Observing the Observers of Systems and Environments

Critical Writing
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Abstract (in English): 

Linda Brigham reviews the Spring and Fall 1995 issues of Cultural Critique.

Where is the real you? Behind the eyeballs, right; the center of a panoptical cinema, your virtual head spinning around like Linda Blair’s in The Exorcist. Watching the world go by.

Wrong. The address of the Enlightenment Subject has been vacant for a long time, and the front door now opens on a brick wall, or on the threshold of an abyss. So where do we send the mail? One answer to that question is the subject of two special issues of the journal Cultural Critique, subtitled “The Politics of Systems and Environments” (Spring and Fall, 1995). As William Rasch and Cary Wolfe explain in their introduction to the first number, the term “systems” stands in the place of the old subject, and “environments” replaces the old object. Like the old subject/object dichotomy, systems and environments are relative terms; each system becomes environment to another system. But systems and environments also manifest reciprocity: in complex self-referential systems (organism and societies for example), systems-as-observers (an ocular metaphor for perception in general) know they observe observers.

Pull Quotes: 

I am a white, here is how I know it. Given that my companions were whites, I thought that, if I were a black, each of them would have been able to make the following inference: “if I were also black, the other, immediately realizing from this that he is a white, would have left straight away; therefore I am not black.” And the two others would have left together, convinced of being whites. If they stayed put, it is because I am a white like them. The three prisoners are a parable of modern society, in which behavior has a double contingency, an agency enfolded into the fabric of other agents. 

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