Mediamatic Magazine Vol. 7#3/4 Harrie Roumen 1 Jan 1994


Tony Fry, Rua TV?: Heidegger and Televisual, Power Publications, Sydney 1993

Tony Fry, teacher at the Power Institute of Fine Arts in Sydney, organized a course about the televisual in 1990. According to Fry, such a course was needed because Western intelligentsia consider tv barely worthy of their attention.

One of the consequences: the humanities is losing sight of current social developments, a regrettable thing, considering that tv is playing a key role in the transition from metaphysical to techno-cultural systems.

The tangible results of the course recently appeared; a collection of five essays under the title RUA TV?

The basis of the essays is the philosophy of Martin Heidegger. In 1950, the philosopher already clearly saw the coming omnipotence of the mass medium television: The apex of the removal of any possibility of distance is ... achieved by television, which will probably soon permeate and control the entire mechanism of traffic. ('The Thing' in About Thinking, Building, Living).

But it is not the writers' intention to shackle Heidegger to the television. They want to use his philosophy to find the answer to three important questions: what, where and when is tv?

However, short-circuiting one's own ideas with Heidegger's (and vice-versa) and application of Heidegger's key concepts always meets with resistance. According to Fry, this resistance is positive, a stimulus for thought and as such, all the more reason to turn to Heidegger for council.

Unfortunately, the writers of RUA TV? make very little of the tension this resistance can produce. Using Heidegger as a guide has not resulted in anything unusually profound or convincing, has produced no shock effect.

Neither does the bibliography offer much of an increase in potential: the well-known names, the well-worn path. Granted, one cannot always produce something new. Reflection automatically involves repetition. But it implies the making of carefully considered choices, too. Why bring on Jean-Francois Lyotard with Heidegger et 'les juifs''' and not the much more relevant La condition post-moderne or Les immateriaux?'' And why devote no attention to Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, who also analysed the relationship of technology to society using Heidegger as part of the critical basis?

One might have expected more resistance from the writers in their attempt to pass on the spark. The Televisual deserves confidence in self-conceit. This would also prevent certain difficulties of translation. The potential of a concept like Heidegger's Im Bilde sein is something other than the translation to get the Picture.

And what kind of Picture is offered to the reader? What is the Televisual? According to the writers, it has been established that tv images have a far-reaching influence. Not only do they provide information about events around the entire world; they determine to a great extent our image of the world. tv has become the window on the world. In a word: Human beings make tv and tv makes the human beings that make it, etc. Conclusion: tv is more than a technology and it is also more than a cultural form. It is an area with phenomenological qualities of its own that can't be reduced to a single common denominator. The writers call this area 'the Televisual'. Everything is combined in the Televisual: content, form, spectators, social relations, sign economy, technology, space and time.

According to the writers, human beings no longer have the Televisual under control. That coincides with Heidegger's criticism of the relentless advance of technology that results in cybernetics.

The only optimistic sound comes from Deborah Malor in Touch tv: Finding what is to hand in the televisual environment. According to her, technologies like Touch tv can transform the tv from a thing with a fascinating and paralysing effect into a tool that can be used to consciously intervene in the Televisual. Malor refers to Heidegger's vision of the thing, the tool and work as explained in Der Ursprung des Kunstwerkes (The Origin of the Work of Art). Unfortunately, she does not go any further into this.

Remarkably, not one of the writers pays any attention to the ideas put forward by Heidegger in Der Ursprung.... Neither do Alison Gill and Freida Riggs make use of the opportunity to illuminate the role of the work of art in the Televisual in their essay The Angst of the Aura. In spite of the statement that Aura, as formulated by Walter Benjamin, is comparable with Heidegger's idea that a work of art can evoke the essence of being. Perhaps works of art can offer human beings a view of the workings of the Televisual, thus breaking open the limiting field of vision of tv?

In a now-famous interview in Der Spiegel (1976), Heidegger indicates that art today is also caught in the progress of technology. It has become a part of the culture business. Yet, he remains optimistic. Art is one of the few kinds of human expression capable of defeating the domination of technology. Regrettably, the writers of RUA TV? devote no attention to this. Perhaps a subject for the next course at the Power Institute?

translation jim boekbinder