The Screen Test of the Double: The Uncanny Performer in the Space of Technology
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The Screen Test of the Double:
The Uncanny Performer in the Space of Technology

Your reality is already half video hallucination. Soon it will become total hallucination. You’re going to have to learn to live in a very strange, new world.

Dr. Brian Oblivion, Videodrome 1

And if I am anything in the picture, it is always in the form of the screen, which I earlier called the stain, the spot. 2

Question Regarding the Virtual and the Real

There is nothing in cyberspace and the screened technologies of the virtual that has not been already performed on the stage. The theatre has always been virtual, a space of illusory immediacy. 3 Yet the contemporary discourse surrounding live performance and technological reproduction establishes an essentialized difference between the phenomena. The difference is further concretized in the critical writings of theatre and performance studies that ignore such performative mediated forms as film, television, radio, and multimedia. Slavoj Zizek, in the introduction to Mapping Ideology, writes that it is a commonplace assumption that “virtual or cyber-sex presents a radical break with the past since in it actual sexual contact with a real other is losing ground against masturbatory enjoyment, whose sole support is the virtual other.” He dismisses that assumption by suggesting that “Lacan’s thesis that there is no sexual relationship means precisely that the structure of the real sexual act (of the act with a flesh and blood partner) is already inherently phantasmic—the real body of the other serves only as a support for our phantasmic projections.” 4 Lacan’s argument thus challenges the assumptions inherent in the constructed binary of the live and the virtual, and [End Page 383] thereby disputing the claims of immediacy and presence in live performance. 5 But it would be a mistake to imagine that what we experience in the theatre and recorded media is the same experience. It is the same, only different.

The debate regarding the ontology of performance and the nature of liveness has been well rehearsed. 6 Peggy Phelan argues that performance is defined through its non-reproducibility. The nature of performance deteriorates as it is enfolded in technological reproduction. Philip Auslander counters that the live is an artifact of recording media. Liveness exists not as a prior condition, but as a result of mediatization. Yet both arguments are problematic. Phelan disregards any effect of technology on performance and draws a non-negotiable, essentialist border between the two media. Auslander draws out a sophisticated legal argument whose dynamic materialism overlooks the most material manner of marking the live, namely death. Disputing the argument of Phelan and amending Auslander’s I suggest that the ontology of performance (liveness), which exists before and after mediatization, has been altered within the space of technology. But, how?

Question Regarding Performance and Mediatized Culture

Three basic arguments comprise the contemporary theory of subject construction in mediatized culture 7 and help shape the aesthetic gestures of contemporary performance:

  1. 1. The material body and its subjectivity is extended, challenged, and reconfigured through technology.

  2. 2. The televisual is the primary modality of contemporary technological representation dominating manners of thought and communication, cultural and subject construction.

  3. 3. There exists an unavoidable convergence of the human and machine wherein the “slave” machine dominates the “master” human subject.

The performance work of the classical postmodernist Wooster Group (US), The Desperate Optimists, an expatriate Irish company working in the UK (Ireland/UK), the altered medical body of Orlan (France), the obsolete body of Stelarc (Australia), and the post-colonial cyber-performance artists Guillermo Gómez-Peña and Roberto Sifuentes (Chicano-American) are all in the process of embodying mediated subjectivity and articulating, representing that experience in performance. The developing art forms of web-based performance, interactive installations, and virtual environments are extending the boundaries of the theatre and our notions of what constitutes a performance. How do we understand the processes of performance which converge with mediated technologies of representation and represent and enact mediated subjectivity? [End Page 384]

I want here to answer my two questions by isolating a critical moment in new media performance works specifically and digital culture in general, when the...