Nettime mailing list archives

<nettime> Technological Revolution; Repression, Fascism, and the Potenti
owner-nettime-l on Sat, 22 Aug 1998 11:34:17 +0200 (MET DST)

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

<nettime> Technological Revolution; Repression, Fascism, and the Potential f=

or t
To: nettime-l {AT} desk.nl
From: <Peter Franck> ghent {AT} taconic.net=20
Sender: owner-nettime-l {AT} basis.desk.nl
Precedence: bulk

Technological Revolution
Repression, Fascism, and the Potential for the Release of Desire.

By Peter Franck

I.  INTRODUCTION: Historic Context

At a time when there is a certain amount of optimism, or at least, lively
discussion about the collective ramifications of interactivity and
electronic connectedness, it is essential to place these debates into
realms of philosophical, psychological and historical perspectives- in
short, realms of material reality.  This is critical since any meaningful
application of utopian metaphor that appears in the realm of cyberspace
remains merely a model until it is transformed into and made operative in
concrete reality.  This is not to discount the "reality" of
cyber-consciousness, since we seem to be inhabiting it in a progressively
more complete fashion, but since we necessarily leave our bodies behind as
we connect to the web, we remain, to a great degree, attached to very real
environmental, political and economic structures.=20

This is not the first time, even in this century, when the promise of
burgeoning technological development seemed to point the way towards
utopian change.  It is my aim to analyze the ideology of techno-revolution
in terms laid out by the Italian Futurists among others.  For the
Futurists, the overwhelming reliance upon technological means for
accomplishing social change ultimately created a repressive Fascistic
society which could not accommodate the desires of its population.=20
Repression, as pointed out by Freud and later, Bataille (among others)
creates a schizophrenic condition for the psyche that can lead to
instances of violent eruptions.  In this case, one could claim that
repression applied by the rigid realities of the evolving technological
revolution at the turn of the Century became one plausable catalyst for
nightmare war machine of World War I.=20

Georges Bataille amassed fascinating ethnographic documentation about the
role which violent ritual often performs in releasing pent up desire and
how this release helps to maintain social cohesion.  In the Mayan culture
for example, the ritual of murder, where human sacrifices had their hearts
ripped out at the alter, was ultimately a method for the population to
express its arguably natural self-destructive tendencies.=20

Bataille's work as a hole traces the variety of methods society uses to
release these desires.  For example, the expression of sensuality and
violence in Renaissance Art was articulated through the sadistic cruelty
of Christ on the cross and the radiant (but of course untouchable)
empathetic desirability of the Virgin.  Through his work as a pioneering
member of the Surrealists, he also developed methods to release desire in
the post-war European milieu through his fiction and anthropological

Surrealism, which followed the War, functioned as a release valve for the
sub-conscious.  It was an entirely opposite attitude towards technology;
artists such as Duchamp and Tanguey created massively irrational machines
which were intended to express the frustration of human potential as it
meshed into the assembly line of technological innovation.  Instead of
reason serving as a direct agent of social transformation, it became the
tool of the oppressor, anethma to human emotion.  The irrational became a
medium of expression capable of venting the alienation of a society
undergoing changes which it could not comprehend or control.=20

One cannot hear the calls to arms for the promising allure of connectivity
without revisiting these historical moments.  One hopes that the internet
can provide the technological apparatus to support a revolution of
consciousness on a global level while continuing to maintain an expression
of individual desire and identity.=20

The internet provides some very clear spatial paradigms; randomness and
non-hierarchical structures, which if applied using the lens of theorists
such as Deleuze & Guatarri, De Landa as well as a variety of psychological
schemas, can provide radical models for political activity.  On a personal
level, the technology of the internet certainly offers a method of
creating fluid identity and soft, non-deterministic modes of creation.=20
Its current allure is that it is accomodating, not domineering.  The
ability to fabricate one's personal composition and the possibility for
the expression and satisfaction of personal erotic desire are aspects of
the current technological revolution which are fundamentally different,
but perhaps equally dubious as some historical antecedents.=20

II.  The Metaphysics of Cyberspace

Marcos Novak, in his seminal essay, "Liquid Architectures in Cyberspace"
begins an investigation of the issues that arise when we consider
cyberspace as an inevitable development of the interaction of humans with
computers.  This is a logical beginning since Novak traces the gradual
release of the body as it becomes absorbed into the technological realm.=20
"Liquid Architecture" is a fiction created by the mind as it moves towards
the virtual, blurring the boundaries between concrete and abstract
realities.  As Novak moves more deeply into cyberspace, he is enabled to
exalt in at least a limited euphoria of perceptual freedom.=20

We may certainly speculate on how issues of the body seem to be suppressed
during any debate about virtuality, but suffice it for the moment to be
convinced that cumbersome headsets and connection requirements should be
solved in the foreseeable future.  On the other hand, the critical issues,
which are generally neglected, are concerned with the way in which it is
possible to merge, as much as possible, the ephemeral, yet metaphorically
rich spatial configuration of cyberspace, with the same old reality that
we have confronted in so many fashions throughout time.=20

No matter; the metaphysics of pure cyberspace are evident. So called
"objects" or "bodies" or sites/locations are provisional and fluid because
the reality of the ethernet is essentially constituted of data streams.
The definition of attributes, (identity) and the usually understood laws
of physics become completely relative and fluid.  By combining bits of
data and partial algorithms, identity can be morphed since boundaries
between iterations are not in any way concrete, but just the result of
coding shifts (in cyberspace everything is fundamentally of the same
stuff). Even beyond this self-evident techno-physical fact, there are
interactive paradigms on the web which are stunningly inspirational as
possible modes of interaction in concrete reality.=20

I propose to follow Novak's trajectory in reverse, by taking spatial
modalities inherent in cyberspace as a starting point and transposing them
back on concrete reality like Orpheus leading Eurodice from Hades.=20

This strategy revolves around an investigation of the hierarchical
structures in society, much in the mode of Deleuze.  But also, it is
interesting to enlarge the argument to encompass the biological and
geological realms along with history and sociology.  Manuel de Landa, in A
Thousand Years of Non-Linear History further articulates issues raised in
One Thousand Plateaus...  De Landa is critical of hierarchical ordering
systems since they tend to reinforce homogenous groupings.  He instead,
posits the geometrical model of "meshwork" as a form of organization which
encourages flows of information and interaction in complicated patterns of

If one looks at some of the spatial paradigms developing on the web, one
can find basic functions, such as hypertext, which because of its
multiplicity of possible arrangements, non-linearity and randomness, fit
very neatly into the nomadic rhetoric of Deleuze and Guattari.  Similarly,
the utopian attempts at establishing virtual on-line communities which are
seemingly open and resistant to forces of striation can perhaps be
inspirational on a political level outside the realm of the computer.=20

Before speculating about how radicalized spatial organizations manifested
on the web may serve as models for active intervention in concrete
reality, it is enlightening to trace historical antecedents which strove
for social transformation through the ideology of technological
revolution.  It is also important to trace the development of a coherent
metaphysical groundwork in order to accomplish a transformation from
cyber-to-concrete space.=20

II. Futurism: Spatial Paradigm and the Release of Desire

We are finally, at the end of this Century, faced with technological
advances of sufficient magnitude to offer us an opportunity to re-evaluate
established notions of spatial experience.  With the advent of the virtual
and the potential for mass connectivity posed by the internet, many hail
the potential of these new technologies as harbingers of a new
consciousness.  Because technology has infiltrated our sensory
perceptions, it is imperative to develop a new understanding of the
subject and its relations to the world. The ascension of Modernist
consciousness, at the beginning of the 20th Century, was cloaked in
similar rhetoric in regard to the potential of technology to alter

The impetus for Modernism began as the inevitable course of technological,
scientific and philosophical advances began to overwhelm the social fabric
and consciousness of Europe as it entered the 20th Century.  Perhaps the
most coherent systematic approaches to this transformation came from the
Futurists in Italy.=20

The Futurists, at the turn of the century, anointed technology as a
primary force of cultural advancement.  Its most radical theoretical
contribution was to break with historic conceptions of art and society by
redefining objects as being mediated by an emerging machine culture.=20
Their reliance on speed and motion was a clear repudiation of established
standards of salon art.  The Futurists waged war on the sanctity of the
object and through works such as Boccioni's "Bottle in Space" were able to
break down, what Walter Benjamin later termed, the "aura" of the object by
extension beyond its static boundaries. This ecosystem was entirely novel
in its attempt to link the mechanical and biological spheres into a single
"plane of immanence."  This meant that no object, body, or concept, could
be removed from the infinitely complex web of interconnected forces in the
environment, culture, economics; all spheres of activity were
interconnected because they were all resultants of vectors of energy, bits
of matter and their movement over time.  These ideas are clearly
precursors to the world which de Landa describes and also similar to
spatial and political activities now burgeoning on the internet.=20

In Boccioni's painting Elasticity, for instance, one detects a landscape,
an urban center in the distance and a farmer occupying the centerground.=20
What is of interest is that despite the seemingly fixed quality of the
subject matter, one is presented with a completely dynamic composition of
swirling ground plains, composition lines and color fields.  No single
figure or element is complete, instead, each area of intensity of the
painting is made up of dynamic interplay, a multiplicity of elements which
drift in and out of definition. Each partial figure independently follows
its own fragmented trajectory.  In the artists' words, the effect was to
capture the "simultaneousness of the ambient, and, therefore, the
dislocation and dismemberment of objects, the scattering and fusion of
details, freed from accepted logic, and independent from one another."
(Sackville Gallery catalogue, London Futurist exhibition, 1912.)

These artworks articulate a precursor of Deleuze's constructs of the
"pleats and folds of matter," as well as the concept of "singularity" to
describe this reality as one in constant flux and fluidity.  It is a
reality where the absolute certainty of identity and boundary are
questioned.  What is interesting is that this sort of smooth space of free
flowing energy and matter occurring across durations of time precisely
describe the quality of space which is lived on the world wide web and
will continue to intensify in our consciousness as web technology becomes
more immersive.=20

This notion of the unbounded subject was an amazing theoretical
advancement, but one perhaps which is not as readily apparent as the more
obvious Futurist rhetoric of a call for arms under the guise of
technology.  Perhaps this was most apparent in the artistic artifacts and
not readily stated in any of the manifestos.  But, if one follows the
implications of this precursor to "smooth space" one can begin to posit a
world view which gives expression to all realms of experience, including
the subconscious, since desire is now given the opportunity to play itself
out along with all other partial subjects.  This playing out of desire and
expression of the repressed is perhaps the key component which the
technology of the internet affords the individual user. This degree of
psychological accommodation was not possible under the technology of mass
production which was being actualized at the turn of the century.=20

The Futurist world is a profound radicalization compared to the reality
which thinkers and artists up to that time were able to imagine. The
classic grid system of spatial organization, which was best able to
describe the world up until the turn of the century, does not necessarily
limit one to static models of form, but it does seem inescapably linked to
linear models of movement and discreetly defined bodies.  Changes that
objects undergo over time can be plotted precisely, but what cannot be
accommodated in a Cartesian system is a comprehension of qualitative
changes in an object.  One cannot account for this degree of
provisionality of objects and hope to define one to one relationships.=20

Even the structure of knowledge on the internet is profoundly different
from that of a Cartesian understanding.  The Dewey Decimal system, which
allows libraries to neatly chart the organization of knowledge does not
remain a valid model of organization when doing research on the web, where
search engines and the arbitrary quality of wandering amongst hypertext
makes coherent organization particularly daunting.=20

Similarly, in an understanding of the composition of matter, one cannot
clearly map changes of states between elements, such as when liquid
changes to gas, or as a single celled organism bifurcates and becomes two
separate entities.  One cannot map the changes to an object under the
extremity of an explosion. Movement on a molecular level is too difficult
to account for rationally.  But beyond these simple illustrations, the
complexity of dynamic forces that Boccioni posited constituted a
fundamental transformation of the world.  This radical redefinition is not
one of aesthetic formulation, but rather it was an attempt to alter
fundamental ontological relations between man and his surroundings.=20

III.  Technology and Repression

It is evident that Boccioni and the Futurists were instrumental in
developing an ideology which placed an inordinent trust in technology.
Perhaps it was inevitable that such lopsided emphasis on a single realm
would result in disaster.  For Europe, and the Western world as a whole,
the flip side of the revolution was the nightmare of World War I.  It
seems that an overwhelming reliance on technology as an agent of social
change would be problematic since a machinic conception of social
engineering can only result in Fascistic political structures (note that
Mussolini was an early adherent of Futurist dogma).=20

The mechanized wholesale slaughter of World War I brought an end to the
innocent belief in the ideology of technology.  However, as a result of
the war, new understandings of the human psyche and its needs were
unearthed.  Freud, to a large degree because of his work with war
survivors and their hysterical outbursts, was spurred on to develop his
theories of the unconscious and subconscious.  Similarly, Andre Breton, as
an orderly in a soldier's hospital, witnessed massive atrocities to and by
humankind, used this terror to develop the strategy of Surrealism.  What
is common here is that the human psyche tends to erupt when overly
repressed or stratified, and thus, the danger of social engineering, or at
least the attempt to change society through the reliance on technology was
proven untenable.=20

The strategy of the Surrealists was to mock the certainty of the Futurists
(among others) and to capitalize on a perceived futility of rational
thought. So instead of reveling in the euphoric speed of the motorcar as
did Marinetti, one is forced to confront Duchamp and his completely absurd
constructions. Duchamp in fact from about the early 1920's carried around
business cards which identified himself as a "precision occulist" and
attended inventors' conventions and trade shows at which he displayed his
roto-optical devices.  These machines would spin images in circles, for no
apparent reason, accept perhaps that many of the images, because of their
asymetrical composition and the natural result of the process of rotating
an image, appeared to form an image of something akin to "a breast with
slightly trembling nipple=85"  We are finally at a point at which an object
is able to bridge the gap between a machine and the sub-conscious.=20

This interest in the use of the machine as an agent for (perhaps
distorted) erotic expression continued in Duchamp's work "The Large
Glass."  Where his representation of "the bride" and "the bachelor" were
intended to be seen against the backdrop of desire, machinery and
ultimately thwarted gratification. The attempt to subvert meaning through
the irrational is as radical a critique of society as the desire to use
the machine to transform it from the inside.=20

The research which Duchamp performed is critical to consider when
attempting to instigate political activism through technology (internet
and virtuality).  The lesson to be learned from Modernist history is that
deterministic ideology tends to be unduly repressive and repression can
result in unexpectedly viscous results such as war and totalitarian
political systems.=20

IV.  Conclusion: Internet and Identity

The point for us now is not to be overly caught up in the rhetoric of
freedom and resistance put forth by proponents of various virtual
political communities. There is danger lurking in the case of the ideology
surrounding the internet. Questions of privacy, commerce, control of
access and freedom of expression are all issues which constitute a
battleground for current struggles.  This is to say nothing of the fact
that the internet remains the tool for which it was designed: a form of
redundant communication channels strung together for military use during
times of crisis. But what is interesting about the internet is that it
simultaneously provides a system of multivalent realms of resistance and

This paper has traced the historic evolution of various moments when
societies have attempted to redefine their identity in terms of the
machine. Interestingly, we have found similarities between the Futurist
model of open-ended structure of interpenetrating vectors and lines of
action and spatial configurations inherent in the web.  In the case of the
Futurists, the manifesto of technological change overwhelmed the very
empowering metaphysical discoveries found in their work and became a tool
of repression.  But the similarities between the worlds of Boccioni and
Marcos Novak, for example are striking.  In the case of inhabiting
cyberspace, one can only hope that the model of open-ended meshworks,
partial subjects and heterogeneous intensities can provide a playing field
for individual identity and sub-conscious desire to enter into the realm
of action.=20

V.  Bibliography

De Landa, Manuel, "A Thousand Years of Non-Linear History"
Swerve Editions, 1997

Krauss, Rosalind, "The Optical Unconscious" MIT Press, 1993.

Kwinter, Sanford, "Landscapes of Change: Coccioni's Stati d'animo as a
General Theory of Models."  Assemblage #19.  MIT, 1992.=20

Novak, Marcos, "Liquid Architectures in Cyberspace" from: "Cyberspace:
First Steps" edited by Michael Benedikt, MIT Press, Fourth Printing, 1992.=


Peter Franck, Architect

Adjunct Professor of Architecture,
Graduate Program in Architecture
Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, NY

c/o 59 Letter S Road
Ghent, NY 12075
email: ghent {AT} taconic.net

#  distributed via nettime-l : no commercial use without permission
#  <nettime> is a closed moderated mailinglist for net criticism,
#  collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets
#  more info: majordomo {AT} desk.nl and "info nettime-l" in the msg body
#  URL: http://www.desk.nl/~nettime/  contact: nettime-owner {AT} desk.nl