[-empyre-] Geert Lovink UNFINISHED

Josephine Berry j.berry at gold.ac.uk
Thu Sep 5 19:01:30 AEST 2019

Hello SL and Geert,

I've been dipping into our old friend Guy Debord and his still invaluable Society of the Spectacle while this discussion is running and I think that much of his analysis still bites in regards to our questions about media, social organisation and politics. I like his way of discussing the contradictory consistency of the spectacle that, while producing a realm of communication split from 'the former unity of life' and social production, and used to enforce a feeling of pseudo-reality, separation and helplessness, is not only a product of that self-same unified life and production, but one that distills its character and mode of organisation. The distortion and the reality circle through each other.

"Understood in its totality, the spectacle is both the outcome and the goal of the dominant mode of production. It is not something added to the real world - not a decorative element, so to speak. On the contrary, it is the very heart of society's real unreality. [...] It is the omnipresent celebration of a choice already made in the sphere of production, and the consummate result of that choice. In form as in content the spectacle serves as total justification for the conditions and aims of the existing system. It further ensures the permanent presence of that justification, for it governs almost all time spent outside the production process itself."
(Debord, 1967)

I am interested in thinking about the consistency of social production and the way it has changed since the 90s, and the way the spectacle reflects, distorts and impels this reality. Ok, maybe the obvious point is that the mailinglists of yore were somehow expressive of a mere potential, as yet virginal and unexplored. of a globally integrated 24/7 communications capability, one that we filled with all our critical passions and utopian schemes - and again, to stay close to Debord, these were not mere fantasies either, but reflective of a genuine social possibility that was hoving into view at that time as the Communist Bloc crumbled, Fordism fell apart, the West needed to reinvent itself, and less and less labour was required to produce the goods and commodities needed by the planet's population to survive.

Since then, the infrastructure has been centralised and monopolised as a lever and reflection of an asymmetrical tendency towards wealth monopolisation and political control that goes 'all the way down'. This, as we have discussed endlessly, is one that neoliberalisation conjoined with financialisation has accelerated beyond all imagining. The tendency, it seems, is one that requires humans to supplement the highly efficient technological production that has extended planet wide, fixing the algo-fuckups, injecting creativity, and more than anything doing low-value work that the capitalist apparatus 'sucks up', due to the same technological efficiency, into the hands of fewer and fewer.

How then does our 'attraction' to the spectacle of social media and streaming reflect this transformation of social production, and how should we respond? Undboutedly, passivity is important. We only need to chip-in and combine fragmentary thoughts across social media. We don't need to go to the agora or the cinema, but as Flusser says, are driven into separate corners to receive information. This creates a more powerful sense of being together, like chatting round a table, while the reality is we are less and less together, and increasingly phobic of each other. This also looks a bit like the gig economy - contract work without regularity, without the workplace community that creates consistency of identity, activity and relationships. And as we know, the fragmentary quality of these environments which we also all enjoy (maybe a big part of this is their combo of low engagement expectations and lots of pictures), help to further fragment the social body as we are seeing with all the extremist and turbulent politics of our times. The consistency then is that social relation is being mined as the resource of economic profit, like fracking or the end-of-the-line process of oil and gas extraction, and leaving behind it a kind of mangled and exhausted social field.

I'm interested in how we can think about the unfinished project of radical media and alternative communications within this situation - one for which alienation is a double-sided experience of isolation and reality of the means of our relation. Should we be at the crux of this, in the most fleeting (e.g. the blue-tooth meshes people are talking about), or take distance? I guess this is the old question of critique, and what its possibilities are.

Ok, that's it for now - I need to get back to some gig-work and my mind is fragmenting.


From: empyre-bounces at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au <empyre-bounces at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au> on behalf of Shu Lea Cheang <shulea at earthlink.net>
Sent: 05 September 2019 07:52
To: empyre at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au <empyre at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au>; Geert Lovink <geert at networkcultures.org>
Subject: Re: [-empyre-] Geert Lovink UNFINISHED

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