The Line vs The Surface


I have been reading the works of Vilem Flusser. Like many technology thinkers worth their salt, like Simondon, his analyses are prescient.   I am particularly taken with his analysis of the line versus the surface image, vs the techno-image of today.  Although his ideas evolve and change throughout his writings, roughly speaking, the image, such as the image of a cave painting, or a fresco, or a Renaissance portrait, has a different relation to concepts than text (the line) does, and a different relation to history.

The original image was a representation of the world, or a means to control the world (magic).  Text, or criticism, is introduced to explicate the image – to tie it to particular concepts.  Today with the introduction of the techno-image, images are expressions of concepts.  So there is a reversal in the beginning was the image or The Word, and today the beginning is The Concept or the The Idea. We could expand this to be The Algorithm or The Process, and it reminds me of Manuel DeLanda’s analysis of the primacy of logistic and operations research in warfare.

Text is read in a particular way. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end. And the introduction of text is the introduction of History, which also has a beginning, a middle, and perhaps an end.  Our modern conception of reasoning is based on this linear logic.  The judgements True/False, Good/Bad, Beautiful/Ugly are about the mapping of words from their original images to their mental concepts.

Images do not include this sort of logic and notion of history. Images are not read in a linear fashion, they cannot be reasoned or proved with a syllogism.

Techno-Images, which starts with the introduction of photography, is about the representation of the world but the representation of a concept.  There is the primacy of preproduction.  The rational exercise, rather than taking place after the image is made, as an analysis of the image, is done before the image is made through the process of preproduction.   There is also a discussion about how this judgement is made when the image is moved from the private sphere to the public sphere – ie the market.  (This makes me think of Elie Ayache and the ontology of the market).

This leads to all other questions like how can you have criticism, which is rational analysis of an image on a techno-image, which itself starts with a rational analysis (the answer is no).   What are the new values of judgement that we should now use now that we can no longer use True/False, Good/Bad, Beautiful/Ugly? What is the logic of a techno-image.  What is the logic of an immaterial surface image (this is a image that is not dependent upon the medium where the image is made – think a computer graphic vs an oil painting on canvas)?

There is a discussion about frames of reference and world building. That techno-images can be ‘read’ in reference to the concepts that initially created them.  (Here I think of carnap and modern philosophers of science)  This is not entirely satisfying for me. It seems like a tautology and does not contribute anything new, like the criticism of a piece of art – which ideally clarifies.  Instead it becomes an exercise in translation.

I am interested, in particular, in code art. If writing was first introduced to count the ears of corn donated to the temple, and then expanded to explanations of the universe  (myth, science) and flights of fancy (fiction) and appreciated aesthetically (ie judged on these 3 levels enumerated above)  Computer code, the language of the techno-image, can also be apprehended aesthetically.

Lets say computer code, which is the techno-image, can be judged (and this is what it would be to be aestheticized).  What are the criterion for judgement? I believe we must look to Theory of Computation and Complexity for the answer.  The judgement is the expressiveness of the algorithm (universe of problems it can solve or things it can create), the speed of the algorithm, and material requirements of its execution.

There is also the fourth notion of probability and the relation of the counterfactual to the techno-image. The techno-image, like Schrodinger’s cat, does not exist in a particular state until it is viewed (or executed or compiled). It exists over a range of probabilities. So there is something about probability in the expression of an aesthetic judgement- perhaps the shape of the distribution.

There is some talk these days about contingency. A sort of neurotic hold over from Kant.  Some people say we are living in a era of radical contingency, nothing is necessary except for contingency.   But how can we talk about contingency and necessity when everything can be ‘exist’, when all the possibilities of the techno-image exist.  The conditional is no longer a tool for our abilities to judge about these things.  So we have to leave these antiquated notions of the categories of mind and talk about the shape of worlding.

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