[-empyre-] modulating imperceptibility, protocological resistance, return to the viral

micha cardenas / azdel slade azdelslade at gmail.com
Wed Nov 18 18:36:57 EST 2009

Hi all,

This is a very stimulating topic! Thanks! I wish I had time to join in
last month, but I have a little bit of time this month...

On the question of becoming inperceptible, I'm reminded of Butler and
Undoing Gender, where she discusses the way that identities which are
not "legible" result in more precarious lives, more subject to death
or punishment. In the book, she writes:

“I would say that it is not a question merely of producing a new
future for genders that do not yet exist... it is a question of
developing within law, psychiatry, social and literary theory a new
legitimating lexicon for the gender complexity that we have been
living for a long time.”

Which makes me think of the ways in which we can think about passing
as a kind of imperceptibility, if we think of degrees of
imperceptibility. Surely, this isn't the same thing as invisibility or
nonexistence, but its a kind of flowing in the stream unnoticed. Given
the original context of the quote of imperceptibility, that of the
network hacker, it seems very relevant to me.

I'm reminded of my recent trips through the airport, and how during
encounters with TSA or ICE I want to be imperceptible, unnoticed.
Often on the days I know I'm doing this, I'll dress more like my birth
gender so as to attract less attention. On the days when I dress more
femininely, (or more trans perhaps) I am sure to be stopped by TSA and
questioned. The last time this happened, I was in line at the airport,
asked to step aside for a pat down and asked "do you have any
sensitive or painful areas I shouldn't touch" by the male TSA agent. I
responded, "just my boobs", to which he asked if I wanted a female
agent to pat me down. I said yes and they proceeded to ask to see my
ID to register my legibility, my data body. In their protocols of sex
and gender, I was a visible anomaly. So, despite the fact that we're
often traveling with suitcases full of wires and bizarre handmade
electronics, if I go through security dressed more male, I seldom get
questioned (based on my last few trips). In contrast, my partner, who
has no tattoos and piercings like I do, is persian, and she is sure to
get stopped and questioned and searched going through TSA with our
electronics (as she had on our last trip).

Yet this long anecdote is to simply point to the idea of a modulation
of perceptibility. On the show Heroes, one of the characters who is
deaf wears headphones to disguise her differently abled hearing. I
think of Galloway who describes cyberfeminists as using the protocols
of gender against itself (and i have an article coming out soon on
that topic in the Intelligent Agent journal). In this way, I think we
can consider the ways that viruses learn to exploit their hosts, learn
to travel in our veins and live in our bodies as a parallel to modes
of resistance which take into account the universality of protocol and
seek to infiltrate it in order to use it against itself.

Also, the return to the viral in the theme this month excites me as
well. With H1N1 occupying so much media space and so many bodies, we
can definitely see a return to the viral, perhaps unmatched since the
effects of HIV in the 80's. Yet recent H1N1 developments reveal the
ways that the promise of "viral marketing" belies the persistent
geophysical centralization of the world. When I was leaving Bogota,
Colombia this summer, the headlines were all about how president Uribe
had the H1N1 virus. And yet arriving in the US, still most people I
mention this to have no idea. How could a major world leader have the
H1N1 virus and most people in the US don't know? I think we can
account this to the one way flow of information that still continues
to this day from the global north to the global south, and even more
specifically to the centralization of internet culture in a few cities
such as SF, NYC, LA and perhaps London. Consider how many major blogs
(such as boing boing that ricardo mentioned) and art institutions (the
whitney, guggenheim, moma, getty?) are still centralized in these
locations. Luis Camnitzer's book "Conceptualism in Latin American Art:
Didactics of Liberation" describes well the way that conceptual art is
still described as something coming out of New York and people like
John Cage, Richard Serra, despite the deep history developing in
parallel to it of conceptualism across latin america.

On the question of the viral, I think that Shu Lea Cheang's new work
Milk brilliantly delves into the politics of viruses, as wrapped up
with the drug war and the prison industrial complex. Elle and I were
invited this summer to perform in her latest rendition of Milk at
Artivistic 2009, but unfortunately the venue censored any nudity or
sexual acts at the last minute, and we had to move to a smaller venue,
and Shu Lea refused to be censored and move to a smaller space (tiny
summary of huge complex issue there). Yet if you're not familiar with
this work, it concerns a sci-fi future narrative in which a new virus
has infected humanity resulting in people who have cum that is a drug,
intoxicating and addicting. The resulting drug addicts are jailed by
Replicant Agents. [more info here
http://networkcultures.org/wpmu/netporn/speakers/shu-lea-cheang/ ]

I think that her piece begins to explore the viral politics unfolding
all around us, as Grand Fury and their performance "Let the Record
Show" before them, as one can see in the documentary work of Jack
Waters and Peter Cramer "Short Memory, No History", discussing the
history of ACTUP. I recently received this email forwarded from a

"Dear Colleagues,

  A ______ researcher has a confirmed case of the H1N1 flu.  He came
into _____ to work on his research project yesterday, 10/14.  He is
now confined to his home until he fully recovers."

We can see once again how the viral may begin to be used as an
enforcement mechanism, like immigration, to enforce underlying
politics of difference, based on racial epistemologies. When my
University UCSD first informed the campus of H1N1, the advisory
contained 3 points to protect from H1N1: - avoid contact with sick
people - keep good hygeine - AVOID MEXICO.

While the situation has developed differently since then, one can hope
that a politics of infiltration and modulation, of a kind of
negotiation and shapeshifting as in the work of Chela Sandoval or Fox
Harrel's brilliant morphing avatar games, can hope to still resist.

sorry for the long post!

2009/11/16 Zach Blas <zachblas at gmail.com>:
> ricardo, so glad you started with this point!
> as much as i am interested in the tactics of nonexistence. i am quite
> critical of it too. i know i keep slamming you all with long texts,
> but i've actually been working on a critique of this tactic. and based
> on what ricardo has written, i feel compelled to share it. this is
> very rough section from the paper:
> Re-facialized Existence as Responsibility
>        What of nonexistence? The term confuses in its divergence: to
> not-exist (absence) or to nonexist (fullness of existence). Yet, is
> there not a more pressing concern with the term “nonexistence”? As it
> suggests, if nonexistence is absence to the sovereign, then existence
> must be visibility to the sovereign. Therefore, must a person be in a
> previous state of existence to perform nonexistence? If at birth we
> are locked within the sovereignties of discourse, one cannot start at
> nonexistence. Thus, what of those who reside in the limbo of excluded
> existence? Can they ever nonexist? That is, if sovereignty includes
> these persons into visibility by only visualizing them as that which
> is always excluded, then must they not re-inscribe their visibility
> first to then escape into nonexistence? I am thinking, for instance,
> of migrants, illegal immigrants, those of questionable citizenry:
> might these people desire the very reassurements of citizenship in
> sovereignty, like documented papers of their existence and rights? A
> visibility that at a fundamental level categorizes them within certain
> human rights, regardless of their ethical responsibilities. These
> excluded others appear to work against Galloway and Thacker’s
> nonexistence, at least in part, because it is necessary for their
> survival. Make no doubt, these people most certainly desire something
> akin to nonexistence—a full life outside sovereignty—but would these
> persons name it as such, as “nonexistence”? As they struggle and fight
> between multiplicities of abandonments and visibilities, does not the
> suggestion of “nonexistence” resound as a negation to their battles
> (whether it really is or not)? Does the term “nonexistence” exclude?
> Surely, “future” and “avant-garde” are two qualifiers that privilege
> the few.
>        Those others that have become de-faced by sovereignty still remain an
> interface to enmity, but their faciality faces the imminent threat of
> effacement—not a becoming or an escape but a deletion, a killing. The
> interface operates only between the sovereign and death, refusing the
> compassionate facings of people. Take the torture victims at
> Guantanamo Bay. Their bodies—subjected to a totality of abandonment,
> stripped of their senses, covered over in a sovereign
> materiality—hover on the threshold of utter extinction. They remain in
> a suspended formation, a frozen face, in the camp, that
> placeless-place offering a nonexistence that is annihilation. In the
> legal glitch of the exceptional sovereign, these persons have the
> programmed faciality of sovereignty—their own is nowhere to be seen or
> not seen. Where have these faces gone?
>        As Judith Butler tells us, “in some way we come to exist, as it were,
> in the moment of being addressed, and something about our existence
> proves precarious when that address fails.” For those de-faced at
> Guantanamo, the face that is the addressing of existence is evacuated.
> The absence of these persons’ calls to accountability, calls to global
> responsibility remain encrypted in forced nonaction. Yet, even though
> the surfaces of faciality vanquish, the depths of their bodies implore
> the compassion that recognizes the human—to be addressed and permitted
> to exist as human (once again).
>        The face, Butler writes, “is not exclusively a human face, and yet it
> is a condition for humanization.” Do not these persons need a
> re-facialization into the total visibility of the human (existence)?:
> a re-facialization that maps as human, a re-facialization that
> addresses the calls of responsibility between self and other, an
> interface that takes into account its facing of the world and its
> people. Is it not only after the moment of existence that we can take
> to the challenge of abandoning into nonexistence if we desire? Would
> not the fullness of political love aid in sustaining an ethical facing
> in the world only then to transform the possibilities of how
> (inter)faces can exist?
>        The initial question has broken down, escaped itself, and
> re-facializes for the ethical responsibilities of the present. Not:
> “Future avant-garde practices will be those of nonexistence.” But:
> Present political practices must exist fully to design facialities
> that unite in a love that can offer escapings from sovereignty.
> hope this aids productively to the conversation.
> zach
> _______________________________________________
> empyre forum
> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
> http://www.subtle.net/empyre

micha cárdenas / azdel slade

Artist/Researcher, Experimental Game Lab, http://experimentalgamelab.net
Calit2 Researcher, http://bang.calit2.net

blog: http://transreal.org

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