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<nettime> avant.garde - transfigured or dead?
duna maver on Wed, 20 Mar 2002 09:39:17 +0100 (CET)


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<nettime> avant.garde - transfigured or dead?


This is a belated reply to Eric Kluitenberg’s
‘Transfiguration of the Avant-Garde/The Negative
Dialectics of the Net,’ posted on nettime two months
ago. Mladen Stilinovic, Croatian artist, once said it
is good to be lazy, not just in art but in life. I am
in fundamental agreement with Eric’s position: the
disturbance of the apparently seamless surface of the
digital media universe by groups like RTMark is indeed
a transfiguration of the dialectic of the old
avant-garde. But rather than seeing this as a sign of
their challenge to the logic of the network society,
to my mind, it is the mark of their obsolescence.
Actually, this is not much of a reply since it engages
with Eric’s post only indirectly by evoking the same
three terms – dialectics, the avant-garde, and the net
– though they’re walking down a different road. What
follows is the last piece of a longer book, Twilight
of the Idols. 

Hello.


< 1 >

The specter of the avant-gardes haunts the
revolutionary imagination.  The powers of the left
once entered into unholy alliance with the forces of
the right to exorcise this specter: the czar of
Bolshevism and the pope of Fascism, the PCF and
Charles de Gaulle.  Pronounced a simultaneous threat
and a nothing, a tragic farce of bourgeois
individualism and political ineptitude reduced to
monumental ineffectiveness, the specter is hastily
written out of the pages of serious history. During
more than a century of small triumphs and triumphant
defeats, the monopoly over the production of this
history has been protected and defended by the guard
dogs of Marxism. 

What’s behind the desire to write a manifesto, one
that would trump Marx by mimicking the gestures of a
beginning that returns to the same point of departure,
invoking one or another specter who haunts the
contemporary landscape and who will inherit the truth
of a still imperceptible becoming? The manifesto is a
performance, it summons an apparition that does not
yet possess clear contours, it calls its object into
being through an invocation, a magic ritual. The
manifesto is no mere representation, it is itself the
action it demands, uniting the ‘we’ of a new group
through the proclamation of new laws. The church
manifestoes of the 1640s denounced those who deviated
from the light, summoning the bearers of the truth of
God. The communist manifesto abolished the false god
of the market in the name of the truth of a new group
in fusion who would inherit the legacy of state power.
Manifestoes may negate, but only as a means to the
affirmation of a new truth; they are essentially
positive, programmatic, constitutional. Sure of
themselves, they are always written in a declarative
mode. We are, we say, we want.

It is through the laws and proclamations of their
manifestoes that the various avant-gardes instituted
themselves as micro-nations, states in miniature.
Surrealism launched itself in 1924 in the form of a
dictionary definition: ‘Surrealism, noun. Psychic
automatism in its pure state.’ It proclaimed the
purity and truth of its uncorrupted desire and
declared openly that it proposed to institute itself
as a totality over the fallen world and ‘solve all the
principal problems of life.’  Surrealism and the SI
were only the most rabid forms of the avant-garde’s
identification with ideological discourse, which is
simultaneously the logic of territoriality – it lists
negations and abolitions, affirms goals in advance,
demarcates borders that separate the outside from the
inside, and denounces enemies and ideas that exceed
the limits of its own system. The will to
excommunication and the juridical tone of these
movements was not a deviation, some last tragic gasp
of the avant-gardes in decline, it was present in the
act of their founding. 

 < avant.NET >

The life of the avant-gardes has become a virtual
geography. Manifestoes invoking the arrival of new
forms of immaterial, liquiescent subversion assume
that after the stagnation of the conservative
eighties, the previous movements of the left,
including the radical avant-gardes, have
de-materialized from the streets to the ‘rhizomatic’
universe of the net. Critical Art Ensemble announce
the disappearance of visible power: the power which
was once incarnated in the body of the king or in the
architecture of castles and parliament houses has
vanished under the simultaneous compression of space
and time. Becoming liquid, power seeps through
cyberspace, an elusive entity that nomadically wanders
the globe, a body without borders that changes shape
as it moves. In vain would the war machines of
subversion run after it on the streets. Vacated of the
symbols and materiality of power, the streets are dead
and not worth fighting for and defending – it is the
control of information that has become the terrain of
battle, and the name of resistance whispered in every
enthusiastic ear is infowar, the appropriation of 
‘data and/or means of communication.’  The net, in all
its beauty and terror fulfills the promise of the
radical impulses of earlier generations. The
revolutionary vision lives, transfigured.  As Eric
Kluitenberg has said, ‘The strategies, the conceptual
tools, the tactics of intervention in the new digital
hypersphere are highly familiar. They draw on the
legacy and experience of the avant-garde movements.’
The affirmation of the origins of tactical media
<communication guerilla // infowar // hacktivism //  .
. .> in the gestures of the old avant-gardes is
invoked by artists and digerati alike; the arsenal of
the future is constructed out of the ruins of the
past: Duchamp, Berlin Dada, Breton, the irreproachable
Situationists.  According to the new mythology, is
only the geography of the gestures – their location in
physical space – that has become obsolete. But which
gestures, which avant-garde?

< cyber terrorism >

CAE has implied that cyber terrorism is impossible:
‘How can terror happen in virtual space, that is in a
space with no people – only information?’ But people
are not only their material bodies, but their
relations, their accumulation of knowledge and skills,
the information others have accumulated about them –
and a manipulation of information can be experienced
as a concrete threat. Some have called Netochka
Nezvanova, the online entity who has ‘destroyed’
several mailing lists by unleashing a wave of panic
over ‘spams’ against their citizens, the ‘great terror
of the net.’ Just on a formal level, the resemblance
between this particular form of ‘spamming’ and
terrorism may not be so far off the mark. For the
Social Revolutionary terrorists in Russia during the
1880s an assassination meant the direct removal of the
cause of repression; after the 1890s, terrorism became
indirect. The ‘propaganda of the deed’ of fin de
siecle terrorism in France attacked an oppressive
power by random violence against those ruled, against
‘citizens’ who were guilty for applauding the current
order.  An initial panic ensues; State functionaries,
under the pretext of protecting citizens impose
increasingly rigid and intolerant rules which actually
restrict their freedoms. The ultimate aim of the
second phase of terrorism is to reveal the State as
the real terrorist, in the hope that citizens will
eventually shift the blame to those who rule.  

Historically this reversal has almost never worked.
Except maybe on the Syndicate list. The 10-20 average
daily mails that NN sent to the mailboxes of the
netizens were frequently in the form of attacks
against the oppressors who were administrating the
list or against the others who commanded some form of
power and respect as the leaders of net activism. Pit
Shultz, Geert Lovink, Tilman Baumgaertel were called
‘inkompetent pop.tart male imbeciles … whose m9nd
aktivity resembles that of a housefly - only
understand the trivial hence the state of things . . .
 following refuse - i.e. each other.’  Andreas
Broeckmann: one of the ‘neu media kr!!ket dictators,’
‘dezt!tut korporat.fasc!zt bagatela’ who makes ‘a
total !mbez!l ov h!mzelv + h!z teror!zt anzeztrz.’
Mark Tribe and Alex Galloway of Rhizome: ‘laughable +
destitute’ Thing.net: bunch of ‘inkompetent
marionetten … invalids + posers.’ Syndicate: an
‘ART>MAFIA … DUMB + DEAD.’ In the Syndicate debacle
that followed, NN succeeded in derailing the
discussions and forcing the citizens of the list to
take sides – either for NN, thus supposedly on the
side of freedom of speech and ‘democracy,’ or against
her, in other words, siding with the totalitarian,
fascist, dictator administrators of the list. For a
moment the tactic succeeded in inverting the blame.
After the administrators kicked NN of the list in
secrecy, a wave of protests and accusations of fascism
and totalitarianism followed, NN was re-s*bscribed and
the admins quit the list taking a lot of the long term
members with them in a wave of mass-uns*bscription.
Ostensibly power vacated its seat, and the list was
re-occupied in another name – in the name of freedom,
as the story might be written in the pages of history.

Alexei Shulgin once said of NN, there’s nothing new
here, we’ve seen it all before. Legacy of the
avant-garde? ‘da.da da + da.’ Excommunication and
terrorism were the twin faces of the avant-garde,
excommunication as the form the internal relations
among the group eventually took, and terrorism against
bourgeois institutions as their tactic of external
relation to their social context. The prudence of
history would criticize the reprehensible
excommunications but celebrate the hijacks and pranks
against the establishment as strokes of brilliance.
Bravo, epater le bourgeoisie, slap in the face of
public taste. But both are driven by the same impulse,
by a dogmatism convinced of the truth of its own
theory and vision, and an intolerant dismissal of
everyone else. The Surrealists hijacked a bourgeois
dinner party with the same sleigh of hand as Breton
later expelled Artaud, Bataille, Vitrac, Souppault and
many others from the group ‘by reason of their
occupation and character.’ The Lettrists hijacked a
press conference given by Charlie Chaplin  <‘you've
identified yourself with the weak and the oppressed .
. .  but in the shadow of your rattan cane some could
already see the nightstick of a cop . . . Go to sleep,
you fascist insect . . . We pray that your latest film
will truly be your last’> with the same ardor as the
Situationists later expelled whole nations from their
International.  NN is the anti-climax of the
avant-garde’s hysterical nightmare of persecution:
everyone is guilty save herself, all the names of
net.history who pretend to be revolutionaries are in
fact reactionary cops and corporate fascists, all
abuse her, steal from her, terrorize her, ban her from
lists, deny the expression of her freedom. She is the
only one in possession of truth and virtue in this war
of words, which is above all a war of righteousness:

David Zicarelli - cycling {AT} sirius.com  typed

>>We have removed the user ‘netochka nezvanova’

>Truth  -  The `estimable` + `fashionable` [permit
someone to roll the eye 
>komponents + faint theatrically] David Zicarelli has
removed and blocked++
>Netochka Nezvanova from the MAX forum because she has
posted
>a brief excerpt from an internal Cycling74
communication which 
>David Zicarelli transmitted to all Cycling74
employees.

>>‘she’ intiated what could best be described as a
terror campaign 

>Absolute nonsense. Tell the truth. 

>>that included spam to anyone who posted to the Max
list, denial of service attacks,

>Absolute nonsense. Tell the truth. 

>>and threatening and slanderous e-mail sent to random
individuals at McGill. 

>Absolute nonsense. Tell the truth. 

>>I didn't see any point to subjecting myself and my
co-workers to this type of harrassment. 

>Tell the truth liar. trrruth.

This first NN flame war on the list for MAX users <a
graphic programming environment for audio and video
manipulation from multiple sources; NN’s own software
Nato 0+55 extended the capabilities of MAX> began
after NN initiated a lawsuit against the MAX
developers, Cycling ’74. After being thrown off the
MAX list, NN retaliated against the list admin by
creating a site in his tribute: ‘There were Web pages
all over the place with swastikas and my name on it.’
This first list war revealed the personal motives
behind the attacks. Katharine Mieszkowski recently
speculated that power and money were behind the
seemingly idle net.pranks; when criticized in the
past, NN has revoked her clients’ software licence
(which was already paid for), a veritable monopoly,
she can afford to control the game and freedom of
expression does not cut both ways. 

NN’s brand of ‘terror’ is just excommunication in
reverse, and the people who rushed to her defense on
the Syndicate were defending what they accused the
list administrators of: a self-certain righteousness
that is capable only of crushing dissent. And vice
versa, by kicking her off the list, the admins were
stooping to the tactics they claimed she used and they
deplored, especially since the expulsion was decided
off the list rather than publicly by consensus. The
excuses given later were desperate at best, shamefully
paternalist at worst: ‘nn promised to Syndicate admin
to behave herself. it went fine in the first weeks /
months. unfortunately, she lost control of herself
again.’ It seems, on the contrary, that NN was very
much in control of herself and the situation, and in
the panic that ensued on the list netizens and rulers
alike played into her hands. For or against, the
choice itself was a choice in choicelessness, and
things could have played out differently. Many of NN’s
earlier posts, those that were not so abusive and
self-serving, were provocative and amusing. It’s a
pity that they were so overshadowed by the empty
accusations and cheap insults which became so
repetitive, adolescent, and full of ressentiment – but
this was a decision to be made by individual members.
The flood of emails were not such a ‘great terror’;
the insults were extremely superficial and lacking in
substantive analysis <fascist or nazi is the easiest
form of character attack; saying nothing, it relies
purely on hyper-emotional reaction> and it is an
exaggeration to say they could have wounded anyone’s
reputation. From a certain perspective, NN was by far
the best performance on a list that had and become a
string of announcements with little discussion. August
2001, when all the kitsch about democracy and
totalitarianism hit the fan, was the list’s most
lively and interesting month, as much for what was
said as for what remained unspoken. 

>From a certain other perspective, this could be seen
as just the business of art as usual. Older
avant-gardes and classical terrorist cells alike were
driven by a supreme cause, by the vision of an
absolute theory – which was the source of their
heroism and of their tragedy. In the contemporary
theater, no cause is important enough to die or kill
for, nothing is ‘transcendent,’ and immanence has
become the order of a night in which all cows appear
black. The absence of a cause and the adoption of a
nameless identity could be a promise of liberation or
the shadow of a catastrophe. Nameless Nobody,
self-proclaimed body without border, wandering
purposelessly from one mailing list to another, black
listing all the names of power in the not so general
economy of the net. Ultimately the cause behind all
the covert tactics and agitations is sui generis, NN
is its own cause, terrorizing lists through seemingly
random flames and character assassinations as a form
of self-advertisement. The third time, history repeats
itself as innocuous farce, without substance.
Terrorism in abstract form, void of content,
aestheticized and mute. The image without image  <or
the nameless name> manufactures a myth that can be
filled by anything, as rumors escalate and speculation
feeds on itself. One person with multiple identities?
A female New Zealander artist? A male Icelander
musician? An Eastern European collective conspiracy?
For some, the advertisement is seductive, promising
something-I-know-not-what, the secret of the commodity
that can be apprehended only as a fetish. Darling of
the net who everyone loves, or loves to hate. Either
way, all propaganda is propaganda. ‘Mysterious.
Inapprehensible. Elusive.’ ‘Brilliant deconstruction,
A1 quality. Intelligent, cool’ ‘Geographical
deconstruction. Gender deconstruction. Identity
corruption.’

‘NN's reputation is based on mouth 2 mouth
adverti.cement. When something is very well
konstruckted and designed with a degree of integrity
it stands on its own ... All the cool girls wear NN.’
Everything is made and unmade in the mirror image of
consumption. You are either with us or you are uncool.
The ultimate terror is that of being out of fashion
with the times + + symbolically dead. 

< detournement? >

Detourne: a verb used, among other things, to describe
the hijacking of a plane. The SI may have come up with
the name detournement, but the practice was first
stumbled upon by the previous era of the avant-gardes.
In 1919 Johannes Baader, Berlin Oberdada, interrupted
a meeting of the Weimar National Assembly and threw
fliers from the balcony onto the heads of the
statesmen below announcing his candidacy for the
presidency of the world.  The press reported that the
country’s leading politicians had been publicly
insulted.  Probably they had been insulted before on
many occasions, but this one was not in the form of
ideological discourse they were familiar with. No
assertions or rebuttals. Was it political speech? Was
it theater? It was an answer to politics but not from
the ‘inside’ by using the same language or adopting
the same presuppositions. It was not dialectical –
dialectics negates only what is irrational,
inconsistent, or dogmatic in the system, ultimately to
perfect and strengthen it. <Marx may have criticized
the irrationality of capitalism - the theft of
surplus, the spawning of alienation, the degradation
and misery of those who were deprived of the fruits of
their labor – but preserved the values and
presuppositions of its ‘rational’ kernel – the
valorization of production, the goal of continuously
expanding productive forces, the instrumental use of
technology. By preserving the forms but altering the
content (putting it in the hands of the proletariat)
the whole system can be transformed from the inside,
made more rational, more democratic, more productive;
eventually the form itself would change and repressive
institutions would wither away.  By the 1960s and
1970s it first dawned on the ex-Marxist left
<Castoriadis, later Baudrillard and Deleuze> that
dialectics never gets ‘outside’ what it criticizes –
its negation is already prefigured by the logic of the
system itself. Actually Bakunin had made this same
criticism a century before, after being thrown out of
the First International by Marx and Engels.> Baader’s
detourned negation made no overt criticism, and put
forward no demand for the transformation of the
content of the Assembly’s program – his demand for
world presidency was a prank, making a joke out of
politics rather than engaging in it on its own terms. 
He did not seek to take over the National Assembly in
the name of a new movement. The politicians and press
who answered the gesture did not know what to make of
it. It was not the kind of kind of thing they were
used to, its power to disrupt was precisely that it
was unexpected. Detournement, in updated jargon, has
become communication guerilla, cultural jamming,
aesthetic sabotage, infowar - but are the gestures so
unexpected almost a century later?

The most interesting thing about RTMark is the
illusion of the real – for a moment some unsuspecting
visitors who entered their fake WTO or Bush or other
sites and read the inverted messages of their pages
did not know what to make of it since they believed
them to be genuine sites. For these sites RTMark
simply copied the layout, graphics and images from the
originals, and altered the content. The fake WTO site
<www.gatt.org, named after the General Agreement on
Tariffs and Trade> doesn’t celebrate global free trade
but criticizes the WTO’s lack of socio-environmental
responsibility, replacing WTO documents with
counter-documents of groups protesting globalization.
And maybe it should be stressed that it is an
*unsuspecting few* visitors who are fooled. The sites
got millions of hits after the story broke in the
mainstream press, and those rushing to check them out
already knew they were ‘fake’ sites. Surprisingly,
some bewildered few still stumble upon them and
continue to be fooled. The fact that RTMark has gotten
invited to speak as real representatives of the WTO
‘by mistake’ and that their hilarious performances as
impostors of the real went unquestioned by the
audience members is perhaps only a testimony to the
incredible stupidity of the liquiescence of power. 

The then presidential-hopeful GWBush protested against
the fake RTMark site <which accused him of hypocrisy
and drug use> by denouncing it as a form of routine
negative campaigning. In a sense, it could be said
that the politicians and the press did not know what
to make of it because it was an unexpected thing and
they didn’t recognize its language or its aims. But to
give some credit to Bush’s gullibility, RTMark’s form
of tactical media uses the same language and the same
strategy as political ads. The gullible are confused
because the similarity is too close.  And maybe it is
the similar *form* of this strategy and the desire to
be mistaken for the real thing which should be
questioned. RTMark videos and websites, which dwell by
choice in the language of corporate advertising,
attempting to use the height of banality against
itself, seem stuck by necessity in the mire of this
same banality. RTMark productions are an occupation of
the form <of media and capitalism in simultaneity, as
corporate advertising> with an inversion of its
content. When Daniel Cohn-Bendit once proposed making
a leftist western by just changing the soundtrack,
Debord answered that the homogenous, unbroken form of
the western would preserve the ideology behind it,
offering a complacent, facile consumption.  Preserving
the form and just changing the content was
insufficient, especially a change of content in the
form of a reversal.  ‘Detournement by simple reversal
is always the most direct and the least effective. The
Black Mass . . . merely reverses – and thus
simultaneously conserves – the value of that
metaphysics.’ Satanism may be heretical, but it’s
still a religion, the whole field of ritual and
subordination before a superior power is preserved in
it. 

Baader may not have aspired to become a real
politician, but Breton did when founded a ‘Bureau’ of
surrealist research and modeled the organization of
the group on the French Communist Party.  The
Situationists held real congresses and aspired to
become an International <modeled after the first one>
with altered demands. As a practice detournement
reflected a contradiction at the level of theory
between the recognition that fighting on the same
terrain and wanting to be taken for the real thing is
a seductive but inevitable trap, and the desire
<expressed in the hijacking metaphor> to occupy the
old buildings of power under a new name, with new
demands. Detournement was a momentary line of flight
out of dialectics, and also a reterritorialization on
familiar ground.

Alex Burns from Disinformation remarked that RTMark
uses ‘dialectical reasoning’ – they prefer ‘to subvert
the system from within’ in contrast to other acts of
resistance which want to ‘dismantle the corporate
system altogether.’  This is not a criticism by Burns,
who celebrates RTMark’s dialectical ingenuity; the
only danger he foresees is the external one of being
recuperated by corporations <who can ‘steal’ their
tactics>, rather than a problem with the choice of
dialectical method itself. As a dialectical gesture,
RTMark is an inversion of corporatism from within, an
identification with the corporate image in order to
reveal and oppose its abuses. In legal terms, RTMark
is a real corporation, selling mutual funds, even if
they are mutual funds for corporate sabotage. The
detourned content is amusing, and the issue they raise
is significant: corporations have aggregated powers
under the law of limited liability that are
technically illegal for persons: corporations have
only rights, but no responsibility.  But RTMark
proudly admit to using the same legal form of limited
liability as a protection against the potential risk
of prosecution for their sabotage activities – they
depend on what they denounce as an abuse when used by
‘real’ corporations. Using the same graphics and
language of the Internet brokerage sites of the late
1990s, RTMark mirrors the Internet stock corporation.
Using the same tactics of exaggeration and spin as
mass media, RTMark mirrors the banality of media
scandals.  Mark Amerika has noted that especially in
the Toywar campaign RTMark’s press releases were
‘skewed in a way that essentially mimics the way
corporate press releases are skewed, complete with
sound-bite blurbs, website addresses for further
information, and self-reflexive advertisements for
RTMARK art products (projects).’ Taking the logic of
corporate advertising to its limit, RTMark is not
above skewing information to enhance its own image.
Some of the projects which they claim under their own
sponsorship and direction are Toywar <which was a very
large collective effort>, FloodNet <which was
developed by EDT, who never got any money for project
development from RTMark> and the idea of prêt a
revolter <colorful clothing that is ready to revolt,
made of resistant parts of water bottles, complete
with micro-cameras hidden in fake breasts – created
for anti-globalization protests in Barcelona last
summer by several different designers, though the
project itself was initiated by the Spanish group Las
Agencias>. RTMark may include real individuals, but is
just an abstraction, a shell, the mirror image of a
boss appropriating the work done by many workers in
the struggles against corporatism. 

RTMark is a corporation in reverse, a corporation with
an alternative message that mimics the same mode of
operation as their opposition. As with any
corporation, the aim is the maximization of profit,
and profit is always counted in numbers.  RTMark
define their most successful projects as those that
‘got the most press’ and in the battle for press
coverage ‘Quality is less important than quantity, I
guess you could say, we spend a lot less time fretting
about the gemlike qualities of projects than about
their effectiveness. Just let them keep coming, and
faster and faster!’ The quantity of articles and
mentions in the press housed in the archive of
symbolic capital on RTMark website is indeed
impressive.  Over 650 press items, including NY Times,
Time Magazine, Wall Street Journal, CNN, Village
Voice, Wired, Playboy, Fringeware, Suck, Slashdot,
Telepolis, ArtNetWeb, ArtByte; hundreds of mentions in
foreign press: Spain, France, Britain, Germany, Italy,
Slovenia, Croatia, Hungary, Czech Republic, Poland,
Netherlands, Finland, Norway, Sweden, China, Japan,
South Africa. In this battle over the control of the
media by its own means of manipulation to promote the
RTMark corporate image as a veritable monopoly of
subversion, the most important victory is the
accumulation of images.

< infowar >

The legal battle at the end of 1999 between the
billion dollar toy dot.com eToys and the European art
group etoy was one of the important events in the
history of the Internet, since it was precisely the
possible use, legality, and future direction of the
net that were at stake. The facts of the case were
that etoy had existed and had its domain name first;
the demand by eToys that etoy change its domain on the
grounds that the similarity of the names was confusing
eToys’ customers and hurting its business was spurious
and the legal injunction it obtained against etoy was
bordering on illegality – this all served as a
realtime demonstration that money determines the
rights to operate in cyberspace and is behind the
so-called impartiality of the justice system.  But the
myth of this epic battle suffered from its own
exaggerations. RTMark credited the campaign which they
directed with crippling the eToy servers and with the
eventual ‘70% decline in the value of eToys stock.’
The numbers on the Toywar site are even more
impressive as are attributions of the causes and
effects: ‘result: within 2 months the eToys Inc. stock
(NASDAQ: ETYS) dropped from $67 (the day the battle
started) to $15 (the day eToys Inc. finally dropped
the case). TOYWAR was the most expensive performance
in art history: $4.5 billion dollars.’ Reinhold
Grether, one of the key players in the campaign,
portrayed the war as ‘a conflict between two
lifestyles, one consumerist, giving absolute priority
to acquisition, in this case, a domain, and the other
artistic, declaring the exhibition of complex social
practices, rather than art objects, as the object of
art.’ But was the war between eToys and etoy a
conflict between consumerism and the purity of
anti-corporate art as the social construction of an
alternative style of life, or was it a conflict
between different market segments of  consumerism?
After all, as etoy has insisted over and again ‘We are
not anti-corporate. That's something people don't
understand. We are an overdrive corporation with
surreal goals. We sell nothing except ourselves. We
don't promise any revenue, except excitement and maybe
a little bit of confusion.’

Etoy sells itself, it barters its image. As Geri
Wittig remarked to etoy in an interview, ‘Your look
and your stance exudes a very stylish, militaristic
quick response tactic.’ This stylish militarism also
depends on wearing the same uniform, looking alike,
and giving the impression of the interchangeability of
toy soldiers (or members of a gang).  As Etoy
confessed, ‘it makes it impossible for women to enter
the group, or for black people to enter the group,
because it would destroy the concept’ of its
uniformity. The Toywar campaign helped to boost sales
not only of etoy.shares, but of the image of
subversion which was on demand by an increasingly
large consumer public: ‘we give about five interviews
a day in America at the moment.’ After the victory,
the toywar.shop became more specialized, selling not
only standard etoy.shares, but offering the consumer
the option to ‘customize your purchase’ by adding
‘T-SHIRTS and CD'S to your basket.’ CDs were a bargain
at $20.  ‘please check the amount of articles as well
as the total amount in USD before the final
submission.’
 
The many support sites that sprang up during Toywar
capitalized on an incredibly puerile image of warfare,
an image capable of seducing only adolescent boys,
even if its target audience proved to be older. The
Toywar UK site under the direction of ‘Captain
Smithers’ launched its own internet offensive against
eToys as a sign of support. The site featured e*bombs
in the forms of alternative news service and mailing
lists. ‘The e*bomb blast radius was global and it
rendered eToys.com powerless. VIVA la e*bomb!
Thousands of friendly fire e*bombs detonated, and no
one hurt! Pure 21st century FIRE POWER!’ In this
postmodern fantasy of revolution the jargon of
righteous war has become more timid and cautious,
eliminating the risk of action through a detour of
rhetoric, bowing, in the end, to political
correctness. 

The image of war is sexy not just in the popular
imaginary of television, but among the more refined
tastes of the militant left and the radical art crowd.
The indiscriminate forms of its rhetoric and gestures
are legion, though the mask as a symbol of the
terrorist or the guerilla stands out as one of the new
trends of identification, from the multitude who
gather in the street borrowing the checkered mask of a
Palestinian holy war, to RTMark, who don the pantyhose
of the bank robber in their videos, and Ricardo
Dominguez who performs the story of electronic civil
disobedience in an EZLN mask, as a gesture of
identification with the cause of the Zapatistas. The
context of the performances are to evoke the
Zapatistas’ Mayan technology which differentiates
their tactics (offering a rose or a poem or an
unanswerable gesture as an answer to military power)
from those of guerilla struggle of the twentieth
century. The Zapatistas say they use masks so that
people won’t be beguiled by their beauty but pay
attention to the power of their words.  But in this
EDT performance, it is the power of the words that
speak of the different form of struggle of the
Zapatistas that is obscured as the audience identifies
with the image of the mask. The mask is the identity,
the words are secondary, and the identity of the mask
is prefigured in advance by the associations it has in
the contemporary stage of the media. 

The media spectacle needs a boogey of opposition to
the righteous war of democracy and the right to
consume, and after the collapse of the big other of
‘Eastern Europe,’ the image of a man dressed in black
wearing a mask has now become the mass medias perfect
fantasy, the face against which it can define its own
values. Whatever may be behind the mask of the
militant, the media will capitalize upon it in reverse
for the sake of the ideology it serves. Making a
fetish of the image of the terrorist or guerilla has
become both pious and stupid, even in the
aestheticized form of the avant-gardes, as the
theatricalization of some nameless revolution. The
identification with the logic of warfare was always
the worst militant aspect of the avant-gardes.  If,
the avant-gardes were a momentary instantiation of a
great promise, speaking in a different language
outside the banality of organized politics, they were
simultaneously the ridiculous quarrels over names and
concepts, vicious arguments about ideological
correctness, exclusions of deviations, puerile antics,
and the inflated machismo of warfare. The desire to
proclaim the avant-garde an unfinished project –
something triumphant that still lives and inevitably
returns to fulfill a secret history – preserves all
these characteristics. Above all, it preserves the
militarism inherent in the metaphor of the
‘avant-garde’ – the avant-garde as an elite group,
organized by strict military discipline, going out
first and paving the way for the attack, perhaps
sacrificing itself in the end so the army can finally
advance the cause of its righteous war.  If this
metaphor started out as a blank parody, it became real
with the march of history. The avant-gardes, for all
their dress rehearsals and posturings became, in their
relations to each other and to the opponent they
claimed to despise, nothing more than the magical face
of the double, its inverted mirror. Drawing upon their
strategies, conceptual tools, and tactics of
intervention summons not the specter haunting a new
epoch, but a corpse in absolute decomposition.  

Someone once said a long time ago ‘The most urgent
expression of freedom is the destruction of idols,
especially when they claim to speak in the name of
freedom.’ It is true that the destruction of idols
itself can speak in the name of a freedom that is just
as illusory, including the destructions of the
present. But the wisdom of silence is the most
difficult thing to attain, since it does not reveal
itself in the image of consumption.

 < opposition >

Electronic civil disobedience is neither terrorism nor
acts of cultural jamming, detournement, or media
pranks. CAE define the manipulation of the media in
the service of an alternative message as a losing
battle; any subversive message is lost in the flood of
information or is itself detourned through spin. If
there is such a thing as infowar, maybe it should be
understood as the war against information rather than
a war of counter-information. Denying the power of
propaganda, CAE praise the effectiveness of a direct
battle with power.  Simple trespass and blockage of
data and their conduits can force the state or the
military or corporations to make policy changes
because it may prove cheaper for them than the threat
of the loss of profits from information. As people
joined together to physically blockade the entrances
to the opponent’s house of power in earlier forms of
civil disobedience, participants in electronic civil
disobedience can join a virtual sit-in from anywhere
there is access to the internet in order to block
access to the opponent’s website. If the promise of
ECD remained a theory until 1998 for CAE, the faction
of the group which took the name Electronic
Disturbance Theater actualized it in the form of
FloodNet, a software which sends reload commands to
the targeted site’s server every few seconds. When
enough participants are simultaneously pointing the
FloodNet URL toward an opponent’s site <Mexican
government, Pentagon, Frankfurt Stock Exchange, eToys,
EMF> a critical mass of users can prevent access to
the site because there are too many requests to be
accommodated – in theory, at least, since these kinds
of sites can sustain millions of hits without a
problem. 

But is the direct intervention of ECD about bringing
power to the bargaining table and getting concessions
in the form of policy change? If the aim were simple
trespass and blockage, a single hack would be more
efficient in bringing down a server and blocking
information. The point of the virtual sit-ins is to
get across how widespread the protest is rather than
the denial of access to data or their conduits. The
aim seems to be not trespass and blockage but gaining
a critical mass. A policy negotiation is a closed
form, an exchange of threats between a vanguard of
activists and the functionaries of power; the form and
effect of a virtual sit-in is something very different
– a kind of contagion, a movement of outward
expansion, the feeling of participating in something,
even though its contours may be vague. And this vague
feeling of participating in something that escapes the
dialectic of global capital is often hijacked by being
turned into the declaration of a war of opposition.

When the ‘multitude’ come together in a virtual-sit-in
<in opposition to one or another particular website>
or on the street in a show of power against the forces
of capitalism, they don’t escape its dialectic. The
form assumed by the association and linkage of
individuals is based and mediated by the cause it is
opposing, rather than on the desires and aspirations
of the participants, and on their interests in each
other. To subordinate the process of fusion to the
goal of a coalition – driven by a single cause, one
that is negative, directed against conquering some
small concessions from power – is not a collaborative
construction of a new form of being, as much as it is
a formal repetition of a cycle of enslavement and
retribution. Opposition misses the mark, though it is
very successful in the media. When tactical media seek
to smash the code, to disrupt the seamless surface of
digital mediation, of corporate power, of whatever
abstract form the boogey of opposition takes, they are
determined by their enemy. They oppose the false,
ideological shell of their enemy with
counter-statements made from a counter-perspective - a
perspective they never question, because it is
self-evident.  The energy and source of their
self-valuation derives from their act of negation. 
Negation can be a splendid thing, a source of
exhilaration and an experience of increased power, as
the limits imposed artificially on the self by the
myriad forms of micro-oppressions are temporarily
transcended, transgressed. But this is a potentially
endless cycle of negation ad infinitum, unto death;
the satisfaction of negation is only temporary, its
hunger renewed again. 

The coalition of activists who swarm through the
network may not be the best form for constructing a
new entity in fusion; support for a cause, especially
in the form of opposition to an abstract enemy, is
easy to get for a few hours online and requires little
commitment, but a collaboration based on trust and
reciprocal interest in other people is more difficult.
This kind of collaboration works best in an encounter
that doesn’t measure success in terms of numbers,
speed, or the corporate logic of the network society,
which always subordinates the present to the demand
for a future goal and profit. Last year a number of
individuals and small groups came together <including
Ricardo Dominguez, who did not come as a
representative of EDT> to try to establish a loose
form of association between different net.culture
clubs and media centers. This association was not a
coalition, because there was no common goal or
interest or ideological uniformity among participants
from the different regions - Europe, east and west,
America, north and south - and because there was no
overall plan which could be imparted to different
‘sections’ of some would-be international.  One of the
criticisms this meeting received was that the thing in
fusion it invoked had no real cause for being, that it
lacked a definitive reason for making the association
in the first place, other than some vague aspiration
to share what each group had in resources and
experience with each other or a seemingly banal desire
to travel and meet with others to participate in and
learn about the process each had started in their own
location. The absence of a cause can sometimes be the
shadow of catastrophe or the promise of liberation.

< 0 >

In a correspondence that was neither private nor
public, Sebastian Luetgert wrote ‘it is the network -
not empire - that is materializing before our very own
eyes, and the multitudes are part of it. their only
threat to the regimes of control is that they will be
their mirror . . . the enemy of the network is not the
activist, but the passivist. passivists don't surf:
they have learned to wait, and they know that when
crossing a desert there is no need for a powerbook, a
gps phone or a press tent.’ But maybe this is a false
dilemma, the swing of a pendulum across the clockface
of dead time. The activist in its familiar militant
pose is a creature that should be abandoned to a
museum of relics – the activist determined by a war
against an oppressive power, engaged in a fight which
consumes all his energy in reverse, convinced of the
absolute virtue of his cause and of the correctness of
his theory <a theory correct in inverse proportion to
its practice> and, since possessing the correct ideas,
endowed with the supreme calling of teaching them to
others, especially to those who have not had the
privilege of being schooled in the classroom of
advanced capitalism. But invoking the passivist risks
being construed for a celebration of the silent
majority of consumers, secretly active in their
absolute stasis. There are forms of action that are
neither activist nor passivist. Somewhere, where the
location is unimportant, there’s a group of people who
started a club <social center is not the right word,
but sometimes the search for names is also
unimportant> not out of a desire to be in opposition
to any of the dominant art or cultural institutions,
but because they wanted to create a scene that did not
yet exist. While inside, everyone uses a form invented
currency. Some members of the group who are graphic
designers make posters for restaurants and bars in
town in exchange for free vouchers so they have places
to take their friends. They don’t make any claims to
the space they have in their own name but invite
others to take temporary possession of it: artists,
musicians, some local people from a half-way house for
those considered mentally ill, even political
theorists and sociologists. They make a lot of
actions, but when added together their sum is not
activism. No theory is constructed, no manifesto
written that proclaims this form of life as the model
of the coming revolution. There is no gospel and no
disciples. The critics of the institutionalized left
might perhaps snicker at this flimsy example,
concluding that it changes absolutely nothing, that it
will not ‘overthrow’ capitalism <overthrow = desire to
rule, to become master>, that it doesn’t conform to
their vision of utopia <utopia = waiting until the
conditions are ripe, negating the present in
anticipation of a future whose past has already been
glimpsed>. 

Zhivago once fled with his lover to the interminable
snow plains across the barren landscape of
revolutionary Russia. Reaching a place that most
resembled the center of nowhere, they stopped. The
Bolshevik police followed on their heels, moving at a
different speed, chasing a desire that escaped their
comprehension. They knocked at the door, asking, what
is your agenda, what are you plotting against us, what
do you plan to do here? Live, he answered, just live.
If understood slowly, this is not the fatality of
hopelessness or a sign of passive acquiescence in the
face of an obscene demand. And if it is an
insurrection, it is not the insurrection proclaimed
loudly on the center stage of capital cities whose
success is measured by how many times the police beats
it to the ground. Knowing when to disappear, it does
not ask to be represented. Although there are many who
live it today, outside the speed of the media
spectacle, their names would only be invoked in vain,
as the idols of yet another manifesto thrown on the
rubble-heap of history.

Dialectics never died. It lives every time another
tired exhibit of the relics of dada or situationism
opens at the houses of culture across the world. It
lives when the hackers who haunt the net repeat the
slogans and gestures of the dead and then congratulate
themselves when they are finally inducted into the
halls of power of the Venice Biennale or Ars
Electronica. It lives when the theorists and
cartographers of new deterritorialized flows of desire
sell their interests by entering a classroom to become
functionaries of the empire of production, offering
packaged knowledge to students who eagerly produce
whatever stupidity is asked of them in exchange for
the general equivalent of a grade. It lives when the
anti-globalization ‘multitude’ faithfully ascend to
the stage of negation to recite their memorized roles,
proudly displaying the garments of an ideology that
long ago betrayed its exhaustion.  Dialectics consumes
the desire of life as it beats its wings against the
limits of the impossible. As Tzara once said,
dialectics kills – it lives by producing corpses,
which lie strewn across an empty field where the wind
has ceased to blow.  The field only reveals its own
folly and despair; and victory is the illusion of
philosophers and fools. 



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