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Towards a Theory of Videotics

Towards a Theory of Videotics
Richard Osborne

In the post-structuralist diaspora the search for a nontaxonomic ‘truth’, an understanding of the political history
of the presentation of signs, demands that we interrogate
our relationship to the notion of the materiality of the
sign. From Copernicus to Warhol we have witnessed the
destabiliza tion of the subject-centred universe and the rise
of a cultural physics that places the mobility of the sign at
the (de-centred) centre of all discourses. Here we shall
argue that all philosophy to date has signally failed to inaugurate a proper history of the materiality of the sign in
cultural discursivity. Here nothing will be taken for
granted, especially that phallo-centric notion of the link
between sexuality and the search for truth, indeed we shall
necessarily construct a theoretical distance from the
implications of the object of our inquiry and of all interjections by the discourses that write themselves in the
interstitial moments of our lapses and aphasias. In the play
of sliding signifiers that call our attention to the act of
elision and confusion that constitutes the corpus of all
writing we shall pursue, and be pursued by, that central
question of the presence of the machine in the systems of
discour se that consti tu te the ‘social’ •
This ‘logic of
supplementarity’ as Derrida describes the underlying theme
of his work is extended here to encompass the unknown
limits of the post-filmic discourses of technological power
(1). Drawing upon recent advances in linguistics, semiology,
criminology, biology, epistemology, gardening, electronics
and robotics we shall here sow the seeds for an organic,
and revolutionary, synthesizing of modalities of thought
that we have elsewhere described as a theory of videotics.

The origins of videotic thought can be traced back to the
pioneering work of the Australian Saufewer in his one
lecture in 1968 (2).

Fundamentally videotics is a proto-science of el.ectronic signs. This revolution in the way we think of images
in a video-saturated society is based on Saufewer’s ruptural
insight that ‘all images are constructed like an electric
current’ (3). He is here gesturing to that fundamental, and
irrevocable, distinction between direct and alternating current which is the very basis of the discursive opposition
between Oriental and Occidental systems of power presentation. This opposition is the starting point of videotic analysis. The internal relations of the video derive from the
distinction between direct current, the always already
pre-given potentiality–or-energy acts, the system that
makes the video possible, and alternating current which
re-presents the individual acts of energy consumption which
a universal transformer makes possible. Saufewer’s rejection of the origins of universal power and his insistence on
the arbitrariness of the electronic sign have eternally displaced ‘homos electronicus’ and inaugurated an open ended
discursivity of power systems. The refusal of referentiality
leads to the necessity of arbitrariness and a recognition
that signs ‘cannot be seen to represent what they represent
except insofar as they not other than that which they are

in the necessity of materiality which is the precondition of
the possibility of signification’ (4). In other words it is the
either/or of the alternating current (on/off) that specifies
the mode of signification of the electronic sign in its digital functionality as representation. The failure of linguistic
theories to account for the complexity of the operation of
electronic signs can be seen in their refusal of the notion
of direct current, most particularly in their inability to
analyse the effects of power blackouts in post-industrial

The search for a theory of signs immediately calls
into being the elusive search for the fundamental unit of
information upon which such a theory could build. Saufewer
argued that it was the electronic dot, but Brumsky has convincingly analysed the patterns of electronic transformation
and switched to the ‘frame’ as the monodic reference point
of all science. The instance of the ‘frame’ implies the
totality of the video system, and vice versa, and its two
sets of instigmatic relations. These relations can be schematically represented as those of the prostratigmatic and the
syntapematic. The former refers, of course, to the contrast
and opposition between ‘frames’, on/off, or being and notbeing. The latter refers to the possibilities of combination
through which frames form larger uni ts, or tapes of meaning. The concept of the tape was first articulated by EMI
and has universally been adopted by videoticians, except in
filmology where the notion of the text is still mobilized in
narrative analysis. In the naturalized play of images
created by the ‘frame’ in motion we have the moment of
the videological, the positioning of the viewer as subject.

The construction of the viewer, the voyeur as place,
through the (hidden) inflexion of social relations in the rapidity of the repression of the origin of the electronic is the
illusion of narrative that gives rise to the notion of the

The ghost in the machine of pleasure systems is of
course the autonomous subject rendered in the materiality
of the tape as a videological whole and rendered selfconscious in the ‘play’ mode.

The videological system re/presents television and the
subject as natural mythological entities and represses the
entry into televisuality which is the moment of acquisition
of humanness through which subjectivity is inscribed. The
subject-for-itself is repressed in the acquisition of televisuality when the ‘mirror-phase’ is negated in the oedipal
moment of the screen coming to life. This understanding
leads to further questions such as the class control of
viewing practices and the construction of genderised
‘points-of-view’ in the organisation of programming. Residual counter-hegemonic practices such as cinema going and
home movies clearly point to areas in which deconstructive
techniques play an important role.

The realm of the videotic covers all spheres of human,
and non-human, activity and extends to the unconscious,
which we now know is structured like a video-tape. {Often

badly worn and likely to play erratically through constant
repetition and sudden fast-forward and reverse moves.)
The role of the unconscious in the master-tape of history,
a history of difference rendered intelligible through man’s
technological development, remains under-theorised in the
web of power relations which record history through man.

In this analysis we can see the state as the plane of relations on which the master-tape is constructed and from
which class copies are run to be distributed through the
system we know as I. V.A.s. (Individual Videological

We return then to tarx’s stunningly prescient statement that history repeats itself, never in the same mode
but always through the same images. Hegel’s teleological
epistemology is also exposed in his failure to predict the
working out of the spirit in slow motion and freeze frame

1 On Grammatology in particular. We understand Derrida to mean that what we don’t
put in is just as important as what we do. Or alternatively that all meaning is
impossible insofar as language is what it appears not to be.

2 O. Saufewer. ‘The trepidation of an out-back philosophy in the video revolution’,

A series of lectures at the French Institute.

April 27: David Krell on Freud in France
May 4:

Peter Dews on Nietzsche in French
May 11: Visiting French Speaker
May 18: Seminar on Bachelard
May 25: Robert Bernasconi on Levinas and the
Question oJ the Other
June 1: David Wood on Jacques Derrida
For further details contact: University of London
Dept. of Extra-Mural Studies, 26 Russell Sq. London
WCIB 5DQ. Tel: 01-636-8000.


analysis, the videological mode of the synchronic. If we
look at the video-tape of the Royal Wedding and examine
its mythological status as a trans-cultural, trans-historical
event then the full power of videological analysis can be
seen. Chronologically, we would have said historically, we
know that the video-tape came first and that constant
repetition produced the illusion of the ‘event’, an ‘event’

only made knowable to the viewing subject by that prior
body of discourse which constitutes tele-visuality. This
itself explains the traditional playing out of the ‘event’ as
it relates to, prolongs, reinforces and explains already
given modes of signification. Barthes, Kristeva and others
have somewhat inadequately referred to this process as
‘intertextuality’, demonstrating their failure to break from
the idealist language of text-based criticism. A theory of
videotics, emphasising the materiality of the construction
of the sign, more adequately refers to this process as one
of ‘forgery’ or ‘contrefacon’.

The ‘event’ was forged to create the illusion of a
history, of a past, of the diachronic, which could in itself
be a teleological explanation for the presence of the Royal
family as the (absent) centre of power in post-Iateconsumer monopoly capitalism. Prince Charles and Lady
Diana were clearly produced as particular subjectivities to
‘forge’ the Royal Wedding as videological representations
of the ordinary which, in their ordinariness, signified the
historical transition from bourgeois royalty to the modern
form of petty-bourgeois royalty. This reading is reinforced
by the video recording of Elton John at a charity concert
attended by the Royal subjectivities.

Here we have merely sketched the beginnings of a
videological mode of analysis and posed the perennial question, ‘What is the materiality of the sign in post-filmic,
post-structuralist discourse?’ in a revolutionary and electrifying way. As Saufewer put it, however, ‘without the sign,
no video, without the video, no sign.’

given at Griffith University and recorded on video by the Queensland police.

3 Saufewer now denies having argued this, since it was said in the bar after the
lecture and recorded for posterity by an undercover policeman. The balance of
scholarship clearly points to Saufewer, however, although a certain 1orris was
standing next to him at the time.

4 Saufewer some ten minutes after the above. Police f He 5/14156 page 112.

QL/ Archives 1968.

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