In this episode of High Theory, Bernard Dionysius Geoghegan talks with us about computer graphics. Emerging from tools for sailing and warmaking, like sea charts and radar, modern computer graphics are technologies of mapping and managing risk. They seem intent on absorbing the human sensorium into the machine.
In the episode Bernard refers to computer graphics as “techniques of addressing,” a term he attributes to Ranjodh Singh Dhaliwal. He also uses the term “operational images” which comes from the work of Harun Farocki, and talks about SAGE, the US Government’s Cold War era Semi-Automatic Ground Environment Air Defense System. Bernard references Paul Edward’s book A Vast Machine: Computer Models, Climate Data, and the Politics of Global Warming (MIT Press, 2013). He also mentions the German scholar Christoph Borbach who has written on auditory computer interfaces, and American disability studies scholar Mara Mills, who has written on the Deaf history of computing. He was kind enough to give us an extensive bibliography on this topic, which is posted below.
Bernard Dionysius Geoghegan is a reader in the History and Theory of Digital Media at King’s College London. He has a brand new book out on the cybernetic history of French theory, called Code: From Information Theory to French Theory (Duke UP, 2023). Kim met him when he came to give a talk at the Stanford Humanities Center in January 2023. He wore denim and had a slightly manic affect. People came all the way from Berkeley to hear what he had to say, which is quite impressive in the Bay Area.
Places I’ve developed these topics in print:
Galloway, Alexander, and Bernard Dionysius Geoghegan. “Shaky Distinctions: A Dialogue on the Digital and the Analog – Journal #121 October 2021 – e-Flux.” E-Flux, no. 121 (October 2021). https://www.e-flux.com/journal/121/423015/shaky-distinctions-a-dialogue-on-the-digital-and-the-analog/.
Geoghegan, Bernard Dionysius. “An Ecology of Operations: Vigilance, Radar, and the Birth of the Computer Screen.” Representations 147, no. 1 (August 2019): 59–95. https://doi.org/10.1525/rep.2019.147.1.59.
———. “The Bitmap Is the Territory: How Digital Formats Render Global Positions.” MLN 136, no. 5 (2021): 1093–1113. https://doi.org/10.1353/mln.2021.0081.
A video lecture talking about these topics:
My lecture starting around 3 hours, 7 min. mark on this YouTube Video: “Screening the Environment: From Rough Waters to Computable Grids.” Vivre par(mi) les écrans : passé et avenir, Université Jean Moulin Lyon 3, April 2022.
Scholars whose works have inspired my remarks and research:
Bredekamp, Horst, Vera Dünkel, and Birgit Schneider, eds. The Technical Image. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015. A great collection of essays in the spirit I try to follow in my own work.
Cardoso-Llach, Daniel. “Architecture and the Structured Image: Software Simulations as Infrastructures for Building Production.” In The Active Image: Architecture and Engineering in the Age of Modeling, edited by Sabine Ammon and Remel Capdevila-Werning, 23–52. Cham: Springer, 2017.
Denson, Shane. Discorrelated Images. Durham: Duke University Press, 2021.
Dhaliwal, Ranjodh Singh. “On Addressability, or What Even Is Computing.” Critical Inquiry 49, no. 1 (Autumn 2022): 1–27. https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/abs/10.1086/721167
Farocki, Harun. “Phantom Images.” Public, no. 29 (2004): 13–22. Where he briefly discusses the term operational images to which myself and so many others are indebted.
Gaboury, Jacob. Image Objects: An Archaeology of Computer Graphics. Cambridge (MA): MIT Press, 2021.
Hoelzl, Ingrid, and Rémi Marie. “Google Street View: Navigating the Operative Image.” Visual Studies 29, no. 3 (2014): 261–71. https://doi.org/10.1080/1472586X.2014.941559.
Parikka, Jussi. “Operational Images: Between Light and Data.” E-Flux, no. 133 (February 2023). https://www.e-flux.com/journal/133/515812/operational-images-between-light-and-data/.
Schneider, Birgit. Textiles Prozessieren. Zurich: Diaphanes, 2007. A great early study of the relation of computation to graphical—as well as visual, practical, labor, and craft—histories.
Vardouli, Theodora. “Skeletons, Shapes, and the Shift from Surface to Structure in Architectural Geometry.” Nexus Network Journal, 2020. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00004-020-00478-0. (One of many inspiring texts and projects Theodora’s put into the world, on compters, graphics, and space.)
This week’s image is a radar loop of the December 16 2007 Eastern North America winter storm, found on Wikimedia Commons. The loop runs from Saturday Morning at 7 AM (Dec 15) to Sunday Night at 7 PM (Dec 16). The image is in the public domain because it was made by someone who works for the National Weather Service in Burlington, Vermont. The rate of change of the GIF was slowed down to avoid triggering folks with photosensitive epilepsy.