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Overexposure Les Immaterlaux Johannes Birringer Nightmare of a traveler: slowly driving across Southern California on identical freeways, from San Diego to Santa Barbara, with an increasing feeling of disorientation vis-A-vis the images of mountains, beaches, deserts, barren suburbs and glossy shopping malls that flush by the window. The map offers no help; the Inanimate, blind landscape on the other side of the window conspires against the driver whose point of view has collapsed. Los Angeles has disappeared into hundreds of miles of deterritorialized zones. It is neither city nor country nor desert. The opposition between center and periphery has disappeared too. Sheer contiguity replaces the spatial logic of oppositions, the syntax and grammar of representation which ordered the grid structure of the industrial city. Los Angeles holds an invisible seduction because it can no longer be comprehended (seen) geographically ; the vision it produces has to do with travel time, the speed and energy spent in movement across obliterated boundaries. The apparent infinity of routes and the equivalence of all directions only heighten the sense of cir6 cular drift. The car radio may be the last indicator of a change in territory -yet there is no guarantee that weather reports or hit parades will differ from one wave-length to another. This scenario of the "overexposed city," as the French urban sociologist Paul Virilio calls it, captures the post-industrial ambience that we gradually begin to experience in the changing relationships of our bodies and our consciousness to the constant ubiquity and instantaneousness of a kind of visual sprawl of information in electronic culture. Whereas Virilio explains this sprawl in terms of a telecommunicational world of absolute speed that will ultimately lead to the complete disappearance of cities and their inhabitants , there is another fiercely debated French theory (Jean Baudrillard's concept of "simulation") which seems even more pertinent to American perceptions of the technological "revolution" and the new "automobility " of audio-visual information. For Baudrillard, the idea of orbiting around L.A. is directly correlated to a postmodern mentality conditioned by several decades of (American) mass culture, by a relentless commercial reproduction and fabrication of reality, which leaves nothing in its place. No more subject, focal point, exteriority, no more distance between subject and object, no more scene, no illusion, no secret. What is lost cannot be found because it has been covered or simulated in advance. It now seems a long time ago that Artaud, in The Theatre and its Double, attacked the theatre for representing life instead of being life. In Baudrillard's nihilistic scenario of contemporary mass media culture, the whole idea of "theatre," or any representational art, is completely inverted: the distinction between representation and reality has become irrelevant because the real itself has been eclipsed by a self-regulating, global technology of "programs ," "models," or "genetic codes." Baudrillard's favorite example for such a model is Disneyland: the miniature operation of phantasms set up to conceal that all of "real" America is Disneyland. We may not be inclined to suspend our disbelief in such French speculation on American models, but what are we to do when French theory travels into the Beaubourg museum to dramatize questions raised by the postmodern culture of simulacra? When I visited "Les Immat6riaux" (March 28-July 15, 1985) at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, I felt as if I had walked into a theatre. Upon entering a long, airport-like tunnel, I was given a set of headphones , and to complete the Verfremdungseffekt, I first heard a low electronic hum in my ears, followed by a dramatically recited fragment from Beckett's The Unnamable, a convoluted monologue of an "I" who can neither speak nor remain silent. But when I looked, I found myself in a dark, mirrored vestibule, entitled "Theatre of the Non-body." Apart from my headphoned reflection in the mirror, there were five dioramas displaying images of stage sets evacuated and empty but for imperceptible shifts in the lighting. As if I had met the last riddle of the old subject/object dualisms at 7 the crossroads, this disembodied remainder of a theatre opened onto five meandering paths that provided passages--interrupted by music...


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