Volume 3, Issue 1
The Instagram Lawscape
Pravin Jeyaraj & Andreas Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos*

ABSTRACT:Andreas Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos has recently published a collection of what he calls “picpoems”, which were poems inspired by pictures that he took using an iPhone. The pictures were taken and subsequently listened to through a posthuman methodology, which resulted in his composition of the poems. This comment comprises a conversation between Pravin Jeyaraj and Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos, in which Jeyaraj explores how the picpoems offer a visualisation of being inside the lawscape, which is an environment created by an invisible law. He argues that the role of law is to highlight the lack of control we have over our bodies and how suicide is the only way we can have any form of control over our escape.

Opening by Pravin Jeyaraj

In July 2013, Andreas Philippopoulos, Professor of University of Westminster, published with AND Publishing, a Central Saint Martin’s art publisher, his collection of poetry and photographs, or ‘picpoetry’, called A Fjord Eating into My Arm.1 A selection of picpoems were originally showcased at an exhibition, “The Iron Books: Poems of the Posthuman”, in East London in July.2 What perhaps makes it stand out is that the pictures were shot by iPhone and uploaded to Instagram and the poems were automatically written within a couple of minutes of being uploaded by listening to the pictures. The absence of any obvious law might make it an odd choice on which to comment in an academic law journal. However, I would argue that A Fjord... is very much a continuation of Andreas’ exploration of the lawscape.

In a recent article, Atmospheres of Law: Senses, Affects, Lawscapes, Andreas has said that the lawscape is a visible atmosphere or environment where everything is regulated by an invisible – or at least imperceptible - law.3 Through this artificial landscape, the law generates emotional responses within us by emphasising certain sensory experiences and suppresses others.4 To be in the lawscape is to be emotionally affected by it. Therefore, the inhabitant of the lawscape is the posthuman, which is, broadly speaking, the idea that any notion of the “human” is based on an arbitrarily definitional boundary and there is always something beyond the boundary that has been excluded. So, in a nutshell, the posthuman is the human and the environment (the operative being “and”), which is the lawscape.

The picpoems in A Fjord... were therefore created using a posthuman methodology. In the introduction, the photographer, Andreas said that he was prompted to take these images by something outside of his body that he sensed: the bodies, objects and spaces that ‘regularly haunted’ his body and were always pushing at the boundaries of his vision (‘white light under my eyelids’), touch (‘whiteout on my hands’) and bodily reactions (‘white noise in my stomach’, presumably butterflies). In a sense, it was the god or angels in the first picpoem ‘god, angels, me’, the invisible creator god of the lawscape, whispering to him or following him.

However, I would argue that this whispering, invisible god of the lawscape is the photographer, Andreas, himself. Even with the iPhone 6, shooting photographs is arguably a method of creating one’s own lawscape rather than describing an existing one. Firstly, I am not aware of a still camera that can capture any sensory experience other than vision. Secondly, just as I see differently depending on whether I am wearing my glasses or not, a camera lens and the iPhone’s Retina display is no doubt going to change the nature of one’s vision. Arguably, one’s vision ought to be enhanced in certain ways, like Geordi La Forge in Star Trek: The Next Generation, who was born blind but was given “superhuman sight” through a visor that converted heat radiation. But, as La Forge pointed out in the ninth movie in the franchise, a lot of what the naked eye sees can only be converted by the brain. So, like a psychoanalyst, Andreas listened to the pictures through the display of his iPhone. But, in the absence of actual sound, was it a fraction of the electromagnetic radiation (light) that his eyes sensed, neuronal network processed and hands wrote? What did he miss? How do we know if something was not lost in translation? From a Lacanian perspective, Andreas arguably captured an image of the posthuman experience in the lawscape; as the photographer, he has created his own lawscape in conversation with the inaccessible Real. In A Fjord..., therefore, we are pulled through the looking glass, so to speak. As Andreas wrote in ‘god, angels, me’, the god of the lawscape has allowed him to write his one-word poem: but, to misquote the apostle John,5 in the beginning was the Word...and the Word was Andreas. Thus, as he wrote, neither the god of the lawscape or himself as god of his lawscape exist.

In the apparent non-existence of the lawmaking self, therefore, we are reminded how our individual bodies are vulnerable and we depend on the other for our existence; we cannot be omnipotent, omniscient, ubiquitous, fully complete gods. In a sense, as we create our own lawscape, in order to satisfy our desires, we also give up our creative power to something other called law, which takes over the management of our emotions. We are the makers of our own gilded cage. As Andreas wrote in ‘between salvation’, we can only be saved and escape from the lawscape with the help of the other, this imperceptible thing called law. The vulnerable boy and the eagle, symbol since time immemorial of strength, farsightedness, immortality and authority, both say to each other: “Only you can save me. Take me with you, I want to fly away.” The vulnerable need the lawscape to rescue them from their troubles and the lawscape (and thus the law) can only survive if the vulnerable continue to yield to it. Therefore, to fly away is to stay put. Is ir possible to fly away and actually escape from the lawscape? If everything is always regulated by some form of law, then arguably the only way to escape from the lawscape is to die, or to ascend into heaven, when we supposedly have no more desires to be satisfied. But as Andreas pointed out in my favourite picpoem ‘not yet’, even bodily death is not within our control. Perhaps the closest that we can come to a death that we have actually chosen for ourselves is suicide, from the Latin for “to kill oneself”. It could be argued that committing suicide is the resurgence of the human trying to take back the power surrendered to the posthuman lawscape. If the posthuman is the human and the environment, then committing suicide is the deletion of the ‘and’. The lawscape therefore has a vested interest in suicide prevention, because every suicide is a weakening of the lawscape’s power. Thus, I would argue that the various decisions you must make in the process of committing suicide is a consequence of the restrictions put in place by the law. For example, it could be argued that the 200 Britons who travelled to the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland by October 2012 to be helped to kill themselves did not, rightly or wrongly, have the choice (or right) to die in their own country because of the law against assisted suicide.6 One only has to consider Tony Nicklinson to see that the lawscape makes it as difficult as possible to die of our own will: having lost control of his body to locked-in syndrome, he had to apply to the High Court for permission for a doctor to administer a lethal injection without fear of being prosecuted.7 In August 2012, his application was rejected. As a result, he had no other course of action but to decide to refuse food and, after six days, died of a stroke. This was hardly his preferred method of dying or choice of death.

Andreas has perhaps indicated that the only “death” we have any control over is a virtual or cyber death. In July 2013, just before the deadline for submissions for this issue, he committed what he called Instagram suicide by deleting his Instagram account. As a result, A Fjord… is not just picpoetry collection but the equivalent of a Facebook tribute page to a particular posthuman. Having been in the position of having to delete a social media profile, I know how affective a virtual suicide can be; it is as if you are actually terminating yourself. But it could be argued that virtual suicide or even just virtual self-harm (deleting individual photos or texts) is a way of maintaining control over one’s body in a lawscape where, following the recently-passed Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 (a.k.a. Instagram Act), there is the fear – misplaced or real – that businesses can exploit your instantly-created, unregistered work for commercial gain.8 Andreas’ Instagram suicide is also almost a symmetry with what has been dubbed ‘Instagram’s suicide note’, when the photo-sharing website announced a change to its terms and conditions; users became concerned that their photos would be used without their permission in advertising.9 The company has to subsequently issue a statement saying that users’ content would not be used without permission. But the fear was probably fuelled by the change being its first act after being bought by Facebook; some users threatened to delete their accounts. Perhaps the role of the law is to remind us that we really have ‘no choice’ (the picpoem whose first line is the title of the book). As Andreas wrote, we are destined to prick our finger and it is up to the law to ‘hide all spindles’ within the lawscape and protect us with ignorance. But the law cannot eliminate all dangers all of the time: ‘Growing up is an act of a wound.’

Response by Andreas Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos

Whatever we do, we move within the lawscape. The folds of bodies, themselves folded around laws, produce conflicts and confluences through which our understanding of the law progresses. As Pravin perceptively observes, there is always something lost in translation. Recording, in the case of picpoetry, is always mediated by a screen, with its own laws, distances, senses, future. The one who records is folded into the event, the particular articulation of the lawscape that contains an excess of space, bodies, senses, memories, futurity. In a sense, this is the posthuman – what Pravin defines as this and that side of the human boundary.

But the posthuman event is the one that folds this boundary into itself, making us unaware of our post/humanity. This is an ethical as well as a fully embodied moment. This is what the death of picpoet, my Instagram profile followed by about 17,000 people, means. Picpoet’s digital death, namely the total erasure of the profile, marks the end of The Iron Books exhibition. The physical manifestation of the death was an immersive event that tried to resist ocularcentrism through black-out, fumbling, digital non-exposure and spectrality. The digital Instagram manifestation comprised brief clips of the participants’ voices emerging from the darkness, recording words and phrases taken from picpoetry.

picpoet’s death took place only through the participants’ voices. In this way, picpoet is shutting down all the various voices that have been speaking through his automated texts and instant imagery. He did not appear anywhere but remained throughout the physical and digital event behind his iPhone, recording in the dark.

The clips remained on picpoet’s Instagram profile for 24 hours, like souls lingering after death or if a little bit of gore is permitted, the body writhing after decapitation, after which the already stripped down profile was totally deleted. None of the Iron Books will be able to be reproduced.

Response by Pravin Jeyaraj to Andreas Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos

I wonder how picpoet must have felt when committing virtual suicide. Perhaps the fact that Andreas Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos was able decide to kill off picpoet, his avatar on Instagram, is indicative of Andreas’ consciousness of his own posthumanity. Unfortunately, it seems that not everyone is aware that they are distinct from their online profiles, such as teenager Hannah Smith, who killed herself in real life in August 2013 after being subjected to the rather cruel taunts of cyberbullies within the lawscape of Ask.fm, a social networking site.10 Ask.fm eventually responded, following a review, with changes to its service, such as a more visible reporting button for users, a separate reporting category for bullying and harassment and the viewing of reports within 24 hours.11 It could be argued that the lawscape is designed by the law to make it difficult for people to leave by making them feel safe and, where it fails, it responds by recreating the lawscape to make the law more visible. Whether it is in the real world lawscape of England or the virtual lawscape of a social networking site, it cannot exist without its residents, citizens, users and so on. Whether in this case or in the cases of Nicklinson, the taking of one’s life is an act of separation of the human from an environment, because something has made the environment too hostile to live with/in. Andreas is right, the posthuman is an ethical moment; surely it is a matter of ethics that the law should create an environment in which we are able to live as human beings. Nicklinson’s was, on the face of it, unable to do so on account of his locked-in condition even though his mind had not been affected. Should the law have helped him recognise his own humanity? Was the refusal of the court to grant a doctor who assisted him to commit suicide immunity from prosecution a further denial of his humanity? Similarly, it could be argued that the law inside the Ask.fm environment did not enable Smith to be treated as a human being. In both cases, suicide seemed like the only option to regain their humanity. However, the difference between the offline lawscape and the online, virtual lawscape is that, as Andreas indicated, it is possible to leave the latter and still exist in the former. Smith’s sister Joanne has commented elsewhere on the addictiveness of Ask.fm’s site:12

I used to get bullied on it as well but I was able to come off. I was strong enough to come off whereas my sister wasn’t. You get friends ask you questions on there and it’s harder to come off than you actually think because you get addicted to it.

According to Joanne Smith, it is possible to escape from an online lawscape with sufficient strength. Thus the eagle that the boy turns to in ‘between salvation’ could also be the boy’s own subjectivity, although perhaps if one is vulnerable, subjectivity comes from an external other. Indeed, a message that Smith herself posted a few days before committing suicide said: “You think you want to die, but in reality you just want to be saved.”13 In the end, though she was strong enough to break away. She just did not realise that she was not the person being attacked on Ask.fm, even though it has been reported that she hid the trauma she was going through, just as picpoet was not Andreas. But perhaps, as her sister pointed out, if the online lawscape of Ask.fm had not taken away her subjectivity, she would have been strong enough to live – or at least she would not have needed to be.

*Pravin Jeyaraj is PhD student at Westminster University and is currently making amendments to his thesis on Hegel and waste policy following his viva. Andreas Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos is his PhD supervisor.Andreas Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos is Professor in Law and Theory at University of Westminster and was Pravin’s PhD superviser.
1 Andreas Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos, A Fjord Eating into My Arm, (London: AND Publishing, 2013)
2 Andreas Phlippopoulos-Mihalopoulos, Adam Lawrence, and Akwa Marina, ‘The Iron Books: Poems of the Posthuman’, Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/events/333608100101779/ accessed on 26 July 2013
3 Andreas Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos, ‘Atmosphere of law: Senses, affects, lawscapes’, Emotions, Space and Society, 2012, 1-2
4 Ibid, 2
5 The Bible, The Gospel according to John, Chapter 1, Verse 1
6 John Stevens, ‘Man, 83, becomes first Briton to choose Dignitas assisted suicide because he had dementia’, Daily Mail, 30 May 2013, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2333133/Man-83-Briton-Dignitas-assisted-suicide-dementia.html accessed on 26 July 2013
7 John Bingham, ‘Tony Nicklinson dies saying: “Goodbye world, the time has come. I had some fun.”’, The Telegraph, 22 August 2012, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/9492991/Tony-Nicklinson-dies-saying-Goodbye-world-the-time-has-come.-Ive-had-some-fun.html accessed on 26 July 2013
8 David Lee, ‘Photographers’ anger at law change over “orphan works”’, BBC News, 29 April 2013, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-22337406; Andrew Orlowski, ‘UK.Gov passes Instagram Act: All your pics belong to everyone now’, 29 April 2012, http://www.theregister.co.uk/2013/04/29/err_act_landgrab/ accessed on 26 July 2013
9 The Huffington Post, ‘Instagram’s ‘Suicide Note’, as users are calling a recent policy change, is riling users’, 19 December 2012, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/18/instagram-suicide-note_n_2323100.html accessed on 26 July 2013
10 ‘Teenager found hanged after being bullied online’, This is Leicestershire, 6 August 2013, http://www.thisisleicestershire.co.uk/Teenager-hanged-bullied-online/story-19619160-detail/story.html#axzz2d7VmxUqL accessed on 28 August 2013
11 Pia Gadkari, ‘Ask.fm unveils changes to safety policy’, BBC News, 19 August 2013, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-23752923 accessed on 28 August 2013
12 BBC News, ‘Hannah Smith death: Sister Joanne warns Ask.fm is addictive’, 24 August 2013, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-leicestershire-23825049 accessed on 28 August 2013
13 Martin Fricker, ‘Hannah Smith: Dad says internet trolls drove bullied schoolgirl, 14, to hang herself’, 6 August 2013, http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/hannah-smith-dad-says-internet-2129280 accessed on 28 August 2013