On the Work of Art Today: Benjamin and the Machinic Phylum

Posted: October 27, 2008 in Benjamin, Cinema, Ecology of Sensation, Method, New Media, Perception, Representation, Swarms
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

We will begin here with Walter Benjamin’s “The Work of Art in the Age of its Technological Reproducibility” (Second Version of 1936). (I’m not going to justify using this version except to say that there are aspects to it that exceed Adorno’s policing of Walter!)

W.J.T. Mitchell has clarified the genealogy that ties Benjamin’s “Artwork” essay to an effective diagramming of our present. “I will state it as a bald proposition, then, that biocybernetic reproduction has replaced Walter Benjamin’s mechanical reproduction as the fundamental technical determinant of our age. If mechanical reproducibility (photography, cinema, and associated industrial processes like the assembly line) dominated the era of modernism, biocybernetic reproduction (high-speed computing, video, digital imaging, virtual reality, the internet, and the industrialization of genetic engineering) dominates the age that we have called ‘postmodern.’ This term, which played its role as a place-holder in the 1970s and 80s, now seems to have outlived its usefulness, and is ready to be replaced by more descriptive notions such as biocybernetics” (W. J. T. Mitchell, “The Work of Art in the Age of Biocybernetic Reproduction” 486-87).

One of the first things that strikes me in Benjamin’s oft-cited essay is the notion that concepts must be created that can track, or account for the tendencies of capitalist cultural production–or rather cultural production under capitalism, and that these concepts aspire to the status of being completely useless for fascism. So Benjamin poses to us a question that, while having lost none of its pertinence, seems nonetheless so distant today, to us doubly ironic, postcolonial postmoderns. And that is can concepts–in their form and function–exceed Potestas-Power-Domination-Capital-Fascism? These are by no means all the same thing, but certainly there is a sense that Benjamin wanted to develop a kind of critique that would reject and dismantle the foundations of thought under fascism-capitalism.

It reminds me of Michel Foucault’s celebration of Anti-Oedipus as a handbook for an anti-fascist life (cf. the Foreword); it reminds me as well of Negri’s repeated assertion that today there is nothing outside of Power, and all nodes of resistance (through potentia) are produced as part of its very functioning.

But let us return to Benjamin. What again strikes me reading further is that Benjamin insists on the phase transitions inaugurated by new technologies. What for instance does the lithograph do in modern society? First, the technique of tracing on a stone (rather than incisions on wood or copper plate) made it possible for graphic art to extend its market (already a tendency of previous techniques) but “in daily changing variations” (102). So then note the method: consider the scale of consumption and the durations of production. These shifts in technique and technology are tied fundamentally to the body for Benjamin. He notes immediately after his discussion of lithography that it was photography that freed the hand from the most important artistic tasks in the process of pictorial reproduction–“tasks that devolved upon the eye alone” (102).

But then Benjamin has recourse to what might be characterized as a linear-tendency argument which seems suspect to me for several reasons. The argument goes something like: just “as the illustrated newspaper virtually lay hidden within lithography, so the sound film was latent in photography.” Now this notion of latency in technology reduced machinic evolution to a linearity which could be empirically and conceptually contested. I sense that a non-linear approach to technological change would be far more effective in understanding virtuality not in the terms that Benjamin means it here (as latent, genetic, originary), but in the sense of Deleuze: as that which exceeds its actualization, as a purely morphogenetic multiplicity that actualizes fields of force (which are then captured and gridded by Power-Language-Culture).

And yet Benjamin is right to trace these emergences at the interfaces between bodily habituation and technological innovation. It is the linearity that we are taking exception to!

Let’s read on!

In the Third Movement, we get the argument around the Lack: the reproduction lacks the here and now–“its unique existence in a particular place.” This here and now underlies the concept of the artwork’s authenticity. But it is precisely the authenticity of an artwork that becomes non-pertinent in the regime of its technological reproducibility (we will call this TRA–technologically reproducible art). Why? The TRA is more independent of the original that its manual copy: the capacities of the specific technology re-works the original as part of its very functioning (the photograph brings out aspects of the original through the capacities of the lens or through techniques of developing). Also, the TRA can place the copy where the original cannot go: through scale of re-sizing (cathedral goes to studio), and the movement of recordings (live performance goes to the private room).

What do we make of Benjamin’s argument on authenticity? “The authenticity of a thing is the quintessence of all that is transmissible in it from its origin on, ranging from its physical duration to the historical testimony relating to it” (103). Now, Derrida’s critique of presence has bequeathed us a permanent allergy of the concept of authenticity. But is Benjamin merely opposing the authentic to the inauthentic? Is the binary a simple, or clear hierarchy in the sense that writing is for speech in Plato’s Phaedrus? This is the question, and one which demands an answer that perhaps cannot simply be given in the form of an answer, paradoxical (or stupid) as that might sound.

Let’s continue: “what withers in the age of the technological reproducibility of the work of art is the latter’s aura” (104). Benjamin does not seem to be lamenting this withering by any means. His language is charged with the utopian humanism of a certain Marxist tradition, but beyond that a kind of mystical eschatology seems to take over the text: present crisis, renewal of humanity, mass movements of our day, destructive catharsis, liquidation of the value of tradition, etc.

To say that Benjamin was premature in his prophecies is to miss the point. The problem of the aura could be correlated to a number of specific effects of capitalist exchange of commodities: the fetishism that results from capitalist circulation and valorization could be seen to be the historical heir of the aura of the artwork (many others have made this argument); the dissolution of the original in the kinesis (movements) of TRA is about the emergent dominance of exhibition value, the refunctioning of representation and media itself in the advent of popular art practices. What Benjamin calls us to attend to is precisely what happens to perception in the era of popular culture.

“Just as the entire mode of existence of human collectives changes over long historical periods, so too does their mode of perception. The way in which human perception is organized–the medium in which it occurs–is conditioned not only by nature but by history. The era of the migration of peoples, an era which saw the rise of the late-Roman art industry and the Vienna Genesis, developed not only an art different from that of antiquity but also a different perception” (103). We must aspire to a form of media diagrammatics commensurate with this revolutionary insight! In other words, Benjamin here marks the fundamental method of a materialist analysis of machinic evolution.

The unique apparition of a distance? What are we to make of this mystical description? How can we make sense of the aura through the figure of an eye following a mountain range or the shadow of a branch? How does one breathe the aura of those mountains, of that branch? (105) I don’t claim to know here, I am trying to feel myself along Benjamin’s text…To possess a thing, to desolve its uniqueness in reproduction: this is the “desire” of the masses. The photographic/filmic reproduction enables this possessive dissolution.

Benjamin shows us that contemporary culture is founded on the shock value of exhibition (Baudrillard’s simulacrum); but that what is at stake in looking at contemporary cultural production from film to literature is the way in which perception is mobilized, restructured, habituated sometimes in the service of the status quo, sometimes in the service of political critique and resistance (thus film is a way simultaneously of thinking the new [forms of perception], thinking anew [new relationship to reality and time], and a new habituation [attention span]). But always what we assume is human nature is neither natural nor strictly human: at the interface of technologies, human perception has been formed in particular ways throughout history, and it is still evolving. The shock is neurological and machinic as once (cf my discussion of Buck-Morss below).

Benjamin rejects with panache the l’art pour l’art legacy of Kant-Mallarme (a critique which Bourdieu would take up so ably in Distinctions). The end of the cult of beauty for Benjamin meant that the basis of art would henceforth be politics itself. He was without question wrong about that. But the intuition was right: the dissolution of the high art/ low art distinction in the 20th century meant that the basis of aesthetic judgement could not refer to the inviolable aura of the origins, but that some other criteria had to be found. As far as I can tell people are still trying to find that new foundational criteria–that it has taken so long suggests to me that it does not exist.

This is an excellent, thoughtful and thought provoking lecture. Thank you Prof. Gelley.

In the Seventh Movement of the essay, Benjamin lays out a really expansive notion of exhibition value and we see the potential of such a method take shape. First, Benjamin does something here that Deleuze and Guattari claim is specific to the sciences: correlate functions (philosophy creates concepts, art affects). But Benjamin is theorizing from the correlated functions of the photographic image a new perceptual and signifying apparatus which is epochal to the TRA. The move is brilliant: he asks what are the new functionalities of photography and how are they distributed and operationalized across a variety of contexts and modes of perception?

One of these new modes of perception is the renunciation of eternal value for improvability. This is a function of modern TRA that remains of central importance due to the rise of evolutionary learning algorithms (self-organizing and self-sensing, feedbacked, distributed, networked) in digital computers. Just think Photoshop for a starter.

Benjamin has an assemblage theory of TRA. But it is the assemblage of a piecemeal mode of production (capitalism, d’uh), the modular commodification of cultural production, by which I mean that every aspect of production (say of film, Benjamin’s privileged example) is assembled from specialized labor and technical objects. And so while painting can claim the status as a whole piece of art, film-art is “piecemeal, its manifold parts being assembled according to a new law” (116). I wonder what a productive slashing of Benjamin’s assemblage and Deleuze’s assemblage would yield? This is a methodological inquiry yet to come.

One of the most influential concepts that came out of this essay is “shock” (Buck-Morss notes the Freudian resonances here for Benjamin; cf. W. Benjamin, “Charles Baudelaire”; for the psychoanalytic treatment of war-neurosis and “shell shock” cf. S. Freud, Beyond the Pleasure Principle). Benjamin’s notion here is that phase transitions in media assemblages (technological-perceptual circuits) are actualized in “physical shock effects” (119), and these are to be differentiated from “moral shock effects” (Dada). There is nothing less than a thoroughgoing and radically politicized “synaestheticism” that marks Benjamin’s thought here:

From an alluring visual composition of an enchanting fabric of sound, the Dadaists turned the artwork into a missile. It jolted the viewer, taking on a tactile [taktisch] quality. It thereby fostered the demand for film, since the distracting element iin film is also primarily tactile, being based on successive changes of scene and focus which have a percussive effect on the spectator. Film has freed the physical shock effect–which Dadaism had kept wrapped, as it were, inside the moral shock effect–from this wrapping. (119)

This tactility forms the basis of Benjamin’s celebration of mass distraction: “the distracted masses absorb the work of art into themselves” (119). This brings to mind a recent argument Jordan Crandall made at the UC Berkeley “Militarism and Everyday Life” Workshop. In a wide-ranging presentation on a fascinating project on the affective disposition of “readiness,” Crandall noted that the form of the scopic regime has become immersive in digital technologies (recalling Deleuze’s elaboration of haptic vision in The Logic of Sensation; recalling as well Mark Hansen’s notion of affectivity in New Philosophy for New Media). What Benjamin pushes us to, and which resonates well with Crandall’s notion of digital immersion, is precisely the synaesthetic history of such shifts in perception, and their political implications across class, race, gender, sexuality. If from Kant onward the notion of taste itself was centered on an idealized vision of concentration and part of a broader biopolitics of population which separated out forms of intellectual labor from manual labor, distraction through percussive effects is part of the revaluation of affectivity under capitalism. Bringing this analysis of cinema’s scopophilia into the era of TV (where sound and the glance, rather than the image and the gaze, dominate), John Ellis in Visible Fictions notes that “TV’s low emphasis on the construction of the voyeuristic position” displaces attention away from the female body and of female sexuality characteristic of classical Hollywood.

Broadcast TV’s lack of an intense voyeristic appeal produces a lack of the strong investigatory drive that is needed alike for tightly organised narration and for intense concern with the ‘problem’ of the female. Similarly, the regime of broadcast TV does not demonstrate a particular drift towards a fetishistic manner of obsessive replaying of events. The series and the segmental form construct a different pattern of repetition that has much more to do with constructing a pattern of familiarity.

Writing in early 1980s, Ellis notes that the one exception to this is the fetishistic presentation of the female face on broadcast TV. Now much of this has been utterly transformed with the advent of the home theatre system, large screen TVs, and other technologies. Mark Pesce’s presentation on BitTorrent and piracy is a good example of the new business model of hyperdistribution and the phase transition in habits of consumption catalyzed by broadband technologies.

Benjamin’s analysis has far reaching implications for both methodology and media history, but his arguments beg many questions as well. For instance, Benjamin differentiates use from perception through the respective senses of tactility and vision. “Tactile reception comes about not so much by way of attention as by way of habit” (120). One could contest this, of course, but what seems relevant here is the relation between habituation, attention, and tactility. The gradual competence in new forms of perception happens on the terrain of habit suggests Benjamin, and this leads to important insights in thinking of the nested timescales (both evolutionary and cognitive) of forms of perception, proprioception, and apperception (awareness, consciousness) in an overall sensorium.

We would be remiss, especially today, not to highlight one key aspect of Benjamin’s essay: war and property. Benjamin notes that the culmination of the aestheticization of politics (“let art flourish and the world pass away”) is war. War sets goals for mass movements “on the grandest scale while preserving traditional property relations” (121). What better commentary on our times, on Iraq and Afghanistan, on Counter-Terrorism, and Departments of Homeland Security-Abu Ghraib, could there be than this: to affirm the embodiment of capitalist media is to affirm the set of temporal relations that habituate a distributed and differentiated sensorium for, precisely, war and the commodity. We respond by jamming, tweaking, displacing, breaking, and generally fucking with this sensory motor assemblage.

This is precisely what is at stake in critical video games studies. In “Have You Played the War on Terror?” (Critical Studies in Media Communication, Vol. 23, No. 2, June 2006, pp. 112 130), Roger Stahl marks the phase transition in contemporary control societies from commoditized spectacle to virtual Netwar:

Instead the game represents what has come to be known as ‘‘lifestyle marketing,’’ the creation of an immersive cultural universe that surrounds a brand name. The use of interactive technologies to craft and market this universe*the video game as advertisement or ‘‘adver-game’’*can be counted among the military’s many firsts. In fact, the success of America’s Army has been noticed by corporations such as Coca Cola and Daimler-Chrysler, who hope to promote their brands in a similar way (Oser, 2005). America’s Army has transformed the rhetoric of ‘‘recruitment’’ as well, initiating a new language that has been adopted in the realm of commercial war games. A television ad for Conflict: Desert Storm tells us, ‘‘All Americans Pledge Allegiance. A Select Few Show It.’’ A print advertisement for the WWII game Medal of Honor: Rising Sun features an enlistment card and the slogan, ‘‘You don’t play. You volunteer.’’ In this new war gaming environment, recruitment has taken on a logic that is entirely harmonious with the brand, a kind of brand loyalty. America’s Army, far from being a cultural anomaly, has become one brand among many. Col. Wardynski brags that the game has “achieved the objective of putting the Army in pop culture.” (125)

For her part, Susan Buck-Morss begins her brilliant consideration of the “Artwork” essay with precisely this point: “Benjamin is saying that sensory alienation lies at the source of the aestheticization of politics, which fascism does not create, but merely ‘manages.’ We are to assume that both aliencation and aestheticized politics as the sensual conditions of modernity outlive fascism–and thus so does the enjoyment taken in viewing our own destruction” (Susan BuckMorss, “Aesthetics and Anaesthetics: Walter Benjamin’s Artwork Essay Reconsidered,” October, Vol 62 (Autumn, 1992), 3-41, 4). For Buck-Morss, Benjamin’s demand to politicize art amounts to a heterogeneous practice of undoing the “alienation of the corporeal sensorium, to restore the instinctual power of the human bodily senses for the sake of humanity’s self preservation, and to do this, not by avoiding the new technologies, but by passing through them” (5). There is a lot here: undoing alienation (which does not seem to me to be Benjamin’s aim at all) implies an outside, or a pre- to power and capital that seems utopic at best (Negri, Hardt, Marazzi and Autonomia make this clear); but does the body pass through technology or is it always already technological, already part of machinic assemblages that form a continuous multiplicity of sense, sensation, and capacities? Nonetheless, Buck-Morss’s thesis–that Benjamin’s critical understanding of mass society disrupts the tradition of modernism by exploding the constellation of art, politics, and aesthetics, and that our focus needs to be the development of the human sensorium itself–is essential for how we understand embodied perception in media assemblages.

She writes at a time when Western academic discourse in the humanities was just on the cusp of this great empirical discovery: we do not yet know what a body can do (Spinoza, Ethics, Deleuze, Logic of Sense, and Massumi, Parables for the Virtual). So her language is marked by that moment; hence her assertion that the “senses maintain an uncivilized and uncivilizable trace, a core of resistance to cultural domestication” (6). Here we see the long shadow of “resistance thinking” (the dialecticism of cultural studies) that inflects all thought of the body in postmodern discourse. For Buck-Morss the senses serve instinctual needs–for warmth, nourishment, safety, sociability–and are part of the biological apparatus. But in fact it seems to me that what remains provocative in Benjamin is to refuse this notion of the senses as outside of power (cultural domestication), and to show the senses in phase transitions of habituation. (Granted this might be to Spinozify Walter, but his own anomalous relationship to dialectics opens that approach.)

Buck-Morss acknowledges this when she notes that the nervous system is not contained within the body’s limits.

The circuit from sense-perception to motor response begins and ends in the world. The brain is thus not an isolable anatomical body, but part of a system that passes through the person and her or his (culturally specific, historically transient) environment. As the source of stimuli and the arena for motor response, the external world must be included to complete the sensory circuit. (Sensory decripvation causes the system’s internal components to degenerate.) (12)

Does Buck-Morss circumvent that fatal move in post-marxist cultural criticism, that move which brings back all the dialecticism of representational thought, and that mires sense perception in the Platonism of mediation? “The field of the sensory circuit thus corresponds to that of ‘experience,’ in the classical philosophical sense of a mediation of subject and object, and yet its very composition makes the so-called split between subject and object (which was the constant plague of classical philosophy) simply irrelevant. In order to differentiate our description from the more limited, traditional conception of the human nervous system which artificially isolates human biology from its environment, we will call this aesthetic system of sense-consciousness…the ‘synaesthetic system'” (12-13). Clearly Buck-Morss wants a thoroughgoing revision of the subject-object split that informs theories of mimesis-mediation, but, in this essay at least, she is never able to make break from it. Why? The ghost of Hegel continues to haunt this thought!

The properties, or better, emergent capacities of this system are what call into question all theories of the primacy of mediation-culture in the phenomenology of experience: it is open in the extreme; open to the world both through sensory organs, and nerve cells that form the sensory networks, reaching out toward other nerve cells at synaptic points where electrical charges pass through the space between them. In the networks between nerve bundles everything “leaks” (13).

Repeatedly, Buck-Morss returns this synesthetic dynamism to a “mimetic language,” only to insist that what this language speaks is anything but the concept! (14) But “sensory mimesis” is precisely a concept, in the sense of a capture or gridding of the non-mimetic dynamism of an open system far-from-equilibrium: the synesthetic perceptual apparatus is immediately a non-coinciding dynamic unity. Pure resonance. (Cf Massumi’s Parables for the Virtual.)

Instead of taking recourse to the protective shield of the Freudian psyche, we should return to the machinic phylum in understanding the confrontation of the body to shock. Isn’t it in fact swarming technologies that provide protection against the unmediated stimuli of the world? Not because they are the new mediation, but because they install a patterned set of probabilistic interactions that both catalyze and grid these very stimuli.

Recently, a great deal has been written about smart mobs, political (h)activism, evolutionary and nature-based algorithms, video game interfaces, musical improvisation, warfare, and robotics all developed through the engineering diagram of swarming. My sense is that swarming is the abstract diagram of postmodern control societies in that it literally incorporates forms of stochastic creativity (what Bergson called the creative indetermination of the body) with populations of events, forces, and processes. In the joint State Department and RAND publication Swarming and the Future of Conflict (Santa Monica, 2000), John Arquilla and David Ronfeldt depict six basic characteristics of swarming warfare: 1. Autonomous or semi-autonomous units engaging in convergent (or resonant) assault on a common target; 2. Amorphous but coordinated way to strike from all directions, exercising a “sustainable pulsing” of force or fire; 3. Many small, dispersed, internetted maneuver units; 4. Integrated surveillance, sensors, C4I (command, control, communications, computers, intelligence); 5. Stand-off and close-in capabilities; 6. Attacks designed to disrupt cohesion or adversary. For the authors, the key active process of the military swarm is “sustainable pulsing” of either force or fire. Crucially, this “should not be thought of as a strictly military phenomenon. Sustainable pulsing can be undertaken in social action as well. As seen from time to time in Serbia, those protesting the Milosevic regime’s nullification of local elections a few years ago, for example, were able to assemble in very large numbers on many occasions” (21-22). For swarming to work two fundamental requirements must be met. First, in order to strike at a target from multiple directions, there must be large numbers of small units of maneuver that are tightly intenetted—i.e. that can communicate and coordinate with each other at will and are expected to do so. The second requirement is that the “swarm force” must form part of a “sensory organization,” providing the surveillance and synoptic-level observations necessary to the creation and maintenance of “topsight” (22). The aim here is not to necessarily destroy the object, although the authors note that significant destruction can be wrought. Rather, the aim is to disrupt the organizational cohesion of the target. Drawing on both Benjamin and Buck-Morss, then, I would suggest an ontogenetic diagram of contemporary cyborg society: swarms have emergent properties (so-called intelligence) that have both an ethics (specific capacities to affect and be affected) and a “hauntology” (the network of relations, patterns of information, and sets of events that have constituted its very emergence).

Another example of such an ethical hauntology of swarming technologies is the work being done on the interface between commercial video games and the military. Again, Roger Stahl’s argument is exemplary here:

New technologies of interactivity also challenge the primacy of the spectacle as the mode by which critical citizenship is defused. The spectacle is the offspring of broadcast technologies, of television and film, and tends toward the deactivation of the citizen. In contrast, the new paradigm of the video game is interactive and engaging, channeling one’s desires through its architectures. The new generation of war-themed games thus provides a particular way of habitating the political world dissolved in the aesthetic of ‘‘gametime.’’ Gametime moves quickly, subordinating critical and ethical questions to movement and action. Historically, the spectacle of war emerged to shift emphasis from the rational question of ‘‘why we fight’’ to the dazzling display of ‘‘that we fight.’’ Gametime integrates the citizen, however virtually, into the mechanics and pleasures of ‘‘how we fight.’’ (126)

Swarming works through the clinamen. See: https://mediaecologiesresonate.wordpress.com/2008/04/23/on-the-clinamen-in-deleuze

But can the clinamen in swarming technologies be translated into resistance as Negri would have it? After having just linked the clinamen to difference and creativity through an ontology of resistance (I quote the passage at length in the above mentioned blog entry “On the Clinamen in Deleuze”), Negri goes on to say: “When we speak of difference, we are therefore speaking of resistance. Difference cannot be recognized within the homologization that biopower imposes on society. When we speak of difference, we mean the way resistance emerges against the compact mass of biopower in order to affirm the common consistency of the biopolitical fabric. It is only through the continuous renewal of this fabric, through creativity, life styles, and the destruction of all forms of essence or identity that difference can be affirmed, and the common constructed. The common is nothing but all these movements conjoined” (Negri, The Porcelain Workshop 98).

If we can say that such resistance is necessary to think concretely, should we not also take heed of what Neitzsche referred to as the very problem of language in relation to sense perception?

In particular, let us further consider the formation of concepts. Every word instantly becomes a concept precisely insofar as it is not supposed to serve as a reminder of the unique and entirely individual original experience to which it owes its origin; but rather, a word becomes a concept insofar as it simultaneously has to fit countless more or less similar cases—which means, purely and simply, cases which are never equal and thus altogether unequal. Every concept arises from the equation of unequal things. Just as it is certain that one leaf is never totally the same as another, so it is certain that the concept “leaf” is formed by arbitrarily discarding these individual differences and by forgetting the distinguishing aspects. This awakens the idea that, in addition to the leaves, there exists in nature the “leaf”: the original model according to which all the leaves were perhaps woven, sketched, measured, colored, curled, and painted—but by incompetent hands, so that no specimen has turned out to be a correct, trustworthy, and faithful likeness of the original model. We call a person “honest,” and then we ask “why has he behaved so honestly today?” Our usual answer is, “on account of his honesty.” Honesty! This in turn means that the leaf is the cause of the leaves. We know nothing whatsoever about an essential quality called “honesty”; but we do know of countless individualized and consequently unequal actions which we equate by omitting the aspects in which they are unequal and which we now designate as “honest” actions. Finally we formulate from them a qualities occulta which has the name “honesty.” We obtain the concept, as we do the form, by overlooking what is individual and actual; whereas nature is acquainted with no forms and no concepts, and likewise with no species, but only with an X which remains inaccessible and undefinable for us. For even our contrast between individual and species is something anthropomorphic and does not originate in the essence of things; although we should not presume to claim that this contrast does not correspond to the essence of things: that would of course be a dogmatic assertion and, as such, would be just as indemonstrable as its opposite. (see http://www.davemckay.co.uk/philosophy/nietzsche/nietzsche.php?name=nietzsche.1873.ontruthandliesinanonmoralsense)

So we should be careful of all these words, and try to approach the relation between politics and ontology as clearly as language will let us–and we should never forget that part of what is at stake is developing a new relationship between language, diagramming, becoming, and politics. An untimely relationship, as Deleuze reminds us.
…”new” values are precisely those superior forms of everything that is. Some values, then, are born current and only appear soliciting an order of recognition, even if they must await favorable historical conditions to be, in effect, recognized. On the other hand, some values are eternally new forever untimely, always contemporary with their creation, and these, even when they seem established, apparently assimilated by society, in fact address themselves to other forces, soliciting from within that society anarchic forces of another nature. Such values are transhistorical, suprahistorical, and bear witness to a congenial chaos, a creative disorder that is irreducible to any order whatsoever. It is this chaos of which Nietzsche spoke when he said it was not the contrary of the eternal return, but the eternal return in person. The great creations depart from this supra-historical stratum, this “untimely” chaos, at the extreme limit of what is livable. (G. Deleuze, “On The Will to Power and the Eternal Return,” in Desert Islands 126).
The ultimate authority is creation, it is art: or rather, art represents the absence and the impossibility of an ultimate authority…Nietzsche posits that there exists ends “just a little higher” than those of the State, than those of society. He inserts his entire corpus in dimension which is neither historical, even understood dialectically, nor eternal. What he calls this new dimension which operates both in time and against time is the untimely. It is in this that life as interpretation finds its source. (G. Deleuze, “Nietzsche’s Burst of Laughter,” in Desert Islands 129).
The fantasy swarms of RFID:
See also Wax Web: http://jefferson.village.virginia.edu/wax/english/1movie/1all/F/1/1a1a2a1.html.
Another kind of example of clinamediated swarms: (from: John Shiga, “Copy-and-Persist: The Logic of

Mash-Up Culture,” Critical Studies in Media Communication Vol. 24, No. 2, June 2007, pp. 93-114)

While a few mash-ups have been officially released by record companies, the vast majority are posted online in order to acquire feedback, recognition, and prestige within the mash-up community. Mash-ups that are posted on message boards are also opportunities for other members to reassemble the mash-up from its components or display their listening skills through commentary about a particular mash-up. A member of another mash-up message board, acapellas4u.co.uk, posted a mash-up which he claimed received radio airplay and asked for feedback (Johnnybaby, 2006). The feedback suggests that the validation of remixes/remixers does not necessarily lead to a sense of the ‘‘work’’ as the remixer’s private acoustic space or property. RobertP wrote, ‘‘This is a really tight, fun mix*excellent work* it is the only version of eminem that I think I have wanted to play again. In fact I think I’ll burn it to CD to play in the car*thank you!!!’’ The producer of the mashup, johnnybaby, replied: ‘‘Cheers Robert! . . . Have fun when you’re driving around with it blastin’ out of your motor!’’ Another member asked for permission to air the mash-up on their homemade radio station, which johnnybaby gave without hesitation. This thread suggests that listening in mash-up culture is guided by a ‘‘filesharing’’ sensibility, a disposition towards sound as infinitely replicable. The conventions of validation and techniques of listening do not translate directly into commodifiable works, but they open the possibility of developing a ‘‘trademark’’ style of listening, remixing, and commenting, or a ‘‘brand name’’ that links different artifacts. As Lury (2006) observes, the emergence of the artist as a brand name is part of broader shift in the author-function of the art-culture system: ‘‘Increasingly the brand name is not the mark of an originary relationship between producer and products but is rather the mark of the organization of a set of relations between products in time’’ (p. 95). However, the attempt to promote oneself as a stylized link between multiple works produced by other people exists in tension with the broader corporate and legal scrutiny of unauthorized copying on the web. Pseudonymous identities have thus become the norm in mash-up culture, which makes it difficult to pinpoint legal persons responsible for copyright infringement while at the same time enabling subcultural capital to be accumulated through a name that persists over time in the filenames of mash-ups and in the comments posted on message boards. (101)


From a recent call for papers on the Artificial Life listserv (alife-announce@lists.idyll.org, October 16, 2008): “The World Congress on Nature and Biologically Inspired Computing (NABIC’09) brings together international researchers, developers, practitioners, and users. The aim is to build a 3 day platform where the concerned researchers /academicians /engineers from diverse regions of the world would converge to share their excitement and paradoxically, frustration towards the pursuit of building up of machines that would not be strictly algorithmic in nature and are capable of handling ambiguity, uncertainty etc. by applying common sense. The theme for this symposium is ‘Nurturing Intelligent Computing Towards Advancement of Machine Intelligence.’” On experimental music and swarming diagrams see David Borgo, Sync or Swarm: Improvising Music in a Complex Age (New York: Continuum, 2006); Borgo’s analysis of complexity theory and its relation to popular, improvisational musical forms seems particularly open to what I am calling clinamedia.

“If you have ever been to a picnic, you have undoubtedly encountered ants.  It is not the individual ant that draws your attention, but the collective behavior of the line of ants, as they walk off with your food that is impressive.  Ants are considered a social insect, a group that contains other insects such as bees, and some caterpillars.  It is their social structure and how ants make use of it that peaks the scientists’ interests.  An individual ant is relatively unintelligent, but when they are part of a colony, “complex group behavior emerges from the interactions of individuals who exhibit simple behaviors by themselves.” This phenomenon is indicative of all swarm intelligences such as bees, birds, fish, and the economy, which is another example of swarm intelligence, where something is created that is greater than the sum of its parts.  One of the complex behaviors that naturally emerges from individual ant behavior is the ability to determine the shortest path between two points.” Glen Upton, “Swarm Intelligence,” http://www.cs.earlham.edu/~uptongl/project/Swarm_Intelligence.html, accessed October 13, 2008.

So how are intellectuals of the digital returning to Benjamin today? There is a profoundly obvious misreading of Benjamin’s Artwork essay that centers on the loss of authenticity/aura that Benjamin both laments and celebrates. It is a false problem and the problem’s limited conceptual frame comes from thinking of technology in terms of language, within the dialectic, ideally outside the body. Technology is Humanity in Plato’s Cave. So we have for instance Technology Review editor and “habitual user of social media,” Jason Pontin write::

Social-media Jason Pontin, in short, is a function of my business life. I know that this identity is inauthentic, because there is so much about which I do not post or blog. Do other habitual users of social media, whose social identities are as carefully constructed to attract attention, but who blog and post about everything (and thus feel no alienation), not know that those identities are inauthentic? Bemused by the diff erence between themselves and their social-media selves, are they mere Copies, cast from a few popular molds, endlessly reproduced among false friends?…In Sincerity and Authenticity, a lovely collection of lectures delivered at Harvard by Lionel Trilling in the spring of 1970, the literary critic made a profound case for the importance of authenticity, and for its newness and fragility in our culture: “If sincerity is the avoidance of being false to any man through being true to one’s own self, we can see that this state of personal existence is not to be attained without the most arduous eff ort.” What, Trilling asks, is the enemy of authenticity? “No one has much difficulty with the answer to this question. From Rousseau we learned that what destroys our authenticity is society—our sentiment of being depends upon the opinion of other people.” Insofar as social technologies make us more dependent upon the opinion of others, they may be said to increase our inauthenticity and are to be deplored. But I am a technologist and an optimist about technology’s capacity to expand and improve our lives. However hesitantly, I will continue to use social media. We’ll work out the kinks. I choose to think that our private selves will survive and be enlarged by Twitter and Facebook as they were by earlier communications technologies.

Such interpretations no doubt abound in the sad dialectic that has become humanity and technology. But what if carbon and silicon-based life are co-evolving through dynamics that incorporate the stochastic in a probabilistic way, for instance in the new technology of probabilistic chips? Immediately it is not a question of image, copy, or simulacra, but much more radically of pattern recognition as events in flows. We turn to just this in a more recent post on “Distributed Networks.”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s