Linda Wallace on Fri, 16 Oct 1998 12:14:12 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> Other Eurocentrisms

Other Eurocentricisms
Linda Wallace

This text originally began as a response to a discussion on the faces list
re: is faces eurocentric?  When something is labelled eurocentric in
Australia one needs to look to the context to see which one of the
multilayered possibilities is being referred to. 

The term has always had a very specific though virtual geography attached
to it -- that of a place v.far away in <space/time>, though of course,
paradoxically, right here/v.close in <space/time>. Australia was initially
colonised by europeans: first by british/western european, then massive
post-second world war migration from east/southern europe. Large scale
"Asian" migration followed in the sixties and seventies, though chinese
people ha= d been living in Australia from very early on. 

So, given this history, the term eurocentric when used in Australia can be
applied to refer to "the mob over there" in Eurospace, or it may also inc=
lude other euro-like mobs such as the US or Canada -- it is always defined
by what it excludes, for example, other mobs say from Africa, Asia, and
the Pacific <btw. aboriginal australians commonly use the word mob to
signify a language group, a community, nation> Similarly, when applied
internally, in discussions specific to Australia, eurocentric again refers
to the original colonising meme-set, or this together with its global
clone-like-but-different mobs, like the US or Canada. This
ambiguity/collapse of the term is because the Euro has been severely
infiltrated by all of its other(s) in the Australian context, so that it
can be both Euro as in Europe-the-real, the actual place, but also Euro as
in western, as opposed to Asia or South America etc. 

One of the critical points in regards to the term eurocentric in the local
context is that although it does imply Europe as a whole it is not the
'Europe' in discrete parts as the present-and-true euros would see it. The
'Europe' australian-europeans perceive themselves to be living, through
there own personal backgrounds, is one of a mix of races now changed
through the process of migration. So our personal 'australian europe' is
one of intertwined cultural amalgamations/family histories quite outside
of the dictates of "Europe-the-real", which seems to have proceeded along
nicely inside its own glass bubble. So, here, in identity terms, there is
a kind of doubling going on (ie european/not european). The situation
which has evolved in Australia in terms of euro-ness is that which we
mirror back to Europe-the-real. Hence we australians are often surprised
and amused to confront, in the flesh, so to speak, the often navel-gazing
euro-other with all its intra-national bickering. As in a way Australians
are running their own hybrid, randomised European Union which is/has
become further changed by other migration waves from Asia, the Pacific and
Hollywood etc and is of course underwritten by the aboriginal people here
prior to invasion. Which is what happens to all communities -- as others
become part of them -- they change. Though not without a struggle. As it
is and will be with internet list communities. 

With this idea in mind, I would still say quite clearly that the
list-object faces is, at its core, eurocentric, in the 'Euro-the-real'
sense of the term. Or at least this is the way it began, but is now
rapidly moving towards b= eing northern hemisphere-specific. The use of
English overlays the faces list to create another layer of complexity
though there are still some posts in German which is nice. It may well be
that there are people from many different parts of the world on faces, but
the 'critical mass' needed to form an imagined community or group identity
is northern hemisphere-based and as such the faces list-object largely
articulates the concerns of that group of people. And that is fine. 

The question remains: how do list-objects like nettime and faces become
'more' global? What conditions are necessary so that the critical mass
doesn't get too thin and hence unable to recognise itself as a community? 

Given that list-objects appear to be located in so-called cyberspace, that
is, everywhere at once but nowhere at all, it is, therefore, the
collection of subjectivities which feed into the system which construct
the community. The ability of the list-object to include/exclude others
and otherness will determine its <shape> and operating logic. 

It was after returning from travelling in China for four weeks that I
wrote part of this earlier dialogue to faces re: the question of
eurocentrism. As seen through Chinese eyes this argument would run along
radically different lines. 

A while after this I started posting mails to the list to do with an issue
in Indonesia where, during the overthrow of Suharto, Chinese women had
been and were still being systematically raped and abused by, it seemed,
the Indonesian military. I tried to get closer to the heart of this issue,
and put the results of investigations onto faces. 

Interestingly it was women from Australia and United States who responded
to this issue. I felt that the reality of Chinese women in Indonesia, and
al so that of Timorese woman etc who suffer the same kind of abuse from
the Indonesian 'special forces', was maybe somehow too far away to women
in Eurospace to trigger a response. 

These observations are relevant to the idea of how associative meanings
work within the list-object, that is, within the imaginary community of
the list-object and its developing subjectivity/identity. 

The imagined community never really knows itself, or who or what it is at
any point in time, but the community <may> know that what it imagines
itself to be is only a partial manifestation of itself -- a glimpse of
what it might be now and of what it could be at another time. 

The list-object is always shifting as new subjects join, as mails are
forwarded on to others outside of the list-object<space>, and as each
individual within the list-object lives their everyday<time>. 

So how to visualise this vector-laden object? How to conceptually model
trajectories of discussion, flames, jokes (like the running joke of
Orlan's nose and Stelarc's ear on 7-11)? 

A useful metaphor/model may be supple 4Dvolumetric semantic/discourse
objects. Say, when someone speaks (in)to the list-object -- when a voice
in the collective body of the imagined community speaks, with all the
bodies listening at terminals in their varied time zones -- it is as if a
point is activated and pulled out to re-shape the list-object in 4Dspace
(ie spatio-temporal). 

And if this voice resonates, if it triggers some thing within the
community, if the voice acts as a catalyst to launch the imagined
community to speak itself/to respond and therefore to change the shape
<space/time> of the list-object, or even if the original missive just
generates a new idea in one or how many heads of the readers, or a laugh,
or even the slightest trace of a smile, then this model goes some way
towards how I imagine list-object communities changing their <information>
landscape/bodies of signification of changing themselves. 

Which is all very well, but how does <a place like> China fit into it? In
China where the Internet comes in on one 512 line, is IP # checked at the
central gate, then fed off to the range of ISPs using 128k lines each. In
China where there is also little internal connectivity between the ISPs.
So if you are paying 60rmb a month for three hours, and your wage is
200rmb a week, you aren't likely to be wanting to spend that long online
each time, in lists or irc and moos etc. So a list-object, with all the
noise and traffic of big city lists, would cost you a fortune to belong
to. Coupled with the fact that so much of the blather is in English, which
it is most likely you couldn't read. And forget images and the web -- they
would cost a fortune of your precious time to download. Real audio/video
no way, yet. However, inside the net of China, business is booming, and
driving internet expansion. Inside the net of China, and the chinese
diaspora, the net in chinese characters is rapidly growing. And, further,
consider the scripts of an online India. Could the current list-objects,
if not eurocentric then at least primarily northern-hemispheric, recognise
and accommodate this kind of input? How? What kinds of objects will begin
to emerge? 

Lack of infrastructure, speed and cost of access, English as the dominant
language, and state information controls prevent certain kinds of
expansion of list-objects like faces, nettime, infowar, rhizome, and
recode. It prevents the family growing. Such issues are not new. But they

Linda Wallace

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