The Merger of Existence
Many challenges of new media theory are of such broad relevance to human concerns, and are so complex in their placement, that they have an enduring presence. Though new media studies has a relatively short history as a science, it addresses fundamental philosophical issues on how to approach and understand new media’s impact on every day life. Critical new media studies is not only concerned with the hows of mediated life, but also with the whys. It enables us to think, without arbitrariness and bigotry, on the most basic challenges of existence within an immediate media ecology.
Being familiar with media studies, you’d probably acknowledge that sometimes the most simple and commonplace distinctions give rise to intense intellectual problems. For example, the question ‘what am I when interacting with digital media?’ is hard to answer because its correlated to several complex philosophical speculations (i.e., it kick-starts metaphysical questions such as ‘What am I?’, ‘What is life; and what gives meaning to life?’, ‘What is the brain?’). The answer to such questions may not be known (and will probably never be), but researchers will seek to gain more knowledge to break ignorance and dissolve the comfort born of mythology.
The works of Katherine Hayles, Mark Hansen, Brian Massumi, Anna Munster (among others) deals with the connections between self, body and technology. These works break with (post)structuralism and representationalism by challenging the mind-body divide. Rather than conceiving the mind as separate from the body (i.e., the restrictive structuralist notion that technology’s impact on human experience can be captured in language structure and/or representations), the body is conceived as actually producing human experience through technological prosthetics. All propose positive models for understanding the constructed realities of and resonances between embodied subjectivity, technology and world (i.e., perception as a creative form of action in which virtuality is sought in-between the material body and immaterial information flows), their approaches however differ.
It’s one thing to say that the embodied body acts and is acted upon, it is quite another to locate these creative forms of bodily actions. It is at this point that affectivity/affect comes into play. Affectivity literally means the cognitive symptom that’s relating to, arising from or influencing feelings or emotions (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/affectivity). However, in the works of the authors mentioned above, affectivity is used to delineate a manoeuvrability or passing of the body that cannot be reduced to emotions. Massumi, for example, demonstrates this non-reductive concept of affectivity by stressing its multiple flows. He states,
“The affect and the feeling of the transition are not two different things. They’re two sides of the same coin, just like affecting and being affected. That’s the first sense in which affect is about intensity — every affect is a doubling. The experience of a change, an affecting-being affected, is redoubled by an experience of the experience. This gives the body’s movements a kind of depth that stays with it across all its transitions — accumulating in memory, in habit, in reflex, in desire, in tendency. Emotion is the way the depth of that ongoing experience registers personally at a given moment.” (Zournazi, 2003)
Even though Massumi’s affectivity does not resemble Hayles’s, Hansen’s or Munster’s conceptualization exactly, it does locate technology’s impact on everyday life. This ‘localization’ enables us to understand mediated experiences as continuous flows in-between bodily assemblages.
It would seem that we have thus arrived at the point where metaphysics and new media theory seamlessly converge. A point in which Heraclitus’s ‘Panta rhei’ (trans. ‘everything flows’: Peters, 1967) describes our embodied experiences with technology by dissolving the rational-subjective divide. A point in which the Enlighted human subject ceases to exists.
Peters, F. E. (1967). Greek Philosophical Terms: A Historical Lexicon. NYU Press, p. 178.
Zournazi, M. (2003). “Navigating Movements” (interview) Hope: New Philosophies for Change, New York: Routledge; London: Lawrence and Wishart; Sydney: Pluto Press, 2002-2003), p. 210-242. Retrieved from: http://www.21cmagazine.com/issue2/massumi.html (6-3-2009).