[-empyre-] transdisciplinarity and transnetworks

micha cardenas azdelslade at gmail.com
Thu Apr 15 03:32:41 EST 2010

Thanks for an amazing post nick! Replies below...

2010/4/13 nicholas knouf <nak44 at cornell.edu>:
> I want to pick up on a term that Micha used in her post, and that is the
> word "trans".  One of the most important methodological components of
> bang lab's work, in my view, is its resonance with what Guattari called
> "transdisciplinarity", the need to think across disciplinary boundaries
> and develop new assemblages of practice that work across (rather that
> within and between) traditional fields.  This works to counter the
> take-up of "interdisciplinarity" and "multidisciplinarity" by the
> University and funding bodies---at least until transdisciplinarity
> itself becomes yet another buzzword.  I'd be interested to hear if Micha
> sees connections between her use of the word trans and Guattari's
> development of the prefix.  (As a side note, Gary Genosko has a very

Yes, absolutely! I actually have a paper being ublished with Ctheory
in a few weeks on a previous project of mine entitled "Becoming
Dragon: a transversal technology study" which looks more specifically
at guattari's notion of the transversal, including anna munster's
notion of transversal technology studies.

Transversality is very important to my own thinking, and I would say
the rest of the group as well, as we have discussed this idea a number
of times, of finding new and interesting lines of flight that cross
multiple strata of technology, disciplines, thinking, etc, or as I
tell my students, finding interesting intersections between concepts.
And "trans" is one of those lines of flight that we've discussed with
regards the TBT, among others, but we're very much interested in
considering the intersection of and slippage between notions of trans
as crossing, transportation and transformation, and how these gestures
can undermine the very boundaries they cross, be they national or
gender. In fact Ricardo's teaching a graduate seminar this quarter on
the question of trans()aesthetics.

Still, in our discussions with the media and with investigators, these
more nuaned questions often get lost, smoothed over, reduced into more
simplistic focuses on particular aspects of the project or of the
group. Considering the acts of hate speech that occurred at ucsd last
quarter and provided additional momentum and unity for the existing
movements against the budget cuts, It seems to be an on going
challenge to develop modes of struggle as well as modes of language
that can address multiple issues and questions without conflating them
into one. We see this when the student movement focuses on race and
ignores questions of gender, but also when the media focuses on the
TBT as a political gesture without considering the aesthetic and
theoretical aspects of the project.

This has also been an ongoing complication with the investigations
that has yet to play itself out fully. While we insist on continuing
our strategy from EDT / ECD of radical transparency, our strategy has
been to reveal the full complexity of the project in a way that
complicates the investigation. So on our website we put out a call for
people to sign on if they feel they've been part of the bang lab or
the actions of the bang lab here:

Bang.Lab / EDT Update, Call for Accountability and the Criminalization
of Research

pointing out the selective accountability that tried to bring every
dollar we've spent into question while spending billions on war and
borders and allowing the university executives to make huge profits
while students go into infinite debt.

And so, back to transversality, our discussions/interrogations with/by
the police/investigators/auditors tend to continually involve them
trying to narrow the project down to being art OR research OR
political, while we continue to explain that it is both/and/all, how
the virtual sit-in is a protest and a distributed performance art
piece [and we've told the investigators numerous times how they're
part of the performance], how the TBT is both a humanitarian effort to
save lives by improving existing humanitarian groups' efforts to
distribute water, but its also walking art, queer technology and
poetry in motion.

To me, these transversal lines really drive the project and the rest
comes after. Our initial question was something like: can we repurpose
cheap, discarded technology into life saving devices. Looking at our
immediate situation, the most pressing situation where people are
dying everyday is on the border, a 15 minutes drive from our
university, so it seemed a clear choice to try to intervene in that
particular situation.

Yet I still find the initial question very, very interesting and I
find it's now situated in a broader ecology of projects I would say
are concerned with Crisis Culture and  Emergency Aesthetics [which
I'll be talking about at UC Davis on Friday at the Failed States

> To turn to my own work.  Like Micha I too have been interested in the
> ways in which we can use the university as a site of political
> engagement.  Partially as a result of the changes underway in the
> university across the world, hastened by the developments of the
> so-called financial "crisis", and partially as a result of reading about
> other struggles in universities that have been described ably by the
> members of the edu-factory collective (http://www.edu-factory.org/), I
> have been developing over the past year a project called MAICgregator
> (http://maicgregator.org/).  This is a Firefox extension that aggregates

> Part of this project is to also contest the stranglehold of corporate
> interests and "clean design" on the construction of the web.  I want to
> work within the tension between simply presenting "more information"
> that I have collected from an alternative set of sources and other
> poetic ways of displaying it.  The idea is to consider the "mashup" in a
> way that does not simply reinforce traditional ways of engaging with
> data.  To that end I am also working to release an interface to the data
> I have collected to allow others to rework it if they so choose; I hope
> to release this interface over the summer.

MAICgregator is brilliant! I'm definitely going to show my students!
I'd heard of it before but didn't do the work to install the plugin,
so the video really makes it clear! This is actually very related, I
think, to the TBT in that we're thinking about virtual geography or
augmented geography in the way that the TBT creates an overlay of
information into a desert scenario, introducing new lines of flight
and new paths toward safety sites. I could imagine MAICgregator made
into a very useful augmented reality or GPS cell phone app where you
could walk around a university and get information on the MAIC ties in
real time.

> The second project I want to mention is called Fluid Nexus
> (http://fluidnexus.net/ ).  Like the Transborder Immigrant Tool, this
> too is a mobile phone application.  The idea is to provide a way to send
> messages (text, images, video, audio) independent of the mobile phone
> network.  The way this works is by using Bluetooth to send the
> information to nearby phones; people then carry this information to
> other places, the information hops to other phones, and thus the data is
> transferred by movement throughout the world, without relying on a
> corporate- or state-controlled network infrastructure.  This project
> came out of reading blogs and news reports during the war in Lebanon in
> 2006 and the protests in Burma in 2007, when the fragility of these
> centralized mechanisms was all-too-apparent.  Fluid Nexus exists as free
> software for Nokia phones; this is not insignificant, as the continued
> advance of Apple's closed phone platform portends dangerous restrictions
> on our ability to modify the materiality of the mobile phone.

Wow, another amazing project. I've also been very interested in
developing decentralized communication networks [seems like we share a
lot of interests!], and with a group of colaborators we proposed an
idea called autonet
to use wireless routers to create networks not reliant on phone
companies. Unfortunately, even though a handful of people expressed
interest in the project, we got caught up with other projects of our
own and haven't developed it beyond our initial idea.

> language used in these rejections.  Keep in mind that these are comments
> from faculty members: "I can imagine it being of as much interest to
> criminals or terrorists as to oppressed youth or revolutionary
> democrats."  And: "A final question is how does such a technology stay
> out of the hands of organized crime, and other powerful folks wanting to
> work offline?"

Those are very, very much like the comments we get about the TBT. The
rhetoric of terrorism is definitely trotted out any time it is
convenient, while as you point out, we don't seem to be asking the
people developing weapons and weaponized robotics what would happen if
terrorists got their hands on them.

> Sadly, all of this is not surprising, given the University's traditional
> role in reproducing the means of reproduction.  As Stevphen Shukaitis
> and David Graeber have ably demonstrated, any belief in the University
> as a space of radical thought has to be understood as relating to a
> particular historical moment based in the late 1960s.

I think this is an ongoing and increasingly relevant question. I too
had thought up until 6 months ago that the contemporary university had
been evacuated of radical potential, thanks largely to the radicalism
emerging from universities in the 60's and attempts to stop that [such
as the idea I've heard that UC's built later such as UCSD were
designed to prevent mass protest, by making few large gathering spaces
and making them hard to get into and out of with lots of stairs]. And
yet I've also heard Brian Holmes and read Henry Giroux talk about the
contemporary university as a sort of last stronghold for critical
thought. Still my own inspiration for liberating educational practices
comes from bell hooks and Augusto Boal, so I'm still on the fence.
Should we, as many of the occupations have claimed, abandon the
university as a dead ideal, as a left over part of liberal humanism
that is fading, or should we work to create a new university that
continues the hope that we can maintain a space for contemplation
freed of the demands of capital? I guess I'm inclined to think the
latter, that the contemporary university is mostly an example of a
corporatized, privatized, neoliberalized site of production of
workers, and in that form, it has to die, but only if we can construct
a new university which can educate people towards liberation.

micha cárdenas / azdel slade

Lecturer, Visual Arts Department, University of California, San Diego
Artist/Researcher, Experimental Game Lab, http://experimentalgamelab.net
Calit2 Researcher, http://bang.calit2.net

blog: http://transreal.org

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