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Code and Labour

April 16, 2014 Leave a comment

The new issue of Cultural Studies Review follows up from the 2012 Code-conference that was held in Melbourne, at Swinburne University. The event  was marvelous, thanks to the organizers. And now, Esther Milne and Anthony McCosker have edited a lovely special issues Coding Labour. With a line-up including Anna Munster, Ned Rossiter, Mark Cote,Rowan Wilken and many more – as well as for instance Meaghan Morris in the same issue – one can expect much.

My own article is about the slightly heretic crossbreeding of German media theory and cognitive capitalism. It briefly discusses the notion of cultural techniques as a way to elaborate cognitive capitalism in the context of practices and techniques of software, code and labour. Hence it ends up in a curious short example from the 1970s, the management and organisational arrangement of metaprogramming, as a way to discuss how we might approach techniques of “creative” work in software culture.

You can find the text here and below a short abstract.

This article addresses cultural techniques of cognitive capitalism. The author argues that to understand the full implications of the notion of cognitive capitalism we need to address the media and cultural techniques which conditions its range and applications. The article offers an expanded understanding of the labour of code and programming through a case study of ‘metaprogramming’, a software related organisation practice that offered a way to think of software creativity and programming in organisations. The ideas from the 1970s that are discussed offer a different way to approach creativity and collaborative and post-Fordist capitalism. The author brings together different theoretical perspectives, including German media theory and Yann Moulier Boutang’s thesis about cognitive capitalism. The wider argument is that we should pay more attention to the media archaeological conditions of practices of labour and value appropriation of contemporary technological capitalism as well as the cultural techniques which include ‘ontological and aesthetic operations’ that produce cultural, material situations.

 

 

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Atrocity Media

July 30, 2011 3 comments

Reading J.G.Ballard’s The Atrocity Exhibition (1970) as media theory in a similar manner in which Thomas Pynchon was such an influence to German media theory, and William Burroughs to cyber theory; with Ballard, the exhibition of the mediatic convergence of the inner and outer landscapes in the becoming flesh and spinal of our built environment, and the fabricated artefacts becoming the catalyzer for so much of what we considered “internal” – psychosis, perversions, and other feelings that constitute the everyday. Ballard is wonderful as an archaeologist of the architectures of fragmented bodies that he investigates through a science-media link, both tools of analysis: partial objects, intense focai of desire, parts in massive patterns of data. J.G.Ballard does big data. He establishes the link from media to science as the future source of sexual perversions, and at the centre of the collection of texts lies a world of research based on experiments and statistics. Optimum wound profiles, scientifically measured statistics of the body in arousal, leg positions.

Data – “Why I want to Fuck Ronald Reagan”:

Experimental Test Situation of “Reagan in a series of simulated auto-crashes”: one form of optimization again, this time as therapy:

“Subjects were required to construct the optimum auto-disaster victim by placing a replica of Reagan’s head on the retouched  photographs of crash fatalities. In 82 percent of cases massive rear-end collisions were selected with a preference for expressed faecal matter and rectal haemorrhages. Further tests were conducted to the define the optimum model-year. These indicate that a three-year model lapse with child victims provide the maximum audience excitation (confirmed by manufacturer’s studies of the optimum auto-disaster.)”

With Ballard, the crash is of course one way of providing material for the imagination of new sexual perversions – part of social change. His way of mapping the psycho-sexual drives of perversions/desires as part of the political landscape is ingenious, and is as powerful as a Deleuze-Guattarian schizoanalytic mapping. Such mappings do not look for the signifying anchor point, but the productive processuality of where psychosis might stand – as a relay across various regimes of reality.

As a link between power and sexual fantasies, more experiments and data from Ballard:

 “Incidence of orgasms in fantasies of sexual intercourse with Ronald Reagan. Patients were provided with assembly kit photographs of sexual partners during intercourse. In each case Reagan’s face was superimposed upon the original partner. Vaginal intercourse,with ‘Reagan’ proved uniformly disappointing, producing orgasm in 2 percent of subjects. Axillary, buccal, navel, aural and orbital modes produced proximal erections. The preferred mode of entry overwhelmingly proved to be the rectal. After a preliminary course in anatomy it was found that caecum and transverse colon also provided excellent sites for excitation. In an extreme 12 percept of cases, the simulated anus of post-colostamy surgery generated spontaneous orgasm in 98 percent of penetrations. Multiple-track cine-films were constructed of ‘Reagan’ in intercourse during (a) campaign speeches, (b) rear-end auto-collisions with one and three-year-old model changes, (c) with rear-exhaust assemblies, (d) with Vietnamese child-atrocity victims.”

The perverse worlds Ballard paints from Jayne Mansfield and Marilyn Monroe to J.F.K and Reagan are mediated by the media technological worlds of cinematic expression. The cinema-landscape-desire –folding is itself a cartography of 20th century in a fashion that is insightful in its link to science and military.

The outside-inside linking as a methodology to investigate such cartographies of power and desire are now however faced with the question that Ballard already flirts with. How about this inside/outside in the age of post-phenomenological bodies, were desires circulate as part of architectures of computing, data, and chip architectures? A lot of the recent theoretical waves, such as thinking through affect (I am reminded especially of Shaviro’s Post-cinematic Affect) point towards such directions, but what if we insist on even more media-specific methodologies? Where do we go to map architectures of the non-visible, code and hardware, electromagnetic fields and signal processing? The Weber-Fechner law as a guide in our mapping of the changes in mediatic sensory intensities.

For more on Ballard in the context of media theory, read Matteo Pasquinelli’s Animal Spirits.

>Genitals in the Field of Vision

>If you happened to see an unusual amount of genitals a couple of days ago, you might have stumbled across Youtube’s “Porn Day” — a prankster or a media activist coup that was meant to raise awareness of the new music video policies on Youtube. So if you were looking for Hannah Montana or Jonas Brothers, you might have found something totally different, to put it bluntly. Responsibility was claimed by a Japanese message board community, but we could extend the logic a bit further.

It reminds first of all of the trick (real or folk lore) of inserting just a random image of a penis-in-action between film frames in the manner mentioned in the film Fight Club. The mind might not immediately notice what happened, but the brain and the nervous system registers that something was not right. It’s tempting to put your Zizek-hat on and start talking about ruptures in the fabric of the real world by an intrusion of something-that-does-not-fit-in. An unmotivated penis in the field of vision surely does that.
In such a manner, the thousands of porn clips posted on Youtube can be seen as such ruptures of expectations, of the narrative of the world to but it a bit metaphorically. Yet, we could as much claim that such a rupture is actually what holds together the logic of the Internet, and its the libidinal desires, the dirty side of us/our networks that maintains the libidinal economy and circulation. Its the anomalous that keeps the supposedly normal intact.
It took me three paragraphs to get to the point of flagging the new review (Mute magazine) by Luciana Parisi of Matteo Pasquinelli’s Animal Spirits. Parisi’s review is highly recommended. It picks up on the key strengths and weaknesses of Pasquinelli’s book, and resonates with some of the points I made in my review of the same book for Leonardo Digital reviews. Pasquinelli is able to complexify many of the dualisms haunting the supposedly liberating discourses of network culture and point towards the much more intriguing evil energies circulating through bodies, through networks. In the midst of the assumed free software and commons movements lies an assumption of the natural goodness of the human being (also targeting Chomsky) which neglects the at times implicit structurations of power that define any act of creation and cooperation. In other words, as also Parisi summarizes, the idea of freedom and non-rivalry of digital information hides the facts of “immaterial conflict” of living labour. To quote Parisi: “This conflict includes the economy of references, the race to meet deadlines, the competition for festival selection and between festivals and ‘the envious and suspicious attitudes among activists’ (p.49).”
Parisi also picks the point of critique that I did in my review. Pasquinelli’s critique against the code-theorists, and what seems to extend towards the whole of software studies, is way too broad and remains vague. Reading “code” and theorists of code only through an interest in codification that neglects the living materialities of the flesh, so to speak, neglects the more nuanced work done in software studies. Many of the theorists there, and who have paid attention to the concrete assemblages and practices of software as the key relay of network culture, have developed much more thoughtful ways of taking into account why code and software are not to be seen only as symbolic material but as Parisi writes, such modes of abstraction that involve energetic relations. I have recently tried to write about “ethologies of code” and point to the way how code should not be seen as representational and it should not be reduced to its function of codification of the intensities of any real of fleshy bodies. Instead, also code and software can be seen working through notions of relationality, affect and intensities of such relations. In the context of Pasquinelli, and Parisi’s review, she writes: “Codes are not simply binary systems of simulations that hide living conditions of existence. Codes are real abstractions that have an energetics equivalent to flesh and blood despite remaining utterly irreducible to any physical system. Pasquinelli’s insistence on the meta-structure of coding and the under-structure of living labour ultimately overlooks the materiality of code. Furthermore, by taking code culture at its face value, he ignores the weird and prolific underworld of esoteric software cultures.”
I find Parisi’s point excellent, and as said, something I have been developing is strongly in tune with this. Of course, the earlier projects on viralities and parasites tried already to take into account of such “animal energies” in network cultures, but the more recent paper is even more closely targeted on “ethologies of software.” Indeed, such points flag the need to be more aware of the dirty energies inside software cultures as well — the genitals and all in the field of not only vision but code.