Resisting and Responding to the Worlds of Electracy

Gregory L. Ulmer

Like, subscribe and share seem to have become the order of the day in a world of seamless internet and social media. The world has truly become a village and we are now more linked than ever before. Gregory Ulmer teaches us that we have shifted from literacy to electracy. He casts electracy as an apparatus, a kind of social machine that radically influences our ways of being in the world. We have become at home with digitally malleable spaces. Maybe the global pandemic accelerated this process. With the arrival of electracy, we have entered a new experience of time.

At the time of orality, time was experience in a cyclic manner, always retuning back to the point of origin. At time of literacy, our experience of time was linear always moving forward. Our experience of time today has broadened and we have become multi-taskers and time is continuously bending on itself as we get submerged in an inundated now. If orality took us into the past, literacy took us into the future, electracy seem to traps into a now.

Orality was a time of sound-image (sign), literacy is a time of alphabetic image (sign), electracy is a time of picto-graphic image (sign). All these images that dominate different eras are ideographic images (signs). Electracy as a new apparatus of being in the world is primarily based of videocy in contrast to alphabetical writing which was basis of literacy.

This means the world has changed and we too have changed with it. Several scholars invite us to understand electracy as inhabited by new form of writing. This insight challenges us to expand the idea of writing. We already have the work of Jacques Derrida that sees everything, that includes even our speaking as writing. Hence, the picto-graphic images of electracy can be viewed as writing.

When we see videocy as a form of writing, we may see how inventiveness enters our composition and every big way. How are we respond to our changed condition? How do we encounter what Roland Bathes called punctum, the off centered detail, that which does not fit? How are we to produce these encounters with the unintended? How are we to punctuate the world of electracy?

We needed this break because the studium of electracy has a habit of having a mindless grip over us. We learn from the work of Roland Bathes that Punctum is not invented by us. It is already there in the content of electracy. It can shoot at me like and arrow and pierce me. We need this punctuation, the wound, the prick. to come back to our sense. Perhaps we need to allow the capacity of an image or set of images to hit us so that we find our critical responses to the dazzling world of electracy.

We have several likes and dislikes. They are guiding our investments into the world of electracy. They belong to the studium. But we need punctum. It is a gift. It comes from the media. But it can be a moment of insight and enlightenment. We may have to distinguish punctum from what Walter Benjamin calls the aura of an image. Aura is a quality of unrepeatabilty of an image. It is its authenticity in the context of mechanical mass reproduction. What we have in the world of electracy is simulacra, image of an image. It cannot be thought to be a bearer of aura in the fullest sense. But it cannot lose punctum. It will still carry a point that will interrogate it.

We come to face the punctum through our studium. It is studium that is the bearer of my interest. It draws me to the world of images and the signs of electracy. It is because of the studium that we participate in the figures, faces, gestures, settings and actions in the world of electracy. We also have to face a time that seeks us out. We do not seek this time. It comes from the image or images. It disturbs the studium.

It seems that we enjoy the world if electracy at the level of aesthetics but it is punctum that is leading us to the cognitive horizon. Hence, we have to wait for the moment of punctuation that will punctuate our studuim for images. Do we really have to wait for the world of images to interrupt and disrupt our enjoyment of the worlds of electracry? Perhaps we can engineer a punctum. To do this we have to follow deconstruction of Jacques Derrida.

While noting that punctum is a point of disruption of our enjoyment that is arising from within an images or the chain of images, we have to see that punctum arises from the excess power of signification of image or images. It is this excess that leads us to transgress from the semiologies of the images. Hence, to deconstruct the world of images we will have to treat the simulacra of images as a signifying system and break into its smaller units and decode its play of making meaning.

The image when broken into its constituent signs ( signophme ), we may be enabled to examine the way langue and parole play upon each other to produce the signification we tend to enjoy. This itself will manifest how signophemes operates as binary opposites producing the signification that we enjoy. Understanding the play of signophemes, will enable us to deconstruct that play and open other possible plays of signophemes that will open us to other significations. Thus we may be enabled to produce punctum or several punctums that will puncutate the image or image as a text by interrogating the signification/ meaning that is enjoyed by us the spectators or the consumers.

When we thus actively locate the punctum or punctums, we are enabled to transgress the signifying enslavement of the world of electracy and are enabled to resist it as well as choose our response in freedom as well as reflection. This kind of deconstruction requires time and is cognitively driven. This is why I think that we have to develop the phronesis or practical wisdom of Aristotle so that our resistance, as well as our actions in the worlds of electracy, become acts of virtue.

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao