Wednesday, March 14, 2007

too indirect?

For those of us who did not 'understand' the article, or found that the points that he was trying to make or the explanations that he was providing regarding certain phenomenons were not the 'real' explanations that the executioners of those phenomenons probably intended, the following insight about the author, Paul Virilio, might be helpful. The insight being the fact that Virilio studied phenomenology under Maurice Merleau-Ponty. Phenomenology (particularly Edmund Husserl's definition of phenomenology, by whom both Maurice and consequently Virilio, were influenced by) “is an approach to philosophy that takes the intuitive experience of phenomena as its starting point and tries to extract from it the essential features of experiences and the essence of what we experience.”1

I am someone who believes, that the “essential features” and the “essence of what we experience” is something that is defined by the the person who is creating that experience/phenomenon, not the person who is actually experiencing that phenomenon. So for example, Virilio, pens an excessively long argument trying to explain “the importance of research into high definition of the image.” His explanation is that “high fidelity and high image definition serve greatly to modify the nature of the acoustic and visual relief” that in turn changes the reality of the things 'perceived.' The rhetoric that he uses, for example words like relief and perception, put greater emphasis on the experience of the phenomenon (which in this case is the Digitalization) rather than the creation of it. My point being, if you want to explain the rise of digital media, a valid explanation can be the desire for the creators/executioners (like executive producers of TV shows, or Journalists who are providing war footage) of digital media to provide clarity. So unlike Virilio, I would put less emphasis on the desire of the viewer to seek clarity/relief, since we know that I Love Lucy was a popular show even when the T.V set was not digitalized, and I would put more emphasis on the desire of the producers of the TV show to provide clarity.


  • In the first two paragraphs I am trying to say that I don't like the way Virilio thinks. He takes a given phenomenon and tries to search for the meaning/purpose/essence of the phenomenon from the experience of the phenomenon. I truly abhor such an approach because not all people experience a phenomenon in the same fashion, and therefore it is not the most effective way in trying to search for the essence of the phenomenon. I don't merely abhor such an approach to critical thinking, but sincerely believe that those who utilize such an approach should be barred from civilized discourse.

  • From what I understand, by the term Indirect Light, Virilio means the following. Traditionally, light in the form of the electric bulb (therefore he calls it artificial light) has illuminated places. So he brings up the point that the police in Paris passed a decree requiring that streets lights be turned on in the dark, so as to help provide security. But now this same function of providing security, relies heavily on surveillance cameras. So now the illuminating is done not by electric bulbs, but by video cameras. Therefore the term indirect light. (Its interesting to think about how much Virilio's training a student of phenomenology has to do with the way in which arrives or at least structures this argument)

  • Another important point that he raises, is the increasing importance of the speed at which images travel. He says that previously the test of a theory was the duration of its perceived validity, but now it depends on how quickly its is conveyed after its occurrence. (I disagree with this analysis. I think that the speed at which it is conveyed less important, if not least important. For example, in the mass media, the concept of who breaks the story first is very important. But often is the case that the channel that broke the story first, in the rush, misreported the story.)

  • He makes the point that videoscopy is different from cinema or theater in the sense, that it doesn't put emphasis on the location in which it is being shot. This I agree with. Take for example, the case of youtube, where millions of youtubers use their bedroom as the environment. This exemplifies the fact that the miniature camera, that rises on top of our keyboards, doesn't regard the location of the shooting as something that contributes to the art.

  • Also Virilio classifies as a crisis for cinema, a) the fact the camera is miniaturized, b) less importance is placed on delayed broadcasting, c) loss of the fact that cinema is no longer seen as a public spectacle where people gather in numbers and experience the phenomenon. I disagree with these points because a) the availability of a portable TV camera makes possible artistic moments such as the one that the film American Beauty alludes to when we see the young high school boy film the plastic bag floating around, b)most people favor watching well edited version of movies, even documentaries are edited, which implies that they are not live, c)even though the experience of youtube is private, there is a sense of community that is fairly evident to a regular youtuber.

  • Final point: Virilio (and most of the Silent Generation Public Intellectuals, barring a few)who was born in 1932, and who at the time of writing this article was 68, ought to cease commenting on social and cultural implications of technological phenomenons, for it is not conducive to do so while one is paying frequent visits to hospitals.



Blogger Daniella said...

First of all, thank you for clearing up the text. When I first read it, I wasn't really sure as to what it meant. After reading your post however, I realize that you make an absolutely valid point. I too would rather prefer excellent content with not-as-advanced cameras than beautiful digital footage with not so-great content (The same argument can also be made for video games, but I believe that is for another time).
I suppose that in this case, the improved clarity of such a camera would prove important because it would be better able to catch the criminal. But the way cameras work, its lack of importance of location, et cetera, are all very important details, however, they are not the most important aspects of the camera. Though I will have to disagree on your argument about the speed of the camerawork, or at least your example. You compare the camera to human error. The camera is spot on as to whom it catches on film, but only the human being can misinterpret the face of the culprit. It is the same with news stories. It is not to say that cameras are perfect, of course. Cameras can malfunction, and nowadays the images can be digitally altered, usually with the use of the program Photoshop.
I too disagree that this is not a crisis for cinema. In fact, it has brought upon a different style, which gives us more of a sense of realism within the plot of a film. It being miniturized has actually helped because cameramen can perform such movements that they could not do before, thus giving us more angles, which usually makes the story more interesting. It also gives us, the public, a chance to record as much as we want with our own portable digital cameras without the hassle of lugging a six pound machine. As for less importance on delayed broadcasting: wouldn't that contradict his argument? He was fascinated with the speed of the camera, why now the anxiety? It's been shown that there has been a greater importance in improving delayed broadcasting. In fact, filming something live here in California would not lag in New York. I'm sure that the lag will also improve in the next few years internationally. And of course, cinema is still popular among the public.

3/14/2007 12:16 PM  
Blogger RachelK said...

Thanks so much for the clarification and the research. I agree with you that the experience is all in the eyes of the beholder and is completely dependant on how one defines it.

3/18/2007 10:13 PM  

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