Abstract for Watching and Being Watched:
Surveillance, the Death of God, and the Desire for Recognition
This paper will examine the rise of surveillance in society as that which fills the ontological gap left by the nineteenth century death of God seen in the light of the Hegelian struggle for recognition. The exorcism of God from public and private domains unhooks the desire for recognition from its moorings in a fixed transcendence. The desire on which such guaranteed ontological security is based returns in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries in a multiplicity of forms, not least of which is in the desire to be seen. In line with Foucault’s analysis of confession as a tool in and through which the self both discloses and is constituted through that which is disclosed the near constant technological surveillance and self-disclosure endured today forms the apex of a very ancient discourse in which one is only insofar as one is seen. Thus, along with surveillance by the state, the internet-at-large provides a replacement (and selective) omniscience in the form of a transcendent pseudo-metaphysical realm in which one can disclose oneself even in anonymity; in this sense, it doesn’t matter who is seeing whom or for what purpose, so long as one has a presence in the all-seeing on-line ether. Moreover, in a secularised society of narcissistic-voyeurs, on-line forums such as Facebook and Twitter provide the only thing better than being seen, which is being seen to be being seen by no one in particular and thus by all. From the perspective of the Hegelian struggle for recognition as the ground for one’s ontological security and the Foucauldian self-formation through disclosure of self, the question remains to be asked, what kind of human being emerges from under the all-seeing gaze of the technological web before whom all is being laid bare?