Contrivers' Review Featured http://www.contrivers.org/articles/featured/ Main site feed Copyright Contrivers' Review 2018 http://www.rssboard.org/rss-specification python-feedgen en Sun, 24 Jun 2018 14:20:05 +0000 Making Sense of the Russian Revolution http://www.contrivers.org/articles/45/russia-revolution-sean-guillory-fitzpatrick-sunkara-mi%C3%A9ville-suny-steinberg/ The centenary of the Russian Revolution was the chance to reevaluate its controversial legacy. Even on the Left, it remains inseparable from Stalinism: "a tragedy at best." But there is a Russian Revolution worth saving in the experiences of the people that lived through it. <p>On February 25th 1917, two days into the February Revolution, a crowd of 6,000 “workingmen” marched from Samsonievskii Prospekt in Petrograd. As they approached Nizhnii Novgorod Street they were met by Cossacks and Tsarist police. According to Okhrana (the Tsarist secret police) reports, the crowd pulled the police chief, Shalfeev, from his horse and “began to beat him with sticks and an iron hook used to switch railway points.” At that moment, the police “fired into the crowd and the shots were returned from the crowd.”<sup id="fnref:1"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:1" rel="footnote">1</a></sup> The crowd met fire with fire. The Petrograd garrison sided with the revolution in the following two days. Tsar Nicholas II abdicated half a week later.</p> <p>In the following months, Petrograd newspapers were filled with reports of gunfire, looting, assault, mob justice, vandalism, and crowds liberating prisons and ransacking armories. Alongside the chaos were paeans to newly acquired freedom. One reporter overheard a teenage boy shouting, “I was freed from prison. Revolution! I am free! I will not steal anymore!”<sup id="fnref:2"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:2" rel="footnote">2</a></sup> Mikhail Serafimovich, reserve cavalry private, wrote, “Long live free Russia / The joyous cry floods my soul / Long live our freedom / The red flag stills my heart. / A leaden weight has fallen, / The world dreams a shining dream . . . /I’m young again, my body drunk, / my soul replete with feelings. . .”<sup id="fnref:3"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:3" rel="footnote">3</a></sup> The February Revolution unleashed what one police official reported in January 1917 called a “wave of animosity against those in authority in wide circles of the population.”<sup id="fnref:4"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:4" rel="footnote">4</a></sup> Last year, the meaning of the Russian Revolution was ruminated and reminisced in the popular press. But the agency of the crowd and the voices of those that filled it—the workers with their sticks, the teenage boy and Mikhail Serafimovich—were mostly silenced, if not forgotten. Instead, commentators rehashed old arguments or reenacted ideological shibboleths. It was as if, even after a hundred years and despite the wealth of social histories and archival sources that give voice to the subaltern, many are still missing the point of 1917.</p> <p>That point is not about Marxism, Lenin, the Bolsheviks, or even communism. Nor is it necessarily <em>just</em> about Russia. Rather, it’s about how people, particularly lower-class people, made sense of revolutionary times. Thankfully, we have some access to these mentalities thanks to letters, poetry, literature, art, proclamations, memoirs, diaries, newspapers and a whole host of other texts. The voices of the subaltern are the legacies the Russian Revolution give us today.</p> <p>Yet, finding histories that put those voices front and center is a reoccurring frustration. In 1983, in a seminal essay, historian Ronald Suny lamented the tendency to write 1917 backwards from Stalinism, to overemphasize personalities, parties and politicians, use the West as a yardstick to assess success and failure, to insist happenstance, or to pinpoint what-ifs that inevitably were-nots. Instead, Suny called for histories of “deep and long-term social developments that provided both the context and the momentum” for the Bolshevik’s victory.<sup id="fnref:5"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:5" rel="footnote">5</a></sup> Granted, the complexity of the Russian Revolution is impossible to capture in a single narrative. It was a series of overlapping revolutions that stretched across the Eurasian landmass. Though historians have an excellent oeuvre answering Suny’s call, it’s sad to say that the popular understanding of 1917 remains stuck as a contest between “great men” or a key front in the forever ideological war between socialism and its critics. Last year, these old tendencies appeared in likely places. No one, for example, should be surprised by the occasional <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/global-opinions/bolshevism-then-and-now/2017/11/06/830aecaa-bf41-11e7-959c-fe2b598d8c00_story.html?utm_term=.ec2c4e14c211">screed</a> warning the world of Bolshevism’s phantasmagoric return. Nor with the attempts to reexamine whether <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/19/opinion/was-lenin-a-german-agent.html">Lenin was a German agent</a> or books that update old theses of how “<a href="https://books.google.com/books?id=GNLuDQAAQBAJ&amp;pg=PT329&amp;dq=%E2%80%9Cthe+events+of+1917+were+filled+with+might-have-beens+and+missed+chances.%E2%80%9D&amp;hl=en&amp;sa=X&amp;ved=0ahUKEwjFzJa_1YDaAhVDZN8KHTOXBWMQ6AEIKTAA#v=onepage&amp;q=%E2%80%9Cthe%20events%20of%201917%20were%20filled%20with%20might-have-beens%20and%20missed%20chances.%E2%80%9D&amp;f=false">the events of 1917 were filled with might-have-beens and missed chances</a>.” Or simply that “it has taught us what does not work” i.e. Marxism. Liberals and conservatives have a long track record of regurgitating and repacking narratives to delegitimize the Russian Revolution in general and October in particular. For them, the Revolution was a tragedy at best and at worst the birth of evil itself.</p> <p>But old narratives found voice in unlikely places as well. China Miéville’s otherwise moving <em>October</em> never strays too far from a history from above even as he vividly captures the emotions and chaos from below. Ultimately, his narrative is one where revolutionaries made and destroyed the revolution. Though a proud partisan for 1917, Miéville unnecessarily gives credence to its opponents by using the final pages to quickly narrate 1917 to 1937 to avoid “<a href="https://books.google.com/books?id=mzfWDAAAQBAJ&amp;printsec=frontcover&amp;dq=mieville+october&amp;hl=en&amp;sa=X&amp;ved=0ahUKEwi2trvR1IDaAhXqlOAKHbNpAAEQ6AEIKTAA#v=onepage&amp;q=risk%20of%20repeating%20such%20mistakes&amp;f=false">the risk of repeating such mistakes</a>.” Yet, the mistake of any narrative of 1917 is to write it in the light of Stalinism.</p> <p>Similarly is Bhaskar Sunkara’s “<a href="https://www.jacobinmag.com/2017/12/the-few-who-won">The Few Who Won</a>” in the <em>Jacobin</em>’s special issue “The 1st Red Century.” Sunkara’s telling reads like a historiographical time warp. It’s a top down political history of social democracy that distinguishes between the “noble February Revolution” and the “bloody excesses of October.” The masses make brief appearances, but more as supporting cast rather than as central agents. It too is a history written backwards—a direct line from Lenin to Stalin: with a few saving grace “could haves” interspersed. “The Mensheviks and SRs <em>could have</em> stepped in and taken power as part of a broad front of socialist parties to create a constituent assembly and a framework for reforms. The Bolsheviks <em>could have</em> formed a loyal opposition to such a government, or even directly joined it.” But if the “system that emerged out of the October Revolution was a moral catastrophe” and “that Stalinism emerged from [October’s] womb is no surprise,” it could just as easily be argued that 1917 itself was a mistake since there <em>could have</em> been no “bloody” October without the “noble” February. By this formula, it’s not just October that was a “tragedy” but the entire revolution. In the end, Sunkara is forgiving of the excesses since “they were the first.” But there are limits. “What is less forgivable,” he concludes, “is that a model built from errors and excesses, forged in the worst of conditions, came to dominate a left living in an unrecognizable world.”</p> <p>While there is little to disagree with here, it does pose the question whether 1917 has any value for us today. On this, Conner Kilpatrick and Adaner Usmani <a href="https://www.jacobinmag.com/2017/12/the-new-communists/">are emphatic</a>: it’s time to “move on” from the “tragic story” of 1917. It’s history is now merely a “question which interests professional historians and the far left,” while the “world’s working classes have moved on.” The Russian Revolution, they argue, functions as a mark of virtue signaling in American left circles. They write: “It’s our inability to move on from these dreams of apocalyptic rupture; fantasies of new, unfathomable worlds that will somehow spring up unencumbered by the shells of the old one.” It’s hard to argue with this. Though dispensing with 1917 because of its fetishism by cultish leftists stinks just as much. History hijacked is no reason to ditch history as such.</p> <p>It’s unfortunate to see such a convergence between the Left and the Right in viewing the Russian Revolution as a “tragic story” narrated back to front. Here, it’s hard not to share Shelia Fitzpatrick’s <a href="https://www.lrb.co.uk/v39/n07/sheila-fitzpatrick/whats-left"><span class="underline">lament</a> that there are few today willing defend 1917. Instead, the consensus across the political spectrum is “if there is a lesson to be drawn from the Russian Revolution, it is the depressing one that revolutions usually make things worse, all the more so in Russia, where it led to Stalinism.” There are some crucial correctives, though. One of the better books to come out last year, Mark Steinberg’s <em>The Russian Revolution, 1905-1921</em>, offers a novel approach. He sought to “tell the story of the Russian revolution as <em>experience.</em>”<sup id="fnref:6"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:6" rel="footnote">6</a></sup> This is a key orientation. Though Steinberg doesn’t shy away from the Revolution’s ugliness, he still appreciates “leaps into the open air of history” if only out of an “admiration for those who try to leap anyway.” To get a sense of that leap, it’s articulation, and meaning, a focus on what people thought and felt about the times unfolding around them as agents shaping those events is paramount.</p> <p>The Russian Revolution was paradoxical. Alongside people’s confusion and disorientation, anger and fear, hatred and vengeance were their expressions of love, hope, joy and freedom. Many experienced the revolution as an awakening or rebirth as they transformed overnight from subjects of the Russian empire into citizens. Citizens conveyed this sense of rebirth in elemental and religious metaphors of storms, springtime, dawn, and resurrection. As one editorial, “The Springtime of Russia,” put it, “[Revolutions] fly in, like a hurricane, and tear out freedom for the exhausted people. ‘As it was, so it shall be.’”<sup id="fnref:7"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:7" rel="footnote">7</a></sup></p> <p>Lower class people realized this new sense of citizenship in their capacity for self-organization and democratic practice in some 700 soviets that sprang up around Russia. The word “citizen” and new dignities it entailed also became calls for restraining the dark side of democracy. As one editorial declared, “Citizens. Let’s wait. Let’s take ourselves in hand. . . . Let’s not sow anarchy now after doing something so great. . . . Let’s restrain our heart-felt impulses and not allow anarchy and disintegration.”<sup id="fnref:8"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:8" rel="footnote">8</a></sup> For some, the confidence in the people’s capacity for citizenship was short lived. As Alexander Kerensky expressed in April, “I no longer have my former certainty that before us are not mutinous slaves but conscious citizens.”<sup id="fnref:9"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:9" rel="footnote">9</a></sup> But really, many were both mutinous slaves <em>and</em> conscious citizens. The Russian Revolution was born of violence as much as it was of democracy. Often there was little distinction between the two. Since 1905, a public discourse of a “new dawn” accompanied a sense of uncertainty and darkness. Histories that focus on the ascent of Russian social democracy often leave out the wave of assassinations, terrorism and “expropriations” (i.e. armed robberies) carried out by revolutionaries. From 1894 to 1916, one historian suggests that close to 17,000 people were victims of revolutionary terrorism in the Russian empire.<sup id="fnref:10"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:10" rel="footnote">10</a></sup> When you consider this with the mass violence and death of WWI, the millions of refugees and homeless, the pogroms, the destitution and banditry, separating noble February from the bloody excesses of October is rather presumptuous.</p> <p>By narrating the Russian Revolution from below, it’s easy to see the bloody excesses were already present in February. And not just in particular politicians, political parties, and ideologies, but throughout the body politic. Popular rage and class revenge ruled the day. Near the town of Bezhetsk, in just one example among many, peasants locked their landlord inside his manor and burned it and him alive. The novelist Ivan Bunin described the summer of 1917 in his diary as “the Satan of Cain’s anger, of bloodlust, and of the most savage cruelty wafted over Russia while its people were extolling brotherhood, equality and freedom.”<sup id="fnref:11"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:11" rel="footnote">11</a></sup> In May 1917, Maxim Gorky wrote, “We live in a turmoil of political emotions, in the chaos of a struggle for power; this struggle arouses, along with good feelings, some very dark instincts.”<sup id="fnref:12"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:12" rel="footnote">12</a></sup></p> <p>It was the failure of the Provisional Government’s and the socialists heading the Petrograd Soviet for most of 1917 to establish a sovereign authority—in Russian, <em>vlast</em>—that opened the door for the Bolsheviks to ride those dark instincts into power. As Lars Lih recently concluded in an <a href="https://www.radicalphilosophy.com/article/all-power-to-the-soviets">insightful article</a>, “After the February Revolution, people immediately put ‘the crisis of the <em>vlast</em>’ at the center of attention, and there arose what Plekhanov somewhere calls ‘a fierce longing [<em>toska</em>] for a tough-minded <em>vlast</em>.’ The Bolsheviks proved unexpectedly, even paradoxically, able to respond to that fierce longing.” If there was a tragedy to 1917, it’s that when <em>vlast</em> was lying on the floor, no one except the Bolsheviks had the gumption to pick it up. So, what role should we assign the Russian Revolution today? How should we understand it a hundred years on?</p> <p>First, in a time where diagnosing the “working class” is a cottage industry among American liberals and leftists, the Russian Revolution provides a history of the inspiration and horrors of the “people” unleashed. It is a window into what <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Annales_school">the Annales School</a> called <em>mentalités</em>. Sure, Russia a hundred years ago is not the United States today (it’s not even present day Russia), but it does say something about the human condition in extraordinary times. This might drive some toward firm partisanship for reform over revolution, but 1917 was not orchestrated. It was a storm, and elements are impossible to contain as their centrifugal forces batter all ideologies into irrelevance.</p> <p>Second, power—or <em>vlast</em>— in a revolutionary situation is there to be seized. It is not bestowed but taken. The Russian Revolution is one of many revolutions in the last two hundred years where political expedience and opportunism is the stuff of revolutionary politics. In this light, 1917 was not the Bolsheviks to win but everyone else’s to lose. The Russian Revolution isn’t a template for social change, and it’s unfortunate that so much of its centenary was devoted to punching old phantoms. Daring “leaps into the open air of history” are few and far between. Instead of condemning the jump, we’d do better to find inspiration and foreboding in the cries of joy, hope, fear and terror of those in flight.</p> <div class="footnote"> <hr /> <ol> <li id="fn:1"> <p>Robert Browder and Aleksandr Kerensky, <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Russian-Provisional-Government-1917-Documents/dp/0804700230/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1521749148&amp;sr=8-2&amp;keywords=The+Russian+Provisional+Government&amp;linkCode=ll1&amp;tag=contrivers-review-20&amp;linkId=87704f745fd02c0874ed928beee770e6"><em><span class="underline">The Russian Provisional Government, 1917: Documents</em></a> (Stanford University Press, 1961), 35-36.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:1" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 1 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:2"> <p>Tsuyoshi Hasegawa, <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Crime-Punishment-Russian-Revolution-Petrograd/dp/0674972066/ref=as_li_ss_tl?s=books&amp;ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1521749201&amp;sr=1-1&amp;keywords=Crime+and+Punishment+in+the+Russian+Revolution:+Mob+Justice+and+Police+in+Petrograd&amp;linkCode=ll1&amp;tag=contrivers-review-20&amp;linkId=83f7aa31ebad29134a33145c68cccecf"><em>Crime and Punishment in the Russian Revolution: Mob Justice and Police in Petrograd</em></a> (Harvard University Press, 2017), 43.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:2" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 2 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:3"> <p>Mark D. Steinberg, <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Voices-Revolution-1917-Mark-Steinberg/dp/0300101694/ref=as_li_ss_tl?s=books&amp;ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1521749240&amp;sr=1-1&amp;keywords=Voices+of+Revolution,+1917&amp;linkCode=ll1&amp;tag=contrivers-review-20&amp;linkId=5cc11213765b0a15b1913fd1870328fb"><em>Voices of Revolution, 1917</em></a> (Yale University Press, 2001), 79-80.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:3" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 3 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:4"> <p>Mark D. Steinberg, <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Russian-Revolution-1905-1921-Oxford-Histories/dp/0199227632/ref=as_li_ss_tl?s=books&amp;ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1521749290&amp;sr=1-1&amp;keywords=The+Russian+Revolution,+1905-1921&amp;linkCode=ll1&amp;tag=contrivers-review-20&amp;linkId=64709e8021669866a3b8af327944c805"><em>The Russian Revolution, 1905-1921</em></a> (Oxford University Press, 2017), 69.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:4" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 4 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:5"> <p>Ronald Grigor Suny, &ldquo;Toward a Social History of the October Revolution,&rdquo; <em>The American Historical Review</em> 88, no. 1 (1983): 31.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:5" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 5 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:6"> <p>Steinberg, <em>The Russian Revolution, 1905-1921</em>, 1.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:6" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 6 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:7"> <p>Steinberg, <em>The Russian Revolution, 1905-1921</em>, 22-23.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:7" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 7 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:8"> <p>Steinberg, <em>The Russian Revolution, 1905-1921</em>, 82.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:8" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 8 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:9"> <p>Steinberg, <em>The Russian Revolution, 1905-1921</em>, 84.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:9" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 9 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:10"> <p>Anna Geifman, <em><a href="https://www.amazon.com/Thou-Shalt-Kill-Anna-Geifman/dp/0691025495/ref=as_li_ss_tl?s=books&amp;ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1521749358&amp;sr=1-1&amp;keywords=Thou+Shalt+Kill:+Revolutionary+Terrorism+in+Russia&amp;linkCode=ll1&amp;tag=contrivers-review-20&amp;linkId=273512c6ae528ddad169184050990f00">Thou Shalt Kill: Revolutionary Terrorism in Russia</a>, 1894-1917</em> (Princeton University Press, 1993), 21.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:10" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 10 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:11"> <p>Douglas Smith, <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Former-People-Final-Russian-Aristocracy/dp/1250037794/ref=as_li_ss_tl?_encoding=UTF8&amp;qid=1521749391&amp;sr=1-1&amp;linkCode=ll1&amp;tag=contrivers-review-20&amp;linkId=3e71b4aad32e6e5fb2909596e0b94fe0"><em>Former People: The Final Days of the Russian Aristocracy</em></a> (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012), 84.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:11" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 11 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:12"> <p>Maksim Gorky, Herman Ermolaev, and Mark D. Steinberg, <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Untimely-thoughts-revolution-Bolsheviks-1917-1918/dp/B0006BUHZQ/ref=as_li_ss_tl?_encoding=UTF8&amp;me=&amp;linkCode=ll1&amp;tag=contrivers-review-20&amp;linkId=cc0274529bdb890ffb052ec0d74a0736"><em>Untimely Thoughts: Essays on Revolution, Culture and the Bolsheviks, 1917-1918</em></a> (Yale University Press, 1995) 7.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:12" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 12 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> </ol> </div> editors@contrivers.org (Sean Guillory) http://www.contrivers.org/articles/45/russia-revolution-sean-guillory-fitzpatrick-sunkara-mi%C3%A9ville-suny-steinberg/ Marxism Europe Thu, 29 Mar 2018 20:13:17 +0000 The Hope of Philosophy: Why Alain Badiou Matters http://www.contrivers.org/articles/44/mark-ge-kelly-badiou-france-marxism/ Alain Badiou is one of Europe's most prolific, important, and controversial thinkers. But in America, he is less well known. In a short, critical introduction, Mark GE Kelly explains why we should care about Badiou and the heroic age of Western philosophy. <p>The world today is a desperate place; life on this planet is facing imminent destruction and we cannot avoid the catastrophic extinction event that is already well underway. What relevance does philosophy have in such a situation?</p> <p>Not much, I would suggest, despite being a professional philosopher myself. In contemporary philosophy, we hear only the pale echoes of the mid-twentieth century when philosophy felt consequential, when it stood against or for the great political and existential issues of the day; when political hope was alive, albeit bitterly contested, and philosophy seemed closely linked to its fortunes.</p> <p>We are living in an age when philosophy is clearly past its prime, but it is not without its heroic figures. In this piece, I will focus on one such hero, Alain Badiou, who I believes merits the title of the greatest philosopher living today, not least because of how he harks back to the recently lost era of philosophical grander.</p> <h2 id="who-is-badiou">Who Is Badiou?</h2> <p>By the standards of contemporary academic philosophy, Badiou is famous. Of course, this means the great majority of people—including more than a few within academic philosophy—will not have heard of him at all, let alone have any familiarity with his ideas. There was nonetheless a palpable vogue for his thought in the late noughties, made possible by the sudden appearance of translations of his thought in English.</p> <p>Badiou is a French philosopher in a classic mould which he may be said to have broken—as well, in the classic French style, as being by turns a poet, playwright, militant, and scholar of mathematics. He, with characteristic, and not entirely unjustified, immodesty, positions himself as the last in the series of great French philosophers of the twentieth century, a series that includes such titanic names as Jean-Paul Sartre and Jacques Derrida. Still writing and speaking today at the ripe old age of 80, he is certainly the oldest living major French intellectual.</p> <p>He sees himself as the final representative of the great blossoming of twentieth century French philosophy, but he could also be cast as the first of a new generation of French philosophers that came to prominence after the so-called &ldquo;Events&rdquo; of May 1968. Badiou was young enough to have figured as a student-militant rather than a professor in 1968, even if he was then already in his thirties, and became established in the professoriate immediately afterwards. He is younger by a decade than any of the previous generation, the so-called <a href="https://www.amazon.com/History-Structuralism-Rising-Sign-1945/dp/0816622418/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1513107350&amp;sr=8-1&amp;keywords=9780816622412&amp;linkCode=ll1&amp;tag=contrivers-review-20&amp;linkId=34328d630f26ba44e4a8e64ecee1d2fc">French poststructuralist philosophers</a>—principally the trio Foucault, Deleuze, and Derrida—who might not all have been well known before 1968, but had each published major works already before that date.</p> <p>Along with many others of his young peers, Badiou aligned himself with the &ldquo;anti-humanist&rdquo; or &ldquo;structuralist&rdquo; camp in French thought, which is principally opposed to a &ldquo;humanist&rdquo; or &ldquo;phenomenological&rdquo; camp focused on human subjectivity. This means schematically taking the position that what is most important is not how human beings feel and experience the world, so much as the underlying structures that constitute this experience. This division puts him on the side most obviously of Jacques Lacan and Louis Althusser among older French thinkers, as well as to a lesser extent of Michel Foucault, against figures such as Emmanuel Levinas (although Badiou retains a peculiar sympathy for the Marxist-phenomenologist Sartre).</p> <p>Badiou went on to propound a systematic, metaphysical philosophy, of a type that had become unfashionable, though its bases are tailored to exempt Badiou’s thought from the objections that discredited the old systematic metaphysics. Badiou’s system is based around a mathematical ontology, specifically centred initially on Cantorian set theory, but more generally around the principle that it is mathematics that tells us how the world really is.</p> <p>While this philosophy is meant to stand as a monument in its own right for Badiou, there is little doubt that his politics, or perhaps more specifically the way his politics and philosophy combine, have been the major point of attraction of his thought.</p> <p>Badiou’s politics began in Marxism, as did the politics of almost all his philosophical peers in France. The specific brand of Marxism that they attached to, however, divided them from one another. Badiou embraced Maoism, though quickly developing a heterodox version outside of the main Maoist organisations, instead founding his own.<sup id="fnref:1"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:1" rel="footnote">1</a></sup> Maoism was a major force on the far Left in the 1960s, as young people in particular looked for an alternative to the ideal of communism offered by a Soviet Union that looked increasingly conservative and stagnant, being attracted to the Chinese Cultural Revolution then in full swing instead. Badiou was an early adopter of Maoism, and late to abandon it, remaining a Maoist militant long after French Maoism had declined alongside the demise of Mao himself.</p> <p>Ultimately, however, though both Marx and Mao remain important references and influences for Badiou, the position he articulates in his 1988 magnum opus, <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Being-Event-Bloomsbury-Revelations-Badiou/dp/1472511069/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1513108544&amp;sr=8-1&amp;keywords=being+and+event&amp;linkCode=ll1&amp;tag=contrivers-review-20&amp;linkId=f29b9a1f54bacb4841230aef3989f7b6"><em>Being and Event</em></a>, cannot be described any longer as Maoist or even Marxist, though Badiou does continue to insist on the vaguer adjective “communist” as a self-description. While Badiou’s mathematical ontology is not a total departure from Marxist materialism, it is nonetheless fundamentally at variance with it, and in the end is more idealist than materialist, as indicated by Badiou’s fondness for Plato.</p> <p>Badiou uses mathematics to ground a theory of the <em>event</em>. Events for Badiou come in four varieties: political, artistic, scientific, and romantic. These types are distinguished arithmetically according to the number of possible participants—for example, the amorous event has only two for Badiou. Political events for Badiou derive their unique status via their capacity to mobilise masses of people, through their universal appeal: even if they mobilise only a few people in practice, for Badiou truly political events, such as the French or Russian Revolutions, have to be open to anyone and everyone.</p> <p>The ontology of the event for Badiou is set-theoretic: the political event consists in naming the &ldquo;void&rdquo; in the situation, taking the mere situation (all the things that are found together in a time and place) and radically pointing out the thing that is ignored in it, the lack around which the situation is organised. To give a privileged example of Badiou’s, Marx inaugurated a political event by naming the &ldquo;proletariat&rdquo; as the void of the capitalist situation.</p> <p>His &ldquo;evental&rdquo; ontology allows Badiou to absorb some of the relativism of the poststructuralist thinkers who preceded him, while retaining a universalism based on mathematics: there was no communism before the event that inaugurated it, but once it comes into existence, it’s open to everyone, for as long as it takes to play out. A difficulty emerges insofar as mathematics itself is evental, and hence subject to change, an implication which rears its head in Badiou’s 2006 sequel to <em>Being and Event</em>, <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Logics-Worlds-Being-Event-II/dp/1441172963/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1513631100&amp;sr=8-1&amp;keywords=logics+of+worlds&amp;linkCode=ll1&amp;tag=contrivers-review-20&amp;linkId=4d1c9064382a2af2461483f37341d595"><em>Logic of Worlds</em></a>, where he refers to different mathematical theories to those he had previously invoked.</p> <p>Politically, Badiou offers a basis for communist faith which relies not on old arguments based on economics and dialectics, but on quite novel ones, though ones which present the historic basis for communism as being something different to what communists themselves believed them to be at the time, namely fidelity to an event, or a series of events, including that of Marx’s thought as well as Lenin’s 1917 Revolution, to name only the most obvious ones. Philosophically, he purports to square the epistemological circle through a reference to mathematics, restoring certainty in an era when our ability to understand reality had seemingly dissipated into relativism.</p> <h2 id="why-badiou">Why Badiou?</h2> <p>Badiou was a fixture of the French scene for decades before any of his significant works came into English translation. He had written dozens of books, including works of philosophy, plays, and novels, before rather suddenly, in 1999, a couple of his books appeared in English for the first time. Not much more than a decade later, twenty books by Badiou were available in English, and now, less than two decades after a book of his first appeared in English, approximately forty volumes of his writing are available to Anglophone readers. This rapid inflation, I will suggest, itself explains both the dramatic initial rise and then more recent slackening off of interest in Badiou’s thought in the Anglosphere. To us English-speaking readers of philosophy, he went from being just another French philosopher that no-one’s ever heard of, to being the living French philosopher with by far the largest number of accessible writings, giving him a status he does not enjoy in France, where he can be seen as just another <em>soixante-huitard</em> philosopher who has written dozens of books over the years, in an intellectual culture where writing so prolifically is much more usual. That said, in France philosophers generically enjoy a prominence that none enjoy in any English-speaking culture.</p> <p>Of course, the explosion in the translation of Badiou’s works can hardly have happened by accident. Rather, it happened for various reasons. One, certainly, is that scholars with the capacity to translate Badiou’s work (I might mention here Peter Hallward, Ray Brassier, Alberto Toscano and Oliver Feltham for starters), and publishers with the capacity to make it available (such as <a href="https://www.versobooks.com/">Verso</a> and <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Continuum_International_Publishing_Group"> Continuum</a>) were interested enough in his work to do this. But of course no publisher will keep printing material if no one buys it, and the continuing explosion of translations attests to an intense interest in his writing. To what do we attribute this interest?</p> <p>One could here emphasise Badiou’s personal qualities, his prolific productivity and extraordinary portentous charisma as a public speaker, but I don’t think these are particularly decisive here, not least because we are talking about people primarily being exposed to his writing rather than his personal presence. It must rather be the content of his thought that has excited interest. What I am going to suggest though is that the aspects of his thought that led him to broad appeal are not exactly the same—though they are far from unrelated—as the aspects of his thought that I think make him the most important living philosopher.</p> <p>A factor that should be mentioned, though it should not be accorded undue importance, is the role of Slavoj Žižek, at the height of his own fame a decade ago, and perhaps the most publicly prominent philosopher at that time, in promoting Badiou’s thought and Badiou personally, happily panegyrising Badiou as a philosopher whose name belonged among the greats of the philosophical canon. Žižek and Badiou are not quite co-thinkers, though they belong to the same broad French anti-humanist tendency, with a shared adherence to communism (though Badiou’s is greater, albeit less orthodox) and respect for Jacques Lacan (though Badiou is not a Lacanian in the fundamentalist sense that Žižek proclaims himself to be). The apogee of this relationship and of the reception of either philosopher seems to me to have been the massive, expensive sold-out event in London organised by Žižek in 2009 under the title &ldquo;On the Idea of Communism,&rdquo; with Badiou and Žižek as effective headliners, though the event consisted of a who’s-who of contemporary superstars of far left theory.<sup id="fnref:2"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:2" rel="footnote">2</a></sup></p> <p>Here we might go deeper and ask why people were so interested in Žižek himself during this period—he too enjoyed an extraordinary explosion in his reception in the first decade of the third millennium, one which peaked perhaps somewhat before Badiou’s, and has passed still more clearly than Badiou’s moment yet has. Clearly, the interest in the pair testifies to an intense millennial reemergence of interest in communism in the Anglospheric academy. One could exaggerate this, inasmuch as I do not believe that Marxism ever really disappeared from the scene. However, there clearly was some kind of recession of Marxism internationally after the fall of the Eastern Bloc, which is to say, in the 1990s in particular. The first great sign of left renewal in the wake of this was the growing anticapitalist protest movement around international summit meetings, a series that made its loudest formative appearance with the Battle of Seattle in 1999 and effectively ended at Genoa in 2001. The theorists whose star rose immediately as a result of this development were two of those who appeared at Žižek’s conference a decade later, Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri. This movement effectively died with the shift in global dynamic and security following September 11, 2001. It was in this period that the uptake of Badiou and Žižek, though it had begun to some extent already, really took off. This was a period of renewed bare-faced imperialism, which immediately falsified Hardt and Negri’s position and saw them bizarrely <a href="http://dev.autonomedia.org/node/3011">calling for the creation of the global &ldquo;Empire&rdquo;</a> that they had a few years before claimed already existed and constituted their main enemy. In light of this, there was something of a return of more orthodox Marxist positions: Trotskyist, Marxist-Leninist, and Maoist groups in the Anglosphere waxed on the basis of their opposition to Bush’s ‘War on Terror’ and, in the way of Leninist groups, divided and produced new groups.<sup id="fnref:3"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:3" rel="footnote">3</a></sup> While Žižek and Badiou were neither of them orthodox Leninists, they nonetheless both pointedly defended Lenin, in contrast to the more anti-authoritarian sentiment that had been hegemonic in the pre-War-on-Terror anticapitalist movement.</p> <p>Badiou’s popularity in the high noughties was due then to the fact that he used novel arguments to attack and defend sets of things that a certain audience disliked and liked respectively, namely capitalism and imperialism on the one hand and communism on the other, making him a suitable patron-philosopher for various tendencies. It helped to some extent that Badiou was propounding a form of communism that jettisoned a variety of elements that had become difficult (though certainly not impossible) to defend, such as Marxist economics, the dialectical view of history, and the Leninist party form.</p> <p>But here is the rub: much or even most of Badiou’s audience was found among soi-disant Marxists, and indeed among people who had scant interest in the radically unorthodox elements of Badiou’s position. (Žižek incidentally gelled rather better with the same audience, since he was willing to call himself a Marxist without qualification, and his purported Lacanianism operates at a rather different register to Marxism, so does not promise to replace Marxism’s tenets). In the heyday of his influence, then, it was not so much the details of Badiou’s thought that most of his audience were drawn to, as the idea that there was a major living philosopher whose continuing adherence to communism could vouchsafe their own. Badiou’s mathematical justifications were not widely understood but functioned as a mystical explanation that can be pointed to, just as lay Catholics have taken the theological knowledge of the Church to vouchsafe their faith in the absence of any coherent understanding of their own of how it is possible for God to appear as a man and die.</p> <p>If Badiou is less popular than he was formerly, I think he is—like Žižek, Derrida, or even Foucault before him—a victim of his own success, that is, that the volume of publications that have appeared to capitalise on the his success has overwhelmed his readership and fractured it, preventing understanding and coherent conversations. By this logic, Badiou’s heyday came precisely around 2008 or 2009, when a substantial number of readers had managed to read some of <em>Being and Event</em>, as well as more accessible works like <em><a href="https://www.amazon.com/Ethics-Essay-Understanding-Radical-Thinkers/dp/1781680183/ref=as_li_ss_tl?s=books&amp;ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1513631669&amp;sr=1-1&amp;keywords=badiou+ethics&amp;linkCode=ll1&amp;tag=contrivers-review-20&amp;linkId=ae16fb97cc9fa53aa6c8a01716076e19"> Ethics</a></em> and <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Metapolitics-Radical-Thinkers-Alain-Badiou/dp/1844677818/ref=as_li_ss_tl?s=books&amp;ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1513631704&amp;sr=1-1&amp;keywords=metapolitics+badiou&amp;linkCode=ll1&amp;tag=contrivers-review-20&amp;linkId=1e13614bc1b7538ab3e2cbbbdad22ec0">* Metapolitics*</a>, but before the confusing 2009 appearance in English of <em>Logic of Worlds</em>, which I think complicated things beyond most readers’ tolerance: while this intervention was important and necessary in shattering a possible impression of Badiou as an absolutist adherent of Cantorian set theory, much of Badiou’s fanbase was looking for certainty, and preferred the appearance of absolutism.</p> <p>It might be regarded as a good thing that Badiou has become less attractive as a reference for left dilettantes. While the largest part of Badiou’s reception has been, as for many thinkers, superficial, I must emphasise that there is a significant, smaller audience that is intensely interested in the details of his project. This audience is less drawn towards Badiou’s political valences than his philosophy itself. For the superficial audience, Badiou’s name and some of his ideas, particularly his emphasis on fidelity to the cause of the event, vouchsafed political commitments; for the more serious reader, the primary point of interest is the deeper and more general promise of a philosophy that can ground itself in mathematics and vouchsafe a variety of fidelities, not only political but artistic and personal ones.</p> <p>The most general challenge of Badiou to philosophy at large is his raising of the status of mathematics. This is at once immensely attractive in getting us out of the apparent baseless arbitrariness of all beliefs in an era of postmodern relativism, and plausible since mathematics does seem to be have a special status. While natural language struggles to describe reality, mathematics seems to do it with a precision, and to be verified by making the calculations that inerrantly guide our technologised lives. That said, it’s not terribly clear that giving mathematics a special status between language and reality yields any or all or Badiou’s conclusions, and his usage of mathematics has certainly been contested by experts. In the end then, Badiou may either be the last gasp of metaphysics or its saviour.</p> <p>Regarding mathematics, I find it hard to conclusively either gainsay or endorse Badiou’s stance. Does mathematics understand something fundamental about reality, and if so what does this say about our relation to the world? I don’t know, and I don’t even know how one would know whether one knows this. Mathematics certainly seems to have an extraordinary capacity, proven in particular in contemporary physics and information technology, to accomplish things in the world, but we do not know whether or not there are limits to this capacity.</p> <p>Still, it is possible to agree with much of Badiou’s program at a liminal level without accepting his ontology. Indeed, anyone can read his <em>Ethics—</em>a book he wrote for French high school students, though this has to carry the caveat that the level of philosophy studied at French <em>lycées</em> is close to that studied at senior undergraduate levels in the Anglosphere—and find his arguments convincing even without the mathematical metaphysics. The problem is that without accepting his argument from mathematics it is unclear that we <em>must</em> accept his evental account of politics. Without the argument from mathematics, moreover, this account takes on a rather different flavour, as a psychological or sociological thesis about the operation of politics and human subjectivity more generally. The difference is that, if we accept the mathematical argument, then we can understand our commitments as rooted in the deep structure of reality itself, rather than being something more in the direction of a subjective or collective illusion. In fact, Badiou candidly admits this problem, inasmuch as by his lights we can never be finally certain that what we are think is an event is “really” an event and not just something that looks like an event—this for him indeed is precisely why all our passionate commitments rest on <em>faith</em>.</p> <p>Badiou follows French philosopher of mathematics Jean Cavaillès, executed by the Nazis for resisting them in World War Two, in seeking to ground a life of fervent commitment in mathematics and reason. But I do not believe reason can motivate action, still less mathematical reason. Of course, strictly speaking, for Badiou it is not the ontology but rather the event that anchors our motivation by giving us something to believe in. But why believe in events? Without the mathematical explanation, the only reason ends up being the psychological understanding that we need to believe to give reason to our life—but once we understand this, we are not in the space of belief, but of disenchantment. Appeals to mathematics cannot re-enchant things. They can, at best, stave off disenchantment by convincing us that there is a deep necessity to the commitments we already have and feel. In short, Badiou produces a philosophy which is useful to enthusiasts such as himself, but is attractive without being compelling to others. I think we see this in Badiou’s biography and in his popular reception: abstract arguments can be taken up to defend and shape motivation that is fundamentally of an irrational type, and already exists prior to these arguments. Badiou has a fervently positive spirit, but his philosophy is the symptom and not the cause of this will, in himself as well as in others.</p> <p>Still, I would want to side with Badiou in championing reason, if not to quite the extent he does. We are indeed in an age of what he calls ‘democratic materialism’, in which people are obsessed with bodies, and politically with affect, which is to say, with feelings. I think the politics of the United States in particular sees two camps facing each other, each accusing the other of making them feel bad. Against this Badiou raises the possibility of political principles which take us out of our animal existence by raising higher causes in which we can find meaning. Still, I remain pessimistic: while it is energizing to read Badiou, his thought remains insufficient to compel me personally, and I think also most others who have encountered it. Nonetheless, it does not seem to me that we have a better philosopher leading the way, and in this much Badiou remains indispensible, not least because he disturbs and attacks the pieties which most Western-educated people today believe in.</p> <div class="footnote"> <hr /> <ol> <li id="fn:1"> <p>On the history of French Maoism in this period, see the relevant chapter of A. Belden Fields, <em>Trotskyism and Maoism</em> (New York: Praeger, 1988).&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:1" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 1 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:2"> <p>The conference was subsequently <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Idea-Communism-Costas-Douzinas/dp/1844674592/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&amp;linkCode=ll1&amp;tag=contrivers-review-20&amp;linkId=fd8eac801bbc7235b565d9ba2a67ab2b">turned into a book</a>.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:2" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 2 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:3"> <p>I am thinking here respectively of the growth of the Trotskyist British SWP (Socialist Workers Party), and of the anti-revisionist WWP (Workers World Party) and Maoist RCP (Revolutionary Communist Party) in the USA. The WWP enjoyed enormous growth with the success of its anti-war front ANSWER, but soon split to produce the PSL (Party for Liberation and Socialism); the RCP also grew strongly, in a period in which Maoist insurgencies in India and Nepal affiliated with the RCP were burgeoning and looked likely to win in the latter instance, but split as member bridled under its authoritarian leadership structure.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:3" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 3 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> </ol> </div> editors@contrivers.org (Mark G. E. Kelly) http://www.contrivers.org/articles/44/mark-ge-kelly-badiou-france-marxism/ Intellectuals Marxism Europe Mon, 08 Jan 2018 11:40:06 +0000 #datapolitik: An Interview with Davide Panagia http://www.contrivers.org/articles/40/Davide-Panagia-Caglar-Koseoglu-Datapolik-Interview-Political-Theory/ Çağlar Köseoğlu interviews political theorist Davide Panagia about his concept of #datapolitik, the evolving relationship between humans and their algorithms, and the possibilities of resistance. <p>The use of Facebook advertising and fake Twitter accounts by Russian hackers to influence the US election and infiltrate activist groups like Black Lives Matter are the most recent and perhaps most dramatic demonstrations that algorithms, bots, and big data are now at the foundation of our political milieu. These technologies help shape the field of possible political organization and action, for better and worse. The cultural and political theorist, <a href="http://ucla.academia.edu/DavidePanagia"><em>Davide Panagia</em></a> explores this situation through his concept of #datapolitik. Panagia coined this term because he believes that we lack an adequate critical vocabulary and theoretical tools to articulate the shifting nature of politics today. For Panagia, the horizon of possible forms of political organization and collective action has been transformed by the ubiquity of algorithms and the reduction of political subjects to data points amenable to behavioral analysis and control. In this interview with Contrivers’ Review editor Çağlar Köseoğlu, Panagia discusses both how the “ever-growing governmental infrastructure of non-human agents” constrains our politics and how this same milieu of #datapolitik holds the possibility of “emergent forms of political organization and action, solidarity and emancipation.”</p> <p><strong>Çağlar Köseoğlu:</strong> Recently you have proposed the concept of datapolitik (or #datapolitik) and described it as an “underappreciated form of modern political power” and “the unique constellations of political forms available to our contemporary techno-digital condition.” Datapolitik seems to be in dialogue with other relatively new concepts such as informational politics and algorithmic politics. Could you, to start off, expound on what datapolitik broadly entails and why you have chosen for this particular variation—politik—instead of the more common “politics”? </p> <p><strong>Davide Panagia:</strong> First off, Çağlar, let me thank you for getting in touch with me and inviting me to do this interview. It’s very generous of you to be interested in my work which is very much in an early stage of development. And quite frankly, your questions are inordinately helpful in giving me the opportunity to orient my thoughts which are, as you suggest, in dialogue with many, many conversations and writings appearing currently in both academic and non-academic spaces. You are absolutely right, in this regard, to note the potential affinities of the term #datapolitik with other kindred terms like informational politics and algorithmic politics. The fact of the matter is that I draw quite substantially from people working with these other terms and ideas—especially thinkers like Colin Koopman, Orit Halpern, Louise Amoore, Jairus Victor Grove, Tiziana Teranova, Richard Grusin, Neal Thomas, Mika La-Vaque Manty, Rita Raley, Brian Massumi, and Antoinette Rouvroy (amongst many others) whose work on “algorithmic governmentality” (another term to add into the mix) I’ve recently discovered.</p> <p>What these and other thinkers seem to be latching onto as an urgent task of political thinking is the fact that our systems of governance are operated by non-human agents who have the capacity not only to govern everyday life, but more crucially to make autonomous decisions. These non-human, sovereign agents are the algorithmic equations that animate us. This, it seems to me, is a concern that goes well beyond the kind of analysis typically provided of the politics of social networking—analyses that rely on pre-established conceptions of both psychology, action, and sociality. In other words the rise of #datapolitik to me means that our established critical vocabularies, theories, and conceptual innovations are insufficient for the demands posed by this ever growing governmental infrastructure of non-human agents that possess an impressive degree of sovereignty over people.</p> <p>For instance, it seems limiting to me to exclaim the scandal of neoliberal capital as a symptom of our digital age. Of course neoliberal capital is complicit with the spread of information networks. But that’s hardly a compelling insight because it’s not clear that the “j’accuse” directed at neoliberal capital does anything other than point to yet another instance of exploitation. And once we’ve itemized yet another structure of domination, what have we done? That is to say, are the various sophistications of ideology-critique the best that our political thinking can do in this case? And are the transformations of power, governance, and self under #datapolitik reducible to the image of political thought that ideology-critique perpetuates?</p> <p>What to me was exciting about many of the critical ventures that developed around media and aesthetics in the twentieth century was the concerted effort on the part of various thinkers to develop their political-theoretical positions in relation to the specificity of technical media. I’m thinking here of Benjamin and Kracauer on film, Adorno on film and music, Foucault on spatial architectures, Derrida on reading and writing, Butler on gender, and so on and so forth. Technical media in the cases of these thinkers weren’t simply physical objects of investigation, they were dynamic perceptual milieus that participated in the disposition of worlds. This is why I very much prefer the term “dispositif” or “dispositive” when speaking of technical objects rather than the term “apparatus.” And I prefer the term dispositif because I share James Chandler’s intuition about the Roman rhetorical sense of the <em>dispositio</em> of technical media, which refers to how matter is disposed, how its component parts are arranged, ordered, and organized.<sup id="fnref:1"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:1" rel="footnote">1</a></sup> That Roman rhetorical sense of <em>dispositio</em> is also at the heart of Foucault’s own notion of governmentality as &ldquo;the right disposition of things.&rdquo;<sup id="fnref:2"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:2" rel="footnote">2</a></sup> A <em>dispositio</em> regards the arrangement of peoples, things, and sensibilities <em>and</em>, crucially, the limits of those arrangements and designations. In any case, what happened in twentieth century critical thinking was the emergence and elaboration of philosophical vocabularies that exposed the limitations of dispositifs, but also showed the transformations of worlds that those same techno-mediatic dispositional arrangements enliven. If you go back to the ideas innovated in the twentieth century, it is truly stunning to see the extent to which technical media are implicated in the development of ideas that today we typically take for rote as our terms of political criticism.</p> <p>I should note that I come to the work on #datapolitik as someone whose research thus far studies the relationship of aesthetics and politics. Through such work, I have come to a deep appreciation of the complicity of technical media with and in our thinking—which is why #datapolitik for me presents an (urgent) opportunity to develop new conceptual artifices and critical vocabularies that attempt to answer, among other things, what are the different modes of political transformation in the digital age. And rather than adapt critical vocabularies from other technical media and transpose them upon our current scenarios, I think it is important that we exploit and investigate the dynamics and limits of the most prevalent technical media of our day. For me, these include the perceptual milieus enabled by the technical medium of the algorithm, the ontology of the feedback loop, and the heterotopia of ubiquity.</p> <p>So to get at the second part of your question—why the “k” in #datapolitik? In part, this is a heuristic. When I started thinking about these issues, I wanted a term that pressed upon me the political dimensions of the project of inquiry, but that in some sense also distracted me from more conventional uses of the term “politics” for all of the reasons I spell out above. There is to me something unique happening today that definitely has a history, but that is also importantly different from the understandings of power, governance, and humanness that have come before. So, the hashtag matters to me because it signals the various tactics of ubiquity that current technologies enable. And the “k” matters because it rehabilitates an older language of power—of “realpolitik”—prevalent in some corridors of history and political science departments.</p> <p>But to get back to what I was hinting at earlier, what is new to me about #datapolitik is that it is a form of realpolitik of and by non-human agents. Thus it begs of us the need to rethink our assumptions about the motivations of action in politics. The older term “realpolitik” was designated to describe an account of politics that tried to explain the actions of great statesmen who saw the accumulation of power through territory and war as the motivational purpose of nation-states. So decisions were said to be made on the basis of how to aggrandize power, territory, and domain. #datapolitik is not that, in part because I don’t think the anthropomorphism that assumes states are rational actors fits here. There are other relational dynamics at play. I hesitate to say this, but it feels as if that idea of the state is almost irrelevant to #datapolitik in part because the algorithm is indifferent to the content of any identity—whether state, self, or nation. That is, what kind of a relation is “interest” when non-sovereign agents (to abuse a term from Sharon Krause’s book <em>Freedom Beyond Sovereignty</em><sup id="fnref:3"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:3" rel="footnote">3</a></sup>) are developing domains and modalities of influence that help determine political outcomes. In any case, I am currently exploring the idea that #datapolitik is not a power of sovereignty but it is fundamentally a police power.</p> <p><strong>CK:</strong> One of the people you mentioned, <a href="http://unamur.academia.edu/AntoinetteRouvroy"><em>Antoinette Rouvroy</em></a>, charts—in a lecture given in Amsterdam in 2013—three dimensions that have been significantly and in novel ways transformed by what she terms “algorithmic governmentality”: knowledge production (becomes knowledge without truth), power exercise (becomes power without authority), subjectivation (becomes personalization without subject). You, too, seem to focus on roughly the same categories and map the current shifts in a conceptual language that is reminiscent of Foucault. Could you indicate or perhaps speculate to what extent #datapolitik—in particular its non-human aspect and fairly new techniques like the algorithm—can be grasped in a Foucaldian framework of governmentality?</p> <p><strong>DP:</strong> Your intuition is right to the extent that, like Rouvroy, I am indebted to Foucault’s morphology of aesthetic and political sensibilities. And, like Rouvroy and others, I also consider <a href="https://monoskop.org/Gilbert_Simondon"><em>Gilbert Simondon</em></a>’s work as important to the study of #datapolitik. But for me it’s less the conceptual language that I find compelling in these and many other thinkers (i.e., Deleuze, Rancière, Barad, Chamayou, Latour, Massumi, Berlant, etc.), than the sites and emphases their work generates, and (especially with Foucault) the relevance of the micropolitical practices that operate in the age of the algorithm. Foucault didn’t begin with concepts but began with practices that were attached to institutions and their forms. And here, an institution is not necessarily an established construct but, again, a series of activities and sensibilities that operate in more or less identifiable and consistent ways, though not always as consistently as we’d like. I like to call such a mode of analysis an affective pragmatics. It is affective because it is interested in dispositions, perceptibilities, and sensibilities; it is pragmatic because it is interested in how all of these things work together and apart.</p> <p>As I’ve suggested, with my exploration of #datapolitik I’m less interested in issues of governmentality <em>per se</em> than of governmentality’s service animal, the police. And again, I’m not interested in the police as a specific entity that interpolates, but as a set of operations that regulate circulation through space and time. These operations include modes of thinking (i.e., cause and effect, teleology), technologies (i.e., the cybernetic feedback loop), practices (i.e., predation, tracking, and capture), attitudes (i.e., safety and security), and beliefs (i.e., an immanent threat or potential catastrophe). And so it’s undoubtedly true that whenever we do any kind of conceptual work we do so by invoking an archive of referents: authors, terms, concepts, and intelligibilities. But the question for me isn’t so much the potential repetition that comes with one’s occupation of an archive, but the people, places, events, and activities that one’s own specific displacing and disordering of an archive put on display. The task of intellectual indebtedness for me is one of the transmediation of archive, or what Miriam Hansen refers to as the heaping of broken images that is an “an-archive.”<sup id="fnref:4"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:4" rel="footnote">4</a></sup> This is also why I remain committed to David Hume’s psychology of impressions.<sup id="fnref:5"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:5" rel="footnote">5</a></sup></p> <p>I want to offer opportunities for giving attention to things, events, forces, and collectivities that have, as of yet, been underprivileged in our thinking about the relation of politics and digital objects. And the way that I wish to proceed is to look at how the development and application of cybernetics today, its history, the motivations behind its emergence, its psychologies, and so forth, are impacting everyday life and, especially given my own political sensibilities, the ways in which we think about political organization and action, solidarity and emancipation. This is why I’ve begun to articulate #datapolitik as a police power, to the extent that it is a coordination of technologies and sensibilities oriented towards the cynegetic predation of actions that take shape as information or data-points, or what we otherwise call “clicks.” This idea came to me by accident.</p> <p>In the fall of 2015 I was reading a great deal about cybernetics, thanks in part to Orit Halpern’s important book, <em>Beautiful Data</em>.<sup id="fnref:6"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:6" rel="footnote">6</a></sup> It’s that book that sent me to read the works of Norbert Weiner, Claude Shannon, and W. Ross Ashby. Now, one thing you must realize about me is this: I am innumerate. In fact, I came to political theory because I dropped a Calculus class in my freshman year in college and so needed to pick up a credit for the year so that I might graduate on schedule. I decided to take an intro course in Political Science taught by a legal and political theorist, and the rest is pretty much history. This to say that when I read the cyberneticists I focus on the way in which their description of what mathematical calculations are apt to do inform their motivations of what they imagine possible.</p> <p>At the same time—and here’s the “accident” part of the <em>an-archive</em> story—I began reading an important book by the philosopher Lisa Guenther, <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Solitary-Confinement-Social-Death-Afterlives/dp/0816679592/ref=as_li_ss_tl?s=books&amp;ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1509817487&amp;sr=1-1&amp;keywords=Solitary+Confinement&amp;linkCode=ll1&amp;tag=contrivers-review-20&amp;linkId=5e349ed9735b21ad36668cead783e3fa"><em>Solitary Confinement</em></a>, that many colleagues had told me I had to read. The book is a phenomenology of solitary confinement punishment in the American prison-industrial complex. It’s an extraordinary work that everyone should read, even though the tenor and site of the work is an incredibly demoralizing topic. But Guenther is the most hopeful and inspirational of writers and she refuses to deny her readers the vitalism necessary to engage the horrors of the practices she describes by being merely disenchanting. I never thought a book on solitary confinement and social death could be so uplifting! It’s one of the beautiful things about the tradition of phenomenology—it really is committed to embodied life.</p> <p>Moving on. In the book there are a series of chapters devoted to behavior modification, a topic and a literature I hadn’t entertained for some time. And Guenther goes back to Merleu-Ponty’s early work, <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Structure-Behavior-Maurice-Merleau-Ponty/dp/0820701637/ref=as_li_ss_tl?s=books&amp;ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1509817548&amp;sr=1-1&amp;keywords=Structure+of+Behavior&amp;linkCode=ll1&amp;tag=contrivers-review-20&amp;linkId=c57036bd4f4640bac9617f38b3a2c7ec"><em>The Structure of Behavior</em></a>, and shows its relevance to the ideas of behavioral psychology behind solitary confinement. More importantly for my immediate purposes, however, is that the connection to Merleau-Ponty struck a note as I was also reading of and about Simondon’s critiques of Aristotelian hylomorphism in his engagements with cybernetics, and his theory of individuation. Simondon, of course, was a student of Merleau-Ponty (amongst others) and cybernetics is an offshoot of I. Pavlov and B.F. Skinner’s behaviorism. If you combine all of these messy strands together, you arrive at the possible idea that what we’re dealing with when we consider something called #datapolitik is a collaboration of sensibilities for behavior modification that emerges and derives from a set of techniques, practices, and affections for capturing things in motion that we might otherwise call police sensibilities.</p> <p>Of course, this should be of no surprise given that cybernetics is one of the many military technologies that find their way into everyday life. And as Weiner and Ashby make clear, cybernetics is a technology that adopts a recursive calculus of repetition for the taming of difference so as to enable the infinite predictability (and thus availability) of a moving target. In fact, it’s impossible for me now to read Gilles Deleuze’s <em>Difference and Repetition</em>—a work that has always been part of my intellectual lexicon—as anything other than a retort to cybernetics, and it’s equally impossible for me to consider the turn to affect that Deleuze’s work procures anything other than a response to behaviorism’s confidence that experience is representable, identifiable, and trackable.</p> <p>Cybernetic innovations involve the application of technical objects (i.e., algorithms) for the tracking and capture of difference, pure and simple. Their field of application is undetermined, because ubiquitous, and they work on exactly the same basis and principal that Skinner’s approach to the study of human action does; namely, the idea that an action is independent of any content, or thick description of the human essence (like soul, or an identity, or a will), because what counts is automatic stimulus (i.e., the clicking of the “like” button on Facebook) and not the biography of the agent. And this attitude towards action’s automaticity also has a history—and that history is an enlightenment inheritance of post-humanism that finds progenitors in people like Descartes (of course), but more dramatically in the French philosophe La Mettrie who attempted to defend atheism (and thus deny the concept of the soul) by imagining the possibility that the human animal is simply an animated machine. Skinner confirmed the autonomic nature of animation when he learned how a salamander’s tail would move when pricked, even after it had been cut off from the salamander’s body. And he (as well as everyone else) had had practice with the idea of human automata given that automata were amongst the most prevalent form of entertainment throughout the modern period,<sup id="fnref:7"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:7" rel="footnote">7</a></sup> especially if you consider the fact that cinema is a ubiquitous technology that animates humanoids on a screen automatically.<sup id="fnref:8"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:8" rel="footnote">8</a></sup></p> <p>Like I said, it’s a big mess, it’s an <em>an-archive</em>; but what I’m sensing is a way of describing what (today) we experience on an everyday basis—that is, the development and implementation <em>and</em> adoption of behavioral systems of control that track and capture movement on a micro-temporal basis. And this to me sounds a lot like a police sensibility of cynegetics and predation, and I want to learn more about it. And I don’t know (yet) if my learning will produce a different kind of critique altogether, as you suggest, or not. In part because, as I mentioned earlier, it’s inordinately difficult for me to conceive of critique in light of the fact of ubiquity and in light of our unwillingness (or, perhaps, the impossibility) of giving up on our collective technical existence. As I see it, critique is always based on technology; it is responsive to systems that produce things: the printing press, industrialization, photography, etc. And in part, what is implicit in the notion of critique is the possibility of having some distance between subject and object, between critic and work. I may be critical of “x” because it is collusive to freedom and thus will commend its demolition or, at the very least, one’s turning away from it. But I don’t believe that is possible with contemporary digital objects given the immersive nature and ubiquity of this abstract things like data and algorithms and, indeed, given our entangled complicity with their perpetual workings.</p> <p><strong>CK:</strong> In your previous research you have been expressly committed to an aesthetic understanding of politics. On your view, how could one make sense of the fundamentally cynegetic techniques and processes of the “police” in aesthetic terms? In other words, what is the exact aesthetic dimension, status or workings of some of the key digital objects of our present? And, on the basis of this, do you think that #datapolitik points toward a particular form, mode or site of political action?</p> <p><strong>DP:</strong> This is a very interesting question. Here’s how I would begin answering it: We live in the age of ubiquity that has superseded—or at the very least, is surpassing—the age of the particular.</p> <p>I think that one way to begin to tackle the spirit of your questions, then, is to think about our relationship to the dispositif of #datapolitik that I am isolating, namely the algorithm and its ubiquity in everyday life. The #datapolitik project is a continuation and extension of my research on the relationship between aesthetics and politics in contemporary life given its commitment to pursuing a study of the dispositifs of our digital age. So first, a few words on this notion &ldquo;dispositif&rdquo; that is in some circulation today. Allow me to add to the comments about the dispositif I’ve already made (see the answer to Question 1). The term has an interesting aesthetic and political history that isn’t quite available to non-French readers. In English, dispositif is typically translated as “apparatus” and the substitution is rarely, if ever, noted. But as Alain Brossat has shown, the language of the dispositif has a historical specificity that marks the emergence of a novel conceptual and theoretical imaginary that, “to put it bluntly, represents a movement from ‘science’ to ‘politics.’”<sup id="fnref:9"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:9" rel="footnote">9</a></sup> Now Brossat is referring specifically to Michel Foucault’s lexicon. But I think that his point can be generalized, and we can talk about a general shift in sensibilities from the idea of a technical apparatus to that of the dispositif. And that shift regards a shift in our conceptions of power, its operations, and the perceptibilities that emerge from an ensemble of technical and human forces. The apparatus (exemplified, for instance, in Althusser’s mechanical engineering metaphor of ideological state apparatuses) are devices that control from the top down and impose a certain order of operations in society. Dispositifs are, to use the language of the sentiments, dispositional arrangements that dispose a milieu of perceptibilities and sensibilities.</p> <p>In his recent <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Aisthesis-Scenes-Aesthetic-Regime-Art/dp/1781680892/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1509818111&amp;sr=8-1&amp;keywords=Aisthesis&amp;linkCode=ll1&amp;tag=contrivers-review-20&amp;linkId=b268776dc9ead4bf1e876b4c008f48b5"><em>Aisthesis</em></a> Jacques Rancière offers a helpful formulation: “A medium is neither a basis, nor an instrument, nor a specific material. It is the perceptible milieu of their coexistence.”<sup id="fnref:10"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:10" rel="footnote">10</a></sup> Now I may be making the mistake of using the term “medium” and “dispositif” interchangeably, but for the time being I think we can allow ourselves that slippage only so that we might emphasize this domain of coexistence of a variety of technical and perceptual forces that are disposed in a particular way and produce certain effects. Thus, when we translate dispositif as apparatus we end up missing this aesthetic and political specificity, this shift between the idea of technical media as tools of domination to talking about them as participants in the arrangements of sensibilities and perceptibilities of a techno-human milieu.</p> <p>The aesthetic and political point, for me, is to acknowledge this experiential milieu and to consider its terms of operations, its workings, but also its distensions, its capacities, and its transformations. And, finally, how we might engage it critically: What are the dispositifs of the age of ubiquity, we might therefore ask? And we may begin to answer this question by noting that one of the principal effects of #datapolitik is its transformation of the field of operations of everyday life from whatever it may have been to one of tracking and capturing changes and alterations; in short, the age of ubiquity generates a cultural politics of cynegetics and predation. To answer your question explicitly—“how could one make sense of the fundamentally cynegetic techniques and processes of the “police” in aesthetic terms?”—one thus needs to consider these diverse techniques in terms of the dispositional milieu they arrange; that is, the dynamics of sensation, perception, movement, and transformation they effect, the capacities they make available, their structures of support, and their limits.</p> <p>Given this, the important thing to note is that with #datapolitik we’re not talking about those familiar, Benthamite, surveillance and disciplining procedures and tactics. The specificities of the dispositif have changed substantially from Foucault’s studies on utilitarianism. Because frankly, there is no looking and no surveying going on today; this despite our heightened anxiety about NSA spying techniques. The reality is that nobody actually cares about what you look like, how you look, and what you are doing. Nobody is listening, transcribing, or recording. We are eons away from <em>The Wire</em> (2002-2006) or <em>The Conversation</em> (1974). What matters today is your movements and how they may be tracked by a highly sophisticated set of algorithmic calculations that monitor the differential positions of your signal transmitters—whether your cell phone, or your computer, or your smartwatch, or your body. What we’re talking about is what Rita Raley refers to as “dataveillance,”<sup id="fnref:11"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:11" rel="footnote">11</a></sup> a concept initially proposed by Roger Clarke<sup id="fnref:12"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:12" rel="footnote">12</a></sup> in 1988 that deserves a full research agenda of its own.</p> <p>Now, it’s crucial to realize that dataveillance is nothing new, to the extent that it has been at the heart of so many of our modern practices in marketing and economics, political science, policy analysis, and everyday life. Once the human was recognized as being the bearer of information by, for instance, Francis Galton (1822-1911) or Alphonse Bertillon (1853-1914), then it became possible to track and capture humans as never before. Hence the development of what Grégoire Chamayou identifies as our papered subjectivity in the passport that is, for him, central to the emergence of police dataveillance.<sup id="fnref:13"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:13" rel="footnote">13</a></sup></p> <p>As we’ve noted, the basic operation of dataveillance is to measure differentials in human movements, gestures, ticks, and clicks—and there are a variety of technical instruments, some digital, some not, that enable this. This is different from classic Benthamite surveillance for a variety of reasons: At one very basic level, dataveillance is not motivated by any correctional norm or ambition. It doesn’t want you to change your behavior, at all. It is a classic example of Rancière’s police qua traffic cop: it doesn’t interpellate but says “Move along! There is nothing to see here!”<sup id="fnref:14"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:14" rel="footnote">14</a></sup> Dataveillance just wants to measure a differential, and collect data on that, not to correct anything that may be wrong about your behavior—whether that behavior is that of the criminal, or that of the student, or that of the delinquent. And this is evident by the fact that while the Benthamite panoptic scenario required the subject’s knowing (or at the very least intuiting) that they were being observed, in the case of dataveillance no such self-knowledge or subjectivity is necessary in order for its operation to be effective. This doesn’t mean that we don’t suspect that we’re being watched, especially after Snowden’s release of NSA documents; but our knowledge of surveillance doesn’t change dataveillance’s operation or, for that matter, ours. No one I know has ever stopped using computers, email, cell phones, or any digital channel of transmission as a result of Snowden’s revelations.</p> <p>In short, one major difference between panoptic surveillance and dataveillance is that the latter has absolutely no interest in the interior lives of humans, or in changing those lives. And this <em>is</em> a consequence of its behavioral origins, as noted earlier. Behavioral psychology offers a way of thinking about human movement as automatic and independent of will, or intention, or soul. Human movement is automatic and it provides data about how movement works. It does not offer insight into the inner workings of the soul—and, frankly, why does that even matter? Hence the great and groundbreaking formula of cybernetics: <em>information behaves</em>. For #datapolitik, then, there is absolutely no difference between the tracking and capturing of information about a NASDAQ transaction, the tracking and capturing of a terrorist’s movements, or the tracking and capturing of consumer trends. Our subjectivity is indistinguishable from our objectivity in that our existence matters because we are bearers and transmitters of data differentials. The human in #datapolitik is a human derivative, fully automated, and indistinct from any other automated object.</p> <p>Given this, let’s look at an object of dataveillance that opens up a potential milieu for the experience of #datapolitik. If you consider the example of any random customer survey, like the end of semester class survey North American undergraduates are asked to take, you see dataveillance at work. A classroom survey charts an external expression of experience—not the motivations of your experience, but its naked externality—the fact that there is a differential between a before and an after, between where the student was and where she is now. I can’t know how satisfied you are with my class lectures, for instance, or how I can make it better for you, and so my teaching institution generates a set of questionnaires that can be easily answered by coloring in, or clicking, a small bubble that registers a condition. That is, I have no access to your interiority and frankly, who cares? All I have to do is prompt a sequence of gestures that register a position in space and time. Those movements delimit a differential that can be tracked—the location “before” the movement and the location “after” the movement. And the click marks the physical difference of that differential: you were somewhere between 1-5 on the ‘what you know’ spectrum before you took the class, now (hopefully) you are somewhere between 5-10.</p> <p>In his classic study on cybernetics, W. Ross Ashby asserts that:</p> <blockquote> <p>The most fundamental concept in cybernetics is that of ‘difference’, either that two things are recognizably different or that one thing has changed with time… All the changes that may occur with time are naturally included, for when plants grow and planets age and machines move some change from one state to another is implicit.<sup id="fnref:15"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:15" rel="footnote">15</a></sup></p> </blockquote> <p>So the class survey is a classic instance of the customer satisfaction report that provides differential data that can be examined and analyzed. It marks a change in one’s dispositions to the scene of learning, and the learning subject (i.e., the student) is like a machine to the extent that its satisfaction is tracked by that gesture which marks a differential—a change—in its sense of how its world is arranged. The classroom survey is a classic dispositif of dataveillance that enables the tracking of success or failure of the learning experience by the eighteen year-old undergraduate student. This data is then collected and used to ascertain the positive or negative value of the instructor who isn’t in the classroom to occasion learning but is in the classroom as a prompt for the student’s charting a differential that is measured exclusively as a “+” or “-”.</p> <p>Now, this is a charged example and a controversial one too. But I use it to offer the sense of the extensiveness of the police dispositif I am trying to assemble. And with it we see aesthetics and politics at work at all levels and in different modes, modalities, and media. Your last question asks me about a particular form of #datapolitik’s expression—but I don’t think that’s possible; because what I’m trying to chart is a generalized series of dispositifs that distend and extend throughout our contemporary condition, that are manifest in such a rich and complex variety of forms, that any one form is simply an instance of a general operation of our cynegetic milieu. The example of the classroom survey is a manifestation of what I’m looking at, but I’m sure we can come up with a million plus one other examples of that milieu of forces, perceptibilities, and effectivities. And that perhaps is the point, that the age of the network has made the specific or the particular more and more difficult to value because for #datapolitik, any particular is collectable as a part of a ubiquitous whole that doesn’t require any specific rule or identity for organizing its collectivity. More than the age of the network, then, we should speak of the age of ubiquity and how the operational logic of ubiquity raises problems for political and aesthetic collectivization.</p> <p><strong>CK:</strong> Your description of the dispositif calls to mind Rancière&rsquo;s distribution of the sensible, which too refers to the simultaneous constitution and delimitation of our perceptibilities and sensibilities. For him, as you know, a given distribution of the sensible can be disrupted and reconfigured (i.e. redistributed) by the appearance of a political subject, which he defines by the (speech) act of partaking. How much possibility do you see for political agency under #datapolitik and what kind of modalities and planes would this involve? What would a political practice &ldquo;against&rdquo; #datapolitik look like as we are so dependent on #datapolitik’s countless technical milieus, #datapolitik is so indifferent to the content of our actions and #datapolitik has permeated many of the operations that make up our daily lives? The final sentence of your last answer indicates that the ubiquity of the dispositif of #datapolitik complicates a practice of collectivization. Could you expound on this a bit more, in particular on its implications for what you have just called “political organization and action, solidarity and emancipation”?</p> <p><strong>DP:</strong> Honestly, I feel that anything I could say to reply to your question will be thoroughly dissatisfying—in part because I think the task is precisely to consider not only the implications of #datapolitik for collective politics, but also the transformations wrought to our ambitions and sensibilities of collectivization by an entirely new (at least for the enterprise of political thinking) arrangement of techno-human forces. And the first challenge (at least for me) is that it’s not clear that a position of negation—the idea of developing political practices “against” #datapolitik—is an option on the table. I’m sufficiently persuaded by the work of Jonathan Sterne, Orit Halpern, Richard Grusin, and others that write about the operational milieus that shape contemporary perceptual technics (to use Sterne’s wonderful expression) that I’m challenged to conceptualize a position of negation vis-à-vis #datapolitik. The simple fact that I would never consider replying to any of your questions on pen and paper and then mailing them to you (rather than typing my replies on a keyboard and sending the file electronically) suggests to me that any “against” strategy needs to come terms with a certain inevitable hypocrisy.</p> <p>That said, you’re correct in sensing a proximity between my use of the term dispositif and Rancière’s <em>partage du sensible</em>. As I’ve suggested throughout our exchange, with the term &ldquo;dispositif&rdquo; I am also invoking the rhetorical tradition of <em>dispositio</em>; and as we’ve also noted the term dispositif has an interesting genealogy in the twentieth century, especially in the French context. Of course, the term is mostly associated with Foucault’s studies on governmentality and biopolitics. But Foucault is, in adopting and adapting this term, himself indebted to Georges Canguilhem who, as far as I know, was the first to develop the idea of technical dispositifs in a brilliant essay entitled <em>Machine and Organism</em>. And then, of course, we have Louis Althusser who abandons his own commitment to the term “apparatus” and picks up on the language of dispositif in his later writings on Macchiavelli, and in his explorations of aleatory materialism. In short, dispositif is a political concept—and for my interest in #datapolitik, it is a central political concept. This because a dispositif registers the entanglement of human and machine forms of sensorial arrangement. A dispositif both generates and constrains techno-human ensembles. More than merely extending human capacities (McLuhan) or being an oppressive influence machine (Tausk/Mulvey/Metz/and the early Althusser), technical dispositifs generate what Gilbert Simondon calls associational milieus that arrange what is and what isn’t available to one’s political sensibilities.<sup id="fnref:16"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:16" rel="footnote">16</a></sup></p> <p>All of this preamble to say: Yes, without a doubt there is political agency with #datapolitik. Of this I am certain. The question remains as to what political agency looks like in and with #datapolitik. There is the agency of non-human bots, of auto-genetic algorithms, and all sorts of automated systems, there is the distensive agency of fake news (about which we have learned a lot recently); there is also a more classical form of agency in #datapolitik of communication control, which is the cybernetic ambition of much of our data world; there is the agency of hacking, of cyber-espionage, and cyber-terrorism; and there are many other forms of political agency too numerous to list here that include the whole world of virtuality and military training, of drone warfare, and immigration control.</p> <p>In short, I don’t want to give the impression that #datapolitik is oppression and domination all the way down. The task of political theorizing is (for me) to think beyond the normative and deontological and to explore the potential power of collectivization in #datapolitik. Despite the celebrated marriage of technical media and collective political movements that followed the Tahrir Square uprising and Occupy Wall Street, there has been surprisingly little inquiry into how these collective events that were enabled by #datapolitik are different from more traditional forms of collectivization that we associate with the pre-digital world. I’m thinking here (for instance) of Jason Frank’s important work on the incipience of the people in revolutionary America, and his insightful readings of the literary excess of words that both enabled and produced what he calls “constituent moments,”<sup id="fnref:17"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:17" rel="footnote">17</a></sup> and I want to ask how we can think of collectivization and incipience—of radical democratic constituency—with our contemporary technical milieus?</p> <p>I don’t think one needs to ontologize technology in order to ask whether contemporary media operate on different levels of transmission and interruption than earlier forms of papered or visual media. And if they do, then one must assume that the forms of collectivization that can emerge out of #datapolitik constellate differently than those that might arise from, say, the nailing of 95 theses on a church door, or the penning of a revolutionary pamphlet. At a very basic level, it might be the case that there is a “radical mediation” in our conception of publics as spaces of spectatorship and/or readership. This is a point that Richard Grusin has recently raised in revising his term “remediation” and introducing the idea of “radical mediation.” And I take great inspiration from his insight that “mediation should be understood not as standing between preformed subjects, objects, actants, or entities but as the process, action, or event that generates or provides the conditions for the emergence of subjects and objects, for the individuation of entities within the world. “Mediation,” he says, “is not opposed to immediacy but rather is itself immediate. It names the immediacy of middleness in which we are already living and moving.”<sup id="fnref:18"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:18" rel="footnote">18</a></sup> Following from this, the question to me isn’t whether collectivization is possible because #datapolitik is so pervasive, ubiquitous, and dominating. But, rather, how do ubiquity and #datapolitik mediate (in Grusin’s sense of the term) forms of solidarity and emancipation, what are the limits of solidarity and emancipation in #datapolitik, and what are the permeabilities of those specific limits?</p> <p>The issue I currently consider most politically constraining of #datapolitik isn’t the fact of ubiquity so much as the ubiquity of prediction as <em>the</em> logistical metaphysic of everyday life. This is a particular behaviorist malady that despite decades of criticism nonetheless persists without end. At its basis, this is what an algorithm is designed to do: namely, to predict future outcomes and to coordinate action (and therefore movement, and therefore logistical operations, and therefore futures) so as to attain a goal (that typically translates into profit or some analogous form of earthly salvation); more specifically, an algorithm has in its DNA the ambition to strike a target, and to adapt in every possible way so as to achieve target success. Richard Grusin has called this premediation, Brian Massumi calls it the operational logic of preemption, Louise Amoore has called this the politics of possibility, and Orit Halpern has identified it as the new (post-cybernetic) rationalism.</p> <p>So the issue for me isn’t how we stand against #datapolitik, but how we can collectively enable modalities of incipience that glitch the urge and ambition to predict. What temporal forms are possible in and through #datapolitik other than the strict Aristotelian teleology implicit in operational logistics and predictive analytics. Interestingly, this same issue was taken up (within a different media context) by Nouvelle Vague filmmakers of the 1950s who developed technical editing practices (most famously, Jean-Luc Godard’s jump cut) to challenge the dominance of Aristotelian mimesis that governed much French filmmaking at the time. I’ve written about this elsewhere, but the basic point was that one of the sites of critical attack that emerges from the <em>Cahiers du Cinema</em> directors of the period was the reigning commitment to Aristotelian narrative emplotment defined in terms of the right action at the right time. And these figures, rather than simply denouncing cinema, took on the challenge of altering what the medium could do and thus what the associative powers of the technical milieu could be.</p> <p>Now, this example is one that I like to bring up often because, being a cinephile, I’m always enthused by it. But I think it’s a relevant example not because it is especially instructive of what to do, but because it points to the possibility of forms of incipient collectivization that both acknowledge and engage the limits of technical practices and technical media and push these limits beyond the extant modes of media handling. It is at this juncture of techno-human incipience that I want to explore emergent forms of political organization and action, solidarity and emancipation in #datapolitik. But this is far from a solitary task. The age of individualized, monastic, theorizing and critique is over. New collective forms must emerge from collectivized thinking and doing, and this can’t simply be an abstract endeavor. The pen was mightier than the sword; but the mouse (or trackpad, or touchpad) is mightier than the pen or the sword ever was. Let’s see what queer adjacencies and practices are now possible with the mouse that neither pen nor sword could enable.</p> <div class="footnote"> <hr /> <ol> <li id="fn:1"> <p>James Chandler, <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Archaeology-Sympathy-Sentimental-Literature-Cinema/dp/022603495X/ref=as_li_ss_tl?s=books&amp;ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1509816908&amp;sr=1-1&amp;keywords=Archaeology+of+Sympathy&amp;linkCode=ll1&amp;tag=contrivers-review-20&amp;linkId=d22b169523499b855ce760720799b29e"><em>An Archaeology of Sympathy: The Sentimental Mode in Literature and Cinema</em></a> (University of Chicago Press, 2013).&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:1" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 1 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:2"> <p>Graham Burchell, Colin Gordon, and Peter Miller, eds., <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Foucault-Effect-Studies-Governmentality/dp/0226080455/ref=as_li_ss_tl?s=books&amp;ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1509816844&amp;sr=1-1&amp;keywords=The+Foucault+Effect&amp;linkCode=ll1&amp;tag=contrivers-review-20&amp;linkId=e499728f0523b7539c7857658192e524"><em>The Foucault Effect: Studies in Governmentality</em></a> (University of Chicago Press, 1991).&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:2" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 2 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:3"> <p>Sharon Krauss, <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Freedom-Beyond-Sovereignty-Reconstructing-Individualism/dp/022623469X/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1509816789&amp;sr=8-1&amp;keywords=freedom+beyond+sovereignty&amp;linkCode=ll1&amp;tag=contrivers-review-20&amp;linkId=753e035f3129fab033692cc7bb4df05f"><em>Freedom Beyond Sovereignty: Reconstructing Liberal Individualism</em></a> (University of Chicago Press, 2015).&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:3" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 3 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:4"> <p>Miriam Bratu Hansen, <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Cinema-Experience-Siegfried-Kracauer-Criticism/dp/0520265602/ref=as_li_ss_tl?s=books&amp;ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1509817303&amp;sr=1-1&amp;keywords=Cinema+and+Experience:&amp;linkCode=ll1&amp;tag=contrivers-review-20&amp;linkId=dbc991d3463036ae0d80c19b7131a02c"><em>Cinema and Experience: Siegfried Kracauer, Walter Benjamin, and Theodor W. Adorno</em></a> (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011), 36.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:4" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 4 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:5"> <p>Davide Panagia, <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Impressions-Hume-Cinematic-Discontinuity-Modernity/dp/0742548171/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&amp;linkCode=ll1&amp;tag=contrivers-review-20&amp;linkId=fc7661dd3042f47412bad83c791a14c9"><em>Impressions of Hume: Cinematic Thinking and the Politics of Discontinuity</em></a> (Rowman &amp; Littlefield Publishers, 2013); Davide Panagia, “A Theory of Aspects: Media Participation and Political Theory,” <strong>New Literary History</strong> 45, no. 4 (2014): 527–48.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:5" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 5 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:6"> <p>Orit Halpern, <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Beautiful-Data-History-Experimental-Futures/dp/0822357445/ref=as_li_ss_tl?s=books&amp;ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1509817428&amp;sr=1-1&amp;keywords=Beautiful+Data&amp;linkCode=ll1&amp;tag=contrivers-review-20&amp;linkId=2fc728f03bef80447bcd0c9095402161"><em>Beautiful Data: A History of Vision and Reason since 1945</em></a> (Duke University Press, 2015).&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:6" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 6 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:7"> <p>Minsoo Kang, <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Sublime-Dreams-Living-Machines-Imagination/dp/0674049357/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1509991111&amp;sr=8-1&amp;keywords=Sublime+Dreams+of+Living+Machines&amp;linkCode=ll1&amp;tag=contrivers-review-20&amp;linkId=b1a989bf82d45c4a9a442e6255cacab0"><em>Sublime Dreams of Living Machines</em></a> (Harvard University Press, 2011); Adelheid Voskuhl, <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Androids-Enlightenment-Mechanics-Artisans-Cultures/dp/022603416X/ref=as_li_ss_tl?s=books&amp;ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1509991220&amp;sr=1-1&amp;keywords=Androids+in+the+Enlightenment&amp;linkCode=ll1&amp;tag=contrivers-review-20&amp;linkId=05491a639ffcadd0bbe7ce30e44736a9"><em>Androids in the Enlightenment: Mechanics, Artisans, and Cultures of the Self</em></a><a href="https://www.amazon.com/Androids-Enlightenment-Mechanics-Artisans-Cultures/dp/022603416X/ref=as_li_ss_tl?s=books&amp;ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1509991220&amp;sr=1-1&amp;keywords=Androids+in+the+Enlightenment&amp;linkCode=ll1&amp;tag=contrivers-review-20&amp;linkId=05491a639ffcadd0bbe7ce30e44736a9"> </a>(University of Chicago Press, 2013).&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:7" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 7 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:8"> <p>Stanley Cavell, <a href="https://www.amazon.com/World-Viewed-Reflections-Ontology-Enlarged/dp/067496196X/ref=as_li_ss_tl?s=books&amp;ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1509991251&amp;sr=1-1&amp;keywords=The+World+Viewed&amp;linkCode=ll1&amp;tag=contrivers-review-20&amp;linkId=441ef01863af947b89ae811dd622ae06"><em>The World Viewed: Reflections on the Ontology of Film</em></a> (Harvard University Press, 1979).&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:8" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 8 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:9"> <p>Alain Brossat, “La notion de dispositif chez Michel Foucault,” in <a href="https://www.amazon.fr/Miroir-appareils-autres-dispositifs-Phay-Vakalis/dp/2296068804/"><em>Miroir, appareils et autres dispositifs</em></a>, ed. Soko Phay-Vakalis (Editions L’Harmattan, 2009), 201.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:9" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 9 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:10"> <p>Jacques Rancière, <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Aisthesis-Scenes-Aesthetic-Regime-Art/dp/1781680892/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1509818111&amp;sr=8-1&amp;keywords=Aisthesis&amp;linkCode=ll1&amp;tag=contrivers-review-20&amp;linkId=b268776dc9ead4bf1e876b4c008f48b5"><em>Aisthesis: Scenes from the Aesthetic Regime of Art</em></a> (Verso, 2013), 193.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:10" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 10 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:11"> <p>Rita Raley, ed., “Dataveillance and Countervailance,” in <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Raw-Data-Oxymoron-Infrastructures/dp/0262518287/ref=as_li_ss_tl?_encoding=UTF8&amp;qid=1509818295&amp;sr=1-1&amp;linkCode=ll1&amp;tag=contrivers-review-20&amp;linkId=626065543cc8fad6499ffdfa47569ece"><em>“Raw Data” Is an Oxymoron</em></a> (MIT Press, 2013), 121–45.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:11" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 11 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:12"> <p>Roger Clarke, “Information Technology and Dataveillance,” <em>Commun. ACM</em> 31, no. 5 (May 1988): 498–512.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:12" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 12 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:13"> <p>Grégoire Chamayou and Kieran Aarons, “<a href="https://muse.jhu.edu/journals/theory_and_event/v016/16.2.chamayou.html"><em>Fichte’s Passport - A Philosophy of the Police</em></a>,” <strong>Theory &amp; Event</strong> 16, no. 2 (2013).&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:13" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 13 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:14"> <p>Jacques Rancière, Rachel Bowlby, and Davide Panagia, “<a href="http://muse.jhu.edu/article/32639"><em>Ten Theses on Politics</em></a>,” <em>Theory &amp; Event</em> 5, no. 3 (2001). <a href="http://www.colorado.edu/humanities/ferris/Courses/1968/Ranciere/Ten%20Theses/Ranciere_Ten%20Theses%20on%20Politics_Theory%20and%20Event5.3_2001.pdf">Available online as a PDF</a>.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:14" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 14 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:15"> <p>W. Ross Ashby, <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Introduction-Cybernetics-W-Ross-Ashby/dp/1614277656/ref=as_li_ss_tl?s=books&amp;ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1509818590&amp;sr=1-1&amp;keywords=An+Introduction+to+Cybernetics&amp;linkCode=ll1&amp;tag=contrivers-review-20&amp;linkId=e8f4f7515022363d176b4a27bb459b5e"><em>An Introduction to Cybernetics</em></a> (Martino Fine Books, 2015), 9.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:15" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 15 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:16"> <p>Simondon asserts this: “On peut donc affirmer que l’individualisation des êtres techniques est la condition du progress technique. Cette individualization est possible per la recurrence de causalité dans un milieu que l’être technique creé autour de lui meme et qui le conditionne comme il est conditionné par lui. Ce milieu à la foie technique et naturel peut être nomé milieu associé.” Gilbert Simondon, <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Mode-Existence-Technical-Objects-Univocal/dp/1937561038/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1509988530&amp;sr=8-1&amp;keywords=Simondon&amp;linkCode=ll1&amp;tag=contrivers-review-20&amp;linkId=fee483335e86c34fe025997a0c04e433"><em>Du mode d’existence des objets techniques</em></a> (Editions Aubier, 2012), 70. [“We can therefore affirm that the individualization of technical beings is the condition for technical progress. This individualization is possible through the recurrence of a form of causality within a milieu created by the technical being, with which it surrounds itself, and that it conditions as well as being conditioned by it. This milieu at once technical and natural may be called an associational milieu.” DP, trans.]&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:16" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 16 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:17"> <p>Jason Frank, <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Constituent-Moments-Enacting-Postrevolutionary-America/dp/0822346753/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1509988933&amp;sr=8-1&amp;keywords=jason+frank&amp;linkCode=ll1&amp;tag=contrivers-review-20&amp;linkId=0bf4496ac53678764d6ef87772415a5f"><em>Constituent Moments: Enacting the People in Postrevolutionary America</em></a> (Duke University Press, 2010).&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:17" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 17 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:18"> <p>Richard Grusin, “Radical Mediation,” <em>Critical Inquiry</em> 42, no. 1 (September 1, 2015): 129. <a href="http://uwm.edu/english/wp-content/uploads/sites/109/2015/09/Grusin-Radical-Mediation.pdf">Available online as a PDF</a>.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:18" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 18 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> </ol> </div> editors@contrivers.org (Davide Panagia) editors@contrivers.org (Çağlar Köseoğlu) http://www.contrivers.org/articles/40/Davide-Panagia-Caglar-Koseoglu-Datapolik-Interview-Political-Theory/ Technology Interviews Foucault Mon, 13 Nov 2017 12:51:37 +0000