Sunday, May 9, 2010

3 Theses on black and white

Thesis One:
that the opoposite of black is white: a surface which reflects all wavelengths equaly, as a black surface absorbs them all. When an imaginary pure black surface absorbs all wavelengths, it annihilates differences between them. And so does an imaginarly pure white, subordinating all wavelengths to its own purity. Thus there is not so much difference between white and black as we might suppose: both draw difference into unity.

Thesis Two:
the opposite of black is not white but light. Against the darkness in which our eyes can perceive nothing, there is the light in which they do. But light, the purest, brightest light, like darkness, blinds, as the desert sun does. The closer it comes to absolute, the more light burns out the rods and cones, maculates the seeing eye with afterimages, in extremis takes sight away permanently, as it has for so many observers of solar phenomena. Blinding, and the maculation of vision, is common to absoulte darkness and absolute light, just as reduction to unity is common to absolute black and absolute white. Here too there is no true opposition.

Thesis Three:
the opposite of black is not white but a mirror reflection, which reflects each wavelength in its own discrete form. Against black, we would set the differentiating forms of natural as well as manufactured mirrors – rivers and streams, wet rocks, oil shimmering on puddles – as indeed we might include those natural and manufactured forms of prism which split the light into rainbows, as in the spray of waterfalls and surf. Against black's unity, and against its blinding of vision, we might cast as its dialactical pair the shattering and splintering of light, its endless multiplication.

Vector Politics and the Aesthetics of Disappearance

From a chapter drafted for John Armitage (ed) Virilio Now

To build a new future is the greatest of challenges. When Virilio forces us to look into the abyss of final catastrophe, he makes us consider not only what is at stake, but how we might address it. In his pioneering work on ecological politics he demonstrates how much depends on how we see ourselves in relatiuon to the world. Today, as the terrains of 'immaterial labour' and the physical infrastructure of the network coincide, Virilio, in common with feminist phenomenologists of digital media like N. Katherine Hayles (1999), Margaret Morse (1998) and Michelle White (2002), argues against the mind-body split that informs the cyber-visionary desire to leave behind the crumpled, painful 'meat' of the body. Instead, Virilio argues, we have to understand that the general accident is not just a technological flaw, as in his insight that the inventions of the train, the airplane, nuclear power, internet and bio-engineering are always simultaneously the invention of the train crash, the plane wreck, meltdown, information crash and genetic time-bomb. The condition is however more general and formative than that: Virilio notes that 'the production of any 'substance' is simultaneously the production of a typical accident (Virilio 1993: 212). As Jussi Parikka observes of this passage, 'An accident . . . is not in this context intended to mean the opposite of absolute and neccessary, as Aristotelian metaphysics has maintained. Instead, accidents are an inherent part of an entity' (Parikka 2007: 4). This might recall Adorno's praise of disappointment, and perhaps also signal the danger attendant on construing the future not as risk management but as unknowable other. In other words, Virilio points us towards an aesthetics of failure: of the inherent risk that any object – and phenomenologically therefore any subject – runs of failing to continue to be. It comes down then to a duty of care, for the planet, and consequently therefore also for the people who inhabit it. It seems then that Virilio is correct: a putative vectoral network, one that is not self-identical, that evolves without notice, that plunges into accident and disappointment, and in which machines have as much say as humans is a terrifying risk. But it may also be the only way to escape the stifling grid of destruction which is the military, economic, political and cultural standoff of a present which denies hope to the mass of humanity and the planet itself.