This month I was invited to visit IKKM, the Internationales Kolleg fur Kulturetechnikforschung und Medienphilosophie, and speak at their Lab Series regarding my current research project. Abstract below.
The Phenomenological and Mythological Dimensions of Digital Surveillance Societies
A figure, Merleau-Ponty says, is only ever perceived and communicates its ‘sense’ [sens] together with its background. This is not a mediative relation, but a constitutive one. In the same way, our immediate phenomenal experience modulates and is modulated by our intuitive sense of the world ‘out there’. (We gesture to this daily when we say, ‘so that’s how it works’.) The out-there, for all its apparent abstractness, is not of a fundamentally different quality than the ‘here’. This unity is visible in Merleau-Ponty’s analysis of myth and madness: two spectacular moments when the out-there becomes entangled with sensory and symbolic worlds. What occurs here is not illusion or abstraction, but a Deleuzian imaging of the world through which phenomena are sliced, framed and associated in pre-/trans-individual strata. Mobilising neuroscientific research on habit, ritual theory and Wittgenstein’s discussion of language, I point towards a phenomenological reading of the ‘mythological’ out-there.
This perspective avails an understanding of digital surveillance and data-mining which unifies the subjective experience of living with surveillance, risk and data with epistemological and discursive dimensions. Digital surveillance is a notable case in that even as its diffuse massivity – what Timothy Morton calls hyperobject – looms over our sense of the world, concrete acts of surveillance systematically recede from our experiential horizon. We know it is happening, but we do not experience it. Meanwhile, concealed from our experiencing body is another body of digital traces assembled from our data. In the talk, I describe two particular displacements of experience / knowledge, here / out-there: subjunctivity, the ‘as-if’ modality of situating fact, risk and action; and interpassivity, the projection of belief and being onto the other. The final horizon is a unified description of technological objects in tandem with ideas-as-things, knowing and thinking with feeling and being, experience of the world at hand with the world out there.