digital rhetoric

faciality and the interface

Gardner Campbell writes on Michael Wesch’s recent post on "context collapse." Wesch describes this collapse as

an infinite number of contexts collapsing upon one another into that
single moment of recording. The images, actions, and words captured by
the lens at any moment can be transported to anywhere on the planet and
preserved (the performer must assume) for all time. The little glass
lens becomes the gateway to a blackhole sucking all of time and space ā€“
virtually all possible contexts ā€“ in upon itself.

Essentially Wesch is speaking to the paralyzing effect of the webcam. It’s an issue that has come up in several conversations on Seesmic: the many ways in which the material constraints of the media network shape compositions. Gardner also speaks about this in rhetorical terms–the development of voice in the writer and the challenges of audience. That is, the challenge of speaking to an absent, indeterminate audience is not new.

One could follow this down the Derridean path toward presence/absence cum pattern/randomness a la Katherine Hayles. But Friday is Deleuze and Guattari day here at Digital Digs, at least this Friday is. Besides, Wesch’s passage made me think immediately of D/G’s discussion of the face as white wall/black hole in ATP, and this interesting little passage:

if human beings have a destiny, it is rather to escape the face, to dismantle the face and facializations, to become imperceptible, to become clandestine, not by returning to animality, nor even by returning to the head, but by quite spiritual and special becomings-animal, by strange true becomings that get past the wall and get out of the black holes, that make faciality traits themselves finally elude the organization of the face–freckles dashing toward the horizon, hair carried off by the wind, eyes you traverse instead of seeing yourself in or gazing into those glum face-to-face encounters between signifying subjectivities. (171)

One of the things you have to love about D/G prose is the capacity to take the things we presume make us human and turn them monstrous. One of the things you have to understand about facialization here is that it is a process of decoding the surface of the head and overcoding it in terms of signification (the white wall site of inscription) and subjectification (the black hole of consciousness). And it is not just the head, the body can also be facialized in this process. Indeed even objects can be reterritorialized this way, as D/G remark "you might say that a house, utensil, or object, an article of clothing, etc.  is watching me, not because it resembles a face, but because it is taken up in the while wall/black hole process, because it connects to the abstract machine of facialization" (175). And where could this be more true than with the monitor and its web cam? As Wesch notes, the camera is a "gateway to a blackhole." The screen is the desublimation of facialization.

Rhetoric includes the author’s strategic manipulation of the face. This is bi-directional though as discourse captures the face/voice as well. But this is about more than that. The camera reveals the inhuman and uncanny face, introducing us to "unconscious optics" as Benjamin noted. Of course we normalize the experience fairly quickly. I’m no longer bothered to sit before my webcam and then send off a post to Seesmic or YouTube or where ever.

Perhaps it is possible though to elude the organization of the face by recognizing that the image on the screen is a product of a networked process that cannot be reduced to "you."