Totem - Haunted Technologies

Totem - Haunted Technologies

The more we attempt to banish totems into the naïve past, the more our cynical realism is haunted by their structuring-absence. If they are the elephant in the room, we must find out quickly!- if they are here to seek out revenge for years of poaching by humans, or if they are merely asking for a glass of water. Alternatively, if they are the Lacanian stain on the carpet, it is up to us to give our best interpretation to their shape; these enigmatic Rorscha[r]ch-angels of History. In short, writes W.J.T Mitchell (1996), we are stuck with our magical, premodern attitudes toward objects, especially pictures, and our task is not to overcome these attitudes but to understand them. (Dominic Pettman, The Totem Redux, Look at the Bunny, Totem Taboo and Technology, 2012)

/seconds invites individual responses to the technological totems and taboos which populate the chaotic terrain of today's mediascape. Are totems merely a thing of the distant past? What are the new instances of the totem? To what degree are today's media technologies haunted by a Freudian ghost, functioning through totems or taboos (or both)? In his book Look at the Bunny: Totem, Taboo, Technology' Dominic Pettman catalogues the proliferation of animisms in popular culture, instancing digitised creatures that go off-program, jealous spirit guides, virtual eternities, digital parasites, 'spam'. Nonhuman avatars are, as Pettman writes, 'increasingly expected to shepherd us beyond our land-locked identities, into a risky - sometimes ecstatic - relationship with the Other'. To rethink the animist dimension of objects as symptom, the totem, standing Janus to both past and future, alerts to a present catastrophic and vital sign. Taboos generated from within this contradiction might easily deceive or literally mask political intention, screened out of view, by characterising that intention in the passage to destitution of intellectual history. Jean Baudrillard writes of a totem's power as decoy, (such as flagging the 'Social' of democracy), that presents avatars of otherness recruited as objects of both hope and fear, to coerce by pure visuality. To rethink then the Totem as a continuing visual presence in the modern world, like it or not, is to acknowledge an absence in the throw of its ancestral, ontological shadow.

For the philosopher Bernard Stiegler this might be an occasion that initiates a space of displacement qua the mainstreams industrial temporal object of convergent mass media, presenting the post-human avatars of media technology and their ancestral, pre-human totems, as living things at the site of substitution of an event. The totem has devolved into technical objects beyond collective, actual, 'human' purpose, suggesting a leap, from pre- to post-, to the accord of an inhuman differential whose singularity extends en-masse.

Fossils and totems (and fossils-as-totems), bring with them new orders of temporality ...objects that interfere with and complicate one another. W.J.T. Mitchell sees the totemic as a combination of fossilism and totemism, as a dialectical figure of animation and petrification, a ruinous trace of catastrophe and a vital sign. (Dominic Pettman, The Totem Redux, Look at the Bunny, Totem Taboo and Technology, 2012)

What starts out as counter-intuitive ends up as so true and right that one can no longer recall ever thinking otherwisefor those courageous enough to venture down the rabbit-hole." (Jodi Dean, author of Blog Theory and Democracy and Other Neoliberal Fantasies.)