In my recent presentation on YouTube I mention the idea that we can sometimes experience moments of “aesthetic arrest” while watching YouTube. This was mentioned in the context of Domino1023′s insightful reply to Boh3m3′s question, “Why do you Tube?” in which she says, “It allows you to watch other people without staring at them, or making them uncomfortable, because they don’t see you watching them. You can just watch their videos.” She concludes with the powerful suggestion that this creates a situation in which “you can just like see their being, you can see their person.”
Here are some of my thoughts on this, again excerpted from the paper I mentioned in my last post on context collapse:
To see “being” is to see the person beyond your typical judgment of that person. To see “being” is not to “see” but the empathic experience of recognizing shared being. The viewer achieves what James Joyce calls “esthetic arrest,” a state in which “the mind is arrested and raised above desire and loathing.” In Joyce’s beautiful words, it is “the luminous silent stasis of esthetic pleasure, a spiritual state very like to that cardiac condition which the Italian physiologist Luigi Galvani … called the enchantment of the heart.”
This enchantment is often expressed by YouTubers who find themselves amazed by the depth of connection they find and the sense of community they can experience on YouTube. The feeling and experience of depth is enhanced by the self-reflexive contexts in which vlogs are most often produced and the private contexts in which they are most often viewed.
Yet many of these experiences of deep connection are experiences only, never manifesting into tight relationships with the kinds of responsibilities we associate with face-to-face relations. Many YouTubers do create strong and tight relations on YouTube that extend beyond the screen into physical contexts, and there are a growing number of YouTube gatherings worldwide in which Tubers meet one another face-to-face (see Lange, 2007), but the experience of profound and deep connection with relatively (or even totally) anonymous strangers viewed on the screen from a distance remains an important phenomenon with important implications for how we understand ourselves and our relations with others.
/ From there the paper goes on to cover much of the same ground as the video …
If you want to see more about what Joyce had to say about this, the whole book is online at Project Gutenberg. Do a search for “arrest,” “stasis,” or “esthetic” to see the relevant passages.