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NEW-MEDIA-CURATING  February 2013

NEW-MEDIA-CURATING February 2013

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Subject:

Re: Reading the Network

From:

Gary Hall <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Gary Hall <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Sat, 23 Feb 2013 22:02:05 +0000

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While we're waiting for Clive's remake of 'Ideals Die', perhaps I can 
attempt some speculations (one could almost call them 'inventive 
provocations' if they were more detailed) on what it might mean to think 
both research and politics as 'the domain of those who do not know' in 
the context of some of the contributions to the discussion so far. In 
particular, I'd like to try to find a way of thinking this idea 
affirmatively together with:

Clive's concern about having a 'common direction';
Ken Friedman's comments about the concept of The Eternal Network being a 
concept of community, and about the apparent failure of artists to 
create network systems that thrive and develop for longer than a year or 
two;
and Helen Pritchard's reference to the common, for Hardt and Negri, 
being discovered and produced through joyful encounters.

The latter brought to mind Nick Mirzeoff's disappointment with their 
book Declaration, on the basis that, for Hardt and Negri:

'“living information” is said to be gained by physical proximity. Thus, 
at the encampments "the participants experienced the power of creating 
new political affects through being together." While that seems clearly 
true, there’s a hint of Romantic nostalgia in the evocation of the 
letter over the email and the distaste for social media. Entirely absent 
here... is any mention of the role of photography and moving image 
distribution. From the al-Jazeera feeds of Tunisia and Tahrir to the 
Livestreaming of Occupy, web-disseminated video has indeed created a new 
way of being together without which it’s hard to understand the 
formation of global affinities that we’ve witnessed over the past 18 
months.'[1]

That in turn made me think of how - as we know from the work of Dymitri 
Kleiner and others [2] - the idea of the commons is a place where the 
interests of a large number of diverse groups, movements, organisations 
and constituencies –  including network technologists, media theorists, 
artists, activists  and curators - come together, but also exist in a 
state of 'tension' and are often demonstrably incompatible and 
incommensurable. For example,  some in the Free Software community argue 
for copyleft which is a use of copyright law, but one that’s designed to 
serve the opposite ends to those such a copyright or Creative Commons 
license is usually put. Instead of supporting the ownership of private 
property, copyleft defends the freedom of everyone to copy, distribute, 
develop and improve software or any other work covered by such a 
licence. Meanwhile, others question just how left politically copyleft 
actually is. Rather than preventing access to information and source 
code from being restricted, those on the political left tend to be more 
concerned with developing a free, common culture, and promoting the 
equal and just distribution of wealth among the creative workers who 
produce it. To this end, Kleiner himself advocates for copyleft to be 
transformed into copyfarleft, in which creative workers themselves own 
the means of production, and only prevent use of their works which is 
not based in the commons. Then again, many anti-intellectual property 
advocates in the Pirate movement argue against copyright and the use of 
licenses altogether, regarding them as remnants  from a previous age.

Now all this could of course be taken as providing one illustration as 
to why it is difficult for network technologists, media theorists, 
artists, activists  and curators to create durable, scalable network 
systems that thrive and develop for longer than a year or two - 
especially if we are attempting to understand the politics of the common 
in terms of a known 'arbitrary closure' (such as 'continuity' 
possibly?). Or, it could be taken as suggesting we should perhaps 
approach the question of community, of being together and holding 
something in common, a little differently - in terms of a certain 
conflict, antagonism and incommensurability, and thus as being not the 
domain of those who already know what community and the common are in 
advance, but more 'the domain of those who do not know'.  It is 
something of this kind that Michael Bauwens seems to be pointing toward 
when he talks about the larger cultural and social shift  he associates 
with peer-to-peer networks of production:

'The fact that the commons interfaces with capital is not necessarily 
negative. It can be, but it is not necessarily so.... Critics ask you to 
choose one or the other, and what I am trying to say is that it is not 
either or, but both. They are both happening at the same time, we are 
de-commodifying and we are commodifying. ... I find it really 
interesting that, within the system we already have, communal dynamics 
are actually happening. My point of view is not to take an 
anti-capitalist view, but to take a post-capitalist view.... I think 
that is what happened in the past as well, I do not think that the 
Christians fought the Roman Empire or fought Feudalism as such; they 
just created a world based on their new logic .... The people no longer 
believe in the mainstream system. They may not know what they want, but 
people in the French Revolution did not know what they want, and people 
in the Russian Revolution did not know what they want.'[3]

All of which appears to provide another way of thinking community 
together with performativity. For (and I'm just speculating here 
remember) how might we set about creating such an (as yet) unknown 
community or world  - especially if we're concerned to try to avoid the 
situation we've seen Stuart Hall fall into, where we're open to 
questioning everything... except certain 'arbitrary closures' that 
establish boundary lines around what we supposedly do know, such as 
politics and the relation to the social formation in Hall's case. 
Wouldn’t we have to try to performatively create such a community via 
how we act as network technologists, media theorists, artists, 
activists  and curators? And do so ‘without any guarantees’ (Stuart Hall 
again) that this would happen?[4]

Let me try to illustrate what this might involve with the example of 
Graham Harman and his book on Bruno Latour, Prince of Networks (and I'm 
referring to authors and texts that are part of the networks of networks 
I help to curate and care for quite deliberately here).[5] Harman of 
course is known for advocating a 'new logic' via Latour and others, 
based on the argument that ‘there is no privilege for a unique human 
subject’, and that with this ‘a total democracy of objects replaces the 
long tyranny of human beings in philosophy’.[6] However,  even though 
Prince of Networks is available open access through re.press,[7] that 
doesn’t mean a network of people, objects or actants can take Harman’s 
text, rewrite and improve it, and in this way produce a work derived 
from it that can then be legally published. Since Harman has chosen to 
publish his book under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence, that would 
still be to infringe his claim to copyright: both the right Harman 
wishes to retain to be identified as the author of Prince of Networks, 
and to have it attributed to him precisely as a unique human subject; 
but also Harman’s right of integrity, which enables him as a human being 
to claim it as his intellectual property, and which grants him the 
privilege of refusing to allow the ‘original’, fixed and final form of 
Prince of Networks to be modified or distorted by others, be they humans 
or objects.

So how might we begin to think about how we could act differently in 
this respect? Well, one starting point for doing so is perhaps offered 
by Lawrence Liang's troubling of the 'distinction between an agent who 
performs an action and the action that the agent performs.' Here, 'an 
agent is constituted by the actions that he or she performs, or an agent 
is the actions performed and nothing more. Interestingly, what this 
means when it comes to written texts - and this brings us back neatly to 
Helen's mention of joyful encounters - is that: 'to assert "This is my 
poem" within the social imaginary of intellectual property is to make a 
claim that sounds very much like "This is my pen", whereas in fact, it 
might be more accurate to think of its claim as the same as "This is my 
friend".'

Gary


[1] 
http://www.nicholasmirzoeff.com/O2012/2012/05/09/on-hardt-and-negris-declaration/
[2] Dmytri Kleiner, The Telecommumist Manifesto, Amsterdam: Institute of 
Network Cultures, 2010, 
http://telekommunisten.net/the-telekommunist-manifesto/.
[3] Michel Bauwens in Sam Kinsley, ‘TOWARDS PEER-TO-PEER ALTERNATIVES: 
An interview with Michel Bauwens’, Culture Machine, 2012, 
http://www.culturemachine.net/index.php/cm/article/view/467/497.
[4] 'The Problem of Ideology: Marxism without Guarantees', in D. Morley 
and Kuan-Hsing Chen (eds.) Stuart Hall : Critical Dialogues in Cultural 
Studies (London/ New York: Routledge 1996) pp26-29.
[5] http://openhumanitiespress.org/new-metaphysics.html.
[6] Graham Harman, ‘The Importance of Bruno Latour for Philosophy’, 
Cultural Studies Review, Volume 13, Number 1, March 2007, p.36.
[7] 
http://re-press.org/books/prince-of-networks-bruno-latour-and-metaphysics/.
[8] Lawrence Liang, ‘The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Book’, in Gaelle 
Krikorian and Amy Kapczynski, eds, Access to Knowledge In the Age of 
Intellectual Property (New York: Zone Books, 2010) p.286, 283-284.

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