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<nettime> Principia anaesthetica
Sean Cubitt on Tue, 25 Feb 2003 11:53:38 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Principia anaesthetica

Principia anaesthetica
=46uture dimensions after the vanishing point
[self-annotating manifesto]

"vita brevis, ars brevissima"

If you don't like risk, complexity, flux and change, you came to the 
wrong century.


Something is about to happen: "Something wonderful" according to 
Kubrick and Arthur C Clarke. Or, according to WS Burroughs, "Any 
moment now the entire fucking shithouse is going to explode". Or 
implode (J. Baudrillard). Whatever.

What's great about the future is, no-one knows, because it doesn't exist - y=

	Art isn't dead. But walk into any major museum gallery, any 
fashionable opening, and watch it committing suicide.
New York circa 1960 went high concept about a decade before 
Hollywood. Since then the hottest thing has been to riff on Duchamp's 
=46ountain (What would music be like if we were still trying to fathom 
Cage's silent 4'33"?) - as if the chessmaster hadn't found another 
gambit (Etant donn=E9e). When art started its great enquiry into 
perception and objecthood in 1905, it undertook what philosophy had 
abandoned in the 'turn to language': the philosophical critique of 
modernity. Now the avantgarde is autodeconstructive.
Rejecting the modernism of Joyce, Schoenberg, Mallarm=E9 and the 
Duchamp of The Bride Stripped Bare it rejects difficulty, 
responsibility (to the difficulty of modern life), and craft (an art 
at least as well made as a machine tool).
	And where these persist (in Ian Hamilton Finlay's garden at 
Little Sparta in the Scottish borders perhaps) is the margin.

	Because if you're at the centre, you aren't.

	Because the centre is a point - the dimensionless victim of 
relentless acceleration and the death of distance. Dimensionlessness 
- the catastrophe of speed, the black hole of meaning, implosion of 
the commodity spectacle, empty heart of hyperindividualism, 
windowless monad, singularity, the infinitessimal at the end of 
history: pick your theory. At the centre, Nothing exists.

	The contemporary is always elsewhere

	And where you are, where you can, is the margin

The centre doesn't exist and the future doesn't exist. But we know 
some stuff about What Happens Next. There's a diary of elections, 
international meetings, budget announcements, sporting fixtures, 
opera seasons . . . . New Line have a release strategy for Lord of 
the Rings stretching to 2006. The calendar of Olympics and biennales 
piles up at the feet of Benjamin's angel.

And then we know some other stuff. The oil business will go on 
strangling the seas, slaughtering species and throttling the human 
world. The weather will get stranger.
And this will be the Chinese century. Why else would Microsoft have 
brought forward their handwriting-recognition handheld  as the Next 
Best Thing?

"The third beta (late test) version of Microsoft 2000 included a 
handwriting recognition system that duplicated the functionality of 
the popular PRC product Han Wang. " 
(http://www.usembassy-china.org.cn/sandt/pdms-hw.html). Not content 
with stealing the Chinese code, the entire concept of the MS product 
was propelled forward at least a year by the announcement of the 
NGO-supported, extremely cheap Indian Simputer designed for village 
communication in poor regions with low literacy using universally 
available freeware net code: http://www.simputer.org/

We will only get voice recognition when Africa and Papua New Guinea 
become enticing markets (like we will only get decent batteries when 
the power supply goes feral).

What happens next was meant to be a surprise.

	Someone stole our future.


Coming soon, the informationalization of everything. If you rip and 
burn its DNA, does it matter if the painted apple moth goes extinct? 
Tom Ray's Tierra was meant to model eco-catastrophe. Today it looks 
like a compression algorithm for coral reefs.


Not the least striking quality of digital media and the media arts in 
general is the level of skill involved, indeed required, of the 
artist who wants to make a mark.

Mark-making has a machinery under it for. Designers, engineers, 
offshore parts and construction plants, maquilladoras with their 
broken lives, immense generosity of unnamed barefoot philanthopists 
of code and crystals, the famous and the infamous.

Give, before it is taken from you.

Give back.
(When DG Phalke made the first Hindi films, he apologised for using a 
camera Made in England. Until such apologies are once again 
forthcoming, the idea of a national film industry is shallow, far 
less impressive than digital craft, which few people, beyond an 
occasional funder, care to identify by nation. You could of course 
say we grew up borderless in the web because the web was American, 
but now English has only a few years left as the majority language 
online. The new lingua franca will be written and typically a second 
or third language (Arabic, Mandarin, Spanish, English). What that 
means  for literacy - a paradise of mutation, a hell of instrumental 
jargon, the annihilation of the remaining small languages - becomes a 
political issue in the warmest sense: a question of citizenship in 
the polis, the cosmopolis.


"Biology is destiny" (Freud): As much as the genome drives the 
scientific imaginary, and as much as science is the dominant culture 
of globalization, Freud's crude epigram describes tomorrow's 
cosmopolitan art. Dimensionless again - the only thing worth becoming 
is what you already are ("Neo - You are the One"). When the only 
thing worth looking forward to is the past, the future is only the 
past you discover that you already are - that you were born with.

		And creativity?
will be only the most highly priced commodity in a world of 
proletarianised consumption, where the rest of us poor schmucks have 
nothing to sell but our attention to the screens.
Already in the wind is the de-professionalisation of art and to a 
lesser extent of media. Not that there will be no livelihhods had 
from creative making, but that the amateur can-do spirit of sharing 
is already more significant than the professional gate-keeping of 
schools, galleries, institutions, critics and the artist star-system. 
Unfortunately the proliferating amateur media makers mostly want a 
slot at Sundance. 

Digital tools for creativity - and biotechnical alife tools - can in 
any case be expected to automate gag-writing and plotlines.

How long does it take to train an actor? Say a few carers, a few 
friends, a few teachers, for fifteen or twenty years: about a hundred 
and fifty person years. How soon will synthespians be trainable in 
less? And to give them an environment to observe? Say, something 
scriptable in five years time, but something autonomous, capable of 
reacting, of charming like George Clooney? - - twenty years time?

The  self-generating movie may become a possibility in a handful of 
decades, like the self-generating factory product.

What is harder to imagine is a way of automating the consumption of 
culture. Work, in the old sense of labour sold for a wage, is fading 
from the knowledge economy. What's left is the saleable commodity of 
audience attention, yours and mine.

We're worth paying for only as long as we consume.


Ideology began to fade away in the 1980s, not because we got bored of 
spotting sinister motives in innocent texts, but because there was no 
longer any reason to hide anything. Hollywood-MTV-CNN is an industry 
of hidden shallows. In terms of its ideological ambitions, it aims 
low and misses. Deep structure and concealed messages are only 
redundant functionalities, like the unusable button on the VCR that 
will record on a Wednesday lunchtime halfway to Kingdom Come (but 
only if you don't use it for anything else for the next ten years).

Ideology is added-value. Like a crowded CGI background or the 
never-before-seen extra sequence cut from the release print, it's 
only there to encourage you to buy the DVD.


- if the deeps become shallows
- if the creative becomes automatic
- if attentive consumption replaces factory discipline

	why should we worry about intellectual property?

The copyright owner is rarely an artist. Bertelsman's 2002 relaunch 
of Elvis tells it like it is: copyright is a library, the archive is 
wealth, and the fostering of talent that's claimed as a rationale for 
over-pricing and exploitative contracts a myth.

=46irst privacy disappears.
Then private property.
The web giveth and the web taketh away.

But if there is, as Richard Barbrook says, an internet gift economy, 
the undisciplined consumer cannot just take. Such was the contract 
between the Greatful Dead and their legitimated pirates - give and 
you shall receive. There is no honour among thieves. The trader must 
have something to return: a story, a good luck charm, the name of a 
new god.

The global free market is a lie and a deception. The confrontation of 
the Chinese gerontocracy and their planned economy with the 
ideologists of GATS is the beginning of some strange new world. 
Capitalism is visibly failing. Land reform (Mugabe) and Islam - 
however demonised - flag the beginnings of a revolt of the 

Because, since the Bretton Woods agreement, all debts are paid in US 
dollars, the dollar is over-valued. It was that surplus value that 
created the vapourware dot.com pile-up of the 1990s. Solutions for 
global inequity 1: disestablish the dollar 2. open the borders. Once 
Europe meets its colonial past at home instead of on the tourist 
beach, it will find reasons to develop the underdeveloped world.

Arts and media communicate, but in the 21st century e-cash 
communicates universally. The new culture can no more afford to be 
economically illiterate than it can afford to be digitally innumerate.

The old modern politics was conducted in a geography of exclusion. 
Today global flows maintain, corrupt and decimate nations whose 
politicians cling to the last vestige of power: the chance to attract 
more global flows. Distinguishing politics from economics has become 
impossible. Politicians merely mediate money and power - that 
inevitably come from elsewhere and go elsewhere - and are mediated by 
them. The more globalisation binds all humans (and all environments) 
together, the more communication becomes inevitable, and the more it 
is mediated.

Money and power are becoming media.


Ideas are money and money is an idea. Information wants to be free 
but is everywhere traded in the marketplace. The global mediascape is 
our new planet. Anyone not in the information society is left to die 
on the old, brown, desolate place abandoned in the rush to the data 
economy, no longer ghost towns or rustbelt regions but the tragic 
continents of agriculture and manufacture.

Neither creating nor consuming the information economy, Africa is 

All art, all media in the 21st century must confront this actuality 
or be condemned to the depthlessness of entertainment.


The 19th century avantgardes wanted to make artworks that would 
escape the clutches of the old - and became collectible. The 20th 
century avantgardes wanted to make techniques that would be 
unrecuperable by the old - only to see montage, surrealism, even 
conceptualism become advertising and branding.

	No work and no technique is of itself radical, progressive or 
good. Only the relentless pursuit of works and techniques other than 
those that existed before is worth the effort, and even then in the 
knowledge that as soon as it is public, it becomes the property of 
Madison Avenue (further proof of the fallibility of the intellectual 
property argument).

	The Walker Gallery archive of net.art is  emphatic - what it 
shows is no longer 'art' but a history of art. It is an honesty all 
galleries should have.

	The phrase 'finished work' is no longer applicable to 21st 
century art. If it is finished, it is over, a museum piece. And even 
the unfinishing has been relieved of the burden of art by advertising.

	The arts of the 21st century are radically ephemeral. 
(further reason for the failure of 'ownership' to account for art)


and radically social. C21 can no longer afford individual artists, 
not just because the tools are already the congealed form of all the 
workers who made them but because the studio is no longer a garret 
but Paramount c. 1939.

The most significant modes of media are now, like games, CDs and 
graphic novels, collaborative. P2P and Open Source contest the 
privatisation of biotechnology, the individuation of destiny.

The individual - crown of creation from renaissance perspective to 
Romanticism to the guitar heroes of the 1960s - is now a museum piece 
along with the art it made. The individual that remains is only a 
temporary node in a shifting network of communications. That, or the 
micro-unit of increasingly precise target marketing. The family 
imploded under the weight placed on it in the destruction of the old 
communities. Now it is the individual's turn.

Anonymity is no longer James Joyce's choice ("silence, exile and 
cunning") but the necessary condition of any making.

After the end of geography and history.
						Because new corporate 
media will be increasingly transnational, the new art will be 

The only art that looks like art that's still worth looking at comes 
from the geographical or social margins where the traditions have not 
been mined out and the contradictions still play. The rest of us have 
to invent new margins, and learn from the old margins what is most 
unwanted by the art system. Art itself has to vanish if it is to get 
through and beyond the vanishing points of the spectacle, 
hyperindividualism and the cybernetic black box.

After the work, after the technique, the new art is the invention of 

At the margins of exclusion, of relentless innovation, of the 
perpetual building of vehicles for escape from the boredom of the 
professionalised centre, there can be no vanishing points.

Only moments of becoming.


Either we are alone in the cosmos, or no-one wants to talk to us, or 
they are talking but we aren't listening.

If Islam can't hear  the voice of the West and the West won't listen 
to Islam - if we cannot establish intercultural dialogue - what hope 
of talking with another species? What could we possibly have to say?

Either we learn to hear when our organic and technological sidekicks 
on the planet try to talk or the universe may never experiment with 
consciousness again.

Our planet and our own species are dying. The future has  already started.

We had better get ready to change.

Sean Cubitt

Sean Cubitt * Screen and Media Studies * University of Waikato * 
Private Bag 3105 * Hamilton * New Zealand * seanc {AT} waikato.ac.nz * T: 
+64 (0)7 838 4543 * F: +64 (0)7 838 4767

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