The Unworkable Interface Alexander R. Galloway

 

The Unworkable Interface
Alexander R. Galloway

New Literary History, 2008, 39: 931–955

작가는 interface를 threshold로 기본적으로 바라보는데, 이 door/window model은 McLuhan으로 인해 전반적으로 받아들여지게 됨.  digital등 현시대에서는 유효하지 않은 부분들이 있어서 그걸 보강하기 위해 intraface를 제시한다. .. 라고 나는 이해했다. 

the more intuitive a device becomes, the more it risks falling out of media altogether,
becoming as naturalized as air or as common as dirt. To succeed, then, is at best self-deception and at worst self-annihilation. One must work hard to cast the glow of unwork. Operability engenders inoperability. Curiously this is not a chronological, spatial, or even semiotic relation. It is primarily a systemic relation, (931)

II. Two Interfaces

interface 를 해석하는 주된 두 가지 시각

Begin first with the received wisdom on interfaces. Screens of all shapes and sizes tend to come to mind: computer screens, ATM kiosks, phone keypads, and so on. This is what Vilém Flusser called simply a “significant surface,” meaning a two-dimensional plane with meaning embedded in it or delivered through it. There is even a particular vernacular adopted to describe or evaluate such significant surfaces. We say “they are userfriendly,” or “they are not user-friendly.” “They are intuitive” or “they are not intuitive.”

 But at the same time it is also quite common to understand interfaces less as a surface but as a doorway or window. This is the language of thresholds and transitions already evoked at the outset. Following this position, an interface is not something that appears before you but rather is a gateway that opens up and allows passage to some place beyond. Larger twentieth-century trends around information science, systems theory, and cybernetics add more to the story. The notion of the interface becomes very important for example in the science of cybernetics, for it is the place where flesh meets metal or, in the case of systems theory, the interface is the place where information moves from one entity to another, from one node to another within the system. (936)

The doorway/window/threshold definition is so prevalent today that interfaces are often taken to be synonymous with media themselves. But what would it mean to say that “interface” and “media” are two names for the same thing? The answer is found in the layer model, wherein media are essentially nothing but formal containers housing other pieces of media. 이것은 McLuhanism이다.  This is a claim most clearly elaborated on the opening pages of Marshall McLuhan’s Understanding Media. McLuhan liked to articulate this claim in terms of media history: a new medium is invented, and as such its role is as a container for a previous media format. So, film is invented at the tail end of the nineteenth century as a container for photography, music, and various theatrical formats like vaudeville. What is video but a container for film. What is the Web but a container for text, image, video clips, and so on. Like the layers of an onion, one format encircles another, and it is media all the way down.

This definition is well-established today, and it is a very short leap from there to the idea of interface, for the interface becomes the point of transition between different mediatic layers within any nested system. The interface is an “agitation” 휘저어 섞음 or generative friction between different formats. In computer science, this happens very literally; an  interface” is the name given to the way in which one glob of code can interact with another. Since any given format finds its identity merely in the fact that it is a container for another format, the concept of interface and medium quickly collapse into one and the same thing.. (936)

But is this the whole story of the interface? The parochialism of those who fetishize screen-based media suggests that something else is going on too. If the remediation argument has any purchase at all, it would be shortsighted to limit the scope of one’s analysis to a single medium or indeed a single aggregation under the banner of something like “the digital.” The notion of thresholds would warn against it. Thus a classical source, selected for its generic quality, not its specificity, is now appropriate. How does Hesiod begin his song? (937)

Of course, this observation is not limited to the classical context. Prefatory evocations of the form “once upon a time” are common across media formats. The French author François Dagognet describes it thus: “The interface . . . consists essentially of an area of choice. It both separates and mixes the two worlds that meet together there, that run into
it. It becomes a fertile nexus.”6 Dagognet presents the expected themes of thresholds, doorways, and windows. But he complicates the story a little bit in admitting that there are complex things that take place inside that threshold; the interface is not simple and transparent but a “fertile nexus.” interface를 threshold로 해석하는 근본전 입장인데, 동시에 이게 그렇게 단순하진 않다. 그 내부에 더 있다. 

He is more Flusser and less McLuhan.7 The interface for Dagognet is a special place with its own autonomy, its own ability to generate new results and consequences. It is an “area of choice” between  the Muse and the poet, between the divine and the mortal, between the edge and the center. But what is an edge and what is a center? Where does the image end and the frame begin? This is something with which artists have played for generations. Digital media are exceptionally good at artifice and often the challenge comes in maintaining the distinction between edge and center, a distinction that threatens to collapse at any point like a house of cards. 디지털에서는 이 area of choices가 적용이 되는데, 왜냐하면 이것은 근본적으로 아주 모든 경게가 artificial 하기 때문이다.

For example, the difference is entirely artificial between legible ASCII text, on a Web page, for example, and ASCII text used in HTML markup on that same page. It is a matter of syntactic techniques of encoding. One imposes a certain linguistic and stylistic construct in order to create these artificial differentiations. Technically speaking, the artificial distinction is the case all the way down: there is no essential  difference between data and algorithm, the differentiation is purely artificial. The interface is this state of “being on the boundary.” It is that moment where one significant material is understood as distinct from another significant material. In other words, an interface is not a thing, an interface is always an effect. It is always a process or a translation. Again Dagognet: a fertile nexus.(938) 디지털은 매체 본성적으로 이 distinction이 존재하기가 힘들다. 그러나 interface의 핵심은 바로 이 한 material이 다른 material과 갖는 경계, 그 distinction에 있는데-이걸 어찌 적용해야 하나…(938-939)

To distill these opening observations into something of a slogan, one might say that the edges of art always make reference to the medium itself. Admittedly, this is a common claim, particularly within discourse around modernism. 이러한 입장은 modernism, greenbergian notion안에서는 성립이 잘 되는데, digital에 적용하기에는 조금 무리가 있다. (939)

An interface is not a thing; an interface is a relation effect. One must look at local relationships within the image and ask: how does this specific local relationship create an externalization, an incoherence, an edging, or a framing? (Or in reverse: how does this
other specific local relationship within the apparatus succeed in creating a coherence, a centering, a localization?) But what does this mean? Project yourself into Rockwell’s image. There exists a diegetic circuit between the artist, the mirror, and the canvas. The circuit is a circulation of intensity. Nevertheless, this does not prohibit the viewer from going outside the circuit. The stress here is that one must always think about the image as a process, rather than as a set of discrete, immutable items. (941)

 

III. Intraface

작가는 interface를 threshold로 기본적으로 바라보는데, digital등 현시대에서는 유효하지 않은 부분들이 있어서 그걸 보강하기 위해 intraface를 제시한다. .. 라고 나는 이해했다. 

The earlier conventional wisdom on interfaces as doors or windows  now reveals its own limitation. One must transgress the threshold, as it were, of the threshold theory of the interface. A window testifies that it imposes no mode of representation on that which passes through it. A doorway says something similar, only it complicates the formula slightly by admitting that that it may closed from time to time, impeding or even blocking the passengers within. The discourse is thus forever trapped in a pointless debate around openness and closedness, around perfect transmission and ideological blockages. threshold이론만 고수하면, 이 infinite loop에 갖히게 될 것이다. threshold 이론은 representation에 대한 것이 아니고, 그 boundary를  formula 에 대한 것이기 때문에, 언제나 close/open 등 이야기로 귀결될 수 밖에 없다. 

Thus the first (Rockwell ) is an image that is internally consistent. It is an interface  that works. The interface has a logic that may be known and articulated by the interface itself. It works; it works well. Workable interface. On the other hand, the second (Mad) is an image that doesn’t work. It is an interface that is unstable. It is, as Maurice Blanchot or Jean-Luc Nancy  or Mehdi Belhaj Kacem might say, désoeuvré—nonworking, unproductive, inoperative, unworkable. Unworkable interface. (943)

 This discourse has a very long history, to the Frankfurt School and beyond. And the inverse discourse, from within the twentieth-century avant-garde, is equally stuffy: debates around apparatus critique, the notion that one must make the apparatus visible, that the “author” must be a “producer,” and so on. It is a Brechtian mode, a Godardian mode, a Benjaminian mode.

The Mad image implicitly participates in this tradition, despite being lowbrow and satirical in tone. In other words, to the extent that the Mad image is foregrounding the apparatus, it is not dissimilar to the sorts of formal techniques seen in the new wave, in modernism, and in other corners of the twentieth-century avant-garde. The Mad (this is workable interface) image speaks and says: “I admit that an edge to the image exists—even if in the end it’s all a joke—since the edge is visible within the fabric of my own construction.” The Rockwell (this is workable interface) image speaks and says: “Edges and centers may be the subject of art, but they are never anything that will influence the technique of art.” (944) 아씁 졸라 어려움………….

It would be helpful to invent a new term to describe this imaginary dialogue between the workable and the unworkable: the intraface, that is, an interface internal to the interface. The key here is that the interface is within the aesthetic, not a window or doorway separating the space that spans from here to there. Gérard Genette, in his book Thresholds, calls it a “‘zone of indecision’ between the inside and outside.” intraface는 boundary가 아니라 rather, inside / outside 개념이다. 따라서 choice의 문제도 아니다. threshold가 아니기 때문에.   9 It is no longer a question of choice, as it was with Dagognet. It is now a question of nonchoice. The intraface is indecisive for it must always juggle two things (the edge and the center) at the same time. But what exactly is the zone of indecision? What two things face off in the intraface? It is a type of aesthetic that implicitly brings together the edge and the center. The intraface may thus be defined as an internal interface between the edge and the center but one that is now entirely subsumed and contained within the image. This is what constitutes the zone of indecision. (944) 늘 둘 사이를 오가기 떄문에 indecisive한데, 이것은 어차피 이미, within the image이기 때문에 edge와 centre를 동시에 내포한다. inside of the interface. (944)

By now it should be clear why the door or window theory of the interface is inadequate. The door-window model, handed down from McLuhan, can only ever reveal one thing, that the interface is a palimpsest. (다층적인 의미 지닌 것) It can only ever reveal that the interface is a reprocessing of something that came before. A palimpsest the interface may be; yet it is still more useful to take the ultimate step, to suggest that the layers of the palimpsest themselves are “data” that can be interpreted. (947)

In the end, we might return to our mantra, that the interface is a medium that does not mediate. It is unworkable. The difficulty, however, lies not in this dilemma but in the fact that the interface never admits it. It describes itself as a door or a window or some other sort of threshold across which we must simply step to receive the bounty beyond. But a
thing and its opposite are never joined by the interface in such a neat and tidy manner. This is not to say that “incoherence” wins out in the end, invalidating the other modes. Simply that there will be an intraface within the object between the aesthetic form of the piece and the larger historical material context in which it is situated. If an “interface” may be found anywhere, it is there. What we call “writing,” or “image,” or “object,” is merely the attempt to resolve this unworkability. (954)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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