Receding Beauty and a Phone Made of Glass
Despite agreeing with the general consensus that the iPhone 4/S is a beautiful bit of industrial design, I still maintain making a phone out of glass was a strange decision. If it wasn’t, as I tend to describe it, “a monumentally stupid idea”, then it was at least a little impractical. Glass, after all, breaks.
Yet I wonder if Apple didn’t stumble onto a serendipitous bit of Lacanian luck with their glass phone. Think about these two things. The glass is what gives the phone its sleek, polished aesthetic. It’s the reflectiveness, the unmatched smoothness of glass that makes the iPhone 4 seem like a bit of the future that has somehow found its way into the present. On the other hand, glass is comparatively fragile and if you drop the phone, that same lustworthy aesthetic is ruined.
So what do you do? You buy a case for it. You cover it. The qualities that provoked your desire must be hidden out of a need to protect it, or there will be no reason to desire the object. But covered up so, the object’s beauty always recedes into an impossible future: the time when its sheer aesthetic pleasure can be enjoyed without fear of it being ruined. It is a ghost of beauty, a promise of the things that cannot be – an impression and nothing more of an experience that cannot be had.
Put another way, the iPhone is Aishwarya Rai or Ryan Gosling.
Or, rather, what I mean is that the desire elicited by the iPhone’s fragile, receding beauty is at least in the same vein as that we experience of the beauty of celebrity. Impossible in its perfection, overdetermined with desire, a canvas for both the id and superego, celebrity beauty is a virtualized palace of Platonic forms, forever slipping behind a horizon soaked with our individual and collective want.
And taken together, both the iPhone and photoshopped simulacra of people who may or may not exist articulate the capitalist fetish for aspirational objects that can never be touched and can never be real. Instead, they are libidinal magnets, pulling us further in, temporal and ideological vacuums, vessels into which we pour our unending emptiness.
Or something like that, anyway.