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.
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