“There is nothing out there but light,
The would be artist said
As usual just half right. There’s a touch of darkness, everyone knows,
on both sides of both horizons.
Prescribed and unpaintable…”
Charles Wright, “Lives of Artists”
The original inquiry I’m blogging here began where my novel, No Words for Love and Famine, left off: the main character fell between the cracks of words which is silence. She embraced the quiet, apparently to give up writing altogether, while the author took this project in another direction, to another silo: academic philosophy. “Kenny in Infinity; or Why it Takes Popcorn to Make Movies a Sacrament” was the project title.
My premise: Movies in particular and digital media more generally (with rare exceptions) entail only our distal senses – sight and sound – where the objects sensed have no direct physical contact with who is perceiving them. In the olden days of celluloid, if you saw a filmed sequence of food being prepared and served there was actual light hitting actual chemicals that produced physical phenomena, celluloid photos and audio tapes, that were physically handled and glued together. There was some “chain of custody evidence”, to use the legal term, even though was no process to capture the smell of the food, or to allow the viewer to feel or taste the food. (There were experiments to include smell as part of the film-screening experience – more about that later.)
With digital media it’s an act of imagination between filmmaker and audience all the way down. There’s information without any direct experience. The information about the scene is captured as bits and bytes by the camera and audio apparatus, reconfigured, then presented to an audience who reimagines the whole experience. In short: we make all this shit up, the audience in collaboration with the filmmakers, a secondary collaboration because a previous collaboration occurred on the set, sound studio or documentary location where the information is recorded.
A year into my philosophical investigation I changed my mind about the title and the proposition it entails. I became convinced that the proximal senses – touch and taste and smell – work with the more distal senses that movies employ – sight sound and kinesthesia, movement. Our experience is all of one piece.
Now I want to revisit the original premise: The cacophony and the avalanche of images, as much as I love the whole mess of it, is obviously not the same as being there with the proximal and distal senses fully engaged with the thing itself. The media experience is a total experience as well, but it’s a different experience, truncated. We’re missing something – various tastes and smells and textures, although the couch potato senses the soft cushions, the smell and taste of the popcorn. Those sensations are distinct from that object of attention – the media images and sound. That’s a good thing. If the said couch potato, aka audience, is not absorbed by the movie or game it’s probably a bad movie or game, stale popcorn or a lumpy couch.
I can be accused here of nostalgia, this longing for an integrated sensory experience, unmediated. The first time I articulated this, I was trying to explain the concept of unmediated experience to a group of students who were staring above their screens, looking at me with zero comprehension. I decided to offer an example in our immediate environment but everyone’s hair had product in it or was colored, the floor was carpeted with unnatural fibers, the sunlight filtered through glass and fiberglass shades. The food items people pulled out of their backpacks were almost certainly genetically modified if not processed. There wasn’t anything I could use as an example of unmediated experience, so I concluded: We have to go camping.
“This is my body,” Jesus said, taking bread and breaking it. Ancient practices: we should be used to this by now, one thing being something else altogether, so what’s new about digital media?
Marshall McLuhan made at least one good point: “All experience is 100%.” Our online experience, where food has no smell or taste, nevertheless a feast for the eyes, satisfies. It’s the space in between the digital code that fascinates me. I was dissuaded once that there is no ‘nothing’ in code, that code is all there is. I don’t accept that, or at least I want to revisit that now.
There is the code and it creates an experience that is already past by the time we recognize that we are having an experience. The anticipated future is an expectation at best, maybe pure fantasy. The present moment cannot be experienced as ‘present’ before it’s already past. So…. the structure of the present is without structure even as it is present in consciousness (in which is it is past). But we do live. So Kenny slipping out of the specious present, this present that we can’t represent, makes perfect sense.
“Oh no!…” There he goes again.
Please feel free to leave your reflection/comments.