little objects of self-love

Alex Monea’s paper “Guattari’s on Facebook?! Affects, Refrains and the Digital Cloud” [here & here] made me think what perhaps I have not been thinking because I’ve been doing. It made me think about the possibility for thinking about what I have been doing. Whether I can. Or whether in fact I need to complete the doing, to have done – with it – before I am in a position to engage in critique. Because I do think it is a question of critique. A critique that goes so far as creation:

  1. what’s wrong that I feel I have to say something? – and think?
  2. where does it come from? the problem?
  3. what new way to go about it is there? to deal with the problem, with what was wrong in the first place?

The problem was always to do with what had been done, what had been done so that the solution looked the way it did, did the things it did, and still does, to the people connected to it, to whoever and whatever it encounters. It damns my eyes, for example. It is reductive, reducing people to marketable microsegmentations: microsensations come to substitute for and eventually replace affects.

The problem was always therefore to do with a way of thinking that could give rise to what Alex Monea calls the digital cloud, but which is really the network – in part; it is also actually the graph. Their effects. The management of their effects. The cynical sometimes, sometimes unwitting manipulation of those effects for personal gain, where personal also naturally includes the psychopathology of corporations, or corpocracy.

Who thought it? Cyberneticists thought it. And ecologists thought it. (See Adam Curtis’s beautifully suggestive three-parter All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace where some of these lines are teased out.) But equally and coincidentally it was being thought by mathematicians and complexity theorists: it was a thought presiding over the birth of the internet in the ARPANET in all its duality: where individuals from diverse – how diverse will become clear when I list the names – backgrounds and disciplines, spheres, were inducted into the military-technological complex – into little rooms therein – to experience the joys of communication mediated by computation, by communicating computational machines:

  1. 1975 – Marcel Broodthaers, Jane Fonda, Ronald Reagan & Edward Said;
  2. 1976 – Samir Amin, Steve Biko, Francis Fukuyama & Minoru Yamasaki;
  3. 1976 – Joseph Beuys, Juan Downey, Rosalind Krauss & Henry Moore. [here]

You can already see that there is another spirit presiding here, an idealistic one, perhaps a utopian one: it is egalitarian. But it is also based in an apprehension of the neutrality of the communicative medium. The machines facilitating the connection of Jane Fonda, Marcel Broodthaers, Ronald Reagan and Edward Said are mathematical, mathematized or anaesthetic – that is, insensible. Affect-less. The real connections constitute a network; the actual connections make up a simple graph, a pattern of connectivity that is scalable – but affect-less, however affective it might be. However much affect – a good feeling about bringing together such a heterogeneous collection of people – might have played its part and still does play its part. But not in the set-up: in the crime itself.

To consider the pattern for a moment, how does it work? Of course it is the mathematical model which is neutral and in its aesthetic overlay makes the underlying configuration anaesthetic, invisible: it hides it. What is happening is that points are surrogating for persons at terminals; another overlay or whitewash makes  those terminals interminate – they become throughchannels not endpoints: points on a line connecting endlessly.

The thing the model finds interesting however is the proliferation of lines – on which there are points. And the model valorises these lines. It ascribes power to them, in fact. Network power. Insofar as a quantitative principle is brought to bear on the point as a multiple throughpoint: the greater the number of lines or vertices or edges crossing and therefore connecting that point, the greater the value it has to the network. The point becomes a node. It presupposes both connectivity and the numerical multiplicity of other nodes. Let there be many!

Submitted to this mathematization, we can see in ARPANET a glorious precursor and a banal presumption: difference can be celebrated at the same time as it is nullified; and at the same time as the numerical values drawn from the model come to have statistical significance those quantitative signifiers or quanta supplant the mere atomes of the communicating persons, who are anatomised. Connectivity over connection, links over nodes.

This already latent valorization is actualised and exploited in the commercialization of the social graph. The gain is obvious: if we are dealing with throughpoints then we are dealing in throughput, productivity, or production-line affect, where each piece has entity, need only be counted and need never be reconstituted as the desiring or communicating body in a social configuration. Because it should also be clear that what the graph does is as much a-subjective as it is asocial. But it is objective. Objects are made. And it is to objects that asocial subjects return.

Here is the crime: in the mechanism. Or, put otherwise, the machine in the ghost. What Alex Monea calls a cloud might really be a proliferation of small machines with nothing more or other than numerical value. Of people reduced to quanta who freely choose to identify with these the smallest possible units of their online consumer status. Little objects of self-love.

Contrary to Alex, I don’t think of a becoming-cloud in anything other than these critical terms, unless I am thinking of the distributed and or virtual processing called cloud computing, which opens a whole new range of options.