Saturday, April 28, 2007

narcissism is all the rage, remix

"We do not lack communication. On the contrary we have too much of it. We lack creation We lack resistance to the present." Deleuze/Guattari, What is Philosophy?

Nothing is new in photography. Well, not the mirror image, and really, how can you beat yourself for a subject? You're everywhere you go, you're evasive, mysterious, yet endlessly willing, endlessly fascinating, a constant storm of expression and desire, moving through the city like a great wind. Photography, Susan Sontag pointed out in her essay "Plato's Cave," has become a right of passage, a "social rite, a defense against anxiety, a tool of power." This pre-digital essay responds to the already ubiquitous camera, now even more so, and surely soon to grafted onto the human body. She points out that the family album has become an essential document, and in fact what is missing is often more noticeable than what is not. We need evidence of participation, or presence, and idea that has taken us to ridiculous extremes--sending photographs of each other over dinner at the same table, for example.

But what Sontag didn't anticipate was the extent to which these technological advances in photography would turn our gaze back onto ourselves. Not only can we google ourselves endlessly, luxuriating on our own cyber-markings, we can now photograph ourselves doing it and publish that instantly. What are the implications of all this self-portraiture? A self absorption that comes with the territory, is inflated by our technology, not necessarily by choice. The new Macs, for example, with their built in cams make explicit the idea of our laptops mirroring us. It takes little effort to chronicle our every mood because everywhere we look there we are.

Is this a "resistance to the present?" I can't see that. Technology, and I'm not sure that it's inherently so, but technology seems to take away so much agency. I am aware of this every time I try to make an independent decision with my software, for example. Posting on forums and threads relating to the software affirms my worst nightmare: software designers are control freaks: what we the end-user is left with are carefully selected choices. "The thinking has been done for you," they boast, as if this should make one cheer.

A worrying trend, as I've pointed out here before. What are we witnessing here? Is this part of a bid for agency? To see ourselves in control of the technology that increasingly shapes our lives. Is the world expanding or shrinking? And what of our minds? And what of our sense of self? Are we being trained for a virtual existence? As David Levis Strauss points out, "it's not that we mistake photographs for reality; it's that we prefer them to reality."

Furthermore, what is the relationship between the increasing citizen preoccupation and reliance on technology and the domination of market forces? How can one be concerned with dailiness when one is so busy staring in technology's mirror? Democracy, corporation, propaganda...and self-absorption. Have we yet come out of the cave, or are we still being distracted by reflections cast on the wall by the very flames that purport to warm and guide us?

Lyle Rexer muses on the spectral nature of such preoccupations in Art on Paper.

No comments: