2.1 witnessings of shadow and light (eternal return)
In this digital archive of memory that belongs to everyone and no one, has no beginning or end, is "groundless" and temporally un-bound, the act of remembering is amplified as a fractal process of compression/expansion and nested accumulation that exists as an implicit consequence of the unconscious rituals inherent to the nature of our temporal experience. As with the mental world, the rituals of the image-worlds we bring forth are similarly structured: layers of the distant past are nested into layers of the distant present, continuously re-inscribing themselves and intensifying those impressions which have been revisited most over one’s lifetime. Among these impressions are ones that are disregarded, repressed, denied, etc., as well as others that are etched so deep, they reverberate beyond the surface – violently, obsessively, uncontrollably. But these two extremes of consciousness are inextricably linked, one pole always a mask or stand-in for the other, which appears casually inert until it is no longer containable.
Today, our experience of the world as mediated by image or screen-based technologies is not only collectively witnessed, shared and altered on an unprecedented scale, but is profoundly transforming the way people living in networked societies encounter “the world”. The power of collective memory and the relationship between the image and the imagination as manifestations of the “inactive will" surfaces through two very distinct yet inextricably linked networks of image-forms: 1) the mental image, circulating within the psychological depths of the boundless and recursive non-space of memory, and 2) the tangible image, circulating within the information networks and material spaces of their formal incarnations. Distributed widely through digital communication networks, today these images move beyond the territories where they originate, to a dispersed, un-/intended, global audience through which any number of new narratives, uses or manipulations can be applied.
I speculate that as this new networked-reality continues to bring forth an accumulation of visual worlds saturated with acts and images of ultra violence, the role of the observer will become crucial to understanding the emergence of a collective shadow that is at once fully visible and yet still greatly un-reflected upon. This recalibration of self/image will also largely depend upon confronting the apparent disconnect of self-/recognition continuously reinforced through the parsing of our emergent collective experiences into categories of object-identities, a practice/perception that if left unchallenged, will never be reconciled for it is based on interpretations of being that can only be true at the exclusion of any and all other interpretations. These interpretations include, among many things, our projected identities, which Nietzsche argues must be revised for:
Here lies the chief temptation to assume a "soul," which, outside time, reproduces, recognizes, etc. But that which is experienced lives on "in the memory"; I cannot help it if it "comes back," the will is inactive in this case, as in the coming of any thought. Something happens of which I become conscious: now something similar comes – who called it? roused it? 1
This erroneous interpretation of a self-/identity – simultaneously acknowledging the projected self-/image while de-personalizing the literal image and the material body – is persistent today. In spite of centuries of visual mediums re-/producing a collective consciousness traumatized by acts of violence and/or obsessed with macabre and spectacle, there is still an overwhelming conviction that images are representations that exist “out there”, apart from the real world we inhabit and interact with/in. This separation is so ingrained that we readily default into the habitual classification systems that order certain types of images into categories of fiction (e.g. fantasy, illusion) in order to distinguish them from facts, experience, or “real life” – as if those distinctions alone could account for the underlying, un-nameable compulsions to create and consume more of whatever these so-called fictional representations call forth.
In the case of factual representations of violence (e.g. photographic evidence or documentation), the disassociation between the seer and what has been seen is largely based on the presumption that the power relations inherent to this exchange are unidirectional and in which the observer, being “passive”, plays no significant role. Psychologically, this non-role serves to simultaneously exonerate and disempower the observer, whose spatial-temporal non-position in the causal chain of the actual events removes any involvement (i.e. direct implication) of the remote witness consciousness by placing them outside of time and therefore reinforcing the idea that what exists beyond the surface of the image is both unalterable (because you can’t change the past) and permeable only in so far as it extends the number of victims to include them and every witness to that image-event. In other words, the unidirectional paradigm of spectatorship can only re-/produce consumers or hostages, if anything at all.
As the notion of this misconstrued passivity persists, the role of the observer is implicated more as one of an unwitting, complicit participant, ignorant of the latent forces of an inactive will that has and will always inevitably surface in response to what has been experienced (i.e. perceived by the senses), which includes all of the responses the “rational” self hides from consciousness. The problem with passive observation then, is not inherent to the act of seeing itself, which requires one to be receptive, not passive, but with the lack of critical reflection on the effects of what has been seen, remembered, recalled and reenacted. This lack of reflection includes filtering what is seen from consciously registering beyond what is conditioned to structure reality into a “schematism of ‘things’.” 2 And so, the observer of things, always looking out at the world, never inward, is denied an active presence within their experience of witnessing, which for better or worse, “protects” them from anything that threatens to collapse the perceptual boundaries between inner/outer worlds, keeping them from confronting any number of “irrational” re-/actions or ruptures.
In any case, whether those un-/realized effects are ones that normalize and aestheticize the witnessing of endless acts of violence or ones in which the violence is overwhelming, the levels of un-/conscious awareness between them are both subtle and profound – their unraveling, an even more elusive process that requires the most extreme and external of these psychic traces to be brought to the most intimate proximity and consideration. As Nietzsche proposes:
Consciousness – beginning quite externally, as coordination and becoming conscious of ‘impressions’ – at first at the furthest distance from the biological center of the individual; but a process that deepens and intensifies itself, and continually draws nearer to that center.” 3
These unwilled recurrences would continue re-manifesting as long as “impressions” (i.e. the substrate of memory, “projected causes”) remained both unrealized and unarticulated. Transforming the re-surfacing memory-events from an “inner world” requires one to not only redirect the witnessing inward, but it requires a language or medium with which to process the shock of re-/integration between inner and outer worlds. Without a language to facilitate this shift in being-awareness, understanding anything becomes impossible for, "’to understand’ means merely: to be able to express something new in the language of something old and familiar.” 4
So – if we, as observers, allow such dispassionate adaptations or delusions about the mediated image-worlds we co-author to evolve without radically transforming the depth at which we experience and self-reflect on their implications, how are we to see a future that is not interlaced with layers of traumas from the past, continuously reemerging as records or acts of violence re-inscribed in the present? As this shadow side draws nearer to center, how will this acute presence with/in darkness transform our seeing?