Geert Lovink on Sat, 18 Jan 97 12:34 MET

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nettime: M.Fuller/Eating Disorder, part 1

Eating Disorder
the story of a shape

By Matthew Fuller

----- part 1 -----

This is a story that begins a while ago when I was approached by this
bloke with a more than somewhat dubious moustache.  He had heard of
some software and wanted to know if I could crack it for him. The
programs he was after were either a piece of US military software used
for advanced cartographical modelling and real time navigation, or the
version of it that has trickled down to corporate and high-end academic
Basically he wanted to get into a company that used the software and
pirate a copy. Well, in fact, he actually wanted someone else to do it.
According to him, this software was incredibly powerful. It could
automatically update its global image from satellites via a cellphone
modem, store information, zoom in from the scale of a continent to that
of a house and map features in both 2d and 3d (including information
such as the location of power lines, sewerage tunnels and potentially,
movements of people and vehicles). It was an amazingly powerful piece
of work.

Needless to say, there were plans for this software once it had been
liberated and his eyes glistened as he rapturously described the
possibilities of crusty street warriors equipped with top of the range
laptops going into riots dialling up an anarchist mainframe somewhere
to find out the latest satellite information on police movements in the
area. It was a tool that would make every man his own Lenin. Somewhat
unlikely, but, as an omnipotence fantasy, one only matched by that of
the police themselves 

If you've read Neal Stephenson's 'Snow Crash' you'll recognise the
similarity to the application he describes called 'Earth'. Whilst maybe
not quite having the fantastic level of detail, resolution and clarity,
of 'Earth' one of the pantheon of programmes that this guy was dreaming
about, Terra-Vision, produced by the German company Art+Com reportedly
does make 'the transition between data from different sources as
seamless as possible
- from satellite images captured from hundreds of miles above the
earth's surface, through aerial photographs, down to computer models of
streets or buildings with recognisable features only a few centimetres
in size' (1) Somewhat hubristically , Joachim Sauter of Art+Com
acknowledges, "We realised the earth is larger than any hard disk."(2)

In this text fantastical claims will be made for relationships between
the model of perpetually reiterated, perpetually appended 'windows into
information' of much contemporary computer interface ; the development
of dysfunctional bureaucracy as institutional form; and those
neobiological representations of the market as entering a new 'heroic'
phase, against which no borders must be allowed to stand.

This gruesomely dumb anarcho-omnipotence fantasy provides a clue.
Control is mutating. The solar disco ball shooting rays of pure
immanence transcendentally charged with overwhelming velocity and
pin-point coercion has reconfigured into an infinite field of
immanence. A Sierpensky's Sponge - a mathematical object produced by
removing an infinite number of increasingly small parts from a three
dimensional object such as a cube - a structure that has infinite
surface area yet zero volume. The utopian moment of control to be
everywhere yet unlocatable, transcendent.

The fractalisation of control is not merely the cosmically hued figure
of cloudy softness and enveloping smoothness, slimy and warm as a cum
greased shit, but also one of absolute routines clicking into place in
a predatory dynamic where - in a psychedelic anschluss - everything is
connected to everything. Fractal control is a progressively
constricting peristalsis, in which at every iteration, something is on
your back and biting.

- senseless products are the most desirable 

In this best of all possible worlds, there are many capitalisms: the
capitalism of off-brand instant noodles; the capitalism of being able
to afford full-colour printing for your magazine; the capitalism that
sees the nets as a gigantic and glorious job-creation scheme - for
other, stupider people; a capitalism where there is no society, just
neighbourhood patrols and armed individuals; a capitalism where
everything comes with the option to 'buy it today or loose it forever'
(3); pathetic, violent and glorious, capitalism 'encompasses
It is the multitudinous, what it means to be many, to be multiplied,
that is at stake. And it is the dynamics of encompassment, not only in
the sense of enclosure, (the hyperintense capitalism of the farm) nor
only in Whitman's sense - egomaniacal yet voluminously democratic
self-composition; but also in the badly punned sense of producing the
compass - the navigational apparatus - which, like 'Murdoch, Geffner,
Eisner and Turner' struggle to 'fabricate the materials with which the
world thinks'(4) and which constitute the fields in which this stake
is both repelled and attracted.

Within this field of attraction and repulsion, money can itself be
treated as a medium. A good example of its transmitting capabilities is
given in this extended section from 'Hackers':

"The unforgettable next two years were indeed marked by unprecedented
growth in the industry that was almost unwittingly started by the
hardware hackers. The hackers in Homebrew either went into business,
trotted off to one of the new companies forming in the opening stages
of this microcomputer boom, or kept doing what they always been doing:
The planners, those who had seen the advent of the small computer as a
means of spreading the hacker spirit, generally did not pause to
evaluate the situation: things were moving too fast for contemplation.
Left by the wayside were purists like Fred Moore, who once wrote in a
treatise entitled "Put Your Trust in People, Not Money" that money was
"obsolete, valueless, anti-life." Money was the means by which computer
power was beginning to spread, and the hackers who ignored that fact
were destined to work in (perhaps blissful) solipsism, either in tight,
ARPA-funded communities or in meagre collectives where the term
"hand-to-mouth" was a neat analogy for a "chip-to-machine"

Money does have an often powerful role in the production and
circulation of singularities. The other Sunday in Vauxhall market,
South London - a sprawling, messy mix of professional market traders
and families flogging things out the boots of their cars - you could
find amongst the other stalls, a couple of guys working out of the back
of a van who, alongside the more usual fake silverware, mosque shaped
digital alarm clocks, splinter-packed cricket sets for toddlers, toxic
aromatherapy candles, blank tapes and plastic flowers, were selling a
battered crateload of high quality polyester fleece Iguana Ponchos in a
range of three south of the border colours - an item made in San Luis
Obispo, California, that comes complete with a forty inch leash and
mini straw sombrero. That such a truly avant-garde product could find
its way to such a market perhaps says more about human optimism than it
does about the 'laws' of supply and demand.

"Like any other good citizen, I dream of nothing more than leveraging
myself over the years into the position of running a luxurious
pay-toilet during a perpetual plague of diarrhoea. "

- Money as Media

Money is in particular a medium for systems in search of the material
for their realisation. But, just as money has the power to transmit, it
also has variable qualities of transmission.(It also works as an
anti-medium, white noise, signal blockade). Just as Capital has always
been utterly dependent on the reproductive powers of unwaged 'social'
work and Mutual Aid - dynamics which it parasites in order to keep
staggering on, the design flaws in money demand its consistent
Manuel DeLanda makes the distinction between, "the small buyers and
sellers in a real market, who are price-takers (that is, they buy and
sell at prices that set themselves)"(6) and oligopolies, antimarket
forces that "create prices by adding a mark-up to the cost of
Following Fernand Braudel, DeLanda distinguishes a tripartite hierarchy
in economics: the material conditions of life; authentic markets, which
are, "the dynamics generated by many interacting small producers and
traders (where automatic co-ordination via price does occur)"(7) where
commodities are spontaneously allocated via price; and thirdly,
capitalism, which "as far back as the thirteenth century, and in all
the centuries in between"(8), has been "engaged in anti-competitive
practices, manipulating demand and supply in a variety of ways"(9) in
which the regulatory force of the market is countervailed or replaced
by, "rigid planning by a managerial hierarchy"(10) where, "prices are
increasingly replaced by commands as co-ordinating mechanisms."(11)

Looked at through this optic, Adam Smith's Invisible Hand of The Market
is replaced in 'authentic' markets by thousands of smaller hands that,
as a result, you merely can't see. In their insistence that a single
variable - the price - is used to regulate all the other variables of
resource allotment these arguments double those of Frederick Hayek, and
other economists in the 1920's Austrian School, whose writings are
favoured bedtime reading for those putting into place the sadistic
economies that we enjoy so much today.
In these actual existing markets, external fields such as the
gravitational drag of transnational corporations, the state, landowners
and others are at times both evaded and reinforced. Though should
things get out of hand, and self-organisation starts to migrate to the
wrong part of the market equation, when people rather than capital
become autonomous, the threat of violent paramilitaries is there to
keep you 'feeding the beast'.
As the EZLN Zapatistas make clear in one of their first statements, in
the marketplace of San Christabal de las Casas in the Mexican state of
Chiapas, "here you can buy or sell anything except indigenous dignity.
Here everything is expensive except death."(12)

This is the present day, where for many peasants in Mexico, the North
American Free Trade Agreement is a nothing less than a sentence of
death. Set this role that is refused in an ongoing historical context
of 500 years of struggle: first against slavery, against Spanish
colonialism, then North American Imperialism leading up to internal
dictatorship. Apologists for the market using neobiological metaphors
to describe it as seductively Out of Control end up in the duplicitous
production of a Cyborg Lysenkoism in order to avoid dealing with the
reality of the Outer Control that money entails. In an era of predatory
globalisation to talk of pure, untainted markets is more than a bad

The advantage of money as a medium is that it allows the transmission
of a wildly fluctuating heterology of capitalisms. Each one highly
adaptive, personally tailored, even allowing a little feedback now and
again. "In this, its creative, revolutionary phase; slave morality
calculates by means of subsuming all economic exchange under the
mercantile contractual relationship between creditor and debtor.
Everything has its equivalent. Everything can be paid for. Somehow,
everything will be paid for."(13) 
Moving into an urban context of a temporally and spatially dispersed
market, Chester Himes writes of Harlem looked down at from an analogous
height of purified abstraction:

"Looking eastward from the towers of Riverside Church, perched among
the university buildings on the high banks of the Hudson River, in a
valley far below, waves of grey rooftops distort the perspective like
the surface of a sea. Below the surface in the murky waters of fetid
tenements, a city of black people who are convulsed in desperate
living, like the voracious churning of millions of hungry cannibal
fish. Blind mouths eating their own guts. Stick in a hand and draw back
a nub."(14)
Surely, this isn't what you find writhing underneath the surface of the
screen of a computer running economic modelling software? This doesn't
sound like Sim City. These people don't sound like Rational Actors!

- the tumults within a system that help to maintain it: philosophy
moves from state thought to managerial thought

There are very real projects of domination embodied as money, but also
very real projects of victimisation embodied in romantic, political
fetishisations of powerlessness that are actually most often the ones
used to deal with capitalism. Foucault writing with what he called 'the
great Marxist obedience'(15) as a historical backdrop states:

'We must cease once and for all to describe the effects of power in
negative terms: it 'excludes', it 'represses', it 'censors', it
'abstracts' it 'masks', it 'conceals'. In fact, power produces; it
produces reality; it produces domains of objects and rituals of
Foucault should perhaps have at least known better than to have not
ceased ceasing once and for all but the point stands. Money is a
forcing device, like a keyhole that demands that the key be moved along
a specific axis in order for the locking mechanism to be put into
It necessitates and implements certain types of relationships. As an
abstract unit of exchange it negotiates a synthesis between the sides
of what Kenneth Dean and Brian Massumi call the 'dialectic of
transcendence and immanence.'
Writing about the body of the despot, the emperor, the president they
observe that:

"Each move to a higher unifying substance requires the new Number One
to subsume all preceding terms. That substance must subsume in one way
or another its own conditions of emergence. Every image of unity
contains within it a trace of the dialectic of immanence and
transcendence that produced it. Since the dialectic takes the form of
an alternation between a lack and an excess inscribed in the unifying
substance, images of that substance will also alternate between these
two poles."(17)
Money is the best attempt so far at such a unifying substance, like
that yellowish stuff in your sandwich it holds things together and
pushes them apart, in their place. For devout food technologists,
awareness of the two unifying poles of transcendence and immanence
could also be called class consciousness. The conditions of emergence
that money is required to subsume is the direct connection to its old
general equivalence, gold. As a self-organising system, 'capital
becomes autonomous by domesticating the human being'.(18)
To misparaphrase Prigogine and Stengers: in equilibrium money is blind,
but in far-from-equilibrium conditions it begins to be able to