[-empyre-] Digital Delirium revisited

Alexander R. Galloway galloway at nyu.edu
Mon May 12 00:25:52 EST 2014

Dear Soraya & Co..

I guess part of the impetus is that I'm surprised--if not unnerved--by the way in which networks have captured and eclipsed other ways of thinking. A new pantheon of dot-com philosophers reigns supreme today, ready to proclaim at every turn that “everything is a network.” Mark Zuckerberg: people are networks. Donald Rumsfeld: the battlefield is a network. Bruno Latour: ontology is a network. Franco Moretti: Hamlet is a network. David Joselit: Art is a network. Guy Debord: the post-capitalist city is a network. John Von Neumann: computation is a network. Konrad Wachsmann: architecture is a network.

Ladies and gentlemen, postmodernism is definitively over! We have a new meta-narrative to guide us.

We might label this a kind of “reticular pessimism.” And here I'm taking a cue from the notion of “Afro-pessimism” in critical race theory. Just as Afro-pessimism refers to the trap in which African-American identity is only ever defined via the fetters of its own historical evolution, reticular pessimism claims, in essence, that there is no escape from the fetters of the network. There is no way to think in, through, or beyond networks except in terms of networks themselves. According to reticular pessimism, responses to networked power are only able to be conceived in terms of other network forms. (And thus to fight Google and the NSA we need ecologies, assemblages, or multiplicities.)

By offering no alternative to the network form, reticular pessimism is deeply cynical because it forecloses any kind of utopian thinking that might entail an alternative to our many pervasive and invasive networks.

This is part of the mandate of this book, as I see it: to articulate a logic of being that is not reducible to a metaphysics of exchange, to a metaphysics of the network. This to me is the promise of excommunication: the message that says “there will be no more messages”; a logic of relation, without the tired, old model of exchange.

So, yes, strategic withdrawal is at the heart of what interests me most. Some are a bit skeptical about this notion of withdrawal -- often because they see in a negative light as alternatively a surrender monkey position (i give up! i'm outta here!), or a position of privilege (the political equivalent of opening a bank account in the Cayman Islands). But I see it very differently. I see it more as a withdrawal from representation. A structural withdrawal. I see it as a way to conceive of a kind of practical utopia in the here and now. "You don't represent us." "No one is illegal." "I would prefer not to." "We have no demands." Yes I realize utopian thinking is very unfashionable today; that's precisely why we need so much more of it. So perhaps less a bunker mentality and more about the reclaiming of a new experience of life and activity. 

Re: obsolescence of theory -- perhaps it hinges on *which* kind of theory? I don't agree with Latour and the notion that "theory has run out of steam." Marxism, feminism, psycho-analysis -- they all still work great if you ask me. But I do think that a kind of "vulgar 1968" style of theory has run its course. Nancy Fraser has it exactly right: capitalism co-opted many of the demands of '68-style theory. So now we have to reassess and recompile a new kind of theoretical method. Because of this I'm much more interested in a slightly different spin on the theoretical tradition. 


On May 9, 2014, at 1:16 PM, Soraya Murray <semurray at ucsc.edu> wrote:

> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> I am intrigued by this discussion, and would like to acknowledge the posts by Alex Galloway, Geert Lovink and Renate Ferro. Greetings to all of you. 
> I keep circling back to the notion of strategic withdrawal, alluded to several times in the last few posts, as well as somewhat enigmatically toward the end of Alex's recent lecture here at UC Santa Cruz. For example, from his post: 
> "This book is not about the world “for us,” and not the world “in itself,” but what Eugene calls “the world without us.”"
> This, in relation to Geert's recent essay in e-Flux ("Hermes on the Hudson"): 
> ""This leaves us with the question of the mandate and scope of today’s media theory—if there is anything left. Are you ready to hand over the “new media” remains to the sociologists, museum curators, art historians, and other humanities officials? Can we perhaps stage a more imaginative “act of disappearance”? Are we ready to disguise ourselves amidst the new normality?"
> ...and which seemed to betray a similar anxiety around obsolescence of theory -- or a strategy of withdrawal? With respect, is this to be seen as an act of battening down the hatches? Is this disappearance/disguise a radical strategy to shift perspective as a means to generate new possibility? Something conceded, or something new gained?

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