[-empyre-] netopticon and personal culture

simon swht at clear.net.nz
Wed Jan 19 13:04:55 EST 2011


Is the panopticon a powerful metaphor for the way that culture operates? Or ought one to be looking rather for an image adequate in the way that in itself it establishes resistance, perhaps in the way of paradox? A critical image, then, an image adequate to the task of questioning systems of representation. However, to talk about representation in terms of systems might be misleading. Certainly, there exist specific systems  of abstraction, substitution, and hierarchization. You might say that representation is organised by representation, reasoning by induction from the synecdoche that systems become evidenciary in particular instances of representation, and that so given ought to be submitted to judgement - resisted, maybe. A matter of following the dictates of the figure of speech and heeding the judgement of the System. Which leads me to ask whether the panopticon-as-metaphor here deployed has been exhausted of critical content? Of push? Whether its relevance is topical o
r tropic?

I have been following the discussion around the concept of the netopticon with both interest and enjoyment. That we lost a family member to facebook addiction may be accounted the source of my interest, with which, consequently, enjoyment has no truck. I mean 'lost' in the 'lost contact' sense and in the sense that we might speak of one who has succumbed to any other sort of addiction, the 'substance' of that addiction, moreover, being as substantial as it would be for any other; an assertion I'd like to substantiate through offering a brief description, because the susceptibility to becoming addicted to the habit of fb tells us something about the netopticon.

In Dennis Gansel's The Wave (Die Welle) [2008], the susceptibility of students in a liberal school, with a liberal-minded teacher, to being swept up in a wave of autocracy - a becoming-fascist - reads more like a definition of (neo)liberalism than an awareness-raising exercise about the dangers of what happened ... happening again. Susceptibilities acting as negative proof except that they can be instilled through the wearing-down of resistance, through habituation, so perhaps closer to lines crossing the neoliberal ethos, by which it becomes what it is but was before only virtually.

This person over approximately a year - a year less ordinary for having a greater share of emotional upheaval for her than others, particularly for her - loved fb, and used it at first to give expression to her taste in music, art, uploading videos and images, sharing and commenting on them, frequently updating her profile. Her investment of time and interest increased quite rapidly, to the extent that the outsider remarked the greater frequency with she was using fb and longer stretches she was online.

The insider remarked that she always seemed to be online and that she would comment compulsively, especially on her own posts, even if others were not doing so. The insider also noticed the halo of positivity surrounding her fb utterances as it grew more and more pronounced and things shone more and more brightly and positively. Certain insiders started to find her utterances odd, oddly uncommunicative, confrontingly gnomic at times and self-referential, despite the sunshiney attitude.

When the outsider remarked on her spending so much or even too much time fb-ing, just how great her emotional investment was became clear, to the point that she would remove herself and her laptop away from the vicinity of people she felt were critical of her behaviour. Difficult with family. When the insider challenged her online to defend the increasing eccentricity of her fb persona, she both took the argument offline, calling it a betrayal, and unfriended the critic. But the moment of the gulf becoming evident between her online 'positive' - Michael Jackson would call it 'blanket' - behaviour and her offline aggressive territorialism regarding a media network she made personal rather than social, the moment of there appearing a split between the two, was not the decisive one.

Because you're right, of course, this did not look like the pathology of an addiction, just some online acting-out. Self-creation. New media infatuation. I began to think her activity had taken on a pathological dimension when she gave up fb. I was not around for the 'break' which some say occurred when she did, the screaming, tears, the as sudden descent into a depressive lethargy, but received a letter, an email, telling me a piece I'd written and posted at Square White World giving my reasons for having left fb several months earlier had been written to her, for her alone. I was allegedly talking to her. Same with another thing I'd written, Dear Visitor it was called.

She was off fb for several months and the addiction reasserted itself with a vengeance. To avoid the betrayals of possible critics, this time she adopted a new identity, made new friends, keeping only those whose interaction with her previous fb self had been affirming and uncritical.

To remove the threat of criticism offline, she removed herself from most of her familial relationships. Leaving home, in fact. Before she did, however, she gave a lengthy disquisition, a testimonial really, justifying her imminent departure. Preeminent among her reasons for leaving were that she had discovered she was an artist, was supported in this finding by the fb community, and required space to 'go mad.' I am an artist, she said. But I've not yet found my medium. I suspected this last of being disingenuous in view of her fb activities. I was using facebook in a different way, she had said at the time she gave up. Cases of addiction - to fb particularly - often resort to this plea, of using the drug or having the habit in a different way, to maintain the appearance that there is and they have a choice. But what struck me and stopped me from commenting was the legitimacy with which such a claim could be made: I am an artist and fb is my medium.

I would therefore like to add to or return to the image of the optic of a netopticon its carceral characteristic, and call it in view of the prison which we are not said to be trying to escape only resist: Stockholm Syndrome. The other side of the optic is obviously the desire to submit oneself to it. In its carceral incarnation as a gaze of permanent and global surveillance to which we apparently all fall victim, what else could the willing prisoner be said to be feeling but love for his guard?

Olivier Zahm writes about this desire to be seen as a vulgarity. Because there is this other side to the image of the netopticon: the net offers a democratic theatre of participation and the desire to be seen takes on an ontological function. Witness here, also, Tiqqun's Towards a Theory of the Young Girl. By way of contrast, Alain Badiou's categories of truth-procedurals, politics, love, science, art, seem positively comforting, existing out of reach of the representational system and neoliberalism's commercialisation of ideology, political, personal, paradigmatic, via art to advertising. Via the social to the self by way of the ad.


Simon Taylor


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