[iDC] iDC Digest, Vol 55, Issue 31

Alan Sondheim sondheim at panix.com
Sun Jul 19 22:09:31 UTC 2009

Jonathan, your response is brilliant - I mean that in all honesty, some- 
thing to be pondered and thought and rethought. It raised nothing more 
than questions at my end, which I think to pose, not having answers, or 
having ones that only 'work' for me.

Is there a media theory, or media theories? Must a media theory be 
_responsive_ to anything in particular or at all? Does any theory _have_ 
to be anything in particular? Must a theory be 'critical of its conditions 
of emergence'? Certainly relativity theory is, to take another example but 
I can also see a certain wisdom in ignoring what might amount to a 
misreognition of historicity. I think a speaking subject carries a 
problematic of essentialism and authenticity, in general; in the case of 
theorizing, it seems somehow 'stronger.' Need avatar or picture carry 
such? At times it seems to me an avatar is 'diacritical' or at best a 
floating signifier; this is an issue in relation to Scott's and Patrick's 
considerations of labor in Second Life. (Perhaps in other words, is the 
virtual virtual?) I'm drawn personally to considerations of exploitation: 
what is going on, world-wide, is horrifying, and with all the theory I've 
read (perhaps not enough), I do not understand it; at this point 
exploitation is so tied into networking on one hand and global ecological 
issues on the other, that it's hard (for me) to get a handle on it. The 
question here is - How do you teach these issues, in such a manner that 
students or others in general are motivated? How do you avoid coccooning 
on one hand and catatonia on the other? Re: The condition of philosophy: 
How is this the condition of philosophy generally? There are also 
philosophies of withdrawal, of course, opening space for thought in 
environments that are inherently thoughtless. Is society hierarchical? 
Perhaps collocations, holarchic might be a better description? One issue I 
try to deal with, which is literally alien to this discussion but perhaps 
relevant (from a viewpoint deliberately cutting itself off) is that of 
contemporary physics/cosmology - I'm not referring to science as ideology 
or the political economy of research (say the LHC), but the models 
emerging/competing - multiverse, noncommutative geometries, the 
holographic universe, string theory/branes, quantum and other logics, 
spinors, etc. - and the matheses related to this: how to make sense of a 
world which, no matter which model subsumes the others, is alien to such a 
degree that models are abstracted _without_ representation or visualiza- 
tion? I wonder if a theory need even be experimentally testable; certainly 
there are reasons to think otherwise - so that a certain kind of founda- 
tion assumed all along (just as Kuhn's paradigm was assumed for decades 
and is now questionable) might be just another chimera.
In which case where does any theory of media reside? Certainly within and 
without labor, but also within and without theories of perception that, it 
seems to be, are themselves tottering - just as perception itself might be 
considered tottering. (On another scale, what does it mean to 'perceive 
Tweeter'? What is the 'labor of Tweeter'? Where is the 'intellectual prop- 
erty of Tweeter'? I know these are the wrong questions - but then what 
does happen to the categories we're familiar with?)
Can you say more about the 'theories of cognitive capitalism' and/or point 
me to a source on this? It's of great interest. -
Again, I want to thank you because your response is thought out in a 
manner that, for me, goes beyond this statement/text/whatever, and applies 
to utterance in general.

yours, Alan

On Sun, 19 Jul 2009, Jonathan Beller wrote:

> I want to thank Alan for so directly and provocatively voicing his concerns 
> with respect to my statements about the imperatives of contemporary media 
> theory, concerns which clearly are his, but very likely not only his. In 
> response I would like to point out that although I suggested that what we are 
> here calling "theory" operates under imperatives to be of service to social 
> justice since its condition of possibility is social inequality -- and if 
> theory is to be thought, then it necessarily must be critical of the 
> conditions of its emergence -- neither statements of this type nor my 
> utilization of my "own" subject position as one framework among others for 
> staging the drama and imperatives of this kind of endeavor is in itself 
> particularly essentialist or, for that matter, authentic. Would it make any 
> sense to say that an avatar is authentic, or that a picture is essentialist?
> Alan, as you note, the issues here are not trivial and I completely agree. 
> What I see happening in the language of your response to me is the 
> functioning of a set of linguistic subroutines that process/interpret my 
> transmission along certain metaphysical lines. I did not say anything about 
> authenticity, you (as it were) however, recognized something in my message 
> that felt/meant like authenticity, and expressed ambivalence about this 
> perception: on the one hand you seem to have been drawn to some of the claims 
> regarding exploitation and theory's commitment to being relevant to that 
> problematic, on the other you were perhaps repulsed by what you may have felt 
> to be the repressive exclusion of the suggestion that theory had to be this 
> committed practice, whatever else it might be.
> In my conclusion to the letter you responded to, you can see that I placed 
> "rightfully," "belongs" and "global south" in quotation marks, as if to 
> acknowledge that these words invoked metaphysical concepts that only held if 
> one were aligned with the movement of my thought up to that point, and 
> furthermore that this movement was contingent. Putting these words in 
> quotation marks was itself a way of being open to other realities, as you 
> say, and an explicit recognition that what my transmission desired to cast as 
> a form of truth was (tragically?) not guaranteed -- indeed the proper role of 
> theory, who thought belongs to, and who are its constituents and 
> beneficiaries are among the questions being debated. The increasing 
> inadequacy of language itself to represent the world in which we live is, in 
> my view anyway, part of the problematic of media theory which must deal with 
> the onslaught of visuality -- a phenomenon which at once marginalizes the 
> traditional roles and capabilities of language and forces it to function 
> increasingly as images do. When, after invoking the contingencies above, I 
> asked "how to be adequate to such a reality?" -- a "reality" that includes 
> both the production and reproduction of hierarchical society and 
> capital-mediation in and through visuality -- and did not place "reality" in 
> quotation marks, that exclusion was a rhetorical (i might even say poetic) 
> choice on my part, an effort to produce the image of the ring of truth (a 
> sound, by the way), _as if_ the metaphysical questions about contingency 
> could be left behind. However the statement was less philosophical and more 
> performative at that point -- it being recognized of course that 
> performativity is (now) the condition of philosophy generally. The phrase was 
> meant to mark the ineffable yet necessary movement of the possibility of 
> justice. Thus I might call it a utopian gesture haunted by contingency, a 
> projection of a certain form of redemptive possibility that, to take things 
> too far, would be as beautiful as it is impossible -- the last flower in 
> Pan's Labyrinth. I'm not saying that my letter achieved anything like this 
> kind of movement (it really was not so carefully considered), but I am 
> endeavoring here to say something about method: To make the words line up to 
> produce the image of an actionable object is to strive to create "a natural 
> perspective that is and is not," to coin a phrase. It is to produce, even 
> momentarily, a full, desirable and pragmatic version of the world in an ocean 
> of competing images and contingent claims -- what Jameson called the 
> marketplace of ideas, but today is really just the marketplace in general. 
> There may be the illusion of authenticity and of metaphysical ground, but 
> there is nothing guaranteed about any of it.
> Having said all this, I recognize that my particular exercise of such 
> tactics, is not to everyone's taste. Like others, I do the best that I can, 
> to operate in a matrix of mediations, and navigate towards becomings that may 
> well be ultimately unfounded and unobtainable. Plying the myriad codes and 
> mediations today (what used to be called writing) is perhaps an experience of 
> what has been called post-representational democracy -- a movement through 
> the infinite claims of history to date. However, we have not left 
> representation behind entirely, even though we have a new set of terms that 
> would include affect, intensity, viscerality, visuality and others, that are 
> available as tools to calculate, measure, think, feel and strategize with. 
> This is where we work -- all of us, at least to some degree -- isn't that 
> what the theories of cognitive capitalism point to? To write is to wager, it 
> is to make a prediction, which as Gramsci taught us, is in fact, a programme.
> Again, Alan, thanks for the opportunity to reflect on these issues. There is 
> implicit in what I said, some thoughts on the production of consciousness, 
> but I'll leave more explicit remarks on that topic for another time.
> Kind regards,
> Jon
> Jonathan Beller
> Professor
> Humanities and Media Studies
> and Critical and Visual Studies
> Pratt Institute
> jbeller at pratt.edu
> 718-636-3573 fax

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