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'The Inhumanist Manifesto', Media Theory, Vol. 1, No.1, 2017.

The Uberfication of the University (Open access Forerunners series version available here; as of April 4 2017 an interactive Manifold series version is available here.)

Públicos Fantasma - La Naturaleza Política Del Libro - La Red (Mexico: Taller de Ediciones Económicas, 2016) - new book, co-authored with Andrew Murphie, Janneke Adema and Alessandro Ludovico. 

'Posthumanities: The Dark Side of "The Dark Side of the Digital"' (with Janneke Adema), in Janneke Adema and Gary Hall, eds, Disrupting the Humanities: Towards Posthumanities, Journal of Electronic PublishingVol. 9, No.2, Winter, 2016.

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Most of Gary's work is freely available to read and download either here in Media Gifts or in Coventry University's online repository CURVE here 

performative project Janneke Adema has put together, based on our ‘The Political Nature of the Book: On Artists’ Books and Radical Open Access’ article for New Formations, Number 78, Summer, 2013. 

'What Does Academia.edu's Success Mean for Open Access: The Data-Driven World of Search Engines and Social Networking', Ctrl-Z: New Media Philosophy, no.5, 2015.

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« Affirmative media theory and the post-9/11 world (part 2) | Main | Paper - the most radical technology of all? »
Sunday
Sep192010

Affirmative media theory and the post-9/11 world (part 1)

(The following is a slightly revised version of a text first published on 2 September, 2010, by the Creative Research Centre at Montclair State University. Part II of 'Affirmative Media Theory and the Post-9/11 World', again first published by the Creative Research Centre, is now available above.)

 

Thank you for the invitation to contribute to your born-digital, dynamic, nimble, open-source, collaborative space at Montclair State University. I’m very happy to join the conversation of your Creative Research Centre and take part in your symposium, ‘The Uses of the Imagination in the Post-9/11 World’.

You’ve asked me to address ‘the inherent viability of the concept of the “post-9/11 world”’ and explain what this ‘over-arching concept’ means to me.  Perhaps you’ll forgive me, then, if I begin by telling you a little about my own research. This currently involves a series of born-digital, open, dynamic, collaborative projects I’m provisionally calling ‘media gifts’. Operating at the intersections of art, theory and new media, these gifts employ digital media to actualise critical and cultural theory. As such, their primary focus is not on building a picture of the world by establishing what something is and how it exists, before proclaiming, say, that we’ve moved from the closed spaces of disciplinary societies to the more spirit- or gas-like forces of the societies of control, as Gilles Deleuze would have it.

Instead, the projects I’ve been working on over the last few years – which include a ‘liquid book’, a series of internet television programmes, and an experiment that investigates some of the implications of internet piracy through the creation of an actual ‘pirate’ text   – are instances of media and mediation that endeavor to produce the effects they name or things of which they speak.


The reason I wanted to start with these projects is because they function for me as a means of thinking through what it means to ‘do philosophy’ and ‘do media theory’ in the current theoretico-political climate.  I see them as a way of practicing an affirmative media theory or philosophy in which analysis and critique are not abandoned but take more creative, inventive and imaginative forms. The different projects in the series thus each in their own way experiment with the potential new media technologies hold for making affective, singular interventions in the here and now.


The possibility of philosophy today 

Having said that, I want to make it clear I’m not positioning the affirmative media theory I’m endeavouring to practice with these media gifts in a relation of contrast to earlier, supposedly less affirmative, theoretical paradigms.

 

(A desire to avoid positioning the affirmative media philosophy I’m attempting to practice in a relation of contrast to previous theoretical paradigms is one of the reasons I’ve taken the decision not to explicitly relate the media gifts series to the so-called affective turn. For an example of the latter, see Richard Grusin’s recent book on affect and mediality after 9/11, where he writes:

one of the attractions of affect theory is that it provides an alternative model of the human subject and its motivations to the post-structuralist psychoanalytic models favoured by most contemporary cultural and media theorists. Affectivity helps shift the focus from representation to mediation, deploying an ontological model that refuses the dualism built into the concept of representation. Affectivity entails an ontology of multiplicity that refuses what Bruno Latour has characterized as the modern divide, variously understood in terms of such fundamental oppositions as those between human and non-human, mind and the world, culture and nature, or civilization and savagery. Drawing on varieties of what Nigel Thrift calls ‘non-representational theory’, I concern myself with the things that mediation does rather than what media mean or represent.  

(Richard Grusin, Premediation: Affect and Mediality After 9/11 (Palgrave Macmillan: Basingstoke, 2010) p.7)

Another of my reasons for not relating the media gifts series to affect theory lies with the fact that, as I have already intimated, I’m not so interested in developing ontologies or ontological models of understanding the world.

Still another is that, just as such affect theory attempts to do away with oppositions and dualisms, so it simultaneously (and often unconsciously and unwittingly) seems to repeat and reinforce them – in the case of the passage from Grusin above, most obviously between before and after 9/11, between representational and non-representational theory, and between post-structuralist psychoanalytic models and affect theory itself. And that’s without even mentioning the way Grusin’s book is constantly concerned with providing a
representation of the logics and practices of mediation after 9/11; and with explaining what things such as the global credit crunch mean in this context in a manner it’s frequently difficult to differentiate from the kind of cultural and media theory he positions his book as representing an alternative to:

remediation no longer operates within the binary logic of reality versus mediation, concerning itself instead with mobility, connectivity, and flow. The real is no longer that which is free from mediation, but that which is thoroughly enmeshed with networks of social, technical, aesthetic, political, cultural, or economic mediation. The real is defined not in terms of representational accuracy, but in terms of liquidity or mobility. In this sense the credit crisis of 2008 was a crisis precisely of the real – as the problem of capital that didn’t move, of credit that didn’t flow, was seen as both the cause and consequence of the financial crisis. In the hypermediated post-capitalism of the twenty-first century, wealth is not representation but mobility.
            (Richard Grusin, ibid, p.3))

 

In a discussion with Alain Badiou that took place in New York in 2006, Simon Critchley constructs a narrative of this latter kind when describing the ‘overwhelmingly conceptually creative and also enabling and empowering’ nature of the former’s system of thought.  For Critchley, the current situation of theory is characterised, on the one hand, by ‘a sense of frustration and fatigue with a whole range of theoretical paradigms: paradigms having been exhausted, paradigms having been led into a cul-de-sac, of making promises that they didn’t keep or simply giving some apocalyptic elucidation to our sense of imprisonment’; and, on the other, by a ‘tremendous thirst for a constructive, explanatory and empowering theoretical discourse’. It’s a thirst that Badiou’s philosophy apparently goes some way toward quenching. It’s ‘refreshing’, Critchley declares.

This desire for constructive, explanatory and empowering theoretical discourses of the kind offered not just by Badiou, I would propose, but in their different ways by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Bernard Stiegler, Slavoj Žižek, and others, too, is of course understandable. I can’t help wondering, though, if such discourses aren’t also a manifestation, to some degree at least, of what Germaine Greer has characterized as male display (although the books Greer is thinking of are Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers and Levitt and Dubner’s Freakonomics, rather than Badiou’s Being and Event or volumes by the likes of Nicolas Bourriaud and Marc Auge that put forward theories of the altermodern and supermodernity):

 

Every week, either by snail mail or e-mail, I get a book that explains everything. Without exception, they are all written by men... There is no answer to everything, and only a deluded male would spend his life trying to find it. The most deluded think they have actually found it. ... Brandishing the ‘big idea’ is a bookish version of male display, and as such a product of the same mind-set as that behind the manuscripts that litter my desk. To explain is in some sense to control. Proselytizing has always been a male preserve. ... I would hope that fewer women have so far featured in the big-ideas landscape because, by and large, they are more interested in understanding than explaining, in describing rather than accounting for. Giving credence to a big idea is a way of permitting ourselves to skirt strenuous engagement with the enigma that is our life.

(Germaine Greer, in Germaine Greer, Andrew Lycett and John Douglas, ‘The Week in Books: The Male Desire for Explanation; the Real Quantum of Solace; and Merchandising Fiction’, The Guardian, 1 November, 2008)


Still, as I say, I can recognise the appeal of enabling and empowering theoretical discourses to a certain extent. It’s a different aspect of the current situation of theory as it’s glossed by Critchley I’m particularly concerned with here.

Critchley – who is himself the author of The Ethics of Deconstruction and co-author of Deconstruction and Pragmatism – is careful to name no names as to which exhausted theoretical paradigms he has in mind. But given that a ‘certain discourse, let’s call it deconstructive’, Critchley suggests, is also explicitly placed in a relation of contrast to Badiou’s ‘very different’ creative, constructive philosophy, I wonder if deconstruction is not at least part of what he is referring to?  If so, then I have to say I find it difficult to recognise deconstruction, and the philosophy of Jacques Derrida especially (with which the term deconstruction is most closely associated, and which is very important for me), in any description that opposes it to that which is conceptually creative, enabling, explanatory and empowering. Derrida’s thought is all of these things – although in a different way to Badiou’s philosophical system, it’s true.  The interest of Derrida and deconstruction lies with systems – including what Badiou, in the same discussion with Critchley, refers to as ‘the classical field of philosophy’ – but also with what destabilizes, disrupts, escapes, exceeds, interrupts and undoes systems. And this would apply to Badiou’s own system of thought (‘and this is a system’, Critchley points out). This doesn’t mean deconstruction can be positioned as ‘melancholic’, though, and contrasted to construction and ‘reconstruction’, as Critchley and Badiou would have it.

For all his interest in radical politics, theatre, poetry, cinema, mathematics, psychoanalysis and the question of love, there’s an intriguing return to philosophy, and with it a certain disciplinarity, evident in Badiou’s work (as opposed to the interdisciplinarity associated with cultural studies, say, or the trans-disciplinarity of your CRC). Badiou refers to this as being very much a philosophical decision on his part:

And finally my philosophical decision – there is always something like a decision in philosophy, there is not always continuity: you have to decide something and my decision was very simple and very clear. It was that philosophy was possible. It’s a very simple sentence, but in the context it was something new. Philosophy is possible in the sense that we can do something which is in the classical tradition of philosophy and nevertheless in our contemporary experience. There is in my condition no contradiction between our world, our concrete experiences, an idea of radical politics for example, a new form of art, new experiences in love, and the new mathematics. There is no contradiction between our world and something in the philosophical field that is finally not in rupture but assumes a continuity with the philosophical tradition from Plato to today.

And we can take one further step, something like that. So we have not to begin by melancholic considerations about the state of affairs of philosophy: deconstruction, end of philosophy, end of metaphysics, and so on. This vision of the history of thinking is not mine.  And so I have proposed – in Being and Event in fact – a new constructive way for philosophical concepts and something like a reconstruction – against deconstruction – of the classical field of philosophy itself.

(Alain Badiou, ‘”Ours Is Not A Terrible Situation” - Alain Badiou and Simon Critchley at Labyrinth Books’, NY, March 6, 2006)


Yet what kind of decision is actually being taken here? What is it based on or grounded in? How philosophical is this decision by Badiou?  Couldn’t it be said that any decision to the effect that philosophy is possible, that a ‘reconstruction – against deconstruction – of the classical field of philosophy’ is possible, has to be taken by Badiou in advance of philosophy; and that his decision in favour of a ‘new constructive way for philosophical concepts’ therefore takes Badiou outside or beyond philosophy at precisely the moment he is claiming to have returned to or defended it? As such, doesn’t any such decision do violence not just to deconstruction but also to the classical tradition of philosophy?

These are questions that Derrida and deconstruction can help with. For Derrida’s philosophy is nothing if it is not a thinking of the impossible decision. As someone else associated with deconstruction, J. Hillis Miller, puts it:


Responsibility... must be, if it is to exist at all, always excessive, always impossible to discharge. Otherwise it will risk being the repetition of a program of understanding and action already in place… My responsibility in each reading is to decide and to act, but I must do so in a situation where the grounds of decision are impossible to know. As Kierkegaard somewhere says, ‘The moment of decision is madness’. The action, in this case, often takes the form of teaching or writing that cannot claim to ground itself on pre-existing knowledge or established tradition but is what Derrida calls ‘l’invention de l’autre [the invention of the other’].

(J. Hillis Miller, in J. Hillis Miller and Manuel Asensi, Black Holes: J. Hillis Miller; or, Toward Boustropedonic Reading (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1999) p.491)


From this perspective, what’s so helpful about Derrida’s thought is not that it disavows the possibility of taking a decision in favour of a reconstruction of the classical field of philosophy; it’s that Derrida enables us to understand how any such decision necessarily involves a moment of madness. This is important; because once we appreciate the decision is the invention of the other, of the other in us, we can endeavour to assume, or better, endure ‘in a passion’, rather than simply act out, the implications of this realisation for the way we teach, write and act, in an effort to make the impossible decisions that confront us – including those concerning philosophy - as responsibly as possible. 


The concept of the post-9/11 world

Why am I raising all this here, in response to your invitation to address ‘the inherent viability of the concept of the post-9/11 world’? I’m doing so because if Critchley is right and the current situation of theory is characterised by a thirst for constructive, explanatory and empowering theoretical discourses then, as I say, I can understand this. I can also appreciate that the concept of the ‘post-9/11 world’ may be of service in this context (including, perhaps, in terms of what Badiou refers to as the political name or poetic event). And, of course, it has already been adopted as a new means of historical periodisation by some. But as far as practicing a creative, affirmative media theory or philosophy is concerned, it seems to me that whether what you are referring to as the ‘over-arching’ concept of the post-9/11 world is ‘viable’ or not, in the sense in which my dictionary defines viable - as ‘being capable of functioning successfully, practicable’, as being ‘able to live in particular circumstances’ - is just such an impossible decision.


Reader Comments (2)

Yet what kind of decision is actually being taken here?

November 11, 2010 | Unregistered Commentertorrent download

Thanks for the question and other comments. Part of what I'm trying to do here is explain why, to date, I've taken a decision not to think what I'm doing with regard to media theory and the media gifts series of projects in terms of the concept of the post-9/11 world.

November 11, 2010 | Registered CommenterGary Hall

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