Nmherman on Thu, 26 Aug 1999 19:29:22 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> Fragments of Network Criticism

In a message dated 8/25/99 9:38:23 AM Pacific Daylight Time, geert@xs4all.nl 

> Max Herman writes:
> > The age of the expert is over, this is the implicit message of the
>  > network; it is best to stop looking for them. 
>  it is the message of the dominant network ideology, yes. we all know that
>  the dirty digital reality looks different. just read that 5% of the
>  content attracks 75% of the users. that's not ideology but plain numbers. 
>  disappointing figures, yes. Internet is a mass medium. Not in essence, but
>  in practictal terms. And it has always been run by experts, I wonder how
>  else one could call the programmers and sys-ops.

The message of the network per se, though I wouldn't call it an
"essential"  trait, is that expertise is distributed.  This expertise can
be technical or artistic; it can also be merely subjective, in that each
person is the "expert" on his or her subjectivity (both individual and

I grant that this message, which I take to be self-evident, has gone
largely unheard and is often suppressed by various expert classes.  These
classes can be technical, artistic, financial, political, cultural, you
name it.  Currently the web is unquestionably divided into providers and
users for the most part.  Many people, however, are both conceptualizing
and implementing alternatives.  They remain the minority of course, in
part because the technology is virtually newborn and older media
systems--the corporate in particular--still dominate in both material and
conceptual terms. 

None of this alters the unique character of digital media as the first
cheap technology to offer virtually unlimited capacity, if not access and
audience, to those able to purchase a PC.  The traditional foundation of
expertise--possession of the means of media production such as a library,
printing press, radio or TV transmitter, or newspaper--has been undermined
irrevocably, which makes the "message" of distributed production an
ever-present condition whether it is ignored, suppressed, or fulfilled. 

>  > now that the network can be
>  > actual, waiting only for us to shape it, the lone observer is an
>  > anachronism.
>  I just read an article in a dutch newspaper, the NRC, who finally
>  discovered post-modernism. According to this Bas Heyne, post-modernism is
>  characterized by the shift from the actor to the observer. This is also my
>  impression of most academics these days. They do not feel comfortable
>  anymore with the notion of theory as an intervention (let alone as a
>  utopia or manifest/proposal). Many prefer to observe, and to deconstruct,
>  working with somewhat older material, not with the latest cultural
>  constructs. 

Post-modernism is too complicated to ever be discussed, at least according
to Chomsky.  In any event, theorizing the limitations of the observer in
conceptual terms does not imply that contemporary society will instantly
reflect this awareness; it will take some time to sink in.  The world is
full of professional observers who don't want to jeopardize their income
and/or sense of self.  The fact remains that the construct of knowledge as
the product of observation exclusive of action is losing its coherence in
virtually every discipline.  This construct still dominates the world but
it is tottering.  (Of course there are many professionals charged with
meticulously documenting each totter.) 

>Perhaps the network does not encourage the point-of-view of
>  the outsider. But then again, the network is not the society (dispite
>  Castells...). The Net might produce a temporary dominant ideology, which
>  does not mean that all human/power relations are affected by it.

 I think we agree here; systems of power relations are never completely
hegemonic, but always contain interstices of resistance if only in the
form of contradictions and internal fractures.  The benevolent facade of
corporate digitalism (Expo 2000?)  is neither accurate in its depiction
nor absolute in its control of representation.  It warrants neither fear
nor respect. 


>  > Panic is never suitable in a crisis because it only encourages delay. 
>  Again such a naive copy-paste of Bill Gates' 'friction free capitalism'. 

I'm not sure what you mean here.  I never read any Gates but I assume you
are equating my critique of panic with some kind of follow-the-leader
idealism, carpe diem, just do it, etc.  I merely meant that time is lost
and opportunities are wasted if unduly pessimistic and frightened
attitudes prevail in times of transition or conflict.  As the Gateses are
poised to turn the Web into another form of TV, in both hardware and
brainware, the actions that dissenters take now are important.  (I also
think that excessive observation, which you mentioned earlier, is one
manifestation of panic.) 

>  Panic is a very deep, psycho-physical response to immediate danger. 
>  Suitable or not, it's there. The question is only how society repsonses to
>  it.
>  > If democracy is both a practical obligation and an ideal, why not reject
>  > the hierarchy of genius at least experimentally?  Which is to say, 
>  > a history in which the great analyst is irrelevant.  
>  Yes, I think we can do away with the genius, this 19th century figure. 

Sometimes I think that because I talk about my work all the time everyone
has heard about it.  I was speaking above, when I mentioned the "hierarchy
of genius," about the expert class, or master analyst in particular.  (The
nineteenth century seems to have been enamored of the lyric or poetic
genius, like Byron, Napoleon, or Edison; I think that the analytical
genius is more the favorite of the twentieth century--Freud is the great
exemplum here.)  The Western mythos of genius goes far deeper than Pasteur
and Wagner. 

>  Still, this is the age of the media, if you like it or not, and media are
>  (re)producing the rich and famous. Internet is also based on a star
>  system, closely related to the print industry, and the infotainment
>  business.  

Absolutely.  Genius is the aura of every celebrity, the justification of
every denial of access, and the currency of the corporate
cognition-industry. If we dismantle the myth of genius and define it for
ourselves the spell will be broken.  The creation, re-creation, and
distribution of genius is a worthy task for both theorists and

The integrity of a Sartre or Camus rests in part on a principled rejection
of the star system; this becomes paradoxical in times of media transition
but so do a lot of things. 

>But I also imagine such an utopian situation, where we wake up
>  from the nightmare called mass media. A victory of the Irrelavant!
>  geert

I imagine utopia too, and to tell you the truth, I think a lot of people
are going to wake or be woken in the next few months.  Utopia won't be
there when they wake up but they will know how to get there.  The paths
will be chaotic and irrelevant. 


Geert, I've enjoyed this dialogue quite a bit.  I won't plug my own work,
but I would be interested to hear your critique of it should you have the


Max Herman
The Genius 2000 Project


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