[iDC] Re: Toward a Post-Post-Critical Future

Brian Holmes brian.holmes at wanadoo.fr
Fri Sep 29 20:51:23 EDT 2006

Trebor Scholz wrote:
> To give up the field of the technological imaginary is wrong because it
> leaves that space entirely to the "other" side of technology. It takes
> many individuals to get a social movement on the way.   

Yeah, exactly, that's for sure!

What I currently like in the "Post-Critical Future" is the 
future part...

The current level of criticism now tends to lag far behind 
the development of both technology and governmental theory, 
imho. Both in terms of complexity, and of brute materiality. 
The RFID phenomenon is a perfect example. On the one hand 
this is mainly about inventory. As corporations go seriously 
global they are confronted with new problems of managing 
stock, distribution and sales. RFID tagging is conceived 
first of all to know what left the factory, what's in the 
warehouse and what's in the store. Such knowledge is 
instrumental to the expansion of corporation toward 
oligopoly status - that means, being one of the 3-10 players 
accounting for the majority of activity in a given 
industrial and commercial sector, across the world. The 
impact of these oligopolies, in terms of homogenization of 
the world space, is tremendous. I find that art practices 
based on the old trope of singularizing the product by 
imbuing it with the idiosyncrasies of your personal behavior 
are kind of, well, silly compared to this brute materiality. 
You're fooling yourself, deliberately, if you think 
individualizing the commodity is an interesting strategy. 
You're also fooling yourself if you think someone wants to 
surveil you. They don't care. The corporations operate on 
behavioral statistics garnered at the global level.

Production, distribution and retailing are, however, only 
three out of five pieces in corporate strategy. The other 
two are advertising and customer feedback. In terms of the 
latter, the potential contribution of RFID tech remains more 
speculative, but it fits into the general pattern of vastly 
expanded data-gathering on consumer behavior. The great goal 
is to generate continuous and finely grained feedback 
(starting, for instance, with tracing customer behavior 
within the planned environment of the store) so as to 
improve the targeting of advertising and in this way, gain 
greater control over the structuring and predictability of 
markets, which since the 1880s has been perceived as the key 
to realizing a profit on expanded production. Here, 
statistics are used as clues for transforming environments. 
Change the layout of the store, change the advertising 
signals, change the behavior of the consumer. It's a very 
old and banal kind of logic. And yet this is where the 
current transformations of governmental theory begin.

It is difficult not to be deeply shocked and worried by the 
success of the current American government in making 9/11 
into a new Pearl Harbor. This indicates a pretty high level 
of capacity to perform affective and intellectual control. 
Again this is done, first by the application of 
data-gathering techniques (from questionnaires to focus 
groups to data-mining of communications), then by the 
modeling (or simulation) of a population's behavior, then by 
subsequent experimentation with the introduction of new 
stimuli, first into the model, then into reality. How about 
yellow, orange, red on the nightly news? How about on your 
dinner table? What effects would it produce on segment A of 
the population? On segment B, C, D? At stake in contemporary 
governmental theory, now more than ever, is the notion that 
one need not act on individual players, but rather on the 
rules of the game. Such interventions on the parameters of 
human interaction have already been enormously successful at 
the institutional level, in the context of what is known as 
"neoliberal reform" (or in Europe, "new public management"). 
The goal has been to impose the calculation of one's 
personal human capital, and of the risks to which one 
exposes it, as the two great imperatives of 
hyperindividualized subjectivity in the post-welfare world. 
But that was yesterday, practically the age of innocence. In 
the age of nano-bio-cogno-infotech convergence, the range of 
"rules" which can be acted on is tremendous. As Jordan 
Crandall points out in a recent text, what's being targetted 
is that fraction of a second where you decide what to do, 
before any process of reflexivity has been engaged. Hit the 
right button and they'll never think twice! From the 
neurochemical to the symbolic, Big Brother has already 
decided what you are going to do.

The "intelligent buildings" being discussed on this list 
form a perfect example of a cybernetic environment that is 
conceived to support a particular range of interaction. What 
I find inadequate - and at a certain level, even 
hypocritical - are the kinds of strategies that are 
suggested in terms of responding to this incredible wave of 
new theory and new materiality of top-down control. The 
discussion of Paske's "ill-defined goals" is mildly 
interesting in this regard - at least people are thinking 
about the problems of interactivity and its limited range of 
binary choices - but still, an aleatory encounter with a 
slightly dysfunctional machine is very unlikely to produce 
anything more than an isolated inquiry as to what might be 
going on in the more common experiences of normalized 
interaction. As a critic, I think that the ambition of the 
inquiries is much too low. As an experimenter, of course I 
am very interested to go out and try just about anything - 
but I don't expect to see much in the way of a result before 
the theory gets a lot better. As a reader of the history of 
the avant-gardes, I think a rehash of psychogeography tends 
to remain yesterday's solutions to yesterday's problems.

The most dismaying thing to me is the slavishness of people 
who call themselves artists or intellectuals, with respect 
to their careers. The fetish-object that holds you on a 
leash is mainly the way you think you are appearing in the 
eye of your potential employer (or admirer, in an attention 
economy). This seems to condition the vast majority of work 
on so-called new media or whatever you want to call it, 
where instead of state bureaucracies as in the equally 
tiresome worlds of subsidized contemporary art, it is rather 
telcos and equipment manufacturers who put up the money for 
the service rendered by the artist: which consists in 
naturalizing the new technology for the succesful anesthesia 
of that shrinking fraction of the public who might 
statistically be presumed capable of feeling alienated and 
putting up some token resistance.

I would say that the above critique, cast in much more 
precise terms and supported with specific case studies 
(which I myself both do and also look for, by the way), 
would constitute a sufficient departure point for something 
a little more interesting. One of the things that could be 
done right away is to use mobile communications media to 
constitute groups which could build up a sensory, narrative 
and relational consistency between each other, on a 
deliberately singularizing basis, at collective variance 
with respect to the norms of contemporary 
hyperindividualism. Such groups could both report on the 
manipulatory characteristics of the environments they 
encounter (exploring, for instance, the kinds of intelligent 
buildings or urban screens that now modulate our passage 
through cities) and at the same time, develop dissident 
mythologies, heteronomic signifying practices, alternative 
sensoriums. The capacity to speak a language and to inhabit 
an affective universe that peels away from the constantly 
reiterated codes is not something that will fall ripe from 
the sky or emerge full-blown from an aleatory experience, 
but is rather the fruit of a long, immense, and reasoned 
disordering of all the senses, to recall the phrase of an 
earlier era. But today that entails a critique of the 
immense labor of imposing order that is going on all around 
us. The moment of believing you could "get there first" and 
determine the destiny of a new technological phylum by sheer 
force of enthusiasm has been gone since the tech bubble 
burst and the corps started demanding hard returns on their 
investment. Nowadays, doing anything real means accepting a 
minority, undergound status and all the undertainties of 
working without any clear support or public. The elected 
representatives of a democratic country just voted to fuck 
off the Geneva convention. At the very best, the 
post-critical future is a name for a contemporary utopia.

best, BH

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