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Caring from distance

July 18, 2012

Ethics has been largely confined to the domains of doing, which include performative acts of a linguistic nature. While we have understood that there is no decision which has not passed through the crucible of undesirability, ethics still engages, in the largest possible terms, a reflection on doing. Now what about the wasted, condemned bodies that crumble before a television? Avital Ronell

Could there be a surveillance rooted in a desire to communicate, to care, to love? And if such for of observation could be called surveillance? The online etymology dictionary suggests that the word comes from the Latin vigil, that in early 13c implied “eve of a religious festival” (an occasion for devotional watching or observance), and “occasion of keeping awake for some purpose” is recorded from 1711. What we call surveillance is “keeping awake for some purpose” devoid of devotion, it is watching without caring, it is looking at the enemy at all times. The same technological devices, the same lenses and screens, once looking at a loved one potentially become instruments of care. But yet, this implies a delegation of care, a form of displacement that allows one to go about everyday tasks, while caring from a distance. Watching over a sleeping baby, while filling-in excel sheets, caring for an ailing parent, form another country in another continent. A form of micro managing compatible with work regime of global market place (I don’t call the enemy by name, as naming it is its deferral). An unresolved, unfinished, work-in-progress of an artist (who thus is left unnamed), incorporated footage of an IP Camera, installed at the artist’s grandparent’s residence in Tehran, for her mother to watch her parent’s house from California. The ailing parents on a bed at the end of the living room, are under 24 hour surveillance. The camera is controlled via computer and can survey the room, scanning over the furniture, photographs on the buffet table, AC duck on the roof and the cracks on the wall. The household, for most part, is oblivious to the camera, or maybe has completely internalized it. The old ailing parents do not register it and the nurse is probably unaware, but could be at times caught by surprise. This camera chronicles the withering away of cared ones and registers their ultimate death, while the observer on the other end of the line is washing the dishes. And as the presence of the camera cannot postpone the moment of death, the live footage of the sleeping baby on a smartphone cannot prevent her from falling off the crib. But is this desire nothing more a mere internalization of the news media and the dramatization of everyday life? While acknowledging the care for ailing parents or a mother for a baby, with or without video cameras, the notion of caring from distance that purported by such lens based instruments only function within the logics of global commerce where a number is attributed to a contribution to a cause, child in Africa $20, victims of tsunami $10, sexual assaults against women in Afghanistan $25, etc, while one encounters the surprisingly shocking inefficiency of such contributions in the live demise of a loved one on CCTV.

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