Mediamatic Magazine vol 4 # 1+2 Tee, Ernie 1 Jan 1989

Machines Virtuelles

Traverses 44-45, Revue trimestrielle du Centre de Creation Industrielle, Centre Georges Pompidou (pub) Paris, September 1988.
ISSN 0336-9730 French text, pp284, FF95,-


Machines Virtuelles -

What is special about Traverses {a French periodical in veritable book format published under the auspices of the Centre Georges Pompidou: some of the issues run to 300 pages), is the resourcefulness of the editors who come up with subjects that appeal to our most contemporary imagination. These themes are mostly associated with a wide range of modern, aesthetic problems created by our contemporary ambiance of advanced technologies and the comprehensive nature of the audiovisual. Previous issues of Traverses have dealt with subjects such as VObscèney Panoplies du Corps, Le Simulacre, Le Reste, Les Rhétoriques de la Technologie, Le jour; Le Temps and Le Secret.

The latest issue of Traverses is devoted to what the editors call: Machines Virtuelles. It appears from the texts collected here that this term does not simply refer to virtual machines (for what is a ‘virtual machine’?); it is rather a motto the authors have adopted to deal with all kinds of questions related to the two separate terms: the machine and the virtual.

That the subject exceeds the narrow bounds of the concept Machines Virtuelles appears from contributions such as Le Xerox et I'Infini by Jean Baudrillard (a longtime member of the editorial board of Traverses). This article does not deal with the machines themselves, but rather with the mechanical and virtual atmosphere in which modern technological machines thrive. An atmosphere that has finished with the mirror-imagination, the imagination of schizophrenia and of the scene, of otherness and of alienation. According to Baudrillard, we are today living in the imagination of the screen, of the interface and of repetition, of contiguity and of the network. Those who feel human interest is of the first importance see the atmosphere described above as most disturbing. Of course, Baudrillard cannot avoid dealing with the problematic relationship between man and machine either: thinking is nowadays entrusted to the creativity and the genius of the machine, which in turn has transformed thinking into spectacle. Therefore the much discussed phenomenon of computer addiction does not refer to human thought taken over by the machine, but rather to a spectacle of thought called artificial intelligence, where the thought is not produced, but continually postponed, kept in a state of suspense which depends on an exhaustive amount of knowledge (this suspense determines the virtual character of thought).

Nowhere in Baudrillard, however, do we find the concern that nowadays dominates enlightened thought: the dehumanization of thinking - said to be gaining ground rapidly - instead produces an optimistic attitude towards phenomena that only now - in the problematic relationships between man and machine - come into their own. One of these phenomena is the birth of telematic man, who is no longer a subject xis-a-vis the machine, but is involved in a contiguous relationship with it, a human being connected to his machine, or rather, entangled in his machine: the machine does what man wants it to do, but man in turn can only perform the things for which the machine has been programmed. Therefore man is the operator of virtuality in the sense that all he really does is explore the possibilities of the programme. This is related to the primacy of ambiguity, of the indefinable, the undecided, which can be inferred from the entanglement of man and machine in one integrated circuit. The new technologies, new machines, new images, or interactive screens do not alienate me at all says Baudrillard. They belong to me, as transparent protheses which are in a sense united with my body, to such an extent that they begin to be part of it in a genetic sense, as cardiac pacemakers do. There is therefore no answer to the question: Am la human being or am I a machine?

Where Baudrillard deals with telematic man, Paul Virilio discusses the automation of perception. Man’s perception has been replaced by a synthetic, industrialized perception, made possible by the development of la machine de vision, which is also the title of his latest book. Virilio's outline of the world of our perception is just as speculative and fabulous as it is real, and in the surprising and theoretical perspective we are continually struck by the simplicity with which, suddenly, everything he has suggested falls into place. Virilio says that the image has radically changed nowadays, it follows a different logic: after the era of the formal logic of the image (the era of painting and architecture), and the era of the dialectical logic of the photographic and cinematographic image, now, with the advent of videography, holography and infography, we enter the era of paradoxical logic. Each system of logic has its own principle: the principle of reality of classical visual representation (which strictly speaking only applies to the painted representation after the invention of the perspective), the actuality principle of the photographical and cinematographic representation (which is not concerned with realism, but with the 'truth' of the image), and finally the principle of virtuality of the paradoxical logic of the videogram, the hologram or the numerical image. This observation provokes some dazzling suggestions on the part of Virilio, which elucidate different aspects of the current synthetization of visual production and perception. What is, for instance, the status of mental processes, of imagination: for if we assume that there now is something like a synthetical perception that has replaced our own perception, there must also be an equivalent of the mental images of our consciousness, an equivalent consisting of instrumental, virtual images. These images are paradoxical: they are virtual, but at the same time - precisely because of their mechanical nature - they are factual. It is this fusion/confusion of the actual and the virtual, which Virilio secs as one of the most important aspects of the development of new technologies.

The variety of texts in this issue of Traverses makes it impossible to discuss them all. Nevertheless, it is clear that although the authors (including Marc Guillaume, René Thom, Erdmond Couchot and Marc Lc Bot) are exploring the mechanical and the virtual in various disciplines (including philosophy, writing, and also, in the conversation between Pierre Boulez, Patrick Greussay and Philippe Manoury, music), and although there is no hesitation to trace the hypermodern theme of virtual machines in the distant past (for instance Louis Marin, who refers to the biblical manifestations of the angels: L’Ange du Virtuel, and the last chapter, consisting exclusively of illustrations, and incorporating sketches of Leonardo da Vinci’s inventions), there are some recurrent observations, such as the immateriality of all things, the temps reel (i.e., the immediacy) of the contemporary objects of our perception, and the end of the concept of representation. A separate issue of Traverses could be devoted to each of these themes.