Monday, February 15, 2010

Further notes on the history of invisibility

The characteristic cultural formation of the capitalist epoch was realism, and its characteristic visual form geometry, specifically the geometry of projection. This is the form of perspective, of cartography. Not primarily or exclusively illusionistic, realist projective geometry is about scale and dimensionality – making small things big, big things small, and round things flat.

By contrast, the fundamental cultural formation of the network era is the database, and its principle is no longer geometrical but arithmetic. The database is dimensionless: it has taken the logic of converting time into space (the graph, the calendar) and eradicated space as well. The database is decreasingly visible, hidden behind the screen displaying the results of a specific search. Thus the invisibility of database-driven sites to search engines.

The long journey from the dominance of hierarchic and semantic visual forms under feudalism has led to the layering of semantics under observation, and now under ubiquitous digital enumeration. The questions are whether this new form is so voracious it will consume the previous modes of visual culture; and whether this is a genuinely new form of political economy or merely the latest twist in the tail of capital.

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