Monday, February 21, 2011

AR Writing Scenes

This post is a follow up to a post below called "Scenes of Writing and the Staging of Theory," and my comments here all refer to the demo videos of AR apps in that post.

What I want to to in this post is describe some the more salient aspects of the AR writing scenes pictured in these videos, all the while keeping in mind a few of Derrida's insights on writing and Mitchell's notion of imagetext.

So, here I go with a couple of observations:

1. The surface of inscription, or "the signified face": any surface lends itself to virtual inscription and thereby can -- via AR apps -- come to act as a signified face.  This virtual inscription (digital arche-writing?) occurs through geotagging or through the physical placement of QR codes onto a particular surface (or designing a surface -- most any substance -- to appear/function as a QR code).  With AR apps, all the world's a link and writing leaves no trace (or at least no trace that can be seen by the naked eye).  Each of the AR apps pictured below employ geotagging and not QR codes, presumably because geotagging is much more suited for establishing flexible, global networks of users and information -- QR codes require physical installation/maintenance and can be implemented without passing through and affixing to a Web-based network (hence the writing of QR codes do not always contribute to or reinforce an existing network).  It may be helpful to remind ourselves here that writing, as Derrida claims in Of Grammatology, "designates not only the physical gestures of literal pictographic or ideographic inscription, but also the totality of what makes it possible; and also beyond the signified face, the signifying face itself" (9).

2.  Disjunctive imagetext: as a user, I can select the site of the visual, to which my text will be geotagged, but I cannot control the composition of that visual, for it is a generally a dynamic, public space and it (and the people who occupy it) need not know that it is the place of my text. That is, the location as a writing space bears no sign of the marks I place upon it -- only a signal of the sign.  As such, the image/text dynamics potential to AR apps seem to forecast some strange political ramifications. Mitchell makes it a point to identify the political as he discusses the "older" image-text media:
The image-text relation in film and theatre is not a merely technical question, but a site of conflict, a nexus where political, institutional, and social antagonisms play themselves out in the materiality of representation. (91)
This play of antagonisms would seems to take on an even further performative dimension in the sites of conflict mobilized by popular use of AR apps.  I can caption any particular location with my text or images without imposing upon its space and, therefore, intervene into some people's  experience of that place (i.e., people who have the right app) and remain undetected by other people who occupy that place (i.e., people who don't have the app) -- a stream of writing affects the discourse of a place without it even being perceptible as a writing space.  On the other hand -- and even, because of this -- those who (or even that which) occupies a place has the power (even if unaware of my text) to appropriate, defuse, or otherwise redirect the meaning/reception of my text by virtue of its autonomy from my text.  If the place changes (and likely plays host to many kinds of fluctuations), then my text, which the app positions as a caption to the visual scene, can be caught sleeping, so to speak.  Though they clearly embody a new "conjunction of images and words" like the earlier mixed media genres Mitchell discussed, the imagetext conjunction occurring within AR apps is inevitably disjunctive when we consider the radical dispersion of the visual and the stealth secrecy of the verbal, both of which are ultimately contingent upon and imminent to the technological gestures of the user in motion.

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