Weekend article roundup

Reinhold Martin.  “The Organizational Complex: Cybernetics, Space, Discourse.”  Assemblage 37 (1998).
Dodge, Martin and Rob Kitchin.  “Code and the Transduction of Space.”  Annals of the Association of American Geographers 95:1 (2005).
Gil, Jose. “Paradoxical Body.”  TDR 50:4 (2006).
Sloterdijk, Peter.  “Mobilization of the Planet from the Spirit of Self-Intensification.”  TDR 50:4 (2006).
Stefan Helmreich.  “An Anthropologist Underwater: Immersive Soundscapes, Submarine Cyborgs, and Transductive Ethnography.”  American Ethnologist 34:4 (2007).

Hoo buddy, it’s been a weekend chock full of posthuman theory!  We went through 5 articles this weekend, and I thought I’d blarf up a quick post tying them all together as best I can.  With all those citations up there, I think this preamble has already taken up enough space, so let’s jump in.

As one may be able to tell already from looking at the publications represented above, this batch of articles come out of a couple very different fields: performance theory on the one hand, cybernetic anthropology and architectural studies on the other.  In terms of my list’s foundational questions, it’s helped me to think of these as representing the two sides of the same cybernetic coin, with Gil and Sloterdijk’s performance theory articles theorizing the embodied cyborg subject and the others theorizing the milieux with which that cyborgian subject is always linked in communicative feedback loops.  My guiding assumption is that the organic and material theoretical spheres cannot be thought separately, and so my challenge now is to tie these together coherently, concisely, and in a way that is more productive than simply “doing everything at once.”

The former two both give interesting starting points for thinking about the body in space, with Gil claiming that space is actually exuded from the body in performance and becomes coextensive with it in the same way that attentive use of a tool essentially renders it as a part of the body assemblage of the subject.  Sloterdijk, meanwhile, positions the movement of the body as the engine driving modernity.  He claims that, rather than ethics driving kinetics (cutting straight to the point: we believe in Western modernity, and so we must go colonize the non-West), he says it’s the other way around, with a drive toward greater kinetics — movement toward greater mobility, movement driving at an ever-greater freedom to move — pushing us to constantly expand boundaries in which our movement may be unimpeded.  Thus, we invade and colonize the non-West in order to open more of the world to our free movement, with colonialist ethics added post facto as an explanatory measure.  They’re good starting points, like I said, but really Eurocentric in their arguments.  Gil assumes an abstracted “body” for his “space of the body” that doesn’t consider the materiality of differentially positioned bodies, and Sloterdijk assumes that Euro-American experiences of modernity (that is, the experience of the colonizer) can stand in for all experiences of modernity.  Can we say the same kinetic factors were driving the experience of modernity in India or China, say, as in Germany?  Maybe “freedom from the colonizer” really is just another facet of the “freedom of mobility” that Sloterdijk theorizes, but I feel like the different nuances there need to be addressed.

Dodge & Kitchin, Helmreich, and Martin’s respective articles all basically get at the ontogenesis of space — the ways in which space is created on a moment-to-moment basis in conjunction with the actors within it, in other words.  Dodge & Kitchin basically just say that operations of code structure our everyday lived environments and experiences in ways big and small (wheeeeeee), and architectural scholar Martin gets at the intellectual history behind some of that with an investigation of cybernetics discourse and the way it structured urban planning in the 1950s and 1960s.  Finally, Helmreich thinks about the ways in which we could approach the ontogenetic nature of space as anthropologists doing fieldwork (spoiler: he uses sound rather than vision).  All of these articles are, at a basic level, calls to be more attentive to the ways in which we are situated within and creating the spaces that we might otherwise think of as static containers.  (Helmreich uses Haraway’s “situated knowledges” explicitly, but it’s not far out of view in the others, either.)

That’s all great, and leaves me with a couple of hopefully productive questions.  Helmreich says that tuning in to the aural register of a field makes us conscious not only of the transductions of signal that have to occur to make them audible to us, but also gives us a less exterior-focused, subject/object divided way to understand our objects of study.  But what would accessing the interior of those objects even mean?  Are there private interior spaces we would be wrong to access in the first place?  Martin makes the broader claim that we can think of the operations of American society in the Cold War as a cybernetic homeostasis mechanism balancing between a Foucauldian control state (the “military-industrial complex” about which we hear so much) and resistance to it, which he positions as the entropy in the homeostatic metaphor.  So does this mean society is basically in a holding pattern, or can we still think of it being oriented toward ethical progress?  Given the actual material history of the Cold War, I’m tempted to say that, in fact, the homeostatic mechanism checking the control society was somewhat out of whack, and could instead just be called “homeostasis for neoliberalism”.  Call me a pessimist, but the equilibrium we’re in as a society doesn’t seem to be doing a lot of us much good.  Is this an equilibrium in which those problems — which are precisely problems of the proper functioning and communication within the “organism” of society — can be solved?


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