[-empyre-] July on empyre: Screens

Brian Holmes bhcontinentaldrift at gmail.com
Fri Jul 6 18:20:44 EST 2012

On 07/04/2012 10:44 PM, Ian Bogost wrote:

> 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.

Indeed. There you have a material configuration with specific technical 
characteristics, connected to the larger assemblage of broadcast 
television. The cathode-ray tube persisted with the arrival of 
computers, but not for long. Today, the socio-technical assemblages of 
screens have entirely changed. Would we not have at least three major 
periods: the cinema screen, the cathode ray tube, the plasma screen? 
Corresponding roughly to film studios, television networks, and the 
present, generalized communicational interactivity that has absorbed and 
transformed those former assemblies?

A screen theory that is not a social theory will just become another act 
of aesthetic fetishization. Neither functionalist modernism, nor even 
less the early twentieth-century debates between liberal and socialist 
positions are going to account for the kinds of LED and plasma screens 
we have today, with the relations they mediate. On reflection, I don't 
think those six aspects of self-consciousness, the sensorium, 
representation, communication, interaction, and programming are "too 
complex." Those who do not take them into account will remain lost in 

The interesting thing, to respond to Kriss, is to take a cue from the 
old modernist reductivism, and use the perspectival focus on the screen 
to lend a certain order to the apprehension of social relations. How are 
we individualized and how are we socialized around this ubiquitous 
medium of contemporary visuality?

In Shanghai and other large Chinese cities, entire buildings turn into 
screens at night. It's mainly advertising, sometimes state propaganda. 
Self-consciousness is dwarfed as the sensorium is overcome by the power 
to program the visual experience of the city. An impressive and sobering 
experience of the screen.

best, Brian

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