Monday, September 10, 2007

Watching Kathakali

I went to watch a Kathakali dance performance tonight. Everyone had digital cameras out almost the entire time. If traditional film cameras interrupted the direct gaze and experience of something by placing a lens between the eye and the object, now digital cameras have made it so that you are no longer even looking at or experiencing something. So absorbed in tracking whether the screen shot looks good, tourists watched most of the stage performance on the tiny screens of their cameras. In other words, everyone had the immediate record, but their actual experience of it was indirect!

Which makes me think that immediacy is actually more indirect than delay! Immediacy is not a more trustworthy companion to experience than retrospective reflection, but is it even a more trustworthy companion to reality? And how far is the gap between reality and experience?

Interestingly, when people were truly absorbed, all cameras timed off, their neon-glowing bodies extinguished. No more malevolent fireflies with lead tied to their legs. Those moments were short-lived though. Boredom crept in, and cameras came out. No longer engrossed, one could again be separate from that object of (half) attention. Then, a moment's change: something stirred, perhaps the beat picked up, the singing became more urgent. An air of expectancy sent a frisson through the audience, and as if one, all pulled out and lit up their cameras. Something might happen again, at last! And no one wanted to miss it when it came.

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