Digital Materiality: Aesthetics

“ I differ toto caelo from those philosophers who pluck out their eyes that they may see better; for my thought I require the senses, especially sight; I found my ideas on materials which can be appropriated only through the activity of the senses. I do not generate the object from the thought, but the thought from the object; and I hold that alone to be an object which has an existence beyond one’s own brain.”  – Ludwig Feuerbach [1]

Scientific knowledge practices have an inexorable bias towards human perception. That these practices may waste more than they produce has to do with the severity of this bias. The prevalence of digital technologies today has systemically integrated industrial, mass-production practices based on discrete quantification regimes into our understanding not only of ourselves but of the world. These practices were developed not to understand the world but to control the world for the benefit of human beings.

The alphabet “unrolls” the universe into uniform sequential lines of code. This silent code represents sounds of words, which reconstitute semantic messages through reading. The alphabet creates an environment of silent and private storage of information. The social effects generated by the alphabet is enormous compared to the message content of any particular sequence of text [2].

Information is encoded in alphabetic texts to serve the purposes of human beings. There is already an anthropomorphic filtering going with the composition of the first word.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” John 1:1

The Old Testament testifies to separating out humanity from the entirety of existence through language. Thus there can henceforth be no absolute truth in any language utterance, but only in the existence of languages themselves. Onomatopoeia shows how linguistic systems always and arbitrarily anthropomorphize all phenomena.

Dog barking
In Afrikaans, woef
In Albanian, ham ham
In Arabic, haw haw, hab hab
In Armenian, hav hav հաւ հաւ
In Basque, txau txau (small dogs), zaunk zaunk (big dogs)
In Batak, kung-kung
In Bengali: gheu gheu ঘেউ ঘেউ, bheu bheu ভেউ ভেউ, bhou bhou ভউ ভউ
In Bulgarian, bow bow бау бау, djaff djaff джаф джаф
In Catalan, bup bup
In Chinese, Cantonese, wōu-wōu 㕵㕵
In Chinese, Mandarin, wāng wāng 汪汪[zho 14]
In Croatian, vau vau
In Czech, haf haf
In Danish, vuf vuf, vov vov, bjæf bjæf
In Dutch, waf waf, woef woef
In English, woof, arf, bow wow, ruff
In Estonian, auh auh
In Finnish hau hau, vuh vuh
In French, ouah ouah, ouaf ouaf, wouf wouf
In German, wau wau, waff waff, wuff wuff
In Greek, ghav ghav γαβ γαβ, woof
In Hebrew, hav hav הַב־הַב,[heb 4] haw haw הַאוּ־הַאוּ[heb 4]
In Hindi, bho bho भो भो
In Hungarian vau vau
In Icelandic, voff voff
In Indonesian, guk guk
In Italian, bau bau
In Japanese, ワンワン (wan wan)
In Kannada, bow bow
In Kazakh, арп-арп, шәу-шәу
In Korean, meong meong 멍멍
In Latgalian, vau vau
In Latvian, vau
In Lithuanian, au au
In Macedonian, av av ав ав, dzhav dzhav џав џав
In Malayalam, bau bau
In Marathi, bho bho भो-भो
In Norwegian voff voff, vov vov
In Persian, vāq vāq واق واق, hāf-hāf هاف هاف
In Polish, hau hau
In Portuguese, au au, ão ão, béu béu
In Romanian, ham ham
In Russian, gav gav (гав-гав), tyaf tyaf тяф-тяф
In Sinhalese, buh buh බුඃ බුඃ
In Slovene, hov hov
In Spanish, guau guau
In Serbian, av av ав ав
In Swedish, vov vov, voff voff
In Tagalog, aw aw
In Tamil, vovw-vovw லொள் லொள், loll-loll, vazh vazh
In Telugu, bau bau
In Thai, โฮ่ง ๆ (hong hong), บ๊อก ๆ (bok bok)
In Turkish, hav hav
In Uropi, waw waw
In Vietnamese, gâu gâu, sủa sủa  [3]

The fact that these dog sounds, translated out of the universe into human language are purely yet differently mimetic and not discursive, reveals anthropomorphic biases. For example that language seems to (in)form the hearing of its users so that certain sounds which are available in that language come to represent sounds which are not provided there. The original sound is translated through the sociolinguistic conditioning of the listener into a simplified form which can be communicated to other users of that language. That dogs bark in different languages shows that we are not listening to them very carefully because we are more fundamentally concerned with each other, fellow human beings.

The world of dogs is an immense untranslatable unknown. So close to us yet so far, an abyss opens up between us and the dog whereby we sense all we lose and have lost through the exercise of power on the world through technologies such as language. This abyss is sublimated on a personal level through direct physical affective interaction with the dog, and on a cultural level through translating dog sounds into sounds available in our languages.

Sublimation is the gesture of translating the immense expansive depths and extents of the world into anthropomorphic aesthetics. Aesthetic cultural forms, writing, images, songs etc, represent the world at human scale, rendering all, in principle accessible to human understanding, investigation and control. The purpose of human technologies is to make the world a better place for humans. For better and for worse our techniques already transform the information we need from the world into anthropomorphic codes. This is why our technologies can not solve social problems.

The distinction of Human and Nature is ceasing to be relevant, humanity acknowledges its fundamental integrity in Nature anew as Human Nature supplants and sublimates Nature tout long.  In the face of so-called “anthropogenic climate change” in the “anthropocene”, the era of the the Anthropos, we need, more than ever, to find cultural forms which allow us to encounter the world outside the hall of mirrors provided by our technologies, where everything that happens is pre-interpreted to be proportional to conservative human aesthetics, human proclivities, human needs.

“There is a prohibition of image for the following reason: the idea in Judaism is that God is completely different, totally different! Toto caelo abstractio.  Which means that you cannot conceive Him and you cannot imagine Him. It is completely unthinkable and unimaginable, and therefore theology is not possible; you cannot speak about God, you can only speak to God. Now, if that is a fact, there is only one image – which is the face of the other person.” -Vilém Flusser [4]

Lets take the example of sound recording and playback. In analog recording, sound waves (variations in air pressure) are translated into variation of electrical signal through a microphone. The Microphone’s physical diaphragm moves with the sound waves in the air and mechanically transmit these vibrations to a media which can ‘record’ or otherwise transform them. In the old Phonograph or Grammophone technology, the membrane of the microphone mechanically moved a stylus which could engrave the vibration on a media. These etched vibrations could subsequently be played back by the same stylus. Instead of vibrating to transmit ambient sound to a medium, the microphone in playback translated the information etched into the medium into sound again and projects this into the audible world.

The Phonograph cylinder and the Grammophone disc are both silent repositories of encoded information, but since this information is analog, it is possible to notice direct correlations between, for example larger and deeper groove shapes for louder sounds and simpler groove shapes for simpler sounds. These technologies were very much designed to satisfy human aesthetic proclivities, their sensitivity to sound waves was prioritised at the range of human voice. 60Hz-1000Hz a tiny segment of all possible vibrations of this kind. Indeed, the early recordings were practically inaudible by today’s standards, the music or speech occluded and skewed in clouds of mechanical noise.[5]

Nevertheless the sound recording and even the shapes of the grooves themselves came to be seen as Nature writing itself, “Nature’s Pencil” as Fox Talbot described photography. Recordings were seen as “objective” and thus more accurate than “subjective” human perceptions, despite the fact that they are technically constrained in such a way that certain aesthetic sensitivities or proclivities are hard coded into the apparatus which produces them. As recording devices become mass-produced, knowledge becomes standardized around that range of aesthetic effects which the devices are designed to reproduce.

In analog recording, “sound” (air pressure) vibrations move the microphone diaphragm, this mechanical movement changes the position of magnetic coils or plates which causes an “analog” electromagnetic signal to be propagated down a cable to a recorder or other device. This electromagnetic variation can be communicated to a stylus to engrave a disk or to change the magnetic charge of particles on a tape. The physical variations of signal and the physical mechanical and/or electro-magnetic variations on a tape are proportional to the “original” sounds recorded and the sound of the recording is as continuous as was the original.

This proportionality is completely disrupted in digital technology. Still, we need a mechanical interface with the world, in this case, a microphone whose diaphragm vibrates to the sounds in the air and translates this into current variations. However in digital technologies, the sound is analyzed according to a grid and transformed into discrete quantifications. The playback of the digital recording takes the discrete quantifications and generated electromagnetic signal which can move a speaker or headphone diaphragm and reproduce sound. However, since the values are discrete, the sound is no longer the same continuous process as was recorded, it is reconstituted from data points, quantifications on a grid.

For digital media the most important regimentation in the grid is the time axis. Unlike analog media, all digital media needs regular clocks. The clock in digital sound processing (DSP) determines the ‘sample rate’, how often the sounds coming through the microphone are evaluated and recorded. Since digital media requires quantitative measurements, these measurements need to be(at least temporally) distinct. DSP thus divides up continuous signal into minute discrete quantities based on a clock. The clock provides the fundamental ‘x’ axis of our grid.

Just as the alphabet excised the voice of language, and the Gutenberg Press excised the extensive persona of the scribe to provide “objective” texts, digital conversion splits up continuous existence into uniform samples according to an arbitrary clock interval. The algorithmic Julian calendar split European out of the cycles of seasons and into the empire of Christianity. The mechanical clock split the working day into uniform intervals, an apotheosis of which is Taylorism. Our knowledge practices move from a world of heterogeneous and embodied intensities into one of homogenous, mechanistic and thereby freely recombinant quantities. How these quantities are aesthetically reconstituted to reproduce information at “human scale” is the pressing moral problem of our time.

Moving from analog to digital forms of information we retreat ever further from the immensity of existence into artificial (artistic) intricacies of concatenated codes. We must sublimate the irrepressibly expansive universe into anthropomorphic codes and, as these codes become more involved and involving, smaller and faster, operating outside the purview of unaided human perception, we sublimate the technological universe of nano-mechanical operations into anthropomorphic cultural tropes.

A cathedral is not as such more beautiful than an airplane, … a hymn than a mathematical equation. … A well-made sword is not more beautiful than a well-made scalpel, though one is used to slay, the other to heal. Works of art are only good or bad, beautiful or ugly in themselves, to the extent that they are or are not well and truly made, that is, do or do not express, or do or do not serve their purpose. – Ananda Coomaraswamy[6]



[1] Ludwig Feuerbach, Bruckberg, Feb. 14, 1843, Preface to the 2nd Edition of his “Essence of Christianity” translated by George Eliot

[2] This is the point of McLuhan’s famous aphorism “the medium is the message”.  In a TV appearance on 27 June 1979 in Australia, he put it thus “it doesn’t much matter what you say on the telephone, the telephone as a service is a huge environment and that is the medium. The environment affects everybody, what you say on the phone affects very few.”


[4] from an interview with Vilém Flusser by László Beke and Miklós Peternák in Budapest, the 7th of April 1990, published as  “On religion, memory and synthetic image” in “We Shall Survive in the Memory of Others” Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther König, Köln, 2010

[5] digitized records of over 100-year-old Berliner Grammophone disks can be heard here

[6] Coomaraswamy, Ananda, 1977, Traditional Art and Symbolism (Selected Papers, volume 1), Princeton: Bollingen. p.75

Digital Materiality: Technical Revolution

Material, substance may be infinite, or unimaginably, inarticulably extensive, but materiality, that which crosses into the domain of human affairs is certainly much less extensive. Predicating Spinoza’s “substance” and Feuerbach’s materializing “love”, is a crisis from which the western world is still recovering today: a technological revolution brought on by a technical development, a technology which drove a wedge to split apart what had once been one, the body and mind, material and spirit.

Ancient Greek philosophy is first and foremost a record of the onset of that crisis. What we know of Ancient Greek philosophy begins with texts, most famously through Plato and his student Aristotle, who used the radical new technology of the Alphabet to record the philosophical practices, allegories and debates of the foregoing generations. Those born into the textual world were presented with the immensity of the the preliterate world, its oral histories and holistic practices as subject matter to be de-scribed and recorded, translated into textual words, words which, composed of meaningless and silent symbolic codes, had become unhinged from what they de-scribed.

Translating the unified world of corporal sensations and thought into the silent world of ideas produced the first notions of authorship, of criticism and truth in the modern sense. Texts completely disrupted the old ways of life. This crisis, paradigmatic for all social upheaval that was to come, described, debated and recorded in the writings of Plato and Aristotles, is why their writing is still so pertinent and revered today.

What happens that is so revolutionary about the alphabet? In “Preface to Plato” Eric Havelock claims that the introduction of the phonetic alphabet produced the “power of abstraction” which distinguishes classical Greek Philosophy from its historical origins. Plato’s famous ‘banning’ of the poets from his ideal Republic, Havelock argues, should be read as indicating Plato’s intention to innovate the university away from the old oral philosophical traditions of allegory towards the abstract thinking afforded by the silent storage of text in alphabetic codes. Walter Ong notes how the notion of “studying” was completely transformed by the alphabet, rhetoric became a visual composition of texts (textures). The abstraction from fully lived experience into sequences of (themselves) meaningless glyphs, meant ideas began to take precedence over materials. (the materiality of writing is not considered esential to its semantic function).

Alphabetic codes rip spoken language out of the ephemeral embodied lived context of expression, depositing them in permanent silent scripts. At once we have certain socio-cultural consequences: no more must knowledge be passed down from wise master to acolyte, immutable authoritative texts will henceforth be available which can be copied and distributed silently.  Removing the voice of the speaker means that arguments must first and foremost be rational, rationally grounded, and self-contained (i.e. not depending on other contextual information). Since the meaning of the text can be autonomous of the culture or tradition which produced it, we see a new notion of human universality. At the same time , the alphabet has a standardizing effect on language, generating abstract grammatical rules which are then imposed on language learning. A patchwork of dialects are homogenized into ‘national’ languages.

Another thinker who places epochal importance on the introduction of alphabetic scripts was Vilém Flusser. In Flusser’s understanding of cultural transformation, pre-literate humanity lived in the domain of magicians, who wielded the ritual power of images. These pre-literate images did not represent things at any remove, they were part of a cyclical understanding of life within which all meaning is foreclosed. The tyranny of the ancient images of the magicians, was assailed, according to Flusser, by the creators of the alphabet. Alphabetical text “unrolled” the totality of ancient images into sequential lines of text. These lines, which, unlike images, needed to be read in a particular direction and order, generated what Flusser called “causal, historical thinking” which eventually led to Enlightenment science and early modernity. The interdiction of images in early jewish thought may be a similar philosophical position to Plato’s interdiction of poetry in the Republic.

The notion that images can have an all-at-once expansive effect similar to sounds was developed intensively by Marshall McLuhan. McLuhan followed Havelock in understanding that the silent abstraction of uniform texts from the heterogenous, all-at-once, pre-literate world, created a cultural crisis from which we are still recovering today. Flusser said “every revolution is a technical revolution”, for McLuhan the revolution of literacy reached an apotheosis once the residual embodied-ness of calligraphic script was abstracted comprehensively by the invention of Gutenberg’s moveable-type printing press. Texts dissolve integral organic Nature into repeatable modular processes, a deductive mechanical model which promises to make universally available, at the disposal of all humanity, Its secrets. With Gutenberg we enter the epoch of the mass-reproduction of abstract human ideas. Finally stripping away the last vestages of historical social bias of the scribe, uniform text blocks subjected societies to a completely desacralized and profane, explicitly technical analysis for the first time. Standardized mass-produced texts produced the modern nation, French produced France, and standardized German “Hochdeutsch” produced Germany.

Just as the alphabet ‘produced’ Greek philosophy, Plato and Aristotle, the Gutenberg press ‘produced’ Shakespeare. Marshall McLuhan in the “Gutenberg Galaxy” elucidates how Shakespeare emerged into a world where human language was laid bare as a technical process to be industrialized. Shakespeare emerges to record and elucidate the crisis brought on by the mechanization and automization of thought, like Plato did thought’s description and abstraction at his time. In both cases, language is both a technical agent of transformation and the means by which we know about it.

The social transformations which emerge with the introduction of new technologies can be understood, according to McLuhan, by attending to how the new technology re-organizes the “sense ratios” of its users. The silent visual alphabet thus inaugurates a period of “visual bias” where science based on observation transforms the world into something that is meant to be read. Literacy is one of the early de- or trans-materialization technologies, with its alchemical capacity to (re-)consititue reality from its codes.

The alphabet provided the basis for what would come to be called ‘Intellectual property’. The endless flow of language like the endless rush of the waves once abstracted from holistic unity in Nature become silent commodities the most plastic raw materials. This transformation has taken more time, 250 years after the beginning of the mass-production of literature, and shortly before the industrialization of the technology, the 1710 Statute of Anne modernized copyright law and inaugurated the IP regime we still have today, making universal ideas into commodities for private consumption and owndership (thus also speculation) through the medium of alphabetic text.

The notion of privacy in this context takes much importance in the works of Flusser and McLuhan.  Before the written world, all language was, of course, shared, even secrets must be shared. After literacy a silent private world was produced which could provide a consummate escape from the world of human affairs, and deliniated the realm of ‘politics’ as a public forum. For Flusser, the sequential linear structure of writing generated the notion of history itself. From then on, events did not cycle it a ritual whole but ‘progressed’ and thereby produced a linear history.

The chemical and electrical technologies in the 19th century, all based on science derived from causal, deductive thinking, brought on a new fundamental crisis. The texts, encoded in the technical things of the world became far too small and dense to decipher. They began to produce effects which belied their textual basis, the world became whole again in instantaneous communication. Today, we live in a world increasingly determined by written thinking encoded in linear processes which produce effects at the speed of light. This speed of light communication, according to McLuhan, tilts the sense ratios again and produces a tactile and acoustic field. Even though the principles at play inside the apparatus are fundamentally visual, the skewed sensibility produces tactile affinities which, unlike the atomizing and individualizing effects of text, generate inclusive and involving social effects.

For Flusser, the alphabet created historical thinking, splitting us out of cyclical rituals “of the seasons and feasts”. However, the scientific accomplishments in chemistry and physics provided new aesthetic materials and practices. Photography and the following technical images, like film, video, television and now synthetic computer images, all these images are meant to render the world imaginable again.

Today, with technical images, generated and communicating at the speed of light, we have a return to the universal appeal of iconic images, except now, they are not images in the ancient sense, they are projections of linear texts.

“You know, photography was invented to give an objective image, but since the camera is coded, it is even less objective then is a painting.”- Vilém Flusser

The Alphabet was a pivotal technical revolution, we are still metabolising today. The alphabet split pre-literate human beings out of their context and into a world of abstract and rational thinking. By decomposing language into silent standardized abstract signs which, themselves, are recomposable to language, the alphabet produced a system where science became divorced from philosophy. Philosophy became the domain of ontology and epistemology, and science became the practice of understanding towards reliably controlling behaviours of materials. The alphabet broke apart the holistic synthetic experience of the universe and generated a mechanical model divided up into recomposable, standardized parts. Mind was divorced from the body, as text is divorced from the surface on which it appears.

Digital Materiality: Materiality

[WiP this is #1 in a series of 12 weekly essays unpacking the concept “Digital Materiality”.  They are prepared in the context of the seminar of the same name held every Thursday at 2pm at the UdK Hardenbergstr.  ]

“We are living in a material world and I am a material girl!”- PETER BROWN, ROBERT RANS


Is every moment of every lived life equally worthy? At stake are historical human facts, the contributions of lived life to any given technical object (necessarily the product of human attention). How their facticity is evaluated is vital for a reckoning of our civilisation bias. This is particularly pertinent as automation begins to fade forever from view.   We are presented with visions of a post-work society, yet the great majority are working harder for less money. Our civilizations allow for widespread poverty, including child poverty, persistence of slavery and prison labour at the core of the advanced technology production chain, the particular vector of technology which we are persistently told is our best hope for a future.

“Material” is made of human activity. Material is that which is brought (from Nature) into the realms of human affairs. In order understand a human artifact, such as a digital object, open up the “time/space historical fact record” record through the surface of the object. These records/stories making a constellation of fragmentary (factual), even  infinitesimal, non-zero (0<x>n)  human contributions to the production of the object are the social ‘message’ of the product. The social conditions of the production of the material is played back through the use of the material. Is every moment of every human life equally worthy, or are some moments of some lives more worthy? Is it really necessary to know who made Einstein’s breakfasts in order to appreciate the true implications of E=mc2?

Once we start to account for the labour contribution to the contemporary surface, we also need to integrate a placeholder value for “reproductive labour”(1). Reproductive labour has been disregarded at the expense of hagiography interested in maintaining a hegemonic state. Like Feudalism, Capitalism depends on unpaid reproductive labour, in ones own body, ones home and elsewhere, “everyday communism”(2), which is voluntary contribution to socially necessary reproductive practices in “a permanent sense of being mutually indebted“. (3)

The material of “materiality” I am mainly concerned with in this essay is that of physical things brought into the sphere of human attention, and, principally, hyper-modern hyper-industrial production. The materiality which is designated to a realm beyond human empirical or technically-assisted access is of interest here only in as far as it impacts the behaviours of those humans that consider it. As such, we will consider the philosophical realm of meta-physics as materialized in philosophizing bodies by the entire metabolism, including intuitions and apprehensions derived from all the senses,

There is thus a materiality of thought which is the materiality of the mind, such that it must be sustained by the same practices which sustain the rest of the living tissue of the body from which the cogitating apparatus can never be entirely abstracted. Though we may never have the science which can explain how mechanically, chemically thoughts are formulated, we must maintain that the thoughts exist and that they cannot exist without a body. There is no immaterial thought, the thought of god, the divine inspiration, itself must be reproduced in the lightless bowels of its living body. The question of how the living body is reproduced in order to be able to think an ephemeral thought is a social, and, in our society, a political question.

My interest here is to put forward a rather conservative understanding of material, that it resides first and fundamentally with living humans and only with respect to those living humans. This is has the political agenda of elaborating a set of concepts, textures or gestures by which any particular or group of human beings can or is impaired from benefitting from the enormous, but finite social production of human beings on the planet right now.

Digital objects, seem at once, much like thoughts, light-speed, fleeting, almost immaterial, “meiousia” μεῖοὐσία (less material), yet whereas thoughts are reproduced by living metabolisms, digital objects are reproduced by mechanical processes, i.e. concretions of thought processes. We will go more deeply into what distinguishes digital objects in the next chapters, but before this we need to grapple with that which could possibly be ‘digital’ in the first place, the digital object, the materiality which is digital, the matter, of which materiality speaks “qualities of matter”.

Spinoza uses the word substance rather than material “which stands below” the phenomena or the behaviours, which have bearing on us, or which we perceive. For Spinoza, what characterizes material is that it has (fundamental) properties which “come from outside”, which we have not chosen. We can dis-cover these properties through behaviours, which are interactions with our discovery process. Unlike the pre-literate (pre-socratic) Greeks, Democritus, Leucippus, Epicurus, straining through metaphors, trying to elaborate fundamental physical principles of the makeup of the universe, today’s truth and science is about understanding physical behaviours and controlling these for human purposes. This means we only understand the physical properties of substances in as far as we can elicit repeatable, reliable behaviours of them. In other words, to make machines of them (to enslave, and domesticate them). Our process of understanding is anthropocratic, instrumental.

Any politics of this “digital” age which wishes to contest the “distribution of the sensible” as Jacques Rancière calls it, will have to firstly repudiate any contention of immateriality. Digital things, as anything “thengan”(4) operate in a realm overdetermined by human practices, which must be understood as fundamentally material. Thus I will examine materiality as (problematically) anthropomorphic, especially for technical products, especially in the per-industrial “digital” age. I will refer to these products as “things”, e.g. digital “things”.

If we use the flexibility which exists in German to address materiality we find two useful words for thing: Ding and Zeug. The ontological truth of the thing is in the fact that people congregate around it. It is both “thengan”/Ding = appointed time (4) and “Zeug” something conditioned by the needs of humans (useful thing) (5) “This text examines only the economy of things in a human universe proscribed by human mortality, life-span and the predilections of the human sensibility, in other words ‘human scale’25 Disruptions of, or interventions in this economy do not matter if they do not effect humanity Once they do they become things in an economy of things in a world conditioned by human scale experience “ (6)

A self-consciously anthropomorphic approach to materiality becomes most useful at the limits. On the political level today we are all divided up into individuals, socio-political atoms with a very abstract homogenous concept of “equal rights”. We know that, in practice we do not have the same right to assert our equal rights, and the dominant means of production perpetuates conditions where some human beings are not able to assert their equal rights at all. This is a problem as old as civilisation, and we must hearten ourselves and each other if we earnestly want to confront it, since it is endemic to the way human society has always functioned. The principle of our society are not the practice, and the showdown comes down on our own bodies, limited (finally by mortality) in physical capacity to participate in socially necessary production.(7)

In the liminal space between the limited (0<x>∞) unique human participant and the quasi-unlimited (∞-n) universality of the species, between the universality of the species and the universality of all material, we are struggling with languages which work out epistemologies derived from human experiential limits on this planet. The translation from whatever there is (noumena) to the realm of our grappling (phenomena) is today of political relevance, since the status of the anthropos is in crisis.

Die Liebe ist das Band, das Vermittlungsprinzip zwischen dem Vollkommnen und Unvollkommnen, dem sündlosen und sündhaften Wesen, dem Allgemeinen und Individuellen, dem Gesetz und dem Herzen, dem Göttlichen und Menschlichen. Die Liebe ist Gott selbst und außer ihr ist kein Gott. Die Liebe macht den Menschen zu Gott und Gott zum Menschen. Die Liebe stärket das Schwache und schwächt das Starke, erniedrigt das Hohe und erhöhet das Niedrige, idealisiert die Materie und materialisiert den Geist. Die Liebe ist die wahre Einheit von Gott und Mensch, von Geist und Natur. In der Liebe ist die gemeine Natur Geist und der vornehme Geist Natur. Lieben heißt vom Geiste aus: den Geist, von der Materie aus: die Materie aufheben. Liebe ist Materialismus; immaterielle Liebe ist ein Unding.

  • Feuerbach: Das Wesen des Christentums. DB Schüler-Bibliothek: Philosophie, S. 21206

Love is the middle term, the substantial bond, the principle of reconciliation between the perfect and the imperfect, the sinless and sinful being the universal and the individual, the divine and the human. Love is God himself, and apart from it there is no God. Love makes man God and God man. Love strengthens the weak and weakens the strong, abases the high and raises the lowly, idealises matter and materialises spirit. Love it the true unity of God and man, of spirit and nature. In love common nature is spirit, and the pre-eminent spirit is nature. Love is to deny spirit from the point of view of spirit, to deny matter from the point of view of matter. Love is materialism; immaterial love is a chimaera.

  • Ludwig Feuerbach, from The Essence of Christianity, Chapter II. God as a Being of the Understanding Translated from the original German by George Eliot

“nun wurde man immer geneigter, das licht wegen seiner ungeheuern wirkungen nicht als etwas abgeleitetes anzusehen; man schrieb ihm vielmehr eine substanz zu, man sah es als etwas ursprüngliches, für sich bestehendes, unabhängiges, unbedingtes an; doch muszte diese substanz, um zu erscheinen, sich materiiren, materiell werden, materie werden, sich körperlich und endlich als körper darstellen”.

  • Johann Wolfgang Goethe. Gedenkausgabe der Werke, Briefe und Gespräche. Band 1–24 und Erg.-Bände 1–3, Band 16, Zürich 1948 ff, S. 448-452.


(1) Sylvia Federicci coined the term as an improvement on “affective labour” used by Michael Hardt, extending from Rosi Braidotti. Whereas “affective labour” emphasizes the care and attention which supports labour, Federici’s “reproductive labour” stresses that labour must reproduced daily in the capitalist extraction process, which only recompenses the laborer on the most exploitative terms, the maintenance of the capacity to work which occurs during the full day, parallel to the daily , is tacitly factored into the wage of the labourer. An assembly-line worker may be paid to complete the same task 30 times an hour, but maintaining the psychological wherewithal to carry out the task each time with the requisite attention, is an expected unpaid contribution of the labourer. Environmentalism, and thinkers like Michel Serres, would extend reproductive labour to the “natural” processes of our planet which we depend on to produce what we need to live together.

“We established that capitalism is built on an immense amount of unpaid labor, that it not built exclusively or primarily on contractual relations; that the wage relation hides the unpaid, slave -like nature of so much of the work upon which capital accumulation is premised. “

  • “Precarious Labor: A Feminist Viewpoint” Silvia Federici, The Journal of Aesthetics and Protest, published from a lecture from October 28th 2006 at Bluestockings Radical Bookstore in New York City, 172 Allen Street as part of the “This is Forever: From Inquiry to Refusal Discussion Series.

(2) Everyday Communism compensates for the alienation and extreme atomisation of individuals under capitalism by providing for social needs in assumed solidarity. Capitalism is not a monolith, it requires unpaid, unquantified Communistic practices which reproduce the capacity to produce value for society. It may be argued that capitalism is in turn required by unquantified Feudalistic ownership and competition strategies.

(3) “On the moral grounds of economic relations: A Maussian approach “ Graeber, David, Journal of Classical Sociology 2014, Vol. 14(1) 65–77

(4) Things are, as Heidegger pointed out, res publica, “not the state but that which, known to everyone, concerns everybody and is therefore deliberated in public” Heidegger (2001) Sein und Zeit. Max Niemeyer, Tübingen p.174, also “that which concerns man is what is real in res” p.176

(5) “Things in this text are always useful because they do not exist independent of a human being’s employment of them in the constitution or maintenance of their world Whatever is beyond human employ, then, is nothing” Gottlieb, B. “A Pollitical Economy of the Smallest Things” ATROPOS, New York,p.46

(6) ibid p.50

(7) The capacity to contribute to an economy of human affects in socially necessary work depends on material conditions. Sound sleep, good nutrition, maintaining minimum social standards of presentability, are all essential to participation and enjoyment of socially produced goods. Each person has a limited time everyday to insure continued affordance of that which they need. This physical effort/time is limited by the available of corporal physical resources. In the contemporary economy based on individualized contributions and allocations of agency (in the form of money) we are all constrained to maximize individual benefit within an economy of limited available resources, both internal and external.

Inventing the Present

The bold demands on the cover of  Inventing the Future by Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams generated much popular discussion on the Left.  Sadly, none of these demands will serve to provide better auspices for the great majority of humanity. These demands are worthy of attention because of the apparent sincerity with which they are declared, not because they are ambitious, but because they are not nearly ambitious enough.

Demand full automation: As long as the automation is monopolized by capital it will first and foremost serve to precaritize and exploit labourers and their class.

Capitalism will not automate itself out of existence. It will not eliminate the workforce, and it will not even try. What it will do is create a deskilled workforce, ever more dependent on capital for the ability to produce, and create a divided workforce, that does not share a common proletarian consciousness, thus diffusing its class power. And, for when and where discontent does bubble up, it will automate the deadly force required to repress uprisings. The brutal Enforcement Droid is much more viable than the pleasant robot servant. 

Demand Universal Basic Income: This is a neo-liberal ruse to side-track more fundamental demands for socially provisioned basic needs, such as health care, housing, and education.

UBI is increasingly advocated by the Silicon Valley elite precisely because it enables more of the neoliberal withdrawal of state provisioning of social necessities. If you ‘choose’ to spend your UBI on fast food and gambling and then end up unable to pay your rent, have a pension, or have health care, its your problem, because there are no more social services to provide for you. UBI will have made it politically tenable to do away with them. 

Demand the Future: The Future can only ever emerge from the present. Left concern for the Future requires the thoroughest concern with the conditions of the vast majority of humanity on earth right now. When Full Automation is advocated with only a vague reckoning of the destruction automation has historically wrought for humanity up to this day, S&W are clearly not with us here today on the ground but off in high concept.

The left imagination, it is claimed, has been invigorated by S&W’s provocations. Such vigor would be well channeled then towards elaborating practices and politics which can fundamentally improve the lot of the great majority of people on the earth right now. Part of this will require us to look soberly at the kinds of technologies we are told are inevitable and evaluate their applicability towards the general emancipation we demand.

Inventing the Future Beholden to the Present (a review)

Srnicek & Williams Inventing the FutureSrnicek & Williams “Inventing the Future” made quite a stir when it was released, as did their Accelerationist manifesto. As usual, when I hear such excitement I am concerned, concerned that a lot of people are getting sidetracked by glamourous, new-sounding formulations, away from the very urgent work at hand, which is to understand, confront and usurp the material conditions for the reproduction of the present.

Srnicek & Williams have done a great service. I strongly appreciate their call for a futuristic, left-promethean imagination, which attempts to promote a technologically advanced yet socially just civilization. However their notion of technology is too narrow. Mitigating the excesses of wealth inequality will foster invention not only based on quantitative performance metrics, and desperate competition for mere survival. Granted, Veblenian leisure-class-envy will always be with us, and will provide endless fodder for the various real life soap operas which get our hearts pumping. However, in a (future, social) world where economic injustice is moderated by dutiful and earnest polity, unforseeable new forms of science and technology will become possible, which will engage us in socially culturally and materially productive activities we are incapable of envisioning today.

We do not need robotics, or “to do away with labour” for this to happen, we need to moderate economic injustice. However, under the prevailing conditions, where the vast majority of new technologies (the futuristic ones, at least) are always industrial and mechanical in nature, where the singular vector of “sensor everything”-and-AI-the-results-into-executable-drone-action prevails, where the notion of progress is overdetermined by regimens of security and defense, there only seems one way forward: new machines.

The problem with the vision of the abolition of labour by machines has been discussed as long as the vision has been projected. The robotics production chain today is still full of labouring human beings. Now, the conditions may not be so bad for those higher up in the production chain, but let us, as leftists, please not gloss over the persistent and, up until now intractable requirement for exploitation of the meanest forms of labour the earth has ever seen as we approach the bases of the production chains. The reasons that automated labour will not liberate us is because it is built with and thus perpetuates the conceptual world of extreme unfairness and despotism. A world predicated on slave/subservient labour will produce societies and cultures which justify this. The imagination of humanity emancipated from toil by slavemachines is a tyrannical one.

But left us grant that we need to be tyrannical to some extent since our enemy is to a large degree “Nature” whose unpredictability threatens to destroy us. How we prevail over the deleterious effects of nature was one of the original drives of science, and has generated so much of the essential knowledge providing some of us the leisure and opportunity we enjoy today. But there is a trade-off, one we are still ill-prepared to make.

We enslave nature, and thereby, “provisionally” we murmur, some segment of our own species (in principle equally invested with rights) . But we do not have the cultural technologies to understand the trade-off between enslavement and emancipation. In the coming era (probably brief) of a resurgence of left science as a backlash to neoliberalism, it is precisely such technologies we must cultivate.

Capitalism tightens the screws over and beyond the pain threshold, as it must. Once the economic pressure becomes unbearable, a left swing in politics inevitably ensues, as we are seeing now. This left swing must not be confused with a permanent revolution/evolution in human society/sociability. At best, the left palliative will be able to prevail for an election cycle or two, until, always under extreme duress from capitalist/plutocrat machinations it will cede the gains it had managed to produce (improved infrastructure, improved education, etc. ) again to re-neo-liberalised exploitation.

As we see today a new dawn of socialist consciousness across Europe and even in the USA, we need to prepare well to make sure some of the economic resources released for the social good actually are used not only for the high-ticket science that dazzles us, but on fostering and reproducing the earnest and studious science of engineering how socialism can be sustained (to thrive!) for longer than a couple of election cycles. We need to understand the contemporary and historic trade-off between capitalized labour and civic freedom, and we need to cultivate new technologies,, social and cultural practices which can help us sustain social and economic justice so that it prevails over and subsumes capitalist productivity.

Srnicek & Williams are impatient, this I understand. However, their appraisal of what they call “folk politics” is ungenerous. It is precisely that kind of folk politics which is powering Podemos and the Bernie Sanders campaign, which brought Syriza to power. Admittedly it is not enough and we need more than traditional street militancy to sustain socialist practices. However, visions or projects for teleportation, nano-surgery and socialist Mars colonies, are not going to convince capitalists to stop attacking socially produced value every way they can. We need more fundamental knowledge about how the present is reproduced in this first place, the legacy of colonialism, imperialism, patriarchy and slavery in the very devices we use to understand such things, and we need social and cultural technologies to integrate that consciousness into new behaviours, new sociabilities, new modes of exchange.

Their book has some good history in it. Even if your thesis fails, at least do some good history, then people will still read your book. But as far as the present goes, Srnicek & Williams. “demand” for Universal Basic Income is certainly inadequate. UBI is increasingly advocated by the Silicon Valley elite precisely because it enables more of the neoliberal withdrawal of state provisioning of social necessities. If you “choose” to spend your UBI on fast food and gambling and then end up unable to pay your rent, have a pension, have health care… its your problem, because there are no more social services to provide for you. UBI will have made it politically tenable to do away with them. A far stronger demand would be one for universal basic housing,universal basic education,universal basic health care etc.

There is no reason in an advanced economy why babies are born in debt for expenses they must incur only to live, and for which they must first prepare and then submit themselves to wage labour in order to “repay”. We already have the technologies which can allow us all to live on this earth at excellent standards, they are not evenly distributed, and even when they are, they are wastefully reproduced and employed.

If we are born with any legitimate debt, it is one we owe to the legacy of exploited labour, which, through centuries of colonialism, imperialism, patriarchy, and other oppression bequeathed us the brilliant affordances of today. Inventing the Future must happen in the present, it is the present which will afford us every future we can imagine. Therefore it is to the conditions of the present inhabitants of our planet we must attend, each and every one of them, with the same care and concern, and with all our intelligence and science, if we want to produce sustainable forms of emancipatory society under the contemporary conditions of extreme capitalist discipline.

If you would like to probe the intractable depths of these concerns, please consider my new book on ATROPOS PRESS “A Political Economy of the Smallest Things”  Gottlieb: A Political Economy of the Smallest Things



structural challenges to technological emancipation (1/3)

structural challenges to technological emancipation:
socially necessary discipline

The interplay between discipline and freedom, how the former generates the latter and the latter requires the former has been a critical dilemma since the beginning of civilization. Without going into the rich philosophical literature on the question of freedom, I would like to outline two paradigmatic examples which epitomise the contradiction, one institutional, and one industrial.

No civl society exists without what I call “the hard shell”, the complex of border fortifications and installations and the personnel which monitor, maintain and provide its more reactive and spontaneous functionality. The officers of the State administration on duty at the frontiers are not free, they must adhere strictly to their instructions, and should an “order” be dispensed from somehwere higher in the very rigid hierarchy within which their duty has bearing, they must unquestioningly obey the order and enact its contents.

gottlieb- socially necessary discipline: the hard shell

The discipline structures of absolute control in the military sector of the society function to provide the spaces where civil peace may prevail, the peace which is required for differing opinions to result not in desperate violence but rather in leisurely conversation and accommodating encounters. Today’s prevalent notion of the virtues of the secular civil sphere: freedom of opinion, freedom of expression, etc. are completely beholden to the freedom from immanent mortal threat provided firstly by the “hard shell” at the borders and secondarily by the “radical lattice”: the structure of administrative laws, manifested physically where necessary in the bodies of policemen, and increasingly in mercenary-type security employees who uphold either state-sanctioned or privately decreed regulations on acceptable behaviour. This radical lattice with its regular machinic availability is also the material infrastructure of the civil sphere, the power grid and Internet, the sewage system and the labour provisioning system which maintains these.

gottlieb - socially necessaary discipline : the radical lattice

Computers are perfect instruments to be employed in military and police work because they behave absolutely, invariably according to command protocols. There is no freedom in a computer, if there were any freedom in the computer, it would not work. The implementation of computerization into social, civil sphere as well means that technology more applicable for discipline s being used “freely” the result is a certain militarization of the civil sphere, and uncomfortable overweening transgressions of the state through shared computational protocols into everyday life in the civil sphere. Networked computers truly bring into being a Cyber-social realm where discipline is not only cultural but structural, new forms of freedom will thereby be engendered but ever more informed by computational discipline.

The philosophical problem in understanding our societies as a trade-off between discipline and freedom has troubled humanity since the first civilizations. The society where the excesses of State control can be relaxed will mean that ordinary everyday discipline will have to take up the slack. Cultural forms, traditional religious mores etc. have customarily provided this discipline. The International should in principle do away with the need for borders and the military ”defense department” prerequisites for civil peace, but until the “lutte finale” towards the International has has been victorious, every nascent communistic society of any scale will need a military and face the same problematic trade-off.

Historically there have been some promising results in the experiences of the USSR, East Germany, China and Vietnam, we can see the hints of what a society where the understanding of the trade-off between discipline and freedom has been engaged more maturely. We can see there the problem is not technology but social structure and the only way to improve concepts of social structuring and provide sustainable innovations is to study existing societies carefully. How well the prevalent computational vector of knowledge production will be able serve that kind of study remains to be seen. It is evident however, that the reduction of everyday desperation about the capacity for any participant to engage in social production can provde enormous increatses in in the ingenuity and assiduity of the general intellect, with or without computation.

The absolute discipline in the micro-, nano-mechanical functioning (on the level of the chemical composition of CPU functionality) is what provides the emancipatory potential (freedom from toil)

Marx wanted to elimate work because he wanted to eliminate toil – an alienated labour deprived of its social integrity through capitalist exploitation. Work without exploitation is not work in that sense. But what happens is: Capital manages to extract value also from activities which are not perceived as being work, that are offered up voluntarily as a part of our unspoken social compact. “Everyday Communism” in acts such as picking up deliveries for neighbours on vacation, watching somebody’s bag, or helping someone with advice, are not commonly considered work, and are not usually remunerated, but contribute to the life of the worker, and therefore to her ability to work for Capital As such “everyday communism” is also indirectly exploited through the capitalised worker.

Likewise the deeply embedded work or toil of the reproduction of the capacity to work, “reproductive labour” as Silvia Federicci calls it. Reproductive labour is on the first level domestic labour, the feeding, clothing, and the many ways of caring for the worker’s capacity to produce work to be sold to the capitalist. The wage earned by the worker is thus not only for the hours of work performed directly by that person but also of the network of unpaid contributions to the capacity to work.

The reproduction of the labourer’s capacity to work also depends on agriculture and the distribution of food, provision of clean water, nowadays also electricity, transportation to and from work, shelter and many other assumed resources, which the capitalist who employs the worker need not provide. Much of these requirements for the reproduction of the labourer are supplied by the state, under capitalism as a subsidy to business. Especially on the federal level in a capitalist system, workers are taxed, but receive only benefits which subsidise their employer. Under neo-liberalism, necessities provided by the state at moderate cost are being privatised. This means rather than public spending subsidising reproductive labour, workers pay fees from the wages they receive from capital to other capitalists.

Capital’s unbending requirement to derive maximal profits disciplines the worker. Adam Smith praised the productivity gains of the division of labour, which, industrialised and scientifically managed through Taylorism, lead to pervasive automation in production of socially necessary goods and services. Amazon workers in the “fulfillment” center are part of a machine-human symbiotic labour-unit where the human part is subject to a control regime which is constantly adjusted to maximize productivity. The non-mechanical, intangible quality of the human participant is assumed as part of the wage, as 50 years before on the Ford or Lada assembly line, workers were evaluated on the number of pieces completed per hour, the psychological and emotional work they performed internally which made their physical performance possible and sustainable for day after working day was an intangible, expected ancillary labour on top of the that demanded by the employer.

Automation has always been there to discipline the worker in order to maximize profits. Automation of the workplace and contemporary capitalism are indistinguishable. The perfunctory modernization and industrialization programs in the former Soviet Union, in China and elsewhere in the early and mid-20th century were the application of automised techno-industrial (Taylorist) means borrowed from capitalist enterprise, with all their profit-oriented performance metrics, towards nominally socialist ends. It is not surprising that they failed to produce the ideal society for which they were invoked. Not only the regimented and alienating performance-oriented discipline in the factories but even the understanding of an emancipated society based on mass-production materials in general is fundamentally flawed. On a collective farm, the step from ox and hoe to petroleum-burning tractor is not simply progress, it is the disciplining of materials (in this case metals) into a robotic form made of standardised and replaceable parts, which in turns, disciplines the farmers into being appendages of the apparatus. The massive scale agriculture of the 20th century is a product of standardization-automization and the machines are a product of a way of looking at labour which is utilitarian and abstract from the integrity of the living labourer and its society..

A civilization for which the emancipation of every member is the absolute priority will have to approach automation as a very dangerous concentration, in the way certain herbal or mineral extracts are poisonous in an undiluted state but can heal at lower concentrations. The problem is that we need the entirety of the globalized techno-industrial dispositif to produce the high technologies we invest so much hope in today, and this cannot be moderated. It seems the problem is either all or nothing.

This is where technological disobedience comes in. Technological disobedience, a term coined by Cuban-American artist Ernesto Oroza, calls us to use technological products in ways which were not intended by the manufacturer and also for longer than intended. It aims to curtail the demand for new production of automation by deriving better products based on technologies which are slightly behind the “cutting edge”. These technologies, already magnificent feats of human engineering science and the techno-miracle of collaboration (albeit under capitalist discipline) on a global scale have so much under-utilized potential. It is an obscene waste to simply dispose of these highly sophisticated and capable instruments, but they are not built with repurchasing in mind. Technological disobedience, through generating alternative automatised economies of scale where access to cutting edge instruments is difficult, and by reducing demand for cutting edge industrial products, can contribute to a moderation of the particular prevalent innovation vector in automated capitalism and perhaps open up somewhat the field for other modes of technical innovation which do not serve capital so effectively.

The wider availability of re-purposed electronics can also support an ecosystem of software which can perform excellently on older machines. One of the principle objectives of counterantidisintermediationists is to design robust networked communications functionalities which do away with the need for centralized server architecture. Each participant on the network provides both storage spce and computationality and the application runs distributedly on the ad hoc network which cannot be owned but only shared. Such a network could ideally be used to coordinate communal production and distribution as well as to provide capacities for forms of research and exchange of information and ideas which are less under the pressure to produce exchange value from still prevalent capitalism.

The machines, and automation themselves are not the enemy, they simply avail capital of great means to instrumentalise and disenfranchise our living capacity. The vision, imagined by Marx and Engels, anarchists and communists, of general emancipation from desperation and subjugation, requires not more automation but rather a transitional re-purposing of existing automation for the specific computational and productive needs of communist communities, i.e. how to federate communal production, how to efficiently reproduce the infrastructural requirements (water, sewage, health care, elder and child care, etc. ) for a self-emancipating society, and how to do all this in a way that, under constant pressure from prevalent capitalism, maintains its domain of autonomy over the conditions of reproduction.

The machines themselves, computational and otherwise, and the immense miraculous techno-industrial dispositif which reproduces them and their ability to function, operate on fundamentally unfree principles. The globalised logistics chains, the dickensian conditions in tungsten mines, the reliable functioning of the power grid, all requires unquestioning discipline. Who will contribute that discipline under what conditions? What is the trade-off? How can we elaborate the notion of freedom anew in a way that integrates acknowledgment of the ambient social requirement to subjugate ones own freedom for the benefit of all? Technologies re-imagined to serve global emancipation and redistribution of socially necessary discipline are urgently required.


Saturday, monochrom and Telekommunisten are hosting DISMALWARE2 at Supermarkt Berlin, we will be screeing the movie DIE GSTETTENSAGA: THE RISE OF ECHSENFRIEDL, here is a guest post from Bonni Rambatan about the movie

Bonni Rambatan

(Contains movie spoilers.)

If the film is the defining medium of the 20th century, the social media is what defines the 21st century. That much is clear to anyone who pays attention to the way media constructs the lives and desires of contemporary society. If the film, as Slavoj Žižek remarks, teaches us how to desire, the social media, as it were, sets those ways of desiring into stone by determining how we like, how we share, to whom, to which things we are exposed, and so on. All is codified within the realm of technology, that—at least to non-hackers—remain opaque, even invisible. And all, of course, are presented as comfort—a perfect illustration to the Foucauldian “society of control”,
This is where the contemporary romaticism of nerds as agents of change often falls short—and precisely the target of Johannes Grenzfurthner’s latest film, Die Gstettensaga: The Rise of Echsenfriedl. In the film, we follow the adventures of two young nerd protagonists who are hired by the old media mogul, Thurner von Pjölk, to find and interview via live broadcast the reclusive new media mogul, Echsenfriedl—only to find that all is von Pjölk’s scheme of banning television and other forms of new media, because the live interview would turn all viewers into stone (because Echsenfriedl is a basilisk), hence creating mass hysteria of the dangers of new media.

It’s easy to see the Edison-vs-Tesla mythology at play in the von Pjölk-Echsenfriedl relationship constructed throughout the film. Much to the delight of the nerds, Echsenfriedl (obviously the more Tesla of the two) eventually won—but this twist brings a problematic ending. Echsenfriedl becomes the new media mogul, and the nerds overtly rejoice, even starts burning books and other forms of old media. In the narrator’s own words, “today … creative technophilia is not expressed in underground makerspaces, but out on the open streets!” and Echsenfriedl says “I like it when young people do something” and that he trusts “the wisdom of the crowd.”

It brings into question, then: are movements like Occupy Wall Street really “movements” in the traditional revolutionary sense? Is it not, rather, more of an expression of “creative technophilia”? There is nothing wrong with that, of course—as I have said in many of my other writings, hacking and play are the roots of revolution, since they shed light on new possibilities. However, what we should be careful of—and about which the film warns us so cleverly, if tongue-in-cheek—is this all-too-readiness in today’s otherwise potentially revolutionary petit-bourgeoisie to embrace technology and crowd wisdom as a sort of romantic proto-revolution for a more equal future, while it in fact remains firmly planted in the capitalist universe. In the end, it is Echsenfriedl who has the last laugh, while the nerds, as one can easily deduce, are “doing things” and producing “crowd wisdom” which produces yet more data and more market for the new media business.

The film doesn’t beat around the bush and pretend to give us a solution to this conondrum, but nor does it have to. What it does is that it forces us to think deeper about this conondrum, and the fact that much of today’s romanticized revolutions often go eerily hand in hand with the development of digital capitalism. Few films today, if any, manage to do such a feat.
Baudrillard mentioned, regarding to pornography, that what is being offered is a seduction of not sex but scientism, of objective close-ups, subsuming the real into the hyperreal. Might not the same be said today of prevailing discourses of digital revolution? What is being offered is a seduction not of true change, but of digitalism, of making the real world work more like the computerized world—a subsumation of the real into the computerized. And while on the one hand this may bring about new possibilities of equality, let us not forget that the decentralization of power it offers is a thin veil of power’s evolution as distributed biopolitical control.

(„Die Gstettensaga“ can be seen at various film festivals, hacker cons and on Pirate Bay.)

Bonni Rambatan is an independent critical theorist and cultural researcher with a main focus in digital culture, psychoanalysis, and Left-wing political theory. He has given talks and published writings in various seminars and anthologies in Europe and Asia. A graduate of English Literature, he now studies Management in Creative and Cultural Entrepreneurship at Bandung Institute of Technology, Indonesia. He also actively writes novels and makes films.

Twitter is like Coca-cola

Is “free expression” a right or a product?

If Turkey shut off its market to Coca cola or McDonald’s would there be the same outrage and ridicule we see today? “Wait! Twitter is not Coca-cola!” you cry? Just as Coca cola is not all beverages, Twitter is not the Internet. It is not “free speech” or “free expression”. It is a private company owned by private shareholders, some of the largest players in global finance. What does it mean to complain that people are being deprived of a corporate product worth billions to a handful of global finance investors? Who is generating the contemporary outcry for what purposes?

Is “free expression” a human right or a product of global finance capital? Inversely, is anything which exists outside of global finance capital automatically not free? For all those around the world who believe in the emancipatory potential and the democratic exigency of free expression, and that this can be fostered on the Internet, the technology is there to provide it for everyone. This is a provocative point of Telekommunisten’s Thimbl. Thimbl is a distributed microblogging platform based on Finger, a protocol from the 1970s which is still usable today to provide robust networked messaging around the world. Thimbl is an artwork which proves the point that anyone could implement an alternative distributed global networked messaging system.

The reason a platform like Thimbl is not being used right now to circumvent official Turkish censorship is because it does not have the finance capital investment necessary to be able to provide the extent and ease of services any web-user could use. The web could offer a plethora of federated, distributed, and also publicly- and commonly-owned-and-managed networked messaging platforms, a beautiful, diverse landscape of services whereby users could choose myriad alternative paths to the people they wish to reach or, if desired, broadcast to the whole freedom-loving world.

That monopolistic platforms such as Twitter and Facebook have come to be synonymous with “free-speech” and “free-expression” indicates the conflation of these ideas with “free-trade”. This “freedom of financial expression” is the historical meaning of ‘liberal‘. Resistance to this ‘freedom’ is historically called “conservative”. What we are more likely seeing in Turkey today is a desperate stand of a cabal of (conservative) local oligarchs against a (liberal) insurgent bourgeois with globalist finance capital backing.

Let’s try to disentangle our terms to understand what is really happening so that we can channel our anger to challenge what we truly cannot accept.

emancipation-ists of the world unite!
keep the focus of our indignation
on the right fight
global finance capital
will own our days and nights
until we all can coalesce
our power and insights!

a heavy heaving freedom

This world of high technologies is positively breath-taking, dizzying, ecstatic. The birth of the machine for work was the birth of the machine for pleasure.

The freedom we taste is contingent on a very regimented and domesticated environment. The freedom of the bungee jumper is contingent on the perfectly functioning textiles technology in the bungee cord. If the bungee cord is not manufactured according to stringent disciplinary standards, the freedom of the jump will become its opposite.

From the factory floor to the infinitesimal transistors inside every computer chip reigns an unfree hegemonic regime. Like the soldiers who provide the protective shell within which texts such as this can be ‘freely’ composed and published, the workers assembling computers can have no freedom in their duties. They are entirely subjugated to the demands of their jobs, which are imposed to a large extent by the science of the technology they are assembling.

In other words, we freely use the instruments they produce, and these function reliably because they were assembled exactly according to the rules. There is no place for dissidence on the assembly line. Dissidence would result in malfunctioning technologies.

Similarly, and this is not a metaphor, the chemical reactions inside the computer CPU are slave-like. They have no freedom. Any freedom there is error and sophisticatedly filtered out of sight out of mind . The weaknesses in the production chain produce substandard apparatuses, these are sold at a discount or trashed immediately. We all depend on the slave-like behaviour of the electrons in our circuits submitting to the laws of physics and chemistry.

Such ‘scientific’ laws are entirely abstract. By this I mean that they employ only chemicals which have been abstracted from their ordinary heterogenous suspensions in the atmosphere and in the plants, bodies and earth. These chemicals which behave so reliably must be abstracted from their accustomed habitat, purified and concentrated to the extreme. Often this means that they become deadly poisonous and horrifically polluting, but they behave! They behave marvelously to the beat of the electric current, the tribal drum of the electronic age. The electrons course around like infinitesimal remote controlled ants (or drones) through the circuits delivering charges. Hegemonischer gibt’s nicht!

The ‘creative’ ‘freedom’ we enjoy with computers, manipulating highly abstracted and disciplined images and sounds and texts on our devices, is predicated on unfree practices. This unfreedom is central and compulsory, inexorable to ‘free expression’.

We need, as Evgeny Morozov recently emphasizes, a much deeper analysis of the tricky and morally fraught relationship between techno-industrial unfreedom and social rights. And we need to acknowledge, honestly, scientifically, fundamentally, our continuing beholdenness to traditions of slavery-like unfreeness in the production chains of modernity.

Finally, we need to acknowledge, or at least earnestly envisage that, were programs, strategies and practices to become prevalent which could sustain other less-hegemonic conditions of production, such forms of productions will likely not be able to supply us with the same technological devices, and same techno-scientific vectors we are persistently informed are the unique guarantee of our survival as a species.

We will increasingly need to rely on much more involving and troubling things, possibly somewhat less convenient but potentially even more breath-takingly fulfilling and redeeming. We will need to rely more on eachother.

We can ground the ‘freedom’, especially that which is expressed in the unconditional enjoyment of automated services today, by countenancing the individual and social human legacies inscribed in the materials of the technologies.

Join the NUMBERS community!



When a name is lost, communities and individuals can cease to exist. FEAR OF LOSING NAMES ACTS AS A DISCOURAGEMENT TO GETTING NAMES AT ALL.

The people, not having their own names, use names granted by the CONSCIOUSNESS INDUSTRY, granted only to gain access to the words and images that the people see and share, and to know which people share with each other, these names are granted for the sole reason of TURNING THE PEOPLE INTO AUDIENCE COMMODITY.

THE NAMING OVERLORDS USE THEIR POWER TO REMOVE THEIR ADVERSARIES FROM THE NETWORK MY TAKING AWAY THEIR NAMES. This is a very insidious form of censorship, a theft not only of voice, but of identity.


The NUMBERS COMMUNITY is a clandestine network, disciplined and diligent, dedicated and ready to act. The NUMBERS STATION broadcasts day and night. NUMBERS AGENTS listen and decode the cryptographically encoded messages and act in the name of NAMES FOR ALL.

The NUMBERS COMMUNITY works to overthrow the name system and end their dominance over names on the network.

Good name in man and woman, dear my lord,
Is the immediate jewel of their souls:
Who steals my purse steals trash; 'tis something, nothing;
'Twas mine, 'tis his, and has been slave to thousands;
But he that filches from me my good name
Robs me of that which not enriches him
And makes me poor indeed.