Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Totality and Google Earth

Fredric Jameson posits that postmodernity is an age seeking it's totality, an epoch seeking a cognitive map with which to ground the individual in a hybridized relationship of the local to the global. Interestingly, Jameson presents such views as inherently artificial and contrived, constructed to reinforce existing paradigms such as imperialism, or "monadic relativism." Jameson calls this perspectival manipulation "play of figuration" and continues that these "global realities are inaccessible to any individual or consciousness...which is to say that those fundamental realities are ultimately unrepresentable..." (350). This suggests that the individual can never understand the global because they are incommensurate. Still leaving in a world based on Descartes' "cogito ergo sum," human thinking remains the central reality of human perception- where everything must relate to the individual and the individual can neither understand the collective conscious of the world nor the nonconscious of empty space.

But I'm distracted. What I would like to examine from this framework is the postmodern totality. Google Earth would seemingly pose a mediated understanding of the individual's relationship to the global. Just watching a user play with Google Earth will almost certainly produce a search for the place the user lives, the individual investigating the local, and the subsequent transitioning of the user from the local to another reality, perhaps a major metropolis or foreign landmark. The discourse of movement through this satellite mapped space shows a journey from the local to the global, producing a cognitive map of abridged space as Jameson claims on page 351, "a new space [that] involves the suppression of distance..."). Americans don't really live clicks away from Paris, but Google Earth is symptomatic of globalist cognitive maps, destroying previous absolute senses of distances for arbitrarily relative distances, stripped of time (it's never night on Google Earth) and seen from an impossible position that is neither a bird's eye view nor a transcendental view. Instead, Google Earth sees from cosmic technology which certainly produces some form of totality, perhaps a satellite totality.

But is this a postmodern totality? It would seem that Google Earth is a modernist totality produced by postmodern technologies. The satellite vision of the world seems to remain an anachronistic holdover from the cold war, when space was power, and the view from space was likewise empowering. To create cognitive maps from cosmic heights was then to control the mapped space, presenting perspective as power. So what then is the postmodern totalizing view? Video games? Shopping networks? Utopianistic realms of bits and bytes manifested by second life? Satellite Simultaneity represented by "live" television or up to the minute news relays? And does Jameson's treatment of "utopia" suggest that totalities are simply idealistic viewpoints placed upon the individual? Wherever cogntive mapping emerges, there is already a betrayal of truth, a subjugation of three-dimensional space to two dimensional projection. In this way, Jameson seems to have loaded the dice from the very beginning. If cognitive maps are inherently artificial, then perhaps that is because they are maps rather than cognitive.

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