[-empyre-] the pitfalls of trendy theory and popular art projects

davin heckman davinheckman at gmail.com
Thu Feb 9 20:19:52 EST 2012

I think it is a good point to think about trendy theory and the
problems with hype.

I am almost always seduced by hype.  It tricks me into seeing
something concrete to wrap my head around, while making me realize I
am a fool for mistaking currency with solidity.  But the logic of hype
or its resistance isn't a simple binary.  The feelings we associate
with hype and excitement over ideas serve a role within society...
and I think the key is trying to figure out which system can mobilize
our interest and attention without letting it lapse into mindless,
vapid enthusiasm.   We could, and sometimes probably do, market
ourselves as thinkers here on Empyre.  It's a real temptation.  But
the general trend in society is to aestheticize injustice and to
exempt the powerless from seeking justice, so it stands to reason that
we should be uneasy with this.  (On the other hand, if an artist is
clever enough to subvert the prevailing aesthetic order, then they
deserve to be called artists! iMine seems like a good example of this
impulse in action.)

There is a powerful current developing.  And, at the risk of hyping
it, we should try to be a part of it.  Talking with people about stuff
that is useful, having a real, good, old-fashioned dialogue is what a
lot of the p2p initiatives are trying to get at.  If we pull away the
label and name identifications from our accomplishments, and instead
divert our energy to doing something that registers as useful to the
people we are engaged with at the particular moment....  we can
experience the flurry of attentiveness that we seek in hype.  We ought
to notice useful things.  We ought to express our appreciation for
these useful realizations.  Our enthusiasm for good things ought to be
contagious, and we should try to persuade others to beware when we
recognize a bad thing.  We become "important" to a community as a
member of that community by contributing to the broader effort to
achieve the aims of that community, instead of signing autographs for
people or racking up footnotes or whatever sad metrics we seek comfort

In the long term, society (academic culture, especially) needs to
recontextualize individuality, and find a work ethic that is rooted in
the development of strong communal identifications.  This requires
that we rewire the impulse towards a dead-end celebration of
individual effort and achievement and towards the needs of human
community.  The luxury culture that we are trained to worship as the
logical reward for hard work is a joke.  It ought to burn our eyes to
see individual achievement marked by glaring shows of inequality, when
individuals are being crushed daily to build these displays. Rather
than measuring merit through the nexus of commerce, we have to find a
new vocabulary for social validation.  The fact that so much human
communication is devoted to small acts of mutual affirmation, nods and
"uh huhs," and the degree to which we are susceptible to hype
indicates that we already have a strong social inclination in place.
The challenge is to form, cultivate, and guide these sensibilities
towards the social.  The most logical place to go for this is to use
things that are useful and evaluate them in relation to their ability
to contribute to flourishing, communication, the production of
knowledge, etc.  This, of course, would require us to develop a vision
of society in which such contributions are recognizable, which means
we would have to develop a broad-based critical capacity that is
capable of looking beyond simplistic explanations and measures.  In
other words, it would require a society that was consistently
preoccupied with the very idea of society and a constant and expanding
negotiation of precisely what we hope to achieve by having a
society....  and that is a far cry from the prevailing ethos of
neoliberalism, which regards society as a fiction to begin with.


On Wed, Feb 8, 2012 at 8:11 PM, Baruch Gottlieb <bg at transmediale.de> wrote:
> On Feb 8, 2012, at 11:01 AM, Gabriel Menotti wrote:
> Media Archaeology is
> thus really a fashion, something inordinately hyped to sell more books,
> music, clothes, etc... […] Meanwhile,
> Zielinski is always (if he still uses the label)  explicitly not a media
> archaeologist but a Media (an)archaeologist, a practice which has been
> increasingly one of biographing the anarchic margins of western thought and
> knowledge.  [Baruch Gottlieb]
> To be diluted/ crystallized seems to be the gloomy fate of every
> theoretical framework that becomes originally successful and is then
> propagated and made trendy. Was Zielinski quick to jump off the boat
> of “anarcheology” before it felt prey to the same cycle?
> I would have to ask Prof. Zielinski about his interest in the term
> 'archaeology' in general today. But one must be careful to leave the space
> for the multiple interpretations possible of the word.  Archaeology, is not
> necessary (and certainly not originally, c.1600) all about arkhon, but from
> archaeo- (ancient, primeval, etc.) so although there is the tease of anarchy
> in (an)archaeology, there is also, and this features prominently in his book
> "Deep Time of the Media" (which was published at the apogee of his use of
> the expression) , a challenge to chronology which posits the past firmly in
> the past.
>  To call anarchaeology a 'boat' would imply that he was expecting it to take
> him somewhere, and it would seem it has. And instead of setting up a
> ship-building enterprise, or even writing much travel literature about the
> voyage, he hopped on the next boat 'variantology' which transported him
> through 5 massive books of wonderful encounters.
> But it is true, an expression, like Object Oriented Philosophy can be used
> to help a thinker/writer/professor acquire the imprimatur of pertinence or
> authenticity.  It obviously helps people trying to capitalize on that
> particular cultural producer by defining market sector,enhancing the
> producer's attractiveness to the capitalist.   Everybody needs shortcuts to
> cut through the "écume des jours" and get at what they are looking for,
> labels, terms, and also prizes, imprimantur are instrumental in that
> regard.
> Should we spend our lives running from the conceptual edifices we
> spend so much time to build, right before they are gentrified? Or
> should we do something to barricade them and prevent the occupation of
> the masses?
> Conceptual architectures, like the physical constructions we encounter in
> the street are only apparently complete. Once the hoarding comes down and
> the people move in, come the heterogenous cultural processes which always
> follow construction, (due to the attrition of being-in-the-world,
> corruption, decay, etc. ) maintenance, repair, renovation.   But conceptual
> constructions of philosophers are not meant to be lived in, or used as
> places for business. To my mind, they are more theoretical or (to use a very
> fashionable world) speculative social constructions, which attempt to test
> the boundaries of analogo-architechtonic stability in a world composed of
> unfinished but persistent socio-physical relations. They cannot be occupied,
> at best they are landmarks.
> On the other hand, is there really anything wrong with the hype? When
> something becomes fashionable (e.g. Deleuze, incompatibility,
> practice-based PhDs), what is lost (if anything)?
> I  see hype as a kind "Rausch" (ecstasy, intoxication) meant, like any drug,
> to afford everyone quick release from the troubling and troubled, murky and
> murked-up, but finally uncomplicated and unacceptable reality of politics.
>  Deleuzo-Guattarians, on the other hand (or on the same hand) flit out on
> 'lines of flight' tracing signatures of emancipation in escape. Hype
> attempts to draw 'lines of flight' into capitalizable 'movements'. But
> revolution is a circular movement, a mechanical cycle (or spiral) you either
> try living life on the edge where things change fast, or dwell on the axle,
> in either case the fundamental inquiry would be about the 'prime mover'.
>  And metaphysics is useless today unless it can concretize into a (hyped)
> product, at which point it also becomes politics.
> Baruch, I can’t help but think that this dilemma of popularity is
> similar to the one you faced with the iMine application. During the
> Transmediale seminar you raised the question of whether the viral
> dissemination of the project would be beneficial (or even necessary)
> to it. Could you bring to the list some of your considerations on
> that?
> Yes, well, let me put it this way: it would be over-indulgent to write a
> long essay to elaborate this point here, but brevity would oversimplify and
> even, commodify (aren't we all trying to market ourselves as thinkers here
> on Empyre?) the theme.  I am in Borges' "On Exactitude in Science" dilemma
> here, but I have a way out, or a way in, as it may be.
>  iMine is Dismalware. It is not meant to be fun or offer any satisfying
> catharsis, the problem it portrays is by now familiar to most working (and
> here I mean academically and artistically (i.e. the so-called "critical
> practices")) with digital media, the problem of the labour conditions at a
> central material source of our digital technology, the mines. Every day a
> new article comes out about conditions along the electronics supply chain,
> the e-waste problem, etc. How can we face this while still inexorably being
> brought into an ever more intensively technologized environment?
> Especially, in iMine the question is how can we can integrate the immense
> cruelty which is pervasively, inextricably, and permanently at the core of
> material production into our generation of digital utopianism. The answer,
> of course, is that we have never been less cruel as a race than we are
> today.  The problem of necessary human sacrifice has moved (as trendy philo
> M. Serres points out in  L'Incandescent)  from the volcano top and pyramid
> altars to the televised evening news, or twitter feed.
> The problem  seems complex, but it is simple.  We have always tolerated or
> even depended on human sacrifice in the interest of 'higher goals'.  Should
> iMine go viral, how much of this invitation to sober and methodical
> contemplation on such a theme will be accepted?  The situation on the ground
>  will not be improved through downloading an app. Only genuine personal
> implication and research will help to transform the one person who can be
> affected by it.  To this end, I have compiled and continue to update a list
> of related informational resources on the site, and keep a facebook group
> for users to discuss their experience of the project.  I stand by the
> project and engage others attracted by it to help unravel the reality of our
> industrial symbiosis. In the end, I have always seen art as something to
> bring people together to discuss something vital and fundamental.
> many other projects deal with aspects of the so-called conflict minerals
> problem, including one which has gone viral to some extent: "phone story".
>  The differences between iMine and phone story are mainly the level of irony
> and distance. Phone Story, always keeps a privileged distance from the
> atrocities, so they (the atrocities) remain a game. iMine does not provide
> so much space ironic or otherwise.  I could go on about iMine for pages, but
> rather, it would be better to continue in response to any of you who are
> interested in a particular aspect.
> And at the same time, what would you do if iMine indeed became a
> popular media phenomenon?
> "Cruelty Olympics"? "The Universal Declaration of Inhuman Rights"?   I have
> been approached by journalists who are interested in'artistic approaches' to
> the 'conflict minerals problem'  unfortunately I was not able to offer them
> the 'silver lining' story they were in the end looking to artists to
> provide.
> best
> Baruch
> Best!
> Menotti
> Baruch Gottlieb ::: Digital Archive Project
> in/compatible // transmediale 2012, 31 Jan - 5 Feb 2012 // transmediale.de
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