Visuality and the virtual: mediation and control in network ecologies

Coley, Rob (2013) Visuality and the virtual: mediation and control in network ecologies. PhD thesis, University of Lincoln.

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Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Item Status:Live Archive


After languishing for many years in the periphery of the field as a tacitly closed off concept, visuality is back on the agenda of Visual Culture Studies and, with it, the issue of power. In contrast to its informal use as a term to describe the ‘social fact’ of the visual, Nicholas Mirzoeff’s full scale reappraisal of visuality has revealed its strategic, military genealogy. However, in this and other revisionist accounts, the theory of twenty-first century power remains a predominantly hegemonic one, with visuality operating as an outside force, a power that structures and defines the reality of a world to which we remain subject. In this essay, by identifying emergent tendencies in the logic of capitalism, I present an alternate account of the present. I expose a post-hegemonic visuality which operates by co-opting the radical and experimental energies of digital culture, a visuality which no longer defines a fixed world but exploits the distributed social powers of ‘worlding’, a visuality which taps into and mediates our collective potential to make and remake new worlds.
I situate this worlding visuality in the science-fictional context of what Gilles Deleuze calls ‘control society’. In so doing, I attend to the principal lacunae of the field – capital and labour – and examine how social and cultural activities previously identified with ‘resistance’ are increasingly integrated within a dynamic, complex system of power. By focusing on this ‘media ecology’, and taking into consideration the broader cultural implications of network technologies, I dispute the popular rhetoric of the digital and challenge conventional definitions of ‘the visual’. Indeed, I contend that a newly intense visuality necessitates a transformation in current attitudes toward the aesthetic, and that we must examine more closely the realm of bodily affect. I emphasize, throughout, a new temporality of control, insisting that it is crucial we now recognize an immanent, ontological visuality, a power which utilizes the ‘always-on’ communicational relations of a culture associated with cloud computing.
To undertake such a study, I employ and adapt a set of tools which (though largely unfamiliar to the field formally identified with visual culture) stimulate the energies expressed in several realms of contemporary thought, particularly those assembled as ‘Non-Representational Theory’. My explicit contribution to the field is formulated around an argument for the need to go beyond representation, and, moreover, that to achieve any critical purchase on digital culture, theories of visuality must attend to the realm of the virtual, as outlined by Henri Bergson, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, among others. For examples, I turn to some apparently familiar places: advertising, television, film and gaming. But, in making transversal intersections across divergent disciplines, I also find expressions of this emergent visuality in less conventional spheres: in twenty-first century literature, in software procedures, in socio-biological experiments. Rather than images to be ‘read’ or interpreted, I take the relations and disjunctions between such examples to be symptoms of a new capitalist visuality, one that manipulates and exploits the multiple, paradoxical nature of the real.

Keywords:visual culture, media, Gilles Deleuze, Nicholas Mirzoeff, control society, Non-Representational Theory, Felix Guattari, Henri Bergson, science fiction, Capitalism, paradox
Subjects:P Mass Communications and Documentation > P300 Media studies
W Creative Arts and Design > W213 Visual Communication
Divisions:College of Arts > Lincoln School of Film & Media > Lincoln School of Film & Media (Media)
ID Code:10744
Deposited On:11 Jul 2013 14:48

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