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<nettime> RE: cybernetics and the Internet
kenneth c. werbin on Tue, 13 Jun 2006 06:17:51 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> RE: cybernetics and the Internet

Hi Brian-

Thanks so much for your depthful thoughts, compliments and for the link to
your work. I look forward to reading it.

These ideas come from my dissertation work entitled 'The List Serves: Bare
Life in Open Social Order' which I am getting closer and closer to
completing at Concordia University, here in Montreal. In a nutshell, when I
started my PhD work some years back, I wanted to study listservs...but in
historicizing the use of lists in power/knowledge (a la Foucault), I ended
up going much further back to ancient times, discovering that early
Sumarian, Mesopotamian and Assyrian documents were all lists and that much
of the Old Testament was compiled from such lists. The anthropologist Jack
Goody (1977) in a chapter in the 'The domestication of the savage mind'
looked into such questions.

My analysis of 'how lists serve', however, does not start that far back, as
I am far more interested in the intersection of lists and computers which
sees analysis begin with the moment when the nazis first used early IBM
computer technology (Black, 2001) to identify, isolate and round up
'threats' to social order. I argue that the conjunction of lists and
computers engaged by the nazis through discourses of identification and
control, efficiently and effectively exposed what Giorgio Agamben (1998)
calls 'bare life'. I contend that the 'nazi listing moment', constituted in
this conjunction, represents the first 'open' cybernetic feedback system in
which discourses of identification, surveillance and control as social order
took root; utlimately cementing 'bare life' once and for all as the
fundamental political unit around which social order is practiced. Indeed, I
argue that such conjunctions continue to resonate, reverberate and expand in
today's 'open social order', albeit deeply recessed in our 'digital' social
woodwork...and so I excavate: how 'The List Serves: Bare Life in Open Social

I will certainly post more from this work in the coming months as it gets
closer to completion...

>It seems to me that the position you are taking here is very
>complex, marked by a fundamental ambiguity. Based on your
>understanding of the Internet as a social experiment in the
>implementation of controlled complexity, you argue for a
>form of "closure" - the taking of positions, the filtering
>out of noise - that in your view, if I get you right, will
>be the only way to truly "open up" a digital culture that is
>being plagued by inertia ("information overload").

You got it! That is precisely what I meant to say...and I owe my inspiration
here to a prescient, but little known 'later cybernetic' text that merits
more attention and should certainly form the basis of some future

* Klapp, Orrin Edgar. 1978. Opening and closing : strategies of information
adaptation in society. Cambridge ; New York: Cambridge University Press.

>but they are also communicational, they involve
>the creation of complex feedback systems to guide and
>continually adjust those farflung logistical operations, as
>James Beniger shows in his impresive book, The Control
>Revolution. For these reasons I would appreciate it very
>much if you could post any writing you have done on the
>specific subjects you touched on in your post, and perhaps a
>bibliography which those of us on the list, who are
>interested in persuing this conversation, could use as a
>basis for an informed discussion.

I too am impressed with Beniger's arguments and draw from him as well, and
this is clearly a text we could also base future discussion around.

* Beniger, James R. 1986. The control revolution : technological and
economic origins of the information society. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard
University Press.

also the work of Giorgio Agamben:

* Agamben, Giorgio. 1998. Homo sacer : sovereign power and bare life.
Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press.

* Agamben, Giorgio. 2000. Remnants of Auschwitz : the witness and the
archive. New York: Zone Books.

* Agamben, Giorgio. 2005. State of exception. Chicago: University of Chicago

>In particular I'm wondering where it might be possible to
>consult the 1951 edition of Wiener's "The Human Use of Human
>Beings." Was the entire book altered? Or only a key chapter?
>If so, could that chapter be scanned and distributed? Mark
>Stahlman refers to an alteration, but doesn't say exactly
>what it concerns.

I call on Mark here as I read it many years ago, do not currently have a
copy on hand, and am in the process of trying to acquire one... This could
also form the basis of a discussion:

* Wiener, Norbert. 1950. The human use of human beings; cybernetics and
society. Boston,: Houghton Mifflin.

>It was said that the difficulty of launching a new immanent critique was
>that no such master discourse was in sight; and then, as you
>can imagine, came the idea that we should have to invent the
>very discourse of a new critique. I think the ambiguity that
>you point to, in the deployment of cybernetic systems for
>the cause of an open society, and to the effect of a
>controlled one, could contain the germs of a new immanent
>critique which would allow us a much deeper and more
>powerful interpetation of the ways that globalization is now
>proceeding. That interpretation, in its turn, would make new
>practical experiments possible, beyond the limits and
>naivetes of the old tactical media paradigms. I think we
>ought to work on this!
>Anyway, let's say it seems like Montreal nettime meeting was
>really not in vain.
>all the best,
>and thanks again for the brilliant post,

To which I modestly reply, thank you, and thank Tobias for NNA, and yes, I'm
all for continuing to work on such a critique together! Geert has inspired
and encouraged me similarly, and his work on such matters also clearly merit
much discussion in this context:

* Lovink, Geert. 2003. My first recession. Rotterdam: V2ö/NAi Publishers.

* Lovink, Geert. 2002. Dark fiber : tracking critical Internet culture.
Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

I look forward to continuing discussion!


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