Dark Discourses and Ghostly Media

Steve Hickman has written an excellent reply to my “Meditations on the Ether,” so in depth and straight to the point that I feel that its best to respond in post-form, not simply in the comments section.

Quote: “What this means is that protocological governance can be viewed as the regulation of technology and action by systems derived from a previous technological paradigm – to blend Hardt and Negri’s examples with that of Galloway, the internet’s compulsion to connect and communicate is modulated by a decentralized system based on the model of the radio or television broadcast.”

McLuhan’s notion of the “dark tetrad” seems to fit nicely with your quote above: it’s the notion that at a certain threshold technology surpasses the laws of media and enjoins its technological injunction that every new technical innovation simultaneously create, obsolesce, retrieve, and reverse-field when pushed to its limits. Keeping in mind that every ontology has a hidden hauntology, every condition of possibility has an equal series of exclusions and prohibitions, McLuhan’s lasting contribution may have been to provide an early warning that every technology contains a hauntological dimension whereby technological innovations always depend on the language of prohibition, that for every technological creation there is an equivalent disappearance, for every obsolescence, a balancing substitution, for every retrieval, an indefinite prolongation of the same , and, for every field-reversal, a growing sense of paralysis, if not generalized inertia.

So combining McLuhan’s dark tetrad with protological governance we see how the regulatory mechanisms of control and domination migrate between differing technics of media, and that the newer media hides within its system certain functions and mechanisms of previous medias through the power of obsolescence, substitution, repetition, and a deafening of the older medias forms in reverse (i.e., internet as participatory and two-way communicative devices, while television and radio were passive one way devices). Yet, voice and image persist within the new media. And, certain gates open or close based on economic privilege, status, etc. I’m thinking that if you are part of some institution: academic, corporate, think-tank, etc. you gain access to information that others are excluded from… same goes for levels of privacy and legal pressure of encrypted messaging. Corporate or government allowed encrypted transactions, while the hoi polloi for the most part are excluded by law from global privacy of information, etc.

tetrad1

The hauntological principle: as we move forward into new organizations, be it in the modes of capital, social organization, technological paradigms, cultural expression, so on and so forth, there exists a key disjunction in which the older organizations persist in subtle forms, as specters that continue on and haunt postmodern system patterns. When we speak of globalization, we see so often the withering away of the state; critical discourse frequently seems to lose itself in the provocations of this image and is recalcitrant to admit that the state haunts transnational neoliberal through the implementation of protocols and with the paradigm of networked transnational interdependence (not to mention what Arthur Kroker has called the “bunker state,” where things like immigration become the subject of regulation and control). Likewise, pop media theorists look to new media as a break from the previous forms of radio and television, the new paradigm of centerless point-to-point communication that relay can information and sustain dialogue in near real-time. Yet the positioning of new media the paradigm of the contemporary material form of the computer shows the persistence of older forms: the legacy of the typerwriter in the keyboard, the becoming-television of the computer screen, the networked databases instilling new agency to the disciplinary society’s focus on tabulation.

The Ghost in the Machine is not a spirit of autonomy within the technological object (though I feel that persists there as well), but the continuation of older orders in new forms. The famous quip of Friedrich Kittler, “whats new about new media?”, is answered best with the observation that for all the rhetoric about democratic communication, information exchange without corporate mediation, and overarching concern with technological progress, “voice and image” persist in ways that everyday come to resemble more and more the radio and television. The direct integration of these older forms into “new media” is only the tip of this movement: the ongoing corporatization of digital spaces has led the aesthetic orientation of websites, browsers, and pages to resemble television channels themselves, just as much as television has streamlined itself to resemble the internet. The hauntological essence is in part the reorganization via familiarity. Much of the radically political dialogue and utopian dimensions of internet discourses persists as an aftershock of the early days of the web, before the floodgates to the information superhighway were fully opened. The contours of digital spaces were rudimentary, basic bulletin board systems that gave rise to divergent moments like the Nettime list, Ctheory, the Critical Art Ensemble, cyberpunk, and their Califoria Ideology counterparts in the WELL and Wired magazine. The internet then was an intellectual-textural machine capable of making critical connections in grounded reality – the support from the digital swarms for the Zapatistasi and the opening of communication with those suffering under the dualing power blocs of Milosevic and NATO throughout the 90s.ii The stripped-down formation of the internet contributed to the idea that the digital was a smooth space; the hauntological intrusion of older organizational forms and the implimentation of protocological paradigms amounts to the striation of this space. It is by no accident that unmonopolized places in the internet, such as the dark net, resemble far more the internet of the 90s than the corporatized, advertisement-saturated and ‘aesthetically-pleasing’ world wide web of today?

In a revealing analysis, Alexander Galloway sorts through the power of protocol with the example of a a town with two streets that gives drivers a tendency to speed.iii In the case of one of the streets, the residents decide to put speed bumps in the street; in the other, in the other, speed limit signs are installed and police enforcement is boosted by the increased use of traffic radars. The street monitored by police, for Galloway, is indicative of older, disciplinary modes of power, while the usage of speed bumps is the far more protocological approach. The rationale here is that speed bumps reorganize the physicality of the street as a space of movement while also providing guided incentives for drivers to slow down. In the most literal sense of the word, it is a striation of smooth space, but I am also tempted to see the eternal return of the old at work here: does the speed bump on the street not recall, on some level, the bumpy dirt roads of yesteryear, prohibiting the fastness of travel and thus requiring their replacement to ease the flow of populations and commerce?

Foucault’s earliest works, owing far more to Bataille and Nietzsche than his later works would reveal, appear to use the terms “power” and “limit”interchangeably. Power itself is the enforcements of limits on the body, mainly through the tactical coordination of the body’s movements in space via the disciplinary institution. Deleuze and Guattari too recognized this, drawing on Spinoza’s “what can the body do?” as a foundation of schizoanalytics, and between both parties there is the reoccurring theme of limit experience as an attack on organizations of body. For Deleuze and Guattari, of course, the limit experience was the schiz or critical break that opened up zones of self-organization, connectability and becoming; in Foucault, as in Bataille, it was depicted as the transgression. It should be of interest then that works like Kroker’s Hacking the Future the relationship between digital subcultures and transgressive acts like BDSM, self-mutilation, and body modification emerges again and again.iv We should take note that these things were hallmarks of the postpunk and industrial subcultures -and were following the lead from Burrough’s cut-up method, applying it to the body instead of literary texts – and at the moment that this transmuted into cyberpunk at the moment things went wired (see my Movement, Counter-paradigm), became the proto-image of the posthuman, the cyborg, something both liberatory and constraining at the same time – something that only now is being recuperated into the digital dreaming of accelerating capital. Through the code, the body and the text becomes conflated and historical and subcultural trajectories finally loop and connect.

Regardless, this helps illustrate what this is all about, and illuminates Deleuze’s appropriation of Simondon’s mold/modulation dichotomy. The mold is the disciplinary model of power; in Simondon’s own words it “limits and stabilizes,”v makes due with what is malleable. But the transgression, by moving past that limit and injecting instability provides that exit point – and yet it is here that modulation begins its purpose. Deleuze, however, recognizes the persistence of the older arrangements when he considers modulation as something not antithetical to the mold, but the process of continual molding. In light of the textual modifications of the body via the digital, we may very well have good reason to be wary when Hardt and Negri proclaim “We certainly do need to change our bodies and ourselves, and in perhaps a much more radical way than the cyberpunk authors imagined.”vi While the necessity of subjective autonomy is undeniable, and to deny it as such pushes one in the direction of the reactionaries, perhaps it is Tiqqun who has the last word when they proclaimed that “the Negrist perspective is in no way different from the imperial perspective but rather a mere instance of perfectionism within it… Strictly speaking, Negrism does not coincide with imperial thought; it is simply the idealist face of imperial thought.”vii

Modulation, hauntology, protocological governance, flexible repetition – are all these things not striving for some unattainable ideal, a mad-dash towards a steady equilibrium between the smoothing forces and the persistence striations, the interior logic of Control balanced between the soft and hard powers that Empire requires? Inclusion and exclusion, a cycle of endless openings and closing – the issue strikes at the heart of the question of new media encapsulated in the tetrad, but extends beyond it, through the ether, and diffuses across the transnational plane.

iSee “Electronic Disturbance: An Interview” with Ricardo Dominguez, http://autonomousuniversity.org/sites/default/files/ricardodominguez-electronicdisturbance-intv.pdf

iiThis is covered at length in Geert Lovink Dark Fiber: Tracking Critical Internet Culture MIT Press, 2003

iiiAlexander Galloway Protocol: How Control Exists After Decentralization, MIT Press, 2006, pg. 241

ivArthur and Marilouise Kroker Hacking the Future: Stories for the Flesh-Eating 90s Ctheory Books, 2001. See in particular pgs. 32-33, 42-43, 52, 55-56, 62-64, and 71

vCited in Adrian MacKenzie Transduction: Bodies and Machines at Speed Continuum, 2002, pg. 47

viMichael Hardt and Antonio Negri Empire Harvard University Press, 2000, pg. 216

viiTiqqun This Is Not A Program Semiotext(e), 2011, pgs. 117-118

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6 Responses to Dark Discourses and Ghostly Media

  1. noir-realism says:

    You say: “When we speak of globalization, we see so often the withering away of the state; critical discourse frequently seems to lose itself in the provocations of this image and is recalcitrant to admit that the state haunts transnational neoliberal through the implementation of protocols and with the paradigm of networked transnational interdependence…”

    Dang I just wrote a new essay: Imperial Cities: Neocameralism, Androcracy, and Militant Feminism describing how this withering away of the state as national sovereignties is turning into networks of extra-legal City-States for corporations and their progeny, clients, agents, etc. within a neocameral patron/subscriber model. I discuss Land’s earlier leanings toward a militant feminism as the only viable alternative open for us… and, how instead he inexplicably went over the other camp and became a neoreactionary defender of the new neomodern regimes. Along the way take in Kant and other histories…. http://darkecologies.com/2014/03/30/imperial-cities-neocameralism-androcracy-and-militant-feminism/

    In your final paragraph you ask the hard question which I think is being answered by the new City-States protected within free-tax zones by soverign powers across the planet for the care and sustainment of the neoliberal world order of elite and its cognitariat, while a whole panoply of apartheid exclusionary practices are being enabled beyond the control of older national democracies. The neoliberal order is remaking the world beyond the reach of the older national sovereignties (ie. it is already withdrawing, escaping, vanishing into its own enclaves, while leaving the vast population of disaffected bound to the prisons of security states.

    • edmundberger says:

      “In your final paragraph you ask the hard question which I think is being answered by the new City-States protected within free-tax zones by soverign powers across the planet for the care and sustainment of the neoliberal world order of elite and its cognitariat, while a whole panoply of apartheid exclusionary practices are being enabled beyond the control of older national democracies. The neoliberal order is remaking the world beyond the reach of the older national sovereignties (ie. it is already withdrawing, escaping, vanishing into its own enclaves, while leaving the vast population of disaffected bound to the prisons of security states.”

      Whats interesting to me is how this fits precisely into Aihwa Ong’s depiction of neoliberalism as not a singular force, but as a series of differing governmental modes and cultural/social intersubjectivities…. the differences between American “libertarian” neoliberalism (even if the more proper moniker would be the oxymoronic military-Keynesian neoliberalism), China’s state neoliberalism, Russia’s criminal neoliberal, Europe’s “social democratic” neoliberalism, the Muslim Brotherhood’s fundamentalist neoliberalism, etc, etc. Despite the proclamation great prophets of the neoliberal order – Hayek, Friedman, and all the other post-Austrian economists – of equality and democratic expression, the thread that runs through each variation of neoliberalism is the strong arm of the state, the role of the military and surveillance, and the assertion of nationalist, ethno-centric, racist, and expansionist inscriptions alongside the potpouri of global hybridities and disentegration of traditional subjective formations. Neoliberalism as a schizophrenic affair, awash in contradictory sign circulations; Empire as an abstract machine, a multiplicity where the many = one….

      Galloway and Thacker talk of networked sovereignty as the state in the transnational world. This is a good description, but we need to keep in mind that just before the “jump” into the network age, the term “interdependence” was being bandied about by the liberal internationalists (Trilateral Commission, Brandt Commission, etc). Intriguingly, the term was first used prominently by Kurt Lewin and his alcolytes in the field of group dynamics and industrial relations; here interdependence was an affair of collective units, and the task of this particular intelligensia was the reconfiguration of social relations for ideal behavior of these collectives. Peaceful coexistence and harmonization between class relations was what they preached, which was precisely what the progressive factions of the capitalist elite slipped into international relations. Hence the generalized acceptance of developmentalism (regulated economies, state monopolies of key industries, social welfare) in Third World countries as a means of growing a domestic producer and consumer bases, and the talk of mild wealth redistributions from the global North to the global South. Of course, this was all bleeding together into what William I. Robinson, in several brilliant sociology books, has called the Transnational Capitalist Class (TCC), and developmentalism was swiftly laid to rest with the Volcker Shock (Paul Volcker himself, incidentally, being a member of the Trilateral Commission) – the large-yet-manageable debt that regionalized state-directed market economies wracked up is tripled, a big bang for the speculative finance capitalists in the global north and decades of servitude and postmodern colonialism for the global south… interdependence shifting from the succession of international blocs to fluid transnationalism, all the while the TCC furthering both supra-state institutions of informal governance and national institutions of formal, disciplinary and sovereign governance.

      And then Foucault’s boomerang effect: the technologies and procedures utilized against the colonized population comes back to haunt the population of the colonizer.

      • noir-realism says:

        Yea, need to check out William I. Robinson’s books… thanks… I agree, the goal is to have all current First World nations become Third World nations as far as the vast non-cognitarit precariat is concerned. Those who are not working as Managerial or Specialist (Scientist/Engineers) in the Neurocognitariat will be marginalized and set adrift no matter what nation they call homeland. I think the Corporate City-States as the nexus are basically just withdrawing from the older nation states, and have been for a long time… the vast elite will just become parasites upon the backs of the vast majority of precarious labor: a new apartheid of race, gender, work, skills, etc. will slowly be policed within the surveillance society under a permanent State of Emergency…. and permanent War. – that is, unless we decide finally to do something about it.

  2. noir-realism says:

    The more we do work on all this the more I get excited by the new directions and information we are finding. Sometimes as I study the history of information systems and how this whole algorithmic culture has transformed the world of technology, science, politics, society, etc. the more I understand that it is like your notion of the swarm mind or distributed intelligence along certain lines of flight or trajectories that is moving along its own axial formation beyond any one group of individuals to comprehend. Yet, there is a pattern, and we are uncovering the overall pattern slowly but surely. Bits and pieces rise up in certain nodes along the historical continuum that keep us on mark. It’s like both the micro-narratives and grand narratives are working out some dialectical or dialogical story as we weave these threads around the notions of communication, organization, information, and control. State and Corporation hand in hand for a long while, but now the Corporation is transforming itself into the State and connecting itself beyond the reach of the old National ideologies. The State is divorcing itself from its material base and floating free of its former roots in earth and soil. The new mapping is taking place in the virtual domains…. yet, the infrastructure is still bound to the material networks and servers that literally weave the protocols of this gated world of transnational consumption.

    Resistance will come from disruption of the actual material base.

  3. noir-realism says:

    Rereading this in light of my current study of Dupuy’s The Mark of the Sacred makes me realize there is an answer to your question raised:

    “Modulation, hauntology, protocological governance, flexible repetition – are all these things not striving for some unattainable ideal, a mad-dash towards a steady equilibrium between the smoothing forces and the persistence striations, the interior logic of Control balanced between the soft and hard powers that Empire requires?”

    Exactly! There is a logic internal to all this an it actually comes under one unique concept: hierarchy “in its etymological sense of a sacred order (from the Greek word formed by combining hierós, sacred, and árchein, to rule)”. As one thinks through the issues surrounding the Enlightenment Project of which our secular and capitalist world are both internal to it and external to it through seeking to replace the old scholastic god with Reason one senses what Dupuy means when he says:

    “The crisis that accompanies the collapse of a hierarchical order bears a name that has come down to us from Greek mythology : panic. The myth itself contemplates only exteriority, for it places the blame for the violent breakdown of hierarchy on an eponymous divinity, Pan— god of shepherds, half-man, half-goat, a gifted musician, a democrat, a famous lover of nymphs— whose sudden appearance behind a grove was said instantly to inspire terror. As an empirical matter we know that panic is internally generated, in the sense that its destructive force is unleashed only to the extent that it was previously contained by the order that it brings crashing down. Spectators at a sporting event, for example, who are known to resist panic even in the event of an earthquake, are liable to throw themselves headlong into a murderous stampede if the competitive tensions of the event itself exceed a certain threshold. For those who remain blind to the logic of self-exteriorization that underlies human violence, Pan is a perfect scapegoat— the evil genie who has escaped from his bottle.”

    He continues:

    “Yet like Pan himself, who is at once civilized and a source of terror, panic is not only a force of destruction. The etymology of the word itself suggests a phenomenon whose effects are all-encompassing and serve to bring forth a new order, a new totality, a new direction or orientation, even if it is only flight from danger. Here the relation between a disordered set of individual behaviors and an emergent pattern of order is one of self-transcendence; its form is hierarchical, in the sense I have just described, namely, that the emergent order appears to govern individual behaviors from the outside, even though it is itself a consequence of the synergistic coordination of these same individual behaviors. Since these behaviors represent disorder, the emergent order contains them, in the two meanings of the word. In this case order does not, as Dumont supposed, contain disorder while at the same time being its contrary. Instead disorder steps outside of itself, as it were, so that it stands in a relation of exteriority to itself, and in this way creates an ordered, self-regulating system.”

    The important statement to note is “the emergent order appears to govern individual behaviors from the outside, even though it is itself a consequence of the synergistic coordination of these same individual behaviors”. When we get down to it we need to throw our the abstractions, or at least qualify them by realizing we are dealing with what Marx and Engels all along said we are: individuals – real flesh and blood humans. The second part that he notes against the sociologist Dumont is order does not contain disorder as a ‘contrary’ being contained within a larger whole, but rather “disorder steps outside of itself… so that it stands in relation to exteriority to itself” creating a new self-regulating system. Ergo… the laws of thermodynamics continue. It’s as if what we are in the midst of is both a deterritoriazlization and a reterretorialization into a new space with a new set of rules and thought forms, but that we who are real individuals going through this process have no language to describe it. We need both a critique of the old that we are escaping (deterritorializing), and a map of the new (reterretorializing). This two-fold movement is what our book needs as its structuration.

    1. Dupuy, Jean-Pierre (2013-10-30). The Mark of the Sacred (Cultural Memory in the Present) (Kindle Locations 211-212). Stanford University Press. Kindle Edition.

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