Talks in London and Paris

Please join me for some talks in London and Paris

Historical Materialism conference, Friday, November 6, 4:15pm
I'll be on a panel, speaking about the work of Fredric Jameson.

Cambridge, Monday, November 9, 5:30pm
I'll be speaking in the Modern French Research Seminar. Email me for details if you'd like to attend.

Kingston/LGS, Tuesday, November 10, 6pm
"What Can We Do With Non-Philosophy?" -- with Ian James and John Ó Maoilearca, a discussion on the work of François Laruelle. Location: Swedenborg Hall.

King's College London, Wednesday, November 11, 6pm
A lecture on "Crystalline Media: Algorithmic Aesthetics in Late Modernity"

Paris 8, November 16-20
I'll also be speaking on "Crystalline Media" at the conference "Le Sujet Digital 2015: Codes."

Deleuze, the analogical philosopher par excellence

From the early 1980s to his death in 1995, the late Deleuze is a period of sustained creativity and refined thinking. I find myself often returning to the late Deleuze. I said before we must forget Deleuze, but the late work is different. We should forget the anti-Oedipus and forget the desiring machines. But Deleuze's intervention in the “Postscript on Control Societies” or his subtle, often touching, exploration of painting in Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation represents a thinker at the height of his powers and with a deep sense of his position in the world.

The crux of the “Postscript” has to do with technology. Here is one of those rare moments in which Deleuze comments on actually existing contemporary technology, specifically computers. Control societies, he writes, “function with a third generation of machines, with information technology and computers” (180). Admittedly Deleuze does not delve too deeply into the specificities of computing. But he does say a few brief words about the pairing that most interests us here, the analog and the digital. Continue reading


2015_-_publikation_-_flusseriana_-_002_0A lovely item arrived in the mail today, the Flusseriana, a large and engrossing volume that explores the intellectual landscape of the late, great media philosopher Vilém Flusser. Structured roughly like an encyclopedia, the compendium contains a few hundred entries, from "abstraction" to "zero-dimensionality," by way of "Buber, Martin," "Hypertext," and of course, "Vampyroteuthis Infernalis." Many contributing authors helped produce this volume, which was edited by Siegfried Zielinski and Peter Weibel, with Daniel Irrgang, and published by the good folks over at Univocal in a tri-lingual English-German-Portuguese edition. (Flusser knew Portuguese, along with several other languages, and lived in Brazil for many years.) Continue reading

From Data to Information

In recent months I've been spending time learning Swift. As such, I've been thinking a lot about data structures. Swift has a nice spectrum of possible data structures to pick from -- something that I'll have to discuss another day -- but what interests me here is the question of data itself. Scholars often treat etymology as a special kind of divination. (And philosophers like Heidegger made a career of it.) But I find the etymology of the word “data” to be particularly elegant and revealing.

Data comes from the Latin dare, meaning to give. But it's the form that's most interesting. First of all, it's in the neuter plural, so it refers to “things.” Second, data is a participle in the perfect passive form. Thus the word means literally “the things having been given.” Or, for short, I like to think of data as “the givens.” French preserves this double meaning nicely by calling data the données. (The French also use the word “data,” although *I believe* this is technically an anglicism imported from technical vocabulary, despite French being much closer to Latin than English.) Continue reading

Assessing the Legacy of That Thing That Happened After Poststructuralism

Now that the SR/OOO wave has crested, crashed, and receded, we can start to evaluate it with the advantage of perspective. I won't attempt to offer an autopsy here, but I do want to address a few points and then offer a prediction for the future. I'll refer to some details about SR/OOO, but I also want to consider it more broadly as symptomatic of the new ontological turn or “that thing that happened after poststructuralism.” In other words, while some of the specific issues within SR/OOO are important, I think that the advent of SR/OOO is most useful for marking an historical boundary, even if it can't explain the larger state of theory and philosophy today.

The first general point, one that I already made a few years ago, is that what began as realism has ended as materialism. We've seen this happen with the “new ontology”: what began with an interest in philosophical realism by post-Deleuzians like Manuel Delanda, has reorganized itself into a distinctly materialist discourse. Jane Bennett's 2009 book Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things was instrumental in galvanizing this broad trend. But one might also cite any number of other contributions from the likes of Elizabeth Grosz, Karen Barad, Rosi Braidotti, or Arjun Appadurai. Continue reading

Harman vs Cole (Round 2)

The philosopher Graham Harman is nothing if not amusing. Here he's responding to this letters thread, which was a follow up to an article by Andrew Cole in the summer issue of Artforum. There are a number of 4526_Langland-dreamerhowlers in there, but I'll just correct the obvious mistakes:

-- No, I've never collaborated with Andrew Cole, as claimed by Harman (twice). I didn't co-edit a book called The Cambridge Companion to Piers Plowman. Although I can say that Andrew is a fine fellow who I first met during graduate school fifteen years ago and have recently gotten back in touch with over email. Why would Harman claim something that anyone can check with a simple click? He has since apologized.

-- No, my article on the relationship between philosophy and postfordism is not an “attempted refutation” of Badiou, but rather, as the ending of the article indicates, an endorsement of Badiou.

-- No one ever denied that Marx believed in the existence of physical objects. That's a red herring. And even if Marx and Harman share this single trait (who doesn't?), it does not indemnify Harman and his philosophy of objectification in which “everything is an object.”

Harman is often an inattentive and clumsy reader of others. In his much maligned review of Laruelle in the NDPR journal, Harman mixed up even the most basic principles in Laruelle, before reducing his evaluation of the French thinker to a kind of high-school popularity contest.

Or often just tone deaf. Like the time when Harman wrote that he wished Heidegger had died at the age of 40. That way, Harman mused, we'd have the ontology from Being and Time without any of Heidegger's distasteful political shortcomings that came later in life. But as numerous authors from Derrida on down have indicated -- and the recent appearance of the Black Notebooks has definitively proven -- it's difficult if not impossible to separate Heidegger's ontology from his views on society and politics.

Thankfully, Harman has since deleted that post from his blog.

CFP 2016: Boundary Conditions

The 2016 Neil Postman Conference | New York University

Keynote: Achille Mbembe

CFP Deadline: October 10th

Conference Date: February 12th

Through their interrogation of boundaries, theorists of the postcolony, of affect, and of digital media have discovered conditions governing selection, maintenance, and authority over membership. In On the Postcolony, Achille Mbembe speaks of conviviality and complicity, of a play between surgical strikes and martyrdom, and of a divergence between the mythical time of the sovereign and “the compression, world wide, of ‘finance time’ and its reduction to purely computer time” [1]. The affective and the informatic—each with internally consistent temporal logics—are entangled yet discrete. Each prescribes its own conditions of admissibility, of possibility, of counting. These conditions are the substantive content of boundaries; the former’s arbitrariness opens the latter to contestation. Boundary conditions allow for the constitution of an authority that decides on the legitimacy of forms of life through the right to kill; they also enable embodiments and affects that align, mirror, and produce alternate networks of affinities. Continue reading

Getting back into coding...

It's summertime and I've been spending some time learning Swift, Apple's new computer language. It seemed gimmicky when it was announced -- the name, the so-called “playgrounds,” the stripped down syntax. Boy was I wrong. It's a major new language that's as sophisticated as C++ or Java. And, given that it's been designed from the ground up (albeit with some fealty paid to compatibility with ObjC and Apple environments like Cocoa), it feels very fresh and new. Imagine the low level control of C++ with the syntactic elegance of Python or Ruby.

Unicode support in Swift

My first language was BASIC, and I have a special affection for Perl, but the language I've spent the most time with is Java. "Special affection" is not a phrase that comes to mind. Beyond the usual frustrations that people have with Java, I'm often stymied by how the Java virtual machine quarantines you. Let's face it, the fun stuff happens at the level of native code. The two largest projects I've worked on over the years, Carnivore and Kriegspiel -- which sadly are now effectively offline (more on that soon!) -- both require a certain amount of “closeness” to the native OS level. Carnivore needs to access the network adapters, something prohibited by Java (without using a native bridge), and while games like Kriegspiel don't need native code per se it's much easier to program things like AI and graphics in a language that compiles to native instructions. Yes, there are ways to bridge Java into native libraries. And both Carnivore and Kriegspiel were successfully written in Java. But I ask you, have you ever coded a JNI bridge? Me neither. And I don't ever want to. In other words I've been looking for a reason to ditch Java. And this might be the right opportunity. Continue reading

Allegories of Control

Bradley J. Fest has just written a review of my book The Interface Effect. Published on the website of the journal boundary 2, the review is long and detailed, flattering at times but also critical, and I invite you to read it at your own leisure. In fact, the review touches on a number of topics and texts, and covers several different themes that have reappeared in my writing over the last ten years or so. While the review focuses on The Interface Effect, it also covers what I've been calling the “Allegories of Control” trilogy, a narrative arc begun in 2004 with Protocol: How Control Exists After Decentralization, continuing through Gaming: Essays on Algorithmic Culture (2006), and concluding with The Interface Effect (2012).

Like other authors, I tend to think in terms of conversations and critiques that continue from book to book. So it's a pleasure to have a reviewer who also considers the larger frame of reference. A debate might begin at one point in time, only to culminate several years later. My recent comments about network pessimism, for instance, owe much to the analysis of networks began in Protocol, The Exploit, and other texts. Likewise the final chapter of The Interface Effect opened a door that I was only able to enter in a subsequent examination of digitality and its relation to politics and ethics. Continue reading