Alan N. Shapiro, Visiting Professor in Transdisciplinary Design, Folkwang University of the Arts, Essen, Germany

Blog and project archive about transdisciplinary design, media theory and creative coding

Media theory: beyond the dualities of form and content, critical and enthusiastic, real and fake, by Alan N. Shapiro

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On January 26, 2012, I gave a lecture in the Speakers’ Series of the Centre for the Study of Theory, Culture and Politics at Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario, Canada.

My topic was: “Media theory: beyond the dualities of form and content, critical and enthusiastic, real and fake.”

Here are my lecture notes for this lecture (with some text pasted in from my PowerPoint presentation):

Transdisciplinary, not Interdisciplinary

My academic-intellectual work has been described as trans-disciplinary, although I am still thinking about whether or not I like this term. Jean Baudrillard, one of my favorite thinkers, did not like the term “trans”: he wrote negatively about it at the beginning of his book The Transparency of Evil. Baudrillard criticized transsexuality, transeconomics, transpolitics, and transaesthetics as contributing to a confusion of categories, symptomatic of a generalized virulent and viral contamination, a senseless promiscuity and commutability of all terms. Recently I had a fruitful conversation with Horst Hörtner, the director of the Ars Electronica FUTURELAB in Linz, Austria, about the trans-disciplinary project of bringing together art, science and fiction in creative projects to come. So I am going to override the viewpoint of one of my principal mentors Jean Baudrillard and go along happily with the term trans-disciplinary. I think that interdisciplinarity in itself is insufficient, because interdisciplinarity implies that what is required to move knowledge forward is merely dialogue and cooperation among the existing disciplines or academic-scientific fields of knowledge. My position is rather that the knowledge of different disciplines should first be brought together, and then a project of deep rethinking of everything should take place, leading, among other things, to a new classification system of knowledge. When this rethinking happens, then the whole will be much greater than the sum of the parts. We will experience a “supernova explosion of new knowledge,” as I have elsewhere called it. In other words, we will get to new knowledge far beyond what we would achieve merely by combining the knowledge of different fields in an additive way: in algebra, f(x + y) = f(x) + f(y), or in number theory,  f(ab) = f(a) + f(b).

My major intellectual achievement to date is the writing and publication of my book Star Trek: Technologies of Disappearance. The academic journal Science Fiction Studies called my book the leading work in the field of science fiction theory. In a recent interview in Italy, with the Milanese daily newspaper Il Metro Quotidiano, I was asked the question: “Perché ritiene che Star Trek sia fondamentale per la nostra società?” (“Why do you think that Star Trek is fundamental for our society?”). This was my reply: “I 20 principi base di Star Trek sono una summa della filosofia, della letteratura, delle teorie politiche e scientifiche degli ultimi 250 anni a partire dalle rivoluzioni francesi e americane. Io definisco Star Trek l’erede e il protettore delle nostre migliori tradizioni intellettuali e dei nostri tesori culturali.” (The 20 Star Trek Basic Principles are a summation of a lot of iconic and seminal philosophy, literature, political theory, and science of the last 250 years, since the French and American revolutions. I define Star Trek as the inheritor and protector of our best intellectual traditions, our cultural treasures.). Someone added these comments of mine to the main Italian Wikipedia article on Star Trek.

Star Trek to me is also a political and intellectual inspiration. It is about dialogue and unification among the world’s great philosophies and the heretofore separated histories of ideas of the different nations. According to the story of Star Trek, humanity in the mid-twenty-first century achieved First Contact with the alien Vulcans, and humanity finally got beyond its primitive, barbaric ways and became an advanced intelligent civilization. Humanity stopped making wars. We got past our History of Violence — the title of a great film by David Cronenberg. There are still, of course, police actions and special forces interventions, but those are based on a different principle than the principle of war. A planetary culture was created. That means that people stopped thinking of themselves primarily as Americans or Italians or Germans or Estonians or Canadians, and started to think of themselves as being citizens of the planet. Of course, it is very important to respect the qualities and singularity of each and every individual culture, language, religion, and legitimate belief-system. The planetary culture is a unification of the strengths of all the individual cultures. It is the opposite of imperialism.

Stretching Intellectual History

How do we bring together French deconstructionist philosophy, German critical theory, the Italian reflection on new media art and virtual reality, Canadian media theory, American pragmatism and existentialism, British rationalism and logical empiricism, the Russian literature of novelists like Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy, and Buddhist and Hinduist spirituality?

I studied European Intellectual History at Cornell University in the United States of America, and I am genuinely interested in the following question: how do we bring together French deconstructionist philosophy, German critical theory, the Italian reflection on new media art and virtual reality, Canadian media theory, American pragmatism and existentialism, British rationalism and logical empiricism, the great Russian literature of novelists like Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy, and Buddhist and Hinduist spirituality? A very ambitious question, to be sure. But if one man can ask it, then we all can ask it. One area where we can clearly see important things in common between different philosophical traditions of the world is the critique of dualisms. The great Jewish-French philosopher Jacques Derrida said that Western culture and thinking are built around binary oppositions, like male and female, good and evil, mind and body, rational and emotional, nature and culture, presence and absence, speech and writing. Buddhism, in its various forms, teaches the imperative of going beyond the dualism of self and world or subject and object in its variety of meditation practices. According to both Tibetan Buddhism and the proto-Buddhist Tibetan religion of Bön, Dzogchen is the primordial state or natural condition of the human mind, a non-dualistic state called Rigpa. Beyond the binary opposition of self and world, contemplating subject and contemplated object. Even the opposition between life and death is a dualism. Questioning my love of the French existentialist thinker Albert Camus, whose work focused so much on the fear and finality of death, a Buddhist friend once said to me: “So you are going to die. So fucking what?”

The Critique of Dualisms

My work is focused on science fiction theory and media theory. The critique of binary oppositions or dualisms articulated by Jacques Derrida’s deconstruction and by Buddhism has important implications for media theory and its future. Media studies has operated with a binary opposition between deep thinkers like Harold Innis, Marshall McLuhan and Jean Baudrillard who disparaged content and believed that “the medium is the message” and ordinary practitioners who wrote about content but in a way rather uninformed by theory.

Binary Oppositions in Media Theory

A second major binary opposition is that between the study of the so-called “entertainment” media (like film and TV shows) and the so-called “news” media (politics and current events).

A third major binary opposition is that between taking a critical attitude towards popular media and mass culture – as did the thinkers of the Frankfurt School of Critical Social Theory like Theodor W. Adorno – and a purely enthusiastic attitude, as do almost all of the technology and media commentators within the mainstream culture.

A fourth major binary opposition is that between real and fake. In order to address the heart of the matter of this “real versus fake” epistemological problem, one would have to talk about something like sex chat rooms. Personally I have had very little experience in sex chat rooms. As a sociologist, I believe in the participant-observation research method. Since I have not done that systematically in sex chat rooms, I cannot draw any legitimate scientific conclusions. My impression is that the people in these chat rooms and online virtual worlds like Second Life can be divided into two groups, with respect to the question of real and fake. There are a large number of participants who are engaged in all kinds of interactions while pretending to be someone whom they are not in real life in the physical world. He is 6 feet 4 inches tall and looks like a bodybuilder. She uses a photograph of a porn star or fashion model instead of herself. A man pretends to be a woman. A heterosexual woman pretends to be a lesbian. The second large group are those participants who tenaciously believe in the existence of the so-called “real.” They only want to interact with others whose behavior and self-description in the virtual realm correspond exactly to who they are offline. Members of this group are very skeptical and often accuse others of being “fakes.” I think that the epistemological stances of both groups are legitimate. You can use the Internet as a virtual playground to live out your fantasies, or you can use the Internet as a conventional democratic tool for staightforward communication with other members of your chosen peer group, wanting to meet only your fellow lesbians from southwestern Texas. And you are legitimately going to be suspicious of anyone who appears to be not really from southwestern Texas.

What does it mean to study form and content at the same time?

To consider at the same time both the media and the message?

I think that a valuable media theory – or any theory – can only come about after an intensive experience. The theory must emerge slowly, immanently, and organically from the experiences or the stories. What new conceptions of how the media really work do we need to get beyond the many dualisms that we have inherited and set the field of media studies on a new footing? Sometimes I call my work in media sociology a literary sociology, because of the emphasis on stories. What does it mean to study form and content at the same time? To consider at the same time both the media and the message? I think that it means to examine what I call textuality: the embeddedness of the media’s format in the story at the most intricate micro-capillary level (as Foucault might say), the way that the story shapes and transforms the media, the interwovenness of figure and narrative detail. I think of this notion of figure and narrative detail as being an extension of Marshall McLuhan’s practice of analyzing communications technologies through the study of their figure and ground (concepts which he derived from Gestalt therapy). The figure, for McLuhan, is the medium and the ground is the historical context. The idea of a historical context, however, seems to me to be rather old-fashioned, once one moves beyond archeological studies of artefacts like gramophone, film, and typewriter (here I invoke the German media theorist Friedrich Kittler). The received idea that McLuhan believed that the medium is the message needs to be reexamined: context was also important for him, and we need to unpack and augment what we mean by context, borrowing insights from comparative literature studies.

In my book on Star Trek, I wrote extensively about my 24 favorite Star Trek episodes, from The Original Series, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and the movie series. The great Original Series episodes of the 1960s were written by the top science fiction writers of the time, like Harlan Ellison, Theodore Sturgeon, and Richard Matheson.

Focusing on the episodes themselves, my book identifies an intricate thread within Star Trek‘s universe that captures the adherence of the “true fan” and accounts for the media phenomenon’s global mass appeal that had previously never adequately been explained. There is a secret set of rules that makes the Star Trek universe possible. It is the internal standards of measurement of “radical uncertainty,” “recognition of otherness,” the accident and surprise of technology, the encounter of I and Thou, and other related axioms that I call the 20 Star Trek basic principles. These principles contest the worldview of mainstream technoscience, consumer culture, and liberal humanism promoted by Paramount Pictures and Viacom.

What is on the Star Trek agenda today is the dream of making its “fictional” technologies real. Realize the teleportation transporter with the “quantum entanglement” technique of experimental physics; interstellar space travel by deconstructing the assumption in Einsteinian general relativity theory of light speed being a constant in the universe or the fastest thing in the universe, and achieve Faster-Than-Light speed; time travel with fabricated wormholes that have a rotating cylindrical center. Bring Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Holodeck to fruition as the Holy Grail of virtual reality startup company entrepreneurial research. Realize universal communication with the Klingon Language, cyborgs and androids with Artificial Intelligence, and contact with aliens as the future that “must take place.”

Beyond the binary opposition between the scientific real and the fictional imaginary, Star Trek stories and technologies are a resource for the non-economic “symbolic exchange” and “seduction” that can transform our culture. “Symbolic exchange” and “seduction” are both concepts taken from Jean Baudrillard. In my book, I claimed that Star Trek is a great text of Western literature as important as the Bible or Shakespeare. I used Star Trek as a vehicle for explaining the social theory ideas of Jean Baudrillard, Paul Virilio, Donna Haraway’s cyborg, and Gregory Bateson’s cybernetics. I described our contemporary techno-culture as being decisively at the crossroads between an oppressive mainstream over-signifying-simulation system and the emancipative possibilities of radical technological creativity.

The Prisoner: Confinement and Freedom in the Global Village, in the Information Society

Now I am starting to write a book (together with my friend Nolan Bazinet) on the 1960s British television series The Prisoner (a TV miniseries remake was made in 2009), which I consider to be the greatest television programme ever made, better even than Star Trek and Lost. The working title of my book is  The Prisoner: Confinement and Freedom in the Global Village. I could also call it Confinement and Freedom in the Information Society. In the famous opening sequence that begins each of the 17 episodes of the show – widely regarded as being the greatest opening sequence in television history – the protagonist who will later be called Number Six, and who is played by Patrick McGoohan, having quit his job as a James Bond-like secret agent and having been kidnapped by an unidentifiable Orwellian organization – wakes up in mysterious seaside surroundings to be engaged in the following dialogue by a man in high authority known as Number Two:

The Prisoner: Where am I?

Number Two: In The Village. (Marshall McLuhan’s Global Village)

The Prisoner: What do you want?

Number Two: Information. (The Information Society)

The Prisoner: Whose side are you on?

Number Two: That would be telling. We want information, information, information!

The Prisoner: You won’t get it!

Number Two: By hook or by crook, we will.

The Prisoner is the richest, most multifaceted literary text that we possess in our cultural-intellectual heritage for explaining the predicament of society and the individual in the era of the Global Village and the Information Society. In my book, I will also use The Prisoner as a vehicle for explaining the social theory ideas of Michel Foucault and Marshall McLuhan (and, secondarily, Julia Kristeva – psychoanalytical concepts of intimate revolt – and Vilem Flusser – a media theorist who had a truly global and multilingual writing perspective). Both Foucault and McLuhan had double-sided theories of confinement/surveillance and freedom.

Lost: The Crash out of Globalization and into the World

In between writing about Star Trek and my planned project of writing about The Prisoner, I wrote about the recent TV series called Lost. The television show Lost premiered on September 22, 2004. En route from Sydney, Australia to Los Angeles, California, USA, Oceanic Airlines Flight 815 crashes on an unknown Island in the South Pacific. The 48 survivors find themselves in hostile surroundings. Lost combines elements of drama, mystery, science fiction, fantasy, adventure, thriller and Reality-TV. It is at the forefront of the ongoing total revolution of suspenseful content and technological creativity in television. I would say that suspense is a genre where media and content are nearly inseparable, format and story are one. The Ancient Greeks considered suspense to be one of the most advanced aesthetic forms. Hence the significance of recent American TV shows like Lost, 24, and NCIS.

Going further than the retelling of stories, I wrote first-person phenomenological narratives of what each of the 14 major characters of Lost is feeling, perceiving, thinking, and experiencing from moment to moment. It starts in the opening scene of the Pilot Episode with the predicament of Dr. Jack Shephard, who awakens in the woods after the plane crash with a painful flesh wound in his side.

I, Alan Neil Shapiro, am a passionate television viewer. Television is an Old Media. But I now watch TV engrossed in practices that I have developed during my years of participation in New Media: the hyper-textual World Wide Web, online multi-player interactive video games, and social media. All the main characters of Lost – male and female – are my sexual identity avatars. They are virtual reality body-suits that I freely robe and disrobe. I inhabit their bodies and clothing as I choose. I exist inside their semiotic silhouettes. I am a rider of their purple vehicles. As the Pilot Episode of Lost begins, I wake up from oblivion as Alpha Male Jack Shephard, supine and homeless alone in the woods after a devastating aviation accident. It is my very first arrival in this particular virtual party-experience scene-space, a personal appearance financed by part of my Cable-TV subscription monthly fee, and enabled by the technological meat-machine interface of my image-saturated commodity mind. I exit the transient wormhole-like void of precision-instrumented passage between worlds quantum-leapt into an initiatory moment of surprising arousal. From now on, whatever Jack sees, feels, touches and hears, I see, feel, touch and hear. I am Jack. Jacked in.

What does it mean to take up one’s pen – or one’s word processor – and write about Lost? Are the producers of Lost consciously aware of the fact that their television show activates profound new questions for the fields of knowledge of philosophy, psychoanalysis, epistemology, computer technology, the natural sciences, aesthetics, deep ecology, and even politics and economics? Or is it the world itself – as the emergence of an intelligent, radically singular, unfathomably complex living system that has arrived at a certain point of maturity in its unfolding history – that is executing a kind of automatic writing? Is our beloved wounded planet Gaia finally starting to defend herself by transmitting new knowledge to us so that we can help her? This vital S.O.S. transmission is being emergency-broadcasted via the “low culture” mass media par excellence of TV that is now undergoing a stunning total revolution of “content.” The “stream of messages” is the conveyance for the progressive unraveling of the most advanced insights in science, art and the humanities, flirtatiously forwarded to us from the radical alterity of an “absent” elsewhere. Lost is one exemplary instance of this “message is medium” turn, but there are many others.

For many traditional humanist intellectuals and art experts, television is just the idiot box. It is the very last place that these guardians of “high culture” would think to look for the liminal appearance of ideas, sublime forms, cognitive and conceptual breakthroughs, the “new real,” or the making of history. For the previous generation of “Old Media” theorists – with its classic position that “the medium is the message” – the content of TV programs was secondary to the extensive restructuring and “patterning of human relationships” (Marshall McLuhan) or to the undirectionally encoded “speech without response” (Jean Baudrillard) operationally instituted by a primarily process-oriented communications technology. One can transcend this downplaying of the message through cultivation of the very sensitivity to the medium as “culturally framing technological-literary form” that one learns from these two thinkers. Science fiction, fantasy, and crime investigation TV shows are the literature of today. They can tell us more about what is going on in the world than any other genre of artistic expression. The real-time phenomenological details of these hyper-modern virtual narrative paintings are to be treated as the object-oriented fractal micro-constituents or graphic brush strokes of an intensively signifying language. Reversing McLuhan’s designation of it as “cool,” television must henceforth be seen as a hot medium. One passes from the negative analysis of the electronic media as externalized mediations of the human body, senses, and psyche (McLuhan) or “semiological reduction” of symbolic relations (Baudrillard) to the affirmative mindfulness of a much more personally involved moment-to-moment immersion in the thoughts, feelings, and perceptions of the posthuman avatar bodies whose VR experiences are the outriding vehicle for ascending to an orbital writing space of infinite hyper-textual links. To the dramaturgical enactment carried out by the scriptwriters, actors, and directors of Lost is added the act of writing by the media philosopher. Television is a hot medium now because it is suspenseful, which for the Greeks was the highest form of art; and because the “spirit of the times” in Hegel’s sense is embedded in a TV show like Lost; and because the form, format, or media is constantly present in micro-particle ways in the content, meaning, story.

The TV Spectacle of War

I have already mentioned the binary opposition between the study of the so-called “entertainment” media and the so-called “news” media, and the media theory project of conceptualizing the disappearance of this duality. One context where this subject can be investigated in an interesting way is in the TV spectacle of war. It first became clear to me that war had become a TV spectacle during the 1991 Persian Gulf War. One of the very first high-quality pieces of writing that I did in my life was an essay that I wrote during the first two weeks of the Gulf War in 1991. I was living in New York City at the time. I tried to balance the perspective of Noam Chomsky with that of Baudrillard and Virilio. The major cultural studies journal Social Text came very close to publishing my essay. It was one of two finalists. My essay was eventually published in the small New York City magazine And Then. The Persian Gulf War of 1991 was television entertainment for the masses. It became the model for subsequent entertainment wars, like in Serbia/Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Although the American political leadership claimed that it was re-enacting the antifascist struggle of World War II, an epic Hollywood movie narrated by Charlton Heston, these postmodernist wars were really crossovers from the realm of novelistic fiction. It was straight out of George Orwell’s 1984. In that masterful novel of political satire, the citizens of a society of lies and multifarious internal problems are distracted from all of it by warfare with a hated enemy. Our version of Orwell’s “personality cult” is the mythologizing of heroes and anti-heroes, fostered by a culture all but defined by its entertainment industry, which distracts us from the reality of the destruction of the country that we are so proud of bombing.

A third major binary opposition is that between taking a critical attitude and taking a purely enthusiastic attitude towards popular media and mass culture. In my experiences of reading the scholarly literature in media studies, almost every writer takes either a critical or an affirmative stance towards the media under consideration, whatever it is. This is something that we really need to change. Make the analysis more mixed and more subtle.

A fourth major binary opposition is that between real and fake. Another way of considering this problem is to speak about the issue of the materiality of the media versus the idea that the media are virtual or immaterial. I think that we have been misled throughout the history of media theory into regarding the media as virtual, and we do not yet have a materialist theory of the media. Here I would like to mention the work of my co-author Anja Wiesinger from Berlin, with whom I will attempt to co-develop a materialist theory of the media. In retrospect, I now realize that various writings that I did, or thought about doing, on various media topics, were making the first steps in this direction: writings about reality TV shows like Big BrotherSurvivor, and American Idol; the TV spectacle of war; TV sports like American (or Canadian!) football and international soccer; Las Vegas, casinos, and sports gambling; Disneyland and theme parks; shopping malls and department stores; the “wandering spectacle” – as I have called it, following the Situationists – of mobile phones and Personal Digital Assistants; computer games; 3D virtual worlds like Second Life; and advanced AI software that would enable autonomous agents with surprising behavior.

The Binary Opposition between Real and Fake

The materiality of the media versus the idea that the media are virtual or immaterial.

Following the tradition of semiotics, New Media Studies has concentrated on differences, which are believed in and by the the humanities and cultural studies to be important for both language and media.

In a way similar to the gap between signifier and signified, theories of New Media have based themselves on the difference between the 0 and the 1 in computing, on the logic of the binary or digital code, which is interpreted by scholars with a humanities background as a logic of presence and absence.

In her Master’s Thesis in the area of art history, done at the Technical University of Berlin in 2011, with some mentoring by me, Anja Wiesinger examines how media studies and media theory deal with New Media artefacts and with digitalised image archives. Following the tradition of linguistic analysis known as semiotics, New Media Studies has concentrated on differences, which are believed in and by the humanities and cultural studies to be important for both language and media. Semiotics focuses on the difference or gap between the signifier and the signified in the theory of the linguistic and cultural sign. In a way similar to the gap between signifier and signified, theories of New Media have based themselves on the difference between the 0 and the 1 in computing, on the logic of the binary or digital code, which is interpreted by scholars with a humanities background as a logic of presence and absence. According to the very often cited Lev Manovich and his book “The Language of New Media,” New Media artefacts are characterised by 5 principles: numerical representation (artefacts exist as data), modularity (different elements exist independently), automation (artefacts can be created and modified by automatic processes), variability (artefacts exist in multiple versions), and transcoding (the digital-binary logic influences us culturally). In other words, New Media objects are based on program code, on the endless reprogrammability of the binary structure and the electronic impulses. In the original meaning of the word medium, what is implied is a middle, an interspace, an in-betweenness. These are the various starting points in cultural studies for judging the media as being immaterial and virtual. The signifier and the computer bit are not viewed as material substances, but rather as structural relationships.

Problems with the Theory of New Media

The primary ideas about New Media derive from the background of post-structuralist semiotics or French Theory and from the reductionist assumption that the digital-binary computer as originally designed by Alan Turing – the long strings of 0s and 1s which constitute the so-called universal machine where nearly everything can be programmed – is the determining instance of computing.

I think that it is much more important to start with what the academic field of Computer Science knows about computing, rather than with what humanities scholars whose intellectual background can ultimately be traced to French Theory supposedly know about computing. This would be the way to eventually get to a materialist theory of New Media.

The problem with the theory of New Media, as formulated by a so-called luminary of the field like Lev Manovich, or even by many of the works in the field of so-called software studies, is that the primary ideas about New Media derive both from the background of post-structuralist semiotics or French Theory and from the reductionist assumption that the digital-binary computer as originally designed by Alan Turing – the long strings of 0s and 1s which constitute the so-called universal machine where nearly everything can be programmed – is the determining instance of computing. I think that it is much more important to start with what the academic field of Computer Science knows about computing, rather than with what humanities scholars whose intellectual background can ultimately be traced to French Theory supposedly know about computing. This would be the way to eventually get to a materialist theory of New Media. I would oppose to the emphasis on the Turing machine (for example, in the works of Jay David Bolter) an interest in higher-level programming languages. I am much more interested in object-oriented programming languages like C++ and Java, and in software architecture modeling languages like UML, and in the software development field known as design patterns, than I am in the low-level binary logic of the zeroes and ones. In the higher-level programming languages, there are design patterns which are at once technical and cultural, and which, in a way, transcend the binary opposition between technical and cultural. They are both technical and cultural, and neither.

Instead of the emphasis on the Turing machine, an interest in higher-level programming languages

In the existing New Media theory, there is the idea of an endlessly reproducible or potentially endlessly existing object in a non-physical space. In a way, this mistake also derives from the endless focus in cultural studies on Walter Benjamin and on what he wrote in his infinitely cited essay “The Work of Art in the Age of its Technical Reproducibility.” Each digital object is believed to be temporarily created out of the 0s and 1s which are held to underlie it, and which stand for presence or absence. If we start out instead with a consideration of higher programming languages, we begin to see that the patterns are much more complex than that and that they are truly material and architectural. The idea that computers can represent everything – the Alan Turing idea of the universal machine – is a basic misunderstanding. The influence of Jacques Lacan is also, in some ways, unfortunate. Those influenced by Lacan tend to see the binary structure as a universal principle, the identification with the other, the mother, the mother’s breast, the objet petit a.

Software, to the contrary, is about specific patterns. Object-oriented software’s strategy of entity generalization and specification of instances is strikingly reminiscent of the Platonist Realm of Forms and Plato’s accompanying critique of merely technical or representational copies which do not partake of the “Idea” of the original. Software instantiation institutes a temporary relationship between an ordered ranking of software classes and the created, then destroyed, software object which is a parameter- and data-specified instance of those determining classes. In Platonist terms of iconic likeness, a software instance would be regarded as a legitimate resemblance rather than an illegitimate semblance or simulacrum, even though the distributed software object is, in a certain sense, inferior to the less tangible software class due to the former’s transitoriness. The significant contrast would be between the system of classes / objects and its predecessor, the classical “society of the spectacle” system of lowly, imitative images. Thus the radicalisation of the software development paradigm that I believe in and have written about could bring about a return to legitimate representation in Plato’s sense, getting us finally out of the era of illegitimate simulation and simulacra as described by Baudrillard. We will also have to consider, however, Heidegger’s critique of Plato and defense of the pre-Socratic Parmenides.

In the section of The Republic entitled “How Representation in Art is Related to Truth,” Socrates sounds like a guru of object-oriented software design when he says: “Let us take any common instance; there are beds and tables in the world – plenty of them. But there are only two ideas or forms of them – one the idea of a bed, the other of a table. And the maker of either of them makes a bed or he makes a table for our use, in accordance with the idea.” Primary reality, for Plato, is not to be sought in the empirical world of everyday things (ordinary instances of beds or tables), but rather in the general, abstract Forms (the divine idea of the bed or table) from which “concrete” things are derived or fashioned. Socrates goes on in this passage to say that there are three philosophical categories of beds: the idea of the bed (made by God), the instance of the bed (made by a carpenter), and the imitation of the bed (made by a painter). Concerning the question of how near or far each of the three categories of beds is to the Ideal Forms of Beauty, Truth, and Excellence, it is clear for Socrates that the idea of the bed is the closest to these exalted virtues, the instance of the bed comes in as a respectable second closest, and the imitation of the bed runs a pitiful last – far removed from anything valuated as either noble or good.

The Socratic dialogue in Politeia about mimesis is a contemptuous critique and dismissal of imitative poetry and painting, which only reproduce technical copies and are said to be “thrice removed from the truth.” Painting, for Socrates-Plato, is a degraded art form of the semblance or mirror image, an aesthetic activity which demands of the painter “no knowledge worth mentioning,” and no comprehension of “true existence.” Moreover, although it “may deceive children or simple persons,” imitative painting comes up way short in its endeavor to fool the majority of members of the polity into being placated by its inauthentic, second-rate images. Media technologies of mere duplication or representation would ultimately be inadequate for Socrates-Plato because they fail as instruments of political power. This would be a starting point for explaining Heidegger’s disagreement with Plato, his critique of Plato’s so-called metaphysics (a critique which greatly influenced Derrida). Yet radicalised object-oriented software, according to my theory, would open up the space of an experimental laboratory for synthesizing what is valuable in the idealism of Plato and in the materialism and deep sense of being that Heidegger found to be so valuable in Parmenides.

To conclude, I would say that I have presented an overview of my work in media theory, ranging from television to new media to software. The common thread, I think, is that I take seriously the axiom of McLuhan and Baudrillard that “the media is the message,” yet I demonstrate the truth of the axiom in working the details of the formatted message or content, rather than using the insight as an excuse to ignore content, as many others have done.

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