For the forthcoming 21st June event New Materialisms and Digital Culture, here are the abstracts which promise very interesting crossdisciplinary perspectives into investigating what is new materialism in the context of various practices and arts of digital culture.
David M. Berry: Software Avidities: Latour and the Materialities of Code
The first difficultly in understanding software is located within the notion of software/code itself and its perceived immateriality. Here it is useful to draw an analytical distinction between ‘code’ and ‘software’. Throughout this paper I shall be using code to refer to the textual and social practices of source code writing, testing and distribution. In contrast, I would like to use ‘software’ to include products, such as operating systems, applications or fixed products of code such as Photoshop, Word and Excel and the cultural practices that surround the use of it. This further allows us to think about the hacking as the transformation of software back into code for the purposes of changing its normal execution or subverting its intended (prescribed) functions. However, this difficulty should not mean that we stay at the level of the screen, so-called screen essentialism, nor at the level of information theory, where the analysis focuses on the way information is moved between different points disembedded from its material carrier, nor indeed at the level of a mere literary reading of the textual form of code. Rather code needs to be approached in its multiplicity, that is as a literature, a mechanism, a spatial form (organisation), and as a repository of social norms, values, patterns and processes. In order to focus on the element of materiality I want to use Latour’s notion of the ‘test of strength’ to see how the materiality of code, its obduracy and its concreteness are tested within computer programming contests. To do this I want to look at two case studies: (1) the Underhanded C Contest, which is a contest which asks the programmer to write code that is as readable, clear, innocent and straightforward as possible, and yet it must fail to perform at its apparent function. To be more specific, it should do something subtly evil; and (2) The International Obfuscated C Code Contest, which is a contest to write the most Obscure/Obfuscated C program possible that is as difficult to understand and follow (through the source code) as possible. By following the rules of the contest, and by pitting each program, which must be made available to compile and execute by the judges (as well as the other competitors and the wider public by open sourcing the code), the code is then shown to be material providing it passes these tests of strength.
Rick Dolphijn: The Intense Exterior of Another Geometry
Starting with several examples from contemporary ‘animal architecture’, this paper proposes a search for how anything ‘surrounding’ the organic body (a box, a piece of cloth, a house), in the alliance it creates with this body, is mutually united with it. It brings us to the practices central to this paper as they concern envisioning our “urban exoskeleton” as DeLanda calls it, and how this sets forth the emergence of a “future people” as Proust already foresaw it. In other words, our interests lie with how life comes into being in its intense relationships with urban morphology. We then needs to accept the definition of life offered to us by Christopher Alexander who considers life “a most general system of mathematical structures that arises because of the nature of space” (2004: 28). To speculate the future lives (unconsciously) hidden in the morphogenetic qualities of urban form today, should then be pursued in terms of the (aesthetic) principles of creating space. Conceptualizing these principles in the Occident and in the Orient, we allow ourselves to conceptualize a difference between two wholly other urban bodies of which especially the latter (the Oriental) has hardly received any attention in contemporary theory. This Oriental ‘city of axonometric vision’, as we develop this next to the (Occidental) ‘city of linear perspective’ allows us to think the urban exoskeleton in terms of a multiplicity of dynamic surfaces (as opposed to a centralized pattern), through an “equal-angle see-through” (dengjiao toushi in Chinese) (as opposed to a linear perspective) and through a non-dualist felt-togetherness. It allows us to think the creative dynamics of unlimited growth as the new proposition of what the bodies can do.
Eleni Ikoniadou: Transversal digitality and the relational dynamics of a new materialism
The relationship between digital technology and matter has preoccupied media and cultural theorists for the last two decades. During the 90s it was articulated through a celebration of the disembodied, immaterial and probabilistic properties of information (cybercultural theory). More recently, it has been asserted through a reliance on sensory perception for the construction of a predominantly observable, otherwise void, digital space (digital philosophy). However, alternative materialist accounts may be able to offer more dynamic ways of understanding the heterogeneity, materiality and novelty of digital culture (Kittler, 1999; Mackenzie, 2002; Fuller, 2005; Munster, 2006). Following on their footsteps, this presentation will aim to rethink the ontological status of the digital as immanent to the flows of a ‘new materialism’. The latter is understood as a transversal process that cuts across seemingly distinguished fields and disciplines, such as the arts and sciences, establishing new connections between them. New materialism, then, becomes a concept and a method proper for investigating digital media and their tendency to bring together different aspects of the world in new ways. The paper discusses how an abstract materialist new media theory can enable transversal relations between science studies, philosophy and media art, as well as between the actual and the virtual dimensions of reality; allowing the emergence of heterogeneous digital assemblages of material, aesthetic and scientific combination.
Adrian Mackenzie: Believing in and desiring data: ‘R’ as the next ‘big thing’
How could materialist analysis come to grips with the seeming immateriality of data network media? This paper attempts to think through some of the many flows of desire and belief concerning data. In the so-called ‘data deluges’ generated by the searches, queries, captures, links and aggregates of network media, key points of friction occur around sharing and pattern perception. I focus on how sharing and pattern perception fare in the case of the scripting language R, an open source statistical ‘data-intensive’ programming language heavily used across the sciences (including social sciences), in public and private settings, from CERN to Wall Street and the Googleplex. R, it is said, is a ‘next big thing’ in the world of analytics and data mining, with thousands of packages and visualizations, hundreds of books and publications (including its own journal, /R Journal/) appearing in the last few years. In this activity, we can discern vectors of belief and desire concerning data. The tools and techniques developed in R can be seen both intensifying data, and at times, making the contingencies of data more palpable.
Stamatia Portanova: The materiality of the abstract (or how movement-objects ‘thrill’ the world)
Gilles Deleuze and Alfred N. Whitehead have defined the ‘virtual’ not as an unreal simulation but as a real potential, an idea (respectively conceived by them as a ‘mathematical differential’ or a ‘mathematical relation’) around which an actual fact takes shape. Drawing on Deleuze and Whitehead’s concepts of ‘virtuality’, this paper addresses the possibility of a materialist approach that is able to take into account the virtuality of matter, i.e. how the abstract dimension of ideas (‘the mind’, ‘thought’) possesses its own consistence. The concrete object analyzed to exemplify this approach is the relation between digital culture, digital technology and movement, from which something like ‘virtual movement-objects’ emerge. More specifically, the paper explores the use of several technologies of movement creation and distribution (Motion Capture, digital video editing, the Internet) in mass-media environments such as pop music clips and You Tube amateur videos, dance video games and choreography web sites. The main objective is to understand how these applications generate and replicate what will be defined as ‘virtual movement-objects’, digitally generated dance steps that are widely imitated and adapted. From an ‘abstractly materialist’ point of view, the numerical data produced through the digitalization of dance will be considered as virtual movement ideas with a potential to be repeatedly actualized (in videos, live events, games). These ideas have the possibility of infinite reanimation: the same step can be endlessly repeated, becoming a dance of graphic shapes or 3D images, but also a movement across people and cultures. This definition also draws on Gabriel Tarde and Bruno Latour’s understanding of imitation. Imitation, in Latour’s words, weaves a sort of contagious ‘behavioural network’ based on the return of ‘virtual centres of gravity’, ideal patterns attracting a repetition of movements that ‘look the same’ but are always different and unpredictable. This paper therefore explores how, despite their designed nature, movement-objects appear as open and creative movement ideas able to autonomously circulate in transversal social networks and generate unexpected rhythmic behaviours. The diffusion of Michael Jackson’s Thriller dance on YouTube, in Sims animations or in the choreographed performance of 1500 detainees of the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center (Philippines), can e considered as one of the most famous examples of how dance steps have become virtual movement-objects to be infinitely actualized.
Anna Powell: Affections in their pure state? The digital event as immersive encounter
Digital video offers a distinctively immersive encounter. In its early analogue days, video art seemed to validate Deleuze’s diagnosis of ‘electronic automatism’ (Cinema 2, 1985). Its characteristics include ‘omnidirectional space’, framing which is ‘reversible and non–superimposable’ and the unpredictable motion of ‘perpetual reorganisation’. Spatial composition becomes an opaque ‘table of information’ on which data ‘replaces nature’. Some of Deleuze’s anxieties for the (then new) medium have been fulfilled by surveillance and the mainstream spectacle of GGI, as in the ‘gigantism’ of Avatar’s 3D optical illusionism. Yet, this ‘original regime of images and signs’ has also proved its credentials for the schizo will to art.One obvious formal distinction between cine and digital video is editing. Video editing does not operate by cutting and splicing footage but by ‘dragging and dropping’ sections of film on top of each other. Rather than being excised by cuts to produce temporal elision, uploaded video clips are pulled down on top of a ‘master’. An editing decision can be reversed by using a sliding tool to reveal that the first layer of images is only temporarily overlaid by another. Digital editing thus increases the density and depth of the plane of images by potentially limitless conjunctive synthesis.Deleuze argues that without a sense of the out-of-frame, time and space are overwhelmingly immanent in electronic automatism. This apparent removal of the out-of-frame and the elsewhere leads instead to an intensive meld of brain and screen that can move the mind/screen in schizoanalytic directions. Video art’s preference for gallery installation or live performance with VJ-ing and music rather than cinema screen offers further haptic immersion in the medium.Digital videos that repudiate both the televisual and the cinematic regimes can express what video artist Mattia Casalegno calls ‘affections in their pure state’. The aesthetic properties of digital video bring affect, perception and time closer together. What are the implications of this apparent removal of the gap between actual and virtual? If, as Deleuze suggests, the brain is the screen, what kind of schizo images and thoughts might future digital art unfold? Starting from the overt distinctions of cine and video this paper investigates the impact of the digital body without organs. It references work by video artists specifically Deleuzian inspiration whose works express new materialist intent.
Iris Van der Tuin: A Different Starting Point, A Different Metaphysics: Reading Bergson and Barad Diffractively
This paper provides an affirmative feminist reading of the philosophy of Henri Bergson by reading it through the work of Karen Barad. Adopting such a diffractive reading strategy enables feminist philosophy to move beyond discarding Bergson for his apparent phallocentrism. Feminist philosophy finds itself double bound when it critiques a philosophy for being phallocentric, since the set-up of a Master narrative comes into being with the critique. By negating a gender-blind or sexist philosophy, feminist philosophy only gets to reaffirm its parameters and setting up a Master narrative costs feminist philosophy its feminism. I thus propose and practice the need for a different methodological starting point, one that capitalizes on “diffraction.” This paper experiments with the affirmative phase in feminist philosophy prophesied by Elizabeth Grosz, among others. Working along the lines of the diffractive method, the paper at the same time proposes a new reading of Bergson (as well as Barad), a new, different metaphysics indeed, which can be specified as onto-epistemological or “new materialist.”