Intangibles

Auras, Digital Ghosts, the Virtual

 Harvard Humanities Institute, April 2011

I shall approach the topic of touch and intangibles – “things unable to be touched” (presumably by humans) – by way of media and their effects. In everyday discourse we move effortlessly between ‘touch’ in various modalities – corporeal, oral, textual, gestural, and digital – with little regard for the medium in question. We say: “She was in touch with her feelings”, “He kept touching himself”, “The bosses are untouchable”, “Touch me not!”, “Touch me there”, “I’m touched by your flowers”, “He’s completely lost touch”, “Get in touch – make a call”, “She’s a bit touched”, “They kept in touch by postcards, letters and the occasional telegram”; likewise con-tact through email, phone, texts, Skype. My aim here is to portray these mediations of touch as emerging out of each other through a process of virtualization. Specifically, I consider their phylogenesis, their emergence as a sequence of re-mediations: speech as virtual gesture, writing as virtual speech, and digital code as virtual writing. The vector of this emergence can be seen as a schematic, media-oriented genealogy of touch (and of that which is ‘unable to be touched’). To accomplish this, one needs to ask: what happens, what is brought into being, what emerges, each time a medium in the series opens into its successor — a successor medium understood as virtualizing the objects in the world its predecessor presides over? What happens each time is that a process of de-embodiment and dis-placement occurs, giving rise to objects understood as ‘virtual’ with respect to their ‘actual’ , more ‘real’ pre-mediated forms; a universal effect intrinsic to the activity of mediation itself. Among these intangibles there will be ghosts, ghost effects.

 

1   Brands — selling the auratic

Auras? The aura of an object: a halo, an intangible affect, a psychic atmosphere, an unarticulated subjectivity, an imaginary that clings to and is projected by the object. A potent contemporary source of auras, of attaching intangible affects to objects, are brands, forms of value-money, objects such as Coca-Cola and Harvard, whose visible logos and intangible auras surround us.

 

SLIDE 1

GLOBAL LOGOS — CAPITALISM’S WALLPAPER

 

Branding of animals and criminals is ancient, but it wasn’t until 1793 that a consumer object was branded — Pears Soap. Distinguished from existing ‘soap’ by being transparent, openly declarative, hiding nothing, which it transforms — via promoted association — into a fantasy of presence; the subjectivity and affect of an honest, transparent self, folded fragrantly into each bar of soap. A crude but effective formula of subjectivity creation and delivery still used: “an identity myth plunked into each bottle” (23), is how Douglas Holt characterizes Coca Cola capture of being ‘American’.

 

SLIDE 2

Transparency becomes whiteness

PEARS SOAP AD 1900

 

 

 

SLIDE 3

NIKE’S SWOOSH

 

Ian Kirk, a consultant at an international brand agency, urges on the website AllAboutBranding.com that we are in the midst of an “Intangible Revolution”, a momentous and radical change in the nature of value. He identifies three elements – “knowledge, culture and the virtual” which in concert drive a brand-centered revolution. His ‘virtual’ is little more than on-line shopping, and knowledge and culture are significant to the extent they enter into the meaning a brand attaches to things and which, he says, is “increasingly responsible for its value”. As opposed to tangible assets, brands derive their value through cultural, non-measurable assemblages of consumer-oriented meanings. Brands are thus dynamic interfaces, means whereby corporation and individual touch, through which flows a traffic of ‘meaning-value’ between producer and consumer. The effects and affects of brands span the psycho-social field: “any single moment of interaction with a brand operates in a personal, ethical, social, emotional and cultural context”. The result is a cascade of subjectivities, an experiential/phenomenological span of identity formations, what he calls a “meaning chain”, that brands are able to mobilize:

 

SLIDE 4 KIRK’S MEANING CHAIN DIAGRAM

 

SLIDE 5 MEANING CHAIN OF I’S

I create meaning

I encapsulate my identity and aspirations

I reinforce my beliefs and value system

I relate this to other sources of meaning in my life

I establish my tribal identity

I operate within an emotional context

I connect to a deeply-held cultural myth or ideology

 

What kind of entity or process is a brand? In Brands: the Logos of the Global Economy, Sociologist Celia Lury articulates several interlocking characterizations. As an abstract object “A brand”, she says, “is the dynamic unity of the organization of relations between products in time”(5). Brands function as market cultural forms, “modalities of economic power”, that perform as media, in the “production of difference, sensation and intensivity” (10). Brands “mediate the supply and demand for products through the organization, co-ordination and integration of information” (4). A brand is finally an agent of economic reconfiguration, “a device for calibrating the market”(5) alternative to that of price. Thus, beyond its obvious reference to the signs and badges – logos — marking brands, Lury’s title refers, more fundamentally, to the logos of global capitalism, the “kind of thought or rationality that organizes the economy”. Brands are a form of value-money in that they “introduce qualitative intensivity into the extensive but limited rationality of a conventional market economy.” (5,6) They represent, in other words, a departure from a quantitative economic order dominated by price toward one where a circulation of psycho-cultural, qualitative effects plays an increasing role; an economic order amenable perhaps to what Latour and Lepinay, describe as Gabriel Tarde’s “Science of Passionate Interests”

 

For Douglas Holt in How Brands Become Iconic, the intensivity of brand-originated emotionality, its production of qualitative value, is most powerfully present when brands “come to represent a particular kind of story – an identity myth – that their consumers use to address identity desires and anxieties.”, which at their deepest level are myths that “address acute contradictions in society” (6). Brands that achieve this become cultural icons, examples include Coca Cola, Zippo lighters, the Statue of Liberty, Disney, Superman, Al Qaida, and of course Harvard university. Brands are intangible assets that mediate intangibles – auras, subjectivities, mythical identifications, imaginaries, dreams – paxkaged affect for their user-adherents to consume and construct selves. “Affect”, as has been observed, “is a dominant modality of power in the contemporary social formation referred to as ‘the society of control’” (Best 60). In Empire, Hardt and Negri observe that “Immaterial labor is the hegemonic form of labor today”. (page) Correlatively, brands, which dominate the commoditization of experiences and services, are the hegemonic form of value consumption today. Intangible value, then, consumed by immaterial labor: a deal made in neoliberal heaven.

 

2   Media – machines of virtualization

But consumption value aside, surely all media generate effects of intangibility and immateriality in relation to their object. Mediated X, is something not an X, as Pierce would say, but which has the form of relation to X. In the passage from X (a verbal utterance, a visual scene, a musical sound, a gesture, a series of movements, a self) to mediated X (an alphabetic inscription, a photograph, a recording, a film, an avatar) there is, along with other vectors, an alteration of material presence and tangibility; a re-embodiment from X to its mediated form that is at the center of the psychic and cultural territory the medium presides over.

 

What is a medium’s territory? Is it produced by the medium, brought into being by it, or a space that pre-exists it? What, in any case, do media do? What are they capable of? WJT Mitchell and Mark Hansen begin their editorial introduction to Critical Terms for Media Studies with media archeologist and theoretician, Freidrich Kittler’s famous assertion “Media determine our situation”. (vii) They parse the claim packed into this gnomic utterance as follows “media form the infrastructural basis, the quasi-transcendental condition, for experience and understanding”. For the media of speech and writing, the claim that they have constituted an infrastructural basis for understanding and cultural experience would be widely accepted. They see its extension to electronic media as the key issue framing the contemporary status of media and mediation. They end, after an appropriate re-reading of Marshall McLuhan’s mediology, by returning to the totalizing spirit of Kittler’s pronouncement with a gnomic utterance of their own. “Rather than determining our situation, we might say that media are our situation. “ (xxii) An utterance that evokes Alfred North Whitehead’s “the world as medium”, a maxim that enshrines his ontological principle that “there is nothing that floats into the world from nowhere.” (Quoted Shaviro 16), and which re-occurs inside Deleuze’s apothegm “The world does not exist outside of its expressions” (Quoted Massumi xiii). In view of the fact that “expression” is Deleuze’s substitute for “communication”, what we have here is an ontological understanding of “media” as constitutive of ‘rreality’, not merely as ‘molding’ or substantially affecting what they apparently only transmit, but more radically as bringing their ‘content’ into active being. Ultimately, it is this expressive understanding of mediation, as a means of difference creation, that is embraced here.

 

But how, as Mitchell and Hansen put it, might media be our situation? We are undoubtedly immersed, enmeshed in electronic mediation, recursively auto-mediated in a virtualized universe, continually intersected by things virtual. Contemporary digital mediation is evidently the source and technological means of the expanding universe of virtuality conditioning psychic life. A universe of virtual X: virtual reality, virtual war, virtual spaces and worlds; virtual life-forms, virtual life, environments, classrooms, museums; virtual memory, virtual presence, virtual keyboards, machines, images, molecules and particles; virtual sex, money, shopping, and so on, with X ranging across the pre-digital landscape of things and beings. In common parlance, virtual X or virtually X is X but not quite, not completely, it’s ‘X for all practical purposes’; a pragmatic, functionalist understanding, which Charles Peirce abstracted into a formula: “A virtual X (where X is a common noun)”, he wrote in a 1902 encyclopedia entry, “is something not an X, which has the efficiency (virtus) of an X. This”, he continues, “is the proper meaning of the word, but it has been seriously confounded with ‘potential’, which is almost its contrary. For the potential X is of the nature of X, but without its actual efficiency.” He gives an example from dynamics: “A virtual velocity is something not a velocity, but a displacement; but it is equivalent to a velocity in the formula ‘what is gained in velocity is lost in power’.“ Other examples: Edmund Burke’s notion of virtual representation of the American Colonies in the British Parliament; Milton’s question as to whether angels have virtual or immediate touch.

 

Plainly, Peirce’s formula captures contemporary usage, provided that the virtus (the function or capacity involved) is interpreted appropriately. For example, X might be a computer keyboard. My iPad offers a virtual X, a touch-sensitive Qwerty overlay on the screen which appears whenever an alphanumeric input — the function in question — is required. In this case, virtuality is doubled, since the X is already a virtualization of a prior object, the pre-electronic mechanical typewriter keyboard. What sort of vector is

virtualization? I’ll return to that question shortly, but first a brief philosophical excursus regarding the ‘virtual’.

 

A contemporary philosophical discourse of virtuality, quite different from Pierce’s, is due to Gilles Deleuze. Building on Pierce’s contemporary Henri Bergson’s concept of the temporal virtual – duree — and citing on several occasions a formulation of Marcel Proust (another contemporary) which he never departs from, Deleuze insists: “Exactly what Proust said of states of resonance must be said of the virtual: ‘Real without being actual, ideal without being abstract’”, to which he adds, “and symbolic without being fictional.” Deleuze understands reality as a single, self-differing becoming comprised of two distinct, separated, but mutually entangled and co-existent orders: the actual and the virtual. Bodies, sensations, the course of affairs actualize the virtual and the virtual inheres in and is the source of all that is actual. The virtual is not actual but it is unquestionably real: “The virtual must be defined as strictly a part of the real object – as though the object had one part of itself in the virtual into which it is plunged as though into an objective dimension.” (Difference and Repetition 208-9)

 

Immediately one must ask : how might Pierce’s adjectival-pragmatic virtual X and Deleuze’s substantive-ontological version — the virtual — be reconciled? The question, however, is beside the point, since the interest here is not actualization, not Deleuze’s vector of different/ciation from the virtual to the actual, but an opposite arrow to virtualization: the passage, that is, from an actual X to a mediated form of X which, though undoubtedly actual, is designated (at odds with Deleuze’s usage) as ‘virtual’.[i] note

In any event, the world of virtuals surrounding us is the work of electronic mediation. But is there an understanding of virtual X, other than the contemporary electronic one? The answer, I suggest, is yes, the virtual is ancient, more so perhaps that one imagines, and along with it so is the intangible. I shall illustrate what I mean in the form of a ghost story, a story of media ghosts. Ghosts, ghost effects, whatever they are and however their presence is sensed, are certainly a species of intangibles.

 

3   Ghosts, Ghost effects

Implicit in the identity formations mentioned earlier in relation to brands – from ‘I create meaning’ to ‘I connect to a deeply-held cultural myth or ideology’ – is the I itself, the fundamental indexical gesture of self-enunciation, self-reference, self-pointing. A gesture that is never independent of the means – the media apparatus of self-enunciation — of its performance: the self indexed by I is neither prior to nor independent of the indicating medium. On the contrary, the self arrives with the medium, effected and affected by it: the I, in other words, is always medium specific. Self-enunciation is a reflective act in which the medium folds back onto its user, pointing to the one who points. Subject and object fuse and create an interior space in the self, a fold of subjectivity, of affect, of consciousness. Consequently, there are different modes of consciousness, as many different Is and interiorities, as there are media which permit an act of self-enunciation: a gesturo-haptic I, the I of speech, a written I; dance, film, music, and theatre Is, digitally mediated Is, and so on. And since ghosts, ghost effects arise, as we shall see, with the virtualization of identities, there is in principle a variety of such beings and/or their effects.[ii] note

 

Ghosts? “We’re living in a supernatural world […] we’re surrounded by ghosts.”, observes Jennifer Egan in The Keep, a novel of the contemporary digital which appropriately features its own ghost: one character is revealed to be ghost-written by another figure in the novel. If indeed ghosts — ghost effects — are everywhere, why is that? How and what are ghosts? Immaterial presences inhabiting human consciousness? Disembodied apparitions and sensings of dead people, specters like Hamlet’s father; spirit entities from the afterlife; phantasms of events, ideas, and persons improperly buried, which return to haunt the living with their demands and grievances, in short, revenants. Certainly, such creatures from the past are what the term invokes, but they by no means exhaust the category. There are also prevenants, visitations of/from the future, which make their appearance through dreams, premonitions, forebodings; ghost effects which emanate from the un-yet and the might-be of the future, intimations of death and fantasies of a heavenly after-life, ‘cities haunted by the shadow of cholera’, and so on. And there others, ghosts outside human temporality, not ghosts of those who once were or will be, but self-identical entities, a-temporal presences – spirits, angels, gods and their branded, long-institutionalized forms – such as Jahweh, God the father, the Holy Ghost, Allah. Where do these and the ghosts, ghost effects, that surround us come from?

 

SLIDE 6

DERRIDA — GHOST OF A GHOST (from “film “Ghost Dance”)

 

First let me note that ghost effects are not necessarily ‘the effects of a ghost’, of a priorly existing being, rather the reverse: the effects — subjectivities and affects — identified as a ‘ghostly’ experiences are the basis for ghosts. This brackets the issue of ontology, the belief as to whether a ghost-being exists to whom these effects belong. The question, evidently outside mediation as such, is contingent on the socio-religio-historical context, the metaphysical worldview, and cultural institutions of those who experience them, which determine whether the effects will be ascribed or imputed to a ghost-being outside of time, as has been the case with Jahweh, Allah, and God the Father within the religions of the book. Absent such imputations, one will have ghost effects with no ghosts behind them; “Subjectivities without subjects” (Althusser) or “Subject-less subjectivities” (Deleuze) and similar formulas de-constructing the Cartesian ‘Subject’. Effects, then, without effectors: a subjective version of what Nietzsche insisted — that one should not posit a doer behind every deed. For ghosts, Samuel Taylor Coleridge seems to have got subjective effects without effectors just right: “A lady once asked me”, he reports. “whether I believed in ghosts. I answered with truth and simplicity: No madam! I have seen far too many myself.” (1809)

 

So, where do ghosts, ghost effects, come from? One answer, I’m suggesting, is that they are facilitations of media, figures and/or effects that emerge when two media couple, when they interact and give rise to a new subjectivity.[iii] note Specifically, when an intermixing of the self-enunciations proper to each medium combine to project an I-formation irreducible to either. My interest here is in a very schematic kind of media coupling, when one medium is a precursor to a second understood as its virtualization. Three instances of such couplings stand out, The contemporary engagement with electronic media, of which more later, and two prior couplings, gesture/speech and speech/writing, each of which initiates and presides over an entire medial era.

 

4   Ghost of alphabetic writing

First coupling: speech’s encounter with writing, that is, speech understood as precursor medium to that of alphabetic inscription. Writing virtualizes speech through an assemblage of vectors: speech at a distance; speech across time; speech detached from the person, affect and context of utterance; speech de-located; speech mobilized. Above all, speech de-corporealized, dis-associated from its voice. Writing knows nothing of the body, of the body’s presence, its agency, in speech, witnessed in the vocal gestures of utterance; in a word it knows nothing of the voice’s tone or prosody: the intonation, musicality, emphases, rhythms, volume, pitch, pauses, gaps, hesitations, elisions, and other corporeal dynamics of spoken utterance. The alphabet has no means of notating these signifying/affective gestures of speech. If this corporeal deficit of writing is ignored, if one conflates speech and inscription, utterance and sentence, the said and the written, a space is opened up in which it becomes possible to imagine a being, an agent, an initiator of activity, for whom the actual and the virtual, the saying and the writing of I, would be indistinguishable.

 

In 6th century BC Babylon, Israelite priests sewing together disparate texts that would become the Five Books of Moses, inaugurated such an entity — the mono-being Jahweh, who appears to Moses as a flash of fire and a cryptic formula of self-enunciation: “I am that I am”. This Biblical rendering of Aramaic “Ehyeh aher ehyeh”, has also been translated as “I am the existent one, the one who goes on being”, a version suggesting that writing, which offers permanence beyond evanescent, mortal speech, is already present in the enunciation. Then, asked how he is to be named to the Israelites, the Being answers: “Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I am hath sent you”. The sense here that naming and asserting, as well as writing and speaking, are fused is made explicit on Sinai when Moses receives the covenant from Jahweh: the commandments which begin with “I am”. They are delivered twice. First the mono-being inscribes the commandments “… two tablets of stone, written with the finger of God” (Exodus 32:16), then, a few verses later, he dictates – speaks – them: “And the lord said unto Moses: write thou these words …” (34:27). For Jahweh, revealed and knowable only through a text, which both he and Moses wrote, no difference exists between the spoken and written I. Put differently, Jahweh is an ontologically doubled being, a hybrid agency fusing an embodied speaking I and the floating, disembodied I of writing. Jahweh’s voice is the toneless speech of writing – the voice of an invisible, disembodied presence.

 

Jahweh is a theologized external being. An internal correlate is the Greek disembodied psyche, the interior mind-ghost agent of written thought. The Greek version emerges when self-enunciation is staged – first in the post-religious form of theatrical performance of a text and then in the form of a staged philosophical dialogue. Since then theatre has become a medium in its own right and has, from its inception, been a potent source of ghosts, but that is a whole other story. Intrinsic to writing is the temporal ghosting of speech per se, the uncanny effect of the medium’s ability to store and ventriloquize into living speech a long gone utterance silently inhabiting a scroll or a codex. A ghost effect that survives at the center of their religions, witnessed in the holy, sacred status of the Bible and the Koran which, their adherents say, contain the living voice of God, of Allah.[iv] note

 

Millennia later, an electro-mechanical descendent of this ventriloquism was transferred, courtesy of the medium of telegraphy, to the dead. Real-time telegraphic communication with remote, invisible persons begat real time communication through a human medium: remote, invisible ghosts of dead persons communicating ‘telegraphically’ by Morse-code like taps. Thus was spawned the first technologically facilitated ghost-religion of the modern era. Of course, the ghosts of telegraphy re-instituted and rode on the back of writing’s originating ghost, allowing the medium’s first message, “What hath God wrought?” (Sconce 2000) to pose the question of its own future and attribute its origin to the ghost Being of the very medium it was virtualizing.

 

5   Ghost of speech

But before writing there were other ghosts, imagined presences – beings or agents — that came with speech as part of a vastly more ancient encounter: the coupling of hominid gesturo-hapticity with speech, out of which the ghost of language itself emerged. Here, the gestural medium, locus of embodied a-linguistic thought, is the precursor medium and speech its virtualization. As with speech, the vectors of virtualization dis-associate, displace, and de-corporealize their object. Utterance is gesture at a distance, gesture displaced from the visible, tactile surface of the body, gesture re-embodied, and transduced in virtual form as voice. Tone of voice, then, as a virtualization of touch. Again, two distinct Is come into contact: an a-linguistic, gestured self-enunciation – briefly a Me — and the spoken I which virtualizes it. One can narrate this opening of gesture to language on the level of psycho-genesis — the infant’s entry into human speech — or phylo-genesis, the evolution of language from its proto-human gesturo-haptic matrix.

 

Several theories understand language as evolving out of gesture. Notable here is the neuro-biological account Terrence Deacon advances in The Symbolic Species: the Co-evolution of Language and the Brain. According to this, and I simplify a complex process, symbolic reference evolves over innumerable generations epigenetically, out of a web of iconic and indexical reference through a Baldwinian process of bio-cultural feedback, culminating in words as virtual – symbolic — gestures. In this the pre-linguistic, gesturo-haptic Me, encounters its virtual form, the spoken symbolic I. An experience, of doubling, Deacon suggests, which might be responsible for the psychological salience of ghost-like entities: “The symbolic representation of self provides a perspective on that curious human intuition that our minds are independent of our bodies; an intuition translated into beliefs about disembodied spirits and souls that persist beyond death.” (1997:454) In other words, the ghost of language enters human consciousness with the saying of I, in the guise of an immortal – or at least disembodied – double of ourselves.

 

One might observe a psycho-genetic version/replay of this. The human infant’s entry into spoken self-enunciation is not immediate with speech. Infants, though able to speak and understand – to be inside — language, do not attain the capacity to utter I correctly, that is, to understand or properly distinguish their pre-speech Me from the spoken I, until a significant period of language development has taken place. There is thus a period of Me/I overlap and confusion in which, one can conjecture, the co-presence of the two Is, lays the psychological ground for future ghost affects.[v] note

 

 

6   Effects of electronic mediation

But let me leave hominid and infant ghost effects and return to our contemporary media situation: a world long presided over by alphabetic writing now confronting electronic mediation. A confrontation that is misconceived if the alphabetic text is understood as an inert and transparent conveyance of thought through words. On the contrary, like all media, it transforms/creates what it offers as merely transmitted, folding its characteristics and lettered logic not only into its ‘messages’, but into the selves, subjectivities and cognition of its users. “At least since the middle ages”, Illich and Sanders remark in The Alphabetization of the Popular Mind, “one cannot avoid being described, identified, certified and handled like a text. Even in reaching out to become one’s own ‘self’, one reaches out for a text.” (page?). We are lettered selves, then, alphabetically mediated Is, constructed through iterated reading/writing practices that articulate, describe, characterize, project and stabilize us as scripted – fixed, bounded, and unitary — psychic objects. As such we have repeatedly re-inscribed and made ourselves amenable to the ghost effects of alphabetic writing. But not, at least not in the same way, for much longer.

 

Since now, these lettered psyches are engaged in an ongoing encounter with the virtualizing forces of digital media. An encounter creating selves and identities shaped by the demands and facilitations of electronic technologies differing radically from their alphabetic forebears. Selves de-interiorized, de-integrated, ever more exogenous, their ‘interiors’ traversed by a ubiquitous computational exterior, conditioned by technologies of tele-presence and tele-agency, within a spatio-temporal regime of instantaneous flows of action, perception, and affection at a distance, which allows any two events to assume a planetary proximity. In short, a dynamic, logic, and topology of psychic activity outside the orbit of our unified, pre-electronic written selves and the long established text-oriented protocols of understanding and knowledge appropriate to them. One might see this encounter with their virtual incarnations as a ghosting in which our alphabetic selves makes contact with, enter a relation to, the digital outside of themselves, an affect/effect I’ve called elsewhere, ‘becoming beside oneself’, beside one self; a subjectivity of co-habitation and co-presence which in reified form appears as an electronic pre-ghost of one’s mortal self.

 

The modes of digital self-enunciation, unlike those of speech and alphabetic writing, are inherently multiple, multiply interconnected, projecting a multiplicity of localized virtual Is, a heterogeneous range of self-projections and declarations — digital signatures, self-branding websites, a variety of presence-effects, auto-bio-medial art practices, video self-portraits, and different species of avatars, the most widely implemented of which are the ludic, interactive forms in arenas such as Second Life and World of Warcraft. In essence these avatars are electronic puppets, virtual selves who/which perform movements, enact narratives and interact with a shifting population of others. In thus mediating/expressing her body’s movements into those of her puppet, the puppeteer acquires a psychic presence, an electronically proprioceptive virtual body, allowing her to enter an on-line arena and experience a desired — willed, perhaps uncanny, certainly ineffable – subjectivity, the ghost effect of exerting a psychic presence inside a virtual world.[vi]

 

SLIDE 7

CURSOR AS AVATAR OF THE HAND

 

There are other avatars and contemporary ghost effects. I’ll mention one. In Things to Do in Cyberspace When You’re Dead, Rob Walker offers a pop ethnography of a scene of commoditized ghosts in which the capturing of identities is an “exciting and also terrifying” (30) possibility, “a kind of immortality, a digital echo of the lives we lived”, formed from an ongoing “database of personal reflections captured in video, image, audio and documents about yourself that can be saved, searched, downloaded and shared with friends.” (37). An immortal ghost self, in other words, for you, not yet dead, to create. For a fee you can personalize your ghost-avatar with your own voice, gestures, and identifying characteristics, offering an eternal life, or at least one that lasts for as long the fee ensures that it survives, securely archived, with its all its legal rights and agencies safeguarded. The phenomenon is evidently a digital replay of what occurred at the advent of writing. An electronic virtualization, in other words, of epitaphs, memoirs, life-stories, and prolongations of agency through wills and testaments – speech beyond the grave — that writing delivered. And being new to us, such virtual presences might indeed resonate with ideas of perpetuity and the terror-excitement of immortality which writing provoked.

To conclude and return to touch and un-touch at the heart of all these mediated ghost effects, puppets, tele-presences, and virtual agencies. Implicit in the formulation of such concepts, is always a material interface through which touch is realized as an embodied activity. A body, as I’ve tried to indicate, for which touch is re-mediated outward from gesture, to speech, to writing, to its contemporary electronic forms of con-tact; and pre-mediated inwards from gesture, to internal self-touch, to proprioception, to the brain’s innumerable relations of con-tact with itself. The domain of tangibility, then, is traversed by a recursive network of virtual/actual differences, alternations of touch/un-touch that reaches upwards to the electronic network and down to the biological cell.

References

Best, Beverley 2011. “’Frederic Jameson Notwithstanding’ The Dialectic of Affect”, Rethinking Marxism. 23 (1), 60-81.

 

Boellstorff, Tom 2008. Coming of Age in Second Life: An Anthropologist Explores the Virtually Human, Princeton: Princeton U. Press

 

Coleridge, Samuel Taylor 1809. The Friend. Volume I, Essay III

 

Deacon, Terrence 1997. The Symbolic Species: the Co-evolution of Language and the Brain. New York: Norton.

 

Egan, Jennifer 2006. The Keep. New York: Knopf, 2006

 

Fauconnier, Gilles and Turner, Mark 2002. The Way We Think Now: Conceptual Blending and the Mind’s Hidden Complexities, New York: Basic Books.

 

Hillis, Ken 2009. Online a Lot of the Time: Ritual, Fetish, Sign, Duke U. Press, Durham, NC.

 

Holt, Douglas 2004. How Brands Become Icons: The Principles of Cultural Branding, Harvard Business School Press: Boston, Mass.

 

Illich, Ivan and Sanders, Barry 1988. A B C : the alphabetization of the popular mind. North Point Press: San Fransisco.

 

Kirk, Ian [accessed] 2010. Creating, allaboutbranding.com

 

Lury, Celia 2004. Brands, The Logos of Global Capitalism, Routledge: London.

 

Massumi, Brian 2010. Introduction to the Chinese translation of Deleuze and Guattari’s 1000 Plateaus xxxxxxx

 

Mitchell, WJT and Hanson, Mark (Editors) 2010. Critical Terms for Media Studies, U. of Chicago Press: Chicago.

 

Peirce, Charles 1902. Baldwin’s Dictionary of Philosophy and Psychology, ed. James Mark, “Virtual”, New York: Macmillan.

Sconce, Jeffe 2000. Haunted Media: Electronic Presence from Telegraphy to Television. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

 

Shaviro, Steven. The Universe of Things

http://www.shaviro.com/Othertexts/Things.pdf

 

Stern, Daniel 1985. The Interpersonal World of the Infant: a view from Psychoanalysis and Developmental Psychology, New York: Basic Books.

 

Walker, Rob 2011. Things to Do in Cyberspace when You’re Dead, New York Times magazine, January 9.

 

 

[i] How reconcile the ubiquitous adjectival formulation — virtual X — with the substantive, ‘the virtual’? Certainly, in its contemporary usage virtuality carries no absolute sense, it’s always relative, we call a thing ‘virtual’, we attribute virtuality to it, against something – X — not felt or perceived to be so. Moreover, to complicate matters, the ‘things’ we call virtual are undoubtedly actual. Thus, to take a banal, un-philosophical example, if X is shopping in its customary sense, then virtual X is another actuality, a new form of – digital, on-line, electronic — shopping. We might accommodate this relative sense of virtuality — virtual X in the face of X — to the Deleuzian virtual by seeing virtual X as the result of reverse engineering or retro-actualization, Thus, we start from the fact that X, shopping in its customary sense, is already, on a Deleuzean account, an actualization of a virtual event E, an event comprising, in this case, a multiplicity of virtual relations, intensities, and singularities – tendencies and so on pertaining to ‘exchange’, ‘choice’, ‘acquisition’, ‘goods’, ‘worth’, ‘bodies’, ‘a store’, ‘payment’, and so on. But it is possible de-actualize X, to return from X to the event E and through a new determination, a re-differenciation — omitting some of the relations and singularities within E, retaining others with different intensities and speeds – re-actualize E as virtual shopping. But then the question arises: what makes us ascribe virtuality to the re-actualized form, why do we call it ‘virtual’ when, at least from the perspective of Deleuze’s ontology, as an actual process, a state of affairs, it is not virtual at all, certainly no more and no less virtual than X? One answer might be to understand the feeling of virtuality attributed to Virtual X – the affective ground for calling it virtual — as an effect of its co-presence with X. That is, the virtual event E, their common source, necessarily evoked in the juxtaposed presence of X and its re-engineered form – able to be apprehended in a way not possible in the presence of X alone — allows the re-actualized form of shopping to feel (at least until it is naturalized as simply ‘shopping’) and be designated as not quite real, as ‘virtual’. From the Proust-Deleuze formula, the apprehension of virtuality is this sensing of E as an interference or resonance between the two actualities.

 

[ii] From a cognitive science point of view such as that of Fauconnier and Turner, ghosts emerging from a coming together of two sites of self-enunciation, would be a predictable instance of a general mechanism of ‘blending’, whereby two conceptual domains give rise – by means of a systematic procedure – to a third concept with emergent new properties.

 

[iii] The literature of contemporary physics offers a scattering of varyingly ‘unphysical’ ghosts and ghost effects: “The Ghost-Gluon Vertex in Landau Gauge Yang-Mills Theory.”; “Besides the ordinary Faddeev-Popov ghosts, an extra ghost is needed to remove the effects of unphysical modes.”; “Ghost orbits — complex predecessors of orbits created in the bifurcation [of this sort] can produce clear signatures in the semiclassical spectra”; “ghost condensate — an excitation of a field with a wrong sign of the kinetic term, acquires a vacuum expectation value, equivalently a Ghost field – a scalar field with negative kinetic energy.”; Ghost-free gravity – action without ghosts or tachyons.

 

 

[iv] Mathematics, a species of non-alphabetic writing, has for its ghost an incorporeal agent, a being able to count, to enumerate for ever, in the sense of being able to occupy successively every position in an infinite set (of integers), where, by ‘infinite’ , mathematicians mean a set which can be put into one-one correspondence with a proper subset of itself; a property no initial segment of the integers, however extended, possesses. See BR Ad Infinitum for an elaboration of the semiotic context of such an ‘incorporeal’ Agent, understood in terms of a relation to the embodied sign-using mathematician-Subject and to the natural language Person outside the mathematical code for whom the Agent is thought-experimental puppet, a virtual proxy

 

[v] What I’m calling the Me here is a gross simplification; it lumps together the sequence of selves (and their forms off enunciation) during infancy elaborated by Daniel Stern (1985). The sequence – emergent self, core self, subjective self – that precedes the verbal self of speech are not stages, like Freud’s oral, anal, genital stages of sexuality, Stern emphasizes, but co-existent domains which, though each ‘prepares’ for its successor, continue to operate according to its own autonomous logic after the onset of speech.

 

 

[vi] In his (2009) Ken Hillis understands avatars as hybrids, on-line analogues of a stylistic device of literature, used in European novels from the 19th century, namely free indirect speech. In this, the distinction between the voice of an omniscient narrator and that of the character being narrated, is elided, resulting in a third or middle voice, “that of neither the author nor the character yet somehow both at once.” (152).. When this occurs the two Is momentarily fuse: the omniscient narrator ‘coincides’ with his textual fiction. Infamously so in the case of author-narrator Gustave Flaubert, who manifested an apparent ghost fusion with his heroine — Madame Bovary, c’est moi. The puppeteer becomes the site of two Is, her user-I indexing her embodied presence-agency this side of the screen, and the electronic-I presence-agency of her puppet on the other side. The situation: a precursor mediated I and its virtualization as the site of ghost effects is by now familiar. Hillis does not use the vocabulary of ghosts, but articulates the phenomenon through the concept of a telefetish, a “virtual object operating as a digital trace that exceeds the meaning of representation yet nevertheless remains wholly reliant on pixilation and the codes that underlie it.” (81).

In his (2008) Tom Boellstorff offers a more broadly contextualized anthropology of virtual selves, persons, lives, and (electronically) embodied presences. Under the aegis of “The age of techne” he both discusses the contemporary features of the political economy of Second Life as well as concluding (as I do here) that “virtual worlds highlight the virtuality that has always been part of the human condition.” (238)

 

[2] From a cognitive science point of view such as that of Fauconnier and Turner, ghosts emerging from a coming together of two sites of self-enunciation, would be a predictable instance of a general mechanism of ‘blending’, whereby two conceptual domains give rise – by means of a systematic procedure – to a third concept with emergent new properties.

[3] The literature of contemporary physics offers a scattering of varyingly ‘unphysical’ ghosts and ghost effects: “The Ghost-Gluon Vertex in Landau Gauge Yang-Mills Theory.”; “Besides the ordinary Faddeev-Popov ghosts, an extra ghost is needed to remove the effects of unphysical modes.”; “Ghost orbits — complex predecessors of orbits created in the bifurcation [of this sort] can produce clear signatures in the semiclassical spectra”; “ghost condensate — an excitation of a field with a wrong sign of the kinetic term, acquires a vacuum expectation value, equivalently a Ghost field – a scalar field with negative kinetic energy.”; Ghost-free gravity – action without ghosts or tachyons.

 

 

[4] Mathematics, a species of non-alphabetic writing, has for its ghost an incorporeal agent, a being able to count, to enumerate for ever, in the sense of being able to occupy successively every position in an infinite set (of integers), where, by ‘infinite’ , mathematicians mean a set which can be put into one-one correspondence with a proper subset of itself; a property no initial segment of the integers, however extended, possesses. See BR Ad Infinitum for an elaboration of the semiotic context of such an ‘incorporeal’ Agent, understood in terms of a relation to the embodied sign-using mathematician-Subject and to the natural language Person outside the mathematical code for whom the Agent is thought-experimental puppet, a virtual proxy

 

[5] What I’m calling the Me here is a gross simplification; it lumps together the sequence of selves (and their forms off enunciation) during infancy elaborated by Daniel Stern (1985). The sequence – emergent self, core self, subjective self – that precedes the verbal self of speech are not stages, like Freud’s oral, anal, genital stages of sexuality, Stern emphasizes, but co-existent domains which, though each ‘prepares’ for its successor, continue to operate according to its own autonomous logic after the onset of speech.

 

 

[6] In his (2009) Ken Hillis understands avatars as hybrids, on-line analogues of a stylistic device of literature, used in European novels from the 19th century, namely free indirect speech. In this, the distinction between the voice of an omniscient narrator and that of the character being narrated, is elided, resulting in a third or middle voice, “that of neither the author nor the character yet somehow both at once.” (152).. When this occurs the two Is momentarily fuse: the omniscient narrator ‘coincides’ with his textual fiction. Infamously so in the case of author-narrator Gustave Flaubert, who manifested an apparent ghost fusion with his heroine — Madame Bovary, c’est moi. The puppeteer becomes the site of two Is, her user-I indexing her embodied presence-agency this side of the screen, and the electronic-I presence-agency of her puppet on the other side. The situation: a precursor mediated I and its virtualization as the site of ghost effects is by now familiar. Hillis does not use the vocabulary of ghosts, but articulates the phenomenon through the concept of a telefetish, a “virtual object operating as a digital trace that exceeds the meaning of representation yet nevertheless remains wholly reliant on pixilation and the codes that underlie it.” (81).

 

In his (2008) Tom Boellstorff offers a more broadly contextualized anthropology of virtual selves, persons, lives, and (electronically) embodied presences. Under the aegis of “The age of techne” he both discusses the contemporary features of the political economy of Second Life as well as concluding (as I do here) that “virtual worlds highlight the virtuality that has always been part of the human condition.” (238)