Towards a New Unconscious: From the Optical to the Electromagnetic

Carloalberto Treccani*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in book/report/conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Machines “sense” the world in various ways, and their ways of sensing, in turn, affects the way humans experience the world. In A Short History of Photography (1931), Walter Benjamin uses the idea of an optical unconscious to describe the contributions of photography and cinema to the visible human world and the cultural consequences of such inventions. Compared to the pulsional unconscious delineated by Freud, a new type of the unconscious can be glimpsed in twentieth-century human beings, who have delegated their actions to technology. The definition of the optical unconscious fits particularly well with the environment of the late nineteenth century and twentieth century; however, it seems to be no longer appropriate in the twenty-first century, that has radically changed, far from the human eyes and largely invisible. This article intends to demonstrate the existence of a new type of the unconscious, an electromagnetic unconscious that better seems to define the contemporary situation.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationReconceptualizing the Digital Humanities in Asia
Subtitle of host publicationNew Representations of Art, History and Culture
EditorsKaby Wing-Sze Kung
PublisherSpringer Singapore
Number of pages11
ISBN (Electronic)9789811546426
ISBN (Print)9789811546419
Publication statusPublished - 10 Sept 2020

Publication series

NameDigital Culture and Humanities
PublisherSpringer, Singapore
ISSN (Print)2520-8640
ISSN (Electronic)2520-8659

User-Defined Keywords

  • Optical unconscious
  • Electromagnetic unconscious
  • Radio frequency identification (RFID)
  • Hong Kong protests
  • Hong Kong octopus card


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