Diagrams of the false

On: October 13, 2009
Print Friendly, PDF & Email
About Susana Zaragoza
I am a Spanish professional within the cultural field. since 2003, I have been involved in several cultural cooperation projects related to new media in Brazil, Spain and Uruguay. All them are presented in my personal blog. I am a current student at UvA University. My aim is to gain new inputs and academic knowledge in the New Media academic field.


Personas is a student’s project developed in the MIT Media Lab that shows people how Internet sees them. Using a language processing, computer creates a data profile of your online identity, when entering your name. The program attempts to characterize the person from a massive corpus of data, so most of the times, the personal profile generated not corresponds with your own view. This is because Personas demonstrates the computer’s uncanny insights and its inadvertent errors, such as the mischaracterizations caused by the inability to separate data from multiple owners of the same name. [1]

“Apparatus” and the destruction of the individuation process.

The machine cannot distinguish our personal information from other people who has a similar or the same name. To Giorgio Agamben, a leading Italian philosopher and political theorist,  this computer, as an “apparatus”,  literally has in some way the capacity to capture, orient, determine, intercept, model, control or secure the gestures, behaviors, opinions or discourses of living beings. [2]. So, he understands the medium as something that distorts the facts. A camera is an apparatus too, but to Agamben, photography explains another point of view of this relation between human and  the medium; when you take a picture of you and you watch it in the actual context, and this “now” refers to another time, according to Agamben, you see a “certain exigency”. The photograph demands something from us. The apparatus is asking us something about ourselves.  At the same time that offers you an image of yourself, asks you something about how are you. In this sense, the Personas project computer intercepts, controls and models -as it is showed in the example below-,  our behaviors, opinions, and discourses. Furthermore, it arouses new vision of your own idea of yourself. It makes you think about your diagram. Enter your name in Personas. Do you recognize yourself?. How much truth does it reflect?.


Even more, Agamben will suggest that today there is a destruction of the individuation process of our “singular special being”. Transformed by apparatus, not only technological but political, social, etc… there is the reduction from the special to the personal. There is a shift from singularity to particularity. The personal profile resulted, lack of gesture and expression of genius (understood as a potential feature of the individuation process for achieving the special being of everyone), could have its more recognizable example in our online identities in Internet. We show ourselves to the world in a tagged way.

The question of experience

Another question that gives rise to Agamben’s idea is how many of our “tags” reflects a real experience. People has lost the experience as a knowledge. For the modern man, experience is not longer accessible. Benjamin Walter claimed this idea in 1933 within the concept of “poverty of experience”. Moreover, to Agamben, the destruction of experience not longer necessitates a catastrophe and that humdrum daily life in any city will suffice. For modern man’s average days contains virtually nothing that can still be translated into experience. Neither reading the newspaper with its abundance of news that is irretrievably remote from his life, nor sitting for minutes on end at the wheel of his car in a traffic jam. Neither the journey through the nether world of the subway, nor the demonstration that suddenly block the streets. Neither the cloud of tear gas slowly dispersing between the buildings of the city center, nor the rapid blasts of gunfire from who knows where; nor queuing up at a business counter, nor visiting the land of Cockayne at the supermarket, nor those eternal moments of dumb promiscuity among strangers in lifts and buses. Modern man makes his way home in the evening wearied by a jumble of events, but however entertaining or tedious, unusual or commonplace, harrowing or pleasurable they are, non of them will have become experience.[3]

It sounds pesimistic, and of course it is but to Agamben, that doesn’t mean that today there are no experiences, he argues that they are enacted outside the individual. So, where do we transfer the experience? Do we loose it through the mediums?. Do we really experience those items; books, travel, movies, politics?. Being turists we often let  the camera have the experience  insteadd of ourselves and we losse it since the moment we look the picture through the  viewfinder.

If the destruction of our special beings implies the destruction of our capacity to see into ourselves, thus, understand the others, to Agamben, there is no form of political or ethical responsability. This situation lead us to live in a permanent State of Exception, that is his starting point of his political approach.

The language and the apparatuses of media

What does it happening today that causes this lack of “freedom to be humans, to live”? Of course, capitalism, that according to Agamben, is nothing but a system for capturing things, objects and people, in order to remove all possibility for singular use. Any aspect of life is available for control. In its extreme phase, capitalism is nothing but a gigantic apparatus for capturing pure means, that is, profanatory behaviors. That means, in a philosophical point of view, that profanation -as a technical juridical concept-  removes  the use of something from the original use by  man.

According to Agamben’s idea, the media, and particularly, the global audiovisual technical system aim precisely at neutralising this profanatory power of language as pure means, at preventing language from disclosing the possibility of a new use. For writing (any writing, not only the writing of the chancellors of the archive of infamy) is an apparatus too, and the history of human beings is perhaps nothing other than the hand-to-hand confrontation with the apparatuses they have produced – above all with language. [4]

If language is a pure mean for humans to be humans, and it is reduced and profaned by consumption, what is the importance of the computer language machine in a new media context?. Are the hackers and programmers the only ones who manage this language?. Are the digital illiterate people (most in the world) without tools to be humans, to be “connected”?

Language for Agamben, can be the image and place of justice, but only because language is an instance of what can exist outside representation as property- information.

Where do we go?

Many questions can be asked. But it seems clear that according to Agamben, a transformation of the conditions of individuation in a individual, technical and collective way is need to be done in order to permit any future for politics, and of course for a real life for the human being. Quoting Mackenzie Wark: “Diagrams for this time, in which the true is merely a moment of the false, for turning the false again itself, one might need to consider them, as incomplete diagrams”. [6]

[1] PERSONAS Website http://personas.media.mit.edu/

[2] Agamben, Giorgio. What is an apparatus? and other essays, 2009. Stanford University Press.

[3] Agamben, Giorgio. Infancy and History: The Destruction of Experience, 1993.

[4] Agamben, Giorgio. Profanations, 2007.

[5] Agamben, Giorgio. The Man without Content, 1999.

[6] Nettime: BioPolitical Tattoing, 2004. http://www.mail-archive.com/nettime-l@bbs.thing.net/msg01597.html

Comments are closed.