Emulated forms of cultural expression & the place of interfaces
markers of the contemporary
'Structure no more subtracts an ‘empirical’ content from a ‘natural’ object than it adds ‘the intelligible’ to it.' - Jaques Alain Milner, Action of the Structure, 1964
It is not a coincidence and indeed a crucial point that Hegel begins his Phenomenology with the critique of immediate sense perception encapsulated in the common word 'this'. While to the person who may be pointing, 'this' may seem to contain all the richness of sensuous experience. Yet what such a perspective takes for granted is the entire structure of language, not merely as a symbolic apparatus but as a means to relate to each-other, explicating uses, sharing common names which make the world intelligible.
In this sense, description comes forth as a privileged expressive apparatus and takes centre stage in the world, as is evident in rudimentary lessons any child learns as well as in the world of art, which in the modern sense ought to be expanded to include contemporary forms of discursive enjoyment - like the video game for instance. Here, it is not difficult to see how the emphasis on descriptive representation itself can assume the function of a drive in the Freudian sense, spurring further developments in hardware and software so as to better enable machines to stimulate, and indeed in some cases improve on the human experience of reality, be it in the football game, which is championed by numerous franchises Fifa and Pes being the most prominent, to comical emulations of everyday life as in the Sims franchise.
There is however, an aspect which can easily be left behind in this will to capture the setting as it were, the texture, sounds and appearance of such environs as a city, a football pitch or the interiors of a home. Narrative, that means via which the human experience of time, as distinct from its enumeration in clocks, can often be neglected - and in some cases disappear entirely, leaving behind an episodic arcade of experiences. instantiations of a drama without the halo of its legacy. This is a lacunae that has been noticed and the insertion of customized commentary in football games, such as the case of matches between derby rivals, seeks to re-introduce elements of the passions which supporters pour into their vociferous chants and songs.
Yet, is this episodic nature of the spectacle in question not symptomatic of modern life - with its breaks, interruptions, the prevalence of commercials on television and radio, as ubiquitous as pop-ups on the internet? Is this scheduling of momentary carnivalesque breaks not suggest a constriction of the forms of expression permitted in the confines of work, domestic life and other such engagements such as electoral politics even, where the final arbiter remains the cast of a ballot - the token granted to a citizen to represent their political preferences, and might I add a most meagre one?
This is not a new problem, and modern society, industrialized, alienated from the seasons, and mores of nature has no natural rhythms to celebrate. Even the day and night cycles easily slots into an allocation of shifts at the desk whose demands, and services, in the extraction of surplus value, for the production of profit for a company never seem to sleep.
What are the dreams then of such a landscape? Here, we find clues, and not promising ones from the art of those societies in the orient which most rapidly and brutally encountered industrialization - Japan. In the texts of Haruki Murakami, you will notice that plot dissolves into semblances, moving from one scene, or should I say sequence, to another - almost like the 2D side scrollers of earlier generations. The depth of characters, a celebrated trait in novels of yesteryears, are appropriated into appearances and affects, such as a troubled sleeper who is viewed from an omniscient (yet never omnipotent) perspective. Such a break into 'interiority' as is were is juxtaposed by the observations of a call center worker from his cubicle. (After Dark).
The epics that this new technological utopia produces ( and it is indeed a utopia at least for industry) are hence far removed from the surface of contemporary history, and are relegated to fantastical locations in imagined universes such as Dungeons and Dragons, Final Fantasy, etc.
This is not to say that earlier genres entirely disappear. The first person espionage game, such as Splinter Cell re-enact the thrillers of yesterears, and it is no coincidence that even its characters were first produced in novels. The same holds in varying extents in sport franchises where the trade of players simulates real markets where a manager has to make decisions keeping in mind things like the club's budget and expectations from the board - an improvement on fantasy football married to monopoly and the consoled simulated of the field.
It is not difficult to see how this sublates itself across platforms, as the mobile phone, console, television, manga, graphic novel and storybook easily borrow, and yes indeed trade, from the vantage of companies, for the rights to represent emblematic universes such as the Tolkein franchise, Starwars and the array of fan fiction and spinoffs such grand designs (dare I say grand narratives?) enable.
The newspaper, becomes a forgotten appendage left in the drawing rooms of 'adults' who no longer seriously require it an any case. It is my observation that watching cable news is today more about gleaning rhetorical positions of anchors who play near archetypal roles, than guided by any real curiosity as to what may be happening in the world, a task best left to experts who are delegated by other representatives who are either elected, nominated, or through enterprise (or other means) - find themselves in positions of privilege.
Here, with the absence of any real storytelling, crime becomes a medium, as in real life, where encounters of a purely human - in all the fallen senses of the world - nature become apparent, and hence serve as raw material to fashion stories about realities which do not fit neatly into the above generic boxes.
Can we not see for example, in Rockstar's Grand Theft Auto Franchise, the marriage between organised crime and dreams of upward mobility which secretly (or perhaps not so secretly) sanction the expansions of unbridled capitalism? The sense of community that is represented there is often the gang, with all its duplicities, sleaze and profanity - a new coming of age ritual as it were for adolescents to taste what the world 'really' is about.
Sentiment, though not indigenous to such a place, at least as witnessed in movies and earlier forms forms of narratorial fiction such as theatre etc, can yet be transplanted into such a setting easily, and the trope of rescuing a damsel in distress serves as a means of entry.
Where do impressions then disappear in a world where hyper-expressivity seems to be the predominant key? Into arthouse cinema to be sure but also in contemporary photography, which often depicts portraits of people, with captions, representing streets and sidewalks, graphitti and masses. The documentary as a form gains in its authorial function when speaking in a political idiom, given that it is allowed a glance at happenings and an analytical lense often denied to politicians themselves who seem to be tapped in an endless debate on reality TV.
Can we, in such situations, not notice a silent exodus - away from such modern carnival fares as it were - to drum circles, niche silver screen shows, a renewal of theatre, and gymnasiums even, not to mention retreats etc which have traditionally filled in the role of an escape from them? For the saturation of a form is merely the marker of its formal limitations having been exhausted. The TV serial, which since the 90's has been the form of domestic fiction readily consumed on mass television has now assumed a staleness which is readily exploited by a stream of sexualized and commercial content on Youtube, Instagram and other sharing platforms which enable individual story tellers to make a marks in confines beyond big production houses, who themselves are gravitating towards Netflix releases and the like.
Here, in the midst of such an itinerary, classical demarcations such as those between news and entertainment disappear, a fact felt at the highest echelons of political office. And traces of resistance to forces of domination, whether they be narratorial, institutional, or even personal may be gleaned in the institution of commentary - which I count my own work to be a contribution to.
There is yet something to be said of the place for formalized critique. Assaulting a position makes really no difference as it shines a spotlight on the perspective in question, be it an abusive anchor, a politician or a common plebeian vandalising public property, the craft lies in being able to historicize it properly, to use a now common Marxist idiom. In fact, discrepancies, whether in fact or style are used as bait - perhaps best seen in the Indian context to attract a critique which is then used as simply a reacting perspective, carrying with it its own viewer or readership who can be tapped into as a potential market.
The culture wars of yesteryears though silent, may have merely retreated underground to ghettoized embargoes which are now represented in divisions which may be linguistic, regional or sexual - each counting on a variant or some predominant national allegory which bears no trace of whatever may have remained of a liberation struggle against colonizer or bourgeois alike. In fact such moments become snapshot periodical pieces which serve as a background to depict a human drama unfolding at the centre, not unlike Enemy At The Gates, where a sniper in Stalingrad has to compromise between the war efforts and a love triangle between a comrade and a woman.
In the menu of these choices, a glitz of light, places, histories etc. The museum of civilization becomes channelized, tailored to preferences, each with their own wing - yet without a floorplan telling you how to get from natural history to technology.
Ergonomics, perhaps the centerpiece of design thinking is hardly a word that is mentioned and becomes entirely subsumed by user interface. And the only form which can generalise such an array of experience remains a commodity. Company forums emerge as sites where some interaction between users and designers transpire, as do expose events hosted by video games giants such as Blizzart and Nintendo, and it is perhaps here that emerging economies, or those caught in the classicisms of the past have most to learn from.
It is not uncommon for example for an app developer releasing a new video game for an android device to post screenshots of the developmental work on Youtube or Twitter seeking suggestions, advice, commentary and criticism, often with contact details provided. Perhaps the possibility of a new bridge between the world of production and the end user, not merely as consumer yet as a constructive participant may emerge if some of these channels are formalized, and indeed Gamicons are already moving strongly towards this.