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Re: <nettime> Cybernetics and the Internet
t byfield on Thu, 5 Mar 2009 16:16:15 -0500 (EST)


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Re: <nettime> Cybernetics and the Internet


fc-nettime {AT} pleintekst.nl (Thu 03/05/09 at 07:44 PM +0100):

> > One difficulty of writing a history of cybernetics is that the problems
> > it explicitly poses about 'autonomy' undermine the twin ideas of author 
> > and history. If you accept the major premises of cybernetics (even in the 
> > bracketed form that historical craft requires), the notion of a stable 
> > subject who acts deliberately falls apart; 
> 
> ...but it's one thing whether the stable subject is taken apart on the
> grounds of a critique of 18th/19th ideologies of genius and subjectivism 
> by analyzing, for example, structures of human consciousness and
> language (as in Freud's psychoanalysis and structuralism). It's a
> completely different thing when the stable subject is negated from a
> late-Cartesian perspective of behaviorist mechanism (as in classical
> cybernetics).  The latter denounces human - and thus also political and
> critical - agency, and that's a crucial difference.

It never occurred to me that I'd need to distinguish between these things 
because I never confused them. Having said that, that crucial difference 
was an explicit and ongoing debate in the Macy Conferences -- in sessions 
where, for example, Roman Jacobson and Erik Erikson were present. There's
some very interesting work to be done, I suppose, in looking at, say, the
evolution of the idea of the 'stability' of the subject, which encompasses
both Freudian models and ~cybernetic models involving homeostasis. Indeed,
this evolution -- as it's manifest in individual psychology, small groups
(families, social clusters, therapeutic settings, education, etc), and 
long-term cultural change -- were crucial issues for Bateson and Mead. So,
while there are crucial differences, there are also ~genealogical relations;
but we won't get at them, or in particular understand how actual people 
transformed ideas, by tarring as militaristic the subtle debates across
so many fields and approaches. My point was that Brian's treatment of 
cybernetics as monolithic obscures precisely these questions and, in 
essence by treating WW2 as a pivotal event, tends to valorize the worst 
aspects of cybernetics.

> Again, the frequent mix-up and contamination of these two discourses in
> the "new media" field is unfortunate, and sometimes disturbing.

That's a different thread. :) Or does the fact that I'm using OBI to 
communicate these ideas reduce what I say to the field of new media?

Cheers,
Ted
-- 
http://b1ff.org!!! 

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