www.nettime.org
Nettime mailing list archives

<nettime> Automatism/Autonomy/Virtual Unconscious II
Josephine Berry on Thu, 23 Aug 2001 11:24:53 +0200 (CEST)


[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

<nettime> Automatism/Autonomy/Virtual Unconscious II


M  {AT}  z k ! n 3 n . k u n z t . m2cht . fr3!: Antiorp and the Meaning of Noise

A useful way of figuring the shift from the Freudian subject of modernity
to the subject of biopower is to compare the surrealist emblem of the
automaton with the post-human body of the cyborg. If the former speaks of
the uncanny shock at the innervation of machines and the automation of man
within a Fordist/Taylorist production paradigm, the cyborg is a far more
ambivalent figure. As Donna Haraway explains in her foundational text 'A
Cyborg Manifesto' (18)  the (factitious figure of) the cyborg is the
illegitimate child of 'militarism and patriarchal-capitalism' who far from
falling prey to the 'border wars' over identity (crucially between human
and animal, organism and machine and the physical and non-physical), takes
pleasure in their confusion. (19)  No longer troubled by the melancholy of
a lost 'originary wholeness', the cyborg is "outside salvation history" and
committed to "partiality, irony, intimacy, and perversity".(20)  In her
manifesto, Haraway, who states at the outset that the cyborg is an 'ironic
dream', fantasises a scenario in which the cyborg subverts the apocalyptic
tendency of Enlightenment rationality and converts the destruction wrought
by its categorical determinations into a post-Enlightenment utopia. Like
Negri and Hardt who openly acknowledge the influence of her thinking,
Haraway recognises that the 'binary thinking', against which postmodernists
have long struggled, has ceded to a hegemonic mode of interconnectivity
(i.e. Empire), and likewise predicates the possibility for social
transformation on these flattened social networks. Tellingly, although
somewhat evasively, Haraway poses the multiple, hybrid, centreless figure
of the cyborg in psychoanalytic terms, equivocating that:

"the most terrible and perhaps the most promising monsters in cyborg worlds
are embodied in non-oedipal narratives with a different logic of
repression, which we need to understand for our survival."(21)

Here, what Haraway describes as non-oedipal relates to what, in other
places, she terms 'non-originary'. The cyborg, perhaps comparable to the
Frankfurt School's notion of second nature, is not the result of any purely
'natural', biological genealogy or uniquely individual psychological
development. If anything, its non-oedipal development refers to the
explicitly historical (social/political/technical) conditions out of which
it arises; conditions which cannot be reduced to the quintessential matrix
of the family and its inescapable psycho-sexual repetitions. Haraway's
suggestion of a 'different logic of repression' must lie closer to
Benjamin's idea of an optical unconscious whose derepression can be
similarly effected through technological developments.
Haraway's combination of the cyborg and the non-oedipal narrative finds an
important parallel in the recursive logic of computer programmes as well as
the development of computer technology itself. The media theorist Friedrich
Kittler has illustrated this principle through the transformation in the
production process of microprocessors in the early 1970s. In order to
design the architecture for the first silicon integrated microprocessor,
Intel engineers had to hand draw the blueprint on 64 square meters of
paper. This manual layout of two thousand transistors was then miniaturised
to the same size as the chip and written into the silicon layers using
electro-optical machines. After this momentous event, the hardware
complexity of all ensuing microprocessors demanded that manual design
techniques be dispensed with. Engineers thenceforth used computer aided
design tools (CAD), relying on their "geometrical or auto-routing powers"
to produce the blueprints.(22)  This instance of the self-transformation of
the means of production - a relationship of recursive or iterative
development - goes some way to illustrating what Haraway might mean by
non-oedipal narratives in the context of technoculture. In distinct
contrast to the Oedipal moment in which the father intercedes within the
blissful diad of mother/child to usher the child ineluctably into the
socio-symbolic order, this postmodern non-oedipal 'child' totally recasts
the socio-symbolic field as it enters it from a constantly mutating point
of origin.
This indeterminacy of origins or causality and, by consequence, the
unpredictability of the future is a central aspect of chaos theory and one
whose principles have spread into a wider postmodern social and cultural
logic experienced as the destablisation of epistemological, hermeneutic and
socio-political systems.(23)  It is important to emphasise straight away
that chaos theory proper does not replace the order of determinist linear
systems with the model of 'anti-order' but instead, as N. Katherine Hayles
explains, with the concept of 'non-order'.(24)  That is to say that chaos
theory, although certainly producing a break with the determinism of
traditional Western science, actually posits a 'deterministic chaos':
"Whereas chaos or random disorder simply negates determinism, deterministic
chaos destabilises determinism without rejecting it."(25)  In other words,
although the subject of this chaotic episteme is no longer able to
determine the causality of any event with any certainty, a determining
structure can nonetheless be said to exist. It is this precise paralogy
that the anonymous net artist, usually identifiable by the name Antiorp,
Netochka Nezvanova or Integer(26), is attracted to, and which it approaches
particularly through its play with natural languages and computer
programming languages as well as its disruptive interventions in the
text-based social environments of mailing lists.
In 1998, Antiorp started a campaign of 'spamming'(27)  on a wide variety of
mailing lists ranging from nettime and 7-11, and those set up to discuss
technical matters such as the MAX programming list.(28)  Antiorp has, since
this time, posted to these lists extensively in a specially developed
language termed 'Kroperom' or 'KROP3ROM|A9FF'. This language, in part,
relies on a logic of substitution to reformulate the Roman alphabet's
phonetic system by including all the 256 different characters comprising
the American Standard Code for Information Interchange (ASCII), the lingua
franca of computing. For instance, in the case of a Kroperom word like
'm9nd', the number '9' is incorporated into the word 'mind' such that the
'ine' in 'nine' takes on a phonetic role. But Antiorp's system also extends
beyond purely phonetic substitutions. We can see the broader system of
substitutions more clearly in Antiorp's conversion of the term 'Maschinen
Kunst' into 'm {AT} zk!n3n  kunzt' (the term it uses to describe its oeuvre).
Here, for example, the 'a' is substituted for the ' {AT} ' character, the 'i'
for the exclamation point, the 'sch' or 'shh' sound for a 'zk', the 'e' for
a '3' and so on. Some of these substitutions, which remain fairly constant
within Kroperom, involve finding a key which approximates the inverse of
the original character, so that the 'i' becomes an '!' and the '3' replaces
the 'e' or 'E'. In some cases these substitutions not only involve finding
a close or inverted visual equivalent (e.g. '!' or  {AT} ) but combine phonetic
and visual substitutions in one (e.g. using '3' in place of 'E'). In these
instances we can see how the naturalness of the - in this case - German
language is infiltrated by ciphers and metaphors of computer code.(29) The
exclamation point - which in its new role as the ubiquitous 'i' can
dominate whole lines of text - lends Kroperom an emphatic quality and
transvalues the whole logic of programming's executable command structure
into the oppressive, if comical, tone of the spoken injunction: "do this!
do that!". In the example 'm {AT} zk!n3n kunzt m2cht . fr3!' not only do
numerals and ASCII characters mix with alphabetic characters within the
space of a word, but the unity of the phonetic system is broken by the
logic of different character systems so that the reader is forced to employ
a combination of strategies to decode the script. This heterogeneous style
of encryption and language use not only destabilises the reading process,
but triggers multiple lines of cultural, semiotic, and computational
association. The act of reading becomes a pointedly self-reflexive and, in
the terms of chaos theory, nonlinear experience with each word representing
a junction of multiple systems. This point about self-reflexivity can
doubtless be made of all textual production and consumption to a greater or
lesser extent, but it is important here to emphasis that through, for
example, the substitution of letters for numerals, the script starts to
mimic the functional potential of a programme. In other words, textual
self-reflexivity refers here especially to the computational environment.
The idea that, in a different part of the computer, currently dormant
elements of Kroperom might indeed perform a utilitarian function emerges,
and with it the important question of redundancy or noise.
If we define noise as the elements within a given system deemed
non-significative (i.e. the opposite of information), then we can see
Antiorp introducing noise into linguistic and social environments in
various ways. In a strategy strongly reminiscent of Jodi's work, Antiorp
includes literal fragments of programming languages into their numerous and
lengthy mails, as well as adapting certain programming conventions and
applying them to natural language settings. A mail might include the line
numbering employed in programming to ensure that it can be easily located
and executed in the correct sequence. Including the line numbers in a piece
of written text then is, in one sense, superfluous and noisy because it
does not convey any additional information which further elucidates the
explicit content of the text. But obviously such an inclusion can be very
evocative and, by creating friction against which the reader has to
struggle to extract the meaning of the text, produces a heightened
awareness of the conventions by which 'meaning' is produced and absorbed.
If imagination, understanding and the mediation of ideas is based, in part,
on the exclusion of certain things and the isolation of others - a violent
act of separation or fragmentation of things which might otherwise by
continuous - then the disaggregations of code can be said to bear a
fundamental resemblance to this psychic activity.(30)  In the case of
Antiorp's inclusion of programming gobbledygook in email, not only is the
(machinic) dismembering action of thought exposed through the pollution of
what would normally be artificially presented as pure and self-consistent,
but it also refers to the significance of what is excluded. In short, noise
is only perceived as noise when the definition of information is kept
narrow.
In the following excerpt from a mail posted on nettime on 11th August 1998,
a piece of BASIC code was enciphered such that neither the logic of the
code nor the conventions of prose are kept pure: commands such as 'NEXT
SIDE', 'PRINT' and 'POKE', instead of being paired with numerical or other
programming values are answered, even contradicted by phrases such as
'aesthetic prejudice' or the simple inversion of the command itself:

100 NEXT SIDE                %%%%%%%%%%%%|________|||||||||||EDIS|TXEN=001
110 PRINT "_"                %%%%%%%%%%%|__________||||||||||"_"|TNIRP_011
120 POKE 36879,57           %%%%%%%%|_______________|||||75,97863|EKOP_021
130 FOR X = 1 TO 1000      %%%%%%|___________________0001|OT|1|=|X|ROF|0=
31
140 PRINT "SddS MANIFE$TO" %%%%%%|______________"OT$EFINAM|SddS"|TNIRP|041
150 NEXT X                  %%%%%%%%|_______________||||||||||||X|TXEN_051
200 DATA "NO IMPORTANCE OF ME%%%%%%%%%,"GNINAEM_FO_ECNATROPMI|ON"|ATAD_002
,"NOISNETERP     "MEANING IS%%%%%ECUDORP|OT_SI_GNINAEM"||||||||||||__===
==
"AESTHE,"ECIDUJERP%A%ERA%SCITEHTSEA"|||||||||||__===
====
"Societ  DileD%enoizuliD%iD||teicoS"|||||||||__====
=====
Segnale__[sDDs]"         |_________________|||||||||||||||"]sDDs[__elangeS
300 DATA "Non c' Deve DellI|aznatropmI_'nusseN|alleD|eveD|'c=noN"=ATAD=
=003
SigniDiacitetsESignificat$$$$|______'L|errudorP|otacifingiS"=,"otacifingiS
PretensiDnenoigileR      $$$$$$|___||||||||||||||||||__anU=>"=,"noisnete=
rP
PrejudEHT ROFnYTEICOS",   $$$$$$_||||||||||||||||||,"xirtaM=nU=>=ecidu=
jerP
DILUTION OF              "LANGIS||||||||||||||||||__=========
===FO=NOITULID (31)

This quasi-mirroring of the command prompts, while preserving the form of a
sequence of code, subverts its efficacy and parodies the 'dumbness' of
computers - the fact that computers, lacking consciousness and scrupulously
rule-abiding, will automatically attempt to run even the most absurd
sequences of data. However, the more significant effect here is produced by
Antiorp's use of mirroring which collides semantic systems together through
their mutual illegibility. Whilst the 'average' reader is only partially
able to understand the albeit imperfect code, unlike the computer he/she is
able to identify its inversion on the right hand side of the equation. Were
the code to be run in a programme instead of existing within an email, the
inverted values would be interpreted as pure nonsense. This
complexification of the concept of noise or, rather, exposure of
information's context dependency, is deepened by the discursive setting in
which Antiorp's mail was received. As we can see at the beginning of the
mail, the specific event to which it addresses itself is the following
statement made by the French net artist Frédéric Madre on his own website
Pleine Peau: (32)

"1) hypermedia critics must do it the hypermedia way, or die.

2) forget 2.0: 0.0 is the right direction

3) moderation has to go"

Madre's three proclamations can themselves be seen as a 'call to noise'. In
the first, the demand is made for critics to include hyperlinks in their
texts published online and thereby interrupt the singularity of the text -
and by extension author - through their multiple indexing to other, alien
texts. In the second, the call to preserve the prototype of a software
design (implicit in the use of the numbering system 0.0, 1.0, 2.0 etc) with
its inevitable 'bugs' or imperfections is a plea for the preservation of
noise or a statement on the impossibility of excluding imperfections from
any piece of programming. In the third, Madre's condemnation of moderation
- the term applied to the act of filtering out 'irrelevant' or disruptive
messages sent to a mailing list - is again a demand for another form of
noise. Reposting these demands onto the stringently moderated environment
of nettime (a list which Madre himself left due to his opposition to the
principle of moderation ) could not in and of itself be considered an
instance of noise. After all, the question of moderation had been an
ongoing one on the list. However, the enormous length of the mail, its
often inscrutable encodings, the use of Kroperom, programming fragments
such as BASIC and HTML, as well as long sections of figurative ASCII
design, both theorises and produces noise. The above excerpt from the mail
includes an explicit statement about noise:

 "200 DATA "NO IMPORTANCE OF ME%%%%%%%%%,
"GNINAEM_FO_ECNATROPMI|ON"|ATAD_002,"NOISNETERP     "MEANING
IS%%%%%ECUDORP|OT_SI_GNINAEM"||||||||||||__==="

When converted into plain English and 'cleansed' of noisy additional
characters, these lines include the statements: "data: no importance of
meaning"; "meaning is to produce meaning"; "meaning is produce"; and the
slightly anomalous word "Pretension". When considered alongside an article
by Antiorp, also included in the mail, entitled 'The Science of Noise',
his/her conscious exploration of the principles of chaos theory become
explicit.
According to these principles, since it is impossible to discover the
precise sequence of factors which cause an event (say, the extinction of
the dinosaurs), no contingent factor can be excluded as insignificant.
Baudrillard takes up this point in The Transparency of Evil when,
referencing chaos theory, he states that "we have substituted, for the
reign of intelligible causes, no true chance but a more mysterious
mechanism of interconnections."(33)  This different order is ruled by
'esoteric affinities' or what chaologists call 'strange attractors' which
initiate change in the behaviour of complex nonlinear systems. In light of
these observations it is possible to understand the claim that data or
information does not entail any 'importance of meaning' since it excludes
the contingencies or noise which chaos theory holds as vital to the
understanding of any event. In 'The Science of Noise' Antiorp makes several
references his/her negotiation of a path through the highly instrumental
nature of computer science on the one hand, and the nonlinear dynamics
associated with chaos theory on the other. Defining the 'theory of
computerisation' as "the system of control that equates contingency with
noise" and whose ideal is "to eliminate contingency and maximize control by
the system" he/she understands the role of Kroperom as "redefin[ing] noise
structure as a locus of contingency, absence of subject and linguistic
uncertainty".(34)  In their concluding remarks, Antiorp, in contrast to
Haraway, Negri and Hardt, characterises the logic of the current system as
binary, and proclaims his/her own nonlinear stance to be
'anti-authoritarian', adding:

"Clearly acknowledging the intertextuality that constitutes social and
musical structures as a proliferation of linguistic instability giving rise
to increasingly unintelligible tendencies, KORP3ROM|A955 is a radical
non-centred work mitigating the suspect notion of freedom as the flux of
desire." (35)

In this last sentence we encounter the very nub of Antiorp's project, and
are perhaps equipped to solve the conundrum of his/her aversion to linear
or binary thinking on the one hand, and ambivalent play with ciphers of
fascist ideology on the other. By this I mean that Antiorp uses the term
"M {AT} zk!n3n.kunzt.m2cht.fr3!" (Maschinen Kunst Macht Frei!) to trumpet
his/her own project but also uses the term 'korporat fasc!zt' pejoratively,
to describe fellow mailing list members - especially when they are deemed
to be monetising their creative or intellectual labour. We are left with
the question of whether the alternative to the repressiveness of binary
thinking - nonlinear dynamics; noise; the 'flux of desire' - is really so
liberatory after all. If  the 'suspect notion of freedom' is rejected,
presumably on the basis that it depends upon the legibility of history
and/or the positing of a political telos, what alternative is offered? This
quandary, which arises out of the rejection of Enlightenment thinking, has
long been debated by postmodern theorists. Indeed, in 'The Science of
Noise', Antiorp makes a tacit reference to Lyotard by admitting that
Kroperom is a language game which "is incapable, like science, of
legitimising other language games".(36) At the end of The Postmodern
Condition, Lyotard, demonstrates how knowledge systems or language games
are unable to prove their own validity through recourse to any other
language game but their own, and have thus fallen into a legitimation
crisis. He concludes that any general, overarching consensus between
language games depends upon an illusion whose price in the 19th and 20th
centuries has been 'terror'. In defiance of the false totalisation of
reality under repressive concepts, Lyotard advocates that social justice is
far better served by a constant renegotiation of the rules of all the
various language games:

"A recognition of the heteromorphous nature of language games is a first
step in that direction [the practice of justice]Š.The second step is the
principle that any consensus on the rules defining a game and the 'moves'
playable within it must be local, in other words, agreed on by its present
players and subject to eventual cancellation. The orientation then favours
a multiplicity of finite meta-arguments, by which I mean argumentation that
concerns metaprescriptives and is limited in space and time."(37)

Antiorp, picking up where traditional science leaves off, has taken this
'crisis' as his/her truth moment - one that is darkly enjoyed. Unlike
Lyotard, Antiorp does not appear to be optimistic about the ability for the
contemporary epistemological crisis to provide us with a model of freedom
or, at the very least, a guarantor of relative social justice. Hence
his/her rejection of the 'suspect notion of freedom'.
In Antiorp's play with linguistic and systemic instabilities, we can
identify something similar to the short-circuiting between Id and Superego
described by the Frankfurt School as the mechanism of repressive
desublimation. Antiorp's disruption of social contexts and languages
through the introduction of noise, the production and seeding of a
rationale in which nothing can be excluded as non-significative, works to
undermine the authority and closure of any system - and ultimately, the
consistency of the Lacanian big Other. This sense of polysemic unraveling
evoked by Kroperom can be compared to the increasing sense of social,
scientific and political uncertainty encapsulated in Ulrich Beck's
definition of the 'risk society', which is characterised by our increasing
inability to make decisions based in common sense. The complexity and
specialism of knowledge fields in this 'second Enlightenment''(38)
combined with the logic of deterministic chaos means that it is impossible
to know for certain whether, for example, we really are undergoing global
warming and if indeed we are what we should do to prevent it. In his
discussion of risk society, Zizek describes how it is impossible to gage an
adequate response to such threatening possibilities - either a government
or expert body is seen as scaremongering or covering up.(39) In this
scenario we feel terrorised by the impenetrability, or possible absence, of
the big Other:

"the new opaqueness and impenetrability (the radical uncertainty as to the
ultimate consequences of our actions) is not due to the fact that we are
puppets in the hands of some transcendent global Power (Fate, Historical
Necessity, the Market); on the contrary, it is due to the fact that 'nobody
is in charge', that there is no such power, no 'Other of the Other' pulling
the strings - opaqueness is grounded in the very fact that today's society
is thoroughly 'reflexive', that there is no Nature or Tradition providing a
firm foundation on which one can relyŠ" (40)

Set adrift from Enlightenment rationality, we are now truly 'free' to make
decisions without any external confirmation of what the right choice really
is; a situation in which we are paradoxically not able to chose at all. In
this climate, argues Zizek, choice becomes like an obscene gamble and
destiny is no longer operative. When it becomes impossible to know what to
do, one might as well do anything or nothing. Here we arrive again at the
concept of the virtual unconscious in which the universe appears as some
opaque set of discontinuous, semi-autonomous functions divested of any
unitary, underlying causality or logic. Commenting upon the same condition
of indeterminacy in which "destiny is absent", Baudrillard discusses how
"we know only the signs of catastrophe now; we no longer know the signs of
destiny."(41)  In connection to the same idea he has also remarked that we
"find ourselves in a paradoxical world where what is accidental takes on
more meaning, more charm, than intelligible sequences."(42) In the absence
of clear patterns or order, the universe's dynamics and the unconscious
drives become uncannily consonant, the one ruled by a descent into disorder
(the second rule of thermodynamics is that entropy never decreases) and the
other by the death drive ("the aim of all life is death"(43)). Where the
surrealists wished to free the drives of the Id - the alienated social
content - in a bid to loosen society from its stays of repressive
rationality, Antiorp are enthralled by the idea of a nonlinearity but
reject the idea of freedom in favour of the flux of desire. In other words,
although pitted against the repression of linear rationality, the
experience of a big Other that seems increasingly to mirror the Id (also
characterisable as deterministic chaos) appears to lead Antiorp to reject
any actual possibility of freedom resident in the release of repressed
desires.

____

 18) Donna Haraway, 'A Cyborg Manifesto', 1985, reproduced in The
Cybercultures Reader, eds. David Bell and Barbara M. Kennedy, (London:
Routledge, 2000)
19)  Ibid, p.292
20)  Ibid, p.292
 21) Ibid, p.292
 22) Friedrich Kittler, 'There is No Software', Electronic Culture, p.331
23)  See Ward's The Literary Appropriation of Chaos Theory
24)  See Ibid
25)  Ibid, p.7
26)  Antiorp's failure to appear in person at public events such as The 3rd
International Browser Day Competition, May 2000, Amsterdam or the
Transmediale festival, Berlin, February, 2001, and provision of friends or
colleagues to appear in his/her absence make it conceivable that 'Antiorp'
is a multiple name. Signature domain names such as such as
www.m9ndfukc.com,www.tezcat.com and www.god-emil.dk are also used as means
of identification.
27)  The Foldoc Free Online Dictionary of Computing gives the following as
the primary definition of spam: "1. <messaging> (From the Monty Python
'Spam' song) To post irrelevant or inappropriate messages to one or more
Usenet newsgroups or mailing lists in deliberate or accidental violation of
netiquette." (www.foldoc.org). Spamming, as Foldoc also informs us, can
entail the cross-posting (i.e. to multiple newsgroups) of the same message
such that it is received on multiple occasions by people belonging to more
than one. The term is also applied to the posting of irrelevant or
commercial messages, or junk mail, on newsgroups.
28)  See Michael Kieslinger's 'Who murdered Antiorp?', 1999,
www.crd.rca.ac.uk/~michaelk/crd/essay/essay.html
29)  Kroperom's underlying language is English, but is mixed together with
words and phrases from other European languages such as German, French and
Italian. Often a non-English word is used if it is consonant with the
English word.
30)  Hegel understood imagination and understanding to have a negative
aspect - its 'activity of dissolution', by which they separate what once
belonged to an organic whole into fragments. See Slavoy Zizek's discussion
of Hegel in The Ticklish Subject, pp.28-31
 31) '[madre, (someone), antiorp, madre]', (1August 12, 1998: nettime) op. cit.
  http://pleine-peau.com
32)  Madre left nettime due to the censorship of certain posts he sent
during the war in Kosovo. Private correspondence, (August 14, 2001)
33)  Cited in Ward, The Literary Appropriation of Chaos, p.65
34)   Antiorp, '[madre, (someone), antiorp, madre]'
35)  Ibid
36)  Ibid
37)  Jean-François Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition, p.66
38)  In contrast to the 'first Enlightenment' which sought to bring about a
society in which the fundamental decisions ceased to be irrational and were
grounded on reason, the 'second Enlightenment' demands that we make crucial
decisions which may affect our continued survival without any proper basis
in knowledge.
39)  Slavoy Zizek, The Ticklish Subject, pp.334-47
40)  Ibid, p.336
41)  Jean Baudrillard, The Illusion of the End, p.92, cited in Ward, p.69
 42) Jean Baudrillard, Fatality of Reversible Imminence, p.277, cited in
ibid, p.69
43)  Sigmund Freud in Beyond the Pleasure Principle, cited in Hal Foster's
Compulsive Beauty, October Books, MIT Press, 1997, p.10




the divine diva of websites  ->- www.metamute.com -<- has risen again


                                       * ->- www.ouimadame.org -<- * to follow

#  distributed via <nettime>: no commercial use without permission
#  <nettime> is a moderated mailing list for net criticism,
#  collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets
#  more info: majordomo {AT} bbs.thing.net and "info nettime-l" in the msg body
#  archive: http://www.nettime.org contact: nettime {AT} bbs.thing.net