Many scholars locate the emergence of visual culture in relationship to the development of visual technologies, the history of pictorial art, and the emerging recognition of the priority of the visual as the king of the senses. Most, if not all, see this new field as being connected to the streams of images and information that continuously assault spectators from all corners of their environments. No one seems to doubt that, from an experiential standpoint, that which is visible—its intensity, its demands, its possibilities, as these come to us via television, cinema, video, DVD, Internet, electronic billboard, or Mars rover—is something qualitatively new. Yet a smaller number of scholars (Arjun Appadurai, Jonathan Crary, Nicholas Mirzoeff, Sean Cubitt, and a few others) see the emergence of the visual as part of a necessary and practical reconfiguration of subjectivity. The cutting edge of visual cultural studies, however, understands that visuality and the visual technologies that mediate it are part of a larger social project in which the interiority of concrete individuals is being reconfigured. As the British art historian Norman Bryson writes, "Between subject and the world is inserted the entire sum of discourses which make up visuality, that cultural construct, and make visuality different from vision, the notion of unmediated visual experience" (pp. 90–91, italics added). We should add here that visuality is constructed via the interweaving of the discourses that would capture vision and the technologies that utilize it.
Stated dramatically, the social project being undertaken by ostensibly external visual technologies and the economics thereof is not only a reorganization of social macro-structures on a planetary scale but also a total reconfiguration of the interiority of persons. This reconfiguration, which enables and indeed necessitates persons to effectively retool themselves as media for the reception and transmission of social vectors of force—to become mediators among the mediations, implies a new modality of what used to be thought of as human being. It is around these questions that the debates regarding visual culture are perhaps most interesting and fruitful. As nearly all persons, from U.S. presidents, to Hollywood directors, to international consumers, to middle-class workers, to television viewers, to war victims, to dollar-a-day sweatshop chip manufacturers are locked into an economy that passes through the visual, and as the visual is mediated by new technologies, financial institutions, and the military industrial complex, it is fair to say that humanity, if one can still call it that, has become at once more profoundly collective and more inexorably cybernetic than ever before.
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