[iDC] Fwd: introduction

Christopher Kelty ckelty at gmail.com
Thu Dec 4 21:39:26 UTC 2008

my response to jose, I didn't realize he had forwarded it to the list.


---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Christopher Kelty <ckelty at gmail.com>
Date: Tue, Dec 2, 2008 at 3:07 PM
Subject: Re: [iDC] introduction
To: jose alvergue <jose.felipe.alvergue at gmail.com>


thanks for writing, these are hard questions :)

to start, my use of the word function was meant simply to index the
importance of asking why all the fantastic mechanisms and technologies
of distributed, "social" web 2.0 software and services are valuable.
In terms of the concept of a recursive public, which was primarily
intended to characterize free software, but may be applicable to other
phenomena, that function is more like the idea of a future anterior
(since we already in the domain of french philosophy).  A recursive
public is self-grounding and constituted by attention to issues:  it
needs people (not always the same people) to be actively and
constantly focused.  The function of such a public is to keep the
future open: to consider always whether the changes we make today--to
political structure, to technology, to code--leave open the
possibility for change tomorrow.  This is that "agency" of free
software you cite... Free Software itself has to carry with it and
make available the means and the meaning for this openness; and my
definition of Free Software is that is an assemblage of practices
(part two of the book).  Impermanence is a nice way of capturing it...
i'd be interested to read that. Impermanence of the sort that that is
rigorously and thoroughly impermanent, one that maintains its
impermanence in the fact of every attempt to make it permanent.

As for the craft-element...  yes this is the right question.  I think
there is a starting point in Arendt's notion of work.  Sennet's new
book on this subject picks up on this as well.  It is not the product
of labor that generates a public (and indeed, a world) but the freedom
of work.  The case of experimental poetry is a good one... and you
seem to have thought a lot about it.  I'm not sure "exhaustion" is the
right way to think of it when it comes to Free Software, because we
really are talking about infrastructures and technologies essential to
our basic social lives at this point, and so I like "impermanence"
much more in that context.

But these are great questions I cannot do justice to... keep them
coming.  I would  have loved to write this book in the idiom of
Nancy...of whom I was at one time a devoted reader,  but ultimately
that isn't where I was led...


On Tue, Dec 2, 2008 at 7:07 AM, jose alvergue
<jose.felipe.alvergue at gmail.com> wrote:
> Hello Christopher Kelty,
> I was a student of Trebor's at UB a while back ago. This topic is quite
> interesting for me and I am very appreciative of your email. Is it all right
> to ask you a few questions? They me seem a bit un-informed/ unformed, so I
> apologize, but I'm currently knocking on the door of my dissertation and in
> need of thinking out-loud so to speak.
> I have a question regarding "public function" (it might be answered by
> reading your book, but I have not gotten the chance to do so as of yet):
> what revelatory role do you assign "function" in this notion of publicity?
> Or of bringing the process to a publicly maintained distribution of roles?
> Or is it in fact something other than the actual distribution of roles, and
> perhaps more related to the sharing of its being revealed, and explained
> publicly? To these questions I would ask of myself, "what is 'it'"?
> The notion of a "recursive public" is very interesting to me. I work within
> poetics and aesthetics, but also spend a great deal of energy building links
> between the behaviors isolated by architectural, artistic, and technic
> interactions. Along this research I've come to specify the term
> "impermanence" (which will soon appear in the International Dictionary of
> Literary Terms), and I'm very excited at the intersections between the
> implications of this term with the activity of a recursive public, and here
> I quote you:
> "...they
> wish to devise ways to give the playing field a certain kind of agency, effected through the agency of many different humans, but checked by its technical and legal structure and openness...
> It is an ethic of justice shot through with an aesthetic of technical elegance and legal cleverness."
> And it seems like this constitution of a public, a spatial and temporal
> occurrence, coupled with the activity that gives it "intention" relies on
> the force of Event, or poetics (as a sort of mode of being), to transcend
> the limits of representational humanism as it is played out in Law,
> Politics, Art, Technology, etc. What is left after this revealing of its
> "self" seems to be an essence to the mode of being human, to being in
> relation, to being with our own inherent craft of making - even in a basic,
> primitive sense if not an advanced, technic or abstracted capacity. The
> process is what sustains the duration of its own unconcealment, which in
> turn - the revealing/unconcealing - embodies and informs "an" intentional
> (democratic) public.
> My question, again, then could be reworded, how can we ensure that what is
> given public relevance is the craft-element of "function" and not the
> embodied product of it, the "value" of function? In a sense, it's a
> rethinking of Capital - to keep in "it" the spirit of relation, but take
> from it the aura of value. Revealed as such, does a process stand as a
> process, and how close is that process to the notion of "partage" - or
> distribution in the sense certain thinkers like Irigaray, Nancy, and Rancier
> think it?
> I suppose my urgency comes from the awareness I've come to develop by
> working within experimental poetry, and somehow believing and arguing that
> the work should be (must be) of popular relevance - but it will never be.
> And so _the_ public, or _a_ public, as a term for thinking might always
> elude the potential of its own transcendence by the fact that distribution
> exhausts its own material self, in the way a community of participants
> exhaust their own substantial mode of participation. I don't believe
> exhaustion should be avoided, however. In fact, it's by way of that
> exhaustion that the force of a present reality is re-stated, repeated, or
> given to recursive practice. So what exciting possibility is given over to
> the term democracy so that it might not be a "term" - a representation - but
> the actual essence of a human craft?
> josé
> On Mon, Dec 1, 2008 at 6:05 PM, Christopher Kelty <ckelty at gmail.com> wrote:
>> Trebor asked me to introduce myseflf to this list, which i'm very
>> happy to do since it includes lo ts of people whose work I know and
>> respect and a few people I know personally.  For those who don't know
>> me, I am trained in anthropology and history (science and technology
>> studies, more specifically), and I wrote a book about Free Software
>> called /Two Bits: The Cultural Significance of Free Software/
>> (http://twobits.net).  Trebor and I had a very interesting discussion
>> about one of the concepts central to that book, namely "recursive
>> public" which was a way of trying to capture what made free software
>> distinctive--and whether it remains distinctive in this way as its
>> ideas and practices percolate into all kind of other areas of, as this
>> list has it, distributed creativity (Michel Bauwens excerpted my
>> explanation of this concept on the P2P foudation wiki
>> http://p2pfoundation.net/Recursive_Public).
>> For me, that concept was specific to free software, as it existed in
>> the period from roughly 1998-2002.  Lots of things have changed since
>> then, obviously, some features of which are explored in part 3 of my
>> book.  But it's clear that the purity of the idea of a recursive
>> public as I describe it doesn't apply to most of the current
>> generation of "open" "free" "social" "web 2.0" etc. projects out
>> there, whether facebook and myspace or the new generation of web
>> services, clouds, grids and so on.  Nonetheless, I like to think the
>> concept remains diagnostic for new projects because it points to the
>> role of democracy, participation and dialogue which increasingly
>> occurs not only in discourse, but in software, infrastructures, and
>> tools.  In part, this comes from my desire to shift the discussion,
>> occasionally, away from mechanism and towards function... why are all
>> these versions of openness, sociality, distributedness and so forth
>> considered good?  And how can we more rigorously examine whether or
>> not they are goods of the sort presumed?
>> My current projects are turning towards places where I think this will
>> matter most in the future.  One has been nanotechnology, which is both
>> a collaboration (http://opensourcenano.net) and an academic project.
>> Nano matters in this realm for a particular reason:  distributed risk
>> forecasting of new and unknown environmental and biological materials.
>>  Most of nano is focused on making fancy new toys and devices, but
>> there is also a surprisingly large community of people trying to
>> figure out how to forecast the risks of nanomaterials.  The old
>> paradigms associated with the FDA, EPA and chemical regualtion (in the
>> US, the EU has REACH, which is much more interesting) are clearly
>> insufficient, not only for nano, but for all kinds of new risks, like
>> melamine in chinese milk products.  I think there is a role here for
>> "distributed creativity" whether that takes the form of DIY Nano, or
>> something more like citizen science.
>> The other is the life sciences (especially genomics, post-genomics,
>> epigentics, post-epigentics, etc).  Current hype around companies and
>> projects like 23andMe and the Personal Genome Project is focused on
>> the applying the power of Google to our genomes.  I think this is a
>> good point to take a very critical approach, one grounded in the
>> ideals of Free Software.  One reason is to shift the discussion from
>> Privacy, which dominates the ethical discussions, to publicity, which
>> is virtually absent from discussions about these projects.  What
>> public function does commercial genome mapping serve, and how should
>> it be configured?  I'm at the beginning of these projects and I hope
>> this will be a place to discuss them as they evolve.
>> ck
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