Two Talks in The Bay

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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.

Wages for Facebook

waht-you-think
In January 2014, the website “Wages for Facebook” was launched. The single-page maximalist manifesto slowly scrolls by in large blocky caps, beginning with the declaration that:

“THEY SAY IT’S FRIENDSHIP. WE SAY IT’S UNWAGED WORK. WITH EVERY LIKE, CHAT, TAG OR POKE OUR SUBJECTIVITY TURNS THEM A PROFIT. THEY CALL IT SHARING. WE CALL IT STEALING…”

The text is a rewriting of key passages from “Wages Against Housework,” a pamphlet central to a feminist campaign in the 1970s condemning the unpaid labor of housework and caregiving. The theoretical import of the 1970s campaign was huge at its time – “Wages Against Housework” challenged certain historical materialisms that relegated power and social reproduction to a superstructural level altogether separate from the material base of production. Extending the “social factory” approach to value production, this materialist feminism demonstrated why the cultural, corporeal, and subjective dimensions of social reproduction are just as fundamental to the material structure of capitalism as economics. Continue reading “Wages for Facebook”

“It is Raining”: A Philosophy of the Digital Stream (new intro)

rescue-emblem
“It is raining,” philosopher Louis Althusser writes. These words: a declaration; a marked change in the world outside; an announcement about the rain felling outside Althusser’s room at the Sainte-Anne clinic in late 1982. Only then, two years after his scandalous psychotic fit, did he begin writing again.[1] Peering through the window to outside, Althusser ended his dry spell with a book “before all else,” “about ordinary rain.”[2] Such ordinary rain is not the common sense notion of rain that pertains to water falling from the sky. Althusser’s rain is far more commonplace: it is the underground current of materialism that runs through the history of philosophy (“The Underground Current of the Materialism of the Encounter,” 167). This watershed year also marked the emergence of another type of rain, which is seen through an altogether different window. 1982 was the year Time magazine named “the computer” its personal of the year. Three decades later, we now watch the streams that rush across our digital screens.

Continue reading ““It is Raining”: A Philosophy of the Digital Stream (new intro)”

The Metropolis as a Media Object and The Polarized Politics of Asymmetry

nevelsonThe reconfigured terrain of network culture frustrates many traditional modes of social engagement. Political power has both spread and concentrated – spreading as global corporations, international bodies, and private interests bypass the forces of traditional political institutions, and concentrating as information systems employed in government and industry enable the surveillance, registration, and control of populations.[i]

The common form of dissent in digital culture is rather the tactical use of media to signify “the intervention and disruption of a dominant semiotic regime, the temporary creation of a situation in which signs, messages, and narratives are set into play and critical thinking becomes possible.”[ii] Tactical media’s emphasis on symbolic disruption leads to a focus on artistic practices, from persuasive video games made to criticize immigration policy to chat-based interventions in the US Military’s controversial recruiting game America’s Army.[iii] The prevalence of cultural and artistic critique as the preferred style of political engagement should be expected, as it echoes a wider transformation in contemporary power whereby “the dissolution of an autonomous sphere of culture is rather to be imagined in terms of an explosion: a prodigious expansion of culture throughout the social realm, to the point at which everything in our social life – from economic value and state power to practices and to the very structure of the psyche itself – can be said to have become ‘cultural.’”[iv] The literary import of tactical media threatens to obscure potentials singular to media, however, as it focuses on the expression of and not the struggle within the “computational layer” or information itself – a slippage that threatens to ruin tactical media by “confusing tactics and strategy.”[v]

There is a way to cut through this confusion: if the urban space of the Metropolis is theorized as a media object, whereby “the ‘content’ of any medium is always another medium,” then culture and materiality intersect, which allows analysis to go from signs to signals and from semiotics to physics and back again.[vi] This principle is elegantly demonstrated by Austrian design studio mischer-traxler’s project “The Idea of a Tree,” an autonomous solar-powered production project that transduces the intensity of inconstant natural inputs to mechanically produce one object a day from sunrise to sunset. The product of process is a bench-like object that incorporates the sun conditions of the day by varying thread and glue color and thickness as it is wrapped around a mold to make a three-dimension representation of the day and place of production.[vii] The simultaneous transduction and transcoding of environmental energy into a material object exemplifies that multidimensional objects can be both technically diagrammed and studied according to their cultural expression. Generalizing from “The Idea of a Tree,” then every media object similarly contains both a diagram and an expression that make up its emergent environment.[viii] Media and literary studies have outlined theories for such a multi-dimensional analysis, demonstrating the different operations of speech, writing, and code.[ix] The Metropolis should then be described in similar terms to network culture not only by information, but the vectors of change that result from an abundance of information and an acceleration of informational character.[x] In particular, the Metropolis can be said to utilize information in three distinct ways: as “the relation of signal to noise,” “a measure of the uncertainty or entropy of a system,” and “a nonlinear and nondeterministic relationship between the microscopic and the macroscopic levels of a physical system” – all of which find corollaries in culture.[xi] Bringing together digital telecommunication flows and physical corporeal flows, urban geographers have conceptualized the contemporary process of urbanization through Internet eXchange points and MIDT airline traffic data[xii] It is through a similar combination of digital culture and informatization more generally that strategies common to struggles in the culture, technology, and environment of the Metropolis can be identified, analyzed, and enhanced.

Abstractly, the Metropolis connects through inclusive disjunction, a process that puts otherwise foreign elements into communication with one another and does not require its pieces to operate through a shared logic but unfolds their interiors through exposure.[xiii] Continue reading “The Metropolis as a Media Object and The Polarized Politics of Asymmetry”

Affective Critique: Mediation as a Response to Cynical Ideology (Paper Proposal)

fright-club

The role of critique in contemporary cinema has been displaced. Consider the story of Chicago gang member Danny Toro, who would watch Scarface almost every day for 10 years despite the film’s heavy-handed critique of its gangster protagonist Tony Montana. Perhaps as equally perplexing, the film American Psycho is popular among many yuppies even though its point is to critique the masculinity and violence of a financial culture much similar to their own. Or even more striking: fraternities across the country hold “Fight Club” events inspired by David Fincher’s adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk’s book although the film is an in-your-face condemnation of preppy social climbing.

Diagnosing this problem, Slovenian philosopher and critic Slajov Zizek writes that we no longer live in an age where “they know not what they do,” but rather: “they know very well what they are doing, but still, they are doing it.” To make his argument, Zizek echoes the theory of German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk, who argues that we have entered the age of “cynical ideology” whereby the demystifying correction of ideological camera obscuras no longer motivates social action – or in the words of French sociologist of science Bruno Latour, the critique has “run out of steam.”

The alternatives suggested by all three are disappointing, however: Zizek proposes empty political doctrines (“signifiers without a signified”), Sloterdijk recommends a return to the irony and sarcasm of the Greeks (“kynicism”), and Latour calls for a “stubborn realist attitude” (“empiricism”).

In contrast to these three alternatives, I propose contemporary theories of affect as replacement for the diagnostic and effective functions of ideology critique. Continue reading “Affective Critique: Mediation as a Response to Cynical Ideology (Paper Proposal)”

Streaming Feminism

streaming-femme

Three examples highlight the stream as a space of encounter between otherwise disparate elements: Jonathan Harris and Sep Kamvar’s We Feel Fine, Lukaza Branfman-Verissimo and Zoë Ozma’s East Bay Crying Coalition, and Tomas Durkin, Lawrence Lu, Javad Moghassemi, and Naomi Satake’s Urinal Stream.[1] Each project gathers information and organizes emotional content into streams meant to provoke future encounters. The significance of these examples is that they dramatize the politicization of streams through the amplification of the affective forces associated with them, as seen in the emerging culture of streaming feminism, which exemplifies what Sara Ahmed calls cultural politics of emotion. In this way, the projects counteract the aggressive, violent, and conspiratorial climate pervasive to digital culture by disseminating an alternative archive of feelings that act as an encoded repository of the practices that surround their production and reception (Cvetkovich, Archive of Feelings, 7). And by sharing in feminist project Public Feeling’s goal of transforming private emotions into a public resource for political action, streaming feminism speaks to the importance of a philosophy of the encounter (The Promise of Happiness; Cvetkovich, Depression: A Public Feeling). Continue reading “Streaming Feminism”