On-line version ISSN 2079-7222
Indo-Pac. j. phenomenol. (Online) vol.10 n.2 Grahamstown Oct. 2010
Cycling as reading a cityscape: A phenomenological approach to interface-shaped perception
This essay attempts to assess whether the perceptual issues posed by the contemporary interface culture, and the constant attitude shift demanded by the new media between the "natural" and the "as if" modes, might be considered a significant challenge for phenomenological aesthetics as understood in terms of Merleau-Ponty's phenomenology of perception. To demonstrate how the use of a particular interface profoundly shapes the form and structure of an activity as well as enabling perception of a particular kind, the author does not focus directly on the state-of-the-art smart interfaces, but describes the experience of cycling in a large city, with the interface in the form of the bicycle upgraded with an imagined ride simulator. While the former enables a very particular entrance into the world of perception, shaped by its moderate speed and detachment from the ground, the latter enables techno-shaped perception in the "as if" screenic mode. The experience described raises questions concerning the kinaesthetic, proprioceptive and motor features contributing to the cyclist's mobile perception, as well as pointing to issues related to the reading of the city's network as a particular spatial configuration generated by the cyclist's real-time activity. This is the space-time-event-ridescape maintained and modified by the corporeal act of cycling. The spatiality of such a ride does not presume the notion of a space that contains the cyclist, but builds on notions of being-in-the-ridescape (as a kind of cityscape), in terms not only of full corporeal and mental engagement, but also of bodily literacy. The reading of the cityscape enabled by the combination of two interfaces, the bicycle and the ride simulator, is discussed in relation to de Certeau's account of pedestrian (walking) experience in a big city, his distinction between strategies and tactics, and the notion that each cyclist contributes a novel story to ridetext, which is viewed not as an aesthetic object but as the production of puzzles for the rider to solve. The paper concludes by questioning the capacity of phenomenology to accommodate the contemporary phenomenon of a "mixed" or "augmented reality" either in concept or in relation to the demands of the phenomenological reduction and the ends of the epoché.
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