Author Archives: yourlefthand13

When All Options are Co-Opted, Rejection Remains

When one considers the Avant-Garde, I don’t think it is a stretch to imagine the inaccessible. Or at least, I view this as the popular expression of a definition for the avant-garde. That which is too wrapped in its own machination to bother making sense. But, while in many ways this definition is not completely without values, it fails to recognize the true nature of the ‘front lines.’ It is not meant to represent the static value of “modern” art in a post-modern world. Instead it posthumously describes those that somehow predicted the lilt of culture as it plunges into the “Next Big Thing.” But prediction is a misnomer, if the future cannot truly be known. The mechanisms of the avant-garde, those mechanisms that filter upwards through cultural discourse as if they were some lucky genetic strain, are what define it. And, as those that ask “What is to be done?” claim that these are the machines of rejection; and rejection finally must be executed on a cultural scale.

In a Post-Soviet St. Petersburg, artists are challenged precisely by this definition. Shortly after the revolution towards the beginning of the 20th century, the Soviet Union became actively invested in promoting art. This is not something new for the State; it dates back to the Classical poets and their epics. But, being invested in Marxism as the Soviet Union was, they strove (in the early days) to create “Revolutionary” artwork. Where the Avant-Garde had to claw its way towards social standing in other cultural systems, the Soviet Union sought out that which abraded cultural norms for the sake of eternal revolution. In modern Russia, Chto Delat points to the resurgence in architectural nostalgia that the fall of Leningrad brought with it. The longing for a missing Golden Era; a prayer laid with every brick as some theater is revived or as expensive apartments for the Oligarchs’ families are erected. The work of the revolutionary art movements of Soviet History continues to exist, but it has been absorbed by the state and is re-expressed as the function of the “Tourist’s History” that is constructed through State nostalgia.

And so what had been the Avant-Garde has been folded into the machine of the Old, it is part of a market of nostalgia that simultaneously makes it acceptable (accessible) while stripping it of the components that made it once novel. Thus the one-time routes of the Avant-Garde are no longer successful in truly expressing the new and exciting. Chto Delat realizes that this does not exclude the possibility of the front guard. Art, to be new, must become that which cannot be acquired and re-appropriated by the state (even if such appropriation seems innocent or ideologically appropriate at first), for once it does it will only function as the historically Avant-Garde. Instead they focus on the praxis, the processes mechanical and intangible, that have driven the production of novelty in the past. They grasp at the moment, in its repetition and uniqueness, that cannot be folded directly into society. They avoid the clutch of nostalgia through the purifying act of rejection. They realize that history, at least the history of art with the purpose of creating the New, urges to be rejected. And in this rejection, the New becomes only inevitable.


The University and the Self

We are all familiar with the University. If only because you are in this class, reading this post. That is to say, we are necessarily folded into the mechanisms of the University (as a concept, let alone as Duke) simply by engaging each other through the channels of power that it makes possible. Yet, though we are interacting within this structure, it is in many ways still mysterious.

I would begin, perhaps, by considering what the University is meant to be. At the very least, this ideal University might be those promises that had lured all of us here in the first place. In pure abstraction, the ideal of the University is that imaginary place that lay latent and hopeful in every application filled out. It was a place that was sheltering, enlightening, personalized and designed to provide for its students the ability to somehow survive ‘the real world.’ And in many ways, the University that I have experienced performs the processes well. But there are other forces afoot.

The Communique from an Absent Future and the Necrosocial explore those forces. The economic and political forces that shape the University will in turn shape the University that we experience. The capitalist forces that shape the functioning of the University are routed through it’s education conduits and re-concretized in the embrace of capitalist concepts that existing in the University seems to require. Our dreams become co-opted by the forces that their realization necessitates.

But this raises an interesting conundrum. How can this institution exist and function simultaneously within and without us, the students. That is, it functions within by needing the students’ presence and participation. Without the participation and presence of the students, the University would be negating what simple definitions can be applied to it. And yet, it functions without by existing independently of the student’s will. It can do things that defy the popular will of those that make up its body. And so, somehow the university becomes the vehicle of the student’s wish, even as it transforms that wish to better fit its will.

With student political movements like those at the UC’s, the students’ attempt to reveal the perversion of their will by the University structure, takes the form of the interruption: the intervention. By disrupting the viral insertion of arbitrary but ubiquitous structural concepts, like capitalism, the students’ can call attention to the pervasiveness of these ideas, and their contamination of every contacting idea.


Cyberfeminism and the Post-Human

In Galloway’s exhibition of Cyberfeminism, he writes of Allucquere Rossane “Sandy” Stone’s theory that it claims “new technologies are not transparent agents that remove issues of gender from view, but rather they proliferate the production and organization of gendered bodies in space” (190). This is a statement that I simultaneously agree with and disagree with. And in that simultaneity, I believe the modern heart of Cyber-identification (rather than Cyberfeminism) lies.

I disagree with this statement because the process of creation is necessarily a divorce from gender issues. That is, in the process of creating something, whether the creator is male or female, the object created is not granted a gender identity in its own right. Of course, there are various historio-cultural institutions that seem to indicate otherwise (consider the gendering of inanimate objects in many languages) but I argue that these institutions are the result of identification rather than creation itself. The powered loom, used to make textile for nearly 300 years, will take input from any human (perhaps will even take input from non-human events like computers, gusts of wind or acts of god) and produce more or less the same result. Similarly, a Facebook account can be created independently of the creator’s biological gender. Technology, in being the arena of the virtual, necessarily divorces gender from its physical manifestation. The creative membrane does not permit the extension of gender beyond identification. In fact, any creative endeavor, divorced of its sociologically implanted identifying features, becomes ungendered in the process of being recognized as inanimate or even inhuman.

But this is where I agree with Stone’s theory. It is, in fact, impossible to not identify with creation. Though technology has necessarily removed any actual gender that might be passed down from creator to createe, in flattening that created object beyond having X or Y chromosomes let alone a process for self-identification, the potential and the need for identification remains. If all technologies do this, then let us consider the most advanced canvas of virtualization (and thus the most pregnant field of possibility) as the internet. This is especially true in terms of personal identity alone. Any single person interacting with the internet instantly (both consciously and unconsciously) becomes a multitude of personalities that, while each may contain certain truths about the ‘real’ individual, do not necessarily intersect with one another at all. Technology does indeed create a multitude of bodies (in this case virtual bodies) that the creative process has endowed with the need for identification. The dividual, as Deleuze called it, becomes the actualization of this shattering of personality across the Net; a process that does not necessarily shatter the actual identity of the ‘real’ person (i.e. the virtual identity is a transparent and intrinsically ungendered creation) but becomes shattered in the process of realizing the distances between these disparate identities and the singular identity that the actual entity is allowed to hold.

In fact, that technologies is simultaneously removed from gender while re-endowing, multiplying and mutating it speaks to the heart of cyber-identity. That is, how can a single person in the real world actually define each of these cyber-entities with each of their independent cyber-identities. In the early 90s, Cyberfeminism approached this issue by realizing that, just as corporeal women realized that they had become the other through cultural binarism, virtual women too existed within the systems of identity that cyberspace had called for. But, as technology is the process of creation that is divorced from personality, but later endowed with it through identification, Cyberfeminism can lead to the revelation that our cyber-identities are actually entirely divorced from ourselves. They are versions of ourselves that do not, but could exist. Cyberfeminism pointed to the presence of alternate identity within the stream of the virtual. But in realizing that virtual identity is a fiction of actual identity through the process of separation that is technology, cyber-identity becomes post-cyberfeminist and perhaps even post-human.


The Shape of Things

In reading Hardt & Negri’s discussion of globalization and its theoretical roots, I was struck by the notion of shape. The globalized power structure they describe is not the extension of historical process, but it is the emergence of a new structure out of the evolution of old. And yet the idea of Empire extends to the inception of history, and thus expresses itself necessarily through such a historical lens.

This brings me to wonder what the shape of this structure they describe is. Or, more importantly, what role the shape plays in describing the structure. Empire exists as world order, and is expressed as such in various ways (i.e. the United Nations) that are rooted historically. There would be no United Nations unless there had been a Peace of Westphalia, a Congress of Vienna, a Holy Roman Empire or a League of Nations. And there would be no United Nations unless there had been the Thirty Years War, the Great Schism, the Second World War. The same can be said of the corporate infrastructure of the global economy. Or the physical infrastructure of the world wide web. The structures that today express Empire necessarily  expressed Empire somehow in their past incarnations. Thus Empire, as Hardt and Negri describe it, is the systematic product of historical processes.

The confluence of these systems, that junction that is called Empire defies its historical roots by expressing itself primarily as the concept of Empire across the individuals consumed by it. Though the processes are historically not novel, their modern state and interaction gives rise to a new dimension, in which the Empire not only expresses itself outwardly through these processes, but it is expressed inwardly through the recognition of history and historical process gained by those that these processes act upon. Empire, as it is today, necessarily exists as the systems that compose it, the systems that developed it, and the systems it is believed to be composed of. This, finally, brings me to the idea of shape. Empire, and by extension the neoliberal globalist agenda, is defined not only by the structures that it consists of (InterPol, the FBI, NATO) but it is made of the shape that these ideas express when considered across the breadth of population. At the very least, to consider the binary state of an idea as being either present or not-present: the presence/non-presence of an idea across all people capable of that idea actually defines the structure of that idea and thus the structure of the real things that the idea is related to. This shape dimension, consisting of things that were once considered entirely secular, introduces a new arena into the function of Empire, an emergent arena that holds the most interesting implications for political action.

The Empire, no longer capable of continuing its growth while expressing physical division for the sake of progress a la Marx, begins to shift its movement into the Shape. War is no longer a necessity but a formality. International Politics are highly formalized. A Politician’s advertising budget is supreme. The shape of these things begins to mean more than their actual function. And as such, the shape becomes a new battleground for the forces-that-be. This is easily analogized with the consideration of brands (Pepsi and Coke e.g.) that express their real-world success through their virtual shape. But it holds implications for the possibility for political success in an Empire that is no longer physical (think of CAE and their disavowal of physical civil disobedience). For as the ability to shift the shape becomes more popularly available, through communication technology for example, the ability to hijack the shape of Empire and re-align the psycho-historical concepts that exist independently in each mind, and interdependently in the flow of history and culture, true structural changes can occur. Political revolution can radically occur when it has seemed to become most stagnant.


Finding Intervention in ECD

Considering the Electronic Disturbance Theater’s FloodNet has caused me to revisit some of the ideas I had written in my post last week. That is to say, FloodNet seems in many ways to be an ideal embodiment of the CAE’s Electronic Civil Disobedience. It uses the existing network structures to communicate beyond structural limits by modifying the target server’s error log, and thus passing a message beyond the firewalls that would normally make communication with (in this case) the server admin all but impossible. It is powered by the ‘willful’ use of machines; the end-user’s navigation to the FloodNet java applet webpage is equated to the physical protestor’s presence at a sit-in. It is, with the proper magnitude of popular will, capable of causing service lags in a server’s performance: the DDOS attack.

In my last post, I wondered whether electronic civil disobedience, when considered analogous to physical civil disobedience, would truly function the same way. Whether electronic sit-ins and picket lines would have the same political impact that their physical counterparts historically exhibit. In terms of FloodNet, which already can be seen as an electric analog of physical protest in the ways explicated above, I wondered where the political impact would actually lie. Of course, the obvious is that the political motion lies in the political action that FloodNet takes; the spamming of server logs with protest related messages. This is, after all, the genome of the tool itself: to protest with FloodNet is to spam logs. But on second thought: those logs, while associated with servers owned by the organization/s being protested, will likely never be seen by anyone outside of the server admin. Even then, if the admin is savvy in the least, the log caches will probably be cleared fairly regularly. And so, I feel as though the actual political movement of FloodNet does not take place in its expression of code. So if it is not politically salient within its genetic material (that is, if the code being executed is not the seat of its political power), then perhaps FloodNet is valuable for the potential political energy it contains. After all, if a large enough number of people are willing to utilize FloodNet, then it can become an offensive tool: actually disturbing the function of the servers themselves, perhaps even interrupting the interaction between the server and non-protesting users thus suturing the non-protestors into the protest itself. In fact, this has already happened with FloodNet progeny and Anonymous open-source tool Low Orbit Ion Cannon (mentioned also in my previous post). Which, like FloodNet, relied on the use of open source code en masse to perform DDOS on major corporate servers. The capability of these tools to cause repercussion that extends beyond the electronically virtual and into the physically virtual (server logs versus service interruptions that prevent users from accessing their bank accounts etc) is powerful. But this power alone is also not politically salient. Narrowly, DDOS is an attack that most often is carried out by autonomous botnets that seize control of trojan infested computers and use this seized control to overload servers. And broadly, this means that the difference between one DDOS and another is nearly non-existent, as every DDOS attack merely hopes to cause a server crash, which is a binary state of the server: crashed or not-crashed. But the difference between the motivations behind DDOS attacks is enormous. At least when considering a botnet DDOS and a conscious, willful DDOS like those allowed by FloodNet and LOIC. This, I think, is where the political action and electronic civil disobedience lies. Not in the actions or potentialities taken by the actual protest mechanisms of the code (after all, such electronic protestations are deterministic in the end, and thus incapable of achieving change beyond the system they exist within), but in the act of downloading the code. In the act of going to the webpage. It is the conscious decision to join the network of computers that FloodNet spontaneously develops, and the ability to easily download the Disturbance Developer Kit, that actual intervention takes place.


Protestation and Revelation

The idea of Electronic Civil Disobedience is exciting. After all, plain old Civil Disobedience is held responsible for some of the greatest non-violent political and human victories of the twentieth century. And with the advent (and perhaps more importantly the propagation) of information technology and a massive, worldwide community of networked devices in the late twentieth century, it might seem self evident that the swells of non-violent political will that drove the civil disobedience of the twentieth century would now become greater in proportion with the acceleration of cultural change and exchange over the internet. In fact, this seems to be what the Critical Art Ensemble believed the impact on political protest levied by the internet would truly become. They believed that the critically placed picket lines of the Discipline Societies past would become electronically organized mass protests of cyber-entities and thus their real-world counterparts. And its possible that this type of digital community movement might occur and be effective if things worked out the way the Creative Art Ensemble thought they would in 1996.

I think its fair to say that the internet today only cursorily represents the internet as it was even 5 years ago. Let alone over fifteen years ago. Today, internet traffic (in the US, at least) is mostly made up of visits to corporate search engines, corporate reference websites or corporate social networks. In fact, even that traffic which is not directed to corporately owned servers will pass through a corporately owned server or at least will certainly be mined for the personal data it contains. This to me raises a major issue with the Critical Art Ensemble’s ideas about the way Electronic Civil Disobedience would work. Where the CAE would view ECD as the cyberspace extension of protest as it had been, it is necessary to recognize the form that the internet actually has taken, and the possibilities for disobedience that actually exist within it today.

In fact, I even take issue with their use of the word ‘civil.’ Sure it evokes the effective and relatively bloodless nature of some successful protests in the 20th century,  there is nothing civil about it. Technological Disobedience, certainly. Protocol Disobedience, absolutely. Even Economic Disobedience might be a better term. It is not a movement of a society that collectively strives towards progress, as the word ‘civil’ would describe, but successful political cyber-tactics only requires technical skill and technical resources. Of course, there are some notable exceptions like Anonymous’ Low Orbit Ion Cannon, which allows a computer administrator to consciously decide to enter the computer into a botnet that will launch DDOS attacks. But, in fact, all that is really needed is a decent understanding of simple coding, an internet connection, and a Google search bar.

Electronic Civil Disobedience, is not impossible. In fact, acts like the ‘attacks’ on Mastercard, Sony or Paypal launched by groups like Anon or LulzSec, are a form of Electronic Civil Disobedience. At least, insofar as they occured virtually (non-violently), yet had real-world repercussions that made a political statement (although the effect of that political statement would require more argument). But this is very different from the CAE’s notion of Disobedience. At least insofar as the CAE suggested that electronic civil disobedience would involve attack on the institution. Today’s internet makes little distinction between individuals and institutions. Facebook is simultaneously the institution and the individual. Mastercard is simultaneously the debtor and the debtees. Sony is simultaneously the creator and the consumer. On the modern internet, there is no difference between attacking the institution and attacking the individual. The disobedience does not arise from the attack, but from the fact that the attack could occur. That the attack simultaneously impacts the institution and the individuals that live on the sieged servers. It exists in the realization that there is no longer a difference. Electronic Civil Disobedience is not the struggle to make a political point, but it is now the struggle to express the actual structure of the networks that we live on. It is the process of revealing the control around us, and in doing so it is the process of inciting actual rebellion.


The Process and Not the People

Wark’s manifesto suggests that the hacker is a social class that emerges from the extension of societal expression into virtuality. But perhaps this fails to really capture the essence of the hack. That is, hackers are not a class of person, but a class of process.

This is not to say that Wark is entirely off the mark when he suggests that hackers, as a group of people, have emerged from the commodification of information. After all, there are necessarily people behind the re-purposing of information for non-intended use. And because these people work in the same space (the re-routing of virtual systems to create further, newer virtual systems), they are absolutely a community that could perhaps be considered a class. But at its heart, hacking is not about the people that perform the action, but it is about the action itself. Even the word “hacking” negates the massive spread of processes the term can engender. First off, there is physical hacking, and there is non-physical hacking. Then physical hacking can range from simple modification of a device’s form (the transformation of a television-console video game system into a handheld version that contains all of the same hardware repackaged) to the creation of new devices from old technology (consider, perhaps, the ease with which someone today can build a working computer out of obsolete parts; a computer that can not only access but affect the internet). And virtual hacking can range from the use of scripting to access new powers in computing to the evisceration of corporately written code for new purposes. And so the ‘class’ of hackers, in Wark’s sense, becomes arbitrarily divided into practically infinite subclasses after their individual use of the ‘hack.’ Instead, if the ‘hack’ was considered a class of process by which the existing flow of information becomes routed along non-standard circuits for the discrete reasoning of the hacker, then the class becomes physically united again. United by the spirit of the hack itself; the desire to circumvent system as it is provided so that the system can become useful.

Hacking ceases to be a group of people who are actively seeking the truly new. And instead become a continuously shifting group of people that discretely express the spirit of the hack, for whatever reason that may be, and thus unite under their collective intention to reject system and thus unintentionally create something entirely new. Hackers are not a group of people that emerge from society, but a group of people that reject the systems that already exist in exchange for systems that are only dreams. They are a group of people that seek the process of progress along the extra dimension that describes the shift of systems from those existing to those desired. And in turn, hacking is truly the class of process by which system itself is actively transformed, and passively created anew.