Thursday, November 19, 2009

Post-Cartesian Community, Post-Kantian Cosmopolitanism

Strikes me that the immense sprawl of the working paper After Tolerance will detain people too long: here's the conclusion to save on download time: as Brian Holmes smartly expressed it, the idea of the piece is to give ANT a push witth the help of Rancière

Rancière's concept of the political as constituted by its exclusion points to just the same phenomenon of incompleteness, of non-identity of the putative universal, which draws market traders to the market's lack in being. But because culturalists, sociologists and political philosophers cling to the concept of identity – gendered, regional, cultural, ethnic, sexual but always already biological – they have deep problems understanding the radical challenge posed by environmental politics, which not only challenges where the political ends, and what constitutes the universe of universalism, but the founding difference which claims their loyalty, the difference between humans and anything else whatever. The cost of constructing human identity is the refusal of political, social, cultural existence to what is different: the machinic and natural phyla. As a result, we have no basis on which to recognise or dialogue with the world, only a vaguely felt and expressed desire to take responsibility for it, to speak in its place, to represent it. In this we succumb to that politics of 'raising awareness' which Jodi Dean (2005) has so assiduously shown to be a sham form of communication under conditions of communicative capitalism.

The only way to rid politics of its foundational evil is to open it to the non-human. In this alone is there hope for a political economy which is truly different from the present, and only in such difference is there the possibility of hope. The post-Cartesian community, stepping beyond both identity and the rule of private property which it derives from and supports, is the basis for a post-Kantian cosmopolis, one where the destiny of growth is not pre-destined, because the cosmopolis is not exclusive to any one species, any more than it s to any one identity, even that of the universal law, universal knowledge, or a universal God. A cosmopolis of differences that make a difference, and in difference creating the possibility that there may be some later state of affairs. In the first instance, the challenge for internet political economy is to reveal and release the natural and technical (ancestral) participants excluded from both wealth and citizenship. Only in such radical steps will the possibility of a human future be made possible, and a goal beyond the tyranny of instrumental reason and cash. We might begin with the only tribe who have a passion equal to Knorr Cetina's traders, the hackers celebrated by Parikka (2007) and Mackenzie (2006). We have yet to discover the passion that will make the green world integral to the problem of a new political economy of the internet.

A fundamental question, in this framework, is whether the play we witness in social networks constitutes a demand for a political subjectivity, or indeed, extending the argument by analogy to the economic sphere, for an economic subjectivity. The peer-to-peer movement is clearly articulated as a new economics, and intrinsically a new politics, but in instances like Facebook it would appear not to be. A condition of subjectivity is to be aware – aware of the relations one has entered into. Such awareness may not be a property of immersion into social networks (just as loss of self-awareness is characteristic of immersive experiences (since at least the dawn of silent reading memorialised in Augustine's Confessions [1961: Book 6, Chapter 3, 113-5], when the students hesitated to disturb the deeply ruminating St Anselm, immersed in the texts of the Fathers of the Church. Such stillness is, in Rancière's terms, a turn away from action and the political, and perversely an acceptance of the chaos from which it withdraws). Awareness is characterised by demand: by a demand for something which is not on offer. The demand for inclusion is only part of this: the demand is for a realignment of the Good for the purpose of which the political exists in the first instance. This demand is not, one suspects, integral to facebook, but is integral to P2P networks, and to the SLOC (small, local, open, connected) model proposed by Ezio Manzini (2009). Such models, to the extent that they are practiced already, are gateways, not roads: the whole point about the future is that it is unknown (unlike the present we know and the past we know about). An administered future – of risk management and five year plans alike, is no future at all. A political future is not constituted by 'emerging markets' (what else might they emerge as?) but by the unforeseeable demands of the excluded for a new polity, which must be achieved in the context of struggle with the old that renews, radically, its presuppositions, including its ethical basis. Since we cannot help but think ahead, we plan, but plan for what is genuinely unknown and unforeseeable. So a future which is imaginable, but not administered out of existence. Imagine: a world of communication between the phyla . . . .

Workplace media

Our key media of the 21st century are fundamentally spatial. Though it is still a truiism of film and video studies that the mainstream media are dominated by narrative and illusion, the truly dominant media of the early 21st century are geographical informatio systems (GIS), spreadhseets and databases. These workplace media operate by spatialising time. Where once voyagers recorded their journeys as narratives, the early imperial navigations turned to a more schematic system of recording space, turning to the grid of longitude and latitude to create a globe which already contained the unexplored regions of the Southern hemisphere. This level of control increased incrementally, through the Ordnance Survey's addition of contour lines among other features, until, with the introduction of ZIP codes in 1963, mapping could be associated not only with physical but with sociological information. This basic zoning tool could then be associated with such other datasets as census returns, and the move to geographical information systems commenced. The history of the spreadsheet is a denser one but covers a similar history. The critical move came in the migration from the double-entry ledger to the electronic spreadsheets, which no longer carried the residual chronological ordering that paired accountancy with narrative. That move had been achieved rather earlier in bureaucratic record keeping, with the invention of the vertical filing cabinet by Edwin Seibels in 1898 (and the slightly earlier innovation of horizontal filing systems). Again, the ledger had retained some aspects of temporal ordering, especially in terms of how searches were to be conducted. The filing cabinet spatialised these searches, allowing quasi-random alphabetical and numerical searches, as well as the use of 'metadata' such as labelled drawers to isolate files of particular interest. Te database completed this spatialisation of data, separating, for example, biographical from geographical, financial from medical records, but allowing for cross-referencing. These three instruments, GIS, spreadsheets and databases, express and enable the managerialisation of society noted by Foucault and subsequent scholars. These spatialising tendencies correspond with the arithmetic drive in digital media. The grid, and the arithmetical nomenclature for colour distinctions, identify points rather than continua, ideally replicable entities excluding both semantic reference and temporal change.

Snatched from a chapter drafted for Resolutions 3: Video Praxis in Global Spaces edited by Ming-Yuen Ma & Erika Suderburg.

The draft chapter has discussions of some favourite video and animation work of the last few years. It argues that these and other examples from Robert cahen, Daniel Crooks and Susan Collins among others escape the confines of the cartesian grid and begin to create new orderings of space, or disturb the grid by bringing in time. Those with a good web presence are:
458nm, Jan Bitzer, Ilija Brunck and Tom Weber, Filmakademie Baden Würtenberg / Polynoid, Germany, 6 mins 54 sec, 2006,
Asparagus, Suzan Pitts, US, 20 mins, 1979,
Ryan, Chris Landreth, National Film Board, Canada, 13 mins 54 sec, 2004,
The Tale of How, The Blackheart Gang, South Africa, 4 mins 29 sec, 2006,