Hysteria: Physical Presence and Juridical Absence
& AIDS: Physical Absence and Juridical Presence
[intro] [part 1] [part 2] [part 3] [notes]
II. AIDS: Physical Absence and Juridical Presence
The persons afflicted with AIDS show horrible visual signs of bodily deterioration: the disintegration of the skin, sarcomas, blindness and the degeneration of the body as a whole. Jarman has incorporated into the film his personal blindness, the consequences of him dying of AIDS, depicting this with the blue canvas; the zero degree of representation. Jarman moved from the disintegration of film structure to that of the viewer's sight. The institution of the subject ill with AIDS within the visible is carried out by the absence of a "truly ill body". Moreover Derek Jarman not only refused to reiterate the conventional pieties surrounding representations of a HIV positive person, but brought to light, paraphrasing Sally Stein, the hidden agendas inscribed in the particular mode of representation of our culture and times.17 In the film Blue this is carried out less by the aid of the medium used - the film, than with the strategically incorporated logic of the visualization of new media and of the regime of visibility carried out by new media technologies.
In the film Blue, Jarman successfully conveys the complexities underpinning information systems and various subject positions with the way in which meaning and identities are constructed and endlessly re-negotiated.With the instauration of blindness in the film as the zero degree of representation, Jarman subverts some of the basic parameters of the new paradigm of visuality produced by the new technology and the position of the eyewitness within it. Today all methods of proving a statement depend on technological instruments and tools, and the constitution of scientific "truth" is, to a profound degree, mediated by technology. 18 Pragmatic acceptance of axioms and specific methods of proof have entered a variety of sciences. Scientific statements have to be effectuated and are thus decisively mediated by technology. Pragmatic performativity is the postmodern sense of truth.19 Lyotard emphasizes repeatedly the increase of scientific knowledge through its mediation with technology. The whole process of seeing through is in its mediation through technology.20Let me clarify this process "of seeing through its mediation through technology" by returning for a moment to photography - summarizing its inner principle by relying on Paul Virilio, despite the fact that he was not referring to photography: "Everything I see is in principle within my reach, at least within reach of my sight, marked on the map of the ' can'."21 Photography enables the encoding of a topographical memory by establishing a dialectical loop between seeing and mapping. As Virilio claims, it is possible to speak of generations of vision and even of visual heredity from one generation to the next. But, following Virilio22 the perception developed by new media and technologies (which is called the "logistics of perception"), destroyed these earlier modes of representation preserved in the "I can" of seeing. The logistics of perception inaugurates the production of a vision machine and though the possibility of achieving sightless vision, whereby the video camera or virtual technology would be controlled by a computer. Today new media apparatuses (from virtual reality to cyberspace) confer upon us a whole range of visual prosthetics which confront us with an ever changing positioning of the subject with his/her body along with the systematic "production" of blindness, of the absence of certainty (of the naked human eye) within the visibility of our world. As Virilio would say, the bulk of what I see is no longer within my reach. We have to ask ourselves: What does one see when one's eyes, depending on such instruments, are reduced to a state of rigid and practically invariable structural immobility? However, this is only one side of the paradigm of the new media technology. On the other side, in the twentieth century, the sciences are increasingly permeated with technology. "Technological instruments and apparatuses hold a central role within scientific research processes. These technological tools, however, cost huge amounts of money. Consequently, the state and political institutions function as important and decisive mediators in the accomplishment of scientific knowledge. The process of knowledge is increasingly judged in terms of input (quantity) and output (quality). Science is linked to the system of political power".2
The blindness of the naked human eye is thus paradoxically reinforced by the growing tendency of using increasingly sophisticated electronic technologies not only in science but also in the leading ideological and repressive state apparatuses, particularly within the legal system and the police sector. Virilio is speaking of hyper-realist representational models within the police and the legal systems, to the extent that human witnesses are losing their credibility: the human eye no longer remains an eyewitness. On the one side of the paradigm of new media technology we are witnessing the systematic production of blindness, and on the other, the frightening hyper-realism of a system of total visibility which is particularly reinforced in legal and police procedures. The tendency of the leading scopic regime of the new media technologies is to produce blindness while, simultaneously, develops a whole range of techniques to produce the credibility of the presence of objects and humans, instead of trying to demonstrate their real existence. Today this latter process can be illustrated by military and espionage strategies: "It is more vital to trick the enemy about the virtuality of the missile's passage, about the very credibility of its presence, than to confuse him about the reality of its existence".24Main features which are currently produced by new media technology (blindness of the natural human eye, hyper-realism in legal and police procedures and the whole range of techniques for producing the credibility of the presence of objects, humans etc.) are strategically incorporated and subverted in the film Blue. With the instauration of blindness in the film via the blue canvas as the zero degree of representation Jarman emphasizes this duality. The absence of the ill body and, last but not least, of any physical body in the film, creates the illusion of total disembodiment, and is paradoxically a subversive answer to the constant production of disembodiment through new technologies.
The created illusion of disembodiment thus raises the question, which I posed in the beginning of this essay, i.e., "how to put bodies back into the picture?" 25 - As juridical presence! The body of the HIV infected person, an "object" already lost, is shaped by its very absence. On the other side, with the text heard throughout the film, which is so detailed in existential, medical and legal particularities about the postmodern condition of persons ill with HIV, a clear demand for the juridical presence and the rights of those afflicted with AIDS within the structures of power in contemporary society is made. Through this relationship between the logic of representation of new technologies and media and the representation of AIDS, it is thus possible to elaborate a different logic of representations of absence/presence as were previously proposed in the case of hysteria. Instead of physical presence and juridical absence, physical absence and legal presence is produced. Physical absence and legal presence, as proposed by Jarman, subvert the logic of mass produced simulated presence on the one side, and a mass blindness of the "natural" human eye on the other.
Looking to the binary pair of presence/ absence in connection with the film Blue and with the new media/virtual environments, it is also possible to argue that the common characteristics of emerging technologies and virtual environments are the elimination of duration: the collapse of time into real time. In the film Blue these characteristics serve as reminders of the dimension of time, which as Paul Virilio suggests, is under siege by real time technologies: "They kill 'present' time by isolating its presence here and now for the sake of another commutative space that is no longer composed of our 'concrete presence' in the world, but of a 'discrete telepresence' whose enigma remains forever intact".26
If a "bounded image is seen from a distance (...) it exists unto itself and offers a perceptual experience. Images that implicate the viewer in some way, however, as it is with interactive or immersive media, are unbounded. They require experiential cognition. The latter put the critical viewer in an untenable position: one must assimilate an image to comprehend it, yet it must also be dismantled in order to reflect upon it."27 For Druckrey the discursive operations of the late twentieth century informational systems as proffered through cyberspace are characterized by going beyond identity and meaning formations to provide a catalyst for agency and thus empowerment. The creative possibilities of different visual systems are represented through interface or "connections".28 Meaning and phenomenology, representation and perception are merged. The moment of reading an image within such a system has the effect "not as a navigation of the image, but of a lived moment, so that the efficacy of an image is equal to the experience of it" 29; thus it is the lived moment of being connected which is charged with possibilities. "It is the passion of this lived moment of connection between the user, part of the real world and the controlled system of predictable outcomes encoded into the software of the symbolic, accessed through the hardware, which offers scope for disruptive nihilistic behavior."30 The film Blue introduces these questions of the re-examination of the human body experientiality in an age of virtuality which is concerned with the apparent de-materialization of experience. Looking in more detail the reception of Blue's blue canvas, we can argue that it is framed as a film screen, but due to its insistent and suspended immateriality which lasts more than an hour, the blue canvas functions as an immersive spatial container, which slowly forces the viewer into a specific interactivity, in an immersion of sight and body. The film confirms Druckrey's statement regarding the reception of the cinematic image by the viewer that has not only the effect of navigation by the image, but of a lived moment. The effect of the image is an experience of the encounter not simply with the blue space, but with a person who is dying of AIDS, embodied through his proper experiantiality within the blue canvas in front of us.
[intro] [part 1] [part 2] [part 3] [notes]