Saturday, September 17, 2016

Against Connectivity

At the start of summer I gave a paper of this name at NECS in Potsdam: here's a snippet.

In some indefinite but I hope near future this will become part of the argument of the next book, Anecdotal Evidence, itself both an outgrowth from a paper published by NECS under that title and a partial methodological portal to the much dreamed mad major project on Political Aesthetics

. . . .The self is a performance of its history of 'repression', how it has been conformed to the demands of social living. It is easy to imagine a place-based, local culture whose 'ways of being' or 'whole way of life' generate collective agreement to a shared set of mores, and so to a common mode of self.

Network capital today prefers a non-self whose desire is not at all repressed, not at all socially shaped, but plugged into and endlessly receptive to an unstemmable offer of tailor-made satisfactions. Of course the idea that these satisfactions respond to elemental needs is bogus. They speak only to the needs which their articulation with capital has produced. If the self is ab origine alienated by its socialisation, the consumerist non-self is doubly alienated: from its biology and from the framing of desire in the repression of biology in its encounter with the social. Rather than freeing some original desire, the new need is constructed on this double alienation, as a satisfaction external not only to the self but to the social, in which satisfaction is no longer indefinitely displaced but imaginarily instantaneous, and the repression that forms desire in its image is itself repressed in favour of a compulsory orgy of consumerism. It is no surprise that the deracinated and doubly-alienated subject yearns for and validates the very connectivity that has created it and its demand for networks.

What then are these networks that we long to be connected with? On the one hand, they are the many-to-many constellation that has taken the place of community, a world of parties and holidays, friendships and love-affairs, in a community of the like-minded we catch glimpses of in adverts and celebrity lifestyle reportage. We want to be connected to an other place where people who would really appreciate me are already connected and waiting for me to join them. That is the fantasy. In reality, networks are immense technological infrastructures of optic fibre, server farms, satellites and transoceanic cables whose environmental implications are breathtaking. The internet, increasingly integrated with microwave links and cellphone networks, RFID tags and barcodes, credit and loyalty cards, is a network of physical networks. The remnant of a utopian movement towards autonomous self-governance remains, but the internet is physically built, owned and operated almost universally by corporations. The information superhighway realises Marx's fantasia on the construction of roads(Grundrisse, 532)

The peak moment of capital can be recognised when all social needs are fulfilled neither by communities nor by states but by capital. Roads are a social need, but they are also vital to capital when the falling rate of profit forces acceleration and massification not only of production but distribution, and by the same token demands intense speed-up of the physical act of exchange, which places accelerated demands on consumers likewise to consume more, faster and more efficiently. All those minerals and sub-assemblies in our computers and phones are nothing but costs until they have been sold: the faster they are converted back into money, the better. In the interests of maximising consumption of its necessarily permanently expanding production, Marx argued, capital would eventually take over infrastructural projects like roads and, by his time, railways and canals; and in our time communication networks. Needless to say, having paid the piper, capital calls the tune: networks which serve its needs are the highest priority.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Mass Image and Anecdotal Evidence

Pressures of work have kept me away from social media and this blog. Summer provides a moment or two of respite. I am working up a book expanding the ideas in a paper from a couple of years back, Anecdotal Evidence, and doing a few papers leading towards the next big project on political aesthetics. A bridging piece is online at academia which posits the existence of (in a passage extracted from the paper)

The mass image – the huge composite picture of the world which is being assembled in databases at Microsoft, Instagram and Google – goes far beyond the single image even though it retains some of its defining qualities. The mass image employs humans to produce a universe of image-commodities that we and others exchange, reproduce and consume. In the era of industrial production, we made houses, tools and clothing because the artifice of comfort held a cruel world at bay. In the age of the mass image, we make and consume pictures because we ascribe to the mass image the ability to replace the unhappy world with happy pictures.

Each image taken negates the scene it captures and replaces it with an image. As the absolute number of images increases, negation produces the mass image which replaces the entirety of the world, not just the unique scene, with a mass of pictures. A culture of compulsorily happy pictures – the culture of Facebook and Instagram – necessarily negates happiness by replacing happiness with pictures. If there is one thing we know about happiness, it is that it isn't single. The aggregate, singular, mass image negates happiness a second time by re-imagining it as normative, coherent, stable and universal.

Flusser fans will not find it hard to see the great man's influence, revivified by the excellent translations (and beautiful books) coming out from Univocal Press. Some developments of these thoughts will be the matter of a keynote I'm doing in Potsdam at the NECS conference at the end of next week with the working title "Against Connectivity"

Friday, March 11, 2016

Community (version 0)

(in)dividual: the self is a crust laid over a swarm. Self as singularity (that is effectively as multiplicity) is a social product, not of or for all time. Communication is not only the fallen state of primal mediation but its overcoming in the form of a communicative community which we demand because we do not possess it. In parallel the dividual is the crushed detritus of a) the destruction of community but also b) of the destruction of self as desire + data (subject as source of its own becoming and as signified). After desire, this dividual remnant stands in need, . . . . of the common (methodologically: Ontology crumbles in the mind's hands as soon as they touch it. We reach out to time, and though it falls apart as concept, we do not believe any the less in its actuality proved by all things temporal, including the time it takes to think time's impossibility. Community is of an other order. Sociologically, after Tönnies, it is quite possible to believe that it no-longer exists, and quite easy to believe that since its no-longer existence is a trope of Western thought since the Odyssey at least, that its failure to exist, or to exist otherwise than as always already over, is in fact its peculiar ontology. In this crumbling in our or any conceptual fingers, community is of a kind with the video image which, in its increasingly minuscule operations, is even more prone to fail to exist than the analog moving image, whose composition as both image and moving depends on the constant eradication of the previous image. The scanned image adds to that ephemerality the fading of the first lines before the last has even been illuminated, a constant self-erasure paralleled by the geography of transmission that ensures that the image is never where its referent has been. The I that speaks from a Skype screen is not even the self-contradictory person that speaks and is signified face-to-face, now manifestly not even the source of the enunciation. But then again, it is only on condition of this imcompossibility that "I" exists in the age of communication, and only on this condition of post-Hegelian compound contradiction that the urge to find community becomes urgent. Community is necessary not because it is lost but because it is a need generated in the failure of supplementation to create a shell robust enough to contain the fragments of a self denuded of autonomy in the very hyperindividuation that consumerism required after the collapse of the nuclear family as core unit of consumption

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Against Tolerance

I seem to have written this in August 2015 and forgotten to publish: it comes as an outtake from Finite Media, which I hope will be out by the end of 2016

Toleration names the absence of dialogue. What I tolerate is beneath attention, marginal to my world. It is the kind of tolerance Jodi Dean (2009: 85-7) notes in G.W. Bush's tolerance of dissent: awareness without exchange of reasons. In a culture of complaint, we rail against the unforeseeable – tsunamis, bush fires, floods, hurricanes – and tolerate the greed, corruption and destructive acts of the oligarchy. The political event is a refusal of this kind of tolerance: even of the much praised liberal virtue of tolerance that allows the unaccounted other to live peaceably without threat of Holocaust. Any end to tolerance is portrayed, in the discourse of the current order, as descent into an atavistic Hobbesian war of each against all, but as the political thinkers cited in this chapter all argue in their different ways, it is tolerance itself that, by regarding as unchallengeable the ascendancy of those who do count and can speak, descends into monoculturalism. By excluding, it creates bitterness and revenge, or permits itself its ethnic cleansing under the hypocritical guise of immigration control and security, restrained only by the right to live a bare life. To refuse tolerance is to refuse the illusion of universality, the common claim of representative democracy. The political act contests the silence of tolerance in pointing to the meticulous exclusion of the nonhuman. In thinking the unthinkable politics of the nonhuman, we open the space for a different order, different economies and polities that we cannot reach through shopping and voting. Such a political event throws into question not just the privilege of the human but what underpins it: the identity we award ourselves as human. In the end under the regime of Universal Human Rights all identities are subsumed under the single identity of naked humanity. What is at stake in the articulation of non-human demand is the end not only of rights but of human identity. This is only possible if the demand that instigates it is strictly incommensurable with the existing order, as the demand for happiness is. But if the demand were for square circles, the principle would be the same: it is the contradiction between tolerance and communication, between the true non-communication of the tolerant order and the actual communication of the unheard and ignored, that drives the event.

To break the unity of the screen-image system through the materiality of segmented flow is the revenge of the rationalized on their rational progenitor.

Latin and Greek

"Television? The word is half Greek and half Latin. No good will come of it." This bon mot attributed to C.P. Scott, editor of the Manchester Guardian, in 1928 applies to the word automobile as well. Marshall McLuhan more or less began media studies with his account of these technologies in The Mechanical Bride and Understanding Media. His tradition is alive and well with Paul Virilio (though he likes his Greek dromophilia and picnolepsia).

For the next generation, especially the first generation of (frequently male) internet scholars, Latin roots mattered: community, communication, commonwealth, commons. . . .

For the newer and largely female generation, Greek fights back: synaesthesia, synapses, sympathy, syncretism . . . with a much more embodied but still utopian view of the world.

Sitting down to write a preface to the 2nd edition of Jussi Parikka's Contagions, it's interesting to note how Latin, of a slightly different inflection, fights back: contact, conflict, and the horrors of the contemporary. Perhaps this means nothing at all. Or perhaps it marks the conditions for a new connective synecdoche.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

formal abstraction

"Piet Mondriaan, 1930 - Mondrian Composition II in Red, Blue, and Yellow" by Piet Mondrian - [1]. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons - Wikipedia

at the very beginning of a new project on political aesthetics that at the moment concerns Truth, Beauty and the Good, with first steps into truth being made at seminars in Paris (INHA) and Oslo (Seminar of Aesthetics) trying out distinctions between truth to perception, to objects and to materials, the idea came along of

a further truth to feeling which might include (as it did for Kandinsky and Mondriaan as founders) truth to the Spirit as supra-personal subject of the cosmos. Abstraction abstracts from the perceptible its constituent elements – colour and form – in pursuit of an expression of truth pertaining to a human or super-human subject. Abstraction requires a subject to feel it. In one direction it tends towards truth to materials (Greenberg); in another it leads directly to the next part of the enquiry, beauty (where it will meet the concept from data visualisation of 'beautiful data')

Abstraction as formalism seems the least intimate, approximating to classicism (Apollonian). But consider the abstractions of spiritual arts - cathedrals, masks, groves, mosques. The anthropomorphic principle in natural religion meets the inhuman nature of gods, as of the one God as supreme abstraction. By removing the diligent approach to the extremely perceptible and enumerable world, abstract formalism can approach the noumenal, but in the guise of a subject who either is, is modelled on, or is marked by difference from the human.

The formal abstraction is close to the idea of symbol traced in the first iteration of Glitch as Labour: it is not a signifier locked into a system but a radical punctuation of semiotic structure by irruption from elsewhere (and in Beauty from else-when). Like a soul-catcher, formal abstraction arranges physical forces (masses, light) to attract divinity or other souls, to provide avenues to the noumenal beyond.

Truth to subject then because (1) it seeks out the truly immaterial (soul, self) (god, spirit) as a subject, capable of agency sufficient to complete the communication - an angelic bridge between subjects and the worlds they constitute as subjects; and (2) because the subjectivity evoked in the human maker and spectator/inhabitant is constructed in yearning for something more wonderful than all this stuff. Not therefore to be confused with the truth of science or perception (secular wonder) but of subjectivity extended to become the very principle of simultaneous inhabitance of this world and its (perfect) shadow or reflection

The form abstracted from ordinary perception is the form of the human, of the subject: and of the inhuman or otherwise-than-human, of the Subject.

Montage would fall under this description of formalist abstraction because it displaces unity into the perceiving subject on which it depends