The first level continues: Cinema is a line of a certain type, which opens towards certain possibilities, an illumination of the dark corners of topography. For Walter Benjamin, what is to be valued is the ‘optical unconscious’, cinema’s machinic vision of a world that is itself machined with a dense grid of lines. Cinema can expand or shrink space, extend or compress time, it can cut together images of diverse scales or forms — intimations of topology. It creates a ‘Speilraum’, a playroom, for dividing up the machine world otherwise. Contra Lukács, Benjamin opens towards the formal properties of the line at the expense of its representation of an historical situation as a totality. But what doesn’t change is that the spectator, like the reader, is external to the line itself.
The first level ends: The novel languishes. Cinema fails to realize its allegorical potential. Guy Debord: “But this life and this cinema are both equally paltry; and that is why you could actually exchange one for the other with indifference.” Boredom reigns.
The second level begins: Radio is a line of a certain type, which opens towards certain possibilities. For Brecht, what is to be valued in it is a certain unrealized potential for the line to point both ways: “radio is one-sided and it should be two. It is purely an apparatus for distribution, for mere sharing out. So here is a positive suggestion: change this apparatus over from distribution to communication. The radio would be the finest possible communication apparatus in public life, a vast network of pipes. That is to say, it would be if it knew how to receive as well as transmit, how to let the listener speak as well as hear, how to bring him into a relationship instead of isolating him.” Radio could be like a public telephony. But it is all flow; it lacks a code. It radiates from one point to every other, without distinction. It lacks the transformational geometry of topology, where any three specific points could be connected, anywhere, and still make the same ‘triangle’ connecting sender and receiver and the third ‘line’ — telesthesia itself.
The second level continues. Television expands the line of radio, but does it add much to it? Does it yield much by way of a space of possibility? Fredric Jameson: “The blockage of fresh thinking before this solid little window against which we strike our heads being not unrelated to precisely that whole or total flow we observe through it.” Television appears as an analog flow. The digital has not yet prevailed.
The second level ends: The tension between the topographic and topological is also one between a declining sphere of representation, will and interest, and one a new topos that is statistical, digital, simulated — algorithmic. The topographic is incomplete. It can project its lines across space and annihilate time, but it cannot yet mark or measure out the space it encloses. It has some feeble mechanisms — the opinion poll, for example. Through the laborious means of seeking out and recording opinion, topological space can be given the appearance of agency. Jean Baudrillard: “It is, paradoxically, as a game that the opinion polls recover a sort of legitimacy. A game of the undecideable; a game of chance… Perhaps we can see here the apparition of one of these collective forms of the game that Caillois called alea — an irruption into the polls themselves of a ludic, aleatory process, an ironic mirror for the use of the masses.”