Thursday, December 20, 2007

Crisis in the meaning of meaning

Meaning was the once-natural sequence of being, knowing, interpreting, judging, willing and acting . It is this sequence which no longer operates as it did in earlier times.

The nature of being is de-natured when things are no longer simply themselves but monetary values, signs, status symbols.

Knowing is no longer definite but probabilistic.

Interpretation depends on knowledge, but when knowledge is subsumed into data, it is no longer known but, like data, processed.

True judgement occurs when I take responsibility for my action but that responsibility is removed when my every action has been modelled for its statistical likelihood.

Willing requires individual agency, but that agency dissolves in the mass-modelling of scenarios and the management of lifestyles.

Action is in crisis as a result of the sheer scale of the tasks facing us in a globalised network. And probability and complexity disrupt the foresight on which we can plan the effects of acting.

The immersive spectacle of the early 21st century is a response to these changes. So too is the development of the lo-res solution, in which the illusion of individuality and individual agency is imposed through the isolation of the individualised interface in order to produce a normative and mass replication of noise. Like Reality TV, whose selection of idiosyncratic and eccentric contestants is there to demonstrate that after all we are all individuals, mobile media divide in the interests of maintaining the fictive individual as the basic unit of consumption and social aggregation. Slack-jawed submission to blockbuster effects from Las Vegas to the Sydney Olympics substitutes for having a place in a world. Our fragile, ephemeral communities of contact lists are meant to substitute for the complex networks of kinship and locality that we have lost.

It is ironic that in this new age of biopolitics, we no longer hear the hundred-year old discourse about the crowd, and that, at the moment at which meaning evaporates, we devote ourselves to . . . psychology!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007


Kant divides philosophy into logic, physics and ethics. Logic is today a mathematical science, and either incorprates or is incorporated by math. Physics and ethics are the empirical sciences, distinguished from logic which can never be dependent on the empirically given, since it's task is to describe the laws of reason. Physics extrapolates the laws of nature from the manifold flux of real events and processes which dictate to it the content it has to address. Ethics is eqally empirical, dealing with what ought to occur and, in Kant's opinion, therefore dealing with freedom.

While contemporary theory and philosophy have a problem with the idea of freedom, the term serves as well as any other to distinguish the activities of the human sciences, that swathe of academic disciplines that amalgamates the arts, humanities and social sciences. When we deal with human activity, if Kant is right, we deal with ethical issues. All rational creatures, he says, must abide by such simple, logically compelling rules as 'Thou shalt not lie'. And yet, at every turn, the world lies – for the Platonist and the Marxist, the Nietzshean and the postcolonial scholar alike. Not only does nature lie through camouflage and stealth; society embraces it. To the extent that society affords its citizens freedom, it lies when it gives them rules. To the extent that it does not, it lies when it pormises to. Kant's truth is founded in dissimulation.

Monday, December 17, 2007

ens quo maius cogitari nequit

" . . so that an angel can proportionate this power to a greater or smaller part of corporeal substance; for if there was no body at all, this power of God or of an angel would not correspond to any extension whatsoever" *

I place this here as a memento: the founder of modern science was still capable of arguing how many angels might dance on the head of a pin.

*Descartes' second letter to Henry More, cited in Koyré, Closed World, 191.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

"History was our strong hypothesis"

"History was our strong hypothesis, the hypothesis of maximum intensty" (Baudrillard 2005: 128). History has become an alibi, an explanation for a present which refuses to yield. It has become a synonym for virtue, but a virtue capable of the most refined as well as the most egregious vice. History now names the reasons why perpetual violence, without hope of victory, is not only acceptable but good, indeed The Good, for the USA, for Israel, for every fundamentalist sect from Belfast to bali. History has become the name of its own end, for the lack, loss, foreclosure of the future.

Against Baudrillard, to argue that it is not the end of history but the end of the future that is achieved in Integral Reality, the froth on the daydream of change as 'minimum intensity' (ibid) caught in the feedback loop between happening and information about what happens.

Firstness is not innocence – when it poses as a goal. Secondness is not violence done to innocence when it shakes apart the endless shimmer of perception to release the difference. Identity thinking is not the only way to appropriate the manifold for thought or action. But reducing every perception back to the status of the merely perceived is the politics prior to the commodification of information, the general equivalence. Critical to the possibility of action, and therefore of event, is the tactical task of remaking perception, specifically as regards secondness. Unless there is a better way, ation will not be possible at all; only, as JB has it, terror.

Colour has never been free

When colour management takes over, it is not as if it replaces some imagined freedom of colour. Colour has never been free. The difference lies in the manner of its administration – from a semantic to a mathematical formation. The movement includes a false dawn of freedom at the moment of coal-based aniline dyes: the Impressionists as poster boys. That freedom collapses in the 'little chemists', Grémillon's taunt at the pointillistes, and even more so (genuine) risk of meaninglessness in the fauves and the expressionsts. Art historians have merely recognised, in their adulation of the colourists, the anarchy of colour, in Mattisse or in die Brücke, in whichm at their nadir, the whole language of colour risks collapse. This disaster is articulated by malevich under the sign of the transcendental; another proof that the sublime and despair are next door neighbours.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Unjust Imprisonment and Impending Show Trial of Steve Kurz as recorded by Lynn Hershman Leeson

Even the YouTube trailer has me between rage and tears. I swapped mails with Steve the night of his arrest (I spotted the story on late night news in Toronto). They had even impounded his cat. One day this will be farce, but for now it is worse than tragedy: it is iteration without evolution. Check out
CAE Defense Fund

Thursday, November 22, 2007


In the relation between hardware, software and wetware, hardware is clearly technical (apparatus, technology, techne), software functions as the social (polis: a function, as in protocol). This creates the unusual position in which the human wetware is left with the remaining function, in the position traditionally associated with nature (laws of physics, instinct, blind necessity). The analogy would be with the 'database unconscious' - what databases by definition must exclude. The database unconscious is the flesh, embodied experience, and especially the kind of contingent body and behaviour which escapes control because it cannot be informationalised. The human returns as bodies and instincts, which in a Kantian frame would mean they are the force of necessity, in the same way the laws of physics are the force of necessity in contexts of survival. Here action – the characteristic of consciousness – ends up as the property of code, that is consciousness of a highly restricted kind, the terminus ad quem of enlightenment rationality. The wetware residue, which functions purely as a random number generator from the standpoint of the software, has the force of necessity but the actuality of contingency (ie already overdetermined but in such a way that its behaviours appear irrational, and so as random, rather in the same way as the weather). So the 'actor' is displaced from the human into the protocol/code; while at the same time, in conformity with the process, the human element ceases to be individual subjects and becomes the excluded obverse of the mass management of populations: micro-behaviours of the human biomass. One implication is that subjectivity as we have thought of it since Descartes (including Lacan), is no longer a critical concept. There is no inner life. Deleuze and Guattari may be right: there are concepts capable of generating possible worlds. Concepts, not people. What in this system generates concepts is not the human but the code.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

An Impossible Choice

In the monstrous reorganisation of society as population management, and of knowledge as data flow, we face an impossible choice. We may succumb to the slack-jawed immersion in spectacle, from Vegas to the Sydney Olympics., or accede to the fragmented and ephemeral world of connectivity. I characterise these two positions, respectively the hi-res and lo-res paths, as the impossible choice between the sublime and despair. To paraphrase Adorno, despair and the sublime are the two torn halves of a single oppression: the removal of the object of contemplation from the realm of what can be communicated. In the immersive sublime, what we gaze upon is other, wordless and worldless, beyond history or debate. In the connective despair, what we seek to communicate, the very content of cellular networks, is ourselves, but that is the one thing that cannot be communicated in a world of hyperindividuation. Choose, we seem to be told, between the cinematic spectacle of 9/11 or the connective mobile images from Abu Ghraib. Choose between the unspeakable, sublime icon created by Islamists whose faith does not allow icons. Or pick the degraded and degrading mobile images from Abu Ghraib, where connectivity becomes an extension of the humiliation which is the goal of torturers. The binarism of hi-res and lo-res takes us to the sick heart of the contemporary world.

The Hammer

Media are the medium of history, as a hammer is the medium of the blow.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007


All books are written in the present but read in the past. This unfortunate fact is also true for the author.

Seizure of the present

Newly invented as the moment of consciousness and of change, the present was almost without delay manipulated into the moment of production. (One might reverse this statement). Taming the vector, the future-orientation, which nevertheless is the absolute prerequisite, is the central activity of capital's drift from manufacture via service and finance to creativity.

Friday, October 26, 2007


To embrace the irrational is merely to embrace the obverse of instrumental rationality. In its own way bataillean surrealism is also instrumental, though it reverses the polarity of determination from human action on nature to natural action on humans. Bataille was wrong about cruelty and sexuality: they are not repressed. Torture, inquisitions, rape and genocide are integral to modernity from Torquemada to Abu Ghraib. Simondon's thesis opf the 'pre-individual' drawn into individuation through socio-technical assemblages, and Adorno's inclusion of 'bodily impulse' in any act of spontaneity capable of rupturing the administration of the world to produce action: these are not bataillean binaries but dialectical syntheses.

Now that the boundaries of the private have been driven back, this process appears as the dialectic of public and intimate. Conviviality in communication and the cosmopolitan ethic of care will depend on this dialectic. This may yet be the role of the wireless assemblage of isolated individuals imagining community. Or the immersive spectacle's communities united in their isolation.

Boiling point

Points of appearance and disappearance are congruent with moments of virtuality such as the bloiling point, the statistically likely moment at which water boils but which does not determine that all the molecules vapourise simultaneously. The virtual image is likewise turbulent, the lynchpin of any image in which it may become other than it is in any direction. Contra Bazin: not the actual image but its becoming.

(This may be the source of the misunderstanding that all moving pictures are narrative)

Wallace Stevens

"A fortunate powem or a fortunate painting is a synthesis of exceptional concentration (that degree of concentration that has a lucidity of its own, in which we see clearly what we want to do and do it instantly and perfectly)"

A perfect experience.


Not biology: architecture is destiny

A Coin that is not a coin

Despair and the sublime: two views on a single incommunication

The Departed

The immanent otherworld now presents itself via callphone. The other world is dis-place-ment, a place always other, always elsewhere, not necessarily better but different and synchronous.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Note to self

Quote from Benjamin on architectural behaviourism: conclude analysis with move towards behaviours (transient). Address the criticism of presumption of effect: that individual experience (of awe etc) is a) incommunicable b) a matter of biopolitics and c) the individualism of ethnographic self-reporting is itself an integral element of the spectacular regime. (what i thought about the film is only relevant to the extent that it is statistically congruent). Move from here to third-screen as the missing part of an integral freedom in the era after the hi-lo distinction has dissolved. the two torn halves.Use the mobile phones of The Departed to make this connection

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

neo-baroque iCon

Angela Ndalianis' neo-baroque is doubled or shadowed by the second great developmet in 21st century media: the always-on wireless world. In the old baroque and the new, the immense and immersive spectacle engulfs the viewer-auditor, but also addresses them as individual - individual soul in the old, individual consumer in the neo. By contrast the wireless experience is primarily of isolation, but isolation in perpetual connectivity. The dialectical connection between immersion and connectivity, at present and perhaps forever mutually exclusive as the sublime is irreconcilable with the communicative. A dialectic whose map might be written: Actuality of community, illusion of isolation vs actuality of isolation, illusion of community.

reflections on creativity

New online from the University of Dundee, a collection of papers on the nature and future of creativity, including a piece of mine, "Creative Theory", whose abstract runs:
This paper discusses the nature of creative activity and the purpose of theorising creativity. The paper suggests that creativity is a shared and dialogical activity thus complicating questions of ownership and intellectual property.

Positioning creativity as the interplay between the physical world, available technology and the socio-psychological conditions of the artist, it manifests in the human subject as the sum of these historically determined fields. To illustrate this, the works of Ansel Adams and Albrecht DŸrer are discussed.

Linking materialist and ecological perspectives, the paper draws a parallel between labour and creativity, and warns against its manipulation and exploitation. Creativity - it is suggested - is tied to finite resources, thus is itself not endless, and should be carefully examined and understood. The process of theorising creativity can bring awareness to the practitioner and open routes to finding a sustainable future.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Specificity of the Virtual-Actual Dialectic in the Instance of a 'Colour'

At once physical and experiential, therefore unrepeatable, spectral colour as conjuncture proposes an infinity other than the 16,581, 535 colours of hexadecimal. Modulations too intense for capture. This is its actuality, ie. to call it 'insubstantial' is incorrect. The analogy with infinitessimals: there will always be another hue between this one and that one, to be achieved by casting this shadow from that surface under this light source under these conditions of refraction. As in the tones of sunset, any tone is always on the brink of becoming another. So far so physis.

This colour – magenta spray under cars at a Sydney crossroads in the rain under sodium arc lamps 20.09.07 around 9.00pm – is unrepeatably specific and actual. The attempt to capture it will a) reduce it to mathematical identity but b) demonstrate that such capture is inevitably poorer which c) can lead to new colours, new techniques

This is notably the case with black, which is 'not a colour', 'the absence of colour', but which, like evil, is an absolute that never achieves purity, the purity of actual existence. Black has the specific quality of being only ever virtual. Like silence, black is physiologically impossible (Cage, Goethe). [Brecht speaks of 'the strain of being evil'].

Our attempts at black are magical: formulated from the remains of fire in charcoal and lampblack. The alternative, especially in film and electronic imaging, has been to achieve maximum contrast, that is to use the wisdom of colour combinations to persuade us that the greys of the screen are blacks. If black is always unreachable as ideal absence, these formal allocations of blackness to greys are equally virtual, an expression of the destiny of certain tones in systems reliant on projected or backlit images, cathode ray tubes: Becoming black.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Duty of Care

Carol Gilligan makes the argument that a feminist ethics is peculiarly and particularly an ethics of care. There is some parallel with Levinas' ethics of the face-to-face encounter with the other, in which the incompleteness of the Ego is demonstrated to it. What became apparent in discussions of indigenous ethics, or the ethical problem posed by indigeneiry – its particular claim to 'culture' or 'identity;' in ways unavailable to westerners – is the extraordinary generosity, noted by Barry Barclay among others, of indigenous people with their knowledge, their depth of knowledge, and their time, in every sense of that word. In this instance, the instance of the danger of ventriloquism, of speaking as if from the position of the Other and on behalf of the other, a demand peculiar to the media, where acess to both the technological basis for recording and editing, and more particularly of transmission, is in the hands of the coloniser, in the case of ventriloquism based in an ethic of care, something peculiar about the ethic of care becomes clearer.

The duty of care can only be exercised in the presence of an Other who gives themselves openly for care, like the weeping child (as everyone knows, you cannot comfort a child who refuses to be comforted).

This is the pojnt of Kant's delimitation of the cosmopolitan ethic of hosptality: that we must not treat the stranger as an enemy unless they come in the guise of an enemy.

Care extends to pariahs like the torturers of Abu Ghraib if and only if they offer themselves to care.

(They alone can judge whether their prisoners came to them as enemeies or as strangers)

Saturday, September 8, 2007


Under conditions of 'the abyss of total freedom' among the datastreams we used to use for meaning-making, what of representation?

It has moved from depiction to data-gathering. Scientific and socio-technical apparatus collects such m,assive quantities of data, the significance of the individual datum shrivels to insignificance. Swamped by statistical likelihood and trends, the datum itself is without significance, without meaning, meaningless. Picturing remains, but lives a sad afterlife. Its ideological function today is to try to persuade us that it is possible to picture experience, and that experience matters

The irony is that it does: experience matters to the extent that it is the residual real omitted from the circulation of data. This residue is that element of embodied life that escapes regimes of health, fitness, education and programmed entertainment. Its poverty is precisely that it is embodied, in an era in which each body is rigourously demarcated as the boundary of the personal, so that the best we can hope for is the interpersonal, never the social.

It is the social that forms the true boundary of a system which comprises the binary of data and experience: information and embodiment are two sides of a single coin. The real relations between people today appear to them in the fantastic guise of a relation between data systems and irreducibly individual experience.

It remains to make apparaent the lost relations of the real. At first this art will take the form of tragedy, the tragedy of coincidence – though that is an oxymoron. Coincidence because causality can oly reduce the social to conspiracy; tragedy because conspiracy and coincidence alike are experienced as fate.

How might realism re-emerge as intimation (making intimate) of the social, without presenting it as something already fated? How reverse the trend, apparent since the end of privacy in the era of cookie technology, towards the publication of intimacies? How to imbue the intimate with pubicness?

Saturday, August 25, 2007

why the revolution hasn't started

The concept of the general intellect is a utopian one in Marx (pages 690-711 of the Penguin edition of the Grundrisse): product of and produced by internal contradictions which he believed must ultimately lead to the collapse of capital. To argue for the increasing virtualisation of the general intellect is to argue that this utopian element is becoming more utopian, the more it is propelled by the increasing contradictions of capital's long, slow diminution of living labour as the universal producer and measure of value. If today it is hard to forecast a revolution, or to believe that a unified historical action can bring the downfall of capital, this is not exclusively because of capital's ability to cope with innovation. In the influential work of Lawrence Lessig (2004) and Yochai Benkler (2006), liberal proponents of 'régime change' in intellectual property law and economics respectively, the failure of capital to respond to the potential of user-generated innovation and the open nature of content creation can be healed through the adoption of new modes of regulation, and new business models. Similarly in the analysis of convergence between internet and telecommunications, it is becoming increasingly clear that the 'lock-in' business model of the telcos is incompatible with the open standards of the internet, and that the use of proprietary technical standards to retain customer loyalty is actively damaging the potential of the telcos to maximize revenues on their investment in bandwidth. More radical theorists of network cultures like Richard Barbrook (1998), Tiziana Terranova (2004) and Alex Galloway (2004) project more radical outcomes, though few of them look like revolution. The observation that capital failed to collapse according to classical Marxism must then be considered alongside analyses that suggest that it is constrained to change in ways which strategic sectors like telecommunications, pharmacology and media industries deeply dislike and distrust. Most importantly, the prediction of revolution, insofar as it is a prediction, is an attempt to control the nature of the emergent future. Commentators as politically opposed as Matthew Fuller (2003) and Eric von Hippel (2005) share a belief that the emergence of the radically new is dependent on maintaining the virtuality of the present, that is, its capacity to become in future other than it is now, a capacity which is deeply damaged by contemporary property laws, crucial instrument of the extraction of surplus value today; and equally by the processes of planning in which the regulation of the future by the present reduces its ability to be different As Ernst Bloch and Theodor Adorno once agreed, utopia can have no content (Bloch 1988). The processes through which the future emerges as different from the present, and thence any hope we might have for a better future, can only be stymied by prediction


Sensation lies at the interface of the world as given and the moment of perception, the moment of being-in-the-world, save only that it is not (yet) a matter of being but of the mutual becoming of sensory apparatus and the manifold, a chill moment of whatever we might call the opposite of recognition. Aesthesis as sensation is prior to perception (which is far closer to recognition, the typical, indeed the ordinary, and to that extent the ideological hypostasis of the manifold as a collection of givens). The task of specifically aesthetic perception is to distinguish not the banal, but such factors as the dimensional, material, energetic or informational qualities of both what is sensed and of the act of sensing. This implies an estrangement (ostranenie) in the objectivation of objects, a Peircean firstness equally engaged by aesthetic, scientific and philosophical endeavours which share this process of making-virtual from the raw material of space-time, matter-energy, entropy and emergence.

This is the kind of look at the world which fails to recognise it, and in that moment of confusion discovers the radical alterity of the sensory moment of aesthesis, the privileged moment at which world (inclusive of social and communications worlds) and sensorium interact and are for that brief moment as one. Actualisation of the virtual that occurs in the aesthetic work is that discovery of the discrete tendencies of the phenomenon, distinguishing its qualities, not necessarily to name them but to translate into other materials, a process which can be clearly seen in Pisarro's canvases, where each dab of colour corresponds to a fragment of the real scene. Much of this process of translation is however rule-governed, and those rules themselves inscribed into the technological capabilities of the devices to hand – palette, lens, film stock etc – and of the inevitable presence of the perceiver.

Friday, August 24, 2007

notes towards the politics of wonder

I cannot deny that I pursue this path for the sheer pleasure of it, for the virtuous (not to say smug) enjoyment and communication of one of the great joys, one that in its intensity, its commonness, its wealth and its equality is moreover an emblem of hope in a dark enough epoch. I am aware of the utopian diension of this work, and of the criticisms that can be and should be aimed at such high-minded and impractical imaginings. This project started in the rocky paths of negative dialectics. It is an attempt to develop a more positive, and to that extent practical way of thinking through the implications of materialism. My ambition is then to write towards an ontology of light, in the spirit in which Adorno writes, a propos the Wittgenstein of the Tractatus, that metaphysics stands

against scientism, for example Wittgenstein's position that fundamentally consciousness has to do only with that which is the case. That might call forth another definition: metaphysics is the form of consciousness in which it attempts to know what is more than the case, or is not merely the case, and yet must be thought, because that which, as one says, is the case, compels us to do so (cited in metaphysics: 196)

I believe the analysis of practice, and the remaking of the idea of form as informaing, are the royal road to this mode of ontological thought about media. The dream of the architect, as Gael Turnbull writes, depends on the patience of the bricklayer. Before demanding that patience, we should first attempt to recognise it, and then attempt to share the dream. The resulting edifice will only be the better for it.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

on freedom

The problem dogs Western philosophy. Kant's moral philosophy for example rests on an antinomy between the laws of nature on the one hand, and freedom as the ability to instigate an action which is not caused by them, even though the act itself and its consequences must abide by those laws as well as their own motivation. Thus Kant can argue that freedom is rooted in causality; that both abject obedience to nature and absolute freedom would produce chaos; and that order depends on the restraining power of freedom over the blind determination of physics. Commenting on these antinomies in his lecture series of 1961 (2000: 71), Adorno notes that the resulting rigour of the categorical imperative derives from Kant's embrace of freedom, so defined, to the exclusion of all other contenders for the title of 'the good'; and that as a result, perhaps, Kant's reason is condemned to being 'reasonable', to the exclusion of contradiction. So much so, indeed, that Arendt could argue, with reference to the categorical imperative, that it is 'as though the one and the same imperative , "Thou shalt not contradict yourself" is axiomatic for logic and ethics' (Arendt 2003: 153). For Kant natural causes will always be 'subaltern', says Adorno, which is a contradiction firstly because both causality and freedom are 'unmoved movers', that is absolutes, despite the fact that natural causes are supposedly subaltern, and yet freedom is obliged nonetheless to obey them. Moreover, as Adorno observes, Kant may be right to see the infinite regress of causes as an absurdity; but diminishing each natural cause to subalternity doesn't leave enough causation to cause everything. In Marx, we might feel constrained to add, the proletariat's historical destiny acts like a law of nature, and one with enough causality to produce the social; but that it is the freedom of the bourgeoisie that paradoxically stops its from effecting its goals. I start with this problem of freedom because it is far from clear that freedom is a Good in the moral sense, and that it may be neither source nor goal of the aesthetic. In fact, to the contrary, I take it as axiomatic that communication, which I take to be the central issue at stake in the relations between aesthetics and power, is both subject to the laws of nature and is in many respects a law of nature itself.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Mediaeval Transitions

Reading Eco's Art and Beauty in the Middle Ages, a short written in the 1950s, something startling starts to take shape. In Grosseteste in the 12th century (Eco uses the Hexaemeron, not the de Luce), light is the processual unity of creation. In Aquinas in the 13th, the light is beginning to break up into its realia. What seems apparent is that the mediaeval allegorists respond to this fragmentation with an ossification and sytematisation of the culturte of signatures noted in The Order of Things. The fragments whose symbolic analogies linked them back to creation were in danger of multiplying beyond order, of creating an excess of meaning. In order to regularise them, and prevent the swamping of meaning in its own excess, the kind of systematic allegory exemplified by the Romance of the Rose anchors them in a formal arrangement whose ambition is radical completeness. That it couldn't be achieved is clear from the 12,000 lines Jean de Meun added to Guillaume de Lorris' work half a century before.

Before the Romance, to take an arbitrary and extended moment of literary history, and probably some time before, even earlier than its formal expression in Grosseteste, lies a lost unity. In its place, there emerges during the period of transition from feudal to guild systems (and Gimpel's 'mediaeval industrial revolution) an iteration of the theory of proportion, now in an early, one might say pre-mathematical mode.

From this vantage point it begins to be possible to descry the genealogy of hexadecimal colour.

Monday, July 30, 2007


Forgive me if the new usage 'transduction' appears to me an artefact of the attempt to appreciate change, and the problematic relation between universal and particular, without dialectics. Indeed most neologisms emerge from this refusal. The excuse for a new word is that it describes a new phenomenon. A new word does not create a new phenomenon: this was the Whorff-Sapir hypothesis, underpinning the utopian apolitical project of politically correct language. For good or ill the Western way is committed to distinction, and to the principle of Ockham's razor. Concepts should not be proliferated needlessly. What is required is not new terms but the redefinition of old ones. A new concept that cannot be named with the existing lexicon needs to name a new phenomenon or admit to inarticulacy. The curious condition of the English language in the age of its fragmentation is a wonderful moment when changing usage and articulation with global speech opens immense vistas without the needf to abandon the fluency which our bastard tongue already permits.

Transient Media 3

The stroy of how, in the era of biopolitics, the database unconscious frees the contingency of the embodied, present crowd for an ecology of action, is half the story. It only points towards the issue of transience in its temporal guise, not as migration and as counter-cosmopolis. The missing move can only emerge from situating migration in a continuum, with indigeneiry and settler culture, a move which already implies further situating among the other paradigms of the contemporary mediascape.

As ever, to analyse even a smal phenomenon in detail requires an address to the situational systems that bring it to being. The reward is that the small phenomenon transforms what you might think of the systemic scale of mediation. It is the Warty Bliggins thesis: sometimes everything, the stars above and quantum foam below, exist only to bring this fledgling to the edge of the ocean of air.

To give credit where it's due, Badiou's injunction to Keep Going is a minimum beneath which Nothing functions at its nihilist work. The difference would appear to be that, for him, truth lies in the past.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007


Item 1: Kant's insistence on nations as the bulding blocks of cosmpolis, as critiqued by Habermas, who envisages a cosmopolis grounded not in political units but in Law
Item 2: Hegel's account of the national spirits as components of the world spirit, critiqued by Adorno, who proposes an aesthetic and cultural philosophy as a dialectical alternative

In the pursuit of an understanding beyond Anderson's 'imagined community', to seek out a more complex accomodation of law and aesthetics. The issue is already addressed, albeit in the specific to the point of obliquity, in debates over intellectual property.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Ghost Dog

It is no longer possible to live a Homeric life.

This statement needs immediate qualification: from Ulysses and The Cantos to O Brother Where Art Thou, the Odyssey talks to modern life. What is not available to us Europeans is the Iliad. The word 'warrior appears in writings of Edgar Heap of Birds and Jummy Durham. First People have claims to the heroic which colonisers do not.

In Jim Jarmusch's film Ghost Dog the central character tries to live a Homeric life in contemporary New Jersey, and is as doomed as Achilles as a result. But his death is only a death. It is not, like the deaths of Achlles and hector, glorious. It is only a death among others.

The absurd effort to live by the samourai way has its own honour. What is most attractive about the film is that Jarmusch, in Homer's place, is unable to describe the glory without irony.

Observe the parallel positions of Ghost Dog, an African American mob murderer seeking the authenticity of the Way, and Jarmusch as auteur seeking an authenticity in his ironic telling: the trope of carrier pigeons as a refusal of contemporary communication, in a film you can watch in all the usual formats.

What we have lost sicne Homer is not presence. It is the authenticity of communication. Socrates was right to this extent: Homer stood in the ranks, bloodied and cruel. Many have stood in the same place, biut have not told us in the language of Homer. Most have been reporters, and wrote in the language of cliché. Homer had the luck of writing in an age when clichés could draw on a common speech which drew on telling nin all its dimensions: lexicon, syntax, metrics, narration. It is this mediation that Ghost Dog cannot access: his incommunicative milieu underlined by linguistic difference.

Authenticity demands not eye-witnessing but a worthy medium. Ghost Dog is a great movie because it reaches towards that state of a medium capable of heroism, only to recognise – with due modesty – that it is incapable of achieving it.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Transient Media 2

Structured by its exclusions, the database unconscious is shaped in the material micro-realities of physical sensory existence, in actions where ethical decisions can be performed, and in the present.

Resistance is now accomodated into control. Productivity – in the form of mass participatpry creativity – is the dynamo of Web 2.0's commercial come-back from the dot bomb of the early years of this century. Meaninglessness is no longer the fiefdom of the avant garde, but lies at the heart of contemporary consumerism. Nonetheless, a minor adjustment makes the statement mmensely important for transient media. Where Mary-Ann Doane takes the contingent as equivalent to randomness, we need to redefine it as contingent upon – the result of past ecologies, to be sure, but implying that future states of the human ecology are in turn contingent upon what we do now.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Sixteen Theses

Sixteen theses on meteorological art on the occasion of the remarkable exhibition The Weather Project curated by Jacqueline Bosscher, Maria Miranda & Norie Neumark, 4 July to 3 August, UTS Gallery Sydney. If you can't make Sydney, try the net art component.

Gagadju Dreaming

To walk the billabongs and woodlands up to the scoured rocks at Anbangbang, with their paintings tens of thousands of years in the making and restoring; to see there the three rock pillars where the lightning man has his home; and to see the stone platform where he consumated his illicit love with the woman who would become the rainbow serpent; and to swim in the pool that has become her home; and to do these things in the plain light of day. To walk, arms loose at sides, in the warmth and to smell the patchwork fires clearing the ground brush in the early day – is to walk in the landscape of Eden. Into this ancient world arrived the first woman from the island in the north west forty thousand years ago. The world of Anbangbang grew here because she and all of our ancestors needed it so perfectly.

What depths of memory would creationists rob us of?


The age of the art experience is over. What was once a direct address to the soul today is a way of addressing the statistical aggregate. The blockbuster art exhibit is more significant for its turnstile figures than for the soul-changing moment when art speaks to viewer. New media art matters to the extent it speaks to crowds, and its reality is measurable in the modification of behaviours at the scale of populations.

If (as Stiegler seems to say) personal memory has been replaced by databases, the new unconscious is networked. No longer the tragic history of individual desire and loss, the new social unconscious is the creation of aggregate habit and statistical likelihoods. At its heart is a new void, and the capacities of any new art are dependent on this lack.

Transient Media

Transient media – which are physically mobile or which confront physically mobile audiences, or both – are remarkable for their incompletion. There is no meeting. And if there is no meeting – as there is in cinema for example – there is no Gestell. Here enframing concerns precisely the lack of an event: the oblique trajectory of sender and receiver through mutually incompatible space-times.

Lens Flare

Used first to emulate photographic apparatus, the lens flare filter, one of the first added to Photoshop, implied a fictional act of photography even in non-representational images. In a matter of months, it became a hallmark of digital graphics. Far from suggesting the presence of a 'real' camera, the repurposed lens flare plug-in emphasised digitality, and simultaneously produced illusions of depth in 2D images. The latter accidental discovery reorganises a temporal signature ('a camera was present') as a spatial one. Such migrations are the bread and butter of the microhistory of media.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Actions and annotations

Distinguishing the good and right as norms, goals or essences is simpler: such ethics are concerned with the nature of good and right, not with right or good actions. The question about right action is a question about goals, but as ecology has shown, it is also a question about consequences (1). The intentional and unintentional are both elements of right action (2). This is true of media ethics to the extent that we understand communication as action. (3)

(1) Mediations that do not communicate cannot be said to be ethical or unethical any more than a tree or stone, but neither can they be expected to have consequences. (see 2) This distinguishes communication from the unversal principle of mediation. Communication is an action; mediation is merely a fact of life.

(2) Since Nietzsche and Freud we have known about unconscious motivations, even in the best of people. Now we must confront unconscious consequences, even in the best of worlds.

(3) An Aristotelean ontology would only ask, in parallel with Socratic ethics, that thigs should not contradict themselves. The idea of the world as mediation asks no such thing.

Contribution to a History of Ethical Crisis

The transition from late antiquity to early modernity is also a transition from Socratic deliberation to the Christian will; the one disabled by introspection, the other by the simultaneousl discovery of the I-will and the I-cannot, that is, iof multiple and conflicting wills in a single agent (Arendt, Responsibility nd Judgement). Gilbert Simondon suggests that what distinguishes the two epochs is the commitment of antiquity to linguistic progress, and the middele ages to religious, the latter more universal in its calling because not tied to the city and the language group. In the next phase transition, to the technological, which is even more primitive and even more universal because it is about the conditions for living, there should correspond an ethics. After the I-myself relation of the Socratics and the I-thou relation of the religious, an ethics of need and desire. Then what would follow would be more primitive still: an ethics of survival, that is an ecological ethics derived neither from language and reason, nor from nature and the divine but from the artifice of the human-natural relation which is technology. As a teacher, and because everyone likes a happy ending, I can offer the politics of hope. A good answer, but does it make a satisfactory queston?

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

further adventures in ethics

Working up my new graduate course on media ethics, an interruption from a colleague who edits a journal whose board I'm on. Should we join the boycott on Israeli academics? My pragmatic response was that each case should be judged on its own merits: judging by ascription is rarely useful. Politically, I suggested half as a joke, it would be more shocking to advance a boycott of US academics. After all, Bush's regime are responsible for Israel's impugnity to UN Declarations and every form of political and moral pressure. But after more thought I came to the conclusion that it would be best to propose a boycott of US conferences, presses and journals. At least this way, we are offering a sacrifice of our own – in terms of career advancement and peer esteem. I believe Giorgio Agamben has said that he will not visit the USA on similar grounds. Of course that also means sacrificing the option of persuading our US colleagues to be even braver than in many cases they already are in calling for an end to to the unquestioning support of Israel's occupation of miltarily occupied lands, development of weapons of mass destruction, shelling of civilians . . . Reading Arendt's 'Questions of Moral Philosophy' (in her Responsibility and Judgement, incidentally published in New York), my inertia becomes even more oppressive. Is morality, like law, finally about an individual self which in all other intellectual circumstances we both decry and disbelieve? Are we, after all, condemned to the prison of free will?

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Tailights receding

The shapes light makes in memory are subject to a Doppler shift. Clear at the centre, they become beige and blurred towards their peripheries. The very word 'memory' has a way of conjuring natural light. With an effort we can recall fluoresent strips in waiting rooms: the forensic light of testimony. Recall isn't memory. memory wants the past to be warm or bright as if no artifice could match the weather or flame.

But when light is recorded or depicted, then we forgive the artifice of painting and photography, and extend that forgivenness to artifical light. Instead we shift the content of memory from the light source to what it illuminates: Dietrich's face lit and shot by Garmes, or the thread of blue in the milk at the lip of the jug held by Vermeer's housemaid.

Like light that falls through bulls-eye windows or a wineglass, the transformation of light in space, like its translation through time, relieves memory of its obligation to condemn electricity. In such moments we realise that ther only ever partially recoverable image of light we have in mind is secret. It is ours because it cannot be shared, and for that reason is always tinged by a certain sadness. Whereas the light that is transformed in front of our eyes, by whatever trick or tool, is free to share and so liberated from the necessity of naturalising, a process whose goal is always to prove that one is One, and a self.

In the greatest nature poetry there is war against the fatefully personal memory of light ("a May-mess, like on orchard boughs"), a struggle to recall that may be as difficult as to bring to recollection the unemployment office in Deptford on a Tuesday at 11 o'clock in the spring of 1975. For GM Hopkins a similar difficulty frets and frames the 'random grim forge' of Felix Randall, hingeing undoubtedly on the priest's refusal to mourn the death of his unhappy desires, but for all that anchored in the blacksmith's fire and sparks. To bring that light to life and to the light of day was possible only because it mattered. It mattered that it not be lost, but also that it be extracted from the living tomb of personal memory. Poetry like photography is the enemy of memory, where memory sets itself againt communication.

The Flag and the Commandments

It is an attractive notion that the Commander in Chief subscribes to the idea of placing the ten commandments in every public office in the United States, not only because of the injunctio against killing, but because, situated beside the statutory display of the flag, they would pronounce anathema on those who bow down and worship emblems

Emotion and ethics

Emotions can, and indeed should, be distiguished from one another, and with the finest callibration. But emotions are distinguished by their dynamism. As George Bush said, grief turns to anger, and anger turns to what he called 'resolution' and most of us would call revenge. And for most of us, after the first few thousand deaths, revenge would have turned to shame.

On Judith Butler and Ethics

In bereavement as in fury we are beside ourselves. Love and pain are experiences of self-loss and dependence. Embarrassment always requires another's gaze, even if they are imaginary others. The dynamism of emotions runs from person to person. If it did not, we would have no literature. To proivatise an emotion as 'mine' is worse than to take credit for someone else's emotion without taking responsibility for it.

(Pictures of grief, shock, even of love, risk stealing an emotion wwe observers have not deserved. The critical act observes under the condition that the observed is changed by observation, but so too is the observer. The pretence of objectivity is the opposite of ethical. This is why psychology is like a fish]

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Light (2)

The multidimensional mysteries facing the analyst of light in the early 21st century are neither more nor less characteristic of our times than the explorations of Grosseteste or the indications of Newton were to theirs. The answer, the first part of the answer, to the question "What is Light?" is "Light has a history", not only as practice, nor even as an experience, but as an idea. Informing and informed by technologies and techniques, evidence and sensation, light changes.

Sunday, May 27, 2007


What has always repelled materialists from the hermetic tradition is not its whimsy but on the contrary the solemnity with which its priesthood has historically erected ever more complex cathedrals of theodicy and theogeny on the intuition that something 'more' inhabits, locates and frames the givenness of the world. It is sad therefore to note that materialism has often – though not universally – eschewed any address to the sacred. By this I do not mean that materialism in any way fails for lack of a theology, nor that the sacred forms some ontological ground on which the material world is more deeply founded. Rather, what has been often lacking is a commitment to understanding that affect which we recognise under the rubric of sacredness, an elevation beyond not merely the instinctual but also the intellectual pleasures, a yearning apart from the desire for justice, peace and plenty for all. Since the term sacred has, moreover, been tainted by centuries of mouthing in institutions that have done little for justice, peace or plenty, we need another term, one that might displace the materialist reluctance to address affect in general and this affect in particular. I propose a mediological enquiry into the nature of wonder.

(from a review of Siegfried Zielinski's Deep Time of the Media for Leonardo Digital Reviews)


1962: the year of the Cuban missile crisis, also saw the publication of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, the book that launched ecology as a global political movement. In less than fifty years, we have moved from the fear that politicians would annihilate us through their actions to the fear that they will annihilate us through their inaction.

(from "16 Theses on Meteorological Art" for the exhibition The Trouble with Weather at the UTS Gallery, Sydney, June-July 2007)

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

A Mystery Wrapped in an Enigma

It turns out to be harder to get agreement on engineering standards and capabilities of video and digital technologies than, in my naivety, I had expected. Between boosterism and bench-test, even the range of tones between black and white in greyscale is moot. Learning about the edge-finding contrast lines deployed in digital video to boost apparent resolution, the need to balance the different optics – quantum, physical, physiological and neural – has never seemed more pressing.

Mystery is not confined to the infinitessimal fabric of the universe, or to the vast complexity of the brain. It irrupts at the heart of engineering. The kind of obscene familiarity Heidegger so fears in technology depends on a lack of inquisitiveness about every term in the mediation of light, a process which appears less and less to possess anything corresponding to an essence.

(Partial response to

Sunday, May 20, 2007

In memoriam Thierry Kuntzel

there is the awful leaden weight of death over the thought of Heidegger. what is so depressing about it is the absurdity which he gives it: the meaninglessness. I don't mean that deatth is intrinsically meaningful, but that it has many meanings, for specific dyings. And each is embedded in a locale, in a world, among the living and the dying, for whom it means immensely

Thierry Kuntzel's Nostos is currently showing at ACMI in the Beaubourg touring video retrospective. It is a lovely thing, the inhabitance of a room with light, recorded in greyscale, on a bank of (memory supplying details) nine monitors in a 3x3 grid (might be 4x4). They are heritage boxes, and the light trap is excellent, so you are alert to the fading of light, the flare in the camera - which would have been a tube camera, liable to comet tails and saturation - and the sluggish decay of the phosphors in the old tubes, longer and slower than the modern ones, and longer and slower than the simple line scan overwriting a flare of brightness. Because the light trap is so good you're aware of the blaze of light - you are basically in night-vision mode, all rods, few cones, straining after the photons, but when they burst your rods flare out and carry the afterimage.

These beautiful artefacts (as engineers will call them - unexpected or unwanted products of the technology) are integral to the devices it is shown on (I recall seeing a single channel version years ago at the Institut Francais in London, in a dimmed but ambient-lit room, very differently - i recall a blue tone to the image there, but that might be a trick of memory). These screens will eventually lose the capacity to show the work, and it will be reconstructed, in a new form on new screens. With luck it will be around for years to come, transferred to new storage media. Perhaps the archivists will try to register some of these artefacts - tone the screens with an ambient grey to denote, or point towards, the off-black quality of video black back in the day.

The archive of digital materials points us always to the fundamental ephemerality of this seeing, this version, this event, this mounting and staging, this moment of viewing which is so tragically tied to time, but which makes its statement against panic by offering, as the obverse of tragedy, the utterly now.

Kuntzel's Nostos is its own tribute to the way electronic media more perhaps than any other except performance -- which Nostos records in the actions of the woman in the room we see passing light over the walls -- , or the media of everyday interactions, kisses, kindnesses - the way electronic media can, if they wish, announce their own fading as integral to their experience.

In this way Nostos teaches us not to mourn, or to mourn in the knowledge that life is for the living, but dying is for the living too.

(post to empyre list 27 April 07)

Rods and Cones

120 million rods, but only 5, 6 or 7 million cones (depending who you read) in each human eye, the cones concentrated in the fovea centralis, the 0.3mm pit at the focus of the lens. The rods are more sensitive, accented towards blue-green, night vision, motion sensing, peripheral visionand reds ths appear blacker at night. They have a tendency to burn out in bright light. Cones specialise in the RGB range, with an overlap between 'red' and 'green' receptors in the yellow range, which thus appears brightest.

Materialist accounts of light should span the scale from quantum optics to physical optics (refraction etc), and thence to physiological optics and to the brain's handling of light. This scale begins and ends in mystery.

But perhaps there is something to add, in the thesis of the social construction of science as discourse – a process that materialism has its hand in – and in the social nature of perception. The latter emerges from the relative inability of stereoscopic vision to give a clear sense of distance, which requires two pairs of eyes or more to triangulate fully, which in turn may be why, when we see someone staring intently towards something, we follow their gaze to see what they see.

Glove puppet

The fascination of the autonomy of things we count as things: a child's mobile, a falling leaf, even the glove puppet you operate yourself. What is significant is not the Spaltung*, nor the discovery that 'je est un autre**, but the realisation that the Other is a "Je".

* (splitting)
** (I is an other)

Virilio and the iPod

The public arenas of streets, bars, waiting rooms, buses and shops having become saturated with advertising, we retreat into audiobubble that deny commercial access via the ears. [Thus too the commercial success of TV shows on DVD - guaranteed commercial free]. Has the 'public sphere always been commercial: One thinks of Shakespeare's Venice, with the merchants meeting to chat about their argosies, and of the place of Lloyd's List in the history of print news.

iPod adds little to the functionality of an FM Walkman except that hint of democratisation: the random shuffle. The big difference is that the iPod is cit off from live radio. The iPod should then be considered not only spatially but temporally: not only a private bubble in the big city, but a removal from the eternal now of advertising. Th aural universe has much to teach Virilio.

Look After Yourself

Welfare farewell

New Triplets

Import - Export - Deport

conguruent with

Objet - Sujet - Trajet (Virilio, Negative Horizon 79)

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Against identity

In the post-spectacular regime of code, identity is no longer cultural, anchored to a place and to common memories of shared actions. Events, as Karl =Krauss once observed, no longer occur: the clichés operate spontaneously. Today we need to understand cliché as code, and perhaps more disturbingly as statistical aggregate and actuarial likelihood.

Nonetheless national, regional and local cultures persist, but ossified as institutions and institutional histories. Between the poles of indigenous and migrant, and consumer and producer, sits the citizen, who has today become a client, as the state, stripped of those infrastructural elements that might turn a profit, meanders towards the role of service industry for the immiserated. The new client is the aggregate person in whom the calculus of economic rationality has been superceded by the mathematics of probability.

Agamben on Aristotle

"Thought, in its essence, is pure potentiality" (Coming Community 36.7, on the left)

In this case, that thought is peculiarly human (which it may not be, but at least in the sense that it is Symbolic, that is political). This may however be something else, apart from Agamben's poential to not-be (or 'impotence' as the opposite of power, considered as the capability to bring to action), or at least not exclusively, but the potential to be-otherwise – the capacity to mutate and to die; the capacity to re-engineer and to become redundant, rust

[naming the reaper function for technology is a problem, especially given our tendency to industrial archeology and the preservation of watermills, penny scales, hand tools and veteran cars].


That which engenders itself according to its own manner: the dead-labour theory of technology


Science deals with the actual. The task of critique is to address the potential in relation to the actual (Engineering's task is to make the potential actual; arts task is to make the actual potential). Critique's role is
a) to claim that the actual is not necessarily the result of action or of agents
b) to question the notion of action, of right action, and of the capability of actions to be complete, that is to be comprehensible uunder the rubric of the act, and
c) to surmise that accident – that is agency other than right or complete action – is also a capacity of the world.

Id est: the world is not all that is the case (an assertion that more or less requires possible worlds theory) but is all that is potential, all that is actual, and all that, as Agamben claims on the authority of the Patristic tradition, oscillates between both modes.

Friday, May 18, 2007


After a brief respite at the end of the Cold war, once again we contemplate apocalypse, and our cultural forms seem more and more to speak of and to their own ephemerality. The technologies of the new media are as contigent upon built-in obsolescence as the 1950s American cars we ridicule. The storage media we use are increasingly short-lived; the audiences for network, mobile and installation practices are as fickle as the audioences for top ten pop or the daily news.

In these circumstances, audiences can no longer be postponed. We cannot tell ourselves 'posterity will judge us'. The fragilty of the media becomes subject for art, like Douglas Bagnall's Cloud Shape Classifier

Ephemeral communities evolve around distributed artworks, social networks and performances.

Into this nexus we need to add the increasing mobility of the cosmpolitan elites, migrants, homeless, and a culture that ignores or manufactures place and ground, marginalising and mystifying it under the sign of indigeneity.

The dominant response is to embrace the present. The subdominant is to dread the future. Synthesis: to accept the present as virtual, the unique moment in which everything has the potential to become utterly other. This is benjamin's messianic moment, not endlessly deferred but radically undermining the eternal now of the ephemeral.

Transience is distinguished from ephemerality by its embrace of the pressent as the virtual moment of becoming.

Tho ephemrality is a temporal phenomenon, its content is space: the extension of the eternal now. While transince is fundamentally a spatial phenomenon of movement through streets, square, ports, its content is time, the time of change.

Adorno on metaphysics

Adorno: "against scientism, for example Wittgenstein's position that fundamentally consciousness has to do only with that which is the case. That might call forth another definition: metaphysics is the form of consciousness in which it attempts to know what is more than the case, or is not merely the case, and yet must be thought, because that which, as one says, is the case, compels us to do so" (cited in metaphysics: 196)

Materialst reflections on light may form the basis of an ontology of mediation, to whit wonder as mediation's ontological 'experience'.

But mediation fails as ontology so long as it addresses the first and third persons (especially "I" and "it") but does not recognise the second, and subsequently the multiplicity of all three persons

[the multiplicity produced in the object domain by differentiation, the plurality of self as fragmented but much more so in the plural form "we" – in this quasi-ontological enquiry a categorical statement that perception is social in its firstness as much as its thirdness – and critically that "you" is both singular and plural]

If the thical is to work in any usefully material sense, it must be first plural and distinguished from the third person. But by what? Its autonomous movement? Or its capacity to stand face-to-face? A descent into F2F is inappropriate to a century in which it is no longer the fundamental form of human interaction. We live after levinas.

Instead perhaps the multiplication of multiplicity by multiple (and multiplied) others – that the world is not only self-constituting but multiply other-constituted, and that those others who co-constitute the world are in some special sense my others.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

"The Body"

The idea of The Body is curiously enough a product of the age of the masses. Like the defining metonym of the factory hand, theThe Body functioned and indeed still functions metonymically as the pars pro toto. Its mode of abstraction from the material multiplicty of actual bodies is in this rather novel: it no longer belongs to the species, but to the general expressed in the individual, but an individuaity stripped of its specificity in order to reveal, in its unity, the in-difference of the specific.

[There is a task worth undertaking to bring the biomechanics of Anson Rabinbach's The Human Motor together with the Adorno / Agamben theses on survival and bare life – the factory and the camp as poles of modernity as a historical period]


Heisenberg observes two crucial qualities: scale and potential. Relativity deals with cosmic scale and effectively infinite velocity. Newtonian physics agrees with it to the extent that it is remote from either. Likewise quantum mechanics deals with probabilities whose vanishingly small scale nonetheless chimes with Newtonian physics where probabilities begin to aggregate int definites. All that remained was to square the circle of the very large and the very small.

Hios second challenge is to reverse Aristotle by claiming potential, in the form of energy, as the founding quality of the universe: a tendency to become prior to and by no means destined for being as previously understood. We have lived so long on the balcony overlooking this abyss, framed by quantum and cosmic scales, that they have become second nature. And yet it is still hard to go beyond Newtonian/Cartesian duality, especially of subject and object.

Light is the privileged vehicle in which this cultural accomodation can be made.

Gunning on attractions

Gunning's contribution is to defuse the problem of representation by introducing the matter of presentation. In one sense this displaces the politics of representation, which in any case reaches its terminus ad quem in Baudrillard. In another, it raises the grounds on which a politics of mediation might appear.

[Like Barthes' monstration, Gunnings presentation has less to do with the 'society of the spectacle' (tho histoircally of interest in tracing its archeology) and more to do with the realisation that contemporary life is grounded in mediation, before communication and before reference]

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Revenger's Tragedy

The revenge motif: migrates from the colonised to the coloniser. In retrospect, the sins of the colonial fathers always appear as if committed against them, and as the justification for revenge on their victims. This justification of present violence by past affronts constitutes the arrow of time.

Artificial light (1)

Daylight and the video camera travel in opposite directions – but at the same speed.

The Enemy

The phrase 'the media' is mis;leading in as many ways as there are media institutions, media technolgies, media practices and media publics. One might attempt to find a generality that covers all these activities. Or one might refuse the general and accept the multiplicity of what is effectively a collective noun like 'crowd' – or 'enemy'.

Media formations: a failure of theory, which in the end shares philosophy's predilection for the general rule in a world of particulars.


Monochrome and greyscale should also at least gesture towards toning and tinting. Monochromes are not always black. Sepia also shades. And yet perhaps the disciplines are the same.

Virtue (1)

Place together negri's observation that revolt arises from wealth – of intellect, of desire, of knowledge – with Adorno's belief that bare life is the enemy of thought (in his critique of the old joke, 'there are no atheists in the trenches'). Bare life is not a source but a terminus. To the extent that it is the condition of contemporary society, it is terminal. To the extent that it is not there is hope.

The Opposte of Silence

Revenge is the counsel of despair. "Our grief has become anger, and our anger resolution". It is the end of speech.

Light (1)

The study of light entails the largest and the smallest, relativity and quantum mechanics. It also allies to the three zones of biological, psychological and social optics, if we are to migrate from the physics to the chemistry, biochemistry, physiology and psychology of light – a series that suggests a leg-up at each phase, culminating in the tricky premise that psychology is only explicable at the level of the social. It remains to construe the declination of social psychology and the material form in which it occurs: mediation.


The liberal tradition has always understood the unit of human behaviour as the individual; the socialist tradition as some scale of the social. Today we must insist that the unit of human activity is communicative, and for the nonce might be described as community.

In Hardt and Negri this appears as irreducile difference: this is one of the grounds for the communicative, as its absence is for the collapse of communication (see Allen Cameron's and my joint paper in Warren Buckland's forthcoming collection on complex narratives). Elsewhere it will be vital to ground the communicative in a prior ontology: mediation

As heisenberg argues, there's every reason to expect a third leg to the tripod.


For Aristotle, matter was pure potential which, through the acquisition of form (energeia), became actual. By the middle of the 20th century, energy was the univeral potential that takes form as matter. Matter in its turn gambles with complexity.

Human Rights

This would be a more useful expression if we knew what humans are. I see Judith Butler has also written on the incomplete task of becoming human. She, by all accounts, works from / on an ontology of precariousness. On heisenberg's principles, such indefinition may be irresolvable.


Substance – Heisenberg's suggestion for a common term concerning What cannot Be Destroyed in transitions between matter and energy (though he counsels against assimilating it to the substantia of the ancients)

His central argument: we cannot insist that the common usage of words can be refined to an arbitrary degree of mathematical or scientific acuracy; that they slip aside at the very large scales of relatviity or the very small scales of quantum physics.

We needed it to be a German, and a philosophically inclined one at that, to point this out.

100 Year's War

The political dimension of our epoch is a war of succession; from a politics of representation to a politics of communication.

(Even the meaning of the word 'represent' seems to be changing, as when Footsouljahs sing they 'represent for my people', a relationship which is more about giving voice and indeed giving form to a group otherwise excluded from political and reduced to demographic representation


What makes the starlight/moonlight so specific? How does it reach the level of intensity that the bright light of day so rarely does? Is this the subtle side of Minerva's Owl?

A freckle on the skin of time.


Liberalism achieves an elegant certainty as pure as an act of faith when it identifies the rational and ideally informed individual as the element of the polis.

That such an individual does not exist: even Spiderman knows. Desires cannot be tabulated and satisfied: they are complex, social and interminable.


The more I pursue light, the more music fascinates me


Any insufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from banality