Monday, 29 June 2009

The Infantile Star

I have never in any way really cared for Michael Jackson's music, so the news of his death does not move me too much. I tried to gather an interest in him from a media studies perspective – he is after all perhaps one of the last big actualisations of the Disney era of sorts; a half-imaginated, half-real zombie of sorts that seemed to live most of his last years in a weird haze world. What was incidental of some of the reports / review articles of him after his death (reading some newspapers in Berlin), was the reference to his status as a victim of sorts. He was written in some articles as the not-completely-grown-up that was continuously struggling with relationships and his status as a public character. Of course, such ideas hit the mark all too well – and this is the status he wanted to give himself as well. All the fantasies of the boy who did not grow up, the Peter Pan, the infantile work now in his favor to create a polished picture that is not ready to discuss his possible pedophilia.

Indeed, describing him in terms of infantility is I believe the point and ranges from his music (all the high pitched screams, or his so soft talking voice, almost beyond language, infantile) and his public persona. It goes as far as hinting towards a legal status as well, which is interesting. Jackson is one of the first and last great Baudrillard-kind of characters of simulacra that do not seem completely real but governed by the logic of simulacra – a logic of signs floating around in a world of media cultural capitalism of sorts. In Jackson, this reached certain corporeality through his on-going metamorphosis and the years long media discussion concerning his nose and skin. What do we remember of him but those two things? The mutilated nose and the oh-too-white skin? Its emblematic of the Disney world as well, the urge for whiteness present in so many implicitly racist Disney narratives. Jackson the media persona at least shows the political contexts of any simulacra that in this case territorialized very concretely on issues of race and gender. Yet, such issues are accessible through a sans langue of the infantile with the intensities of the skin color, the voice, the fragility rather than a clear language-orientated grid of representation. No signifiers and signifieds, but intensities and bodies. In this sense Jackson shares something with Marilyn Monroe, as Milla reminded me; Marilyn also as a Hollywood-infantility according to some critics, her babylike face, infantile sexuality present in her soft voice that as if struggled to be heard at all, almost child-like

The Finnish media theorist Jukka Sihvonen pointed towards such a culture of infantility in his book on media education that I alas do not have at hand. I am sure it would inspire some really good points about our media culture as one of infantility more widely. Have to pick up the book when I get back to Cambridge just to remind myself of his arguments, which place the whole idea of “media education” in the important context of contemporary media in a post-enlightenment condition.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Media Ecologies: Extending Media Studies

I have been occupied trying to think through the notion of media ecologies in the wake of Matthew Fuller's great work of the same name. I am trying to work through ex-Mongrel members' Eco Media project and also referencing Garnet Hertz's Dead Media project where both projects extend media ecologies to media archaeological ideas. The idea is to say how especially Eco Media project's methodologies are practical transversal tools to bring media natural and media technological into proximity -- or well, actually saying that they were never apart. Working through the art projects and via Simondon, Guattari and others, at the moment these three themes sum up what I am trying to say (this is from the article's "conclusions" as it stands in the current draft version):

1)Expansion of “media” to include a number of such processes, objects and modes of perception, motility and relationality that are not usually seen as “media” in its modern, cultural sense; in this expanded mode, media becomes more an ethological relationality than merely a technological object. Hence, media ecologies can take its cue as much from flows and streams of nature or the modes of perception of animals.

2) Media ecologies engage in transversal communication that tie together the aforementioned “media of nature” to considerations of current media culture. Media ecologies can bring such dispersed practices into proximity through experimental takes, methods, field days, and such that engage for example in rethinking such human-centred notions of security and ownership that characterise contemporary media sphere. With the Eco Media project, this combined with an expansion of the notion of “free media.”

3) Media ecologies in our take act as imaginary media of sorts; but not media of imaginary things, but imagination as extension of the potentialities of media. Through the projects, we can get a glimpse on the idea of media history as a reservoir of R&D, as Garnet Hertz has labelled it in the wake of media archaeological research, which poses not only the demand to rethink temporality in a less linear sense but also the political-economic ties of media in the midst of current eco-crisis.

Needs work, but I love this opportunity to continue some of the Insect Media themes but without actually talking about insects per se. That was kind of the idea in that book, ; that insects acted as good vehicles towards thinking "relationality" and ethology of technological objects. The Eco Media project in itself is a wonderful, quirky project that also included the Eco Media open day; natural media olympics and the Pigeon vs. Internet race were among highlights! And of course, the fact that the pigeon won the race due to technical problems with the internet system...

Saturday, 20 June 2009


It's not the first time I have made the reference to J.G.Ballard while talking about Cambridge (UK). It somehow just seems to share the similar psycho-pathologies of middle-class that Ballard is continuously on about; all the innocent looking fronts, civilized habits, closed communities, and so on. Cambridge is the academic Disneyland that attracts tourists to marvel the 800 years of history of knowledge production -- the sublime Western heritage of closed institutions, privileged few and the close link of money with information.

In this context, its only natural that the tourist bus ride that I took to accompany my mother and cousins during their visit turned out to be nothing less than the poor-man's roller coaster ride through Cambridge with head-phones on tuned into a discourse of indoctrination to the marvels of not Cambridge-the-town, but Cambridge-the University. The narrative voice tells the tale of Cambridge, and its one University (hence, forgetting the Other one off the map, Anglia Ruskin that is), and basically framing the whole narrative and the mobile tour around that single theme. The mobility of the bus from the other end of Cambridge to the other is stagnated by the immobility of the discourse. Through a continuous rhetoric of "we" it weaves a success story of a very boring kind, lacking almost any kind of interesting self-reflexive touch (although recognizing e.g. the long term exclusion of women).

Naturally this kind of occupation of Cambridge could be seen through ideas of the "creative cities" á la Richard Florida, a clusterization of brains that Cambridge represents. Yet, this creative city is very much branded by a corporatisation of the area also known as Silicon Fen, not by for example an arts led agenda. And then its about the past. In academic humanities, for example, its still the very old-fashioned and hence prestigious disciplines in which the University excels with its Grand Old Men. In terms of the wider "creative industries", incidentally, even Wikipedia explains the possible reasons for the attractiveness of the Silicon Fen as: "Another explanation is that Cambridge has the academic pre-eminence of Cambridge University, a high standard of living available in the county, good transport links, and a relatively low incidence of social problems such as crime and hard drug use."

Sounds like the setting for a Ballard novel? Is this the novel he should have written next, Super-Cambridge? I have already imagined various juicy plots involving some darker rooms at King's College, weird sexual rituals, inexplicable violence, the libidinal released from the security of private schools and superior education.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Politics in 140 characters

Our funding success with AHRC (Exploring New Configurations in Network Politics-network project) could not have arrived at a better time. The events in Iran, and the buzz surrounding Twitter are something that has made people discuss about its political implications even more than with the past Moldova case. Some of the commentators have been worried that more full-fledged analysis is needed, and that of course Twitters and like cannot replace good old fashioned lengthy commentating -- all comments which are true, but also neglecting that perhaps with such 140 character inserts its not a matter of interpretation, analysis or such, but a different mode of politics altogether; a politics of doing in a different key, and interacting with different scales than in the old-fashioned idea of doing politics through a public sphere of discussions. Indeed, despite many claims of such technologies reintroducing the importance of the public sphere, we have to be aware that such a mode of public is much more multi-scalar, heterogeneous and less spatial than temporal. Its not only a matter of redefining the public and the private but of such spheres of in-betweenness that elude concepts of the modern political era from representation to public, from citizen/private to action.

What the project we got up and running with Joss Hands is doing is exactly trying to map such blind spots, interzones, transversal connections, multiple scales and new modes of action/discourse that characterize the network culture. Joss is himself finishing a very much needed book on digital activism, and my interests in this field lie in the idea of "politics of imperceptibility"; how beyond a politics of representation, recognizability and visual culture that characterised a post-1960s media cultural approach and cultural theory, we need accounts of politics of becoming invisible, imperceptibility both as the ontology and tactics of network culture. This idea stemming from Deleuze and Guattari has been elaborated in a sense by Elizabeth Grosz in her writings on sensation and nature and for example Galloway and Thacker in their more recent The Exploit-book, speculating on politics of such "future avant-garde"; beyond being registered, informationalized, gridded, there is a need for tactics of avoidance, going off the radar. In this sense, we can also export the idea to a politics of cartography of that which goes of the map, or is not mapped through/in the algorithmic logic of network culture. In other words, the "new configurations" or imperceptible or non-existent of network culture that our networking project explores is not understood in the negative sense of shedding light on such obscurities, but in embracing it as a concrete potentiality of politics. (As a footnote, all this pointing towards e.g. non-representationality is not that new but could be linked to the various conceptualizations that have been emerging from Agamben's coming communities to Deleuze's "people to come" etc.).

Naturally, its not all about rhizomes and distributed networks with such politics -- far from it. As Joss will show in his forthcoming book, for example the much discussed Obama-campaign demonstrated how the power law is at the core of such politics --- not only a politics of the micro, but a politics of the power law. In addition, its still through the old media that such new modes of participation gain their currency and disseminate. Its much more complex also in terms of inter-medial ties. But the actual work starts now...more during the coming 2 years...This is the first larger funded project for ArcDigital and I am sure not the last one.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Art and Electronic Media

I wrote a review of Edward Shanken's huge Art and Electronic Media just recently for the Finnish journal of audiovisual culture, Lähikuva. Well, the review is not out yet, and even when it will be, it's of course in Finnish, so just a short summary. Any book that due to its size could be a proper murder weapon merits a word or two.

Shanken's book is part of Phaidon's Themes and Movement-series, so it is less a study than an archive. Even though it fits into the wider field of "media art histories", its less a history in the sense of offering a unified narrative than an archive. Perhaps this is actually not only a function of the book series, but the topic itself; the whole theme of "electronic media and art" is way too heterogeneous and open than something that could be tied to a narrative format, and hence is by its nature something that calls for an "archival" approach. And for Shanken, its not only a book on the art pieces or objects but also points towards the various practices and histories of engagement with technical media -- and hence, interestingly, points towards histories of modernity, and the proximities of art-science-technology that brand the media archaeology of digital culture.

Shanken offers a good introduction to the topic in a fashion that opens up to non-experts. He reflects on categorisations offered as well as on some of the principles of what qualifies as electronic art. Indeed, his key point is to extend towards the media technological conditionings of such pieces introduced in the book, but to the continuity of genres and themes across media. I had my doubts about the approach, as I believe one of the crucial functions of media arts is exactly to carve out and probe for the singularities of the media in which they function. This is where the media archaeological approach becomes relevant as well; not only offering historical narratives, but being able to point towards the inscription surfaces on which media is carved. (Well, that did not sound too original after Foucault.)

Yet, Shanken's approach is quite often good. The section on "Motion, Duration, Illum
ination" is an intuitive one that moves through Frank Malina's Systeme Lumidyne
(1956) to for example Paul DeMarinis' media archaeological Edison Effect (1989.) (Pictured).

In addition to visual culture, the sonic is strongly present also in such sections as Charged Environment (e.g. John Cage and Toshio Iwai) and in Networks, Surveillance, Culture Jamming (with Paul D. Miller's Errata Erratum 2002). On the other hand, a section entitled Simulations and Simulacra is a bit too predictable.

Talking nowadays about media arts, you are bound to encounter the theme of embodiment. This is present for example in the section Bodies, Surrogates, Emergent Systems. This and other sections show how much electronic media art has contributed in conceptualising new materialities and embodiments. Of course, in the midst of cyberculture enthusiasm various A-life and other simulation systems got a lot of attention, but Shanken is able to point towards other kinds of catalysations which produce the familiar bodies into anomalous, new, surprising. Here, the human body itself can become a medium. David Rokeby's Very Nervous System (1986-2000) turns the human body in its movement into sounds. Antúnez Roca's Epizoo (1994) opens up the human body susceptible to external control, even pain, in a similar fashion as Stelarc's Ping Body from 1994. Breath (1994, pictured below) by Ulrike Gabriel is a mesmerizing piece that tunes breathing through a computer algorithm into a polygone representation. Breathing becomes visual, topological, inhabits space in a new way that's not to my liking so much representation but environmental and hence rewires back into the neural system of the breather -- this piece is much more interesting than any simple cybernetic idea, and points towards the crucial field of what is beyond control and non-cognitive in embodiment. (A theme that Nigel Thrift has written interesting things about.)

Electronic media art is able to articulate and summon forces invisible. Breath is a good example, but as much works articulating e.g. forces of capitalism are present in the work. My favorites here include Gary Hill's Soundings that articulates the different materiality of perception of sound and Nancy Paterson's Stock Market Skirt (1998) that does not neglect the gendered dimensions of the forces of capitalism.

A very good addition to the book is the extensive compilation of key texts of the field. This includes various texts by pioneers from Nam June Paik to Roy Ascott. Whereas the field of "mediaarthistories" has been actively organizing the past years, such works are excellent in opening up it to the wider academic and art field. Shanken does a good job; more in my Finnish review! In a more tone more directly aimed at the academic audience, I am now occupying myself with Sven Spieker's The Big Archive that focuses not only on the appropriation of the "greyness of the archive" in European modernist avant-garde, but actually also in the whole "archivality" of modernity. A good read, so far.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

“Radical Temporality and New Materialist Cultural Analysis”

Inspired by some of the discussions in Utrecht, I thought to remind myself of an article I need to write. We did a piece on “neomaterialist cultural analysis” with Milla already in 2006 for the Finnish journal of Cultural Studies – Kulttuurintutkimus --- but never found time after that to produce anything similar in English. We had the idea of writing a short book on the topic but that’s also on ice due to lack of time. However, I believe that we should revisit again our article idea that could be something like “Radical Temporality and New Materialist Cultural Analysis.” Here an extended abstract/idea of something we would need to write with Milla.

In the midst of various “strange materialities” that we encounter through such crucial contemporary issues as ecocrisis, financial crisis, and more generally high tech network culture, an interest in what could be called new materialist cultural analysis has emerged. The interest in new materialist notions for cultural analysis can be connected to this horizon of contemporary culture where, to use Karen Barad’s idea, we need less critique than more creative modes of engagement with such issues. Ideas of new materialism can be connected to various sources and thinkers that range from Manuel DeLanda to Bruno Latour, materialist feminisms in the mode of Karen Barad to German media theory (e.g. Friedrich Kittler and Wolfgang Ernst) and from such nomadic perspectives as Rosi Braidotti’s to the earlier “spatial materialism” of Lawrence Grossberg. And then there would be a number of other people writing in this field as well, whether acknowledging themselves as "neomaterialists" but still clearly adopting such positions; e.g. Luciana Parisi, Tiziana Terranova and for example Tony D. Sampson whose non-representational Virality-book is coming out next year from University of Minnesota Press. So the list is not exhaustive, but does already point to the complexity of the notion itself. Is there even such a thing as “one” new materialist mode of cultural analysis? How do the various thinkers contribute to the notion? How do they develop such notions of materiality that move beyond both Marxist notions of materiality as analysis rooted in the material practices of reproduction of culture and philosophical notions of the material as a substance, distanced from “mind” or meaning, and in itself passive? As a pragmatic vehicle, neomaterialism provides both a spring board from “old” cultural studies to “new” cultural studies where thinkers that range from Deleuze and Guattari to Agamben and others are integrated in an increasing pace to the curricula of media and cultural studies as well as an important crossing between humanities and sciences/technology.

What we want to argue, and focus on here, is the move from spatial notions of materialism to “radical temporality” as a theme that connects various otherwise quite heterogeneous thinkers of the differing materialisms that characterise for example biodigital culture. In terms of temporality, we can tap both into the by definition temporal processes of network culture and computers, but it lends itself as much to a thinking of time-critical arts, such as performance and sonic arts where the philosophical grounding of the messy temporality can find concrete assemblages through which to illuminate further the philosophies. This does not mean a simple “applicability” but a mode of diffraction and entanglement directly with the material (Cf. Barad) as exemplified through embodiment, relations between bodies, and temporality as the connecting concept.

In other words, the focus is going to be on Karen Barad’s quantum physics orientated feminist materialism that feeds both into new notions of temporality as a continuous reiterative reallocation; on the inhuman temporal perspectives that are crucial to take into account in a consideration of the non-human ecological contexts of subjectivity; the process ontological perspectives that offer a way to think such ecologies (whether of the psyche, the social, the natural or of medial kinds) as ones based in such milieus that are primarily time critical and hence dynamic.

However, despite the role such notions of new materialist brand have played in contexts of science and technology – and quite understandable so –we want to point towards its usefulness also in art contexts. Curiously the radical temporal new materialism finds here a common ground with Massumi and Manning’s own radical empiricist and Whitehead inspired accounts of how to approach art and movement as a continous transition and displacement – the primacy of movement. Hence, radical temporalities can be found through singing bodies, performing bodies, and other such assemblages of art.

The idea needs of course much work, but I think it should focus primarily on temporality as the defining theme, and thought through such time-critical arts as sonic and performance arts. Here the link to work, creativity and post-fordism could be explicated (and has been noted by Nigel Thrift) but that is outside this article; we actually touch on that theme on another text that should be coming out this or next year in a book on new materialism edited by Barbara Bolt and Estelle Barrett.

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Karen Barad and the entanglement of physics with feminism -- Utrecht Feminist Research Conference

Karen Barad did just one of those lectures of which you are not sure which end to start. Conducted in an interview format with Rick Dolphijn and Iris van der Tuin, she was able to elaborate on a range of her key concepts, basics of quantum physics and some entry points to neo-materialism. As Iris pointed out at the beginning, Barad's work bears strong resonances with Manuel Delanda and others -- for example Bruno Latour's name popped up every now and then, and indeed she used a lot of Latourian concepts. But its not only that -- the neomaterialism that stems from a reading of certain feminists such as Haraway or philosophers such as Deleuze, but the dual-role, the two hats she is wearing; between physics and feminist theory. Naturally, this was one of the things she tried to articulate; how the two hats are not necessarily that separate after all, in a similar manner that all attempts to bring humanities and sciences "back" into contact have to take into account the way they have been entangled all along.

What was refreshing was Barad's insistence on the mode of "critique" as harmful for contemporary cultural analysis. It does not provide the solutions we need, or is not useful as a tool to tackle the problems we face. I agree completely. We need accounts of the "weird materialities" that haunt technical media culture; biodigital lives; ecocatastrophy; etc. -- accounts that do not rely on a) mode of reflection/representation as the key "method" or assumption, b) and hence do not rely on dualist ontologies but acknowledge how such issues as ethics are distributed on all levels of being, so to speak. Of course, these point resonate strongly with the points re. vitalism that Colebrook and Braidotti talked about yesterday.

Key notions that hence emerged were: entanglement (of matter and meaning); agential realism (that I would see as a relevant partner for ecological ontologies in the manner of e.g. Matthew Fuller's media ecologies etc); scientific literacy that should not only be a literacy of the scientists and engineers; complex notions of temporality that do not rely on the past presence of pastness, and the coming arrival of future but in a continuous relocation and reiterative reconfiguration of temporalities (sounds very Serresian). Barad's brilliant quantum physics example demonstrated this well. (I won't even dare to try to explicate that). Also the notion of diffraction was continous on the table, so to speak. Diffraction is an alternative concept to that of reflection, and hence a good vehicle for a post-representational cultural analysis. Barad produced this useful division:

- geometric optics
- knowledge based on distancing the knower from the object
- and hence the division of subject vs. object
- objectivity based on such notions

- physical optics (based on a different distribution of differences)
- quantum physics
- knowing is about direct material engagement
- subjects and objects are intertwined, entangled
- objectivity is about accountability to the marks on the body; responsibility to the entanglements of which we are a part.

What is remarkable to my eyes is that these ideas can be made resonate very strongly with research that deals with actual cultural practices. Even without direct references to Barad, for example Katve-Kaisa Kontturi is doing work with visual arts that takes into account such modes of knowing that the "model" (excuse me for calling it a model) is suggesting; Milla Tiainen is doing similar stuff with performance and vocality; both of them involving ethnographic methods in their neomaterialist works. As well I could imagine Barad's ideas' usefulness for considerations of network culture, with its heterogeneous assemblages that cannot be reduced neither to any human agencies nor to the various layered technicalities of protocols, hardware, software, networks, etc. (And I guess the fact that her talk was a video lecture, streamed live from California testifies to the modes of transition, connectivity, etc she talked about ). Instead, we are dealing with such ecological agencies that involve the various parts in a mutual becoming that I have so far tried to open up with notions such as "assemblage", or ethologies, but increasingly aware that for example Whitehead or Barad might give as interesting clues.

As my computer battery is dying the death, I need to finish early. Through some of the discussions, its still clear that some of the feminist thinkers are way ahead of their time (if such an idea of "ahead of time" can be said to exist after Barad's talk!) in rethinking the practices and discourses that are crucial not only for particular politics of gender but also for the wider ecological contexts (whether ecologies of nature, or of the subject/psyche). Another thing is the question whether such huge conferences are necessary, or good for the psyche. Or whether anyone should be booked to stay at Ibis Hotel Utrecht. But then again, perhaps that's just my personal bitterness.

Friday, 5 June 2009

Of Sheep and Women -- from the Utrecht Feminist Research Conference

My attendance at the 7th Feminist Research conference in Utrecht will remain brief, but today’s two early keynotes were already enough to keep me happy. Instead of hazy “ideas in progress”, remediation of what the person did 20 years ago (and still doing) or unprepared ramble through of bullet points, we actually had two really nice presentations with good commentators after that.


What surprised me was that I actually liked Sara Ahmed’s paper, as she comes from a bit different direction to cultural analysis as I do. Her talk on “Killing Joy” focused on the notion of happiness --- and feminism as a force of producing unhappiness, disruptions to expectations whether in dinner conversations or as a social cultural critical force. Despite the assumed natural goodness of happiness, we know little about what it is – this ontological question has always eluded philosophers as well with Kant already voicing critique of this notion: everybody wants happiness, but still we really don’t know much about what we want or will. Ahmed also pointed towards Betty Friedan’s early critique of the figure of “happy housewife”, and proceeded through a cartography of not only “archives of unhappiness” but contemporary field of knowledge production and feminism’s role in that.

So if the feminist is the kill joy at a coffee table, what does it mean more concretely as a horizon for production of knowledge? Ahmed was able to open up the concept’s etymology through its stem word “hap” – as in accidental, which pointed towards its role as something that happens to us, without control. Yet, it seems, especially in the midst of contemporary cultures of

 standardized happiness production, there is much more to the notion than the early stems. In an interesting manner, Ahmed went through Nietzsche’s critique of habit and pointed out how its often more of a feeling of a feeling that an encounter of an object/event that causes happiness --- or unhappiness. Such things are often so loaded that we feel them before they happen in a manner of anticipatory causality – and odd futurity of sorts, that as a notion sounds very Deleuzian and points towards some of the themes Brian Massumi is known of. Again, outside her presentation, I was left thinking of happiness as an order-word of sorts that organizes emotions and feelings, as well as affects outside the linguistic sphere into such patterns of expectation that can be packaged also for the consumer industry.


The critical point of her presentation followed from the fact that things are not always causing what they should. The pattern of dissonance amidst things/events/discourses that should be consumed as expected is what can trigger points of critique – affect aliens/alien affects. Ahmed’s notion of affect differs quite a lot I think from that of e.g. Massumi, but the point here is clear, and Ahmed did use quite a lot of examples that pointed towards the pre-linguistic and even the pre-individual. This is why I was a bit disappointed with her conclusions that were framed through the discourse of false consciousness: breaking out of habits and modes of discourse as a tactic of feminism/feminists is something known from everyday life to academic articles, but Ahmed’s examples could have pointed towards the spheres of non-conscious cognition as well – its role in the cultures of happiness and expectation, the strange futurities that guide the present.


The second speaker Claire Colebrook delivered quite well what I expected; solid Deleuzian viewpoints, although not really hammering home her own point. This is something I at times have noted with Milla of her articles too; excellent positioning of questions and agendas, but a stronger development of her own solution to the positions would be needed. Today Colebrook talked about the notion of vitalism, and started by dividing them into three:


1)    Cartesian: vitalism of mind, that contrasts with matter (CC pointed well, how Descartes is almost a straw-man for much of later criticism, which neglect the fact that Descartes also was quite radical in his time, and raised a huge row among the Christians).

2)   The vitalism we find in theories of emergence, a more contemporary notion. This is what recent theories of cognition among others have embraced from Damasio to Dennett and others. A new appreciation of dynamics and “being-in-the world” which has led to the discovery of e.g. Heidegger by brain scientists. Interestingly, a lot of them talk about the world as “meaningful”. Organism emerges from complex dynamics, and hence no duality of mind and matter. Yet, organism-centred.

3)   A perverse nomadic vitalism of Braidottian sorts which is not a vitalism of the organism/organic, but a much more distributed way of questioning what even counts as "a body", "a life".


To put it shortly, Colebrook pointed out how feminism has always been ecofeminism of sorts (which, I may add as a footnote, is a point elaborated by Verena Andermatt Conley in her study Ecopolitics). It has always attended to notions of relationality, milieu and crossing of the boundary between self and others, but still we need to make a clear case how it does not mean a simple “care for the environment” – in her critique of the notion of environment, Colebrook claims that it still relies too much on the idea of the Human Agent as separated, only surrounded by nature, instead of the idea of milieu that is something that transversally cuts through the human and her outside (an idea stemming e.g. from Simondon that Colebrook did not mention.)


Whereas the ideas on environing “caring” notions of being in the world have spread in the sciences as well as management studies (as Colebrook dryly noted, it’s the middle-managers who are now anti-Cartesian), we need to develop much more radical and less organism centred notions of vitalism. The organic model, even if reliant on dynamics and emergence, still thinks too much of the human being as the key agent for example in terms of the crises circulating around (eco and financial), instead of a more radical opening by nomadic vitalism that starts with the questions: what counts as a life, what counts as a body, what is even worth saving, and preserving? We need to keep an eye on the inhuman temporalities in which such notions of vitalism, the body etc. are to be interrogated also because of the practical consequences in the midst of ecocrisis and the financial crisis. I like Colebrook points a lot, but a key question/comment rose to mind: I think the division between the good nomadic vitalism and the still bad emergent vitalisms is not that clear-cut even if she has a point re. organisms. This still needs more work, and was implicitly raised by Rosi Braidotti in her comment to Colebrook’s talk: how the sciences can feed into and destabilize notions within cultural analysis.


Braidotti was again her usual vital self, with an amazing charisma and charm in the way she both offered a lucid philosophical point but also political empowerment that was gender-specific but as much tending the crucial points about geopolitics.


Braidotti pointed towards the key axiomatics of the modern world (and philosophy!) and hence cultural studies in terms of “otherness” – and the relays through which otherness has been negotiated: sex, race, nature; also axes of theory as we know after some decades of

 representational analysis and intersectionality. Yet, the point about vitalism is made concrete as a challenge when we realize how such Master Codes have been reshuffled and scrambled by developments in the biosciences, -technologies, cognitive sciences, etc. which very concretely force us to rethink what are the differences that articulate otherness. In her powerful and funny punch line, Braidotti said that if her generation was focused on Dolly Parton, for the younger one its Dolly the Sheep. In her sweep from the demand for a “philosophy with an accent”, or in the diasporic mode (a point that I as a non-native English speaker loved!) to the implications of sexual perversions and sexuality as a force to create novelties, Braidotti was unbeatable, again. Both Braidotti and Colebrook agreed of course of the need to develop such thought that does not stem from the organism, but develops new forms of imagining; polymorphic sexualities, novelties of the mind and the body, new accents that destabilize the master codes.



Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Tetris: The Training Ground

I am for sure not the only one wishing Tetris a happy 25 year old birthday, but still, the game has deserved it. Its addicting, fun, and indeed: with no purpose in itself. Sounds familiar?

It's also a wonderful piece of living media archaeology, especially now in the midst of the boom concerning "casual games". That's of course what mobile entertainment was/is supposed to be, but also all those small, simple games that you can just pick up / log into, and end as casually as you started them. Like mobile games, they are meant to kill the couple of minutes between chores, the tube trip to work place, or back, or the time while waiting for your date who is late.

Casual. Does not demand much attention, but enough to keep the game going. Addictive, but to a degree that it can be indeed left alone for a while. Part of the fragmented everyday routine, so that it can add an extra scale of fragmentation and hence act as a "training ground" for the crucial skills of contemporary work sphere: flexibity, readyness for changes, quickly shifting temporalities, etc.

I would be actually tempted to exaggerate that Tetris was the first phase of this training -- not only the senso-motorial skills that it and a bunch of other early games imposed on the user; but also in terms of its place as part of the everyday media sphere. I think Friedrich Kittler referred somewhere to discos as the training ground for future wars (the ability to react to impulses, maneuver in spaces defined by quick paced sonic and visual rhythms, etc.), but perhaps Tetris and other early games were the crucial training for our computerized post-Fordist sphere. That's actually what I quite often find lacking in some of the even brilliant Italian and Italian inspired writers of post-Fordism: a meticulous and accurate analysis of the network and computer society that contributes and frames those themes that Virno, Lazzarato, Negri, Hardt, etc. are offering. I know Bifo gets closer to this topic, but I feel that on this front, there is a huge amount to be done.

As a bonus, click here for 5 classic Tetris adverts! Hilarious stuff.

See also the Guardian story on the topic.