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Re: <nettime> the civil wars of Empire (a dialogue)
geert lovink on Tue, 2 Oct 2001 07:03:31 +0200 (CEST)


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Re: <nettime> the civil wars of Empire (a dialogue)


geert re: "Tiziana" <T.Terranova {AT} btinternet.com>
to: <nettime-l {AT} bbs.thing.net>
sent: Wednesday, September 26, 2001 12:46 AM
subject: <nettime> the civil wars of Empire

g: thanks for your posting to nettime. I really liked it. Specially the part
where you ask how to combine the academic work you do with what's going in
the world at large. I do think most of the academic work which is using
biologicial metaphors (however complex and dynamic) is fairly naive and
suggests balances and self-regulatory mechanisms which simply do not exist
in the world of human society. I would therefor argue for a radical
seperation of the discourses of science and society and stop to pretend that
there any dialogue or similarity between the two. Increasingly there is
none.

t: thanks for commenting on the posting. I think it would be a huge mistake
to further separate the discourses of science and society, because it is
impossible to (the world does not distinguish between the human and the
natural, it mixes them up all the time). I think the problem that we from
the side of the social and human sciences have with the natural sciences is
quite understandable: first of all most of us have very little knowledge of
science, so we do tend to overlook the fact that the disagreements about the
nature of the world (which includes humans and societies) are even stronger
and more bitter than those we are more familiar with (that is there are
different types of science); therefore we tend to identify science with
those scientific discourses that are used to justify the unjustifiable. I
think that the problem with the 90s evolutionists was that they had a very
simple model of how the whole thing worked, and they separated their
sciences a lot more than they suggested... I think that the work of
re-starting a political dialogue between the two is more important than
ever.

g: I think academics and those working in the arts and culture have
humiliated themselves far too long. I don't think it anymore useful to
call for a dialogue and exchange between arts, science and technology
(as is still so often heard in new media arts circles). It is time for
confrontation and critique. Scientists and technologists are not gods
and should not been seen as such. However this is increasingly how
they are being portraited in the media - and also how they see
themselves. Why I am calling to stop the dialogue is that the terms
under which the so-called exchanges are being organized are fairly
innocent, very often blurred by New Age discourses, avoiding topics
such as the corporate takeover of research agendas. The point is:
scientists are in fact only glorifying themselves and are very often
only interested in religious ideas because only Gods are above
them. We, the artists, theorists and critics with a humanities
background are of a subhuman kind. Very often the collaboration
between scientists and artists is bogus. Not real. The drama of
of the human-machine interfaces and the poverty of graphic
design are two concrete example. It is time to stop begging for
attention.

t: I don't know, it seems to me that sometimes it is those writers who are
more directly critical of science that end up looking like they are begging
for attention. Why blame the poverty of human-machine interfaces and
graphic design on the collaboration between artists and scientists rather
than on the premises that they both shared in their collaborations? I don't
think one should look at science and scientists as either necessarily
friends or foes. Even when it is more blatantly a technology of power,
science is also always telling us something about the world, the different
levels that compose it and the different forces that inhabit it. I have been
reading stuff on artificial life, neural networks and the likes for years.
It is very easy to do an ideological critique of the discourse of a-life.
It's all on the surface really. You can tell students about the continuity
between a-life discourses, social darwinism, and capitalist competition
(using Richard Barbrook and Andy Cameron's work for example...).
Fine, they will get it. But it's much more challenging, and more upsetting
for them, to tell them that what these people are doing is also engaging
with levels of organization of matter/energy which are real, even if they
are doing it only to find out how to control them in the interest of
capitalist re-organization (which sponsors such research, nobody has any
illusions about that either any longer...) And such knowledge can be turned
against itself. Something always escapes or can be 'kidnapped'. If dialogue
with dissident scientists is a by-effect of such involvement, fine, welcome.
But dialogue is not the primary goal of such work. A counter-politics is its
main 'goal', across all the strata of disciplinary divides... Why have you
become so virulently anti-science by the way? How do you think we should
understand the world then?

g: What I am trying to say is related to a, in my view, failed project of
cross disciplinary work within new media culture which suggests that arts,
technology and science can have a dialogue. A lot of grants and festivals
and foundations such a Langlois in Canada are based on this rather
idealistic construct, thereby explicitly not working on the
counter-politics, as you mentioned. This was also the topic of the protest
Timothey Druckrey, I and a number of others against the ongoing uncritical
(life) science agenda of Ars Electronica. It is fine to inform a broader
audience about what's going on. There is excellent research-based journalism
being done. What I am protesting against is the collective illusion that the
arts are somehow part of ongoing scientific revolution. Tragically art has
been sidelined over the past decade and is increasingly becoming part of the
spectacle, the culture and entertainment industry. To claim an avantgarde
position in such a bleak situation just means that we are fooling ourselves.
I am not talking here about secondary forms of appropriation of latest
scientific findings. That's always possible. And by the way, it is really
hard to find critical literature which maps the continuity you were talking
about between a-life discourses, social darwinism, and capitalist
competition. There has been much technology critique like that in the
nineties. Most of it comes from the gender and ecological perspectives. The
techno oberman still rules within IT-circles and very few have so fast
challenged IT-suprimacy from an insiders perspective (with an interesting
exception of Sun's Bill Joy, who warned for out-of-control mirco robotics).

T. I think I know what you mean... I remember a time, two or three years
ago, when artists thought they had finally found a way to support themselves
beyond teaching (teaching, in these days of restructuring, is more than a
full time job, it is two full time jobs rolled into one for half the
wages...). It did not seem a bad idea, that, as an artist, you had skills
that for once had become marketable. It takes more than just good will to
form such an alliance, reciprocal productive borrowing, resonances and so
on... And the fact that lots of scientists are very immodest, in the sense
that they forget how everything they say is a hypothesis that will
eventually be challenged, at least conceptually, does not help either. The
techno-uberman rules in IT circles, that's true, and it's very much of a
Man. The San Francisco Chronicle reported on a big dot.com/technology fair
in November 2000, and how scarce women were and how retrograde and
masculinist the marketing stunts were, with 'booth bunnies' and grown up men
behaving as if they were deeply unreconstructed, testosterone-driven
fourteen-year olds. I find that sad and disgusting at the same time, but
it's not just them. It is part of this
'men-retreating-into-their-essential-identity' or 'Men are from Mars' stuff
that is just a quick, and hopeless, strategy to get out of the sexual
confrontations that are going on at every level. Men don't come from Mars.
They come from women, they are an evolutionary mutation, a potentiality of
the female body (so women can become Martians too, I guess...) But I also
think that the productive moment, the moment where you enter into alliances
based on affinity, a difficult and conflict-ridden process, is more
important than the critical one. I am not saying that you don't need to be
critical. But criticism is so easily either absorbed or incorporated into
the generalized liberal spectacle, where everybody has their saying and all
positions are reduced to a matter of taking sides. I think that producing
and disseminating different types of material/actions/ and perspectives
should be prioritized to producing critiques. The critiques should be
absorbed and dissolved into a different plane. This is what the autonomists
referred to when they talked about the imaginative leaps that it takes for
the working classes (a dynamic composite which is not necessarily based on
one single type of labour) to swerve history out of its pre-determined
trajectory, changing the landscape and upping the stakes...

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