The Digital: Staccato and Harmonic

The “One Two” of Differential Being

In the opening pages of Principles of Non-Philosophy, Laruelle defines the philosophical decision in terms of what he calls a “2/3 matrix.” In such a matrix two terms come together to form a third synthetic term. For this reason philosophy is fundamentally “in a state of lack with itself,” because it must come face to face with something else that exists in opposition or counterdistinction to it. Self and world make 2, establishing a relation of solicitude or orientation, which in turn is synonymous with the philosophical decision as 3. Or in an equivalent but inverted sense, philosophy will also tend to adopt a 3/2 matrix, because of its own irrepressible vanity, wherein philosophy begins “in excess of itself ” as 3, and thus insinuates relationships of representation (the 2) into every nook and cranny.

Such is the classic definition of metaphysics, not simply any old investigation into first principles, but a very specific stance on the construction of the universe in which the cleaving of the one is reorganized around an essential twoness rooted in difference. This is true just as much for Plato as it is for Heidegger, Derrida, or Badiou. The twoness of difference might be as simple as adjudicating the authentic and the inauthentic life. It might refer to the difference between self and world, or self and other. Continue reading

#FractallyWrong (!)

Dominic Fox has just written an interesting and (mostly) positive review of my book on Laruelle. I don’t disagree with some of the points he’s making toward the end (and his disputation about synthesizers would, I suspect, be ameliorated upon further discussion). He has his criticisms, to be sure, and he’s not particularly bullish on the promises of the endeavor. But I’ll admit being called “fractally wrong” is one of the best compliments I’ve ever received!

The Philosophical Origins of Digitality

“The problem with the transcendental is it’s always cheating. The transcendental always inserts something else as a point of measure toward which other things are made subservient. It could be God, or an essence, it doesn’t matter — any kind of measure that others must live up to or fail to live up to. Laruelle calls this ‘the oldest prejudice.’ And so, a number of people, including Deleuze, Laruelle and other theorists of radical immanence, have tried to resolve the oldest prejudice by throwing out transcendental categories and instead thinking about a world that is strictly material or immanent to itself. In other words, immanence is a way to stop cheating.”

Read the rest of this interview by Manuel Correa at &&& journal.

French Theory Today

(Note: this statement was drafted for the students in my current seminar at NYU. I’m posting it online for others who might be curious.)

Preparing to teach a doctoral seminar on French Theory Since 1989 has been an interesting process. Of course there is something ridiculous, if not retrograde, in trying to assess the “whole way of thinking” of a nation or an historical period, much less a civilization or race. That’s not the goal of this seminar. Still, I’m reminded of examples from the past when scholars and intellectuals have tried to identify the essence of, say, Greek thought, Roman thought, or German thought. Recall Martin Heidegger’s passion for Greek philosophy, something he characterized in terms of the special attunement of essence, truth, and authentic presence. Or consider John Ruskin’s famous distinction between Greek and Gothic, where interestingly he favored Gothic over Greek, the latter of which, reappearing as neoclassicism, represented for Ruskin a form of staid and uninspired rectilinearity. Or recall Matthew Arnold’s distinction between what he saw as the Judeo-Christian and Greek roots of Western culture: the Judeo-Christian furnished the order of commandment, holy discipline, “conduct and obedience,” “doing above knowing,” and the enactments of ritual, sacrament, and liturgy; whereas the Greek furnished the order of truth and revealing, the Delphic instruction γνῶθι σεαυτόν, the ability to “to see things as they really are,” and the levels of consciousness, rationality, and knowing. Or even, from a non-Eurocentric perspective, recall George Yancy’s work on blackness and whiteness, where whiteness is defined in terms of the dominant or hegemonic condition, a status sufficient unto itself, a subject with the freedom to encounter problems and surmount them (as opposed to persons of color, who themselves present an existential problem for whiteness — something developed further in Frank Wilderson’s work on afro-pessimism). Continue reading

Something About the Digital

(This catalog essay was written in 2011 for the exhibition “Chaos as Usual,” curated by Hanne Mugaas at the Bergen Kunsthall in Norway. Artists in the exhibition included Philip Kwame Apagya, Ann Craven, Liz Deschenes, Thomas Julier [in collaboration with Cédric Eisenring and Kaspar Mueller], Olia Lialina and Dragan Espenschied, Takeshi Murata, Seth Price, and Antek Walczak.)

There is something about the digital. Most people aren’t quite sure what it is. Or what they feel about it. But something.

In 2001 Lev Manovich said it was a language. For Steven Shaviro, the issue is being connected. Others talk about “cyber” this and “cyber” that. Is the Internet about the search (John Battelle)? Or is it rather, even more primordially, about the information (James Gleick)? Whatever it is, something is afoot.

What is this something? Given the times in which we live, it is ironic that this term is so rarely defined and even more rarely defined correctly. But the definition is simple: the digital means the one divides into two. Continue reading

French Theory Since 1989

(Here is the syllabus for my spring doctoral seminar at NYU cross-listed between MCC and Comp Lit. Consortium students in the New York area are also welcome to join us.)

New York University
Department of Media, Culture, and Communication
French Theory Since 1989
(Special Topics in Critical Theory)

Course number MCC-GE 3010-001 / COLIT-GA 3013-001

SPRING 2015

Prof. Alexander R. Galloway
Office Hours: Tu 2:30-4pm; Th 9-11am
Class Location: East Building, Room 741
Class Time: Thursdays 2:00 – 4:50 pm.

Course Description

In recent decades French and Francophone theory has exerted considerable influence on the world stage. French intellectual exports from the post-World War II period, particularly in the area of feminism, semiotics, and post-structuralism, helped form an entire generation of theoretical inquiry in the English-speaking world. Even today, after the high water mark of postmodern theory has receded, the significance of figures like Michel Foucault or Roland Barthes has not so much faded as insinuated itself deeply into literary canons and course syllabi across the humanities and liberal arts.

This course focuses on recent French theory and philosophy published roughly during the last two decades, work that in some way deviates from the “greatest generation” of 1960s and ’70s theory. Our aim is to avoid some of the more familiar texts from the past, and instead seek out a new collection of thinkers (not all of whom are French), and indeed a new incarnation of critical and philosophical questions more apt for the contemporary landscape.

Reading texts by Alain Badiou, François Laruelle, Catherine Malabou, and others, we first examine the contemporary situation, specifically how best to understand the materiality of bodies, societies, and worlds. Then, during the final three weeks of the seminar, each student will select a longer volume, from the five enumerated below, and pursue individual/group inquiry.

We treat this group of authors and texts as a divergent conversation of numerous voices, not a unified school with a single set of interests. Several themes will structure the conversation, including postfordism, materialism, identity, power, and the body. The course will benefit from a number of recent English translations, and students are encouraged to consult the original French texts if their language skills allow it. Continue reading

Black Box Architecture 2: Damaged Modernism

The previous post was an attempt to rethink the brut in brutalism, not so much in terms of raw concrete but raw information. Still, a lot has changed in architecture since the 1970s, first with postmodernism and then with deconstructivism and subsequent forms of software-driven design such as blob buildings, procedurally-generated structures, cybernetic environments, and so on.

In The Interface Effect, I devote a few pages to Frank Gehry’s Stata Center, the large university building that opened on the MIT campus in 2004. Following Gehry’s signature style, the Stata Center features warped geometric forms cascading on top of each other. It “looks like a party of drunken robots got together to celebrate,” Gehry said of the building. Continue reading

Black Box Architecture

Occupy EarthRemember back to a moment of great energy. Remember back to the Occupy movement of a few years ago. During one of the larger marches, when protesters were quitting the island of Manhattan across one of the major bridges, a huge image appeared on the side of a nearby skyscraper in full view of the marchers. Like an angel casting its rays over the cops and the barricades, the beam projected images and slogans in solidarity with the Occupy protesters.

We live in an age of radiant surfaces. Electronic billboards are ubiquitous along roadways, and many modern cities are populated with buildings clad in LED displays, synchronizing video with architecture. But the Occupy beacon was a projection, not a video monitor. And this particular skyscraper is different from those flashing their visual spectacle to the urban landscape. Not the light boxes of Times Square, this is an architectural black box. It works well as a screen because of one unusual detail: this building has no windows. From the outside it appears austere and uninviting precisely because it has no outside to speak of. It works well as a screen because, ironically, it’s so stubbornly resistant to interfacing with the outside world. Continue reading

Old Materialism

I’m just finishing a piece on the work of Fredric Jameson, a process that has been challenging on a number of levels. Aside from the rather lurid if mundane biographical fact of the apprentice confronting the master (he was the chair of my PhD committee), it’s been difficult for me to wrangle the Jamesonian corpus not simply because of its formidable size and breadth but also because of Jameson’s tendency to suspend direct, generalizable claims about his positions and methods. Of course he wrote various treatises on method — see in particular the early essay “Metacommentary” and the book The Political Unconscious, which remains, shall we not admit, his most important volume — and most of Jameson’s writings contain at least a choice sentence on method, if not a paragraph or two, provided we know how to identify them. But overall, like the dialectic itself that he so reveres, Jameson shuns the process of actualization in favor of a kind of perpetual dis-actualization (the Hegelians might prefer to call it externalization) in which the suspension of discrete claims forms the basis for an entire theoretical project, one which despite its Hegelian hue can, I think, be properly labeled Marxist.

Much has already been said about Jameson’s writings on utopia, art, dialectics, allegory, history, and totality, and I don’t particularly want to repeat all that. Instead I’ve been thinking about Jameson in the context of the ontological turn, not so much New Materialism as “old” materialism (and proudly so). Continue reading

Counter-gaming

‘Tis the season. From Destiny to the Warlords of Draenor expansion, a number of new blockbuster games have been released this fall. Still, the world of gaming seems especially stagnant these days, as if unable to move beyond its own limitations, as if unable to reflect on its own conditions of possibility.

As time passes I’m increasingly convinced that real-time strategy (RTS) games are the most interesting game genre, particularly from the point of view of politics or economics. All games simulate miniature economies of some sort or another — be they playful economies of desire or more rigid economies of points — but RTS games tends to feature such economies at a level not seen in other genres. RTS games focus on a multi-nodal ecosystem of flows and factories, resources and expenditures, secure zones and hostile frontiers. The RTS genre is thus informatic capitalism pure and simple. The genre displays how informatic media and informatic labor are essentially coterminous in today’s world. And it’s interesting to note how Warlords of Draenor feels more like Warcraft III than any version of WoW thus far. Continue reading