Perceptions of Sense and Nonsense in Data Control

Between the sensible world of embodied knowledge and the incorporeal, processes bring about a “cleavage of the causal relation, “ claims Gilles Deleuze.  The philosopher continues incorporeal effects are never themselves related by causality but are rather only “quasi-causes,” which follow their own logic indicating a relative unity or mixture of bodies which they reflect as the real causes.  Such is the invisible path of cause and effect in the realm of data control.  The corporeal events which lie on the surface are therefore distinct and causally unrelated but also part of a dyadic system. 


The system controlled by data nonetheless reveals itself on a simulacrum, a world of appearances and multitudes indistinguishable but also separate from each other. Everything now returns to a surface.  Philosophers have warned us against this condition of reality as they conceive as something of a place of terror and even madness.  The effects of the incorporeal are like reactive sites on the surface and are the causal effects manifesting themselves in image, sound and language.  They are the loci either of conquest or disaster, pleasure or pain, desire or waste. 


Analysts at Raytheon are responsible for organizing, interpreting and mapping enormous amounts of such data at their disposal.  These industries range from defense and law enforcement to financial and commercial services.  They refer to this situation of a simulacral realty of a rapidly excessive accumulation of data as “digital exhaust.”  The task is difficult to turn the given data of tangible knowledge value to relevant insight.  They navigate Deleuze’s realm of “events” founded upon the idea of a duality of the invisible and visible, nonsense and sense.


Perception underlies the job of a data analyst even while the information she controls is invisible.  Perception is the reception, organization, interpretation and analysis of information in sensuous form.  A data analyst organizes, analyzes and manipulates data.  Which is to say; the job of an analyst is not only conceptual based on facts – memories, reflections, and inferences – but it is also based on sensuous perception – states of affect and intuition. 


The analysis of the sites of reception in technology have long been discussed by thinkers going back to the early twentieth century.  On the cusp of the rise of fascism, Walter Benjamin wrote about these sensuous expressions on the surface of the simulacrum.  Somehow I think we all have experienced this force of the perceptible, that we are “impacted” by the experience of something yet hardly “touched by it.”  Benjamin was namely thinking about Dadaism and early film.  Benjamin namely considered such aesthetic techniques as a form of opposition though clearly today in an age of data warfare we can see they prove to be a site of resistance. 


From an alluring appearance or persuasive structure of sound the work of art of the Dadaists became an instrument of ballistics.  It hit the spectator like a bullet, it happened to him, thus acquiring a tactile quality.  It promoted a demand for the film, the distracting element of which is also primarily tactile, being based on changes of place and focus which periodically assail the spectator.  Walter Benjamin, Illuminations


Art history teaches us the foremost strategy of disruption in the Dada aesthetic is shock.  This tactic is accomplished by the juxtaposition of conflicting information, which arouses awareness of our perceptions.  Whereas we immerse ourselves into a seamless experience of bounded contemplation when we look at a painting, something Benjamin tells us is an impossibility in our age of mass technological reproduction, a Dada collage by John Heartfield or Hannah Höch will serve to demolish one’s expectations. 


As we apprehend these sites of disruption, people’s capacities of attention fail them, and they are thrown into a state of distraction.  Benjamin notably identifies this structure of thought is namely tactile rather than optical, i.e. embodied versus intuitive, visible versus invisible, the spoken versus written word, and deductive versus inductive thought.  Such capacities of thought also draw upon habit.  Those sites of reception upon which we contemplate the effects of technology – images, sounds, and words – require tactile appropriation. 


The data analysis maneuvers between instrumentality and resistance, going between those two poles of the optical and tactile, invisible and visible, subjective and objective, intuitive and tacit.  Yet, as separate as these two positions may seem, by are actually conjoined in a dyadic relationship.  For what actually requires the capacities of an awareness of states of affect and subjectivity also requires a facility with memory, reflection, and inferences.  Such a specialist must be able to think from both positions. 


Deleuze recognized such a paradox in Sense and Nonsense.  Should we think of the construction and deconstruction of mental models, a problem in intuition and logic arises.  To begin with, in the realm of mind – the invisible and subjective – there is actually an underlying foundation of reason.  Here are the words of a language that refer to themselves logically but in the way they only make sense to themselves, defy reason.  In the construction of mental models, one thinks additively like a sculptor makes a sculpture to build up an expressive idea.  In the deconstruction of mental models, a person must work from affect down to logic.  What is insensible may be graphed onto an intelligible surface. 


Learn to look at the contemporary African artist El Anatsui’s “tapestries.”  Seemingly drawn upon the prized tradition of African textiles, the artist appropriates his tactile skills to another medium: the detritus of Western commercial capitalism.  How strange it is we both love the silken appearance of these drapes that hang monumentally on the wall but also sense a resistance. Their mportance is disguised. Anatsui is actually deconstructing a mental model in his critique of Western materialism  The dreamy aura of is art is understated by a sense of melancholy.   Underneath it all we glimpse into the heart of impoverishment.  Melancholy may also be the side effect of shock, which is that site of destruction filled with memory. 

El Anatsui, Between Earth and Heaven, 2006.jpg