Speaking with Yuk Hui at diffrakt in Berlin

Berlin friends.. I'll be speaking with Yuk Hui this coming Monday, October 29 at 7:30pm at diffrakt. I've admired Yuk's work for some time now -- his first book for instance is one of only a few texts that tackle philosophy and digitality together -- and I look forward to this conversation, not least because we don't entirely agree on several fundamental points! Yuk's take on the alt-right and neoreactionary currents is also highly recommended, if you haven't read it, and I gather he's just now copy editing a new book on recursion, both as a technical reality (looping, functions that call themselves, etc.) but also as a philosophical structure, albeit a kind of pathological structure that philosophy has a hard time assimilating.. but these are exactly the kinds of things I hope we will be able to discuss more on Monday.

Digital Media and Materiality

Announcing my spring grad seminar at NYU on "Digital Media and Materiality." I'm delighted to be team-teaching with Leif Weatherby from the German dept. The course is listed in MCC as well as in German.

Digital Media and Materiality
Leif Weatherby & Alexander Galloway
Wednesdays 2-4:40pm
Spring 2019

Norbert Wiener wrote in 1948 that "Information is information, not matter or energy. No materialism which does not admit this can survive at the present day." This course takes up the challenge, introducing students to the range of recent materialist research, while at the same time maintaining a skepticism about claims of the “newness” of this approach & the coherence or unity of the “material turn” in social theory. While including materialist media theory, the course will also focus on the elemental aspects of digital media – from codes & circuits to power generation & storage – in order to assess the usefulness of materialist & infrastructural analytics for understanding contemporary media systems.

The Immanence of Truths

I'm told that Alain Badiou’s L'immanence des vérités has recently appeared in Parisian bookstores. I look forward to ordering a copy, and am reposting here my initial intuitions about the book, published last spring on e-flux, both as an invitation to think further about Badiou -- unquestionably the most interesting living philosopher -- but also to provide more context for my recent post on the black box of the world and a previous attempt to define the analog.

Following in the spirit of book reviews written about books that do not exist, I offer here—no doubt at my own peril—a series of observations in anticipation of Alain Badiou’s forthcoming Being and Event 3: The Immanence of Truths, a book that does not yet exist but will exist at some point in the future.

1. Alain Badiou has been interested in poetry and literature throughout his long career. Yet in recent years he seems to be turning more closely to poetry. Such a turn presents something of a problem for Badiou, a Platonist, given Plato’s skepticism toward poetry and concomitant preference for mathematics. But what is poetry? And what is math? For Badiou poetry is a marker for the event, for life, for the real, for what Jacques Lacan called “the impossible.” By contrast, mathematics is the space of the precise letter, of argument, of proof, of learning and training (after the original Greek meaning of mathēsis), of formal abstraction in its most rigorous articulation. Already notorious for his defense of mathematics as ontology, Badiou has become a bit more evenhanded on the question of the matheme versus the poem, preferring instead to describe philosophy as poised “between” poetry and mathematics, not simply privileging the latter.

2. In its essence, poetry is an attempt to touch the real continuum of life. And, as Badiou argues, there is no poem that does not in some basic way describe an event. While at the same time mathematics is an attempt to abstract away from the real continuum into the realm of consistency, name, rule, and identity. Still, the contrast is perhaps overstated. Poetry is impossible to define in its totality without reference to rule and rhythm, figuration and abstraction. Likewise mathematics spans both domains. There has existed since the ancients a mathematics of the real continuum as well as a mathematics of the proper name and rule. The former is a mathematics of pure difference while the latter a mathematics of pure identity; the former a math of time—indeed directly in time—while the latter formalizes time to a sufficient degree as to be able to purge it entirely, replacing time with space. Continue reading

Empty Frames

Let me pick up on something from a previous post:

"The digital video encoder has never been happier than when given the job of encoding films by Chantal Akerman or James Benning. These are computer-friendly substrates"

The punch line being that the "ideal" computer image would be an empty frame. And the most odious image, according to the essence of computation, would be white noise, an image of pure entropy. I'm not sure if Gregory Chaitin has ever visualized his omega number, but that's what it might look like. The omega image.

Related image

Continue reading

The Black Box of the World

In continuing to explore the domains of the digital and the analog, I've come to an unexpected conclusion, one that will no doubt be obvious to others but which I nevertheless found surprising. I've finally realized the extent to which analogicity has been hounded out of technical history. In the past I had assumed, incorrectly, that digitality and analogicity were more or less equal alternatives. Yes there was a litany of digital techniques in human history -- moveable type, arithmetic, metaphysics -- but so too history could furnish its share of analogical triumphs, right? Not exactly. In my unscientific survey, the digital techniques far outweigh the analog ones. And many things categorized as blockbuster interjections of peak analogicity -- the invention of the calculus, Richard Dedekind's 1858 definition of real numbers -- harbor deeply-ingrained anti-analog biases upon closer inspection. Dedekind sought to discretize the real, not think the real as pure continuity, and his tool of choice was the cut, a digital technology if there ever was one. And while Newton's "fluxions" are genuinely strange and interesting, both Newtonian and Leibnizian calculus aimed to "solve" the problem of pure continuity via recourse to a distinctly digital mechanism: the difference unit, or differential. Good show, now try it again without cheating! It almost makes me nostalgic for Euclid. At least he stayed true to the analog sciences of line and curve, without recourse to the digital crutches of algebra or arithmetic.

So while I'm deeply skeptical of the analog turn in theory -- a few decades ago it was all language, structure, symbol, economy, logic, now it's all affect, experience, expression, ethics, aesthetics -- it's only fair to admit the profound rareness of analogicity. Particularly in philosophy, which is almost entirely dominated by digital thinking. (In mathematics it's not even close: math is one long sad story of arithmetic subduing geometry, the symbol subduing the real.) It's exceptionally difficult to think continuity as continuity. Very few have accomplished this feat. So if anything we need more work on continuity and analogical sciences, not less. More work on signal processing, noise, randomness, modularity, curves and lines, heat and energy, fields, areas, transduction, quality, intuition. Less on arithmetic and discrete breaks. More on bending, blurring, bleeding, and sliding. More on the body, more on real experience. More on what William James called the “blooming, buzzing confusion” of life. Continue reading

Russian Interview -- «Мир не кажется мне цифровым до самого основания»

Artguide has just published an interview between me and Andrey Shental, co-curator of the Philosophical Club at Winzavod Centre for Contemporary Art in Moscow. Read the interview in Russian. I'm also posting the English transcript below.

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Andrey Shental: I know that programming has never been your main preoccupation, but nevertheless how has a practical engagement with computation influenced your theoretical observations?

Alexander R. Galloway: It is an important part of my own explorations and research techniques. People have different styles and approaches, my style was always to work on projects in parallel, rather than to reduce philosophy to technology, or to subsume technology into philosophy. I try to pursue both of them at the same time. I will give an example, when I worked on my first book on internet protocols (Protocol: How Control Exists after Decentralization), I was also working on a software platform called “Carnivore.” They both were dealing with data protocol, protocols for data that moved through networks. So one day I would be debugging network packets and another day I was working on a more theoretical, critical responses to this same type of networking. To give another example, when I was writing a book on videogames I was also authoring a game as well. The two practices influence and inform each other.

Shental: Your interest in computation affected your interest in “digital philosophy”. But now you want to speak of digital philosophy without referencing the computer, as you claimed in your lecture at the Philosophical Club. Of course, digital is a very old term that has its own independent history, but today it is hard to dissociate it from technology.

Galloway: Yes, that is true. Part of my desire today — even in a polemical sense — is to say we need to take a pause and define digital without, first and foremost, making reference to digital technologies. I would not say it is an absolute claim or goal, because you are right, I do acknowledge that the digital has a special relationship to technology and particularly to industrial technology in contemporary life. So I see this as a separate but necessary detour that we need to make conceptually. Continue reading

A Report on Cyberfeminism (1999)

An editor in Spain reminded me of this piece written almost twenty years ago. I'm reposting it here, but please read with a dose of generosity. I was quite young when I wrote it, many of the links are dead, and the discourse of digital studies has changed a great deal since then, even as the issues and concerns of cyberfeminism live on. This was first published in the journal Switch. I don't have the date recorded, but I think the text was written in the spring of 1999 and likely published that spring or summer. 

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"Hardware, software, wetware -- before their beginnings and beyond their ends, women have been the simulators, assemblers, and programmers of the digital machines."
--Sadie Plant, Zeros and Ones

It would be hasty to dismiss Sadie Plant's recent book, Zeros and Ones, as being totally second-wave feminism. True, she seems quite interested in the deep, dark, technological feminine; she speaks of the male Ones and their binary opposites, the female Zeros; and she manages to weave together a genuine her-story of technology. Yet, she also reaches beyond these constrains into a complex relationship between women and machines. This relationship, tied up in problematics surrounding identity, technology and the body, is at the heart of the contemporary movement called cyberfeminism. Continue reading

Evidently he was out to delete himself

Also from Enzensberger's book Mausoleum is this vivid but tone deaf account of Alan Turing, indicative of the homophobia evident in much of the secondary literature on Turing. The scientist was “shrill” but also silent, fainted inexplicably, didn't want to touch people, and “inadvertently” drank poison. “Evidently he was out to delete himself,” was Enzensberger's dry assessment. As an antidote I would recommend reading this along side Jacob Gaboury's “A Queer History of Computing.”

A. M. T. (1912-1954)

It's certain that he never read a newspaper; that he knitted his gloves himself; that he always kept losing trunks, books, coats; and that, whenever he broke his stubborn silence at meals, he fell into a shrill stuttering or a cackling laugh. His eyes were a radiant, inorganic blue, like stained glass.

Very well then. Let us imagine a universal automaton A, which is capable of simulating any other automaton. An. A is a black box fed with an endless strip of paper; this band is the outer world of the machine. It is divided into fields, each single one of which is either blank or marked. We now imagine that A patiently reads one field after another, moving the strip one field forward or backward, and/or writes a mark and/or erases a mark, and we name this apparatus, after its inventor, a Turing machine. Continue reading

Oh combinatorics! Oh blind faith!

I recently ran across Hans Magnus Enzensberger's strange and wonderful book Mausoleum: Thirty-seven Ballads from the History of Progress, a treasure trove of hot takes on historical figures, whom he references only through their initials and dates (birth and death). Below is Enzensberger's ballad to GW Leibniz.

G. W. L. (1646-1716)

We don't know his feelings. The periphery seems proper
as in a perfect apparatus. The privy councilor's state coat
was covered with buckles and buttons and laces and sashes.
Behind the wire-wig, the switching network metallized,
in a very dense packing. Motionless motion prevailed
under the cranium. Data -- recorded, encoded,
and processed and stored: Tabulation of knowledge,
Monatliche Auszüge, Journal des Savants, Acta eruditorum
What he left to a helpless world was a hayrick
of annals, reports, memoranda, catalogues,
miscellanea; a hurly-burly of abstracts and abstracts
of abstracts and abstracts of abstracts of abstracts....

(We of the Defense Department were never happy with L. True,
he's a genius, no one denies that. But there's one imperfection:
and that's his perfection. His "human traits,"
a certain love of money, a slight podagra, are camouflage,
cunning loops in his program structure, tricks,
to mislead us. It very nearly worked. Proof:
So far no one in the ruling house has any suspicions.
But we say openly: L. is an artifact, and presumably,
he, humming, is employed by a remote and alien power.)
Continue reading

Consequences of Computation (in Berlin)

Please join me on September 20 for a lecture at the American Academy in Berlin. I'll be speaking  on computation and digitality through a series of archival sites from the 19th C up to the present day. As I understand it the lecture is free and open to the public, but one must register for the event online. I'm here in Berlin through December and hope to reestablish connections with colleagues, as well as make new ones.