Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Kant the Media Critic

While reading the new Kittler translation of Optical Media (trans. Anthony Enns), I found this little quote that originates from Critique of Judgment, by Immanuel Kant.

Read this as his form of media criticism -- criticism of media and power. No, its not Adorno or any of the other writers of the broadcast era, but a writer of a much earlier media sphere:

"[W]here the senses see nothing more before them, and the unmistakable and indelible idea of morality remains, it would be rather necessary to moderate the impetus of an unbounded imagination, to prevent it from rising to enthusiasm, than through fear of the powerlessness of those ideas to seek aid for them in images and childish ritual. Thus governments have willingly allowed religion to be abundantly provided with the latter accompaniments, and seeking thereby to relieve their subjects of trouble, they have also sought to deprive them of the faculty of extending their spiritual powers beyond the limits that are arbitrarily assigned to them and by means of which they can be the more easily treated as mere passive beings."

Monday, 30 November 2009

PhD studentship possibility in digital culture, media archaeology etc. related topics

Research Studentships

Faculty of Arts, Law and Social Sciences

In the recent Research Assessment Exercise the Faculty of Arts, Law and Social Sciences achieved outstanding success, with four subject areas rated as having ‘world leading’ research, five subjects as having ‘international’ level research and History and English being rated among the best in the country. As a result we are pleased to be able to offer the following studentship:

Communication, Film and Media

1 fees-only studentship.

Any area including: Digital and Network Culture, Media Archaeology, Technoculture, Violence and Contemporary Cinema, Horror film, Spectatorship.

Application forms should be downloaded from www.anglia.ac.uk/researchjobsac

and completed quoting ‘HR online studentship’ on the application form. Applications must be submitted, with a covering letter, no later than 4th January 2010.

Queries in the first instance to: Helen Jones, 0845 196 2475, helen.jones@anglia.ac.uk


• The start date is February or September 2010.

• Overseas applicants are welcome to apply but are required to pay the difference between the Home//EU fees and the overseas rate.

• Applicants should hold a Masters degree awarded by a UK university, or an overseas Masters of equivalent standard, provided that the Masters degree is in an appropriate cognate area and that the Masters degree includes training in research and the execution of a research project. Applicants who hold a first or upper second class degree may also be considered.

• Students for whom English is not their first language must meet our required minimum level of English language proficiency (IELTS 6.5 in all skills, or equivalent).

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

From Cybertext to Produsage. Functioning and Production of Digital Texts

ArcDigital and Cultures of the Digital Economy (CoDE) institute guest talk:

From Cybertext to Produsage. Functioning and Production of Digital Texts
By Dr Robert Arpo, Helsinki Metropolia University of Applied Sciences

Monday 30/11, 16.00-17.30
Anglia Ruskin University, East Road, Cambridge
Room: Helmore 252

Norwegian Espen Aarseth formulated his theory of cybertext and ergodic literature in mid 1990´s and focused his attention on how user, verbal sign and medium form a textual machine called cybertext. His point of view to the digital texts was user oriented, but the user was seen as an individual reader, whose actions were in the center of textual meaning construction.

Australian Axel Bruns has been formulating his theory of produsage recently and in context of so called social media. Bruns´s point of view raises questions on collective production of digital texts and is linked strongly to the dynamics of participatory economy.

When we look at theories of Aarseth and Bruns, they show us the changes in thinking on digital cultures. Technologies give nowadays users much more freedom to produce their own digital contents whereas in 1990´s user did not have access to for example source code of a publication platform like now the situation is with open access applications. Freedom brings also the need for taking responsibility of one´s own actions. Produser cultures are good examples of ways to control, direct and negotiate practices and principles in collective digital content production communities.

Robert Arpo, Ph.D. is principal lecturer in MA programme for media production and management, Helsinki Metropolia University of Applied Sciences, Finland. His research interests are in the area of virtual communities, digital dialogue, theories of information society and social media.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

The tick and the tack of digital culture

Close your eyes and listen to your computer. Its an audio device as well, and a machine of hissing, churning and various other noises we do not pay attention to. The information technology revolution started with a smoothing rhythmic pattern, as you can listen here, listening to the reconstructed Colossus mark 2:


The soundtrack for the emerging information culture?

Friday, 20 November 2009

Wolfgang Ernst in Cambridge talk -- Media archaeology

We had the pleasure of hosting a talk (November 18, 2009) by professor Wolfgang Ernst from Humboldt University Berlin, who is not only someone who is continuing the spirit of the almost legendary Sophienstrasse 23 address (where Kittler worked as well) but is as much a representative of the new wave of German media theory that still remains to a large extent to be translated. It is rare to hear these German scholars in Anglo-American contexts so our ArcDigital talk was even more significant in this sense of really tapping into what is new and fresh in international media studies.

Ernst’s talk on media archaeology as a method and a theory really introduced the various radical implications that his brand of doing media archaeology has. I have already before pointed towards the points about “operative diagrammatics” or media history that his take on the past and present media encompasses, and the talk outlined well the positions --- even provocative – where he wants to place media studies. What the audience was left with was a number of positions and claims/challenges to tackle. To me, these include:

1) media studies is not only cultural studies, or even cultural technics, but something Ernst wants to brand as cultural engineering. Media studies should be an exact science, not (only?) about semantics and semiotics as he provoked but leaning towards the mathematical conditions of our techno-condition. I.e. media studies curricula should include mathematics. The only way to understand digital media, or technical media more generally, is to understand how it puts mathematics into operation, makes formulas into commands, and how engineering routes and automates so many functions that we mistake as human.

2) Media archaeology is processual, it focuses on the time-critical processes which engineer our lives. This means that media archaeology does not tap only to the past but can dedicate itself to opening up technologies in an artistic vein. Ernst’s examples of media archaeological arts were actually less about artists working with historical material than about hardware hacking, open software and circuit bending. Media archaeology is hence also about microtemporal processes. For an example on such media artistic practices, see the Microresearch lab in Berlin.

3) Arche is not only the beginning but in the Derridean sense a command as well. Archaeology as the beginning of our techno-condition is an active command, perhaps execution in the software sense, of orders, procedures and patterns/routines. Ritualistic but not in the human-religious sense, perhaps?

4) Media archaeology does not narrate, it counts. Because machines do not narrate, they count. Counting, algorithmics etc. precede narration.

5) So why not just relegate media archaeology as part of sciences faculties? Because it is still interested in the epistemological conditions in which the commands, executions and operations take place. This seems to point towards the political contexts of media archaeology, but gets rarely articulated in this brand of German media theory. Still, I would argue, it is radically political and taps into the political economic condition of closed systems, opening them up, and teaching that institutionalised conditioning as contingent. Universities then have according to Ernst a special situation, and a responsibility, to open up systems.

6) Media archaeology is a-historical, even unhistorical perhaps. It is not necessarily about contextual information about past media, but creating such situations where you get into contact with media in its radical operability and temporality. Archives in this sense are time-machines; Ernst told us about going to King’s college library to see Turing’s unpublished papers earlier that day, and that situation was branded not by a historian’s interpretative touch but by sharing the mathematical situation in its non-historical presentness. This applies again to machines as well; their functioning operations are the media archaeological moment that is at its core un-historical.

7) Machines are agents of history as well. They record, transmit, and do not always ask for a permission from the human being.

8) Media archaeology has some connection with software studies. Ernst pointed the connections to Manovich’s point about the double-nature of software studies between the cultural interface and the computational heart. I would add, both share an appreciation of processuality.

9) Provocation is almost methodological to Ernst and certain brands of German media theory.

Questions that I did not have the chance to ask:

What are the implications of this approach to the cultural heritage, display and archiving of culture in the age of technical machines – or culture of technical machines? I am guessing it has to do with processuality, with such methods of curating and archiving that are able to articulate the lived (machine-lived) temporality of such technological assemblages. How do you curate or archive software is a related question, but it also touches on earlier technical media such as radios and televisions. Furthermore, it has to do with the generalisation of the notion of the archive with new modes of distributed archiving, digital objects, and such.

What is time-criticality? I still cannot get my head around it completely, i.e. the question of how it differs from time-based processes? Video artists etc. are doing a splendid job as articulators of temporality and materiality, but where does the dividing line between time-based and time-criticality lie?

Wouldn’t it be possible to develop more positive and affirmative relations with some emerging cultural analytical approaches that come from e.g. the Anglo-American world? This point I flagged already in my short post on the Zeitkritische medien-book, and I keep on insisting that perhaps we can find the common areas of interest and shared agendas with such approaches as media ecology (á la Fuller), radical empiricism and Whitehead (Massumi) and e.g. feminist studies of science and technology (for example Barad).

Monday, 16 November 2009

CFP: Thinking Network Politics: Methods, Epistemology, Process

Call For Papers

Thinking Network Politics: Methods, Epistemology, Process

We invite the submission of abstracts for the first event of the AHRC funded networking project 'Exploring New Configurations of Network Politics'. The event will combine a series of position papers followed by round table discussions and interventions exploring the issues and challenges raised by those papers.

The attempt to grasp the depth and breadth of network politics demands novel and transdisciplinary approaches not always native to the humanities and social sciences, such as graph theory and the study of code as cultural practice. Thus there is a drive to explore the broad spectrum of practices and discourses to help rethink the articulations of politics in network culture. New modes of political activity that take advantage of new platforms from Twitter to YouTube necessitate new conceptual positions for network culture, counter-power and resistance. The papers should work towards adapting concepts such as, for example but by no means exclusively, the Multitude, free and immaterial labour, emergence, swarms and 'smart mobs' and new forms of creation, activism and engagement in civil society. The aim is to rethink what we understand by politics. Further questions which need to be asked include: what kind of epistemologies do we need to incorporate into our analysis? How can we take into account the particularities of networks when approaching the elusive, ephemeral nature of politics of/in networks? These are just examples of the directions into which considerations of “network politics” might lead us. Because this is such a fast developing and challenging arena of research the event will aim to be open and fluid, encouraging engagement, conversation and innovation wherever possible, while focusing on this core problematic of the tools and processes for thinking network politics.

The papers for this event will thus ideally investigate the methods and innovative approaches to mapping and thinking such new network politics. The March event will thus aim elaborate on the nature of the network and forge new routes to thinking about the processual, dynamic nature of networks as well as the particular “objects” such approaches fabricate.

The papers should be in the format of short (10 min) position papers on key concepts or keywords that lead into group work and discussions into the questions of network politics and methods and approaches for analysis. Instead of normal academic papers followed by a short Q&A, we would like the event to encourage collaboration, collective discussions and agenda setting.


The event takes place in Cambridge, UK, Anglia Ruskin University, on Thursday 25 and Friday 26 March 2010.

Please submit your abstracts and any suggestions (max 300 words) by January 8, 2010 to

joss.hands@anglia.ac.uk and/or jussi.parikka@anglia.ac.uk.

The research project functions under the auspices of the Anglia Research Centre in Digital Culture (ArcDigital )

Friday, 13 November 2009

Time-Critical Media - a short reminder of a book that deserves attention

I have flagged in many contexts my interest for new materialist cultural analysis, and how it should be articulated together with a new sense of temporality. When I say "a new sense" it's a bit misleading, but I mean the rigorous rethinking of temporality that we find across the board from Delanda to Whitehead-inspired accounts and so forth. Whereas Grossberg already pointed towards a non-signifying accounts as a mode of spatial materialism, we need to develop similar approaches that stem from radical temporality; that the world outside the human being is too dynamic, unfolding, temporal; that temporality is itself folded together with the various material assemblages of the world; that temporality is a crucial non-human force we need to articulate to understand the molecular, as well as the long durations of nature (not least in the midst of our eco crisis).

One key context for my interests comes again from Germany, and has been recently been "summed up" as a book. Axel Volmar as the editor of Zeitkritische Medien (Time-Critical Media, Kadmos Verlag, Berlin, 2009 ) has done a good job in collating together recent trends in German media theory, and approaches to the very peculiar, but even more so exciting version of media archaeology that they have been developing in the Media Studies department at Humboldt University, Berlin. Under the guidance of Professor Wolfgang Ernst, the notion of "time-criticality" and an eye towards temporal processes as a key to understand modern technical media we find a brand of media archaeology that extends not so much historically into past media but towards the microscopic workings of media machines; and how they modulate time, and the structuring temporal processes of societies.

By digging into the "microtemporalities" of media machines the introduction and the chapters try to excavate how such micro-layers are articulating the perception of reality. This means extending the media studies agenda (not surprisingly as we are in the territory of German, Kittlerian inspired media theory after all) to non-human agents and processes that however structure the phenomenological worlds of our perception and reality-effects as well. This leads furthermore to the realisation of the new realms of relations between machines themselves -- no link to the human is always needed in the age of automated processes and machines communicating between themselves before they talk to the human (Guattari -- who however is missing as theorist from this volume).

Paul Virilio who is well used in this book has argued for the importance of time and speed for war (and hence a link to media as well), but this book extends this to a very meticulous technical excavation into the dispositifs of how actually time gets articulated and articulates media. Technophobes beware! This brand of German media theory is not afraid of getting its hands greasy, whether we are talking of analogue media or digital algorithms (or algorythmics as Shintaro Miyazaki extends the concept in his chapter). This is where Virilio's ideas gain real strength, or a new context when by systematic and rigorous steps machines and technologies are opened up from the logic of bitmapping (Peter Berz) to the problems of noise and signal-transmission (Hirt and Volmar).

It would be crucial to see more work of this kind in English in order to really start rethinking fundamentals of media studies. This is happening already, partly due to a Kittlerian influence, and other new waves coming e.g. from Italy (post-Fordist thought), France (e.g. Latour, Guattari, Deleuze of course) and onwards to e.g. games (Pias) with an amount of chapters that with ease move between visual media, the sonic and computational platforms. But definitely new German media studies and archaeology has a lot to say to the problems of materiality of technical media. It would benefit itself from a more elaborated discussion and joining of forces of some other similar approaches that come from different directions. Ideas of temporality have been developed e.g. in materialist feminism (Barad) and e.g. Whitehead inspired radical empiricism (Massumi, Mackenzie,etc.) and through creations of new circuits for circulation of ideas, we could have soon something really exciting on our hands. Well, the previous sentence was not to mean that all this stuff is not already that -- exciting. Just that developing such creative clashes might be seen as a good method for movement of thought. Of course, its not the Germans who are the only ones doing this work; recently I have been following the stuff coming out from Utrecht direction as well whether in terms of some of the feminist work in the wake of Braidotti but also the great ideas from the New Media and Digital culture programme who also address materiality with historical, temporal methods.

Anyhow, media studies is developing into a great articulation of the interlinks between science, art and cultural analysis/philosophy, and we need to keep this movement alive with more translations and engagements. Such are the directions where UK media studies field should turn its attention to.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Intentionally or not, unfinished, drafty, ecological note on research institutions

The creation of a research institute is itself a media ecology – a flood of processes, negotiations, talks, emails, phone calls and such; negotiations of people being placed and displaced, of belongings and outings. Who owns their heads, and their work time; true biopolitics of arranging things. Its what constitutes research in the current world: its mostly arranging stuff to such positions to be called research.

To call it multidisciplinary might be asking for it, but calling it transdisciplinary also risks falling between disciplines in a way that is not romanticized in any booklet on the need for interdisciplinary culture to sustain creative industries. The complexity of getting it working is , well, complex. To be “trans” is indeed risking it as any such huge system as higher education demands a fair amount of recognizability before it gives you necessary access and passage.

How to make it work? How to move on from a romantics of nomadism to a sustainability of movement as a strategy for research institutions? First of all, one needs to recognize that moving outside borders does not mean moving without some borders. Movement itself becomes constitutive of bordering, and tracking lines that were perhaps invisible before but nevertheless effective. This is what institutions are made of, in addition to the walls usually too ugly to be but ridiculed; patterns, habits, “the ways we do things.”

The movement can however become a bordering that is not creating rigid lines that want to stay there just to see the landscape change, but to sustain the dynamics of the energies put into that action. To see the movement reach its peak, and turn into something else. Institutions are not necessarily bad, but we have to envision such forms of institutions that suit our action. Its clear that not many of the old ones are up for the job.

Secondly, you talk in languages, and use languages to deterritorialize positions. You have to find again such passages and access, which you can use as vectors, not positions. Positioning is not what we need; we need vectors.

Thirdly, in the midst of such vectors, you need a minimum amount of identity. As said, things feed on recognizability, whether we want it or not. And for that, you launch numerous emails, actions, requests and meetings which produce logos, slogans, further patterns. Another media ecology.

Fourthly, you need routines. Patterns are mentioned as well, but it’s the routines that make up the borders and settings. Set up the dispositifs; the meetings, the schedules, the arrangement for temporal cycles to turn into action plans, or other ways to control time.

Fifth, fill in with anything considered necessary________________

Friday, 16 October 2009

Dead Media/Live Nature

I am going to give a talk in a couple of weeks in Amsterdam as part of the matinees of the Imaginary Futures research group. I was kindly invited there by Wanda Strauven. Its on Friday the 30th of October, I think starting around 10.30 or 11, and located at Bungehuis, Spuistraat 210, room 101.

Here is the abstract:

The talk Dead Media/Live Nature focuses on the transpositions of media and nature through recent art projects such as Harwood-Wright-Yokokoji's Eco Media (Cross Talk) and Garnet Hertz's Dead Media. The Eco Media project developed new modes of thinking and doing media (ecology) through a tracking of the intensities of nature. However, in this case the medium was understood in a very broad sense to cover the ecosystem as a communication network of atmospheric flows, tides, reproductive hormones, scent markers, migrations or geological distributions. The project does not focus solely on the ecological crisis that has been a topic of media representations for years, but also engages with a more immanent level of media ecology in a manner that resembles Matthew Fuller's call for Art for Animals. Media is approached from the viewpoint of animal perceptions, motilities and energies (such as wind) that escape the frameworks of "human media." In this context the rhetorical question of the Eco Media project concerning non-human media is intriguing: "Can 'natural media' with its different agencies and sensorium help to rethink human media, revealing opportunities for action or areas of mutual interest?" In addition the talk will expand the notion of "dead media" as articulated recently by Garnet Hertz, and discuss its relevance for establishing a connection between media ecology and media archaeology.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Affect - start of the RIB and ArcDigital theme year

What are affects good for? I am not referring to the stuff going through your body and your mind, but the concept. ArcDigital and RIBs (Representation, Identity and the Body) theme year on Affect was kicked off yesterday with discussions based on Nigel Thrift's and Eric Shouse's texts. Good points followed, so many I cannot summarize them here. But for me, its the possibility of tapping to various weird materialities that "affect" affords us. This ranges from the 0.5 second delay between event and consciousness Wundt talked about, the odd reactions that Reagan talking can have, the relationality of bodies in movement, as well as for example the software objects defined by their relations -- i.e. also non-human affects being possible. Affects are the element of transformation, and transmission -- of bodies relating and being in their relatedness. As Joss Hands pointed out, the danger of the concept is becoming too wide, too vague. Hence, there is no one big theory of affect, just good uses in contexts where we need to think beyond signification, representation and the human.

Affects are more -- they are the primary surplus due to their by definition relational nature. This is where the connection to sensations might become clearer. To quote Massumi: "Sensation is the registering of the multiplicity of potential connections in the singularity of a connection actually under way. It is the direct experience of a more to the less of every perception." (In Parables for the Virtual, p.92). What is the relation between sensation and affect? Definitely, in the Deleuzian inspired schemes, its not always clear. If affects include/are transitions, sensations travel as well. Consider Deleuze writing on Bacon: "Bacon constantly says that sensation is what passes from one 'order' to another, from one 'level' to another, from one 'area' to another. This is why sensation is the master of deformations, the agent of bodily deformations."

Affects are less. They escape the conscious perception, flee and yet effect, impose on social interaction. Its the mentioned lost time, perhaps -- in terms of capturing the possibility of tapping into the preconscious. We smile before the joke gets funny, we react before the person even starts to make sense, we feel it already before the actual meeting has started. Of course, so closely connected to feelings -- they loop together, as Milla reminds us. It does not stay unnoticed by the intensive body that we engage continously with agendas, structures, classifications and so on of emotions. Affects produce emotions that are shared, but they feedback through various political and social acts of naming etc?

Are they tonalities? Yes, to an extent that tonalities are shared, or connect things/people/entities in time-spaces. Its the in between of perceiver and what is perceived. To again quote Massumi: "The properties of the perceived thing are properties of the action, more than of the thing itself. This does not mean that the properties are subjective or in the perceiver. On the contrary, they are tokens of the perceiver's and the perceived's concrete inclusion in each other's world." (again from Parables of the Virtual, p.90).

Vocabularies for weird materialities? This ranges from bodies in movements, of micromovements on the skin, such concrete inclusions of bodies sharing something and becoming together, of non-human objects/processes defining each other, of feeling the intensity of fastness, slowness, closeness, distance. Its what psychophysiology was keen on mapping in the 19th century in connection with the birth of modern media culture (as always, Jonathan Crary's Suspensions of Perception is the book to read), and what biotechnologies, brain and cognitive sciences and even quantum physics inspect. It is also the regime of things such as somatosenses -- proprioception, kinesthesia, the visceral...(Eleni Ikoniadou who is just finishing her PhD from UEL on rhythmic ontologies is working in this field).

In the midst of a panorama of approaches, what seems to become increasingly crucial is that we need new cartographies of affect -- ones that don't rely only on psychoanalysis etc., but inspect art/science/technology/philosophy as the source of innovation/invention.

To conclude, a good example of such interchanges: Christa Sommerer and Laurent Mignonneau's Nano-Scape system from 2001.

Friday, 2 October 2009

First ArcDigital talk of the Semester: Dr Joyce Shintani

A big thanks to Dr Joyce Shintani for kicking off ArcDigital talks for this semester! We started these lectures last academic year in order to excavate the interzone between theory and practice of/in digital culture, the trandisciplinary zones often left untouched by the established disciplines of academia. Last year we had a range of excellent speakers from Espen Aarseth to Steven Shaviro and Gary Genosko (and a number of others!), and this year we continue from Shintani to Greg Elmer, Wolfgang Ernst, Richard Grusin...and so on.

Shintani's talk focused on music and sound in recent media art --- and she presented an overview of some of the themes in recent exhibitions such as Art Basel, Ars Electronica and Sonar (Barcelona). By focusing on the element of music, Shintani was touching on such regimes of sensibility too often left untouched by the visual emphasis of media art/theory -- an idea that resonates strongly with such claims for a "sonic turn" in cultural theory. Turn or not, such a multimodal perspective is much needed to understand multimedia as something more than just multiple media put together. Indeed, its not only sound and something else, but a focus on sound that deterritorialises our perspective on works of art from visual screen based to installations. Its not only about music per se, in that sense, but about sound as an attraction point for the user and for the analyst. Shintani pointed to some implications:

- music has been built upon the centrality of the word (as already Adorno argued); hence a much more multimodal approach is needed -- media is not only literature based, but interfaces of direct bodily sensations, musical expectations etc. demand a different focus
- This has implications in terms of institutions from teaching to performance
- a post object-subject approach demands a much more refined idea of embodiment and interaction than has been catered in the word-biased approaches.

All this is clear and stems from what she identified as current "trends" -- not in terms of fashionability but the singularity of some of the works she is interested in;
- Increasing minituarization
- Enabling ease of access to sound/music -- i.e. a certain DIY approach
- cooperation and collaboration in the process of art making
- "sophistication" of interactivity in connection with easing of access
- a strong focus on mixed media -- "Continuation of breaking down of barriers, mixing of media that stems from Adorno's "Verfransung" -- a wandering crossover, aberrant paths of and in media production).

In this context, Shintani is working on her new project: "Embodiment and "the Other". A multidisciplinary Comparison of Changing Aspects of the Subject in Musical Multimedia Works.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Reality Checkpoint

Cambridge is the academic Disneyland, that much we know by now. It is screaming for its Ballard to write Super-Cambridge or something as apt to map the perverse libidinal economies (connected to the very monetary economies) which circulate here.

One of the fascinating points, or lines in Cambridge is the so called reality checkpoint.
It has got a long history, partly documented already on Wikipedia as well but it captures so well on an affective level as well the fine divisions found in Cambridge. After crossing Parker's Piece, heading towards the centre, you are warned of the approaching bubble disconnected from the real world (again: Academic Disneyland). Quite often the original 1970s context for reality checkpoint pointed towards the difference between Cambridge undergrads and the "normal folk" of Cambridge, but as apt is the fact that it apparently was first scratched on the lamp post by CCAT -- now Anglia Ruskin -- student(s). Makes me proud of our university. At least a spirit of radicality, hope we could strengthen that still. And I always add that the other university might have their Nobel Prize winners etc., but I will any day such a winner, and raise that with a Pink Floyd member (David Gilmour and Syd Barrett studied at our predecessor). Oh, would that be the day if we had a "David Gilmour chair in sonic media", or a "Syd Barrett chair in experimental media studies."

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

On Network Politics -- notes to self and the unknown reader

Our network politics networking-project kicks off officially October 1st, and we are in the midst of organizing some of the activities and themes which will form the backbone of the project. The project will feature both online-presence and activities, as well as events taking place in Cambridge and New York. We had yesterday the interesting idea of using the Request for Comments-format (RFC) as a media theoretical method of sorts, that kicks off from the initial question of "what is network politics?" and then proceeds through the RFC method - forking into new questions, streams, agendas. As the project is about networking, we find its important to map the field and crucial agendas, not just yet hope to provide final solutions. This is why the RFC idea (to quote from Wikipedia!) is intriguing: "Through the Internet Society, engineers and computer scientists may publish discourse in the form of an RFC, either for peer review or simply to convey new concepts, information, or (occasionally) engineering humor. The IETF adopts some of the proposals published as RFCs as Internet Standards." To adopt that to media theoretical and practical aims to facilitate discussion is an idea worthwhile to have a shot at, and to use it to develop concept-labs/networks for conveying new concepts, information...

Anyhow, I need to start writing some notes to self in terms of possible ways to go with the agenda, of what could be relevant in terms of topics to be covered somehow:

- politics of new networks and code platforms such as Twitter. E.g. Greg Elmer has been actively involved in this research. What kind of modes of organization, action and for example campaigning for political agencies such forms offer? This stream perhaps focuses on the question of how such technologies might deterritorialize the political landscape and praxis.

- Politics of networks as politics of invisibility: what kinds of forms of politics there are out there that are not even recognized as politics? This is a multilayered question, and relates both to perception of politics as well as the tactics of politics in the age of surveillance, visibility and software. Firstly, how should we address certain forms of tactical media, net art, etc. as forms of politics (and what are the tools to develop such understanding). Secondly, take Galloway and Thacker: "Future avant-garde practices will be those of nonexistence." Network politics can take as its form also becoming-invisible, becoming-nonexistent in order to avoid both the politics of representation as well as the techniques of trackings, surveillance and control. All of this relates to thinking of modes of activism, as well.

- Biopolitics of network culture that is characterized by "immaterial projects, including ideas, images, affects and relationships" (Hardt and Negri); how do such forms of production take form through social media as a standardisation and distribution of specific forms of relations, sociability, affects, and community? There is a wide range of excellent work already on this stream, from Tiziana Terranova's Network Culture-book (2004) to the forthcoming The Internet as Playground and Factory-conference in New York. (For a taste of what's coming, see e.g. McKenzie Wark's video interview on the topic.)

- The need for new tools for academic interaction -- tools which do not only quantifiably ease distribution and storage of research etc., but qualitatively enact a change in how academic institutions work in the age of late capitalism. Gary Hall's Digitize This Book! is a good point of entry to these debates, and what we hope to address somehow (e.g. through methods such as RFC potentially) is how the modes of relating to other scholars and production of information can be rethought in the context of network culture. Taking aboard Jodi Dean's excellent "warnings" in her "Communicative Capitalism"-article, this mode of academic interaction should not fall prey to any automated sociability that is offered as part of the assumption of goodness of all communication in network culture, but it should critically inspect ideas of open source, multimodal forms of academic debate and possibilities of network technologies to facilitate not just more-of-the-same but visions of 21st century arts and humanities agenda (which are not detached from science and tech.)

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Tabula Rasa of Neoliberalism

Meditations after watching Doll House (and in the midst of the emerging genre of avatar/surrogate-films such as The Gamer, Surrogate, etc.):

Memories are valuable to any corporate/neoliberalist logic as pathways to subjectification. Subjectification works through capturing memory, and the Lockean idea of tabula rasa as the ground for subjectivity-through-experience is more of a pragmatic than ontological assumption. Contemporary capitalism works through creations of worlds, argues Maurizio Lazzarato, and Doll House exemplifies in this sense not (only) a world of high tech virtual realities, but the functioning of Leibnizian neoliberalism. It's about the refrains that stick to your mind, and create habits that pave the way for consumerist etc. behavior. Mind and body are hence synced. The other link to neoliberalism comes through Naomi Klein's Shock Doctrine: through shock that reduces to a childlike status the mind/society becomes open to reprogramming (thanks to Joss Hands for the reminder re. Klein.)

Lazzarato and his reading of Tarde is in many aspects an apt opening to such worlds as Doll House's. Subjectivity as an automate would be the perfect tuning of behaviors for a certain goal -- something clearly visible in the idea of being able to program people for specific tasks, and for such tasks only. (cf. Lazzarato's Les Révolutions du capitalisme). But this is not the whole truth. Memories leak, also through the tabula rasa. This is what Doll House is about; how memories while being captured, still leak, and how memory is less a storage space that can be filled and emptied according to will than a dynamism that cannot be detached from the body. Hence, memory becomes a dynamic engine with different layers suddenly converging and diverging. In Bergsonian terms, its the duration of lived memories that persists despite the quantified "memory bytes programmable" that seem to ground the fantasy of drone people á la 21st century.

Memory is much more material and dirty than anything that could be wiped away. It sticks. (An obvious direction would be to write this through Freud's memory machine metaphor, and talk about the dynamic materialism inherent in any process of imprinting/wiping.)

Where goes then the line between living and dead labour?

Agency is not one, nor is it even two as with doppelgangers, twins, or any other classic film doubling of minds/bodies. Its multiple, much more akin to a logic of infinite variation that characterizes digital technologies than an optical metaphor. But such avatars are not only projections stemming from the human, so to speak. They feed back. This seems to be something at the core of some of the media examples emerging now. There is a much more interesting feedback loop between bodies and avatars, minds and surrogates than only a projection of fantasmas. Bodies resonate with their spectral variations, and such spectral variations can return. (No return of the repressed through.)

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Embedded video in print media

BBC Breakfast Show this morning reminded me of something I have been lazily following, i.e. some new ways of embedded video to print media. As shown in this Wired-article, this is a quite clumsy system where the digital screen was embedded inside the magazine making it quite thick and lacking from the usual portability of print media. It was not the ePaper dreams that actually might make video quite a functional part of magazines, etc.

As a tool for advertisers, the ability to embed short spots as video onto pages was discussed from the view point of attention management, contextualised in the overcrowding of perception space where the implicit question seemed to be where to find more space to cram adverts. I remember when interviewing the media artist Marita Liulia years ago her flagging her eagerness to participate in any project that would develop shelters from such attention catchers...

Interestingly, some of the people commentating the embedded video took it as a granted fact that we have a desire to actually want to see adverts; something that struck me at least as absurd. A woman commentating this from the viewpoint of print media pointed out how the Internet is filled with video adverts (really?) and everyone who wants to see them goes there. But are we not actually most of the time avoiding such videos that stick to the screen often more persistently than your average malware? This begs the question: how much would actually an audiovisual video that automatically starts playing when you turn the page irritate, disturb and eventually put off the magazine reader instead of being just the normal add-on that you can live with, like with still advert images? Attention management, folks, again; it cannot be on your face, but a more subtle way of negotiating catching the perception without making it the main feature. Sorry, but I feel this just does not work.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Trust, Identity, Security seminar at Anglia Ruskin

David Skinner pulled together with Claire Preston a very nice event at Anglia on Thursday on Trust, Identity and Security. Even if my particular area relating to software and security was not that much covered, the themes interlinked well with some stuff I have been thinking. In terms of such notions of social "glue" as trust, Marek Kohn kicked off with a very general take on the social basis of trust --- although having said "social basis" I need to flag that I was left a bit cold with the too individualized/atomized image of trust that he painted. Too much of the presentation focused on trust outside its historical and institutional settings, using examples that implied it more as a psychological/rationalized/cognitive theme. I disagree with this quite strongly, and was hoping for a discussion more focused on the affective/non-cognitive politics and management of trust in terms of network culture.

In short, my point: a) trust is something guaranteed as a temporal relation in modernity by institutions, b) such institutions have been forced to change and their ability to guarantee the secured future has suffered during what different commentators would call late-capitalism, postmodernity, or for example network culture. This applies to social relations, production and legitimacy of knowledge, economic relations, and huge amount of other key factors. c) Instead of a cognitive relation, institutions have already historically worked on trust as a management of affective states, to put it a bit too broadly. What I mean is that trust works on automation most of the time -- its not a cognitive relation of weighting wins and losses. Its an affective relation that involves the management of futurity as something present; a creation of a condition where future seems as if already present and controllable.

In the other session, presentions by for example David Skinner and Greg Elmer touched interestingly also the topic of futurity. David's talk was on the UK police DNA Database, and very spot on in terms of control through information; not only a creation of "traces" through DNA collection etc., but also through active creation of profiled, targeted "problem groups" -- which happens to be very racially loaded practice. The already existing amount of profiles on the database is very much geared towards collecting from the black communities and through "preemptive profiling", very problematic self-realizing groupings are created. Preempting as a political tool is a good idea/concept that Greg Elmer has been developing (also together with Andy Opel in their book on the topic.) In his video talk, Greg talked about both the concept as one of management of futures, and also on the ongoing online collaboration to create a documentary on the topic. What is preemption? Its about shooting first, asking later -- a practice enabled by a range of non-lethal weapons such as tasers; but also more discursively a mode of governing the present through reacting to "inevitable futures" (where risks are treated as if inevitable events, and hence in need of preemptive actions.) This is the logic of the Bush regime in a way, but not limited to a set of tools by the ex-US Government (and also having clear connections with e.g. Richard Grusin's notion of premediation).

The day ended with Sean Cubitt's different angle to the topic of databases and security. He gave a brilliant genealogy of management of colors and perception through the histories of the raster screen. The same mode of cutting and organizing perception into discreet units that governs the raster screen approach is apparent according to Cubitt also in the database mode of governing through creating units that are inter-exchangeable etc. In a way, I was after Skinner's presentation thinking about how modes of racism and racial profile have moved from the visual regime of e.g. orientalism to the informatics of databases and hence non-visual media, but actually Cubitt made me rethink and realize the possible connections between visual and database media. The technicality inherent in modes of management of perception are already hinting towards the logic of computational databases, seems Cubitt to argue and I have to admit his points were quite convincing even if I am not usually the first person to argue for the centrality of the visual in media cultures (esp. technical).

Sunday, 6 September 2009

An aberrant text on social media -- to note the launch of Cool Mediators platform

Lesson 1 of social media culture: sociability is not inherent, its produced. All the discourse about naturality of belonging, participation, sociability should be taken as a product, not the starting point. In historical perspective things immediately turn out trickier. One could even say that the current "social turn" (referring to Web 2.0, social media, and all that) is even a bit surprising, understanding how recently crowds were deemed as dangerous, mindless and threatening. The hive mind was more of an index of dangers to democracy (both pre and post WWII). Swarms, human animality of irrational social groupings (the animality in us), collectives and such, were not automatically sources of creativity, hive minds of late capitalist sorts, but articulated together as a threat of Western civilization. Of course, the earliest examples of a much more positive stance towards e.g. emergence were to be found already in the 1910s research into insect worlds; for example the ant researcher's Wheeler's work is exemplary. Yet, the idea of mindless drone animality as represented as late as in the 1950s horror movies was an effective way of framing the non-human in us as dangerous. It seems like there would be a long way from such dangerous animalities to the productive, communicative, distributed animality of social media culture. Its the animality in current high tech media culture -- social media. Naturally Kropotkin knew this already a while ago, and his book from 100 years back Mutual Aid should be a key reference point in any genealogy of social media.

The realization that sociability must be produced and maintained is behind some ideas that try to consolidate possibilities of participation and novel communities; hence, I want to flag the launch of a cross-media platform project to catalyze discussions, a social media tool for academics, activists, etc. I would assume, knowing something about the creators Tania Goryucheva and Eric Kluitenberg's interests. It is planned as a tool to facilitate communication between online and offline communities, and equipped with tools that will probably turn out handy for the critical social media generation; web casting, automated archiving, etc. Might be of good relevance to our starting Network Politics project.

Launch at the De Balie, Amsterdam, September 10, 20.30, and online: www.coolmediators.net .

Monday, 31 August 2009

Bifo/Guattari -- philosophic plumber poets

Franco Bifo Berardi's Félix Guattari - Thought, Friendship, and Visionary Cartography was a great by-the-pool-book, and it made me convinced of the fact that Guattari is at least as important to media studies as is Deleuze. Ironically however, Bifo's points that seem closest to the core of media studies -- his meditations on the Internet -- are the least convincing, but his other remarks concerning what Guattari might call mixed semiotics, the refrain, the semiochemical, etc. are excellent in expanding media studies towards processes of subjectification. Bifo is polemic, aberrant and intriguing writer whose ideas often escape me yet I continue returning to them. I find this book on Guattari to be as much about Bifo, and hence it indeed shows how thinkers/writers act at best as catalysts; they take you to places where you would not have gone without them. Or as Bifo puts it: "rhizomatic thought is the cartography of landscapes yet to come...".

Bifo is not afraid of spreading the concept of the viral in his book, which seems to apply to his methodology as well. Contagion, viral spread and such concepts act less as metaphors than to demonstrate how such semiotic regimes as language act as mixed semiotics, always non-reducible to signification but spreading through a variety of regimes. Bifo paints the picture of Guattari as a materialist thinker -- a new materialist -- who is interested in the interplay and transversal relations of signification and non-signification. So virality refers to the mechanospheric dimension of reality that bypasses divisions between biosphere, noosphere etc. to underline that reality consists of the relations of heterogeneous elements. His materiality is the materiality of the singular -- not reducible to representations, contexts or other concepts borrowed from a more linguistic orientation of cultural analysis -- but one where the materiality of the event in its singularity is approached as a situated experience. There is one nice phrase that I want to quote from Bifo: "We generally say the the meaning of a statement depends on the context, but we must add that the meaning of the context in turn depends on statements that intersect it."

In terms of signs and language in its materiality, some of the implications reach towards software as well. I tried recently to write something about ethologies of software which tried to find some Deleuzian points of entry to code -- but ones which would not see code and the digital only as a reduction of intensities. Bifo's grasp of language in Guattari does this as well -- the focus on signs as always constituted of affects. Bifo quotes Paolo Fabbri on Deleuze and signs: "Any sign is the effect of the action of a body on another body, and therefore affect; and this variation of effects on a body provokes a variation in power, in affective sensibility: increase of power (joy), decrease of power (sadness." Now to transport this idea to software is the intriguing bit; and to see code not only as codification and regulated order, but as performance, temporality, and bodies of code in interaction. Furthermore, such a mode of analysis would see software as an assemblage - and part of other non-code related activities that sustain it (a media ecological approach.)

Materialism of language -- and the multiplicity of semiotic regimes is one key point that Bifo/Guattari offer. Another related to this is the conceptualisation of capitalism as a semiotic operator, a point worth quoting in length..:" the pervasiveness of the capitalist model no longer depends solely on an effect of abstract overcoding that manifests itself especially in the moment of exchange, but also depends on the technologically mediated integration of different moments of manufacturing: planifying moments, techno-scientific moments, informational moments, material moments, and so forth." In other words, capitalism act as such an operator that relays, channels, establishes and integrates processes of social production. This I find an important point in the sense that it does not negate capitalism to a dead vampire that only sucks on living energy, but as a mode of operationality. It does not mean a benevolence of capitalism, but it still points towards its energetic side.

Bifo is strong when he talks with Guattari on capitalism and its operations in the infoscape, also when he addresses the postmediatic affect and the psychic dimensions of capitalism. The idea of "schizoanalytic aesthetics" becomes a methodological guideline of sorts as well, where such an aesthetics is not focused on "beauty as an object of contemplation, but the way in which bodies perceive each other in the social field. In an era of displacement and migrations, of contaminations and integralisms, of nationalisms and aggression, an essential political problem is that of the semantics of social proximity, and thus of aesthetics." Such a rethinking of aesthetics internal to politics and even ontogenesis of relationality is what ties the project to other thinkers recently much discussed; Jacques Ranciere of course, but even A.N.Whitehead in the mode that for example Steven Shaviro takes him as a fresh alternative to a Heideggerian inspired post-structuralism. Of course, Guattari/Bifo are not as consistently "philosophical" in the sense of elaborating all details of their onto-politics etc., but this does not lessen their importance. Bifo makes the wonderful remark in the interview that is attached to the book that Guattari often sounded like a plumber when he wrote about flows, tubes, cutting and tightening.
Bifo, on his part, talks how his book was perceived by his publisher Luca Sossella as a book of poetry.

Yet, as said, the shortcomings of the approach are evident in the passages on the Internet. Some approaches have indeed put too much emphasis on the rhizomatic nature of the Internet, and critics have as much failed to see the emergence of much more interesting Deleuze-Guattarian inspired Internet studies. Hence Bifo's emphasis on the rhizomatic, distributed and hence revolutionary character of such networks fail to see the layered, also hierarchical protocols etc. that characterize the modern Internet.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Hey Mr. Tory, why do you hate media studies so much?

Oh Mr. Tory, why do you hate media studies so much? It's amazing that you claim the education system of dumbing down, as if it was somehow connected to the popularity of what you claim to be "soft subjects", as media studies. Of course, I am sure that English is not on that list -- it does after all represent the finest in British culture, right? Languages in general are seen as "tough topics." And what they teach there in English lit., or languages? -- literature, books, practices of reading and interpreting -- does not have anything to do with media? Well, Mr. Tory, if you would study media studies, you might see things differently. Literature too is a medium, it just happened to be the key medium for production, consumption, governance and distribution of information before the internet came along. Perhaps you should study media studies to get a bit of perspective.

Why do you Mr. Tory hate media studies so much? I wonder whether you would be yourself able to pass the courses? Do you know what media studies is about? No, its not what BBC suggested through its Media Studies test. It's not about learning to what social class/audience category teachers belong (as suggested in the BBC test), or what font BBC website uses (another question in that test). I wonder how you might survive reading Adorno, tackling Marx, engaging with Hall, writing an essay about Guattari, or coping with the centrality of software for contemporary culture. Badly, based on the statements you give.

Why do you Mr. Tory hate media studies so much? Because it might actually produce critical knowledge that is not only aware of the centrality of maths and sciences for the contemporary media culture of "creative industries" (e.g. through software studies), but also because it is able to create such connections that reveal their relations with other fields, including economics, politics and like. Its for this reason, Mr. Tory, that actually I would claim the centrality of media studies to understand contemporary culture. It is in an ideal position to understand the links between arts, sciences and technology, with yet another source of inspiration coming from philosophy. Too much for you? I am sure it is -- after all, it might make you question so many of your own defining beliefs. To freely quote the Finnish poet Pentti Saarikoski: the conservatives, the right wing, they don't need philosophy -- their world view is ready and sealed. To update it: the tories don't need media studies, it might question too much and critically their world. Better damp it down, before it gets too far.

Monday, 17 August 2009

More spam to the world

Finally its coming out: The Spam Book - On Viruses, Porn and Other Anomalous Objects from the Dark Side of Digital Culture, edited by yours truly and Tony D. Sampson (UEL). Its was with the publisher for about 18 months, which testifies to the fact that always when you write cultural/media studies, write a) about history, b) write about metaphysics so that what you claim cannot be said to grow old when the next version of your favourite software/operating system comes out.

Writing about spam and editing this book was fun. It was bizarre to understand the lack of research into this defining feature of digital culture, and only now PhDs and research into spam cultures are emerging. For me, spam is a perfect index, or more accurately a vehicle that we can use to drive into such themes as security, delineation of order and disorder in software cultures, capitalism and the non-signifying production of value, desires of consumerism and the weird automated processes running wild on the underbelly of networks.

From the back cover of the Spam Book:

For those of us increasingly reliant on email networks in our everyday social interactions, spam can be a pain; it can annoy; it can deceive; it can overload. Yet spam can also entertain and perplex us. This book is an aberration into the dark side of network culture. Instead of regurgitating stories of technological progress or over celebrating creative social media on the Internet, it filters contemporary culture through its anomalies. The book features theorists writing on spam, porn, censorship, and viruses. The evil side of media theory is exposed to theoretical interventions and innovative case studies that touch base with new media and Internet studies and the sociology of new network culture, as well as post-presentational cultural theory.

And some blurps...

“Parikka and Sampson present the latest insights from the humanities into software studies. This compendium is for all you digital Freudians. Electronic deviances no longer originate in Californian cyber fringes but are hardwired into planetary normalcy. Bugs breed inside our mobile devices. The virtual mainstream turns out to be rotten. The Spam book is for anyone interested in new media theory.” —Geert Lovink, Dutch/Australian media theorist

“What if all those things we most hate about the Internet—the spam, the viruses, the phishing sites, the flame wars, the latency and lag and interruptions of service, and the glitches that crash our computers—what if all these are not bugs, but features? What if they constitute, in fact, the way the system functions? The Spam Book explores this disquieting possibility.”
—Steven Shaviro, DeRoy Professor of English, Wayne State University

Foreword, Sadie Plant.
On Anomalous Objects of Digital Culture: An Introduction, Jussi Parikka and Tony D. Sampson.
Mutant and Viral: Artificial Evolution and Software Ecology, John Johnston.
How Networks Become Viral: Three
Questions Concerning Universal Contagion, Tony D. Sampson.
Extensive Abstraction in Digital Architecture, Luciana Parisi.
Unpredictable Legacies: Viral Games in the Networked World, Roberta Buiani.
Archives of Software—Malicious Codes and the Aesthesis of Media Accidents, Jussi Parikka.
Contagious Noise: From Digital Glitches to Audio Viruses, Steve Goodman.
Toward an Evil Media Studies, Matthew Fuller and Andrew Goffey.
Irregular Fantasies, Anomalous Uses: Pornography Spam as Boundary Work, Susanna Paasonen.
Make Porn, Not War: How to Wear the Network’s Underpants, Katrien
Can Desire Go On Without a Body?: Pornographic Exchange as Orbital Anomaly, Dougal Phillips.
Robots.txt: The Politics of Search Engine Exclusion, Greg Elmer.
The Internet Treats Censorship as a Malfunction and Routes Around It?: A New Media
Approach to the Study of State Internet Censorship, Richard Rogers.
On Narcolepsy, Alexander R. Galloway and Eugene Thacker.

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Recycling Centre for Digital Waste, or how to stop worrying, and love spam, porn and viruses

I am still waiting to see the actual physical Spam Book that should be in print now. We are planning a launch event I believe for the 23rd of September in London, at Goldsmiths College. More on that later – now I am just anxious to see the actual book. Meanwhile, I wrote a very short Afterword for my friend Juri Nummelin’s new collection of Spam – a collection of spam poetry again. I like his way of applying some classic avant-garde art methodologies to current digital culture -- in a way, taking "spam texts" etc. "seriously", i.e. treating them as interesting pieces of living literature in themselves. Btw. after this text, I wanted to add my new favourite spam mail that I received today. Its only a variation of an old theme, but hilarious, I find.

Here’s the text, anyway:

Waste is the truth about our culture. Garbage, waste, all the residue from our daily chores is a reminder of a future-to-come that is constantly present in predictions about the impending eco-crisis and pollution of the living environment beyond repair. Waste is not only a passive negation of what is useful, but is itself a produced part of our culture, a continuous reminder of the libidinal urges of consumer culture. It’s the living dead, the zombie, that haunts the brains and bodies of consumers. Just like we produce goods, we produce waste.
In a parallel manner, all the waste that we call spam (e-)mail is the truth about network culture. It’s the hyperbolic development of the desires, perversions, and fantasmas that connect our brains to consumer cultural mechanisms. The continuous hints of your insufficient penis size or inability to perform in bed, the promises of gigantic richness, incredible deals in software or pharmaceuticals, all that is only a tickling of that cerebral state that capitalism has been preparing for decades. It’s part of the trend identified by the Italian philosopher Maurizio Lazzarato. Contemporary capitalism is decreasingly interested in producing concrete goods and products. It focuses more and more in a Leibnizian creation of worlds, in which consumerism can flourish. Capitalism produces worlds and desires. Our network world is the world of spam and excess. This book by Juri Nummelin is also a glimpse to the circulation of desires and perversions of this network culture of capitalism.
We all receive spam e-mails and other waste, so the idea of collecting, archiving and even publishing that excess is an act not entirely without absurd connotations. It continues the Dadaist and Surrealist interest in archiving the accidentalities of modern culture. Such acts of archiving the surreal of everyday culture are valuable in exposing the contingencies of any archival logic. So is Nummelin an archivist of garbage and waste? Or is he working as the recycling centre for digi-waste? Perhaps. But at the same time Nummelin is the Dadaist of network culture who has an extreme interest in the poetic in the banal, in such acts of communication (yes, we should call those software enabled non-human acts of mass spamming communication in this era of the posthuman) which approach the degree zero of language, in the found objects of digital culture, which hide in their everyday guise a very avant-garde aura.
Spam mail, viruses and all that we have learned to hate and despise in digital culture is a reminder of the fact that most of everyday Internet traffic is far from “useful” or “nice”. Most of the global info-wonder is built on spam, porn and in general to the darker sides of our libido. This is also why so much of spam email seems to be coming from the Others of our culture: Africa, Russia, outside the so-called organized society. Spam email is the travel literature of contemporary culture to the heart of darkness to have a date with Kurtz; of course, the only one we meet there is the pulsating core of our own consumer society. Spam emails, if you actually read them, maintain several such fantasies that are a combination of the sexualized Other and from universes not too far from Philip K. Dick's novels.
And spam, porn, and viruses are far from useless nuisances. With them, we have seen the development of a gigantic subsection of digital industries, namely security. From security software to various trainings, we are being taught to be responsible Net-users by underlining the grave dangers of spam for our sanitized, clean digi-future. For years, there has been talk of the necessity of a new closed Internet. Corporations would be guaranteed a frictionless world of communication and flow of information, but would leave the so-called average people in their miserable worlds of porn and spam. Weirdly enough, it resonates with such science fiction scenarios where most of humanity has been left after the apocalypse to sink in a world of dirt and lowly libidinal drives.
In the midst of the gloomy future scenarios and production of fear, such poetic recycling is however more than welcome. They are the modern surrealist techniques of tackling with the absurdities and layers beyond meaning of communication; the accidental, the haphazard, the unconscious that can be revealed through artistic methodologies. Media theorists such as Alex Galloway and Eugene Thacker have written about such dream sides of software, and there is a growing body of net art that is more interested in the dark sides of network culture than its polished progress stories. Through such methods we learn of another kind of a message: don’t be afraid to embrace your spam! They tell you the truth about the processes of interpellation that try to hail you as the proper capitalist subject! Love your spam as you love your emails from friends!

And then, the email from Sergeant David Bruce:


No label []
Sgt David Bruce sent it to me on Aug 9, 2009, 3:39 AMShow details
Dear Sir/Madam

My name is (staff Sgt.) David Bruce i am an American soldier, serving in the Military with
army's 3rd infantry division.

i have a very desperate need for Assistance and have summed up courage to contact you.
I found your contact through internet serching and I am seeking your kind Assistance to
move the sum of Five million United States dollars (us$5,000,000) to you, as far as I can
be assured that my share will be safe in your care Until i complete my service here.

Source of money: some money in US currencies were discovered in barrels at a Farmhouse
near one of saddam’s old palaces in tikrit-iraq during a rescue operation, and it was
agreed by staff Sgt Kenneth buff and i that some part of this money be shared Between
both of us before informing anybody about it sinceboth of us saw the money first.

This was quite an illegal thing to do, but i tell you what! no compensation can make up
For the risk we have taken with our lives in this hell hole, of which my brother in-law
Was killed by a road side bomb last time.

The above figure was given to me as my share, and to conceal this kind of money become a
Problem for me but with the help of a British contact working here and with his office
Enjoying some immunity, i was able to get the package out to a safe location entirely Out
of trouble spot.

he does not know the real contents of the package, and he believes that it belongs to a
British American medical doctor who died in a raid here in Iraq, And before giving up,
trusted me to hand over the package to his family in country.

I have now found a very secured way of getting the package out of Iraq to you at home For
you to pick up, and i will discuss this with you when i am sure that you are willing To
assist me and that my money will be well secured in your hand.

I want you to tell me How much you will take from this money for the assistance you will
give to me.

One Passionate appeal i will make to you is not to discuss this matter with anybody,if you
have any reasons to reject this offer, please and please destroy this message as any
Leakage of this information will be too bad for the u.s. soldier's here in Iraq.

I do Not know how long we will remain here; month of May was the deadliest month for us to
be out Here. Totally, we lost 127 men and i have been shot,wounded and survived two
suicide Bomb attacks by the special grace of god.

This and other reasons i will mention later Has prompted me to reach out for help.I
honestly want this matter to be resolved immediately, please contact meas soon as Possible
with my private e-mail address which is my only way of communication (e-mail:

May god bless you and your family"
From David Bruce.

Monday, 3 August 2009

A review of Digital Contagions

Anthony Enns raises good points in his flattering review of my Digital Contagions-book that just came out in the most recent issue of Leonardo Digital Review. Enns is himself well familiar with the debates in German media theory, having sat in the seminars of Friedrich Kittler and Wolfgang Ernst for years – and being still an avid visitor of Berlin like myself. Hence, it is no wonder that he places more emphasis on my book’s connections with the certain Kittlerian-mindset (but the “old”-Kittler of Discourse Networks and critic of digital culture). Enns is able to pick up on some really good points, but I just want to tackle some questions raised by the review.

1) Enns writes quoting me that viruses work through the principles of bottom-up emergence; I think this is only part of the picture, and I try to place them on the much wider strategic webs of definitions and articulations in which such ideas of emergence are read in their political contexts as well paying attention to the work of stratification that is as important as the idea of any distributed nature of viral networks. Such a focus on emergence is problematic if it is not specified, and instead of thinking virus software as a form of emergence, I try to think “emergence” as a form of interconnected complexity, a media ecology of sorts, where various scales of this phenomena are in constant interaction. We need to steer clear of the old ideas of internet as a distributed random network for emergence, and pay attention to for example the scale-free nature of contagions, as Tony D. Sampson has pointed out very well: we need to specify what kind of topologies are we dealing with in these milieus of accidents.

Later on in the book I refer to Katherine Hayles’s ideas relating to emergence: “Structures that lead to emergence typically involve complex feedback loops in which the outputs of a system are repeatedly fed back as input.” In other words, I also try to articulate how viruses are much a more systemic part of the loops in which software and even malicious accidents are tied to the new software business that was emerging, e.g. in the form of digital security.

2) This is why I want to steer clear of the idea that viruses are automatically vehicles of resistance; It’s not only that I reject that “viruses might represent the resistant logic of hackers attempting to subvert or appropriate corporate technologies” but that again, this image that stems from some 1990s tactical media inspired accounts, as well as a Deleuzian focus on viruses as tools of sabotage and non-communication, needs to be complexified. We need to pay attention to the singular modes of functioning of this specific software type, as well as the uses and misuses of the discursive iterations of its characteristics. This does not necessarily mean a straightforward failure of such programs of resistance, but a recognition of the multiple contextual forces in which resistance always takes place. In the Deleuzian context the idea of virus as a cut in communication made perhaps sense, but not in such contexts where accidents can be turned so easily as part of the strengthening of the security industry in itself – and this of course applies to much wider trends in security, as demonstrated after 9/11.

3) The first point also relates to how I don’t see capitalism as potentially even benevolent force, but as itself “viral” -- viral capitalism is characterized less by substance than through its forces of deterritorialisation, variation, modulation. It feeds through differences, it spreads virally to a variety of practices and discourses that might superficially seem contradictory to itself. It’s not enough, as I argue following e.g. Luciana Parisi, to posit a dualism between the living “good” multitude and the big bad capitalism that sucks power out of the creativity of people, but to actually track the modes of invention, change and appropriation inherent in capitalism’s apparatus of capture. In other words, the only way I see capitalism as a living force is due to its powers of/for change. This follows from a variety of Marxist positions as well – and one could find really nice passages from Marx himself about capitalism & crises.

Thursday, 30 July 2009

A media archaeological day at the cellar

Visiting the cellar of Humboldt University does not sound to many the perfect holiday treat, but I have certainly had worse holiday days in my life. I was given a quick tour of the media archaeological labs or what I could perhaps call “operative archives” that lie at the cellar of the Sophienstrasse 22a address in Berlin. Courtesy of professor Wolfgang Ernst, it reinforced again that the things done at Berlin Medienwissenschaft are amazing and would merit much more attention.

In short, Wolfgang’s way of doing media archaeology distances itself from more Anglo-American approaches. Media archaeology is about the actual “live” or “operating” technologies of the past that still work and hence are far from dead media. Or perhaps we could call them “zombie media” in these of technologies that perhaps have lost their mass media function, but still are functional in the technological sense – like an old military radio that still receives transmissions, or old analogue computers that can be wired up and made to work. The media archaeology archive/lab they have then consists of equipment primarily collected by Wolfgang and then fixed to work. This collection ranges from computational media to oscilloscopes, radios, visual media based in the Nipkow principles etc. One of the intriguing footnotes was a radio that was exactly the same model that Heidegger had in his remote place in the 1960s – at the time of the Cuban missile crisis, apparently one of the rare times he wanted to be reliant on mass media. (Wolfgang had interviewed Heidegger’s sons about this radio and then found exactly a similar copy for the collections.)

The key things that Wolfgang keeps on emphasizing and I find characteristic of his theoretical work are then:

- media archaeology looks not (only) at the macrotemporalities of media history. It is more interested in the microtemporal functionalities of technical media, and hence “opening up” media technologies to track down how they work.

- Media archaeology is then much more about the internal operating principles than about e.g. design – the cover, so to speak. Hence, this archive differs from museums in the sense that the technologies are not “closed” behind glass vitrines, but they depend on their “use-value”; how they exist in time, and remodulate, recirculate time-critical processes.

- Media technologies can then be seen as “”synthesizers” of various temporalities in their own right. Media consists of various technologies that are able to function as a coherent assemblage (well, when it works) and also across time – like an old educational computer from the GDR era that Wolfgang had sitting on his desk, with instructions how to “program” it for specific tasks.

- Media archaeology does then focus on such frequencies and layers that are not reducible to the human cultural semantics. There is much more to media – as physical, material instruments, apparata, mediators. Media archaeology is in this mode as much about wiring and programming as it is about writing.

- Media archaeology is then less about textual/discursive as it is about investigating the very concrete signalling work at the heart of technical modernity. I find this bit the fascinating one – and in my reading, I try to see it only entangled with the discursive/historical themes (an assemblage approach of sorts).

Now for me, one of the questions of future is to map how this fits – how it converges and diverges – with “new materialist cultural analysis”. Meanwhile, it made me really think about getting down and dirty and tinkering with such technologies; would be amazing to get research projects like that going…

For anyone wanting to read more about “time critical media studies/archaeology”, see Axel Volmar’s (ed.) Zeitkritische Medien-book.

Below, a sample of the zombie media sitting at the cellar of Humboldt’s media studies; photos used with permission from Lina Franke (also the photographer) and Wolfgang Ernst. Unfortunately no image of “Heidegger’s radio” yet, but that will follow.