The Screen and the Prison: Lacan and Manovich on the Subject

Lev Manovich provided a great reading of the screen’s history in his The Language of New Media. There, Manovich presented an allegory of the screen with the prison (though he was not the first to make such an allegory) — Our mobile gaze has a cost of imprisoning our body within a position or contraptions of a device. However, if we are to ask the famous Bateson question “Is a blind man’s cane a part of him?” to this formulation, we get interesting results: if the answer is no, then that cane must also be a prison, since we are trapped in the contraptions of a cane, much as a car is a prison, much as the Manovichian idea that VR is a final form of the prison of the screen (“… we carry our prisons with us … the retina and the screen will merge.” p.114). If the answer is a posthuman nod of yes, then not only is a cane part of the blind man, the screen-retina part of the futuristic subject, but also the theater building is part of the spectator.

Thus we see a very interesting conflict of embodiment-imprisonment within our notion of the subject. And here Manovich’s study of the history of the screen plays a more pivotal role — as any good psychoanalytic film studies scholars would agree, a history of the screen is a history of the gaze, and a history of the gaze is a history of subjectivity (hence my studies of the monitor phase). Embodiment and imprisonment, it seems, has become two sides of the same coin. The augmented gaze of the screen is the freedom for which we pay. With Lev Manovich, the theories of Jacques Lacan is now subject to technological mutation.

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