The Posthuman and the Information Guerrilla

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The Posthuman

Steve Hickman has a great new post up over at Dark Ecologies, musing on the inevitable transition taking place around us, a fractal mutation at the center of the question of what it means to be human in the age of technotopia. Gazing into a cybernetic crystal ball, he warns us that “the inforgasm is upon us…” It is in this literal deluge of data and fibers that we are all conjoined, flittering a high speed and being regurgitated as data junk. Rising from this great “recline of civilization,” as Arthur Kroker once called it, is the specter of the posthuman, who is very much among us at the intersection of smart technology and the biological flesh.

Kroker enters into Hickman’s discourse via his notion of “drift culture.” The Situationists had configured the drift as the derive, a “technique of rapid passage through varied ambiances.”[1] This psycheogeographical voyage was to be implemented in the terrain of the urban landscape, the setting for strolls – often aided by intoxicating substances – through region reconditioned by the demands of capitalism modernization. The drift was to be an act of reclamation: the city would become a place of adventure, liberated from its overcoding as a site of so-called cultural production through the ritualistic act of consumption and other forms of exchange. Guy Debord’s onetime comrade in the days of Socialism ou Barbarie, Jean-Francois Lyotard, injected this method of drift into the odysseys of intellectual life.[2] For Lyotard it is an act of not only grand subversion, but also one of excess and decadence; drifting amidst the dissolving grand narratives of modernity is a concern of both wanton destruction and gleeful creation.

Yesterday’s template for derive is today’s algorithmic architecture, and the language of our intellectual escapes is that of data. The post-postmodern metropolis is a smartcity awash in the Internet of Things, where absolute freedom is the universality of control. Every utopia is someone’s dystopia, and vice-versa.

We should not ignore the obvious signs of displacement in this discourse: it is ultimately that of the so-called developed world. To have the very ability of the speaking the word “posthuman” is a sign of privilege, of being situated in the zones mobilized around the massive excesses of finance capital and its corollary industrial war machines. The posthuman moment occurs in the volatile disintegration of traditional societies, modes of being, and horizons of imagination. It was Nick Land who once wrote that “Capital retains anthropological characteristics as a symptom of underdevelopment,”[3] but it is these very characteristics which are the limits to capital implemented by capitalism itself in order to stave off its own cataclysmic crises. ‘Underdevelopment’ is as synonymous with capitalism as ‘development’ is; the growth of the centers is contingent on the degradation of the peripheries. As such, the posthuman will by its technopolitical nature leave large swaths of humanity in the dust. It is no wonder then that Kroker linked the dreams of the digital utopians to both fascism and liberalism: fascism, because it will rely on ordered hierarchy and, at worst, the violence of Darwinian politics; and liberalism, because liberalism is at its core a governance designed to rationally manage the expansion of capital and the excesses it engenders. The posthuman era is not, as so many declarative prophecies have maintained, the implosion of Marxist, schizoanalytic, Autonomist, or even post-colonialist critiques of social order. It necessitates their expansion to cosmological proportions, particularly as capital itself escapes the thinness of Earth’s atmosphere and makes its leaps into the expanses of space.

It is clear that through the careful development of info-capitalism the dynamics of the imagination have been captured and turned inwards. Where then do we begin the search for alternative vision?

Kroker’s response, the drift culture, takes place on a global level, as Hickman surmises: it is a “new emergent order of rebels, a global gathering of new media artists, remix musicians, pirate gamers, AI graffiti artists, anonymous witnesses, and code rebels, an emerging order of figural aesthetics revealing a new order, a brilliantly hallucinatory order, based on an art of impossible questions and a perceptual language as precise as it is evocative.” He seems to be invoking, then, the weirdness of the internet itself when the world first went wired, as the subcultures of the globe clashed and produced the mutated offspring that today is retrospectively referred to a “tactical media.” This transnational roster includes Kroker’s own CTheory, Nettime, The Thing, Laibach, the Neoists, I/O/D, Adilkno, the VNS Matrix, Afrika G.R.U.P.P.E, the Critical Art Ensemble, the unknown legions of Karen Eliots and Luther Blissetts – and later Wu Mings -, so on and so forth. Through each of these the newfound possibilities of communication exchange and interconnection collided with the compulsion to theorize wildy, conduct absurdist interventions, increase solidarity and even overt support with political struggles, and constantly interrogate the barriers and the intersections of the political with the aesthetics.

Though they do not name them, it is this zeitgeist – alongside the Zapatistas, Carnivals Against Capital, etc – Negri and Hardt clearly draw on these elements of their Spinozist construct of the Multitude, that polyphony of global voices and movements that has the ability to accelerate the post-Fordist production modes of Empire through capital’s imposed limits. Yet it has becoming increasingly difficult to separate their vision with neoliberalism’s own idealized face. Just as the expectations of the posthuman see the intermingling of the body with hyperconnected technologies, they observe how postmodernization’s “dissolution of traditional social bodies” paves the way for an “elemental” flesh that will cover the whole of the earth, “a flesh that is not a body, a flesh that is common, living substance.”[4] Hickman observes that in Gothic literature the “the monstrous rather than light” is the common depiction when “when such moments [like the advent of the posthuman] of metamorphosis and change come about.” Hardt and Negri agree with him: “This living flesh that is not a body can easily appear monstrous…. The monstrosity of the flesh is not a return to the state of nature but a result of society, an artificial life.”[5]

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There is a characteristic tension that runs through Hardt and Negri’s work, precisely where the nature of the Multitude is concerned, a tension that fluctuates between a global liberal vision and one far more radical. The tension is expressed itself in the terms of inclusion (the Multitude’s universal pluralism) and exclusion (the Multitude’s “living flesh” is precisely that which operates outside of political power). They point to the Multitude as something that can unshackle the postmodern modes of production from Imperial control, in a telling moment of Left Accelerationism; they also paint it as a picture of that which interrupts the maddeningly flexibility of just-in-time production and “immaterial” labor. To draw on the experiences of the alter-globalizationist and tactical media artists only deepens this tension, for so often they too prioritized not the acceleration of postmodernization, but instead hoped to interference with its machinic logic. One angle of the Multitude is that of an equilibrium, and the other of that is one of noise, precisely that which disrupts equilibrium.

If we can be accused of prioritizing the concept of noise, it is because neoliberal Empire is a cybernetic system, and noise is the gilded enemy of the homeostasis it promotes. This is what is at stake in the posthuman discourse: the perfection of the machinic processes kicked off by the information revolution, or its mutation into something currently unrecognizable.

Afrika G.R.U.P.P.E aligned the tactical media artists very closely with this concept of noise, writing in 2002 of a “Communication Guerrilla” that “attempts to criticize the rules of normality by creating irritations and ambiguities, thus enabling new ways of reading familiar images and signs.”[6] It was perhaps Luther Blissett who exemplified the relationship between the Communication Guerrilla and noise the clearest: as an ‘open name,’ it was deployed to create irritations and ambiguities wherever and whenever, under the cover of personal anonymity and overall imperceptibility. “…like in nature,” Joseph Nechvatal writes, “noise in art plays a productive role in the invisible life of a system when it stresses becoming-imperceptible.”[7] Given the fact that communication, under the regime of becoming-perceptible of the surveillance industries (of capitalism, the state, and both), has been reduced to strictly the informatic content, perhaps Afrika G.R.U.P.P.E.’s concepts needs to be updated as the Information Guerrilla.

The Information Guerrilla

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Today’s dark precursor to the posthuman is the Mathematical Man, who is in movement whenever the individual becomes an active participant in their exploitation, whenever he or she gleefully triggers the data flows of production and consumption, whenever they find that the rational flexibility of post-Fordism, neoliberalism, democracy, whatever you want to call it, is the pinnacle of expression and the peak of experience. The Information Guerrilla, by contrast, is out on a derive in the digital architecture (regardless of whether or not it is bathed in the blue glow of the computer screen or the light of the sun), looking for tools, elements to destabilize, channels to subvert, open up, leech, make leak. The Information is on a quest for the ludic. It is a noise machine. As Michel Serres said, “Noise against weapon. Noise is a weapon that, at times, dispenses with weapons. To take up space, to take place, that is the whole point… And noise occupies space faster than weapons can.”[8]

Mining communication theory, Serres approaches noise through the question of mediation, findings its emergence coming from the apparatus and its environment that the message must pass through when moving from sender to receiver and vice versa. The medium becomes the third aspect, albeit one that must be excluded from the dialogue, that serves as the connection or bridge between the one and the two. The medium is the means; it is also the outside of the communication channel that enables communication to take place. Serres, by labeling the space or object of mediation as a third, is making a nod to the mathematician Charles Peirce, who had long before conceived of “thirdness” as a sort of glue hold together the beginning and the end. “By the third,” Peirce wrote, “I mean the medium or connecting bond between the absolute first and absolute last. The beginning is first, the end second, the middle third. The end is second, the means third.” [9] The third position here, the medium – and by extension the environment, as a complex assemblage – becomes a forgotten means to an end. In contemporary capitalism’s abstract machine, it is not only the media object but also the human subjective that becomes the excluded third position – we, as little more than intermediaries with inputs and outputs, are only valuable insofar as the information we generate to charge up the machines of labor and consumption. Again, a means to an end, and yet it is precisely from this perspective that radical agency emerges, in Serres’s formulation of the “Parasite.”

The Information Guerrilla is a parasite, and the parasite is noise; in French, noise is translated as bruit, but it is the term “bruit parasite” that refers to static or interference.[10] The parasite exists at the point of the medium, rising up within the means, eating at the connection. The parasite’s host is the relation between sender and receiver, and by extension communication and information themselves. “What passes might be a message but parasites (static) prevent it from being heard, and sometimes, from being sent… You don’t need much experience to know that goods do not always arrive so easily at their destination. There are always intercepters who work very hard to divert what is carried along these paths.”[11] These origin of these interceptions, interventions is from the outside the transmission while they also swell up from inside the message. In ancient Greece the god of messengers (and of trade and commerce as well!) was Hermes, with his bag and his winged feet; presented frequently in doorways, he is perpetually in between the beginning and the end. But we shouldn’t forget that Hermes was also a trickster god, like the Celt’s Puck, the Hopi’s Kokopelli, or Haitain Voudou’s Papa Legba – himself the lord of communication and gateways. When Hermes brings you a message, there is no guarantee that it is what was intended.

Everything travels through the hands of Hermes. He is well-placed; hence, there are good places. Everything passes through his hands, because, more or less, everything is transformed in his hands. The exchanger is also a transformer. At least by the change of directions, at least by the division of flows, by bifurcation, at least by semiconduction, one-way streets and no entries, at least by orientation. Hermes is the god of the crossroads and is the god of whom Maxwell made a demon. Thus the message, passing through his hands in the location of the exchanger, is changer. It arrives neither pure nor unvarying nor stable.[12]

When a parasite feeds into a host, it enters into a symbiotic relationship wherein the boundary between blurs. Like the orchid and the wasp we must consider the ways in which the host/parasite transform from two separate entities into a greater assemblage. It marks a change in the environment. Likewise, Serres’s own parasite is like turbulence, the interjection of disorder and non-linearity into a system to propel it towards forms of self-organizations. The human body, as parasite, noise, or turbulence in the wider social body can move in this same direction, concentrating itself on the intervention into channels of communication. Serres proposes the term “parastasis” against homeostasis; parastasis is circumstance, chance and complexity.[13] It is precisely the breakdown of homeostasis and the movement away from equilibrium, the opening onto a horizon of flux where there are new forms and new channels to be found.

The relationship between the excluded third and flux is to be found in Asger Jorn and his notion of the triolectics, a retooling of the Hegelian dialectic and a new configuration of Marxist thought. A founder of the International Movement for an Imaginist Bauhaus and then the Situationist International, Jorn was an artistic and a pataphysician, extolling the virtues the science of imaginary solutions that allowed life to blossom and expand in ways unrealizable by the toil of industrial society. If history unfolded through the antagonism between the thesis and antithesis and their resolution in the synthesis (in communication theory, this would take the form of the decoding of the message, a synthesis from the exchange from the one to the two), then it was unfolding with a deterministic linearity, regardless of expression and open-ended experimentation. The triolectics was the intervention of the dialectic with a third force that makes the synthesis all but impossible; in one example, he asks what would happen if a football match was to take place with a third team on a six-angled playing field. “First of all one wants to quickly discover that it is impossible to control who of the two enemies attacking is shooting the goal. It becomes necessary to turn the rules around…”[14] The whole game, founded upon the tension between the first team and the second, would dissolve into a strange and unpredictable experience with no clear outcome, no clear rules or regulations. There can only be new forms, strategies, and games to emerge from the intervention of the third force.

The Dionysian experiences antagonism as alternation, flux, turbulence, complexity, and Marxism still has not quite internalized this. While Jorn still speaks in a Marxist vein of dialectics, he reads this dialectics as flux. Creation emerges out of giving oneself over to the play of alternating and ramifying movement, out which something new can arise organically.[15]

McKenzie Wark observes that Jorn’s rejection of Marxist historical determinism through a play with flux, complexity and emergence in many ways “anticipates the Spinozism of Gilles Deleuze.”[16] It also moves in the same areas as Georges Bataille’s own critique of the Hegelian dialectic. For Bataille, Hegel’s project of unriddling the systematics of progression is worthwhile endeavor which maintains critical misstep: it functions as a “vain attempt at equilibrium and harmony with an existing, active, official world.”[17] The culmination of the Hegelian dialectic is the end of history itself, the fragments weaving around themselves into a total absolute; Bataille understands this end as the attainment of a perfect and total knowledge, in the acquisition of knowing itself. But for there to be knowledge there is an unknown, always some outside to knowledge that knowledge maintains a reciprocal relationship to and vice versa. One cannot fold existence itself within knowledge, as the architects of the current global abstract machine hope to do. “There is in understanding a blind spot…”[18] This blind spot is precisely that which exists outside the dialectical process, and is thus the excluded third Like Jorn, Bataille calls on the subversive powers of the ludic as a means of realizing the unknown – “desire, poetry, laughter, unceasingly cause life to slip in the opposite direction” of Hegel’s absolute synthesis, “moving from the known to the unknown.” Poems, ecstasy, these too are elements of the outside, and “Hegel gets rid of them in a hurry: he knows of no other end than knowledge.”[19]

What was the aim of the derive, the great drift, other than the cultivation of new poems, new ecstasies, and counter-knowledges and means of expression in the fabric of everyday life? The question becomes, when this fabric is unsettled in such a technologically mediated upheaval, what new sense of the ludic, of unmediated experience and transformative power, can we find today?

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[1] “Théorie de la dérive”  Internationale Situationniste #2, December 1958. http://www.bopsecrets.org/SI/2.derive.htm

[2] For the clearest invocations of this see Jean Francois Lyotard’s Libidinal Economy (Indiana University Press, 1993) and Driftworks (Semiotext(e), 1984)

[3] Nick Land “Meltdown” Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings, 1987-2007 Urbanomic, 2011, pg. 445

[4] Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire Penguin Press, 2004, pgs. 190-192

[5] Ibid, pg. 192

[6] Afrika G.R.U.P.P.E.” “Communication Guerrilla: Transversality in Everyday Life?” September, 2002 http://www.republicart.net/disc/artsabotage/afrikagruppe01_en.htm

[7] Joseph Nechvatal (eds.) Minoy Punctum Books, 2014, pg. 83

[8]Michel Serres Genesis University of Michigan Press, 1997, pg. 52

[9]Charles Sanders Peirce and Justus Buchler (ed.) The Philosophical Writings of Peirce Dover, 1955, pg. 80

[10]Robin Lydenberg Word Cultures: Radical Theory and Practice in William S. Burroughs’ Fiction University of Illinois Press, 1987 pg. 127

[11]Michel Serres The Parasite The University of Minnesota Press, 2007, pg. 11

[12]Ibid, pg. 43

[13]Ibid, pg. 192

[14]Quoted in Skånes Konstförening “Uncertain Triolectics & A Very Short Introduction to Nothing” http://www.perbrunskog.info/uncertain-triolectics–a-very-short-introduction-to-nothing.html

[15]McKenzie Wark The Beach Beneath the Street Verso, 2011, pg. 50

[16]Ibid, pg. 53

[17]Georges Bataille Inner Experience State University of New York Press, 1988 pg. 110

[18] Ibid

[19] Ibid, pg. 111

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8 Responses to The Posthuman and the Information Guerrilla

  1. S.C. Hickman says:

    Reblogged this on dark ecologies and commented:
    Edmund has a great historical awareness of what flows into all of our so called posthuman discourses. In this one he brings out the notions of Serres and others linking the ludic play of artists, poets, musicians, performance arts, etc. – the street noise of the people as Information Bandits and Guerillas, as Parasites (Serres) upon the world of globalization capital bringing if not a counter-music, then a great Noise to disturb and perturb the global machine that is seeking to accelerate us into oblivion.

  2. S.C. Hickman says:

    Yea, this seems to flow as a great historical weaving into the history of both sides of the posthuman discourse. I was remembering Norman O. Brown’s Hermes book in which he also brings out the two-side or bladed discourse on Hermes as thief and pirate; but, that in Hellenistic Greece he was transmorgraphied into the God of Commerce. I like your juxtaposition of Information Guerillas and Noise bringers in the ludic disruption of capital.

    • edmundberger says:

      I didn’t know that Brown wrote a book on Hermes! Sounds pretty interesting, I might have to check that out when time allows me. And yeah, it is perhaps a moment of naivete but I can’t help but feel compelled to always return to the traditions of the avant-garde in looking for an escape route. While so many of their dreams were about connectability – such as the line running from the culture of spontaneity to the dot com fever – there is an equal, if not greater focus, on noise, interruption, error, and blockage. The question really becomes how to separate a possibly emancipatory ludic from developed capitalism’s own carnivals…

      • S.C. Hickman says:

        Yea, been reading Kroker. Have to agree with him, which takes in McLuhan’s notion of the ‘Dark Tetrad’, too. Out culture of technological posthumanism may be in the way of a great revenge-taking by technology on its human progenitors, a striking example of technology in its penultimate historical phase as the new imperial subaltern, always massively powerful and all the more so denying that it is powerful at all. That, of course, is the language of every technological innovation that first introduces itself in the language of facilitation – technologies for better communication, in-depth learning, faster reporting, precise archiving, awesome databases – just before the same technological innovations reintroduce themselves to an often unsuspecting humanity, and soon posthumanity, in the language of control – technologies of surveillance, acquisition, monitoring, substituting, replacing. Understood as an exit to the posthuman future, “premonitory thought” is situated in an eerie historical fracture between technologies of facilitation and control. What is more uncanny is that technologies of control now possess purely psychological qualities of ressentiment and revenge-taking, providing, at first, the normative standards of intelligibility against which an always (technically) deficient human species-form is destined to fail. In the most literal sense, the distinguishing element of the posthuman scene is that technology has now come alive, with all that entails in terms of a future technical reenactment of the promise and danger of the now superseded human species.

        Kroker, Arthur (2014-03-12). Exits to the Posthuman Future (p. 27-28). Wiley. Kindle Edition.

  3. dmfant says:

    Reblogged this on synthetic_zero and commented:
    good to have edmund back blogging, if you haven’t read him before do yourself a favor and dive in.

  4. Pingback: An Information Guerrilla Reader | Deterritorial Investigations Unit

  5. Pingback: Sketches on Mutant Design (or, Situationism at the after party) | Deterritorial Investigations Unit

  6. Pingback: Sketches on Mutant Design (or, Situationism at the after party) | synthetic_zero

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