Intersubjectivity: media metaphors, play & provocation

6th international Vilém Flusser symposium
& event series

march 15-19 1997 budapest hungary

Marie-Luise Angerer

Born 1958, lecturer in the Department of Communication, University of Salzburg and Vienna, Austria; since october 1994 fellow of the Austrian Programme for Advanced Research and Technology, Austrian Academy of Sciences

Fields of research: Cultural Studies, Feminist Studies, New Technolgies & The Body

Selected publications: The Body of Gender (ed.) (Vienna 1995)
Rrrriot Girls and Angry Women. Stilvoll Weiblich, in: N. Bailer/R. Horak (eds.):Jugendkultur (Vienna 1995, pp. 171-188);
Gender und Medien (co-edition with J. Dorer, Vienna 1994)

Forthcoming: Time after Media (co-edition)
Body-Options. The Body as Interface.

"The Body as Interface"
lecture for the Symposium

Groundless - one of Flusser´s keywords to describe a mode of human being in the world - this groundlessness experiences these days a kind of dramatization. In different ways groundlessness can be taken as metaphor for our being in the world, which is accompanied by an ongoing process of becoming other. And this being and becoming other has been amplified or in a way „doubled" by the New Technologies, which are supposed to represent something totally different, but a difference which reveals by the same time the mechanisms and structures of our „old" identity.
The body as interface alludes exactly to those two antagonistic drives - to be and to become other - and the site of this fight, the site of these struggles is the „interfacial nature" of the human´s subjectivity as an intersubjective one.

In the following I am going to outline various traces which make me conceiving the body as interface or the body´s conception in „interfacial terms".

Since the postmodern or poststructuralist critique (followed and amplified through struggles by feminist, indigeneous people and ethnic minorities) it has become increasingly accepted that there is no one History but that histories are narratives told from particular standpoints and with characteristic blind spots. But what´s about the future? There is no such relativistic perspective applied to futurity, which in Western culture anyway is almost always invoked in the singular - the future - and assumed to be shared by all. But shouldn´t we ask instead: Whose future gets to be the future? Whose visions are named as realistic and attainable, and whose are deferred as impractical and utopian? Who gets empowered and legitimated by such language? Who is ignored? (cf. Sofoulis 1996, 59)
In our future - so one of the dominant „ideologies" in the discourse about the New Technology - the body and identity are supposed to become useless, or they have already disappeared. Within the electronic environment - to paraphrase Mark Taylor and Esa Saarinen - identity will be useless, because everybody can choose what s/he might be and then everbody is no-body. (cf. Taylor/Saarinen 1994)
Media artists like Peter Weibel and Roy Acott argue that the body as a corner pillar of the historical apprehension of reality is disappearing (in its historical form) due to the world´s techno-transformations resp. the body will be rematerilized in novel ways.
One possible transformation of the body is described by Kathryn Hayles as an opening of the traditional borders of the body, "opening them to transformative configurations that always bear the trace of the Other. The resulting disorientation can function as a wedge to destabilize presuppositions about self and Other." (Hayles 1993, 187)
To summarize this discourse ironically: a time beyond - beyond traditionl borders, beyond identity, a post-gender, post-race, post-class era.

It is also, if we believe certain technology-researcher, a time after theory, a time in which theory has become „flesh". In Life on the Screen Sherry Turkle describes these shifts enthusiastically. The Net will have a huge impact on every aspect of our life, it will change our communication, our sexuality, our identity etc. The New Technologies - in her words - do bring „postmodern theory down to earth" (Turkle 1995, 18) „Thus, as she continues, more than twenty years after meeting the ideas of Lacan, Foucault, Deleuze and Guattari, I am meeting them again in my new life on the screen. But this time, the Gallic abstractions are more concrete. In my computer-mediated worlds, the self is multiple, fluid, and constituted in interaction with machine connections; it is made and transformed by language; sexual congress is an exchange of signifiers; and understanding follows from navigation and tinkering rather than analysis." (Turkle 1995, 15)
Turkle is right and wrong at the same time: The Net - to keep it that vague - is the materialisation of the virtuality of reality, and at the same time, it isn´t - it is only a cog in the bigger machines of language and mass media as machines of social control.
Let me dwell on that for a moment:
According to Slavoj Zizek realities are always already virtualities, and the only thing the Net makes visible is the mechanism operating in constructing identity. Against his Lacanian background Zizek defines virtual reality as the space where „the mechanism which operated implicitly - i.e. the virtualization which was previously in-itself, now becomes explicit, with crucial consequences for reality itself." (Zizek 1995, 128)
But is the virtual of virtual reality really the same than Zizek´s psychoanalytical connotated term of virtualization? The answer has to be no, it isn´t.
Also in the philosophy of Deleuze and Guattari we find the two terms: actuality and virtuality, but it is very clear that their virtuality doesn´t converge with the electronically produced virtuality. Nevertheless, the New Communication Technologies are able - in a novel way - also in the eyes of Deleuze/Guattari - to produce new intensities. Intensities which bear new possibilities - and in that way - new forms of subjectivation, which they oppose to forms of subjectification:
Whereas subjectification means that one is always a subject in, or a subject to, either the State or Capitalism, and its aim is to produce more surplus value, subjectivation, on the other hand, describes lines of flight within the subject.
According to Deleuze/Guattari therefore the New Technologies are in a concrete sense both: old forms of social control and new ways of. New ways of connecting with the world and with each other, new ways of producing experience, of expressing. (cf. Murphy 1996, 82) This means nothing more than that technology has to be seen in its connection with its „outside".
Both theoretical approaches, the Lacanian and the Deleuzian perspective, in their very different conceptualization of the body, identity, and desire do agree in one decisive moment: that the Net or the New Technologies bear the moment of change, they make something up then invisible visible and they produce within the old laws or structures new formations. Potentialities which might become actualized.

In this sense the body as interface means both or indicates in both directions: it indicates a new intense relation between man and machine and it indicates the body´s nature as always already „interfaced" in its very structure.
In an article on interactive art and net work the Australian cultural theorist Zoe Sofoulis defines interactivity in close connection with intersubjectivity. Her main argument: interactivity amplifies the intersubjective structure of subjectivity, underpins the relatedness of identity crossed by the body and its gender. (Sofoulis 1996, 32-35)
For her argumentation Zoe Sofoulis refers to Daniel Stern´s „The Interpersonal World of the Infant" (1985) where he replaces the Freudian model of infantile developmental phases (oral, anal, and genital) with a fourpart model of different senses of the self and domains of relatedness that emerge in early infancy and persist and develop throughout life. The dominant sense of the self, according to Stern, is of the „process of coming into being", of „networks becoming integrated". Fundamental in this process of becoming are dynamic and kinetic qualities, which produce a sort of memory, a kind of as I would like to call it cautiously, bodily memory. Cautiously because I am not talking about the body which does remember. But I am talking about the „memorizing capacities" of the body which does entail another term, the term of the body-image. The body-image as the interface or the site where intersubjectivity occurs. Which might include the object, the machine, the „real" interface, but it also may not.

Space does Matter
„Space is first of all my body, and then it is my body´s counterpart or „other", its mirror-image or shadow: it is the shifting intersection between that which touches, penetrates, threatens or benefits my body on the one hand, and all other bodies on the other." (Henri Lefebvre, quoted in Burgin 1996, 30)
Space does play an important role - technically, psychically, and physically.
The space of cyberspace has put the question of identity again in the centre, it has again marked identity as interfaced with its environment, and it has revealed very obviously the body´s borders as artificial lines. Why shoud the body end at the skin? Donna Haraway, who raised this question in her Manifesto for Cyborgs (1985; 1991a), has thus stimulated an influential discussion of the body´s „interfacial nature".

In Haraway´s cyborg-definition, which can be understood as a novel way of a „´non-organic` thinking about the nature of embodiment and ´real`limitation" the interface is conceived as the becoming-flesh of the machine. She reintegrates the technological in the natural, which is not a flight from the problems of organic life, nor the elaboration of an idealized state of computer existence, but an experiment in new ways of becoming embodied. (cf. Marsden 1996, 11)
In various theoretical approaches, which undertake the effort to redefine the body and its identies and borders space is crucial in a doubles sense: inner space and outer space which conflate on the surface of the body´s skin: And that is why (the body´s) surface, the common limit of the external and the internal, is the only portion of space which is both perceived and felt. (Bergson 1991)
Taking Freud´s definition of the ego as first and foremost a bodily ego Judith Butler and Liz Grosz - both in different ways - define the body in space and in a certain way as space. According to Freud the ego is not merely a surface entity, but is itself the projection of a surface, it is a mapping not of the real or anatomical body, but of the degree of libidinal cathexis the subject has invested in his own body. As Butler put it: The body must be itself understood as incorporated space." (Butler 1990, 67) But whereas Butler remains within this psychoanalytical frame Liz Grosz rejects the Freudian and Lacanian assumptions and defines the body in a Deleuzian perspective, the one which has the remarkable power of incorporating and expelling outside and inside in an ongoing interchange. This interchange, this becoming in becoming other has to be understood as an encounter „between bodies, which releases something from each and, in the process, makes real a virtuality, a series of enabling and transforming possibilities." (Grosz 1995, 134) And becoming is first and foremost - as Brian Massumi puts it - „bodily thought" (Massumi 1992, 93-103)

Becoming embodied - or I am a picture (Lacan)
For Elizabeth Grosz the decisive question is therefore: What is a body capable of doing? And this capability is well beyond the tolerance of any given culture. This includes the culture of the Internet and cyberspace as well.
In her novel, The Body of Glass, Marge Pierce tells the love story between Yod, the first „real" cyborg, and Shira, a „real" woman, who, after having fallen in love with Yod, looses her security of knowing what it means to be human and not a cyborg. Where do you draw the line? Her grandmother, who co-produces Yod´s software, is responsible for his desire to become a „real" Man. As she describes it:
„Yod is working heroically to be human; I see it every day. He wants desperately to satisfy Shira, to be her man, her husband, to father her son. I wonder if the programming I gave him to balance his violent propensities wasn´t a tragic error, if I did not do him an injustice in giving him needs he may not be able to fulfill. I fear Yod experiences something like guilt at his inadequacy, at not being human enough for her. He strains, unsure how far he is from succeeding, because he cannot know what the real thing would feel like. Men so often try to be inhumanly powerful, efficient, unfeeling, to perform like a machine, it is ironic to watch a machine striving to be male." (Piercy 1991, 461)
Instead of wanting to become a real woman, Donna Haraway´s cyborg is a creature in a postgender world. She is a bad girl, who doesn´t want to become Woman, for her gender identity is problematic and a question of naming. Identity - to paraphrase Haraway - is an encounter, an interaction in which new alliances are produced, it is a question of the interface. (cf. Haraway 1991)
But - and therefore I have mentioned the story about Yod, the cyborg and Harways female cyborg - the question is not gender identity as such, the question is how to draw the line, how to produce inter-faces?
According to Moira Gatens the New Technologies present remarkable possibilities for making novel connections by producing assemblages capable of forging different extensive relations and new intense capacities." (Gatens 1996, 167) By that she alludes to her conception of ethological bodies, bodies, which she defines against the background of the plane of immanence by Spinoza. Ethological bodies are radically open to (their) surroundings, (they are) composed, recomposed and decomposed by other bodies. Ethology is first of all about speed and slowness, about the capacities of bodies to affect other bodies and being affected by other bodies. Ethology will not privilege the human body and the distinction between human and non-human, between nature and artifice won´t be of any interest on an ethological view. Bodies are defined due to their extensive and intensive capacities and affinities, which, in Moira Gatens words - might „raise interesting questions concerning contemporary and future possibilities of hybrid life forms and body prostheses presented by New Technology.(cf. Gatens 1996, 167-171).
In this perspective Moira Gatens outlines a definition of gender as dynamic affects and intensive capacities, which gets me back to Daniel Stern´s definition of the self: The dominant sense of the self, according to Stern, is of the „process of coming into being", of „networks becoming integrated". Fundamental in this process of becoming are dynamic and kinetic qualities, which produce a sort of memory. I have called this memory a bodily memory. And as I want to argue now : it is the „memory" of sexual difference, sexual difference as différance (Derrida) - it is the horizon which cannot appear in its own terms, but is implied in the very possibility of an entity, an identity, a subject, an other and their relations." (Grosz 1994, 209)

Due to Freud´s rejection of the opposition between nature and culture in his clear distinction of the instinct and the drive, human sexuality in all its diversity is characterized by a structural inevitability of representation. This entails the term body-image which, as I have defined earlier could be understood as interface. According to Charles Shepherdson the term body-image refers to both sides, i.e. to nature as well as to culture, to psyche and soma. The body-image undecidably occupies both positions. Born as an organism, the human animal has to acquire a body, come into the possession of its body (has to be born again). Thus, sexual difference is not a human institution, but is central to the ways in which we conceive of and act in the world. (cf. Shepherdson 1994, 167-171)
Victor Burgin, whose interest it is to cross the various layers of spaces, argues that there is „no space of representation without a subject, and no subject without a space it is not. No subject, therefore, without boundary." (Burgin 1996, 52)
Between being and becoming other: When people meet on the Net one of the most urgent question they raise is: Are you male or female?
It is absolutely necessary to be male or female, even one invents one´s gender identity. Nobody can´t be no-body. The ego depends on fixed points. It depends - as Teresa Brennan puts it, „on its identification with others, and ideas, to maintain its sense of identity. (...) Psychically we need these fixed points, but they also hold us back." (Brennan 1993, xii)
In a striking similarity Deleuze/Guattari differentiate between order words and pass words - order words which materialize the bodies as organizations, pass words which rupture the habitual organization of the body´s power and capacities. Thus the materialization of words/language „express both the attempt to capture bodies in stable forms (the limitative dimension) and the possible, or virtual, becomings of bodies (the expansive dimension)." (quoted in Gatens 1996, 182)
Pass words and order words - the desire to be and the desire to become other - mark the frame of the pleasure of the interface. It´s a frame encompassing memories and oblivion.
Cyborgs can´t forget and humans live in a world they remember - memories which indicate another space - the idea of another locality, another space, another scene, the between of perception and consciousness." (Burgin 1996, 47)
The interface which connects the user with the Net presupposes another interface, the body as interface, as an oscillation between being and becoming other as voyage through a rich spectrum of corporeal possibilities, possibilities which are only scarcely touched by the much hyped gender switching on the Net. (cf. Marsden 1996, 12)
I have started with Deleuze and Guattaris definition of the New technologies as cog in the larger machine of social control: I would like to end with Félix Guattari, who reminds us that the „unconscious figures of power and knowledge are not universals. (...) In spite of that, other modalities of subjective production - .... - are conceivable." (Guattari 1992, 35/36)

Bergson, Henri (1991): Matter and Memory, New York.
Butler, Judith (1990): Gender trouble. Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. London, New York.
Brennan, Teresa (1993): History after Lacan, London, New York.
Burgin, Victor (1996): In/Different Spaces. Place and Memory in Visual Culture, Berkeley, Los Angeles, London.
Gatens, Moira (1996): Through a Spinozist Lens: Ethology, Difference, Power, in P. Patton (ed.): Deleuze: A Critical Reader, Cambridge (Mass.), pp. 162-187.
Grosz, Elizabeth (1994): Volatile Bodies: Towards a Corporeal Feminism. Bloomington, Indianapolis.
Grosz, Elizabeth (1995): space, time and perversion. New York, Sydney.
Guattari, Félix (1992): Regimes, Pathways, Subjects, in J. Crary and S. Kwinter (eds.): Incorporations, New York, pp. 16-35.
Haraway, Donna (1991): Cyborgs at Large, in: P. Constance/A. Ross (eds.): Technoculture, London, New York, pp. 1-20.
Haraway, Donna (1991a): A Cyborg Manifesto. Science, Technology, and Social-feminism in the late Twentieth Century, in: Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. London, pp. 149-81.
Hayles, N. Kathrin (1993): The Seductions of Cyberspace, in: V,.Andermatt Conley (ed.): Rethinking Technologies, Minneapolis, London, pp. 173-190.
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Stern, Daniel N. (1985): The Interpersonal World of the Infant. A View from Psychoanalysis and Developmental Psychology, Basic Books.
Taylor, Mark C./Saarinen, Esa (1994): Imagologies. Media Philosophy, New York 1994.
Turkle, Sherry (1995): Life on the Screen. Identity in the Age of the Internet, New York.
Zizek, Slavoj (1995): On Virtual Sex and Related Matters, in ars electronica: Mythos Information. Welcome to the Wired World, Wien, New York, pp. 122-129.

Intersubjectivity: media metaphors, play & provocation
Advisory Committee:
László Beke, director, Mûcsarnok;
Wolfgang Meissner, director, Goethe-Institut Budapest;
Matthias Müller-Wieferig, Goethe-Institut Budapest;
Miklós Peternák, chair of the board, C3;
Zoltán Sebôk, theoretician; J.A.Tillmann, theoretician;
Organizers:Suzanne Mészöly, program director C3
Ágnes Veronika Kovács , program coordinator C3
Adele Eisenstein, program coordinátor C3

See the Goethe-Institut Budapest website on theFlusser Symposium:

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