On Tuesday January 14th we will have the next GEM jam in Utrecht. Please save the date! We will convene between 1 and 3 at Muntstraat 2A, 1.11. In this second meeting of the Research Group on Geomedia and Urban Interfaces (see below) we will discuss Alexander Galloway’s 2012 book The Interface Effect.

Although it isn’t a particularly lengthy title, some might consider reading Patrick Jagoda’s review in the LARB as a good entry point into the book. If you are unfamiliar with Galloway’s work in general, his other two major books are Protocol (2004), a Deleuzian take on the machinations of control and Gaming (2006), a reading of algorithmic culture. The Interface Effect is the third and final title in his ‘Allegories of Control’ trilogy.

Interface Effect

GEM meetings are open to anyone interested in the specific topic of the meeting and/or the activities of the research group. Please pass on this invitation, and let us know if you want to be put on the GEM email list!

Happy Holidays from the GEM team!
Nanna Verhoeff (Utrecht University)
Sybille Lammes (Warwick University)
Chris Perkins (Manchester University)
Alex Gekker (Utrecht)
Sam Hind (Warwick)
Clancy Wilmott (Manchester)
Introducing GEM: research group on geomedia and urban interfaces
GEM will regularly assemble at Utrecht University to discuss topics at the intersection of media studies and critical geography, with a specific focus on screens as navigational interfaces. Tied to the Charting the Digital European Research Council project and in co-operation with the Universities of Warwick and Manchester, we aim to provide an inclusive platform to discuss interdisciplinary topics pertaining to this focus.
Whether or not we wish to speak of a spatial or spatiotemporal turn, spatiality has become a central theoretical concept in media studies as well in critical geography. New urban interfaces, and in particular digital maps, have prompted challenging questions about how spatialities can be epistemologically and ontologically understood and which theories, tools and methodologies are needed to understand our contemporary mediatized and mobile daily lives to their full extent. GEM aims to shed light on such questions by exploring the intersections of the different notions of space in different disciplines and traditions of thought, combined with the analysis of and reflection on how we approach and do geo-media and urban interfaces and explore the essentials we need as researchers to engage with these research topics.
Open to PhD candidates and other junior and senior researches, as well as interested artists or practitioners, we will occasionally incorporate guest lectures, workshops and master classes. Those who join are more than welcome to suggest their own workshops, reading material, research questions and/or methodologies.

Jeu de la Guerre

2013-11-20 16.32.23

Or, “Game of War” was Guy Debord’s attempt at a strategy war game. In his own words it “embodie[s] the dialectic of all conflict”.

McKenzie Wark has a fascinating piece from Cabinet Magazine on ‘Debord as Strategist’ from a few years ago. It situates his work in opposition to Constant and his New Babylon project. Alexander Galloway designed an online version 6 years ago but ran into some legal difficulties (see the ‘more information’ tab in the link) with Debord’s estate. Michael Stevenson has some details of a presentation Galloway gave on that project, here.

I’ve recently purchased the game and accompanying book (see photo above!) and will be playing it with colleagues in the next few weeks. I’ll report back when we do.

Deleuze, Desire, Strategy and Revolution

A two part interview with Andrew Robinson at the New Left Project on Deleuze, desire, political strategy and revolution (Part 1 and Part 2).

A rather handy reading list of some relevant original works (Societies of Control), standalone versions of 1000 Plateaus chapters (Rhizomes, Nomadology), secondary analysis (on utopia, anarchism, fear etc.), and video lectures is at the end of the second part. Although I would add work by Nicholas Tampio and Thomas Nail to the list too.

There’s a section from Galloway’s The Interface Effect (2012) that is more than appropriate to the questions posed to Robinson in the second part. He categorizes the work of Deleuze as combining an ‘aesthetic of coherence with a politics of incoherence’ (p. 49). This is what Galloway calls a poetic regime of signification (or mode of operation). He suggests he elevates the art of philosophy over other concerns. The other concern that Galloway is primarily talking about is politics, political alignment and political strategy. One of the questions Robinson faces is ‘[w]hat is the Deleuzian model of political organization?’ The answer he provides tallies with what Galloway says, that Deleuze’s political mode is incoherent:

Eyal Weizman has written of the ways in which the Israeli Defense Forces have deployed the teachings of Deleuze and Felix Guattari in the field of battle. This speaks not to a corruption of the thought of Deleuze and Guattari but to the very receptivity of the work to a variety of political implementations (that is, to its “incoherence”). (p. 50)

He goes on to suggest that Deleuze’s work is ‘open source’ (p. 50) in the same way open source software does not preclude appropriation. Deleuze’s work does not intrinsically suppose a political project, let alone an emancipatory and progressive one. Moreover, from the other side, that appropriation of rhizomatic concepts, the construction of non-hierarchical formations and other Deleuzian strategies are necessarily automatic paths to freedom. There are theoretical and methodological dangers in supposing either. These are normative judgements on an otherwise non-aligned and incoherent Deleuze.

Post-Fordist Philosophy?

Whilst I find these kinds of hybrid debates utterly exhausting they do provide some stimulation. Alexander Galloway has a piece in Critical Inquiry (here) entitled ‘The Poverty of Philosophy: Realism and Post-Fordism’. What’s the question?

Why, within the current renaissance of research in continental philosophy, is there a coincidence between the structure of ontological systems and the structure of the most highly evolved technologies of post-Fordist capitalism?

And, cue the inevitable responses:

Moacir P. de Sá Pereira here, Peter Gratton here, Robert Jackson here and Levi Bryant here.

And an important point from Bryant:

How an entity is deployed is not fixed by the relations in which it happens to exist. It always harbors potentials for other things. Objects are pluripotent. Artists of the Duchampian tradition show us this all the time.

and also:

If everything is defined by the historical setting in which it emerged, if things– above all people –are not pluripotent such that they harbor potentials in excess beyond the way they’re related and deployed in the present, then there’s no hope for ever changing anything. Everything will be tainted through and through by the power dynamics in which it emerged.

An introduction to futures

I’m having a read through Alexander Galloway’s pamphlet series ‘French Theory Today‘ (2010), that resulted from a set of seminars in New York. The series explores a number of contemporary French theorists – Catherine Malabou, Bernard Stiegler, Mehdi Belhaj Kacem, Quentin Meillassoux, and François Laruelle – who are relatively new for English speakers. I’ll admit that this is the first time I’ve come across Malabou or Kacem, but Meillassoux and Laruelle I know. I like to think I’ve got Stiegler fairly well covered too. The second pamphlet has a piece entitled ‘Bernard Stiegler, or Our Thoughts Are With Control’ by Galloway.

There’s a nice introduction to the Stiegler dictionary: grammatization, pharmacological, psychopower, transindividual, organology in there at the start (and in a glossary at the end), and then a conversation that brings in Deleuze and Guattari and finally some questions from participants. One question and answer struck me as notable (18-19):

[Participant 6] For Stiegler, it seems that machines, computers, and text messaging, for instance, are part of the culture industry, and as such, they are primarily negative in that they mechanize the moment of human interaction and recognition. I’m wondering if these machines are directly responsible for the waning of desire and its transformation into drive as he describes it? Moreover, why doesn’t he recognize the possibility that these machines might have the potential to produce something different?

[Galloway] For Stiegler, the relationship between us and our devices, us and techne, typically rests in equilibrium. At any given moment in history, humans will settle into balance with the many technical devices arrayed around them—even simple technologies like fabric (clothing), tools, media, writing materials (pencil, paper), or writing itself. But at certain points in history, the introduction of new devices so disrupts the equilibrium that a new balance cannot be established fast enough. That’s the answer in short. It’s a way to move beyond the problem of saying that certain technologies are normatively good, while others are normatively bad; pencils are good, but cell phones are bad. Instead, it’s an historical relationship. One hundred years from now, cell phones might be perfectly sewn in to the phenomenological life world of the human in a way that is not unhealthy, but by then, a different, negative influence will probably have emerged.

I find the moralistic tone of Stiegler that Galloway enlightens the reader with a little unsettling, although he admits this is difficult to hear in some of his more notable books (presumably Galloway means the Technics series). The issue really revolves around the attention of technology, and whether such an example cultivates rather than destroys attention. But this, for Stiegler (as Galloway points out) is a historical question, one that eludes a transcendental definition. Cell phones for Stiegler aren’t meant to be unendingly ‘bad’, just at a specific moment in time. I’d like to do some more reading  so I could ascertain whether Stiegler believes we can shackle this process into doing what we want it to, say, in re-settling the equilibrium faster than previous technological disruptions. His work on industrial time and our submission to technical systems of space-time suggest we might have some difficulty in doing so, at least individually. Also, Galloway answers another question (20) on what he thinks Stiegler’s response to hackers and open-source programming would be (I do love this kind of question, I mean, the guy’s alive for god sake, I’m sure he’s intimated his view on such a thing!), to which he supposes he wouldn’t a priori think it’s a good or bad thing, but would depend on whether it produces a ‘new subject position’ attentive to care and attention.

ontological ‘is’ and political ‘ought’

Can a distinction between ontological existence (‘is’) and political desires (‘oughts’) be bracketed apart and hence exist as separate concepts? Levi Bryant thinks so over at his blog Larval Subjects, and it’s proven to be a sticky argument over at Alexander Galloway’s facebook page (pretty much a public one here – he comments on a lot of things). I don’t know whether this is indicative of SR’s reputation of the philosophy for the digital era, but Ian Bogost then summarises the lively debate over at his blog in a post entitled ‘Let’s talk about politics and ontology again!’. If you’re still keeping up, Bryant then responds in another post (‘War Machines and Military Logistics’) at Larval Subjects, and Harman jumps in with a short post over at his OOP blog here.

If this is all a bit tl;dr, then let me summarise some key points to the argument. Bryant suggests, in short, that whilst ontologies can indeed be produced through political means (say, in the form of ideological bias), they are in themselves apolitical as they concern ‘being’ (or ‘what is’) ipso facto are factual concerns. He (says he) makes no claims to an idealized or preferred state of things in this passage (an ‘ought’ rather than an ‘is’).

In a relational form, then:

ontology/ies (‘is’) ——–> politics (‘ought’)

His critics in the fb post on Galloway’s wall, again, in summary, suggest that by making this claim of a partitioned apolitical ontology, he is in fact making a distinctly political claim. In the process one of the commenter’s charge him and other SRs with having a ‘depoliticizing stab at a new realism’ (see Jairus Grove’s first post).

Imho, I think the people who are responding to Bryant on Galloway’s page are making a few cheap shots, and Bryant himself actually underplays the construction of ontology which might have helped in get away from the criticisms angled at his approach to ontological and political separation. I probably agree on the points made by Grove especially, but argue that this doesn’t necessary detract from SR/OOO’s aims. I think Bryant would do well to accept the political nature of ontological claims (notice the small p) but be happy in refuting the Politics of ontology (with a capital p) on the basis of needing to act on a broader, transindividual plane that works with some (more?) solid claims (immutable mobiles, say?), i.e. an ontological basis. So it’s whether you give credence to the solidity of ontological claims as being ‘true’ as to whether or not you can agree with Bryant on this one.


The interface effect

Alexander Galloway’s new book, The Interface Effect is out now on Polity. Straight from the publisher’s site, then:

Interfaces are back, or perhaps they never left. The familiar Socratic conceit from the Phaedrus, of communication as the process of writing directly on the soul of the other, has returned to center stage in today’s discussions of culture and media. Indeed Western thought has long construed media as a grand choice between two kinds of interfaces. Following the optimistic path, media seamlessly interface self and other in a transparent and immediate connection. But, following the pessimistic path, media are the obstacles to direct communion, disintegrating self and other into misunderstanding and contradiction. In other words, media interfaces are either clear or complicated, either beautiful or deceptive, either already known or endlessly interpretable.

Recognizing the limits of either path, Galloway charts an alternative course by considering the interface as an autonomous zone of aesthetic activity, guided by its own logic and its own ends: the interface effect. Rather than praising user-friendly interfaces that work well, or castigating those that work poorly, this book considers the unworkable nature of all interfaces, from windows and doors to screens and keyboards. Considered allegorically, such thresholds do not so much tell the story of their own operations but beckon outward into the realm of social and political life, and in so doing ask a question to which the political interpretation of interfaces is the only coherent answer.

Grounded in philosophy and cultural theory and driven by close readings of video games, software, television, painting, and other images, Galloway seeks to explain the logic of digital culture through an analysis of its most emblematic and ubiquitous manifestation –  the interface.

I probably need to finish reading Stiegler’s Disorientation (which is also the sensation I get from reading too much by him) and Dikotter’s Mao’s Great Famine (there’s only so much data one can compute on just how flawed, disorganized, reckless and hubristic the CCP was in the 60s), otherwise I’m going to be wading through three books at once. Although at only 200 pages it looks tempting.