[ISEA2008] Jenna Ng – The Immaterial Ghost or the Spectrality of the Virtual



“The images on the screen carry in them something of the world itself, something material, and yet something transposed, transformed into another world: the material ghost.” (Gilberto Perez)

The photographic image is in the constant mode of memento mori. As Walter Benjamin writes, “what we know that we will soon no longer have before, this is what becomes an image.” The photograph, by virtue of its indexicality, retains its ghostliness as a trace of the real: the image is a physical imprint of its event; in Perez’s words, it lingers as “the material ghost”.
On the other hand, transcribed into digital code, reality in the computer-generated image is uprooted from, or at least no longer directly connected to, its indexical properties; the adherence of the referent is severed. In reductive opposition, the immateriality of computer binary code is confined to blind absence: it neither exists as perceived sensibilia nor phenomenological understanding.
Against this position, I assert that the digital occupies the “unreal” limbo of spectrality. Borrowing from Jacques Derrida’s theorisation of the spectre, I argue that the localisation of digital reality lies on the same dimension as the between-ness of ghosts (“s’entretenir de quelque fantôme”). Instead of citing the absence of reality guaranteed by the index, the digital transposes its virtual reality into the between-ness of spectres, a paradoxical strata interpolated between palpable presence and physical absence: its intangibility, counteracted by its existence, seeks the disposition of Derrida’s spirits, unseen yet apparent. This paper thus examines these theoretical place-/move-ments of spectral realities between the real and the virtual within the digital paradigm.  The irony is that the modern age of science brings us even closer to the ghosts and spirits we ban as the unfounded: in the virtual realities of the digital, we move in spectralities, and ghosts walk amongst us.

Jenna Ng Biography

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