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<nettime> Revisiting the future with Laboria Cuboniks: Technofeminism, X
nettime's avid reader on Sun, 31 Jul 2016 10:49:34 +0200 (CEST)


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<nettime> Revisiting the future with Laboria Cuboniks: Technofeminism, Xenofeminism a conversation


Revisiting the future with Laboria Cuboniks | A conversation

http://www.furtherfield.org/features/interviews/revisiting-future-laboria-cuboniks-conversation

Techno-feminisms are, once again, on the ascent. The Xenofeminist
Manifesto, published in 2015 by the collective Laboria Cuboniks, is
a provocative and elaborate example for the renewed exhortation for
gendered bodies to merge with technology, rationality and the sciences
in order to defeat white supremacist patriarchal capitalism. Cornelia
Sollfrank, a practising technofeminist artist with a long history and
rich experience in building and contributing to cyber-feminist-net-art
platforms and organisations, and Rachel Baker, a former ‘net
artist’ currently involved in collaborative feminist performance
and writing practices, are curious: What drives the resurrected hype
around techno-feminisms? What is new about the future 30 years after
Cyberfeminism? Will the current techno-feminist virus take hold? Or
has recent history resulted in an aesthetic immunity to the strategy
of “seductive semiotic parasites?”

CS: Who is Laboria Cuboniks? How did you meet and why did you decide
to work together?

 LC: We are currently six women spread across three continents,
all coming from different disciplinary backgrounds which gives
us access to cover a broader territory of thought than working
alone, and also provides us an intensive context for sharing our
discrete approaches. We met in 2014 at a summer school in Berlin
(Emancipation as Navigation) – which was equally a transdisciplinary
affair focusing on developments in neo-rationalism. We decided to
work together to address the rather quick, dismissive reactions
that were circulating at the time surrounding neo-rationalism and
accelerationism, as being de facto (and permanently so) cis-white
masculine pursuits. While the historicity of some of these ideas most
certainly does fall into that category, the consequences of brushing
off things like reason, science, technology, and scalability as being
enduringly locked into patriarchal regimes, seemed to us a serious
limitation when trying to think an emancipatory politics and its
necessary feminisms, fit for an age of planetary complexity.


CS: It hardly needs mentioning that there has been a feminist history
of reclaiming reason, science and technology. In your Xenofeminist
manifesto (XF) [i] you are alluding to both earlier technofeminist
concepts, including cyberfeminism, but also to accelerationist
ideas. What is your challenge, if any, adding a feminist agenda to
a philosophical project that has largely been based on ignoring
gender issues? Would XF have ever come into existence without
accelerationism?

LC: Certainly the original Accelerationist Manifesto (MAP) did nothing
to address gender politics, in a way mirroring its Marxian tones
insofar as Marx himself also ignored gender and the types of labour
(specifically care and reproductive labour) associated with a binary
gender structure to which females have historically been subject
to. MAP was a manifesto, which, by form alone is forthright; cannot
address everything and is scant on nuance. Our own manifesto is no
different in that regard. What we read from it, rather, was a demand
for a scalar approach to leftist politics that can affirmatively
face up to our situation systematically – the scope of which
necessitates massive collective and collaborative mobilisation
(which further entails the de-demonizing of the word ‘power’
as it is often portrayed in purely horizontalist approaches). XF
responded to some of the general diagnoses mapped out in the MAP,
but in its own terms, and opened up other territories for thought
neglected by MAP. It’s instructive here to use this as a fruitful
example against the type of puritanism that seems to be plaguing
much of leftist efforts of late. When we don’t agree with every
point, when we are offended at others, when we put all interpretive
emphasis on authors’ biographies, we can end up dismissing entire
thought-projects in one shot – rather than working out conceptual /
pragmatic weaknesses and directing them, augmenting them otherwise.
To be clear this isn’t about being conciliatory and taking every
position on board – that would be pure triviality – but it is to
say that we on the left desire some general transformations. How can
we move beyond the game of ‘being right/superior’, of being locked
into certain theoretical dogmatisms, of pissing perimeters around
intellectual territories for our personal success in the name of a
leftist-fashionability, towards the construction of useful concepts
that can honestly respond to our complex reality? None of these
concepts will ever be possible by a single ‘heroic’ actor/thinker.


CS: I can understand the desire to leave theoretical dogmatisms
behind. This is also what we have tried with the Old Boys Network: to
open up the term cyberfeminism and offer a platform where diverse and
even contradictory concepts could meet. This entails, however, the
problem of creating a common ground which is needed for collective
agency… Some of the basic claims of accelerationism – that you
are sharing – affirm an emphasis on rationality, universalism and
self-mastery as well as the dismissal of traditional leftist political
beliefs in micropolitics, direct action, inclusiveness, autonomous
zones, politics of localism and horizontalism. Therefore, I’m
wondering what agency could mean in a xenofeminist context.

 LC: These ‘traditional’ leftist forms are only one side of
the coin – the ones you mentioned seem more recent historically
speaking, but there is also a long history of counter-hegemonically
proportioned leftist activity. The danger in binding a leftist
politics strictly and solely to a politics of immediacy (presentness,
localisation, horizontalism, etc.) is that it seems ineffective at
tackling globally-scaled systemic injustices (both structurally and
ideologically), often existing in affective or symbolic form alone.
The said, all politics occur in a local form – and that’s why
a total dismissal of ‘localism’ does a great disservice to the
ultimate task at hand (what we might envision as a postcapitalist
turn) – but of course it cannot operate in isolation (as many
of those with an investment in localist politics themselves
acknowledge). The point is to articulate a politics that has the
capacity to move between these scales that are commensurate with
global reality, constructing vectors of connectivity that transverse
these localisations (not only with regards to humans, but to things
and disciplines of knowledge as well). Transiting between such
scales (between the concrete here and now, and the untouchable, yet
thinkable abstract) is a requirement for 21st century emancipatory
politics, involving an expanded conception of ‘specificity’,
‘particularity’ and ‘situatedness’. These have been (and
continue to be) crucial, contra-modern concepts developed in-large by
feminist, post-colonial, queer and sub-altern discourses, but, like
every theoretical proposition, have perspectival limits and require
bootstrapping within larger ‘field’ conditions. Every difference
or particularity exists in relation to something else, it’s embedded
so it cannot be extracted and analysed in isolation. The more complex
political question to us seem not only identifying/describing (or
locating) a site, particularity or identitarian difference, but
looking towards the field context as a kind of glue; that is, to
approach the field context in which those situated differences
experience structural discrimination or unjust advantages and to
contemplate how that field context can be manipulated otherwise.

 CS: I see your point, and I think it is exactly the complexity of the
global situation which makes it impossible to come up with the one
universal theory – which is what you are demanding?

 LC: The demand would certainly never be for ‘one’ universal
theory, but rather for a new theory of what a universalism on the left
could mean today. The concept itself needs to be reformulated if it
is to signify a non-totalitarian totality. This is where the metaphor
of seeing the universal not as a top-down schematic, but as a type
of artificial ‘glue’ that needs to be constructed is useful. The
universal needs to be seen more as a kind of hosting condition; it
is not ‘there’ to be unveiled; it is not a diagram to plug-into;
it is an abstraction we urgently need to create in order for maximal
human and non-human solidarities to be forged.

CS: Obviously, these ideas of universalism, totality, abstraction and
scaleability are adopted from accelerationism that, nevertheless,
remains somehow unaccomplished without gender politics? Is this the
reason that you have set out to renew technofeminist thinking?

LC: One of the most pernicious critical reflexes against
accelerationism (and we need to be clear we are talking about
left-accelerationism) was that it was a Futurism 2.0, based on
techno-utopianism and brute, masculine virility. While no one is
trying to ‘enlist’ people for the accelerationist cause (some
amongst us find the term itself quite misrepresentational to the
project it espouses), we felt it was necessary to mine the field in
two directions: to see what could be usefully applied to contemporary
gender politics, and heighten the techno-feminist lineages of
several claims made in the MAP. There are a myriad of points in
which accelerationist politics intersect with (and are indebted
to) feminist thinkers – as for instance with Judy Wajcman’s
insistence that technology will neither save us, nor enslave us;
but it requires refined analysis in the context of how it is used.
Such a position echoes claims made in the MAP that advocate for an
examination of the affordances of particular technologies rather than
outright celebration or dismissal. Other thinkers associated with the
neo-rationalist strand of left-accelerationism, like Ray Brassier,
also tend to reverberate certain historically feminist positions,
like the Promethean feminism of Shulamith Firestone when addressing
the project of refashioning the human; or his emphasis on the use of
abstraction for human cognition which also draws upon someone like
Donna Haraway as a response to theoretical limitations ushered in via
postmodernist positions.

 CS: I guess tracking the feminist lineages of accelerationism could
be an adventurous project in itself. For reasons of practicality,
let’s stay with one example here. Building on Donna Haraway's
anti-naturalist Cyborg Manifesto (1983)[ii], cyberfeminists claimed
to rebuild and repurpose technology in order to apply it for
emancipatory purposes. At its core, the Cyborg Manifesto is about
deconstructing traditionally Western antagonistic dualisms such as
human-animal/machine and physical/non-physical. Haraway shows the
taxonomic function of such categorisation and how it has been used
to identify and construct “the other” in order to establish
unjust power relations. She also emphasizes the importance of new
technologies as playing an essential role in addressing, challenging
and overcoming these dualisms. How does XF exceed this theoretical
framework?

 LC: We are quite theoretically aligned to the complexities inherent
in Haraway’s work – cyborgian concerns – which examine
human/machinic coupling adapted to an age where that coupling isn’t
necessarily restricted to silicon chips and hardware, but it equally
refers to the very ability to hack one’s biological/endocrine
operating system. What we glean from such an understanding, is that
we can’t simply ‘invest’ in the virtuality of online being
as an emancipatory category unto itself, and we need to focus on
how virtuality can be better interfaced with material existence.
Furthermore, the sprawl-like functioning of online life has since been
consolidated by a movement of deep centralization (mainly one search
engine, one shop, one social media platform, etc.), so our collective
efforts require systemic consideration. We need to conceive of larger
structures of governance/justice that are commensurable with these
new couplings; we need to focus on the construction of a milieu where
the real and virtual, abstract and concrete couplings are politicized
towards an emancipatory horizon.


CS: Your manifesto stands in the tradition of a whole series of
feminist manifestos like the Manifesto of Futurist Woman (1912), the
SCUM Manifesto (1969), the Black women’s Manifesto (1970), the
BITCH Manifesto (1972), the Cyberfeminist Manifesto for the 21st
Century (1991), any many more [iii]. The cyberfeminist alliance
Old Boys Network, however, agreed in 1997, at the end of the first
Cyberfeminist International, to undermine the character of a
proclamation by publishing an anti-manifesto… Why did you return
to the traditional form of a manifesto – including its limitations
– while at the same time claiming that what is needed is a refined
analysis of technology in the context of how it is used?

 LC: The manifesto, above all, gave us a highly compressed form
through which to achieve a maximal libidinal engagement with ideas.
There’s a reason why this form seems to be proliferating of
late across movements; it’s quick to read online and can be
readily shareable in snippet form. Those stylistic and factors
of dissemination played a crucial role in deciding to write in
an aphoristic way. As Sarah Kember puts it in her recent work on
“iMedia”, the writing strategies common to manifestos ‘serve as
hinge points between description and reinvention, art and activism,
critique and creativity, writing about and writing out’. As such,
there is still a great deal that the manifesto can do.

 CS & RB: This takes us to the question of strategy. You are
describing your strategy as the creation of “seductive semiotic
parasites,” and we are wondering, if you understand your manifesto
as a fictional scenario, or rather as political theory. We noticed,
for instance, that you refer to ‘hyperstition’, a term originally
employed in the mid-90’s to describe auto-loading ad windows during
the delay incurred when the browser loads the main content - i.e what
happens in the gaps created by the central activity. More latterly, it
was used as an allusion to the practices of computer-based networked
literatures (cf Simon Biggs, ‘The Hyperstitial Poetics of Media’)
of which there is a notable precedence (Doll Yoko, Mez Breeze, Mark
Amerika... etc). What can these linguistic forms and fictions achieve
in terms of a politics? What can fiction writing and the creation of
myths as literary forms achieve in terms of politics?

 LC: We reference ‘hyperstition’ directly only one time in the
text. It’s a disputed concept within the group; disputed not in
the sense that it doesn’t ‘exist’, but disputed in terms of
its operability or the ways in which hyperstition could be guided.
The signification you mentioned is a bit foreign to us – we’ll
have to check that out! But as far as we used it, it was to indicate
the process whereby fictional entities become real. We can see many
instances of this phenomenon at work, especially in finance where
the sheer (collective) belief in a future occurrence can instantiate
that very event, as in speculation. It is one thing to identify
existence of hyperstitional operators, but it is another to understand
and possibly leverage this type of novel causation they seem to
exhibit. So, it’s not a phenomenon one can simply ‘celebrate’
as such. Some of the people - like Nick Land - who coined the term
rather happily prognosticated dystopian visions as a result of its
deterritorialising force. If XF or any other emancipatory project
is to strategize hyperstitionally, it seems that it would be most
effective, when conceptualized through the lens of contemporary power
operations. Why are some fictions able to permeate reality (and by
whom) and why do others simply fade out? One of the main qualities of
hyperstition, or these fictional operators is that you can’t quite
pinpoint this causation as if it’s of a purely mechanical order with
clear input and outputs. So, it’s never something that can be fully
determined. The fact, though, that we can see these processes at work,
cracks open the given for what it is – contingent and subject to
change. That this ‘given’ is volatile to fictional operations, is
a clear indication of the relationship between ideality and reality
and of a need for future interventions to find ways to mobilise that
dialectic without falling into the pitfalls of an either / or dualism.

RB: Ok, maybe to concretise this question a little – what are
'hyperstitional operators'? Are they 'memes'? And in what terrains
would their 'future interventions' most significantly occur for
XF? Upon what terrains, exactly, is the fictive, the semiotic,
the hyperstitional, actually acting for XF? Does it ever meet a
‘realpolitik’?

LC: Hyperstitional operators could be a variety of things – but at
least according to CCRU definitions they are ideas that enter and
transform the flow of cultural reality – a kind of hype mutated
into actuality. We don’t spend much time on hyperstition because
there doesn’t seem to be an adequate understanding of how this
engine works exactly, but perhaps a more useful way to illustrate
the power of fiction upon reality, is to look at it through the lens
of modelling practices. The study on the Black-Scholes model of
options pricing (arguably one of the most important models ushering
in financialisation) from the sociologist Donald Mackenzie is a
really interesting case wherein the model – at first – had
little correlation to pricing activities on the trading floor; but
as the model gained traction, won a Nobel Prize and became a tool
of the trade, reality started to conform to the predictions of the
model. This is a simplification of a book-length study, but the
point being that the uptake, or ‘performativity’ of the model
produced a reality in its likeness, provoking Mackenzie to even
close his book with the question “What sort of reality do we
want to see performed?” Clearly, we are not advocating for more
profit-imperative modelling innovations, but we can leverage this
incredible potency differently since we know how effective it can be.
Models don’t represent or merely ‘reduce’ reality; they are
tools as the philosopher Margaret Morrison argues, to intervene in
reality.

 RB: There is a sense that accelerationism and XF is invested in
the organisational techno-architectures of social programmes, in
platform-building and scaling networks. If so, how can one avoid the
bureaucratic traps of techno-social administration - like the coercion
and (self) surveillance through data management - that are encouraged
under the guise of 'creative tech innovation'? In addition, how can
one escape the internal race, gender and class hierarchies that are
often so constitutive to open techno-collaborative platforms?

 LC: The materialisation of the conceptual framework raised in XF is
certainly the largest, most difficult task at hand, one that will
require substantial collaboration outside of our group. The hope with
XF is that it manages to conceptually infect others to experiment
on this tangible level. We know that the development of technology
is also a reflection of our own biases, limitations, needs, desires
and perceptions of the world, so contaminating this perceptual or
cognitive level, although not enough, is still an important step.
Your question really points to the delicacy and riskiness of our
current world where so many potentially beneficial innovations are
twisted to serve the few, be it either through sheer profit gains
or through the cultural capital of becoming an antagonistic hero.
The gross demographic misrepresentation within the building of
techno-architecture (not to mention access to it) is the most obvious,
direct hurdle to leap in order to mould and retrain these structures
to serve the many. There are no user-manuals as to how to avoid
the hazards you mentioned, all of which are bound to ideological
imperatives of our time (for profit and self-branding), so any radical
overhauling of the purposes that technology may serve, is wholly
dependent on the restructuring of our given ideological ‘myths’ or
frameworks.


RB: Is Laboria Cuboniks intended as collective pseudonym for others
to inhabit, in a similar way, for example, to Luther Blisset where
a specific political tactic was applied through its availability as
an open alias, or is it a more limited identification, akin to art
group Bernadette Corporation which was always a specific core group of
authors? How important is anonymity? Are there other groups you know
of assuming the tenets of Xenofeminism as a discourse/practice? Do you
envisage more Xenofeminist ‘chapters’ as a scaling strategy?

 LC: Our name is an anagram of Nicolas Bourbaki, another collective
pseudonym for group of largely French mathematicians from the 20th
century advocating for abstraction and genericity in their field, so
we playfully identify with them. As of now, the group is just the
six of us, and, for the better or for the worse, anonymity was never
achieved from the outset having launched the manifesto in person
(without costumes and robot voices). In hindsight, the performative
‘appearance’ of Laboria could have been much more elaborately
conceived and enacted – but as it is now, the importance must be
placed on the labour of XF in general (open to anyone who wants
to tinker, intervene, augment, refute and expand on these initial
claims), and not on ‘Laboria’, the author. We’ve seen several
groups and individuals respond to the manifesto – either through
translation, dissemination, zine creation, talk-radio, inclusion in
course readings, artistic practices and so on – and this is crucial
to any ambitions of scaling up beyond our own finite capacities.
Perhaps it would make sense to speak of ‘nodes and forks’ rather
than ‘chapters’; ‘chapters’ seem to indicate a certain linear
sequence that fulfils a narrative, whereas ‘nodes and forks’
affords a plurality of actants and events, piece by piece, deviation
by deviation.

CS+ RB: Many thanks for clarifying some of our questions related to
xenofeminism. The issues you address are urgent and we hope your
manifesto will inspire technofeminist experiments on all scales
and levels and contribute to the materialisation of more feminist
concepts, particularly within the development of technology.

_________________________________________________________

[i] Laboria Cuboniks (2015): http://www.laboriacuboniks.net/

[ii] Donna Harway,
http://faculty.georgetown.edu/irvinem/theory/Haraway-CyborgManifesto-1.pdf
[iii] The Internation Feminist Art Journal n.paradoxa published a
comprehensive collection of feminist manifestos in 2011:
https://www.ktpress.co.uk/feminist-art-manifestos.asp

The Xenofeminist Manifesto is available at http://www.laboriacuboniks.net



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