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<nettime> Matthew Fuller on ATM
snafu on 21 Sep 2000 16:58:01 -0000


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<nettime> Matthew Fuller on ATM



Italian version available at

www.romacivica.net/thething



Matthew Fuller is a member of I/O/D (http://bak.spc.org/iod/),
a London based collective which deals with an expanded
and critical definition of computer interfaces.
 From this position, Fuller often collaborates with another collective,
The Mongrel Project (currently offline) which deconstruct and rebuild
interfaces using a non-neutral, racialized, point-of-view.
Both the collectives have been collaborating, over the last few years,
with an underground Italian pubblishing house, Shake Editions
(http://www.shake-editions.com) which recently published first Fuller's
novella, ATM, around which this interview is focussed. He has also recently
written a series of essays on art using the internet for the Tate Gallery
(http://www.tate.org.uk) and is shortly to show an installation dissecting
Microsoft Word for 'Tragic Data' at the Lux Gallery, London
(http://www.lux.org.uk)


Q: The world you imagine in ATM is a post-everything
multiverse: "Nowhere in the streets of London may
one escape the sight of abject poverty[...] At
this level, people change governments like they
change insurance companies...". Even though the
street is crossed by any kind of violence, this
"lo-grade capitalism" seems without a centre and
without real conflicts for re-distribution of
power. The death of the monolithic power finds its
equivalent, at the media level, by the "Network
Transmission", which seems to replace the
Orwellian metaphor of the Big Brother.
Do you think that networks, not only
corporate but also the autonomous ones, could be
the new Big Brothers of the XXI century?

A: The material in the book does not refer to a specific historical situation,
it's aimed at producing a constellation of textual events rather than
mirroring what passes for life. That said though, you picked up on some
threads within the book that mirror the shifts you are talking about. The
first sentence is partially chunked out of a nineteenth century socialist
account of the class system as it was lived in London at that time. The
text was bent and 'updated'. The second phrase is from a section that in a
sense indirectly treats the metaphysical myths of simulation and
virtuality. Lo-grade capitalism, the sheer crapness of capitalism, its
reality. I'm thinking of the area I live in London, the shops there, full
of out of date goods, half-rotten vegetables, frozen food in broken
freezers. It's not quick, clean and transcendent. At the same time, this
class disjuncture between the image of a super-numinous wonderland is
folded in with networks of matter, of communication, blockage, networks
that both break open this polarisation, but yet also spill it out into new
domains of conflict and invention. Therefore, I'm not sure its a question
of finding a method to discern 'good' networks from 'bad' ones but of
understanding, sensing what the modes of life in networks are and what they
might be.
The network transmissions are the manifestations of a workfare
programme in a context in which the state has become illegible, they no
longer have an author. They occur within and through the actual bodies of
the figures in the book and they are complicated events which are not
reducable to demonic posession by authority but more a kind of hysteria of
information flow, and a trauma of involvement in rip-tides of language,
command, competing non-sugar sweeteners and so on. Power is vectored and
recapitulated, but also radically trapped and distorted.

Q: The idea of the Network as the new Big Brother
is connected to that murder of distance
(spacial, temporal, human) committed by contemporary
telecommunication systems.
Control and dependence here are not, if they ever been,
related to an external, autonomous power.
Control acts as a mutual, reciprocal check
and dependence, is attachment to an ever-going
intersubjective flux. A flux that can also be
represented as a superorganism or a planet
which have reached a critical mass, stronger
enough to attract all the little asteroids
(at least in Western countries). Many contemporary
thinkers such as Teilhard de Cardin, Pierre Levy,
William Gibson or the technopaganists, have adopted
different metaphors - the Noosphere, the Collective
Intelligence, the IA's - for the super-human or
trans-human. My impression is that ATM hides or refuses
the problem of transcendence, disseminating it
everywhere and nowhere...
A: I wonder if this attachment may be of the kind in which a desire for
something, some state of being, is deployed as the repression of that
state, so that the repression achieves the same release from want as that
which it represses? Perhaps ATM strives for exactly the opposite condition
to that of transcendence. What in this case is the repression?
Hard to say. This kind of repressed or frustrated desiring
makes me think about advertising's seduction, to
that "image of a super-numinous wonderland" you
were mentioning before: advertising promises are
both familiar and distant, "just there" and so impossible
to reach and experience. But what is the seduction
in a world like ATM? If people don't have anything
transcendent to trust and can't completely satisfy
anything why do they continue to live and
don't commit mass-suicide?
Given these as the two options, it must be solely for the amusement of
watching the suicides and the failed attempts at transcendence? However,
it might also be possible to step aside from this and develop ways of
operating, modes of being that are thickly connected to life rather than
attempting to evade it in various ways.

Q: Your writing is a strange mixture. On one hand it
is very compressed, a rain of metaphors which
charge any signifier with many semantic layers. On
the other hand, the sampling of different sources,
the continuous changing of context and scenario,
the interchangeability of the urban and media
scape, renders everything extremely transparent
and superficial, like a Tv zapping. Have you been
influenced by the American so-called "Avant-Pop"
literature? Would you consider your novella as a
bastard of that genre?
A: Hmm, TV zapping in the UK is pretty uninspiring. You've got all of five
channels. Much of 'avant-pop' seemed to me to be like you said, a form of
fiction obessed with the possibility of actually watching telly, creative
writing professors who discovered MTV. Frankly, it's not so exciting. A
particular problem I had with it also was it's very precise nationalism.
Larry McCaffery, one of the critics who generated the term and editor of
two of the anthologies using the name is completely landlocked by North
America. This seems to be missing the point somewhat.
On the other hand I am thankful for the influence and support of
some of the writers who used this term as a flag of convenience to push
their writing into wider contexts. I'm absolutely for uncompromised
material being pushed in a populist manner, and these writers - I'm
thinking particularly of Ron Sukenick whose extraordinary writing and
powerful insistence on the need for the development of self-sustaining and
open networks and infrastructure for writers has been of great use to me,
and of Mark Amerika whose AltX site gave several of the sections of ATM
their all-important first airing, (both also early collaborators with
I/O/D) - who used it in order to push things further would be, along with
several others, worth reading with or without this term being applied to
them.

Q: What i find interesting about Larry McCaffery's view, is this
depiction of America as a "daydream nation", where fiction and reality
are so overlapped that the collective imaginary gets a body,
and you can touch it with the same concreteness of everyday
actuality. Even if ATM cuts through a much more fictional and
surreal perspective, i think it offers a similar emergence
of the subconscious. Through the networked, multifarious
medias glass, all of the human paranoias and instincts
comes horribly to the surface without any possible
sublimation...
A: - and what would you want to do with this body once it materialises? Fuck
it limp and dissect it whilst still alive seems to be the required minimum.
Kathy Acker in 'Empire of the Senseless', partially a remix of
Gibson's trilogy, has a software unit or computer reimagined as a severed
head, a sensorium gone stray. Part of what is being done in the forthcoming
installation 'A Song for Occupations' - which extremely pedantically maps
Microsoft Word - is to take apart a component of this body, that part that
'produces' writing, and to find out how it is composed as a sensorium, how
it machines language. And in that to question whether the sense of
multiplicity which you speak of is firewalled or transfigured and mobilised
within this particular material-semiotic apparatus of writing.
As far as I can see, the development of aesthetics of multiplicity
is a crucial task, something that if done in an open and public sense can
destroy for instance the vile rigidification of boundaries and categories
of citizen and non-human that characterise the misery of national and
governmental politics.

Q: You wrote most part of this book few years ago. Do you still
recognize yourself, after events like Seattle, in
this vision?
A: Whether this corresponds in any way with recent protests
and actions, I don't know. Nietszche suggests that it is essential to put
at least three centuries between yourself and the time you are living in.
This seems sensible, but sideways, not backwards.

Q: Let's take Pierre Levy and Hakim Bey as two extremes
of a proposition. For the first one the injection of new
differences in the Net is the condition for the full development
of the Collective Intelligence. For the second, on the
contrary, the difference is possible only outside of the Net
and in opposition to the "virtual". Contemporary forms of
resistance to globalization seems to represent a third
way, both virtual and real, global and local. How do
you represent "resistance" in ATM?

A: In this formulation of the first two positions it seems that 'new
differences' are developed off of the net and then enter it by some means.
Evidently in this case the emphasis needs to be on things that occur in
this way...
However your synthesis of the first two positions still relies on
this category of 'the virtual' as important. I have never understood what
is meant by the virtual. VR for instance always seems to be better
understood as actual interfaces, actual data structures, actual
reformulations of the phenomenological processes of being in space rather
than as virtual something which assigns all these process into the same
non-manipulable, intractable category. So I think first of all we need to
refuse the category of the 'virtual'. It is a dead end - and I think
deliberately so.
In much the same way I believe writing is better treated as the
production of actual material contexts and processes. These processes can
of course make reference to and use of the fact that other ways of existing
within language - for instance the 'literary' - insist on the idea of
representation, that there is this other state that can be referred to but
that is not implicitly messed with by acts of writing. Then there are
certain forms of writing, such as legal contracts, recipes, hip hop lyrics,
that imply a deeper interrelationship of the language and the bodies and
technologies that perform, produce or become involved with its processing
than that normally ascribed to 'fiction' - surely these are more
compelling. Poetry of course involves, or at least assumes, this aspect
more than conventional prose admits of itself - but then that's probably
why, generally speaking, I find it so hard to read...
However, perhaps I can respond to your question by simply
describing certain aspects of the way the book operates, by referring to
its existence outside of solely being a text. What wraps round the text,
what Gerard Gennette desribes as the 'paratext': "those liminal devices
and conventions, both within and outside the book, that form part of the
complex mediation between book, author, publisher, and reader" and here
I'm thinking of the book's cover designed by Margherita Gianni, and the way
in which word of it gets distributed. Take Gennette's idea of paratext -
and perhaps in particular what he calls the 'publisher's peritext' - and
treat it as composing a set of, not just narratological, but medial
possibilities.
Within a book cover, many forms of informational and other systems
meet and rearticulate each other in this relatively small space: ISBNs
locate the book within a technology of information systems and catalogues;
prices mark it as operating within economies; blurbs within spaces of
relationship to other texts, events, potential affects, and so on; the
names of publishers and authors within relations to other works etc. etc.
What Gennette calls 'thresholds of interpretation' become also thresholds
of connection. It is for this reason that the normalised placement and
hierarchical ordering of the information on the book's cover has been
tipped over. At the same time though, for the same reason, precisely the
opposite tack has been taken in creating more surfaces for the book to come
into contact with users. One example: in London and in other cities in
the UK stickers are being distributed - in order to take the book outside
of the space assigned for it (which is either invisibility or some obscure
shelf category). The information they have on them is the book's title,
the author name, and ISBN and a URL. The information is simply enough to
identify this thing 'ATM' as a book and that therefore it can be found
where books are circulated. The information on the sticker is ordered in
precisely the way that book information is ordered to tie this element in
with the distribution system for books. At the same time, within the
context of the bookshop, or that of the book as object, these systems are
being corrupted.
So to return more precisely to your question: globalisation has
always been in effect. The question is not simply to produce 'resistance'
to it, but rather to find ways in which the forms in which globalisastion
occurs are not controlled by capitalism, nor modified by local hegemonies
such as nationalism or moralism - to find forms of being global, or not,
that engender multiplicity.
How do are these intermeshings of scales and processes, which of
course are also ocurring within the body doing that knowing, knowable and,
how might we open up this context of 'knowing' whilst at the same time
avoid trashing what Hakim Bey called 'non-hegemonic specificities'.

Q: You have been experiencing, over the last few
years, different kind of languages and approaches
to culture and communication. From the dry,
aggressive irony of the underground zines
(Underground, Datacide), to the think-tanking
academic theory. ATM seems to synthesize all of
these different perspectives. Do you think that
academy and cultural institutions (like the Tate,
which recently commissioned Mongrel to create a
fake version of its web site) are ready to embody
these eccentric cuts within their view-points? How
will this openness (often common to corporations
as well) affect the traditional relationship
between the mainstream and the underground
culture? Is the underground still recognizable as
a separate set of codes and values? Is the
Internet speeding up the cross-over, or is the old
idea of the counterculture still alive or stronger
than before?

A: The two forms of institution you mention, those concerned with art and
those of the academy are, although they share some functions, predicated on
rather different forms of knowledge. The academy is essentially about
providing ways in which to understand everything as the same, as a
continuation, of life as an endlessly recessive and unfolding sequenece of
hermeneutic loops and reinterpretational sequences. Contemporary Art as an
institution is by contrast terminally hooked on novelty. Both however
operate as locations of and machines for thought, for the production of
sensoriums, hence they are never totalisable and within their hunger to
find sameness or newness opportunities for opening things up in some way
are generated.
Of course these are gross generalisations. But I think it means
that if you generate enough weight to what you are involved in it can
effectively act as a ballast to keep you moving through these contexts
should they become one of those in which your practice operates. At the
same time, undergrounds provide the space in which you live, in which the
self is composed. And here I'm thinking of an expanded sense of
'underground. Jungle for instance was a strong influence on the formation
of ATM. But there is also the sense of undergrounds as being whatever is
subterranian to society. Remember, I spend most of my waking life with
people under the age of five. You just have to pay attention to the
drives, behaviours and speech of children to have a radically different
sense of what it is to be human. This is as underground as someone
sticking a pylon through their scrotum.
Here I think undergrounds separate from the more explicit form of
'counterculture' - and I think people have perhaps learned not to be
defined by what it is that they presume to be their opposite. However,
this is not to say that currents with more surplus than simple opposition
will not emerge, are not emerging.
I don't in a sense have enough experience to know whether the nets
are speeding up the intermeshing of the previously seperable formations you
refer to. This is apparently the situation we are in the thick of now, but
I think it takes another kind of knowledge than that which is transmissable
as historical information, a certain sense of timing, of rythms and speeds
of inter-relationship to actually know whether it is in any sense 'more' -
ie you gots to be older and wiser... Does something genuinely occur at a
faster and more multivalent level contemporarily, or is what is described
as doing so in the more hubristic media theory merely serve to sublimate
other processes which are just as rich and interconnected?

Last question is about the publisher of ATM, Shake Editions.
Q: Shake is a respected Italian underground publisher, which
launches, with ATM, a new series of book in the U.K.
This is quite unusual, at least from Italy, where we are used
to import more than export "underground" products.
What will be the role of this series and has this operation
a particular cultural/political meaning for you?
A: I've had a pretty long, intermittent connection with ShaKe and am very glad
that they've published the book. The underground and radical political
cultures manifesting in Italy always seem to be a missing element in many
discussions or histories of what is possible. Given Shake's deep embedding
within these scenes, and also the way in which they think about the actual
matter of 'work' and how it might be organised, and the level of thought
they give to publishing as a cultural and political act, I am very pleased
to have a connection to them. Crucial of course to this is what they
follow ATM with in their English language series. 'Fleshmeat' by Gashgirl
is an intense, deranging epistle-packing book, so I'm looking forward to
that hitting the streets later in the year.

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