song with an alternative ending. You know the one: “A B C D E F G, H I J K LMNOP, Q R S, T U V, W X, Y and Z.” Only, at this point, she switches to “Twinkle, Twinkle” with “How I wonder what you are, up above the world so high, like a diamond in the sky.” The melody follows; it sounds like a continuation of the alphabet song. What I find so appealing about it (other than the fact that there is pure joy in listening to a two-year-old sing) is that it’s a hypertextual maneuver (a protologic of new media, no?) and an unexpected comment on the early development of alphabetic literacy . I’m not prepared to get into Chomsky and Pinker (as I think through this), but I like the way the lyrical crossover introduces a layer of accidental meaning, very much the sort of thing underscored in new media composing. The melody carries, but the alphabet is recontexualized in seemingly earnest curiosity, abstraction, and symbology–for me an illuminating glimpse of Is. enjoying anti-gravity in the “galaxy of signifiers.”

Back on the ground: Yesterday we were out on an errand, in a store, and, after a someone (dark hair, pointy hat) walked past us, Is. loudly asked, “Was that a witch?” D. and I had a similar response: carry on, then out of earshot explain that, no, in fact it was just some other patron, and that we’d have a longer discussion of Ahmed and interpellation when we got to the car. Of course, I also had to explain to her that if, by chance, it was a witch, shouting out the question in open public put all of us at risk of being turned into toads or worse. This is, after all, the more compelling reason for why not to call explicit attention to any of the specters out and about in late October, yeah?