INTERNET PORNO

NATASA ILIC

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from the publication Internet Porno by Darko Fritz . 1998 . texts by Natasa Ilic, Goran Blagus, Durda Otrzan and Darko Fritz
 

 Fritz’s works are computer printouts of photographs taken off the Internet and computer processed. The photographs are taken out of some porno site, free samples announcing, promising, more, much more. It is among these elements that the meaing of the works is established. The fact that the physical execution of the works is done entirely in the computer, that its premise is a scene taken from the Internet, are reason enough for a little digression about the new technology and interpretations of it.
 The images arrive from an environment in which all the digital media are combined and exchanged, cyberspace. Although it exists in a still rather rudimentary form, there is a great deal of heated discussion about its qualities. On the one hand there are those for whom the new technology and the world it lays before us are much more than tools, a complete transformation of all the characteristics of our life being expected, as well as a mental and ultimately a material revolution. On the other hand are those whose theoretical discourse clouds this optimistic prism.
 Since the concept of cyberspace has its origins in writing1, the fictional contex defines it broadly. In the fictional sources of the concept it is expressed as an unusual combination of high-tech and grunge, the lab and the street (the street, that is, found in the understanding of lads from the suburbs), social criticism and irresistible heroism2. The vision of life given is not one-sidedly bad, but it is not happy either. Cyberspace is at once an ideological image of the world, and a tool in the hands of those who rule it. The attraction of this technophiliac dystopia is very likely hidden in the fact interesting of which is perhaps that the world described is expressed as if it had a clear meaning, at least for the godlike entities who cruise its highest spheres.
 But there is also a resolutely clear positive vision of cyberspace that does not agree with its image in literature. The simultaneous dematerialisation of data and their transformation into easily intelligible visual forms has served as the base for many metaphysical speculations about the nature of cyberspace, called high technology Hegelianism by Julian Stalabrass3. Cyberspace is a new area between the material and the mental, and another stage for consciousness itself. It is realised as a Hegelian syunthesis, but if for Hegel the real was ideal, in cyberspace the ideal seems virtually real. Cyberspace becomes the conclusion of a miraculous and harmonious historical course, a narrative of human technical and cultural evolution that runs from the paintings in the caves to IT. Finally the end of history is achieved, the total creation of the mind: in this sense it is an unchanging Platonic form.
 The promise of this technology includes a certain number of bourgeois dreams; to be able to watch over the world from one’s sitting room, to be able to encompass the totality of data within a single frame and renew a unity of knowledge and experience. The ideal of cyberspace is an electronic city square in which isolated, nameless but presumably fairly well informed individuals can meet without risk of violence or infection.
 As against cyberspace as a  more or less utopian4 vision of the post-modern time, an opposing discourse developed that states that the optimism accompanying the coming into being of virtual reality represents the final act of enlightenment, in which a secularised version of the divine, embodied in nature, is replaced by another more obviously divine, while cyberspace is achieved as the embodiment of the totalitarian system of capital. Since it is only by coming to market that a product is turned into a commodity, the virtual space in which non-material commodities can be replicated and moved without cost or at very low cost becomes the perfect marketplace.
 The greatest freedom offered by cyberspace is the freedom to transform the self. From a being balked by time and space, Internet being can spread out over the wired world and eternalise its deeds and statements. The new technology offers freedom of the most basic and necessary kind, freedom from identity itself. But freedom from identity is expressed through loss of sex which is, according to Baudrillard, an already achieved state. He describes a world saturated in media, one which swells with meanings and is thus deprived of them, which creates a hallucinatory limbo of the hyperreal in which sexuality is reduced to an undifferentiated circulation of sexual signs, while the erotic becomes the prey of the logic of simulation, through its own omnipresence as spectacle. After the death of desire comes a confused expanse of erotic simulacra and we become indifferent and undifferentiated, androgynous and hermaphroditic beings without genre and thus without sex. The loss of sexual identity in this interpretation ceases to be a freedom gained and actually becomes loss.
 Critical discourse about networking and virtual reality stresses the shamelessly male attitude in writing about cyberspace. Unprocessed sexism is common in this world in which men dominate either in an obvious way or simply in the concepts of free navigation, the penetration and manipulation of an elevated femininity. Apart from this observation returning us under the aegis of modernism, it draws attention to another fact that throws completely new light on everything said so far. The net, the most important focus of utopianism of this decade, is more and more flooded with porn, and for many it is precisely in the loss of identity which makes possible sexual spontaneity that its greatest attraction lies. It is not impossible to imagine the Internet as a virtual brothel of grotesque dimensions. Fritz’s works seem to confirm this idea in a specific way, to course, with the conviction that in the time of “facilitated reality” and weak ontology spoken about by Vattimo5, radicalisation in the sense of the necessity of experiencing error obviates any of the kinds of surprassing characteristic of modernism.
 Fritz processes the pornographie photos from the Internet in such a way that the wholeness of the image is lost, and only the sexual organs are picked out in geometrical frameworks, genitals caught up in hypertrophied sexual acts. Talking of sexuality in the film, Æiæek, among other things, discusses pornography and says: “the effect of close-ups and unusually positioned and controled bodies is to abolish the unity of the body of the actor....bodies are transformed into a multitude or organs without bodies.”6 The disappearance of the unity of the body ina a desubjecitivised multitude of partial objects, typical of film porn, can also be connected in Fritz’s photographs with the myth of disembodiment, which fascinates many cyberphiles. Ever since Norbert Wiener in 1948 drew a parallel between organisms and machines, the conviction has smouldered that there will soon come a time when human consciousness can be digitalised and stored on disk, which will at long last correct the dislocation of body and mind, signifier and signified, and completely reject the body, while reducing consciousness to the pure quintessence, that is to inforation. Scientific speculations of this kind have become something of a secular myth. An image of the mind without the body becomes th symbol of a divine immortality and power. But the reduction of the body to a more organic machine has direct social, political and ethical implications, among which most attention is paid to the conceptual objectification of the techno-body, which is often a precondition for repression.7
 Although the ironical interpretation of the idea of disembodiment as equivalent to the  transforation of the body into a sex machine has its charms, in connection with sexuality and the depiction of it, it would be interesting to take a look at the discourse of psychoanalysis.
 The dictionary defines scopophilia as the obtaining of pleasure by looking at erotic (or pornographic) scenes or photographs and as the desire to look at the sexual organs of other persons (active sopophilia) or the desire to have other people look at one’s sexual organs (passive scopophilia)8. Freud, studying voyeurism among children, links scopophilia with the taking of other persons as objects, subjecting them to the managing or inquisitive gaze. In this phase scopophilia is in essence active, but this active instinct later develops into a narcissistic form. Wathcing pornography encompasses contradictory aspects of the structure of the pleasure of wathcing, as interpreted by Lacan. Lacan describes the moment when the child recognises his own image in the mirror as the key scene in the development of the ego. This phase comes when the childishphysical ambition surpasses its motor capabilities, with the consequence that recognition of the self causes joy, for the image in the mirror is experienced as more complete and more perfect than the experience of the actual body. Recognition also becomes susceptible to false recognition: the image is perceived as a reflection of the body, but the reflection is falsely experienced as superior and this body becomes a prjection of the ideal ego which makes possible future endeavours to identify with others.
 It is on recognition and false recognition and identification that the fascination with pornography rests. The pleasure of using another person as an object is opposed by the narcissistic identification of the ego with an object. The sexual instinct and the process of identification have a signification in the symbolic order that articulates desire. Desire, which is born with language, allows the possibility of transcending the instinctive and the imaginary, but its point of reference constantly returns to the traumatic moment of its origin  the castration complex. Thus with its contens the look can indeed become a threat.
 As Æiæek says in the article mentioned earlier, the two key characteristic of filmed porn are repetition and the look. The pornographic picture returns the look: “It confronts the spectator with (what Lacan calls) the gap between eye and look in the purest form, the actress or model who stares at the spectator here stands for the eye, while the aperture of the vagina stands for the traumatic look, that is, from this gaping hole the scene the spectator is partaking in returns in his look.“9For this reason we are ashamed to look directly at it. The traumatic look of the object/opening points to an insoluble tension between the Symbolic and teh Real, which on the one hand locates pleasure in the space of the private, with, on the other hand, it being possible to establish it only under the wakeful eye of the Other. “Sex is always minimally exhibitionist, it depends on the look of the Other.”10 In the same way as the space of the public and political is necessarily infected with the private. And this is important  for the returned look of the organs, without there being any chance for the eye to rest anywhere else but on the fuzzy, diluted background (which recalls the amniotic fluid, in the phase before the encounter with the mirror, the Oedipus complex and language) if it is not nauseating becomes, in its self-cancelling shamelessness, well-night comic.
 In the society of political correctness that has an enlightenment conviction of an order that needs only polishing up a little to be perfect at last, a look at pornography, outside its context, returns it its own message stripped bare, in its inversion, in its inside-out, more genuine form. Or, we got what we were asking for.
 

1Especially in the cyberpunk novele of William Gibson or Bruce Sterlin.
2Described as a world ruled by powerful corporations because of whose affairs cyberspace actually exists; however, it has overcome them and created mysterious beings with mythic capabilities and become so complex that it leaves bold pioneers of the net room enough to have powerful experiences that go beyond everything that can be experienced in real life.
3In an unpublished article broadcast on the Third Programme of Croatian Radio entitled The technology that gives power: research into cyberspace, as translated by G. VujasinoviÊ.
4Utopia that is nowhere (outopia) and, at the same time, somewhere where the good is (eutopia).
5Gianni Vattimo, La fine della modernita, Garzanti Editore s.p.a. 1985
6Slavoj Æiæek, From the sublime to the ridiculous; sexual relations in the film, Arkzin, No.3., 1997
7Current scientific speculations also derive from SF. An excellent example of this is the SF horror movie of David Cronenberg Videodrom (1982), which represents the conviction that we are entering a new phase of evolution in which choice is catalysed by technology, in which mechanical devices are not McLuhan’s extensions of man but agents of morphogenesis. Distinctions between the front and rear sides of the television screen, between the real and the hyperreal, are lost, and the screen becomes part of the physical structure of the brain. Everything that is seen on the television screen is expressed as the direct experience of those who watch it. Television becomes reality, and reality is less than television. In its ontological nausea Videodrom evokes Baudrillard, who states that reallity has disappeared and turned into the hyperreality of mechanical reproductions and digital presentations that are pure simulacra. We should also recall J. G. Ballad who interprets the crisis of speclacle as the effect of the non-obligatoriness of desire, its free floating outside solld structures. In this world sex too becomes a conceptual act, that blazes a trail for all Intense and tender pleasures, excitements of pain and mutilation. His novel Collision (1973), in which wounds and other artificial bodily openings become sites for sexual pleasure is a gloomy retrospective of the sexual revolution in a future beyond good and evil. More than twenty years afterwards, who but Cronenberg should have filmed the novel, dealing with the topic of a new sexual revolution the outcome of which is still uncertain.
8 Veliki rjeËnik stranih rijeËi, Bratoljub KlaiÊ, Zora, Zagreb, 1974.
9 Æiæek op.cit.
10 Æiæek op.cit.