Three New Publications

Krzysztof Kieslowski: I’m So-So…(1998) dir. Krzysztof Wierzbicki

Three new publications:
> “Philosophy, Science, and Virtual Communism,” Angelaki 20(4): Link, Liberated
> “The State, Concept not Object: Abstraction, Empire, Cinema, ” parallax 21(4): Link, Liberated
> “Confronting Connectivity: Feminist Challenges to the Metropolis,” Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies 12(5): Link (live Nov 19), Liberated.

Confronting Connectivity


The future is ‘connectivity,’ or so say today’s tech execs. “Soon everyone on Earth will be connected,” they declare, followed by worn promises of increased productivity, health, education, and happiness.[i] On its face, they are simply echoing the old trope of the level playing field repeated by empire builders from Niccolò Machiavelli to Thomas Friedman. What then is new? How connectivity forges horizontal connections between the virtual and physical worlds. As a consequence, the digital logic of combinatorial difference is now used as a tool of governance to “intensify, accelerate, and exacerbate phenomena in the world so that a difference in degree will become a difference in kind.”[ii] In sum, connectivity is the new techno-utopian business strategy that braids the physical with the virtual to create a socio-political empire of difference.

Google’s connectivity thesis is a sign that power is logistical – its authority resides in roads, cellphone towers, and data centers, which are overseen by legislators who keep the flows moving. Continue reading “Confronting Connectivity”

Hostis, Issue 2, Call for Papers: Beyond Recognition

basquiat-earth

Seeking recognition is always servile. We have little interest in visibility, consciousness raising, or populist pandering. Recognition always treats power as a give-and-take. On the one hand, the dispossessed use recognition as respite from exploitation; while on the other, the State expects its authority to be recognized as the first and final say. According to this logic: for the dispossessed to even get a step up, they must first acknowledge a higher power than themselves.

The particulars of our own time are even more obscene. Following the spread of economic rationality on a global scale, it is clear that the flow of forces has reversed. The State pornographically exposes its long-protected interior for others to abuse while lasciviously grooming what is beyond its regular reach. Recognition chastely reassures the State of its powers. All the while, the most banal State functions are farmed out to the highest bidder. So when their parking ticket is authored by a private corporation, those who seek recognition fall back on the State dictum that nothing good comes from the outside. Continue reading “Hostis, Issue 2, Call for Papers: Beyond Recognition”

New Writing on Colonialism

hunters-hunted

Expansions on the earlier State and as a Virtual Object paper. — PS: after discussing it w/ Gregg Flaxman, I’ve decided to “deontologize” the whole paper to sharpen the ontology/virtuality divide.

Marxists Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri have a useful illustration of a similar abstraction in their 2000 book Empire. According to Hardt and Negri, colonialism works as an abstract machine (a term synonymous with abstraction or virtual object). The abstract machine of colonialism, they say, creates a dialectic of identity and alterity that imposes binaries divisions on the colonial world.[1] The identity of the European Self, for instance, is produced through the dialectical movement of its opposition to and power over a colonial Other. The prevailing critique of colonialism in the early 20th century responded itself dialectically by revealing that the differences and identities created by colonialism appear “as if they were absolute, essential, and natural” but are in fact incorporeal and therefore function “only in relation to each other and (despite appearances) have no real necessary basis in nature, biology, or rationality.”[2] Hardt and Negri name two conclusions to this dialectical critique: first, that the European Self must continually use material violence against its Other to sustain the dialectical appearance of corporeal power, and second, that such a negative dialectic of recognition is hollow and prone to subversion. But reality itself is not dialectical, only colonialism is, Hardt and Negri contend.[3] And because dialectics is one only mode in which abstract machines operate, they suggest that the effective response to colonialism is not a negative antithesis, such as the negative project of négritude or Sartrean cultural politics. An effective response, they say, is the reciprocal “counter-violence” of Franz Fanon and Malcolm X, which produces a separation from the movement of colonialism. Such violence is not itself political, yet the violent reciprocity of “a direct relation of force” breaks the abstract bond holding together incorporeal colonial power and poses a disharmony that arrests the colonial dialectic while opening a space in which politics can emerge.[4]

As Hardt and Negri go on to describe Empire, they do not call it an abstract machine, but perhaps we should. Continue reading “New Writing on Colonialism”

Colonialism as an Abstract Machine

abstract machine

Marxists Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri have a useful illustration of a similar abstraction in their 2000 book Empire. According to Hardt and Negri, colonialism works as an abstract machine, a term synonymous with abstraction or virtual object. The abstract machine of colonialism, they say, creates a dialectic of identity and alterity that imposes binaries divisions on the colonial world (Empire, 128-129). And while differences and identities are created by colonialism “as if they were absolute, essential, and natural,” they in fact function “only in relation to each other and (despite appearances) have no real necessary basis in nature, biology, or rationality” (129). Hardt and Negri do not go as far as to call Empire an abstract machine, but perhaps we should. Customary definitions of Empire usually focus on a polycentric sovereignty of global governance as it intersects with the postmodern production of informatized, immaterial, and biopolitical products. In contrast, I contend that Empire arrives as an entirely incorporeal entity that lacks its own body and is deprived of a material existence to call its own. However devoid of existence, Empire persists as the force behind a concept for organizing and directing the capitalist world market. As a result, Empire operates through management and circulation, but it is not extensive with its products. Perhaps the most powerful example of the incorporeal transformation is the transformation that occurs when a judge declares the accused to be guilty of their crimes – transforming an alleged criminal into a real one (Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 80-81).

We can now return to the interrupted scene of Oshima’s film, knowing more about the abstraction that wants to kill R. Continue reading “Colonialism as an Abstract Machine”

Prelude

prelude

Escape is the oldest story of freedom, and it is among the simplest.[1]

Half a century ago, an anarchist scholar decided to write a heroic story of peasants.When bodies started piling up in Vietnam, he was intrigued that people actually cared about peasants for once. Even then, his task was not easy, given that peasants usually serve as the stage upon which more dramatic disputes between nationalists and colonizers are performed. However, in the archives he uncovered books and records that he wielded against those who had dismissed his humble peasants.

The heroic peasants were a good start for the scholar. While national liberation struggles claimed that the heart of the nation beat within the peasant, the scholar focused an even more elusive class of people: hill peoples, those who buck authorities with a run to the hills. Through diligent scholarship, he was able to bring together an impressive array of theories and terms to describe why certain peoples are poor materials for state-making.

What the scholar loved most about the hill people was their slash-and-burn culture. Dismissed by others as hillbilly backwardness, he knew that their whole way of life was an elaborate trick that they used to be left alone. But everything is different now, he reluctantly admitted; it had all changed after World War II. Most States developed technologies, both mechanical and human, that eliminated their ‘dark twins’ hiding in the mountains. Space was spanned and the hill sanctuaries were found, he said. The few peoples still in the hills were the last ones to escape; but even they are on the verge on disappearing, he lamented.

Not far away, a similar discovery was made.

A young college student was tired of the usual posturing of campus activism. The daily barrage of manufactured urgency and its politics of guilt did not interest him. What he did have was a plan to fight Reagan’s imperialist interventions in Latin America. So after gaining a little know-how in engineering with a focus on alternative energy, he headed south to make a real contribution to ‘the people who could use help.’

But the student felt out of place after he got there and was nagged by the feeling that this struggle was not his. The projects he worked on were practical, no doubt – computer donations from the States were not hurting the people of El Salvador – but they were not really helping that much either. When he looked for guidance, the El Salvadorians were kind but blunt. Their war torn country did not need engineering solutions to political problems, they said. So the student went back home to ponder.

Look, just go to the mountains, a comrade said while visiting the student. The student shot back an incredulous glance. Look, you have mountains here. Just go to the mountains. That’s what we do. Get some guns, go to the mountains, and wage a revolution. The student responded thoughtfully, agreeing that, yes, there were mountains in Seattle, but he was not sure about the rest of the suggestion. A few moments later, with an embarrassed grin, he admitted that it simply did not correspond to his reality at all.

Though quite different, the two stories agree on a basic point: today, there is no sense in running to the hills. The hills may have previously been a non-place, a u-topia, where a people existed without a history. And while it is said that the history of people is the history of class struggle, it would be at least as truthful to say that the history of the peoples without history is the history of those who escape. But with the great latticework of surveillance and control that now spans most of the developed world, the veil of spatial isolation has been pierced. So today, the hills cannot help make class struggle or freedom a reality.

Even with hill peoples now under State control, however, is it not obvious that escape still does and always will exist? Of course it all depends on context – but there is a political danger in the desire to always want more context. The greatest risk is that providing context becomes a purely academic exercise that defers judgment or action. This deferral is an expression of postmodern relativism, most commonly voiced as the desire for complexity (“well, it’s complicated…” or “let me complicate this a bit first…”). Such an incessant demand for context is to be expected, however, as protesting simplicity is a critical move in today’s dominant ideology.[2] So I will begin there. Yet it is my ultimate aim to demonstrate how a reworked concept of escape is essential to understanding contemporary power. Therefore, after I finish examining the demolition of the distinction between the valley and the hill or the town and the country, I shift to the new paths of escape that have opened up under the towering figure of the Metropolis. Because to escape today, one does not run to the hills but burrows deeper into the dark underside of the Metropolis. Continue reading “Prelude”

Part 2 – Crisis


metropolis
Unlike the mythic State, governance today is no longer a question of divinity or even mastery. Empire is instead the force of prevention. What Empire prevents is the future, which it claims is only full of horror, chaos, and disappointment – where apocalyptic monsters or dystopian nightmares come true. The present, we are told, is in crisis. Paradoxically, Empire’s solution is to deepen the crisis in order to save the present. The experience of this drawn-out present is a combination of the profusion of difference paired with the vague notion that nothing is really changing. To achieve this confusing state – where the more that things change, the more they stay the same – Empire undertakes two abstract processes: circulation and management. These two processes are its essential modes of operation. Continue reading “Part 2 – Crisis”