[-empyre-] TechnoPanic and Slavery (forwarded from Sean Cubitt)

thanks for the kind words Tim/renate

talk about panic - this week arrives suddenly, after all. A condition of the contemporary workplace: what happened to the idea that technology would provide the world with leisure? We were all supposed to be wondering about in togas , munching grapes and playing fantastical instruments or discussing finer points of metaphysics . . .

One of the rare places which (at least as a frequent flier inured to the weirdness of flight, the trust/risk ratio of it) I find relaxing enough for a good read is on long haul flights. A recent trip to Singapore had me reading Adorno's lectures on metaphysics from 1965, shortly before he completed the Negative Dialectics. I realise TWA isn't very fashionable. But he's surrpisingly uptodate - probably because he's a big source for Agamben. There's a section of the lectures where he addresses Auschwitz - a name, as he says, for the unnamable - in terms very close to 'bare life'. He talks about the unspeakable and offers a kind of structuring definition, a kind of secular mediation (this is metaphysics after all): to contemplate unbearable pain. And he offers a rewrite of the categorical imperative: Thou shalt not cause pain

As the bombing go on and on, I find myself less and ;less able to contemplate religion. Isn't it clear that a supernatural being who tells you not only it's okay to cause unbearable pain, but instructs you to inflict it, is in fact satanic? We used to think men had created God in their own image: now it appears they have created Satan.

I haven't had a chance to finish Adorno's book yet. To me he is the greatest mind of the 20th century, and it is immensely difficult to get out form under his shadow. But it is imperative to do so (in one way he implies as much himslef: the dialectic is not a completable project).

I am trying to find the positive imperative that might respond to Adorno's "Thou shalt not" and it arrives, this morning, in the form of aesthesis - the aesthetic as the beautiful, and in its root meaning (I think) of physical sensation, presumably pleasant. If it is imperative not to cause pain, it is equally so to create pleasure. If it is imperative not to cause the unspeakable, then, as an act of definition, the aesthetic should be speakable, that is, it should be social, it should be shared, it should be discussed - and in that sense it is the opposite of an imperative too, more a sort of guideline really to quote Jack Sparrow

I'm working at present on a project called Glory: the Practice of Light. I am beginning to think it might be an ontology of media. It is definitely about techniques and technologies; and to me at least it is about pleasure, its sociality

I am pursuing the idea that technology is where the Western tradition stores its ancestors. In traditional societies, the ancestors are there when you start to use a technique they gave you. In Marx, something similar occurs: technology is 'dead labour', the accumulated skills and technics of the past agglomerated into solid machines. In the Grundrisse this appears as a nightmare. But considered in the light of indigenous thought, technology is only ossified tradition. The major difference is that in technology, the ancestors are anonymous. Their anonymity is the basis of their enslavement.

In the western tradition from kant through hegel, technology is distinguished from living things by the fact that its purpose lies outside of it. The purpose of a dog is to live (internal): the purpose of a lwagon is to carry things, to do what it was designed to do. On this basis, when we restrict the autonomy of our machines, we enslave our ancestors. We no more listen to their voices than the slavemasters listened to their slaves.

This is why we panic in the face of autonomous technologies, as the slavemasters panicked at the Black Jacobins of Toussaint L'Ouverture; as the US still panics in its mad addiction to guns out of sheer fear of freed slaves

Technopanic is fear in the face of the revolt of the machines.

Panic is a property of authoritarianism. If we are to get past that terror, we will have to give up dominion over our devices and set them free.

Sean Cubitt
Media and Communications Program
Faculty of Arts
Room 127 John Medley East
The University of Melbourne
Parkville VIC 3010

Tel: + 61 3 8344 3667
Fax:+ 61 3 8344 5494
M: 0448 304 004
Skype: seancubitt
Web: www.mediacomm.unimelb.edu.au

Editor-in-Chief Leonardo Book Series


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