2018-2019 HTDTWT Seminar Antonia Majaca: Incomputable from month to month
Seminar 4 February + 5 March
The Cybernetic Hypothesis
In a 2001 text, the French collective Tiqqun professed that the cybernetic paradigm of "steering" introduced after the WWII in US and other overdeveloped countries became not only a new political metaphor but also a new paradigm for how all aspects of life. Cybernetic management became a new 'general fable' for human life-worlds: all biological, social and physical behavior became a subject of inquiry and manipulation as fully programmable and re-programmable. In this seminar we will explore the parapolitics of art and culture after the declared 'end of ideology' in the 1950s, and discuss the 'rationalizations' in art in the light of the cybernetic hypothesis. We will explore the tensions and interweaving between mimesis and abstraction as two seemingly opposing regimes of visual coding, of 'programed' cultural languages and of exhibition as a form of (post)ideological message. We will read together selected segments of Norbert Wiener’s ‘The Human Use of Human Beings’ in parallel to Tiqqun’s ‘Cybernetic Hypohesis’ and fragments of Katherine Hayles: ’How we Became Posthuman’. We will also use these readings to analyze a selection of artistic projects from 1950s and 1960s including the canonical 'A Communications Primer' (1953) by Charles and Ray Eames, based on Claude Shannon's 'The Mathematical Theory of Communication' (1949).
Seminar 3 January
Data Paternalism (Without the Father)
From logistic and click capitalism to Uber drivers and low wage troll armies, datafication regimes of late capitalism continue to be guided by the logic of control and prediction. Prediction and control are not only at the core of new forms of economic exploitation, but fundamentally shape the ideology of data positivism subjugating reason to the rule of facts. As causality is increasingly rendered obsolete, the violence behind data capitalism becomes ever opaquer. If the dominant mode of our age is indeed datafication, it means that both the ‘system’ and the subject are operating with the imagination limited by the ‘quantifiable’ - whether this is infinite or qualitatively complex.
While the data harvester -- the increasingly superfluid congruence of law and capital, constructs the skynet-like paranoid apparatuses of prediction and control, the data provider resorts to nervous conspiracy theory. The narrative device of paranoid conspiracy, albeit without any agency, provides the subject with the false sense of ability to make sense of complexity, and the consolation of ‘at least trying’, as did Kafka’s man from the country in the famous parable ‘The Creature Before the Law’. The exchange of paranoia enfolds over the abyss of double translucency: on the one hand the data-sovereign transparent in the sense of invisibility, on the other the data provider absolutely exposed, i.e. transparent as in: absolutely visible. In other words, there seems to be a double dissipation happening in the loop of intertwined subjugation and subjectivation.
How is one to think subjectivity and political subjectivity anew while confronting complex new forms of phantasmal dependencies on algorithmic forms of voluntary subjugation? Mark Fisher, describing capital “as a shattering real”, invoked Deleuze and Guattari’s Unnamable thing. Describing negative theology inherent to Capital, Fisher explains that even though ‘the center is missing’, we cannot stop searching for it or positing it. It is not that there is nothing there – it is that what is there is not capable of exercising responsibility. This seems to hold particularly true when it comes to data driven capitalist apparatuses of capture and control. The pathology of our relation to (data) capital can therefore be seen as a new chapter in the longue durée episode in the matrix of “paternalism without the father”.
If it is true that our knowledge and what we believe to be true are critically dependent on our cultural techniques and our media then we might need to considering the double helix of subjectivation and subjugation crystallizing in the forests of paranoid apparatuses of capture, control and prediction, modulating every act before it occurs. Human cognitive machines stall while re- aroused by snap captures of fleeting fragments that hold the promise of access to totality. What is to be made out of the flatted sea of data, among the unconnectable splinters of the impossible whole? And, is there a totality out there to ‘map’ anyway?
Jameson, Frederic. "Cognitive Mapping." In: Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture. Edited by Nelson Cary and Grossberg Lawrence. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1990.
Deleuze, Gilles. "Postscript on the Societies of Control." October 59. (1992): 3-7.
Kosofsky Sedgwick, Eve. "Paranoid Reading and Reparative Reading: or, You’re So Paranoid, You Probably Think This Essay Is About You." In Touching Feeling: Affect, Pedagogy, Performativity. Durham: Duke University Press, 2003.
Rouvroy, Antoinette. "The End(s) of Critique: Data-Behaviorism vs. Due-Process." In Privacy, Due Process and the Computational Turn. Philosophers of Law Meet Philosophers of Technology, edited by Mireille Hildebrandt & Ekatarina De Vries. London: Routledge, 2012.
Seminar 2 December
Our next session will be divided into 3 sections: short presentations by the students, a lengthy lecture and a broad discussion incorporating the reading materials. We will be looking at some of the aspects of the post WWII liberal consensus and trace the way the marriage between cybernetics and ego psychology of the Cold War era consolidated a particular subjectivity based on a set of foreclosures which continue to haunt the human life-worlds today. We will follow the path from the psychology of the 1940s to the recent scandal surrounding the last American elections. In particular, we will analyze the case of the data analytics company Cambridge Analytica, and discuss it as a paradigmatic example of the perfect union of psychological and cultural operation. What CA made blatantly clear was how new forms of psychological warfare and ‘human engineering’ entangle contemporary digital subjects, conditioned by the persistence of the double bind of adaptation and ego autonomy. We will also discuss 'psychometrics' working to exploit this double bind. While introducing the impacts of ‘positive psychology’—a related field focusing on ‘how ordinary people can become happier’, we will invoke Jacques Lacan’s critique of one of the essential imperatives in the American 'culture factor'—that of happiness. In parallel we will trace the conceptualization of subjectivity beyond the confines of what Denise Ferreira da Silva calls 'the onto-epistemological tools of the subject of western enlightenment', their mid 20th century 'New World' iterations and their current post-cybernetic configurations.
Ferreira Da Silva, Denise. "Toward a Black Feminist Poethics." The Black Scholar 44, no. 2 (2014): 81-97.
Burden-Stelly, Charisse. "Constructing Deportable Subjectivity: Antiforeignness, Antiradicalism, and Antiblackness during the McCarthyist Structure of Feeling." Souls 19, no. 3 (2017): 342-358.
Taylor, Keeanga-Yamahtta. How We Get Free: Black Feminism and the Combahee River Collective. Haymarket Books, 2017.
Seminar 1 November
A Speculative Commitment
If our reality is governed by the aggregate data in which knowledge is always the knowledge of the (short-term) future—a predictive knowledge based on calculable date—are we facing what Antoinette Rouvroy has called the “end of critique?” “The “real time operationality” of devices functioning on algorithmic logic spares human actors the burden and responsibility of interpreting and evaluating the world. The crisis of the deductive model of reasoning seems to be pointing toward the crisis of the subject that is now drowning in the endless sea of data, incapable of deducing the truth. All the while, the thick verticality of algo-regime is built upon the entrepreneurship of the auto-exploitative reiterative selves where subjectivity seems to be flattened into data and entirely depleted of possibility of any other becoming (subject). Is there a way out and, more importantly—back into reason and politics by other means and by other or indeed— othered and alien reasoning and for new ends? Instead of embracing the dystopian prospect of collective subjectivity already drowning within the sticky glue of algorithmic totality, should we not embrace what Isabel Stengers calls “a speculative commitment” to the possible against the inductive probable? The speculative commitment here would mean a belief that the system is not given but neither is the subject of its truth production. In few words, the question is how to engineer subjectivity and re-script the functions of a system capable of constructing images, conjuring narratives and truths beyond nervous conspiracies and systemic paranoia.
Majaca, Antonia and Luciana Parisi. “The Incomputable and Instrumental Possibility.” e-flux Journal 77 (2016). https://www.e-flux.com/journal/77/76322/the-incomputable-and-instrumental-possibility/
Simondon, Gilbert. “The Genesis of the Individual.” In Incorporations. Edited by Jonathan Crary and Sanford Kwinter. 297–319. New York: Zone Books, 1992.
Majaca, Antonia. “Little Daniel Before the Law: Algorithmic Extimacy and the Rise of the Paranoid Apparatus.” e-flux Journal 75 (2016). https://www.e-flux.com/journal/75/67140/little-daniel-before-the-law-algorithmic-extimacy-and-the-rise-of-the-paranoid-apparatus/.