Archive for Lev Manovich

Oversharing, or, the Anxiety of Inverted Fantasy

Posted in Postmodern 2.0 with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 5, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan

There is a new phenomenon in today’s information society, the anxiety of which becomes pervasive when one realizes the dangers and fragility brought upon by the interconnected Web 2.0 sphere. This is the problem of online oversharing: the tension in finding the right balance of what parts of one’s subjective identity should be put online. This is an anxious search, because, at first, it is understandably hard to realize that the internet is a totally new space with its own novel dynamics; any attempt to categorize it as public or private sphere or any of the classical categories would fail just as miserably as any attempt to introduce old-market commodity dynamics to the remix culture of intellectual property. As such, adapting to the new big Other of the internet becomes even harder.

How much should our online avatar, our novel cyber-embodiment, resemble our stupid, abrupt, physical identity of existence? Of course, we have all the big postmodern theories about how everything is no more than a simulacra, how reality and fantasy becomes blurred, that we live in a state of hyperreality, etc. But I think this idea is a little too naive for today’s society — rather than the blurring of fantasy and reality, is it not more true that the condition of our second embodiment, one I dubbed the monitor phase, calls for an inversion of fantasy? What I mean is quite simple: as our lives are today more and more lived on the other side of the screen, is it not, then, only logical that when the simulation is more real than the reality itself, reality becomes more and more like our fantasies?

It is interesting to take note of the dynamics of anxiety in today’s society compared to the more traditional societies. Oversharing has always been about how one’s speech can uncomfortably alter the other’s coordinates of the Imaginary, much to the discomfort of one or both sides. In the traditional society, oversharing becomes only a problem of how adjusted one is to the big Other, whether one is an idiot, etc. In today’s society, oversharing becomes a pervasive danger, as though one can read another’s mind in a condition where everybody is everybody else’s Big Brother. This is what I call the inversion of fantasy: we have to now struggle harder and harder to create and maintain coherent online profiles that do not tell too much about the truth of our daily, physical being, as we have, as kids growing up, struggled to maintain a coherent social identity with our physical being that does not tell too much about our fantasies. Is not our real, naive, physical self the obscene unconscious of our electronic avatar?

The age of what I dubbed Postmodern 2.0 takes the fantasy-reality dynamics further and more complicated. It is not just blurred, but inverted qua monitor. Of course, this inversion is not a simple one but one that should be noted in a nonlinear function of interactivity (although I do not have the space to develop that here). Slavoj Žižek once noted that we need the excuse of fiction to stage our true identity [citation needed]. A proper move for me is to go one step further and take into account the interactivity of today’s online and digital fiction — Lev Manovich’s move from traditional cinema to digital and “soft” cinema — and question the psychoanalytic dynamics of such processes. Is not today’s anxieties of oversharing the ultimate proof that something radical is going on in the dynamics of our Imaginary order?

Okami: Divine Subjects and Image-Instruments

Posted in Pop Culture with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on September 9, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan


OK, most of you probably know that I’m a hardcore Wii fan by now, so I’m guessing it’s about time to put the gaming geek of myself to elucidate my Lacanian new media theories. One of the core concepts of my thesis is a new subjective experience I call the divine subject. This notion of transcendent subjective experience made possible by technology has its roots in cybernetics and the Macy conferences of the 20th century, as Katherine Hayles has explained in her 1999 book How We Became Posthuman. The postmodern notion of contingent bodies and posthuman transformations is not, as many may argue, a rejection of the liberal humanist subject of Enlightenment (“ethics is deconstructed with biotechnology,” “it’s all about the dehumanizing market,” etc.), but instead, as John Searle is well aware, a faithful move to take the Cartesian subject one step further: a desperate move to preserve the cogito under postmodernity — precisely because thought is the only viable experience, we need no more bodies!

What better piece of literature to illustrate the divinity of the subject than Okami, a game in which you actually take control of God herself? This game in which your avatar is the Japanese sun God, Okami Amaterasu (taking the form of the white wolf avatar, Shiranui), has as its core element the ability for players to create objects in the scenes by painting on them directly — you create suns by painting circles in skies, stars by painting dots, cut enemies by painting slashes, etc. This is a perfect example of what Lev Manovich calls the transformation from image to image-instruments. With the advent of the computer age, signifiers now has a double role: not only a part of the sign, but also something to be acted upon, a portal to another dimension.

What to say of today’s world of signs? It is no longer the Baudrillardian object-dominated world of simulacra in which subjects are fashionably dead, but a world in which the simulacra is an extension of subjective experience. The correct way to read the popular postmodern dystopia in which even our bodies is nothing but a simulacra is not that we are dead, reduced to mere Foucauldian sand imprints, but the opposite one: every simulacra may be our body. (Is this not the ultimate dream of ubiquitous computing, ambient intelligence, etc?) With Žižek, the (Cartesian) subject is not dead, but preserved through its reflexivity.

Okami perfectly illustrates my thesis: with signifiers evolving from its original purpose to include a role as portals of actions, with subjects depending more and more on avatars (the contingent simulacra body, explained further on my theories of the psychoanalytic monitor phase) both for social interaction and individual enjoyment, it is only prudent to note the possibility that there is an evolution going on in the dialectics of the Symbolic and Imaginary orders. Does the divine paintbrush of Okami not show that the Imaginary self may very well lie outside the visible biological self?

Database and the Absence of Quilting Points

Posted in Postmodern 2.0 with tags , , , , , , , , on August 19, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan

It is interesting to note that the Lyotardian postmodern disappearance of grand narratives is celebrated during the rise of the computer age in the 1980s. As media historian Lev Manovich has pointed out (in his The Language of New Media, but also elsewhere), during that time, not only was grand narratives disappearing, but also narratives as a dominant form of media, as they are slowly but surely giving way for the more dominant form of media and culture at large — the database. In database culture, we no longer have the linearity of the cinematic narrative that guide us through. Instead, we have a series of virtually unlimited choices to structure our own experiment. Manovich himself was already very well aware of this, as he notes how the logic of the database mirrors the politically correct logic of democratic freedom and a universal equality of things.

The Lyotardian grand narratives, on the other hand, can in many ways be equated with the Master Signifier of Jacques Lacan, signifiers which open up worlds proper and fixes the other signifiers in place, acting as a means of point de capiton (“quilting points”). But these Master Signifiers work in the paternal logic of strict “yes” and “no”, without attempting to universalize (“Spinozize”, as Žižek would put it) the order. However, we today, in our noisy claims of being politically correct modern societies, reject strict “yes” and “no” answers. The fall of grand narratives is the disappearance of point de capiton.

Many contemporary psychoanalytic philosophers, most notably Alain Badiou, are very aware of this danger — the postmodern global capitalism opens up no world proper. Thus, how can you subvert an essentially worldless condition? Our history so far consists of dialectics between worlds, and we do not yet know how to oppose properly a worldless state of things. (Although, i argue, a dialectics is possible, but would involve radical idealism in which embodiment becomes the terrain of fight, a sort of posthuman-charged Hegelianism I briefly noted here.) This is precisely why capitalism is very tricky and troubling, and seem to only rejoice at its attempts of subversion, as many are already well aware.

I am not opposing capitalism because I am a romantic Left with nostalgic stories of the past and Leninist dreams of a communist future. I am only partly opposing capitalism because I am an intelligent person with a heart. I am opposing it most precisely because I personally think it won’t last long, while too many people have too much faith in it and if we do not change soon, the costs will be detrimental. Already we are in the midst of climate change, and global capitalism is thriving on its very idea.

What would be my spontaneous reaction and ultimate methodology against capitalism? Philosophers like Žižek like to point out that we can only do it by reasserting these quilting points. Here I prefer to take things into a more specific level (and perhaps differ from him in some senses). If you are at all familiar with my writings, you should know I am always researching on the problems of embodiment and subjectivization. For me, the way is not to reassert quilting points as such (points of “yes” or “no” that define the narrative plots of our life), but how to redefine the points and worlds. To me, the answer lies in studying the database logic itself, to generate what Manovich would call “info-aesthetics” (although I prefer a more political idea). What we need now is a radical new philosophy of computer semiotics and cognitive science, not only in regarding AI problems, but also in the political sphere. Do we still need to debate, now, that we have become cyborgs?

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

Posted in Postmodern 2.0 with tags , , , , , , , on July 20, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan

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.