[-empyre-] fwd: Love and Other Technologies

Josephine Bosma jesis at xs4all.nl
Wed Oct 22 23:15:12 EST 2008

[hello all, The following was posted on another mailinglist (IDC)  
only yesterday. I contacted the writer to ask if I could forward it  
to you, because of the relevance of the topic. He generously welcomed  
it. I hope it is ok to forward, Melinda? Anyway, I also hope this  
finds you all well, J]

from: Dominic Pettman, pettmand at newschool.edu

Hello IDC people.

My new friend and colleague, Trebor, has been kind enough to invite me
to contribute to the list, by way of introducing my most recent book
/Love and Other Technologies: Retrofitting Eros for the Information Age/
(Fordham University Press, 2006). I would like to thank him for this
opportunity to further spread the word about a project which is, let’s
say, in the “slow-burn” post-publication stage. So let me begin with a
shameless plug, via my other friend and colleague, McKenzie Wark, who
was good enough to describe it as “the ultimate book on love for the

To begin with, this book represents an interdisciplinary study of the
way in which three key terms – /love/, /technology/ and /community/ –
are currently being figured by various aspects of contemporary media and
culture. My fundamental argument is that these terms are in fact words
/which designate the same cultural movement/: a movement /towards/ the
Other, which continually redefines what it means to be human (especially
a human amongst other humans; or, indeed, posthumans).

I turn to Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben for guidance, since I am
intrigued by the possibilities inherent in his concept of “whatever
being” – the rather abstract citizens of his “coming community” –
especially tricksters, fakes, ‘toons, assistants, and even porn stars.
My book looks to such figures within new media, cinema, and literature,
in order to further “flesh out” this notion.

One of the motivations behind writing this book began with the seemingly
simple question: what does Agamben mean when he talks about “whatever
being”? As is usually the case with seemingly simple questions, they
lead to other questions, which themselves spiral out into a network of
inter-related, and ultimately more complex, questions. For instance, how
does this notion of “whatever being” relate to his concept of the coming
community? What would an “inessential commonality” (the basis of such a
community) actually look like? Is the “automatism of love” (Zizek) a
stumbling-block to thinking the coming community? Or is there a way to
reinflect the lover’s discourse beyond notions of subjective essence?
(In other words, if we are all men and women “without qualities,” on
what basis do we select one partner over another?) And how do
contemporary forces – such as the Internet, globalization, and the
information revolution – encourage or discourage an emergent conception
of community . . . ideally outside the increasingly exhausted
co-ordinates of humanism, the humanities, nihilism, postmodernism and
psychoanalysis (to name only a few)?

For while we often ponder the meaning behind the ur-sentence “I love
you,” we have concentrated most of our efforts on the word “love,”
rather than questioning the “I” and the “you” – as if the bridge were
more important than the banks it claims to connect. Indeed, we tend to
assume that this metaphor of bridging two stable and identifiable
entities is enough to capture the passionate event; which it clearly is
not. Love is more than merely an engineering feat which joins to
previously isolated points. It is a bringing-forth, a revelation – a
/techne/. (After all, we /make/ love, don’t we?)

Hence my primal scene, featuring the famous androgynes in Plato’s
/Symposium/, who have been split in two by the angry gods, and who thus
seek their “other half” in frenzied desparation. In order to fuse back
together again, these love-crazed creatures are obliged to rely on
“Hephaestes and his instruments.” Love is thus, from the outset, a
technical operation. (I don’t actually say this in the book, but will do
so in a forthcoming article, that Heidegger’s definition of modern
technology as “an unreasonable demand of nature,” works beautifully as a
definition of love as well.)

Which is all to say, that whether we follow the argument of someone as
spectacularly anti-romantic as Niklas Luhmann, who describes love as
“the codification of intimacy,” or the melancholic structuralism of
Roland Barthes and his “image-repertoire,” we gather the instruments
which can help us form a deeper appreciation of the mysterious
relationship between /longing/ and /be/-longing.

A brief glimpse at my index of proper names will reveal directors such
as Wong Kar-Wai, Terence Malick, Stanley Kubrick, Hirokazu Koreeda, and
Shu Lea Cheang, as well as writers such as Vladimir Nabokov, J.G.
Ballard, Thomas Pynchon, Robert Musil, and Haruki Murakami. These
figures are supplemented by the conceptual maps of thinkers such as
Bernard Stiegler, Jean-Luc Nancy, Kaja Silverman, Søren Kierkegaard,
Martin Heidegger, Friedrich Kittler, Sylvia Agacinski, and many many

So I’ll leave you with a brief extract (pasted below), which will
hopefully function as an exciting trailer for the whole thing.

If you have any comments or questions, feel free to post them to the  

Further writing samples from this book, and my previous titles /After
the Orgy: Toward a Politics of Exhaustion/ (SUNY, 2002) and /Avoiding
the Subject: Media, Culture and the Object/ (Amsterdam UP, 2004), can be
found here:


Thanks for listening.

pettmand at newschool.edu <mailto:pettmand at newschool.edu>


*Here’s Looking At You Kid*

“Separate the sexual act from love, and the language of love is
devalued.” So states Anthony Burgess. In the very next sentence, he goes
on to say: “An aspect of our freedom is our right to debase the language
totally, so that its syntagms become mere noise.” The link between the
first and the second sentence is left intriguingly open, inviting us to
fill in the blanks with our own thoughts on the relationship between
eros, agape, communication and structure. (And not only that, but to
reflect on the notion of “relationship” itself.)
Identifying the signal-to-noise relationship of amorous discourse seems
like a technical imperative in these troubled times. While at first
glance, a study of love may seem like a retreat into the personal, it
will soon become apparent that it is anything but. Love, like weaponized
anthrax spores, has a habit of getting into everything.
One entry-point we can use for such an all-encompassing and diffuse
discourse is the visual mechanism which often triggers its existence in
the first place. As Kaja Silverman maintains, “passion is a semiotic
affair” (50). Indeed, this same critic identifies a formal
transhistorical human subject, the “world spectator,” who is referred to
as such since they (we) are /subject/ to the scopic regime of love: “The
world spectator is emphatically a desiring subject” (11). Describing a
conceptual trajectory linking Plato’s hypnotized cave-dwellers with
Debord’s equally mesmerized cinema-goers, Silverman focuses on the
ontological feedback loops of (visual) attraction:

[W]ere others to look at us through our own eyes, ‘ourselves’ is
precisely what we would never be. We can appear, and so Be, only if
others ‘light’ us up. To be lit up means to be seen from a vantage point
from which we can never see ourselves. It also means to embody not our
own, but /someone else’s/ idea of beauty. Our ‘essence’ is thus
strangely nonessential. (19)

And further:

The being whom I light up with the radiance of affirmation supplies me
with the form which allows me to see what I could not otherwise see; it
alone makes possible beauty’s embodiment. It is together, then, that we
bring about its appearance. (20-21)

If Beauty goes for a walk alone in the forest, would Beauty still be
beautiful? The answer is an emphatic no.
Thus, for Silverman – as for myself – “libidinal signification has an
/ontological/ force” (43). That is to say, every relationship is a
transductive relationship (i.e., a relationship which doesn’t merely
link, but /creates/ the terms in that same relationship). Beauty – or
more simply Self, whether figured as beautiful or ugly or somewhere
in-between – does not precede the encounter with Others. This
“ontological force” is the one emphasized throughout the following
chapters, and prompts an ethical assessment of one’s own actions. Not so
much in the moralistic-behavioral sense (“am I a good person?”), but
according to a more symbolic economy of recognition and deferral (“am I
a person?”). Silverman states, “To each of us, through our particular
libidinal history, has been given the potentiality for participating in
a unique series of disclosures. This potentiality is not so much a
talent as a responsibility. When we fail to realize it, we are
bottomlessly guilty” (48).
Without embracing this statement completely (in what sense is this
series /unique/? and why give so much ground to the deployment of guilt?
do we detect a whiff of emotional blackmail here?), the notion of
responsibility in relation to an erotics of Being is nevertheless a
revealing one. Through it we can /see/ the stakes involved in being
together, longing together, and belonging together (in the sense of W.
J. T. Mitchell’s desire to “make seeing show itself” [175]).
For in English at least, the verb “to look” can be both objective (“you
look good”), and subjective (“I look at you”). It is simultaneously
passive and active, gazing and gazed-upon. And yet, from the myth of
Aphrodite’s lazy eye, to those infamous blinkers which fall over the
retinas of the impassioned, love is an interactive event which involves
not only sight, but all of the senses . . . and perhaps others we are
not even aware of . . . yet.
To coin a phrase, then: If love is blind, sex is Braille.

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