Computer with built-in melancholy

A conversation with the American art historian Jonathan Crary

The American art historian Jonathan Crary works with the history of the human look. For the professor at Columbia University in New York, seeing and human subjectivity are not represented by ahistoric constants, but by technological, social and cultural conditions. Tilman Baumgartel responded to his new project.

According to crivy, technical or social changes show changes in human perception, which are also reflected in art as he in his book "Techniques of viewing" shows that has now appeared in German (publishing of art, Dresden / Berlin 1996, 56 marks).

If seeing in capitalist modernity has a permanent feature, then that there is no such characteristic.

Jonathan Crary

Currently, Crary is working on his second book in which it is about the phanomena of attention, the for him at the end of the 19. Century becomes a central problem of psychology, philosophy and art theory and until today a leitmotif of "Society of Spectacle" has remained. In the following conversation, he describes what his "Archaological studies" The early modernity for the present mean.


Tilman Baumgartel: Mr. Crary, under media people circulates the wisdom: "Attention is the most valuable raw material of our time." At the time they are researching how the ideas about human attention have historically changed. Could you describe this project more closely in relation to our present?

Crary: The human subject is forced to adapt to new technological and social conditions of perception and seeing. At the moment I have been working as a certain idea of attention, which is at the end of the 19. For centuries, becomes an order mechanism for the potential chaos of human authority. Without this conception of attention, human beings exposed to an uncontrollable conglomerate of sensual stimuli exposed from all potential directions. At the end of the 19. Centuries succumbed to people from a wide variety of disciplines to work with the ability of man to make a focused selection from an infinite number of stimuli.

?: I am surprised that you describe the regulations of attention as a license plate of modernity. Since Baudelaire, the Flaneur has actually been the case with its inattentive, wearing view as the modern subject par excellence.

CRARY: That’s exactly this trunity that modernity and inattention is associated with how it is in the literature influenced by people like Kracauer and Simmel, I want to contradict. Of course, the cultural logic of capitalism requires that we continuously invaded our attention from one thing to another "switch" can. But this method of recharging is just an important part of this new regulations of attention that end of the 19. Century developed. These mechanisms are needed so that the subject in modernity can still function, although it is exposed to this staple overkill by except stimuli.

What the end of the 19. Was discovered century, was the fact that there are limits of attention. Especially if you want to focus on something especially, you will be inattentive and distracted. Therefore, there were attempts to submit the attention of rigid control to make them productive. The ability to concentrate is investigated, for example, of work scientists. They have found that the tense attention is put into the opposite at some point: even if a worker at the flower band is very focused on a repeating work, he will scales after a certain period of time in daytime dreams and his bewind in an unproductive state of free associations. It was also tried to regulate this. But that never worked because there is a certain limit, from which a control threatens the social order and thus socially dangerous, which then again economically unproductive goods.

?: You have described Edison as a pioneer of this reorganization of perception. Can you explain that?

Crary: Edison has introduced the continuous recent find the equipment that consumes energy or sounds or pictures as goods. Edison stands for me for this whole capitalist logic, after which the subject is uninterrupted to customize new technological systems.

?: The same thing that is made today by Microsoft with computer programs…

Yes, exactly. People like Bill Gates, Stephen Jobs or Andrew Groves continue to work on this historic project of continuous rationalization and modernization of perception.

?: How did this modern regulations of attention have experienced our immediate presence?

Crary: In Western Hemisphare, we spend more and more time in an interface with a machine with which we are connected by a keyboard and a monitor. This is a state of attentive, concentrated demobilization of the body. Most people have this interface and the undivided attention that requires it completely accepted. What interests me is the question: What is historically done that we have adopted this interface completely as everything penetrating model for creative and productive work? What a role plays boredom in this context? Is there a modern counter-piece to the "Dream" The romantic of 19. Century? Because I do not think that this human-machine relationship between us and the computer can ever be rigidly rationalized and made productive.

?: But despite the condition you "Demobilization of the body" call, convey the digital media the illusion to move free and self-determined in the virtual room to move. Just in "spareless room" The Internet seems to be the subject despite completely motionlessness "everywhere and nowhere" at the same time…

CRARY: There are currently various new myths that have been published by technological developments such as the Internet. There is now so many positive allegations in connection with these new telecommunications forms that I am slow for important to question them – not because I have technological goods, even if my book is often so mibbles, but because so inaccurate, spongy terms used will.

It will be much of "information" and "communication" talked. It is done as if social progress is identical to goods "More information" and "More communication". Actually, the superficial observer had to notice that the absurd is. Most of us live today in such an alaturated social situation that we do not even talk to the people of next door. What should even more fax machines or email? This is just an escalation of consumption and not an improvement of social interaction.

I’m surprised that most people are patiently fugulating these technological practices patiently instead of questioning them. For every two years, you have to buy a new computer every two years if you want to be technically up to date. Most of the devices we use as consumers are already antiquated before we understood overlike how to operate them. There are such a kind of built-in melancholy about how self-reliable it has become that our expectations of these machines are being destroyed.

?: Believe that our perception is due to the continuous interaction with virtual simulations?

Crary: No one will live completely in such a funny cyber world, even if that of this whole "Cyber cheerleaders" like to be claimed. But I think that this new technologies will change the texture of our everyday life. We will still move ourselves during the trimmed part of our lives in real, Euclidean space, so, for example, in apartments like this (points to the garden of the room in which we sit). But what is changing is the abruptness with which one jumps from a subjective zone to another. Everyday life will be such a kind of patchwork from old, "natural" Perceptions and the new, technological areas where other room experiences are possible.

?: I find this virtual reality simulations that you can use with the computer or via a data helmet, so amazing that you mimic the old Camera Obscura model completely unmodified. Where you also turn into these three-dimensional envirosts and turns, you always look like a renaissance painting on the vanishing point. Believe that this also influences our future perceptions?

Crary: I think it already has it. In this simulation, there is no blurred random more than our natural perception. These technological areas are of a kind of hyper clarity, and some neurologists say that this can also exclude new nerve stimuli and reactions. There are studies that show that most people set up their TV so that the screen is identical to the part of your visual field in which you see very sharp. This means, of course, that our beweed completely turns off the blurred environment.

Interview: Tilman Baumgartel

Jonathan Crary: "Techniques of the beholder – see and modern in 19. Century’", Publisher of Art, Dresden / Berlin 1996, 56 marks.

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