encountering aliens

In September I will be giving a talk at the Technical Universitat Dresden (in Dresden, Germany) about Bertolt Brecht’s theater politics, social media, and anti-fascist aesthetics:

Encountering Aliens: Digital Verfremdungseffekt and The Theater of the Self

In this talk, I will argue that self-reflexivity in social writing exists beyond the normative confines of social media. I depart from the observation that self-reflexivity in social media has the effect of distancing or alienating both producers and audiences from the naturalized context of social media applications. This in turn renders the normativity of social media visible, strengthening the capacity of the alienated parties to inquire into and critique social media as generative of ineluctably contrived and deterministic experiences of selfhood.

I maintain that when individuals use social media to signal their awareness of its constructed nature, they are operating beyond the conventions of its etiquette. This affords users a degree of sovereignty from the highly deterministic mechanisms by which self-made content comes to be interpreted as unmediated proferrances of subjectivity. My assessment implicates structural features of social media for their role in dissimulating “authenticity” to uphold the pretense that it bears no phenomenological difference from non-digital communicative contexts.

To substantiate my argument, I scrutinize examples of content from two major social media platforms, Facebook and Twitter, for features that engender an “alienation effect” (Verfremdungseffekt), explained as the outcome of an aesthetic technique developed by Bertolt Brecht. When a-effects are achieved successfully, the audience does not identify with the performed character or narrative; their reactions are not the result of the content of the script, but a technical maneuver. The Verfremdungseffekt effectively breaks the illusion of theater through the actors’ signals that the theater world is of a different experiential (phenomenological) regime of reality than that of the audience.

Joining media theory and the writings of Brecht with an interrogation of my case studies informed by philosophy of technology, I demonstrate that the digital Verfremdungseffekt allows for the production of subjectivities that defy the ontological and phenomenological delimitations of social media.


For any who are interested, the conference proceedings will be published in http://www.azimuthjournal.com/ in the following months.