- Anne Friedberg's chapter "The Multiple" from her recent book The Virtual Window: From Alberti to Microsoft
- the related Vectors project also titled 'The Virtual Window"
A representative passage:
If we follow Panofsky's assertion that perspective was "symbolic form"—a way of apprehending the world through a mental apparatus—then the representational postulates of perspective have met their end on the computer screen. And, if we accept Panofsky's further argument that perception is conditioned by representational habits, then our new mode of perception is multiple and fractured. It's "postperspectival"—no longer framed in a single image with fixed centrality; "postcinematic"—no longer projected onto a screen surface as were the camera obscura or magic lantern; "post–televisual"—no longer unidirectional in the model of sender and receiver. (p.194)
Synopsis of the chapter:
In this chapter, Friedberg argues that the "dominant screen practice" consolidated by film—single screen, serial images—is being challenged by an alternative screen practice characterized by multiple, simultaneous, and adjacent images. She admits that this alternative practice is not "new," tracing examples from early film through television, video art, and contemporary media. But, she argues that these examples have, until now, been exceptions, experiments associated with new formats and technical standards. The aesthetic of the "multiple" emerges at what she calls "crossroads" in the history of moving image technology, visible in retrospect as a path repeatedly not taken when new technical possibilities were folded into established aesthetic and narrative modes. For Friedberg, the new centrality of this aesthetic marks a deeper shift that correlates with the rise of digital media, a change in "symbolic form" as a "way of apprehending the world through a mental apparatus."
Friedberg suggests that the aesthetic of the multiple may become dominant because it correlates with, and helps us respond to, an increasingly fractured experience of space and time. As Friedberg takes up the "symbolic form" of the MS "windows" interface, one could feel nostalgic for Crary's camera obscura. Throwing some Sherry Turkle in with her Panofsky, Friedberg claims that the "windows" computer interface splinters, multiplies, and dislocates not only perception but psychological identity, encouraging a multitasking and investment in "elsweheres" that verges on schizophrenia. She sketches a pattern in which technical possibilities and material conditions change faster than we can quite adapt, requiring the rise of a new symbolic form adequate to our altered perceptual experiences and ideological constructions. Quoting Julie Talen, she suggests that the format of the multiple meets this need, soliciting art produced for the "glimpse" rather than the gaze, and thereby advancing our ability to tell "stories" rather than just broadcast "stock tickers" in "a fractured post-Cartesian cyberspace, cybertime." (p219, 235) Recalling Walter Benjamin's distinction between story and information, as well as his notion of sensorial adaptation, this seems to view the role of art as recuperative. In other words, it seems to ask how, since we are already living in the era of microsoft windows, we can find ways to creatively reframe our experience rather than just being enframed by its mode of representation as well as everything it represents.
Questions for discussion:
On page 202 Friedberg quickly suggests that the aesthetic of the split screen offers an alternative to the theory of suture. How could we elaborate this and would it hold up if we tried? Would this point to reasons why the "multiple" remains a marginal practice? Could it suggest psychological or ideological implications that Friedberg doesn't quite get into (or which are de-emphasized by her focus on the economy of attention/distraction in her discussion of the computer-screen aesthetic)?
At the end of this chapter, Friedberg seems ambivalent about the notion of convergence, opposing the medium specificity implicit in McLuhan's "medium is the message" with Negroponte's argument that "the medium is not the message in the digital age." She notes evidence (as seen in her description of digital projection on p214) of the "inevitable convergence" that Negroponte and Kittler assume, but also asks whether all our media screens "have really lost their apparatical distinctions" and whether we inhabit, as Krauss claims, a "post-medium condition." This seems like a genuine question for her, as she is currently teaching a graduate course on the topic of convergence and medium specificity. Is this a compelling framework, and does it adequately orient the book's research and insights?
While Panofsky obviously inspires this chapter, McLuhan also emerges as a touchstone for Friedberg (see p210 ,236). She recalls his arguments that "the electric" media return us from optical perspectivalism to a "primitive" dimensionality, and that new media produce "new ratios" between our own multiple perceptual faculties and also between multiple media formats. She even dubs him the "first apparatus theorist." What can we make of this use or revival of McLuhan?
Friedberg seems to directly take up Lev Manovich's argument in The Language of New Media about "spatial montage" and to follow some of his references, most notably to Eisenstein. So, why is Manovich so notably absent from this chapter?
What do we think about how the Vector's project "translates" the book? I'm particularly interested in the way the editorial intro describes the "playfulness" of the project as a perceived "threat" to scholarly modes of research, and thanks Friedberg for being so brave as to give up control. Is this format as "experiential, remixable and fluid" as they describe and is this really in opposition to an "intention" of the author/creator that otherwise dominates?