There are no clouds, just data centres. But suddenly they tickled the science-fictional nerve again when Google released its “inside view” to their factories of data: it has colours! The rather glitzy pictures showed this seeming transparency and the spatial sense of data management. Besides space, it’s about the elements. Air, water plays a crucial role.
In a great phrase in Andrew Blum’s book Tubes, a Facebook data centre manager (Ken Pratchett) sums it up: “This has nothing to do with clouds. It has everything to do with being cold.” Cool, cold data is not just a linguistic or visual metaphor, despite that elegant modernism that still lives inside the architectures of data places: Mondrian as data. Instead, it has to do with climate control. Ecology. Air. Coolness is not a media theoretical attitude in this context but a media management issue that ties the earth to the escape velocity of data.
Data needs air. “Cool outside air is let into the building through adjustable louvers near the roof; deionized water is sprayed into it; and fans push the conditioned air down onto the data center floor” , explains Blum. Coolness of cyberpunk transforms into coolness of building’s climate control. Fans surround the terabytes of data. Pratchett continues about the building: “The air hits this concrete floor and roils left and right. This whole building is like the Mississippi River. There’s a huge amount of air coming in, but moving really slowly.”
It’s important to notice the persistence of issues of ecology from air to the soil as well as non-cognitive work: that we still talk of factories and rather physical processes having to do with our hardware and how we manage and work with data in its material level.
Blum: “The cloud is a building. It works like a factory. Bits come in, they get massaged and put together in the right way and sent out.”
A different sort of steam punk for the 21st century.
Michael Dieter interviewed me for the Speculative Realities ebook (part of an earlier art exhibition that picked up on speculative realism as an inspiration for art methodologies). We talked about the posthuman, non-humanisation and labour, artistic practices — and a couple of words on my new project that itself speculates on the possibilities of crossbreeding German media theory with Italian (inspired) political theory. In the interview, I also emphasize that one needs to be quite aware about the ways in which people do tend to lump together different traditions of contemporary “realism” and “materialism” — as well as ignoring so much of the earlier work. Is for instance feminism being written out of the current debates in theory?
Michael’s first question…
Michael Dieter (MD): Is there a ‘materialist’, ‘realist’ or ‘nonhuman’ turn in contemporary
thought? If so, how would you position your work in relation to these trends and what is
at stake with such terms?
- and read the rest here! (Three different e-formats available).
A collection that looks really exciting: Depletion Design: A Glossary of Network Ecologies, edited by Carolin Wiedemann & Soenke Zehle. I was happy to be involved with a tiny text on dust and new materialism. A lot of my recent writing and interests have had to do with depletion, exhaustion, and things dead or discarded – as with zombie media. More things (texts) grim and grey forthcoming.
You can download the book here. Below a blurb about its contents.
“We, or so we are told, are running out of time, of time to develop alternatives to a new politics of emergency, as constant crisis has exhausted the means of a politics of representation too slow for the state of exception, too ignorant of the distribution of political agency, too focused on the governability of financial architectures. But new forms of individual and collective agency already emerge, as we learn to live, love, work within the horizon of depletion, to ask what it means to sustain ourselves, each other, again. Of these and other knowledges so created, there can no longer be an encyclopedia; a glossary, perhaps.”
Contributors: Marie-Luise Angerer (Cyborg), Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi (Exhaustion, Soul Work), David M. Berry (On Terminality), Zach Blas (Queer Darkness), Drew S. Burk (Grey Ecology), Gabriella Coleman (Anonymous), Heidi Rae Cooley (Ecologies of Practice), Sebastian Deter- ding (Playful Technologies, Persuasive Design), Jennifer Gabrys (Natural History, Salvage), Johannes Grenzfurthner & Frank A. Schneider (Hackerspace), Eric Kluitenberg (Sustainable Immobility), Boyan Manchev (Disorganisation, Persistence), Lev Manovich (Software), Sonia Matos (Wicked Problems), Timothy Morton (Ecology without Nature), Jason W. Moore (Cri- sis), Anna Munster (Digital Embodiment), Brett Neilson (Fracking), Sebastian Olma (Biopoli- tics, Creative Industries, Vitalism), Luciana Parisi (Algorithmic Architecture), Jussi Parikka (Dust Matter), Judith Revel (Common), Ned Rossiter (Dirt Research), Sean Smith (Informa- tion Bomb), Hito Steyerl (Spam of the Earth).
Folks at Swinburne University, Melbourne have organised quite the event — CODE – A Media, Games & Art Conference. This means my first trip to Australia ever, with that slightly surreal feeling plane trip ahead of me. It is at such moments that you better trust media technological arrangements; the radio and computer controlled cockpit media; and the entertainment media lull in the economy class (see John Johnston’s intro to the Kittler-essay collection Literature, Media, Information Systems).
My talk will be something new I wrote, on “Cultural Techniques of Cognitive Capitalism”. The idea is to do a crosswiring between two traditions; the German media studies type of undertanding of media technologies coupled with the more Italian style political theory of Post-Fordist cultures. The previous has not been so good on the political front, the latter not always been specific enough when talking of media cultures/technologies. Who knows, this talk might form a part of a bigger project that I have been drafting as well.
University of East London
Centre for Cultural Studies Research
Pushing the Limits of the Affective Workspace: Revolts, Absorption, and Ecologies of Waste
A symposium with Jussi Parikka, Stevphen Shukaitis and Tony D. Sampson
Chair: Jeremy Gilbert, CCSR
UEL Docklands Campus
(ground ﬂoor, main building, turn left upon entering the main square after leaving Cyprus DLR
Cyprus DLR is literally situated at the campus)
Free, All welcome. No need to book.
The boundaries of capitalist workspaces are continuously stretched to new limits. Work is pushed into the home, the obsolescent and the unconscious. Focusing on affective labour, new materialism and neuromarketing, this seminar looks initially beyond the media screens of the digital industries to the wasteful ecologies of obsolescent technology. It then explores resistance to contemporary capitalism extending to, for example, the refusal of caring labour. Last, it repositions the attentive subject of cognitive capitalism in a neurological space of absorbent and mostly unconscious consumption.
Media Matters as Ecology
Jussi Parikka, Winchester School of Art (University of Southampton).
This talk investigates “new materialism” through the context of media ecology – but ecology understood literally and through electronic waste, and the various temporalities and materialities of obsolescence. It argues, following Sean Cubitt’s and German media theory lead, for such a focus to technical media that accounts not only what’s on the screen, but what enables “media” as content to exist. German media theory has been successful to track this back to the engineering and scientific roots of modern entertainment media, but this talk focuses on electronic waste, and its relation to information technology work, but from a slightly alternative perspective. As such, the talk also touches discussions of “affective labour” as well as non-representational approaches to contemporary media culture.
Jussi Parikka is Reader in Media & Design at Winchester School of Art (University of Southampton). His books include Digital Contagions (2007), Insect Media (2010) and the forthcoming What is Media Archaeology? (2012). He has co-edited The Spam Book (with Tony D. Sampson, 2009) and Media Archaeology (with Erkki Huhtamo, 2011).
Learning from Affective Revolts: Social Reproduction & Political Subjectiviation
Stevphen Shukaitis, University of Essex / Autonomedia
Despite the importance that autonomist feminism has played in the development of autonomist politics and struggles it is commonly relegated to little more than a glorious footnotes of figures emerging out of operaisti thought (such as Antonio Negri and Paolo Virno). Organizing around gender, affective labor, and issues of reproduction posed numerous important questions to forms of class struggle that focused exclusively on the figure of the waged industrial worker. Revolts of housewives, students, the unwaged, and farm workers led to a rethinking of notions of labor, the boundaries of workplace, and effective strategies for class struggles: they enacted a critical transformation in the social imaginary of labor organizing and struggle. By drawing on the history and of these struggles (such as the various Wages for Housework Campaigns and current organizing such as Precarias a la Deriva) and ideas of those involved (such as Silvia Federici, Leopoldina Fortunati, Mariarosa Dallacosta, and Alisa Del Re) this paper will explore some lessons that can be learned from these a(e)ffective insurgency. Taking seriously the questions posed by these struggles are extremely important because as Alisa Del Re argues, attempting to refuse and reduce forms of imposed labor and exploitation without addressing the realms of social reproduction and housework amounts to building a notion of utopia upon the continued exploitation of female labor. Furthermore the often cramped positions that organizing forms of affective labor and social reproduction (housewives, sex workers, etc) occupies becomes all the more important as these processes are further integrated into the composition of contemporary capitalism. How does one refuse caring labor? Strategies for organizing around affective labor, what Precarias a la Deriva have called a “very careful strike,” are important to learn from to find ways “not a high productivity of domestic labor but a higher subversiveness in the struggle.” (Dallacosta/James)
Stevphen Shukaitis is a lecturer at the University of Essex and a member of the Autonomedia editorial collective. He is the author of Imaginal Machines: Autonomy & Self-Organization in the Revolutions of Everyday Day (2009, Autonomedia) and editor (with Erika Biddle and David Graeber) of Constituent Imagination: Militant Investigations // Collective Theorization (AK Press, 2007). His research focuses on the emergence of collective imagination in social movements and the changing compositions of cultural and artistic labor.
Following the Glint in the Eye of the Consumer
Tony D. Sampson, University of East London
New developments in marketing techniques not only aim to sidestep the self-reporting of consumer experiences, but also look beyond the explicit cognitive realm of visual representation to exploit instead the implicit, unconscious affective systems of consumption. Like this, the neuromarketer measures the streams of affect the consumer somatically absorbs in the atmosphere. As the enthusiastic CEO of one US based neuromarketing company puts it, these techniques help the marketer to go beyond conscious consumer engagement with a product and actively seek out what unconsciously attracts them. “Absorption is the ideal,” he claims. This is because it “signifies that the consumer’s brain has not only registered your marketing message or your creative content, but that the other centers of the brain that are involved with emotions and memory have been activated as well.” Along these lines, persuasion and absorption seemingly involves priming the sensory experiences of consumption so as to achieve a number of design goals intended to influence purchase intent.
Tony D. Sampson is a London-based academic and writer. He lectures on new media at UEL where he also leads the new media degree programmes. He is the co-editor (with Jussi Parikka) of The Spam Book: On Viruses, Porn and Other Anomalies From the Dark Side of Digital Culture (Cresskill, Hampton Press, 2009) and the author of Virality: Contagion Theory in the Age of Networks (University of Minnesota Press) to be published later this year. His current research focuses on the latest applications of noncognitive psychology in studies of human computer interaction.
I am off to Berlin Transmediale 2012-festival soon — excited as always. Giving there two talks; the latter one on Sunday on a panel organized by Tim Druckrey on methods for media art histories — I guess an unofficial media archaeology panel with Siegfried Zielinski, Wolfgang Ernst and Inke Arns!
And something different already on Friday; a performance with Julio D’Escrivan, mixing media theory and live coding… part of the Uncorporated Subversion-panel! Here is a short summary, but for the whole effect…be there on Friday. Should be worth the while, I promise…even though, in terms of the theme of “cognitive capitalism” that the paper touches a bit; I am not at all uncritical towards it, and agree it misses several key points. However, the notion is good, I would say, as a way to continue such investigations as Jonathan Crary has started into the ways in which cognition in a very wide sense, embrasing embodied, affective being, perception, sensation, is constantly articulated “out of our heads” (Alva Noë) — but in our media; a media ecology of production of perceptive, thinking, remembering subject. The collaborative form between me and D’Escrivan has itself been again a great way to work together. Last year we tried out similar things with Garnet Hertz (also with our Transmediale theory prize nominated paper on Zombie Media), and now through the performance.
This presentation can be best approached as an experiment in theory-code-collaboration, through live coding (D’Escrivan) and some speculative media theory (Parikka) concerning techniques of the cognitive. With some minor notes that reflect live coding as a practice, the focus is more or less on the notion of cognitive capitalism. What the talk/performance presents are some tentative steps towards a media archaeology of cognitive capitalism. In other words, what are the supportive, sustaining and conditioning techniques that contribute to the cerebral? In this context, we propose to step away from a cognitive as understood as immaterial or as inner life, and towards a cognitive that is distributed, supported, relayed and modulated continuously in a complex information ecology. We are interested in investigating forms of collaboration between code and sonic arts, and media theory, and investigate collaboration as a form of (extra-)institutional practice in contemporary arts and education field.
Capitalism. Think of it as a military drill operation. In order for us to be consumers and subject to advertising, we need to be trained. We need to realize choice, we need to understand selection, and we need to be trained to realize that advertising…is only for our benefit. Right?
Maurizio Lazzarato’s new book La fabrique de l’homme endetté is another fabulous, lucid and inspiring account from the Italian philosopher. The short book is, as the subtitle promises, an essay on the “neoliberal condition”, which in this case encompasses an analysis of debt. It could not be timelier. This is an obvious statement but the importance of debt from the macroeconomic level of public sector national crises in Europe and US to the microeconomic subjectivity of the individual agents cannot be overestimated. Indeed, what Lazzarato offers is a philosophico-historical analysis of the debt condition via Nietzsche, Marx, Deleuze & Guattari and Foucault.
Written in an accessible style, Lazzarato’s argument is easily summarized. What grounds the economic relation is not exchange as so often assumed in classical economic theories but the credit-debt relationship. This, in other words, is a relation of asymmetric power, which is the fundamental starting point for what is followed up by economic and political contexts (two tightly related fields, argues Lazzarato distinguishing himself from Badiou and Rancière’s argument concerning the autonomy of the political from the economic). Debt as a feature of neoliberalist policies affecting exactly the diminishment of the public sector gradually from the 1970s onwards is what Lazzarato insists as a better way to understand contemporary capitalism than talk of financial capitalism. With the creditor-debt relation he is able to talk of the subjectification process inside capitalism.
Lazzarato proceeds in a clear fashion, first taking aboard Nietzsche’s genealogy of morality and explication the debt relation as one of guilt. The relation of debt is one of morality and hence encompasses the social relation before establishing the economic. The precondition for debt is that you are able to make promises, project to the future, and establish a relation of future promises made now. This temporality is a significant feature in terms of how debt attaches to the morality, the embodied subject of capitalism that Lazzarato insists is not only cognitive. Indeed, in more than one passage he argues that the theses concerning cognitive capitalism are insufficient to understand the whole relation. The investment in the cognitive, and the cognitive as the motor of contemporary production is just one modality in a wider context. Indeed, later he goes on to elaborate what he calls a more “existentialist” mode of subjectivity at the centre of this neoliberal condition. Yet, this is not Sartrean existentialism, but one that comes from William James. The cognitive is only a small part of subjectivity that more fundamentally includes more intimate things – passions, impulsions, beliefs and desires. Hence, in this mix of Nietzsche-James one is looking at more non-cognitive forces that relate to a relation to future. This futurity is something that in various different ways has been suggested as a way to understand contemporary powers of security-capital, from pre-emption (Elmer and Opel), premediation (Grusin) and futur antérieur (Massumi).
For Lazzarato, this is an articulation of belief and the necessary incertitude as its atmospheric context, which is all embedded in the wider culture of risk that we find from the discourses of entrepreneurship to work in general. Hence, Nietzschean genealogy of bodily feelings (or lets call them affect, even if Lazzarato does not really talk of affects) is one that lends itself to understand what is the social enabling the capital relation.
When bringing in Marx to his analysis, Lazzarato refers to a much less known text, “Credit and Bank” (1844). This is what Lazzarato calls the Nietzschean Marx; one who sees the condition of debt entirely attached to the subjectivity of the poor, the one who is on borrowed time (hence, applies to the rent relation as well…). Here, to paraphrase Lazzarato (p.45), the credit does not characterize only labour, but the wider work that goes into the self – instead of just investing into physical or intellectual capacities, credit/debt is something that attaches to the morality (the future-orientedness) of the subjectivity, and hence is a question of ethics. To continue with Lazzarato’s explication of Marx, this relates to a total alienation as it touches not only a specific part of the worker’s time (that of work) but the whole ethics of being as someone who is promising, bearing risks, and assuming a future. What is captured is the future-prospect, or something that Lazzarato calls as the debt-relations’ asphyxiation of futures.
Throw in Deleuze and Guattari for good measure. Obviously, so much of Lazzarato’s analyses has been already implicitly about Deleuze-Guattarian emphases that he explicates in the book. The “non-economic interpretation of economy” that DG’s emphasis of the production of the social brings in is again the point of asymmetry of power. As a certain anthropology of capital, it allows us to think, again, not exchange but debt/guilt/power as what enables the economy. The two monies of a) revenue/salary and b) capital need to be distinguished. The latter is what governs financial capitalism as a form of futurity (or pre-emption of futures) where the credit money is able to what kind of productions and products will actualize (and of course, one could add, it is not only about such but the constant deferral of the virtual money repackaged into new forms of debts – subprime).
To paraphrase Lazzarato (p.71), the approach he proposes is about the transversality of the debt/neoliberal condition. Employed, and unemployed, productive or unproductive, the state of debt runs through economic, political and social fields (ibid.). Picking up on Foucault’s points (and updating some others), Lazzarato reminds that the (neo)liberal condition is not about reduction of control and governing, as so often rhetorically claimed, but about emphasizing certain patterns of contradiction, accumulation of value and power, and minimizing the democratic possibilities of intervention (120).
For me, Lazzarato’s brilliant extended essay/book raises questions; for instance, how to elaborate the debt as embodied; Ie. what could be called, for the lack of a better word, “affective capitalism”, where the affect bit refers to the bodily and often non-cognitive states and excitations; of desires and impulsions; whether in the brain or in the gut. Could this be connected to the wider interest in brain sciences in the context of digital culture (interface design)? And the wider discourse of the brain – brain sciences in contemporary culture?
Could there be a mediatic way of continuing Lazzarato’s analyses, to connect the future-oriented subjectivity to analyses of the media technological condition of the human in contemporary neoliberalism?
And after reading the rest, you start thinking: is this not…everyday life in neoliberalist capital culture, where you feel like that anyway after a normal work day?
After these thoughts, read this “The Political Economy of Unhappiness” (New Left Review).
A quote from the article: “One contradiction of neo-liberalism is that it demands levels of enthusiasm, energy and hope whose conditions it destroys through insecurity, powerlessness and the valorization of unattainable ego ideals via advertising.”