suspicious models of vision: invisible and anonymous

Like H.G. Wells’s The Invisible Man where a scientist discovers a means of making himself invisible, and in the process becomes an insane murderer. Invisibility. Anonymity. Walter Benjamin insisted on the fundamental invisibility of the crowd in Baudelaire’s poetry of the urban “flaneur”; a model of vision based on invisibilty. On seeing without being seen. Invisible through the idea of culture as a value. A presence amid a crowd must go unperceived, while perception must dominate it. And what of our lives increasingly controlled by invisible software systems….

---Candaules, King of Lydia, Shows his Wife by Stealth to Gyges, One of his Ministers, As She Goes to Bed by William Etty. This image illustrates Herodotus's version of the tale of Gyges (as told by Herodotus, Gyges watched the naked queen secretly, but is seen by her as he is sneaking out of concealment).--- Read More:

From an article by Andrew Potter:

… I argued that the simplest explanation was that rioting is just great fun. I don’t see much going on in London that inclines me to change that analysis in any significant way,….

…What all this demonstrates, I think, is that in any society, at any given time, there is a certain number of people, mostly young men, who would gladly engage in criminal behviour with very little prompting. What they face is the same problem that confronts rioters and criminals alike: it is a coordination problem. Just as guys who want to riot for fun have difficulty finding a critical mass of fellow rioters, criminals have a hard time identifying and coordinating their behaviour with other criminals.

---Seeing a pair of glasses floating by themselves or a door opening seemingly of its own volition enters the realm of what is considered outside the bounds of the natural. And while the thought of The Invisible Man (Claude Rains) that could sneak up and take out anyone without seeing him come, is disturbing, in execution, the idea gets undermined but some bizarre and irrational logic. The entire plan that The Invisible Man devises as the film develops is obtuse, impractical and corny. Yes, the plan makes no sense because he is slowly descending into madness, but it makes whatever malice and dread he had before dissipate as he becomes goofy, even though his plans are dastardly.--- Read More:

That is why there is such a thing as organised crime. And that is why organised crime resembles the family or the state in so many ways: For much of human existence, the family and the state have been the most effective mechanisms for solving coordination problems amongst self-interested individuals.

Social networking, especially BlackBerry Messenger, provides a simple way of solving the coordination problem. Kids have been organising flashmobs for years now, descending on subways and city centers to have impromptu dance parties or pillow fights. In China, consumers have been using social networking to organise group shopping expeditions, where they descend upon a retailer and use the pressure of 50 to 100 orders to extract deep discounts from the shop owners. It is not a big step from that to having 100 people show up to loot the electronics shops.Read More:

---He returns back to his partner Dr Kemp (William Harrigan) and asks Kemp to assist him in doing murders and stealing money. Kemp is shaken and the Invisible Man continues to shock people. Kemp somehow manages to call their mentor Dr Cranley and his daughter Flora (Gloria Stuart), who is Claude’s fiancée. Flora tries to persuade him, but he refuses to hear her. Kemp also calls the police. Police surround the building and yet he escapes. Before evading he meets Kemp and promises to murder him by 10 pm the next day.--- Read More:

But doesn’t this indicate a deep social malaise? Isn’t there something deeply wrong with a society where so many people are willing to act in a criminal and even violent manner with very little prodding? Well yes, and you can’t discount the role of poverty and especially unemployment. Being unemployed sharply reduces the risks associated with getting caught: If I get caught rioting, I’m probably going to lose my job and my professional reputation. If the local chav on the dole gets caught, what does he have to lose, really? If anything, an ASBO or a spell in prison will increase his status.

But that sort of explanation operates on the margins. At the core of what is really happening in London, as in Vancouver, is the power of social networking tools to provide instant and large-scale anonymity. Who knows what evils lurk in the hearts of men? Plato knew. Or at leas

is mouthpiece, Glaucon, knew. In Book 2 of the Republic, Glaucon tells the story of Gyges of Lydia, who finds a ring that has the power to make in invisible. He uses this power to make his way to the palace where he seduces the queen, and with her help he murders the king. Is Gyges any difference than the man on the Clapham omnibus? Glaucon thinks not:…

---Simply put: The more things in daily life become regulated by software, the less sensually perceivable they are in everyday contact. That they disappear from direct view does not mean however that they are not there. Quite the opposite: immaterial structures that have been laid down in software are, and that is the paradox, at least as equally durable, if not even more effective than material structures and architecture. That the world around us is increasingly programmed, means that rules, conventions and relationships that are fundamentally changeable and negotiable become cast in software.--- Read More: image:

…Suppose now that there were two such magic rings, and the just put on one of them and the unjust the other; no man can be imagined to be of such an iron nature that he would stand fast in justice. No man would keep his hands off what was not his own when he could safely take what he liked out of the market, or go into houses and lie with any one at his pleasure, or kill or release from prison whom he would, and in all respects be like a god among men.

Then the actions of the just would be as the actions of the unjust; they would both come at last to the same point. And this we may truly affirm to be a great proof that a man is just, not willingly or because he thinks that justice is any good to him individually, but of necessity, for wherever any one thinks that he can safely be unjust, there he is unjust. Read More:

---The Great Houdini. He was far from unknown and many visitors had turned up just for his act. Houdini walked straight to the edge of the stage and began: "Ladies and Gentleman! Perhaps you have already heard of the fame and accomplishments of my special guest... Allow me to introduce Jennie, The world's only vanishing elephant!" What happened next became one of the most stunning visual effects ever seen on stage. Read More:

For all men believe in their hearts that injustice is far more profitable to the individual than justice, and he who argues as I have been supposing, will say that they are right. If you could imagine any one obtaining this power of becoming invisible, and never doing any wrong or touching what was another’s, he would be thought by the lookers-on to be a most wretched idiot, although they would praise him to one another’s faces, and keep up appearances with one another from a fear that they too might suffer injustice. –Republic, 360-b-d

Is Glaucon just a cynic? Are most people genuinely just? If you don’t think that merely becoming anonymous has the capacity to suddenly turn someone into an anti-social monster, then you haven’t been reading the comment boards on the websites and blogs run by Maclean’s, the Globe and Mail, the CBC, and so on. Those horrible people writing those nasty things aren’t drooling troglodytes sitting in their parents’ basements; they are your husbands and wives, your colleagues, your doctor and your lawyer and everyone else you know. You want to know what sort of person joins in a riot and trashes their city and loots their neighbour’s shop? Look around you. Or better, look in the mirror. Read More:

Gyges. Jean Leon Gerome. Read More:


The covert disappearance of the world that expresses itself in a silent „standing-in relation-to-one-another“ will be ensured by software. Increasingly, in these performative programme codes, behavioural codes are laid down, as if anchoring them in the subconscious. Graham Harwood thus terms this unseen world, “invisible shadow world of process“. This shadowy world of processing has immediate political consequences for the real and virtual spaces in which we move today, in that they determine what is, as well as what is not possible in these spaces, and mobilize or immobilize their users. However this does not denote a suspension that results from system failure (as in the Dortmund Intel 310 system’s case). Rather, the immobilisations meant are those which are conditional to normal functioning: when the cash machine suddenly stops dispensing money, when an assembly ban is hung over virtual spaces (because the software does not permit the simultaneous
presence of more than four people), when one cannot pass anymore through the security controls of one’s company with one’s chip card, or when upon returning to the states of the Schengen Agreement, one is detained for eighteen hours on the outer border of the EU, because the system identifies the number of the provisional passport as stolen and an international search warrant nearly ends in arrest. RFIDTags5,
with which via radio frequency technology can for example clearly identify goods and be picked up unnoticed at a distance of up to one kilometre, facilitate the compilation of detailed consumer profiles. Already electronic shackles are making prison without walls a reality today.

Gilles Deleuze recognizes in these ubiquitous forms of control an important indicator in today’s “societies of control“. These have superseded the “disciplinary societies” as described by Foucault. In place of enclosures in the “disciplinary societies”, which Deleuze compared to casting moulds, monitoring and modulation have appeared resembling a “self-deforming cast that will continuously change from one moment to the next“.
In this sense one could speak of the present as of a post optical age in which the programme code, that according to Benjamin one could also term post optical unconscious, becomes “Law“.

Walter Benjamin defined the “optical unconscious” as an unconscious visual dimension of the material world that is normally filtered out of
human consciousness and thus remains invisible. “Evidently a different nature opens itself to the camera than opens to the naked eye – if only because an unconsciously penetrated space is substituted for a space consciously explored by man“. This unconsciously penetrated space can through the use of mechanical recording techniques (photography and film: slow motion, magnification) be made visible. In his conception of unconscious optics, Benjamin identifies the possibility of an impersonal, de-psychological unconscious. This approaches the vicinity of “postoptical unconscious“. Now, however with optical recording and playback technology…

…is not possible to see through this post-optical unconscious because it is no longer visually composed. Rather it distinguishes itself through transparency, that is, invisibility. How, in spaces becoming so intangible, can political or artistic action articulate itself? How and where can potential (new) spaces for the political develop in the face of the software-supported disappearance of the world?
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