— New RSShole

I spent the last year in the hellish, spindly grips of unknown technological forces that, for whatever reason, filled this domain with spammy redirects to pages for prescription drugs and blushing babes. Google promptly shut down all access to this domain, including my ability to access files, links, texts I had written and published (or didn’t). I spent months cleaning out every last speck of errant code, resubmitting the site to Google, and waiting. After a few months, I would resubmit the site again, wait again. And then one day, nearly a year after the initial shutdown, with no announcement, the site was back. The blog was exactly as I had left it, down to the dusty drafts filled with half-written thoughts about things like “the true is the whole” and the problematic architecture of Fishtown galleries.

I was in digital purgatory. We presume our digital output to be indefinitely accessible — this is the archive, the source of anxious articles directed at tweet-happy teens warning them of their ineradicable present. But this static view that our coded footprints are collected, catalogued, and preserved is one that is both institutional and architectural. In focusing on the originality of our output, we isolate it from its social context and relation to other systems, people, or code. If the content that we produce on the internet isn’t as freely-growing as  Deleuze and Guattari envisioned, then it is the viruses that infect that content that are the rhizome.

My website was diseased, infected — I felt what Georges Canguilhem called “disease as error”. I associated the infection of code with death, something untrue but not without historical precedent. I’ve been reading through Alex Galloway and Eugene Thacker’s The Exploit: A Theory of Networks, tying the biological and the historical to contemporary internet operations. Galloway and Thacker stitch the line between disease (epidemics, contagion, transmission) and networks. What Foucault termed the “problem of multiplicities”, the center-less, unpreventable processes of transmission and infection, is inherent in these networks, whether they are biological (pathogens) or technological (viruses). And thus, it’s not just an issue of disease but of politics, or as Galloway and Thacker put it, “the problem of multiplicities in networks is the tension between sovereignty and control.”

Sovereignty and control. My files and writings, the static sovereignty of my domain, and the control asserted in controlling access to them by a larger, mysterious force. This too is more than just a tension between individual (me) and corporation (Google) — it is, as Galloway and Thacker describe, a pitting against a far more eschatological premonition:

“Popular interpretations of epidemics throughout history often make appeals to the supernatural: the plague is a sign of divine retribution (for the colonized), a sign of divine providence (for the colonizer), a harbinger of the apocalypse, a punishment of the hubris of humanity, even mystified in modern times as the “revenge of nature.” Such representations are not limited to biological epidemics; in the network society, they are also found in informational – biological hybrids: the “metro phage,” the “gray goo” problem of nanotech, the “infocalypse,” and so on. Such narratives and representations can be seen as attempts to recentralize the question of sovereignty in networks. But in this case, sovereignty is scaled up to the level of the divine or demonic, an agency that may be identified but remains unknowable and decidedly nonhuman.”

I knew purgatory would end with either the complete, utter death of my website or the redemption of it by this divine agency. ‘Google as god’ isn’t a particularly revolutionary sentiment, but over what does this authority rule? In this case, where my domain (and likely thousands more) was infiltrated by code redirecting viewers with spam, Google manages what Bataille calls an economy of waste, excess, expenditure. The subjects to adhere to Google’s moral code of conduct aren’t individuals like me — they are the viruses themselves. The divine watches over the junk. Or, as Galloway and Thacker put it, “an excess of of signification, a signification without sense, precisely the noise that signifies nothing — except its own networked generativity.”

So I’m back.

I have been thinking a lot about the ethnography of the image, semiotics, and discrimination shrouded by art.  I just purchased this book by Morse Peckham, and I am tingling with excitement.  Peckham’s pragmatism may not be one for the ages, as I was unable to find any influence of his work beyond the occasional citation.  This man is a gem.  Here’s what he wrote to the editors at NYRB in 1971:

I believe it to be an error that a theory of art is “rightly and inevitably evaluative.” (1) Any proposition can be used as a basis for judging art. (2) An indefinably wide range of propositions has so been used, and new ones will be thought up. The process will continue as long as there are people and art, and the question cannot be resolved. (3) So to use a proposition is to judge art on the basis of whether or not it is an exemplification of a proposition. Such activity ascribes to art a lesser value than the propositions used to judge it. Individuals intensely concerned with evaluating works of art appear to have as their central interest the severe restriction of the number of works of art to be taken seriously. (4) We judge art because we judge everything else. Value judgments of works of art are of great interest sociologically, but of little or no interest in understanding works of art.

Let’s also note this little sentimental proof was wrapped in his response to a review of five of his books by Christopher Ricks (who, apparently, “really did quite well. To be sure, he made a number of blunders, as was to be expected.”)

So, in contemplating the axiom that the meaning of a sign is the response to it, I’m sharing Kenneth Fitzgerald’s essay in Emigre #48 “Skilling Saws and Absorbent Catalogues.“  It isn’t particularly related to aesthetics and semiotics, but it does feature a great little nug from MP: “It is clear that art is useless, that perceiver and artist are arrogant and indifferent. … Art tells us nothing about the world that we cannot find elsewhere and more reliably. Art does not make us better citizens, or more moral, or more honest. It may conceivably make us worse.”

Picture 5

I’ve read several essays and manifestos recently on the artistic implications of Facebook.  These writings can be evocative, and are often extremely successful at garnering the cultural capital they wish to theorize.  My own thoughts on these essays are best expressed by friend and scholar Adam E. Leeds.  I’d like to quote an email I received from him:

“…I am done reading articles about how Facebook changes the world.

1. I don’t actually believe that what goes on on social networking sites is that different from what went on before them, or changes our sense of self much.

2. There are changes in society on account of them; the most important ones are the delocalization of networks and the instantaneity of mass communication — new articulations of time and space.

3. These technologies are totally in their infancy.  Facebook might not be around in ten years. We don’t even know what is the paradigm that will replace it, yet.

4. We won’t really know the cultural implications until we see the culture that the generation that grows up with whatever replaces Facebook creates.”

Total agreement.  This is not to suggest, of course, that pop culture requires being canonized before it can be effectively parsed.  There is a significant difference between technology as phenomenon and technology as medium — when writers treat cultural phenomena as media, the theory must take a different approach.  To speak of Facebook as medium, as paradigm, disallows its potential for instantaneity which, I think, is what it is actually good at.

Surely, the contemporary theoretical essay does not need to be one for the ages –that’s the mode of contemporary. But I can’t help but think how I recently read Boris Groys’s problematic essay on institutionalized video art, and how very dated it felt (it was written only 6 years ago).  To speak of these phenomena as prototypes for the future (or even prototypes for now) misses the point of technological ephemerality and presentness.  Presentness, in this instance, is not necessarily grace.  In technology, presentness is chopped, distorted, and wholly untrustworthy.  It is interesting, certainly.  But it is not implication.

I just wanted to get a closer look at Die, but I think that the National Gallery of Art must have some sort of secret tagging functionality, as my click to enlarge resulted in the following:

Screen shot 2012-02-20 at 12.09.42 PM

Seems about right.

I’m super excited about the second installment of Ascended Drifts, my hip hop box set project.


Ascended Drifts 2: New Jersey

Jazzy tracks from New Jersey, 1991-1999. Most artists hail from Newark, Trenton, and Jersey City, which were also jazz epicenters at various points throughout the 20th century. Horns and pianos dominate the beats with a pleasant smoothness that intersects with ideas of mortality and ego, giving each track some real murky muscle. It’s big, and it’s grey, and it’s weird, and it’s New Jersey.

Featuring tracks by Artifacts, The Blunted Crew, Brick City Kids, Da Nuthouse, Flipside Magicians, Logic, N.F.L., Nautilus, Original Seeds, Real Live, Sick Lunatix, Visual Sound, 108 Dragons, and a bunch of others.

Download here

Feedback / forwarding welcome

I want to listen to Michael Fried’s “mmmhmm” on repeat every night to fall asleep. Thanks, Damon.