I have long been haunted by Jonathan Culler’s Semiotics of Tourism, with its careful parsing of travel vs. tourism’ its astute characterisation of behaviours such as our reflexive denigration of those more tourist-like than we, and its charting of the elusive search for authenticity (Culler 1990). Culler traces the process by which cultural attractions are marked as signs produced by an international system of signification, and responsive to and inscribed within an economic order. Yet he avoids a blanket indictment that would read this process as the mere flattening of the authentic into caricature, complicit with the demands of multinational capitalism (a charge he locates with the ‘sentimental nostalgia for the organic’). His essay instead calls for an exploration of the persistent and ubiquitous semiotic mechanisms central to any social order, a task that this article takes up. It is my contention that we can see evidence of change in the dominant ‘semiotic mechanisms’, evidence that perhaps speaks to a deeper transformation of the social order. The goal of this article is to explore one aspect of that change: the algorithmic construction of the image. While I will not take up the grander challenge of discussing the transformation of the social order, I will address what I take to be one of its key symptoms – namely, cracks in the facade of the subject-object relationship characteristic of the modern era. Let me make clear at the outset that cracks do not a transformation make, but they give us an early warning and an important place to look for further signs of change.
The Algorithmic Turn: Photosynth, Augmented Reality and the State of the Image
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