"Thus the symbol manifests itself first of all as the murder of the thing". Lacan (1) First Lick: "With bitter feelings of disappointment I turned from the dreary and cheerless scene around me". Edward Eyre on encountering the great salt lakes (Journals of Discovery into Central Australia 1840-1) (2) For Baudrillard the desert is "a smooth space". And at "the heart of the desert" is the salt lake. The Great Salt Lake desert, "where they had to invent the speed of prototype cars to cope with the absolute horizontality". Nearby lies the salt lake itself, the "leaden lake, its waters hyperreal from shear density of salt." (3) Here is a basic equation, archaic even in its simplicity: speed/span/ flow/ across/ insubstantial vs depth/substance/ slow. Baudrillard's passage suggests a series of intersections: an archeology of western fantasy-making about salt, desert and salt lake; a philosophizing of screen culture; a problematization of theory as a specific genre - about its writing, its reading and the subjectivities it invokes. The salt lake gathers these issues in a single image and through an abstraction into pure geometry, becomes an instrument of a theoretical gaze. In the protracted struggle over global poetics, it is also part of the singing of America and the idealization of its placescapes into universal signifiers. Salt lake surface as technoculture screen and as surface of inscription. Anxieties about screen culture: loss of face-to- face, about loss of place, about loss of dwelling, about loss of depth, about loss of presence, loss of stillness, loss of reflection, loss of loss. Instead we need to face the screen. View the screen as place, not as abstract geometry; find the depth of the screen. Measure its gaze. Glancing (At)traction: Another hard day at the interface (which still yields nothing of itself). Glancing is more difficult than it seems. For months now I've been working at it. Scanning the interface. Screening/ scrutinizing the screen: through; around; across; along. Plenty of glimpses. They're easy. From this moment on we are only left with the glimpse and the glance. For better or worse we must learn to work with them. At theories and other texts, at screens and other things, skimming across their surfaces. The glance invokes surface. Perhaps invents it. To glance: to glide harmlessly from the object struck; to slip or slide; something brilliant or shining. Glancing across, invoking surfaces. Forget depth and in- sight. Instead of moving through surfaces, move across them. Skimming; sliding; slipping; grinding; skating; settling; layering; rubbing: surface operations. Glancing plays with surfaces, generates resonances between them. Hypertext delights in a constant shifting mobility. "The interplay of surface and depth gives way to a perpetual displacement of surfaces". (4) glimpsing of... glancing off... It is all too smooth, the slide. From now on a new concern with the traction, the grip and friction on and across surfaces (of theories, landscapes, texts). Time to stay low, close to the screen. (First Glance) Immaculate Surfaces: "the immaculate surface of the Great Salt Lake Desert" Baudrillard (p.4) "to cope with the absolute horizontality". (p. 3) [to cope: from Old French "couper" - to hit, strike, a blow.] Hitting the road (surface). The salt desert as pure surface, defining absolute horizontality. By being all horizon it absorbs horizon. It invokes the absolute, experimental, limits of speed. Excess gravity breaks through the surface. Fear of being bogged, of "humours and fluids", of being dragged down "into the remorseless eternity of a slow-motion catastrophe". (pp.3/6) Immobility. Fear and ancient distrust of surfaces surface and moves vision at speed over the surface. The refusal to face the surface masks a longing for the screen. Skimming quickly over the (salt) surface. A refusal to taste the bitterness? Mobile glimpse/glance reveals the static on the screen. Immobile glimpse/glance speeds across it. Ecstatic Refractions: "From the extraordinary and deceptive appearances, caused by mirage and refraction..., it was impossible to tell what to make of sensible objects, or what to believe on the evidence of vision...". Edward Eyre Refraction: breaking down, re-fracturing, fragmenting, rebounding and recoiling. Something deflected from its original straight line. Vector deflected. Bent aside. Deflection of purpose from its desired goal. Through fragmentation is revealed the colour and display of the vectors constituent parts. Prismatic poetics. False purity and wholeness overcome by refractive eloquence. A constant slippage between decay and renewal. A shimmering tension between presence and absence, (an aesthetics of) disappearance and reappearance, acknowledging the nothingness of the image. The confessional, introspective literalisms of subjectivity associated with mirroring are avoided. Single-minded visions are deflected and scattered into a reanimation of things. We stop, straining to catch a glimpse of the dry salt lake over the horizon. A white glow. Binoculars only resolve the shimmer. In place of the mirror we have a non-reflecting surface - the smooth operational surface of communication. Speed is refraction through a crystal. The silence of desert is visual, suggests Baudrillard. "A product of the gaze that stares out and finds nothing to reflect it". (p.6) Speed is the death of reflection, a paradoxical non-reflectiveness that evokes death's refraction. What is this fear of refractive smoothness? Why nostalgia for reflection? "Today", insists Baudrillard, "no performance can be without its control screen. This is not there to see or reflect those taking part, with the distance and magic of the mirror. No, it is there as an instantaneous, depthless, refraction". "Video... is a screen of ecstatic refraction". "The mirror phase has given way to the video phase". (p.37) But is there really a "mirror phase" or just an obsessive rubbing of Lacan. Hoping for the genii to appear? Layering A constant rubbing and sliding of surfaces. Arid noise: salt grains rubbing in the wind. lying my head against the salt, eye close to the surface. A shallow white atmosphere. Glowing. Skimming across the screen: "I stood gazing on the dismal prospect before me with feelings of chagrin and gloom.... The vast area of the lake was before me interminable as far as the eye could see to the northward, and the country upon its shore, was desolate and forbidding". Edward Eyre Slippage/ skimming not just as negative/ evasive but as method/ process. ... but alien surfaces - smooth - slipping Smearing In the desert "you are delivered from all depth". (p.124) Salt Lake as pure surface is metaphorized as screen. Literal and metaphorical glances coincide: my glance at Baudrillard; Baudrillard's glance at the salt lake desert; the speeding prototypes skimming across boundless horizontality. High speed on the salt lake isn't to get to the other side, to get somewhere: "the difference between `near' and `far' simply ceases to exist". On Baudrillard's salt lake "distinctions of here and there no longer mean anything". (5) The mobile glance reveals the static. The static glance invokes speed: "Desert speed, of motels and mineral surfaces... the speed of the screenplay". (p.5) The longing and the fear of speed masks the longing and fear of stillness. Fear of the blank screen. The end of reflection signals the entry of death. "Speed is not a vegetal thing", exclaims Baudrillard (as if we would all insist that it was). (p.7) (Maybe the rhizome can show us the way into/across the melancholy vegetative stillness?). The ancient slowness of smooth surfaces. Entering the Screen: "It is like entering a vast tomb....There is the indefinable feeling of the presence of death...."Depression and gloom enter the soul as one penetrates this lost region". C.T. Madigan (Crossing the Dead Heart, 1946) In an eternal quest for pure abstraction, a kind of featureless space replaces the sensual particularity of place: "For the desert is simply ... an ecstatic critique of culture". (p.5) The intermediary realm, the metaxy. Lost in the bardo of images. Death. The presence of desire for lack, a desire for hidden depths. Those images now beneath (vanished). The aesthetics of disappearance is simultaneously the appearance of death, of the underworld. The lack of depth of corporal thickness. The shades. We can follow the traces of the visible to where they seem to become invisible/ disappear. Licking the salt, tasting the bitterness, preserving images, memory-making. "Speed is simply the rite that initiates us into emptiness". (p.7) Refusing fractal logic and its fear of the blank screen. Bachelard writes of an "inspired monotony" as reverie "rediscovers its dead". The salt lake desert has a place on his "map of melancholy". (6) Boundaries & the Crisis of Presence: "To the north and north-west the horizon was unbroken to the naked eye, but with the aid of a powerful telescope...". Edward Eyre Virilio cites ancient theology's engagement with a loss of divine presence and the Real: "Can we say we have actually taken part in a Mass that was seen through a telescopic lens?" (7) To glimpse: to glimmer; to gleam. A moment (in a text) when something is briefly present; A boundary is not where something stops but where something announces and begins its presencing. (8) From boundary as an edge, a frontier/ margin/ line, to surfaces and glances across surfaces, the glimpse and glance as a presencing of surfaces. We don't glimpse/ glance: we are glimpsed/ glanced: called into occupying the subjectivity of glimpsing/ glancing. Something calls for our attention. announces its presencing. attracts. (theory as thauma: a thing compelling the gaze) From now on there are no horizons only the mirage announcing the refractive presence. Ecstatic Traction & Exquisite Refraction: "The whole scene partook more of enchantment than reality, and as the eye wandered over the smooth and unbroken crust of pure white salt which glazed the basin of the lake, and which was lit up by the dazzling rays of a noonday sun, the effect was glittering, and brilliant beyond conception". Edward Eyre Across. Not in a bridging or connecting or penetrating sense of across/ between/ inter... zone etc. But skimming over/across the surface. rubbing. frottage?/ sliding across /against... not a looking beyond what seen - not just mirage on horizon but the glance across. fold/ bend/ weave two or three ply? a gravitational disruption/ pulling/ reshaping/ warping/ eruption/ lowering/ raising not scanning the near/ the inbetween/ the horizon. not looking to, but across, across the surface. I'm slowly walking to the centre of Lake Eyre, this salt lake thats the lowest and driest point on the flattest and driest continent. Completely encircled by mirage. Surface operations: grinding/ skating/ settling/ layering/ skimming/ rubbing/ plying/ scratching/ a boundless (sp)reading... GLANCES: 1. J.Lacan THE LANGUAGE OF THE SELF, Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press, 1974, p.84. 2. E.Eyre JOURNALS OF EXPEDITIONS OF DISCOVERY INTO CENTRAL AUSTRALIA 1840-1, London: T. & W. Boone, 1845. 3. J.Baudrillard AMERICA, London: Verso, 1988. All page numbers in the essay refer to this text. 4. M.Taylor & E.Saarinen IMAGOLOGIES,London: Routledge, 1994. 5. P.Virilio LOST DIMENSION, New York: Semiotext(e), 1991, p.13. 6. G. Bachelard WATER & DREAMS, Dallas: Pegasus Foundation, 1983, pp.46-7,63. 7. Virilio, pp.85-6. 8. M. Heidegger POETRY, LANGUAGE, THOUGHT, New York: Harper Row, 1975.