Fillip

Fillip 18 — Spring 2013

The Page that I Am
Ahmad Hosni

While Facebook was a crucial social tool for the mobilization of the public during the days of the Egyptian revolution of January 2011, Facebook after the revolution was even more vibrant, politically and visually. The proliferation in that space of “image-posts”—images shared as a means of communication, specifically, political communication—was remarkable. This phenomenon was not unique to the Egyptian political context, but given that it arose with the onset of the revolution and proliferated following it, it calls for some attention. The post-revolutionary period—roughly the year succeeding the ousting of Hosni Mubarak, in February 2011—was a time of political strife in which the image-post acted to the effect less of mobilizing the populace than of gesturing toward political affiliations and positions. Compared with the early days of the revolution, the political landscape of its latter days is divided among different political factions and ideologies and a multiplicity of adversaries. In the post-revolutionary Facebook landscape, with the loss of a common foe, the social and political momentum and solidarity amassed against the Mubarak regime has diffused and weakened.

In this context, landscape provides a useful metaphor. Often used to describe a political scene in a particular country and at times to suggest a grand view apprehended at once and from a substantial distance, landscape is found on Facebook as well. After all, Facebook is a relatively more visual medium compared to other social media platforms such as Twitter. And it is arguably no less political than the “actual” political landscape. A number of questions emerge here, such as, how does the landscape of image-posts affect “political” reality? Does a landscape of image-posts supplant, complete, or augment a political landscape of people in the streets? What does it entail to map the political not on the basis of history, polls, or analysis, but as a vista? I would argue that Facebook is an ever-changing vista, always in a state of composition: it opens in front of you; it recedes, composes, and recedes again as you map your way through it—a landscape that shapes you and that in turn you shape as you use it. This is not a landscape that charts a topography of political tendencies and affiliations, since a “topography” is observed, marked, and represented, drawn from a distance. The static topographic model is not the best way to articulate the political space of Facebook. Instead, this landscape is something more dynamic and, above all, performative. It is a landscape of rhythms and their interrelations, of tools and their embodied operations, of politics and its embedded visualities. The landscape here is something akin to what anthropologist Tim Ingold calls a “taskscape,” a landscape of embodied use value, of embodied social performativity.1 It is a landscape that exists only when performed. The “scape” is necessarily visual, the “task” largely political. A taskscape entails commensurability between the subject and his or her environment, between the materiality of the environment and the affective embeddedness of the subject, between the vista and the embodied operations of the subject. One does not merely confront a taskscape as one confronts a landscape. A taskscape is constituted by acts of dwelling, of relating to a home environment, and the everyday tasks are the constitutive acts of such dwelling. The idea of taskscape does away with the centrality of the detached observer vis-à-vis the landscape, a space bridged by the modalities of vision: vision as gaze and gaze as the stratification of power hierarchies between the voyeur and the observed.

A second dichotomy taskscape does away with is that between the human and the inanimate. It does so by conflating the agency of a human subject with the technicity of tools. In the taskscape of Facebook, meta-journalism is the main mode of labour. Operations such as posting, reposting, sharing, and commenting connect spheres of the political and the technical. The user is the bearer of labour; he or she possesses prosthetic appendages that enmesh all participating individuals within a wired network of information and operations.

Image-posts in the taskscape of Facebook represent a purportedly democratic commentary on what takes place in actual, material political space, but, owing to their performative power, there is potentially more significance to these operations than a mere representation of political activity. These operations propagate images while constituting the building blocks of the system in which they operate, namely, Facebook. In other words, actions that are the result of the basic architecture and functionality of the system at the same time produce the system. Such a self-reproducing system mimics, if anything, a living system, or an ecology, composed of a multiplicity of smaller building units—cells—in the form of pages. Identified as “personal pages,” these pages are constituted by what individuals and groups post about themselves and are a form of self-authorship. They also furnish the images through which individuals and groups can “see” one another. The personal page is the manifestation of a subject’s enunciations and actions in the Facebook taskscape; it is what people see of the subject when he or she is reduced to a page. On the other hand, the “home page” is what comes under a subject’s purview, as a vista ahead of the subject’s field of vision. Yet the composition of such a vista is also reciprocally contingent on how the subject conducts himself or herself in such a taskscape. The relation between the personal page and the home page is parallel to that between the subject and his or her environment, and between them exists something close to what Pierre Bourdieu calls “habitus,” or the shared habitual comportment of individual bodies in their environment. Habitus is the acquired system of generative schemes of practice adjusted to conditions of the environment.2

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About the Author

Ahmad Hosni is a physician, photographer, and writer based in Barcelona.

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