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Excessive research

Liverpool, UK, November 3-5, 2015

Nathan Jones – The Testimony of Structure: Codecs and Contemporary Poetry

Excess and writing have in many ways become impossible to understand in the terms of one another. The boundless capacity of the internet, and even a modest personal computer, to register, store and move textual matter, along with interface illusions such as the infinitely scrolling page, means that it becomes ever more implausible to think of a technological limit to writing. This is problematic, not least because human rhythms and capacities are increasingly measured and set against those of technology. Terms such as “limitless potential” are used interchangeably with regard technology and cognition to imply an infinite financial wealth within the mind which need only be unfettered by faster and more efficient devices, and greater intimacy with them.

INCOHERENCE
In The Interface Effect (2015), Alexander Galloway proposes four regimes for art, based on their political and aesthetic incoherence or coherence. Ideology for example, is proposed to be politically coherent – aligned to a dogma – and aesthetically coherent – it makes sense. Galloway finishes by proposing that it is to the “dirty regime” of Truth, where works intersect political incoherence and aesthetic incoherence, that we must look for works which are capable of speaking in non-generic ways about the coercive nature of technology. This, he says is an analogue of Giorgio Agamben’s theory of ‘the whatever’:

“The whatever finds its power in incontinence and transformation, not unification or repetition. Likewise the whatever is politically incoherent because it tends to erode existing territories and institutional routines … No centre exists toward which it might gravitate” (142)

Artworks of the regime of truth, it is suggested, offer a way in which the increasingly coercive and invisible process of structuring by interfaces might be made available for critique: “effacing representational aesthetics and representational politics alike, in favor of direct immanence” (142). The politically unaligned and aesthetically inconsistent work, almost by definition, is one which comes into contact with, and breaches, its limits – the ends of enquiry which match up, hold the work together (aesthetic coherence) and align it with existing social frameworks (political coherence), are left ragged, and the moment of the work is not generic: “neither a universal nor an individual included in a series, but rather “singularity insofar as it is whatever singularity” (Agamben 1990, 1).

Disappointingly though, Galloway posits no singular work that exhibits these qualities – other than a footnote which gestures towards an unpublished work by his colleague Eugene Thacker. In this essay I would like to suggest that Ben Lerner’s poem Mean Free Path exhibits precisely these qualities by disclosing, as a facet of the poems the formerly withdrawn aspects of relation between his testimony on love poem, war poem, and elegy, and the structuring, disorganizing principals of ‘the language of new media’ which allow for it.

I want to use the digital “Codec” as a framework to describe the occluding/revealing process of the enunciation as a structure for testimony. The writing of excess in Mean Free Path (2010) I will argue, does not explode into (and therefore gesture at) limitlessness, breaking down boundaries of decency, rapidity, scale for example, but rather flickers at the limit of what has and hasn’t been said – stammering – hovering in the condition of the unsaid, while continuing to say it.

THE CONTEMPORARY
In referring to the “contemporary”, I am drawing on Agamben’s notion of someone who is able to view ‘the darkness’ of their time (Agamben 2009, 50). Agamben uses the metaphor of the darkness in the night sky, which he says is not the darkness of absence, but rather of those stars which move away from us so fast their light never reaches us – it withdraws: “To perceive, in the darkness of the present, this light that strives to reach us but cannot-this is what it means to be contemporary.” I would like to show how the contemporary poet is now one for whom interface effects are retrieved from withdrawal.   The darkness of their time, I assert, refers precisely to ‘that which is withdrawn’ in use.

THE WITHDRAWN
Withdrawal is essential to Heideggeran ontology, and Agamben (1973, 71-75) has used the term to affirm a distinction between the human open-ness and animal self-withdrawal of which he says the human-as-animal is composed. I posit a similar move in considering the boundary of human open-ness and technological self-withdrawal which makes up the writing subject. For Heidegger, a tool necessarily withdraws into invisibility while we express our own being through it – using it to our ends. Galloway similarly has written of the invisibility of media and interfaces thus. The better they work, the more invisible they become. To look at the other side of the coin: our experience of devices is precisely and uniquely the experience of their failure. This, what Heidegger called un-readiness-to-hand (Heidegger 204-207), when a tool becomes unavailable, broken or unwieldy is a moment in which the tool discloses itself in relation to someone who would use it. Importantly, this disclosure is specifically related to an aspect, that is, the nature of its unsuitability in-relation-to.

What the contemporary must bring back from withdrawal – the darkness which is the light which moves away – is the withdrawn technological and its relation to the human language it produces subjectivity with. In writing at limits, the contemporary poet in particular is in a position to retrieve those formerly withdrawn aspects of the technological process which structures their enunciation.

TESTIMONY
Testimony is associated with speaking at limits, especially as it relates to speaking trauma. In Remnants of Auschwitz (1999, 144-146), Agamben distinguishes between the living being and speaking subject. In this distinction, we have the opportunity to observe how the technological inculcates itself as an element of subjectivity at the moment of the enunciation. The enunciation as the horizon on which the “possibility of speech realize[s] itself as such”, has to do with the techné of language production – the interface is now then the apparatus which allows the testimony to appear as such.

CODEC
But what the structuring processes of the technological against which the testimony becomes an excess? The model I would like to use is that of Codecs. Codec (compression-decompression/coding-decoding) is a process which allows for the most salient features of New Media – namely its sampling and quantifying, and the subsequent tropes such as modularity and variability (Manovich 2002, loc 646- 800).

The low-order language in which a digital media item is stored is called data, that protocol which allows for it to be shown, the interface. Codecs such as those having the file extension .jpg, .tiff, .raw, store visual information as data, in a string of alphanumeric figures. Before being run by the Codec interface, the data itself does not conventionally exist on the plane of the human subject, and after, both the interface and data are withdrawn as the a-priori to what we see.

Two aspects that are important to note about this relation: 1) both the storage format of data and the structuring interface used to make the image immanent ordinarily occlude themselves in revealing the image – they are the unsaid which is in the saying of the image. 2) The data of the storage format stakes no claim to being the originary, or ‘essence’ of the image, being only precisely the a-priori, not containing either the exhaustive information with which the image can reveal itself (for it requires the interface for that), nor to contain everything that will be shown (for any viable interface could show a singularly different version of it), nor having any privileged relation to the real (being structured like a language).

The salient innovations of Glitch Art bring aspects of both the data and the interface in a Codec into immanence. Artists such as Rosa Menkman (2008) and Nick Britz (2011) have forced the Codec to disclose itself, by editing the source code of data or interface in order to produce situations wherein they fail to articulate or stammer their data. The resulting media then literally exceed their data, being added-to by patterns, colourings, warps from the interface; while also becoming diminished, half-withdrawing from view in favour of the ‘darkness’ of their structure.

MEAN FREE PATH
I want to read the way in which the Amercian poet Ben Lerner, in his 2010 collection Mean Free Path, willfully enters the enunciation of his work into the disorganizing principals of new media, in effect making the structuring relation of data-interface by which we access his testimony critically present in a work “singularity insofar as it is whatever singularity”.

Sampling
In Mean Free Path the poem is broken into the unit of the phrase and reformed as stanzas, each of a uniform number of lines and line-lengths. Each phrase appears to us as a singular ‘bit’, reappearing in any number of different contexts throughout the poem. In the systematic incoherence generated by these contexts – their failure to determine a singular meaning – what Lerner crafts in the work is a distinction between ‘traditional language’ (whose ‘sampling’ we might associate with the literary technique of parataxis), to the more violent sampling of linguistic units by the computational.

“I’m not above being understood, provided

The periodic motion takes the form of

Work is done on the surface to disturb

Traveling waves.” (48)

The misfit in semantic units and phrase-unit across the poem is a continual smeering and bluring of the edges of the unit, producing a sense of leaking or liquidity of relations in the stanza – a sense that the uniform is being exceeded by the potentiality of its content. Very rarely will a full-stop or line break relate to a semantic gap in the work, whereas such gaps announce themselves seemingly randomly throughout. All the way up, zooming out of the structure of the poem, we anticipate a form to emerge, but this finale or closure is continually offset by the confusion of structuring and content which bring it into existence:

“I planned a work which could describe itself

Into existence, then back out again

Until description yielded to experience

Yielded an experience of structure

Collapsing under its own weight like

Citable in moments: parting

Dusk. Look out the window. Those small

Rain. In holding pattern over Denver

Collisions clear a path from ground to cloud” (49)

Variability
In the drama that plays out across the book, it is as though the enunciation of each stanza is a bank of the same data subject to a new interface, activating a variable version of what is willed to be said – each refusing to reinforce the other, as with these elements from the first two stanza:

“But not how you mean that. The slow beam

Opened me up. Walls walked through me

Like resonant waves”

[…]

“Imperceptably into gift shops. The death of a friend

Opens me up. Suddenly the weather

Is written by Tolstoy, whose hands were giant

Resonant waves.” (39)

The system of relations between the what is sayable and unsayable in each stanza then, is continually deferred by virtue of the numerous ways in which the component phrase-units and stanzas might be read across and with one another. What is clear is that something is escaping us in each version:

“There must be an easier way to do this

I mean without writing, without echoes

Arising from focusing surfaces, which should

Should have been broken by structures” (40)

Mean Free Path does not exist without the structure which disorganizes its content. Its poetic making is precisely in the interplay of this content and that disorganizing structure to which Lerner testifies – what the poem says, is what is unsayable:

“And that’s elegy. I know I am a felt

This is the form where my friend is buried

Effect of the things that I take personally

A gentle rippling across the social body

I know that I can’t touch her with the hand

That has touched money, I mean without

Several competing forms of closure” (56)

We have observed several motifs of ‘aesthetic incoherence’ in Lerner’s work, and this kind of approving denouncing ambivalence toward the disorganizing principals of new media (and “money”) is what Galloway refers to as the ‘political incoherence’ of the regime of truth. Lerner’s poetry is sustained by the rhythms, tactic and tropes of new media, without which it simply wouldn’t exist on the plane of the contemporary; but then what it testifies to, is the impossibility of testimony (or elegy) under these very conditions.

CONCLUSION
What I will call the Glitch Poetic as the writing of an excess, is not human attainment surpassing the speed and efficiency of new media. Nor is it the human testimony explicitly falling short of the demands made of it. It is rather the moment produced when the sampling, quantifying activity integral to new media (Berhard Steigler’s “grammatisation”, Heidegger‘s “technological-understanding-of-being”, and Galloway’s “interface effect”) does not exhaust that which it structures.  Sampling and quantification as new media structuring devices are a new poetic form, and by reading poems which work in excess of this form, we don’t mean that the form breaks, but rather the sayable in them is tangibly corrupted by its emergence through that form.  The Glitch Poetic, is in this sense, a call to and a performance of the irrational in language, a Romanticism to parlay against the new-Empiricism of code.

Bibliography

Agamben, G., Kishik, D. and Pedatella, S. (2009) What Is an Apparatus? and Other Essays. United States: Stanford University Press, United States.
Agamben, G. and Attell, K. (2003) The Open: Man and Animal. 1st edn. United States: Stanford University Press.
Agamben, G. and Hardt, M. (1993) The Coming Community, Vol. 1. 2nd edn. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Agamben, G. and Heller-Roazen, D. (1999) Remnants of Auschwitz: The Witness and the Archive. New York: Zone Books.
Briz, N. (2011) Glitch Codec Tutorial [glitch art demo] full tutorial. Available at: https://vimeo.com/23653867 (Accessed: 22 October 2015).
Galloway, A. R. (2012) The Interface Effect. United Kingdom: John Wiley & Sons.
Heidegger, M. (1962) Being and Time. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.
Lerner, B. (2010) Mean free path. United Kingdom: Copper Canyon Press.
Manovich, L. (2002) The Language of New Media. 8th edn. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Menkman, R. (2008) Vernaculat of File Formats. Available at: http://rosa-menkman.blogspot.co.uk/2010/08/vernacular-of-file-formats-2-workshop.html (Accessed: 22 October 2015).

Tessa Zettel & Sumugan Sivanesan – Plan Bienen: Exchange and reciprocity in the more-than-human city

This paper reflects on an ongoing artistic research project, Plan Bienen, outlining the terrain in which it operates and sharing some of its initial outcomes. The project is a collaboration between its authors, Sydney-based artists and writers, which developed from a 3-month residency undertaken in 2014 at the ZK/U – the Centre for Art and Urbanistics, Berlin.

The terrain

Plan Bienen set out to investigate real and speculative relationships between two parallel contemporary crises – one in bee ecologies and the other in European economic systems. In an era being variously called the Anthropocene and the Sixth Great Extinction, our proposition was that by overlaying these two objects of study we might find new ways into broader concerns that both intersect with, bound up in the increasing tension between the expansionary logic of free-market capitalism and the necessary reductions in emissions and consumption required to avert widespread irreversible ecological breakdown. Bees, our micro-political entry point into these much larger-scale questions, have long been a vessel onto which human ideological positions are projected – by turns having been cast as model capitalist producers and collective communist bodies. As transdisciplinary researchers, we were curious to explore potential ways of thinking from and with them, towards other ways of living together in the city via revised ethical and ontological positions.

One commonality we drew between bees and economics is that our relations with both are at present governed predominately by modes of exchange that are literally not able to be sustained, they are ‘defuturing’ in that they take futures away (both ours and other species’) and appear more or less to be heading for a kind of collapse (Fry). In Berlin, where our research began, we could nonetheless see in both spheres other sorts of relations at work, practices demonstrating different ways of generating, measuring and exchanging value, either being developed now or nestled in the city’s many pasts.

This then is what the territory of the project came to encompass – on the one hand the various problems facing bees (but extending out to other species), and specific linked approaches to urban beekeeping; and on the other histories of fiscal crisis, and responses to that including share economies and non-monetary systems of exchange. Emerging as crucial within this net was the political agency of ‘non-humans’ and the right to the city or urban commons discourse, particularly as it intensifies alongside gentrification in the city of Berlin, where all of these things have a special resonance and converge in unexpected ways.

The means

Our research involved meeting with beekeepers, researching (and using) share-networks and alternative economies, and interviewing economic historians and community economists. Working closely with feminist beekeeping collective the Moabees, we initiated a non-monetary exchange network in which local beekeepers traded honey for services and labour—including translation, singing lessons and help with honey harvesting—to rethink understandings of value and reciprocity as well as our relations with other species. We produced a series of notgeld—emergency bank notes—to commemorate each exchange, as well as hosting discursive events, meals, high-frequency trades and focus groups, and wrote texts and performance-lectures.

Engaging with various economies throughout, we have taken care to be attentive to what parts of an exchange are overlooked or ignored, what exactly is being shared with whom and on whose terms, and what are its limitations and potentialities.

Vanishing bees

To begin with the bees, as sociologists Lisa Jean Moore and Mary Kosut point out, “only when bees vanish do they tangibly appear to us” (Moore and Kosut, Among the Colony 517). The phenomenon of Colony Collapse Disorder (as named in 2007), in which an entire hive of worker honeybees just disappears, first surfaced in the pollination industry in the US, prompting fears that this sudden threat to Apis Mellifera would jeopardise the future of many crop species that it pollinates. The condition was attributed to a complex situation in which a new type of systemic insecticide, neonicotinoids, combines with factors including Varroa mite and Nosema, a lack of biodiversity, effects of climate change such as ‘season creep’, constant moving of hives, and immune systems weakened by generations of being fed sugar syrup to replace extracted honey.

The crisis drew worldwide attention to the conditions of industrialised hives, galvanising much support for this little co-habitant of the world-within-a-world that we humans have constructed. Urban beekeeping took off over roughly the same time frame, especially in post-industrial cities like Detroit and Berlin where an impoverished state unable to afford city maintenance left many public areas to grow wild, offering more biodiversity of food for local bees (and less pesticides) than rural areas dominated by monocultures. In Berlin, this resurgence is inflected by the city’s embedded cultures of urban resilience and self-sufficiency as well as specific local histories of beekeeping in relation to city planning and the state. With around 900 beekeepers (still only one quarter of the numbers seen there in the 1950s), beehives are popping up in every neighbourhood, across school gardens, rooftops, empty lots and cemeteries.

Amongst the many different approaches to urban apiculture on offer last year at Prinzessinengarten’s annual Stadt Honig Fest, we find one bekeeper who tells us her honey is ‘a gift from the bees’, which she is permitted to take (commonly known as ‘robbing the hive’) as long as she promises to pass it on to others, giving jars to friends and tradespeople to acknowledge a job well done. We also meet Rainer Kaufmann, who unlike those in the honey trade managing hives for maximum yield, only harvests a tiny amount of honey for himself after winter when it is no longer needed for the brood, and doesn’t give his bees sugar to sweeten the deal. When we invite him to participate in our micro-honey exchange network he politely declines; his garden provides for all his needs, and besides his honey is too precious to trade. Erika Mayr, Berlin’s celebrity beekeeping advocate, is however keen – she already uses her own rooftop honey to pay for dental work and the DJs in her bar. In fact, during the DDR many people kept bees in order to trade the honey for desired commodities; they could even sell it back to the government at a fixed price, constituting a rare source of extra personal income. Today honey, like jam, always circulates within a gift economy, which as Marcel Mauss made clear, is not to say that there are no sticky two-way (or more) transactions involved.

 

Working Bees

At a seminar on the multiple modes of dwelling in Tiergarten—Berlin’s ‘Central Park’— we meet Viennese philosopher Fahim Amir, who declares bees the quintessential ‘emblem of green capitalism.’ Gesturing at the beehives installed on the roof of the building we are in, Berlin’s iconic Haus der Kulturen der Welt, he challenges us to recognise ‘naturecultures’ being put to work in the neoliberal city. Here bees produce honey to be sold in the gift shop as a boutique locavore product and service eco-friendly public relations. Just as their pollinating activities produce conditions desirable for us to live in, the presence of bees on prominent skylines performs symbolic work, assisting the city in its efforts to re-brand from an urban playground and post-communist social experiment to a green ‘lifestyle capital’, making it an attractive option for investment capital and facilitating the march of gentrification.

This role can also shift, as for Oliver, a physicist-turned-apiarist who sells his honey direct to people on the street over the hedge of his schrebergarten. In addition to their more obvious perambulatory role in the garden (a local law requires every gartenkolonie to have at least one beekeeper), he sees the bees as contributing valuable PR and visibility to their kolonie, important since there is talk of the land being sold off by its adjoining owners; it’s now good real estate in a desirable part of town.

Following Amir’s provocation, we can understand city bees as an ‘insect working class’ whose labours are both utilitarian and abstract. It is tempting then to imagine the disappearance of bees within industrialised agriculture as a kind of workers’ strike—or as Amir has put it a ‘zoooperaism’— a strategic political action undertaken to sabotage the human-centred mechanisms of global agribusiness production in which they are ensnared.

 

Being with

In such a critique we somehow lose sight of the bee again; Moore and Kosut, studying urban beekeeping in New York City, warn of our limited ability to ‘know’ bees using human senses, terms and concepts. They call for instead ‘new modes of embodied attention and awareness’—ways of standing back, intra-acting and just ‘being with’—essentially following the bee through its social transactions with objects, humans and insects, apprehending it as operative within its own world of meaning. In this they recognise other kinds of agency that bees have in the formation of engaged alliances within urban landscapes, through their embodied labour of pollination even constituting us physically as a species. Bringing together ‘the idea of the bee, humans’ material relationship with the bees, including use of them, and the actual bee as its own thing’, Moore and Kosut describe ‘an ontological murk of relations’ that leaves behind strict distinctions between species and their surroundings towards a relationship that is intimately ‘enmeshed and porous’.

Thinking further through interspecies relations wherein the terms of exchange are reconsidered, states like Bolivia and Ecuador have recently conferred the legal rights of subjects to nonhuman entities that include lakes, plants and the Panchamama. But what would a legal multispecies framework in a contemporary European city look like, and how could non-humans effectively defend those rights?

Berlin-based biologist Herbert Lohner is currently working on a ‘white paper’ that makes recommendations for state policies on ‘green infrastructure’, incorporating the wellbeing of bees and legislating such things as a minimum number of kleingarten to be built along with each new apartment. This is also about the right to a certain kind of green space, a commons that is not fully ‘public’ but necessarily involves interspecies sociality, providing a value not so easily quantified in monetary terms.

The Berlin Summt initiative, responsible for the hives at HKW, also hosts beehives across hundreds more of the city’s iconic buildings, including the Abgeordnetenhaus (House of Representatives), where Heinz Risse keeps 50,000 bees so that they may directly influence the decision-making of the parliamentarians inside. Heinz and Rainer are directors of the activist association Mellifera e.V., which works explicitly to ‘interfere politically on behalf of the bees’, recently helping to secure a temporary ban on neonicotinoids in the EU which is now being followed in parts of the US.

These moves can be traced back to the footpaths themselves; many of Berlin’s most famous streets are named after the flowering trees that line them – Kastanienallee, Unter den Linden – living traces of the influence of beekeeper lobby groups who in the late 19th Century shaped the ecologies of the growing city to ensure food for bees throughout the year (and of course honey for themselves).

Share-ability

In Berlin the practice of beekeeping sits alongside a broader culture of DIY economies and radical social formations that evolved over periods after reunification where there simply wasn’t much money around. Certainly times have changed, and such activities are now framed by the global ‘sharing economy’ which Cameron Tonkinwise observes has become ‘overwhelmingly an antiregulatory, precariat-creating way of monetizing social interactions’ (Tonkinwise). At last year’s annual OUIShare summit, a sort of trade fair mix of entrepreneurial social innovation start-ups and more radical grassroots initiatives, punters browsed such stands as a cargo bike-share platform, the free shop Leila, and the citizen-science project Open Source Beehives – standardised beehives that monitor bee health and behaviour in different parts of the world to address limited scientific knowledge about pollinator species and the ‘wild’ ecologies that support agricultural landscapes. Also present were LebensmittelRetten (foodrescue), an organised operation with partners that include the organic supermarket chain Bio Company, who operate a network of public fridges for distributing waste food across the city. The fridges fit into well-established modes of circulation and exchange that are in a sense built on the failures of an economic system driven by constant growth and wasted surplus. Such practices also tap into the momentum of an urban farmer-maker-hacker movement developing and sharing food sovereignty in a way that links localised autonomy from exploitative global markets with open source knowledge infrastructures.

Here too is a history here stretching back a century or more. In the 1920s when the German economy collapsed due to war reparations, hyperinflation pushed a loaf of bread up from 150 marks to 200 million in a year or two. Many regional municipalities responded by producing their own independent local currencies, or Notgeld, which had to be used regionally and before the expiry date (spent not saved). Being pictorial histories of desire at such a time – they show fields, cows, even beehives – as collectibles they accrued a different kind of value altogether. Commodities like coal and butter also became informal currencies, since they could not could lose all their value overnight, and were inherently less unstable than money – which as economic historian Winfried Bogon reminds us, is nothing more than a system of trust that functions only as long as everyone believes in it.

Operating on a tiny, pilot scale, our own notgeld functioned partly to capture some of the disproportionate quantities of labour needed to facilitate an interaction experienced by only a handful of participants. Each banknote (in an edition of three – two for the traders and one for the bees) commemorated one honey exchange in a micro-visual narrative. The B (bee)-side elevates their critical role within this transaction; clearly they make the honey, but there are also other things that a beekeeper receives in exchange for the care and home that they provide; many will speak of falling ‘in love’ with their bees, of being somehow changed by them. The bees themselves are further engaged in their own exchanges of pollen for pollination with the city’s flora, both wild and carefully planted.

As Tonkinwise puts it, sharing is about the messy negotiation of access to goods, which in the interests of futuring necessarily become scarcer. One salvageable value he finds in sharing systems today, or their potential for shifting mainstream values, lies in the friction caused by new socialities not defined by the alienated service roles of work. In this sense value must be negotiated person-to-person, sometimes awkwardly, in other words “capitalism is an alienated way of handling those negotiations; sharing forces you to negotiate with aliens”. Our honey trades were indeed examples of economic relations with ‘social thickness’, resource flows (how many jars is one singing lesson worth?) being placed upfront in a novel social relation. The process involved determining value outside a reductionist equation of money, what a jar can be sold for in the supermarket for example, as well as an assessment of one’s own capacities to meet the needs of others – human and non-human – that we share our cities with.

Plan Be/e

In the context of an economic crisis that, for Massimo de Angelis, is a capitalist crisis of social instability, the creation and maintenance of the commons become an imperative of social production. De Angelis defines commoning as a process of “socialization, communication and the transformation of subjectivities and social relations”, in which “the other is no longer alien but a coproducer of life in commons” (de Angelis 140). Drawing from the theories of physicist-philosopher Karen Barad, Moore and Kosut advocate a practice of ‘intra-species mindfulness’, which may also have resonance in considering how we organise together in urban communities. Contra to many scientists or beekeeper who attempt to figure another species out, they encourage their readers to figure bees in, and in doing so urge us to move outside our human selves to understand both ‘human’ and ‘other’ as cultural constructions. (Moore and Kosut, Among the Colony 520) Intra-actions are the material-discursive exchanges that co-constitute entities and refute the idea of bounded “entities in themselves”. As artists working with social relations, we’re heartened to hear that it is “relationality all the way down” (Haraway cited in Gane 141)—that the very fabric of life is itself somehow socially contingent.

Plan Bienen, being a pun on ‘Plan B’, references an imagined (even imaginary) ‘exit strategy’ to relations subsumed under capitalism. It may be that our best chance out runs in another direction, following the bee to a kind of thinking that seeks to undo the human, in an attempt to re-configure our relationship with other species, and by extension the common lifeworlds that we co-produce.

Plan Bienen blog: http://planbienen.net/

References

de Angelis, Massimo ‘Plan C&D: Commons and Democracy’, in Collectivize! Essays on the Political Economy of Urban Form ed. Marc Angélil and Rainer Hehl, Vol. 2, Ruby Press, Berlin.

Fry, Tony, 2011, Design as Politics, Berg, New York

Gane, Nicholas, 2006. ‘When We Have Never Been Human, What Is to Be Done? Interview with Donna Haraway.’ Theory, Culture & Society 2006, vol. 23, no. 7–8, pp. 135–158.

Kosut, Mary and Moore, Lisa Jean, 2014. ‘Among the colony: Ethnographic fieldwork, urban bees and intra-species mindfulness.’ Ethnography, vol. 15, no. 4, pp. 516–539.

Kosut, Mary and Moore, Lisa Jean, 2014b. ‘Bees Making Art: Insect Aesthetics and the Ecological Moment.’ Humanimalia: a journal of human/animal interface studies, Vol. 5, No. 2 (Spring )
URL: http://www.depauw.edu/humanimalia/issue10/kosut.html Accessed: 26 September 2015.

Tonkinwise, Cameron 2014. ‘Sharing you can believe in: The awkward potential of sharing economy encounters’, Medium.com URL: https://medium.com/@camerontw/sharing-you-can-believe-in-9b68718c4b33

Mitra Azar – Virtualization of the Gaze and POV as a Political Battlefield

POV BETWEEN PORNOGRAPHY AND POLITICS

POV (Point of View) is not only an expression referring to a certain way of shooting porno movies, where “the man [woman] receiving sexual gratification holds the camera himself [herself] and aims it down at his [her] genitals and the partner/s who is/are pleasuring him [her]” (Wikipedia), avoiding the presence of a “separate camera crew filming the action” and, thus, creating a sense of continuity between the viewers and the images, as if they were embedded/embodied in them. From an aesthetic perspective – as strangely as it might sound – POV and the notion of the embodied image and its excessive proliferation has also become nowadays politically relevant, especially in relation to the anonymity and frozen inscrutability of CCTV (Close-Circuit TV) or Drone imaging as metaphors of a centralized (yet already mobile) panoptic gaze. The Arab Spring comes, and POV mobile phones images become as well the format people adopt to post online images of demonstrations and military abuses, thus activating their digital netizenship in the context of uprises and through the epistemology of an open distributed network of nodes. Slightly later, the Selfie as a technique of taking self portraits, especially with a hand-held mobile phone embedded camera, becomes widely popular, transforming a POV of someone over somebody/something into a POV of someone over himself. During the 2015 #Youstink Lebanese movement, rioters threw stones at the military with a rock in one hand and the phone pointed at themselves in the other. Meanwhile, POV starts slipping away from users‘ hands, thanks to the Selfie stick, an object (namely a stick) in between the mobile phone camera and the hands of the users, highlighting a gradual process of POV disembodiment, moving towards a CCTV-like image format.

Here, I would like to start a post-phenomenological cartography of the processes of abstraction of the POV (and of the body), in relation to the virtualization of the Gaze within the compulsive proliferation of image production, especially in the context of a crisis. The process of virtualization begins as a slippage of POV as an embodied relation between camera, user and audience, into FPV (First Person View), where POV is remoted wirelessly from the POS (Point of Shoot), and the user controls the device “from the driver or pilot’s view point” (Wikipedia). When FPV frames from a microscopic perspective, medical imaging manifests itself as a very peculiar form of gaze embodiment, whereas when it frames from a macroscopic perspective, CCTV and Drone imaging manifest themselves as last degrees of actualized gaze disembodiments. POV, FPV and CCTV are indeed the macro-regime of visibility, according to which they organize a post-phenomenology of the anthropo-technical mutation of the gaze, and of its online/offline circuiting.

GOOGLE GAZE CIRCUIT AND POV DISEMBODIMENT BETWEEN COLONIZATION AND SUBVERSION

According to this framework, Google Maps, Google Car and Google Glass are the metaphoric boundaries of the journey of the gaze out of the body. Google Maps satellite imaging visualizes a CCTV disembodied geographical Cartesian space; Google Car mimicries the possibility of an ubiquitous fully transparent, yet (mechanically) embodied FPV over that geographical space, while Google Glass turns Google Car FPV into a POV with CCTV traits. Here, the micro-standardized overlapping of CCTV, FPV and POV and, consequently, of geography over territory (G. Bateson, 1972), generates a “map that engenders the territory […] whose shreds are slowly rotting across the map. It is the real, and not the map, whose vestiges subsist here and there, in the deserts which are no longer those of the Empire but our own: the desert of the real itself” (J. Baudrillard, 1998). The Google gaze circuit is well visualized by the image of somebody taking a Selfie with his phone, while getting caught by a Google Car camera passing by exactly at the moment of the shooting, making the (POV) Selfie eventually available on Google Maps within the CCTV gaze of Google Satellites and the FPV gaze of Google Car, as in the mostly unconscious net art performance by Nasr Bitar, citizen of Ontario, Canada. Particularly, Google Glass gaze circuit emphasizes the shrinking of the space of abstraction related to the processes of POV disembodiment, now at few centimeters from the user’s retina. Here, POV and CCTV, along with territory and geography, collapse into each others. Here, geography starts generating territory, instead of the contrary, and the “abstraction is no longer that of the double, the mirror or the concept. Simulation is no longer that of a territory, a referential being or substance. It is the generation of models of a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal” (J. Baudrillard, 1998). POV and CCTV overlap also with the GIGA Selfie, a system patented in Australia allowing tourists to take (POV) Selfies remotely controlling a CCTV-like camera able to zoom from a CCTV-like frame to a POV-Selfie-like close-up of users‘ faces, making the human figure a measure of the surrounding space, and shrinking the “space of appearance” (A. Harendt, 1958) from the territory to the figure, thus implying a conservative anthropocentric Vitruvian idea of the relation between body and landscape. If in this Google gaze circuit types it is possible to sense the attempt of colonizing and normalizing (CCTVing) a perceptive region intrinsically autonomous (POVing), and therefore potentially subversive, similar overlapping can produce quite opposite results, and POV disembodiment can become a form of resistance. As in the case of the first hologram protest held in Madrid, Spain, opposing the law banning demonstrations outside the government buildings, and portraying a crowd forced to fully disembody in order to exercise its right to protest. Along the same line, on a symbolic level, people’s takeover of the national TV studios during the 1989 Romanian Revolution can also be read as a form of POV disembodiment from the streets into a CCTV/television-like format. Something similar happens with the Tahrir Cinema, where the protesters’ POVs uploaded online, documenting the Egyptian Revolution are downloaded and projected in a CCTV/cinema-mode in the same square they’ve been archived. More recently, Bryce Williams recorded with his phone his deadly gun shoots at two of his colleagues while on air, metaphorically warning about the unpredictable and un-domesticable nature of POVs. Bryce’s phone points at the cameraman and at the woman presenting, while approaching them, waiting the TV camera to frame her before shooting with his gun, and, thus, turning his POV into a CCTV/television-mode live feed.

POLITICS OF REGIMES OF VISIBILITY AND REGIMES OF TRUTH

It is worth noticing that each of these regimes of visibility brings along a regime of truth. It is indeed possible to think about the process of virtualization of the gaze, not only as the transformation of POV into CCTV, and of territory into geography, but also in relation to the degree of vérité of the respective regimes of visibility happening within this process. From the unter-testimony of CAT scan, MRI and laparoscopic videos documenting the inside of the body from a non-human scale, to the dubious testifying status of certain (POV) Selfies, to the objectifying gaze of CCTV cameras and Drone imaging, to the uber-testimony of an hologram protest, one of the recurrent elements of these regimes seems to be the actual difficulty of defining their vérité status. Maybe the becoming CCTV of the POV (and viceversa), and the becoming geography of territory (and viceversa) is at the base of the confusion between fiction and reality, and of the consequent state of hyperrealism mentioned above. Neda Agha-Soltan died in Tehran on 20 June 2009, killed by a sniper, while being recorded by a demonstrator’s mobile phone POV, staring in the moment of death straight at his camera. The image goes viral online and becomes the symbol of the revolution, while the Iranian authority calls it a mise en scène orchestrated by the CIA and the American press, questioning the documentary status of this image. The dubious vérité status of POV images affects Selfies as a form of reflexive POV as well. The ontological nature of the Selfie itself rises question about the documentary or fictional status of the image produced, because of the posing attitude of the subject staging the image, and because of the common practice of shooting tens of the same Selfie, then selecting and uploading just one. Selfies can act as a documentary POV with CCTV function, as in the case of Selfies taken by thieves, allowing the police to track and secure them, or, as in the case of Mastercard Selfie’s technology for payment procedure, identifying the buyer and securing the shopping. But the Selfie can also act as fictional mise en scène as in the Twitter post showing a Palestinian youngster taking a Selfie, while running away from two Israeli cops, custom-made by Dam, a hip hop trio from Ramallah. The question about the realness of the image is also attributed to the Selfies Abdou Diouf took of his illegal border crossing from Africa to Europe, Selfies that, once uploaded on his Instagram page, work as a form of political net-activism, despite their potential CCTV status. Thus, Selfies seem a great example to show how a certain type of image (and gaze) can disembody by changing its function but not its phenomenological nature, highlighting a tension between the ontological and the epistemological status of the regimes of visibility, manifesting in our cartography. At the same time, the different regimes of visibility and the technology making them available are more and more fluid, so that every state of POV embodiment and disembodiment can turn into another one almost flawlessly. According to our cartography, Drone imaging is the last degree of POV disembodiment. Within the military and security field, Drone transforms CCTV cameras into mobile entities able to monitor (and eventually attack) the space around them from an aerial perspective. Now, think of the wearable drone selfie, a bracelet with an embedded camera that you can release on air to take a Selfie of you from a Drone perspective. Here, Drone imaging as convergency of CCTV and FPV becomes a Drony – basically a (POV) Selfie with a Drone POS (Point of Shoot). The turning into a Selfie of a Drone imaging is matched by its opposite, the turning into a Drone of a Selfie, as in the case of Buildering, “the act of climbing on the outside of buildings and other artificial structures” (Wikipedia), and – I would add – of taking (POV) Selfies on top of them, highlighting how the processes of POV disembodiment are simultaneous to those of CCTV (or Drone) embodiment. These processes can activate authoritarian politics, as much as subversive practice. Even though it is possible to see a pattern connecting POV disembodiment (or CCTV embodiment) to the risk of repressive politics (especially in relation to data mining and privacy), and one opposite pattern connecting POV embodiment to forms of resistance to these politics, it seems important to investigate how to inject subversive potentialities into the very same processes that normally tend to assume a political repressive connotation. Tahrir Cinema and Buildering detour the turning into CCTV of the POV, into a political practice of re-appropriation of the space, whereas the disembodiment of the crowd’s POV during the Spanish hologram protest has been a way to overcome the demonstration ban.

THE OFFLINE/ONLINE CIRCUITING OF THE GAZE BETWEEN CONJUNCTION AND CONNECTION

It is worth noticing that the processes of POV disembodiment can also be read as the Prometheic attempts of its re-embodiment over the Internet, as the excessive pornography available online proves to suggest, as much as the number of absurd online challenges (as the #firechallenge, or the #kyliejennerchallenge), where the internautes engage in extreme ways with their bodies, while taking Selfies. The regimes of visibility connected to the POV processes of abstraction can be observed under the lens of their online/offline circuiting, and POV disembodiment seems indeed to happen in parallel with another process, that of the Internet embodiment (IE), offering the opportunity of conceptualizing the Net not anymore as a simple interface, but rather as environment and behaviors (H. Steyerl, Too Much World: Is the Internet Dead?). According to this frame, we can look at the Selfies not only as the beginning of POV disembodiment, but also as a consequence of the Internet domestication of the gaze, and of its embodiment into offline behaviors, fully oriented to an uploading phase. The conjunctive as the offline modality of becoming-other and developing singularities by enhancing differences, is replaced by the connective, the functional interaction of elements of a given relationship, according to principles of similarities and compatibility (Bifo, 2011). The shrinking of the offline space of appearance seems indeed simultaneous to the opening of an online space of appearance – in fact, it is hard to give sense to the Selfies without thinking of their online uploading, confirming the offline behavioral nature of the nowadays Internet, and the ontological changing of the relation between reality and virtuality, territory and geography, offline and online. The colonization of the POV is indeed a process that happens in the offline/online circuiting of the gaze, and in the affordances (Gibson, 1977) offered by the military-entertainment complex (T. Lenoir, H. Lowood, Theaters of War, the Military-Entertainment Complex) – from front mobile camera to Dronies, and so forth. In this context, designing a cartography of the relation between the processes of virtualization of the gaze, their vérité statuses and their offline/online circulation seems important in order to investigate how to elaborate a strategy of resistance and of being-together, in the perspective of the overwhelming narcissism and ontological onanism manufactured by a repressive use of the technology available nowadays.

Publications:

Jean Baudrillard, Simulacres et simulation, Paris: Éd. Galilée, 1981.

Gregory Bateson, Steps to an Ecology of Mind, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1972.

Hanna Arendt, The Human Condition, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958.

James J. Gibson, The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1979.

Dan Getting et al., The Drone Primer: A Compendium Of The Key Issues, Center for the Study of the Drone: Bard College, 2014.

Franco Berardi Bifo, After the Future, Oakland: AK Press, 2011.

Online:

J. Butler, Bodies in Alliance and the Politics of the Street, Eipcp.net.

H. Steyerl, Too Much World: Is the Internet Dead?, e-flux.

P. Friedl, History in the Making, e-flux.

Tim Lenoir and Henry Lowood, Theaters of War. The Military-Entertainment Complex. Stanford.edu

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Point_of_view_shot

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First-person_view_(radio_control)

http://www.buzzfeed.com/deannye/selfie-on-street-view#.yhAo8WgoK

http://hyperallergic.com/194573/explore-a-surreal-performance-parody-of-google-street-view/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vitruvian_Man

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3038317/The-world-s-HOLOGRAM-protest-

Thousands-join-virtual-march-Spain-against-law-banning-demonstrations-outside-government-buildings.html

http://edition.cnn.com/2015/04/12/europe/spain-hologram-protest/

https://www.google.com/culturalinstitute/u/0/exhibit/the-romanian-revolution-broadcast-live/wRsiAKoC?hl=en&position=30%2C80
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/11826100/Bryce-Williams-profile-of-Virginia-news-gunman.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CT_scan

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magnetic_resonance_imaging

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laparoscopy

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/02/09/crime-scene-selfies-generally-a-bad-idea.html

http://emgn.com/entertainment/these-10-selfies-got-all-these-stupid-criminals-arrested-justice-served/10/

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/palestinian-mans-selfie-while-running-away-

http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/world-news/desperate-migrant-uses-instagram-share-6185285

https://instagram.com/abdoudiouf1993/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buildering

https://www.distractify.com/such-great-heights-1197777371.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fire_challenge

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-3047484/Disturbing-new-Kylie-Jenner-challenge-sees-teens-suck-shot-glasses-blow-lips-double-size-disastrous-results.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Affordance

Videos:

Google Glass ad:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JSnB06um5r4

Bryce Williams:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uKKWkCOnXE8

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VPMBiQX5Tx4

Neda Agha-Soltan:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R1hkQtuwV38

Wearable Drone Selfie:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Pcosoqk3W4&feature=youtu.be

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rjqEAgINNWE&feature=youtu.be

Wolfgang Sützl – Sharing: Existence, Expenditure, and the Economy of Sacrifice

For Heidegger, sharing is a property of Dasein, of the mode of being that is constitutive to the human mode being-in-the-world, that is, to existence. The world we exist in is always already a shared world making being in the world Mitsein, or being-with. It is because of this originary sharing that we are always also the other, and so the sharing of the world allows others to appear. Nancy takes this thinking further, considering sharing as a prerequisite of meaning, and at the root of his critique of capitalism.
It is through the historical universalization of exchange, necessitated by the principle of private property, that sharing has drifted to the margins of western culture. The current triumph of neoliberalism amounts to an attempt at creating a world that is no longer a shared world. In such a world, optimized towards the requirements of exchange, sameness and generalized positivity give radical otherness nowhere to be. Precisely at the time when sharing is hailed as a more agreeable, pleasant form of capitalism, the actual meaning of sharing becomes all but impossible to communicate.
When Bataille developed his concept of expenditure in the 1920s, he intuited that an effective critique of capitalism must let go of the principle of exchange and instead ground itself on what is given away without return, what is wasted and “sacrificed.” Does his notion of expenditure contain leads for developing a radical critique of neoliberalism from existential and ontological understandings of sharing?
Referring to recent works by Wendy Brown, Byung-Chul Han, Gianni Vattimo & Santiago Zabala, this talk asks the question where the place for a critical understanding of sharing is within the critique of neoliberalism.

Scott Wark – The Meme in Excess of its Instance

0. INSTANCE

 

Probably the first Lolcat

Anyone with a cursory familiarity with the internet will recognise the archetypal meme instantly: an image that can be humorous, but isn’t always, and that’s overlaid with header and/or footer text. It might be an image of cats, dog(e)s, frogs, or other animals; celebrities or pop culture scenes; hi def or lo brow photo-shopped or MS Paint graphics that are real, drawn, or computer generated; white Impact font in ALLCAPS or primary-colour clouds of Comic Sans text; or, at the limit of what we might consider an image, the looped movement of the GIF. This content is more or less schlocky and popular. In broader terms, the word has been extended to other forms of digital media, including easily re-shared (often inspirational) phrases; short videos, like vines; or even embeddable audio clips and sound-boards. The meme has sloughed off its neo-Darwinist associations and is now taken to be internet culture’s minimal, circulating unit.

 

 

The meme is not just an image, but it is usually consumed, produced, disseminated and manipulated through graphic user interfaces and distributed platforms. The interface is the non-visual meme’s visual frame. Perhaps, like Hito Steyerl’s “poor images”, the meme moves like an “errant idea” (Steyerl, 2012: 32), tracing the path of that which goes astray. Steyerl also says of the poor image that, “[i]n short: it is about reality” (44). The meme is internet schlock, but its errant movements also expose us to the massively distributed networks that are less a virtuality than an other elemental milieu. Like the more strictly defined internet images that Maria Olson describes, memes “circulate in excess” (Olson, 2008: 280). This excess, the internet’s, is what the meme indexes. Not only because it exploits network infrastructure to make internet culture move, but because the meme is, in a very basic way, in excess of itself.

 

1. SERIES

The meme is always more than a particular instance because it has a double character. To function as a meme, media must express an organising syntax. The meme-instance is also, always, a member of a meme-series. But this quality makes it this almost-contradictory excessive unit hard to theorise. The meme resists reduction to its putative “content”, troubling typical – discrete, additive – understandings of cultural objects.

 

A definition of the meme like the one Limor Shifman offers is indicative. Shifman’s definition identifies three main characteristics: it encapsulates “a group of digital items sharing common characteristics of content, form, and/or stance”; it states that these items “were created with awareness of each other”; and it stipulates that these items “were circulated, imitated, and/or transformed via the internet by many users”(Shifman, 2013: 41). Or: the meme is serial; produced collectively; and it circulates. Whilst Shifman’s definition is useful, it is also limited.

 

Probably the earliest Doge meme

Take the Doge meme, one of the most popular (Anglophone) memes of the past few years. The popular Know Your Meme (KYM) platform, a user-generated meme encyclopaedia, constructs a taxonomy of the Doge meme by identifying its common characteristics. These include the ur-content of the now-iconic Shiba Inus breed of dog and the Comic Sans MS font overlay in basic, bright colours; the twisted misuse of the formal grammatical modifiers, much, many, so, very and such (as in typical phrases like “very Doge, much cool”); and the related ironic “contemplative” stance that, it is argued, these features engender. KYM historicises these features by relating them to key platforms, like the “Shiba Confessions” Tumblr, or media, like the seminal clip from the early comic web series, Homestar Runner, that is credited for spelling out and so initiating writing/saying D-O-G-E.

 

How are we to use these materials to understand what a meme might be? Taken alongside Shifman’s framework, the data that KYM archives can be stitched into a history by enumerating instances and bringing them in to a more or less adequate genealogy. The second-person plural past tense Shifman uses – memes “were” created, “were” shared – defines the meme as a nominalistic collection of instances with a trackable provenance. This approach allows us to understand the meme as an accretion of instances that merge, like tributaries, into its contemporary instantiation. But this reduction to the collection of instances elides the meme’s collective, excessive character, because the “group” it describes is not the same as the “series”.

 

This approach fails to escape a basic theoretical aporia confronting any theory of the meme: that “Doge” designates both a Doge, an instance, and the Doge, the series. The series can neither be reduced to nor transcend the collection of instances that comprises it. Or: it is in excess of its apprehensible content. This claim can be clarified by Georges Bataille’s distinction between a “restrictive” and a “general” economy. In Shifman’s model, making memes is the prerogative of participatory users and amounts to a kind of collective activity. It presents what Bataille calls a “conventional set of human activities”, or a restricted, enumeratable group (Bataille, 1988: 68). In the face of this model we might ask, what’s the return on a meme? Can the meme be limited to the sum of its constituents, or does the meme put something more into play? How does a meme, like the Smaug meme below, emerge out of, mutate, or deconstruct the Doge?

 

Smaug-Doge (Smoge?)

 

The tendency to reduce the meme-series to its content is symptomatic of a broader problem in media studies. A meme is only a meme, or a meme-series, when it enters circulation. Yet media studies so often fails to account for what the mechanism that underpins distributed cultural production, the circulation of media, actually is. When the meme ceases to circulate, it ceases to exist. The “irreducible movement” that Bataille ascribes to his “general economy” (68) is integral to both its mediation and its basic continuation. To understand why the meme is in excess of its content, we need to ask what it means for a meme to return.

 

2. CIRCULATION

 

Circulation could be described as fundamental to large-scale media, but it’s not very well theorised in media studies. Our usual understanding of circulation is problematic, because it’s tautological. The etymology of circulation, which denotes or has denoted something spreading or moving through something else, is inscribed with its own media theory. Circulation is usually understood as the circulation of content through a medium. Sianne Ngai, for instance, defines circulation as “the technologically-mediated movement and dissemination” of things like “information, discourse and commodities” (Ngai, 2012: f.n.1, p. 246). For memetic media to be reduced to content, then, they need a carrier: the networks that content passes through. But this division between content and network, or matter and form, generates a problem.

 

The problem plays out like this. When we ask the question, “what is circulated”, we get the following answer: content. But if we follow this question with another, “what is circulation?”, we get a tautological answer: circulation is the circulation of content. If content is already understood as, by its very nature, having already been put in circulation by its technological substrate, the circular nature of our conception of circulation becomes clear. Content circulates; technology circulates content. The concept of the circulation of content is without content.

 

I’m just going to leave this here

 

“Content” is the death mask of circulation. Content is content because content is content, which is to say because it isn’t anything in particular. If the meme is analogous to content, it has no utility as a concept. It would signify a contradictory impulse: to understand the meme as a unit that is both informational, and so seemingly free to circulate; but also phenomenal, and so understood through and for us. The impulse to reduce the meme to its instances does violence to the concept because it assumes that the meme’s singular, phenomenal form is primary. It elides the meme’s irreducible, nonhuman movement because it assumes that the economy of the meme produces returns that can be cashed in by an aggregate of human actors.

 

That’s probably not realistic, Keanu.

 

We can apprehend this movement’s velocity when we ask, instead, what it means for a meme to return. Karl Marx’s concept of circulation helps us to frame this question. Marx argues that the circulation of capital must be “grasped as a movement, and not as a static thing” (Marx, 1993: 185). Capital’s movements intersect with, but are not equivalent to, internet culture’s. But, we can nevertheless begin by focusing on circulation understood in excess of its infrastructural carriers. Circulation is the process through which something returns – but not necessarily to us. Circulation forms a circle, “autonomising” a process that is abstracted from its contents (Marx, 185). Sheared from the dynamics of capitalist value creation, this process – Verselbstständigung, achieving an independent existence – autonomises the meme as a processual series. The meme that enters circulation returns to itself.

 

If the meme is neither content nor instance, what kind of media is it? The concept itself exceeds the mere image, encapsulating GIFs, vines, bits of text and short audio clips. Memetic mediation is irreducible to the instance, but it shouldn’t be confused with its network infrastructure. The meme in excess of itself reorders what we think of as media, because its mode of mediation exploits the processual, constantly mutating distribution of the network itself – and makes it available for manipulation.

 

(In simple terms)

 

3. MEDIA

Sybille Krämer argues that “”mediation” must be understood as radically extrinsic, as the back-and-forth of circulation itself” (Krämer, 2015: 54). What we would otherwise call the meme’s “content”, its intrinsic qualities, are secondary to its extrinsic quality, that it has entered circulation. The instance or its content is a retroactive epiphenomenon of the process of the meme returning to itself. Steyerl says of the poor image that it “is no longer about the real thing – the originary original” (Steyerl, 2012: 44). The Doge’s genealogy is secondary. What it’s about are “its own real conditions of existence: [] swarm circulation, digital dispersion, fractured and flexible temporalities” (44). To return to what I said she said before, “in short: it is about reality” (44).

 

The Doge meme has also morphed into a Cyrptocurrency with a real world value, mixing alternate modes of circulation – and the modes of reality they produce.

 

The meme is a kind of media, only not the kind we’re used to dealing with. Bernhard Siegert has critiqued media studies’ tendency to reduce media to usually screen-based devices and interfaces (Siegert, 2015: 87) – to that which is discrete. But the meme’s circulation mediates, and can be used to manipulate, a specific relationship to reality. The meme can only return to itself, or exceed itself, because it can collect a certain kind of return made possible by another kind of abstraction.

 

What we call the internet is not an internet, but a series of networks governed by protocols, technologies and distance (Dourish, 2015). These networks trace a very terrestrial material infrastructure: the letters labelling Google’s search interface transmitted to us, along fibre-optic cable routes first laid for telegraphic communication (Easterling, 2014), from massively-polluting data centres whose cooling pipes echo this logo’s hues. The internet is not an abstraction or a frictionless space through which data flows, because we can point to where it quite literally is. But circulation nevertheless generates a kind of abstraction that subsists in the joints of its massive, global distribution.

 

 

Benjamin Bratton’s fiction of “the black stack”, which describes this global distribution, has a certain kind of utility for thinking memetic mediation. Global data movements might not flow freely – or at all (Sutherland, 2013) – but they are in excess of our ability to either comprehend or to calculate them meaningfully. As John Durham Peters quips, “ontology, whatever else it is, is usually just forgotten infrastructure” (Peters, 2015: 35). The internet is not reducible to a re-presenting network map. Rather, this kind of mapping is a “cultural technique” that, given Siegert’s argument that ontology emerges out of “concrete ontic operations” (Siegert, 2015: 87; 2013), provides us with one way of dividing and mediating the internet’s distribution. The production and circulation of memes is another kind of technique.

 

If the meme has any utility as a concept that is non-medium-specific, it is because it emerges from a cultural technique that is specific to a massively distributed network real: the meme that returns, in excess of itself, is first made as a kind of offering.

 

4. EXCESS

The fiction of the stack or of massive distribution has a limited kind of phenomenological truth: the internet is in excess of us. The eventual heat-death of our solar system undoes any empirical efficacy that Bataille’s concept of a “solar economy” might have had as energetic apeiron. But his idea of squander is still useful for thinking the excessive dynamics of memetic circulation. Making memes is a kind of expiation, a kind of offering made to what we construe as excess itself. Any return that we might get from this meme is secondary to the originary return it must first make to itself.

 

The limits of the solar real

 

Memes aren’t for us, but they participate in what Alexander R. Galloway calls the “furious” network real (Galloway, 2013). Memes are non-media-specific because the basic technique that presupposes them is the mediatic mode of making an offering to the network. This is, in the end, why the meme’s content is epiphenomenal. The “content” of the meme, or what we consume, is retroactively condensed as a set of associated, and, contingent techniques: the Shiba Inu, Comic Sans, etcetera. It’s real “content” that we consume is not, originally, what the meme contains, but that it is able to circulate.

 

How a meme doesn’t work

 

This expiatory technique is processual and recursive: we – where this term is understood, always, in terms that are singular and collective (see Stiegler, 2009) – try to manipulate the abstract reality of massive distribution by making memes. Olson has described internet images as “the vertebrae of a body that we otherwise seek to theorise as amorphous” (Olson, 2008: 281). Memetic mediation gives the network a furious, mutating, threatening spine.

 

But if this expiatory technique traces a mode of existence, it is one in which what is shared is only shared indirectly and may never return to us, as either profit or as experience. By exploiting the furious reality of distributed networks, this technique traces the outlines of alien processes that we can only ever access obliquely. The mode of existence of technical beings (see, i.e., Simondon 1980) introduces scale into experience. What is huge may be entirely indifferent to what isn’t. Though our sun radiates huge amounts of energy, it will one day die. We rely on it, but it is radically indifferent to us.

 

Like magnets, the fractal notion of scalability is rather mystical

 

Or: we may make our offerings to the internet, but the internet will remain unknowable in its entirety. Contra Bruno Latour, networks are not necessarily available at all of their points. This is an abstraction, but it’s also real. The relationship between the act of expiation and subjectivity is oblique at best. Its effect on us is less like the sun’s excessive rays and more like an enveloping atmosphere, a milieu that can only partially be perceived (Peters, 2015: 46). What does it mean for experience if the act of giving to an abstraction is not only not reciprocated, but that the non-reciprocity of what is massively larger than us can be exploited as a technique? The meme errs because it doesn’t rely on us. The furious “non-human” swarms.

 

 

// BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bataille, Georges. The Accursed Share: An Essay on General Economy. New York: Zones Books, 1988.

Bratton, Benjamin. “The Black Stack”. E-Flux No. 53 (2013). Online: http://www.e-flux.com/journal/the-black-stack/

Dourish, Paul. “Protocols, Packets and Proximity: The Materiality of Internet Routing. In Signal Traffic: Critical Studies of Infrastructure, eds. Lisa Parks and Nicole Starosielski. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2015.

Easterling, Keller. Extrastatecraft: The Power of Infrastructure Space. London: Verso, 2014.

Galloway. “Love of the Middle”, in Galloway, Thacker and Wark, eds. Excommunication: Three Inquiries into Media and Mediation. Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2014. 25-75.

Krämer, Sybille. Medium, Messenger, Transmission: An Approach to Media Philosophy. Trans. Anthony Enns. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2015.

Marx, Karl. Capital Vol 2: A Critique of Political Economy. Trans. David Fernbach. London: Penguin, 1993.

Ngai, Sianne. Our Aesthetic Categories: Zany, Cute, Interesting. Harvard: Harvard University Press, 2012.

Olson, Maria. “Lost Not Found: The Circulation of Images in Digital Culture”. In Words Without Pictures, 18 September 2008, online: http://wordswithoutpictures.org/main.html?id=276

Peters, John Durham. The Marvellous Clouds: Toward a Philosophy of Elemental Media. Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2015.

Shifman, Limor. Memes in Digital Culture. Mass.: MIT Press, 2013.

Siegert, Bernhard. “Cultural Techniques: Or the End of the Intellectual Postwar Era in Germany”. Online: Theory, Culture & Society, 2013. 1-18.

—         “Media After Media”. In Media After Kittler, eds. Ileni Ikoniadou and Scott Wilson. London: Rowman & Littlefield, 2014.

Stiegler, Bernard. Acting out. Trans. David Barrison, Daniel Ross and Patrick Crogan. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2009.

Steyerl, Hito. “In Defense of the Poor Image”. In The Wretched of the Screen. Berlin: Steinberg Press, 2012. 31-44.

Cansu Topaloglu-Media Archaeologies of Digital Humanities: A Genealogy of Digital Humanities, Archives and Interfaces

Abstract

I seek to undertake a detailed analysis of the historical perspective of Digital Humanities in a technology oriented media age, and would like to investigate how digitised records (consisting of visual or a textual data) and interfaces defined by algorithmic systems within computational machineries was transformed by informatics within interfaces. As well as the theoretical perspective, my research will continue to deal with the case studies theorising within a media archaeological perspective including the concepts of materiality, medium and dynamics of interfaces in keeping up with the hybridity of digital humanities.

Introduction

It is largely recognised that the frameworks of a system in media-historical principles are based on the perspective of the archivological approach in the sense of Digital Humanities. A media archaeological approach, in an advanced notion of storing data, refers to the idea that historical objects are not possibly constructed by only the media itself. The context of the various media systems from Library catalogs to microfilming have been affected as well as the notions of the historical remains of the archive itself. (Ernst 2013) The traditional understanding of storing data is based on the idea of classifications of inventories. This, however, is replaced by a fluctuating order of information by dynamic access. Thus, it is observed in scholarly research that the archive is redefined by the transformation from being passive storage to an alghoritmically-generated process. (Ernst 2013) In this regard, this article analyses this dynamic transition among data, archive and the digital medium, examining their connections by inspecting interfaces through theorising the historical approach from a critical perspective.

In accordance with the hybridity of the digital humanities, the surrounding research for the article draws on the realms of history and media archaeologies crossing interdisciplinary studies to develop a broader theoretical analysis. The main subjects of the article provides the research questions by giving a brief summary by answering the questions: (1) What is the main reason(s) of the transformation of traditional Humanities and how is Digital Humanities reconceptualised regarding its metamorphosis analysing its context and theory? (2) How and what ways can Digital Humanities be investigated regarding the historical perspective of interfaces? (3) What is the relationship between the narrative and the object as a medium through a close attention to the case studies in a comparative basis in terms of materiality, and how, regarding the case studies, are interfaces and computational archaeologies influenced by the operations of cyber culture?

The centrality of the archivology draws a study around cultural and media archaeology through a Foucaultian concept from the physical concreteness to abstract discourses in terms of storage. In a regular sense, the archive is supposed to be a mileux for storage, preservation, classification and access. (Rossaak 2010b:11; Parikka 2012) In other words, it can be seen that the archive is considered as an abstract concept of storing data of modern culture, which operated as a medium itself. (Parikka 2012) In this regard, the article centralising the studies of multiple disciplines of history and media, hybridised with the theoretical research based on solidification of “intangible cultural heritage” (Laszlo 98; Flanders, Piez and Terras 2007) that aims to demonstrate a critical analysis depending on case studies.

Materiality

It is commonly seen that primary sources of heritage content and resources have been increasingly digitised in arts and humanities. Museum archives and libraries are additionally changing its medium and digitised, yet, changing digital objects are supposed to be considered as collections in their own right, and it is observed that most of the artefacts are documented digitally by mediating its medium. According to Hayles,

Collection databases with digital images of objects have been augmented by innovative ‘born-digital’ interpretive resources such as themed ‘guided tours’ of ‘highlight’ objects, illustrated timelines, and innovative approaches to object-based history such as the masterful History of the World in 100 Objects: a British Museum–BBC co-production broadcast on radio and podcasts with an accompanying website that extends the programme’s content and interactivity.” (2004)

Most of the museums and sites that express historical significance are proposing multiplicity in angles on a historical symbol offering wireless connections and applications in their exhibitions and permanent galleries. The artefacts that allow interactive usage of the medium are naturally greater in major, especially in well-resourced institutions, yet, the museums such as National Museum of Samoa offer modest options sharing their culturally-significant resources/collections through software based dashboards/platforms. It is obviously observed that the process of spreading cultural heritage through mediums which are defined by protocols and algorithms has been widening its reachability which associates the fact that especially “ethnographic” objects and archives accumulated within networks of colonial power, enables communities and the general public connected with collections which were used to have limited access. As a result of this, it is seen that the attempts to make the information and material as a collection, ‘set within the context of increasing the public engagement with digital technologies in general, are beginning to unsettle the often assumed ‘radical distinction between material and virtual’ (Witcomb 2007: 35; Hayles 2004). According to Andre Witcomb, material/virtual, weight/surface, aura/insubstantiality, authoritative knowledge/popular ideas, and elite privilege/democratic access do not express any division. Digitally defined objects which initiate particular features precise their own materiality and considered to have their own physical presence in an exhibition. With its unique technicality and substantiality, they can be considered as objects themselves which enables matters of distinctions (Witcomb 2007: 36; Hayles 2012). Born-digital objects might confuse the situation since the material itself increases the importance to future historians. (Hayles 2012) Furthermore, Hayles illustrates the fact that the body within postmodern definitions draws an immaterial informational structure by comparing to materiality with perceptional definitions,

[T]he human body, our body, seems superfluous in its proper expanse, in the complexity and multiplicity of its organs, of its tissue and functions, because today everything is concentrated in the brain and the genetic code, which alone sum up the operational definition of being.” (2004)

David Bolter and Richard Grusin’s work Remediation (1999) demonstrates the fact that media itself expresses a constant change within a repeated movement of resemblance offering a simultaneous form of mediation through the scope of medium specified analysis (MSA). It depicts an alteration in the language of media communications such as text mediating into a digital medium as a vocabulary of screen and page processing in a digital software and analogue interface with the hybridity of code and ink, controllable buttons and images in an algorithmic system. (Hayles 2004) In this regard, a distinctive infrastructure between ‘old’ and ‘new’ media was offered by Manovich to be able to conduct MSA; which are (1) numerical representation; (2) modularity; (3) automation; (4) variability; and (5) transcoding. Emphasizing Hayles’ ideas on transcoding, it is seen that “numerical representation” is considered as the most viable matter in terms of its dynamics and programmability at medium’s specificity.

To be able to investigate these dynamic interactions, Medium-Spesific Analysis (MSA is seen necessary. It constructs an electrifying neocortex of literary criticism into recognising which strands on a traditional emphasis on materiality which are examined paradigmatically emphasising on the literary effects emerging the materiality of the texts that refers to the hypertext commonly used in both digital and print media.

Regarding her cognitive approach on materiality and new media tools, Hayles claims the fact that specifying materiality cannot be possible since it proposes a borderland between physical and mental, the artefact and the user, which provides an ideal chance to investigate the dynamic connection between the artifactual characteristics and the interpretation that materiality embodies. Hypertext proposes a medium by analysing dynamic interactions of the artifacts and their characteristics, and the interpretation that materiality embodies. (Hayles 2004)

Aura

In alignment with the auraic potential of the material outlined by Walter Benjamin discusses the unique existence of the physical object regarding the time and space, and it is claimed that the originality vanishes in reproductions since it tarnishes the ritual of the object through the process of digitisation. In this regard, it is claimed that the originality of physical objects loses its authenticity. In his work “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”, Benjamin claims that the metarial objects have a one-time experience in terms of their uniqueness. According to him, the aura represents for this experience of unique value which stresses on the fact that objects cannot be multiplied or reproduced. Another similar argument that he proposes is the “aesthetic experience” of the aforementioned one-time experience. An aura can be applied to the original piece of work. Replicas of the objects ruin the authentic aura of the unique experience. In this regard, centralising Benjaminian arguments, the article draws a critical approach of both of the case studies in terms of archivological sense.

For Benjamin, aura itself represents a distinctive dimension through the gaze of human beings: “There was an aura about them, a medium that lent fullness and security to their gaze inasmuch as it penetrated that medium” (SW, 2:515– 17; GS, 2:376; Hansen 2008, 342) In another saying, aura refers to a great structure which authorises the indication of the gaze, developing the capacity of its context. However, it is implied that the post-McLuhanian term with technological mileux should not be merged with Benjamin’s definitions since his understanding of medium aligns with philosophical usage (centralising Hegel and Herder), mentioning “an in-between substance or agency—such as language, writing, thinking, memory—that mediates and constitutes meaning; it resonates no less with esoteric and spiritualist connotations pivoting on an embodied medium’s capacity of communing with the dead.” (Hansen 2008)

History of Digital Humanities: From Hermeneutics to Computation

Traditional humanities which consists of the notions of hermeneutics transforms its form as a meaning and context since the material form text has experienced its metamorphosis in terms of its medium. This change, thus, concluded with the fact that the emphasis of “human” in humanities has shifted through a software-oriented focus by the “second wave” of the digital humanities. (Heftberger, 2012; Berry 2012)

It is observed that the phoenix-born sense of concept in Digital Humanities which documents a quantified algorithmical measuring as a numerical processing construct a distinctive form of humanities by the Berry-sense of term, the “computational turn” (2011). The tools and archives of digital humanities within a computational space, topologically extended by the internet hosting a systematic information patterns, parametric signals and protocols expand the notions of network. Migrating data to a networked space within calculable softwarised machineries reveals a distinct notion in terms of informative qualities and aesthetics. (Ernst 2013)

Archival objects which represent a cultural value in the scope of Digital Humanities, are metaphorically divorced from physicality and transforms into a distinctive form of material as they are stored in computational algorithms that are connected to a protocol. In this regard, this chapter will include a detailed historical aspect of the digital humanities analysing the metamorphosis of the medium by the “computational turn” (Berry 2011), and how digital humanities is mediated through computational surfaces.

The Genealogy of Digital Humanities

This chapter aims to analyse the component arguments connected to its humanistic attitude of the transformation by regarding the genealogical sense of digital humanities focusing on textual medium offering concrete examples in relation to interfaces through the lens of narrative theory, networks and aesthetics in an historical sense.

Unlike many other interdisciplinary experiments, humanities computing has a very well known beginning. In 1949, an Italian Jesuit Priest, Father Roberto Busa, began what even to this day is a monumental task: to make an index verborum of all the words in the works of St. Thomas Aquinas and related authors, totalling some 11 million words of medieval Latin.

Historical scope of archives tends to keep the record which was related to Aerarium near the Capitoline Hill during the Ancient Roman administration, considered as a birthof the archives of the state treasury including metals, reserve funds, insignia, senate resolutions and the other administrative papers. (Vismann 2008: 57; Parikka 2012)

It is seen that the frameworks of modern archival theory as preservational practices were articulated through the twentieth century. (Parikka 2012) The traditional understanding of the archives based on the fact that archive as a form is territorial, spatialised and walled which represents a functional symbol as an institution. To borrow Vismann’s words on record-keeping and archaeology of files: “The wall designated to surround the symbolic order of the law once the codification is complete turns everything outside into rubbish and file trash”(2008:64; Parikka 2012)

As Parikka states; “The new archives have to take into account formats, medium specifity, as well as various software related themes such as encoding.” A constructive approach in the dynamic nature of the world was faced in computational culture and softwares and computers were given as samples of the situation, which was also seen as a big future task for such museums of science & technology as, for example, The Science Museum, “building a new gallery of Modern Communications, which will also feature computing and networks (especially World Wide Web).” (2012)

A web novel “The Book of Going Forth by Day” by M.D Coverley indicates how navigation elements deploy an indicative action for electronic hypertexts. Following the spatial composition of prototyped Egyptian hieroglyphs, the interface engages both horizontal and vertical records. To borrow her words in order to employ a genealogical approach, Hayles indicates that;

“The horizontal panels provide the narrative, while the vertical panels give linguistic, historical, and geographic information about ancient Egypt, modeled after the rubrics that in hieroglyphic texts give information on how to interpret the depicted events. The correspondences between Egyptian hieroglyphs and the interface suggest deep connections between inscription systems, cosmological beliefs, temporal orderings, and geographic assumptions.” (2012)

Ancient hieroglyphic inscriptions were documented through any aspects in terms of directions; left to right, right to left, up to down, down to up, edging sideways into margins, or spiraling in a circle, with the order of reading indicated by the direction the figures face. Going Forth indicates a roundabout and unintended way of ancient Egyptian judgements about the “endless geometry” of the world. Additionally, it is signified that Going Forth expresses its inscription incomplex topologies in terms of its message, which allows flowing progression between exposition, narrative, maps, photographs, linguistic information, and historical context. (Hayles 2012) Going Forth proposes that the difference between writing and art was ambiguous in ancient Egypt, which indicates a fact that the worldview and inscription system had correlations. Migrating into a computational environment, the interaction adopts a form of perplexive connection between multimedia elements and navigational functionalities. (Hayles 2012)

Conclusions

This article has far intended to investigate the concentration of theories connecting to database, software, interface and materiality applying the case studies by the analysing of distinctive concepts. In this regard, in accordance with media archaeologies of digital humanities, my respective work represents an exploration in interface analysis of the medium through the scope of archivic objects migrating from a concrete medium to a digital mileux regarding the concept of intangible cultural heritage and materiality of the archive. Along with the aforementioned methodologies and literatures, the transformation of material and the medium was pertained by the most frequently question among digital humanities scholars and historians; “what happens to the archivological material once it is replicated and deported through a distinctive medium?” To borrow Hayles’ words; “as inhabitants of globally interconnected networks, we are joined in a dynamic co-evolutionary spiral with intelligent machines” (2006) referring to the inevitability of machinerised technologies which employs dynamic activities in terms of the association with human as a subject and information technologies.

 A computer contains not only hardware but also a digital medium with texts and images as a representation on its screen. As such, interfaces are making an interpretation of the computational procedures into mitigating, well-known or “user-friendly” visuals and metaphors as known from much software, along these lines masking the computer as something surely understood. Through this frequent notion of the interface (as a surface), computational processes and the way we co-exist with computational processes are critiqued, and it is asserted that the understanding of interfaces requires to be subjected. As Dragana Antic and Matthew Fuller argue in “The Computation of Space”, it is indicated that the interchangeable dynamics of computer-interface connectivity regard the space and production of medium. As it is observed that the interface turns into a co-extensive medium concerning its reflectivity on computation through spatial design and experience within a genealogical approach.

 

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Lyndsay Mann – The Extended Voice

Versions of self are articulated through pre-defined terms, states Judith Butler: ‘We form ourselves within the vocabularies that we did not choose’, suggesting that to develop experiences outside of established patterns, ‘we have to reject those vocabularies, or actively develop new ones…’ (Butler).

Extended Mind Theory is a key concept in Philosophy of Cognition addressing the role of social and material structures in the construction of mind, where mind extends beyond the boundaries of skull and skin. Ideas from Extended Mind Theory re-contextualised in relation to moving image, in my view, facilitate the active development of a vocabulary of the liminal zones between mind, body and world relations, which adapt to, and expand, ideas of voice. The term “recruitment” describes the process by which an agent appropriates available materials or equipment – a walking stick, for example – to extend and restructure their engagement with the world. Such recruitment induces a reconfiguration of experience. In relation to voice, I propose, this amounts to a reconfiguration of established conventions of address and the accepted (power) dynamics contained within them.

Embodied cognition concentrates on the complex ways in which bodily skills and action inform perception and thought. The incorporation of new ‘equipment’ into ‘the thinking and acting systems that we identify as our minds and bodies’, thus expands ‘the negotiability of our own embodiment.’ (Clark 32). These external systems or objects extend the agent’s literal reach, in the example of a (walking) stick, and equally extend the agent’s opportunities, which includes the well cited example of dementia sufferer Otto’s trusted notebook with directions enabling his visit to MOMA in New York[i] (Clark and Chalmers). Embodiment in this view is a negotiable experience and open to change; it is a fluid and potentially constantly evaluative state of being inhabiting the liminal zones between mind, body and world. In what circumstances could voice function as such an extension?

The contact point or threshold between agent and extension, and where the performance-relevant interaction can be reliably defined, is the ‘interface’. The case for cognitive extension relies on the special features of the flow of information across those thresholds, and the resultant properties of the ‘new systemic wholes’ created through the newly incorporated bodily and sensory enhancement. (Clark 33) The speaking subject that is also a hearing subject simultaneously affects herself in a feedback loop transmitting and receiving all at once (Kane, 192) as voice is both delivered and received by the agent in the moment of speech. In this context, I suggest that ‘new systemic wholes’ brought about by voice occur where voice is both subject and object. Voice has the dual capacity to present the agent in the moment of speech (subject-voice), and represent the agent (object-voice) where object-voice is the voice heard by the speaking agent in their moment of speech. In other words, voice can be recruited as object; voice originates from the agent and can be extension for that agent. Voice itself is a threshold between subject and object, agent and extension, and we could describe as the process of voice, the liminal territory enacted between the subject-voice and its position as object-voice. This process I consider a form of embodied extension.

The Present Voice

Voice is positioned in the dynamics of movement, time, force, space and intentionality or directionality. (Stern 9) These ‘vitality forms’ enable us to understand the nuances and meanings beyond ‘official’ language and in relation to their implicit, contextual and/or culturally specific readings. The shifting formal and temporal qualities of voice in spoken address heard in variations of pitch, tone, volume, speed and directionality, make up the foundations of voice training for actors and public speakers to share emotion and meaning with their audience through methods of delivery and beyond the content of what is actually said. In my moving image work I avoid these intentional forms of vitality to offer a passive-dynamic vocality for the audience, in other words, I do not wish to deliver more than the content of what is said, there is no intention to emote or convince. Working to avoid these pervasive techniques I practice a flattened tone of voice with reduced forms of vitality to deliver spoken testimonies of subjective knowledge collected from archive and autobiographical materials: diaries and journals, documented correspondences and interviews I conduct. In my view this offers a more ambiguous and liminal context for the listener in the sense that it does not aim to inhabit or share any particular state of being. This is also used to merge the visual and vocal fields in sharing equal position rather than a voice-‘over’ the images: voice is part of the fabric of the film, its texture belongs to the images and is not a didactic presence with a singular authoritative position. Voice positioned ‘over’ images can be addressed by volume but is frequently and more pervasively done through certainty of voice. As part of this approach of passive vocality, rather I engage environmental sounds to harness auditory description and vitality dynamics with the aim of sharing embodied engagement through the environment and thus position the viewer on a shared ground with the speaker/voice. One such example is found in my work, A Desire For Organic Order (2015), in which my, at times, breathless speaking voice relays a presentness and physicality to what is said, recorded as I walked the grounds of the Royal Botanical Garden Edinburgh where birds, distant voices, cars and planes overhead can all be heard delineating an area of nature within a city environment. These are details that my professional sound-mixer suggested be removed, concerned they may be heard as distractions and interpreted as erroneous due to their impediment on the clarity of a voice over image. The sound and voice share an embodied expression of the site and my own bodily position journeying within it. This is recorded with two different types of microphone: a set of binaurals and a stereo voice mic. The binaural microphones take the shape of small headphones, which are placed inside the ear to record the exact dynamic properties of sound in relation to the listening agent’s bodily position and perspective within the acoustic environment. Not commonly used for recording voice, I used this method’s proximity to my throat to capture detail of my internal noises, swallowing and breathing, as I walked and talked, and conceptually to record my object-voice from the position of my ears, in other words to document how I ordinarily hear my own spoken voice returned in the moment of speech. The second microphone was a hand-held stereo recording device carried in front of my body to record my spoken voice as it would sound to ‘other’. These dual recordings play simultaneously on the soundtrack creating a third voice that inhabits the between.

The Re-presented Voice

We make auditory inferences as viewers watching a talking head on TV whilst their voice emanates from the location of the speakers. The sensory integration is described as ‘drag’ on each of the senses to arrive at a satisfying ‘between of measures of precision and imprecision’ (Hohwy 131). This articulates the physical liminality inhabited by the viewer stationed between the TV image and the speakers’ projected field, as well as the viewer’s sensory liminality present in the moment between the essentially conflicting visual and auditory sensory inputs.

Ideas of extension connected with the occupation of these liminal or suspended spaces, for embodied viewing/listening and for the on-camera embodied subject, are those of near and far space for the body. In the example of holding a stick, which works to alter the brain’s understanding of near space (within reach) and far space (outside of reach), ‘simply holding a stick causes a remapping of far space to near space. In effect the brain, at least for some purposes, treats the stick as though it were a part of the body.’ (Berti and Frassinetti quoted in Clark 38). By expanding near space, the agent could be described as taking up more space in the world. In relation to voice we could consider that in everyday situations we know the capabilities of our voice, the range and audibility to an extent, and therefore our reach in common circumstances. When we speak we expect to be understood and this is broadly unchanging within our local environment, yet the circumstances of our speech (background noise or echo, one-to-one or group conversation) are in constant flux, and the voice must respond accordingly: to be heard, to be understood, to take account of the proximity of the hearer, etc. A vocal example of ‘holding a stick’, I suggest, is the reverberating, echo-ing voice. By calling out in a cavernous space, hearing our own temporally-delayed, suspended voice repeated and returned to us as an independent object, we are present in a situation where we experience an embodied extension beyond our bodies’ natural reach. Echo ‘takes the moment of a sound and repeats it, expanding beyond the original event, and yet also returning it, as other to itself.’ (LaBelle 169). This articulates the duality of the voice, where the distance created by echo illuminates the thresholds between subject and object that voice inhabits. In this example, the original release of the voice is an embodied presentation of self extended by repetition, while the returned voice, a representation of self, takes the role of ‘the stick’, an independent object expanding the reach of the body, which through our embodied recognition and sense of ownership of it, we could imagine the brain treating as part of the body. This is an opportunity for the brain to remap far space to fall within near space, thus expanding what is considered near space.

Address to camera could perhaps be considered as a version of the echo-ing site. Just as calling out in a cavernous space results in an echoed voice, of a suspended version of self that could be said to expand near space by extending the distance between the subject-voice release and its return as object-voice, we could say for people in the public eye who frequently hear their words returned to themselves via television, printed press or radio, it performs a long-delayed echo. As this becomes embedded into the agent’s patterns of behaviour and action, it provides a sense of extension into the public realm, expanding their vocal sense of near space. The embodied agent in this context experiences a sense of taking up, or perhaps requiring, more space in their environment.

The returning voice of the echo is ‘an iteration whose reverberations expand to pry open a space between the “original” and its rearticulation … to put into motion an uncertain trajectory, where orientation may also tend toward disorientation; where singularity may give way to multiplicity.’ (LaBelle 170). This articulates well the suspended-self produced through the echoed voice; a version of self that not uncommonly people in the public eye suggest is ‘not the real me’. The experienced and authoritative voice, or version of self, harnessed through these forms of direct address to camera, also doubles as the exposing voice: ‘the voice as authority is one part of the story. On the other hand it is also true that the sender of the voice, the bearer of vocal emission, is someone who exposes himself, and thus becomes exposed to the effects of power which not only lie in the privilege of emitting the voice, but pertain to the listener. The subject is exposed to the power of the other…’ (Dolar 80). This dual state can be often be witnessed by politicians and other powerful individuals aiming to straddle two opposing versions of address: of authoritarian leader, and fallible human. The address between agent and camera inhabits an intimate dynamic, in the moment of speech the voice is absorbed and simultaneously returned to the speaking agent by the mute, un-flinching lens. This physical dynamic could be compared to that cultivated in analysis, between analysand and analyst, where the intended hearer of what is said is the speaking agent who hears him/herself through the silent listener. In address to camera, the imagined audience is the intended hearer present at the time of address but only in the mind of the speaker, and in this way the speaker is talking to him/herself as other.   The camera facilitates hearing oneself back through a silent, listening other as the speaker accesses an imagined audience via the camera. Address to camera in this light is an interface that facilitates ‘performance-relevant interaction’ where a new agent-world circuit is produced through the special features of the flow of information across thresholds: a looped dialogue between the speaking agent and their self as other.

________

[i] Inga hears from a friend that there is an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, and decides to go see it. She thinks for a moment and recalls that the museum is on 53rd Street, so she walks to 53rd Street and goes into the museum. Otto suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. [He] carries a notebook around with him everywhere he goes. When he learns new information, he writes it down. … Otto hears about the exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, and decides to go see it. He consults the notebook, which says that the museum is on 53rd Street, so he walks to 53rd Street and goes into the museum. […] Otto believed the museum was on 53rd Street even before consulting his notebook. … the notebook plays for Otto the same role that memory plays for Inga. …it just happens that this information lies beyond the skin.’ (Clark & Chalmers 12-13).

Works cited:
Butler, Judith. Gender Performance: The TransAdvocate interviews Judith Butler, 2014. Available from: http://www.transadvocate.com/gender-performance-the-transadvocate-interviews-judith-butler_n_13652.htm
Clark, Andy. Supersizing the Mind: Embodiment, Action, and Cognitive Extension. Oxford University Press, 2008.
Clark, Andy. & Chalmers, David. The extended mind. Analysis, 58 (1), pp.7–19, 1998.
Dolar, Mladen. A Voice and Nothing More. Cambridge, Mass, MIT Press, 2006.
Hohwy, Jakob. The Predictive Mind. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2013.
Kane, Brian. Sound Unseen: Acousmatic Sound in Theory and Practice. New York, NY, OUP USA, 2014.
LaBelle, Brandon. Lexicon of the Mouth: Poetics and Politics of Voice and the Oral Imaginary. 1 edition. Bloomsbury Academic, 2014.
Mann, Lyndsay. A Desire For Organic Order, 2015. Further information: http://lyndsaymann.com/av/desire
Stern, Daniel. Forms of vitality: exploring dynamic experience in psychology, the arts, psychotherapy, and development. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2010.

Lea Muldtofte Gestelev – I Like What I See: The Constitution of Subjectivity Online

Introduction

“I Like What I See” is a Chrome extension created by the artist Steve Klise. When activated this experimenting piece of software will click the Like bottom on every post you encounter, while scrolling down your newsfeed. Consequently, this means that you do not have to neither Like nor like anything, the “I Like What I See” application will, literally, Like what you see for you. Klise’s experiment is obviously a response to the paradoxical numbness in liking, which arguably is installed in and intensified by the Facebook like-economy; within this social site it is extremely easy to express approving emotions detached from any truly embodied affect. In fact, it only takes a click. However, Klise’s project is also shedding light on other relevant troubling aspect encompassed in the realm of interface culture, which became evident when Mat Honan through his Facebook profile liked everything he saw manually; this liking-everything-activity not only blurs the profiled user’s true interests, but, as Honan reported, it also explodes the newsfeed with strange, irrelevant and – for the greater part – commercial content (Honan).

How does this pollution of irrelevance happen? Because inherent in Facebook we find the newsfeed algorithm called Edgerank, which monitors and analyses a user’s Like, shares and comments. This in order to show the user, what he or she is most likely to be interested in – maybe especially provide the user with ads for products, he or she is most likely to buy. Thus, if everything is Liked, the algorithm will push everything in the user’s direction.

The fact that our activity online is monitored by algorithms and therefore available for analysing and tracking, is the condition we accept as users of social media sites. The premise is, as is the point of Tiziana Terranova as well Bernard Stiegler, that the asymmetrical, passive/active relationship in communicative situations between human beings (like/being liked for instance) has become objects of grammatizations; discrete, written data-entities within online forums. This means that buttons constituting our social and interactive behaviour online are “linked to underlying data structures (…) and subjected to the power of ranking algorithms”. (Terranova 394). Consequently, due to an underlying code, Like, Share, Go, Tweet, Accept, buy etc. are indexically referring back to the clicking user.

With the point of departure that monitoring and analyzing algorithms are part of our everyday communication practice, I am in the course of this paper going to investigate subjectivity in language when the subject is constituted in language plus an underlying computer code. As is the case of Facebook, when we click Like and socially express approval and at the same time are indexed and analyzed accordingly. In other words, how can we approach subjectivity in language, when we speak in language plus an underlying code, which operates simultaneously with the enunciating practice on the interface of the user?

As “I Like What I See” illustrates, even innocent Likes can cause an excessive online existence, since our information is perpetually available for algorithms owned by advertising agencies, when the click links to invisible data structures.

I am the one who says I

In order to discuss subjectivity in language, I draw on the linguist Émile Benveniste and his theory of enunciation. In his line of thinking, the unique person, the subject, is constituted within language in use – or language in discourse – and only here. In other words, it is in exercising language, we can articulate ourselves as ourselves; it is in exercising language we are able to say “I”. Thus subjectivity happens in language, when the enunciating speaker is setting himself up as such – pronouncing himself the speaker in terms of appropriating I.

To emphasize, linked to subjectivity in language, the personal pronouns become significant, especially I. In the article “The Nature of the Pronouns” Benveniste shows that by contrast to other nouns referring to a fixed object in the world, personal pronouns are instruments without a definable, identical object. And as a result, because of the particular referential organization of I “[e]ach I has its own reference and corresponds each time to a unique being who is set up as such” (“The Nature” 218). Not to be taken as a figure, but a linguistic form indicating ‘person’, I is an empty sign, always available and becomes “full” when converted from the language system to language use, from langue into discourse by a unique person in a unique time and place. Accordingly, I signifies “the person who is uttering in the present instance of discourse containing I” (“The Nature” 218). Poetically, Benveniste calls the consequence:

Since they lack material reference, they cannot be misused; since they do not assert anything, they are not subject to the condition of truth and escape all denial (“The Nature” 220)

I, by its virtue of being empty, exists not before, not after, but only within an actualization in an instance of discourse. Consequently, it is only “by identifying himself as a unique person pronouncing I that each speaker sets himself up in turn as the “subject”” (“The Nature” 220). It is when I designates a speaker the speaker becomes the subject, and as language is the instrument of communication, the speaker, implicitly or explicitly defines a you, when defining herself as I. Subjectivity, then, is not the feeling of being oneself. Instead, in this line of thinking, it emerges as a property of language; “ego” is the person who says “ego” (“Subjectivity in Language” 224). Benveniste concludes: “And so it is literally true that the basis of subjectivity is in the exercise of language” (“Subjectivity in Language” 226). Thereby he says that subjectivity is literally, when I is transformed from an element in a system to a unique designation. Consequently, Benveniste shows, that temporality and subjectivity is inseparable, the time at which one is, is the time at which one is speaking:

[…] there is no other criterion and no other expression by which to indicate “the time at which one is” except to take it as “the time at which one is speaking. This is the eternally “present” moment, although it never relates to the same events of an “objective” chronology because it is determined for each speaker by each of the instances of discourse related to it (“Subjectivity in Language” 227)

Every time the I is employed by a speaker, the present time of the utterance and, inevitably, the presence of the speaker is introduced as well (”Le Langage et L’Expérience Humaine” 67-68). And this is how the “present” moment becomes eternal. The moment of the utterance cannot escape its own presence. The present time is always inherent in the discourse and, thus, always inherent in the constitution of subjectivity. An utterance is never repeated, it is enunciated again, every time employing this present moment, every time producing a new subject, every time a new I, here and now.

Click – enunciation online

To sum up, according to Benveniste, language as system holds voids in the shape of pronouns, and subjectivity is constituted when a speaking subject enters language, fills up the void and designates itself as the speaker in a present time discourse. I is the person uttering within the present discourse containing I, or, in other words, the subject is the I speaking here and now.

So how is this relatable to the constitution of subjectivity online? Where is the empty signifier I, which can be filled by a human subject in language plus code? Why is it relevant in relation to compulsive Liking, which subjects us to the power of algorithms? Christian Ulrik Andersen argues that the linguistics voids in a computer interface equates the buttons connecting the user with a given function (Andersen 208). Following this point, the buttons we manoeuvre with the mouse or the keyboard of the computer can be said to equate the empty signifier I as they offer themselves to be appropriated by a speaking subject. However, in the matter of subjectivity, it would be problematic and imprecise to make a complete parallelization between buttons and the linguistic I, since the computer interface already functions within the symbolic realm of language. The empty signifier I in computing seems to be several different buttons, all of them, very literally, offering themselves to be clicked by referring to their individual function in a particular situation either symbolically (i.e. search) or iconic (i.e. thumbs-up). Opposing the empty character of the personal pronoun by already entailing a referent, which is fixed in a given function, it is evident that buttons in computing are already filled and thus hold value before the instance in which they are used.

Nevertheless, for this study, like several scholars before me (Friedrich Kittler, Alexander Galloway, N. Katherine Hayles, Florian Cramer, Wendy Chun etc.) I perceive code as a sign system, a structure similar, or even parallel, to language; a sign system in which we speak and communicate (emails, status updates, comments, search queries etc.) and therefore a system, which can be actualized or realized on a semantic level. I would then argue that computational media holds the quality of being conditioned by a discrete data structure, which enables activation of language in two semantic layers, with two different semantic values of meaning; a “conscious” layer in natural language (the interface of the user) and what I will call a sub-semantic layer in the underlying code.

Following this, these parallel semantic layers must also allow for two different referents, each employing and producing meaning in their respective system. This then qualifies the postulate that the interface button – being natural language plus an underlying code – can be filled in natural language and at the same time be an empty, available signifier employed in code as a language system. Accordingly, the interface button, as for instance Like, has two referential organizations in its click-ability: the filled, fixed Like of natural language, and the empty, available I, unique in its use each time, depending on the individual click. In other words in the instance of clicking Search, Share, Like, Post, Tweet as well as Buy and Accept you are also saying I. Hence, the click is the act of enunciation, the act of transforming an empty available signifier in code as a language system into a unique designation of a speaker – just as saying I transforms the system of language into discourse.

To crystalize the point here, the click automatically prompts the coupling of natural language and computer language, since it is in the click and only here this extra language is “spoken”, converted into discourse, into use, by a speaking subject. Basically, this means that even when typing 140 characters into my Twitter-profile without pressing tweet, or creating a status update on Facebook without clicking post, while this designates me as subject of the given enunciation in natural language, it will not be an enunciation within language plus code. The code as language has not yet been actualized in the click, and so the enunciation remains on the level of natural language. With click the subject couples the two systems and is, thus, produced within both.

Furthermore, in Benveniste’s theory of enunciation it is important to clarify that subjectivity is a property of language – that is to say, subjectivity takes place only insofar as a person speaks. The subject exists solely within its own utterance, in the immediate act of the enunciation. Inevitably, as a consequence, the subject does not exist before or after the instance of discourse in which it is speaking. Following this, given that the subject is constituted in the appropriation of the I, then the click in this analysis must include a double subjectivation of the speaking subject online. Accordingly, the subject is constituted within and produced through not only language, but is in fact a property of language plus code, when the click as an empty signifier is appropriated by an (already) speaking subject.

What “I Like what I see” demonstrates is the fact that I with my Like also Like what I do not see. And what I do not see is underlying data structures such as news feed algorithms. Consequently, I become a subject of the algorithms flooding my Facebook with customized offers; algorithms producing me in not only language as a system, but also in systems mirroring my predicted consuming, political etc. intentions. Click produces an excessive me.

Work cited: 

Andersen, Christian Ulrik: Det Æstetiske Interface, Digital Aesthetics Research Center, Aarhus: 2009 (print).

Benveniste, Émile: ”Le Langage et L’Expérience Humaine” [1965] in Problèmes de Lingustique Générale II, Paris: Édition Gallimard, 1974 (print).

Benveniste, Émile: “The Nature of the Pronouns” [La Nature des Pronoms, 1956] translated by Mary Elisabeth Meek in Problems in General Linguistics, Miami: University of Miami Press, 1971 (print).

Benveniste, Émile: ”Subjectivity in Language” [De La Subjectivité Dans La Langage, 1958] translated by Mary Elisabeth Meek in Problems in General Linguistics, Miami: University of Miami Press, 1971 (print).

Honan, Mat: I LIKED EVERYTHING I SAW ON FACEBOOK FOR TWO DAYS. HERE’S WHAT IT DID TO ME, Wired, 08.11.14.

Stiegler, Bernard: “The Most Precious Good in the Era of Social Technologies” in

Unlike Us Reader, Institute of Network Cultures, Amsterdam: 2013 (print).

Terranova, Tiziana: “Red Stack Attack!” in Avanessian Armen & Mackay, Robin #ACCELERATE, pp. 379-399, Falmouth: Urbanomic, 2014 (print).

Marie Louise Søndergaard – Sharing the abject in digital culture

Introduction

“The body is a model which can stand for any bounded system. Its boundaries can represent any boundaries which are threatened or precarious” (Douglas 142)

Digital technologies, wearables, and self-management systems have set a standard for the bodily exchange system. Bodily performances are quantified down to the last detail. If the principle of exchange has established itself in our bodies and minds (Sützl), can we think of anything that cannot be understood under capitalistic terms of exchange?

In a ‘general economy’ the excess is what cannot be comprehended in well-known systems as money, or more abstractly under the phenomenon of exchange. Georges Bataille saw this present in the luxuries of eating, death, and sexual reproduction, among others (Bataille The Accursed Share 35). These, he argued, are moved into the dark, forming the dark side of culture. Consequently, the “excessive” body is concealed and tabooed. But according to Bataille the enemy of a ‘general economy’ is not shortage, but rather excess, and as we will see the “excessive” body might be a way to question and critique the status of exchange today.

The movement of things like pain, sex, and menstruation into the dark is better understood if we understand the systems under which taboo and dirt are organized. Julia Kristeva, who has developed her notion ‘the abject’ on Mary Douglas’ analysis of dirt, and Bataille’s notion of informe, shows that abjection does not only let us understand how bodies are perceived under social rationalism, but also how abjection might be an enemy of ‘general economy’, because abjection cannot simply be commodified and therefore underlines the fragility of objectivity.

In this text I aim to question this relation between excess, the tabooed and abject in a wider technological framework. What happens if ‘the abject’, such as menstruation, changes value from excess to exchange? With this speculation I aim to challenge the standardized conception of bodily exchange, and argue that taboos in tech industry remains to be taboos exactly because these phenomena cannot be governed by the principle of exchange. In a sense this means, that taboos are what cannot be exchanged. But rather than accepting this premise, I want to point to the generative power of pollution, suggesting that what is commonly perceived as anomalous abject objects in digital culture might be a generative power for future-making.

 

Menstruation as dirt and danger

“Danger lies in transitional states, simply because transition is neither one state, nor the next, it is indefinable … The danger is controlled by ritual” (Douglas 119)

A phenomenon of special interest for both Douglas and Kristeva is menstruation. In a very literal sense menstruation is an excess of the bodily system. It is associated with non-reproductive sex, but also with death, as menstruation has the impossible status of a dead being, who never lived. In particular, menstruation is what Kristeva terms ‘abject’; something that is neither me nor recognizable as a thing (Kristeva 2). The abjection of menstruation, Kristeva argues, points to the liminality of the subject itself as the abjection of menstruation comes from her own body, and consequently leads to the abjection of self.

Whereas Kristiva builds her menstruation analysis on the psychoanalytical notion of abject, Douglas’s analysis is grounded in social anthropology and a structuralist understanding of dirt. Here menstruation as dirt is a matter out of order (Douglas 44). If we in a European culture understand menstruation as dirt, it is not (only) as a symbol of bad hygiene, but rather, and more importantly, as a symbol of an inappropriate element in a systematic ordering and classification of matter. As such the menstruating woman does not fit in a European female system, as she neither equals sex, nor reproduction. In some primitive societies, e.g. the Mae Enga, menstruation is seen as a female pollution, and even married men fear menstrual blood, as “they believe that contact with it or with a menstruating woman will sicken a man and cause persistent vomiting” (Douglas 182). Whereas we might think, that the ritual pollution, that some primitive people fear, is only of symbolic order, something that does not fit with our Western ideas of dirt, we might find that our Western ideas of dirt and hygiene is equally a question of symbolic order. At least in Northern European pop culture menstruation is treated as something dirty, disgusting, and embarrassing, symbolized through blue gel in advertisements and hidden in small pink boxes in school. Rituals, in primitive as well as Western societies, control this “danger”. In pop culture it has become a ritual to hide menstruation, to cover it through synonyms such as “the curse” or “Aunt Flo”, and to reject its material status through jokes about PMS, etc. We have learned to behave as if it did not exist.

 

Periodshare – push your cycle to the world

To better understand the dirt and danger of menstruation, I designed a system exploring menstruation not as a danger, but as a power. With the aim of breaking the menstruation taboo, not by hiding it but by sharing it, Periodshare questions the symbolic order of menstruation in a post-digital context[i]. The speculative project Periodshare features a wearable, wireless menstruation cup connected to an app. The system automatically tracks the period, and makes it easy for the subject to inform her boyfriend, boss, and friends about her period. She can even live-tweet her menstruation data, hereby making something very private a public issue. Periodshare explores the boundaries of inside-outside, private-public, and material-representational data. More importantly, Periodshare questions the status quo of menstruation; what is the value of menstruation in a post-digital age. While a number of artists fight the censorship of this body fluid on social medias, start-ups and tech industry invite menstruation to new operating systems. The project speculates if it would be inappropriate to say, that menstruation slowly changes value from excess to exchange.

In Periodshare the material status of menstruation does not only change status from something inside me to outside me, it also changes status from something outside me, to something inside my smartphone, and my social network. It is a transformation from material to representation, from blood to data. Still, the data is in a transitional state between being an extension of my body and representational, incorporeal data. Based on the notions on dirt and abject, this leaves us with two interconnected questions; can data change the symbolic order of things – from dirt into purity? And who am I in my exchangeable intimate data?

periodshare_designantro

Bataille’s critique of capitalism’s roots in exchange 

Periodshare explores the limits of an exchange economy. It questions what we as intimate beings are willing to share in a very literal sense, and what consequences the principle of exchange have for the “excessive” body.

As Sützl argues, the principle of exchange has established itself in our bodies and minds. Consequently “no one is allowed to be a loser”, and it gets “increasingly difficult to say words like ‘death’, ‘absence’, and ‘pain’ in a meaningful way” (Sützl). In this world, the user of Periodshare might be a loser, but in a possible future (Dunne & Raby 2), the user is not a loser. She loses blood and maternity, but she does not lose in the cultural game of social medias, as the technical and cultural prescribed rules are different from what we know. She tries to say words like ‘menstruation’ in a meaningful way, and instead of being excluded her social network accepts the premise of a change of rules. Sharing menstruation data becomes her empowering tool; a generative power of female pollution.

Focusing on sharing as a political act, that limits exchange, Bataille seeks to the forbidden, the atrocious, and the amorphous; the anomalous objects of culture. He points to the informe, the formless, as a violent tool against capitalism, and shows that limitations and fragilities of our bodies are indeed political moves as they resists to take shape and fit properly into a categorization system (Bataille Visions of Excess 31). Hereby Bataille’s body is a model that stands for the bounded system of a shared world. It is a body with boundaries, which are threatened by the exchange world, but these same boundaries threatens the exchange world as they points to the fact, that in every system, there is a remainder, whether it is the system of cosmogony, sacrifice, bodies, or networks. This remainder not only challenges the established arrangement of a system in order, it also challenges the question of ownership. Who owns what remains? As seen in Periodshare it becomes important to think of ownership when we are talking about intimate data. Whereas the shared period data can be an empowering tool for the subject, as just described, the tracked data can just as easily be a violation of the intimate boundaries of the subject if the data is owned by big data actors. As digital symbolic representation has made it easier to form the formless, violation of the abject becomes a question of agency.

 

Sharing anomalous objects in digital culture

Jussi Parikka and Tony Sampsons views spam, computer viruses, and excesses of Internet porn as anomalous object of digital culture. But rather than seeing these as remainders, junk, or noise in a system they are approached as something that has become central to today’s communication theory (Parikka and Sampson 3).

So if we look at something like Periodshare, which as argued, seek to change something culturally seen as ‘dirt’ into a more appropriate, ‘pure’ cultural object, which part does the sharing play? In Periodshare sharing is a commodifying tactic to change the status of menstruation from ‘dirt’ to ‘purity’, and to question the rules of the abject through the explicit use of something abject. This complicated things a bit, since the sharing act makes the project linger between excess and exchange. The cultural aspect shows that menstruation is a question of (bodily) excess, a tabooed and darkened cultural object, but the technological (and economic) aspect shows that menstruation might be a question of exchange. Menstruation can possibly be exchanged, and it can gain a new economic value if it is tracked and sold to third-party services. But if it is not sold, and it would still use the tactics of exchange, as something invaluable as menstruation is tracked and changed to something valuable (data), can we then still think of abject, excessive objects, which use the tactics of exchange in order to question status quo? Here it is exactly the process of changing something “disgusting” material, to something “pure” immaterial that makes it more appropriate to talk about menstruation. Menstruation blood is dirt, whereas menstruation data is pure. Periodshare looks at this symbolic representation of menstruation as data, and questions the rules under which “excessive” design might be possible in an exchange economy. An approach where designing with the abject as both dirt and value might challenge the abject as taboo, and hereby criticise the foundation under which it exists – a critique of the exchange economy – and propose ways to engage with the “excessive” body in a technological future.

 

Works Cited

Bataille, Georges. The Accursed Share : An Essay on General Economy, Volume 1: Consumption. New York: Zone Books (first published 1949/1967), 1988.

Bataille, Georges. Vision of Excess, Selected Writings, 1927-1939, in Theory and History of Literature, Volume 14, edited by Allan Stoekl. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1985.

Douglas, Mary. Purity and Danger : An analysis of concept of pollution and taboo. New York: Routledge Classics, London, first published in 1966, 2004.

Dunne, Anthony & Raby, Fiona. Speculative Everything : design, fiction, and social dreaming. MIT Press, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2013.

Foster, Hal. “Obscene, Abject, Traumatic”. October, Vol. 78 (Autumn, 1996), pp. 106-124, The MIT Press, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Kristeva, Julia. Power of Horror : An Essay on Abjection, New York: Colombia University Press, 1982.

Parikka, Jussi & Sampson, Tony A. The Spam Book: On Viruses, Porn and Other Anomalies From the Dark Side of Digital Culture, chapter 1: On Anomalous Objects of Digital Culture : An Introduction, New York: Hampton Press, Inc., 2009.

Sützl, Wolfgang. “On Sharing”. Collective Sharing, COLLECTIVE MAKING 2015-2016, Kunsthal Aarhus, Aarhus, 2005.


[i] Periodshare was a research-through-design project made in spring 2015. The project included a speculative prototype and a Kickstarter campaign. More information can be found at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/752149579/periodshare-push-your-cycle-to-the-world

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