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<nettime> The Post and the Pre: Notes on the Historical Interstitial
Benjamin H. Bratton on Mon, 6 Jul 2009 23:45:52 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> The Post and the Pre: Notes on the Historical Interstitial

The text below is from a talk I gave at Postopolis! LA back in April, on the
state condition of design and digital culture in our early-mid-recession
moment.  I've received numerous requests for publication and so am posting here
to Nettime under Creative Commons ?attributions no derivatives? license, but
please let me know where and how it is republished. benjamin {AT} bratton.info


The Post and the Pre: Notes on the Historical Interstitial
Benjamin H. Bratton
benjamin {AT} bratton.info
U.C. San Diego
Written and first presented for Postopolis! LA, Los Angeles, CA, April 4, 2009

"Thanks very much to Regine and Geoff, and the Storefront, all the
organizers for the invitation to speak to you today. I think it says a
lot about what 2009 is, that a group of blog editors could arrange
what is arguably the year?s best gathering of rigorous, serious design
voices, and local universities, museums, galleries couldn?t, wouldn?t,
or just didn?t. On behalf of the speakers I?d like to thank them for
the curation of an occasion that is truly an event for design culture
in LA and beyond.

My talk will be a bit different in that it will be a more
macro-commentary on this moment in design rather than a portfolio of
my design work, or images of amazing instances of design.

I am an out of the closet theorist, and in fact I?m not going to show
any images at all.

It?s also then some reactions to what I?ve heard in person and online
over the last few days of this event. Forgive me as well for reading
to you in this casual setting but I want to be precise.

"Postopolis" ...? I?ve been thinking over last couple of weeks what
that might mean other than blogging: the after city, after the city, a
city of afterness.? Really I want to say a few things about this one
specific thing, about what Post is, may be, and its possible
usefulness for us today, when we very precariously don?t know what we
are Post and what we are Pre.

We use "post" to name a particular state of things that is somehow
eclipsed but not entirely done with. Post-War period, Post-Watergate,
post-modernity, post-fashion, Post-humanism ... post-bubble,
post-finance, post-production, post-consumption.

Post implies that that something is gone, that it is in the past but
that its residue, its after image in some way haunts us. It is behind,
but it still organizes and supervises the period that comes next.

In any historical moment, we are in this post-something and
pre-something else. That is is how the temporality of society works.
But it seems to me that this particularly precarious moment is one in
which it is both much less clear what is post and what is pre, and
that it is much more important what is post and what is pre.

We are, we assume, we hope in a way, post-bubble. I don?t think we
should presume to decide so quickly what went wrong. I think we will
be surprised with future perspective, horrified perhaps, what it was
all about.

This now is itself, pre-something that we don't know and can barely
visualize. ?It's a matter of real concern what is and isn?t 'post'?
post-American, post-leverage, post-abundance, post-secular,
post-social, post-urban? What stays and what goes? What is already
gone? What is only an after image? What appears to be gone but is
really permanent?

After the bubble, after the financial meltdown, if we are in fact
actually after it, if not still at the beginning of it, has the 500
year old America bubble burst? or just aKondratievian?real estate
cycle? Is this accident permanent?

1946 was post-war. fine. 1989 was post-communism. probably. We don?t
know what we are post, and what we are pre, but simply that we are in
some historical interstitial.? With 9/11 it was just named by the date
because we didn?t know what it was, were waiting for the other shoe to
drop. Now we are waiting for the anti-event - the bottom - or holding
our breath to wait out the event, or simply for whatever happens next
to get it over with and happen.

That is, we don?t know what we know and what we don?t know, and we know it!

We experience the present as something like a gap, but is the gap a
void into which things fall, or it is more a newly cleared tabula
rasa? More beginning or end?

That is why the question of the Post matters - and I ask it as a
question not as a declaration - because now we have, it seems to me,
no choice but to focus attention on the conception of the Pre-. We are
now, we can and should hope, Pre-other things, and some of the things
we do now will scale into epochal institutions. Eric and Ben
fromStamen?will make maps for Olympic committees but their real
interest is in how a informationally-enabled modes of a cognitive
urbanism can make space more permanently adventurous not just more
transparent. They are card carrying Situationists, our?Constant?and
Vaneigem. Their project is a new city. Their mandate is of the Pre,
not so much the Post.

Because design was a symbol of the bubble it is also a symbol of the
bubble?s collapse.? Think of?OMA?s burned out Mandarin Hotel?as the
anti-Bilbao. Think ofAmbra Medda?and?Rick Santelli?as two sides of the
same coin. Apologies to Jeffrey.

But what also seems clear at least to me, is that very many ways of
doing things, of designing things, of consuming things, of consuming
design are very likely, to sample Paul Krugman, zombie ideas. Design
as money laundering bon-bon. The destiny of the post-Bilbao coke high
of Dubai, seems be a psychotic desert ruin. Ozymandias as themed
space.? Dubai died before it was completed and is scheduled to
deteriorate into some Islamic J. G. Ballard scenario. One expects new
species of desert wolf to take over the fleets of abandoned Mercedes
strewn about the airport, and roving gangs of unemployed architects,
mid-level finance flunkies and scion jihadists to turn the empty malls
into bunkers for their secret private wars of revenge and
purification. In the desert where no city should logically be (like
LA) they attend to an inverted cargo cult now of orphaned luxury goods
hoping for the tribes of customers to come back. It?s not so much that
the party is over, but that now the party goes feral; even and
especially if those cranes come back to life.

Christopher Hawthorne?s photo essay last night was a good report card
on architecture as courtesan of the real estate bubble, and we can
imagine another on graphic and industrial design as co-dependent
enablers of the credit bubble. But we can also afford, must afford,
some ambivalence if not actual amorality even in this verdict, because
the comical ruin is an afterimage which because it remains, and not
because it disappears, becomes the conditional substance of another
emergence, or another medium for something that survives that death.
The form of old becomes the content of the new.

Let me change tone a bit and say that like perhaps never before and
perhaps never again the opportunity is potentially at hand to redesign
many of the fundamental social, cultural, economic institutions that
govern our lives, and not just design the content that would fill
these forms.

That is to say, postmodernity turned out to be not the cessation but
the radical extension of Modernization on a more global scale: in
China, in biotech, in IT, etc. all without the burdensome presumption
of progress or historical destiny that hamstrung the first Modernity.
Nokia claims to sell 16 cell phones a second. There are more
Modernities per sq. foot since Postmodernity (which was not really
antithetical toLyotard?s?early definition).

But as our moment makes clear, as as?Ulrich Beck?clarified a couple
decades ago, radical complexity becomes the inevitable failure point
of the global society just as inflexibility and scale were the failure
points of Fordist economies. Speed replaces progress, logistics
replaces history, liquidity reigns and all that is solid melts into

That said, the fatal moment, the phase transition, the breaking point
is how something gives say to something other than itself.?Nicholas
Bourriaud?asks, perhaps naively, that we focus on the development of
an alternative modernity, the altermodern as he calls it. That now we
need not to complete the modern project but to start another one.

To me that means that means first mapping the emergent in advance of
itself, to use the Post as a code to the Pre.

So listening to the talks of the last few days, I made some notes on this ...

If media innovation in the 20th century meant new content: movies,
stories, music, then the 21st media innovation has been in new ways to
resort and redistribute that archive. From content to form, as it
were.? Will Los Angeles, the company town so configured around content
production that we simply call it "The Business" survive post-cinema?
Do video games, cinematic interface design, motion graphics,
vblogging, media architecture, even surveillance footage add up to a
new image substance, a post-cinema era? Does the interfaciality of the
image ultimately overwhelm the economies of production that built this
city? Will P2P networks, like planetary termites, erode not just the
business, but? LA? until it becomes just another desert port city? The
next Detroit? Or will post-cinema revitalize a new phase of
imageology, is it already?

Does the bubble collapse mean we need to imagine post-Market
economics, we are already post-State economics, so what would be the
space of the new form?

Does the consummated? merger of art and speculative finance mean an
eclipse of either? Does the guise of art as the purified avant-garde
of commodity fetishism relieve it of some historical duties? Or does
it send one form of art into outerspace while allowing another, art as
in bird calls, mating dances, cave paintings, fur patterns, funeral
dirges, etc. to reappear front and center. Both are implied by a
post-Art condition.

Our cities are our most important technologies, but they suffer today
from a kind of auto-immunity disorder by which we ourselves disfigure
them, attack them with defensive measures in the inverted image of a
potential threat of future criminal or terrorist violence. The Mumbai
terror attack was a coming out event for GPS, Google Earth and
satellite phones on the one hand, but also for the capacity of
platforms likeTwitter?to allow civilian multitudes to swarm faster and
better than state security apparatuses. We learned clearly that the
lock down city prevents civil society from smothering terror and
crime. Can we, with a policy civilianization as best defense in mind,
look forward to an urbanism based on truly open interfaces, not
because they are more democratic but because they are more safe? What
is the program for that post-security design policy?

Does the computational intensification of the material of the world,
ubiquitous computation, nanotechnology, biotechnology, mean that
buildings, bodies, objects, surfaces, substance lose some of their
metaphysical specificities? A differential aura? Post-thing?
Post-program? Post-jewel?

Does the integration and activation of new and old information through
which we have been governed, the Open Government model inaugurate a
post-opacity condition that is in the long run more powerful than who
is in office? Will the processes of? governance become as transparent
as the making of Krispy Kremes and as user-regulated as a backyard
garden? Or will post-opacity just mean the spectacularization of
transparency? Turning infrastructure into show business?

Michael Dear spoke?about a post-border condition at the membrane
between the USA and Mexico. Is this symptomatic of a larger
reterritorialization of geography, where place matters more and space
matters less, where the pragmatics of flow and movement overwhelm the
niceties of cartography, geography, jurisdiction? It?s not so much
that such movements are ?illegal? though they are outside the legal
code, so much as they are translegal, diagonal to the legal code
because necessary to the maintenance of the society the code
purportedly governs. Do zombie jurisdictions beget post-crime? It is
worth bearing in mind that what comes next, whatever it is that we are
pre-, may be things that are today, technically illegal. the arrival
of the next may illegal, or may like global cloud computing
territories simply envelope all jurisdictions by linking every entry
point together outside of governmental supervision.

What should design make of all this? Well perhaps that?s the wrong
question. Perhaps the design model to which we should pay more
attention is not productive, but subtractive. Perhaps there are enough
things already and we need to make better use of that objective
archive. Rather than assuming that information is expensive and your
business is to generate it, assume instead that information is ambient
and your job is to give it form by carving away. To me that is a
better connotation for Post-production.

*Design Politics*
Was 2008, as?Saul Griffith suggests, the year of not of "Peak Oil" but
of "Peak Waste," the crest point of some ocean of molecular

Many of the talks I have been able to follow via video and?twitter
feeds?have provided important models and templates for an image of
design as politics, and not simply political design, though some went
there too. We can talk offline about which I think will work and which
will vanish but having said this, I would also caution against anyone
presuming that we are merely orbiting around a dense ethical core of
sustainability. Sustainability is not a bad thing or a good thing per
se, because it is an empty conceptual model than can be filled with
any politics, regressive or progressive. Design as politics should
conceive of sustainable systems but should do so because they will
organize improved, more kinetic, charged relationships between humans,
spaces, environments, not because they will save our broken inherited
systems from any fundamental change portended by an externalized

That is, sustainability is at its worst a signal not of design as
politics but of the post-political, of what?Jacques Ranci?re?calls
"the annulment of dissensus, and the 'end of politics'"

Difficulties and problems, such as environmental concerns that are
generally staged and accepted as problematic, need to be dealt with
through compromise, managerial and technical arrangement, and the
production of consensus, in the annulment of dissensus is the end of
politics,. However, consensus does note equal absence of fundamental
conflict, but in the absence of real politicization, the only position
of real dissent ends up being that of the traditionalist or the
fundamentalist. That is truly unsustainable. (Swyngedouw.).

The post-political as a political formation that actually forecloses
the political, that covers up the constitutive agonistic splits that
delineate the anatomy of the social body. Post-politics rejects
ideological divisions, and in fact any ?explicit universalization of a
politics of recognition, of naming, and of counting.? Instead a
consensus has been built around the inevitability of capitalism as a
social and economic system, parliamentarism as the political ideal,
humanitarianism and inclusive, but ?de- caffeinated? cosmopolitanism
as a moral foundation.

The sustainability desublimation points us then not to a reformation
of the infrastructure that has generated our shared precarious
position, but a safety valve recalibrating the mechanism so that no
actual change might undermine or overwhelm it.

Post-political sustainability models also misdirect the political
imaginary of design. At stake is not "designing like you give a damn"
to smugly clean up the mess that inherited systems have caused; it's
not even then just design with positive political implications. It is
the design of the political. The political space, medium, territories,
institutions, constitutions, conditions of sovereignty, citizenship.
These are being thinned out by the erosion of the nation-state that
had guaranteed. The forms and contents then, the form of the political
as a metadesign problem is opened up for redesign, a highly risky
situation but one that we must enter into directly. We have to well
define now what anatomies of the political we are now Pre.

What we haven?t figured out, haven?t designed, are appropriate ways
for a digital society to govern itself.? As it stands today, we have
no idea what terms and limits of a cloud based citizenship of the
Google Caliphate will entail and curtail. Some amalgam of post-secular
cosmopolitanism, agonistic radical democracy, and post-rational actor
microeconomics, largely driven by intersecting petabyte at-hand
datasets and mutant strains of Abrahamic monotheism. But specifically,
what is governance (let alone government) within this?

As?Zizek?was fond of saying, quoting?Jameson?talking about blockbuster
sci-fi movies featuring exploding aliens and cities, it is easier to
imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism.
Perhaps that is less so today. We can perhaps imagine a new genre of
disaster blockbuster, the economic disaster. Instead of Will Smith
fighting across the apocalyptic precipice of history against robots,
aliens and monsters, we?ll have compassionate FDIC agents seizing
overextended regional banks, later falling in love with suicidal
Circuit City clerks giving them both a reason to go on after the car
chase ...

By way of conclusion, it is good to keep in mind Virilio?s axiom, that
the invention of any new technology is also simultaneously and
inevitably, the invention of a new accident. The invention of the
train is the invention of the train wreck. The invention of the boom
is the invention of the bust. the invention of the solution is the
invention of a new problem. There are attendant accidents built into
the system the day it went online. But this should be understood, I
would argue, as not only a hidden anti-history of technology, but that
the accident is also, potentially, a needed productive condition. The
accident also invents a new technology.

I mentioned the terrorist attacks in Mumbai last November and the use
of Twitter by those caught up to mobilize their escapes. Strangely the
US govt. almost figured this out in advance. The Army issued a report
the month before warning the terrorists might use Twitter to
coordinate an attack, was spot on but backwards. Twitter became a way
to mobilize a response to terrorist violence --reconnaissance, C3,
logistics-- to the attacks not on civil society but by civil society!

It is well known now. In response, official channels were misdirected.
They didn?t know what was happening, where, when, why, by whom? And
yet you had a strange situation where someone in CA reading the
#mumbai feed (even though it was striated by rumor) had an apparently
equal or perhaps even better raw intelligence feed that the official
Indian response unit, sluggish, hierarchical cadres of men with guns,
critical to fight it out, but where, how, when? I?m sure some of you
in this room tracked the event this way yourselves:

??? "Hospital update. Shots still being fired. Also Metro cinema next door,"
??? "Blood needed at JJ hospital,"
??? Vinu, post-attack pictures to Flickr, etc. hundreds and hundreds of tweets.

These are definitely not a use-case that?Evan Williams?concocted in
advance of the technology ... A potentially important accident
generated by the accident of Google Earth and sat-phones and GPS. Will
the mispartition of Kashmir indirectly, one thing leading to another
to the emergence of a new mode of civil society? Which accident will
win out? Which scales better?

I am simply insisting that meta-assignment of the Pre of designing
what comes next is based in an appreciation of productive accidents of
this sort of accidental civilianization, of accidents of openness ...

And lastly, in thinking about the Pre in the afterimage of the Post,
we don?t want a?recovery.

"Recovery," to recover a past state condition, is not an option.
Strike the word from your vocabulary. Absolutely the wrong word.
Networks like strawberries are parthenogenic, they can replicate fixed
DNA asexually when things are OK and stable, or mix DNA sexually to
ensure variation when things are scary and changing. We NEED more
variant material, not the recovery of the condition to which our
present material is not even well suited. To secure the Post from the
Pre?s life-giving capacities into a frozen simulation, to freeze the
kinetic energy of transaction and transference, of improvisation,
reducing public activity to a regulated ritual, however shiny and

We already well past the threshold where the strategy is recovery, to
recover a state of things, a lost state condition, like hard drive
data recovery.? Don?t waste our interstitial chasm hoping that it is
somehow historically bilaterally symmetrical, a cup, that its end is
the mirror image of its beginning, and that if we just hold out long
enough, 2011 will look like 2005.

We do not want to design our way back to the bubble. We want to
undesign the bubble, by subtracting and subtracting until new things
thrive in the new breathing space.

Last thought: In a recent interview with Hans Obrist, Damien Hirst
said that his art is preoccupied by one overriding question: ?what are
you wearing tomorrow.?? Damien Hirst is a pork belly, an empty
speculation, he is fucked, Pre-nothing. My only real counsel to you
then: don?t be fucked."

The above was a talk by?Benjamin H. Bratton?at Postopolis! LA, and is
re-published here under?Creative Commons ?attributions no derivatives?

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