Sight Unseen: Envisioning the Virtual

Public lecture by Professor Brian Massumi, Département de Communication, Université de Montréal, Canada.

The lecture will examine the status of the virtual in perception. As understood philosophically by thinkers such as C.S. Peirce, Henri Bergson, William James, Gilles Deleuze and A.N. Whitehead (in his notion of “pure potentiality”), the virtual is strictly complementary to the actual. It is a mistake to think of them as opposites or as in contradiction. The virtual is abstract by definition, which means that it cannot be reduced to the empirically present. But neither can it be separated from it. According to the philosophical concept of the virtual, there is a reciprocity between the actual and the virtual that enters actively into the constitution of every act of experience: they are co-gredient to perception. Although the virtual as such cannot appear in perception, its co-gredience to the constitution of experience cannot but make itself felt in some way with each perception’s arising. The question then becomes, in what way does the abstractness of the virtual come with coming perception? How does it make its active implication in experience felt? Applied to vision, this question translates into: what is a virtual image?

The lecture will examine the question of the virtual image through three examples: stereoscopic vision, an optical illusion, and the perception of movement. The status of the virtual “image” will be seen to be different in each case. Only by synthesizing its varieties can a workable account of the concept be obtained. As the concept is developed, it becomes clear that when the virtual comes with vision, it virtually brings along with it other modes of experience. “When any particular kind of feeling is present,” writes Peirce, “an infinitesimal continuation of all feelings differing infinitesimally from that is present.” The question of the virtual cannot be separated from the question of the continuity of experience across sense modes. This question is approached in experimental psychology under the rubric of “cross-modal” or “amodal” experience. After developing the philosophical concept of the virtual, the lecture will briefly consider its relation to, and distinction from, recent currents in experimental psychology, in particular that of “enactive perception,” whose best known proponent (Alva Noë) defends the thesis that vision is virtual.

Brian Massumi is a political theorist, writer and philosopher, and is currently a professor in the Department of Communication Sciences at the University of Montréal in Quebec Canada. He is well-known for his translations of several major texts in French post-structuralist theory, including Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus, Jean-François Lyotard’s The Postmodern Condition, and Jacques Attali’s Noise. Massumi has authored several books, among others Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation (2002) and A User’s Guide to Capitalism and Schizophrenia: Deviations from Deleuze and Guattari (1992).

This lecture takes place on
Thursday the 5h of May 2011, 09:15-11:00
Lille Auditorium, INCUBA Science Park

Åbogade 15, 8200 Aarhus N

Tags: experience | vituality


Contact Info

Center for Digital Urban Living
Aarhus University
Helsingforsgade 14
DK-8200 Aarhus N

Tel. (+45) 8942 9205
Fax (+45) 8942 9201