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<nettime> Processual Media Theory and the Art of Day Trading
Ned Rossiter on Mon, 16 Dec 2002 13:30:16 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Processual Media Theory and the Art of Day Trading

[This text of orginally sent out as part of an events announcement.
Obviously, it's not an events announcement. Felix]

[this is a piece written for a 15 minute presentation. The analysis of
Goldberg's installation certainly has room for extension, and for the most
part the paper's a pretty fast-n-dirty treatment of Massumi's new

Cultural Studies Association of Australia Conference 2002
Ute Culture: The Utility of Culture and the Uses of Cultural Studies
5-7 December, 2002, Melbourne

'The Uses of the Internet' panel, convened by:

Dr Gerard Goggin, Centre for Critical and Cultural Studies,
University of Queensland
Dr Elaine Lally, Institute for Cultural Research, University of Western Sydney


'Processual Media Theory and the Art of Day Trading'

Ned Rossiter

In The Language of New Media, media theorist and artist Lev Manovich
undertakes a media archaeology of post-media or software theory.[1] He
focuses on a very particular idea about what constitutes the materiality
of new media, and hence aesthetics.  In excavating a history of the
present for new media, Manovich's work is important in that it maps out
recent design applications, animation practices, and compositing
techniques, for example, that operate in discrete or historically
continuous modes.

However, Manovich's approach is one that assumes form as a given yet
forgets the socio-political arrangements that media forms are necessarily
embedded in, and which imbue any visual (not to mention sonic) taxonomy or
typology with a code: i.e. a language whose precondition is the
possibility for meaning to be produced.

A processual aesthetics of new media goes beyond what is simply seen or
represented on the screen.  It seeks to identify how online practices are
always conditioned by and articulated with seemingly invisible forces,
institutional desires and regimes of practice. Furthermore, a processual
aesthetics recognises the material, embodied dimensions of net cultures.

When you engage with a virtual or online environment, are you simply doing
the same thing as you would in a non-virtual environment, where you might
be looking at objects, communicating, using your senses - vision, sound,

In other words if the chief argument of the new media empirics lies in the
idea that we simply ought to pay close attention to what people "do" on
the net and ignore any grander claims about virtual technologies - is this
adequate? Is there anything in this "do-ing" which deserves greater

Do virtual environments simply extend our senses and our actions across
space and time, or do they reconstitute them differently?

There is a strong argument made for the latter. In the same way that
visual culture - especially the cinema - legitimised a certain way of
looking at things through techniques such as standardised camera work and
continuous camera editing, then virtual technologies re-organise and
manage the senses and our modes of perception in similar ways. As Kafka
once noted: 'cinema involves putting the eye into a uniform'.

Software design, virtual environments, games, and search engines all
generate and naturalise certain ways of knowing and apprehending the
world.  We can find examples of this with database retrieval over linear
narrative, hypertext, 3D movement through space as the means to knowledge,
editing and selection rather than simple acquisition, etc.

So if empirics can record that we have virtual conversations, look up
certain sites, and so forth - it doesn't consider *the way* we combine
visual and tactile perceptions in certain ways and in certain contexts to
allow for distinct modes of understanding the world. Nor does a new media
empirics inquire into the specific techniques by which sensation and
perception are managed. This is the work of processual aesthetics.

A theory of processual aesthetics can be related back to cybernetics and
systems theory and early models of communication developed by
mathematician and electrical engineer Claude Shannon in the 1940s.[2] This
model is often referred to as the transmission model, or
sender-message-receiver model.  It is a process model of communication,
and for the most part it rightly deserves its place within introduction to
communications courses since it enables a historical trajectory of
communications to be established.[3]

However, as we all know it holds considerable problems because it advances
a linear model of communication flows, from sender to receiver.  And this
of course just isn't the way communication proceeds - there's always a
bunch of noise out there that is going to interfere with the message, both
in material and immaterial ways, and in terms of audiences simply doing
different things with messages and technologies than the inventors or
producers might have intended.

The point to take from this process model, however, is that it later
developed to acknowledge factors of noise or entropy (disorder and
deterioration), once in the hands of computer scientists and
anthropologists such as Norbert Weiner and Gregory Bateson.[4] As such, it
shifted from a closed system to an open system of communication.  In doing
so, it becomes possible to acknowledge the ways in which networks of
communication flows operate in autopoietic ways whereby media ecologies
develop as self-generating, distributed informational systems.[5]

A processual aesthetics of media culture enables things not usually
associated with each other to be brought together into a system of
relations.  A processual media theory is constituted within and across
spatio-temporal networks of relations, of which the communications medium
is but one part, or actor.  Aesthetic production is defined by
transformative iterations, rather than supposedly discrete objects in
commodity form.  Processual aesthetics is related to the notion of the
sublime, which is 'witness to indeterminancy'.[6] Processual aesthetics of
new media occupy what philosophers of science Ilya Prigogine and Isabelle
Stengers call a 'dissipative structure' of nonlinear, random

The concept of process undermines the logic of the grid, of categories, of
codings and positions, and it does so inasmuch as the realm of
distinctions and that which precede these orders of distinction are in
fact bound together on a continuum of relations as partial zones of
indistinction.  Categories are only ever provisional, and emerge to suit
specific ends, functions, interests, disciplinary regimes and
institutional realities.  To this end, the mode of empirical research that
predominates in the humanities and sciences - and in particular current
research on new media - needs to be considered in terms of not what
categories say about their objects, but rather, in terms of what
categories say about the *movement* between that which has emerged and the
conditions of possibility.  Herein lies the contingencies of process.

The network is not 'decomposable into constituent points'.[8] That is what
a non-reflective and non-reflexive empirics of new media, of informational
economies and network societies, in its reified institutional mode
attempts to do.  The network is not a 'measurable, divisible space'.  
Rather, it holds a 'nondecomposable' dimension that always exceeds - or
better, subsists within - what in the name of non-reflexive empirics are
predetermined regimes of quantification, which, as Massumi has it, 'is an
emergent quality of movement'.

This is not to say that things never occupy a concrete space. An analytics
of space (and time), if it is to acknowledge the complexity of things,
cannot take as its point of departure the state of arrest of things.  
Instead, attention needs to take a step back (or perhaps a step sideways,
and then back within), and inquire into the preconditions of stasis.  And
this does not mean occupying a teleological position, which seeks to
identify outcomes based on causes.  Or as Massumi puts it, the 'emphasis
is on process before signification or coding'.

We are yet to see what capital can become.  Bubble economies - exemplified
in our time most recently with dotcom mania and the tech-wreck in March
2000, which saw the crash of the NASDAQ - are perhaps one index of the
future-present whereby the accumulation of profit proceeds by capturing
what is otherwise a continuous flow of information.  Information flows are
shaped by myriad forces that in themselves are immaterial and invisible in
so far as they do not register in the flow of information itself, but
nevertheless indelibly inscribe information with a speculative potential,
enabling it to momentarily be captured in the form of trading indices.

Michael Goldberg's recent installation at Sydney's Artspace - 'Catching a
Falling Knife: The Art of Day Trading' - nicely encapsulates aspects of a
processual media theory.[9] The installation combines various software
interfaces peculiar to the information exchanges of day traders gathered
around electronic cash flows afforded by the buying and selling of shares
in Murdoch's News Corporation.  With $50 000 backing from an anonymous
Consortium cobbled together from an online discussion list of day traders,
Golberg set himself the task of buying and selling News Corp shares over a
three week period in October-November this year.

Information flows are at once inside and outside the logic of
commodification.  The software design constitutes an interface between
what Felix Stalder describes as 'nodes' and 'flows',[10] where the
interface functions to 'capture and contain' (Massumi, 71) - and indeed
make intelligible - what are otherwise quite out of control finance flows.  
But not totally out of control: finance flows, when understood as a
self-organised system, occupy a space of tension between "absolute
stability" and "total randomness".[11] Too much emphasis upon either
condition leaves the actor-network system open to collapse.  Evolution or
multiplication of the system depends upon a constant movement or feedback
loops between actors and networks, between nodes and flows.

Referring to the early work of political installation artist Hans Haacke,
Michael Goldberg explains this process in terms of a "realtime system":

'the artwork comprises a number of components and active agents combining
to form a volatile yet stable system.  Well, that may also serve as a
concise description of the stockmarket...'


'Whether or not the company's books are in the black or in the red is of
no concern - the trader plays a stock as it works its way up to its highs
and plays it as the lows are plumbed as well.  All that's important is
liquidity and movement. "Chance" and "probability" become the real
adversaries and allies'.

Trading or charting software can be understood as stabilising technical
actors that gather informational flows, codifying such flows in the form
of 'moving average histograms, stochastics, and momentum and volatility
markers' (Golberg).  Such market indicators are then rearticulated or
translated in the form of online chatrooms, financial news media, and
mobile phone links to stock-brokers, eventually culminating in the trade.  
In capturing and modelling finance flows, trading software expresses
various 'regimes of quantification' that at the same time allows the
continuity of movement.

An affective dimension of aesthetics is registered in the excitement and
rush of the trade; biochemical sensations in the body modulate the flow of
information, and are expressed in the form of a trade. As Golberg puts it
in a report to the Consortium mid-way through the project after a series
of poor trades based on mixtures of "technical" and "fundmental" analysis:
'It's becoming clearer to me that in trading this stock one often has to
defy logic and instead give in, coining a well-worn phrase, to irrational
exuberance' (Golberg, Report to Consortium, 031102). Here, the
indeterminancy of affect subsists within the realm of the processual.  
Yet paradoxically, such an affective dimension is coupled with an
intensity of presence where each moment counts; the art of day trading is
constituted as an economy of precision within a partially enclosed

There is a process at work in all this, part of which involves a linear
narrative of stabilisation by structural forces.  Massumi explains it this
way: 'The life cycle of the object is from active indeterminacy, to vague
determination, to useful definition (tending toward the ideal limit of
full determination)' (214).  Yet this seemingly linear narrative or
trajectory, if that's what it can be termed, is in no way a linear
process.  Quite the opposite.  It is circular, or is constituted through
and within a process of feedback whereby the technical object, in its
nominated form, feeds back and transforms its conditions of possibility,
which can be understood as 'the field of the emergence'.

So, I'm suggesting that a processual media theory can enhance existing
approaches within the field, registering the movement between that which
has emerged as an empirical object, meaning or code, and the various
conditions of possibility.  A processual media theory inquires into that
which is otherwise rendered as invisible, yet is fundamental to the world
as we sense it.  Thus, processual media theory could be considered as a
task engaged in the process of translation.


1 Lev Manovich, The Language of New Media (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press,

2 http://www.cultsock.ndirect.co.uk/MUHome/cshtml/introductory/sw.html

3 See Armand Mattelart and Michèle Mattelart, Theories of Communication: A
Short Introduction (London: Sage, 1998).

4 http://www.martinleith.com/glossary/cybernetics.html

5 See Félix Guattari, Chaosmosis: An Ethico-Aesthetic Paradigm, trans.
Paul Bains and Julian Pefanis (Sydney: Power Publications, 1995 [1992]);
Brian Massumi, A User's Guide to Capitalism and Schizophrenia: Deviations
from Deleuze and Guattari (Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 1992).

6 D. N. Rodowick, Reading the Figural, or, Philosophy after the New Media
(Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2001), 20.

7 See Ilya Prigogine and Isabelle Stengers, Order out of Chaos: Man's New
Dialogue with Nature (London: Flamingo, 1985).  See also Massumi, A User's
Guide; Isabelle Stengers, The Invention of Modern Science, trans. Daniel
W. Smith (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000); Alfred North
Whitehead, Process and Reality (New York: Free Press, 1978).

8 Brian Massumi, Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation
(Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2002), 6.

9 http://www.catchingafallingknife.com. See also Geert Lovink, 'Interview
with Michael Golberg', posted to fibreculture mailing list 16 October,
2002, http://www.fibreculture.org

10 Felix Stalder, 'Space of Flows: Characteristics and Strategies',
posting to nettime mailing list, 26 November, 2002, http://www.nettime.org

11 Felix Stalder, 'Actor-Network-Theory and Communications Networks:
Towards Convergence' (1997),

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