geert lovink on Mon, 4 Jun 2001 00:30:46 +0200 (CEST)

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[Nettime-bold] From the archives: David Hudson's Beauty and the East report (May 1997)

From: "David Hudson" <>
Sent: Sunday, June 03, 2001 11:08 PM

The article below, a report of the nettime meeting The Beauty and the East
in Ljubljana, May 1997, was written for Spiegel Online and published in
German. The English original never made it to David Hudson's
as David originally intended. Here it is, enjoy. Geert & David


[The following article originally ran in German last week at <A
HREF="">SPIEGEL ONLINE</A> under the title "<A
Wunscherfüllung</A>"... something like, "the nightmare of having your wishes
granted." Many thanks to Lorenz Lorenz-Meyer for his editorial polishing and
translation which nudged the quality of the piece a notch above the English
original below.]

It's got to be a very unique Internet mailing list that can call a meeting
in the tiny capital of Slovenia and have 120 of its approximately 400
subscribers show up. All day and all night Wednesday, May 21, they trickled
in, singularly and in small groups from New York and Moscow, Riga and Bari
and points in between, made their way to the K4 Club tucked into one of the
narrow streets in the center of Ljubljana, checked in and collected
information packets, name tags, city guides and all the other trappings of a
major conference.

Among the many differences between the <A
HREF=">nettime</A> spring meeting, "<A
HREF="">Beauty and the East</A>", and, say,
February's <A
& Politics</A> extravaganza in Munich: more than a few nettime participants
had little or no idea where they'd be sleeping, nearly all the events
started late and ran overtime, there was a vague weekend camping trip
atmosphere to the whole affair, and there was to be no press.

"You're covering this for Spiegel Online?!" Pit Schultz, co-moderator of
nettime, in a completely uncharacteristic display of alarm came running over
to me after Friday night's performance by <A
HREF="">Critical Art Ensemble</A>. He
reminded me of the "no advertising" policy he and fellow moderator Geert
Lovink had established when the list was begun after an informal meeting at
the Venice Biennale in 1995. But after a few moments and even fewer words,
it was clear that events had long since overtaken the policy. Nettime is on
the map.

What began as a means of "text filtering", that is, a simple way of passing
essays and documents around among like minds, many of them found on the Web,
has since become a forum in which similar texts are now originally
published. The list has taken off the way it has (it's currently expanding
at the rate of around ten new subscribers a week) because of a combination
of factors. With subscribers from around the world, these texts almost have
to be in English, meaning not only those subscribing to the views presented
in the texts, but the targets of the texts as well can access them. The
resulting conflict has done more for the list's profile than any advertising
ever could have, but we'll get to that.

Nettime sets out to be a forum of "net critique", or as Schultz says in an
<A HREF="">interview</A>
with Pauline Broekmann of Mute, "There is the chance that new media creates
channels to redirect the flow of power. That's what nettime is made for. An
experimental place for (re)mixes... Never perfect and always 'in becoming,'
but not explicit, not descriptive but performative, and pragmatic."

Another of Schultz' favorite adjectives for nettime, dropped again in
Ljubljana, is "immanent", implying a somewhat Deleuzian recognition and
perhaps even celebration of the complexity of any given moment or point(s)
of view. As opposed to the U.S. American affinity for "transcendent"
narratives, this stance is seeped in Europe and postmodernism. Nettime wears
the former tag proudly but shrinks from the latter. But despite Lovink's
professed preference for 19th century anarchy over 20th French academics and
despite Schultz' claim that he can pick up Derrida, read for a while and put
it back down having gained little of use, neither have grown up on the
continent throughout the eighties and nineties completely untainted by the
predominant ideas of their milieu.

Like the vinyl disks selected by a savvy DJ, the texts plucked from the Net
when nettime began set the tone for what followed, a deconstruction of grand
narratives that had already taken kinetic form about the new medium.
Certainly among the grandest was the one put forward by <A
HREF="">Wired</A> magazine. Neatly summed up with
the word "cyberlibertarianism", Wired's story is one in which the "digital
revolution" wipes away economic scarcity and pesky governments and unites us
all as nodes in a single global "hive mind" where we'll all live happily
ever after.

The critiques of this vision published on nettime quickly earned the list a
reputation as a sort of European anti-Wired. The equation had a certain ring
to it. On the one hand, there was this down and dirty, black and white
ASCII-based many-to-many exchange going on, and on the other, this glitzy,
award-winning, Absolut vodka ad-laden visual assault of a U.S. magazine with
its Netrepreneur coverboys and steamroller exclusivity.

And then there was geography. When all 60K of Richard Barbrook and Andy
Cameron's "<A HREF="">The
Californian Ideology</A>", billed on the Ljubljana program as "one of
nettime['s] greatest hits", went out over the list, the title alone struck a
chord that only further solidified the juxtaposition. More recently, sci-fi
novelist, nettime subscriber and occasional contributor Bruce Sterling began
feeding nettime texts into a topic on the legendary ultra-Californian
conferencing system <A HREF="">The Well</A> called "Goofy
Leftists Sniping at Wired" where the likes of Wired executive editor Kevin
Kelly and HotWired editor Chip Bayers could snipe back.

It's been a strange couple of months recently for nettime, reminiscent of
Oscar Wilde's nightmare scenario in which you get exactly what you wish for.
There's no way anyone on nettime can claim he or she is a lone voice in the
wilderness. When Howard Rheingold was asked on his <A
HREF="">Electric Minds</A> about resources for
technology criticism, he named three, and nettime was one.

There was a palpable notion in Ljubljana that it was time to move on. The
"cyberlibertarianism" meme had long since peaked, was waning, and a far more
potent strain of a greedy virus was eating away at hope for realizing the
potential of new media. It bore buzznames such as "neoliberalism",
"pan-capitalism" and "globalization" and its most active battlefield is what
was quickly dubbed in Ljubljana as "the Ex-East". The unspoken straw being
grasped at throughout Friday, the day devoted specifically to media activism
and the formerly socialist Soviet satellites, was the ever elusive "third
way" countries such as the DDR were never given a chance to concretize, much
less pursue.

As net.artists, journalists, theorists and media activists gathered in the
large upper room of the <A HREF="">Ljubljana Digital
Media Lab</A>, essentially a handsomely renovated manor outfitted with four
computers sharing a 9600 baud feed, a microphone was passed around so that
"blitzlectures" of a few minutes a piece could be delivered and then
discussed. There were very few moments of friction between representatives
of so diverse a crowd; it was generally agreed that big media (the Web,
television, etc.), big corporations and big money were worthy targets of the
guerrilla-like rerouting small media (such as, well, mailing lists like
nettime) are capable of. The bearded sage-like presence of Peter Lamborn
Wilson, aka Hakim Bey, most well-known for his writings on the concept of
the Temporary Autonomous Zone (TAZ), leaning back into the tattered sofa in
the center of the room provided a certain consistent ambience throughout the

The meeting was certainly well-documented. At one point, three video cameras
were rolling and every word was captured on tape for future Net radio
broadcasts. After hours of being blitzlectured, nettimers retired each
evening to the K4 Club for beer and dancing to the vinyl spun by DJs
arranged for the event. Again, as with just about any other conference, the
conversations went on in groups of two and three, business cards and email
addresses were exchanged and plans for future gatherings were tentatively
sketched out.

Despite the profuse criticism of non-governmental organizations (NGO's) and
George Soros in particular, despite the moving testimony of several
nettimers in the "Ex-East" regarding practical struggles with outmoded
technologies (too few phone lines, too narrow bandwidth) and bureaucracies
(too few streams permitted by the Latvian authorities for Riga Radio's
RealAudio broadcasts, for example), little was offered in the way of
solutions other than using the Net as a <A
HREF="">tactical medium</A>.
That is, as an agile form of resisting the powers that be whoever and
wherever they be at any given time.

This spirit of resistance without a specific goal to strive for was made
manifest in a post to the list by the major players after the bulk of the
meeting's participants had made their way home. Dubbed "<A
HREF="">The Piran Nettime
Manifesto</A>" after the Slovenian coastal town where Lovink, Schultz et al
decompressed after a severe week, the document, declaring "Information War"
and denouncing pan-capitalism to the point of demanding reparations, was
clearly meant to provoke others to ponder solid answers to the questions
raised in Ljubljana. As New York editor Ted Byfield <A
HREF="">wrote</A>, "This
'manifesto' doesn't especially summarize anything that I saw or heard in
Ljubljana -- not any decisions, and certainly none of the debates."

But instead of wrapping up the spring meeting in a neat summary, happy
ending and all, the intent of the manifesto may well be to spark further
dialogue, to probe further for answers to the questions raised in Ljubljana.
After all, you have to be careful what you wish for.

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