This article first appeared in issue 17 of everything magazine. In 1995
there was an explosion in interest in the implications of the convergence
of the different forms of electronic media. Many of the contemporaneous
texts took the form of a journalistic science fiction which contained as
much inventive speculation as it did "hard fact". In this piece Articles
seems to be taking the request by the conference organisers to participate
in speculation literally.
Articles also seems to be treading an uneasy path between two modes of
thought which were prevalent in those troubled times and which could be
characterised by "the Luddite" and "the Evangelist".
"We require just a little order to protect us from the chaos. Nothing is
more distressing than a thought that escapes itself, than ideas that fly
off, that disappear hardly formed, already eroded by forgetfulness or
precipitated into others that we no longer master. These are infinite
variabilities, the appearing and disappearing of which coincide."
Deleuze and Guattari
So, I imagine myself as a waterboatman. My six thin legs stretched out
on the membrane of the pond's surface, Looking down on the shadows and
It's official. THEORY IS DEAD. I read it in Frieze. People just got hacked
off with it. Susan Kandel goes to great lengths theorising as to why this
is the case. The Barthes, Baudrillards, Foucaults, Lacans and the Lyotards
have made their point(s) so why should we go on about it? I suppose there
might be some enterprising research student out there who might do an audit
of how artists used to use theory and in what quantities. Were they ever
really deeply into it or was it something that got mixed up with the other
colours on the palate? (That's not a theory incidentally - it's a
question - because I can't theorise because theory is dead.)
You read it hear first. THEORY IS ALIVE. People are even writing manifestos
again: Robert Peperall's post humanist document is in Mute magazine (see
also interview with RP in e issue 16). Utopian editorials and the Electro
Sphere sections in Wired are making proclamations as wild as any 1640's
pamphleteer: "Everything is changing, every thought, every action and every
institution formerly taken for granted". And as a proclamation try this for
size: "The ultimate luxury is meaning and context".
It's difficult to know when the speculation will stop - I've just read that
in a thousand years we'll all be glands in jars with micro chips attached,
swimming through cyber-space having sex and laughing.
Here at the Virtual Futures conference at Warwick University we've got
theory coming out of our ears. We're high on it, it has taken on the
consistency of an all pervading plasma, we can even taste it (but very few
of us are sure what it actually tastes like). The programme's introduction
sets the scene: "Any post-Nietzschean, post-Marxist or post-Wittgensteinian
philosophy is based on experimentation, so we offer ourselves up to you as
your laboratory for the weekend. And you are our lab rats..."
I go up to the Panorama Room where the main events occur, it has the feel
of a club about it. On the stage Tim Burdsey is reading his paper,
delivered machine gun style in hard-cred estuary English. Techno music
plays under him and video images are projected onto the screen:
"...Our thoughts are not our own - our minds temporary data banks, fertile
territories to be parasitised by virulent meme complexes before they
escape into the Infosphere. Our access to a new molecular scale of activity
within the world corrupts our idea of knowledge as a result of human endeavour.
Disembodied forms pose a significant threat to our ideas about having
knowledge. We're dealing with poor data. Information, the stuff of
dreams. The whole system to handle ownership is obsolete- there's no original
blueprint only laterally replicating imprints". I leave the tape
recorder running and go off to find the philosophers in the other rooms.
On my way I decide that I'm going to take the approach of a mesmerised
and fuzzy thinking lab rat. I begin to jot down a lexicon of terms:
A: "Schizopolitics": a term used by readers of Deleuze & Guattari, two
writers who are extremely influential at this conference and whose work
forms the starting point for many of the lectures. Their approach, in
this context, can be glibly summed up with the question: "Are we colonising
cyberspace or is cyberspace colonising us?"....
B: "Infosphere": A self perpetuating cybernetic network which comprises
the Net and telecommunications matrix and which follows its own
evolutionary imperative. Although the human arena afforded its genesis and
incubus it is becoming increasingly independent as information systems gain their
own momentum, creating unforeseen repercussions on the non-cyber world. An
example of how this comes about might be the development of a shared
cognitive space within cyberspace which creates Hybrid Intelligence;
essentially an information ecology which could be self comprehending,
whereas the human participants would only ever see a small portion of the
overall scheme. How humans relate to this state of affairs might cause a
I sit down it the lecture theatre and add another couple of words to my
C: "Fractal Economics": A large company is split into subsections
which operate autonomously. The aims and goals of one fractal company
might contradict the interests and goals of another - this is good for the
well-being of the evolution of the Infoshpere overall - even though it
might be detrimental to particular cells within that organism.
A good instance of fractal economics in action might be the example of IBM
who had a fractal R&D unit which developed a virus damaging the overall
company - this is the evolutionary imperative: the organism within the
Infosphere is blind and amoral and doesn't give two owl's hoots for the
director of the company or its employees. It's just doing what it does best - finding an environment which best suits its continued adaptation.
We become freer but at the same time free only in relation to the demands
ofthe Infosphere - these demands are unspoken and as the organism is
ostensibly invisible it makes it doubly difficult to organise resistance
against it. We're also unsure about where we end and it begins. The problem
is that the cyber-spatial organism is an abstraction whilst at the same
time being an actual thing. We are components in it whilst at the same time
being separate from it. The fact that we are both reliant on it and
complicit in its maintenance means that we lose the will and the ability to
articulate an opposition to it. How to resolve the problem is one of the
concerns of schizopolitics. The loss of will and the growing autonomy of
the Infosphere might presage the rebirth of fascism and further marginalise
the two thirds of the world which is of no interest to the Infosphere. The
Italian Philosopher Franco Berardi made the point that the rise of
Berlusconi in Italy was the first tele-virtual election and allowed
Berlusconi to monopolise that country's communications industries. This
occurred because of a combination of Berlusconi's Machiavellian instincts
and also because the nature of the Infosphere allowed it to happen. In
this sense the Proto Fascism of Berlusconi was a product of the
evolutionary outworking of the Infosphere. The Infosphere doesn't give a
monkey's dry toss one way or another who owns the newspapers or who
subjects the Italian populace to diet of wet T-Shirt contests or dumb quiz
shows on TV every day - it just adapts to exist in a viable environment.
Before the deregulation of Italian TV Beradi entreated the government to
set up what he calls "Points of annunciation" - localised communication
stations which would stop the seemingly inevitable rise of information
monopolies. They didn't listen and the result was Berlusconi. Similarly
Beradi now advocates "Points of annunciation" which will save the Net from the Infobahn. The Infobahn might result in a greater concentration of power or strong information currents that become exclusive. The Infosphere is not essentially democratic, humanistic, post humanistic, fascistic, egalitarian or anarchistic - it's an information
ecology but the fall-out from its activities have repercussions on people.
I pick up my tape recorder from the Panorama Room. I buy a pint of Guinness
from the bar and sit down, adding a new word to my lexicon.
D: "Meme" (mimetic vectors): A meme is an idea virus which has previously used the incubus of the human consciousness as its host. The word first appeared
in Richard Dawkin's book "The Selfish Gene" [Oxford University Press,1976]
and is a Hybrid of the Greek "mimeme" (to imitate) the French "meme" (to remember) and also rhymes nicely with Gene.
For three hundred million years DNA has been the only show in town, those little double helixes have been busily threading themselves through every living organism of earth.
But there is no reason for evolution to work only biologically. Cultural
evolution, the replication and repetition of ideas and motifs, can develop
its own life whilst using the biological organism (humans) as their hosts.
If an idea can survive its originator, is repeated and passed through
subsequent generations then it has proven itself to be an adaptable meme.
Some won't survive (the chocolate flavoured suppository, for instance) and
some will (the first four notes of Beethoven's fifth, life after death, the
green man walking on the pelican crossing, the cross, the medalla &c). They
survive like any organism in a manner which is advantageous to themselves -
they might find it advantageous to congregate together to form Meme
Complexes - a culture - in the form of ideological, religious and aesthetic
constructs. From the base of that culture they can survive their human hosts and
hitch-hike their way from one generation, one culture, to another. Again
there is no will involved, memes are falling into the vacant, and fertile,
belief spaces that best suit them.
The development of cyberspace allows for the evolution and development
of memes distinct from there traditional context. The development of
artificial intelligence (A.I.) might result in a diminishing reliance on
humans. Computers don't sleep therefore memes might find more advantage in
using A.I. systems as their hosts. Replicating themselves independently of
any human involvement and feeding back ideas to us which were not incubated
in the human hemisphere.
I fast forward and the press play. I had over-recorded a Leonard Cohen
album and in the tones of Jeramiah, low and apocalyptic, I hear him singing
"Give me back the Berlin wall / give me Stalin and Saint Paul / I've seen
the future /........ and it's murder"
© Art Articles 1995.