[-empyre-] from terror to pharmakon

Timothy Murray tcm1 at cornell.edu
Tue Dec 9 02:10:24 EST 2008

>Sorry about that everyone, I hit the wrong key 
>and sent out an incomplete post!  I'll try again:

>Hi, Simon,

Your post provides a nice bridge between 
November's discussion of 'networks of 
catastrophe" and this month's new emphasis on the 

My understanding of the "pharmakon" remains 
influenced by Jacques Derrida's text, "Plato's 
Pharmacy" (in La dissémination), which reflects 
on the irony that Platonic therapeutics and the 
valence of catharsis occur via the agency of the 
  which is both remedy and poison (whether cure, 
illness, or cause of illness).  Through exorcism, 
catharsis is said, by Derrida, to eradicate 
excess by chasing the parasite outside.   What's 
important about his analysis is its insistence on 
the irony that the parasital logic and structure 
must be shared by both poison and remedy, which 
paradox must be repressed by the state apparatus 
intent on maintaining the purity of an essence 
clean of the charms and poison understood to 
originate from without.   Rather than being 
governed by the oppositions inherent in the 
pharmakon (remedy-poision, good-bad, true-false, 
positive-negative, US-THEM), the pharmakon, as 
Derrida argues so skillfully, permits  the coming 
into play of oppositions without being fully 
encompassed or stifled (or blinded) by them.

  Derrida adds, by the way, the the pharmakon also 
signifies the artificial tint of painting, thus 
inscribing the pharmakon into the fabric of 
artistic representation,which, of course, 
remained questionable to Plato as a dependable 
apparatus of the state.

It is a similar flexible play of highly charged 
societal tensions that I mean to invoke by 
emphasizing the paradox of "digital terror" 
within the context of artistic blowback.  While 
differences certainly remain between the extent 
of state terror employed in different regions 
(not to mention by the shift of terror employed 
by state surveillance systems and alternative 
actions of locative media), I would suggest that 
Steve Dietz's legal harrassment is directly 
inscribed in the logic of state of state terror, 
just as CAE's artistic reflections on critical 
and technlogical terror employ the logic of the 
pharmakon in resistance to the deadening logic of 
us and them.

I frame my approach to "digital terror," as you 
noticed, in dialogue with the 1998 intervention 
of the brave Israeli feminist artist and peace 
activist, Horit Herman-Peled, a former guest of 
-empyre-,who  articulates her own dangerous work 
documenting and critiquing the Israeli oppression 
of Palestinian guest workers as they pass(ed) 
through the Gaza checkpoint:

"The reality and/or threat of terror shapes 
people's consciousness and unconsciousness, among 
them people who are active in the cultural and 
art-making fields. This raises numerous questions 
regarding the relationships between the digital 
revolution, digital terror, and digital art. Some 
of these questions are:
	1.	What is the relationship between 
the production of art by means of digital 
technologies and the production of terror by the 
same means?
	2.	Do artists and cultural producers 
in areas inflicted with terror embrace more 
readily the digital media, with its perturbing 
qualities, as natural means of artistic 
	3.	Do artists who experience terror 
directly react differently in these respects than 
artists who experience it virtually, through the 
electronic media?" 

What your post emphasizes, Sean,  is our need to 
reflect cautiously on the practical differences 
between virtual and direct terror, while learning 
from their structural affiliations via the logic 
of the pharmakon.

Thanks for such a helpful post.



>Hey timothy
>With sincere admiration for the Ctheory piece, doesn't detouring the term
>'terror' to describe "critical analysis and response" rather defuse the
>term's emotional clout? Surely, terror is not the prerogative of non-state
>actors, and certainly there is a sliding scale of terror, from Stalinist /
>fascist / dictator state terror through to the selective deployment of
>terror-like tactics in parliamentary democracies. The difference is between
>geographical areas where everyone fears the knock on the door and ones where
>only some people do - Steve Dietz for instance.
>Lyotard's indifference might in another context sound disturbingly like
>Baudrillard's silence of the silent majority or worse still, the
>'immoralist' described by Simon Critchley, who knows what evil is, but does
>not choose to act against it. While indifference offers some kind of
>personal salvation, it is all too often perceived not as the ultimate
>barrier by power, but as weakness that can be ignored.
>There's a slippage in terminology which is characteristic of capital itself.
>On 2/12/08 4:20 PM, "timothy murray" <tcm1 at cornell.edu> wrote:
>>>  Hi, Sean and Simon,
>>  I'm not sure that terrorism must necessarily equate itself with the
>>  future of violence.    Could not networked terrorism itself
>>  constitute a significance response to terror?
>>    In one context, I'm thinking of the alternative media actions that I
>>  call "digital terror" for their ability to grab back the numbing
>>  devices of surveillance and scanning (something that Jordan
>>  frequently discusses) for the sake of critical analysis and response
>>  (I elaborate on this in an article on "Digital Terror"  that you can
>>  find on Ctheory. net).
>>  In another context, I frequently rely on some important advice that
>>  my mentor Jean-Francois Lyotard gave me many years ago.  Reflecting
>>  on alternatives to terrorist actions by the IRA and the
>>  Baader-Meinhof that were sweeping Europe, Lyotard suggested, with a
>>  twinkle in his eye, that the greatest counter act of terrorism is not
>>  violence, but  indifference.
>>  Best,
>>  Tim
>>>  The 'us and them' that is relevant here was described by WB Yeats a
>>>  century ago:  "The best lack all conviction, while the worst are
>>>  filled with a passionate intensity"
>>>  sean
>>>  On 30/11/08 9:05 PM, "Simon Biggs" <<>s.biggs at eca.ac.uk> wrote:
>>>  That sounds a bit us and them. Are we not all complicit in this?
>>>  Aren't we all oppressors and victims? Events in Mumbai demonstrate
>>>  this. The bombers run amok and people die. Why do they run amok?
>>>  What sort of society is it that engenders such behaviour? Why were
>>>  these people pushed to that action?
>>>  As somebody else observed, terror is endemic to capitalism. However,
>>>  one could extend that and suggest that terrorism is endemic to all
>>>  societies. Why?
>>>  We live in a world of networked cultures, where difference is not
>>>  neatly delineated along historical topographic lines. Difference is
>>>  in every nation, every town, every street - the family. When there
>>>  is intense conflict between different people (for whatever reason)
>>>  it will resemble terror. We shouldn't be surprised that this is how
>>>  we now fight. This is the future of violence. Wars between states
>>>  (which, as Sean suggests, are simply the executive arms of global
>>>  capital) will rarely occur (unless there is a profit margin to
>>>  exploit). Wars of belief (difference) will happen in our streets,
>>>  our towns and anywhere, potentially all at the same time. Conflict
>>>  will be rhizomorphic, just as our cultures are.
>>>  This messy and difficult to model conurbation of cultural diasporas
>  >> is itself a red rag to many. Those that fear difference find they
>>>  are surrounded by 'them'. They panic and strike out. Terror becomes
>>>  street culture.
>>>  We cannot go back to the past. We cannot repatriate populations of
>>>  millions. We cannot revert to a monoculture that was (anyway) a
>>>  mirage. The more likely scenario is that our diasporas will
>>>  proliferate and fragment further. Difference will become our
>>>  defining characteristic (perhaps it already is?). If we fear such
>>>  difference then conflict (and terror) will be endemic - it will be
>>>  our culture.
>>>  Regards
>>>  Simon
>>>  On 30/11/08 01:00, Sean Cubitt wrote:
>>>  The problem now can be phrased like this: The world is split between Evil
>  >> (regimes, terrorists . . .) and Innocent 
>(civilians, victims . . . ). There
>>>  is no room left for the Good. What art can do uniquely is to speak of the
>>>  Good, that is of the very thing that does not exist in or for contemporary
>>>  capitalism
>>>  Simon Biggs
>>>  Research Professor
>>>  edinburgh college of art
>>>  s.biggs at eca.ac.uk
>>>  www.eca.ac.uk
>>>  www.eca.ac.uk/circle/
>>>  <>simon at littlepig.org.uk
>>>  www.littlepig.org.uk
>>>  AIM/Skype: simonbiggsuk
>>>  Edinburgh College of Art (eca) is a charity registered in Scotland,
>>>  number SC009201
>>>  _______________________________________________
>>>  empyre forum
>>>  <>empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
>>>  <http://www.subtle.net/empyre>http://www.subtle.net/empyre
>>>  Prof Sean Cubitt
>>>  <>scubitt at unimelb.edu.au
>>>  Director, Media and Communications Program
>>>  Faculty of Arts
>>>  Room 127 John Medley East
>>>  The University of Melbourne
>>>  Parkville VIC 3010
>>>  Australia
>>>  Tel: + 61 3 8344 3667
>>>  Fax:+ 61 3 8344 5494
>>>  M: 0448 304 004
>>>  Skype: seancubitt
>>>  /www.culture-communication.unimelb.edu.au/media-communications/
>>>  screen/seanc/
>>>  <http://seancubitt.blogspot.com/>http://seancubitt.blogspot.com/
>>>  <http://del.icio.us/seancubitt>http://del.icio.us/seancubitt
>>>  Editor-in-Chief Leonardo Book Series
>>>  <http://leonardo.info>http://leonardo.info
>>>  _______________________________________________
>>>  empyre forum
>>>  empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
>>>  http://www.subtle.net/empyre
>Prof Sean Cubitt
>scubitt at unimelb.edu.au
>Director, 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
>Editor-in-Chief Leonardo Book Series
>empyre forum
>empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au

Timothy Murray
Director, Society for the Humanities
Curator, The Rose Goldsen Archive of New Media Art, Cornell Library
Professor of Comparative Literature and English
A. D. White House
Cornell University
Ithaca, New York 14853

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