The work of culture in the age of cybernetic systems- Bill Nichols

Bill Nichols examines cybernetic systems (of which the computer has become the ultimate symbol) as “self-regulating mechanisms or systems within predefined limits and in relation to predefined tasks”. As an example for his inquiry, Nichols takes Walter Benjamin’s “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” to explore the transformations in the concepts of self and reality brought on by the advent of cybernetic systems.

New systems have the potential to overcome the existing social institutions but are often legitimated by and incorporated into those institutions to sustain the dominant hierarchy. Still, the potential to transform our conception of reality is realized through various material embodiments of cybernetic systems. Digital communication simulates face-to-face encounter and asks for immediacy and simultaneity. Instead of creating copies of an original, cybernetics create a simulation of social processes. The processes themselves instead of the representation of an object become the object of desire, the Other. The physical self is excluded from dialogical interaction, but the existing sexual hierarchy is not easily erased. The fascination with the control of simulated interactions is still predominantly male.

The metaphors of cybernetics are the key to understand these systems, since they have acquired a tangible embodiment and have become commodities. Nichols outlines the metaphors as following:

“not only the human as an automated but intelligent system, but also automated, intelligent systems as human, not only the simulation of reality but the reality of simulation.”

The tension between human/computer and reality/simulation manifests in copyright and patent law. These legal and institutional practices serve as a measure of control, which dominates the potential of collectivity. As always, the existing social order tries to preserve its ideology. Still, by seeing ourselves as part of a larger environment that is self-regulating we can redefine the mechanisms of cybernetics and liberate the system from the control and hierarchy of capitalism.

Benjamin claims a shock effect is needed to adjust men to the changes in perception. Montage in film should introduce the audience to new ways of seeing and ordering the world until it becomes a habitual skill. This is how we can access the mechanisms that underlie the new system. As a means of exercise to become acquired with the cybernetic system, Nichols suggests the zoo and the botanical garden. These simulacra are self-regulating worlds which become real in themselves, and offer absorption and a sense of control. Could we then consider Baudrillard’s Disneyland example as an exercise in the apperception of cybernetic systems as well? Zoos and entertainment parks uphold the illusion of control and simulation, so how can they serve as an exercise? In the case of cybernetics, the production process and mechanisms disappears further from view. How can we be trained in understanding them?



~ by lisawiegel on March 15, 2009.

2 Responses to “The work of culture in the age of cybernetic systems- Bill Nichols”

  1. I would be curious to know how Bill Nichols’ reading of Benjamin relates to your own readings of this text. I think that is an issue we should definitely discuss.

  2. I will attempt to answer Lisa’s question. Indeed, absorbtion seems to take place in this contemporary cybernetic world of simulacra: How to become conscious of its structure? How can simulacra still transform your thought? What Nichols considers the liberating potential (on p.141-142), is ‘seeing ourselves as part of a larger whole that is self-regulating and capable of long-term survival’. An encounter with Cybernetic Systems does indeed not provide you with an image of the social structure and order imposed on it, but rather, what order itself consists of. I think he then refers to our humanist way of thinking and the oppositions that Lisa named in her summary. Cyberspace could somehow free us from our human-nature, human-technology dualisms. ( I see Deleuze and Foucault everywhere) This is also mentioned in the first paragraph of page 127: The Other does no longer help to define what is human, as what has been other is now also seen as human, eg. robots/ cyborgs.

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