Complicit subversions: Cultural new media activism and 'high' theory
First Monday

Complicit subversions: Cultural new media activism and 'high' theory by Ingrid Maria Hoofd



Abstract
How do current technological structures change the activist landscape and its use of certain academic theories? And what, in turn, could this relationship tell us about a possible exacerbation of contemporary forms of inclusion and exclusion? This article will argue that the productive crossovers in the Internet between cultural new media activism and ‘high’ theory mark precisely the humanist subject’s complicity in contemporary technocratic neo–liberalism. It will do so by analyzing in detail how cultural new media activism defines itself in relation to the ‘complicit’ university with its ‘elitist’ theories, especially through these activists’ problematic perception of the Internet as a neutral realm.

Contents

Introduction: Activism, theory, new media
The speed–elite and the murder of the sign
Theory, activism, and the new economic philosophy
Tactical media and temporary autonomous zones
Murder at twice the speed of sound
The communication guerilla
Cultural net–activism and the accelerated reproduction of privilege

 


 

Introduction: Activism, theory, new media

“In consumption, there was an abstraction from use–value but there was a play of signs ... Then information technology reduced it all to the same level with an even greater abstraction where the sign disappears ... [T]he digital is not a sign, but a signal.” [1]

How may we appreciate the relationship between activism and academia today? How do the new social, technological, and economic structures change the activist landscape and its use of certain academic theories? And what, in turn, could this relationship tell us about a possible exacerbation of contemporary forms of inclusion and exclusion, despite its critique of injustices? This essay proposes to analyze the current historical intersections of activism, academia, and new technologies by focusing on the discursive strategies of ‘cultural new media activism’ or ‘cultural net–activism’. In order to narrow down the scope of this essay, this paper will focus on the strategies of prominent net–activist Geert Lovink, on the narratives of the founding father of the ‘temporary autonomous zone’ Hakim Bey, and on the more witty writings and actions of the autonome a.f.r.i.k.a. gruppe. These groups and individuals are of interest here because their forms of activism are indeed very specific to the contemporary historical techno–moment, and as such exemplary of cultural net–activism. Moreover, they all claim to subvert neo–liberal corporatization and commodification through actively engaging in a ‘play of signs’ which often makes use of concepts found in ‘academic’ social semiotics, critical theory, cultural studies, and various post–modern theories.

Indeed, the onset of the last decade of the twentieth century saw a sudden general increase in the cross–fertilization of a manifold of ‘conventionally’ and usually more locally organized forms of activism — environmental, anarchist, anti–racist — with new media and especially with Internet technologies at large. This shift towards new media has many anti–capitalist (cultural) activists and intellectuals declare that ‘old’ media types of activism — like handing out flyers — are passé and useless, and that real seditious potential resides in the Internet. But far from such new (cultural) activist endeavors being in any way subversive, I would like to suggest that there is something particularly fashionable about all these activist uses and imaginations in terms of its synchronicity to the emergence of neo–liberal global capital. In fact, I claim that cultural new media activism is wholly complicit in the violent histories, reproductions and current exacerbation of globalist hegemonies in the present and near future, and as such rather an effect of the neo–liberal quest for acceleration rather than in any remote way a contestation to late–capitalism, despite its claims to the contrary. The synchronous rise of these activist practices and imaginations, and the spread of the neo–liberal market, does suggest an intricate relationship between the two. Moreover, I claim that all these imaginations hark back to the fantasies that underlie what I will call the machinery of the ‘speed–elite’: fantasies of speed, mobility, progress, technological redemption, and a particular type of humanism in the service of a utopia of transcendence and pleasure for the happy few. Problematic discourses whose repetitions under neo–liberal globalization hinge significantly on the ‘free play’ rhetoric and particularities of new technologies, coining a problematic perception of the Internet as a neutral space and/or tool, return in an extraordinarily crystallized form in cultural new media activism.

This is partly because such activism obviously survives on an essential accelerating element of precisely that hyper–capitalist system it claims to subvert: new media technologies. But there is more going on here than just a dubious ‘use’ of those technologies. By analyzing in detail how cultural new media activism defines itself through and at times against academic ‘elitist’ theories and any corporate space, this essay will argue that the productive crossovers created through the Internet and its metaphors of crossing borders between these activisms and ‘high’ theory mark precisely the activist/academic subject’s complicity in contemporary technocratic neo–liberalism. The essay will draw out this complicity by tracing cultural new media activism’s ambiguous relationship to academia and ‘high’ theory back to the aporia between ‘action’ and ‘thought’ that marks the humanist endeavor, and claim that cultural new media activism itself is a symptom of the imperative of ‘activity’ that initially gave rise to the early humanist predecessor of contemporary neo–liberal capitalism. The productive crossing–over between these forms of activism and ‘high theory’ therefore finds its way into activist texts in various forms: from overt denial of involvement in anything academic (as much as academia is being perceived as yet another corporate entity), to an uncritical embracement of a particular group of post–modern theories of parody and subversion, of which the Internet is then seen as a primary facilitator.

As a note on the side, it is my hope that readers will come to understand that the fact that I want to explicitly declare my allegiance to these activisms, as much as to their so–called ‘high’ theories, suggests that my critiques of those activisms are by no means attempts to wipe out or completely oppose (if such an opposition were possible at all) such activist endeavors. My sympathies remain to some extent with these various activisms, whose problematic underpinnings I nonetheless feel compelled to address in this essay. The reader should therefore be aware that my critical analyses emphatically do not mean to identify some kind of non–complicit position of critique, but that these analyses instead point directly towards the problematic complicities in contemporary neo–liberal arrangements of (my) academic humanist practices themselves.

 

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The speed–elite and the murder of the sign

Of course, the critique of cultural activism and its reliance on post–modern perceptions of rebellion as central to the ‘logic of late capitalism’ has been around for a while. Fredric Jameson, in his seminal “Postmodernism, or the cultural logic of late capitalism,” already ventured to argue that “aesthetic production today has become integrated into commodity production.” [2] Many critics have taken his cue. Sure enough, this classical argument around ‘old’ cultural activism and its forms of parody and pastiche as complicit in late capitalism is indeed useful, but no longer suffices. This is because this critique still assumes the essential communicability of signs through ‘older’ media forms (as much as Jameson does not take note of his own critique in terms of its performance of the belief of such communicability). But in a landscape dominated by the technologies of simulation, cultural activism’s (and academic) complicities take on an more intense form by primarily facilitating the ‘speed–elite’ through its simple usurpation and intensification of any type semiotic activity into the networked void. It is typical here that much cultural net–activism still sees the Situationists and in particular Guy Debord as its authorities. These intellectual–activists, Douglas Kellner and Steven Best note in The Postmodern Turn, still maintained the distinction between ‘real’ and ‘false’ desires, as well as between an authentic reality of oppression and the semiotic realm [3]. It is this distinction — giving rise to a problematic interpretation of pleasure and desire as subversive by net–activists — that becomes eventually untenable under a society primarily driven by the techno–quest for speed. The question therefore becomes: whose desires are speaking?

I take my cue of the ‘speed–elite’ from political scientist John Armitage. Armitage conceptualizes this interrelatedness of a politics of speed, connection, liberation and overcoming boundaries, whether pursued through business or activist endeavors, as the basis of a ‘chrono(dys)topia’ that increasingly disenfranchises the ‘(s)lower classes’. In line with this idea, Armitage and Phil Graham suggest — in “Dromoeconomics: Towards a Political Economy of Speed” — that under the capitalist need for the production of excess, there is a strong relationship between the forces of trade and the logic of techno–acceleration. They connect the logic of speed more specifically to the powers of war and militarization. Building on the work of Paul Virilio, they argue that all areas of trade, knowledge production, and militarization are connected, because all these forces essentially mutually enforce each other through the usurpation and control of space (and territory) and through the compression and regulation of time. The production of excess and the accumulation of wealth require this usurpation for the ‘pleasurable’ expansion of certain privileged peoples and spaces. Such an usurpation results, according to Armitage and Graham, in the fact that

“[H]ypercapitalism [is] the system within which the most intimate and fundamental aspects of human social life — forms of thought and language — are formally subsumed under capital.” [4]

Such a rendition of the current state of affairs agrees with many activists’ compulsion to be politically active through new media technologies. It is indeed regularly such a compulsion that returns in many cultural new media theories and activisms, whose discourses, as we will see, appear as a symptom of late–capitalism’s excess production through speed. And because of the relationship between militarization and ‘pleasure’ that such excess forges, we will see that the productive discourses of warfare regularly find their way into cultural new media activism. Eventually, Armitage and Graham suggest that “circulation has become an essential process of capitalism, an end in itself,” [5] and therefore that any form of cultural production and thought increasingly finds itself bound up in this logic.

In “The Daydreams of iPod Capitalism,” Rob Wilkie in a similar move argues that the fantasy that hierarchies (and in particular those of class) can be overcome by investing in the illusion of transcendence through cyberspace, is problematic. This is because it “obscures that class is an objective relation” that has made and continues to make cyberspace possible in the first place [6]. He notes that many new media activisms are very much in tune with corporate narratives of the Internet and cyberspace as the one tool that represents a radical break with the past and its modernist hierarchies. Indeed, such a discourse serves the happy few who can imagine their actions as progressive because they do not suffer late–capitalism’s grim effects. More to the point, Jean Baudrillard makes an argument — in “The Implosion of Meaning in the Media” — quite similar to my assessment of cultural net–activism as complicit in speed. He starts from the premise that the increase of information in our media–saturated society results in a loss of meaning because it “exhausts itself in the act of staging communication.” New media technologies exacerbate the subject’s fantasy of communication, while increasingly what are communicated are mere copies of the same, a “recycling in the negative of the traditional institution.” [7] In short, the new technologies are the materialization of that fantasy, and the “lure” [8] of such a system resides in the requirement of active political engagement to uphold that fantasy. This translates in a call to ‘subjectivize’ oneself — to be vocal, to speak, participate, decide, and to “play the ... liberating claim of subjecthood.” [9] Baudrillard concludes that

“All the movements that only play on liberation, emancipation, on the resurrection of a subject of history ... do not see that they are going in the direction of the system, whose imperative today is precisely the overproduction and regeneration of meaning and speech.” [10]

The result of the intensifying circular logic of this system, he says, is that meaning not only implodes in the media, but also that the social implodes in the masses — the construction of a “hyper–real.” [11] The problem with cultural new media activism is therefore not only that their political counter–information means just more information (and loss of meaning) as well as more capitalist production, but that it puts its faith in precisely those technologies and humanist fantasies of control, communication and of ‘being political’ that underlie the logic of overproduction.

 

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Theory, activism, and the new economic philosophy

Crucially, these humanist fantasies are today still the grounding myths of the contemporary academic setting and its production of particular sets of theories. As a symptom of this, many contemporary scholarly writings constantly naturalize the opposition of theory/thought and activism/practice by arguing for ‘dialogues’ between practice and theory. This essay will therefore also look at how this false opposition, where ‘theory’ comes to naturalize or justify cultural activism’s voice of subversion, self–legitimizes various cultural net–activisms in the dawn of a growing neo–liberalization of universities worldwide. In short, there are numerous oppositions or dichotomies (activism versus academia, activism versus corporations) enunciated for activist empowerments, which may mark the complicity of such an activism in the intensification of speed–politics. Splitting off the subject of pragmatic or activist on the one hand and ‘elitist’ or academic theories and practices on the other hand, where activist practices are dangerously perceived as the unproblematic producers of subversive social action, is currently a particularly pervasive activist (and academic!) discourse [12]. Such a romanticization of the inherent goodness of ‘action’ misses, for one, the blunt reality of, for instance, right–wing social movements and the pervasive racism and sexism within many left–wing activisms. ‘Action’ and ‘resistance’ are creeds running across the whole political activist spectrum, from xenophobic nationalists to left–wing anarchists. Indeed, such an affiliation of the basic belief in ‘action’ indicates once more that these groups are no longer fundamentally opposed under the neo–liberal imperative.

Furthermore, the theory–action interplay in cultural net–activism tends to turn a blind eye on a couple of clear caveats and explanations about academic and activist praxes, some of which have been lucidly elaborated by Gayatri Spivak. I am discussing this false opposition in particular because it will shed more light upon the necessary entanglements of cultural activism in that which it perceives as its fundamental ‘enemy’ or ‘other’ — late–capitalism. This will reveal the basic dialectic that productively underlies the cultural–activist quest for justice and its complicities in discourses of speed. I also suggest that such entanglements are similarly present in institutions — be it the military–industrial–academic complex or the global network of multinationals — against which cultural activism opposes itself. In the interview “Criticism, Feminism and The Institution,” Elizabeth Grosz asks Spivak about the relationship between “deconstruction and the field of politics” which are popularly conceived as two radically different areas by many theorists and activists. Spivak replies that this split, and the constant repetition of this split, is in fact a symptom of metaphysical thought in that it claims the concept of deconstruction as lying within the terrain of theory — and hence within high academic practice — only. This splitting off of ‘proper’ activism as ‘non–theoretical’ and as outside academia then results in the negation of deconstruction as being applicable to activist practices, as if activism defines the authentic outside on which theory can then infinitely project its axioms.

A quick look at the etymological background of the term ‘theory’ might also be a useful exercise to illustrate how activism and theory can never be separate entities. It reveals that ‘theory’ sprang from the Greek theorein which translates in English as ‘to look at’. A theoros was literally a spectator who watches a performance in a theatre (theatron), and the derivative theoria consequently means ‘an observation’ [13]. This analogy of ‘theory’ in Greek philosophy with watching a performance interestingly shows that there may already be an ambiguity at the heart of the concept of ‘theory’. This is because the analogy productively supposes that the theoros is himself not part of the (or at least of some kind of) performance, and that ‘theory’ exists completely outside of language and its object of study. Similarly, the English ‘theory’ is commonly defined as “a system of ideas based on general principles independent of the thing to be explained.” [14 However, theorein’s derivative theorema (which entered English as ‘theorem’) means ‘an observation’ as well as an ‘object of study’ at the same time. Likewise, ‘theory’ also means “a set of principles on which an activity is based,” suggesting a more intricate relationship between the ‘activity’ or ‘object’ and (its) theory where theory somehow grounds its object. In short, the performance at play through ‘theory’, which sets the discursive conditions for theory to ‘spectate’ and observe, is the false presupposition that theory is independent from its object of study. This presupposition is particularly false because the necessity of this performance precisely shows that ‘theory’ is simultaneously an intrinsic part of the ‘performance within the theatre’, if you allow me to stick to the Greek analogy. The result is that it is not possible to discern between a theory and its object, and that theory is ultimately an elusive concept. This performance of theory (as if it is independent from its object or activity) nonetheless remains the grounding gesture of this essay as well as of the cultural net–activisms I will analyze.

Spivak remarks later on in the interview with Grosz that “the privileging of practice is in fact no less dangerous than the vanguardism of theory.” [15] More importantly, against theorists or activists who regard practice as ‘pure’ action and theory as ‘mere’ thought (or, vice versa, practice as mere action and theory as pure thought), Spivak correctly cautions that

“practice is an irreducible theoretical moment, no practice takes place without presupposing itself as an example of some more or less powerful theory ... the [activist] intellectual or anti–intellectual who can choose to privilege practice and then create a practice/theory split within a sort of theory, in fact, is also capable [or privileged], because he or she is produced by the institution ... .” [16]

This insight into the gate–keeping of the academic institution argues that the university — through the repetition and reproduction of larger dominant societal material practices, technologies and discourses — does not merely influence and stratify production within academia, but also affects the production of knowledge and truth outside of academia. Cultural net–activism (and this essay), with its overt use of ‘high’ theory, is an excellent example of this. The performance of a supposedly inherent boundary between activism and theory, or between activism and academia, following Spivak’s argument, in fact shows how these two practices strongly relate. At the base of both claims of their oppositional relationship and the imaginary conscious and active subject, are discourses that are culturally and historically specific to European humanism. Both subscribe to the humanist notion of the conscious and actively expressing subject in theory (through the praxis of ‘thought’) and activism (through the praxis of ‘doing’), and the humanist ideas of individual intentionality and societal progress through knowledge production and technologies as the proper road to emancipation. The idea of subversive intention held by many cultural activists — who think they can bring about certain cause–effect liberatory ‘chain reactions’ through their networked play of signs — likewise implies that the social setting and the individual or collective agent are knowable and sovereign, in which any mediated tool simply becomes a neutral instrument for anti–capitalist rebellion.

...both activists and academics rely on finding something ‘structurally wrong’ with society, because this legitimizes them.

The idea of a certain public and private responsibility in the face of humanism is hence constitutive of academia and intellectual ‘works of justice’, such as cultural activism. Paradoxically therefore, something inherently self–centered emerges out of the altruism of improvement ideologies and projects based on such humanist ideals: both activists and academics rely on finding something ‘structurally wrong’ with society, because this legitimizes them. So the humanist quest for equality — in short, perpetuating the belief of the evolution and liberation of mankind, and continuously stating that this equality has ‘not yet’ been achieved — is, although highly problematic, also productive. This is because it will eternally look for and provide ‘something to improve’ and alleviate certain miseries, while its missionary tendencies will cause it to spread and redo violence that lies at its humanistic base. This humanist belief, with the widening scope of the technologies and institutions of speed, then indeed increasingly constitutes the mode of self–assertion of (left–wing) individuals and groups worldwide. It may be worth while pointing out here that the Greek verb ‘kentrein’ means ‘to point to a direction’ (the ‘center’ was originally the point on a compass where the needle was attached), and that therefore Euro–centrism, anti–capitalism, as well as chronotopia and its notion of the speed–elite as the (silent) center of discursive production, are themselves fantasies (or concepts) that provide a direction or a navigational structure for political being and subjugation. Therefore, these concepts structure my present argument as much as they also structure current cultural activisms. Again, the kind of ‘cultural activism’ of this essay must thus also be understood as complicit in the quest for justice through mediated acceleration. My hope is that this essay as such makes overt the fundamental incommensurability within the humanist imagination between (a generalizing) theory of justice and its situated application or validity. Such a self–reflexivity is therefore a means to uncover the fundamental aporia of action and thought that underpins ‘extra–academic’ cultural net–activism today, as well as this particular ‘intra–academic’ work of justice.

On top of this, the discourses and history of activism and its dialectic affiliation with ‘theory’, in fact display close ties with the current neo–liberal economic arrangement. The specific term ‘activism’ was first coined at the turn of the previous century by the German philosopher Rudolf Eucken in his 1907 Grundlinien einer neuen Lebensanschauung (translated as The Fundamentals of a New Philosophy of Life). He broadly formulated ‘activism’ as an ideology of energetic action which is required in order for humans to overcome their ‘non–spiritual nature’. His philosophical theory assumed the ‘objective reality’ and knowable cause–effect relationships between the ‘active existence of everything’ [17]. The term ‘activist’ became popular in English–speaking regions during the period of late colonization and industrialization of the 1910s and 1920s, and usually signified actions pursued in the name of a particular type of nationalist economic endeavors. German militant nationalism during the First World War, which sought to secure the rapidly industrializing German economy vis–à–vis its competing European states, was generally referred to in English texts as ‘German activism’ [18]. During the same historical period, a particular branch within German Expressionism with impact on the international art scene also went by the name ‘Aktivismus.’ This strand, which sought to break with Impressionism and Pacifism, held that the main purpose of poetry was to ‘liberate mankind’ and that the poet’s chief role was to simply be an ‘agitator’ in service of this ‘liberation.’ ‘Aktivismus’ later transformed into the Political Realism of Bertold Brecht and others [19]. Guerilla communications in particular take their cue from ‘agitprop’ art and Brechtian idea of grotesque theater as subversion.

Eucken’s philosophy about the merits of an active attitude to life was later taken up by his son Walter Eucken, who used his father’s notion of activism to formulate his German nationalist theory of ‘freiheitlichen Ordoliberalismus’ in his Die Grundlagen der Nationalökonomie (translated as The foundations [sic] of economics) — an economic theory that asserted the idea of the ‘freedom of the active and creative citizen’ as essential for new economic success needed to counter the depression caused by industrialization. ‘Freiheitlichen Ordoliberalismus’ is commonly understood as the predecessor of current neo–liberalism [21]. Interestingly also, the meaning of activism as essentially spurring economic action for the ‘spiritual good’ of mankind and the nation, lived on for several decades in the German term ‘Aktivist’ in former Eastern Germany. ‘Aktivist’ here meant “a person who through a substantial increase of achievement and through new work techniques speeds up production,” while ‘Aktivistenbewegung’ (activist movement) meant “a movement that fosters the highest possible increase in production of a business” for the glory of the socialist state [20]. So etymologically, ‘activism’ has strong affinities not only with an essentially transcendental philosophy of life, but also with nationalism and industrialization. Indeed, it appears that ‘activism’ was an economic strategy originally employed for the benefit of the nation–state in which its citizens could enjoy the largest amount of ‘spiritual freedom’ through actively encouraged but closely monitored economic competition. ‘Activism’ was thus the founding philosophical concept that encouraged the implementation of a set of techniques and technologies — both material and immaterial — to increase economic production for the ‘spiritual’ goal of mankind’s transcendence.

Paradoxically then, being politically active, in particular through the Internet, then means less and less being politically effective ...

This rise of the term ‘activism’ during industrialization becomes even more pertinent when we consider that both the discourses of activism and neo–liberal capitalism seem to employ a valorization of productivity and progress. As such, individuals and groups appear to be increasingly interpellated by a call to ‘subjectivize’ themselves and to ‘take action’ through the technologies of neo–liberal expansion, as also Baudrillard suggests. Under ‘activism’ then, the subject is conceptualized as ‘active’, ‘creative’ and as such leading a ‘pleasurable and free life’. Any romanticization of activism involves the universalization of this very particular theory of the subject and its technologies. I suggest that this cry for ‘activism’ and the interpellation of the subject to ‘play’, be ‘active’, and ‘creative’, becomes ever greater in an information society, and that its meritocratic and humanist underpinnings render it highly problematic. Paradoxically then, being politically active, in particular through the Internet, then means less and less being politically effective — if we conceive of ‘effective’ as a mode that successfully contests late–capitalism. Similarly, a mere rejection of (the delaying qualities of) critical thought or a rejection of a sincere questioning of what one’s actions actually effectuate is thus complicit in the politics of speed. The consideration of the effectiveness of action indeed rarely enters cultural net–activist texts — parody, imitation, appropriation, and play are merely considered as somehow subversive in and of themselves.

 

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Tactical media and temporary autonomous zones

Let us now turn to how these problematic oppositions, crossovers, and discourses enter cultural net–activism. Exemplary of more overt anti–institutional net–activism is the work of Geert Lovink and Florian Schneider, who even claim in “A Virtual World is Possible,” that radicality exists only outside academia [22]. Lovink’s work is peculiar, because it often starts from a sense of hopelessness and from a lurking awareness of the complicities one’s activisms are and have been engaged in — an awareness that is often implicitly at work in many forms of cultural activism. But such an initial self–reflexive attempt gets generally appropriated by him to make rhetorical calls for an appreciation of the ‘next new features’ of media technologies that will make it (that is, the complete liberation of mankind) magically happen. In “Reverse Engineering Freedom,” Lovink and Florian Schneider, the latter of which is also involved in setting up various ‘migrant’ media activist groups like No–one Is Illegal (http://www.antimedia.net/nooneisillegal/) and No–Borders (http://www.noborder.org/), start with the bleak description of lower class workers in Romania who lost their jobs because of outsourcing. Lovink and Schneider claim however that despite the increasing disenfranchisement of people under the

“fluctuations of just–in–time production ... the Net still holds the capacity to articulate situated actors ... [and] new socio–technical formations accumulate with unforeseen political force.” [23]

And although they claim that they do not want to provide an answer as to how to make this new political force happen, they readily conclude that the solution exists in

“numerous network architectures to be invented ... We have to look at the next generation of networking, based on a culture of mutual exchange and syndication.” [24]

Other keywords in their discourse, that are likewise quite reminiscent of corporate speak, are “connectivity,” “invention,” “transformation,” “creativity,” “freedom,” and especially the “overcoming of social boundaries” — all, of course, made possible by the new technologies. The ‘desire’ for all this ‘newness’ that is sprouting from the “discontent of millions” [25] is supposed to signify a total break from previous modes of capitalist oppression, and will result in a revolution that will take the form of a “wikification of the world.” [26] The desire from this multitude, its ‘quest for freedom’ must thus entail a desire to ‘become the media’: “[w]e are the media,” [27], or “[s]top downloading, start making news,” (Lovink, 2002b) as Lovink similarly repeats in “The Technology of News.” Problematically, Lovink and Schneider do not see how the pursuit of such an imagination for the upwardly mobile like themselves (the ‘we’ and ‘you’ of the article) thrives entirely upon exactly the technologies of ‘just–in–time–production’ and the subsequent disenfranchisement of people like the laid–off workers in Romania whom they started their pledge for. Also, they fail to analyze the desires that drive these technological praxes as effects of those discourses of neo–liberal capitalism and capitalism’s pretence of newness and progress. “Reverse Engineering Freedom” therefore consists of a discursive ‘tour de force’ which aims at generating (new media) activisms as exact mirror images of the discourses and tools of neo–liberal capitalism (like connectivity, mobility, creativity, ‘freedom’) through the complete eradication of relations of power. Moreover, the slogan “we are the media” depicts precisely the “implosion of the social in the masses” [28] under hyper–mediated conditions, which Baudrillard in “The Implosion of Meaning in the Media” argues is happening.

Similarly, Lovink and Schneider’s “A Virtual World is Possible: From Tactical Media to Digital Multitudes” can be read as a symptom of how the desperation that is caused by the negative effects of neo–liberal globalization — effects which these activisms paradoxically helped to facilitate — leads some into arguing more strongly for a recourse to those technologies that are already an intricate part of the repetition of the violence of globalization. In particular, the title of the piece enacts an interesting rephrasing of the widespread alter–globalist argument, ‘another world is possible’, into terms of desire for transcendence into new technologies. Lovink and Schneider talk rather nostalgically about “the renaissance of media activism” and “the golden age of tactical media” of the early and late nineties, which bound various movements worldwide together under the sign of the “digital freedom of expression.” [29] They acknowledge that this “golden age” ran in tandem with the neo–liberal “dotcom–mania.” They also admit that the demise of this mania signals an increasing awareness of how the intended erasure of global hierarchies that new media activism promised, has not at all taken place. Instead, Lovink and Schneider correctly point out that “... most movements and initiatives find themselves in a trap ... we face a scalability crisis.” [30] But rather than turning their gaze inwards in order to look at how their activisms have from the very beginning been complicit in those very structures they sought to contest and change, they counter this sincere and general feeling of crisis with a call for “further mediation” and “a rigorous synthesis of social movements with technology.” [31] This apparently compulsive repetition of calling for more of the same, exemplifies exactly how the subject is always a precariously constructed prosthesis in service of the fantasy of a coherent identity: the fantasy of successfully subverting neo–liberalism that these activisms must uphold. This compulsion shows how Lovink and Schneider’s point of view, saddled with the best intentions and lacking a clear grasp of why their subversions are not ‘pushing through’, turns into a symptom as well as a cause of the mounting speed and spread of technocratic neo–liberalism. Their final fantasy, to “install a virtual world,” [32] is utterly clueless about how this dream of transcendence for the new speed–elite can only mean increasing toil for many disenfranchised others worldwide. This is because it must rely on a heavily speeded–up material production as well as on disconnecting such toil from the speed–elite’s experiences, to sustain the dream of such a virtual world.

The narrative of initial enthusiasm and subsequent despair is a common theme in Lovink’s work, and also foregrounds in “Network Fear and Desires,” where he speaks of the “unavoidable process of decay” [33] that has set in after new media activism’s glory days. In this article as well, Lovink tries to enthuse his audience by proclaiming that

“it is time for ... the genuine New that does not fit into the eternal return of the disappointment pattern, of being taken back into the System.” [34]

However, such a rhetorical invocation of ‘the new’ is exactly what signals such a quest’s implication in ‘the System’ — the problem of ‘decay and the being in the System’ was already part of this desire for change through new media from the very beginning. Indeed, it seems from Lovink and Schneider’s writing that there is increasingly no other option left for resistance other than recourse to such technological imaginations — the ultimate ‘speed–elite’ argument. Lovink concludes “Network Fears and Desires” with the declaration, which is meant to be romantic and tantalizing, that the future will be “hybrid ... obsessed with progress, in full despair.” [35] But such a utopia will surely sound rather dystopian to those who will be the ones actually despairing.

Also, Lovink and Schneider typically claim that the old strategies of ‘the left’ have successfully been left behind. They invoke Hardt and Negri’s notion of ‘the multitudes’ as the post–modern liberatory constituent under late–capitalism which coincides with a “revolutionary being, as much global as it is digital.” [36] The “new subjectivities” created by for instance migrant struggles and other “border crossing experiences” are supposed to be exemplary of the subversive effects of this multitude [37]. This theory problematically imagines border crossing and hybridity as a direct contestation of power structures in itself. Such an imagination does not consider how such migrant fluxes are produced by and are reproducing global capitalism as well as its technocratic imaginary. Lovink and Schneider’s fantasy that the multitude is both global and digital, and is therefore ‘revolutionary’, repeats problematically the false discourse of new technologies as inherently liberatory. They even go so far as to claim that the concept of the ‘digital multitude’ is “based entirely on openness ... open sources, open borders, open knowledge,” without taking into account the extremely specific terms of negotiation that all these ‘open’ mediated spaces require. Thus, their claims of total openness are really empty rhetoric. Furthermore, they argue that this ‘new movement’, whose practices comprise ‘the Struggle’, “works perfectly without an ideology.” [38] However, the pretence of having no ideology (or theory) can at base only be extremely ideological (and theoretical), in effect always repeating the dominant ideology that is in place.

 

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Murder at twice the speed of sound

More seriously then, it seems that the new communications technologies allow for an even stronger acting out of the desire to imagine an ‘idealized other’. The alliance with this idealized other reconstitutes the new media activist fantasy for liberation. Gayatri Spivak briefly mentions in the interview “Pax Electronica” with Lovink that she perceives computers and the Internet as an “empirization of the desire for virtuality.” [39] She continues this notion by arguing that it is hence an instrument of narcissism, because it pretends to reach out to the other where it actually does not, but wraps the user up in reaching out for the same who is imagined to be the self’s other. The computer hence becomes for Spivak exclusivist because this fantasy of reaching ‘the’ other is then exactly a withdrawal of responsibility and a repetition of the same. She goes on to say that the Internet is also exclusivist because of the “stratification of the world ... but that’s another story.” [40] I would however suggest that these modes of exclusion are intrinsically related, just as Spivak’s mentioning them in the same paragraph implicitly suggests. The repetition and spread of the same, as well as the imagination of an ‘ideal other’ with whom one can connect through liberatory politics and Internet, increasingly allows one to turn a blind eye to the larger global exclusions it requires to exist. Or, as Armitage and Graham already lucidly put in “Dromoeconomics”: “Murder at twice the speed of sound, beyond the horizon of the murderers.” [41] Today, such ‘murder’ has become not only the active business of warlords, but simultaneously a sadly unintended effect of the praxes of those activists, like Lovink, who sincerely believe that their desire for virtualization is liberatory or subversive. Even when Spivak later on throws into his face that “[it is] all about selling access to telecommunication–as–empowerment as such ... [g]lobal telecommunications combined with women’s ‘micro credit’ is spelling out the importance of finance capital ... [it] is a very scary thing,” [42] Lovink does not pick up on this hint. His and other media activists’ speed–elitist fantasy of inhabiting a sphere of ‘action not mere theory’ results in rather megalomaniacal hopes and statements. This fantasy is acted out through the prostheses of ‘new’ subjectivity and technology and is seen as entirely independent from neo–liberal finance capital and the equalities it needs and wields. It is in particular the claim for universality through subsuming all struggles under ‘the Struggle against global capitalism’, through new technologies that allows one to ‘become the media’, that is so problematic.

In a vain similar to Lovink’s recuperation of new media as essentially liberatory, Hakim Bey coins the notion of the ‘parasiting web in the Net’ in The Temporary Autonomous Zone to describe such new media activism. Bey has been particularly popular with many cultural net–activists, particularly to those who ascribe to guerrilla media and various forms of culture jamming. Bey claims that the idea of a grand revolution is untenable in an era of high–level corporate globalization, post–modern fragmentation of struggles along various axes of oppression, and strong Western–centered military control [43]. Instead, he visualizes the ‘temporary uprise’ as crucial for ‘subversion from the margins’, and goes on to claim that the Internet lends itself to such a strategy given that it allows for the fast creation and dissolving of alliances, which grants cultural counter–attacks a guerrilla–like quality. Interestingly, as we can see in Bey’s discourse, certain terms used in conventional warfare are often used to describe new media activist projects. A very prolific term is ‘tactical media’ which is abundantly used in the tri–annual Next 5 Minutes festivals on media activism, organized by Lovink and others. In “The Language of Tactical Media,” Joanne Richardson (2002) traces the term ‘tactical media’ back to Michel de Certeau, who conceptualized the idea of the tactical against the idea of strategy. In de Certeau’s view, a strategy is always a frontal assault of power or an institution done from a clear locus of identity, while tactics rather implies some sort of temporary infiltration and diffusion of boundaries — a more diffuse method of assault. Bey argues that it is indeed this capacity for diffusion and disappearance that makes the Internet useful for such activism of tactics. He notes that the new technologies have a strong ‘repressive component’ due to their military background. He claims however that many of their features, like speed of information and instantaneous connectedness, provide the means for an activist ‘parasitic web’ (the ‘TAZ’) which can be optimally ‘exploited’ through temporal strategic alliances on the basis of shared moral goals [44]. He thus coins the idea of ‘the web’ as some sort of autonomous and diffuse subversive element of the (oppressive) Internet.

What is interesting in Bey’s terminology however, and which opens up his discourse to a speed–elite critique, is his use of the notion of ‘parasiting’. Far from the subversive connotation his discourse tends to construct through the term, etymologically, it rather suggests a more serious complicity, an ‘eating at the same table’ of “Capitalism, Fascism ... and the apparatus of Control, the State” [45] of such media activism [46]. Such complicity becomes especially clear when reading how he imagines this supposedly subversive space. The two main discourses that traverse the justification of the ‘TAZ’ are those of the ‘pirate utopias’ as well as the idea of ‘becoming Indian’. Bey writes nostalgically about the 1600s pirates, who according to him lived “outside the law” on a “bit of land ruled only by freedom.” [47] Moreover, he argues concerning the idea of parasitism that

“Before you condemn the Web for its ‘parasitism’ which can never be a truly revolutionary force, ask yourself what ‘production’ consists of in the Age of Simulation. What is the ‘productive class’? Perhaps you’ll be forced to admit that these terms seem to have lost their meaning. In any case the answers to such questions are so complex that the TAZ tends to ignore them and simply picks up what it can use. ‘Culture is our Nature’ ... [W]e are the hunter/gatherers of the world of CommTech.” [48]

This is clearly an unashamed refusal of any class or race analysis in the information age. Bey misrepresents completely the violent reality and the sexist, nationalist and racist acts of such pirates, who were usually regarded by their own countrymen as patriots attacking the ships of rival nations laden with gold obtained by colonization. His idealization of the pirate and hunter/gatherer is the mirror–image of William Gibson’s Neuromancer’s data–cowboy, the male lone rider pushing forward the new frontier of cyberspace. One may wonder which comfortable citizen can imagine class as being meaningless, and himself as a revolutionary cowboy, authorized to imagine that his own desires and imagination overlap “1:1” with the “map of the Net.” [49]

The idea of the ‘new land’ returns when he connects his ‘TAZ’ with the “occultist operation” (!) that was the settlement of the “New World.” [50] These occult settlers were so ‘generous’ as to mix with the local Indian population, and because ‘the Indian’ is “Man in the state of Nature, uncorrupted by ‘government’” [51] the end result was an automatically subversive community. His exoticization of ‘the Indian’ as having no culture or government repeats the historical racist violence of colonization. It also seeks to erase from scrutiny the neo–colonialism that the concept of the ‘TAZ’, based on this utopia of cyberspace as empty land to be settled, exhibits in its desire to become “the Wild Man.” [52] Therefore, the opposition Bey creates between media activists and capitalists is not at all such a clear–cut dichotomy, as similarly, the opposition between ‘the (activist, parasitic) web’ and ‘the (corporate) net’ is a falsification — they thrive on the same masculine repetition of historical exclusions along race and class. Typically therefore, Bey conceptualizes the ‘TAZ’ as a “festival,” [53] a tool for ultimately gratifying instantaneously his quest for abundance and “travel via the Net ... facilitating my desires for food, drugs, sex, tax evasion.” [54] If this is his revolution, it seems utterly unconcerned with looking at those structures of excess production (capitalism) that allow him to have his increasingly direct access to what he desires, even if — and also because — his revolution pretends to be against or to overcome capitalism.

‘The web’ of cultural net–activism is therefore not at all the ‘autonomous’ space Bey describes it to be. In fact, this problematic notion of ‘autonomous spaces’ is particularly pervasive in radical new media activisms like Indymedia, which also glosses over the historical structures of inequality, and the discourses and internal stratifications of communication which made such a ‘space of instantaneous gratification of desires’ for the happy few possible in the first place. Chronotopia, as Armitage and Roberts (2002) suggest, indeed requires a chronodystopia for the (s)lower classes where activism, war and trade collapse into the intensification of inequalities around class, gender and race. Eventually then, one could argue that the perhaps well–intended ‘guerrilla war’ of the ‘TAZ’ against capitalism and fascism is lost beforehand, because its technologies of language and production are already implicated in the neo–liberal capitalist logic of speed. Moreover, Bey’s tactic of diffusion and disappearance through new technologies also demonstrates Spivak’s assertion about the ‘withdrawal of responsibility’ through virtualization, which problematically allows its users to be ‘there and not there’ at the same time.

 

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The communication guerilla

While Lovink, Schneider, and Bey reproduce the false oppositions between activism and corporate entities, as well as between activism and (academic) theory, in rather blatant ways through their net–happy imaginations, the autonome a.f.r.i.k.a. gruppe displays instead more awareness of its being implicated in corporate structures, academia, and ‘high’ theory. In fact, it is precisely in the ‘playful’ appropriation and amplification of corporate and institutionalized knowledge and tools, as well as through the self–conscious overlay of activism, theory, and art, that autonome a.f.r.i.k.a. gruppe situates its subversive efficacy. In “Communication Guerilla — Transversality in Everyday Life?” the gruppe for instance states that

“the term ‘communication guerilla’ designate[s] praxis forms that traverse the old boundaries between ... arts and politics, desire and work, theory and practice ... by playing with representations and identities.” [55]

They claim that such border–crossing guerilla praxis has overcome the shortcomings of ‘old’ left–wing activism, which is “strangely separated from people’s everyday life.” [56] Indeed, I wholeheartedly agree with their problematization of the supposed ‘purity’ of activist praxis or activisms’ self–image of their being some kind of ‘authentic’ or ‘autonomous’ forms of activity [57]. However, the gruppe’s suggestion that cultural cyber–activism and its “playful way of dealing with signs, images, and meanings” [58] in fact does touch upon the concerns of ‘everyday people’ and empower those who are marginalized, is rather left unexplained. The only explanation provided for the seditious usefulness of such praxis is that one “has to trust in the effectiveness of signs” which through playful appropriation and parody “open up an unmediated view of contradictions between reality and representation.” [59]

The self–evidence of such praxis as actually connecting to everyday life and people is far from clear here. In fact, such activist praxis seems to empower and/or provide pleasure through media production and consumption for those who are already in a position of privilege — after all, it takes a fair amount of schooling in ‘resistant reading’ and access to various cultural codes and tools to grasp the political commentary implicit in parody, over–identification, and pastiche [60]. Moreover, the gruppe’s self–identification of its type of activism as a ‘guerilla’ activity is yet another clear symptom of how the terms and metaphors of warfare enter the speed–elitist activist imaginary, as Armitage and Graham suggested. The homogenization of ‘life and people’ that such praxis then supposedly addresses is therefore hugely problematic. Furthermore, the gruppe goes as far as to suggest that such praxis can lay bare the factual ‘reality’ behind all tainted corporate representations. Such a claim is nonetheless wildly incompatible with Baudrillard’s and my assessment that the contemporary media universe is constructive of (hyper–)reality, and that as such any access to ‘reality’ is merely a reflection of the collection of (economic) signals that signs and their meanings have imploded into. The gruppe’s re–representation is a mere mirror of simulation under late–capitalism, and nothing else. Indeed, the gruppe’s claim of ‘playing with signs’ simply feeds into the acceleration of this system of signals in which meaning increasingly dissipates, and as such reproduces a cultural and material logic that foremost serves the speed–elite. Again, the belief in the transparent communicability of subversive intention through (new) media practices is the driving humanist force behind such a reproduction of inequality. Despite (or rather, because of) laying the justification of its subversive action in post–modern theory, the gruppe implicitly repeats the modernist idea of communication.

The desires that the gruppe speaks of, for instance to “think in images” and to “flip off power” [61] which is typical of much contemporary intellectual–activist work, are then really an effect of the neo–liberal insistence of various kinds of border–crossing for the new elites through the new media. In relation to this ‘thinking in images’, it may be interesting that Baudrillard mentions in “The Mental Diaspora of the Networks” that the privileged producer/consumer effectively turns into a screen, a terminal, through which all texts and thoughts become images which run in a constant feedback loop through the new media circuit [62]. It appears that the cultural net–activist, as any such ‘creative’ producer/consumer, indeed shows signs of such ‘terminal’ hybrid identity. Moreover, the discourses and practices of transversality, hybridity, and border–crossing are not at all subversive in this case, but point towards the highly mobile and multifarious position of activist–artist–academic privilege as totally complicit in speed. This in turn regenerates structures of inclusion and exclusion vis–à–vis the (s)lower classes.

The “Transversality” text is in many ways an expansion of the argument the gruppe made in their initial explanatory text “What about Communication Guerilla?” In this text, the crossing over of theory and activism is yet implicit, but prevalent in the many productive allusions to post–modern and social semiotic theory. What is more explicit in this text is the emphasis on fun, pleasure, hacking, and pranking, which, despite the gruppe’s slight skepticism of ’90s Internet hype [63], makes use of an “internet as an ideal area for producing rumors and fakes.” [64] Even though they argue earlier on that information by itself has neither “meaning nor consequences” [65], they claim later on that “the net gives credibility to any information circulated ... it gives a nice playground [sic] for communication guerillas.” [66] The “mythical figure of the hacker ... represents a guerilla directed towards the manipulation of technology,” [67] and must therefore be called upon for political or subversive ends. Like Lovink, the gruppe here attests to the idea that one must ‘re–politicize’ the Internet — an act which in fact contributes to the circulation of pleasure within the neo–liberal domain, and which could be read as a symptom of the system’s Baudrillardian call to ‘subjectivize’ oneself. Again, read in this light, the gruppe’s idea that information in itself has no meaning is apt, but information then, as signals and accelerated circulation, nonetheless very much has certain speed–elitist consequences.

Finally, in the gruppe’s Handbuch der Kommunikationsguerilla, the argument of the supposed positivity and seditiousness of simply acting out one’s pleasures and desires is given strong emphasis, no doubt as a way of seducing a relatively affluent readership that ‘won’t be part of the revolution if it can’t dance’ [68]. There is no consideration of how one’s “unkontrolliertem Begehren, Lust und Vergnügen” (“uncontrolled desire, lust, and pleasure”) [69] may relate to current types of gendered and raced violence under neo–liberal globalization. The gruppe again posits its own more sophisticated praxis as superior to ‘old’ style activism, which was too critical, serious, and oppositional, and which has shown its deficit with the fall of the communist block [70]. Instead, the gruppe’s own cultural net–activism is rather a form of “Spassguerilla” (“fun–guerilla”) [71] which is “nicht nur subversiv” (“not only subversive”) but which simultaneously allows one to “zwei Nächte durchtanzen” (“dance two nights on end”) and to “braungebrannt im Freibad rumzuliegen” (“enjoy tanning at the public pool”) [72]. When the gruppe finally discusses how its praxis is not merely confrontational, but again also “Erfahrungen in deren eigenem Leben aufgreift” (“relates to one’s own living experiences”) [73], the question of whose lives they are talking about and which lives stand to gain by such practices can eventually only find one answer: the new speed–elitist activist–intellectual. Likewise, the gruppe’s text “All or None? Multiple Names, Imaginary Persons, Collective Myths,” which claims that multiple and imaginary names like ‘autonome a.f.r.i.k.a. gruppe’ allow everyone to be able to equally appropriate the name for political ends, rings extremely false in light of the problematic suppression of unequal relationships inside any collective, as well as the mechanisms of exclusion implicit in its highly privileged form of activist/academic praxis. I would argue that the gruppe’s stark romanticization of Zapatista leader Marcos [74], who let his fellow guerillas speak in his name, functions in this text as yet another Spivakian ‘ideal other’ whose taken–for–granted post–modern radicality justifies the gruppe’s own supposed dissidence. Indeed, the productive crossing–over of highly sophisticated theoretical analysis and concurrent (post–)modern political practices, as much as it “die Legitimität der Macht in Frage stell[t]” (“questions the legitimacy of power”) [75] — and the book is full of decidedly witty examples of such artistic questioning — remains fun as long as it feeds into a structure of power which does not take the authors’ and readers’ privileged pleasures under the logic of speed away.

 

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Cultural net–activism and the accelerated reproduction of privilege

Cultural net–activist projects are complicit in the redemption and duplication of the founding myths of the university and of activism, by replicating constantly the fantasy of dialectic relation between academic theory/thought and its outside/object/activity. Far from a subversive move, such a strategy in effect can only lead to an intensification of current inequalities, because it simply replicates the myth of the active, ‘free’ and self–organizing subject that underlies industrialization and neo–liberalism. Such activism is then not only a mark of the academic–activist’s position of privilege, but more importantly reproductive of precisely those speed–elitist flows it seeks to critique or — as a fundamentally theoretical moment corresponding with the current ‘virtualization of thought’ — points to the fact that there exists an overlap between activism and academia that calls forward incessantly such denials. It is at this intersection that any kind of mediated communication becomes only a simulation of communicative action, as if the humanist endeavor and its politically active subject still make a real difference. But I would claim, echoing Baudrillard, that the very (online) performance of this fantasy precisely marks the ‘murder of the sign’ and the consecutive ‘implosion of meaning in the media’. Likewise, I perform with my essay the myth of the ‘ivory tower’ of academia and its ‘unblemished’ theories as the ‘silent locus’ from which to critically reflect on all this — yet another networked duplication of this fantasy.

In line with this conclusion, my analyses show that the supposedly ‘open spaces’ of the Internet lend themselves particularly well for these new cultural activist–intellectual endeavors. What is thus happening is a displacement or a doubling of the ‘critical’ principle underlying academia into the ‘flexible’ spaces of the Internet, a move which can be read as extending the academic–industrial–military complex by reiterating the problematic discourse that ‘authentic’ resistance resides outside its realms. Typically also, these ‘extra–academic’ activist endeavors often involve individuals who have a considerable amount of university schooling. The disregard of the complicity of the university in speed thus appears as an effect of the university’s guiding principles. Jacques Derrida similarly remarks in a footnote to “Provocation” in Without Alibi that the founding humanist myth of the university is not necessarily found in “what is today called, legally, statutory, the university,” and that any external ‘counter–signature’ in effect “assur[es] its tradition” by being perhaps even “more faithful” to that myth [76]. It is these networked border–crossing spaces that bear the repetition of that myth.

The production of this essay, and indeed the productivity of the tensions generated by my own position as both academic and activist, are thus indicative of the historical institutionalization and ongoing virtualization of philosophical thought as ‘high knowledge or practice’; an institutionalization which found its birth in humanist ideas of the subject as rational human being in charge of his emancipation. Alternatively, this essay refrains from claiming to overcome the complicity of or to be more subversive than cultural net–activism, but nonetheless performs its format of reproduction. This performance thus implies a particular conception of justice that renders such justice potentially unjust (because of its particularity). So while the experience of being both an activist and an academic at times gives rise to contradictory loyalties and conflicting choices, these contradictions and conflicts are essential to the intensification of the quest for social justice, and subsequently the spread of neo–liberalist capitalism and its (military) tools of ‘progress’. This critique of cultural activism can only be once again a professing to that humanist belief of ‘bettering the world’, though in this case, one hopes, with that difference of being more aware of its own complicities and limits. Even so, I am not sure what such an awareness accomplishes exactly in a society marked by hyper–reality.

Political action is perhaps becoming rapidly as non–revolutionary as political cynicism or depression — or perhaps, political quietism could be regarded as the proper ‘other’ of expressive cultural net–activism. The aporia of humanism glares radiantly behind this intensification, always calling upon us to do justice in the most responsible way, so as to keep the interplay between action and thought going. So the very notion of activism itself then is, not unlike institutionalized academia, a product of academia’s organizing principle and its (humanist) theories. Indeed, cultural new media activism like Lovink’s, Bey’s, and the gruppe’s grounds its own authority of speech around a productive crossing–over that academia and technocratic neo–liberalism love to perpetuate. The concurrent stratifications through such a position lie in the complicities of activisms in the far from neutral spaces, discourses and technologies rendered available in the complex societal web of institutionalizations and imaginations. They also lie in these spaces’ increasing appeal to the specific subject positions opened up by these.

In the end, both the academic and the activist subject construct themselves — or rather, are constituted, as I am too, through their activism and theories. Furthermore, these constructions resonate with each other on the axis of the ongoing dominance of the imaginary subject of transcendence, progress and speed in the global distribution of power. The experienced contradiction of empowerment and conflict when practicing both as activist and as academic, is a highly productive site. It is a site that allows for constant negotiation towards the fantastic goal of ultimate liberation of mankind exactly because the project of humanism is forever internally in contradiction with itself. Perhaps it surprises readers that I can profess my engagement with these cultural activist projects and with academic humanities, and at the same time lay bare some of their complicities in current technocratic neo–liberalism. But such a reaction would exemplify yet another pervasive humanist symptom, namely that ‘a critique’ necessarily is ‘a disagreement and wish to eliminate the practice’, whereas I instead argue that academics and cultural activists today are never even remotely on the outside of neo–liberal acceleration. I have instead used the analyses to make overt the main aporia of action and thought that underlies this particular work, as it underlies all humanist works of justice. We all enact and perform justice in our critical practices, which indeed points to the political and ethical implications of all work. Justice therefore involves always the choice for a position — a contestation and an affirmation of borderlines, concepts and demarcations — and the scope of a position is always limited as it is rendered available through historically specific discursive formations. Perhaps then, the condition that must eternally find something wrong and to improve, of which academic ‘high’ theory and cultural net–activism are exemplary, indeed gives birth to society being increasingly ‘wrong’ — the geographical expansion of the new ‘military’ technologies of the self. End of article

 

About the author

Ingrid Maria Hoofd is Assistant Professor, Communications & New Media Programme, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, National University of Singapore.
Web: http://www.klari.net/ingrid
E–mail: cnmhim [at] nus [dot] edu [dot] sg

 

Notes

1. Baudrillard, 2005b, p. 11, italics mine.

2. Jameson, 2000, p. 192.

3. Best and Kellner, 1997, p. 115.

4. Armitage and Graham, 2001, p. 114, italics mine.

5. Armitage and Graham, 2001, p. 118.

6. Wilkie, 2005, p. 7.

7. Baudrillard, 1994, p. 80.

8. Baudrillard, 1994, p. 81.

9. Baudrillard, 1994, p. 85.

10. Baudrillard, 1994, p. 86.

11. Baudrillard, 1994, p. 81.

12. Tellingly, the Oxford Dictionary and Thesaurus also mentions that synonyms for “impractical” are “academic” and “theoretical” (Oxford University Press, 2001).

13. See Eric Partridge, Origins: An etymological dictionary of Modern English, pp. 710–711.

14. See the Concise Oxford English Dictionary, Eleventh edition, 2004.

15. Spivak, 1990, p. 2.

16. Spivak, 1990, p. 2, italics mine.

17. See the Oxford English Dictionary, Second edition, 1989.

18. Ibid.

19. See the entry “Expressionismus” in Literaturepochen at the well–researched Web site http://members.aon.at/livingbox/expressionismus.html on German literary history.

20. See Gerold Blümle and Nils Goldschmidt: “Walter Eucken: Vordenker einer freiheitlichen Ordnung” (“Walter Eucken: Theorist of a Liberal Order”).

21. “Person, die im sozialistischen Wettbewerb durch wesentliche Erhöhung der Leistungen und durch neue Arbeitsmethoden die Produktion steigert.” “Bewegung, die sich die höchstmögliche Produktionssteigerung in einem Betrieb zum Ziel gesetzt hat.” See Duden, deutsches Universalwörterbuch.

22. Lovink and Schneider, 2003b, p. 4.

23. Lovink and Schneider, 2003b, p. 1.

24. Lovink and Schneider, 2003b, p. 2.

25. Ibid.

26. Lovink and Schneider, 2003b, p. 3.

27. Lovink and Schneider, 2003b, p. 4.

28. Baudrillard, 1994, p. 81.

29. Lovink and Schneider, 2003a, p. 1.

30. Lovink and Schneider, 2003a, p. 5.

31. Ibid.

32. Lovink and Schneider, 2003a, p. 4.

33. Lovink, 2002a, p. 228.

34. Lovink, 2002a, p. 232.

35. Lovink, 2002a, p. 233.

36. Lovink and Schneider, 2003a, p. 4.

37. I have elsewhere argued that Hardt and Negri’s work is exemplary of the problematic neo–liberal celebration of speed and border–crossing. See I.M. Hoofd, “The migrant metaphor within radical Italian thought.”

38. Lovink and Schneider, 2003a, p. 3.

39. Lovink and Spivak, 2002, p. 75.

40. Ibid.

41. Armitage and Graham, 2001, p. 119.

42. Lovink and Spivak, 2002, p. 77.

43. Bey, 1991, p. 404.

44. Bey, 1991, p. 402.

45. Bey, 1991, p. 410 and p. 433.

46. Parasite comes from the Greek ‘παρα’ (“para”, by, besides) and ‘σιτος’ (“sitos”, food) and means literally ‘one who eats at another’s table’.

47. Bey, 1991, p. 402.

48. Bey, 1991, p. 411, italics mine.

49. Bey, 1991, p. 410.

50. Bey, 1991, p. 418.

51. Ibid.

52. Bey, 1991, p. 423.

53. Bey, 1991, p. 407.

54. Bey, 1991, p. 417.

55. autonome a.f.r.i.k.a. gruppe, 2002, p. 1.

56. Ibid.

57. autonome a.f.r.i.k.a. gruppe, 2002, p. 3.

58. Ibid.

59. autonome a.f.r.i.k.a. gruppe, 2002, p. 5, italics mine.

60. Parody comes from the Greek ‘παρ’ (“par”, by, accompanying) and ‘οιδα’ (“oidè”, song) and means literally ‘a by–song’. This suggests the ‘main song’ remains intact and at the center.

61. autonome a.f.r.i.k.a. gruppe, 2002, p. 6.

62. Baudrillard, 2005a, p. 79.

63. autonome a.f.r.i.k.a. gruppe, et al., p. 2.

64. autonome a.f.r.i.k.a. gruppe, et al., p. 3.

65. autonome a.f.r.i.k.a. gruppe, et al., p. 1.

66. autonome a.f.r.i.k.a. gruppe, et al., p. 3.

67. Ibid.

68. This quotation, which has been attributed to feminist anarchist Emma Goldman (1869–1940), has been recycled within a wide variety of contemporary anti–globalization and cultural activisms. It captures the essence of the belief in ‘liberty’ and ‘self–expression’ typical of the new ‘free’ individual under freiheitlichen Ordoliberalismus, through which early twentieth century American and European liberal feminism made its claims.

69. autonome a.f.r.i.k.a. gruppe, 1997a, p. 1.

70. autonome a.f.r.i.k.a. gruppe, 1997a, pp. 1–2.

71. autonome a.f.r.i.k.a. gruppe, 1997a, p. 5.

72. autonome a.f.r.i.k.a. gruppe, 1997a, p. 1.

73. autonome a.f.r.i.k.a. gruppe, 1997a, p. 3.

74. autonome a.f.r.i.k.a. gruppe, 1997b, p. 2.

75. Ibid.

76. Derrida, 2002, p. 283.

 

References

John Armitage and Joanne Roberts (editors), 2002. “Chronotopia,” In: Living with cyberspace: Technology & society in the 21st century. London: Continuum, pp. 43–54.

John Armitage and Phil Graham, 2001. “Dromoeconomics: Towards a political economy of speed,” Parallax, volume 7, number 1, pp. 111–123.http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13534640010015999

autonome a.f.r.i.k.a. gruppe, 2002. “Communication guerilla — Transversality in everyday life?” Republicart, at http://www.republicart.net/disc/artsabotage/afrikagruppe01_en.pdf, accessed July 2007.

autonome a.f.r.i.k.a. gruppe, 1997a. “All or none? Multiple names, imaginary persons, collective myths,” Republicart, at http://www.republicart.net/disc/artsabotage/afrikagruppe02_en.pdf, accessed November 2007.

autonome a.f.r.i.k.a. gruppe, 1997b. “Vorrede an die Leserinnen” and “Über Kommunikationsguerilla,” In: Handbuch der Kommunikationsguerilla. Hamburg: Verlag Libertäre Assoziation.

autonome a.f.r.i.k.a. gruppe, Luther Blissett and Sonja Brünzels. “What about communication guerrilla?” Subsol, at http://subsol.c3.hu/subsol_2/contributors/afrikatext.html, accessed July 2007.

Jean Baudrillard, 2005a. “The mental diaspora of the networks,” In: The intelligence of evil or the lucidity pact. Oxford: Berg.

Jean Baudrillard, 2005b. “The murder of the sign,” In: Sande Cohen and R.L. Rutsky (editors). Consumption in an age of information. Oxford: Berg.

Jean Baudrillard, 1994. “The implosion of meaning in the media,” In: Simulacra and simulation. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Steven Best and Douglas Kellner, 1997. The postmodern turn. New York: Guildford Press.

Hakim Bey, 1991. T.A.Z.: The temporary autonomous zone, ontological anarchy, poetic terrorism. Brooklyn, N.Y.: Autonomedia.

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Editorial history

Paper received 10 March 2008; accepted 2 September 2008.


Copyright © 2008, First Monday.

Copyright © 2008, Ingrid Maria Hoofd, All rights reserved.

Complicit subversions: Cultural new media activism and ‘high’ theory
by Ingrid Maria Hoofd
First Monday, Volume 13 Number 10 - 6 October 2008
http://www.firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/2147/2032





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