I’ve been thinking about the rise of immersive experience as a commodity, i.e. virtual reality, music festivals, interactive theater, Meow Wolf, and the psychedelic renaissance. Maybe because psychedelic drug use has always been accompanied by a rhetoric of experience and immersion.

 

 

This is from Byung Chul Han’s book Psychopolitics: Neoliberalism and New Technologies of Power:

“In contrast to experiencing (Erlebnis), experience (Erfahrung) is founded on discontinuity. Experience means transformation. In an interview, Foucault remarked that for Nietzsche, Blanchot and Bataille, experience has the function ‘of wrenching the subject from itself, of seeing to it that the subject is no longer itself, or that it is brought to its annihilation or dissolution.’ Being a subject means being subjected, being cast under, by a higher instance. Experience tears the subject out from subjection — out of its downcast state. It signifies the opposite of neoliberal psychopolitics of experiencing or emotion which only ensnares the subject deeper and deeper in a state of subjection and subjugation.

Following Foucault, the art of living may be understood as a practice of freedom, bringing forth an entirely different mode of existence. It unfolds as de-psychologization. ‘The art of living is the art of killing psychology, of creating with oneself and others unnamed individualities, beings, relations, qualities. If one can’t manage to do that in one’s life, that life is not worth living.’ The art of living stands opposed to the ‘psychological terror’ through which subjugating subjectivation occurs.

Neoliberal psychopolitics is a technology of domination that stabilizes and perpetuates the prevailing system by means of psychological programming steering. Accordingly, the art of living, as the praxis of freedom, must proceed by way of de-psychologization. This serves to disarm psychopolitics, which is a means of effecting submission. When the subject is de-psychologized — indeed, de-voided (ent-leert) — it opens onto a mode of existence that still has no name: an unwritten future.”

Immersive experience de-psychologizes us, reintroducing the possibility of newness and surprise.

This is a marketable quality in a technologically overdetermined (auto-predicted, statistically calibrated, rationalized) world. But there are few formulas for immersion, that is, patterns that can be followed and repeated generically to meet market demands. The molecular compounds of psychoactive chemicals may be the only blueprint for immersion that we have.

 

I’m also not sure that phenomenology gives us the best concepts for theorizing immersion-as-a-service. But that’s another story…