'in cyberspace, point of view does not emanate from the character; rather the pov literally is the character. If a pov is annihilated, the character disappears with it […].' 4

Hayles, N. Katherine. (1999). How we became Posthuman - Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature and Informatics, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, p. 38

In my text “About Interface: Actualisation and Totality” I introduce the metaphor of the interface as a suitable notion to describe the process of framing and differentiation in the face of a greater whole, or totality. I suggest that cultural discourse and distinction could be seen as grounded on reduction due to the filtering action of an interface. Through choices and omissions in the process of observation, through interfacing with the world, I argue, meaning could be made and unmade, 'truths' -scientific or artistic - found, confirmed or dislodged. My own enquiry, I argue, has to be understood as equally reductive since it implied the masking of certain suppositions and assumptions and the unmasking of others. I point out that my investigation of the notion of 'interface' constituted an interface in itself since it had to give weight, emphasise, and create associations thus neglecting other aspects. In my work I attempt to frame, or make distinct a number of suppositions against the backdrop of a 'white' whole. Of all possible texts, my text represents an incomplete rendering, something personal, a reflection, a subjective questioning. My analysis could not be seen as the result of an impartial observation from a safe distance, from an exterior and privileged point of view; by delineating the observing structure I become part of what was under observation. And yet, I emerge as an I in the act of observation; my point of view emerges by virtue of my observation. If my text has indeed become an interface in itself, a framing device that renders specific a gamut of theoretical possibilities, then I as an author have indeed come forth. In this framing process, I suggest, entropy has been reduced, point of view established and subjectivity authenticated.

The interface delineates what can be brought forth and it forecloses what can and what cannot be made distinct. It renders the unmanageable manageable and interjects a relational and subjective view of totality by reducing the spectacular gamut of our encounter with what-is to something other, less than total. Like a 17th century Camera Obscura, the interface allows us to frame the world, to transform it quite literally into a picture at every turn, making possible an encounter with something less than the whole. According to Maturana and Varela 'we do not see the “space” of the world; we live our field of vision. We do not see the “colours” of the world; we live our chromatic space.'01 In addition we devise auxiliary interfaces, which we use to supplement, paraphrase, and render comprehensible that, which lies beyond the limitations of our native 'chromatic space'. Together, physiological and technological interfaces delineate discursive potential and enable cultural exchange. I see this and you see that, so let us talk about it!

In the wake of cyberneticism, however, the emergence of an all-encompassing informational totality can be identified, which articulates the inclusion of the observer, total immersion and the abolition of the interface. The 'information paradigm' (Hayles, 1999) has progressively taken over many diverse aspects of cultural life: from game theory to financial markets (von Neumann, 1944), from genetics (Watson/Crick, 1953; Dawkins, 1976) to complex social systems (Luhmann, 1982), and from Playstation 2 to interactive doormats. Increasingly, processes are being described as total, complex systems that include both; the observer and what is being observed (Maturana and Varela, 1980; von Foerster, 1981). Immersion and disembodiment become pop-cultural tropes of a condition, which celebrates information as a welcome substitute of embodied physicality. Yet when the interface is lost subjectivity becomes undone, too. Just how pertinent contemporary notions of totality seem today, becomes evident by looking at recent discourse in the sciences. By tracing some relevant developments in physics, mathematics, cybernetics, and system theory it could be argued that the ideology of totality extends beyond the cultural condition of Wagner's Romantic Gesamtkunstwerk. To be sure, the loss of the interface is also concomitant with a loss of critical distance and a general dumbing down of the individual in the face of powerful proprietary interests. In addition, the shifting balance of power between provider and user/consumer, i.e. the question of control, could not be ignored when subjectivity is compromised in a process of systemic inclusion.

In order to investigate how this process of total immersion and systemic inclusion could be questioned, Heidegger's analysis of technology suggests itself as a useful metaphor. Linked to his notion of Dasein, Heidegger described technology in terms of a mechanistic regime of exploitation (Enframing) as well as a humanistic and poetic condition (Poiesis). Heidegger's Enframing, or the use of technology in order to commercially subordinate, utilise and exploit, forecloses any possibility of poietic revealing. The 'rule of Enframing' undermines and endangers the poietic questioning of truths, and thus threatens a quality, which according to Heidegger, is essentially human. Heidegger warns of 'extreme danger' when technology with all its lethal machinery targets the natural world as an asset that is there to be exploited (standing-reserve). Nonetheless, according to Heidegger, technology can, if brought to bear in an artistic revealing, unconceal the questioning of truth. Poiesis can counter the dangerous instrumentalisation implicit in Enframing. Heidegger's Dasein, his concept of being-in the-world, when authenticated in poietic questioning, can validate human existence as a state of being which is conditioned through self-reflection. The numbing, depersonalised and mechanistic regime of Enframing on the other hand implies the catastrophic failure to realise that which is essentially human. Heidegger's Enframin threatens to prevail when powerful commercial interests coalesce with science, art and entertainment in the spectacular economy of totality. Heidegger's Poiesis on the other hand relies on a degree of embodied subjectivity and autonomy, which the Gesamtdatenwerk of cybernetic art negates by abolishing the interface. In order to examine whether Heidegger's poietic questioning could be re-established and preserved in this condition of terminal immersivity, Steven Johnson suggested the notion of Interface Culture, which could be described as a condition where meaning is made an unmade in the act of observation, by defining an observing template, a cybernetic interface.

As much as Camera Obscura and other devices allowed cultural differentiation to take place within a pre-cybernetic paradigm, the user-interface of a cybernetic system is the framing device, which conditions interactions within the post-industrial world. As much as the modern scientific observer pre-determines the outcome of the observation by virtue of the observing procedure, cybernetic interfaces determine which transactions, evaluations and actualisations can or cannot take place within the 'information paradigm'. The interface brings forth conditions, associations, and relationships from a pre-programmed gamut of possibilities. It makes possible, visible and tangible actions and reactions and brings together stimulus and sensation. The interface, by virtue of prompting a response to this rather than that input, determines the remit of the ensuing process. Contrary to the dissolution of the liberal subject in the psycho-pathological condition of cybernetic totality, Interface Culture facilitates the continuation of the project of human self-reflexivity and criticality. By means of Brechtian strategies of interruption, dislocation, and subversion in the face of cybernetic totality, the interface can emerge as the site for critical practice, a site where database politics can be actualised.

It is my central argument that cultural practice does not need to unravel in pre-civilisatory yearnings for Romantic disembodiment. Instead, it can rehearse at the interface Heidegger's notion of Poiesis, the bringing forth of questions of truths, and in the process authenticate Dasein, the state of being-in-the-world as ongoing reflection and making-aware. In a regime of ubiquitous immersivity, Interface Culture could help augment criticality by subverting, disrupting and revealing the 'total flow' of corporate totality and by allowing connections and associations to be made where connections and associations are otherwise denied or glossed over. Interface Culture could help recover and 'augment' self-awareness and the importance of point-of-view. It could empower the cybernetic subject and thus authenticate and actualise Poiesis as an essential ingredient of human self-realisation. In Interface Culture, observing interfaces could be built, which frame, re-associate and juxtapose informational fragments isolated from the glittering whole of totality.

When cybernetic systems become ubiquitous, from electronic banking to interactive doormats, data emerges as the key currency, which embodies the ebbing and flowing of information. Abstract and pristine in mathematical structure and travelling with the speed of light through nodes and networks, data must be re-represented for human consumption as a sensory stimulus, as image, sound, smell, touch or taste. Meaning can be constructed, social realities revealed and subjectivity obliterated or affirmed. The sensory stimulus which re-translates a BIT of information back into human bandwidth does not need to disenfranchise, overwhelm or pacify the human recipient. The nature of the interface constitutes a choice, which the provider of the experience must address. It is a choice which media art can recover and preserve. The interface, I want to suggest, could be regarded as the key-enabling device in contemporary art and technology since it can facilitate shifts in receptive audience behaviour from passive consumption to regimes of interactive participation and critical augmentation. It is around these shifts that media art can help define and re-define subjectivity in a cybernetic environment.

In a condition, which could be described as oscillating between the ideologies of Jacob Nielsen and Theodor Adorno, the interface becomes the site where artistic, commercial and theoretical discourse is constructed, as it were
between corporate usability and artistic disruption. But how can modernist attitudes towards the art object continue to influence concerns about utilitarianism and functionality on the one hand and disruption, alienation and complication on the other. The remit of cybernetic representation at the interface betrays a great variety of different concerns: from recent initiatives in interactive television and news on demand to the hacker ethos of early ASCII art and Database Politics.

Is the cybernetic interface indeed evolving into a key site of cultural production and meaning making?

01 Maturana, Humberto R.; Varela, Francisco J. (1992) [1984]. Robert Paolucci (trans.) The Tree of Knowledge: The Biological Roots of Human Understanding, Boston, MA: Shambala Publications, pp.19-23