Final Project!


Here is one of many possible versions of my final video essay:


Hopefully the project doesn’t lose too much of its full effect in this more constrained form, but until I level up my Max coding skills and learn how to turn patches into standalone apps, this the only way I know how to share the final product. I don’t necessarily want to say too much about the video itself because (ideally) it should make sense on its own; although what and how much “sense” it actually makes is a matter of each viewers’ susceptibility to the intended Burroughs-esque brainwashing tactics borrowed from his audiotape cut-ups. 

Based on some of the responses to my presentation, I do want to include a little more about the program I used to make the project, and use that as a way to hint towards some themes that I hope everyone was able to “unscramble” from the video.  Aside from just being a fun program to make things in, I’ve found myself returning to Max as an object of study because it is such an unrestricted “ecology” of incomplete elements.  In his “How I Learned to Love a Program That Does Nothing,” Max developer David Zicarelli explains that unlike a more maximal music composition software like Ableton Live or Logic which emphasize their built-in features and plug-ins, Max included as few parts as possible but those parts were meant to be endlessly connectable.  The interconnectivity of various elements became central to my project, through the plug-ins offered natively in Max, patches made my other users that I found on the Max web-forums, and my own audio/video files made outside of Max, I was able to build an “eco-system” of an essay. 

During the 1990s, in the early days of the internet on personal computers Sadie Plant applies a phrase from the French philosopher/psychoanalyst  Luce Irigaray about women to the computer, saying they are capable of “Nothing. Everything.”  This unity of seemingly opposing ideas comes from the French psychoanalytic tradition of approaching feminine subjects as un-unified sites for masculine subjects to mediate themselves through thanks to their intrinsically inter-connective nature and infinitely capacity for mimicry.

Plant saw the increasing presence of computers as a imminently liberating force for the subjugated feminine subjects, in describing the sort of thinking and acting they engender she says:

Every software development is a migration of control, away from man, in whom it has been exercised only as domination, and into the matrix… which has no place from historical man: he was merely its tool, and his agency was itself always a figment of its loop”

Like the hypertext literature coming out at the same time, Plant’s analysis was more optimistic than what has played out in reality as centralized social media corporations dominate much of the space on the internet.  Unlike hypertext works, which seem to have become dated after only a few years of interest, Plant’s take of the situation remains possible. Her reading is by no means entirely optimistic; she is quick to concede that much in the history of computing comes from militaristic and corporate desire for increased domination, but it is through these systems of cybernetic control that patriarchal institutions become open to subversion, hacking, undermining, etc. because of the sort of open-ended, decentralized, “feminine” thinking they produce.

Zicarelli’s description becomes especially interesting to me as a part of the lineage of the idea of computers as “universal machines.” Like Plant’s computer, or Irigaray’s woman, Max’s schema of basic, but connectable objects  lends itself to the production unconventional mechanisms and generative works. Where the hypertext offered readers a sense of agency as a part of the unfolding of the text, the cybernetic system Plant describes rejects centrality of the reader, the text, or the author in favor of a circuit on which the identities of all three run together and become indistinguishable from one another for the length of their connection.  In Max this often takes the form of building patches that operate independently, in a sense playing themselves, or invite participation from audiences and environments.  My project takes advantage of this in a fairly straightforward way which you can see the insides of here:

Step one of my process was to standardize the style of the videos I uploaded.  As you can see in the above photo, I sorted the videos into 5 types: 89 videos with texts, 4 web diagrams (centralized, decentralized, distributed, and a neural net), 5 images from Shelly Jackson’s Patchwork Girl, 4 “pop-ups,” and one “BLANK” screen.  All of these were set to the compatible color, contrast, and brightness so they wouldn’t conflict with each other when they were mixed together. Once organized in their respective playlists in Max, the videos were linked to controls operated by the music; turning on and off based on how many times the “Amen” drum break looped, with effects and positions on the screen being changed based on volume of certain frequencies as determined by the “Audiosplitter” object.  Because the music was also constantly changing, thanks to the same controls based on its own sonic elements, the video elements became increasingly indeterminate for both the viewers and for me.  Essentially, once I clicked the “X” in the top left corner, I gave up control of what was going to happen to the computer.

If you’re interested in downloading Max and running the patch that makes up my project this is its code you can paste right into an empty patcher (although it probably won’t actually work properly without the sound and video files that are local to my computer):































































































































And finally, the full collection of the text I used in my project, as well as a proper bibliography is available here.


Bolter, Jay David, and Richard Grusin. Remediation: Understanding New Media. Reprint edition. Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press, 2000.

Burroughs, William. Electronic Revolution 1970-71. 1st edition. Blackmoor Head Press, 1971.

Burroughs, William S. The Ticket That Exploded: The Restored Text. Edited by Oliver Harris. Revised edition. New York, NY: Grove Press, 2014.

Cuboniks, Laboria. “Laboria Cuboniks | Xenofeminism.” Accessed May 1, 2018.

Deleuze, Gilles, and Felix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Translated by Brian Massumi. 2 edition. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987.

Dement, Linda. Cyberflesh Girl Monster. 1995. CD-ROM.

Galloway, Alexander R. Protocol: How Control Exists after Decentralization. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2004.

Hayles, N. Katherine. How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics. 1 edition. Chicago, Ill: University of Chicago Press, 1999.

Jackson, Shelley. Patchwork Girl. Cdr edition. Watertown, Ma.: Eastgate Systems Inc, 1995.

Landow, George P. Hypertext 3.0: Critical Theory and New Media in an Era of Globalization. 3rd edition. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006.

“Linda Dement. “Cyberflesh Girlmonster.” Accessed May 1, 2018.

“Literary Hypertext: The Passing of the Golden Age.” Accessed May 1, 2018.

Livingston, David. “Imperfection.” Star Trek Voyager, October 11, 2000.

Plant, Sadie. “On the Matrix: Cyberfeminist Simulations.” In The Cybercultures Reader, edited by David Bell. Psychology Press, 2000.

Plant, Sadie. “The Future Looms: Weaving Women and Cybernetics.” Body & Society 1, no. 3–4 (November 1, 1995): 45–64.

Plant, Sadie. Zeros and Ones: Digital Women and the New Technoculture. London: Fourth Estate, 1998.

Plant, Sadie, and Nick Land. “Cyberpositive.” Accessed May 1, 2018.

Spinoza, Benedict de, and Stuart Hampshire. Ethics. Translated by Edwin Curley. London: Penguin Classics, 2005.

“STITCH BITCH: The Patchwork Girl.” Accessed May 1, 2018.

WEST, KANYE. “decentralize.” Tweet. @kanyewest, April 25, 2018.

———. “Fear Takes Strategy   Unlearn Linear Thinking   Hit You with These Zig Zag Thoughts.” Tweet. @kanyewest, April 25, 2018.



our culture wants both to multiply its media and to erase all traces of mediation: it wants to erase its media in the very act of multiplying technologies of mediation.

Immediacy depends upon hypermediacy

the mathematization of space makes the context or medium transparent, and provides immediate access to the world.

images, sound, text, animation and video, which can be brought together in any combination, offers ‘random access’; it has no physical beginning, middle, or end.

the windowed computer is both automatic and interactive at the same time

remediation is a defining characteristic of the new digital media

Media need each other in order to be media in the first place.

remediation as the inseparability of mediation and reality

mediatization occurs at the very historical moment when interpretation has asserted a kind of dominance.

remediation is a concept that applies to media in their simultaneous character as objects, as social relationships, and as formal structures.

the refashioning of a network of relationships is what defines a medium in our culture.

a new version of subjectivity, one that is embodied in the fragmented and multiple nature of hypertext

like masculinity and femininity, print and hypertext are distinct categories, with some characteristics determined by historical convention rather than essential differences.  A productive multiplicity arises from combining those aspects in ways that unsettle both categories.

Such open-ended structure, in which the reader’s choices play a crucial role in creating meaning, is often cited as a key feature of the hypertext novel and its radical potential, yet

Hypertext offers a medium and a metaphor for exploring the fragmented nature of subjectivity, a fragmentation that has long been associated with the feminine, though it is not exclusive to the female gender

“what is unnatural in print becomes natural in the electronic medium and will soon no longer need saying at all because it can be shown

the reader is not locked into any kind of particular organization or hierarchy. Experiences with various hypertext systems reveal that for those who choose to organize a session on the system in terms of authors… the system represents an old-fashioned, traditional, and in many ways still useful author-centered approach.On the other hand, nothing constrains the reader to work in this manner

nothing constrains the reader to work in terms of authors… the system represents an old-fashioned, traditional, and in many ways still useful author-centered approach

by removing the linearity of print, individual passages are freed from one ordering principle sequence-and threatens to transform the text into chaos. hypertext destroys the notion of a fixed unitary text. Considering the “entire” text in relation to its component parts produces the first form of fragmentation; considering it in relation to its variant readings and versions produces the second.

The dispersed textuality characteristic of this information technology calls into question some of the most basic assumptions about the nature of text and scholarly textual editing

The concepts (and experiences) of beginning and ending imply linearity. What happens to them in a form of textuality not governed chiefly by linearity?  If we assume that hypertextuality possesses multiple sequences rather than that it has an entire absence of linearity and sequence, it provides multiple beginnings and endings

Linking changes the experience of text and authorship by rendering the borders of all text permeable

Hypertext thereby blurs the distinction between what is inside and what is outside a text.  It makes all the texts connected to a block of text collaborate with that text.

new possibility of laying a story out spatially instead of linearly, inviting the reader to explore it as one might explore one’s memory or wander a many-pathed geographical terrain

patching together of a physical body from disparate but harmonious parts was linked to a similar patching together of story materials, the body becoming text

There is a kind of thinking without thinkers. Matter thinks. Language thinks.

We become hybrids, chimeras, centaurs ourselves:

Literature has a shape, and the Net is shapeless. The discrete object is gone, there’s only this vast disorderly sprawl

this creature i was assembling was a brash attempt to achieve by artificial means the unity of a life-form—a unity perhaps more rightfully given, not made; continuous, not interrupted; and subject to divine truth, not the will to expression of its prideful author.

i am a discontinuous trace, a dotted line

history is only a haphazard hopscotch through other present moments. How I got from one to the other is unclear. Tthough I could list my past moments, they would remain discrete ( and recombinant in potential if not in fact), hence without shape, without end, without story. Or with as many stories as i care to put together

hypertext requires a “cyborg reader,” not only because of his/her prosthetic relationship with the text but also because the text forces us to adopt a gaze which is equally modular and fragmentary.

the body is a patchwork, though the stitches might not show, it’s run by committee… a loose aggregate of entities we can’t really call human

We patch a phantom body together out of a cacophony of sense impressions, bright and partial views. We borrow notions from our friends and the blaring organs of commerce, and graft them on to a supple, undifferentiated mist of smart particles.

we are using life on computer screens to become comfortable with new ways of thinking about evolution, relationships, sexuality, politics, and identity.

in this new writing, unless it is printed out on paper, a screenful of flickers soon replaces the previous screen.

Ours is a world in vertigo. It is a world that swarms with technological mediation, interlacing our daily lives with abstraction, virtuality, and complexity

We are all alienated – but have we ever been otherwise? It is through, and not despite, our alienated condition that we can free ourselves from the muck of immediacy

the dominance of the visual in today’s online interfaces has reinstated familiar modes of identity policing, power relations and gender norms in self-representation.

Sorting the subversive possibilities from the oppressive ones latent in today’s web requires a feminism sensitive to the insidious return of old power structures, yet savvy enough to know how to exploit the potential.

changes to the built environment harbour some of the most significant possibilities in the reconfiguration of our horizons

the production of space and the decisions we make for its organization are ultimately articulations about ‘us’ and reciprocally, how a ‘we’ can be articulated.

there is no ‘self’ to control man, machine, or any other system; instead, both man and machine become elements of a cybernetic system which is its a system of control and communication

Still confident of his own indisputable mastery over them, man continues to turn cybernetic systems on. In doing so he merely encourages his own destruction.  Every software development is a migration of control, away from man

they invade as a return of the repressed, but what returns is no longer the same: cybernetics transforms woman and nature, but they do not return from man’s past, as his origins.  Instead they come around to face him

Parallel distributed processing defies all attempts to pin it down, and can only ever be contingently defined. It also turns the computer into a complex thinking machine which converges with the operations of the human brain.

Llike Irigaray’s woman, the computer can turn its invisible, non-existent self to anything: it runs any program, and simulates all operations, even those of its own functioning.

Hysteria is the point at which association gets a little too free, spinning off in its own directions and making links without reference to a central core.

Neural nets function in a way which has less to do with the rigors of orthodox logic than with the intuitive leaps and cross-connections which characterize what has been pathologized as hysteria

Digital art takes the image beyond even its mechanical reproduction, eroding orthodox conceptions of originals and originality. And just as the image is reprocessed, so it finds itself embroiled in a new network of connections between words, music, and architectures which diminishes the governing role it once played in the specular economy.

The ones and zeros of machine code are not patriarchal binary or counterparts to each other: zero is not the other, but the very possibility of all the ones.

Communication cannot be caught by the gaze, but is always a matter of getting in touch, a question of contact, contagion, transmission, reception, and connectivity.

cyberfeminism is an insurrection on the part of the goods and materials of the patriarchal world, a dispersed, distributed emergence composed of links

If the schizoid children of modernity are alienated, it is not as survivors from a pastoral past, but as explorers of an impending post-humanity.

Self-designing processes are anastrophic and convergent: doing things before they make sense. Time goes weird in tactile self-organizing space: the future is not an idea but a sensation.

The body and the state are under seige, with drugs and other software diseases threatening the borders

Comparative rates of flow on these lines of flight produce phenomena of relative slowness and viscosity, or, on the contrary, of acceleration and rupture. All this, lines and measurable speeds, constitutes an assemblage. A book is an assemblage of this kind, and as such is unattributable.

A book exists only through the outside and on the outside. A book itself is a little machine

Writing has nothing to do with signifying. It has to do with surveying, mapping, even realms that are yet to come

Take William Burroughs’s cut-up method: the folding of one text onto another, which constitutes multiple and even adventitious roots implying a supplementary dimension to that of the texts under consideration. In this supplementary dimension of folding, unity continues its spiritual labor. That is why the most resolutely fragmented work can also be presented as the Total Work or Magnum Opus.

the human body is composed of a great many individuals of different natures, each of which is highly composite…Bodies are distinguished from one another by reason of motion and rest, speed and slowness, and not by reason of substance

consider the Human body and nervous system as unscrambling devices. Remember that when the human nervous system unscrambles a scrambled message this will seem to the subject like his very own ideas which just occurred to him, which indeed it did

everybody splices himself in with everybody else. communication must be made total. only way to stop it

As we move into the world of integral, computerized knowledge, mere classification becomes secondary and inadequate to the speeds with which data can now be processed.  As data can be processed very rapidly we move literally into the world of pattern recognition, out of the world of data classification

With circuitry we have, instead of extensions of hand or foot, a kind of involvement of the whole nervous system, an extension of the nervous system itself

in some instances, an infusion of noise into a system can cause it to reorganize at a higher level of complexity. Within such a system, pattern and randomness are bound together in a complex dialectic, each helps to define the other; each contributes to the flow of information through the system.

Unlearn linear thinking   Hit you with these zig zag thoughts


the Net has become the leading zone on which the old identifications collapse.  Genders can be bent and blurred and the time-space coordinates tend to get lost.

schizophrenia and the impossibility of distinguishing between virtual and actual reality, pales into insignificance in comparison to the emergence of the Net as an anarchic, self-organizing system into which its users fuse.

Network culture still appears to be dominated by both men and masculine intentions and designs. But theres more to cyberspace than meets the male gaze.

all differentiation between different types of media—text, images, animations—must be eliminated. The digital nature of information makes this possible.

The user must not be able to tell where one image begins and another ends, or where text ends and an image begins.

Feed- back loops are necessary to help produce the active subjectivity of the user.

the object is radically independent from context. Objects are inheritable, extendible, procreative. Objects are not read, they are scanned, parsed, concatenated, and split.

Final Project Proposal

For my final project I want to expand the ideas I developed in my blogpost from Week 3 and look at how digital media enables a new sort of engagement with ideas by making the “noise” Katherine Hayles asserts “cause[s ideas] to reorganize at a higher level of complexity.”  I ended that post by contrasting the hypertextual narrative of Shelley Jackson’s Patchwork Girl with the more freeform multimedia environment of Linda Dement’s Cyberflesh Girlmonster, and asked “In what ways does the digital lend itself to new forms of narrative and in what ways does narrative restrict the new possibilities afforded by the digital?”

In a sense, I want to begin with that question by formatting my essay in a way that makes use of the affordances of a digital environment, one that operates more like a web than book with a beginning -> middle-> end.

To execute this in a way that’s suitable for presentation, not to mention more interesting for everyone than an essay formatted like a wikipedia page, I’m going to put together a video essay that makes use of text (both my own and quoted from our readings), as well as relevant visuals and sound. Perhaps the best, and best known, of my influences for this project is the documentary filmmaker Adam Curtis who makes use of found footage and electronic music to tie together the wide-ranging topics of his films:

But even more so the Chinese-British video artist Lawrence Lek whose thematically organized video art/essay Sinofuturism (1839 – 2046 AD) inspired this sort of project that brings together the elements of Curtis’s straightforward documentary and updates them to suit the topic at hand:

I’m also interested in the style of the more aphoristic collaboration between visual arts collective 0rphan Drift and philosopher Nick Land, which combines one of Land’s most famous essays (from before his unfortunate turn toward alt-right intellectual icon) with a collage of semi-related visuals:


My work, however, intends to engage with the ideas of the work through both the content and the form of the video by working from the modular visual programming language Max. Unlike other video editing programs Max allows users to break apart and rebuild the elements of a video non-sequentially and lets these broken pieces reassemble themselves according to whatever degree of randomness the programmer decides.

By working in this way my essay directly engages with a digitalized version of a key topic from the blogpost, Burroughs’s cut-up method.  A video of this nature also allows me to work freely across other themes from our readings such as sampling, remixing, and remediation into conversation with the writers and artists already mentioned in the blogpost. 

Through my writing, in selection of images and sounds, and with my programming, I hope to provide that sort of meaningful “noise” that Hayles discusses and bring out a new layer of understanding to the topics we’ve been working through this semester in a way that would be lost to the demands of a traditionally structured seminar paper.

Remix, Sample, Assimilation

Ben’s writing had a certain style. Were it music, we’d call it sampling. Were it painting, it would be called collage. Were it digital, we’d call it remix. Every paragraph was constructed through quotes. The essay might be about Hemingway or Proust. But he built the argument by clipping quotes from the authors he was discussing. Their words made his argument. And he was rewarded for it. Indeed, in the circles for which he was writing, the talent and care that his style evinced were a measure of his understanding. He succeeded not simply by stringing quotes together. He succeeded because the salience of the quotes, in context, made a point that his words alone would not. And his selection demonstrated knowledge beyond the message of the text. Only the most careful reader could construct from the text he read another text that explained it. Ben’s writing showed he was an insanely careful reader. His intensely careful reading made him a beautiful writer. Ben’s style is rewarded not just in English seminars. It is the essence of good writing in the law. A great brief seems to say nothing on its own. Everything is drawn from cases that went before, presented as if the argument now presented is in fact nothing new. Here again, the words of others are used to make a point the others didn’t directly make. Old cases are remixed. The remix is meant to do something new. (Appropriately enough, Ben is now a lawyer.)”

-Lawrence Lessig, Remix, 51


In the class, students are penalized for originality, sincerity, and creativity. What they’ve been surreptitiously doing throughout their academic career—patchwriting, cutting-and-pasting, lifting—must now be done in the open, where they are accountable for their decisions. Suddenly, new questions arise: What is it that I’m lifting? And why? What do my choices about what to appropriate tell me about myself? My emotions? My history? My biases and passions? The critiques turn toward formal improvement: Could I have swiped better material? Could my methods in constructing these texts have been better? Not surprisingly, they thrive. What I’ve learned from these years in the classroom is that no matter what we do, we can’t help but express ourselves.

-Kenneth Goldsmith, Why I Am Teaching a Course Called “Wasting Time on the Internet”


Isn’t that really the same as what happens when you begin to understand how to synthesize sounds, and on a sensory level when you’re making tracks, when you’ve spent 7 hours listening to the same samples over and over and shifting things millisecond by millisecond; or when you’ve been dancing all night and the music has got right inside you? You get a totally different sense of time, you hear things differently, you tune in to things on an unfamiliar level.”

-Lee Gamble, Sound and Concept


Peer- to- peer file sharing is the enemy in the “copyright wars.” Kids “stealing” stuff with a computer is the target. The war is not about new forms of creativity, not about artists making new art…. 

These creators are just one type of collateral damage from this war. The extreme of regulation that copyright law has become makes it difficult, and sometimes impossible, for a wide range of creativity that any free society— if it thought about it for just a second— would allow to exist, legally. In a state of war, however, we can’t be lax. We can’t forgive infractions that might at a different time not even be noticed…

I then want to spotlight the damage we’re not thinking enough about— the harm to a generation from rendering criminal what comes naturally to them. What does it do to them? What do they then do to us?”

-Lawrence Lessig, Remix, 18



And that’s just what they do. Well, more and more people have noticed a huge increase in the amount of people who just do remixes of songs. Every single Top 40 hit that comes on the radio, so many young kids are just grabbing it and doing a remix of it. The software is going to become more and more easy to use. It’s going to become more like Photoshop when it’s on every computer. Every single P. Diddy song that comes out, there’s going to be ten- year- old kids doing remixes and then putting them on the Internet.

But why is this good?” I asked Gillis.

It’s good because it is, in essence, just free culture. Ideas impact data, manipulated and treated and passed along. I think it’s just great on a creative level that everyone is so involved with the music that they like. . . ”

-Lawrence Lessig, Remix, 14


Gibson said, “Criminals are in effect entrepreneurs with the brakes off. They look at whatever the latest technology is and think, ‘What can I do with this?'”


A dynamic and fluid theory must place the meanings and vocabularies of the spectacle in a perspective which negates it, a dialectical totality in which the subversive qualities of ‘past critical judgements that have congealed into respectable truths’ are restored. Détournement, the ‘antithesis of quotation’, is the ‘fluid language of anti-ideology. It occurs within a type of communication aware of its inability to enshrine any inherent and definitive certainty.’

Even the style of exposition of dialectical theory is a scandal and an abomination to the canons of the prevailing language, and to sensibilities molded by those canons, because it includes in its positive use of existing concepts a simultaneous recognition of their rediscovered fluidity, of their inevitable destruction.

-Sadie Plant, The Most Radical Gesture, 88


With his self-titled debut LP last year, Burial established himself as an extraordinary sonic mythographer, a sound poet capable of articulating the existential malaise of an era and a place using only sampled voices, broken breakbeats and musique concrète sound effects. Burial was a vivid audio portrait of a wounded South London, a semi-abstract sound painting of a city’s disappointment and anguish. Burial’s was a sound saturated in dance music, but his unsequenced beats were too eccentric to dance to. His sound was too out of step to fit into dubstep, the genre his records were most likely to be filed under because they were released on Kode9’s Hyperdub label…

Burial makes the most convincing case that our zeitgeist is essentially hauntological. The power of Derrida’s concept lay in its idea of being haunted by events that had not actually happened, futures that failed to materialise and remained spectral.”

-Mark Fisher, Downcast Angel from The Wire: Issue 286 (December 2007)


“While 20th-century experimental culture was seized by a recombinatorial delirium, which made it feel as if newness was infinitely available, the 21st century is oppressed by a crushing sense of finitude and exhaustion. It doesn’t feel like the future. Or, alternatively, it doesn’t feel as if the 21st century has started yet…

Compare the fallow terrain of the current moment with the fecundity of previous periods and you will quickly be accused of ‘nostalgia’. But the reliance of current artists on styles that were established long ago suggests that the current moment is in the grip of a formal nostalgia…

This raises the question of nostalgia again: is hauntology, as many of its critics have maintained, simply a name for nostalgia? Is it about pining for social democracy and its institutions? Given the ubiquity of the formal nostalgia I described above, the question has to be, nostalgia compared to what?

…But we shouldn’t have to choose between, say, the internet and social security. One way of thinking about hauntology is that its lost futures do not force such false choices; instead, what haunts is the spectre of a world in which all the marvels of communicative technology could be combined with a sense of solidarity much stronger than anything social democracy could muster…

What should haunt us is not the no longer of actually existing social democracy, but the not yet of the futures that popular modernism trained us to expect, but which never materialised. These spectres – the spectres of lost futures – reproach the formal nostalgia of the capitalist realist world.” 

-Mark Fisher,  “The Slow Cancellation of the Future” from Ghosts of My Life



I still believe that there are important strategic ways in which government can do good. But the last few years have convinced me that we all must be less optimistic about the potential of government to do good… What reason was there to think that government power could succeed in occupying and remaking Iraqi society? I’m not talking about the invasion: that’s easy enough. Invasions are won with powerful tanks and well- placed bombs. I’m talking about everything that would obviously have to be done after the invasion…

In a democracy, more power does not translate into more success. Instead, like a car trying to free itself from a snowbank, in a democracy, more power is often self- defeating. There is a limit to what a government can do that can’t simply be overcome by adding power or resources to the problem. At some point, adding more regulation decreases the effective control over the target. This is not a book about Iraq. But I suggest we can apply the point about that war to the other wars we are waging. There are many such wars that would benefit from such consideration. But the one I want to return to is the war we are waging against our kids because of the way they use digital technology.”

-Lawrence Lessig, Remix, 14


Once pirate and mainstream culture enter this tighter symbiotic relationship of affective contagion, the distinction between pirate or DIY microcultures and a co- opting capitalism becomes flattened. Now a new problem emerges in relation to the possibility of identifying invention when it occurs. This problem of differentiating innovation from its capture is confounded by what Matt Mason has termed, in his book of the same name, the pirate’s dilemma. Mason, whose book often reads like an introduction to the youth culture of the past thirty years for corporate capitalists, is keen to sing the praises of the constructive power of cultural piracy in transforming capitalism to the point where we are all now, he claims, happy pirates…

Mason catalogs a long list of pirate invasions of media platforms, with innovative ideas and formats delivered in stealthy fashion, adopting various tactics of camouflage and anonymity. From the tidal waves of Schumpeterian creative destruction triggered by innovation in technology or technique, to the perpetual subversion, hacking, and remixing that the nonstandard use of these technologies facilitates, the law can only but lag behind. For Mason, this has signaled the end of top- down mass culture. Youth culture has reinvented, or rejuvenated, capitalism to the point that piracy has now become just another business model, a mutation from subversive cultural weapon to business plan; the situationist projection of art into the everyday becomes merely branding.”

Steve Goodman, Sonic Warfare, 180-182


But it is my view that Congress needs to decriminalize file sharing, either by authorizing at least noncommercial file sharing with taxes to cover a reasonable royalty to the artists whose work is shared, or by authorizing a simple blanket licensing procedure, whereby users could, for a low fee, buy the right to freely file- share.”

-Lawrence Lessig, Remix, 271


Similarly, the music and tech industries have yet to really acknowledge the ways in which Spotify and playlist culture are unapologetically harming independent music: the pro-rata business model that favors no one but pop stars, yes, but also the ways in which playlisting waters down human relationship with music through cold and automated ways of programming, all in order to corporatize art and literally, literally, make music fit into Spotify (and Apple, and Deezer, and Google Play)’s tiny, square tinted boxes. Instead of pushing back on this reductive way of thinking, instead, thus far we have seen only a flurry of puff pieces about playlist curators as “secret hitmakers” and features praising them as “unsung heros”. 

The commodification of social interaction is massive dilemma of our time. And one of the main ways in which music fits into that conundrum is emerging with playlists—the commodification of swapping mixtapes, long a cornerstone of music culture, possibly the most personal and emotionally resonant way to share songs.”

-Liz Pelly, The Secret Lives of Playlists

In the final phase of human history, markets and technics cross into interactive runaway, triggering chaos culture as a rapid response unit and converging on designer drugs with increasing speed and sophistication. Sampling, remixing, anonymous and inhuman sound, woman become cyborg and taken into insanity: wetware splices with techno.

Capitalism is not a human invention, but a viral contagion, replicated cyberpositively across post- human space. Self-designing processes are anastrophic and convergent: doing things before they make sense.”

– Sadie Plant and Nick Land, Cyberpositive



By now we’ve probably all heard in endless detail about the Cambridge Analytica/Facebook story (depending on where you get your news, I guess).  At this point it’s seems unclear to me this particular story is as important as its been made out to be, or if this is just another case of anything Donald Trump-related getting over reported because it’s good for ratings.  In a lot of ways this story feels like another way to rationalize Trump’s upset victory in the 2016 election, despite the significance of this being basically unquantifiable. Some, for instance, have made good points about the actual effectiveness of CA’s marketing:

There are also plenty of parallels that have been drawn between the Trump campaign’s social media strategy and Barack Obama’s in during the previous two elections. But obviously the 2016 election has been more controversial than 2008 or 2012 and any potential wrongdoing or foreign interference by Trump’s campaign, CA, or anyone else makes this story exciting, even if it’s significance is not necessarily in proportion to how much it’s been reported on.  It still seems unclear if any laws were broken, either in the US, UK, or elsewhere, although it feels safe to assume that this probably wasn’t the most illegal or even most questionable thing Donald Trump has done in recent memory, so hopefully whatever lessons we can take from this story don’t begin and end there.

What is more interesting to me is that I sort of assumed the things CA did were more common than they are.  I don’t mean that in a “so what?” sort of way, but more that Facebook has always been in the business of harvesting data and selling it to advertisers, so the fact that someone bent the rules, got really good at pulling personal information off the site, and sold it to a political campaign seems like the next logical step.  What I’m saying is that I might be kinda paranoid and (rightfully!) not trusting of Silicon Valley money. 

Speaking of which… I’ve been re-reading Nick Srnicek’s 2017 book, Platform Capitalism, over the last couple of days and I’ve found his reframing of the role users play on digital platforms interesting in relation to the readings we did for this week.

Yet even limiting our attention to user-created data, it is right to call this activity labour? Within a Marxist framework, labour has a very particular meaning: it is an activity that generates a surplus value within a context of markets for labour and a production process oriented towards exchange… In examining the activities of users online, it is hard to make the case that what they do is labour, properly speaking. Beyond the intuitive hesitation to think that messaging friends is labour, any idea of socially necessary labour time – the implicit standard against which production processes are set – is lacking…

Rather than exploiting free labour, the position taken here is that advertising platforms appropriate data as a raw material. The activities of users and institutions, if they are recorded and transformed into data, become a raw material that can be refined and used in a variety of ways by platforms. With advertising platforms in particular, revenue is generated through the extraction of data from users’ activities online, from the analysis of those data, and from the auctioning of ad space to advertisers.”  Platform Capitalism, 55-57

On a site like Facebook, then, users are neither the content producers, nor the audience for whom the content is produced, but instead generate the information which will become data in the hands of companies like Cambridge Analytica, or any of their more legitimate peers.  Unlike the user experiences (UX) Patricia Sullivan describes in her chapter “Beckon, Encounter, Experience: The Danger of Control and the Promise of Encounters in the Study of User Experience”, we are not the researchers developing better environments nor the subjects of the experiments.  On Facebook, its becoming increasingly clear, that the average user is not who the content of the site is created for and, despite being the most important part of the site, no individual is irreplaceable, or even all that important.  As Srnicek explains in his book and in an abbreviated way in The Guardian, individuals can delete their accounts or move to other sites, but as long as one company maintains “critical mass” they will maintain dominate of their respective corner of the internet:

Reaching a critical mass of users is what makes these businesses successful: the more users, the more useful to users – and the more entrenched – they become. Ello’s rapid downfall occurred because it never reached the critical mass of users required to prompt an exodus from Facebook – whose dominance means that even if you’re frustrated by its advertising and tracking of your data, it’s still likely to be your first choice because that’s where everyone is, and that’s the point of a social network.” 

What Srnicek gets at in his writings and what hopefully follows from the Cambridge Analytica stories is not that our contemporary desire to “archive the moment” as William C. Kurlinkus describes Facebook primary use, is bad or good in it of itself, but that our archives are being mobilized for profit because users are increasingly losing the ability to define the terms of their experience.


Again I find my posts returning to the same source material to address a different set of readings.  This week I had intended to dig into A Cyborg Manifesto, but was compelled again to my favorite of the “cyberfeminists”, Sadie Plant.  This time, instead of bringing her myself, as I did with the interview between her and Cyberflesh Girlmonster creator Linda Dement, I want to do so in response to a specific claim against her work that I found in Jessie Daniels’s Rethinking Cyberfeminism(s). Daniels says on page 104:

While Plant has been justifiably criticized for reinscribing essentialist notions of gender (Wilding 1998),Wajcman (2004) writes that Plant’s optimism about the potential of gender equality in cyberspace must be understood as a reaction against previous conceptualizations of technology as inherently masculine. In addition to essentializing gender, Plant’s binary of “zeroes” and “ones” leaves no conceptual room for understanding how gender intersects with “race.””

And while her conclusion is more or less correct as Plant, particularly in Zeros and Ones, does not address race in any meaningful way, but the path Daniels uses to get there mischaracterize the core of Plant’s writing.  To show why I personally like Plant’s work I’m going to post a number of quotes from her shorter (and arguably better) pieces she wrote in the years preceding the publication of her book Zeros and Ones and consider what aspects of Plants work I find specifically compelling, particularly in relation to Haraway’s Cyborg Manifesto.

The shortest response to Daniels first claim about “reinscribing essentialist notions of gender” comes from Plant’s On The Matrix: Cyberfeminist simulations:

There is no authentic or essential woman up ahead, no self to be reclaimed from some long past, nor even a potential subjectivity to be constructed in the present day. Nor is there only an absence or lack. Instead there is a virtual reality, an emergent process for which identity is not the goal but the enemy, precisely what has kept at bay the matrix of potentialities from which women has always downloaded their roles.”

If Plant’s use of “man” or “woman” are to be properly understood it isn’t through essential notions, derived biologically or even socially in the popular sense, but from her digital re-processing of Luce Irigaray psychoanalytic work.  In Irigaray’s writing “man” and “woman” need not necessarily align with biological features nor with personal identifications, but instead have more to do with a relationship to language. Without going deep into specifics one either has and attempts to master language (man) or lacks proper access to language and mimics and mediates between speaking subjects (woman).

From page 59 of Plant’s The Future Looms: Weaving Women and Cybernetics:

Woman, like the computer, appears at different times as whatever man requires of her. She learns how to imitate; she learns simulation.  And, like the computer, she becomes very good at it, so good, in fact, that she too, in principle, can mimic any function.  As Irigaray suggests… “she is—though her inexhaustible aptitude for mimicry—the living foundation for the whole staging of the world” Irigaray, 1991:118).”

This brings us back to Daniels, “Plant’s optimism about the potential of gender equality in cyberspace must be understood as a reaction against previous conceptualizations of technology as inherently masculine.” Again, there is some truth to this but it misses the bigger claim about the relationship women have to this particular sort of technology.   Like Haraway, Plant concedes that computers were first a military weapon, but she first spends much of The Future Looms discussing the role Ada Lovelace played in conceptualizing what would become the computer years before it would become a weapon.  Plant identifies two key figures from the 1940s who were integral to the development of computers: Grace Murray Hopper and Alan Turning.  Hopper, Plant explains, programed the earliest models of computer and coined the word “bug” after a disruption caused by an actual bug inside an early machine.  Turning’s role is more complicated as he was not born a woman, but only later became identified with the feminine after his homosexuality got him removed from the British military and hormonally sterilized. 

But Plant isn’t naive about how men, in the most traditional, heterosexual sense, have dominated fields of technology historically.  This is where Plant shows the influence McLuhan’s “the medium is the message” has on her work because even as women begin taking to message boards and chat rooms (because it was the 90s), it isn’t what is being said that is of any particular importance, but the digital network itself that are truly subversive to men’s control over the technology.  From The Future Looms, pages 62, 54, and 63:

Still confident of his own indisputable mastery over them, man continues to turn them on.  In doing so he merely encourages his own destruction.  Every software development is a migration of control, away from man, in whom it has been exercised only as domination, and into the matrix, or cyberspace… The matrix weaves itself in a future which has no place for historical man: he was merely its tool, and his agency was itself always a figment of its loop.”

Only with the cybernetic system does self-control no longer entail being place beneath or under something: there is no ‘self’ to control man, machine or any other system: instead both man and machine become elements of a cybernetic system which is itself a system of control and communication.  This is the strange world to which Ada’s programming has led: the possibility of activity without centralized control, an agency, of sorts, which has no need of a subject position… Her software already encouraged the convergence of nature and intelligence which guides the subsequent development of information technology.”

Cybernetic systems are fatal to his culture; they invade as a return of the repressed, but what returns is no longer the same; cybernetics transforms woman and nature, but they do not return from man’s past, as his origins.  Instead they come around to face him, wheeling round from his future, the virtual system to which he has always been heading.”

Its clear that, despite the historically masculine position computers have been put in, Plant never understand them as “inherently masculine” but in fact just the opposite.  The cybernetic system this technology enables is not one of binaries or oppositions or “ironies” in Haraway’s conception, but one of that was always already present in “the once smooth surfaces of patriarchal order” but remains invisible until it’s able to complete the loop and rewrite itself into a new sort of existence. 

More explicitly about this from On the Matrix, page 325:

Complex systems and virtual worlds are not only important because they open up spaces for existing women within an already existing culture, but also because of the extent to which they undermine both the world-view and the material reality of two thousand years of patriarchal control. Network culture still appears to be dominated by both men and masculine intentions and designs. But there is more to cyberspace than meets the male gaze.”

“There is more to cyberspace than meets the male gaze” remains a crucial point for Plant in addressing what “zeros and ones” are and what they do.  Unlike Daniels’s claim that zero and one are a binary, Plant explains on page 333 of On the Matrix:

Digitization sets zero free to stand for nothing and make everything work.  The ones and zeros of machine code are not patriarchal binaries or counterparts to each other: zero is not the other, but the very possibility of all the ones.  Zero is the matrix of calculation, the possibility of multiplication, and has been reprocessing the modern world since it began to arrive from the East. It neither represents, but with digitalization it proliferates, replicates, and undermines the privilege of one.  Zero is not absence, but a zone of multiplicity which cannot be perceived by the one who sees.”

and further:

“It is the imperceptible ‘elsewhere’ of which Irigaray speaks, the hole that is neither something nor nothing; a newly accessible virtual space which cannot be seen by the one it subsumes.  If the phallus guarantees man’ identity and his relation to transcendence and truth, it is also this which cuts him off from the abstract machinery of a world he thinks he owns. It is only those at odds with this definition of humanity who seem to be able to access this plane.  They have more in common with multifunctional systems than the active agency and singular identity proper to the male subject.”

Plant’s work in this way has a more techno-deterministic slant to it but without the harsh value judgments which tend to follow from such positions; for her the cyborg has in a sense always existed and needed only to reach a certain point before it could make itself known.  Unlike Haraway who sees the cyborg as a move away from a totalizing system, made up of unities and unities of opposites into a world of affinities, Plant follows from the multiplicity of Irigaray’s “specular economy” to explain how her cybernetic system can be total, decentralized, and non-binary all at once.

Ghosts of My Data


In a lot of ways I think my first real post on this blog could stand in for much of this post.  Three weeks ago I wrote about my own experiences following dead hyper-links in relation to the work of British writer/critic Mark Fisher and it feels almost redundant to do the same this week, but the parallels and contrast between Lisa Blackman’s Haunted Data and Fisher’s own writing seem to striking to ignore. 

Coincidentally (I assume) both Blackman and Fisher, up until his 2017 death, taught at Goldsmiths, University of London and both worked on the Derridean concept of “hauntology” in digital culture.  Blackman’s text deploys the term in the more Affect Theory influenced usage by dealing specifically with the bodily and psychological conditions which originate in specters of past personal (or even intergenerational) experiences that only become uncoverable through fragmentary and temporarily disjointed glimpses.  She then moves this concept to the realm of science, specifically on the internet, where information and experience is exclusively translated to and from data.  This is done, she explains, by way of hyperlinks and are made increasingly complicated as the locations and destinations of those links are prone to change with little warning and left to be sorted by the blackbox algorithms of third party sites like Google.  This storage method has the benefit of creating smoother and more simple user experiences, and can potentially make the recovery of lost/repressed information equally smooth and simple, but she reminds us that it also engenders only very specific modes of recovery.  By translating what were once heterogeneous specters haunting us each differently based on social, political, or cultural factors, or even down to the level of individual families and individuals, must always already be formatted for digital publication and, ideally, search engine optimization. 

As someone with almost no background in the work of Derrida, I found Fisher’s application application of the term “hauntology” to sample-based electronic music to be particularly illuminating.  One of his favorite examples begins with the 1993 Rufige Kru song Ghosts of My Life, a title Fisher himself took for the title of the book in which he discusses the song, Ghosts of My Life: Writings on Depression, Hauntology, and Lost Futures

The song itself, as he describes it, is a fairly archetypical jungle track with its fast-paced breakbeat drums looped endlessly, ominous atmospheric synth line, and, most notably, the “timestretched” vocal samples.  Timestretching, at the time was a fairly new invention, enabled entirely through the use of digital samplers that were beginning to take the place of tape and vinyl sampling made popular in the decades before techno crossed into Britain and morphed into jungle.  Instead of slowing down or speeding up a sound physically, by playing it slower or fast and thus changing the pitch along with it, digital samplers allowed producers to change the speed and pitch of a clip independently of one another. 

What, aside from being a great song, made this particular Rufige Kru track so important for Fisher was what the group had taken as its timestretched sample:

Time had folded in on itself.  One of my earliest pop fixations [the post-punk group Japan] had returned, vindicated, in an unexpected context.  Early 80s New Romantic synthpop, reviled and ridiculed in Britain, but revered in the dance music scenes of Detroit, New York, and Chicago, was finally coming home to roost in the UK underground… it was as if another part of my life —was being recovered, although in a permanently altered form.” –Ghosts of My Life: Writings on Depression, Hauntology, and Lost Futures, 34

Hauntology, as the return of the familiar in a new form, a form which retroactively alters our previous conceptions of those once familiar forms, dominates the writings of both Blackman and Fisher’s writings on digital culture.  Time, speed, and accessibility all remain central to both invocations of the haunt, albeit in different ways.  Unlike the broken links in Blackman’s data, the material existence of Japan’s song Ghosts still exists in its original form; it is only complicated, for better or worse, in the mind of Fisher and his fellow post-punk turned electronic music fans but the old records need not be deleted or moved to make space for the new.

For the sake of presenting on this topic to the class tomorrow I’d like to end on some discussion questions to work through together instead of settling on one grand conclusion:


  1. To what extend does hauntology depend on the technological ease and speed of digital production to function? What, if any, pre-digital examples of hauntology can we think of?
  2. Specific to Blackman’s work, how do scientists (or just broadly those working outside of the humanities) deal with the ever shifting base of available knowledge in the digital world?  How much gets excluded as unreliable/unscientific/noise in favor of the old institutions?
  3. How possible is it to preserve past understandings of objects (music, art, data, etc.) once their ghosts have been remediated?

The Symmetry of Memetic Warfare

I want to take a step back from the concept of “meme magic.  First of all, because I don’t think the majority of people who use the term actually believe it.  I could be wrong on this point, I’ve been surprised by people’s capacity to believe in dumber things.  But perhaps more importantly, ironic, non-ironic, and semi-ironic applications of the phrase seem to me to be one part of a more established tactic, one that Spencer only briefly touches on, “memetic warfare.”

On page 70 of Defense Strategic Communications: The official journal of the NATO Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence Volume 1 , Jeff Giesea defines “memetic warfare” as “…more strategic than ‘weaponized trolling’.  Memetic warfare, as I define it, is competition over narrative, ideas, and social control in a social media battlefield.  One might think of it as a subset of ‘information operations’ tailored to social media.”  And he lays out the essence of his argument in favor of the tactic is laid out on the previous page: “Daesh [ISIS] is conducting memetic warfare. The Kremlin is doing it. It’s inexpensive. The capabilities exist.  Why aren’t we trying it?”  He answers some of his own question at the end of his article by exploring the memetic potential of a twitter campaign called “#ISISisgay,” an adequately ridiculous and offensive attack for the 4chan crowd, but specifically designed to undermine ISIS in the minds of homophobic would-be recruits.   Apart from the ethical and legal questions this form of propaganda begs, Giesea says “[p]olitically, #ISISisgay would be a sensitive campaign to execute.  Even with thoughtful coordination with gay groups and other domestic interests, there would still be a risk of media and political criticism” (pg. 75).

By his own admission, memetic warfare can be and has been an effective form of combat, but one which cannot neatly scale within liberal democratic nationstates where propagators may potentially be answerable to constituents.  To conduct memetic warfare on a national front one either has to lack central organization as is the case with ISIS, or internal hierarchies must be stable enough to control internal dissent, as in Russia.  Unlike its battlefield predecessor, guerrilla warfare, in memetic war, scale reverses into a disadvantage about as quickly as it’s felt.

For the individual or sub-national group, however, memetic fighting retains the central advantage which make it appealing to NATO Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence, that is, on every level it provides a unbelievably high effectiveness to cost ratio.  Attackers often already have the means necessarily to conduct attacks, no advanced training is necessary, and by the nature of memes, they will replicate themselves by luring the enemy into a fight it can only win by ignoring. 

In a recent interview on WNYC’s The Leonard Lopate Show, the “father of virtual reality” Jaron Lanier offers a fairly compelling explanation of why these sorts of attacks are so effective particularly on advertising driven social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter:

In all those cases that positive fuel [of the Arab Spring, pre-Gamergate push for equality in video game culture, and BLM] was routed into negative energy because that was the most efficient and profitable way to make use of it… In each case the people who were annoyed or fearful or whatever of these positive things were identified, introduced to each other, corralled, and then stirred up more and more in a pressure cooker because that was the most profitable and effective way for to make money for the businesses and it was also the most efficient way for someone coming in as a costumer to spend their money; they got the most results… “

He goes on, ironically enough as this interview was being recorded literally as Leonard Lopate himself was having his #metoo moment that resulted in his firing:

…and #metoo is going to meet the same fate, and i don’t know what it’ll look like but in about a year if the pattern holds there’ll be some backlash that, instead of the normal sort of backlash we see in history, will be something horrendous it’ll be something, we’ll see something vastly more powerful than the original. “

All of this is from 20:40 to 27:10 of the interview, but I would recommend the entire thing if you have the 30 minutes to listen:

Essentially Lanier argues, the behavior which makes memetic warfare possible is also what makes it so cheap and effective; by relying on free to use, but still private social media companies to communicate, Twitter/Facebook/etc. must encourage increasingly conflict driven networks of insular users to build advertising bases.  Memes, in this atmosphere act more like “a software virus in a computer network or a physical virus in a city”  than they did when Aaron Lynch wrote his book Thought Contagion: How belief spreads through society in 1998. He says on page 2 that “thought contagions proliferate by effectively ‘programming’ for their own retransmission. Beliefs affect retransmission in so many ways that they set off a colorful, unplanned growth race among diverse “epidemics” of ideas. Actively contagious ideas are now called memes.”  Today those contagions exist in tightly controlled incubators designed to explode at a rate of about once a year, by Lanier’s estimation. 

To see an act of memetic warfare in action I want to turn to a site that I by no means want to endorse, but which does provide a more rigorous and thoughtful side of the alt-right/neoreactionary/edgy-rightwing internet than one typically gets on 4chan or Breitbart.  In this November 2017 article Nathan Duffy lays out in full the strategy behind the intentionally polemic meme “It’s OK to be white” as a form of asymmetrical memetic warfare.  He begins:

“Engineering an elegant meme is one part art and one part science. Trying to strike just the right chord to both make your point while also harnessing the mysterious chthonic energies that can make the meme contagious.

The memetic hivemind of the right-wing message board /pol/ recently found that magic touch, striking gold with their “It’s OK To Be White” meme”

Duffy argues that the genius behind this attack is its seeming innocence; everyone who hears “it’s ok to be white” knows what it really means as a bit of white nationalist propaganda, but no one can effectively argue with it because, strictly speaking, it is ok to be white.  To call attention to the slogan, to denounce it, puts you at odds with any white person who overhears you but misses the broader context.

In this class, both in our IRL classroom and now virtually in Caitlin’s latest blogpost, we’ve discussed Angela Nagel’s assessment of 4chan and the alt-right in her book Kill All Normies, but that is only one aspect of Nagel’s book.  While the alt-right have become the more prominent and insidious force, social media’s warping power is not restricted to the political right.  “Tumblr,” she explains on page 69:

was one of the most important platforms for the emergence of a whole political and aesthetic sensibility, developing its own vocabulary and style – very much the reverse mirror image of rightist 4chan in this way. It was here that what Walter Benn Michaels criticized as a liberal preference for ‘recognition of diversity over economic inequality’ reached its most absurd apotheosis with a politics based on the minutia and gradations of rapidly proliferating identities, and the emotional injuries of systemic cultural prejudices.”

Where 4chan was a regressive ecosystem that primed users to attack, Tumblr politics sealed users in a bubble of vulnerability almost equally as confusing to outsiders (or normies, although that probably wouldn’t be Tumblr’s preferred term).  “It’s OK to be White” has the off-puttingly racist ideology of 4chan at its core, but the phrase itself isn’t the meme, the real meme is using the phrase as a weapon in memetic warfare against the professionally politically correct “bluechecks,” an unaffectionate name for verified Twitter users, who are often employed as pundits or opinion journalists. Nathan Duffy admits the only proper response would be to ignore the bait; the brevity of the meme has no equal response, anything short of a full explanation only gives the right more propaganda against the “bluechecks” and their leftwing followers:

The message is there exists a significant contingent of stark-raving mad people in the country, to whom your mere existence, dear normal white person, is anathema. If it weren’t so, how could they get angry about such a truism? That’s their propaganda, one that is in service of ideological mobilization. This expansion of the political sphere (“whiteness is a problem with political solutions”) can be attenuated by another kind of propaganda”

Which brings us back to “meme magic.” Even the rightwing, pro-Trump, pro-memes Jacobite freely admits that “No one really thinks that it was the work of creative trolls that brought all the disaffected working class voters to the polls in Midwestern swing states.”  But Paul Spencer’s article seemingly takes rightwing memers at their word, even if somewhat mockingly.  As critics, of either their politics or their rhetorical techniques, and in this case both, we should consider not just what the cartoon frog loving racists are saying but also how and why they’re saying it if we’re to understand what it is they’re really saying.

There is No Real Equivalent to a Shotgun Blast


There are, in this interview between William Burroughs and Kathy Acker, two lines of thought I want to purse in relation to the “Virtual Bodies and Flickering Signifiers” chapter in Katherine Hayles’s How We Became Posthuman.  The first is that of physicality in art, particularly how that physicality is mediated by machines. The second follows directly from the first, if a bit indirectly, by looking at how digital technology affords new modes of constituting bodies as (non)narrative sites.

Early in the chapter Hayles states:

 The relation between striking a key and producing text with a computer is very different from the relation achieved with a typewriter. Display brightness is unrelated to keystroke pressure, and striking a Single key can effect massive changes in the entire text. The computer restores and heightens the sense of word as image-an image drawn in a medium as fluid and changeable as water. “

The very basis of this interview, which is not a discussion of either of the writers’ literary output but in fact a showing of Burroughs’s shotgun paintings, contests Hayles’s initial presumption that the difference between a keystroke on a typewriter and keystroke into a word processor imparts any meaningful difference for either the reader or the author.  Whether or not one agrees, and it’s hard to argue that any amount of forceful typing can compete with gunfire, Burroughs’s larger point highlights one particular limit the working entirely in the literary realm.

As he says “there is no real equivalent to a shotgun blast on paper”

And unless there is a particularly action-packed word processor on the market that I’m unaware of, it seems safe to extend this quote:

“There is no real equivalent to a shotgun blast on Microsoft Word”



Nam June Paik, Random Access, 1963/2000, strips of audiotape, open-reel audio deck, extended playback head, and speakers, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York.

But this point of contention shouldn’t convince you that the Hayles and Burroughs are at odds, despite key differences the common ground between the two’s work seems more foundational than the differences.  If Hayles’s claim that realizing “that in some instances, an infusion of noise into a system can cause it to reorganize at a higher level of complexity” is embodied anywhere it is in the cut-up technique Burroughs and Gysin produced together beginning in the 1950s.  In this practice, Burroughs and Gysin bring to life the dialectic relationship between pattern and noise by finding new patterns in texts by breaking them apart and reconstituting them at random.  Burroughs claims in his interview with Acker that, despite critical attention, this practice was little more than the the practice of collage or montage that has been practiced in visual arts since the beginning of the 20th century, leading him to the claim that “writing is 50 years behind painting.”

Although what may be more important for our contemporary age is the fact that despite applying variations on the original cut-up style in writing a number of his most famous books, Burroughs would later move to making cut-ups for the tape recorder.  In this he would both start, stop, rewind, and fast-forward the tape at random intervals to create nonsensical soundbites, but also he physically cut the strips of tape and spliced them together in new forms, uncertain about what parts would be newly joined together.  From the musique concrete of the 1940s, to the BBC Radiophonic Workshop in the 1950 and 60s, Nam June Paik’s 1963 Random Access tape installation, and the ever increasing practice of sampling in popular music beginning in the 1980s, it seems to be that sound forms a better model for the possibility of radically new technological mediation than writing. 

While Hayles offers the distant potential of virtual reality, a technology seemingly always in its infancy as it was then mostly limited to elaborate laboratory environments and is now still little more than a toy for most users.  MIDI controllers in audio production software, on the other hand, may still fall short of a the shotgun blast in terms of intensity, the ability to encode the velocity of hits and releases has been a standard feature of the protocol for decades and can very easily translate from a hit on a pad into a physical effect in the forms of volume or pitch.  Similarly control and randomness can be programmed to be as realistic or robotic as the producer deems necessary to meet the listeners’ desire. While those waiting for technology to transport their experience of narrative to the virtual realm, sound technology is one place where technology starts by meeting users halfway by translating the physical production of sound from “authors” to “readers” in individual instances, instead of in already-fully formed events.

“ The narrative metamorphizes nearly as often as bodies within it, suggesting by its cut-up method a textual corpus that is as artificial, heterogeneous, and cybernetic as they are. Since the fissures that mark the text always fall within the units that compose the textual body within chapters, paragraphs, sentences, and even words it becomes increasingly clear that they do not function to delineate the textual corpus. Rather, the body of the text is produced precisely by these fissures, which are not so much ruptures as productive dialectics that bring the narrative as a syntactic and chronological sequence into being.”  -Hayles, on Naked Lunch

If Hayles was correct in her reading of Burroughs’s most famous work, Naked Lunch, it seems to be that this text marked the end of an era where this balance between rupture and sequence could make sense.  And while a work like Shelley Jackson’s 1995 Patchwork Girl makes new this dialectic by infusing it with the hypertextuality of the then-new digital age, it ultimately seems to sew together a body which is already dated by the returning need of the narrative form to reconstruct it as one. 

By contrast, another cyberfeminist piece released that year, Linda Dement’s Cyberflesh Girlmonster breaks from the need to reconstitute the body and instead lets the mutated pieces run free.  Like Jackson’s hypertext poem, Cyberflesh Girlmonster allows viewers to interact by clicking, forging their own paths through the work which is made up of an assemblage of text and visuals, but also sounds and animations. Unlike Patchwork Girl which cleanly brings together its non-textual media in the service of its ultimate narrative, Dement uses her multimedia events to blur between mediums without letting viewers settle into a comfortable plot arc or sewn up conclusion.  Characteristic of the arriving age of software, Dement blends once distinct worlds of art, literature, sound, and technology and creates the sort of mutant medium not unlike the mutant women embodied by the fleshy creatures in her piece.  In an conversation with my personal favorite cyberfeminist writer, Sadie Plant, the two discuss the contrast between works like Patchwork Girl which are largely about the ability of computers to build a new but coherent body and Cyberflesh Girlmonster which leaves us in an unsettled network of freely broken flesh:

 Sadie Plant: Linda is dealing with very gritty, bloody, fleshy body stuff in a way which again is very different to either traditional feminist takes on technology or on women themselves and also very different to the male cyberpunk, especially the corporate line about cyberspace being a disembodied zone…

Linda Dement: “Cyberflesh Girlmonster”, in the beginning was mostly about just to get women to put their flesh into cyberspace. So the work itself is not particularly about computers, it’s situated in the computer. I like the idea of contaminating the technology, of putting the blood, the guts and the madness, all those nasty womanly things into this beautiful, slick technology, into the beautiful and pure machines. I really like that juxtaposition. ” – An Interview with Sadie Plant and Linda Dement  by Miss M. at the occasion of Virtual Futures 96 Datableed



I’ll end here with a video of a play-through of Cyberflesh Girlmonster and ask how this violent, jarring, and unsettling piece compares and contrasts with the neater (if only by comparison) narrative of Patchwork Girl? In what ways does the digital lend itself to new forms of narrative and in what ways does narrative restrict the new possibilities afforded by the digital? 

And finally, at what point does the line between mediums break down and demand reconfiguration? How many parts can you add before you have something totally different?

K-punk and the Digital Ecosystem


Initially I had been excited to write about hypertextuality and the flow of information across digital windows, suites of  programs, and pages on the internet, I even uploaded a screenshot of one of my favorite jokes from twitter to include:


But, appropriately enough, I got distracted from that line of thought by a number of points Douglas Eyman makes in his “Theory” section of Digital Rhetoric that resonate with some recent experiences I’ve been having on the internet.  Of particular note, are Eyman’s “ecologies of use”, his invocation of Alexander Galloway’s Protocol, and the instability of digital works as they relate to blogging and social networks before Facebook dominated the market. 

The impetus for my renewed interest in this world goes back about two weeks to the anniversary of Mark Fisher’s death.  Fisher was an author, academic, music critic, and perhaps most famously (or at least most importantly for the purposes of this post) a fairly prolific blogger, living and working in England until he took his own life early last year.  Simon Reynolds described Fisher’s “k-punk”  blog as a one-man magazine superior to most magazines in Britain. The elegance and reach of Fisher’s writing, the evangelical urgency and caustic critique that seared through his rapid-fire communiques, demanded a response. And just as fellow bloggers picked up his baton, Fisher was always building on other writers’ arguments, pushing things further than you’d thought possible. 

And on this first anniversary a number of his old friends, colleagues, and students have been posting their own blogs about Fisher and about his ideas, and about blogging as a medium.  Reza Negarestani’s inaugural “Toy Philosphy” blogpost, like Reynolds’s description of k-punk, seems to take the ecosystem of circulation and use to its most utopian conclusion: 

For this reason, I am not convinced about keeping the components of an ongoing research secret. If people can build on your ideas even when your ideas are still in their larval stage, then it does not matter whether they reference you or not. As long as ideas and concepts can be enhanced, refined and propagated, plagiarism is a virtue rather than a vice. The task of a philosopher is to highlight the hard fact that the concept is that over which no single human has a final grip. Therefore, the whole obsession with working in secret, keeping things in the closet until the book is published is absurd. To take the concept of open-source seriously, one must first take the idea of an open-source self seriously.”

In this formulation the web becomes the tool through which ideas break free from the constraints of intellectual property, publishing companies, and even their individuated human hosts.  If the MA thesis Eyman describes in his book increases its use-value by being extended beyond the physical library onto the internet, what can be gained if the ideas/notes/drafts that went into the final product held by the library (not to mention the final paper itself) were made freely and widely available on an open blog?  This form of writing prides itself on its lack of authority and finality, as Eyman explains it is “easily manipulated and remixed” through commenting, quoting, reposting, opening itself up to interpretation and quick response.  

Unfortunately, the ease of manipulation goes beyond the level of ideas, to the material realities of the internet which can just as quickly begin to impose itself on users.  I’ve personally found in researching some of Mark Fisher’s earlier writing, either before or concurrent with the beginning of his k-punk blog, that much of the internet he published on doesn’t really exist anymore.  In some cases you can get lucky using to recover bits and pieces of old pages, like this page which is actually Fisher’s grad school thesis, Flatline Constructs: Gothic Materialism and Cybernetic Theory-fiction.

But in many cases intellectual property laws have forced the removal of images, texts, and, most famously, music from parts of the internet which can never be fully recovered, leaving sites shells of their former selves.  In other cases, sites can no longer afford to maintain the physical servers which host their content, or are bought by entities with no interest in keeping up outdated content.  If Negarestani and Fisher’s blogging embraces the most utopian aspects of digital networks at their best, it is Alexander Galloway and Eugene Thacker that remind us of their constraints, that these sites are owned and controlled largely by profit, even if they don’t impose the same paywalls as university databases or mine your data Facebook:

networks, by their mere existence, are not liberating; they exercise novel forms of control that operate at a level that is anonymous and non-human, which is to say material”

The lack of control users have over the past and future of the internet seems to be a foundational problem at the heart of digital rhetoric, and while projects like Rhizome’s Webrecorder offer some solutions going forward, though there are no real guarantees that the databases they compile will remain more stable and free than independent websites and pre-social networks of the 1990s.


I want to end this post by asking if there are any better solutions that already exist, and if not why not? Is there a proper balance between the stability of printed books housed in universities and the potential openness and freedom of exchanged offered by web platforms that aren’t just Facebook and Google?

And are these limitations  a case for maintaining old mediums even as they become increasingly unprofitable and obsolete?


“It’s a book. It’s a non-volatile storage medium.” – Blank Reg, Max Headroom (1987)

Skip to toolbar