Wednesday, 23 June 2010

What is New Materialism-Opening words from the event

As promised, please find below the opening words to the recent New Materialisms and Digital Culture-event by Milla Tiainen and me. The event was filled with great talks by a range of scholars with differing disciplinary backgrounds, and ended up with the dance/technology-performance Triggered (composed by Cheryl Frances-Hoad, Tom Hall and Richard Hoadley, choreography by Jane Turner). In the midst of the text, images (taken by Tim Regan) from the performance and the conference. A warm thank you to all speakers, performers and our great audience in both parts of the day!

Anglia Ruskin University
CoDE: Cultures of the Digital Economy –research institute and Dept. of ECFM, convened by Milla Tiainen and Jussi Parikka
21-22 of June, 2010
Milla Tiainen and Jussi Parikka

Opening words: What is New Materialism?


As stated in the programme we’d like to begin by just briefly engaging with one of the key components, or actants, of the symposium’s setup: the concept of “new materialism.” The purpose of this is definitely not to identify a stable referent for that term so much as to point towards some of the problems it arguably connects with. Whereas I will in few words consider the concept’s broader resonances across current cultural, social and feminist theory, Jussi will subsequently comment on ‘new materialist’ modes of questioning in conjunction with digital media culture.

Aptly, there are three books forthcoming soon whose respective titles include the concept “new materialism”—while it in each case links with varying further concepts and associated planes. “New Materialisms: Ontology, Agency, and Politics”, to be published by Duke, features such writers as Rosi Braidotti, Sara Ahmed and Jane Bennett; the essay collection “Carnal Knowledge: Towards a New Materialism through the Arts” is edited by Barbara Bolt and Estelle Barrett and involves contributions by Australian and European scholars including a chapter by Jussi and myself; and two of the speakers of this symposium, Iris van der Tuin and Rick Dolphijn, are currently working on a book on philosophy of science that is entitled “New Materialism” and will come out later this year. Thus, as these particular ‘capturings’ of ongoing research for their part evidence, the concept of new materialism is increasingly partaking in the flows of language and thought of specific areas of cultural and critical thought; its “rhythms of arrival and departure”, to borrow Brian Massumi’s expression (Parables for the Virtual 2002, 20), as well as connections with various other concepts are becoming growingly regular and rich in intensity within these flows. A momentum of at least some intensive magnitude is gathering round “new materialism.” Or, perhaps better put, the concept is being utilized so as to try and couch such a momentum which is unravelling transversally across fields of inquiry whilst at the same time displaying a notable degree of consistency in terms of the implicated topics of concern.

What, then, are the problems that would lend “new materialism” its meaning or usefulness? Evidently, the precise configurations of sense and effect that the concept invokes are singular to its every usage along with being more generally in the making within the debates involving it. At its broadest, nonetheless, new materialism can be said to concern a series of questions and potentialities that revolve round the idea of active, agential and morphogenetic; self-differing and affective-affected matter. Indeed, this summary would probably be endorsed by most proponents and sceptics of new materialisms alike. To be sure, this ideational assemblage or its part-problems have also already inspired incisive critique from prolific scholars. These critics remain unconvinced about both ‘new materialism’s attempts to reconfigure the persistent dichotomies of nature/culture, body/thought, concrete/abstract etc. and the allegedly dubious politics of the category of the ‘new’ in the concept of new materialism. To paraphrase one prominent critic, Sarah Ahmed (it will be interesting to see what her contribution to the New Materialisms essay collection looks like!), the new materialist conceptions of dynamic human and non-human materialities that acquire shapes, operate and differentiate also beyond human perception and discursive representational systems are, at least within feminist new materialisms, in danger of positing matter as an it-like fetish object precisely because of their insistence on its ontological distinctiveness (Ahmed, “Imaginary Prohibitions: Some Preliminary Remarks on the Founding Gestures of the ‘New Materialism’” 2008, 35). This fetishizing is moreover enabled, according to Ahmed, by strategic amnesia regarding the previous rich engagements with biology, the body and matter that were carried out within science and technology studies and other areas of human and social sciences (again her focus lies mainly in feminist genealogies). Ahmed therefore concludes that despite intentions to the contrary many new materialist gestures actually solidify rather than ‘fluidify’ the boundaries between nature/culture and matter/signification. At the same time these projects’ declarations of the newness of their endeavours conveniently conjure up an image of theorists who embark “on a heroic and lonely struggle” (32) against the collective non- or anti-materialism of former cultural and social-theoretical stances.

Now unhinging and confounding habitual dual oppositions remains undoubtedly a challenge for any ‘new materialist’ (as well as a theoretically differently oriented) project. Yet in order to end my part of these opening words I would like to point out three aspects that go some way in responding to the criticisms Ahmed presents—along with hopefully resonating with the talks of today.
1) First of all, one of the signalling features that cuts across the heterogeneous projects we would like to propose as new materialist is their sustained commitment to developing models of immanent and continuously emergent relationality. Through insisting on the felt reality of relations for instance in the wake of William James, on the irreducibility of the in-betweens to the connecting terms, and on the intensive topological spaces of co-affectivity these models, we would argue, provide some of the most effective means on offer at the moment for thinking past the traditional rigid dualisms of nature/culture, subject/object and so on and for articulating the intuited processual co-substantiality of these facets.
2) Secondly and connectedly, the notion of the outside or virtual, which within new materialist undertakings relates or overlaps with such more specific concepts as affect, potential and variation, certainly diminishes the risk of ending up with a re-essentialized and reified conception of matter.
3) Thirdly and finally, we would like to think that the newness in the ‘new materialism’ refers less to a discrete stage let alone a point of culmination on a teleological line of theoretical understanding than to a multiplicity of attempts to live with newly composed problems whilst refreshing the vocabularies of cultural, artistic and feminist theory with “conceptual infusions” (Massumi 2002, 4) from hitherto overlooked or presently rediscovered sources.


In the context of digital media culture, the notion of “materiality” occupies a curious position in itself. As observed by Bill Brown in his entry for the recent Critical Terms for Media Studies (Chicago UP, 2010), our understanding of the media historical modernity has been infiltrated early on with the idea of “abstraction” --- abstraction as a driving force (as with standardization of techniques, processes, and messaging) and an effect (represented in forms of power, subjectivities, cultural practices) of modernity. Recognized by a range of different writers from Karl Marx to Debord and Baudrillard, such a process has been influential in forcing us to rethink not materiality but dematerialisation as crucial to understanding the birth of technical media culture. Regimes of value, and regimes of technical media share the same impact on “things” – homogenisation, standardisation, and ease of communication/commodification in a joint tune with each other are in this perspective, and a perspective that branded critical theory for a long time, crucial aspects in any analysis of media culture’s relation to materiality.

Hence, the move from the critical evaluation of emergence of capitalist media culture seemed to flow surprisingly seamlessly as part of the more technology-oriented discourse concerning “immateriality” of the digital in the 1980s and 1990s. Here, in a new context, materiality was deemed as an obsolescent index of media development overcome by effective modes of coding, manipulating and transferring information across networks that become par excellence the object of desire of policies as much cultural discourses.

Yet, the recent years of media theory introduced an increasingly differing elaboration of how we should understand the notion of “medium” in this context. Instead of being only something that in a Kantian manner prevents access to the world of the real or material, or things (Brown, p.51) the medium itself becomes a material assemblage in the hands of a wave of German media theorists, who have develop a unique approach to media materialism, and hence new materialist notions of the world. Here the world is not reduced to symbolic, signifying structures, or representations, but is seen for such writers as Friedrich Kittler (and more recent theorists such as Wolfgang Ernst in a bit differing tone under media archaeology) as a network of concrete, material, physical and physiological apparatuses and their interconnections, that in a Foucauldian manner govern whatever can be uttered and signified. This brand of German media theory came out as an alternative exactly to the Marxist as well as hermeneutic contexts of theory dominating German discussions in the 1960s-1980s, and carved out a specific interest to the coupling of the human sensorium with the non-human worlds of modern technical media. In this insight, and ones shared by writers such as Jonathan Crary, on the one hand, the birth of modern media culture owed to the meticulous measuring of the human sensorium in various physiological settings and extending to experimental psychology labs in the late 19th and early 20th century. On the other hand, modern technical media showed such wavelengths, speeds, vibrations and other physical characteristics in itself that it escaped any phenomenological analysis, and hence tapped into a material world unknown per se to humans.

Without wanting to sound too reductionistic, I believe this is one of the key directions where media theory more recently has developed its own enthusiasm concerning a new more material understanding of media. Naturally filtered into new contexts, and transforming the way it works, such directions have however inspired also in the Anglo-American world new directions, new interests in material constellations of “platforms, interfaces, data standards, file formats, operating systems, versions and distributions of code, patches, ports and so forth”, to paraphrase Matthew Kirschenbaum. Naturally, post-representational approaches are present in a wide range of work and other thinkers, from the Deleuze-inspired cinematic philosophies of Steven Shaviro to sociological ideas of Nigel Thrift, the new materialist mappings of subhuman bodies such as blobs by Luciana Parisi to the politically tuned analyses of network culture of Tiziana Terranova --- and the range of theories and theorists we are able to enjoy today.

Indeed, if I would be forced to summarize the intimate link between the analytical perspectives that go under the general umbrella term New Materialism and media theory and digital culture, it would have to do with at least three directions
1) The seemingly immaterial is embedded in wide material networks; information is informed by the existence of material networks, practices, and various entanglements, that expand both to the materiality of political economy of ownership, access and use, but also to the material assemblages which govern the way we are in media milieus.
2) Yet, technical media is also defined by non-object based materialities, which makes it slightly more difficult to conceptualise. As a regime of electromagnetic fields, of pulsations, electricity, and such fields as software, technical media and digital culture escape the language of solids.
3) The intimate connection between the dynamic human/animal body and media tech, which since the 19th century and for example experimental psychology labs has now extended to the various design practices in HCI and such that tap into the physiological thresholds of the human being in novel ways – hence the interest in affect, emotion, non-conscious and somatic levels of the human body, and emergence of various forms of interfacing, whether from the consumer tech of Kinect-gaming body-in-movement-meets-Xbox interface to still very aspirational Brain-2-Brain, B-2-B, networking and such. Its here that the knowledge about the kinetic, dynamic, and relational body feeds into understanding the moving-situatedness of us in mobile network cultures.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

New Materialism abstracts

For the forthcoming 21st June event New Materialisms and Digital Culture, here are the abstracts which promise very interesting crossdisciplinary perspectives into investigating what is new materialism in the context of various practices and arts of digital culture.

David M. Berry: Software Avidities: Latour and the Materialities of Code

The first difficultly in understanding software is located within the notion of software/code itself and its perceived immateriality. Here it is useful to draw an analytical distinction between ‘code’ and ‘software’. Throughout this paper I shall be using code to refer to the textual and social practices of source code writing, testing and distribution. In contrast, I would like to use ‘software’ to include products, such as operating systems, applications or fixed products of code such as Photoshop, Word and Excel and the cultural practices that surround the use of it. This further allows us to think about the hacking as the transformation of software back into code for the purposes of changing its normal execution or subverting its intended (prescribed) functions. However, this difficulty should not mean that we stay at the level of the screen, so-called screen essentialism, nor at the level of information theory, where the analysis focuses on the way information is moved between different points disembedded from its material carrier, nor indeed at the level of a mere literary reading of the textual form of code. Rather code needs to be approached in its multiplicity, that is as a literature, a mechanism, a spatial form (organisation), and as a repository of social norms, values, patterns and processes. In order to focus on the element of materiality I want to use Latour's notion of the 'test of strength' to see how the materiality of code, its obduracy and its concreteness are tested within computer programming contests. To do this I want to look at two case studies: (1) the Underhanded C Contest, which is a contest which asks the programmer to write code that is as readable, clear, innocent and straightforward as possible, and yet it must fail to perform at its apparent function. To be more specific, it should do something subtly evil; and (2) The International Obfuscated C Code Contest, which is a contest to write the most Obscure/Obfuscated C program possible that is as difficult to understand and follow (through the source code) as possible. By following the rules of the contest, and by pitting each program, which must be made available to compile and execute by the judges (as well as the other competitors and the wider public by open sourcing the code), the code is then shown to be material providing it passes these tests of strength.

Rick Dolphijn: The Intense Exterior of Another Geometry
Starting with several examples from contemporary ‘animal architecture’, this paper proposes a search for how anything ‘surrounding’ the organic body (a box, a piece of cloth, a house), in the alliance it creates with this body, is mutually united with it. It brings us to the practices central to this paper as they concern envisioning our “urban exoskeleton” as DeLanda calls it, and how this sets forth the emergence of a “future people” as Proust already foresaw it. In other words, our interests lie with how life comes into being in its intense relationships with urban morphology. We then needs to accept the definition of life offered to us by Christopher Alexander who considers life “a most general system of mathematical structures that arises because of the nature of space” (2004: 28). To speculate the future lives (unconsciously) hidden in the morphogenetic qualities of urban form today, should then be pursued in terms of the (aesthetic) principles of creating space. Conceptualizing these principles in the Occident and in the Orient, we allow ourselves to conceptualize a difference between two wholly other urban bodies of which especially the latter (the Oriental) has hardly received any attention in contemporary theory. This Oriental ‘city of axonometric vision’, as we develop this next to the (Occidental) ‘city of linear perspective’ allows us to think the urban exoskeleton in terms of a multiplicity of dynamic surfaces (as opposed to a centralized pattern), through an “equal-angle see-through” (dengjiao toushi in Chinese) (as opposed to a linear perspective) and through a non-dualist felt-togetherness. It allows us to think the creative dynamics of unlimited growth as the new proposition of what the bodies can do.

Eleni Ikoniadou: Transversal digitality and the relational dynamics of a new materialism
The relationship between digital technology and matter has preoccupied media and cultural theorists for the last two decades. During the 90s it was articulated through a celebration of the disembodied, immaterial and probabilistic properties of information (cybercultural theory). More recently, it has been asserted through a reliance on sensory perception for the construction of a predominantly observable, otherwise void, digital space (digital philosophy). However, alternative materialist accounts may be able to offer more dynamic ways of understanding the heterogeneity, materiality and novelty of digital culture (Kittler, 1999; Mackenzie, 2002; Fuller, 2005; Munster, 2006). Following on their footsteps, this presentation will aim to rethink the ontological status of the digital as immanent to the flows of a ‘new materialism’. The latter is understood as a transversal process that cuts across seemingly distinguished fields and disciplines, such as the arts and sciences, establishing new connections between them. New materialism, then, becomes a concept and a method proper for investigating digital media and their tendency to bring together different aspects of the world in new ways. The paper discusses how an abstract materialist new media theory can enable transversal relations between science studies, philosophy and media art, as well as between the actual and the virtual dimensions of reality; allowing the emergence of heterogeneous digital assemblages of material, aesthetic and scientific combination.

Adrian Mackenzie: Believing in and desiring data: 'R' as the next 'big thing'
How could materialist analysis come to grips with the seeming immateriality of data network media? This paper attempts to think through some of the many flows of desire and belief concerning data. In the so-called 'data deluges' generated by the searches, queries, captures, links and aggregates of network media, key points of friction occur around sharing and pattern perception. I focus on how sharing and pattern perception fare in the case of the scripting language R, an open source statistical 'data-intensive' programming language heavily used across the sciences (including social sciences), in public and private settings, from CERN to Wall Street and the Googleplex. R, it is said, is a 'next big thing' in the world of analytics and data mining, with thousands of packages and visualizations, hundreds of books and publications (including its own journal, /R Journal/) appearing in the last few years. In this activity, we can discern vectors of belief and desire concerning data. The tools and techniques developed in R can be seen both intensifying data, and at times, making the contingencies of data more palpable.

Stamatia Portanova: The materiality of the abstract (or how movement-objects ‘thrill’ the world)
Gilles Deleuze and Alfred N. Whitehead have defined the ‘virtual’ not as an unreal simulation but as a real potential, an idea (respectively conceived by them as a ‘mathematical differential’ or a ‘mathematical relation’) around which an actual fact takes shape. Drawing on Deleuze and Whitehead's concepts of 'virtuality', this paper addresses the possibility of a materialist approach that is able to take into account the virtuality of matter, i.e. how the abstract dimension of ideas (‘the mind’, ‘thought’) possesses its own consistence. The concrete object analyzed to exemplify this approach is the relation between digital culture, digital technology and movement, from which something like 'virtual movement-objects' emerge. More specifically, the paper explores the use of several technologies of movement creation and distribution (Motion Capture, digital video editing, the Internet) in mass-media environments such as pop music clips and You Tube amateur videos, dance video games and choreography web sites. The main objective is to understand how these applications generate and replicate what will be defined as ‘virtual movement-objects’, digitally generated dance steps that are widely imitated and adapted. From an ‘abstractly materialist’ point of view, the numerical data produced through the digitalization of dance will be considered as virtual movement ideas with a potential to be repeatedly actualized (in videos, live events, games). These ideas have the possibility of infinite reanimation: the same step can be endlessly repeated, becoming a dance of graphic shapes or 3D images, but also a movement across people and cultures. This definition also draws on Gabriel Tarde and Bruno Latour’s understanding of imitation. Imitation, in Latour’s words, weaves a sort of contagious ‘behavioural network’ based on the return of 'virtual centres of gravity’, ideal patterns attracting a repetition of movements that ‘look the same’ but are always different and unpredictable. This paper therefore explores how, despite their designed nature, movement-objects appear as open and creative movement ideas able to autonomously circulate in transversal social networks and generate unexpected rhythmic behaviours. The diffusion of Michael Jackson’s Thriller dance on YouTube, in Sims animations or in the choreographed performance of 1500 detainees of the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center (Philippines), can e considered as one of the most famous examples of how dance steps have become virtual movement-objects to be infinitely actualized.

Anna Powell: Affections in their pure state? The digital event as immersive encounter
Digital video offers a distinctively immersive encounter. In its early analogue days, video art seemed to validate Deleuze’s diagnosis of ‘electronic automatism’ (Cinema 2, 1985). Its characteristics include ‘omnidirectional space’, framing which is ‘reversible and non–superimposable’ and the unpredictable motion of ‘perpetual reorganisation’. Spatial composition becomes an opaque ‘table of information’ on which data ‘replaces nature’. Some of Deleuze’s anxieties for the (then new) medium have been fulfilled by surveillance and the mainstream spectacle of GGI, as in the ‘gigantism’ of Avatar’s 3D optical illusionism. Yet, this ‘original regime of images and signs’ has also proved its credentials for the schizo will to art.One obvious formal distinction between cine and digital video is editing. Video editing does not operate by cutting and splicing footage but by ‘dragging and dropping’ sections of film on top of each other. Rather than being excised by cuts to produce temporal elision, uploaded video clips are pulled down on top of a ‘master’. An editing decision can be reversed by using a sliding tool to reveal that the first layer of images is only temporarily overlaid by another. Digital editing thus increases the density and depth of the plane of images by potentially limitless conjunctive synthesis.Deleuze argues that without a sense of the out-of-frame, time and space are overwhelmingly immanent in electronic automatism. This apparent removal of the out-of-frame and the elsewhere leads instead to an intensive meld of brain and screen that can move the mind/screen in schizoanalytic directions. Video art’s preference for gallery installation or live performance with VJ-ing and music rather than cinema screen offers further haptic immersion in the medium.Digital videos that repudiate both the televisual and the cinematic regimes can express what video artist Mattia Casalegno calls ‘affections in their pure state’. The aesthetic properties of digital video bring affect, perception and time closer together. What are the implications of this apparent removal of the gap between actual and virtual? If, as Deleuze suggests, the brain is the screen, what kind of schizo images and thoughts might future digital art unfold? Starting from the overt distinctions of cine and video this paper investigates the impact of the digital body without organs. It references work by video artists specifically Deleuzian inspiration whose works express new materialist intent.

Iris Van der Tuin: A Different Starting Point, A Different Metaphysics: Reading Bergson and Barad Diffractively
This paper provides an affirmative feminist reading of the philosophy of Henri Bergson by reading it through the work of Karen Barad. Adopting such a diffractive reading strategy enables feminist philosophy to move beyond discarding Bergson for his apparent phallocentrism. Feminist philosophy finds itself double bound when it critiques a philosophy for being phallocentric, since the set-up of a Master narrative comes into being with the critique. By negating a gender-blind or sexist philosophy, feminist philosophy only gets to reaffirm its parameters and setting up a Master narrative costs feminist philosophy its feminism. I thus propose and practice the need for a different methodological starting point, one that capitalizes on “diffraction.” This paper experiments with the affirmative phase in feminist philosophy prophesied by Elizabeth Grosz, among others. Working along the lines of the diffractive method, the paper at the same time proposes a new reading of Bergson (as well as Barad), a new, different metaphysics indeed, which can be specified as onto-epistemological or “new materialist.”

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Algorithms for the everyday life

11 steps for the superior handwash, and to achieve safety (step 11) for you and the ones close to you.

An instructional poster in the public toilet of Luton railway station (if I am not mistaken, the picture was taken a couple of weeks ago).

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Affect, software, net art (or what can a digital body of code do-redux)

After visiting the Manchester University hosted Affective Fabrics of Digital Cultures-conference I thought for a fleeting second to have discovered affects; its the headache that you get from too much wine, and the ensuing emotional states inside you trying to gather your thoughts. I discovered soon that this is a very reductive account, of course -- and in a true Deleuzian spirit was not ready to reduce affect into such emotional responses. Although, to be fair, hangover is a true state of affect - far from emotion -- in its uncontrollability, deep embodiment.

What the conference did offer in addition to good social fun was a range of presentations on the topic that is defined in so many differing ways; whether in terms of conflation it with "emotions" and "feelings", or then trying to carve out the level of affect as a pre-conscious one; from a wide range of topics on affective labour (Melissa Gregg did a keynote on white collar work) to aesthetic capitalism (Patricia Clough for example) which in a more Deleuzian spirit insisted on the non-representational. (If the occasional, affective reader is interested in a short but well summarizing account of differing notions of affect to guide his/her feelings about the topic, have a look at Andrew Murphie's fine blog posting here - good theory topped up with a cute kitty.)

My take was to emphasise the non-organic affects inherent in technology -- more specifically software, which I read through a Spinozian-Uexkullian lense as a forcefield of relationality. Drawing on for example Casey Alt's forthcoming chapter in Media Archaeologies (coming out later this year/early next year), I concluded with object-oriented programming as a good example of how affects can be read to be part of software as well so that the technical specificity of our software embedded culture reaches out to other levels. Affects are not states of things, but the modes in which things reach out to each other -- and are defined by those reachings out, i.e. relations. I was specifically amused that I could throw in a one-liner of "not really being interested in humans anyway" --- even better would have been "I don't get humans or emotions", but I shall leave that for another public talk. "I don't do emotions" is another of my favourite one's, that will end up on either a t-shirt or an academic paper.

The presentation was a modified version from a chapter that is just out in Simon O'Sullivan and Stephen Zepke's Deleuze and Contemporary Art-book even if in that chapter, the focus is more on net and software art. I am going to give the same paper in the Amsterdam Deleuze-conference, but as a teaser to the actual written chapter, here is the beginning of that text from the book...

1 Art of the Imp

In a Deleuze-Guattarian sense, we can appreciate the idea of software ar
t as the art of the imperceptible. Instead of representational visual identities, a politics of the art of the imperceptible can be elaborated in terms of affects, sensations, relations and forces (see Grosz). Such notions are primarily non-human and exceed the modes of organisation and recognition of the human being, whilst addressing themselves to the element of becoming within the latter. Such notions, which involve both the incorporeal (the ephemeral nature of the event as a temporal unfolding instead of a stable spatial identity) and the material (as an intensive differentiation that stems from the virtual principle of creativity of matter), incorporate ‘the imperceptible’ as a futurity that escapes recognition. In terms of software, this reference to non-human forces and to imperceptibility is relevant on at least two levels. Software is not (solely) visual and representational, but works through a logic of translation. But what is translated (or transposed) is not content, but intensities, information that individuates and in-forms agency; software is a translation between the (potentially) visual interface, the source code and the machinic processes at the core of any computer. Secondly, software art is often not even recognized as ‘art’ but is defined more by the difficulty of pinning it down as a social and cultural practice. To put it bluntly, quite often what could be called software art is reduced to processes such as sabotage, illegal software actions, crime or pure vandalism. It is instructive in this respect that in the archives of the software art repository the categories contain less references to traditional terms of aesthetics than to ‘appropriation and plagiarism’, ‘dysfunctionality’, ‘illicit software’ and ‘denial of service’, for example. One subcategory, ‘obfuscation’, seems to sum up many of the wider implications of software art as resisting identification.[i]

However, this variety of terms doesn’t stem from a merely deconstructionist desire to unravel the political logic of software expression, or from the archivists nightmare á la Foucault/Borges, but from a poetics of potentiality, as Matthew Fuller (2003: 61) has called it. This is evident in projects like the I/O/D Webstalker browser and other software art projects. Such a summoning of potentiality refers to the way experimental software is a creation of the world in an ontogenetic sense. Art becomes ‘not-just-art’ in its wild (but rigorously methodological) dispersal across a whole media-ecology. Indeed, it partly gathers its strength from the imperceptibility so crucial for a post-representational logic of resistance. As writers such as Florian Cramer and Inke Arns have noted, software art can be seen as a tactical move through which to highlight political contexts, or subtexts, of ‘seemingly neutral technical commands.’ (Arns, 3)

Arns’ text highlights the politics of software and its experimental and non-pragmatic nature, and resonates with what I outline here. Nevertheless, I want to transport these art practices into another philosophical context, more closely tuned with Deleuze, and others able to contribute to thinking the intensive relations and dimensions of technology such as Simondon, Spinoza and von Uexküll. To this end I will contextualise some Deleuzian notions in the practices and projects of software and net art through thinking code not only as the stratification of reality and of its molecular tendencies but as an ethological experimentation with the order-words that execute and command.

The Google-Will-Eat-Itself project (released 2005) is exemplary of such creative dimensions of software art. Authored by (featuring Alessandro Ludovico vs. Paolo Cirio), the project is a parasitic tapping in to the logic of Google and especially its Adsense program. By setting up spoof Adsense-accounts the project is able to collect micropayments from the Google corporation and use that money to buy Google shares – a cannibalistic eating of Google by itself. At the time of writing, the project estimated that it will take 202 345 117 years until GWEI fully owns Google. The project works as a bizarre intervention into the logic of software advertisements and the new media economy. It resides somewhere on the border of sabotage and illegal action – or what Google in their letter to the artists called ‘invalid clicks.’ Imperceptibility is the general requirement for the success of the project as it tries to use the software and business logic of the corporation through piggy-backing on the latter’s modus operandi.

What is interesting here is that in addition to being a tactic in some software art projects, the culture of software in current network society can be characterised by a logic of imperceptibility. Although this logic has been cynically described as ‘what you don’t see is what you get’, it is an important characteristic identified by writers such as Friedrich Kittler. Code is imperceptible in the phenomenological sense of evading the human sensorium, but also in the political and economic sense of being guarded against the end user (even though this has been changing with the move towards more supposedly open systems). Large and pervasive software systems like Google are imperceptible in their code but also in the complexity of the relations it establishes (and what GWEI aims to tap into). Furthermore, as the logic of identification becomes a more pervasive strategy contributing to this diagram of control, imperceptibility can be seen as one crucial mode of experimental and tactical projects. Indeed, resistance works immanently to the diagram of power and instead of refusing its strategies, it adopts them as part of its tactics. Here, the imperceptibility of artistic projects can be seen resonating with the micropolitical mode of disappearance and what Galloway and Thacker call ‘tactics of non-existence’ (135-136). Not being identified as a stable object or an institutional practice is one way of creating vacuoles of non-communication though a camouflage of sorts. Escaping detection and surveillance becomes the necessary prerequisite for various guerrilla-like actions that stay ‘off the radar.’