PRINT February 1994


IT IS MY PLEASURE TO INTRODUCE Jonathan Crary, a quiet intelligence who comes with many accomplishments, Guggenheim fellow, a member of the Institute of Advanced Study at Princeton, a founding editor of Zone, teacher first of visual art at the University of California at San Diego and now of art history at Columbia, before all that a photographer, though credentials say little about his thoughts, which return repeatedly to parse other things—more generally speaking, the odd physical politics of knowledge itself. Orders of things catch the intelligence and Crary responds, or would it be better to say, he reacts?
Techniques of the Observer, his first book, took modern knowledge to be physical, an effect of sensation. It did not however try to make knowledge itself sensational, no, the quiet intelligence prefers to hammer Goethe into afterimages, truth into flight. He shows what knowledge has felt like, not just what it feels like, shows that feelings change, and shows feelings to have objective attachments.
Crary is the historian-philosopher of our spectacle-lives. He writes in two directions mainly. One of them toward a present: out of the prehistory of the Debordian spectacle, where capital was accumulated to the point where it became images and attention was identified, turned, surreptitiously tunneled. And then he writes another way, toward a future: moving quickly to catch a different spectacle, call it cyberspaced, where images will have to lose their surfaces and acquire dimensions if they are to have any authority or magnetism or life at all. (The same will be true for us.)
In any case, the quiet intelligence writes about the politics outside words as well as names. These are arguments based upon the assumption that those politics exist in durée and that they will continue and that we might be able to feel them too in our eyes and minds and bones.

For all the claims that our contemporary technological culture constitutes a decisive exceeding of modernity, it is striking how much critical writing on virtual reality, cyberspace, and interactive computer networks is riddled with enduring myths of modernization. In particular, there continues to be a powerful and reciprocal relation between discourses on technology and themes of universality and emancipation, and this is especially so in work that seeks to dramatize how epochal cultural shifts are driven by technological “revolutions.” Even analyses of the most local and subjective technological effects so often, inadvertently or not, are universalizing in their assumptions about technological change and at the same time uncritically presume a direct relation, if not a coincidence, between new technological capabilities and possibilities for social progress.

Much of the preoccupation

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