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New virals

More viral analysis is out: a special issue of WSQ just came out, a special issue on Viral – edited by Patricia Clough & Jasbir Puar. It is an extensive one, so do try to grab a copy somewhere. It also includes a review of Insect Media. The book is reviewed alongside Jodi Dean’s Blog theory and Steven Shaviro’s Cinematic Affect. Great to be featured alongside such writers.

Besides that special issue, another one to keep your eyes open for: Tony Sampson’s monograph Virality is now out! An excellent analysis which indeed “resuscitates Tarde” and analyses cultures of virality from memes to terror and love. I also really enjoy the manner in which Sampson employs notions of hypnosis into an analysis of network culture. it reminds of the idea of “evil media” that Fuller and Goffey have the past years developed (check out The Spam Book for a short intro to what Evil Media Studies is.)

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Categories: Jodi Dean, Shaviro, Spam, viruses

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.

Living Mediations: Hastac Forum on art, science, technology

March 31, 2011 1 comment

The people organizing HASTAC forums kindly invited me to participate in their new topic “Living Mediations: Biology, Technology and Art“. It touches not only on “biomedia” but more widely in the co-expansion of the biological and the technological/mediatic that we are witnessing as part of regimes of cognitive/affective capitalism (as I would see it). This is where the various meanings of the notion of “medium” come to play, and are investigated – media as technologies, but also as milieus, and interactions of the living. It is through this individuation that any medium/milieu itself is born – not as pre-existing background, but as the vibrant and changing milieu in which we too take place – and take displace. Such milieus are material, and some have used the notion of affect to understand this material, even visceral nature of mediatic milieus of contemporary culture. Affect – as we know from a variety of writers from Massumi to Shaviro – is itself a notion through which to understand the constitution of the pre-individual as shared, circulating, dynamic and I would say mediatic. As such, it expands much beyond bodies, as its a concept to understand their interrelations, and thus also the dynamic change of relations between bodies. For me, the intriguing bit is how such notions both help to think relations and changes in relations between bodies, but also as concepts travel (slightly in the manner of Mieke Bal’s traveling concepts) between regimes of knowledge production: media, scientific apparatuses and knowledge, labour, etc.

Insect Media fits into this double articulation that the forum proposes – but so does Digital Contagions I would say in the manner it looks at the constitutive mediation not only of computer viruses as a specific phenomena, but how virality itself is at the core of mediation (and is itself, mediatic). Contagious, just like affect is.

Read the entries, and participate in discussions here!

Whitehead into media theory

February 8, 2011 7 comments

Complementing the biomedia-theme of the conference (Response:ability) of this year, the final panel of Transmediale 2011 featured two important writers in media theory and arts: Marie-Luise Angerer and Mark B.N. Hansen. Angerer was very interesting in her presentation that focused on the notion of affect, talking about Massumi, the disappearing half a second in registration of sensations, and dance, but I want to mention here especially Hansen (partly because of the selfish reason of having been recently occupied with the idea of time-critical media, and microtemporality).

Amusingly introduced in the programme as the other Mark Hansen – who teaches statistics at UCLA – this Mark Hansen at Transmediale is of course the author of New Philosophy for New Media and Bodies in Code; both important, interesting books in embodiment and the media artistic cultures of perception. As was pointed out during the session, partly by Hansen himself, his theoretical trajectory has moved in new directions during these years: from a very strong phenomenological focus influenced by Maurice Merleau-Ponty, to a much more Gilbert Simondon influenced Bodies in Code, and now he is framing his project through A.N.Whitehead. This is interesting, as it shows yet another contemporary cultural and media theorist moving in that direction. Well known are the Whitehead writings of Massumi and Manning in Montreal, and of course the recent Whitehead writings of Steven Shaviro, the debates around object oriented philosophy that take a lot aboard from Whitehead, and naturally the ideas of such pioneers as Isabelle Stengers and Bruno Latour. So Hansen as well has joined this crew enthusiastic about the superject instead of subject, and the distributed field of prehensions instead of the primacy of the human body and sensory system as the focal point in aesthetics.

Hansen’s current project is more generally framed as a move from objects to processes. Hansen argues that so much of media theory (including his own work) has been focusing on objects as the primary, uhm, object of media theory. Instead, contemporary culture of distributed ubiquitous media environments demands something else. The presentation itself was packed full of theoretical arguments that are hard to unpack in a good brief way, but I just want to point towards some key concepts.

Hansen argues that this new media culture demands new concepts – a new culture of media processes has to be complemented by a specificity paying attention to how it happens on such levels that are not always directly registered on the human sensorium. Interestingly, he pointed towards Guattari as well, even if not so strongly as talking about Whitehead. In short, the indebtedness to Guattari could be summarized through the idea that machines talk to machines before talking to us. Hansen takes this concretely, in a similar manner to Wendy Chun, and pays attention to how much happens in our media machines (take smart phones that all the time are connected due to the GPS system etc) before we actively use them. The sensibilities inherent in such regimes of software cultures are indeed beyond the normal accounted for 5 senses that media theory has traditionally recognized. And here kicks in Whitehead.

Instead of the body focus of previous (new) media theory, Whitehead offers ways to rethink embodiment. The body is in such a theoretical frame “a vast set, a society of sensibilities.” Similarly Whitehead complicates the notion of perception by two important specifications: perception as presentational immediacy, as it has been understood in so much of history of philosophy and perception as causal efficacy. Without me being able to go into enough detail here, causal efficacy points towards the way Whitehead wants to take into account the way actual entities in the world are created through their relations to other entities, preceding them, and in midst of which entities are determined. It points towards the processual nature of perception being born – not the end result, but the “sensory processes leading up to and informing perception.”

When Shaviro asked the question of how would contemporary cultural theory look like if we had focused more on Whitehead, instead of Heidegger as the 20th century philosopher, Hansen seems to ask: how could we bend Whitehead into a media theorist? Whitehead hardly wrote anything related to media or technology per se (even if writing lots on science which we can argue of course being of huge importance to any understanding of media culture). For Hansen, the key point is how Whitehead’s perspective affords us to think about nonperceptual sensation. It gives agency to the environment instead of the focal subject effected and affected by that environment, and offers the perspective of the superject for media theory: how the individual is the end result of the environmental datum prehended by this focal point.

This in a way pairs up with the nature of the processual environments – that when we need to talk about processes as the central “object” of media studies, we need to see this both in the sense how e.g. Whitehead can offer such theoretical perspectives (causal efficacy) as well as how the distributed, ubiquoitous software environments are processes, unfolding in their nature. This is where Hansen’s perspective ties together with the recent debates concerning time-critical perspectives that especially the Berlin Humboldt media theorists have promoted (again, see Axel Volmar’s Zeitkritische Medien, 2009, as well as Wolfgang Ernst’s writings). Yet, there is an important difference as Hansen seems to argue that it’s only the recent new media has made the processual approaches crucial. But is this not already the case for such earlier media as wireless, cinema even, and for example television? Hansen does not fully address why the earlier media of signal processing of various forms does not qualify for the microtemporal ideas he is arguing for, where the circulating nature of the electric, electromagnetic, and then electronic signal is processual. I would argue that here some media archaeology should step in and offer a broader perspective concerning technical media and time, affect of technological relations, and process.

Sociability, or sex, mental disorders and code

November 14, 2010 1 comment

The basic teaching of The Social Network is, probably, more or less: people go to extensive measures in order to get sex. And The Social Network presents one of the most complex ways of achieving that (and if you think “sex” is here too blunt, just replace it with “achieving social recognition”, “status”, etc.): to write the most successful social media platforms till yet, and make it into a billion+ business.

More seriously, the key thing to understand about the film is that it is not about The Facebook website or the company, nor about the real people behind these networks which themselves have created a load of global internet life; not about mark zuckerbergs, sean parkers, eduardo saverins, or the usually the faceless/nameless (or first name basis only) coders and girls which seem to be essential to any successful internet company.
To me, and what I tried to see the film as, it is about how to think the mental ecology of informational and networked “social” capitalism of 21st century. What it succeeds in showing is how messy the supposedly immaterial, and logical-driven mathematical society, i.e. society of code/software, is, and how affective labour and social relations are not only the object of those internet business models, but also its driving force. Now that sounds quite anthropocentric, I admit, but actually I want to point out to the messy ontologies in which the supposedly nice and “we-all-agree-its-good-for-us” sociability is about.
After broadcast media as the driving force of 20th century media landscapes, and the at least partial message of the media system of, well, broadcasting and catering for as many eyeballs as possible (both in the advertising logic but also public broadcasting version of this logic), The Social Network seems to imply that a driving force of this system is a feeling of exclusiveness; embedded in a system of closed institutions, invitations, rank, privilege, The Social Network shows the cruelty and dark sides in celebrated utopias of open internet and celebrated social ties. Cultivating on the idea of “clubs” into a software platform and a form of high tech neotribalism suggests not only the affective logic that might be driving the addiction economy of such social media but also the exclusiveness in terms of code which suggests that there are the creative whiz-kids (elite, billionaire, white), and the end-users (hot girls with no name, or a first name, who are the psychotic end-users, but also end-products of this affective economy). Naturally such a division is far from truth, as the relations demanded by social networks aim to blur the boundaries of producers and consumers, which works towards even a more affective entanglement. Recently Jodi Dean has made interesting points about this entanglement in her Blog Theory, but earlier already Tiziana Terranova as well.
What The Social Network is consistently about is the mental ecology of sociability – and especially sociability in the age of technological networks. Code is being born of labour and money – of some people getting paid, and some not; of some people getting laid, and some not; and some people at the high end of the power law curve, some not. That is why the descriptions of affective states, and even more so the various mental disorders at the core of this film are such a clue of thinking it in terms of impersonal affects — the affective landscape of capitalism not reducible to representational figures: paranoia, compulsion, psychosis, depression.
“Social pathologies are first of all a communicational disorder”, writes Franco “Bifo” Berardi in The Soul at Work, and understanding the compulsion of communication as a state where again affect and business models conflate is a key way to understand contemporary infoscapes. Look at the disorders of minds and tech, of social relations and software to understand fundamental elements of how internet and high-tech cultures in general work, and this is where the fundamental impersonality in terms of Zuckerberg-the-film-character might just become a crucial symbol of current social media capitalism in a similar manner as Daniel Plainview in There Will be Blood (2007) is emblematic of capitalism through an understanding of its zombie-like, soulless man as the “vessel of Capital” of the industrial age, to borrow Steven Shaviro’s words and insightful analysis.