Saturday, July 25, 2009

Language is a virus

Interesting thoughts on Language
followed by Laurie Anderson's performance:

"Language," William S. Burroughs reminded us, "is a virus from outer space." Performance artist Laurie Anderson adds, "That's why I'd rather hear your name than see your face." This metaphor captures beautifully both the power and the danger presented by the task of communicating the "flux of wholeness," as Heather Raikes describes the rheomode. Raikes' use of the rheomode suggests that technology might be seen not just as a channel for communication and performance, but more radically as the environment in which subjects serve as conduits for experience.

A virus operates autonomously, without human intervention. It attaches itself to a host and feeds off of it, growing and spreading from host to host. Language infects us; its power derives not from its straightforward ability to communicate or persuade but rather from this infectious nature, this power of bits of language to graft itself onto other bits of language, spreading and reproducing, using human beings as hosts.The notion of the meme -- coined in 1976 by Richard Dawkins to illustrate the field of memetics -- crystallizes this view of the communication process. Georges Bataille similarly argued that communication was best understood from the perspective of contagion. In Bataille any human being is no more than a conduit for communicative process, a channel for ideas which pass through him/her."If, as it appears to me, a book is communication, then the author is only a link among many readings."* The author is simply a node on a network, through which ideas pass.

At stake in such a conception is a radical reworking of the notion of the subject in communicative experience. Bataille writes:
a man is only a particle inserted in unstable and entangled wholes. These wholes are composed in personal life in the form of multiple possibilities, starting with a knowledge that is crossed like a threshold - and the existence of the particle can in no way be isolated from this composition.... This extreme instability of connections alone permits one to introduce, as a puerile but convenient illusion, a representation of isolated existence turning in on itself. ("The Labyrinth," 174).
Subjectivity is an illusion, one that allows us to operate comfortably in this plane of existence, but which nonetheless masks true reality, in which there is no division between subject and object: "There is no longer subject-object, but a 'yawning gap' between the one and the other and, in the gap, the subject, the object are dissolved; there is passage, communication, but not from one to the other: the one and the other have lost their separate existence" ("The Torment," 89).


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