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<nettime> notes on the operational condition
Jordan Crandall on Tue, 5 Oct 2004 10:56:27 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> notes on the operational condition

Notes on the operational condition

Jordan Crandall

I am thinking of that construct that Etienne-Jules Marey launched into 
action with the firing of his "photographic rifle" in the early 1880s. 
Resembling, as it did, the weapon of a soldier or hunter, his camera-gun 
was a contradictory device, poised in the air to capture its prey by 
arresting it in the encodings of a photographic surface.  The rifle was 
ultimately harmless, of course, geared to preserve rather than destroy -- 
although one could say that, in the years to come, it was the photographic 
apparatus that emerged the victor.

Fast forward to the 1950s.  During this decade, a radically new kind of 
organizational and representational complex began to emerge.  It was 
driven by the development of digital computing, especially as it was 
integrated into military command, control, and communications systems. 
However like all camera-gun and weapon-tool formations, this "operational" 
complex was not shaped by technology alone.  It was shaped by the demands 
and discourses of the defense economy.  It was shaped not only by 
computationally-driven tools and techniques, but the 
symbolic-communicative practices and uses that surround them.  It was 
shaped by the positions and qualities of a subjectivity that was 
integrated and adjusted to such arrangements.

The analytical tradition of Marey continues, within a triumphant new 
technological-semiotic support.  Today, in computationally-driven Western 
cultures, we are no longer seeing phenomena as primarily framed through 
the mechanism of the camera.  We are seeing it through the combinatory 
processing grid of the operational construct.


This operational construct is difficult to envisage.  It can be 
distinguished from more conventional forms of representation through its 
aesthetics of processing.  It registers a computer-mediated vision and a 
degree of machine intelligence, often with calculations distinctly visible 
on its image-field.  We are not simply speaking about an image however. 
One should resist understanding the operational construct solely in terms 
of representation, for images provide only one window onto its mechanics. 
One should also resist understanding it in terms of a computer interface, 
for interfaces provide only one window onto its larger mechanisms.  One 
should also resist understanding it as a military phenomenon. 
Operational constructs have developed in the context of media development, 
in a circuitous relation with spectacle culture, whether in terms of news, 
special effects, navigational devices, or interactive games. They have 
arisen out of the conditions of mediatization that enabled them, as they 
have informed the development of spectatorial regimes.

I want to position this construct in such a way that it circulates across 
military and media culture as part of a larger historical discourse on 
technology, culture, and power in the West -- visible in the fields of 
computer science, economics, media studies, or an emerging culture of 
navigation and "location awareness." I want to position it in such a way 
that it complicates divisions between military and civilian, proprietary 
and public, surveillance and shopping -- providing a way that 
militarization and media culture can be held together in new assemblages, 
new objects for critical attention.

Such an endeavor is urgent given the contemporary coupling of military and 
media industry.  Western military expansion is occurring at a moment when 
the armed forces are increasingly assuming the role of protector and 
securer of global business investments.  This has enabled unprecedented 
alliances between the military and the media-entertainment industries, 
whose lucrative contracts depend upon political support.  News media 
corporations are directly involved in profiting from the sale of those 
commodities on which they report -- for example, marketing such products 
through their websites -- to the extent that news has become a profit 
center.  It is a profit center that demands new and constant dangers for 
reportage and commodification.

Since 1980, the two-cycle (AM/PM) basis for news delivery has been 
gradually replaced by a relentless 24-hour news delivery cycle that seldom 
looks back. It fuels a constant battle for attention-space, where the 
whole of reality is transformed into a DRAMATIC STAGE FOR ALLURING 
CATASTROPHES.  Here there is no time to remember, because the next crisis 
-- always imminent -- demands our full vigilance.  Battle simulations, 
television shows, and interactive games inhabit a mutually-reinforcing 
system of marketable threats and protections.  There is nothing outside of 
this system, and especially as it is increasingly able to tap into the 
deeper mechanisms of the psyche, where danger is eroticized.  Exacerbated 
by a wholesale triumph of spectacle culture, where reality is ever more 
intricately defined through the control of appearances, the boundaries 
between media spectatorship, combat, and shopping are eroding.


     A pilot is flying an aircraft during a combat situation in Iraq.
     It is flown jointly, by an operator in the cockpit as well as by
     operators on the ground.  We are watching the scene as if
     through the cockpit window.  Computer calculations are
     arrayed on the image-field.  We see through the pilot's eye,
     but we also see through the viewpoint of the larger command
     network in which the pilot is embedded.  The pilot is one
     actor within a distributed agency that combines humans and
     machines.  Our viewpoint is momentary converged with that
     of the piloting agency. We are placed in position, momentarily
     aligned with this operator, sharing its perspective, hailed as
     subjects within its operational world.  The news clip ends.
     The news anchor appears.  She meets our gaze and
     addresses us in terms of a collective "we."

We can define the operational construct as follows.  It is an assemblage 
of computer-assisted operations through which objects are analyzed, 
tracked, and negotiated, in order to facilitate an arrangement of power. 
It helps to orchestrate a perceptual coordination, positioning its 
subject-objects within a determined situation whereby an operation of 
enforcement is conducted.  It helps to structure a field of representation 
and a mode of attention that is particular to it.

Following Foucault, we can say that it is a regulatory mechanism for the 
structuring of experience. As it seeps into general use, it carries with 
it a way of modulating and constructing discourses that define a field of 
objects -- whether friend or enemy -- and a subject adequate to know them. 
It becomes a model for thought and identification, a source of new 
concepts and metaphors, and an agent of material transformation.  These 
need to be understood in a political relation.  Think, for example, of way 
that one is compelled to adopt a position of extreme vigilance -- to 
"track" or scan rather than simply see -- in the reporting of "suspicious 
activity" at an airport.  It is a machine-aided process of perception and 
knowledge accumulation, embodied in practice, that is bound up within the 
demands of an emerging security regime. Seen in this light, we could say 
that operational constructs play a role in producing the situations that 
they seem only to anticipate.  They deliver images of the very system of 
conflicts that they help to maintain.

By looking carefully at this construct, with an eye toward the conditions 
of its formation and its relationships to other computing and 
representational paradigms, one is compelled to ask:  to what extent is it 
becoming a CONDITION?  If the operational construct plays a role in the 
construction of "the enemy" and the stabilization of ally/enemy 
distinctions, then it participates in the generation of a new type of 
subjectivity -- a form of self-reference, or self-medialization, which is 
defined in response to a desired and feared Other.

Such awareness opens up possibilities for political intervention -- 
understanding the forms of opposition to this orientation that are 
emerging in the globalized world.  For the operational construct is only 
one "window" onto reality.  There are other constructs that counter it, 
and for which, by its very nature, it is unable to account.  It is 
powerless to envision terms of engagement that do not operate according to 
its logics.  It can only assign them to the realm of the barbaric or 
irrational: that which lies outside of its license on reason.

One can regard the eruption of violence as the result of the lack of 
political process within which these alternative constructs can be heard.


     A soldier on the ground in Iraq is calculating coordinates
     for a strike using laser binoculars and a GPS device.  He
     transmits them via satellite to the Joint Operations Center
     in Qatar.  Command personnel in Qatar check the
     information against digital maps made from satellite
     photographs, determine the coordinates for the strike, and
     then relay the coordinates via communications satellite to
     the pilot of a B-2, into whose missile guidance system they
     are fed.  The launched missile is corrected in flight by a
     GPS satellite. A combinatory agency has emerged through
     this coordination and command network, spanning spatial
     distance and merging information from multiple sources.

The operational construct is a product of the drive to eliminate the 
intervals between observation, analysis, and engagement and thus to 
generate an improved KNOWLEDGE-ACTION-TIME.  One could see the entire 
history of military development as having been driven, in one way or 
another, by this need.  Since 1950s, it has led to an emphasis on 
automation over manual labor since it is believed that only advanced 
technological systems are capable of dealing accurately and consistently 
with the calculations and extremely complex demands of battle situations 
-- particularly within the potentially devastating warfare scenarios of 
the Cold War period, when there was thought to be no time for human 

The operational construct is a contemporary manifestation of this 
historical drive.  It is motored by the need for an instantaneity of 
action, where time delays, spatial distances, and "middlemen" are reduced 
through computational systems that facilitate the sharing of human and 
machinic functions.  The integrated networking of the new generation of US 
military systems allows sensors, weapons, communications systems, 
commanders, and soldiers to be linked into one computing grid.  A new form 
of agency emerges within this coordination and command network.  One can 
see "unmanned" vehicles in this light, especially those that are armed: 
they are constructs that are shaped, in system and in material form, by 
the drive to collapse the distance between sensor, analyst, and shooter, 
through various systemic adjustments and relocations.

The operational construct "warps" space and time and links multiple actors 
as if they were one.  A combinatory field of perception arises within a 
distributed field of shared functions.  This intertwining of human and 
machinic capacity, in the generation of a combinatory field of perception, 
is part of the historical development of media itself.  In cinema, the 
spectator and the cinematic apparatus are mutually dependent in the act of 
conducting representation. One must be trained to behave and see in 
accordance with the conditions of the device. The viewer is immobilized 
and sensitized to a language of movement through which an extensive world 
is understood.  The human becomes reliant upon the apparatus that 
populates its field of vision, adjusting to the rhythmic codes of its 
conveyance, as the apparatus is reliant upon the sensorium of the viewer 
for its actualization. A perceptual capacity and a signifying apparatus 
emerges through an integration of human and machine.

We can say that, in a spectatorial or immersive situation, a subject is 
"distributed" within a field of engagement determined through 
technological systems of communication, storage, sorting, and retrieval, 
contoured under the social and institutional construction of knowledge. 
A viewing subject is linked or inserted into larger networks of seeing and 
linguistic meaning, and a decentered or multi-nodal self emerges. It is 
accompanied by experiences of disembodiment and incipient presence; 
experiences of mobility and translocality; experiences of prosthetic 
extension and liberation through machines.  One can regard the history of 
popular media development in terms of adjustment, coordination, and 
acclimation -- whether television, console games, Internet, or mobile 
media.  It is the history of technologized perception and presence.

This history can be seen in terms of automation. Since the 1950s and 
1960s, with the emergence of digital computing and the disciplines of 
artificial intelligence and cognitive psychology, the idea that visual and 
cognitive faculties can be automated began to take root.  However, I am 
less interested in a specific history of automation than about the larger 
migrations of cognition within which the history of automation is 
intertwined.  For example, by the 1960s television was already on its way 
to becoming, as it has today, a machine for the automation of thinking. 
Reflecting the viewer's own thought process, it develops its own 
conventions of simulated deliberation, absolving the viewer of the labor 
of decision-making -- as when a laugh track allows one to maintain a 
relaxed composure while the machine assumes the labor of chuckling.  At 
the extreme end is the figure of the "couch potato," whose body is 
hollowed out by the apparatus as the televisual "smart image" assumes 


     An Olympic sports event appears on television.  On
     the corner of the screen, a digital readout clocks the
     timing of the runners as they cross the finish line.  The
     winner, formerly determined by eye, it is now gauged
     by the machine.  It is measured in tenths of seconds --
     differences that unaided vision can no longer determine.
     The machine has become an actor in the drama --  the
     contestant that one primarily competes against.  Even
     though we do not "play" this game, or access this
     situation directly, we are subjected to an operational
     condition that has helped to structure our way of seeing it,
     and the conventions of representation that are normalized
     in its actualization.  We are part of the agency that
     "keeps track."

The operational construct is a specific orientation of media history -- 
one that orchestrates a distribution, relocation, and integration of 
perceptual, communicative, and storage faculties in such a way as to 
produce an arrangement of power.  Through machine-human-discourse 
integrations, the operational construct is that which helps to coordinate 
perception, situating its subject-objects within an enforcement grid.

One might locate two pathways that are intertwined with its development. 
The first pathway is that of the analytical tradition of Marey, which gave 
rise to the technical underpinnings of the cinematic medium itself.  This 
tradition involves an analytical probing into the phenomenon of movement 
in order to quantify and account for it.  It is a scientific axis of 
delving into the realm of the invisible -- that which is too fast, too 
small, too obscure for the unaided eye to see -- in order to strip the 
object of its secrets.  The second pathway, which we could locate at the 
origin of aerial photography, is that of the panoptic tradition:  the 
simultaneous development of an all-encompassing, objective gaze that 
assumes power over this moving object, via its representation.

These two pathways -- which can be understood in terms of scientific 
analysis and spatial control -- are DIMENSIONS of media development, which 
can be understood in terms militaristic or not.

Whether in terms of this micro or macro tradition (which are not 
discrete), the larger impulse I want to locate is that of the controlling 
gaze that moves from TRACKING motion to ANALYZING its components to 
DETECTING pattern to STRUCTURING action to negotiating SIGNIFICANCE, all 
for the benefit of ASSUMING POWER over a moving object by way of its 
representation, in both a material and discursive sense.  And again, this 
has involved escalating time pressures contoured under an economy of 
threat, moving toward a reduction of the intervals between detection, 
analysis, and engagement.  In everyday life it is visible in such impulses 
as "keeping track," when one needs to account for a moving object in the 
most precise terms as to assert control over it, to manage it, lest it 
become unruly and threaten unproductivity, inconvenience, or "wasted 

As clusters of tools, procedures, and metaphors, technologies configure a 
platform for discourse and ideology.  This analytical-panoptic tradition, 
intertwined with the development of computing technologies, has led to the 
generation a particular technological-semiotic support:  a way of 
ordering, making sense of, and communicating one's position and 
orientation vis-a-vis the represented, contoured under an 
institutional-discursive paradigm.

The operational image -- heir to this tradition -- acts as a window onto a 
computational process, as if part of an instrument panel.  Its conditions 
of figuration are driven by the systematic, logical rules of computing, 
where it is understood that everything -- warfare, ground realities, 
markets -- can be formalized, modeled, and managed.  The processing 
activity and notations that are visible on the image-field arise out of, 
and compel, a figuring of reality as mathematical and "capturable" through 
a formal programming logic.  It registers the imposition of the human will 
to dominate an unruly or unproductive reality, over and through the 
machine, and therefore carries with it an intoxicating sense of control. 
Within the perfect world of the operational system, reality is subsumed 
within the dictates of the interface.  By the very nature of the system, 
the sense of mastery and control through logical computational procedures 
establishes a de facto power relation between observer and observed.

Such a technological ensemble is modifiable -- politics make it possible 
-- yet it has political orientations built into its system.  It is not 
only the technology and its use, in other words, but the assumptions and 
orientations that come bundled with it.  Computational techniques of 
analysis and simulation, along with a reliance on mathematical 
formalization and technological rationalism (over cultural and historical 
understanding) as a way to solve global problems, have contributed to an 
experience of the world as a predictable, manipulable entity, leading to a 
sense of dominance over the future.  That which does not play according to 
these terms is othered -- or Orientalized -- as irrational or primitive.

One could describe this orientation as "militaristic," yet it is also 
shared in the worlds of science, marketing, and videogaming, for example. 
In the mediated relation between viewer and viewed, a power relation is 
always inscribed. Mastery through the realm of representation has a long 
history, often equated with parochialism and the orientation of the 
pornographic.  It is the gaze that calls nature to offer up its secrets, 
and the procedure through which empirical knowledge is attained:  the 
stance of the researcher; the explorer; the seeker of truth.  A sense of 
mastery is generated through the contemporary media apparatus, where the 
media spectator is infused with an artificial sense of control over the 
machine and an exterior world represented on the screen.

The object of viewing is dissected, subjugated.  So is its subject.  The 
drive toward real-time engagement -- that is, the drive to narrow the 
intervals between observation, analysis, and engagement and thus to 
generate an improved knowledge-action-time -- operates bi-directionally. 
It operates both on the object and subject of viewing as both are 
integrated with machinic systems.  As the military apparatus endeavors to 
AIM, so is the viewer-consumer AIMED AT.


     A user of a GPS-enabled mobile device is navigating
     unfamiliar terrain.  Rather than a hostile territory, an
     unproductive and unruly one is engaged, in order to
     transform it into a space that can be controlled,
     represented, and traversed.  A destination is chosen in
     order to fulfill a need, whether for pleasure or service,
     shopping or logistical support.  Individually-tailored
     enticements appear on the screen. We are potential
     consumers in a location-aware landscape -- targets
     within the operational interfaces of the marketing world.
     Many interfaces open onto, and help construct, this
     given situation.  We inhabit these combinatory and
     often contradictory spaces in situations of utility or
     control, accessing and accessed through the situations
     displayed on the screens.

The tracked object is placed on a GEO-TEMPORAL GRID, and the coalesced 
subject is placed on an IDENTITY MATRIX.  Both involve a positional grid, 
whether in the sense of navigation or identity.  Think of the new 
paradigms of production, which involve the narrowing of the intervals 
between conception, manufacturing, and distribution:  the "production on 
demand" or "just in time" delivery models that have aimed toward 
instantaneity in shopping and media-entertainment development, in order to 
shrink the delays between detecting an audience pattern and formatting a 
new enticement that can address it.  Through navigational and locative 
media, information from buying habits, travel locations, and audience 
demographics can be integrated into one comprehensive system, which aims 
to target viewer-buyers at the one-to-one level.  The viewer-consumer is 
targeted within a demographic or marketing grid.

Such escalations are welcome in the name of convenience, portability, and 
safety.  Bringing the body up to speed through technological augmentation 
-- "better living through technology" -- has always been a key trope in 
modern Western consumer culture, from the high-tech kitchens of the 1960s 
to the cyborg fantasies of contemporary fiction.  It has always coalesced 
against a field of inefficiency and danger.

Time has always been of the essence.  For both the military and the 
civilian observer, there is no "time" for reflection.  In the military 
realm, reflection adds time and space in which the target might slip away. 
It expands, not lessens, the gap between detecting and intervening, 
sensing and shooting.  In the popular realm, slowness -- the stuff of 
reflection and deliberation -- is to be avoided, instantaneity prized. 
American media culture is one of impatience and immediacy.  For the 
former, reflection is distributed and automated toward the goal of 
controlling the object; for the latter, it is distributed and automated -- 
some would say evacuated -- for the goal of controlling the subject. 
However, again, we are talking about a symbiotic relationship as both 
subject and object are mutually intertwined within the combinatory 
human-machinic realm.  And yet the analytic-panoptic vector is about 
acquiring a position of mastery through an omniscient distribution of the 
gaze:  a controlling gaze that is everywhere yet nowhere, and which 
acquires power solely because of this amorphousness.

The drive toward real-time engagement is haunted by the fundamental 
problems of representation, which concern the illusory correspondence 
between model and reality and the impossibility of eliminating the 
referential gap.

If the gap cannot be closed, can it be "overstepped"?  The drive toward 
simultaneity has led to the development of new formats of prediction and 
simulation -- the formal modeling of closed systems and the development of 
highly sophisticated scenario planning techniques.  With computers forming 
the base for strategic thought, the world is modeled as a formal machine, 
subject to its determining logics. The image becomes too slow, too 
cumbersome.  Lagging behind, it can only move ahead of the real.  The 
future is modeled as a probable construct not only in order to anticipate 
events, but to mold realities to fit it.  In a sense, there exists a 
probable construct -- a kind of idealized scenario -- that stands in 
relation to reality as its TENDENCY.  It configures as a STATISTICAL 
INCLINATION, which hovers like an ideal form awaiting a reality that will 
fill it.  It becomes a silhouette that models future positions, a ghostly 
forebear into which reality flows.  Think of the DARPA futures market that 
was recently proposed -- a system whereby investors could bet on the 
probable occurrence of eruptive global events, with the idea that markets 
could anticipate such events.

One could also think of the ideology of pre-emptive war itself as an 


Again, I am focusing on a construct of control and looking at popular 
media through its lens.  I am not focusing on media in general, which as 
we know, is not only about control.  And yet, control is internalized. 
It filters into the popular realm.  One could posit a bidirectional, 
combinatory subjectivity: an OPERATIONAL SUBJECTIVITY that emerges through 
this distributed capacity of analysis, communication, and engagement -- 
seeing, knowing, acting.  We might also refer to it as a "militarized 
subjectivity." As media-entertainment viewers, we align with it, as if 
operating the image-apparatus through its agency.  It is a subjectivity in 
which we can unwittingly take part -- especially as deliberation is 
"automated" -- as we align with its ontology of friend/enemy division. 
(Again, we are talking about human-machine-discourse integrations that are 
not only about technologies themselves, but the symbolic-communicative 
practices and uses that surround them.)  We refer to ourselves in its 
terms; we place self and other according to its categorizations.  In the 
US people often evaluate films in terms of their opening weekend revenue 
rather than their content. Everyday passersby speak of "targeted 
neighborhoods."  We choose between the categorizations and distinctions 
that it offers, such as us or them, democracy or fundamentalism.

Who aims, who is aimed at?  We have a diligent OPERATOR, situated within a 
command network, who is engaged in the activity of tracking, identifying, 
positioning, targeting, or intercepting of an object of hostility, and 
whose position is known within a command network (or by the enemy).  We 
have a diligent OBSERVER, who watches according to the codes of media 
reception and whose proclivities and buying histories are databased.  We 
have a diligent NAVIGATOR who uses a device for pinpointing a trajectory 
within a location-aware navigational system that offers up 
individually-tailored enticements.  When the observer is the "site" of 
operation, it becomes the operational construct's "object."  The operator 
would then constitute the target rather than the tracker.

However, a combinatory operational subjectivity would suggest that we 
target ourselves.


     A videogame player is leading a group of soldiers
     in a battle simulation.  The simulation is a
     commercialized version of a military training program
     called Full Spectrum Warrior.  Controlling the joystick,
     we are placed directly in the driver's seat. This operator
     is a combination of real and fictional entities, in virtual
     conflict scenarios that are based on real ones. Assessing
     a potentially dangerous situation, we call in support and
     prepare to attack.  We  feel a rush of adrenaline; our
     heartbeat quickens. There is no denying the thrill that
     we feel from this adventure.

The operational construct is geared toward penetrating through the scrim 
of appearances to get at the "core" of a phenomenon, as if it could close 
the referential gap.  It must strip away the layers of mediation to probe 
into the object's hidden truth.  One could say that this impulse to probe 
beneath the layers of signification and the play of differences, to get at 
the "real thing" itself, is shared in contemporary media culture's 
"passion for the Real" -- played out in the adventure factor in military 
recruitment advertisements, immersive games, and extreme sports, as well 
as the popular aesthetics of rawness and unfiltered immediacy in 
surveillance-entertainment.  A widespread cultural mistrust in the image 
compels the development of new forms of accuracy.  The reality television 
show or the embedded reporter dispatch is somehow more authentic, more 
real, to a television viewer accustomed to the tricks of the trade.

As Lacan defines it, the Real is the hidden fantasmatic underside of our 
sense of reality, which cannot be assimilated into the symbolic order of 
language or into the domain of shared images.  It provides the fundamental 
support of reality, yet it cannot be incorporated into it.  To attempt to 
accommodate it is to enter the domain of contradictions, where violence 
can be both horrific and pleasurable, and where surveillance can be 
voyeurism. It is the place where violence and sexuality share a common 
impulse: what Bataille describes as an intense longing for an integration 
that could only mean dissolution and death, and hence which embroils us in 
an endless cycle of contradictory compulsions.  In this sense, the site of 
battle is not only the place of violent contestation, but, as Klaus 
Theweleit would say, the site of the body's resistance to the threat of 
its self-disintegration.

In this dimension there is a jouissance that is felt in the catastrophe, 
or in the anticipation of the catastrophic eruption -- an illicit, 
excessive life-joy, an unconditional life-affirmation, irresolvable in 
terms of symbolic reality or the realm of appearances.  It is the realm 
where one secretly thrills to the potential spectacle of crime, and where 
danger is not only avoided but secretly COURTED.  It flourishes in the 
disaster imaginary and the criminal unconscious.  One experiences its 
contradictions when one feels a "morbid curiosity" -- when, present in the 
aftermath of a violent act, we have to look, but we don't want to see. The 
possibility of danger is a constitutive element of attraction: it is the 
lure of the unattainable, the unpredictable, the incipient, the dangerous 
web of intrigue that pulls us into the videogame.

For the operational construct, such an admission is tatamount to defeat. 
The operational orientation is that which cannot allow the possibility of 
surrender -- that is, of succumbing to desire.  Even to acknowledge a 
voyeuristic impulse is already to admit that one can be "taken in."  It is 
understood as a form of weakness, especially in terms of the aggressive, 
masculine, warrior stance that is pervasive in military and gaming 
culture. The "thrill" of shooting and killing can be felt privately but 
not addressed publicly.

Yet objects coalesce not only in ways that can be justified in terms of 
surveillance, concern, or hostility -- they also coalesce as unexpected 
sites and unfathomable situations that Lacan would call SUBLIME OBJECTS, 
impossible-real objects of desire.  Rather than confronted in these terms, 
of course, these often coalesce into EXCESSES TO BE ELIMINATED, introduced 
within the targeting grids of the operational construct itself.  The 
object that coalesces within its determining grids is that which is 
BECOMING-RESOLVABLE -- that which is in the process of being held 
accountable to its terms.  It is the object in the process of being 
materialized as controllable, persecuted in the name of the law, defended 
against in the name of threat, contested in the name of propriety.  It is 
a defense against some aspect that threatens to surface and disrupt the 
separations upon which reality is built, and therefore undermine its very 

The determining grids of the construct are those of both pleasure and 
punishment.  At times we can glimpse both at work, such as in the first 
shock of the voyeuristic denigration at work in the images of Abu Ghraib, 
before it began to be stabilized in the realm of representation and 
discourse.  We have to glimpse it in its instantaneity, before it is 
worked through in the realm of appearances and made targetable.

Therefore, while we have defined the operational construct an apparatus of 
control that functions in terms of an analytical-panoptic tradition of 
observation, we also need to foreground the libidinous mechanisms that are 
always behind the mechanisms of control.  In addition to a formulation of 
the operational construct as an instrumental, technical-discursive 
assemblage that enacts a vector of power, we can add an axis of INTENSITY 
or AFFECT.  What I want to locate here is an axis of intensity that 
underlies the symbolic register, continually confounding politics of 
representation. It cannot be harnessed, but nonetheless must be intuited, 
ventriloquised, acknowledged.  It is a necessary dimension of any study of 
a combinatory operational subjectivity, for it allows us to account for 
non-linguistic or non-representational phenomena such as devotion, belief, 
desire, and dignity.  It is a necessary dimension to acknowledge in any 
study of operational constructs, in order to avoid an exclusive emphasis 
on semiotic meaning.  In addition to the meaning of a phenomenon, one must 
endeavor to account for its MOTIVATING POWER.  Meaning is often pressed 
into service of an even more fundamental intensity of belief. 
Intensities will always trump semantics -- they will mold meanings to 
their own ends.

Although this dimension of intensity and affective engagement is not 
representational, it is, following Deleuze, "gradated" by representation. 
Its figures and pathways cross beneath the images of the world and 
underlay the vectors of perception.  It is played out with the realms of 
fantasy, folklore and the news, and projected into the realm of the exotic 
or the grotesque, and of course, harnessed in the fields of marketing. 
It is projected into the realm of consumer goods and images, aimed at 
creating economies of desire that are often couched in the language of 
protection. These economies aims to "save" the consumer from 
inconvenience, wasted time, and threat through the marketing and 
development of items that can offer a temporary sense of safety, 
productivity, and allure.  Think of the following two consumer products 
that are currently being marketed for home use:  the "cell phone stun gun" 
and the "explosion-proof air conditioner."

Networks of pleasure and paranoia are harnessed in order to produce an 
awareness of ENDANGERED ENTICEMENT and move a populace to action - that 
is, to consume material, virtual, or discursive objects.  In the West, 
subjects are compelled to believe in a cause (democracy) and dedicate 
themselves to a "way of life" (shopping).  The expression "defending our 
way of life" embodies the twin engines of militarization:  desire and 
fear, attraction and protection.  This means defending the right to 
acquire as the very means of "freedom of mobility."  It means defending 
the right to own and circulate objects, and to constitute oneself as an 
object to be marketed.  Through an interlocking mechanism of selling and 
consuming, looking and buying, one grazes along endless arrays of 
enticements offered up for the desirous and acquiring eye -- enticements 
that are aimed at the replication of desire in the eyes of others. Such a 
mechanism becomes the very condition of mobility. It is a process of 
defining the self in terms of an unbounded menagerie of attractions, which 
leaves it forever lacking.

We can say that whenever there is surveillance, there is shopping, and 


     MOSCOW, Feb. 17 -- It was a campaign manager's
     dream visual: A president weeks away from an election
     stands on the bridge of a nuclear submarine out at sea,
     watching the test launch of two intercontinental missiles
     capable of destroying an enemy city. President Vladimir
     Putin took his position aboard the Arkhangelsk on
     Tuesday afternoon, television cameras dutifully recording
     the moment. And he waited. And waited and waited.
     Finally after 25 minutes, naval officers announced what
     had become painfully obvious, that the launch had not
     taken place, and they shuffled the guests and journalists
     below deck, according to Russian reporters on the scene.
     Putin disappeared without a word. Russian news
     organizations promptly reported that a malfunction had
     scuttled the launch. Then, a few hours later, the navy's top
     admiral denied that any launch had been planned. A
     "virtual launch" had been intended from the start, he
     explained, and it had been a success. "The work was
     carried out according to the plan," Adm. Vladimir
     Kuroyedov said at a televised briefing Tuesday. "And to
     make things completely clear, I'll say that the ballistic
     exercises were designed as a virtual launch, which was
     done twice, first in one spot, then in another."

The operational gaze strives for a global, comprehensive analysis and a 
complete panoptic vision, yet these are impossibilities.  Where there is 
monitoring, there is camouflage.  The myth of total control or "full 
spectrum dominance" pervades military-business culture, yet there is also 
an awareness of the extent to which any technology can be fooled.  The 
drive toward strategic advantage occurs not only through developing ways 
to narrow the window between detection and engagement, and through an 
anticipation of the ways in which one's opponents can outwit one's 
maneuvers.  Detection is always outwitted by deception, and therefore 
needs to anticipate the countermoves and jamming strategies that will 
eventually undermine it.

One endeavors not only to know faster and better than one's opponents, but 
to strategically deploy diversions - false information, disguises, decoys 
- that send them off the track.  For example, in order to gather 
information on potential recruits, US law enforcement agencies set up 
websites that are geared to resemble extremist sites.  Visitors to the 
sites can be tracked. On the other hand, such groups can transmit false 
information in order to determine whether they are being monitored.  Such 
diversions are often aimed for distribution and replication along media 
pathways.  Consider an aerial video, shot by the Israeli Defense Forces, 
of a funeral that occurred during the 2002 siege of the Jenin refugee camp 
in the West Bank.  The IDF claims that this videotape documents a fake 
ceremony, staged in order to multiply the number of casualties in Jenin. 
The deception could have occurred at groundlevel -- one needs to shape the 
act of being observed to one's own advantage, especially during times of 
conflict -- or at the level of the institution that has orchestrated the 
framing of the image.  The potential or the deployed image becomes 
artillery in the battlegrounds for attention.

One endeavors to find ways of lessening one's footprint upon the 
representational screens of others through self-concealment or stealth. 
The drive to collapse the distance between observation, analysis, and 
intervention is a sculpting force, but this force is most productively not 
a one-way vector.  Military vehicles are shaped, in system and in material 
form, by not only their increased need for invasive effectivity, but by 
their need to evade detection by opposing forces.  The sculpting force is 
bi-directional, and the STEALTH MATERIALITY that arises coalesces as a 
mutable surface between detection and deception.  It is both an invasive 
and evasive form.  Military forms and capacities are always embedded in 
such tradeoffs between protection, visibility, mobility, speed, and 
firepower. To increase the capacity of one is to decrease another -- the 
heat from a missile launch site makes it vulnerable to enemy detection, 
for example. Increased speed does not necessarily mean increased 
firepower.  Invasive capacity can lessen protective capacity.

As the construct opens onto such material forms and representations, it 
also opens onto discourses. One "bends the truth" and engages in "spin," 
anticipating the countermoves of one's opponent in discursive strategies. 
In the contemporary culture of spin, any event can be made to conform to 
any interpretation.  On the personal level, one adopts various escape 
strategies in everyday life, such as using a mobile phone to transport 
yourself into another conversation in order to avoid a difficult or dull 
encounter in your vicinity.  To deceive is to endeavor to escape public 
scrutiny; to maneuver on the edges of visibility.  It is employed on all 
sides of the political spectrum.

Deception also moves into an anticipatory space of perception -- as if to 
prefigure deceptive maneuvers before they occur -- as SUSPICION.  The 
operational construct's other -- the object of its gaze -- is that which 
is deemed incapable of telling the truth.  It is inherently DECEITFUL.

The operational construct interfaces material-discursive form.  It is a 
window onto an incipient materiality.  It marks a kind of "edge" of 
material-perceptual reality.  It does not simply represent, but 
constitutes an aspect of the events onto which it opens.  It is part of 
their formation. Within its matrices, ordinary objects and gestures are 


     A Pakistani man named Kamran Akhtar is arrested
     in New York for taking "surveillance videos" of buildings
     in Manhattan.  He claims that he is simply a video buff,
     shooting landmarks for his family and friends back home.
     After viewing one of his tapes with about 50 local business
     and law enforcement officials, an FBI spokesman proclaims
     that "This video serves no other purpose but surveillance.
     There is no doubt." On what basis does he defend his claim?
     The video "appears to be extremely preliminary and very
     general of an overall view of downtown. Our sense is that
     he doesn't know what he is taping.  He is simply trying to
     show tall buildings in crowded areas."

     Tourist video or surveillance video? To determine the
     distinction, we have to delve deep within the image. With a
     suspicious or inquiring gaze, we look for clues, in a situation
     where even the smallest choices assume ominous overtones.
     A suspicious angle (why does he look upward?), a curious
     focus (why linger on that building entrance?), an odd camera
     movement (why a slow pan to the right?), a hastening pace
     (why the agitation?), an odd level of familiarity (does he
     know what he is doing?).

     A dynamic of suspicion invades a language of critical
     analysis.  Policeman, politician, or media critic?   All use
     economies of fear and desire to produce their brands of
     critical awareness.

     I am reading into the representations that I see, to
     determine the components of militarization today.  I am
     writing with a vigilant eye, as if a surveiller, looking for
     something to militate against.  With this writing, I am
     sketching another economy of fear.  Catastrophe has
     served me.


This text is based on a paper delivered at the workshop "The City as 
Target" at the National University of Singapore in August of 2004.  I 
would like to thank my colleagues to whom this ongoing research is 
indebted:  John Armitage, Ryan Bishop and John Phillips, Jonathan Crary, 
Sean Cubitt, Manuel De Landa, Paul Norris Edwards, Stephen Graham, Thomas 
Y. Levin, Lev Manovich, Brian Massumi, and Eyal Weisman.  A full 
bibliography is in development and will be posted in subsequent 

The Feb 17 Moscow news clip, quoted above, was written by Peter Baker at the
Washington Post Foreign Service, and originally cited by James Der Derian.


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