A Year of Theory

Here are some texts published in the last few years that were meaningful reads for me in 2020 (and late 2019).

Julia Bryan-Wilson, Fray: Art And Textile Politics

Andrea Long Chu, Females -- more here

Wendy Hui Kyong Chun, "Queerying Homophily"

Melinda Cooper, Family Values: Between Neoliberalism and the New Social Conservatism

Aria Dean, "On the Black Generic"

Shane Denson, Discorrelated Images -- more here

Denise Ferreira da Silva, "1 (life) ÷ 0 (blackness) = ∞ − ∞ or ∞ / ∞: On Matter Beyond the Equation of Value"

Lisa Gitelman, "Emoji Dick and the Eponymous Whale, An Essay in Four Parts"

Saidiya Hartman, "The Plot of Her Undoing"

Tobi Haslett's review of Thomas Chatterton Williams's Irrational Man

Patrick Jagoda, Experimental Games: Critique, Play, and Design in the Age of Gamification -- read my review of Jagoda's previous book

Continue reading

Studies in Superlative Discorrelation

Shane Denson's new book Discorrelated Images has captured my attention in recent weeks. It's a fascinating investigation into the contemporary image, with an emphasis on cinema but spilling over into other forms of image-making.

Denson has carved out a niche for himself in what has become known as "post-cinema," that is, a new phase of cinema starting in the late Twentieth Century concurrent with digitization, postfordism, neoliberalism, and related developments.

Indeed, in a co-edited collection simply titled Post-Cinema, Denson has helped assemble an impressive collection of chapters that tackle contemporary image culture from a variety of angles. Such discourse had already began to pick up speed in cinema studies in the early 2000s (and also prior, in discussions of postmodernism overall going back to the 1980s and before), coalescing eventually around Steven Shaviro's book Post Cinematic Affect in 2010. Denson and Leyda's Post-Cinema is a veritable who's-who of film and digital studies, with texts from Shaviro as well as figures like Lev Manovich, Richard Grusin, Patricia Pisters, Vivian Sobchack, Mark Hansen, and many others. This is the kind of volume that helps define and galvanize scholarly discourse, particularly when the subject matter is still so new and deserving of scrutiny, as is the case with digitality. Continue reading

Digital Univocity

Over the summer I read a lot of Lacan and revisited some influential Lacanian texts including Jacques-Alain Miller's 1966 essay on "Suture" published in the first volume of Cahiers pour l’Analyse. It's an important essay, garnering key responses from Alain Badiou (and, much later, Zizek), as well as helping to spawn a whole cottage industry of Lacanian cinema studies. Curiously, both Miller and Lacan make use of the mathematician and logician Gottlob Frege -- a strange pairing indeed considering how Lacan and Frege are worlds apart, the one a poststructuralist psychoanalyst, the other a logicist and progenitor of what would come to be known as analytic philosophy.

While Lacan jumped around a lot -- he particularly liked the graphical notation scheme Frege unveiled in his Begriffsschrift of 1879, and he borrowed from Frege's quantifier logic for his formulas of sexuation -- Miller himself focused more specifically on Frege's second major treatise The Foundations of Arithmetic (or the so-called Grundlagen) published in 1884. Surprisingly readable for a math text, Frege's Foundations of Arithmetic presents a novel theory of number, different from some of those that came before (namely, Kant, Leibniz, and Mill). Famously, Frege developed a theory of number rooted in pure logic, rather than intuition or empirical experience. He also began with the number zero -- not unimportant, given philosophy's customary interest in, alternately, the one and the many -- rooting zero in (a negation of) the principle of identity. Continue reading

Control Societies @ 30: Technopolitical Forces and Ontologies of Difference

I'm delighted to be included in a dossier of essays curated by Ezekiel Dixon-Román devoted to Gilles Deleuze’s “Postscript on the Societies of Control.” Deleuze's "Postscript" has dramatically influenced my work over the years -- I devoted a whole chapter to this short essay in my last book -- so it was nice to revisit Deleuze's work in the context of contemporary events. Published on the Social Text website, the "Control Societies @ 30" dossier also includes contributions from Denise Ferreira da Silva, Orit Halpern, Martina Tazzioli, and Ezekiel Dixon-Román and Luciana Parisi.

What did Deleuze represent in thought and culture? He represented a new shape: rhizomes and distributed networks, assemblages and multiplicities, horizontality rather than verticality, surface over depth. He represented a new kind of subject, specifically the breakdown of the Freudian subject, a turn to affect instead of emotion, desiring machines rather than repressed neurotics, affirmation and expression (not negation), schizos not Cartesians. Deleuze represented a new ontology as well, a rejection of classical metaphysics, replaced by immanence, univocity, and multiplicity. Deleuze also represented a new bibliography: Spinoza instead of Descartes; Leibniz instead of Hegel; Bergson instead of Heidegger; Riemann instead of Einstein. At the very apogee of poststructuralism, Deleuze made it okay to stop talking about culture and epistemology and focus instead on ontology and being. And through it all Deleuze pushed a world that was a little less continental (Hegel, Husserl) and a little more Anglo (Peirce, James). Indeed, just as Deleuze once felt license to call Francis Bacon an Egyptian, I feel no hesitation in calling Deleuze an American.

Continue reading at Social Text

Three New Podcasts

Over the last few weeks I had the opportunity to give a few different lectures, three of which are now newly archived online. The three lectures are all rather different, one on digital aesthetics, another on the state of contemporary theory, and a third on media history. I hope you find something interesting here during the doldrums of so many global crises, both political and economic.

Chris Kerich, "Motion Studies (the Hunger Games)"

Heretical Computation

In this lecture on "heretical computing" we explore the outer limits of technics through forms of hypertrophic digitality and exotic analogicity. Inspired by Shane Denson's book Discorrelated Images, I embark on a series of studies in superlative discorrelation. Is it possible to degrow the digital into something else entirely?

Video. 49 minutes

Source: Gilles Deleuze, “Sept dessins,” Chimères 21 (Winter 1994): 13-19.

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

What happens when the old prescription for critical and cultural theory, "always historicize," changes into a new mandate, "always deterritorialize"? Engaging with the work of Gilles Deleuze and Catherine Malabou, this lecture reflects on new materialism and questions of becoming within the contemporary landscape.

Video. 66 minutes

Ada K. Dietz, "AKDietz-6-2-SW-1" (c. 1947; reproduction 2020).

The Computable & the Uncomputable

In this keynote lecture for the VLC Forum, I revisit the topic of protocols as they exist in 2020. Themes include the sexual and racial politics of computation, as viewed through a series of historical and archival examples focusing on textiles and looms.

Video. 89 minutes

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.

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