Sunday, October 6, 2013


The last localism, that of the body, has already been invaded by DNA mining among indigenous peoples. In the wealthy West, the rich already treat their bodies as alien environments to be protected from unruly immigrations of pollution and illness. There is an increasing democratisation of body modification, a process that converts body parts into property ('I don't like my nose'). As we have begun to express a concern with stewardship over the external environment, we hear almost the same language used to describe a relationship – how can we have a relationship? – with our bodies: looking after the body, grooming the body, feeding the body the right foods and drugs. This is as far from a Socratic care of the self as we can imagine. Not only the human biomass, the object of epidemiology, but the individual bodies that compose it have become alien environments to be inhabited, tended as necessary, exploited where possible.

From 'Privations, Secretions', a talk at the Biomediations symposium at Goldsmiths organised by Joanna Zylinska: the videos now online at

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Research Methods

As statistical average, the night sky is dark: what fascinate us are the unique properties of those twinkling exceptions, but we only fully understand the stars if we appreciate their bright particularity against the great abstraction of the night

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Against the Cult of Hitchcock

I can no longer resist putting this out: a tirade cut from The Cinema Effect on

the wildly overrated work of Hitchcock, whose manipulative tendencies took the total film to new heights of totalitarianism in The Birds, Vertigo, Marnie and Psycho. Hitch is cinema's Judas: he makes his films out of virtuoso playing on the cinematic apparatus, but on themes of profound misanthropy which come to their peak in the vile Frenzy, perhaps one of the first films to revel in its own irrationalism at the expense of humanity. Even the adulation would not matter, were it not that Hitchcock's Olympian style, his Nietzschean-aristocratic ethics of entitlement, in its haughty disdain for audience, producers and actors alike, seems to define what cinema can do as autonomous machine, and to do so falsely. In this way, Hitchcock's carreer follows with more precision than anyone else's the loss of innocence that overcame the cinema at the end of the 1940s. His English films of the 20s and 30s, given their dark subtexts, are nonetheless charming, at times erudite, at times frothy, frequently experimental. As his first American film, Rebecca not so much loses innocence as mocks it. That cynicism may be a legitimate response to the then-new triumph of the consumer commodity, but in its absolute claims for itself as the purest mode of film, it sells out the cinema at the moment in which the money-lenders most needed to be removed from the temple, and a rare moment in which that might have been possible.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The War on War

The world's leaders hum and hah over the Ba'ath assault on its own population with chemical weapons because chemical warfare has been a platform of UK and US weaponry at least since 1991 and deployed in the Gulf and in the Balkans in hundreds of tons. Many of us want to believe that Obama is a decent man, trying to do right in a wrong world. So perhaps he can't stomach the hypocrisy. Depleted uranium is not 'chemical' in only the most bureaucratic sense: it's nuclear, but it interacts chemically at the cellular level. Given testimony like Malcolm Hooper's 1999 lecture on the aftermath of Gulf war uranium shelling, the US Dept of defense and its UK equivalent waited till 2008 to make any kind of admission, and then only in the most guarded language, and in relation to their own forces, not the civilians still living where the material (half-life 4bn years) is. As Rob Nixon writes, this slow violence never figures in accounts of the 'surgical' strike and the 'hundred hours war', reported as spectacle and celebration, vaunted as humanitarian.

JFK's war on poverty was such a success that Reagan decided to wage a war on drugs. When that was such a huge success, Bush declared a war on terror. Today it seems the US is ready to declare war on war. God help us all.

Friday, August 16, 2013

The Quantum Crowd

from a chapter called "Defining the Public in Piccadilly Circus" for a forthcoming collection on public screens and transnational cultures edited by Nikos Papastergiadis and Scott McQuire.

The public that threatened in the early 20th century to become mass became instead the lonely crowd, and the lonely crowd in turn has become a circuit of managed desires no longer adding up to individuals. When Laclau (2005) describes the unit of populist politics as demands, he approaches an understanding of this new condition, where the units are neither social nor individual but desires in movement, unanchored from biography and mobilised in currents through the tides of quotidian human affairs. The process by which communities and extended families were reduced to the nuclear family of the classic consumer society of Keynesianism continued in the Bretton Woods era to produce as unit of consumption the atomised individual. Neo-liberalism, coinciding with personal computing, internet and mobile media, encouraged the break-up of the individual, just as the previous regime encouraged the break-up of the nuclear family in an epidemic of divorce. Now only unanchored desires function as sub-individual social particles. We have moved from the molecular family to the atomic individual and thence to the quantum dynamic of desire, at which point the art of managing desires takes over from politics as the conduct of public life.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Abundance of the Seas

from the late Professor [Thomas] Huxley

"I believe it may be affirmed with confidence that, in relation to our present modes of fishing, a number of the most important sea fisheries, such as the cod fishery, the herring fishery, and the mackerel fishery, are inexhaustibleAnd I base this conviction on two grounds. First, that the multitude of these fishes is so inconceivably great that the number we catch is relatively insignificant; and secondly, that the magnitude of the destructive agencies at work upon them is so prodigious that the destruction effected by the fishermen cannot sensibly increase the death rate . . . I believe, then, that the cod fishery, the herring fishery, the mackerel fishery, and probably all the great sea fisheries are inexhaustible; that is to say, that nothing we do seriously affects the number of fish. And any attempt to regulate these fisheries seems, consequently, from the nature of the case, to be useless" ('The Abundance of the Seas', New York Times, November 17, 1895)

No-one makes an assumption of that kind any more, not after the catastrophic decline of fish populations in the North Atlantic and elsewhere. Except when it comes to the pillaging of human creativity, sentimentally deemed to be an equally inexhaustible resource. Hmmm.

Monday, July 8, 2013


The difference between the nuclear industry and a murderer: a murderer kills occasionally, and with malice.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Against Bataille

another cut from the Millennium essay

Waste is not a by-product of consumerism: it is integral to it. The resurrection of Georges Bataille's (1988) 'solar economy' of waste and excess is no longer viable as a critical perspective, because we live in a political economy which is more than excessive and wasteful: a system that has become suicidal, premising its inhuman accumulation of wealth and obsessive growth on the demolition of the very planet (and its populations) on which it depends. The popular cinema of eco-apocalypse echoes with Benjamin's early warning,

Humankind, which once, in Homer, was an object of contemplation for the Olympian gods, has now become one for itself. Its self-alienation has reached the point where it can experience its own annihilation as a supreme aesthetic pleasure (Benjamin 2003a: 270)

Films like The Day After Tomorrow (2004) or World War Z (2013) instruct us in how to contemplate our species' extinction with something bordering delight; and even a documentary like An Inconvenient Truth can breed a certain perverse joy in watching the destruction finally unleashed, and the guilty pleasure of knowing, as the last lights go out, that we were right all along. The spectacle of annihilation, like that of waste and excess, is alluring. If we refuse to succumb to integral waste, we must either unpack that allure in critique, or create alternatives to it.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Narcopolitics and the suicidal drive of neo-liberalism

excised from a piece I'm writing for Millennium Film Journal's 35th anniversary issue

As Baudrillard wrote,
When the two towers collapsed, one could feel that they answered the suicide of the kamikazes by their own suicide. It has been said: "God cannot declare war on Itself". Well, It can. The West, in its God-like position (of divine power, and absolute moral legitimacy) becomes suicidal, and declares war on itself (Baudrillard 2001).
9/11 made visible the suicide enacted by neo-liberalism and its symbolic twin towers. The suicide of the bombers is no different from the trajectory of neo-liberal consumerism. The death of nature is not an act of murder: it is a symptom of another malaise, species suicide, conducted at the level of species by agents – corporations – that have already ex-corporated their humanity and uploaded their consciousness to corporate databases, no longer buffeted by wind and rain but only by the vagaries of chaotic markets they no longer wish to understand or control. The stupidity of fracking, of Arctic oil extraction, of nuclear facilities, of arming all sides in proxy wars, even the immense assault on the global poor is not in itself genocidal because it is integral to the suicide pact capital has signed with itself: to eradicate the world it is built on in order to ensure its own self-murder.

The silence of the silent majority is now punctuated by the murder-suicides of despairing cast-offs of the corporate system, banging away with Wallmart guns at whatever attracts their rage, in this emulating what destroys them, before making the futurological sacrifice, a signpost to the teleology of neo-liberalism , by turning the gun on themselves. America does not need imported terrorists: these lost souls perform the ritual of terror for them, protected and encouraged by the corporate lobby.

We speak of 'state terror' but even the worst states enact in haste what corporations enact at leaisure, and then only in cahoots with the corporations that pay for governments, often in the currency of the very arms they use to terrorise their populations. We should instead speak, like Rob Nixon, of the slow violence, the slow terrorism, of debt, despair and drugs (prescribed as well as illegal)

Narcopolitics is at the forefront of the suicidal economics of integral waste. Not content to treat bodies as externalities, dumping grounds for the over-production of toxic fats and sugars, narcopolitics pollutes the reservoirs of its last resource, the minds that manipulate its symbols, that provide the creative engines of innovation on which its cycles of built-in obsolescence depend.

This is the savage contradiction of capitalist growth; and it is this contradiction alone that allows creativity the space between waste and suicide, to clamber over the inert forms of parties and corporations, to produce the conditions for a politics worthy of the name.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Shame and the banks

To the tune of Richard and Linda Thompson's For Shame of Doing Wrong'

The UK government is floating the idea of jailing bankers who transgress good practice. There is little point, though I admit I'd get a jolt of Shadenfreude like anybody else. As someone said on C4 news tonight, the CEO will always say his (always his) financial advisors, staff, board and shareholders all supported him in malpractice. This is because banks are not composed of people

Banks are cyborgs: very large machines with human biochips plugged in. You cannot blame the biochips when the machine employs them for interests utterly divorced from theirs, or any human's.

The motive of corporate cyborgs are not human. They know only one goal: to accumulate wealth. They do not share human goals like happiness or well-being or spending the afternoon drunk in the arms of their beloved. Most of all they know no shame.

Shame is one of the most human of emotions – though I'm sure at least some animals also feel it. Our capacity for shame is proof of our inescapable commitment to the other. It is the bitter wound left by failure to give, or give enough. Shame is not embarrassment or regret, not gentle remorse: but the stabbing pain of memory. Bankers might individually feel shame: if not, they are clearly psychopaths and need our care and therapy. But banks do not feel shame.

Banks externalise shame. Where we might feel the agenbite of inwit, they export shame, and not for the past but the future. As debtors, we feel the shame; shame becomes ours, and pervasive, as we are all dragged into mortgages, pensions and credit. Shame is a pollutant emitted by banks in the shape of debt because shame is, from the perspective of the pure accumulation of wealth, external. Banks dump shame into the external environment like factories dump toxins. It is important therefore to realise that we should never be ashamed of toxic debt because lending, not borrowing, is toxic.

Banks are constitutionally incapable of shame, and thus inhuman. Not the singer, then, but the song needs to be attacked. It is to our shame that we have permitted banks to become the most powerful agents of history. These inhuman, shameless cyborgs must be terminated.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Anecdotal Evidence (2)

The paper on Anecdotal Evidence is online in the excellent Necsus open access journal which this issue features a special section on green issues, with contributions by Jonathan Beller, Barb Creed, Salma Monani, Sabine Niederer and Sy Taffel among many others

The earliest draft appeared on this blog in January as a first pass. Little acorns.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Publishing Futures 3: economics of e-journals

More on the Forget the Book event at Goldsmiths tomorrow

Increasing numbers of scholarly books are appearing as ePubs. Many are not. A lot of classic texts circulate in pdf and ebook format online through agencies like the Internet Archive (, Marxists Internet Archive ( and ebooks@Adelaide ( But this has the normative effect of getting more people to read the same things. That would be good if they read a lot, but if everyone only reads the top half dozen titles in a given discipline, there's precious little room for development at the classroom level. As a teacher I want my students reading as much as possible across as wide a range as possible, and that means with the least possible dent in their pockets, because students have had to learn, in these parsimonious days, to make every cent count.The books and articles that can't be downloaded or borrowed free have a great deal less chance of being read.

So the boom in online publishing should be good for everyone in the open access movement. The problem is not just that institutions and funding agencies have trouble recognising the quality level of online publications (a problem exacerbated by the proliferation of specialist titles for which humanities in particular have been famous for decades: there is a need for a journal of Blake scholarship or Turner studies or the 17th century Neapolitan baroque – that's the nature of specialisms). The other problem is that quality assurance isn't just stupid management-speak (though they have taken it over for some dodgy purposes). The small list I run at MIT Press gets about 30 proposals a year. We publish about 3 to 4 titles annually. A good number of the titles we don't take appear under other imprints The amount of work going into the successful titles (and indeed into a good few of the unsuccessful ones) is impressive. Assuring the quality of an article is a time consuming process. Journal refereeing is typically unpaid but it has to be organised; copy-editors need to check facts and grammar; typesetters need to check that they have the text and images set to everyone's satisfaction; and the issue has to be delivered in good time and good shape to its readers. All that time and skill costs. Anyone who has hit print in this way knows how much work an author has to do after delivering the manuscript. Multiply that by the work everyone else involved does. The question then is how to pay for these services, if we don't want to spend large tracts of our lives cleaning up other people's publications unpaid and unrecognised.

If you use e-journals you'll have noticed that they come in bundles. If a library wants the Journal of Gerbil Science, it's going to have to take the whole suite of rodentology titles, regardless of interest. Back in 1948, in the age of Hollywood's Paramount Decrees, the parallel practice of 'block booking' was made illegal. The claim is that for the specialist titles to survive, they have to be cross-subsidised by the big titles that most libraries want. The libraries, under intense cost-cutting pressure, don't see subsidy as their business. Of course, the student (or staffer) doesn't pay per use: that comes out of fees and overheads. The sciences have already revolted, demanding open access to the elite journals by threatening boycotts. The supposedly radical humanities and social sciences haven't, in part because, although there's a perceived hierarchy, there is no equivalent to Nature or Mind.

Most of us share out our publications, placing some in top print journals and some in online start-ups. Most of us would prefer a major university press to a print-on-demand solution. Some open access publishers, notably Open Humanities Press (, Amsterdam's Institute for Network Cultures ( and Melbourne's re:Press ( have begun to gather some impressive titles to a mix of hardcopy and free downloads. Behind them lies a huge body of unpaid labour done out of sheer faith. While that is a great resource, we should remember that the early web was like that, but pretty soon turned into the hypermall it is today. Free labour is not necessarily a sustainable business model (Facebook notwithstanding). You are always your own worst proof-reader: that alone make self-publishing a frightening prospect.

At the moment we seem to have the scant choice between copyright as revenue source or no revenue at all. The challenge is to find alternatives. Publication subsidies are forbidden by a number of grant agencies, and smack of vanity publishing. But we may have to get use to the idea that if we want a thriving research culture, we may have to include the costs of publishing in grant applications. Most of us want the speed of online publishing – the speed of blogging, say – but also the assurance that a translation is accurate, that an unfamiliar field has been fact checked and is on the money, and that the references and data are presented in a form that can be followed up. That's necessarily slow. One prospective new journal I'm working on is considering a pre-press release of articles in draft for community critique and revision as one way of maximising benefits from online publishing. Meta-refereeing is beginning to have purchase, where groups like Open Humanities Press (OHP) establish a system for assuring the overall quality of online open-access titles. The Directory of Open Access Journals ( lists almost 9000 journals; OHP ratifies 14 of them ( It isn't a perfect system, but it helps navigate the vast production of open-access research. But its all work.

The problem doesn't get simpler in the era of MOOCs – massive open online courses. The controversy and doubtful legitimations should make us pause over the lessons for open research. Do we actually know that an open slalom will work? Should the Journal of Creationism have the same clout as Environment and Planning D? Can we trust to some kind of market mechanism to get the cream to the top, or can we expect what the economic market has provided so far: quality for a tiny elite, and surrogates or nothing for the vast majority? Can we expect what we have seen in the blogosphere: the end of public debate in favour of sectarian enclaves? Publishing models run exclusively on the economic motive are failing already, and we have nothing sustainable to aspire towards yet. The challenge is to convert the values of open access into sustainable models.

As so often in the network economy, it is a matter not of control over the means of production but of distribution.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Secretion, privation

from a talk given at the Biomediations conference last week

The democratisation of consumption effected by the commodity form is also always sacrilegious. Certain forms of knowledge are not part of the commons; knowledge proper to post-puberty, pre- and post-childbirth, and to post-menopausal women or initiated young men or elders. Such knowledge is not secret, in the sense of a trade secret, nor property but proper, justum, fitting, befitting a person or station in life. Nor is it a right but a role, a task. Such things cannot be copyright-free any more than they can be patented.

Compare and contrast the hierophantic tribalism of the City of London revealed in Michael Chanan's Secret City: the accumulation of wealth under guise of ancient liveries, the old school ties that bind, the guild mysteries defining inclusion and exclusion. These secrets are indeed secretions, like pheromones released to announce the provenance and bona fides of acquaintances. This form of secretion divides an us from a them by excluding them from participation in a powerful knowledge. This is the form of secretion that belongs to the intellectual property regime. An ancient practice of parceling out knowledge in the interests of binding a whole tribe together has become a modern practice of securing privilege by process of exclusion, at the cost of any community other than those in the know and on the square.

Western property is defined by the right of the owner to deny access to the property. In this sense it is not common but private, in the sense that it is defined by the act of depriving another. The owner enjoys property while the other suffers privation. We should speak properly then not of the privatisation of publicly owned industries, but of their privation, and of those from whom they have been taken as the deprived.

Wealth and power operate through the twin functions of secretion and privation. The alienation of both knowledge and bodies from the commons changes the nature of life profoundly enough for us to ask for a new political economy of life, as the global financial crisis enters its sixth year, a state of emergency poised between utopia and collapse. Nicholas Rose (2001: 17) presents us with one vision of this: 'the management and maximization of life itself have become the life’s work'. Warning against ascribing reductionist, eugenic or individualist motives to the new (post)genomics, Rose argues that we are entering a new etho-politics of humanity. Missing however is Fanon's insight, that it is in living that we become ourselves; that it is the experience of social becoming and social strife, and centrally the experience of both sameness and difference, that makes us. The sociogenesis (Fanon's term - see Sylvia Wynter's essay) of difference takes place in a history of environmentalisation which is at once alienation of the commons and externalisation from capital, both processes that de-value (in the economic sense) the well-being that accompanies inhabiting, making, knowing and now living, as the bare life of the body becomes an alien environment for management or despoliation.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Lima talks

Queridos amigos de Lima. Many thanks for your generosity and warm welcome. The slides for my talks can be found at slideshare, with links to all the videos that can be found online

Friday, May 3, 2013

Arte y Optica

Off to Lima at the weekend to open the show I co-curated with Jose-Carlos Mariategui, Arte y Optica. The artists include Jim campbell, David Connearn, Daniel Crooks, Gina Czarnecki, Eugenio Dittborn, Susan Collins,Mona Hatoum, Francesco Mariotti, Francisco Tropa. It promises to be spectacular and profound. This is a text that I wrote for the event.

Art and optics

In ancient times, the Sky and the Earth loved each other so madly, their offspring were trapped between their bodies until the mightiest of the children, Tane, forced them apart and let the light shine in on the world. This, the oldest story of the Maori of Aotearoa New Zealand is a tale retold in many tongues, from Genesis to the Big Bang. Light bursts upon the world, and in the philosophy of the 12th century theologian Robert Grosseteste it is light that connects us to God because it is light that gives form.

Every visual art is optical, but some art looks towards the light. Light, which is so potent a symbol for every human culture, is also one of our greatest technologies. Fire, which heats and cooks, is also the flicker of firelight that draws us home to the hearth. Because it is a technology, light has a history. For our first ancestors, the only sources of light were sun in the daytime and bio-luminescence at night. Even until the 19th century, our only light technology was flame. The incandescent electric bulb and its heirs changed that forever. Today light not only illuminates: it is the secret of fibre optics, the laser-powered infrastructure of our ubiquitous computers.

All our lenses and mobile phone displays share one single characteristic: they seek to control the light. Whether light is the visible form of God or cosmic radiation, it pours upon us in chaotic waves, blasting across space, the very measure of ultimate speed. Light creates space and shape, but as it does, it bounces, reflects, refracts, diffuses, its wavelengths and durations changing in infinite complexity. We need light, but we want to control it. We shade the too bright lamp, and magnify the dimmest flickers. With the amplifying chemistry of photographs or the rigid order of receptors in digital image capture, we hold light to our purposes. Our television screens, like our computer displays, shape light into order ranks and rows. Transmission protocols strip time out of the equation: we demand the instantaneous. Light is everywhere organized in optical technologies.

Human beings cannot bear very much disorder. We tidy our nests, guard against dirt, separate and categorise and order what we can. And yet we know that from time to time we must go out into the chaos of the world to find new energies and new ideas. Order is an endless struggle between entropy and fascism, too little order and too much. And this is the terrain of art, to walk the ragged boundaries, to quiz our unexamined taxonomies, to muddy the clear waters and sieve out of them new ways of putting the world back together again.

The artists gathered in this exhibition peer into the light that makes our world. Each of us lives in many eras. We are the electronic generation, our faces underlit by mobile screens, our cafés, shops and houses cast into sharp highlights and shadows, or suffused with warm glows, tied to the global economy of energy production, of the lithium in out batteries, the petrol in our generators. But we are also those who love firelight, and those who walk into the high hills at night to watch the timeless circling of the stars. At once the most ancient and most modern of media, light is the medium of our existence as the historical animals.

The speed of light is the final measure of time, but we have learned to control that speed. The gods came, says the poet Ezra Pound, by speed of communication. But we are human, and our arts of communication are not only about immediacy but slowness.

Every day we navigate oceans of images and data. Every screen, every image, promises to be whole and entire, to speak some kind of truth, about the news or sport or beauty or fun. To offer a whole experience. Our artists work with the light that carries these images. They unpick the woven fabric of images, unfold the impenetrable surfaces, unpack the contents of the black boxes where we keep the engines of image-making. One makes us see, in the scanning electron guns, the remnant of the patient gesture of hand and arm. Another magics into existence a way of seeing bodies moving, neither slow motion nor fast but in a different time to the one we think we know so well. One makes us feel the weight of history , the long centuries of travel and trade that brought us to this moment when all the world's goods can be dangled before the eyes of all its citizens. Another tells us of the geographies of transmission. The ancient light of fireflies inspires another with light that has no history, but comes to our city to tell us just how strange the city has become. Sometimes a darkness is the core communication of the light, a memory repressed, like a photograph stashed under the bed in hopes that one day from out of the dim past will come the flaming swords of justice and shame.

By attending closely to the time of light, of the making of light and of watching, of the purest act of perceiving light, these artists invite us to consider its weight and density and its power to link us in myriad bonds to the history of light and seeing. By making experiences for us, they also bring before us the fragility and ephemerality of light, its unique moment in the sun, its flickering passage into night. Symbol of both mortality and immortality, our hearth of tradition and our beacon of progress, light complies with power, and complicates it. The order of light is the disorder of time, and the order of time is the freedom of light. We celebrate as we mourn both the splashing light of fountains and the rectilinear ray, and contemplate the subtle politics as we engage the deft poetics enacted in the art of light, at this moment, in this city, unique in all the annals of creation.

Sean Cubitt, Winchester, 16 March 2013

Integral Waste

From a chapter on Decolonising Eco-criticism in the Cultural Politics Reader, edited by John Armitage, Ryan Bishop and Doug Kellner, that should be out next year from Duke.

Contemporary semiocapitalism divides its derivation of wealth from handling symbols into two sectors. One sector operates through international regimes of patents, copyrights, trademarks and designs, the other through finance, which today is not only entirely electronic, but in increasing degrees automated as algorithmic ('algo') trading. Those who are not privileged to sit at the centre of intellectual and finance capital produce a diminishing amount of the value in each commodity. Those who can, or are forced to, work, and are treated like the victims of the Bangladeshi factory collapse of Aril 2013: supernumerary, unregarded, a repressed that returns only momentarily as news item. Those who cannot are abandoned to civil war, famine and disease: conditions that, in the case of the Congolese war, have persisted for over a decade as the unconscious of metropolitan consumption (United Nations 2002). Meanwhile metropolitan populations superfluous to both intellectual work and offshore industry are pushed further into ghettos, with diminishing health, education and social resources, prey to drugs and guns, that increasingly resemble the reservations set aside for indigenous peoples in the genocidal heyday of settler expansion. With the abdication of vision common to parliamentary parties of the industrialised and in many instances the industrialising world, the only organic intellectuals left are the gangs, hounded by police in an ethnoclass war to secure human status (Wynter 2003) that extends increasingly into Europe from its origins in 1930s USA. Between civil war and gang war, the trajectory of the mode of destruction instigated by consumerism would appear to lead to the auto-destruction of the consumer class.

Waste is not an unfortunate by-product of consumerism. Without waste, there can be no consumer capital. We are all Batailleans now. Waste takes the form not only of garbage, or of waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) but of populations excluded from the centres of capital. Productive labour of the old proletarian kind still persists, but downgraded and exported: it is in countries where productive labour remains significant that we still find a recognisably working-class mode of politics, as in Tunisia and Egypt in January and February 2011, even though mass protests and direct action were promptly painted in the colours of social media by Western news media. The protest against corruption was in part a protest against a systemic waste of common wealth and popular energies by the ruling kleptocracy. That nothing similar has happened in the UK or Russia has everything to do with the move from material to symbolic production, and politics conducted through the same mobilisation of symbols that provides such economic growth as persists. Neo-colonial production likewise is founded on the systemic waste to which it contributes in the cycles of fashion and consumption. The undoubted catastrophe of WEEE, and the consistently colonial structure of the recycling industry (Gabrys 2010, Grossman 2007) can still be seen as curable aberrations: we are on the trail of an integral waste.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Unaccounted for

'Hypercapitalism is emancipating itself from its Western heritage and its so-called "values", but this unveils a terrible sight: without the heritage of Humanism and the Enlightenment, capitalism is a regime of pure, endless and inhuman violence'. Franco 'Bifo' Berardi's aphorism in The Soul at Work is not just about the attacks on the humanities, arts and culture in Europe and North America. It is about the automation of the trade in symbols, from finance capital's algorithmic trading to the obsessive self-documenting in social media that Jodi Dean calls 'compulsory communication'.

If, as Bifo contends, contemporary capitalism is semiocapitalism, and production means the production of symbols, those who cannot or do not engage in that trade are superfluous to requirements. Only economic values are valued; no other values count. But since so much symbolic production is unpaid (including this blog), that too approaches zero value. Its value lies in abstracting from it the behaviour of those who read it, or at least visit, leaving traces of their activity that can be monetised by tracking.

What is left out of account, out of accountancy and out of the accounts we gve each other of our story? Those excluded by geography, biography or disability from the generation of economic value. The attack on education, and the narrowing of school curricula, is about reducing and narrowing the pool of people needed to work in the semiotic factories. Current policy initiatives in the UK, across Europe, and increasingly elsewhere share a common disdain for whoever does not join in the pursuit of semiotic profit, including those who will no longer be able to get into higher education, or stay in long enough for the higher qualifications demanded by advancing neo-liberal semiocapitalism. This is Bifo's inhuman violence. At its extreme, it involves abandoning whole populations to war. In a gentler mode, it means gradually cutting off health, housing, the remnants of the social wage. We can concentrate too much on policies designed to send even more wealth to the wealthy. The radical impoverishment of the poor increases at even greater speed.

We cannot call this genocide. We are not allowed to call what Israel does in Palestine genocide, or even ethnic cleansing, and this is a slower exorcism of the economically inefficient, though in its way just as brutal. Like 'refugee', the word 'genocide' lies under embargo. There are those who do not like the word 'genocide' applied to the assault on African Americans by drugs and incarceration. We may need a new word for the slow strangulation of the people, the phased eradication of the unaccountable.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Debt Sublime: preliminary thesis on the mode of destruction

Incomprehensible, awesome, overwhelming, beyond meaning, erupting into history from elsewhere, that overthrows subjectivity. The un-discussable debt is the great anaesthetic.

Théorie Communiste is wrong to argue that the working class is no longer working and therefore has no purpose (or identity): it is required to destroy the overproduction in pursuit of growth that otherwise generates crisis. As a bonus, crisis can be shared socially by distributing debt (future growth that will no longer occur) to the precariat. Final function: free labour of creativity, as a process of environmentalisation that also externalises. Thus placing creativity as an externality which historically precedes (eg in the environmentalisation of 'nature' as externality) over-exploitation and destruction. The theory of finite social creativity suggests that the final task of the working class in the new mode of destruction is to annihilate itself.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Publishing Futures 2: the future library

Another post for the Goldsmiths Future of Publishing event.

The greatest achievement of the Victorian era (apart from cinematography and the A-frame bicycle) was the public library. Machine-readable catalogues were the precursor to the Web, which still has some of the utopian orientation of the library voiced in Antonio Panizzi's evidence to the Select Committee on the British Museum in 1836: "I want a poor student to have the same means of indulging his learned curiosity, of following his rational pursuits, of consulting the same authorities, of fathoming the most intricate inquiry as the richest man in the kingdom, as far as books go, and I contend that the Government is bound to give him the most liberal and unlimited assistance in this respect". Digital libraries don't share Panizzi's dream, which they could fulfill so easily.

We don't own ebooks. Physical books, once purchased, are ours to do with as we like, but we can't sell, lend or give away an epub because we pay a rental license on them: they belong to a corporation. By the same token, there's no public lending right. Paradoxically, physical books are freer than digital.

Corporations want payment per reader. It's not surprising then that communities of readers ignore the loss of a customary right and set up their own digital public libraries. This was exactly how the municipal libraries arose. But it is an unsustainable practice if there is no way to pay for fact-checking, copy-editing and functional design, let alone the quality assurance that scholarly presses provide.

The commodification of books in the C19th came with a kind of democratisation, along with a risk of losing 'quality' with the rise of the penny dreadful. Digital publishing de-democratises by isolating books from one another. A library isn't about individual books but about the community of books speaking to and about each other.

Public lending right (and photocopying) provide for a small return for each use, not a punitive full-cost for every reader. What we need is a global copyright library, on the model of Panizzi's British Library: one that receives a copy of every work published. As the International Federation of Library Associations argues, it's crucial that the cost should not come from library budgets. A small cost per use could easily be applied, for example by a fractional sales tax on storage. Corporations, operating under the protection of bloated copyright laws, will want to syphon the cream from this for their most lucrative authors. What we need is a system that passes revenues not to shareholders or even authors but to maintaining the open library, and covering the publishing costs of works – many of them academic, but also translations and specialist titles – that cannot support themselves in the marketplace.

There's no shortage – yet! – of authors: there is a shortage of publishers, distributors and most of all of an open, common library, the basis on which all future writing builds.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Publishing Futures 1: reasons for going open access

I've been asked to blog for the upcoming Forget the book: Writing in the Age of Digital Publishing event at Goldsmiths on the 25th of May. This one may not make the cut . . .

Improving the flows of the information and knowledge that researchers produce will promote
* enhanced transparency, openness and accountability, and public engagement with research;
* closer linkages between research and innovation, with benefits for public policy and services, and for economic growth;
* improved efficiency in the research process itself, through increases in the amount of information that is readily accessible, reductions in the time spent in finding it, and greater use of the latest tools and services to organise, manipulate and analyse it; and
* increased returns on the investments made in research, especially the investments from public funds. These are the motivations behind the growth of the world-wide open access movement.

These are the terms of the 2012 Finch report, by the UK government advisory Working Group on Expanding Access to Published Research Findings.

I much doubt that the four themes listed are those which motivate the open-access movement, depending on just how (Stallman or Raymond) you define openness.

There are two controversies lurking behind the first bullet. One is the right of the public to decide on the value of research. The other concerns the transparency of data demanded ad absurdum by climate change opponents in the dubious case of the UEA email leak. The former begs the question of who exactly is, or speaks for, the public; the latter asks both whether peer-review by experts of expert analysis needs to be supplemented (or supplanted) by a jury of interested parties (interested in the Kantian sense).

The second and fourth concern the link between funded research and economic benefit. Stiegler is not alone among philosophers in noting that innovation describes a process of minor adaptations to an existing paradigm. Invention is a radical breakthrough. It is hard not to hear the fury of corporations – whose R and D departments failed to invent the world wide web – that the web, a product of publicly funded research, was not delivered to them for commercialisation. Tim Berners-Lee's decision to give away the source code was, in that perspective, irresponsible. This example alone should persuade us that the Finch report is not describing the open access movement as a whole.

The third point, about organising and analysing research results, has the most attraction. It is not only that articles held on commercial databases like Elsevier are restricted to subscribers; it is also that search engines and more sophisticated spiders and bots cannot mine them. But even here the cult of efficiency has a faint tang of corporate culture.

Actually what motivates open access campaigns are
* the belief that ideas are improved by speed and breadth of circulation, and that the greed-driven oxymoron 'intellectual property' slows down of the system
* the idea that ideas are valuable, if they are valuable at all, because they help feed, clothe, educate, shelter, bring justice, peace and beauty, and because they make it possible for us all to debate which of these values is best and how to balance out their claims: not because they can be converted into cash
* an absolute commitment to making research available to those who are its sources, too often its victims, and in any case who will be its ultimate beneficiaries, especially those who cannot afford to get at it under current conditions
* a generalised feeling of good-will and generosity in the interests of creating a decent world, especially for the global poor. Many people in open-access worlds believe that the current economic system has failed monumentally, and that open, cashless economies of peer-to-peer exchange is an increasingly viable alternative.

So let's just get that one straight.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Vanishing Networks

From a talk I'll be giving in Cambridge (UK) later this month. Oddly enough I will be giving another talk in Cambridge at the Anglia Ruskin Fast/Slow event this week

Equally critical to visual culture is the invisibility of network architectures. Already in 1993, the year the Mosaic browser launched the Web as mass medium, Critical Art Ensemble were warning that corporations had adopted rhizomatic (and nomadic) constitutions. Heterotopia is the geography of Google and Nike. Precarious post-Fordist labour is only one of the prices we pay for this. The struggle for new network architectures is part of the sad story of standardisation which has become increasingly entrenched in the digital media. The panoply of engineering, governance and standards bodies engaged in electronic and telecommunications industries is a strange tangle, but it is both the oldest and arguably the only functioning model we have of global governance. Under their sway, the majority of machines can talk to other machines, at speeds that baffle human comprehension – we have only to think of the role of automated trading in the 2007/8 crash. We have moved from vanishing points to vanishing instants, and from there to vanishing networks, each of which falls under an increasingly ubiquitous and increasingly stable family of standards organised around the classic modernist figure of the grid. It seems rash to argue that we are 'post' anything.

more Revolution Earth

The publishing world is changing. Traditional publishers of fiction and academic titles know this too well: and the opportunities for open access and independent publishing are baffling. One of the top blogs for writers, C.S.Lakin, has just featured our responses to her question 'what are the top 5 things you've learned in the last year' as indie publishers.

More on this discussion on 25th May when I'm in conversation with Doug Sery of MIT Press on the future of the book at Goldsmiths

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Revolution Earth Playlist

in honour of the publication of Revolution Earth on Kobo to back up the paperback and Kindle versions from Amazon, reposted here from
1.Tracy Chapman – Talkin’ ’bout a Revolution
2. The Clash – London Calling
3. The Mutton Birds – Dominion Road
4. The Mutton Birds – Anchor Me
5. Finn Brothers – Won’t Give In
6. Blur – Song 2
7. Midnight Oil - Beds are Burning
8. Yothu Yindi – Treaty (Remix)
9. B-52s - Revolution Earth
10. Gurrumul Yunupinga – Djarimirri

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Visible Time

scraps from a talk I'm giving in Zagreb at the Broken Time symposium this weekend

Time is the medium of change. For that reason, it is necessary to control it. Calendars are more ancient than Stonehenge or the Pyramids. They shape time, sculpt time, order time, and seek control over the monstrous ocean of change that threatens to engulf each human life and all human societies. Humans are the historical animals: time is more for us than the cycle of the seasons. We seek greater orders across ancestral centuries. We recall a golden age, and look forward to another. There was an Old Testament and a New, and there will be a Second Coming. We seek such order because we are driven to it. Freud almost knew this when he described thanatos, the death instinct, the drive to decay and entropy. That is one extreme of the drive to order. The other is totalitarianism. We tidy the corners of the world where we live to keep the monstrous tides of pollution at bay, sometimes sweeping up dust, sometimes driving out strangers. The struggle, as Mary Douglas names it, between Purity and Danger (bigpdf here), structures lives and makes art an essential process of walking the boundaries between them, drawing in life from the chaotic margins to replenish what would otherwise become the sterile taxonomies of organization.

. . . There is a leakage at this level of the tiny fragments of time, a leakage of those even smaller fragments. These cannot be caught by sampling at ever more extreme rates. What is lost in any sampling regime, anything working on the fragment as such, is the puzzle of continuity first posed in Zeno's paradox 2500 years ago. To measure out life in units is to fail to understand the disintegration of integers. That lack of self-identity that troubles the totalizing self-presentation of the image as presence is the same dialectical negation that pulls apart the stability of the pixel. At the same time, the remnant of each division of time into units is a mark not of a near-enough approximation but of the failure of division to grasp the unstill gesture of motion as a trajectory, not a plot of points. Time is a vector, or more properly a scalar product of the multiplication of many vectors: in each case, a motion with direction and therefore marked by and as change.

. . . The time of the glitch, the time of the dead pixel, the time of laborious attention to the world and its pictured ordering: these are the particularities, the unique instances of suffering and joy that refuse universal history and its diary. They are instruments of hope and, I hope, pledges of the beauty that escapes.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Origins of Phenomenology in the Enclosures

Whatever else it is, place (as Arturo Escobar notes, page 7 of the remarkable Territories of Difference) is the site of embodiment. Phenomenology emerges as a philosophical movement at the moment of Western Europe's loss of place, necessitating a re-imagination of the body as the last remnant of place lost in the processes of enclosure and colonialism. Today the body itself becomes territory and therefore subject to enclosure, colonisation and primitive accumulation, on the basis of a Cartesian dualism itself first experienced as the exile and deracination of the military camp where Descartes wrote the Discourse on Method. Posited as universal, the body can be extrapolated and exploited as commodity, the universal par excellence of modernity. That universality, applied to land as pure territory (terra nullius), is a rational account of expropriation which in its universality excludes the particularity of indigenous and later mestizo thought. In plce of place, modernity constructs the existential condition, a condition unthinkable in indigenous traditions.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Theodicy of Communication

In a talk at the Digital Aesthetic 3 exhibition in Preston, Peter Campus, speaking of the emergence of what Lévi-Strauss would call pensée sauvage, suggested that the world of primal mediation is hell.

Underlying this perception is the principle that mediation is indeed primary, and that communication is a special case of mediation. Mediation belongs to the concept that everything mediates: that mediating one thing to another is the nature of reality, the essential connectivity of everything. Communication builds out of mediation the nodes which we then learn to see as subjects and objects, as senders, messages, channels and receivers.

Mediation, the intimate ecology of everything, had to be ripped apart to constitute communication. Communication is thus at a first moment the means by which domination and expropriation are secured. At the same time, however, communication makes explicit, precisely by separating, the interdependence of people, but to the exclusion of things, of the environing world (techné and physis.

As automation expands from the factory (organisation of humans and ancestral intelligence) to the internet of things, it strives to complete the universality of the commodity form and probabilistic management of populations. But the vast statistical warehouse of indifferent data begins to yield to the specificity – irreducible and im-mense (unmeasurable) – of the anecdote: the reconnection of the riven parts, the new mediation – peer-to-peer no longer as property of population but as crowd, as particles aligned in the magnetic field of their shared and mutual desire.

Against the immanence of primal mediation, the emergent mediation has learnt from the disconnect of communication the absence of the object of desire. It is now that something more which the commodity always evoked in its false promise of satisfaction, but freed from its bogus anchorage in commodity exchange.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Anecdotal Evidence (first pass)

The dominant models of truth (and knowledge more broadly) in the 21st century do not include anecdotes. Anecdotal evidence is down-graded in common parlance, current affairs, and the neo-liberal university. Data (especially 'big data'), statistics and (with exceptions) models are more trusted. The anecdote, as the prized tool of humanities research, should not be cast as an inherited practice whose archives should be protected: it should be valued as a uniquely powerful method (and site) of analysis and interpretation. At some future date I want to do this properly, with chapter and verse from key concepts like Geertz's thick description, looking back to the vicissitudes of testimonio in Latin American literature, poring perhaps over the use of exempla in early modern literature, and the place of the anecdote among the ancients. Here just the beginnings of a thought.

In an earlier post on happiness, I cited Adorno's principle that 'the greater good' is always a means to defer, displace and deny the happiness of the here and now. We could also mention Derrida's idea that an ethical act only occurs when there is no code of ethics operating to instruct us: when, that is, we have to act on our own resources in the face of a specific situation. Whatever the place of rules (such as the laws of physics or the statistical likelihood of a utilitarian benefit), both happiness and ethical action occur in unique moments. Tolstoy's principle (Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way) should also reflect that happy families have their own uniqueness. Humanities research concerns itself, at least in part, with the unique constellation of happiness and unhappiness, and the unique moments of ethical action. My model here is Bresson's Au Hasard Balthasar.

In law, witnessing calls up the untrustworthy character of the witness. The anecdote must be told. It involves
the event observed
the observation
the recounting
and the situation of the recounting – its position in arguing a case

Thus there is a degree of performativity in the anecdote, at least as much as there is indexicality: its truth concerns both fidelity to the event and the observation, and to the account (the aesthetic form) and the situation of the account. The anecdote concerns the event, recasting an old event in terms of its importance to a new situation, one where an evaluation or decision is in process of being reached. The anecdote has the power to move through time – this is its ontological ground as fidelity.

We might be better thinking of photography – especially cinematography – as anecdote, rather than as datum.

We might be better placed considering a cultural moment (Geertz's example of a wink) or an artwork as an anecdote, whose meaning – whose relation to both past event and present situation – is not permanently fixed, not because there was no initiating event to be witnessed, but precisely because there was.