Tillers of the soil/Travelling journeymen: modes of the virtual
Walter Benjamin’s account of story telling as an exchange of experience uses images of embodied interaction: between a “resident tiller of the soil” and a “trading seaman,” or between “resident master craftsman and . . . travelling journeymen working together in the same rooms”. These metaphors may make his approach seem traditional but, historically or in terms of agency, Benjamin’s conception of mediation (in “The Task of the Translator” and “The Storyteller”) is anything but static. According to him, a good translation risks the translator’s own language, to be “powerfully affected by the foreign tongue”, and there is a “central reciprocal relationship” of mutual supplementation and renewal between languages”. Virtual technologies in global contexts seem to intensify mediation’s Babelic side. They are also part of blended everyday realities that mould our sensorium, through virtual and embodied experiences, changing the ways in which the latter presents the world to our reflection. Thus, apart from its relationship to the real, actual and potential, the virtual as modality has an aesthetic dimension. This is, as perception, about “visibilities of . . . places and abilities of the body in those places, about the partition of private and public spaces, about the very configuration of the visible and the relation of the visible to what can be said about it.” It opens up different aspects of embodied experience and creative imagination which, in rare cases, can become political. Assuming that the transformations caused by electronic communication and media flows have already developed past their early stages, it is possible to look for historical connections linking them to earlier technological, spatial and temporal developments. Before Benjamin’s time, the panopticon and panorama as architectural forms set up regimes of visibility that created new distinctions between being seen and seeing. The position of the Samoan fale at the Tropical Islands Resort in Germany may reveal different regimes of reality (virtual, real, blended) and the changing roles of aesthetics and imagination. It may focus questions about connections between the local and global; translatability in digital mediation; and spatio-temporal ruptures and interconnections. This paper will examine changing modes of reality at Tropical Islands Resort, taking into account the history of its planning and implementation. Master craftsmen from Samoa, Singapore, Bali, the Amazon basin, Kenya, and Thailand assembled in the same space, inside a gigantic hangar in the East German countryside, to erect tangible, real buildings made from traditional materials. It seems this exotic architecture alongside exotic performances is supposed to house a virtual – between digital flows and place-bound experience – while the website mediates the resort’s physical environment in a global domain. In this complementary reorganization of the visible – what is the task of translators? Will they risk their own language, and do they strengthen or weaken the reciprocal relationships between languages or images? If aesthetic experience enables a different way of seeing, then what becomes visible here, and what can we say about it?