What Matters

Surveillance matters because of its ubiquity. Surveillance is the ever-watching eye; the eye that can stifle and silence, the eye that we hardly ever seem to see in return. It’s a one-way exchange of an assertion of power and a relinquishing of privacy on the public’s part.

It matters because the continued willful ignorance on this unsavory subjugation only reinforces the power systems in place. Emma Charles’ Fragments on Machines reveals the tangible structures of what we know as “the Internet,” with all its ungainly pipes and wires and metal. It dispels the myth of the immateriality of the Internet, a myth which only heightens its mystery and our blind reliance on its assumed ability to solve it all. Technology is not always the right answer. It is also not the only answer. When the materiality and fallibility of technological systems are obscured, the ideologies and implications they carry go similarly undetected.

Surveillance, both online and physical, is in essence an accumulation of information through images, which is representative of “an affective theory of late-capitalist power” (Massumi 43 ). This historical and current hierarchy is reinforced by an assailment of what Walter Benjamin calls the “dialectical image,” images embedded with ideology. However, when affect is factored in, one can see the specific ideologies that are being communicated as being less important than the affective influence of its very dissemination and multiplication. The taking of an image, a.k.a. surveillance, conversely, is an exertion of power, post-ideology. And it is the threat of the usage of those images for malicious purposes that produces the affective atmosphere of self-censorship and fear. Like Brennan emphasizes, it’s the “energetic dimension” of affects, reflected through the surveillance lens, to “enhance or deplete” that make their transmission crucial to be studied.

Unregulated and unchecked surveillance endangers freedom of expression and political affiliation, a cornerstone of democracy, and the transmission of affect is one of the ways through which this silencing, inhibiting force operates. Most worrisomely of all, is that it’s the most discriminated against and marginalized groups who are most at risk of being harmed by the misuse of surveillance data.

The invisible activity of affect has a lulling effect that encourages complacency. Resistance to the onslaught of images and surveillance are not knee-jerk reactions, as a more obvious attack would elicit, but is no less critical. The potential of using media as the vehicle for actualizing affect has not been fully recognized or utilized for the politics of resistance, as it has been used by the dominant (read: GOP) politics in recent history (Massumi 43).

The first step is to acknowledge that affect is “beyond infrastructural. It is [transversal] in effect”—on your computer screen, in the midst of a protest, in the news, politics, the economy, and society (Massumi 43). Affect is the air we breathe, the water in which we sink or swim. Now to end in Massumi’s words, with a warning, “don’t forget” (44).

– Emily

Works Cited

Brennan, Teresa. The Transmission of Affect. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 2004. PDF.

Fragments on Machines. Dir. Emma Charles. Vimeo. Vimeo, 20 June 2013. Web. 18 Mar. 2017.

Massumi, Brian. “The Autonomy of Affect.” Cultural Critique, no. 31, 1995, pp. 23–43.

Advertisements

~ by Emily Tang on March 18, 2017.

2 Responses to “What Matters”

  1. This is a piece that I would definitely forward on. There is little fluff here, and you make every word count. You had me from this quote: “It matters because the continued willful ignorance on this unsavory subjugation only reinforces the power systems in place.” It’s powerful and thought provoking as we consider the idea that these systems, created by us to protect us, are actually fed by us against us. Your quotes flawless intertwine with your language, and your last paragraph is chilling. “Affect is the air we breathe, the water in which we sink or swim. Now to end in Massumi’s words, with a warning, “don’t forget” (44).”. Excellent job!

  2. This was the piece that I would share simply because it highlights an arguably extremely overlooked issue that spreads beyond borders. While technology has often been praised for its advances that can be used to help champion democracy, people can forget that such advances can work conversely as well. As Emily notes, “The taking of an image, a.k.a. surveillance, conversely, is an exertion of power, post-ideology”, and this is especially relevant when one stops to think where tech companies are based and how this fact can play a role in the international political sphere (*cough cough GoogleEarth*). Moreover, Emily explains this when she highlights, “the most discriminated against and marginalized groups who are most at risk of being harmed by the misuse of surveillance”. This piece preaches the importance of recognizing the affordances of technological power (particularly surveillance) in keeping hegemonic power structures in place and how this consequently plays a large role in shaping the world.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s