Our book-length special issue on Cultural Techniques (Kulturtechniken) is out. Co-edited by Geoffrey Winthrop-Young, Ilinca Iurascu and myself, the special edition in Theory, Culture & Society is a significant introduction to the term that stems from German academic discussions in cultural and media studies. One could say it offers a significant variation on themes familiar from postwar German humanities’ focus on media, technologies and epistemo-ontological questions of culture in a post-representational and post-textual mode.
By way of some significant translations as well as new articles the issue pitches a way to understand cultural reality through its techniques. The usual definition is from Thomas Macho:
“Cultural techniques – such as writing, reading, painting, counting,
making music – are always older than the concepts that are generated
from them. People wrote long before they conceptualized writing
or alphabets; millennia passed before pictures and statues gave
rise to the concept of the image; and until today, people sing or
make music without knowing anything about tones or musical notation
systems. Counting, too, is older than the notion of numbers. To
be sure, most cultures counted or performed certain mathematical
operations; but they did not necessarily derive from this a concept
of number.” (Macho, 2003: 179)
But as the issue demonstrates, there is more in this mix. The multiplicity of positions and inplications is well articulated in Winthrop-Young’s Introduction to the issue. He articulates how not only in Macho, but in different ways in Cornelia Vismann’s and Bernhard Siegert’s work the constitutive role of cultural techniques functions. In fact, could say that this is the German media theory version of the hominization-thesis: how we become humans; how agency is constituted by cultural techniques which allow us to occupy subject positions. Space, enclosures and passages between them is one way to understand the idea:
“Thus the difference between human beings and animals is one that
could not be thought without the mediation of a cultural technique.
In this not only tools and weapons . . . play an essential role; so, too,
does the invention of the door, whose first form was presumably the
gate [Gatter] . . . The door appears much more as a medium of coevolutionary
domestication of animals and human beings.” (Siegert, 2012: 8)
Key here is the way in which cultural techniques process distinctions with material and aesthetic means. In Winthrop-Young’s lucid words, “Procedural chains and connecting techniques give rise to notions and objects that are then endowed with essentialized identities.Underneath our ontological distinctions (if not even our own evolution) are constitutive, media-dependent ontic operations that need to be teased out by means of techno-material deconstruction.” The implications for a range of recent years of theory-debates are intriguing; it refers to the fact how we need to address practices of theory and techniques of theory as part of the work of concepts and philosophy of contemporary culture. Besides it also shows some early ideas that resonate with a post-textual approach to cultural analysis (for instance in Sybille Krämer and Horst Bredekamp’s article).
I was asked to produce a short video abstract of my own contribution. In addition, find below the table of contents.
Special Issue: Cultural Techniques
Edited by Geoffrey Winthrop-Young, Ilinca Iurascu and
Cultural Techniques: Preliminary Remarks by Geoffrey Winthrop-Young
Culture, Technology, Cultural Techniques – Moving Beyond Text by Sybille Krämer and Horst Bredekamp
Second-Order Animals: Cultural Techniques of Identity and Identification by Thomas Macho
Cultural Techniques: Or the End of the Intellectual Postwar Era in German Media Theory by Bernhard Siegert
After Kittler: On the Cultural Techniques of Recent German Media Theory by Bernard Dionysius Geoghegan
Cultural Techniques and Sovereignty by Cornelia Vismann
The Power of Small Gestures: On the Cultural Technique of Service by Markus Krajewski
Zootechnologies: Swarming as a Cultural Technique by Sebastian Vehlken
From Media History to Zeitkritik by Wolfgang Ernst
Afterword: Cultural Techniques and Media Studies by Jussi Parikka
Files, Lists, and the Material History of the Law by Liam Cole Young
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).
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 can’t claim that I know too much about object oriented philosophy. It’s often more about my friends or colleagues talking about it, enthusiastically for or against. Indeed, I have been one of those who has at best followed some of the arguments but not really dipped too deeply into the debates – which from early on, formed around specific persons, specific arguments, and a specific way of interacting.
Hence, let me just be naïve for a second, and think aloud a couple of questions:
- I wonder if there is a problem with the notion of object in the sense that it still implies paradoxically quite a correlationist, or lets say, human-centred view to the world; is not the talk of “object” something that summons an image of perceptible, clearly lined, even stable entity – something that to human eyes could be thought of as the normal mode of perception. We see objects in the world. Humans, benches, buses, cats, trashcans, gloves, computers, images, and so forth. But what would a cat, bench, bus, trashcan, or a computer “see”, or sense?
- Related to this, what if the world is not an object? What if the non-humans it wants to rescue are not (always) something we could with good conscience call objects? I guess OOP wants to treat everything as an object – across scales, genres and epistemological prejudices – and hence bring a certain flatness to the world – to treat humans and non-humans on equal footing, a project which I am in complete agreement with – but does this not risk paradoxically stripping entities, the world of specificity? For instance, in mediatic contexts, what if we need to account for the non-object based realities of such media technological realities as electromagnetism – that hardly could intuitively be called an object. Would treating such entities as objects be actually just confusing, and lead to imagined concretenesses? This question is motivated by some recent arguments in media theory, insisting that we need more careful vocabularies of the non-object nature of media; for instance Wolfgang Ernst and his discourse concerning time-criticality; Mark B.N. Hansen and his recent ideas stemming from the direction of Whitehead, in connection to ubiquitous media.
- Some people are enthusiastic because object oriented philosophy seems at last to offer a philosophical way of treating the non-human (animals, technology, etc.) on an equal footing to the human. Agencies are extended to a whole lot of entities. But such claims, whether intentionally or not, forget that there is a whole long history of such thought; the most often forgotten is the radical feminist materialism of figures such as Rosi Braidotti and Elizabeth Grosz; this goes nowadays often by the name of new materialism.
- Just a thought: The real is not the same thing as matter. Matter is not always about objects. In an interview, Grosz has briefly hinted that she is not that interested in the concept/category of the real, because that still concerns more closely epistemology. Instead, what concerns her is matter.
- Is object oriented philosophy more akin to epistemology, an operationalization of the world into modular units through which we can question human superiority– instead of it being an ontology? If we want to pay more philosophical respect to the world of non-humans – chemicals, soil, minerals, atmospheric currents and such – should we not read more of scientific research that constantly is the one who talks of such worlds, and actually offers insights into different worlds of durations and stabilities from that of the human? Don’t get me wrong – I might be a naïve observer but not that naïve: of course I know that a lot of sciences are not able to be that self-reflexive, and constantly smuggle in a huge amount of conceptual and other material that makes their epistemology infected with the human/the social, and that science is not a neutral cold gaze that just registers the world. I guess I am just interested in the world – an empiricism, transcendental, radical.
These thoughts are indeed just self-reflections of an amateur while reading object-oriented philosophy, or listening people talk about it – I think I am just trying to figure out why people are so enthusiastic about it.
It’s the opposite to “do no evil”, a call to think through the dirty materiality of media. Trick, deceive, bypass, exploit, short-circuit, and stay inattentive.
Hence, it is not only about “evil objects” as I perhaps myself have focused on (in Digital Contagions, and in other places), even if such objects can be vectors for and emblematic of stratagems of evil media. Evil media studies focuses on strategies that are mobilized as practices of theories. These strategies reach across institutions, and hence it is no wonder that Geert Lovink recently flags this as one approach through which to energize media studies.
Or more formally – Evil Media Studies “is a manner of working with a set of informal practices and bodies of knowledge, characterized as stratagems, which pervade contemporary networked media and which straddle the distinction between the work of theory and of practice”, write Andrew Goffey and Matthew Fuller in the chapter by the same name in The Spam Book.
For me, the attraction in Goffey and Fuller’s call is that it is material – material that is dynamic, non-representational, machinating and filled with energies that flow across software, social and aesthetic.
- Bypass Representation
- Exploit Anachronisms
- Stimulate Malignancy
- Machine the Commonplace
- Make the Accidental the Essential
- Recurse Stratagems
- The Rapture of Capture
- Sophisticating Machinery
- What is Good for Natural Language is Good for Formal Language
- Know your Data
- Liberate Determinism
- Inattention Economy
- Brains Beyond Language
- Keep Your Stratagem Secret As Long as Possible
- Take Care of the Symbols, The Sense Will Follow
- The Creativity of Matter
(the list from “Evil Media Studies” by Goffey and Fuller, in The Spam Book: On Porn, Viruses and Other Anomalous Objects From the Dark Side of Digital Culture, eds. Parikka & Sampson, Hampton Press 2009).
I am reading Elizabeth Wilson’s most recent book Affect and Artificial Intelligence (2010), and as before with her writings, really enjoying the fresh, interesting and quirky take on the intertwining of the human/cultural with the material (earlier more about physiology, as with her Psychosomatic-book, now with technologies of AI). I will be writing a short review of the book for Leonardo, so more there; now, I just wanted to point towards her good way of tackling the lack of critique about critique — or how we cultural and media studies scholars so easily embrace our stock-in-trade tools for tackling cultural reality (the axis of evils in relation to gender, race, capitalism, and so forth), and engage what could be a paranoid/projective mode of analysis. Wilson is far from a naive critic of such critique, and not so much dismissing such – neither am I despite my interest in finding alternatives – and connects to some more recent rethinkings of how should we engage with our sources and readings. How to rethink critique?
Revealing is her epigraph, from Bruno Latour: “What would critique do if it could be associated with more, not with less, with multiplication, not subtraction“. Such a figure of the analyst and critic is one that resembles an “assembler” (as in another passage where she quotes Latour, on page xi of Wilson’s book), and that in a manner resembling DeleuzeGuattari tries to embrace the naive experimentor over the already educated and cognizant critique who is able to unveil forces of ideology in cultural reality. Like the additive mode of the experimenter of DeleuzeGuattari who adds, asks for more connections, instead of hermeneutic-critic subtraction (reduction of cultural realities to underlying effect, meaning, structure, plot, ideology, oppression, etc), this mode of critique is keen to add more insights, more ideas, more fresh paths, and more alternatives where to continue – critically. It uses its sources to go forward, not just read back. Luckily, we are seeing more and more of this kind of work that I have often referred to as “post-representational” – something that is not interested only in representation analysis but seeks to go forward with the sources. (Good examples of such work that has always been inspirational to me include Rosi Braidotti and for instance Karen Barad — material feminists!).
Through such methodological choices, Wilson is able to bring fresh readings. The early AI research and figures as Turing are cast in new, interesting, passionate light – where Turing is not only a tragic victim but an intellectually and emotionally bursting, giggling figure – and where the seemingly cold, and rationalized modes of artificial intelligence research are actually filled with passions, desires and introjections. Indeed, to quote her on this point :
“While the figure of the paranoiac will appear now and again in later chapters, this book is interested in turning critical analysis of the artificial sciences away from projective, paranoid readings. The tendency to read artificial agents as screens for projection (projection of masculine, late-capitalist, or heterosexual anxieties, for example) will be displaced in favor of reading for the introjective bonds that have been established between us and artificial worlds. Affect and Artificial Intelligence is interested in the large-hearted, easily inflamed attachments that Ferenczi attributed not only to neurotics but to anyone capable of object love.” (28)
I admire Wilson’s style to weave her theoretical points from inside the empirical case studies, and in this case for instance, to bring ideas regarding readings of psychoanalysis (Sandor Ferenczi’s ideas about introjection from 1909) to how we do cultural theory.
(Note: an earlier, brief discussion about critique after my Coventry talk of Jan 25, 2011 can be found here.)