[-empyre-] July on empyre: Screens

Gere, Charlie c.gere at lancaster.ac.uk
Thu Jul 5 20:39:50 EST 2012

Just to add a rather obvious point to this already interesting discussion, the screen was originally something used to partition space, whether to protect parts of that space from light, draft etc... or to conceal things from view. In contemporary digital culture one might think of the partitions that divide up the paradigmatic 'cube farm' open-plan office that characterises the work spaces of many hi-tech companies, and which is beautifully represented in the film Office Space, though it can be traced back to the partition that Melville has the narrator of his short story 'Bartleby the Scrivener' put up to conceal the eponymous scrivener from his view. Here is the description of the office arrangement from the story

'I should have stated before that ground glass folding-doors divided my premises into two parts, one of which was occupied by my scriveners, the other by myself. According to my humor I threw open these doors, or closed them. I resolved to assign Bartleby a corner by the folding-doors, but on my side of them, so as to have this quiet man within easy call, in case any trifling thing was to be done. I placed his desk close up to a small side-window in that part of the room, a window which originally had afforded a lateral view of certain grimy back-yards and bricks, but which, owing to subsequent erections, commanded at present no view at all, though it gave some light. Within three feet of the panes was a wall, and the light came down from far above, between two lofty buildings, as from a very small opening in a dome. Still further to a satisfactory arrangement, I procured a high green folding screen, which might entirely isolate Bartleby from my sight, though not remove him from my voice. And thus, in a manner, privacy and society were conjoined.'

Continuing the Victorian theme my wife has inherited a beautiful Victorian screen which as been covered in a collage of images taken from prints and magazines, which, decades before Picasso or DADA, are juxtaposed in a heterogeneous display of the disjecta membra of popular culture which is not dissimilar to something like Pinterest.


From: empyre-bounces at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au [empyre-bounces at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au] on behalf of Ian Bogost [ian.bogost at lcc.gatech.edu]
Sent: 04 July 2012 21:44
To: soft_skinned_space
Subject: Re: [-empyre-] July on empyre: Screens

On Jul 4, 2012, at 8:24 AM, Brian Holmes wrote:

Our mobile
screens do not offer us anonymity, they relay and record our movements
(via GPS); they can capture and convey our images as much as they can
record images. Or they can create another type of image (data, or
information about us).

It seems to me that the passage reveals the need for some more circumspect way of conceiving these things. After all, screens _as such_ neither track us, nor relay information about us, nor even capture our images. Networked and programmed interactive devices do that, usually in combination with databases and operators. Kriss, you get at that further on: "These interactive screens / machines respond to our voices, our touch, our gestures, but they are at the same time programmed."

Thanks for saying this, Brian. I had similar questions but you summarized well. What is it we are talking about when we talk about screens? Is there such a thing as "the screen"? What do we gain when we look at specific kinds of screens and understand screens separately

Just to throw one example out that I was just discussing with someone yesterday: the cathode-ray tube is nearing the end of new production. Innumerable CRTs will still exist for some time, but they will be impossible or very costly to produce new. The CRT may seem undesirable and outmoded, but it also has very specific properties that make its picture appear in a particular fashion—a manner that invisibly imbued several media, most obviously television, video games, and video art, for fifty years. Matters of preservation and experience of these works, from Electronic Superhighway to Dallas to Pac-Man, are bound up with the life and death of the CRT.

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