Attended some presentations by Jenny Edbauer, Jeff Rice, and Anne Wysocki. It was good to meet some folks I had only known previously by blog or text. I won't attempt to account for each of their presentations, which were quite interesting and have got me thinking about a number of things...some of which are the subject of this post.
A theme that ran through their work, and through much of new media rhetoric, is the issue of dis/location, particularly as it surfaces in the tension between virtual and embodied encounters. So, for instance, we experience dis/location culturally in the generic nature of malls and franchises across America, if not the world. One Starbucks is much like another; everyone reads from the same script at McDonald's, etc. In a related sense, we are often asked to consume images as dislocated and decontextualized, such as the way products appear on Amazon.com. These examples come from Jenny's and Anne's presentations respectively. Furthermore, as Jeff suggested, we are asked to process images by category, reasserting their generic qualities: what is this a picture of? It is a picture of a house, a tree, a person, etc.
So one of the questions of the day was how does one move beyond this generic, dislocated experience of media (if not culture in general) to a more specific, indeed singular, encounter which resists the ideological pressure for closure and categorization and challenges our unconscious acceptance of the ways in which we process the visual?
Part of this issue is the collapse of (our experience/perception of) distance, as identified by Virillio and others. First, this collapse problematizes what it means to be local. If I can watch a live camera on a screen and then press a button and interact with the scene in real time, am I "local" to that context? This is the difference between computer networks and television. TV lets me see around the world; the net lets me be (tele-) present. Second, it rearticulates our experience of the visual as a material event, as in Deleuze/Guattari 's use of the haptic (a visual experience without an external field of reference, thus a more proprioceptive sensory experience).
Of course, on a computer, information is primarily text, image, and video and thus processed visually. Obviously there is also sometimes sound, as well as the tactile response of mouse and keyboard. However, this does not mean that our affective response to text and image (to cite the two dominant elements of the net) occurs solely through a visual framework.The information enters the brain through the eyes but within the body becomes non-visual messages that might trigger a range of potential, embodied responses. Likewise, on the other side of the screen, information is also non-visual. The visual is simply the site/sight of interface (btw, this is where Ulmer goes in articulating an interbody instead of an interface).
Ideologically, in our conventional epistemology, we might seek to conceptualize/categorize our experience with media onto a taxonomic, optically arrange grid. There is a horizon against which experience is located. This apprehension of experience is ideological and often unconscious. Certainly, consumer culture attempts to delocate and virtualize us, to insert us into (and insert into us) a cybernetics of desire and identity.
While one may respond to these attempts through an insistence on the local or embodiment, this becomes difficult as these concepts are collapsed and our insistence upon them props up the notion of a disembodied, delocalized virtuality as a dialetical opponent. Alternately, one might respond by insisting upon virtuality as local and embodied, as material, though doing so requires some substantial rethinking of what locality and embodiment might mean.
For example, one practice that was discussed today was the use of documentary video-making as a classroom assignment that insisted upon the local and particular and denied the adoption of simple, pre-fab answers to rote problems that one might typically see in a FYC research paper. So, if one did a documentary of local dairy farmers in Cortland, one would have to deal with the actual material of the video, of the unscripted dialogue with these families, and the material backdrop of the farm itself.
What one has in the raw footage is not the locale of Cortland or a farm, but the locale of video itself, as a kind of material production. The material represented in the footage is rife with the virtual-ideological (e.g. the farmers' discourse is ideological, the material practices of dairy farming are ideological, the division of labor on the farm is ideological, the choices of camera angles, visual subject matter, and interview questions are ideological, etc.). The camera and its processes are also ideological. However, simultaneous to these ideological apprehensions is the singularity of the video's materiality. It is that singularity that allows the video to be encountered.
In the editing process one encounters another layer of ideological apprehension. Typically there is a desire to create cohesion (or a deliberate choice to deny or oppose that urge). As Kittler discusses, early 20th-century psychiatrists filmed their patients' and screened edited documentaries of them b/c they felt it allowed them to best represent their patients' pathologies to their colleagues. (This has been going on for a long time.) A documentary might be edited to portray the "truth" of an experience or to make people look foolish or to achieve some other rhetorical purpose. In an FYC class there may not be enough rhetorical or technical skill to pull off a cohesive video, but that does not mean that the editing process is not informed by that desire.
The resulting video constitutes its own locale, connected affectively, materially and rhizomatically to the locale depicted in the video. It also is marked by its apprehension by ideology, just as every locale is, whether that location is a suburban home, a city street, a car, or the middle of the desert.
OK, this is getting to be a long post. I suppose what I'm getting at is that the local and the body persist in conjunction with the virtual, which has rewritten the space of the local and the extension of the body. Ideologically, there is the desire of capitalism to delocalize and commodify--to virtualize in this sense. However, the virtual is always already singular and is always encountered on those terms. Becoming aware of that aspect of the encounter and developing rhetorico-aesthetic strategies in relation to that aspect is the challenge.
Anyway, an excellent set of presentations. Thanks to everyone.