- Letter from the Guest Editors
This special issue of the Journal of Asia-Pacific Pop Culture is based on a conference we convened in 2019 entitled "Inhuman Screens." The conference explored cinema, social media, and emerging technologies, as well as concerns related to posthumanism; and will continue to explore these themes in future iterations. We were lucky enough to have keynotes from Adrian Martin and Jack Sargeant, who have contributed to this issue. We also included appropriately digital and disembodied interviews with acclaimed psychoanalytic philosopher Alenka Zupančič and fiction and nonfiction writer Donna Freitas.
This issue of JAPPC, like the conference, explores how we are mediated by screens; how the human as a pure, detached category is no longer viable. Although screen technologies offer utopian transhumanist and posthumanist potentialities, they also offer threats: the threat of inhuman standards of perfection online (what Freitas call the Happiness Effect), surveillance and new modes of labor. The title Inhuman Screens designates an approach that tries to explore rather than condemn how technology shapes and reshapes the human. Inhuman Screens thereby seeks to interrogate discourses around the framing and screening of the human as transformed and mediated by technology.
Starting with early visual recording technologies in the nineteenth century, the idea of the human has been challenged. As Sean Cubitt has argued, photography orphaned the image from subject.1 Effectively, photography split the person between self and trace; between life and a dead reflection. The photograph created a mirror of the self while at the same time removing color, movement, and embodiment. Cinema soon followed. [End Page 1] The great Russian writer Maxim Gorky described cinema in inhuman and even supernatural terms:
Last night I was in the Kingdom of Shadows.
Every thing there—the earth, the trees, the people, the water and the air—is dipped in monotonous grey. Grey rays of the sun across the grey sky, grey eyes in grey faces, and the leaves of the trees are ashen grey. It is not life but its shadow. It is not motion but its soundless specter.2
Gorky underscores an uncanny similitude to the cinema; its corpse like proximity to life when he states that "suddenly a strange flicker passes through the screen and the picture stirs to life."3 Cinema, this uncanny animation, coincides with, as Barbara Creed notes, the emergence of Freudian psychoanalysis, which like the cinema, split the subject and offered images familiar and yet disturbing to the psyche.4 Both psychoanalysis and cinema concern the machineries of desire.
The vocabulary of Gorky finds echoes in the writings of Antonin Artaud, who describes cinema as murdering reality. Artaud argues that theater possesses an animal magic that cinema could never recover as it is "filtered through machines."5 Instead, Artaud explains that cinema remains sterile and dead with movies "murdering us with second hand reproduction." Cinema can only record movement and thereby can never attain a living engagement with the spectator.
Yet the prophetic power of Gorky's text—an analysis of shadows—has not been exhausted as its shadows linger. Jacques Derrida coined the term hauntology to describe a temporal disruption whereby presence recalls absence and absence becomes presence.6 For Derrida, hauntology was a haunting of ontology—challenging traditional metaphysics of presence and absence. Animation theorist Alan Cholodenko has amply deployed Gorky alongside Derrida to describe cinema as a crypt and haunted house, where movement and frozen stillness coexist amid the relay, describing the cinema as a deathly reanimation.7
This hauntological power of technologies of trace has become complicit in capitalist cultural recycling, according to Mark Fisher. Fisher notes that "in the conditions of digital recall, loss is itself lost."8 According to [End Page 2] Fisher, cultural life has lost its vitality as culture is continually sampled and redeployed, unable to generate any of the modernist delirium of creation, resulting from the absence an ideological alternative to capitalism. As capitalism has effectively led to "the slow cancellation of the future"—a term Fisher borrows from Franco "Bifo" Berard—culture becomes stuck and digital technology becomes complicit in our emaciated and ghostly condition. Unable to move beyond the ghosts...