Listening to music

Above: Looking out of the window listening to music. Credit: Blast/Pexels.

The Three Registers

Theorist Paul Virilio has described life in the age of the Digital Revolution as a stereo existence. The person, living in the urban developed West at least, is involved with two distinct streams of data: their concrete reality and concurrently and in parallel their online existence--which includes social media accounts and might also include video-gaming avatars and so forth. Ballard concurs with Virilio to some degree, in that for him we have to recognize that "what one sees through the window of the TV [or computer/device] screen is as important as what one sees through a window on [to] the street."

But J.G. Ballard takes this stereo existence concept and adds one more level of reality: one's inner imagination--daydreams, remembrances, flashbacks, fantasies, and the like. The virtual/mass-media has created a further "level of spatial reality" to everyday life, to the extent that there are now three intersecting, fractured, and cross-permeating realms of personal individual reality: first, the here-and-now concrete phenomena of the everyday; secondly, filmic, televisual and virtual worlds--including the world of public events, current affairs and news reports; and third, the "inner space" of the mind--an individual's imaginative world. And so, for Ballard, any attempt at realism in literature, or in any art-form, must naturally grapple with this ever-shifting three-fold perception.

For Ballard, lived reality is constituted by these three registers. But the experience is not at all seamless--as Virilio's stereo reality implies--but rather it is jagged, discontinuous. Each discrete domain tending to be imposed upon by the others at any moment as the human moves haphazardly between the three basic domains or territories of experience: concrete, inner and virtual/mediated.

(7 February 2019)