There are objects about which we can speak no longer, or cannot yet speak again, because their ghosts have not been stabilized – Marxism, for example, or the dialectic. There are objects about which we cannot speak yet, or maybe no more, because their ghost is already running around in the streets, and their shadow already precedes them – for example communication and information. Everything about communication seems to have been said, but actually

nothing has been. Almost nothing except the stereotypes or the technological fantasies of the experts in the matter. Something really theoretical is lacking. Let us refer to what happened in the theoretical field of production: whereas the classical economists spoke of a natural philosophy of wealth and exchange, Marx came along and spoke of production, of productivity and mode of production – it was a theoretical revolution. The same later with the theory of consumption: whereas the ideologists of consumption spoke of human needs and pure commodities, we began to speak of consumption as a structural and differential logic of signs. This was something radically different, and initiated a totally new analysis. And now with the sphere of communication: we only hear about information, message, interaction and so on. But what is the real meaning, the real finality of all that? At this moment we don’t have the key. We didn’t get the equivalent of

the theoretical leap forward in the field of production and consumption, the radical viewpoint which would change the very terms of the problem, allowing us to speak of communication and information in terms other than those of evidence and apologia. If it is so difficult to abstract the logic of communication from its apologia, then this is because communication and information are first of all involved in their own operation, invested in their own effects, immersed in their own spectacle. So it is difficult to extract their reality from their simulation. The whole complex has succeeded today as a dominant system of values, and as a collective operational network at the same time. But the point is: are we really communicating or isn’t it rather the problem of our whole society expanding, transcending, exhausting itself in the fiction of communication? Other generations grew up with the myth of production. Saint-Simonian

and proto-capitalistic utopias marked out a radiant future for the human

race according to this prospective conception. And a sort of political and economical mysticism continues to push us towards maximal production with the prospect [la perspective] of maximal wealth and social comfort – however cruelly smashed by the world crisis of 1929 and the latent crisis in all industrial countries ever since. Now we know that an excess of production may be obnoxious and fatal. Even consumption may reverse its finality. Ever-growing consumption of therapies and healthcare for example may turn out to be a catastrophe for social security and for our health itself.2 The consumption of cultural goods, or of sexual pleasure, or of any commodity considered as a quantitative function, reveals itself to be an absurdity. The same paradoxical consequence is true for communication and information. We are at the critical limit where all effects can be reversed and communication vanishes into an excess of communication. All functions of transparency and fluidity in social relations end in a useless complexity and a collective suffocation. This vanishing point is not a prediction, it is a pure presumption, but a logical one, or rather a tautological one – describing communication and information as a great tautological operation, as a great self-fulfilling prophecy. First of all: it isn’t true that men have always communicated since they

first spoke to each other and lived in society. It is not even true that there have been ‘messages’ and information ever since men were connected by language. This anthropological extrapolation, which tends to extend the principle of communication back through the ages and to give it an aboriginal status, is entirely misleading. It occults the very moment when communication began, in the technical sense of the word (communication is a technology), when we began to be involved and engaged in a collective need for communication. It occults the specificity of communication as a modern invention, as a new mode of production and circulation of speech, connected to the media and the technology of media. Conversely: just as it has not always existed, perhaps also communication will not exist forever; neither is information an extra-temporal notion – maybe both will last as long as the words to speak of them. The terminological point is crucial. Things exist only when there is a determination of them, a sign which testifies, a warrant of their meaning and credibility. Whoever had the idea of ‘communicating’ in ancient societies, in tribes, in villages, in families? Neither the word nor the concept existed, the question doesn’t make any sense. People don’t need to communicate, because they just speak to one another. Why communicate when it is so easy to speak to each other? So, my presupposition is: just as the failure [défaillance] of the real is the

basis for the reality principle, so the failure of speech and symbolic exchange is the basis for the principle of communication. So the basic status, the basic definition of communication is negative. It is just like what Apollinaire says of time: if you are talking about it, it is because it doesn’t exist any more … When we speak of communication, it is because there is no communication any more. The social body is no longer conductive, relations are no longer

regulated by informal consensus, the communion of meaning [le sens] is lost. That is why we must produce a formal apparatus, a collective artefact, a huge network of information that assumes the circulation of meaning. A new specific function is born, reflected in a code, in numerous institutions, and then all at once emerge the techniques of communication, and then the sciences of communication, all the sophistries, all the casuistries, all the social and political complexity of communication. The simplest exchanges must transit through multiple codes and feedback, which change their sense. Everything becomes a ‘message’ (according to McLuhan,3 this pompous and ridiculous term sounds like ‘massage’, like manipulation). With the message, language becomes a pure ‘medium’ of communication, according to the structuralist and functionalist analysis. Emitter, receiver, code, context, contact, message: language is altered in its substance by this system of formalization, it is reduced to a one-dimensional function, according to the one-dimensional process of life. What was an act has become an operation. Speech was an act, communication is an operation, and along with it goes the operation of social life. Language is a form, but communication is a performance. Then it becomes more and more efficient [performant], easier and easier, faster and faster, but at the same time the system becomes heavier and heavier, more and more institutionalized, less and less conductive. (The very term ‘communication’ has a bureaucratic heaviness, it has all the beauty of a prosthetic mechanism.) We must never forget this when confronting the structure of communication:

its very essence is non-communication. Its horizon is negative, and this has consequences for the future of all human relations. Communication became this strange structure where things (and beings)

do not touch each other, but exchange their kinetic, caloric, erotic and informational energy through contiguity, just like molecules. Through contiguity, but without contact, always being at a distance from each other. Take highway cloverleaves. Nothing is more beautiful than two roads crossing each other, but it is dangerous as an accident risk – so is the crossing of glances or the exchange of words, human words, as a seduction risk. So we invented traffic infrastructures where cars can move without crossing each other, we invented structures of relations where humans can communicate without passing each other, without touching each other, without looking at each other. We are all commuters, and the condition for the fluidity of information, for the fluidity of transit, will be the abduction of all senses, of looking, of touching, of smelling, of all the potential violence of exchange. It is the same with our mediatized and computerized human relations. We

interact without touching each other, interlocute without speaking to each other, interface without seeing each other. Here is something really bizarre. The strangeness of a blank attraction, of a blank interaction, the inseparability of particles at distances of light-years. They talk about this a lot in physics. It seems that our social structure too is oriented towards this model, in a form of electronic solidarity. Just by chance we are discovering this in

physics at the very moment when we are having the same experience in everyday life. Permeability to all images, to all messages, to all networks – submission to

the virality of signs, to the epidemics of value, to the multiplicity of codes – tactility, digitality, contact, contiguity, contagion, irradiation and chain reaction: what gets lost in this new ritual of transparency and interaction is both the singularity of the self, and the singularity of the other. That is, the irreducibility of the subject, and the irreducibility of the object. Interaction, communication describe the vanishing point of the subject, of its secret, of its desire, of its Unheimlichkeit (strangeness to itself). But it is the vanishing point of the other as well, of transfer and challenge; of strangeness and seduction – all the fascination of alterity, of the external quality of the other, all dual and dialectical forms of relationship get lost, for all these forms presuppose distance, contradiction, tension or intensity, quite the contrary of the superficial fluidity of the electronic screen of communication. Another point is the question of time, of the suspension of time as well as the suspending of words, or of activity. In an interactive field there is no place for silence, for idleness, for absence. There is no stasis, no vacation, no rest – only metastasis along the networks, ramifications of time and space. No dead time, no distraction, no dreamtime: time is no longer your enemy, nor your luxury (you cannot spend it uselessly). It is not your master or your slave: it is your partner, and it resolves itself without past or future, in exhausting instantaneity. For it must be instantaneous in order to work. And images and messages

must follow one another, without discontinuity. No break, no syncope, no silence. A text may be silent, it may absorb or produce silence in its words – images, at least media-images, cannot. Silence on television is a scandal. That is why these lapses or silences on the screen are so significant, significant of nothing maybe, except the rupture of communication, but precisely this suspense is delightful, inasmuch as it makes obvious that all these non-stop images, this intensive information, is nothing but an artificial scenario, a pure fiction that protects us from the void – the void of the screen, of course, but also the void of our mental screen. The scene of a man sitting and staring at his empty television screen, on a strike day, will be one of the most beautiful and impressive anthropological images of the end of the twentieth century. In the interactive social life, it is prohibited to disconnect yourself; pro-

hibited even on your deathbed to disconnect the tubes and wires. The scandal is not so much the offence against life (nobody cares) as the attack on the network, on medicine and the technological apparatus of survival, which must first take care of its own survival. The principle of communication implies the absolute moral obligation not so much to be involved as to remain connected. This constitutes of course a possibility of being alienated by the whole

system of interconnection, of being controlled even in your private life. But

much more alienating, much more destabilizing is the reciprocal control given to you over the external world. The first danger is well known as the Big Brother story – the common fear of total control. But the second is more sophisticated and perverse. By using all the available screens and videos and telematic possibilities (including sex [l’amour] by telephone), it makes the external world superfluous, it makes all human presence, physical or linguistic, superfluous. All-out communication accentuates the involution into a micro-universe, with no reason to escape any more. A carceral niche with video walls. The fact that someone knew everything about you was frightening. But today, the best way of neutralizing, of cancellating someone is not to know everything about him, it is to give him the means of knowing everything about everything – and especially about himself. You no longer neutralize him by repression and control, you neutralize him through information and communication. You paralyse him much better by excess than by deprivation of information, since you enchain him to the pure obligation of being more and more connected to himself, more and more closely connected to the screen, in restless circularity and autoreferentiality, as an integrated network. At this point, the question of liberty doesn’t make sense any more. Our

sovereignty is diffracted along the technical and mental lines of parasitic ramifications. For this process happens not only externally, in the operational network of institutions and programmes, but also internally, in the labyrinth of our brain and our body. To put it another way: the exoteric complex of communication, this huge apparatus deployed on the surface of our societies, goes along with an esoteric complex that rules the intimacy of each individual. Through this complex, through all techniques of introspection, through psychology, biology and medicine, man has learned to communicate with himself, to deal with himself as a partner, to interface with himself. He passed from the stage of passion and destiny to the stage of calculating and negotiating his own life, dealing with all the information about it, just like the way a computer operates. The sexual discourse itself is an operational one. Sexual pleasure becomes

an act of communication (you receive me, I receive you), we exchange it as an interactive performance. To enjoy without communication, without reciprocal feedback, is a scandal. Maybe communications machines feel pleasure [jouissent] too – we don’t know, and we’ll probably never know. But if we imagine pleasure-machines, they can only act, or interact, as computing networks. In fact, these machines exist right now: they are our own bodies, induced to feel pleasure [jouir] again by all the most subtle cosmetic and exultative techniques. Exactly as, sitting in front of his computer or word-processor, he affords

himself the spectacle of his brain and his intelligence, man affords himself the spectacle of his sexual fantasies as he sits in front of his ‘Minitel rose’ (this term refers to a computer network, connected with the telephone system, and freely available to every home – ‘rose’ refers to the type of

messages, sweet ones). He exorcises sexual fantasies or intelligence in the interface with the machine. The other, the sexual or cognitive interlocutor, is never really face-to-face. Only the screen, which is the point of interface, is invested, and this interactive screen transforms the process of communication into a process of commutation that is in a process of reversibility between two identical things. Within the screen there is no transcendence as there is for the mirror (you cannot get beyond the screen as you can pass through the mirror), and then the Other is virtually the same – Otherness is virtually squatted by the machine. And so the archetype of modern communication would be this one of the ‘Minitel rose’: people make contact via the screen, then pass to talking on the telephone, then face-to-face, and then what? They return to the telephone ‘We’ll call each other’ and then go back to the ‘Minitel’ exchange – so much more erotic, because esoteric and transparent, a pure form of communication, with the abstract presence of the screen and its electronic text, as a new Platonic cave, where one can watch the shadows of carnal pleasure passing by. Why speak to each other when it is so easy to communicate? We used to live in the fantasy of the mirror, of the divided self and alie-

nation. We now live in the fantasy of the screen, of the interface, of contiguity and networks. All our machines are screens. We too are going to be screens, and the interactivity of men has been turned into an interactivity of screens. We are images one to another, the only destiny of an image being the following image on the screen. And images don’t have to be asked for their meaning, but to be explored instantaneously, in an immediate abreaction to meaning, in an immediate implosion of the poles of representation. Exploring an image (or a text-image, for any text on the screen appears as

an image) is quite different from reading a text. It is a digital exploration, where the eye moves in a capricious and sporadic way. The interface relation between interlocutors, or the interface relation to knowledge in information processing, is the same: tactile and exploratory. The voice, the computer voice or even the telephone voice, is a tactile one, a functional non-voice. Not really a voice, just as the screen is not really an object of vision any more. The whole paradigm of sensibility has changed. The tactility (see McLuhan) is not the organic sense of touch, it merely signifies the epidemic contiguity of eye and image, and then the vanishing of any aesthetic distance. We are coming closer and closer to the image, our eyes as if disseminated in the surface of the screen. And if we fall so easily into this cerebrovisual coma of the television, it is because of this perpetual vacuum of the screen, which we spontaneously fill up with our fantasies. Proximity of images, tactility of images, tactile pornography of images – though physically so close to us, the TV-image is paradoxically light-years away. It stays at a very special distance that can only be defined as insuperable by the body. The distance of the theatrical scene, of the mirror, is superable by the body, it can eventually surmount it, this is why this distance remains human. The distance of the screen is virtual, hyperreal, and therefore insuperable. It is

adapted to this single form, to this single abstract form of communication. Not exactly human any more, but, while using contiguity without contact, corresponding to an eccentric dimension, to a depolarization of space and a destabilization of the body. There is no topology more beautiful than the Möbius strip to designate

the contiguity of the close and the distant, of interior and exterior, of object and subject, of the computer screen and the mental screen of our brain intertwined with each other in the same spiral. In the same way, information and communication always feed back in a kind of incestuous convolution. They operate in a circular continuity, in a superficial indistinction between subject and object, interior and exterior, question and answer, event and image – a contiguity only to be solved in a loop, simulating the mathematical figure for infinity. Exchange is reciprocity, reversibility, whereas communication means circu-

lation and circularity. Communicational man is assigned to the network in the same way the network is assigned to him, by a refraction from one to the other. The machine does what he wants it to do, but man himself performs only what the machine is programmed to do. He is the operator of virtuality and his action is to explore all the potentialities [virtualités] of a programme, just as a gambler tends to explore all the potentialities of the game. The machine confiscates alterity. When using a camera, for instance, these

virtualities are no longer those of the subject framing the world according to his vision, but those of the object exploiting the virtualities of the lens. The camera is a machine that secretly distorts [altère] any specific will, that erases all intentionality, supporting only the pure reaction of taking pictures. The lens is substituted for vision, and then operates a reversal of it, an involution of sight. Thus the picture may be the object’s insight into the subject and not, as we commonly believe, the subject’s insight into the world. And what makes the magic of photography, indeed, is this involution of the subject into the black box, this devolution of his vision to the impersonal eye of the camera. In all techniques, maybe, in the entire operational world, in all these machines with integrated circuits between subject and object, the fact is that it is the object that short-circuits the subject; it is the object that imposes its own image. That is why any image is possible today. That is why anything can be

computerized, as something commutable in itself or in its own digital operation, just as any individual is self-commutable according to his genetic formula (exploring the virtualities of the genetic code will be a fundamental aspect of cognitive sciences). It means that there is no act, no event that would not be refracted on a screen or in a technical image, nor any action that would not be photographed, filmed, recorded, that would not be reproduced in the virtual eternity of the artificial memories. The compulsion is to exist potentially on all the screens and in the circumvolutions of all the programmes. That is our fantasy of communication. What about freedom at this point? There is none any more. There is

no choice, no final decision. Concerning networks, information, operating

machines, all decisions are serial, partial, fragmentary, microscopic, fractal – so to speak, quantic. Willing and acting are diffracted along the dotted lines of microscopic sequences and objects. And the fascination of all this comes from the void and the vertigo of this black box, from this progressive fading of the real world, from this approach to the vanishing point of our freedom. Am I a man, am I a machine? In the relation with traditional machines, there was no ambiguity. Man is always a stranger for the machine, and therefore alienated by it. He rescues himself as an exploited individual [comme exploité] (that was the golden age of alienation). Whereas new technologies, interactive machines, computer screens do not alienate me at all. I am connected with them, I am integrated with them. They are a part of me, a part of myself, like contact lenses, like transparent prostheses integrated into the body to the point of becoming a genetic part of it, like pacemakers, or the famous papula of Philip K. Dick, a small advertising implant grafted onto the body at birth, which serves as a biological alarm. All modern forms of communication are built on the same model: that of

an integrated structure, where the quality of being human, as opposed to the machine, is undecidable. Am I a man, am I a machine? There is no answer any more to this

anthropological question. In a way, this is the end of anthropology, the science of man being itself confiscated by the most recent technologies. Paradoxically, this anthropological uncertainty goes along with the growing perfectibility of networks, just as sexual uncertainty (am I a man, am I a woman, what about sexual difference?) arises from sophisticated techniques of the unconscious and of the body. Sophisticating the undecidable. Just as radical uncertainty about the status of object and subject arises from the sophistication of the microsciences. An immense uncertainty is all that remains from the sophistication of

networks of communication and information – the undecidability of knowing whether there is real knowledge in there or not, whether there is any real form of exchange or not. This again is undecidable, and I defy anyone to decide it. But, in the end, the point is: does the fantastic success of artificial intelligence arise from the fact that it makes us free from real intelligence? From the fact that by hyperrealizing the operational phenomenon of thinking it makes us free from the ambiguity and singularity of thought in relation to the world? Does not the success of all these interactive technologies come from their function of exorcism, making the eternal problem of freedom quite irrelevant? What a relief! With virtual machines, no more problems! You are neither subject nor object, neither free nor alienated, no longer one or the other: you are the same, in several commutations. We have passed from the hell of others to the ecstasy of the same, from the purgatory of otherness to the artificial paradise of identity. Might that be a way to a new type of freedom? Some would say to a new type of servitude. Now, this is the game in which we find ourselves, our crucial game, the

game of uncertainty. We cannot escape it. But we are not ready to accept it,

and even worse: we expect some sort of homeopathic salvation, we hope to reduce this uncertainty with more information, with more communication, thereby reinforcing the uncertainty of the whole system. Again this is quite fascinating: the pursuit-race [course-poursuite] of techniques and their perverted effects, the pursuit-race of man and his virtual clones on the reversible track of the Möbius Strip.