I’d like to kick off this blog by insisting on the oft occulted area of tactical implementation of theoretical speculations, as a prelude to the work we’ll be doing in the context of An Unsound Occupation. There are many reasons why these speculations prematurely abort before sedimenting into application – chief among them perhaps is the sinking feeling that any tactic which circulates in cybernetic capitalism has the potential to strengthen the latter, to become indistinguishable from a product of a research and development wing for the “creative class”. Recall Cazdyn and Szeman’s critique of new economy guru Richard Florida in After Globalization. Dixit Florida: “I define the highest order of creative work as producing new forms or designs that are readily transferable and widely useful – such as designing a product that can be widely made, sold and used.” And this: “We have evolved economic and social systems that tap human creativity and make use of it as never before. This in turn creates an unparalleled opportunity to raise our living standards, build a more humane and sustainable economy, and make our lives more complete.” This grotesque line of argumentation connects with the seemingly progressive project of the Italian Autonomist movement (especially Negri), in reappropriating Marx’s Fragment on Machines from the Grundrisse in which the notion of “general intellect” is introduced as a means to a liberation from exploitation—”tapped into” in order to donate means by which the multitude can auto-poietically constitute itself—but occulting the fact that late capitalism is first and foremost an information, communication economy which vampirizes on intellectual, emotional, affective strata, capturing the individual even more securely into the folds of cybernetic logic. (Not to mention that Autonomist thought a fortiori restricts its critique to the level of production and leaves untrammeled consumption and eternal accumulation unexamined.) (For the moment, I’m not dealing with the claim that immaterial labor is itself nothing new, and has in fact always been an integral part to the production of value within capitalism. Anarchist theorist David Graeber has written on this.) As sociologist Maurizio Lazzarato points out, the individual is now ensconced in “machinic enslavement” which “consists in mobilizing and modulating the pre-individual, pre-cognitive and pre-verbal components of subjectivity, causing affects, perceptions and sensations as yet unindividuated or unassigned to a subject, etc. to function like the cogs and components in a machine.” This connects very much with the notion of pre-individual capture (the future preempted in the present) as dealt with by Brian Massumi and Steve Goodman among others, which seems to constitute one of the primary territories of struggle nowadays. I’m summarizing here, but the main question which has haunted my activities as of late remains: To what ends can creativity be “tapped” without unwittingly serving the very system one wishes to interrupt and defunctionalize? Here, as in all too many instances where the question of “what to do?” comes up, and despite rigorous, careful analyses, a dearth of concrete, actionable mechanisms makes its void painfully felt. My goal is to discover, through dialogue, whether heretical strategies from the past can be reappropriated (somehow divested from capitalist entanglement – Tony Conrad talks about the “excesses” in works which, because they are somehow occluded by historical, cultural “distributions of the sensible” prevailing at the time of their enactment, are therefore available for future use, when the time is ripe to skim them off) or whether heretofore unsuspected methods are what is needed. So I’d like to dedicate each post to a particular theoretical perspective – present or past – the tenets of which might illuminate a current conundrum.
With this question in mind, I delved into Tiqqun’s 2001 L’hypothèse cybernétique, which exists in a fair English translation. The first seven sections establish the coordinates of the cybernetic capitalist system we find ourselves in today, throughout flagging and dismantling most critiques of it as wittingly or unwittingly complicit in its continuing power, while the remaining 5 sections propose strategies for resisting and ultimately defeating this paradigm.
Briefly put, cybernetics, a wartime development tasked with the prediction of enemy action (and concomitant preemption) is quickly put to postwar use in manners defined by the annual Macy Conferences held in NYC, with the explicit aim of preventing any future social trauma and mass destruction by regulating i.e. controlling social behavior (the continuation of war by other, political means). (Lutz Dammbeck’s The Net fully exposes this history which involves figures such as mathematician Von Neumann, biophysicist Von Foerster, anthropologist Bateson, cybernetician Weiner, father of information theory Shannon, psychologist Lewin – an interdisciplinary crowd if ever there was one, and certainly a substantive bolster to anyone who is susceptible to conspiracy theories). However for all intents and purposes, the intentions of the Macy participants revolved around the establishment of a lasting social peace (without of course attempting to substantively deal with the real social antagonisms suppressing its appearance—gender, race, class, capitalism).
At the same time as this is happening, consumer culture is exploding and proliferating, partially due to the astute application of propaganda (now retitled “public relations” to distance it from Goebbels’ use of the term) techniques developed by Freud’s nephew Edward Bernays (see Adam Curtis’ The Century of the Self) geared towards the “manufacture of consent” and the emphasizing / capitalizing of desires over real needs, to ensure constant circulation and accumulation. Thanks to the roughly contemporaneous development and implementation of technologies of real-time communication and information, the feedback model of second-order cybernetics becomes the ideal template shepherding capitalism into its “late” stage. Cybernetics is the response to a desire for order, certitude – and what better way to tap into this than to preemptively stage the future in the present, to actively close off potential future disruptions to ensure an ever-smooth space for commodity circulation. (“For cybernetics it is no longer a question of predicting the future, but of reproducing the present.”)
Tiqqun reminds us that the word cybernetic derives from the Greek kubernesis, literally the act of “piloting a vessel” and refers us back to Foucault’s 1981-2 courses on self-regulation and governmentality as the emerging tenets of a new neoliberal order (astoundingly, Foucault is one of the first to deal with neoliberalism, naming it as such in his 1978-9 courses before almost anyone else, during which time Thatcher acceded to power in the UK and shortly before it was effectively put into practice in the US by Paul Volcker, then chief of the Federal Reserve, when he raised interest rates on October 6 1979 (during the Democratic Carter administration), provoking a recession and installing the new policies of austerity). Social scientist Karl Deutsch recommended abandoning the concept of “sovereign power”, to be replaced by a governance which would consist in “a rational coordination of the flows of information and decisions that circulate through the social body” – a submission of what Lyotard termed the “libidinal economy” of free-floating desires (in his “evil” book of the same name, which he himself later repudiated) to cybernetic control. Deutsch underlined three conditions which would need to be met to actualize this new form of decentralized power: “an ensemble of capturers would have to be installed so that no information originating from the “subjects” would be lost; information handling by correlation and association; and a proximity to every living community.” In this sense, a mastery of uncertainty would arise from the “continuous extortion of information” (now increasingly possible due to new instant-feedback technologies – just think of the Amazon recommendations based on your own purchasing history, memorized and represented back to you, or any type of barcode scan at the checkout counter, which is fed directly into the just-in-time models which overwhelmingly characterize late capitalism.)
“Cybernetics transports the rationalization process common to bureaucracy and to capitalism up onto the plane of total templating (modeling).” Not only have we NOT been liberated by post-Fordist restructuring of labor, but even our so-called leisure time (if we’re not plugged into work all the time to begin with) is being intensely monitored and capitalized by perpetual communication. (Radical economist Gary Becker was one of the first to theorize this total capitalization of existence in “The Economic Approach to Human Behavior” in the mid 70s). The Big State, equally decried by both late 60s student revolutionaries AND emerging neo-liberalists, is replaced by “micro-mechanisms of control”, AKA devices, “nomadic forms of control” which continuously collect information about our needs, desires, opinions (Tiqqun insists on the necessity within cyber-capitalism of constant TRANSPARENCY). Capitalist accumulation can only survive in the wake of the dissolution of mass-production Fordism if the production-consumption cycle accelerates. Accordingly, as Deleuze pointed out in his prescient Postscript, nothing is ever finished in societies of control, following Kafka’s notion of “indefinite postponement”; there are infinitely untapped methods by which the individual can be mobilized as a consumer (because capitalism, however rabid its deterritorializing impulses cannot in the end do without humans, its effects radically RE-territorialized into affects and bodies).
This is a gross summary – and it brings me back to the initial question of how, in this context, a tactical approach might be still able to circumvent capitalization.
Throughout the speculative remainder of the text, Tiqqun outlines general properties of a “successful” resistance:
a) Active Experimentation: “Attacking the cybernetic hypothesis…doesn’t mean just critiquing it, and counterposing a concurrent vision of the social world; it means experimenting alongside it, actuating other protocols, redesigning them from scratch and enjoying them.” AND: “Experimentation, which does not consist in completed experiences but in the process of completing them, is located within fluctuation, in the heart of the noise, lying in wait for the bifurcation.” (The latter notion which they crib from Prigogine and Stengers’ chaos theory discovery of “thresholds from which a new system status is possible”).
b) Intervention/Insinuation from within the logic of commodity flows: Tiqqun believes that Marx and Bataille both erred in “situating the power to overturn the system from OUTSIDE of the system of commodity flows.” This recalls Cildo Meireles’ Intervention into Ideological Circuits, in which repurposed mass produced commodies (assisted ready-mades) were reinserted into the system, their disruptive logic stealthily metastasizing. They define INSINUATION, “the illapsus, according to medieval philosophy – a strategy consisting in following the twists and turns of thought, the wandering words that win me over while at the same time constituting the vague terrain where their reception will establish itself.” Insinuation (read: duplicity) is posited explicitly AGAINST the logic of transparency. This leads to the necessary correlate of…
c) Contagion: Pace Burroughs (in the Invisible Generation), “What’s at issue in any enunciation is not whether it’s received but whether it can become contagious.”
d) Noise: Tiqqun defines noise as that which “is non-enrolled into the valorization circuit”: “The overproduction of bad feedbacks that distort what they’re supposed to signal and amplify what they’re supposed to contain — such situations point the way to a pure reverberatory power.” (It remains to be seen whether noise still has this capacity, given its genrification and valorization – remembering that this text was written in 2001). At its core, noise is the non-trackable, a movement which oscillates indeterminately between 0 and 1 (off / on).
All this is vaguely poetic and somewhat under-determined.
I’d like us to think about the following points and their potential grafting onto sonic practices, given our area of tactical focus. For the moment, I’m going to refrain from critiquing them (I’m expecting and hoping critique will occur). Note that these 8 points are not outlined as such in the text, but have been isolated by me – as such there are overlaps. Also, one should read the following remembering it was written in 2001 (before Sept. 11, an event which apparently brought about the dissolution of the group.); as such, you may find that 12 years makes a big difference.
1. “Fabricating the real instead of responding to it.” (Deleuze) This involves an experimental actualization of heretofore unsuspected “forms of struggle” and the transformation of the “interplay of lifestyles/forms-of-life into information.” It’s an “extended line of flight that seems to spread outwards from me”, which spreads a form of informational sabotage (or disinformation, or “hyperstition”), which could also be understood as a contagious spread of alternative models. It is important to have a consistent multitude of discrepant actions so as to produce an illegible overall effect (no clear mandate) and “produce invisibility in the eyes of the enemy”.
2. This fabrication and consequent dissemination of sabotage must be accompanied by a counter-movement, a folding back, a retreat from oppressive feedback circuits which would “attempt to encircle me/figure me out; like Bartleby, I’d “prefer not to””.”The resistance of lifestyles/forms-of-life to being made into information. Deleuze: “The important thing is maybe to create vacuoles of non-communication, interrupters who escape control.” “Extending the background interference that imposes itself when the feedback loops are triggered, and which makes the recording of behavioral discrepancies by the ensemble of cybernetic apparatuses costly”.
3. Consequently, ZONES OF OPACITY need to be established “where people can circulate and experiment freely without bringing in the Empire’s information flows”. Emphasis on the production of “anonymous singularities, recreating the conditions for a possible experience, an experience which will not be immediately flattened out by a binary machine assigning a meaning/direction to it, a dense experience that can transform desires and the moments where they manifest themselves into something beyond desire, into a narrative, into a filled-out body.”
4. In order that offensive opacity zones can form and be reinforced, there need to be planes of consistency, which connect deviations together, which work like a lever and fulcrum to overturn fear. “In order that behavioral fluctuations become contagious, it is necessary that they first attain a “critical mass,” which pace Prigogine/Stengers is “thus determined by a competition between the (cybernetic) system’s ‘power of integration’ and the chemical mechanisms that amplify the fluctuation within the fluctuating subregion.”
5. SLOWNESS is to be privileged over speed (given capital’s mobility and will-to-efficiency, cf. Taylor’s Time and Motion studies). “Slowness is also necessary to putting lifestyles/forms-of-life that are irreducible to simple information exchanges into relation with each other. It expresses resistance of relations to interaction.” ” Speed upholds institutions. Slowness cuts off flows.” So one must (somehow) fight against a temporality of urgency.
6. The POLITICS OF RHYTHM. On the one hand, the politics of rhythm is “the search for a reverberation, another state, comparable to trance on the part of the social body, through the ramification of each body.” (Cf. Canetti Crowds and Power) Shades of Lefebvre’s Rhythmanalysis and Eshun’s invocations from More Brilliant than the Sun: “political kinetics can be better understood as the politics of rhythm.” (Recall Goodman’s accounts in Sonic Warfare about transindividual vibrational encounters).
7. At the same time, the “binary techno-rhythm imposed by cybernetics must be OPPOSED by other rhythms” which would be “profoundly dis-integrating, rather than merely noisy…rhythms of disconnection.” They stipulate that “the collective conquest of this accurate dissonant tempo must come from a prior abandon to improvisation.” (see 6.)
8. “HAZE disrupts all the typical coordinates of perception. It makes it indiscernible what is visible and what is invisible, what is information and what is an event.” “To say that revolt must become foglike means that it should be dissemination and dissimulation at the same time.” Contra myths of transparency which the cyberworld is predicated on (“direct democracy”).
I’ll leave it there in order to think further about how sound might help actualize some of the above, especially given how sonic metaphors are already employed throughout.
I’ve posted some links to some of the texts above on the Asounder website here, and here.
summary reading list (see aaaaarg if not linked):
Edward Bernays – Propaganda
William S. Burroughs – The Invisible Generation
Elias Canetti – Crowds and Power
Eric Cazdyn and Imre Szeman – After Globalization
Tony Conrad – Is this Penny Ante or a High Stakes Game?
Adam Curtis – The Century of the Self
Lutz Dammbeck – The Net – The Unabomber, LSD and the Internet
Gilles Deleuze – Postscript on Societies of Control
Michel Foucault – The Hermeneutics of the Subject (1981-2 lectures)
Steve Goodman – Sonic Warfare
David Harvey – A Brief History of Neoliberalism
Brian Holmes – Filming the World Laboratory – Cybernetic History in Das Netz
Maurizio Lazzarato – The Machine
Cildo Meireles – Intervention into Ideological Circuits
Benjamin Noys ed. – Communization and its Discontents (essay by Alex Galloway on The Cybernetic Hypothesis)
Tiqqun – The Cybernetic Hypothesis