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<nettime> re;wark's review of CAE's book
TONGOLELE on Tue, 10 Dec 2002 00:03:24 +0100 (CET)


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<nettime> re;wark's review of CAE's book


I am very interested in the subject of CAE’s recent publication -- ie 
agribusiness' investment in genetically modified seed and food -- because of 
its role in enhancing neo-colonialist control over poor countries. At the 
same time, I am alarmed by the increasingly overt anti-postcolonial position 
of CAE. Like many other high profile members of the alternative net 
community, they appear to be more and more invested in strengthening their 
theoretical and political position by trashing the tactics and politics and 
expressions of artists and theorists working on issues of identity politics 
and postcoloniality. Furthermore, their insistence on the " newness" of their 
"discoveries" and of colonial tactics suppresses the history of 
anti-globalization struggles in the colonized world prior to the advent of 
net culture. Eduardo Galeano was catologuing  European  colonial manipulation 
of land and indigenous agriculture in the Americas in the 1960s. This 
attitude appears Hardt and Hegri's Empire with its long digressions slamming 
postcolonial thought, and it is the official position of the No-Borders 
movement.  I find this position often emerging in the rhetoric of many 
nettimers. This position  assumes that if race is not a biological fact, if 
it is just "false consciousness", it is not a fact that has to be reckoned 
with. There is no accounting for the persistence of race as a social fact, in 
the sense argued by Durkheim, and no acknowledgement of the continuing sense 
and changing meaning of race as understood by sociologist Howard Winant. 

At a time when racism is rampant in Europe, and when formalism reigns in the 
commercial artworld, this neo-scientistic positivism that claims to have 
transcended race is dangerously useful for conservative entities. The 
rejection of ideology is carried out by BOTH these camps whether they do so 
in concert or not. 

Last week, I was made privvy a grievance brought forth by a renowned 
anatomist who had been the victim of a defamation campaign by the molecular 
biologists who ran his deparment who had denied him recognition and proper 
benefits for over a decade and mischaracterized his work -- all this 
attacking of older forms of knowledge about the body is starting to add up to 
something very insidious - greed, hunger for power is at the root, not truth. 
Fortunately, in the case of the maligned scientist, he won his case thanks to 
support from social scientists and humanists who could perceive evidence of 
prejudice. 

I was recently in Berlin at a conference on the construction of the  ne
o-conservative art historians who dismissed cultural studies work on 
cultural hybridization in favor of a strictly formal focus on on "global 
iconography" (presumed to be inherent mobile and unchanging in meaning) and 
neuroscientists and geneticists present who also lambasted any concern for 
social constructionist theories as "out dated Marxism" served the same end . 
I found myself confronted by scientists who actually wanted me to believe 
that as a Cuban-American I was genetically programmed to dance better than 
white European who didn't sound very different from the Europeans who 
lamented that my discourse was disappointingly "western" (apparently mulatas 
with afros should sound different enough to please their European audiences 
seeking "pure difference") .I was horrified by these obviously determinist 
and eugenically oriented stances. 

The consistent refusal to acknowledge white hegemony in alt.net culture, the 
inability to account for the psychosocial dynamics of rampant xenophobia in 
the developed world as anything other than excessive use of state force (as 
if regular people were not directly involved in everyday acts of racism)  the 
dominance of Eurocentric views of technology as a the guiding light of 
knowledge, and the blind faith in a "better science' to somehow be invented 
by a band of artists who will miraculously work outside the 
military-biotech-entertainment complex strikes me as terrifyingly 
self-serving attempts at discreditation of anti-racist thought or 
distressingly naive.

In earlier publications about electronic civil disobedience,  CAE’s tendency 
was to write off Civil Rights and anti-colonialist derived approaches to 
identity as part of a past that had been "transcended" in the information 
age. That (false) teleology was troublesome, but not as openly 
confrontational as the new position. Nonetheless, were I to accept their 
views, I would be at a loss to comprehend one of the most significant 
examples of the success of grassroots, popular, anti-racist and 
anti-globalization efforts this year – the victory of the Workers Party 
candidate Lula in Brazil’s last election. The tactical media whizzes of the 
developed world with all their musing about rhizomic networks cannot boast 
such an extraordinary feat of coalition building with real ramifications for 
the victims of globalization.

In Wark’s assessment of the CAE book he notes that CAE now suggests that 
postcolonial theory is naively dependent on the notions of racial purity that 
its infatuation with hybridity depends on a literal minded view of hybridrity 
as the mixing of two plant strains. Implicit in this view is the idea that 
all postcolonial theory relies on essentialist views of nature and 
pre-colonial identity.

Nothing could be further from the truth. At no point does CAE attempt to 
address specific postcolonial theories or artworks. Postcolonialism and 
anti-racism become logos without content – straw men set up by white male 
leftists who prefer to foreground ways to negate postcolonial arguments than 
to engage them. The critiques of Documenta 11 that circulated on nettime last 
summer followed the same line. They bespeak a atomistic and positivist view 
of identity as a matter of physical matter, at times manipulated by 
multinational power structures – if only life were that simple! This view of 
hybridity is constantly critiqued from within postcolonial thought and art p
ractice. It is lampooned, unmasked and historicized as a conveniently 
Eurocentric and instrumentalist approach that objectifies intercultural 
interaction and denies psychosocial investment in alterity, whether that 
investment is expressed as fear or desire. BOTH those tendencies are alive 
and well in new media culture and its ambivalence toward bodies, organic 
matter, and social interaction off line and its ludicrous notions of 
psychology. Postcolonial critques of postivist models of hybridity show them 
to be part of the mode of thought that was propagated by colonialism to 
engage in population control and cultural genocide. Long before CAE’s beloved 
seeds were modified by multinationals, the colonized peoples of the world 
were racialized as a proto- genetics experiment, the tactics of which  
included deracination, prolonged internment, systematic torture to induce 
behavior modification, forced miscegenation, forced sterilization, 
involuntary drug testing, the neo-colonial efforts at behaviorist 
"assimilation" , and now, the advocacy by some bio-ethicists that poor people 
in the third world view selling their organs as a positive way of enriching 
themselves. I recommend Robert J C. Young’s Colonial Desire: Hybridity in 
Theory, Culture and Race on this subject as a very astute analysis of 
colonialism as a desiring machine with real effects. Hybridity and Its 
Discontents: Politics, Science Culture, edited by Avtar Brah and Annie E. 
Coombes, is another very good anthology of writings on these issues.

There is no evidence of a naïve belief in racial purity in the work of Stuart 
Hall and the Birmingham School on the social construction of cultural 
identities and the variety of hybrid formations within them, in Homi Bhabha’s 
psychonalaytic views of hybridity as a dialogical interactive process, in 
Roger Barta’s neo-Foucauldian deconstructions of Mexican state supported 
definitions of homogenous national identity or any of the other leading 
proponents of postcolonial thought. What does exist is a formidable record of 
intellectual and artistic endeavor aimed as debunking scientific racism and 
the racist underpinnings of Western liberal democratic structures, including 
their essentialist models of race. Afro-centric thought that is grounded in 
biological determinism is subject to systematic critique by postcolonial 
theorists. So are fundamentalist models of identity emerging from many 
corners of the world, not just Islam. The nationalist cultural  projects of 
many countries in the first and third world that rest of models of identity 
as homogenous and fixed are continuously deconstructed. At the same time, 
some of the most sophisticated assessments of the social engineering of 
multiculturalism by Western liberal democracies, including astute analyses of 
the coincidence of neoliberal models of monetary and information flows with 
posthuman volunteerist models of identity as pure recombination are dealt 
with by postcolonial theorists whose work is never addresses by CAE or any 
other nettime protagonist. How long will you pretend that we don’t exist?

  There are some American artists and very silly art critics who reduce 
hybridity to such positivist models – that is a product of American 
anti-intellectualism and historical amnesia. And there was in the mid-90s a 
hyping in the mass media of bi-racialism, which was used to promote a slew of 
insipid memoirs by the offspring of interracial couples. Most postcolonial 
thinkers I know could read between the lines of this hype quite quickly as a 
continuation of white American fascination with miscegenation, and with the 
literary figure of the tragic mulata. The bicultural "hybrid" figure is more 
marketable, more accessible to white consumers and less threatening that the 
radical alterity represented by dark skin, other tongues and other worlds. 
Jennifer Gonzalez’s work on the transposition of these myths to the cyborgs 
of cyberspace is quite apropos here.

That the current wave of interest in genetics, biotech and neuroscience among 
new media theorists, together with the lingering obsession with purely 
spatial models of power and interaction would lead alt.net cultural 
proponents to a position in which they must systematically search and destroy 
postcolonial thought and practice to expand their hegemonic control of 
discourse on globalization is quite sad. It’s anti-social and anti-human, 
masquerade as trendy post-human cant. Why dont you try to have a 
conversation with the others you are constantly invoking, talking about and 
ghosting in your Disneyland-esque no-border-topias and nomad nomenclatures? A 
more affable approach might also enhance the performative dimension of CAE’s 
sci-fi inspired art practice.

coco fusco
co-moderator, undercurrents

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