Wednesday, November 10, 2010

If this is a Person


"At the moment when individuals are nailed down to a purely biological and asocial identity, they are also promised the ability to assume all the masks and all the second and third lives possible on the Internet, none of which can ever really belong to them. To this one can add the fleeting and almost insolent pleasure of being recognized by a machine, without the burden of the emotional implications that are inseparable from recognition by another human being. The more the citizens of the metropolis have lost intimacy with one another, the more they have become incapable of looking each other in the eye, the more consoling the virtual intimacy with the apparatus becomes (an apparatus that has learned in turn to look so deeply into their retinas). The more they have lost all identity and all real belonging, the more gratifying it has become for them to be recognized by the Great Machine in its infinite and minute variants: from the turnstile of a subway entrance to an ATM machine, from the video camera that benevolently observes them while they enter the bank or walk down the street to the apparatus that opens the garage door for them, all the way to the future obligatory identity card that will recognize them in any time and any place for what they inexorably are. I am here if the Machine recognizes me or, at least, sees me; I am alive if the Machine, which knows neither sleep nor wakefulness, but is eternally alert, guarantees that I am alive; I am not forgotten if the Great Memory has recorded my numerical or digital data.

That this pleasure and these certainties are artificial and illusory is evident, and the first ones to recognize this are precisely those who experience them on a daily basis."

From "Identity without the Person," in Giorgio Agamben's Nudities

4 comments:

vera. said...

I was looking for an Agamben book and run into your blog. This piece,acurately and painfully, portrays our modern condition.

db said...

i think this is a very shallow, cultural analysis of the present. while it is not untrue it is so distant from the actual pressures on people that it points us to something abstract and fancy rather than real, living, and useful.

Charles Mughes said...

Not every person surrenders to the machine. the machine, which allows for no surprises, ultimately bows to the human. The human is unique. and from him "the unexpected can be expected" (arendt). The more we remove ourselves from others, the more we find security in the machine, he is saying. Hmm...
what a complex species. Yet life goes on.

Anonymous said...

From DeLillo's /White Noise/ (1985):



"In the morning I walked to the bank. I went to the automated teller machine to check my balance. I inserted my card, entered my secret code, tapped out my request. The figure on the screen roughly corresponded to my independent estimate, feebly arrived at after long searches through documents, tormented arithmetic. Waves of relief and gratitude flowed over me. The system had blessed my life. I felt its support and approval. The system hardware, the mainframe sitting in a locked room in some distant city. What a pleasing interaction. I sensed that something of deep personal value, but not money, not that at all, had been authenticated and confirmed. A deranged person was escorted from the bank by two armed guards. The system was invisible, which made it all the more impressive, all the more disquieting to deal with. But we were in accord, at least for now. The networks, the circuits, the streams, the harmonies."