'Now objects perceive me', the painter Paul Klee wrote in his Notebooks. This rather startling assertion has recently become objective fact, the truth. After all, aren't they talking about producing a 'vision machine' in the near future, a machine that would be capable not only of recognising the contours of shapes, but also of completely interpreting the visual field, of staging a complex environment close-up or at a distance? Aren't they also talking about the new technology of 'visionics': the possibility of achieving sightless vision whereby the video camera would be controlled by a computer? The computer would be responsible for the machine's - rather than the televiewer's - capacity to analyse the ambient environment and automatically interpret the meaning of events. Such technology would be used in industrial production and stock control; in military robotics, too, perhaps.
Now that they are preparing the way for the automation of perception, for the innovation of artificial vision, delegating the analysis of objective reality to a machine, it might be appropriate to have another look at the nature of the virtual image. This is the formation of optical imagery with no apparent base, no permanency beyond that of mental or instrumental visual memory. Today it is impossible to talk about the development of the audiovisual without also talking about the development of virtual imagery and its influence on human behaviour, or without pointing to the new industrialisation of vision, to the growth of a veritable market in synthetic perception and all the ethical questions this entails. This should be considered not only in relation to control of surveillance, and the attendant persecution mania, but also primarily in relation to the philosophical question of the splitting of viewpoint, the sharing of perception of the environment between the animate (the living subject) and the inanimate (the object, the seeing machine). Questions which introduce, de facto, the question of 'artificial intelligence' since no expert system, no fifthgeneration computer could come into being without the capability of apprehending the surrounding milieu.
Once we are definitively removed from the realm of direct or indirect observation of synthetic images created by the machine for the machine, instrumental virtual images will be for us the equivalent of what a foreigner's mental pictures already represent: an enigma.
Having no graphic or videographic outputs, the automatic-perception prosthesis will function like a kind of mechanized imaginary from which, this time, we would be totally excluded.
This being the case, how can we possibly turn around and reject the factual nature of our own mental images since we would have to call on them to be able to guess, to work out roughly what the vision machine was picking up?
This impending mutation of the movie or video-recording camera into a computerised vision machine necessarily brings us back to the debate about the subjective or objective nature of mental imagery.
Increasingly relegated to the realm of idealism or subjectivism - in other words, the irrational - mental images have remained in the dark for quite a while as far as science goes. This has been the case despite the fact that the huge spread of photography and film meant an unprecedented proliferation of new images in competition with the usual array. It was not until the 60s and work on optoelectronics and computer graphics that people began to take a fresh look at the psychology of visual perception, notably in the United States.
In France studies in neurophysiology led to quite a change in the status of mental imagery. J.-P. Changeux, for instance, in a recent work, no longer talks of images but of mental objects, going so far as to spell out that it will not be long before these appear on the screen. In two hundred years the philosophical and scientific debate itself has thus similarly shifted from the question of the objectivity of mental images to the question of their reality. The problem, therefore, no longer has much to do with the mental images of consciousness alone. It is now essentially concerned with the instrumental virtual images of science and their paradoxical facticity.
To my mind, this is one of the most crucial aspects of the development of the new technologies of digital imagery and of the synthetic vision offered by electron optics: the relative fusion/confusion of the factual (or operational, if you prefer) and the virtual; the ascendancy of the 'reality effect' over a reality principle already largely contested elsewhere, particularly in physics.
How can we have failed to grasp that the discovery of retinal retention that made the development of Marey's chronophotography and the cinematography of the Lumiere brothers possible, also propelled us into the totally different province of the mental retention of images?
How can we accept the factual nature of the frame and reject the objective reality of the cinemagoer's virtual image, that visual retention which is not produced solely by the retina, as we once thought, but by the way our nervous system records ocular perceptions? More to the point, how can we accept the principle of retinal retention without also having to accept the role of memorisation in immediate perception?
The moment high-speed photography was invented, making cinema a concrete possibility, the problem of the paradoxically real nature of 'virtual' imagery was in fact posed.
Any take (mental or instrumental) being simultaneously a time take, however minute, exposure time necessarily involves some degree of memorisation (conscious or not) according to the speed of exposure. Hence the familiar possibility of subliminal effects once film is projected at over 60 frames a second.
The problem of the objectivisation of the image thus largely stops presenting itself in terms of some kind of paper or celluloid support surface - that is, in relation to a material reference space. It now emerges in relation to time, to the exposure time that allows or edits seeing.
So the act of seeing is an act that proceeds action, a kind of preaction partly explained by Searle's studies of 'intentionality'. If seeing is in fact foreseeing, no wonder forecasting has recently become an industry in its own right, with the rapid rise of professional simulation and company projections, and ultimately, hypothetically, the advent of 'vision machines' designed to see and foresee in our place. These synthetic-perception machines will be capable of replacing us in certain domains, in certain ultra high-speed operations for which our own visual capacities are inadequate, not because of our ocular system's limited depth of focus, as was the case with the telescope and the microscope, but because of the limited depth of time of our physiological 'take'.
Physicists normally distinguish two main categories of energetics: potential (static) energy, and kinetic energy, which causes movement. Perhaps we might now need to add a third category: kinematic energy, energy resulting from the effect of movement, and its varying speed, on ocular, optical or optoelectronic perception.
Let' s not forget, either, that there is no such thing as 'fixed sight', or l hat the physiology of sight depends on the eye's movements, which a re simultaneously incessant and unconscious (motility) and constant a n d conscious (mobility). Or that the most instinctive, leastcontrolled glance is first a sort of circling of the property, a complete banning of the visual field that ends in the eye's choice of an object.
As Rudolf Arnheim understood, sight comes from a long way off. It is a kind of dolly in, a perceptual activity that starts in the past in order to illuminate the present, to focus on the object of our immediate perception.
The space of sight is accordingly not Newton's space, absolute space, but Minkovskian event-space, relative space. And it is not only the dim brightness of these stars that comes to us from out of the distant past, out of the mists of time. The weak light that allows us to apprehend the real, to see and understand our present environment, itself comes from a distant visual memory without which there would be no act of looking.
After synthetic images, products of info-graphic software, after the digital image processing of computer-aided design, we are on the verge of synthetic vision, the automation of perception. What will be the effects, the theoretical and practical consequences for our own 'vision of the world' of Paul Klee's intuition's becoming reality? This doubling of the point of view cannot be compared to the proliferation of surveillance cameras in public places over a dozen or more years. Although we know that the imagery from video cameras in banks and supermarkets is relayed to a central control-room, although we can guess the presence of security officers, eyes glued to control monitors, with computer-aided perceptions — visionics - it is actually impossible to imagine the pattern, to guess the interpretation produced by this sightless vision.
Unless you are Lewis Carroll, it is hard to imagine the viewpoint of a doorknob or a button on a cardigan. Unless you are Paul Klee, it is not easy to imagine artificial contemplation, the wide-awake dream of a population of objects all busy staring at you.
Behind the wall, I cannot see the poster; in front of the wall, the poster forces itself on me, its image perceives me.
This inversion of perception, which is what advertising photography suggests, is now pervasive, extending from roadside hoardings to newspapers and magazines. Not a single representation of the kind avoids the 'suggestiveness' which is advertising's raison d'etre.
The graphic or photographic quality of the advertising image, its high definition as they say, is no longer a guarantee of some kind of aesthetic of precision, of photographic sharpness etc. It is merely the search for a stereoscopic effect, for a third dimension. This then in itself becomes what the message projects, a commercial message of some kind that strives, through our gaze, to attain the depth, the density of meaning it sadly lacks. So let's not entertain any further illusions about photography's commercial prowess. The phatic image that grabs our attention and forces us to look is no longer a powerful image; it is a cliche attempting, in the manner of the cineframe, to inscribe itself in some unfolding of time in which the optic and the kinematic are indistinguishable.
Being superficial, the advertising photo, in its very resolution, participates in the decadence of the full and the actual, in a world of transparency and virtuality where representation gradually yields to genuine public presentation. Inert despite a few antiquated gimmicks, the advertising photograph no longer advertises anything much apart from its own decline in the face of what the real-time telepresence of objects can do, as home shopping and banking already make clear. Surely we have all seen trucks plastered with ads filing past in close formation like so many ambulatory commercial breaks, putting a derisory finishing touch to the usual audiovisual fix on TV.
Guaranteed to have public use-value due to the poor definition of the video image, and still able to impress readers and passers-by, the publicity shot will probably see this advantage diminish with highdefinition television, the opening of a window whose cathodic transparency will soon replace the transparency effect of the classic display window. Far be it from me to deny photography an aesthetic value. It is just that there is also a logic, a logistics of the image, and it has evolved through different periods of propagation, as we know.
The age of the image's formal logic was the age of painting, engraving and etching, architecture; it ended with the eighteenth century.
The age of dialectic logic is the age of photography and film or, if you like, the frame of the nineteenth century. The age oi paradoxical logic begins with the invention of video recording, holography and computer graphics .. . as though, at the close of the twentieth century the end of modernity were itself marked by the end of a logic of public representation.
Now, although we may be comfortable with the reality of the formal logic of traditional pictorial representation and, to a lesser degree, the actuality of the dialectical logic governing photographic and cinematic representation,1 we still cannot seem to get a grip on the virtualities of the paradoxical logic of the videogram, the hologram or digital imagery.
This probably explains the frantic 'interpretosis' that still surrounds these technologies today in the press, as well as the proliferation and instant obsolescence of different computer and audiovisual equipment.
Lastly, paradoxical logic emerges when the real-time image dominates the thing represented, real time subsequently prevailing over eal space, virtuality dominating actuality and turning the very cone pt of reality on its head. Whence the crisis in traditional forms of Public representation (graphics, photography, cinema .. . ) to the great advantage of presentation, of a paradoxical presence, the longstance telepresence of the object or being which provides their very existence, here and now.
This is, ultimately, what 'high definition' or high resolution means; and it no longer applies to the (photographic, television) image, but to reality itself.
With paradoxical logic, what gets decisively resolved is the reality of the object's real-time presence. In the previous age of dialectical logic, it was only the delayed-time presence, the presence of the past, that lastingly impressed plate and film. The paradoxical image thus acquires a status something like that of surprise, or more precisely, of an 'accidental transfer'.
There is a correspondence here between the reality of the image of the object, captured by the lens of the pick-up camera, and the virtuality of its presence, captured by a real-time 'surprise pick-up' (of sound). This not only makes it possible to televise given objects, but also allows tele-interaction, remote control and computerised shopping.
But getting back to photography, if advertising's photographic cliche begins the process whereby the phatic image radically reverses the dependent perceiver-perceived relationship, thereby beautifully illustrating Paul Klee's phrase now objects perceive me, this is because it is already more than a brief memorandum, more than the photographic memento of a more or less distant past. It is in fact will, the will to engage the future, yet again, and not just represent the past. The photogram, furthermore, had already begun to manifest such a will at the end of the last century, well before the videogram finally pulled it off.
So, to an even greater extent that the documentary shot, the publicity shot foreshadows the phatic image of the audiovisual. This public image has today replaced former public spaces in which social communication took place. Avenues and public venues from now on are eclipsed by the screen, by electronic displays, in a preview of the 'vision machines' just around the corner. The latter will be capable of seeing and perceiving in our place.
Remember we have already witnessed the recent appearance of the Motivac, a new device for measuring TV audiences which is a sort of black box built into the set. The Motivac is no longer happy just to indicate when the set is turned on, as its predecessors were; it indicates the actual presence of people in front of the screen. ... This makes for a fairly basic vision machine, certainly, but one which clearly points the way in mediametric monitoring, especially when you remember how zapping has devastated the audience of commercials.
Really, once public space yields to public image, surveillance and street lighting can be expected to shift too, from the street to the domestic display terminal. Since this is a substitute for the City terminal, the private sphere thus continues to lose its relative autonomy.
The recent installation of TV sets in prisoners' cells rather than just recreation rooms ought to have alerted us. Not enough has been said about this decision even though it represents a typical mutation in the evolution of attitudes regarding incarceration. Since Bentham, goal has normally been identified with the panoptic, in other words, with a central surveillance system in which prisoners find themselves continually under someone's eye, within the warder's field of vision.
From now on, inmates can monitor actuality, can observe televised events — unless we turn this around and point out that, as soon as viewers switch on their sets, it is they, prisoners or otherwise, who are in the field of television, a field in which they are obviously powerless to intervene. ...
'Surveillance and punishment' go hand in hand, Michel Foucault once wrote. In this imaginary multiplication of inmates, what other kind of punishment is there if not envy, the ultimate punishment of advertising? As one prisoner put it when asked about the changes: 'Television makes being in gaol harder. You see all you're missing out on, everything you can't have.' This new situation not only involves imprisonment in the cathode-ray tube, but also in the firm, in postindustrial urbanisation.
From the town, as theatre of human activity with its church square and market place bustling with so many present actors and spectators, to CINECITTA and then TELECITTA, bustling with absent televiewers, it was just a short step through that venerable urban invention, the shopwindow. This putting behind glass of objects and people, the implementation of a transparency that has intensified over the past few decades, has led, beyond the optics of photography and cinema, to an optoelectronics of the means of television broadcasting. These are now capable of creating not only window-apartments and houses, but window-towns window-nations, media megacities that have the paradoxical power of bringing individuals together longdistance, around standardised opinions and behaviour.
'You can get people to swallow anything at all by intensifying the details', Bradbury claimed. In the way voyeurs only latch on to the suggestive details, it is indeed the intensive details, the very intensity of the message, that counts now, rather than any exploration of the scope or space of the public image.
'Unlike cinema', Hitchcock said, 'with television there is no time for suspense, you can only have surprise'. This is the very definition of the paradoxical logic of the videoframe which privileges the accident, the surprise, over the durable substance of the message. This is already what happened within the dialectical logic of the cineframe, simultaneously valorising as it did the extensiveness of duration and an extension of representational range.
Whence the sudden welter of instantaneous retransmission equipment, in town, in the office, at home: all this real-time TV monitoring tirelessly on the lookout for the unexpected, the impromptu, what-ever might suddenly crop up, anywhere, any day, at the bank, the supermarket, the sports ground where the video referee has not long taken over from the referee on the field.
This is the industrialisation of prevention, or prediction: a sort of panic anticipation that commits the future and prolongs 'the industrialisation of simulation', a simulation which more often than not involves the probable breakdown of and damage to the systems in question. I'll say it again: this doubling up of monitoring and surveillance clearly indicates the trend in relation to public representation. It is a mutation that not only affects civilian life and crime, but also the military and strategic areas of Defence.
Taking measures against an opponent often means taking countermeasures vis-a-vis the opponent's threats. Unlike defensive measures, unlike visible, ostentatious fortifications, countermeasures involve secrecy, the greatest possible dissimulation. The power of the countermeasure thereby resides in its apparent non-existence.
The chief tack of warfare is accordingly not some more or less ingenious stratagem. In the first instance, it involves the elimination of the appearance of the facts, the continuation of what Kipling meant when he said: 'Truth is the first casualty of war'. Here again, it is less a matter of introducing some manoeuvre, an original tactic, than of strategically concealing information by a process of disinformation; and this process is less to do with fake effects - once we accept the lie as given - than with the obliteration of the very principle of truth. Moral relativism has always been offensive, from time immemorial, because it has always been involved in the same process. A phenomenon of pure representation, such relativism is always at work in the appearance of events, of things as they happen, precisely because we always have to make a subjective leap in order to recognize the shapes, objects and scenes we are witness to.
This is where the 'strategy of deterrence', involving decoys, electronic and other countermeasures, comes into its own. The truth is no longer masked by eliminated, meaning the truth of the real image, the image of the real space of the object, of the missile observed. It is eclipsed by the image televised 'live', or, more precisely, in real time.
What is now phoney is not the space of things so much as time, the present time of military objects that, in the end, serve more to threaten than actually to fight.
The three tenses of decisive action, past, present and future, have been surreptitiously replaced by two tenses, real time and delayed time, the future having disappeared meanwhile in computer programming, and on the other hand, in the corruption of this so-called 'real' time which simultaneously contains both a bit of the present and a bit of the immediate future. When a missile threatening in 'real time' is picked up on a radar or video, the present as mediatised by the display console already contains the future of the missile's impending arrival at its target.
In fact, deterrence is a major figure in disinformation or, more precisely, according to the English jargon, in deception. Most politicians agree this is preferable to the truth of real war, the virtual nature of the arms race and the militarisation of science being perceived, despite the economic waste, as 'beneficial', in contrast to the real nature of a confrontation that would end in immediate disaster.
But even if common sense agrees that the choice of 'the nuclear non-war' is preferable, who can help but notice that so-called deterrence is not peace, but a relative form of conflict, a transfer of war from the actual to the virtual. This is the deception of the war of mass extermination whose means, deployed and endlessly perfected, have been throwing the political economy out of kilter and dragging our societies down into the mire of a general loss of a sense of reality that permeates all aspects of normal life.
It is also incredibly revealing when you think that the atomic bomb, that weapon of deterrence par excellence, itself grew out of theoretical discoveries in a branch of physics that owes everything, or almost everything, to Einstein's Theory of Relativity. Even if Albert Einstein is certainly not guilty of inventing the bomb, as public opinion will have it, he is, on the other hand, among those principally responsible for spreading the notion of relativity. Scrapping the 'absolute' nature of classic notions of space and time was the scientific equivalent, in this case, of deception regarding the reality of observed facts.
This crucial turn of events was kept hidden from the public and affects strategy as well as philosophy, economics and the arts.
'Micro-' or 'macro-physical', the contemporary world of the immediate post-war period could no longer count on the reality of the facts, or even of the very existence of some kind of truth. After the demise of revealed truth, scientific truth suddenly bit the dust. Existentialism clearly spelled out the concomitant bewilderment. In the end the Balance of Terror is this very uncertainty. The crisis in determinism thus not only affects quantum mechanics, it also affects the political economy, whence all the East-West interpretation fever, that great game of deterrence, with its myriad scenarios starring heads of state in the Pentagon, the Kremlin and wherever else. 'We must put out excess rather than the fire', Heraclitus wrote. As our protagonists see it, the principle of deterrence reverses these terms, putting out the fire of nuclear war and thereby promoting an exponential growth in scientific and technological excess. And the avowed aim of this excess is endlessly to raise the stakes of confrontation while piously pretending to prevent it, forever to rule it out.
Paul Virilio/The Vision Machine/ Chapter 5: The Vision Machine
INDIANA University Press Bloomington & Indianapolis
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