Sunday, September 7, 2008


How a Tiny Object Broke Down Barriers of Language and Space

“This is the Fire and this is the Garden. Beyond this realm is the Furthest limit. That is the point after which form does not exist, all awareness is absorbed. To cross it is to be annihilated forever. At this border is the last of what may be spoken about. Beyond it is silence. The great sukun. Everything perishes except the Face of Allah.”
– The Islamic Book of the Dead

First we have to understand that the jawal is an ecstatic object always on the brink of dying, “a dead object in spectacular contemplation” . It exists, “beyond and above exchange and use, above and beyond equivalence” and has (in the Gulf) become the exclusive portal through which to connect to and escape from other people. The jawal also serves as an intimately public stage where anonymity is often confused with familiarity, where the mirror is mistaken for the screen.

An example: jealous lovers drag their broken hearts over the veiled or pixilated subjects of raunchy videos, convincing themselves that the unrecognizable but symbolically potent body on the screen is their own paramour. Tears are shed and wiped away with plastic, longing caresses are issued over a jelly-keypad, kisses are replaced with a lip-smacking sound: communication is flattened as we experience and enact familiar emotions and exchanges in the still unfamiliar and flat dimension of the P.A.N.

As the seemingly omnipotent Baudrillard foresaw on the subject, “Today the scene and the mirror have given way to a screen and a network. There is no longer any transcendence or depth, but only the immanent surface of operations unfolding, the smooth and functional surface of communication.”

At some point on this ‘functional surface of communication’ it ceases to matter whether or not the drunk man or exposed woman on the screen is real. Their flesh has disintegrated into futile bodies, largely disused and abandoned for their Bluetooth avatars. Like the empty and never-to-be-used buildings of SFW’s city, the physical body has been left unused and condemned. Again Baudrillard illustrates, “This is our problem, insofar as this electronic encephalization, this miniaturization of circuits and of energy, this transistorization of the environment condemned to futility, to obsolescence and almost to obscenity, all that which once constituted the stage of our lives. We know that the simple presence of television transforms our habitat into a kind of archaic closed-off cell, into a vestige of human relations whose survival is highly questionable.”

This ‘vestige of human relations’ and the vestige of ourselves which exist exclusively on the screen is as ecstatic as the object (jawal) which facilitates its existence. This tiny object effortlessly gave life to a spontaneous collective inner space and it can just as easily kill that connection when its battery dies.

In many ways the jawal is a replacement of television in the Gulf which in turn had been the much villianized replacement of human interaction around the world. It serves both as portal and as prison. It has become executioner of our physical, commiting a sort of infanticide as entire relationships are increasingly lived on screen, numbing our fingers and limbs into obscelecence while allowing our disjointed minds to roam and gaze in the pastures of other users within Bluetooth range.

Jawals are fetishised in households and handbag, ‘blinged’ out with jewels and tassels by both men and women. It approaches deity like status when used to regulate prayer times and decorated with elaborate Quranic script. They are beautiful material artifacts with total power over the lives of their hosts. The jawal has planned a massive interlocking conspiracy from its miniaturized scale, indoctrinating everyone into its new form and language, escorting us onto its inviting network and locking the exit behind us.

Back in 2003, before Bluetooth was as widely used for multimedia transmission and before mobiles had monitors that could support thousands of colors, Suzy Small mused on the changes in language occurring due to the abbreviated lingo of text: “This has been the first new form of mass communication for many years that has used a predominantly textual form, and it has affected the way people who use the medium relate to written language, and how they produce it.” The mobile phone video has lead to a similar abbreviated exchange but in visual non-sequiters, effectively collapsing interaction into bursts and nuggets of information in which the rationale for the outburst is inferred rather than explained. “Here, there is almost never any question of challenging rational communication with its normalized filmic odes and prevailing objectivist, deterministic-scientific discourse; only a relentless unfolding of pros and cons, and of ‘facts’ delivered with a sense of urgency, which present themselves as liberal but imperative; neutral and value-free; objective or universal.”
In other words, txt was a new language, jawal videos are a vernacular and the next stage leads easily and inevitably to a new state of living: the place where everyone in the Gulf disappeared to, the akhira.

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