[-empyre-] Welcome to Week 2 on Contamination

Christina McPhee naxsmash at gmail.com
Fri Nov 17 09:39:15 AEDT 2017

Hello Bishnu, Renate, Tim and everyone!

Bishnu writes,

"Terranova argues infinite zeroes and ones better simulate the “sudden
discontinuous variations” in microscopic states. In this view, organisms
are not complex machines but aggregates of large populations of simple
machines whose variable actions are calculable. Therefore new media (as in
disease surveillance networks) are most capable of predicting where and how
the next radical disturbance, the new event will emerge."

 A fascinating recognizance around organisms in aggregate beyond merely
(20th Century) machinic dispositives. Terranova's observation (or
reommendation?) leads me to a reading I just encountered in Katherine
Behar's edited compilation,  Object-Oriented Feminism (Minneapolis:
University of Minnesota Press, 2016).  In the last essay in this volume, ,
R. Joshua Scannell takes up the temporal and managerial effects of
new media's capacity to attempt prediction of forthcoming 'radical'
disturbance, where and how together. Scannell refers to a compelling and
currently operational real world example--- as a case study -- the New York
City Police Department's "Domain Awareness System," co-developed with
Microsoft. "At once proactive and reactive, the system is designed to
syncretically loop, making a cybernetic circuit aimed at clarifying
generalized surveillance data into actionable policing information. DAS
applies massive processing power to rapidly sort through NYC"s surveillance
data. Built with Homeland Security funds under an anti-terrorism mandate,
its surveillance extends far beyond the obviously 'criminal' to include
data as exotic as feeds from radiation detectors--sensitive enough to pick
up recent chemotherapy treatment in passing bodies--and sophisticated enough
to rapidly recall up to five years' worth of stored 'metadata' and
temporally unbounded (and undefined) 'environmental' data in its
continuously mined

Here's where the overlap to Terranova's assertion around predictive
capacity enters into an ominous glare.  Scannell writes,

'The DAS converts these massive information streams, on the order of
several petabytes, into preemptive spatial representations (maps) that are
rapidly filtered down the department hierarchy to identify locations and
classes of possible criminal activity. The department argues that if it
'knows' where the 'criminals' will be, when they will be 'there.' and what
'crimes' they will commit before the 'criminals' do, then the department
can proactively prevent them. 'Real time' capacity to process massive
streams of seemingly innocuous or unrelated bits of surveillance data will,
the logic goes, produce patterns in the space-time and human geography of
criminality that will allow police personnel and material to be applied
with maximum efficiency."  (Scannell, "Both a Cyborg and a Goddess: Deep
Managerial Time and Informatic Governance," in Object-Oriented Feminism,
pp. 255-6).

For me the really innovative way this writer thinks about this 'predictive'
capacity has to do with how temporalities and the so called new events
come into being and sustain themselves from within a structural context he
calls 'deep managerial time'  -- structural in literally an ontologic sense.

Scannell is scathing (pardon the bad alliteration, but it's
irresistable!)-- about the customization of 'deep managerial time' as an
epic transfer from plantation economies to neoliberal statehood. He writes, I
call this ontological stabilization of populations deep managerial time. I
do so in an effort to push back against a narrative of neoliberalism as an
individuating practice that upends coherent space-time, and as a reminder
that the violent organization of populations subjected to state violence is
an inheritance of plantation capitalism given a technocratic veneer. The
ontological requirements of plantation capitalism’s metamorphosis into
neoliberalism demanded a putatively “flexible” human subject in order to
mask the essential stability of state violence and capital expropriation,
particularly against women, people of color, and queer populations." (p.

(Happily, if you want to read more excerpts from this analysis, a blogger
has kindly culled a set for online readers here:

 From my own perspective, aesthetically and politically, the
presumed-criminal, formerly citizen 'object'-constiituencies are as
particulates in large population-mass-mappings, they no longer enjoy
representation as actors (whether Latourian actors or just people on the
street in the most quotidien and banal sense), rather, they percolate
through the already-auto-producing data-strata as chemical or chimerical
re-agents, whose presenceing as detected by the DAS simultaneously
justifies the existence of DAS and allows the proliferation of its
'inherent vice,' aka managerially-induced physical violence, not from
'crime' but indeed from the state apparatus itself, which remains
transcendant to and 'othering' or 'exotic' outside the DAS system.  A
cosmology opens from this bleak vista.

Scannell infers, rather playfully but with startling resonances to the
net-based sound and image work I did with 'Wired Ruins' Tim has just cited--
the 'cyborg goddess'.   This is the piece "47REDS," (2002), accessible if
you can launch Flash, via
http://ctheorymultimedia.cornell.edu/issue3/rewiring.htm  . At the very top
of the user interface you can find small titles in red, including 'Smash',
 "Ropes" etc. Click on those to find sound scapes with still images. There
used to be a quicktime panorama file associated with each of these but the
tech is outmoded and not available as far as I know, now.

To resist re-agency from within the chimerical polity of the
"cyborg-goddess."  How to do that? all my  paintings, drawings, and media
works make this attempt.

Back into the wayback machine, I 'll cotton to this:

"*CTHEORY*: Could you say that you are definitively, a cyborg? Or are you a
witness to the cyborg?

*McPhee*: I feel my body is like a border; but, no, it is not itself a
cyborg, because it (I) exist in some kind of condition of alterity outside
technology even though I experience its operational architecture from the
inside, as if from the inside of my body, heart and brain. It's a strange
condition, liberating and uncomfortable: but better than the old
psychotropic condition of enslavement, when in former times (before I
entered the media labyrinth) my mind was hostage to the repetitive,
unpredictable onslaught of triggered memories of violence to my body. Now I
may be lost in the borders of the labyrinth, but I have no longer lost my
psychic self. I remember who and what I am while I move through the
operational constructs of media. Thus I escape media. Perhaps (I) is simply
this: the consciousness of a space beyond any formulation of 'landscape' or
technology', that paradoxically resides inside my body. And anyway, I will
die, and cyborgs don't. They are a conditional, or subjunctive tense within
a larger grammar.

On Tue, Nov 14, 2017 at 10:14 PM, Bishnupriya Ghosh <bghosh at english.ucsb.edu
> wrote:

> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> ..... (snippet)
> Your students’ proliferating images—so gorgeous!—resonate with this
> understanding of mediatic virality. The contamination jumps to the new,
> something creative and qualitatively different, a series of micro-actions
> generating a network.
> Of course, it is now commonplace to think biological and machinic together
> in some strains of new media criticism. I find Tiziana Terranova’s *Network
> Culture* (2004) most persuasive: thinking of virality, she theorizes the
> actions of “relatively simple machines” as the bases of radical
> transformation, social and political. Emphasizing the informatic turn in
> the biological sciences, Terranova argues infinite zeroes and ones better
> simulate the “sudden discontinuous variations” in microscopic states. In
> this view, organisms are not complex machines but aggregates of large
> populations of simple machines whose variable actions are calculable.
> Therefore new media (as in disease surveillance networks) are most capable
> of predicting where and how the next radical disturbance, the new event
> will emerge.
> On Tue, Nov 14, 2017 at 9:27 PM, Renate Terese Ferro <rferro at cornell.edu>
> wrote:
>> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
... (snippet)

> Thanks Tim for the link to  C-Theory Digital Terror and also reminding us
>> of how contemporary networks of contamination can fluidly slip across
>> borders via  politics, language, images, and media  My intention in
>> introducing this topic was to encourage cross-disciplinary ways that
>> contamination manifests itself in contemporary global environments and this
>> week’s news of North and South Korea is a great example.
>>  Earlier this semster my students in Introduction to Digital Media
>> brainstormed a list of media—books, tv, movies—inspried by a prompt I posed
>> to them.  What happens when  bio-networks go awry?  We looked at ways that
>> artists, writers, filmmakers simulate contagion and other models of
>> contamination.  With the creative research as inspiration the students
>> wrote creative  narratives.  After writing they were asked to collect an
>> assemblage of found  natural objects from nature and with high definition
>> scanning they composited visual models. Using  magnification, repetition,
>> overlap, inverting color and other visual strategies they imapped  the
>> microsopic contamination of their narratives.  We took multiple projectors
>> and projected their simulated models on bodies and surfaces interjecting
>> them back into the environment as a final intervention. The simplified
>> prompt I gave to these 1st year art students prompted engaging discussions
>> about health and safety, politics, the environment, language, truth, and
>> more not to mention to resulting creative visual interventions.
>> I have attached a couple of images here. Hoping you will share more about
>> your ideas of  media, viruses, and panic this week.
>> Welcome back Christina McPHee who should be joining us tomorrow.
>> Renate
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