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LIB 200 — initial curriculum idea — immersivity and vision

As I wrote in my response to the Grau article, I was really intrigued by the history of “Virtual Illusions” that Grau writes about. This is in part because it articulates so well with themes I am already teaching in LIB200: the nature of (spectacular) illusions, starting with Plato’s “The Allegory of the Cave,” leading up to contemporary “Edge of the Construct” fables like The Matrix and The Truman Show. So I would love to just introduce students to this history of visual illusion via the article, which I will assign. Just pairing it with these contemporary dystopian fictions will open up space to historicize the concern about “virtual reality.”

The article (and of course the history of illusion and mind-body problems) circulates around vision. Vision is paramount to most technological advances, from the microscope to the telescope, photography to film to iPads (with hearing coming in a close second). Vision is the dominant sense, at the top of the hierarchy of the senses. It is the “window to the soul” and the “gateway to the imagination,” etc. etc. Could we construe technological history otherwise? What would our world look like if our technologies (or their histories) were organized around smell, taste, or touch? Eve Sedgwick has discussed the ways that touch is uniquely resistant to technological amplification. She cites the film of soap used by women to administer a breast exam (and thus heighten the sense of touch) as one of few ways to amplify the sense of touch. But there are few others that come to mind.

In his book Species of Spaces, the French writer George Perec imagines a sensorium of sort, where different rooms of a house are given over to particular senses. I think it would be interesting to ask students to imagine technologies that could amplify the three less exalted senses (smell, taste, touch), and to conjecture a future where the augmentation of these senses was privileged as much as vision and hearing. What would result? What ethical problems or dystopian effects would ensue? (An over-sexualized society, a society unable to differentiate between sweetness and shit, etc.)

Perhaps this would cause us to construe certain artifacts of contemporary society as technologies of just this sort. In his History of Shit, Dominque LaPorte posits perfume to be a technology (of sorts) to disguise unpleasant body odors. What are the unspoken technologies of taste? (Saccharine artificial sweetener?) Of touch?

One comment

  1. Can I take your course? Seriously — this sounds fascinating! Do you see this discussion emerging in your next iteration of this same theme, or is it perhaps the start of a slight focus shift?

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