[iDC] "The first rule of data centers is...

Brian Holmes brian.holmes at aliceadsl.fr
Sat Jun 27 17:19:27 UTC 2009

Jonathan Beller wrote:

 > As Mark says, "the server farms might better be described 
as server
 > "factories" -- spaces where the productive aspect of 
monitoring is
 > separated out from the range of monitored activities. The 
fact that
 > these spaces are private, commercial ones, is neither 
natural nor
 > necessary, but is the legacy of historical forms of 
enclosure -- the
 > continuation of enclosure as a form of separation (of 
users from their
 > date, data producers from the means of data processsing), 
what Massimo
 > De Angelis has described as a process of continuous 
 > As far as I am concerned, this statement also answers one 
of the major
 > methodological questions pre-occupying this list serve -- 
the one that
 > would focus solely on the specific case-studies and would 
do so in an
 > effort to imply that there are certain non-exploitative 
forms of
 > interactivity. For the moment it seems that progress is 
not foreclosed,
 > certainly, not all agency or organizational practices are 
the same -- by
 > no means-- but it seems to me that none are entitled to a 
free pass,
 > none of us are going to get off the hook so easily.

Thanks, Mark and Jonathan, for your remarks which together 
made a very welcome read for me. Indeed, none of us are 
going to get off the hook so easily, because we are all 
involved in a society which exalts predatory relations 
("healthy competition") and simultaneously tries to mask 
them as the realization of human potential ("creativity," 
"excellence," etc.).

Throughout this decade, as mega-gentrification transformed 
cities for the exclusive use of those with access to the 
wealth-effects of financial capital, it was obvious that the 
so-called creative industries were one of the masked faces 
of the predatory principle, either offering artists and 
other cultural producers the chance to be deluded into 
thinking they too could take a share of profit, or 
explaining that private-public partnerships would now 
provide the opportunity of wonderful cultural interaction to 
everyone for free. For example, according to Jean Burgess in 
a recent post here, YouTube would provide "a more effective 
vehicle for the popular memorialisation of television," 
essentially allowing people to freely construct monuments to 
their own servitude! Now that the extent of the Ponzi 
schemes and the insider trading has been revealed, why 
should one trust the creativity consultants or any of the 
characteristic forms of governance that emerged from the 
late 1990s onward, or indeed, from the early 1980s onward, 
when neoliberalism began?

To be sure, the continuing eagerness to believe in such 
things is largely explained by the self-interest of the 
believers. But it poses a real problem, the fundamental 
problem of our time: How to help generate a political 
consciousness -- a "class consciousness," to bring up the 
terms of a previous discussion -- that can resist the 
interlocking structures of ideology and self-interest that 
have paralyzed the capitalist democracies and kept all of us 
locked into a mode of development that is clearly a dead end?

It seems to me that a contemporary reply to Marx's program 
of class consciousness is the highest challenge to which one 
can aspire, and the real reason for living as an engaged 
intellectual. To take Christian's approach and to define a 
class in itself, as an object of exploitation, will produce 
some necessary knowledge of the processes whereby we are all 
conducted to an increasingly predictable disaster; but from 
my view it does not even make sense to carry out that kind 
of work without any political horizon, without any address 
to potential agents of transformation. I understand how Sean 
  can be led by the panorama of contemporary social reality 
to Heidegger's sad old idea of humanity as a standing 
reserve; but it's still a sad old idea, and the chances of 
our fellow men and women effecting a metaphysical purge of 
3,000 years of Western ideas, as Heidegger demands, are 
pretty slim. More promising to my eyes are the chances that 
large numbers of people will resist the cultural enclosure, 
immiseration, food poisoning, police repression, war and 
ecological collapse that are now the visible signposts on 
"the road ahead" of informational capitalism. For many 
years, leftist intellectuals in the Anglo-Saxon countries 
have been totally isolated by the rising credit-fuelled 
prosperity of the middle classes, which continually opened 
up spaces of professional neutralization for all but the 
most committed and the most alienated fringes of those who 
managed to get some kind of education. Now the situation is 
somewhat different, as the pillage of the economy by the 
predatory corporate state, in Britain no less than the USA 
(and I wonder about Australia?), is such that current 
generations are actually waking up to some degree, even as 
the prospect of continuing sinecures for radical thought in 
the university system goes down. Isn't now the time to begin 
developing research strategies that include a specific kind 
of address, one that can elicit some socially cooperative 
response to the failures of the Anglo-American political 
economy of the last 30 years?

I wonder, Mark, if this is a concern for you. Your recent 
book strikes me as among the best in the domain of 
surveillance studies, because instead of engaging in the 
usual liberal "yes, there is some abuse, but you've got to 
understand the reasons, the justifications, the necessities, 
etc.," you instead home right in on the multiple and 
converging trends toward the objectification of populations 
through the data-mining and analysis of the vast quantities 
of informatic traces that we now leave everywhere on our 
journey through life (and not only through our heavily 
fetishized uses of the Web). At the end of the book iSpy (I 
always read the end first) you do not just make the usual 
rhetorical appeal to reform, but you lay out a minimal 
program for the achievement of democratic interactivity. 
Good enough, but do you think it is good enough? Could you 
imagine developing a different research strategy that would 
retain the gains of critical paranoia -- the only approach, 
imho, that allows one to begin perceiving the contours of 
reality -- but not generate the dismal feeling of no exit 
which, at this point in the game, tends increasingly to 
reinforce the post-political paralysis of the consumed 

I have a similar question for Jonathan, whose book The 
Cinematic Mode of Production is probably the most original 
work of Marxist aesthetics to be written in America since 
Jameson's The Postmodern Condition. To convince yourselves 
of that, just read the introduction that Jonathan sent in 
his second post. The chapter on Vertov is extremely 
inspiring, showing the Soviet filmmaker's attempt to render 
the industrial production process conscious and available 
for both critique and informed participation by the entire 
population that partakes in it. Someone with a knowledge of 
both global logistical processes and radical net culture 
over the last twenty years could write a companion essay and 
then we would at last have the feeling of living with open 
eyes and beating hearts in the present! Of course, most of 
the book is devoted instead to the zombie condition imposed 
on people by a cinematic mode of consciousness that does 
everything to obscure its own (and therefore, our own) 
conditions of production. You write, with reference to 
Adorno and the Frankfurt School, "Thus far, only the 
negative dialectic allows us to think the political economy 
of the visual and hence the paradigm of a global dominant. 
Negation, however, has very serious limits that ultimately 
may include it as among the psychopathological strategies 
modulated by Hollywood." Have you gotten further toward a 
mode of articulation that can open up some resistant 
activity _inside the belly of the whale_, which may not be 
where we belong but is certainly where we are today?

all the best, Brian

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