Signal, Image, Architecture III: The Automatic Present

“I know well enough what time is, provided that nobody asks me; but if am asked what it is, and try to explain, I am baffled.”
                             -St. Augustine, Confessions

This seminar, the last in a series of three, will explore the technical composition of the present. If traditional (orthographic) media established a delay between lived life and its representation—producing both an historical record and an historical consciousness, through and against which the present was understood and experienced—electronic media appear to have eliminated that temporal separation. This apparent elimination lies at the heart of the logic of “real time,” which by its very name suggests its equivalence with the time of lived life. In strictly technical terms, however, the opposite has occurred: what outwardly appears to be an elimination is in fact a displacement and intensification, wherein the delay between the present and its past is displaced beneath the threshold of unaided perception, and reestablished in an electronic elsewhere, so that the present may be composed anew. This technical displacement and recomposition has had dramatic implications, radically altering not only the internal working methods of the design fields (their ways of thinking and making), but also the larger cultural conditions in which those practices hope to meaningfully intervene.

The course readings—drawn from philosophy, media theory, cybernetics, engineering textbooks and manuals, anthropology, and the history of technology—cover a period ranging from the nineteenth century to the present. Taken together, they mean to show that what at first appear to be merely technical issues are in fact political, psychosocial, and ultimately existential conditions, which bear immediately on contemporary life.

The course has no prerequisites, but some foundation in continental philosophy and media theory will be useful. We will be joined by Bruno Latour for one seminar session in October.