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An Opaque Perspective on the 21st Century, or, Together in the Clouds

April 2, 2012

I’ve long thought that the development of art in the 20th century could be viewed as related to the development of film and the cinema. The techniques employed when dealing with film, principally cutting and rearranging, can be seen in all other disciplines. I’m mostly thinking of the jump-cut and juxtaposition; the collage.

By the middle of the 20th century William Burroughs laid out his depiction of human experience as that of a projected film; a visual story of madness that constituted and explained the mass delusion of the cinematic and television age. Much later this view, now digital, became widely accepted in The Matrix. In Burroughs’ 1960 world, unseen officials and bureaucrats, the hidden masters, ran the projectors. It was director, the editor and the projector that were most important, the cameras, not so much. The movie cameras of old tended to be large and semi-fixed. The screens were in public spaces and told a single story to a mass of recipients. The 35mm and 8mm cameras produced after WWII began a shift.

Allan Ginsberg almost always had a camera

The 21st century seems to be heightening the importance of the camera itself. The main aspect of the modern camera is its size, portability and internet capability, allowing it to become the memory and projection device of our personal perspective – the very ‘substance’ of our selves.

It is this technology that drives my thinking – that the self is a point of perspective comprised of the information (images) received at the senses (lens), stored in the memory contained in the body of the device. It is given character by the nature and quality of its component parts; how fast is the chip, how sharp is the lens, how sophisticated the processor.  What virtues do you possess?

It is the camera as the lens and projector of the individual self, interconnected to others via the internet, that is the weapon which is taking down governments – at least those governments armed only with guns. The governments armed also with a modern understanding of technology and human psychology seem to be coping quite well, so far. In the heavenly Earth of the future, we will have beaten our swords into cameras. The plowshares will be run by robots.

Every camera has a perspective, depending on where it is, when it is, and in what direction its sensors are pointing. So it is for individual beings. In this story, every person is a perspective, and the number of perspectives is more numerous than the grains of sand in the Ganges. Each grain in its own place, each angle slightly different. Every person is a viewpoint, every citizen a reporter.

In this model, no one perspective is ‘correct’. Each perspective is by its nature slightly or significantly different, as taken from a different vantage point. Each data-set (image, or viewpoint) from any and every perspective can be transmitted and received with relatively equal success, regardless of the quality of the content. Hence, one opinion is seen as being as valid as any other – again, regardless of its quality.

A good example is climate-change denial. What matters in this case is the number of transmissions and mirrored repetitions of the perspective, not whether it is ‘true’ or not. In this view, climate change denial is not a lie, it is merely a different perspective. In this world as Burroughs predicted, nothing is true and everything is permitted (to be a truth).


The author almost always has a camera

In what other way can I tell myself the story of what is, except with the information available to my place and time? With what other techniques can I employ to craft that story other than those favored by the current technology – that which is at hand?

So I suggest that the self is a perspective that changes with the movement of the sensors, its self-awareness is its memory, its duration is as long as the device holds out – until the device ‘dies’. Should a comprehensive data set survive as a coherent ‘body of work’, preserved as art or merely as a personal archive in the techno-cloud, some kind of immortality will have been achieved, not of the device, but of the perspective. (Neither Da Vinci or Shakespeare survive, but we ‘know’ them through their surviving perspective.)


The common term that has developed for on-line storage of our data is ‘the cloud’.

In an old story, God exists above  the clouds, speaks from the clouds, and we, users and believers, shall be called up together in the clouds.

It is our latest technique for immortality.

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12 Comments leave one →
  1. Debra permalink
    April 7, 2012 10:30 am

    My associations :
    Two years ago, I saw Sophocles’ “Oedipus Tyrannos” performed in the south of France.
    The young company doing it followed tradition in some ways : all male cast, three actors. What was… modern, were the web cams.
    The whole play was done with cameras panning the actors, like in a modern “democracy”…
    The extraordinary combination of webcams and Sophocles allows you to see how modern “Oedipus” really is, and how close to it we are.
    “Oedipus”, the first… detective story, the first… AUTOPSY of a narrative. Well, one of the first, at any rate. The desire to find an image for our origin, the desire to be physically ? mentally ? present at our conception, in a room where a man and a woman are behind closed doors, and UNSEEN to the camera, is a pretty powerful one for the modern psyche.
    There is a contrast ? contradiction ? between a society that founds its identity on a PERSPECTIVE, which after all, is.. AN IMAGE, and one which is hostile to such forms of.. idolatry…
    Is climate change denial a different perspective or… a clash between different BELIEFS ?
    Our civilization is once again in the throes of its ancient conflict with the commandment against idolatry of an image…
    My dear William said that as long as HIS VERSE STOOD, his beloved would be remembered, in times to come.
    We are 180° away from that.. BELIEF right now.
    The problem with the perspective.. perspective ? is that it remains EGOcentric, in the Cartesian sense of the word.
    That is a big problem, in my book…
    Freud’s topology ? is a viable alternative to egocentric belief systems.
    The unconscious is outside of the limelight of the ego, as an alternative place.
    We do not get stuck in that hall of mirrors, where one door opening leads to another, and another, ad infinitum.
    Whew… a little hope there…
    Although it makes you wonder… which is worse, being fixed for all eternity in the logos, or.. by the camera ??
    Geez, immortality is SUCH A DRAG…

  2. oelsen permalink
    April 22, 2012 11:56 am

    Hm. If only the fixation on visual input would vanish instantly, I am sure that more action would spring out of that. In earlier times, the sensory input of olfactory and haptic kind was much more important. If the soil was suddenly more like clay or the trees “sounded” different in the wind, then something dangerous was on its way.

    Today, all I hear is “but the trees are still green”. Yes, and your blood has still the same pH-Value, despite you being borderline dead.

    • Stephen Malagodi permalink*
      April 22, 2012 12:55 pm

      Yea Oelsen, I do think that the emphasis on the visual is an issue.

      “Seeing is believing” is increasingly true as you say, primarily because the transmission of images and sound is what our existing technology allows. There is no olfactory or haptic transmission technology.

      And so, as you rightly point out, we note the disconnect of humans from their physical environment, and the attempt to compensate through ‘recreational’ outdoor activities, which are interestingly marketed as an escape from the sensory-deprived urban life. I do this myself by motorcycle camping. It is an attempt to rebalance my senses.

      Nevertheless, my post was primarily about how we use our technology, in an increasingly technology dominated environment, as a framework to construct the story that we must construct to make a narrative of invisible reality.

      If we live in the Asian subcontinent of 2500 years ago, with developing cities in yet still a predominantly agricultural environment in a topography of mountains, glaciers and abundant rivers, we are going to make a narrative that resembles Hinduism and later Buddhism. It is a narrative that says the shimmering natural world of life and death is cyclical, and both the suffering and joy you experience is but a rotation taking place within a ‘larger’ context of ’empty energy’. (This happens to be my own conceptual framework today, 2500 years later. What this means is that I think the Buddhists got the conceptual framework right.)

      If we live in a Middle-Eastern environment of 2500 years ago, much more arid in a situation of a more nomadic lifestyle with cities emerging along trade routes, we are going to create a narrative that more resembles Judaism. It is a narrative of travel, of departures and arrivals, of beginnings and endings, suffering and relief, of selection and rejection.

      If we live in European environment of 2000 years ago until the present, dominated by city and nation states primarily engaged in wealth-building by expansion and occupation, we are going to create a narrative of heroic individual struggle and subservience to an abstract but very political ‘higher power’ (especially if this conforms to and expands our earlier pagan mythology of mountain-gods).

      My point is we construct our narrative story of the invisible using what is available as source material – there is no other way. We cannot create this story out of ‘unknown unknowns’. And so I say that my observation is that our (inter-human) environment is dominated by the connected camera and this means we will probably develop our narrative of the invisible through a process of the distributed snapshot.

      In this environment, I do not believe the nation state and the global networks can co-exist. Their narrative constructions just don’t jibe.

  3. Debra permalink
    April 22, 2012 2:40 pm

    I agree with your… diagnosis on the nation state and global empire as opposing systems/visions for federating men and women.
    The current financial crisis results from repeated attacks on the nation state.
    Over 2000 years ago, the European social structure was essentially… tribal.
    Early Jewish social structure was also tribal.
    We are perhaps set to reexplore the tribal narrative…
    For me, the cyclical temporality is intimately tied up with women’s bodies, along with the cyclical repetition of the seasons.
    We have been busy undermining cyclical temporality, and devaluing it, in modern Western civilization.

    • Stephen Malagodi permalink*
      April 22, 2012 3:57 pm

      The difference between the time systems is simple.

      There is natural time, which is cyclical, as with analog clocks and yearly calendars reflecting the cyclical patterns of moon, sun, stars, planets, seasons, women – what have you. Natural time is determined by the position of interrelated physical bodies.

      Then there is industrial time which is sequential, as with digital systems in which every moment is a unique pulse, never repeating and without meaning except in relation to previous markers. Industrial, digital time is primarily a tool of measurement and seeks to be independent of external events.

      We have time zones to regionalize the relationship between industrial time and the natural world. Globally these regions are set as plus or minus from the time in Greenwich, England (GMT). Our brains however, either by nature or by custom prefer natural time cycles. We still say 10 past 12 or 15 past 1 rather than 0 plus 10 or 0 plus 175.

  4. Debra permalink
    April 23, 2012 1:54 am

    Your above comment shows to me how… organic our ideas are.
    Industrial time is greatly indebted to the influence of the monotheistic narrative on our thinking.
    That monotheistic narrative sets great store by the word… “one”, which is highly polysemic.
    The way I see things, the “God the father” narrative trains men’s eyes on… the sky, unfortunately ultimately excluding “Mother Earth”, ultimately.
    When your eyes are trained on the sky, the limit tends to get lost.
    Don’t we say “the sky’s the limit” ?
    That means.. unlimited.
    My psychoanalytic mentor talked about “roue libre”.
    That’s what happens when the gears are not linked to each other, and the wheels keep on turning, but nothing happens… they are not GROUNDED, hé hé…
    Too much time with his head in the clouds is not good for man.

  5. Steve permalink
    May 15, 2012 8:30 am

    Very interesting! Some things from my “point” of view. That’s the first thing- point. Whatever analogy, grain of sand etc., it is a point.
    Since the invention of linear perspective which mimics our bi-optical view, we have been more/less content with how we create a window on the world that reflects the visual appearance of that world and how uncomfortable we become when someone (an artist perhaps) tries to encompass more than the visual appearance in that window.
    Cubism enters into this discussion- What were Picasso and Braque after? They recognized that constituting an image from a single point could not reveal anything complete about what was seen. Multiple perspective and motion within the image frame and this was uncomfortable because we just don’t “see” that way.
    And then the cinematic media that becomes the digital media. All discreet packets of data. But what data? Enter Marshal McCluhan who spent a lot of time thinking through not only how media works, but also how content is transformed by that media. His interesting point that is often overlooked is that the new media will use the older form to express content. “Movies” take their “storyline” from novels. The camera is still a point of view. Remember the film “Thomas Crown Affair” (the orginal). It was very much a mish-mash of stills and split screen. Picasso would have been pleased. That was a seismic shift. now we are so used to it, it doesn’t register anymore.
    The exciting and frightening thing is that a camera in everyone’s hand has all but destroyed the Renaissance notion of “point” and by that democratization, allowed us all to have our senses back.

    • Stephen Malagodi permalink*
      May 15, 2012 10:34 am

      Your art history is much better than mine.

      Perhaps you could expand on the Rennaisance idea of ‘point of view’ and how it emerged from the previous idea.

      You’re right about new media (methods) evolving from previous forms. This is simply evolutionary. A narrative evoles from a paper host to a film host. The only time something truely revolutionary occurs is when something enters the culture from outside. The existing form then either adapts to the new reality, or it is destroyed.

  6. April 9, 2013 2:46 am

    But, is the movie and the attendant exploits of the Men in Black only a piece of entertaining fiction? According to many, the answer is It a little known fact outside of the field of UFO research that the big-screen MIB are actually born out of very real encounters with genuine, shadowy figures who only dress in black and whose entire role in life seems to involve terrorizing witnesses to UFOs and aliens.

    • Stephen Malagodi permalink*
      April 9, 2013 8:42 am

      Say what now?
      Uh, yes. The story that you call “Men In Black” is “only” a piece of fiction. Everything we tell each other about something that happened, or might have happened or might happen, is fiction. Everything we say is a story, and every declarative sentence is a lie. This is the lesson behind the ancient Buddhist cliche “The finger pointing at the moon is not the moon.”

  7. aputnam28 permalink
    October 25, 2013 12:03 am

    Reblogged this on The Epic Love Story and commented:
    didn’t read it all but wow this person is smart


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