Between Representation and Visualization

Concerns over “proper” representation has been hot cake since liberal academics weaponized semiotics away from its concern over information and/or data towards a less scientific concern for sentimentalism. There really isn’t any contradiction between the two before this weaponization happened. However, more recent developments on the production of images makes looking at visualization more urgent than interpreting representations.

If we are to re-read de Saussure, the fundamentals of organization of signs as the organization of information, has pointed us now to visualization as the actual practice of image production than representation. The arbitrary and relational properties of a sign can be seen more on the practices of visualization, from cartography to diagrams. Maps, for example, has depicted more accurate depiction and exposition of ideology and its implications, by explicating borders than, say, a film about fascism.

Hyperrepresentation has never really done anything to negate the perceived misrepresentations in media. What happened is more a diagrammatic displacement of images, but still depicting the same data and still performing the same process sets as their perceived misrepresentations, only with a different legend-sets.  See for example, the recent Twilight Zone episodes, where it boasts “representations of minorities” with less and exceptional white casting (recently, for “Not All Men”, which features patriarchy as its subject.) Of course, the new Twilight Zone will be seen as a champion if is looked at with the sentimentalist view and thirst for proper representation.

Representational readings look for “meanings” or “essence” in a non-helpful abstract-for-abstraction-sake way. To look at visualizations is not just to look not with what the images mean, but how the information, these “meanings” in a certain image, are organized. Not just with the sequence, visualization is also concerned with the methods to which the images are organized. This is where ideologies come in. In essence, looking at the history of thought, ideology, as some people say it, is a “way of looking at things.” It is, therefore, a way of organizing information. A method. Rather, a set of methods. To look at how images are conjured, visualized, is to find this set of methods—the processes which govern how the information are presented as images.

Representation, as appropriated by capitalist realism, becomes reactive as time goes by. It settles with anything that would depict the oppressed subject as a minoritarian version of whiteness, or as Reza Negarestani puts it, it settles and “remains within the confines of the Western colonial notion of others as noble savages.” The new Twilight Zone does this Mexican, Asian, or Black version of white people best. So is Jordan Peele’s Us. Or Crazy Rich Asians. Or more recently, the depiction of women-empowerment still within the confines of patriarchy in Erik Matti’s Kuwaresma. “Progressive” content do not trickle down to the method, form always devour content. Representation resides within capitalist realism too, in so far as it does not do away with the methods and structure of capitalism as long as it gets the “proper” images it wants to have.

Representation banks on a perceived totalized being against another perceived totalized being. It is somewhat relatively dogmatic, ultimately consumerist. It settles with a limited amount of choice, with a hope to conserve aspects of these totalized being that champions of representation seek to forward. To repeat myself, none of the champions of “progressive representation” present any actual negation or alternative.

In contrast with representation, which settles with the present, visualization permits an opening for a future. In practice, to visualize is to draw a possible image of what could come out in the concrete. Since it concerns the concrete, it also concerns itself with the relative autonomy of each of the elements it depicts. It is aware of each and its own properties and measurement. These are blueprints, models, plans. Elements of visualizations are present too, in other forms of image-production, in so far as these forms are delimited from “creative” and “anthropological” use. Visualizations, as experimental as they are, also looks into the possibilities and becomings. Less to proving what is, but to what one has and can become.

Is a spectacular form like cinema a form of visualization too? Cinema is a planned, deliberate production of images. It does not merely “represent” or “reflect”, it is also information arranged and organized, something which can be rearranged and reorganized. To think of cinema as a visualization is to capture it to its wholeness, scope and limitation included. If anything, looking at the boundaries of cinema, and looking for boundaries in cinema, captures something close to truth.

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