[-empyre-] The Image in Hyperspace

Daniel Herwitz herwitz at umich.edu
Sat Apr 5 04:28:08 EST 2014

I am delighted to be invited to post to this listserve and I thought I'd
begin by speaking of what it was like to live in the global south, in South
Africa, during the 1990s, when a sense of marginality from the circuits of
communication at the center of the world was profound, a feeling of not
being able to travel to where whatever happening was mostly happening, a
sense of exclusion from the global centers through which knowledge was
being produced and art made. This, combined with a neo-colonial sense of
dependency on whatever was being known or made elsewhere, as if one should,
as a colonial, wait for the news from abroad (good news for modern man as
the bible says) and then assimilate it like some marginal lackey. I
exaggerate, but only to bring out the point that in the twenty years since
then the global south has begun to establish a profoundly different
relation to the world at large, courtesy of the internet and digital
technologies. Images posted in Cape Town immediately appear in downloaded
form in New York, Shanghai, Hawaii, Australia, Kenya. Partnership in the
making of digital art, and the production of new knowledge, is easy,
immediate and capable of complete circulation. The question becomes for art
and knowledge that of audience: who is the image, performance,
crowd-sourced performance, scholarly duet designed for, how does one make
up a website or curate a work that is scripted for a multiplicity of
communities, each of which ought to have it contextualized differently,
given who they are, and want to know it under a different aspect, perhaps
for a different purpose. These things are debated endlessly in the global
south, where websites are meant for local communities and New York
intelligensia at once. The problem of the internet is its levelling of
architecture, script and content for a single, dimensionless,
uncontextualized community, that is, whomever is "out there". Ironically
even though the world is brought closer together through digital means, its
requirements of diverse contextualization evaporates (as often as not).
This happened in the eighteenth century with the museum, which largely
stole or acquired objects from everywhere and arranged them as mere sights
in the gallery after wresting them from the sites of their making, and
meaning. And so for me the issue of communication is how to retain the need
for diverse and multiple forms of contextualization in the dimensionless
space of the internet.

Daniel Herwitz
Frederick G. L. Huetwell Professor
Department of Comparative Literature
University of Michigan
2012 Tisch Hall
435 South State Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1003
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