MIMESIS Munich Doctoral Program for Literature and the Arts
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Sebastian Althoff

Sebastian Althoff, M.A.

Doctoral Student

Contact

Akademiestr. 2, 80799 München

Room: A.O2.47a
Phone: + 49 (0)89 3852-2989

Thesis Title

Digital Mimicry

Abstract

Current popular strategies of countersurveillance such as the TOR-Browser or certain Add-Ons aim at shielding the individual from digital surveillance in order to ensure the privacy in which alone the subject may flourish. However, recent projects in Queer Studies criticize the underlying binary of visibility and invisibility, envisaging instead an in-between or another kind of visibility (e.g. Zach Blas’ Informatic Opacity). Furthermore, countersurveillance runs the risk to fall into a counterdetermination, ”a structure that validates the dominant ideology by reinforcing its dominance through [...] controlled symmetry,” to quote the Queer Theorist José Estaban Muñoz.

Muñoz instead proposes to pursue a disidentification, envisaging ”survival strategies” that ”work on and against dominant ideologies.” The PhD-project seeks to explore such strategies which aim at transforming the individual rather than maintaining it. It argues that certain works of digital art experiment with a strategy of “working on and against,” such as Hito Steyerl’s HOW NOT TO BE SEEN: A F**king Didactic Educational .MOV File (2013). Her work can be regarded as evading dataveillance by imitating the digital, pursuing a way of becoming part of the digital milieu. Accordingly, HOW NOT TO BE SEEN stages performers dressed as pixels with white or black cubes over their heads in order to ”merge into a world made of images.” The elementary particles of surveillance at the same time provide a way to hide.

Calling this digital mimicry, the project alludes to Roger Caillois’ work on mimicry. Referring to insect mimicry as a kind of fashion enacted by a whole species and changing not every season but slowly through the generations, he describes mimicry as being driven by a groundless fascination towards becoming like somebody or something else. Caillois therefore underlines the notion of a transformative mimesis. But he also, in his 1935 text entitled Mimicry and Legendary Psychasthenia, described mimicry in a way that seems to grasp very well the current situation of dataveillance, describing it as a spatial phenomenon. Invoking a mental disorder that results in an inability to distinguish between space and organism, he describes an unstable space that appears as pursuing the subject and eventually devouring and replacing it. The invasive measures of digital surveillance are on a par with this, encircling the individual to construct a digital double that takes the place of the user as the objective, intelligible incarnation of its “true” self.