I've just finished a new manuscript on, among other things, the theme of multiplicity within computational media. Part of my interest is to show how such computational multiplicity is evident in unexpected places and times. So, for instance, I have a section on multiplicity in photography, not so much through photographic images (a common anxiety voiced by historians and critics) but through photographic lenses, leading to a multiplication of point of view. I also write about weaving, specifically how textiles are built up through strands iterating lengthwise and widthwise, the warp and weft of yarn in two dimensions mimicking the sets and arrays of mathematical formulae (and vice versa). And there's also a section on how multiplicity becomes visible in the first pixels rendered on a computer display.
The multiple has long been a topic of concern. Anxieties about copies and originals go back to Plato at least. And the modern period has its own relation to repetition and duplication: the serial novel, the multiple in art, the film strip, Walter Benjamin on reproduction, the post-structuralists on repetition. "Multiplicity" was already a buzzword in '90s cyber culture. Harold Ramis even made a film about it in 1996. (It bombed.) Continue reading →
In the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant defined the analytic as containing a non-additive predicate, while the synthetic as having an additive predicate. While I still need to work out the details, it's clear that Kant also implicates the digital and the analog with this famous distinction. As I define them, "digital" has a special relationship with analysis, while "analog" with synthesis. The terms are so similar that, in some instances, they act as synonyms (digital=analysis, analog=synthesis). I'm sure Kantians would scoff at the attempt, but I'm keen on misreading Kant here, portraying Kant's analytic as digital, and his synthetic as analog. Again, I need more time to see where this goes, but at the very least it offers a new perspective on Kant's famous expression "7 + 5 = 12" and his somewhat controversial notion that such mathematical expressions are, in his terms, "synthetic." (Critique of Pure Reason, B15). Is math also an "analog" technology for Kant, and if so how? Continue reading →
A not uncommon vignette in higher education: year two of a doctoral program, the student wonders what should I write my dissertation about? The key is to find a suitable research corpus, something that poses an evocative question, something with a rich historical archive, something not too presentist, and of course something that hasn't already been researched to death. I've often thought that someone should write a dissertation about the design patterns. From a media studies perspective, design patterns are a fascinating topic.
What are design patterns? And what makes them so interesting? A design pattern is a set of conventions for how to plan and organize software source code. While the notion of a design pattern is as old as computer programming, the topic was nicely formalized in the 1994 book Design Patterns: Elements of Reusable Object-Oriented Software. That book defined twenty-three patterns -- although there are others, and not everyone defines the patterns in exactly the same way. A design pattern is like a template, or loose guideline. The design pattern says here is the best general architecture for the problem you want to solve, although the exact coding is still up to you. Some of the design patterns have suggestive names like Flyweight, Memento, Singleton, or Observer. Continue reading →
Prophylaxis is on everyone's mind these days. Oh what a reversal from only a few months ago, when the decades long march of promiscuous ontologies seemed unstoppable. Are freedom and mobility unquestionable virtues? Should everything touch everything else? Until recently the answer was an unmitigated YES. The Spinozians spoke of flat ontologies. The network scientists devised rhizomatic mesh networks. Artists were obsessed with interactivity and social engagement. The social scientists were writing on mobility and mixing. It seems that anything, at any time, and for any reason, could conceivably interact with anything else. But today the scene has reversed, and prophylaxis is the order of the day. The masks worn by Pussy Riot or Anonymous are an eerie foreshadowing of N95 protective gear. Édouard Glissant's notion of "opacity" is popular in theoretical circles. Even in digital systems, scientists speak approvingly of "obfuscation," and proprietary platforms have superseded open protocols. In my last book I framed this in terms of promiscuous ontologies and prophylactic ontologies, with Deleuze being the archetype of the promiscuous and Laruelle the prophylactic. I'm excerpting a footnote here that discusses the liberal nature of the promiscuous, as opposed to the radical nature of the prophylactic.Continue reading →
A provocation: theories of the digital have generated very little digital theory. What do I mean? And why is this the case? First, one must separate the form of digital theory from the kinds of objects it wants to study. Thus a digital theory may make a claim about a digital object. But the form of the claim might, itself, not be digital at all. Seen in this way, the majority of contemporary digital theory is in fact analog in form. This has produced a strange disjunction in the contemporary landscape, where our intellectual life is less and less digital, even as the digital machines proliferate around us.
Last time I discussed one sort of non-digital digital theory, the denotative list of qualities. In the first phase of digital theory it was relatively common to define the digital via litany. Let me also mention two additional types of digital theory that are, I claim, non-digital in form. Continue reading →
It began with a list. When addressing "the birth of a new medium," Janet Murray responded with a list of properties. Digital environments have four essential properties, she argued. Digital environments are procedural, participatory, spatial, and encyclopedic.
When tasked with the definition of "new media" a few years later, Lev Manovich answered in a similar way. "We may begin...by listing," he claimed, before issuing a stream of empirical references: "the Internet, Web sites, computer multimedia, computer games, CD-ROMs and DVD, virtual reality." Yet Manovich's primary litany was but prelude for another one, the second list more important for him, a series of five "principles" or "general tendencies" for new media: numerical representation, modularity, automation, variability, and transcoding. And the fourth principle (variability) was itself so internally variable that it required its own sub-list enumerating no less than seven "particular cases of the variability principle." Continue reading →
I hope to write a book on Alain Badiou some day. In the mean time, I have a new article just published on Badiou's digital philosophy. The title of the essay is "Mathification" and it aims to wrangle the central issue in Badiou, indeed the cause of some controversy: Badiou's relation to mathematics. Email me for the PDF if you're caught behind the paywall.
The essay is part of a special issue on "Economies of Existence" edited by Emily Apter and Martin Crowley, and containing texts by Arjun Appadurai, Gabriel Rockhill, and Peter Szendy, among others.
Also of potential interest: "21 Paragraphs on Badiou," a series of guesses and prognostications written in anticipation of Badiou's (then still forthcoming) Being and Event 3: The Immanence of Truths.
Please join me on March 2 for an event to celebrate the work of Catherine Malabou, who is a visitor this term at NYU. As I understand it, Malabou will begin the proceedings, followed by a series of responses from Emily Apter, Emma Bianchi, Peter Szendy, and me.
I wrote before about the anti-computer. Let me continue some of those themes, using instead an adjacent label, the uncomputer.
In an initial sense, the uncomputer comes out of whatever is subordinated or excluded as a result of the standard model of the digital. The excluded term might be the flesh, or it might be affect. It might be intuition, or aesthetic experience. The excluded term might evoke a certain poetry, mysticism, or romanticism. Or it might simply be life, mundane and unexceptional. The uncomputer means all of these things, and more. The gist is that there exists a mode of being in which discrete symbols do not take hold, or at least do not hold sway. And in the absence of such rational symbols, modern digital computation becomes difficult or impossible. Sometimes this is called the realm of "life" or "experience." Sometimes it is called the "analog" realm--indeed analog computers are some of the oldest computers. Continue reading →