There is no rebellion (there's only me earning a paycheck)

Conspiracy has roared back into American culture, although perhaps it never left. QAnon, "Epstein brain," 9/11 truthers, Russiagate, True Detective S02E06. Fueled by paranoia, the conspiracy theorist finds meaning in every detail, forcing the unrepresentable into the light of day (even if it doesn't exist). When faced with meaninglessness, the conspiracy theorist finds an abundance of meaning at every turn. In a fuzzy picture, or in a fragment of text, tenuous connections resolve into hard links by sheer will of intuition. In this sense, conspiracy theorists think inductively, through association. Conspiracy is a kind of network thinking, appropriate for a networked world. Recall those astounding drawings of power networks by Mark Lombardi, or the detective's bulletin board at the end of Usual Suspects. Somehow, someway...everything connects.

Conspiracies are one of the few ways in which class and anti-capitalism -- otherwise banned from mainline discourse -- pierce through the ideological fog and imprint themselves directly on popular culture. Jason LaRiviere reminded me of "Exiting the Vampire Castle," Mark Fisher's essay on liberal privilege, where Fisher remarked, in a parenthetical aside, that "many of what we call ‘conspiracies’ are the ruling class showing class solidarity." This makes sense to me, that behind every conspiracy is an aborted attempt to speak about class and power. The Epstein case is instructive here. On the one hand it is a story of sexual abuse and exploitation. But in another way, the Epstein case furnishes empirical confirmation of the most outlandish Pizzagate-style lunacy: the deep state and the uber rich *really do* traffic in kiddy sex. Such logic of indirection -- yes/no, wrong in one place but right in another -- is part of the logic of conspiracy.  Continue reading

No Demands

They have helicopters and armored vehicles. They're driving cars into crowds, firing teargas, and flash grenades. They're beating people with batons and trampling them with horses. They're murdering people in broad daylight. The brutality is flagrant and obscene. Yet "it's not police brutality, it's police practice," as Professor Dylan Rodriguez so accurately put it.

A healthy society must abolish its repressive state apparatus. I favor the abolition of the police, prisons, and the military. For the short term, we must put all police departments in immediate receivership, confiscating weapons and armor, then defund, demilitarize, and ultimately dismantle them. If you want to learn more about policing and prisons, I recommend reading the work of, among others, Michelle Alexander, Angela Davis, Alex Vitale, and Jackie Wang.

For the long term, all arms of the repressive state apparatus -- if any remnants still exist -- should be run on a principle of citizen service. Military service and policing must not be waged labor staffed by well-funded mercenaries. The concept of a "for profit" prison is obscene.

I support protest as a human right. Striking and agitating should be held in high esteem. While I ultimately consider non-violence to be both politically and strategically superior, media and popular hysteria around so-called rioting and looting is absurd. On the sources and uses of violence I recommend reading Frantz Fanon's classic text on racism and colonialism The Wretched of the Earth.

Since police sadism is evidence of a deeply distressed world, I call for a wholesale reinvention of society along principles of justice and human dignity. This will begin with an acknowledgment of the worth of all individuals and communities, particularly poor, black, and immigrant communities who have endured so much for so long. I support reparations for American slavery and decades of anti-black discrimination. This would include the redistribution of money and land, plus a broad social movement toward "truth and reconciliation."

Anti-black racism is deeply intertwined with capitalism and economic injustice. I thus support the creation of a new International labor movement. The aim of this movement would be to orient society toward the flourishing of all people, starting with the abolition of capitalism and an end to the exploitation of labor. Society should be organized around principles of citizen participation and radical democracy. To this end, I support the Green New Deal and advocate an immediate de-carbonization of the world economy, paired with a jobs guarantee and a housing guarantee.

Our society is injured and scarred. To encourage spiritual and bodily well-being, I support universal basic services, beginning with universal single-payer healthcare. As the current pandemic so vividly demonstrates, the for-profit hospital, medical insurance, and pharmaceutical industries are a public health nuisance and should be abolished, to be replaced by institutions working toward the collective good.

I support immediate expropriation of the wealth of billionaires, as well as the introduction of a global wealth tax. Following the ancient principle of debt jubilee, reprised recently by David Graeber, I advocate an immediate dismissal of all debt, including all student debt and so-called "structural adjustment" debt held by nations in the global south. Eliminating debt helps all people, but economic studies have shown that it particularly helps people of color. These debts should not be "forgiven" since that simply perpetuates a new form of symbolic debt; they should be dismissed and obliterated, ushering in a new golden age.

Our political leaders are abject failures. Members of congress, governors, and mayors both white and black have abandoned us. They should all be recalled, followed by a new constitutional convention on world democracy populated by citizen delegations. The current American president is a contemptible human being who should be immediately removed from office, brought to justice for his many crimes (political, moral, sexual), and excommunicated from planet Earth in the next available NASA capsule.

Multiple, Multiplicity, Multitude

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.

Xyler Jane, "Untitled Sampler for Maine Coon Cats" (2019)

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

More Things I Have No Interest In

The Ethical Turn

Los Angeles

Facetime

the MoMA reinstall

bashing millennials

Jordan Wolfson

cooking blogs

William James

Evgeny Morozov

dogs

"a cosmos composed of innumerable, interacting open systems with differential capacities of self-organization set on different scales of time, agency, creativity, viscosity, and speed"

streaming services

strategic voting

Friedrich Nietzsche

+ + +

So completely sub-interest they don't even rate on the above list:

Joe Biden

The New York Times

Zoom

blockchain

+ + +

(previously)

Kant's Fingers

A brief follow up to the previous allusion to Kant...

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

Design Patterns

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

In Praise of the Prophylactic

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

The Paucity of Digital Theory

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

A List of Qualities

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

"Mathification" -- new article on Badiou

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.