McKenzie Wark on Sun, 17 Feb 2002 19:35:01 +0100 (CET)

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[Nettime-bold] Do You Get the Picture?

Do You Get the Picture?
Or, Heidegger Goes to China

McKenzie Wark <>

"A world picture, when understood essentially, does
not mean a picture of the world, but the world
conceived and grasped as picture."

"The fundamental event of the modern age is the
conquest of the world as picture."
Martin Heidegger

According to Heidegger, "the fact that the world
becomes picture at all is what distinguishes the
essence of the new age."1 The world appears as re-
presentation 'for man'. In the classical age, to the
contrary, "man is the one who is looked upon by that
which is." Put simply: the gods used to look upon us
and we had a perception that they watched us; now we
look at the world and we understand the world as that
which we can see.

Perhaps the postmodern tends back towards that
original, pagan perception. The spectacle of the world
no longer appears as it did in the modern era as
organised for us. Images of the world no longer appear
as the raw material and the outcome of heroic human
acts. What Deleuze perceives to be the breakdown of
the action-image may be nothing more than this.2 The
modern ends when the world is no longer presented to
viewers as a picture, to be subject to conscious
rational calculations and predetermined actions with
foreseeable ends.

What Heidegger thinks of as the pagan relation to the
world may be back with us. Once again we must gather
and conserve third nature, the bitter landscape of
exposure and unfathomable catastrophe. We still see
much more of the world than people ever did before:
the relentless development of the vector-field which
typified the modern has continued. Yet it continued
way past the point where it seemed to empower us by
exposing the world to us, by bringing it near.

The slogan of SBS TV in Australia, surely one of the
world's most cosmopolitan and multicultural
broadcasters, is 'Bringing the World Back Home'. Yet
this does not quite feel right anymore. We are exposed
to the world; the world no longer exposes itself for
us. Fragments, images of it are ex-posed, placed in
proximity to us, but not for us. We apprehend what
comes our way, but it does not re-present itself to
us, still less do we represent the world to ourselves.
What is apprehended must be gathered and conserved;
fashioned and delivered again, elsewhere, elsewhen.

When representations cease to exist for man, then
humanism is at last finally making its exit. Heidegger
thought the end of humanism as an idea; Foucault
traced it in the discourses of modern social science -
but it is only in the proliferation of the vector-
field that the end of humanism becomes a global
condition. Under the influence of the vector-field,
subjectivity appears as a network of nodes
subordinated to the vector-flow.

Not entirely subordinated, however. The 1987 outbreak
of the democracy movement in Tiananmen Square is a
fabulous example of the recovery of sovereignty and
autonomy out of the residues of sensibility which the
friction of the vector-field and the disciplinary
apparatuses leave behind in everyday life. The
condition of subjection to the vector-flow is the
condition for a struggle towards autonomy in relation
to it.

Humanism arises out of modernity, out of the
presentation of objects in the form of images before
the subject, as the dialectical counterpart of the
subjection of people to the monstrous object-world of
second nature. Yet humanism is a form of fetishism. In
place of the dual relation of people to objects and to
images, relations which come increasingly to mediate
both territorial social relations and the map of
vectoral, communicative relations, humanism makes a
fetish of the human to human relation, ignoring all
forms of mediation. Humanism thus ignores the
historical accumulation of the object world of dead
labour that characterised second nature today, and the
simultaneity of events which is the politics of the
present in a mediated world.

The development of the vector-field once held out the
promise of overcoming the tyranny of objects, of dead
labour, of second nature. This was the modern desire,
to create through representation a theatre of
operations through which the object world could be
subordinated to human control. The astonishment proper
to the postmodern is when the reverse reveals itself,
when the vector field appears as an absolute barrier
to human control of second nature or to unmediated
communication of all that is human. We may 'get the
picture', we may understand what we see as the vector
flow - but it is more appropriate to say that the
vector gets us.

We must be its image-fodder, we must swallow its
fictions whole (but with a pinch of everyday salt). We
must actively seek to become the nodes of the rhizome
to have any idea what is to come. For Heidegger, "that
the world becomes picture is one and the same event as
man's becoming subject in the midst of that which

In the modern approach to third nature, the organising
power of the spectacle struggles to create a vector-
field through which that power itself organises and
plans the whole of second nature via third nature.
"Because this position secures, organises and
articulates itself as a world view, the modern
relationship to that which is, is one that becomes, in
its decisive unfolding, a confrontation of world
views; and indeed not of random world views, but only
of those that have already taken up the fundamental
position of man that is most extreme, and have done so
with the utmost resoluteness.

For the sake of this struggle of world view and in
keeping with its meaning, man brings into play his
unlimited power for calculating, planning and moulding
of all things."4 Or so the Chinese Communist Party
still imagines - but it is actually rather more like
Kafka's great wall of China, and it does not confront
another world view but rather the lack of it. It now
confronts a world-flow.

The symptom of this passage from modernity to third
nature is the event. The great monuments of Tiananmen
square might persist in form through time, but they
cast a long shadow. In the light of the global vector,
the great monuments to the organisation of the world
through the worldview, through picturing and planning,
are rendered invisible in their lengthening shadows.
"The shadow, however, points to something else, which
it is denied to us to know."5

1 Martin Heidegger, The Question Concerning Technology
and other Essays, Harper, New York, 1977, p130

2 Gilles Deleuze, Cinema #2: The Time-Image,
University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 1986

3 Heidegger, op cit, p132

4 Heidegger, op cit, p134

5 Heidegger, op cit, p136

From: McKenzie Wark, Virtual Geography, Indiana
University Press, 1994, pp162-164

                   ... we no longer have roots, we have aerials ...

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