This article explores what one might call the dystopia of contemporary screen-based culture through a discussion of the work of Paul Virilio and Bernard Stiegler. Centrally, it explains that the screen might be seen as a negative abyss, where absolute surface creates the effect of infinite depth and a sense of absolute freedom obscures the truth of solipsistic self-reflection and enclosure. It explores this idea through reference to Virilio’s concept of the “squared horizon” and a short history of screen culture that commences with Plato’s myth of the cave, where perceptions of surface and depth clash and contrast in the underworld. It then turns to Friedrich Nietzsche’s use of the idea of the abyss. This work on Plato and Nietzsche brings together the ideas of the screen and the abyss. The article next takes up Edmund Husserl’s notion of the horizon, which structures the human perception of movement through time, and relates this to Virilio’s concept of the negative horizon, which rushes toward humanity rather than endlessly moving into the future. At this point the negative horizon recalls the abyssal screen that is simultaneously infinite distance and absolute surface and the horror of contemporary media culture. Finally, the article reflects on Virilio’s work on technodesertification and disappearance and Stiegler’s theory of the destruction of the delay of desire in the immediacy of drive through attention capture to show how screen culture annihilates the thickness of the thing itself in favor of flat images. In conclusion, the article explains that this is the future of new media culture—the twenty-first-century dystopia of the negative abyss.
The Negative Abyss: Surface, Depth, and Violence in Virilio and Stiegler
Mark Featherstone is senior lecturer in sociology at Keele University, United Kingdom. His specialist fields are social and cultural theory, psychoanalysis, and globalization. He has written widely on the ideas of utopia and dystopia in Western thought and will publish a monograph on the relationship between these ideas and global processes in 2015. Apart from his work on utopias, he has written on a range of social and cultural theorists, including Paul Virilio, Bernard Stiegler, Slavoj Žižek, and Georges Bataille. He is currently writing a book on the social and cultural history of psychoanalysis from Sigmund Freud’s discovery of the oedipal self to the contemporary emergence of the addictogenic subject.
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Mark Featherstone; The Negative Abyss: Surface, Depth, and Violence in Virilio and Stiegler. Cultural Politics 1 July 2015; 11 (2): 210–221. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/17432197-2895771
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