Spring 2021 doctoral seminar on "The Digital and the Analog"

I'm pleased to announce my Spring 2021 seminar at NYU on "The Digital and the Analog."

Special note: For this doctoral course I intend to teach the first hour each week as an open-access webinar, followed by two hours of (closed) seminar only for enrolled students. If you are not at NYU, you are more than welcome to join the webinar for the first hour.

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The Digital and the Analog
(Special Topics in Critical Theory -- MCC-GE 3010)
Spring 2021
Time: Weds 9am - 11:50am EST
Location: online

Digital and analog, what do these terms mean today? One common response to the question of the digital is to make reference to things like software, hardware, or computers in general. Indeed the definition of “digital” is too often eclipsed by a kind of fever-pitched industrial bonanza around the latest technologies and the latest commercial ventures. Like the digital, the analog also seems to go through various phases of popularity and disuse, its appeal pegged most frequently to nostalgic longings for non-technical or romantic modes of art and culture. The analog is difficult to define, with attempts at definition often consisting of mere denotations of things: sound waves, the phonograph needle, magnetic tape, a sundial. In this seminar we will define the digital and the analog explicitly, not merely by reference to actually existing media technologies, but also, and perhaps more importantly, through encounters with theory and philosophy. If digital and analog describe media artifacts, they are also modes of thinking and being, with the digital closely aligned with rationalism, logic, and politics, while the analog with empiricism, aesthetics, and ethics. Sections of the course are devoted to analogicity, digitality, the logical, the illogical, interfaces, cybernetics, psychoanalysis, geometry, and arithmetic. Readings are drawn from the work of Gottlob Frege, Elizabeth Grosz, GWF Hegel, Jacques Lacan, Katherine McKittrick, Peter Szendy, and others.

"Always Deterritorialize!" -- On the Play of Being

Please join me next week for a lecture titled "'Always Deterritorialize!' -- On the Play of Being" hosted by Stanford University.

"Always Deterritorialize!" -- On the Play of Being
Alexander R. Galloway
Wednesday, Nov. 11 at 12pm PDT (3pm EST)
Stanford Archaeology Center lecture series on "The Playful Archaeology"
Webinar URL: https://stanford.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_Q-KiYvERQDK_M7WWYTGVZA

“'In the beginning' is chaos,” wrote Elizabeth Grosz in 2007, “the whirling, unpredictable movement of forces, vibratory oscillations that constitute the universe.” Or, following the aphorism of Heraclitus, "everything flows." In her recent book "The Sonic Episteme," Robin James described a paradigm of "acoustic resonance," where sound and sonic metaphors--vibration, oscillation, resonance, diffraction, noise--are taken to be the very fabric of being itself. At root here is the old question of the one and the many, the simple monad versus the complex, multiple (perhaps even continuous) aggregation of the whole. In this talk we will look beyond the edges of the screen, beyond the bounds of the computer, out into these kinds of "play ontologies" rooted in becoming, contingency, vibration, and chaos. What happens when the old prescription for critical and cultural theory, "always historicize," changes into a new mandate, "always deterritorialize"?

(Image source: Gilles Deleuze, “Sept dessins,” Chimères 21 [Winter 1994]: 13-19.)

Transcoding, Transduction, Sampling, and Interpolation -- The Four Interfaces

During the 2020-2021 academic year I'm lucky enough to be co-leader (with prof. Emily Apter) of a research lab at NYU focused on questions of translation. Translation is a notoriously difficult topic, not only within theoretical discussions, but also as a practical art form. Translation is hard to think; it's also hard to do, and harder still to do well. Emily was part of a team working on "untranslatables," which tried to keep the problem alive as a problem, while also providing some basis for orientation with specific terms that have remained, for whatever reason, untranslated.

I'm very much still a beginner when it comes to translation theory, and only have limited experience in actual translation. Instead of talking about translation I'd like to outline four operations that are somehow external to translation -- prior to it perhaps, or maybe implicated by translation, yet still somehow necessary to it...I'm not yet sure how exactly.

Let's begin with two basic kinds of conversion thresholds for bodies and information. I will call these "symmetrical" interfaces because they involve a common measure across the interface threshold. These are the two conversion interfaces that don't entail a mode change, and thus are simpler in a certain sense. Continue reading

Massumi's Matheme

In the past I've written on how to spot digital philosophers. But let's name names. Who exactly do we mean? Digital philosophers are many: Democritus, Leibniz, Konrad Zuse, Wittgenstein (in the Tractatus but later he inverts), Edward Fredkin, Stephen Wolfram, and many others.

Analog philosophers are also observable in the wild. Deleuze is one of the most vivid examples of the species. I've also long admired Brian Massumi for his pro-analog chauvinism, proud and unapologetic. Let's remember that this is the man who, at the onset of the first dot-com boom, penned an essay titled "On the Superiority of the Analog." Massumi harbors a deep skepticism toward anything digital, particularly number and quantity. While not agreeing with Massumi -- for me the digital and the analog are co-equal -- I admire anyone willing to take a clear stand. He serves as an excellent case study in analog philosophy.

Massumi recently published 99 Theses on the Revaluation of Value: A Postcapitalist Manifesto (also online).  Written in geometric style (thesis, lemma, scholium), the book unfurls 99 theses over 135 pages, culminating in a proposal for a new kind of digital platform based on a "postblockchain speculative alter-economy" (20). I have sub-sub-interest in blockchain. Regardless, the ambient enthusiasm around blockchain from a few years ago has largely subsided, so I'll sidestep the ostensible terminus of Massumi's book in favor of its core motifs and allegiances. Ultimately this book is more about analog reality than digital currency.

It's difficult to summarize or outline a treatise written in geometric style. Instead let me chop it up, sort it, and collate it into phrases and sentences. I've extracted characteristic passages and collected them under a series of themes: awesomeology; Red Bull sublime; Google Deleuzianism; and analog chauvinism. Continue reading

The Ideology Issue

I'm thrilled to be included in "The Ideology Issue" edited by Andrew Cole for the journal SAQ, along with essays by Hortense Spillers, Eleanor Kaufman, Anna Kornbluh and so many other thinkers I admire. The problem of ideology critique was a major part of my theoretical formation as a student, and I was always disappointed to see how the topic had slowly vanished in recent years. Or as Hal Foster asks in his contribution to the issue, "How did critique become a bad object when, only a few decades ago, it seemed to be the cutting edge of cultural practice?" So when Andrew Cole pitched the idea of a special issue on ideology and critique I was keen to reengage with a theoretical conjuncture that has only grown more and more relevant in these hallucinatory times.

For "The Ideology Issue" I took the opportunity to write about the work of Fredric Jameson under the title "Meditations on Last Philosophy." The piece revolves around a few propositions and themes that I try to unpack along the way:

Figuration is superior to equation;

Form reveals the social situation;

The law of genre.

The essay is something of a companion piece to a previous essay of mine from 2016 titled "History Is What Hurts: On Old Materialism,” also devoted to Jameson. If you're paywalled and want to read either essay simply email me.

Stiegler and Lacan -- No Relation?

I won't bring up Lacan on Monday. But the non-encounter between Stiegler and Lacan recently struck me as important and I wanted to try to unravel the mystery...

Stiegler wrote frequently about technology and technical objects. But how does he compare to one of the key object theories, psychoanalysis? Surprisingly Stiegler's object theory was only partially psychoanalytic. What do I mean by "partially"? First it is clear that Stiegler was deeply influenced by Freud. References to Freud appear in almost every Stiegler book. Yet at the same time Stiegler had almost no relationship to Lacan. How to characterize the non-relation between Stiegler and Lacan?

From Freud Stiegler adopted the notions of narcissism, desire, and drive. Recall Stiegler's text on "loving oneself and loving others" reprinted in the English book titled Acting Out, where Stiegler works through the problem of primordial narcissism. "I call 'primordial narcissism' that structure of the psyche which is indispensable for functioning, that part of self-love which can sometimes become pathological, but without which any capacity for love would be impossible" (39). The book Symbolic Misery, vol 1 picks up on the theme of narcissism originally articulated in the previous text. And almost every book and article that follows contains numerous references to Freud.

On Lacan, however, Stiegler wrote almost nothing. Hunting for Lacan in Stiegler, a handful of brief references pop up here and there. Beyond simple references or footnotes, I remember only a few passages where Stiegler engages with Lacan for more than a sentence or two: in Taking Care on the mirror stage, and in States of Shock on the thing [das Ding]. I'm sure there are other passages I've overlooked, but the larger point holds: Stiegler had essentially no relation with Lacan. I find this surprising particularly since Stiegler was so invested in the operations of desire and enjoyment, as well as the intricacies of language and symbols, although perhaps not "the symbolic" in Lacan's sense. Continue reading