Wednesday, November 16, 2005

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." (xx)

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" (25).
"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)

Bookmark and Share Posted by at November 16, 2005 8:40 PM to Reading Notes

I thought this book massively superior to Manovich's similar attempt.

Posted by: Kenneth Rufo at November 19, 2005 3:35 PM

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.

Posted by: Derek at November 20, 2005 9:28 AM