Newmedia on Sat, 4 Mar 2000 21:05:03 +0100 (CET)

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[Nettime-bold] Re: <nettime> NOTHING WORSE


Thanks one again for . . . the help with Zizek.  As you know, I've found 
Zizek to be one of the more interesting voices on nettime (or elsewhere of 
late) and I regret that I didn't succeed in getting more of his work 
translated into English when that project first was broached as I was 
strolling down the streets of Ljubljana.

However, I'm not at all sure that what Zizek means by the "symbolic order" -- 
particularly as you discuss this as something that is (nearly?) alive and can 
take on "human" qualities, such as "tart-ness" -- isn't closely related to 
what I mean by the "electric media environment."  

Perhaps it would be useful to compare and contrast these phrases at some 
point?  You might also recall that I enjoy playing with words, exploring 
their etymologies, mixing-up specialist jargons and flipping over ossified 
meme-isms.  Maybe some more of that would be helpful under the circumstances?

(Afterall, language is the UR-medium and therefore the UR-message.)

The widely noted process (on nettime and everywhere else thoughtful people 
congregate) of losing our capacity to ACT . . . in-this-world, as artists, as 
thinkers, as humans, is intimately correlated with the rise of electricity in 
19th century Europe, it would seem.  

Pre-electricity, as I "read" things, this loss really wasn't a concern of any 
great magnitude.  People invented, created, thought, acted without much 
concern that they would be ignored, brushed aside, treated as wallpaper, 
consumed as just more media "content."  More spectacle.  More virtuality.  
More entertainment.  More phatic communion.  

Pre-electricity . . . ideas mattered, paintings mattered, gestures mattered . 
. . people mattered.

While the notion that by adopting inventions -- let's just say "media" -- as 
extentions to our human faculties that we undergo a correlative 
"externalization" and thus an "amputation" of those same faculties is plain 
enough, what could it have been -- other than electricity -- which allowed us 
to extend our own nervous systems?  Thus "externalizing" and "amputating" our 
nerves from our "selves"?

At some point, you might imagine, if you "amputate" enough of your nervous 
system, you could rightly wonder if you are still human.  Indeed, if you 
might wonder if "you" still exist . . . as "you."  At some point in this 
process, doesn't "humanity" itself potentially "dis-appear"?  Could this have 
already happened?

Isn't this what Nietzsche (and thus everyone since Nietzsche) was noticing?  
The "dis-appearance" of the "Individual"?

That "externalized" and "amputated" nervous system -- coming "alive" and 
replacing "human" agency with its own "prerogative" -- is simply what I mean 
by our "electric media environment."  (And, could that "prerogative" include 
what McLuhan refers to as a "ideological machine"?)

How does this (perhaps more historic and dynamic) description differ from 
Zizek's various treatments of his "symbolic order"?  Are we talking about 
variants of the same phenomena?

As we lost more and more of our "selves" to this "environment" and, along 
with it, our capacity to ACT, you might imagine that there would be an 
increased inclination to try to compensate for this loss by trying to "buy" 
some of it back.  Perhaps one could "buy" some "magic" or something that 
would give us some of the "power" that had been so cruelly "amputated" by 
"electric media."

Thus, the potential temptation to "sell" our "mortal souls" to gain some 
capacity to leverage the world once again would seen quite natural.  It 
strikes me as no accident that the rise of both "ideology" and of "occultism" 
from, say, 1850 on, co-incided with the rise of the "electric media 
environment."  (Nor it is an accident, that the "ideologues" and the 
"occultists" were often the same people.  Annie Besant, for instance.  Or, 

So, with the rise of the "electric media environment," the trials of "Faust" 
move from the realm of "myth" towrds an everyday occurance.  In order to ACT, 
under "electric" conditions where one is in-exorably losing the capacity to 
ACT, one finds oneself "selling" what is most precious to "buy" back that 
lost "power."  ("Tarts", anyone?)

Without much fear regarding the results, I attempted to explore the 
implications of an association between this "Faustian" SELLING-OUT of your 
deepest critical faculties with adopting the posture of "ACTIVISM" at a forum 
last night with Langdon Winner.  And, all this was even happening at the NY 
Open Center, too -- Manhattan's center of things newly "occult."  It would be 
safe to say that he wasn't amused. <g>

Perhaps you are?


Mark Stahlman

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