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<nettime> (Thinking Through Theory)
Alan Sondheim on Thu, 29 Apr 1999 02:13:00 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> (Thinking Through Theory)


Thinking Through Theory - 


Beginning with a world, W, which is a site of a world, that is, a moment
of inscription, ripples expanding - or a sign or bracket or eidetic re-
duction of a world, or a signifier foreclosing upon itself as an experi-
ment - then I continue within that inscription, which is this and any
other - therefore a wobbling. And it is clear that W has a certain style,
that is to say, there is a style to the world, a tenor, which is of the
order of a meander, or following. So I would begin with that tenor, that
certain style, noting in passing, all that I can say, which is that the
world has this tenor, the site of this writing, of my positioning, which
is expansive, rippling across or through an implicate order, which will
do, as if in the manner of holography.

Such is the potential well of W, that this writing resists, impedes, re-
mains, at least for the length of time to establish itself within a mes-
sage base. Such impediments present the appearance of entities undergoing
change, one might say continuous change - change among bases. It is here
that in my work something similar to category theory appears - bases and
transformations among them, all cohering to a certain style - and I can
speak of a kernel or unity possessing certain properties within and with-
out these bases: look, as Weyl said, to the automorphisms for the struc-
ture. But I would also say, look towards the ontological claims and in-
variants of the message bases for the tenor. And it would immediately be-
come clear that many of the bases are mutually incommensurate; such, for
example, might be the imaginary in relation to the symbolic, the world of
dreams appearing mediate, as a router searching backwards and forwards for
the proper addressing.

I may create graphs representing states of entities, with each node char-
acterizing a different state. Or there may be tree diagrams, representing
causal or possible linkages from a given state. Finally, it is possible to
relate an _internal_ graph of an entity - its imminent transformations -
to an _external_ graph representing the relationships between these trans-
formations. And there is in either case a hierarchy of such graphs which
represent a turn of consciousness towards the entity, which is also the
construct of the entity. These layers relate to Bateson's learning levels,
for example.

Think of the external graphs as mappings from the states of one graph onto
the nodes of another, and think of the state representation graphs as com-
plete and internal. Think of the former including noise, 'foreign' graph
elements, redundancies. Think of the latter as integral to the definition
of an entity.

There is resonance with the position of the letter and the word, as well
as the rooting of the letter and the word within consciousness; I would
not have entities without the designation of contours and contrast algo-
rithms. The rooting of the letter is inextricably phonemic, related to
drives, chora, rupture, and the landscape of the imaginary; it is as well
the pressure of the finger on the eyes, delirious figuration, stutterings,
ectoplasms, emanants, emanations. Again it is as well the expulsion of the
breath from the body, the inhalation and exhalation of the world and its
admixing. The byproduct of the letter is the word; syntax is an energy.
There are both couplings and linkages at work, the former referencing a
certain form of contiguity in which the transformation of one element need
not affect the others - and the latter, in which there are chain processes
across all elements whenever one is affected.

It is the couplings of letters that result in the differential order of
the symbolic, and it is the linkage with the real that tends towards sym-
pathetic magic and fetishization. Both couplings and linkages may be rep-
resented within external or internal graphs; the latter obey a rule of
conservation of tokens (political economy) and the former, a rule of jos-
tling and decoupling (Bataille's economy of surplus accumulation).

I think of _primary processes_ of couplings and linkages integral to
graphs; these graphs represent _exchange-strata_ and operate within and
without threshold logics. I think of _secondary processes_ of inscription
and perceptual processing, contour enhancement, the transformation of the
letter to the word, the word to its full semantic and syntactical embodi-

Couplings and linkages are subject to _fissuring,_ the division of the
same by the same, the gnawing of substance at construct. Graphs are sub-
ject to _inscription,_ the division of one by the other, or division of
one by the one, the construct of entity from substance.

In this manner, language and phenomena, are intertwined; phenomena with-
out language are intertwined; language without phenomena are cursor-bound
dream-screens of the imaginary real.


W is a seizure; the world is coma. To think the world is dis-ease; there
is no uncoupling. By the most tenuous of threads... Holography, the grain,
constructs defuge, the paste broken by inscription. Dis-ease is that of
the abject, the world internal and external, broken graphs; one can never
rid oneself. Everyone exercises; nothingness as in the rest is linked. A
link shudders when an element shudders. A coupling never says goodbye;
elements remain in ignorance. Consider this an opening to the text stum-
bling across vocality. To write of the world which is always already pros-
thetic, such writing +ill+ at ease.

3. THE WORK, An Outline (The Crippled Outline from 1994)

[This is from 1994; 1999 comments in brackets. Think of this as a somewhat
crippled attempt to salvage the outline, fill it out - across the textual
growth of the Internet Text, which, at this point, was just beginning.]

I address the problem of ELECTRONIC SUBJECTIVITY by virtue of several
threads, all concurrent. I continue this addressing, each thread writing
and rewriting the text, a continuous-production or discourse against the
grain. [Increasingly I wrote _within_ the grain; increasingly I found
"virtual subjectivity" (no longer necessarily electronic) - not a problem,
but a problematic. Increasingly I felt overpowered, overwhelmed, not by
the possibilities, but by the prostheses; my avatars or _emanants_ gave me
the ability to explore everywhere, everything...]

The GRAIN, GRANULARITY, is a physical reality both classical and quantum-
mechanical, a physical reality whose appearance is that of the grain: let-
ters on a bleak field, the grains of granite and photographic film, beach-
sand, the granularity of the retina itself. [The grain is also represented
by couplings and linkages, loosely-connected assemblages dependent on neu-
ral processing to identify/construct entities and flows by virtue of the
signifier. Signifiers, embedded in sememes, do not exist independent of
the skein of referents and the real. Everything mixes; that is the site of
the human. Sight, site, citation, everything leads to everything else...
And when I speak of one thing, I speak of every other; that is _skein._]

The SUBJECT "au voile" or VEILED SUBJECT is defined by ADDRESS (location,
without which the subject no longer exists); RECOGNITION (the activated
ADDRESS opening and closing channels of communication); PROTOCOL (the
syntactic structure of communication); and REWRITE (a continuous-produc-
tion or reiteration of the subject, a flood or EMISSION of the symbolic).
[The subject is always already constituted online; s/he is identified with
the totality of his/her production. Defuge participates in the veiling
of. And rewrite resonates, connects with the phenomenology of emanants.]

The EMISSION is signifies; a SPEW is a symbol-dump, noisy and granular,
referencing the real exterior, transforming the interior into an abject.
EMISSION and SPEW are communicative occasions whose analog is the set of
GENERALIZED MEASURE GEOMETRIES, always but not quite symmetrical, always
reiterative. The Net diffuses and collapses, differentiates and integ-
rates, transforming smooth into semantic or inscribed space, and back
again. [These measure geometries are fractals possessing a discrete base.
But the "Net" doesn't do anything, neither diffuses nor collapses, etc.;
there is no Net - only an accumulation of protocols, emanants, resonan-
ces, applications, texts, subtexts, and so forth. Think of information as
the characteristic of being human - as the result of surplus economies -
as superstructural foreclosures - as limit-phenomena - as post-marxist
reflection-theory - as physio-cultural economies. Think of neural opera-
tions as partly internal, partly external - think of information and
neuro-physiological processes as blurred, hardware/software/wetware as
equally blurred. Think of the possibility of indistinction, the most
locally probably of all probable worlds. Think of masquerade.]

The ontology of the Net is UNCANNY, an absenting or problematic alterity;
within the UNCANNY, FANTASM appears, the introjection/ projection (-JECTI-
VITY or the THROWN, DASEIN) of narratologies and ACTANTS, "persons,"
neither present nor absent; these may be ELECTRONIC SUBJECTS themselves,
or a constructed IMAGINARY transmitted and diffused. NARRATOLOGIES are the
collapse of NET DISCOURSE into remaindered patterns; the opposite is the
MURMUR or STUTTER, the irruption of "frissons" everywhere and nowhere at
all. The imaginary is addictive; Net users become USERS, circulating
around specificities fetishized from emissions, a collapse into the lure
of the UNCANNY. Here, POWER is what passes for POWER. If addiction is the
obsessive-compulsive neurosis of the net, WEB INVERSION is the psychosis,
transforming the body into its exterior, and its exterior into flesh
burned into the Internet itself, wires laid across the skin, the skin
speaking the hieroglyph of imaginary usage. [This "uncanny" transcends the
Net; other references include ghosts, geist, ectoplasms, prostheses, and
dis-eases. And _frisson_ - from the stuttering of packets and lag, to the
trembling of the virtual subject vis-a-vis his or her online ascii uncon-
scious. I no longer believe that "Net users become USERS" - no longer be-
lieve in the unary Net of course - and addiction can easily be deconstruc-
ted. On the other hand, "web-inversion" relates to the internal and ex-
ternal slippages of emanants (Jennifer, Nikuko, Alan, Julu), the scribb-
ling of selves within selves, within and without domains.]

The DIGITAL DOMAIN is the dominion of eternal life, the dominion of eter-
nal REWRITE; information is never lost from generation to generation, but
always repeated and repeated absolutely. This is the dominion of the clean
and proper body, the introjection of burnt wires producing always already
a simulacrum of life guaranteeing continuous discourse. There is no death;
the screen becomes the EGO or gateway, the surface of the addictive user.
Everything is PERFECTION. TRUTH and FACTICITY are occurrences, since truth
tables are decided only by ASCII or other decoding/encoding matches. What
is true is present. And what is true is also BEAUTIFUL since perfect and
perfectly clean, always a symmetry or lure. [Eternal rewrite is obsessive-
compulsive as well. Now in 1999 it is also clear that eternity is applica-
tion-dependent; memory substrates become outdated, erased and re-erased.
On the horizon - eternity - but even within the analog it has always been
that way. And the burnt wires? These are the wires felt by Andy Hawks -
the wires one lives within. At this point, Dasein still appears emission -
just forget the addiction.]

The GREAT BEYOND is the horizon of the Internet, always farther, always
increasing circulations of the planet which short-circuit or circumvent.
At the edge of the GREAT BEYOND one finds the BLIND PASSWORD "absente"
beyond which is a null-set or zero file. ONTOLOGY itself is absent; epis-
temology is viral, transformative. Nothing is certain and nothing circu-
lates. [This was written in the era of ascii-worlds; the horizon owes more
to capital. There is no beyond; the topography is multiply-connected,
self-reflexive. Ontology is not absent; it's "weak," performative, just as
language and gesture (from voice to mouse rollovers) are performative. The
epistemology is based on information all the way up and down, absorbing
physical reality; presence and absence are primitives.]

PROPER NAMES circulate throughout the Net, the promise of TRUTH or BEAUTY,
the promise of emission. Such names are FANTASMS; every possible world is
every possible Net world in a continuous morph, and every KIND is simulta-
neously a NATURAL and UNNATURAL kind. Thus TRUTH is each and every occur-
rence, and who is to say that FALSEHOOD is not the same? What is neither
this nor that is foundation, gestural, within and without the GREAT
BEYOND, UNCANNY. The TERMINAL becomes retinal but anonymous. Names MURMUR
forever, lose identity. NAMES never had identity to begin with. [Online,
names are not rigid designators; they undergo transformations, as much a
part of binary constitution as anything else. Neither the presence of the
body nor the body's breath are primary; there are also those uncanny 
spaces among online and offline bodies, spaces between the physical sub-
ject and the screen - spaces of the imaginary. _States_ of subjects and
the variety of proper names are finite but (practically) inaccessibly

The POLITICAL ECONOMY OF THE NET constructs a class-consciousness fuelled
by reification-tendencies; everything is reification. Teleology is defined
by a FUTURE IMPERFECT in which reification constitutes the IDENTITY OF THE
SUBJECT ITSELF. [By "reification" I was referencing constitution - the
_construct_ of the self, of class, in dialectic with both economic and
cultural capital. Virtual subjectivity is inextricably intertwined with
its sememe; my work subsequently has examined the _dirty_ aspects of the
computational clean-room. These aspects leak out; net.sex, defuge/burnout,
flaming, hacking, etc. are symptoms.]

The FUTURE from the exterior results in the LAST SCIENCE FICTION STORY in
which the subject confronts the GREAT BEYOND. Narrative itself disappears,
replaced by PERFECTION. LIFE, once defined by MODULARITY, has become SUBS-
TANCE, a REWRITE of the same into the same. [Life is an inhabitation of 
seamless virtual reality. The "same into the same" refers to the leveling
of seamless virtual reality and the physical. The "last science fiction
story" is absorbed - like every other literature - into the w/hole.]

[This ends the crippled outline and its crippled commentary.]

4. Fundamental Principles and their Breaking (Breaking of the Vessels)

Beginning, as I did, with the particle W, and a network (which could be
represented by matrices) of nodes of any capacity; channels of any cap-
acity; and markers - I was able to construct models of threshold logics.
What literally "went over the top," activated. Gates were needed in order
to have one topology affect another. Markers were conserved.

But this was insufficient; in the modeling, I allowed the presence of
"foreign phrases" or part-objects - so that one graph might map the states
of another - but it might also map "foreign" states that would interfere
or not - such states could also be entirely remote from the core mapping.
The core mapping itself might be deliberately partial - mapping only cer-
tain states (perhaps visible states, perhaps proximate states, perhaps
states of bricolage, perhaps part-objects of desire). Everything in the
formalism, in other words, "sloshed" against everything else. What was
originally to be "fundamental" now appeared broken, _fissured_ (in the
formal sense of the term), irrevocably so.

There were other additions; the initial creation/annihilation formalism,
coupled with the channels, etc., now allowed new part-objects, partial
graphs, to appear just about anywhere in the overall configurations. And,
while a hierarchy of "strata" were constructed (a simple example being a
graph representing the states of another graph - which was then perceived
as "embedded" in its nodes), it was possible, through what I termed "dot-
particles," to alter _internal_ or lower-level strata, without affecting
the upper. More and more the entire formalism took on the characteristics
of a topographic paint-program, allowing access to any symbol on any level
within any diagram - independently of any other. Therefore a _fashion,_ or
_fashioning_ on any level - what I now would consider the _decoupling of

So that foundations themselves turned out - to the extent that one dealt
with such metaphoricities as these - to be broken, abject - not in need of
propping (there were no props, only a round-robin of symbolic formations)
- but peripheral to the phenomena themselves, and I began to think, howev-
er awkwardly, about the core phenomena at the heart of scientific experi-
ment - and to think my way through a platonism of, say, fundamental parti-
cles (which themselves may prove to be round-robin in relation to higher
and higher energies). I felt also that the phenomena I was considering -
the nature of entities, the apparent Aristotelian logics of the everyday
world - were superstructurally almost entirely foreclosed (what Simon
called "nearly decomposable hierarchies) in this fashion - so that coup-
lings and linkages and the whole spew of topographic metaphors might best
be applied here. Still, I wanted more - and retreated once again to uneasy
psychoanalytical levels which worried the interpretation of all of this -
the core-theoretical structures, the topographies, the linkages and the
couplings - and it was in order (to some extent) to deal with these that I
began to work with avatars or emanants (Jennifer, Julu, Alan, Nikuko), who
were born of protocol, performative, and program - in such a manner that I
have been able to extent them as system resonances or introjections/pro-
jections, across applications, languages, and so forth.

Such emanants, which partake equally of the literary, are a far cry from
the reductionism of the foundations - but only to the extent that the
psychoanalytics of breaking are excluded. Such is not my intent - which is
why the literary veers back into the philosophical, and back again - as if
in search for an epistolary site that would harden the resources and
theory into a permanent therapeutic. And such, of course, could never be
the case, which is one of continuous evolution.


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