Sunday, November 30, 2008


In an era when the face-to-face is typically articulated institutionally (family, workplace), the situation exists for the most part as mediated. So that the situation which confronts us is spectacle. Thus the first ethical imperative is to enter a relation with the media of mediation. Not to identify with, or to treat as transparent, but to confront.

Hence the critical nature of image ethics: there is no 'first' in First Philosophy when everything is always already mediated.

Express Yourself!

"Express yourself! Output some data!'
(Galloway and Thacker, The Exploit, p.41)

Individuality is *more* important in the prosumer than the consumer, where the family was the cogent unit. Individuality – supported by the art-school ideology of creativity considered as self-expression – is the source of data (biometrics, profiles) withoiut which systems like Adsense, Amazon recommendations, Ebay trust registers, iTunes Genius would not function. Consumer discipline has become far heavier in the new form of prosumer discipline, and both less and more like factory discipline. Less, because it has recruited playfulness, once the mark of leisure, as an engine of capitalist expansion; more, because the medium of expression is if anything even more alien, more of a black box, most of all to the 'net generation' who understand nothing as a result of the removal of content generation from any requirement to understand how the internet works. Their familiarity with applications masks their ignorance of what they are made of, how they work, ad who owns and governs them. Shouting for net freedom today is no longer 'free as in free speech', but free as in market (with a little free beer to oil the wheels)

"the digital image is . . ."

To say "the digital image is . . ."is to misunderstand both image and digital. An Image, in some sense, always is not. To the extent that it is an image *of*, it denotes an absence; to the extent that it imagines, it images something non-existent. 'Digital' meanwhile denotes – in relation to images – that they are not themselves, nor representations, but expressions of a numerical matrix. Randomy generated or products of scientific instrumentation (and thence realist), the 'digital' of digital imaging denotes an act of expression which can always be expressed otherwise. Because of the colour gamut and resolution of the host machine; because it can be expressed in different codecs or file types; because it is capable of labelling and bitrot and so unique; while also because it can be willfully or accidentally altered in detail or in whole. These unstable states and their blending – as when we make an idealised portrait or a caricature, or when we alter the convolution algorithms for a satellite observation – have no self-identity. As non-identical, they do not have being: they become.

Saturday, November 8, 2008


Those excluded from the new economy are left to rot, or to make their perilous ways to the immiserated service industries – catering, cleaning and sex – of wealthy cities. The alternative to the commodification of knowlege is to be deprived of it.

The database economy leaves in the gutter those who do not choose to shop in its malls

double jointed

the invisible hand of the market has just proved itself capable of slitting its own wrist.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Precarity (2)

The assumption of precarity on the part of the newly precarious knowledge-worker middle class is expressed, inter alia, as incommensurable or incompossible claims on attention and labour-power. Previously this might have been ansewered (say since the Keynesian 1930s) by the option to manufacture identity through consumption, but now through self-mediation (Web 2.0). (It's notable that consumerism and self-mediation both arise on the shoulders of economic crises).

The innocence thesis – that today the good does not beckon, and that we distinguish only evil and innocence – and hartley's thesis of pedocracy (television especially as the rule that everything should be suitable for children, and audiences should hence see themselves as childlike) are responses to the problem that we neither have a shared or even personal system of ethics, and that we feel decreasingly capable of action, ethical or otherwise. But these reflections are distinctly Eurocentric. Two other mechanisms begin to present themselves as options for the manufacture of selves in the postcolony: a) beating the coloniser at their own game (CLR James on cricket in the West Indies; the current success of Indian art fiction) b) the resort to tradition in Hindutva or post-Suharto Indonesia. The generation of communities round football teams, the persistence of white racism, indicate that these options are only closed to the middle class of Europe, for whom they appear atavistic.

Listening to Donald Preziosi

In tracing a history of the museum, Preziosi in a talk in Melbourne last week spoke of museums 'ostensifying their own mediations', and made a useful distinction between human being and its expression. In more recent years – which he mentioned only briefly – the museum's task has become more specifically archival in the sense that it has as a key function the creation of metadata about its objects. The expression of human being, likewise, is no longer exclusively through the ostentation of things (clothes, watches, phones . . .) but our constitution as data. It is striking that this continuation of the trajectory of dematerialisation extends the commodification Preziosi identified in the ironic juxtaposition of shared fascination with the Great Exhibition on the part of both Queen Victoria and karl marx. In our age, the dematerialisation Marx witnessed in commodity fetishism no longer masquerades in 'the fantastical guise of objects' but as pure data. This dematerialisation is then even more powerfully placed to usurp the position of the immaterial.

Saturday, November 1, 2008


To paraphrase Arendt (Responsibility and Judgement, 111), the greatest evil is committed by no-one. Today the Good has vanished and we live in the era when evil is opposed only by innocence. But innocence is only the alibi of of a systemic evil for which no-one takes responsibility, of which no-one is agent. Each of us 'needs' a car, 'has no alternative', respects the 'rights' of shareholders. At every level the alibi persists, while millions die – innocently. Only if they protest, with arms, against their deaths, do they lose their innocence and become either victims or evil. Innocence is so deeply ensconced – from the paedocracy of television (Hartley) to the construction of paedophilia as the ultimate evil – that we are come to the idiot moment where all of us claim to be either children or villains. For the children among us there is only wide-eyed surprise at the results of our inaction – for lack of action and action without consequence is the prerogative of infants – while the handful of genuine villains confront their own despair, as did Saul. A world in which we must be either nietzschean aristocrats or Eichmanns is not a world

Friday, October 31, 2008

Two aphorisms in search of their authors

I've quoted these so often, and I can't find the source: any ideas?

"The sentimentalist is he who would enjoy without incurring responsibility for the thing enjoyed" (This comes from somewhere in Joyce, but for some reason I believe it originates with Meredith).

"Nowadays events no longer occur: the clichés operate spontaneously" (I believe this is from Karl Krauss. I used to use it as a definition of structuralism, but it applies to almost any late 20th century thought)

Against Wittgenstein

What is essential in any given situation is what is not the case. And this in at least two senses. 1. What cannot be made into a statement of the case, abstracted from its complexity of relationships and from change 2. What in the present moment is no longer or not yet. What is, is a result of what preceded it, but what is excludes whatever in its past did not eventuate. That order of the past, the past as it is unfulfilled in the present, is essential to the present for the same reason that what is not yet the case is essential: because both open up the inessential nature of what is the case. The uneventuating past persists in the present as the roads not taken, resources for the present's unique property, which is that it is alone the moment in which it is possible to act. The not-yet is equally essential, not only because it empties the present of plenitude, but because it is in the future, not the present, that actions have their consequences.

This ontology – a virtual ontology – implies an epistemology: knowledge is constituted in discourses which present what is the case, that is the inessential, abstracted and removed from the capacity for action. "Truth", for want of a better word, concerns the essential otherwise, both preceding and proceeding from the present. At a similar juncture, badiou proposes the third term of philosophical concern as the subject, noting that unless engaged in truth, "there is only existence, or individuality, but no subject" (Manifesto 108). I would rather say the third task is action, both ethical and political, seeing them on a spectrum as they were for Aristotle, from the good life to the realm of action (recognising their distinction but believing that the difference is sublated in the question of how action is possible).

This ontology nulls the subject-object distinction, restricting it to the status of knowledge. Inside the question of ethics is the question 'what is an agent?' and the implicit answer that agency requires that the individual be overcome by its mediations (complex relationships in states of change). The question of the subject is posterior to the question of agency. It is restricted to the question of ethics, the good life. Ethical action may be possible, at least within certain horizons, for the individual subject: I can live a good life, I can avoid self-contradiction. Political agency is not possible for individuals. In the polis, it is not the actors but the network that has agency, a network that is the virtual essence of the situation, one which incorporates all Others: human, natural and technological.

To subsist is the task of farming, architecture and medecine. To exist is the task of science. To persist – to come to the capacity to act – is the task of education. Action itself is mediation: the arrival of the unforeseen on the basis of all that has happened - and that has not happened.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

About this blog

The idea was to write short, snappy memos. It became a place for thoughts generated in the short moments in a crowded schedule when real writing wasn't an option. Now my notebook is full of new fragments. An oddity: I never thought this would matter, it would be a diary I could access on the road. Google ensures that, as a Google app, it comes up high on a search for my name. Good side: hearing from old friends. Bad side: memos to self are public. Density of expression useful for the note form can be aphoristic but also cryptic, rebarbative, and open to criticism. Good side (2): getting smart comments. Including the occasional flame. Everyone lives in public. It's just a shame that publication under current conditions is commodified, so much that honesty flies out, and wearing a mask is the current form of the integral spectacle at the personal level.

Thursday, August 21, 2008


Pseudo-interaction is when we do something and a machine is constrained to respond. True interaction occurs when a machine responds autonomously.

(This is the minimum we expect of interpersonal interaction)

synthetic animation

a) distinguish synthetic animation from indexical animation. In indexical animation, there is a source, a data-stream, which the infographic animates as a representation. In synthetic animation the source is a series of gestures which are read as commands
b) a synthetic animation is a record of gesture-commands which erases its own history in the concluding command 'Flatten layers'

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Democracy and affect

Democratisation would appear to imply standardisation: for everyone to enjoy luxuries, they have to be mass produced. The secrets of the great masters remain safe (Rembrandt's blacks, memling's azure), as they always were, the proprietary knowledge of an arcane guild system. Such too remains the case, as I learned in conversation with Elaine Shemilt, in the field of silk-screen printers' inks, and such may well be the case with with certain digital photographic printing techniques.

A different case holds for something like Rhythm 'n' Hues' fur algorithm: available for the use of only the top-end productions (Narnia, Kong), but as end-product democratically available to anyone who cares to watch the movies featuring it.

Democratisation means we all get a taste of luxury, but a luxury which travels in two directions and is devalued in each. In one, we plebs get access to the RnH fur algorithm in KK and Lion Witch; in the other, high culture loots the supermarkets of the popular, and discovers in varieties of pop and neo-pop (Paolozzi, Koons, yBa) only an inauthenticity.

What happens now – 2008 – is something like this.
A: migrants and the reserve army of the un- or/ marginally employed suffer the precariousness of life at the edge, and develop cultural forms to see them through the experience
B: a parallel experience occurs - but with far less risk of loss of life or liberty - as old professionals and skilled working class are managerialised, and as older patronage systems are replaced by markets
C: in this new displacement, not only does the old bourgeois culture no longer offer the same securities; but subjectivity, which has always been its its key product since the invention of the novel, evaporates as a centring repository of experience
D: At this juncture the newly managerialised "precariat" upload the cultural forms of the truly disprivileged]

The lost authenticity of experience among the cosmopolitan elite, as the social fraction which most feeds the cultural system of the newly managerialised, is replaced by the loot from the underclass: suburban boys listening to hip hop. This falsely assumed authenticity, which in its assumption becomes ironic and inauthentic, becomes the new high culture. That high neo-pop aesthetic is then democratised back to those from whom it was expropriated in the first place.

The evacuation of subjectivity is a result of its invention, in Romanticism and the 18th-19th century novel, and its industrialisation in Hollywood and Tin pan Alley. This triumphal subjject, theorised in depth from hegel to Husserl, is the terminus ad quem, the end to which experience tends, the locus therefore of truth. But it is the under-remarked fact that this subject had to be invented, and more specifically the social consequence sof its invention, that eventually betrays those who have bought into it most deeply: the middle class and the labour aristocracy. These were the ones who had the deepest buy-in to colonisation, as Wallerstein argues, but also into a worldview which their masters did not need to believe, merely to promulgate. This was the class or social fraction that bought in to subjectivity without irony, and as a result are the most betrayed by its collapse when it becomes clewar that they are not valued for their subjectivity but for their functions. This is the class that receives and delivers Gauri Viswanathan's Eng Lit, Angel Rama's myth of the enlightened mestizaje.

The myth of subjectivity is premised on its initial construction. Whatever raw materials pre-exist this modern subject, their construction as that subject turned out to be the very ones required to turn it into a commodity, or rather to be the terminal point for the consumption of subjectivities, which could now be manufactured on demand, and in increasing numbers, but according to only a most primitive roster of affective states. It is these states that are the nub of the standardisation of democracy as surrogacy and as inauthenticity. Perhaps the most alluring of all such states is the most intrinsically contradictory: the popularisation of the aristocratic attitude that Wyndham Lewis ascribed to Nietzsche. Today that emerges as the democratisation of elitism, where elitism is the state of mind that looks down from a height on the little people, a vantage which is promulgated through the worst and best of our fictions, from Troy to The Wire.

Sunday, August 3, 2008


Our technologies are decreasingly isolable. They demand energy grids or other forms of consumables (oil, proteins), and articulate with expensive and energy-intensive networks (railways, roads – as an oil source, asphalt will rapidly become a site of competition between road builders and road users, its price growing from 37 cents a litre in January to over 55 cents in June and nearly 68 cents on 1st July 2008 and almost 25 per cent over the year). A car without a road is only marginally less conceivable than a computer without a network, or a human without a society.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

While listening to Ihab Hassan

Against the hypothesis of inner life, which is the epiphenomenon of signal processing: my inner life is no more relevant to my life as a medium than is the inner life of a TV set. We are more complex than TV sets only to the extent that what we process becomes part of our circuitry. This is also why we delay processing inputs, with outputs sometimes only emerging after decades of processing. In an increasingly ephemeral mediascape, however, where reflection (processing) is instantaneous and affective rather than pondered and intellectual, we are less translators who mutate our inputs, and more like the telegraphic signal repeaters with which young Tom Edison started his inventor's career: booster stations who merely amplify signals, as when we forward an e-mail we have scarcely glanced at. Under such conditions we are more transmitters than translators. The difference between these positions concerns the greater or lesser possibility for misunderstanding, the misunderstanding on which evolution is based, the misunderstanding in which a phrase, an image, an idea mutate into something other than what they were when they arrived.


The black strip dividing film frames, the between-two-images, the momentary darkness, is not transcendental but negation. First image: thesis; framestrip: negation; second image: negation of the negation. But this is incomplete as a description because we begin in a darkness of which the first image is a negation, but which already instills the expectation of its own negation, and of the negation of that negation. To this extent, cinema is not perceptual but apperceptual, involving memory and expectation. Cinema is not perceived but apperceived.

The case is somewhat different with electronic images.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

A thesis on the historical process

The history of colour suggested in a paper late last year on democracy and the mathematicisation of colour and revisited in a different context in a paper for the Society for Animation Studies conference in July develop an idea which is still inchoate but worth thinking: that perhaps there is a trajectory to trace from the semantic hierarchies of colour in the late mediaeval/early renaissance, through the dialectic of physical and perceptual accounts of vision in the 18th and 19th centuries, mediated by the replicability of colour required to standardise the industrial production of aniline dyes, via their pro-tem resolution in the use of Quettelet's statistical method to construct a 'standard observer' in the Commission Internationale sur l'Eclairage (CIE) of 1931, and finally to the establishment of Pantone colour matching in 1963.

Would this suggest that the biopolitical account which the CIE's history seems to demand (see Sean F Johnston's excellent history) is a moment in the history that resolves, after centuries of debate (on optics) and difficulty (in colorimetry), in the commodification of colour? Even given the divergence of dyes and pigments from lighting systems, dyes become vitally important in the manufacture of monitor screens and digital projectors and return to an integrated industry. Is the purpose of this passage simply to arrive at a commodifiable coneption of colour – to abstract colour, colour perception and the relations between illumination and coloured surfaces – only to turn it into exchange value? Or is there another twist in the tale to come?

Against Blindness

The history of darkness underpins the history of illumination. That the Lunar Society called itself so, among the enlightened of the west midlands, because they could only meet on nights of the full moon when there was light enough to get home. Memories of nights too dark to see: Dartmoor, Auchterarder, Waterville . . .The dark still existed, even in overlit Britain.

Dust in the projector beam
Scratches on windows
Smears on mirrors
The mote in your eye

The maculation of vision is permanent, as integral to sight and to the mediation of vision as light itself. To complain about codecs is as futile as to complain about the acuity of your own eyes?

And yet: one of the great reasons to undertake this work is the weighty metaphor of blindness: the blind hand of the market, the sightless measurements of social physics, the "denigration" (unfortunate term) of vision. To restore to sight, and by implication to the senses, their place in the world, antagonists of its mathematicisatiomn, immaterialisation and spatialisation.


A cicada has made its home under our deck. Perhaps it likes the sounding box, as it rubs its hind legs together in this rhythmic chant, too fast for a human ear to truly register. He repeats endlessly "My song is so lovely. You must love me". He is a siren, at least in his own mind. As winter comes, his song will fade, with longer gaps between shorter trills, but he will not stop. Is there a lesson here for the antiquarian in pursuit of a beauty that can be communicated?

Friday, May 2, 2008

Re-reading Flusser

The inert nothingness that exercises heidegger under the name of Death is not at all human, still less individual. (I die, you die, we do not die). The inert physics of inorganic nature needs organic life to reverse its entropy. But it doesn't need life as such but what life implies, communication, because communication adds complexity where entropy simplifies.

(As a footnote here, efficiency is entropic while democracy is both inefficient and negentropic)

At the universal scale, entropy wins. Tis is the truth underlying the unknowable Ding-an-sich in Kant. Things in themselves are not knowable (and incommunicable, ie sublime) to the extent that they are entropic, and therefore not congruent with negentropic knowledge, where knowledge is defined as what is actually or potentially communicable.

(A second footnote: those who quell communication are on the side of inert nature, of the universal, the sublime; and against the human and life in general, which are communication in its material form as media)

Friday, March 28, 2008

Frege at Lake Coleridge

Zero, Frege argued, is the logical opposite of what exists and is present; zero is the non-identical. Black is of the same quality. In its sheerest state, the absence of all radiant or reflected light, it is pure non-existence. Like zero, it has no logical existence: it too is non-identical. In this way, we arrive at the critical definition of black as potential, black as virtual, black as that which does not exist but which, as the negation of light, has the capacity to be realised, even if that capability is never brought to fruition. In this extreme moment of light, which we can only ever approach but not reach, all the paradox of light emerges, and better still, not simply paradox but contradiction.

The Difficulty of Saying Things

The core problem is how to make a statement that is neither excessively particular and antiquarian nor excessively abstract and theoreticist. A first step in confronting this difficulty is to rid ourselves of Heideggerian essentialism: to speak not of what seeks to reveal itself but of how the action of revealing is truly an action, one that moves outside the normative processes which under capitalism standardise any successful technological innovation, usually at the lowest aceptable (to the consumer) and most profitable (to the manufacturer) specification. An action worthy of the name is a transformation in which both the material and the technique in which it meets the actor, and the actor too are all transformed. No essence then but a dialogue, a dialectic, a breaking asunder mutually of what is most and least essential: human polis, techné and physis. There is an actual history of normativity, and a virtual history of creativity.

Dimly as yet there emerges a critique of terminal philosophies – those based on the terms of relationship rather than on relationship itself; against for example Schopenhauer's "The World is my idea" as much as the positivism of engineers. Against the devastation which destroys any future – by an Act of God like a tsunami, or by corporate plan – creativity proposes events worthy the name, which virtualise (rather than actualise or normalise). The specific is the medium of history even when it is the ejecta of History, even and perhaps especialy when lionised in the work of a Master (Rembrandt, Cézanne). The specific should be the common lot: that it is not is a fundamental question for the history and philosophy of media. How has mediation been terminated.

Sunday, January 27, 2008


I don't believe in God but I do believe in angels.

One great inspiration is Rilke's Duino Elegies. But as I started to write, I found that the copy I used to have has gone. It was a nice book. It was very thin, a littlePengun Modern European Poets, but it belonged to Charles Lambert, a wonderful gay poet I went to college with, now a tranlsator, whose sister I once lodged with in a little, very smelly council flat in London. Don't get me wrong, very clean,. but she had a tomcat which she refused to spay, and which wouldn't venture outdoors because the rest of the estate cats were twice its size and armed to the teeth. So she used to bathe in a very strongly scented bath oil that permeated the place permanenetly with a mixture of tomcat and pinefresh chemicals. It was their parents' copy of the book, and had been rescued from a devsatsting fire. Almost everything they owned had gone up in smoke (though their father, who was dramatically affected with Altzheimer's, never realised, and would constantly look for things that had gone in the flames). Only the books, which had been squeezed tight in their shelves, so tightly they wouldn't burn, had made it. This copy was smoke blackened, with water stains throughout at the edges of pages. But it made it. Alson thinks our friend Dymphna probably took it back to England, because we had a great maudlin evening once here at home, she and I, talking about just this issue of angels.

At the time I was writing what is now a chapter of a book, a chapter devoted to Sam Peckinpah. You probably know that Peckinpah is famously a very violent director of very violent films, a tortured man who claimed all sorts of histories in the Old California which he had never known, and who said the only technologies worth having were a six gun and a movie camera. In one of his films, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, Bob Dylan plays a minor role and also sings one of my favourite songs on the soundtrack. The chapter began writing itself some years ago when I was asked to contribute something to a conference on Bob Dylan in memory of Bob Shelton. Bob was one of Dylan's biographers, a larger than life character who, for reasons I never understood, quit his seminal role in the East Village scene to live in Brighton. His bio is a lovely book, full of personal memories of the folk club scene in New York back in the early sixties, a secene which, to my amazement, included as prominent figures and pals of Dylan's, the Clancy Brothers, a rather stage Irish group specialising in Irish songs that my Dad always loved. We had two of their LPs in the house as I was growing up. I know, even now, every word of every song, not just because of the records, but because Dad useed to sing them, in the car as often as not, along with his own repertoire of traditional ballads and music hall songs. And I had the fondest memories of Bob, massive, generous man that he was, singing Dylan songs in the flat of an old girlfriend in Bloomsbury, and arguing over the relationships between the Grateful Dead and holocaust denial or something equally bizarre with a book seller who, at the time, was hot on the trail of an Audubon.

Audubon was an artist who painted the most exquisite images of North American birds, and printed them in a huge and exquisite book.There are nine copies in existence, three in Russia, and it is the most expensive book in the world, according to the Guinness Book of Records. Alan, the bookselller, had found a dealer who knew someone in Petersburg with an avenue to someone who might be willing to establish a consortium and sell one of the three Russian copies of the book. I have to say, Bob and I both thought the whole deal stank, and that it was likely to lead Alan into some seriously bad company. But this was in the days before the internet, and Alan was confident it would all happen. Of course it didn't. And then poor old Bob upped and died. I still have a couple of his articles, one on Roots, the other on the Grateful Dead, in a German journal of American Studies called Stars und Träume, Stars and Dreams. It was that phrase, and the strange set of consequences linking the East Village circa 1962, my old dead dad, Russia in the moment immediately before the collapse of socialism, the task I'd set myself of talking about Peckinpah's movie at a Dylan conference in Liverpool in 1999 and Audubon's exquisite birds. Wings.

Rilke's angel is a messenger. The power and awe the angel inspires derives from two aspects - that the angel is not, and is more than, human, and that the angel communicates between two worlds, two incommensurable orders of being.

The co-presence of different worlds is mysterious. But there are analogies with human experience. The French psychoanalyst Lacan has, as the title of one of his seminars, the phrase 'être-ange', literally 'being angel', a phrase that, when spoken, sounds like 'étrange', stange. One translation refers to 'the angel of the odd', doubling Lacan's angel with the famous one by Paul Klee so memorably described by Walter Benjamin as being driven backwards out of paradise by a storm called progress.

In the end, all I managed to say was that Dylan (described in one of Allen Ginsberg's poems as angelic) has two roles, on the soundtrack and as a character, that almost never touch, except at one odd incidental moment when the lyric and the action match. I wanted to say that here two worlds intercepted. And that in a certain sense, their interchange was at once angelic - a dialogue of incommensurable universes, different dimensions – and mundane.

Because at the heart of my ideas and my idea of myself is a belief in beauty. Rilke's angel is, on the other hand, a figure of the sublime. The difference, for me, is between what is communicable - beauty - and what is beyond speech and understanding, and therefore beyond humanity, beyond change, and beyond history: the sublime. I am on the side of beauty, the changeable, the common, the sharable, beauty for which human beings have to take responsibility. I think I'm on the side of the angels, but maybe the angels are on no side at all, but in the interstices between what's understood and what isn't. My angels are not the voices of an eternal verity. They are the voices of what doesn't exist yet.

My angels come, not from eternity, not from what exists before all time, but from what does not exist at all, from the future. To that extent, my job, as a thinker, writer, teacher, and across all my life, is to bring angels into existence.