3: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012

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4: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
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5: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
Nyx is
Nicholas Gledhill
Dan Taylor
Charlotte Latimer
Kerry Gilnllan
Kevin Molin
Mark Rainey
Jerlyn Jareunpoon
Adam Hutchings
Izabela Lyra
Joanna Figiel
Sinikka Heden


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ISSUE 7: SPRING/SUMMER 2012 is on Machines
see back cover for more information
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of London, ICA Bookshop,
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an updated list of stockists or to
order a hardcopy or pdf-version
of this issue.
Tanks to
The Centre for Cultural Studies,
Goldsmiths, University of
London, for continued support.

6: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
Nyx essays
Speed Machines by Benjamin Noys · 10
Ecologies of Machines: Commodities and Contribution by Sy Tafel · 28
Te Dehumanised Citizen: Politics versus a Machine-like Existence under the Pretext of the Greek
Crisis by Sophia Kanaouti · l6
Anxiety Machines: Continuous Connectivity and the New Hysteria by J.D. Taylor · 46
Accentuate the Positive by Claudia Firth · 34
Te Neoliberal Time Machine: a Device to Map Capitalism? by Yari Lanci · 70
Answering Machines: Video Games and the Bathos of Machinic (mis)Communication
by Rob Gallagher · 83
Desiring and Destruction: Rosemarie Trockel ’s Painting Machine
by Katherine Guinness · 9l
Deconstructing Sex Machines by Niki Duller & Mon Rodriguez-Amat · 101
Game of Drones: Cubicle Warriors and the Drudge of War by Amedeo Policante · 110
Resistance through the Algorithm: Saudi Arabian Anti-proxy Activities
by Chiara Livia Bernardi · 116
Te Ancient Workshop of Potential Literature by James Burton · 122
Te Anaesthetist Worship of Potter Liturgy
by the N+6 Madame and the Shorter Oxford English Diference · 124
Abstract Machinism and Synthetic Tinking: Outlines for a Machinic Materialism
by Jon Lindblom · 1l4
Editorial by Nicholas Gledhill · 9
7: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
Nyx interviews
Bernard Stiegler: Call for Attention by Sascha
Rashof · 20
Michael Taussig: Notes from a Conversation
by Kevin W. Molin · 62
Luciana Parisi: Te Holes in the Machine by
Nicholas Gledhill · 126
Nyx reviews
Howard Slater’s Anomie/Bonhomie & Other
Writings by Steve Hanson · 78
8: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
Image by Zoe Hunn
9: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
Nyx 7 is a radioactive, cybernetic, automated digital beast, slouching towards Silicon Valley to be born... This issue
brings together lor the nrst time a oiverse selection ol writers ano artists lrom lar corners ol the worlo as well as
the usual contingent that gravitate around the buzzing nucleus of our base at the Centre for Cultural Studies,
Goldsmiths College, London. This is the biggest, most ambitious and furthest-reaching Nyx yet and confronts the
vast and pressing topic of Machines.
As we are dragged ever deeper into the ideological abyss of the 21
Century, the increasingly ubiquitous interaction
between the human being and her technological creations has become the most engaging and dynamic point of
debate in philosophy, cultural studies and critical theory. With this in mind, Nyx invited an array of contributors
to share their thoughts on this topic in the form of essays and images, as well as conducting exclusive interviews
with some leading thinkers on the subject today. The philosophers Bernard Stiegler and Luciana Parisi and the
anthropologist Michael Taussig discuss with us their varied takes on mankind’s techno-contingent fate, while a
host of talented writers and academics such as Benjamin Noys, J.D. Taylor and Jon Lindblom add their personal
musings on machines and the machinic in critically engaging essays that cut a wide cross-disciplinary swath through
a variety ol nelos lrom politics ano economics to metaphysics ano art.
We also review Howard Slater’s Anhomie/Bonhomie, trace the terrifying history of the military drone, analyse the
oehumanising political maoness ol the Greek nnancial crisis, weigh up the ecological ano human impact ol the
production of our iPhones and computers, plunge into the bizarre hidden universe of sex machines, grapple
with the maddening kafkaesque protocols of the Department for Work and Pensions’ Logic Integrated Medical
Assessment, engage with theorists such as Benjamin, Foucault, Deleuze, Marx, Virilio, Arendt, Latour, Land
and many, many others through the conceptual lenses of speed machines, time machines, art machines, writing
machines, sound machines, anxiety machines, Detroit Techno and Saudi Arabian internet porn - before wrapping
up with a challenging speculative realist outline for a new machinic materialism.
Nyx, a Noctournal is a platform for students, idlers, artists, dreamers, mystics, drop-outs and wage-slaves to share
their ideas and publish their work. Nyx was the goddess of night, and our work takes place in the silence of the
witching hours, down in the shadows, out on the fringes, deep underground…
Thank you to all our contributors and to everyone who has helped in putting this issue together.
Nicholas Gledhill, Editor
Summer 2012

10: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
speed machines
art work by MARK SOO
Te Ship Puglia, in Gabriele D’Annunzio’s Garden, Gardone, photograph by Benjamin Noys
abriele D’Annunzio’s villa and garden at
Gardone Riviera, on Lake Garda, are a
commemoration of speed as the essential
sign of modernity, and speed vectored through that
other sign of modernity, mechanised warfare. They
are, more than his poetry, his truly prengurative
artwork of the 20
century. The Vittoriale Degli Italiani
(Shrine of Italian Victories), as the estate is named, is
a remarkable and disturbing testament to the ‘man-
machine’ of D’Annunzio’s proto-futurist and proto-
fascist vision, containing all the ‘speed machines’ that
embody this aesthetics of acceleration: the Motoscafo
Armato Silurante MAS-96 (which D’Annunzio détourned
into the Latin motto Memento audere semper – ‘remember
always to dare’) anti-submarine motorboat he had
captaineo, the SVA-¯ aeroplane he hao nown over in
the ‘il Volo su Vienna’ (‘Flight over Vienna’) as squadron
leader of the ‘La Serenissima’ 87
on 9 August 1918, to orop propaganoa leanets, ano,
most strikingly, the ship Puglia, that D’Annunzio had
sailed on his raid on Fiume on 12 September 1919,
now embedded into the hillside. Writing of the Italian
futurist Marinetti, Paul Virilio notes the birth of the
‘inhuman type’, of ‘an animal body that disappears in
11: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
the superpower of a metallic body able to annihilate
time and space through its dynamic performances.’

Marinetti’s futurism is a ‘single art – that of war and
its essence, speed.’
D’Annunzio’s personal motto ‘per
non dormire’ (‘Never Sleep’) captures perfectly this trope
of the vectoring of human will into a mechanised
acceleration that displaces any organic need.
Of course, such an aesthetic of acceleration now seems
hopelessly outdated, politically dubious, and kitsch. It
shoulo remain oraineo ol its toxic innuence on lascism
and its ‘aestheticisation of politics’ – the conception
of politics as the ‘total work of art’ (Gesamtkunstwerk)
– left as, what it is, a mere tourist attraction. Only the
déclassé intellectual on holioay coulo nno any lrisson
with the nirtation with this lascinating ,proto-, lascism.
The ingraineo cultural renex to conoemn totalitarian
art’, the cultivated disenchantment with the ‘passion
for the real’ of the avant-gardes and modernism,
emergent ecological ‘awareness’, all seemingly force
us to leave this moment buried. There seems to be no
place for the modernist linear-dynamics of progression
and acceleration in the dispersed and slackened forms
of postmodernity. And yet the dream and reality of
speed machines is not merely the province of dubious
nostalgia, the remnants of ‘petrolhead’ macho
excess, or the fetishisation of contemporary military

What I want to trace is a displacement of the dream
and reality of speed machines, and of acceleration,
from the car, the quintessential technology of mass
speed and modernity, to the computer. If the car,
as Enda Duffy argues, was the lived experience of
modernist time – a new mass aesthetic, as modernism
tended to the hermetic – then the computer plays
that role today.
It is the computer, especially for those
who work with them, that embodies the ‘speed-up’
of labour, as each new model becomes faster and
faster (or that is the promise). The Internet provides
the ‘one-click’ solution, computers speed-up and slim
down, seemingly providing one of the last utopian
remnants worthy of any commodity fetishism; the very
frustration of a computer slowing down or freezing-
up indexes our own internalised demand for speed.
The computer also now vectors the alliance of speed
and war, as the acceleration of computer processing
permits the rapioity ol nre-ano-lorget` warlare, the
drone attack, and the militarisation of civilian space.
In particular, I am concerned with anatomising and
critiquing the ideological imaging of this desire, what
I want to call ‘cybernetic accelerationism’: the ‘passion
for the real’ of more speed, more immersion, to jack-in
ano integrate into the nux ol inlormation, to nnally
dissolve man into machine.
This new aesthetic might well be thought of as the
attempt to recapture the energy of the classical avant-
garde in the slackened time of postmodernity. This
is achieved through recourse to the computer as the
nguration ol speeo. It is not simply the repetition
of that avant-garde, but a mutated and modulated
futurism, which, in typical postmodern fashion,
straddles between genres, forms and cultural domains.
My account of this ‘cybernetic accelerationism’ will
be more impressionistic than exhaustive, and more
critical than celebratory. In particular, I will focus on
three moments: cyberpunk nction, Detroit Techno,
and what we could call ‘cyberpunk theory’. In each
instance the recovery of the ‘energy’ of the avant-
garde passes through the computer. This critique,
however, will not be the usual one of disenchantment
with the avant-garde and celebration of chastened
conformity to the ‘democratic’ protocols of the present.
Rather, I aim to probe the attraction of this aesthetic
as a response to the mutations and continuities of
‘Implicit in cybernetic accelerationism is not only the logic of increased computing
speed and power, but also the claim that capitalism is maintaining the
dynamic of acceleration frst given its most memorable form by Marx and Engels
in Te Communist Manifesto.’
12: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
capitalism and, in particular, to the contemporary
moment of capitalist crisis. My contention is that
this aesthetic is not simply an historical curiosity but
one that continues to exert a gravitational pull on the
present, one which is exacerbated in the moment of a
decelerating capitalism.
The Ur-text of cybernetic accelerationism is William
Gibson’s 1984 novel Neuromancer, which is perhaps
its most effective manifesto and predictive of all its
later mutant forms. The novel of ‘cyberpunk’ science-
nction, ano to my mino the only successlul work ol
this form (along with its sequels), it tracks the new
shifting forms of cybernetic embodiment. The very
technology of ‘jacking-in’ to cyberspace is rooted,
within the novel, in the frame of military technologies:
‘“The matrix has its roots in primitive arcade games,”
said the voice-over, “in early graphics programs and
military experimentation with cranial jacks.”’
the book’s well-known description of ‘Night City’ as ‘a
deranged experiment in social Darwinism, designed by
a bored researcher who kept one thumb permanently
on the last-lorwaro button`, prengures the neo-
liberal future, and the compulsive attachment to the
speed that promises to break the shackles of social
connnement. The simile suggests, in the ngure ol the
‘bored researcher’, that this deregulatory fantasy has
more than an element of (anti-)planning and direction.
While speed is the promise of the opening to a new
oeterritorialiseo nuioity ol social ano virtual space
– beyond the Fordist social-compact and the ‘static’
segmentations of social democracy – this is no blind
process. The historical signincance ol Gibson`s novel
(leaving aside aesthetic judgements) lies in the fact
that it is poised between anxiety and endorsement,
critical distance and immersive jouissance, in its vision
of cyberspace, augmentation and the accelerative
disembedding of social relations.
Joshua Clover has noted that Neuromancer incarnates
the ‘thrill and threat of dematerialization’ subtending
neoliberalism, lrom the nexible luture to social
It is in that sense of ‘thrill’, indexed
to social disintegration and machinic integration, that
we nno the oeliberately equivocal appeal ol cybernetic
accelerationism. This speeding-up accelerates us
towards the utopian horizon of capitalism, as a
social form of ‘pure’ drive and accumulation, ‘freed’
from its dependence on the ‘meat’ of labour. The
thrill also lies in the discarding of the ego, the fusion
with the machine that, to use Richard Morgan’s
phrase, ‘de-sleeves’ consciousness from its material
and which immerses us in capitalist creative
destruction. At the same time, we have the ‘threat’ of
obsolescence, social abandonment, and the experience
of being condemned to the ‘meat’ – of exclusion
from the delights of cyberspace (as the hacker Case
is excluded at the beginning of the novel, as a result
of medical ‘punishment’ for his entrepreneurial
failure). Gibson’s novel tracks a capitalist utopia in
oystopian lormulations, nguring the sell literally as
the ‘entrepreneurial machine’ that Foucault would
anatomise as the subjectivity of neo-liberalism.
The second moment, also belonging to the 1980s, is
that of Detroit Techno. This innovative music form
is, I would argue, one of the most fascinating and
most aesthetically successful instances of cybernetic
accelerationism. Deliberately couched as a post-
industrial Afro-futurism, it aimed to ‘erase the traces’
(Brecht) of the Fordist sound of Motown and to mimic
the new robot production-lines that had displaced
the remains of ‘variable capital’ (i.e. humans) for
‘constant capital’ (i.e. machines) at Ford. In this way
it traced the mutating social space of Detroit – from
the white night` lollowing the 19o7 insurrection, the
de-industrialisation that followed, and its own position
in the suburban site of Belleville High, where Derrick
May, Juan Atkins, and Kevin Saunderson met. Mixing
European innuences ,Kraltwerk, New Oroer, Depeche
Mode, etc.) with the Detroit funk of Parliament/
Iunkaoelic, the result was a singular lorm that oeneo
the stuoieo renexes ol postmooern collage lor an
integrated acceleration.
The axes of Detroit Techno were an increase in
speed (in bpm) from the previous forms of disco and
House and a stripping-out of the humanist residues
that often dominated those forms – not least the
voice. The singularity of its aesthetic invention lay
in this welcoming of the ‘mechanisation’, or better
‘computerisation’, of the aesthetic (which had
obviously been prengureo by Kraltwerk`s Man-Machine
and Computer World). The apotheosis of the form, at
least as I regard it, is the work ‘It is what it is’ (1988),
by Rhythim is Rhythim (aka Derrick May). This was,
as one semi-ironic description went at the time, ‘dance
music with bleeps’. Retaining funk, the insistence
13: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
‘If the car, as Enda Dufy argues, was the lived experience of modernist time – a new
mass aesthetic, as modernism tended to the hermetic – then the computer plays that role
.ideo stills from Se.eral Circles (2010)
dual channel digital installation, images courtesy of Mark Soo
14: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
of Detroit Techno had the utopian, if not kitsch,
elements ol sci-n luturism coupleo to the oystopian
fragmentation of the city-space (‘Night Drive Thru
Babylon’, as the track by Model 500 had it). Again,
the equivocations lay in a sense of abandonment: an
escape to the future, escape from labour, or the loss of
labour and the collapse of the future into permanent
The splicing of these two moments, and the real
instance of full-blown cybernetic accelerationism,
can be found in the 1990s work of Nick Land and
his allies in the Cybernetic Culture Research Unit
(CCRU). This ‘nomad’ (anti-)academic grouping,
formed at Warwick University in 1995, couched their
‘disjunctive synthesis’ through the work of Gilles
Deleuze and Félix Guattari, and especially their Anti-
Oedipus (1972), to format an avant-garde practice that
aimed to explode the limits of 1990s inertia.
Deleuze and Guattari’s formulations, Land gave this
accelerationism a deliberately provocative and late-
punk anti-socialist and anti-social democratic form:
Machinic revolution must therefore go in the
opposite direction to socialistic regulation; pressing
towards ever more uninhibited marketization of
the processes that are tearing oown the social nelo,
‘still further’ with ‘the movement of the market, of
decoding and deterritorialization’ and ‘one can never
go far enough in the direction of deterritorialization:
you haven’t seen anything yet’.
The posing of the market against capitalism – an
argument derived from the historian Fernand
Braudel) – was monstrously coupled to the cybernetic
acceleration ol now, or lines ol night, in which the
‘productive forces’ exceeded capitalist control.
Braudel saw capitalism as a monopolistic ‘anti-market’,
he conoemneo this higher-level nnancialiseo capitalism
for its accelerative features – capitalism was speculative,
opaque and exceptional.
The revision of Land and
the CCRU is to reverse this point and argue that the
market is accelerative and disembedding, contrary
to the stagnations ol capitalism. A purineo capitalism,
shedding the dictates of the state, would traverse to a
pure market accelerated out of capitalism altogether
‘free-market communism’ in the recent formulation of
Eugene W. Holland.
This form of theorisation fed off the localised ‘boom’
of the ’90s in which, at least in the UK and US, regimes
claiming some tenuous and residual connection to
‘social democracy’ or the ‘left-liberal’ instantiated
a further deepening of the neo-liberal project. One
of the key strands of accelerationism is the anxiety
concerning the ‘coding’ and ‘constraint’ of state-led
abo.e and facing page: .ideo stills from Se.eral Circles (2010)
dual channel digital installation, images courtesy of Mark Soo
15: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
forms of control of the economic that go under the
name of ‘social democracy’, which in the UK were
associated with the Labour party. ‘New Labour’, which
abandoned all but a residual attachment to such forms,
could embody an ideological image of continuity.
Punk’s disgust with the limits of the welfare state gained
new purchase in the critique of these revised forms of
pseudo-left practice, which themselves displayed little
patience with ‘social democratic’ demands.
The ‘coupling’ of the boom and an occluded neo-
liberalism has bred a series of ideological tropes that
dominate the perception of that moment, the ’00s, and
the present time of crisis. In this discourse it was the
‘left’ (or pseudo-left), and the ‘left’ in state power, that
authoriseo, ratineo ano exacerbateo the excesses ol
nnancialisation ano consumer creoit. It was the spenoing
of the state and the public sector, not the excesses of
capitalism, which become treated as the ‘dead weight’
that was now holding us back from another great leap
forward into the future. Politicians of the present can
play the austerity card in the elimination of this state
and public debt, while accelerationist positions can
argue that the only problem was the state itself, which
did not unleash these processes far enough. It was the
‘humanist’ residues of state spending that failed to
measure up to the anti-humanism of capitalism.
The position of the CCRU, despite its radicalised
anti-humanism and ‘inhuman’ immersive promise
of capitalism exploding its own limits, resonates
with these contemporary ideological claims that
capitalism wasn’t really allowed to ‘follow through’
with its acceleration because it was held back by state
spending and state regulation (‘health-and-safety’). It
was, in this story, a ‘left’ failure of nerve to go all the
way to capitalism (and not all the way to the left…),
that leaves us in the situation we nno ourselves in. This
was coupled, in the work of Nick Land, to a switch to
China as the only state formation really willing to go all
the way.
What China could offer, in its post-Maoist
embrace ol capitalism, was the nnal synthesis between
Stalinist acceleration (‘shock work’, rapid and violent
industrialisation) and capitalist acceleration (although,
of course, the ultra-left had long argued Stalinism
was really a form of State-capitalism and ‘primitive
accumulation’). The state-directed excesses of China,
in its uncompromising developmental drive, become a
utopian element. Again, we can see that the anti-statism
of this cybernetic accelerationism is more opposition to
particular kinds of state, and the demand for a state that
is willing to acephalically decapitate itself – in ‘special
zones’ – to engage in self-termination (allowing that
this is certainly not what the Chinese State is doing).
Certainly, this kind of cybernetic accelerationism
aimed at a ‘baring of the (capitalist) device’, to rework
the Russian Formalists; this was its anti-ideological
16: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
drift, but in a way it also bared itself to capitalism as
the core of acceleration, exposing the true ideological
roots of the drive of speed it lauded.
The political equivocations of these aesthetic forms
of accelerationism do not fall on the tired tropes of
lascism ano totalitarianism`, but rather on this oilncult
and tense imbrication with the dynamics of capitalism.
Implicit in cybernetic accelerationism is not only
the logic of increased computing speed and power,
but also the claim that capitalism is maintaining the
oynamic ol acceleration nrst given its most memorable
form by Marx and Engels in The Communist Manifesto
(1848). While we are all familiar with the line that ‘all
that is solid melts into air’, the more resonant line for
cybernetic accelerationism, especially as articulated
by Nick Land, is: ‘[The bourgeoisie] has drowned
the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervour, of
chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in
the icy water of egotistical calculation.’
The tension of the dynamic of capitalism, endorsed
by Marx and Engels in this passage as the condition
of revolution (elsewhere they were more cautious and
offered alternative formulations), becomes expressed
in the possibilities of a cybernetic accelerationism
to destroy the bourgeois ego, or ‘Oedipus’, in the
icy waters of a capitalism, a capitalism that in the
process erodes its own supports. At the most obvious
level of critique, things didn’t work out quite that way.
The bursting of the dot.com bubble on Friday 10

March 2000 indicated the emptiness of the cybernetic
regeneration or reinforcement of the ‘productive
forces’. More broadly, we could raise the question of
the decelerative dynamics of capitalism in the period
after 1973, a deceleration that led to the switch-over to
nnancialisation ano the nctional capital` ol personal
and State debt.
Ol course, in this new connguration
it was, precisely, computing power and speed that
played a key role in the infrastructure and possibility of
nnancialisation. The speeo-machine ol the computer
did not index a dynamic development of capitalist
forces, rather it shifted the material ‘drag’ of capital
into the supposedly ‘weightless’ world of speculation.
The shedding of labour through the new computer
technologies was also the sign of the desire to re-start
ano re-intensily the generation ol value, ano to nght
the tenoency to the lalling rate ol pront.
Gopal Balakrishnan, in his recent survey of the
deceleration of global capitalism, notes that Fredric
Jameson’s account of postmodernism and the excess of
global capitalism was initially predicated on ‘unleashed
nuclear and cybernetic productive forces’, before
‘the locus of the problem silently shifted to mapping
an opaque, pseuoo-oynamic worlo ol nnancial
At the centre of both is the speed-machine
of the computer. We might say that the ‘shift’ in
Jameson’s work is the one not fully taken by cybernetic
accelerationism, which remains at the nrst moment. In
fact, cybernetic accelerationism often implicitly posed
the nrst oynamic ol cybernetic proouctive lorces`
against the emergent sense of the ‘opaque, pseudo-
oynamic worlo ol nnancial markets`. Ior all their
‘postmodern’ panache, these forms of thought were far
more concerned with the exploding of opacity, rather
than the revelling in the usual clichés of the play of
signs or simulacra. In that sense, they do not simply
play real proouction` against nctional nnance`, but
rather try to produce the real as the real of production.
That is why I have argued that cybernetic
accelerationism is a postmodern ‘passion for the real’,
passing through the forms of simulation and semblants
to accelerate out and beyond the antinomy of circuit
ano nesh. Ol course, the oilnculty was that it involveo
a certain attachment to an accelerative dynamic of
‘productive forces’ that proved illusory (although, in
fact, this was something of a material ‘transcendental
illusion’ generated by capitalist forms of value). The
‘In response to the drawn-out moment of crisis, which resists being cast as the punctual
interruption to capitalist service soon to be resumed, the attraction of traversal through
the return to speed is an unsurprising desire.’
17: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
future it could not grasp was the future of crash and
crisis, the terminus of acceleration in the grinding to a
halt of the speed machine of capitalism.
Whilst it might be thought that this would signal the
end of cybernetic accelerationism, this is not the case.
From Jameson’s late-90s argument for a re-tooled
Brechtian productivism posed against ‘[s]tasis today,
all over the world’,
to the ‘accelerationist critique
of neoliberalism’ posed by Nick Srnicek,
or the
‘xenoeconomics’ of Alex Williams,
or Eugene W.
Holland’s ‘free-market communism’,
we might say
the cure is posed as more of the disease. The desire
to accelerate beyond the misery of the present is
felt and real. In response to the drawn-out moment
of crisis, which resists being cast as the punctual
interruption to capitalist service soon to be resumed,
the attraction of traversal through the return to speed
is an unsurprising desire. In fact, this desire can even
gain purchase precisely through the resistance to the
slowing-down of the moment of crisis, and the self-
serving and nostalgic language of austerity being
deployed as its remedy (‘Keep Calm and Carry
On’). Also, the process of creative destruction that is
ensuing to supposedly ‘free up’ capitalism from its own
contradictions can become re-coded as a new piercing
of existing barriers, including that of subjectivity itself.
The accelerationist desire can revel in the apocalyptic
destruction caused by the crisis, or used to resolve the
crisis, and take this as the sign of a new take-off. If, as
Marx said, ‘[t]he real barrier of capitalist production is
capital itself’, then cybernetic accelerationism can pose
itself as the transgressive desire to surpass that barrier
‘beyond capital’.
The oilnculty is that this barrier` is, in lact, what
serves the ‘dynamic’ of capitalism as contradictory
social formation. The perpetual desire to purify
and pierce the barrier of ‘capital itself ’ is encoded
within the genetic structure of the capitalist social
relation. This leaves cybernetic accelerationism in the
uncomfortable position of joining with those attempts
by the managers of capital to induce movement and
acceleration by removing the dead weight of variable
capital. This connuence can be seen as a result ol
the attempt by cybernetic acceleration to resolve
‘the moving contradiction’ of capital, which ‘presses
to reduce labour time to a minimum, while it posits
labour time, on the other side, as sole measure and
source of wealth.’
It does so by integrating labour
or variable capital into constant capital. The potential
obsolescence of labour is resolved by a violent sublation
into the machine, or more precisely the computer or
cybernetic device. Then the constant acceleration
of the computer, via increases in processing power,
memory, or software upgrades, promises the upgrading
ol the integrateo meat that can nnally keep pace with
capitalism: Labour 2.0, or 2.1, and so on. We have the
‘immortality’ of labour not as ‘mere appendage’ of the
machine, but as integrated within it.

Virilio remarks that:
The Japanese Kamikaze will realize in space the
military elite’s synergistic dream by voluntarily
disintegrating with this vehicle weapon in a
pyrotechnical apotheosis; for the ultimate metaphor
ol the speeo-booy is its nnal oisappearance in the
names ol explosion.

This is the apocalyptic realisation of speed-body
indexed to military acceleration; another realisation
takes place in the dream of cybernetic accelerationism
indexed to capitalist acceleration – the disappearance
in integration. The perpetual-motion machine of capital
generates the perpetual temptation to cybernetic
accelerationism. One more effort, if we are to really
speed-up capitalism, one more effort to dispose or
displace the ‘drag’ of labour and the ‘meat’. To put the
brakes on, as Walter Benjamin suggested,
can only
seem recidivist from this point of view; a capitulation
to constraint.
Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi has recently traced the belief
in acceleration as a now outdated idea rooted in the
moment of Italian Futurism.
He argues that this
modern belief in acceleration was a masculine moment,
predicated on the male body as ‘speed machine’. Yet
he notes, in line with my analysis, that this desire
mutated into the nelo ol computing ano inlormation.
In this sense, we cannot regard accelerationism as
simply a thing of the past. While the machismo of
Futurism, its proto-Fascism, and its naiveté, make it
easy to dismiss, what I have tracked is the continuing
appeal of cybernetic accelerationism. This is, not
least, because it presents itself as a critical moment,
nlleo with an ,anti-,ioeological verve ano the appeal
of a hard-edged insight that refuses any humanist
18: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
consolation. The response of ‘Bifo’ is to appeal to a
reconnection of language and desire, which seems
to leave untouched the accelerationism embedded in
these forms of language and desire. While, as Steven
Shaviro has argued, ‘accelerationist’ aesthetics may
provide a mapping and analysis of the trend-lines of
contemporary capitalism, it may also replicate the
fantasmatic core of capitalism.
It is for this reason
that the equivocal appeal of accelerationism has to be
subject to a more critical analysis. While promising
the traversing of capitalism, it instead threatens to
reinforce the ‘thrill’ of capitalism as a continuing
operator of dematerialisation and rematerialisation
into new ‘bodies’ of labour.
Certainly, as the case of Detroit Techno illuminates,
the attraction of the speed machine and its utopian
promise cannot be dismissed out of hand, nor should
the desire to put the brakes on or to reconnect languages
and desire appear only as weak humanist compromises
from within the position of cybernetic accelerationism.
That said, it risks granting a monopoly to capitalism
on our imagination of the future. Rather than the
reinforcement and replication of capitalist relations
being the means to achieve our future, perhaps we
could imagine new avant-gardes and a new politics
that takes seriously a reconnguration ano negation ol
those relations.
Benjamin Noys is Reader in English at the University of
Chichester and the author of The Culture of Death (Berg,
2005), The Persistence of the Negative (Edinburgh
University Press, 2010) and many other works.
Mark Soo lives and works in Berlin and Vancouver. His works
investigate social history and subjective experience through complex
photo-based languages. Central to this is a consideration of the
culturally and technologically determined role of the spectator.
Soo has exhibited widely at venues including the CCA Wattis
Institute, San Francisco; Museum van Hedendaagse Kunst
Antwerpen; Vancouver Art Gallery; Institute of Contemporary
Art, Boston; Johann König, Berlin; and Marian Goodman
Gallery, Paris. www.marksoo.net
1. Paul Virilio, Speed and Politics, trans. Mark Polizzoti,
New York: Semiotext(e), 1986, p.62.
2. Ibid.
3. Alain Badiou, The Centurv |2005|, trans. Alberto Toscano,
Cambridge, UK, and Malden, MA: Polity, 2007.
4. Enda DuIIy, The Speed Handbook. Jelocitv, Pleasure,
Modernism, Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2009.
5. William Gibson, Neuromancer, 1984, http://lib.ru/GIBSON/
6. Joshua Clover, Remarks on Method`, Film Quarterlv 63.4,
2010, p.9.
7. Richard Morgan, Altered Carbon, London: Gollancz, 2002.
8. Michel Foucault, The Birth of Biopolitics. Lectures at the
College de France, 1978-79, trans. Graham Burchell, Basingstoke:
Palgrave, 2008, pp. 224-225.
9. Simon Reynolds, Renegade Academia` |1999|, k-punk blog, 20
January 2005,
10. Nick Land, Machinic Desire`, Textual Practice 7.3, 1993:
11. See Manuel De Landa, Markets and Anti-Markets in the World
Economy`, Alamut, 1998,
12. Immanuel Wallerstein, Braudel on Capitalism, or Everything
Upside Down`, The Journal of Modern Historv 63.2, 1991: p.357.
13. Eugene W. Holland, Nomad Citi:enship. Free-Market
Communism and the Slow-Motion General Strike, Minneapolis:
University oI Minnesota Press, 2011.
14. Nick Land, China`s Great Experimentalist`, Shanghai Star,
2004, http://app1.chinadaily.com.cn/star/2004/0826/vo3-x.html.
15. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, ManiIesto oI the Communist
Party`, Marxist Internet Archive, 2004,
16. Gopal Balakrishnan, Speculations on the Stationary State`,
New Left Review 59, 2009: pp.5-26.
17. Ibid. p.15.
18. Fredric Jameson, Brecht and Method, London and New York:
Verso, 1998, p.4.
19. Nick Srnicek, The Accelerationist Critique oI Neoliberalism`,
ht t p: / / l se. academi a. edu/ Ni ckSrni cek/ Tal ks/ 24657/ The¸
20. Alex Williams,Xenoeconomics and Capital Unbound`,
Splintering Bone Ashes blog, 19 October 2008,
21. Holland, Nomad Citi:enship, 2011.
22. Karl Marx,Capital Jol. III, Marxists Internet Archive, 1996,
23. Marx, Grundrisse, trans. Martin Nicolaus, London: Penguin,
24. Virilio, Speed and Politics, p.134.
25. Michael Löwy, Fire Alarm. Reading Walter Benfamins On the
Concept of Historv, trans. Chris Turner, London and New York:
Verso, 2005, pp.66-67.
26. Franco BiIo` Berardi, Time, Acceleration, and Violence`,
e-ßux 27 (2011)
27. Steven Shaviro, Post Cinematic Affect, Winchester: Zero
Books, 2010.
19: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
abo.e .ideo stills from Se.eral Circles (2010)
dual channel digital installation, images courtesy of Mark Soo
20: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
SASCHA RASHOF: This issue of Nyx is about
‘machines’ – what paradigms is the current economic
machine based on and what are the main problems
with it?
BERNARD STIEGLER: In fact, we are in between
two. We are just leaving a consumerist model, which is
based on the opposition of producers and consumers.
It is also based on the opposition of designers, or
engineers, and manual workers. It is based on the
generalised destruction of knowledge, know-how
and savoir-vivre, and it is also based on – which is the
same question in fact – the exploitation of libidinal
energy which is in turn destructive of libidinal energy
itself because harnessing attention and capturing
this energy is necessarily short-circuiting what I call
the ‘means of production of libidinal energy’ – for
example, the relationship between mother and child,
parents and child, young people and schools. Because
parents, schools, universities and so on are institutions
for forming attention, for capturing attention; not in
a destructive way, but capturing in a way that is re-
elaborating attention. Those circuits are producing
what I call ‘very long’ circuits and sometimes ‘absolutely
long’ circuits. Why absolutely long? If we follow the
oennition given by Husserl, geometry is an innnite
circuit and for me the question of works, for example art
works or scientinc works, is that il they are universal`,
they are necessarily innnite absolutiseo, il you want.
Now, consumerist capitalism is based on computation
calculation that is: on the nnitisation ol everything.
This is what Max Weber called ‘secularisation’ and
rationalisation`. But with this nnitisation, there is
a point at which the consumerist model becomes
interview and images by SASCHA RASHOF
Fedora hat, Lennon-style glasses, fddling with the headphones of his Blackberry and accompanied
by the ever-present trolley bag: et voilà – Bernard Stiegler arrives. Te former bank robber turned
media philosopher is one of the most prominent fgures of post-structuralism today. Deeply infuenced
by his teacher Jacques Derrida, Stiegler’s work explores the technical constitution and destruction of
time and memory in contemporary capitalism. Approaching ‘media’ from both a philosophical and an
engineering point of view his texts investigate the complex individuation processes of technical, psychic
and collective forms. He is Director of the Institut de Recherche et d’Innovation (IRI) at the Centre
Pompidou, co-founder of political and cultural group Ars Industrialis (‘International Association for
an Industrial Politics of Technologies of Spirit’) and Professorial Fellow at the Centre for Cultural
Studies at Goldsmiths College, University of London. He has also opened his own philosophy school in
Epineuil-le-Fleuriel. Works by Stiegler which are currently available in English translation include
Echographies of Television (.ith Derrida, 2002), For a New Critique of Political Economy
(2010), Taking Care of Youth and the Generations (2010), Decadence of Industrial Democracies
(2011) and the Technics and Time series, among many others. From the glamorous surroundings of
Goldsmiths in New Cross, South London, Sascha Rashof talks to Bernard Stiegler about the economy
of contribution, fab labs, love and tulips.
Bernard Stiegler an interview with
21: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
Vinyl cutter
Modela milling machine
22: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
necessarily self-destructive. It is destructive for
investment and it becomes a systemically speculative
system the base ol all the nrst lessons ol economics is
that speculation is the enemy of economics. Now, it is
extremely oilncult lor us to see the transition between
the olo ano the new mooel clearly, because nrstly the
old system is defending itself against the new one, and
secondly because the emergence of the new system is
phagocytal. For example: What is the Google economy?
It is based on the new model, but it is also based on the
previous one because Google is based on marketing,
albeit on a new form of it. This new form of marketing
doesn’t work through an opposition of producing and
consuming; nevertheless, even if it is not based on this
opposition it is working for this opposition in other
sectors. This is what I call an ‘economy of transition’.
SR: Particularly in your work with Ars Industrialis (AI)
you have been developing a new economic model: the
‘economy of contribution’. Can you explain on what
grounds this new type of economy would work?
BS: The economy of contribution is based on the
increase of knowledge, of shared knowledge. It is a
model in which everyone is not an employee, but a
worker. The technologies of this model are technologies
of collaboration because they are based on networks.
Knowledge is a network and necessarily an experience
that is shared with other people and criticised by
everyone. It is a peer-to-peer system. It is extremely
interesting to see that in the industrial culture industry
the main oilnculty ano the main struggle against the
new model is against peer-to-peer organisation –
sharing music, for example. But for me, sharing music
is not based on hacking, in the sense of piracy, in the
sense of avoiding paying for it – this is not at all the
question. The question is how to share my text with
other people. How to share my musical experience
with others and how to discuss with them and develop
a collective individuation around, for example, a
musical group or movement or around the use of an
encyclopaedia in order to develop a theory or point of
view of collective interest. The economy of contribution
is based on collaboration by individuating yourself
psychically that is also artistically, scientincally, ano
politically – through discussing and developing your
capabilities with other people. I’m taking the word
‘capabilities’ from Amartya Sen. Very often people say
that the economy of contribution is only a model for
the digital economy and that it doesn’t work in other
sectors of industry. This is in fact not at all the case.
For example, in France you have new agricultural
organisations called ‘AMAPs’.
These are associations
of corporative agriculture in which you have contracts
between the producers and people who are not only
consumers, but partners of the farm. AMAPs are new
organisations, which are not only digital. AMAPs are
passing through the digital because digital is the new
form of writing. Writing is the base of money, the base
of countability, the base of investment and economy
in general. Writing is computation, calculation, but it
is also, for example, the juridical base of contracts. It is
the condition for economy. Now we’re entering into a
new writing system, which is the digital writing system,
which is completely different; thereby producing a new
society, a new social relation between people, which is
producing new forms of economy. These new forms of
economy are not only based on monetarisation, but on
positive externalities. In this new model, externalities –
positive or negative – are the main question. The goal
of society then becomes to take care of externalities:
of negative ones by struggling against them and of
positive ones by developing and increasing them, by
founding them.
SR: How, on a practical level, can the current industrial
‘Now we’re entering into a new writing system, which is the digital writing system,
which is completely diferent; thereby producing a new society, a new social relation
between people, which is producing new forms of economy.’
23: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
model be transformed – i.e. how can we move from an
auto-destructive to an auto-productive model?
BS: This is a very complicated question. In fact, this
is the reason for which I spoke about an economy
ol transition. It will be very oilncult because the olo
system is producing a lot of money for the shareholders
and also for the stakeholders. Even the trade unions,
for example, don’t want to change the model because
they are organised for the old model. We’re beginning
to have groups within the trade unions and industry
syndicates though who understand that the old system
doesn’t work, that there is no future for it. Even if the
old system is producing money today, it is very bad
money; in French we say ‘monnaie de singe’ – ‘monkey
Even in the industrial milieu, they are
beginning to unoerstano that. It will be very oilncult to
change the system because we will have to completely
change the law of work, the conditions for education,
the infrastructure, the founding and organisation of
investment etc. In this context, I consider that the
public sphere is extremely important. If we want to
reinvent public power [puissance], we need to organise
while we are in-between those two economic models.
The problem is that the new model is not producing
money in the short term. You need to invest in the
long-term. And there is money for this investment. For
example, in Norway there is an oil treasure [surplus
wealth from North Sea oil] which implies: ‘we have a
lot of money, but we don’t know where to invest it. We
are obliged to speculate with it and we know that it
is destroying the economy, but we don’t have any real
projects.’ Why? It is because those projects cannot
be private projects. They must necessarily be public
projects. At the end of the 19
century in France, the
railways were nationalised, and that was not because
it was a Left-wing power deciding that we needed to
nationalise them. It was because private companies
didn’t gain any money from those infrastructures, as
they were precisely positive externalities. Everybody
needed to use them: The workers, the companies
for raw materials and for transporting commodities
around the national and European markets. The
return of investment for those infrastructures was
about 50 years and it was not possible for an individual
to wait for 50 years. Today, we have exactly the same
problem. Why? Schumpeter described the economy
of consumerist capitalism as ‘permanent innovation’,
which he called ‘creative destruction’. This creative
destruction has sped up more and more. The time of
transfer of research innovation to society was 20 years
at the beginning of the 20
century, around the 1950s
it was 10 years, now it is in certain sectors two or three
months. In the software sector it is extremely speedy.
All this is creating a very short-term economy in which
all organisation is based on this short-circuiting of time
itself that is producing the destruction of a long-term
perspective and long-term investments. Money today
doesn’t know what it can invest in. I don’t necessarily
say that we must nationalise banks, although why not?
I’m not against this possibility. But this is not necessarily
the question. The question is to realise a project which
people believe in and decide to invest in. It is about
consumers deciding to change their lives by adopting
those new ways of living, and it is, for example, about
a student saying ‘I will invest in my future in this way.’
Maybe it is mainly the question of education, of
education and media. We must change the educational
system completely. We must base it on contributive
education and research, and I consider that it is now
really a possibility because people want it, and also
because we now have the technologies for it. However,
this is possible only if we change the mass-media
system as well. This is clearly extremely oilncult.
However, in fact, all the big newspapers in France
such as Le Monde and Libération can’t make money
‘Schumpeter described the economy of consumerist capitalism as “permanent
innovation”, which he called “creative destruction”. Tis creative destruction has sped
up more and more.’
24: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
‘Fab labs are exactly like the smart grids of the energy sector and based on the
decentralisation of knowledge in the terminals of the grid, not in the centre of it.
Tere no longer is a centre.’
Laser cutter
Scroll saw and bench grinder
25: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
anymore. They are laying-off their employees and they
are losing readers. They will have to change out of
necessity. At IRI, we are currently developing a project
with France Télévisions [the French publicly-owned
national television broadcaster] for transforming
television from a system of broadcasting into a system
of publishing. This publishing opportunity will be,
in part, dedicated to universities. We are proposing
that France Télévisions becomes a system of web
publishing for students as well as a facility for teachers
and professors to design publishing systems. So, I
consider that this question is a global question and if
we don’t have a global point of view it’s not possible
to develop a new economic model. These questions
should be at the core of European policy because they
are not national; they are at the level of the continent,
for example of Europe. In order to develop such a
new economic model and thus produce a new public
solvency, you need a market of several hundreds
of millions; because the main question is the loss of
solvency, that is, of credit. We must recreate credit, but
for recreating credit, we need to create belief. Without
belief there is no credit. And today there is no belief.
Europe, America and all those industrial countries are
now in a challenge with China about this question of
credit. It’s a good challenge, a very interesting one,
but without a public initiative it’s impossible because
it needs coordination between different sectors, for
example construction, habitation and particularly
social habitation. In AI, we are currently developing
a model of contributive buildings with a very well
known architect in France called Patrick Bouchain.
This is extremely interesting because he says that it’s
possible for unemployed people to use their time for
producing these new types of construction. But if you
want to develop this you need to also synchronise your
tax policy, your educational policy, your investment
policy etc. It’s impossible to treat those questions sector
by sector.
SR: You already mentioned AMAPs – what potential
do you see for initiatives such as ‘fab labs’
as new
designs for social organisation to transform the current
economic model?
BS: Fab labs should be the base of the economy of
contribution. Because: What is really important in fab
labs? It is the decentralisation of production. Now, we
can consider fab labs as a way of one-to-one economy,
that is, personalisation. When in AI we talk about fab
labs with big companies in France, this is the way in
which they see this question. In an ‘IKEA economy’,
everyone can develop their own use of a standardised
system. It is the question of customisation. In fact, this
is not at all the question. Now, what is at stake? It’s what
I call the ‘industrial score’, such as a musical score.
An industrial score is not a programme exactly, but a
text of possibilities based on the software industry. A
for me is a score. A musical score is a spime,
a very old type of spime. Now we have the possibility
of using spimes, which are new forms of knowledge,
of industrial knowledge, that can be interpreted in fab
labs; that can be transformed by the fab labs through
bottom-up innovation. This is really creating precisely
what I called at the beginning of our meeting a new
form of shared knowledge, of contributive knowledge.
Fab labs are exactly like the smart grids of the energy
sector and based on the decentralisation of knowledge
in the terminals of the grid, not in the centre of it.
There no longer is a centre. I consider also that the ‘fab
lab economy’ will develop non-industrialised countries,
such as in Africa. In Senegal for example, they have a
recuperative economy, which is extremely important.
They are selling cars to France. These cars are actually
old cars, which have been transformed into new cars in
a way that is not at all the economy of consumption.
This system works in Senegal because the mechanics
there have knowledge of bricolage [do-it-yourself]. I was
in North Africa two weeks ago and I had a really big
mechanical problem because I broke an attachment of
the motor of my car. I found a man who produced the
piece ano nxeo the problem in two hours. It was a very
oilncult piece to proouce, but he hao the tools ano the
knowledge to do it and it worked very well. In those
countries, they don’t have destroyed knowledge. They
have manual knowledge, which is general knowledge
for savoir-vivre, and I think for them this new economy
of fab labs is really a chance.
SR: Fab labs are often described as a partial return
to the putting-out or workshop system, or the cottage
BS: One question that is very important here is the
deterritorialisation of the economy during the second
half of the 20
century, which produced absurd
situations in some ways. For example, when you pay
for a commodity in a supermarket, half of what you
26: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
pay is for advertising, 40 per cent is for transportation
and 10 per cent is the price of the good itself. And
this is extremely dangerous for the future of the planet
because it’s producing a lot of carbon dioxide and
waste as well as destroying the mental organisation of
psychic individuals. Since those costs of advertising
and transportation are producing a lot of negative
externalities, the nrst benent ol this new economy is
to transform precisely these negative externalities and
to reduce them. Now, the other question is precisely
the development of knowledge. In France I work
with a specialist, an engineer, but also an urbanist, of
territorial economy [Pierre Veltz]. He has developed
a theory of territorial economy by showing that
there is not an opposition between territories and
deterritorialisation. For example: The Netherlands
are prooucers ol nowers, ol tulips in particular. They
sell their tulips in Provence and they sell them there at
a lower price than the tulips coming from Provence.
This is because they have developed a very strong local
system. By having developed the local system through
a co-operation between the prooucers ol nowers ano
the people developing the logistical systems, they can
exist very far away from their own territory because
of digital networks. Today with the web, this question
becomes extremely important. The question of fab labs
is the question of the development of a local, collective
intelligence. Generally, people oppose the collective on
the web and the collective on the territory and this is
an error. If you want to develop your local business
and your intelligence of the web, of a global network,
you must develop local networks for sharing a point
of view of the global from the point of view of the
local. When you make good use of a global network,
it is producing a local activity. A good example for
this is California where you have very important local
activity; everybody is connected with everybody at the
local level, but this localisation, through universities,
through companies, through start-ups, through
associations, through social movements, through art
movements, which are extremely strong in California,
also exists from very far away. In the vocabulary of
Simondon, it’s a ‘transductive relation’ in which the
two terms are created by the relation. The problem
of Europe is in not having understood this question.
Europe’s new policies must develop these and fab labs
are for me extremely important for that.
SR: In your book For a New Critique of Political Economy,
as well as in various talks you have given, you refer to
the amateur` as the exemplary ngure ol a new age ol
‘care’ – could you explain what you mean by the word
‘amateur’ and whether, in your opinion, fab labs could
foster the individuation of amateurs?
BS: The word ‘amateur’ has its roots in Latin and
refers to ‘love’. I will think this in French because it is
oilncult lor me to shilt to the English oillerentiation
between ‘like’ and ‘love’ – in French, we have the
same word for both. On Facebook, for example, you
‘like’, you don’t ‘love’ – you can love too, but the
word is ‘like’. So in French, an amateur is somebody
who loves something – software, football, his wife, his
children, or politics. This is a relation of investment. I
consider that today amateurs have been destroyed by
consumerism because an amateur is attached to his or
her object. This attachment – I use the word of John
Bowlby – is an attachment to an object of desire. This
attachment is in contradiction with the consumerist
economy, which is an economy of disposability. The
amateur is not an object of disposability, but on the
contrary, an object ol noelity. This economy ol noelity
is based precisely on the development of knowledge.
An amateur is someone who wants to develop his or
her capacities, his or her knowledge – capabilities for
discussing with other amateurs, for sharing a passion
and for sharing an investment, a project. This is
an economy of projection, in fact. When I say this,
I use the word ‘projection’ in the sense of Freud, in
the psychical sense, but also in an economic sense,
‘I consider that today amateurs have been destroyed by consumerism because an
amateur is attached to his or her object.’
27: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
as meaning to invest in a new industrial project,
following Max Weber. And it is also ‘projection’ in the
sense of cinema, which is to imagine – it is a process
of imagination. An amateur is necessarily somebody
who has a knowledge, who has access to tools, to
apparatuses, to means of producing his or her passion.
An amateur is a ngure ol libioinal economy. In lact,
for understanding the amateur, we must read Freud,
Lacan, Bowlby and Winnicott, because the amateur
is the one who is economising his or her drives for
investing in an object on a long-term basis. The
amateur is necessarily oriented towards long-term.
So, fab labs are clearly workshops for amateurism.
I use here the word ‘amateurism’ – in French we
say an ‘amateurisme’ – which is very pejorative and
for which reason I often use the word ‘amatorat’. A
good professional is an amateur who loves his or her
job, which is not precisely a ‘job’ because a job is an
employment, it is not work. An amateur is always
working for work, not for employment. This economy
of the amateur is thus an economy that is reproducing
and re-elaborating a capacity of desire for the future.
Sascha Rashof is a PhD student and Visiting Tutor in Media
Philosophy at the Centre for Cultural Studies, Goldsmiths
College, as well as Associate Lecturer in Journalism at
Southampton Solent University. Apart from Heidegger and
Sloterdijk, Sascha likes fashion, fab labs and Johnny Flash.
All photos were taken at the fab lab at Vigyan Ashram in
Pabal, India, 2012.
1. Association pour le maintien dune agriculture pavsanne
an association Ior the preservation oI traditional agriculture, the
AMAP is a network oI agricultural producers and consumers
with the aim oI supporting local Iarming. Its main objectives are
to struggle against land speculation and desertifcation oI rural
space, to propose to producers alternative marketing channels and
an income guarantee, to try to limit the domination oI retailing
companies on the Iood system and to develop the consumers`
awareness oI environmental and agricultural production issues.
2. Literally monkey money`, the idiom translates roughly as Ialse`
or sham` money empty promises. The phrase paver quelquun en
monnaie de singe means to Iob someone oII with Ialse assurances,
which would perhaps be the most appropriate understanding oI
Stiegler`s meaning here.
3. Fabrication laboratories, or Iab labs, are small workshops that
host an array oI computer-controlled tools (such as 3D printers,
laser cutters, printing presses and CAD/CAM soItware) that
enable the creation oI things tailored to local needs. The Iab lab
programme was initiated at Massachusetts Institute oI Technology
as a collaboration between the Grassroots Invention Group and the
Center Ior Bits and Atoms, intending to explore how the content oI
inIormation relates to physical representation and how individuals
and communities can be empowered by technology at grassroots
level. The programme began as the class How to Make (almost)
Anything` (frst taught in 1998 and still running) in which students
Irom backgrounds as diverse as architecture, engineering,
industrial design and community work produce unique personal
devices via a just-in-time-peer-to-peer learning and teaching
model. In 2002, the class developed into the setting up oI local feld
Iab labs around the world in order to explore the implications and
applications oI personal Iabrication outside oI MIT. Today, there
are 100¹ Iab labs worldwide in 24 countries. Sites include Tehran,
Barcelona, Nairobi, Jalalabad, Vestmannaeyjar, Amsterdam and the
South Bronx in New York City as well as several mobile Iab lab
4. This term reIers to a new type oI industrial object`, coined by
science fction author Bruce Sterling in his book Shaping Things:
The Spime is a set oI relationships frst and always, and an
object now and then. The key to the Spime is identity. A Spime
is, by defnition, the protagonist oI a documented process. It is
an historical entity with an accessible, precise trajectory through
space and time. A Spime must thereIore be a thing with a name.
No name, no Spime. This presents a serious semantic challenge.
The labels that we attach to objects are never identical with the
phenomenon itselI; the map cannot be the territory. There is a Irail,
multiplex relationship between labels and materiality.` Spimes
ideally have 3D models, or better: are 3D models, which can be
(re-)produced, manipulated, distributed and shared by Wranglers`,
the new kind oI consumers/producers oI a synchronic society
(Sterling, B. Shaping Things Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2005).
28: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
text by SY TAFFEL
Commodities and Contribution
29: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
ontemporary analyses of the relationships
between humans and machines - ways that
machines innuence the scale, pace ano
patterns of socio-technical assemblages
- tend to focus upon the effects, impacts, and results
ol the nnisheo prooucts: the packageo inlormation
processing commodities of digital culture. This work
is undeniably important in demarcating the multiple
and complex ways that human symbiosis with
machinic prostheses alters cognitive capacities and
presents novel, distributed, peer-to-peer architectures
for economic, political, and socio-technical networks.
However, existing discourses surrounding machines
and digital culture largely fail to explore the wider
material ecologies implicated in contemporary
Ecological analysis of machines seeks to go beyond
exploring marketable commodities, instead examining
the ecological costs involveo in the reconnguration ol
ores, metals, and minerals into smartphones and servers.
This involves considering the systems implicated in each
stage of the life-cycle of contemporary information-
processing machines: the extraction of materials
lrom the earth, their rennement ano processing into
pure elements, compounds, and then components;
the proouct-manulacturing process, ano nnally what
happens to these machines when they break or are
discarded due to perceived obsolescence. At each stage
of this life-cycle, and in the overall structure of the
ecology of machines, there are ethical and political
costs and problematics. This paper seeks to outline
examples of these impacts and consider several ways
in which they can be mitigated.
Hardware is not the only ecological scale associated
with machines: nows ol inlormation ano cooe, ol
content and software, also comprise complex, dynamic,
systems open to nows ol matter ano energy, however,
issues surrounding these two scales are substantially
addressed by existing approaches to media and culture.
We can understand scale as a way of framing the mode
ol organisation evioent within the specinc system being
studied. The notion of ecological analysis approaching
oillerent scales stems lrom the scientinc oiscipline ol
ecology and is transposed into critical theory through
the works of Gregory Bateson and Felix Guattari.
Within the science of ecology, scale is a paramount
concern, with the discipline approaching several
distinct scales, the relationships between: organism and
environment, populations (numerous organisms of the
30: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
same species), communities (organisms of differing
species), and ecosystems (comprising living and
nonliving elements within a geographical location).
particular scale is hierarchically privileged, with each
nested scale understood as crucial to the functioning
of ecosystem dynamics.
The notion of multiple, entangled scales are similarly
advanced by Bateson, who presents three ecologies –
mind, society and environment.
Key to understanding
their entangled – and thus inseparable – nature,
is Bateson’s elaboration of distributed cognition,
whereby the pathways of the mind are not reducible
to the brain, nervous systems, or connnes ol the booy,
but are immanent in broader social and environmental
systems. The human is only ever part of a thinking
system which includes other humans, technology
and an environment. Indeed, Bateson contends that
arrogating mental capacity exclusively to individuals
or humans constitutes an epistemological error, whose
wronglul ioentincation ol the inoivioual ,lile-lorm or
species) as the unit of ecological survival necessarily
promotes a perspective whereby the environment is
viewed as a resource to be exploited, rather than the
source of all systemic value.
Guattari advances Bateson’s concepts in The Three
expounding a mode of political ecology
which has little to do with the notion of preserving
‘nature’, instead constructing an ethical paradigm and
political mobilisations predicated upon connecting
subjective, societal and environmental scales in order
to escape globalised capitalism’s focus upon economic
growth as the sole measure of wealth. According to
Guattari, only by implementing an ethics which works
across these three entangled ecologies can socially
benencial ano environmentally sustainable mooels
of growth be founded. Ecology then, presents a
way of approaching machines which decentres the
commonly encountered anthropocentrism that depicts
machines (objects) assisting humans (subjects), instead
encouraging us to consider ourselves and technologies
as nodes within complex networks which extend across
individual, social, environmental, and technological
dimensions. Correspondingly, ecology requires a shift
when considering value and growth; moving from the
economic-led anthropocentric approach characteristic
of neoliberalism, to valuing the health and resilience
of ecosystems and their human and nonhuman, living
and nonliving components. Consequently, applying an
ecological ethics may prove useful in considering ways
to mitigate many of the deleterious material impacts
of the contemporaneous ecology of machines.
This paper will proceed by exploring the contemporary
ecology of hardware, examining ecological costs
which are incurred during each phase of the current
industrial production cycle. Additionally, the overall
structure of this process will be analysed, alongside
a conclusion which considers whether current
iterations of information processing machines presents
opportunities for the implementation of a mode
of production within which the barriers between
producers and consumers are less rigid, allowing
alternative ethics and value systems to become viable.
The initial stages in the contemporary industrial
production process are resource extraction and
processing. A vast array of materials is required
for contemporary microelectronics manufacturing,
including: iron, copper, tin, tungsten, tantalum, gold,
silicon, rare earth elements and various plastics.
Considering the ways that these materials are mined
connects information processing technologies to
the nows ol energy ano matter that comprise the
globalised networks of contemporary markets and
trade systems, refuting claims that information
processing technologies are part of a virtual, cognitive,
or immaterial form of production.
One environmentally damaging practice currently
widely employed is open-cast mining, whereby the
topmost layers of earth are stripped back to provide
access to ores underneath, whilst whatever ecosystem
previously occupied the surface is destroyed. Mining
also produces ecological costs including erosion and
the contamination of local groundwater, for example
in Picher, Oklahoma, lead and zinc mines left the area
so badly polluted and at risk of structural subsidence,
‘ Te role of the global microelectronics industry in fnancing the most brutal confict
of the last twenty years reveals the connections between “virtual ” technologies and the
geopolitics of globalised capitalism.’
31: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
that the Environmental Protection Agency declared
the town uninhabitable and ordered an evacuation.

Another series of ecological costs associated with
resource extraction surrounos connict minerals,
which is increasingly being acknowledged thanks to
the activities of NGOs and activists publicising the
links between connict minerals in the Democratic
Republic of Congo (particularly coltan, the Congolese
tantalum-containing ore) and information technologies
(particularly mobile phones). Whilst coltan and other
connict minerals were not a primary lactor in the
outbreak ol civil´regional connict in the DRC, which
has leo oirectly or inoirectly to the oeaths ol over nve
million people over a dozen years, as the connict wore
on and the various factions required revenue-raising
activities to nnance their continuing campaigns, connict
minerals became a major reason to continue nghting
... the Congo war became a connict in which economic
agendas became just as important as other agendas,
and at times more important than other interests.’
Factions including the Congolese army, various
rebel groups and invading armies from numerous
neighbouring states nercely contesteo mining areas, as
controlling mines allowed the various armed groups
to procure minerals which were then sold for use
in microelectronics, in oroer to nnance munitions,
enabling the continuation of military activities. The
role ol the global microelectronics inoustry in nnancing
the most brutal connict ol the last twenty years reveals
the connections between ‘virtual’ technologies and the
geopolitics of globalised capitalism.
Engaging with the ecology of machines requires
consideration of the ethical and political implications
of the consequences wrought by current patterns
of consumption upon people and ecosystems
geographically far removed from sites of consumption,
onto whom the brunt of negative externalities
generated by current practices frequently falls. In this
case the costs of acquiring cheap tantalum – a crucial
substance in the miniaturisation of contemporary
microelectronics – are not borne by consumers or
corporations, but by people inside an impoverished
and war-ravaged central African state.
Once extracteo, materials are renneo into pure elements
and compounds, transformed into components, and
then assembled into products during the manufacturing
phase of the production process. Since the late 1980s
there has been a shift away from the corporations
who brand and sell information technology hardware
incorporating manufacturing into their operations.
Instead, a globalised model now dominates the industry,
whereby manufacturing is primarily conducted by
subcontractors in vast complexes concentrated in a
handful of low cost regions, primarily south-east Asia.

This can be understood within the broader context of
changes to the global system of industrial production,
whereby manufacturing is increasingly handled by
subcontractors in areas where labour costs are low
and rigorously enforced legislation protecting the
rights of workers or local ecosystems does not exist.
Consequently, this transition has been accompanied
by marked decreases in wages and safety conditions,
alongside increased environmental damage as
companies externalise costs onto local ecosystems.
Information technology sweatshops are receiving
increasing attention, and have begun to punctuate
public consciousness, partially as a consequence of
campaigning from NGOs, and partially due to a spate
of suicides among young migrant workers at Foxconn›s
Longhua Science and Technology plant in Shenzhen,
China. Fourteen workers aged 18-25 jumped off
factory roofs to end their lives between January and
May 2010 to escape an existence spent working 60-80
hours a week and earning around US$1.78 per hour
manufacturing information processing devices such as
the Apple iPad for consumers elsewhere in the world.
Once information processing technologies have been
discarded, they become part of the 20-50 million
tonnes of annually produced e-waste,
much of which
contains toxic substances such as lead, mercury,
hexavalent chromium and cadmium. Whilst it is
illegal for most OECD nations to ship hazardous or
toxic materials to non-OECD countries, and illegal for
non-OECD nations to receive hazardous wastes,
quantities of e-waste are shipped illicitly, with e-waste
‘Essentially, wealthy nations externalise the ecological costs of their toxic waste to
impoverished peoples in the global south.’
32: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
Images taken from the project Infructescence, a project comissioned by Bloomberg, August 2010.
33: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
routinely mislabelled as working goods for resale,
circumventing laws such as the Basel Convention and
the EU’s Waste Electrical and Electronics Equipment
(WEEE) Directive.
In 2006 estimates suggest that
80% of North American and 60% of the EU’s
electronics wastes were being exported to regions
such as China, India, Pakistan, Nigeria and Ghana.

Essentially, wealthy nations externalise the ecological
costs of their toxic waste to impoverished peoples in
the global south.
Once e-waste arrives in these areas it is ‹recycled›:
machines are manually disassembled by workers often
earning less than US$1.50 per day,
who implement
a variety of techniques for recovering materials
which can be resold. For example, copper is retrieved
from wiring by burning the plastic casings, a process
which releases brominated and chlorinated dioxins
and furans; highly toxic materials which persist in
organic systems, meaning that workers are poisoning
themselves and local ecosystems. Investigation by the
Basel Action Network reveals that:

Interviews reveal that the workers and the general
public are completely unaware of the hazards of the
materials that are being processed and the toxins they
contain. There is no proper regulatory authority to
oversee or control the pollution nor the occupational
exposures to the toxins in the waste. Because of the
general poverty people are forced to work in these
hazardous conditions.
This activity is often subsumed under the rhetoric
of ‘recycling’, with associated connotations of
environmental concern; however, the reality is that
international conventions and regional laws are broken
in order to reduce the economic costs of treating the
hazardous remains of digital hardware.
The systematic displacement of negative externalities
minimises the cost of commodities for consumers and
improves prontability lor corporations, but in ooing so
makes the epistemological error delineated by Bateson
ano Guattari regaroing the wronglul ioentincation
of value within systems. Creating systems designed
to maximise benents lor the inoivioual consumer - or
individual corporation - while externalising costs onto
the social and ecological systems which support those
individual entities ultimately results in the breakdown
of systems which consumers and corporations rely
upon. Although such strategies create short term
prontability, their neglect lor longer term consequences
breeds systemic instabilities which will eventually
return to haunt these actors:
If an organism or aggregate of organisms sets to
work with a focus on its own survival and thinks
that is the way to select its adaptive moves, its
‘progress’ ends up with a destroyed environment. If
the organism ends up destroying its environment, it
has in fact destroyed itself … The unit of survival is
not the breeding organism, or the family line or the
society . The unit ol survival is a nexible organism-

There have however, been numerous interventions
by NGOs, activists, and concerned citizens who have
employed the guilty machines at issue to address and
alter these deleterious effects. The deployment of social
media, for instance, to raise awareness of these issues
and pressure corporations and governments to alter
practices and laws, highlights what Bernard Stiegler
and Ars Industrialis describe as the pharmacological
context of contemporary technics:
machines are
simultaneously poisonous and the remedy to this
Thinking in terms of poison and toxicity
is particularly cogent with reference to the material
impacts of digital technologies, whereby what can
otherwise appear to be a metaphorical way of
approaching attention and desire amongst consumers,
presents an insightful analysis of the material impacts
which accompany the shifts in subjectivity, which
Stiegler argues arise from changing technological
The actions implied by this approach initially seem
entirely inadequate given the scope of the problems:
‘retweeting’ messages and ‘liking’ pages in the face of
serious social and ecological problematics that relate
to the dynamics of globalised capitalism appears
laughable. However, the impacts of collective action
made possible by networked telecommunications has
effected numerous cases: Wages at Foxconn’s plant
in Shenzhen have risen from 900 to over 2000 yuan
in less than a year in response to sustained pressure
mobilised by assemblages of humans and machines,
many of the latter having been assembled within that
34: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
factory. In the face of widespread networked protests,
Apple cancelled a contract with another Chinese
subcontractor because of their employment of child
Lobbying by NGOs such as Raise Hope For
supported by a networked activist community,
has convinced the US congress to examine legislating
to phase out the use ol connict minerals.
The mobilisation of attention via these socio-
technological networks effects change in two primary
ways: through raising awareness and altering vectors of
subjectivity amongst consumers, and by subsequently
mobilising this attention as public opinion to pressurise
governmental and corporate actors to alter practices. In
the face of this type of networked action, governments
are compelled to avoid the appearance of supporting
unethical practices. Corporations, as fabrication-
free entities which design and market, but do not
manufacture products, are faced with the potential
toxincation ol their brano. Corporations such as
Apple and Dell
have demonstrated a willingness to
take remedial action, albeit often in a limited way.
There are additional issues raised by the structure of
the nows ol matter associateo with the system in its
entirety. The industrial model of production involves a
near-linear now throughout the stages ol a machine·s
lifespan; resources are extracted, processed, used, and
then discarded. Recycling is partial, leading to the
steaoy accumulation ol ·waste· matter in lanonlls.
By contrast, when examining how ecosystems work,
we are confronted with cyclical processes with
multiple negative feedback loops. These cycles create
sustainable processes: there is no end stage where
waste accumulates, as the outputs of processes become
inputs for other nodes in the network, allowing systems
to run continuously for millions of years. Feedback
loops within these systems build resilience, so minor
perturbations do not create systemic instability or
collapse, only when the system faces major disturbance,
a substantial alteration to the speeds or viscosities of
ecological nows which exceeo aoaptive capacity, ooes
collapse occur. In the past, ecological collapse and
planetary mass extinction events have been triggered
by phenomena such as an asteroid striking the planet.
Today a mass extinction event and new geological
age, the Anthropocene,
is under way because of
anthropogenic industrial activity.
Given the state of play with reference to climate
change, loss of biodiversity, and associated impacts
upon human civilisations, urgent action is required in
reconnguring the inoustrial proouction process along
alternatives based on biomimicry: cyclical processes
resembling closed-loop systems such as the nitrogen
cycle. This methodology has been adopted by the
cradle-to-cradle movement, who advocate that the
waste from one iteration of processes should become
the nutrients, or food for successive iterations. Products
are not conceived of as commodities to be sold and
discarded, but valuable assets to be leased for a period
before the materials are transformed into other, equally
valuable products. A cradle-to-cradle methodology also
seeks to remove toxic substances from goods during the
design process, entailing that there is no subsequent
connict ol interest between cheap but oamaging ano
responsible but expensive disposal at a later date.
Another movement which points towards alternative
methods of producing machines are open-source
hardware (OSH) communities, which apply an ethic
derived from free/open-source software (FOSS)
development, and implement homologous processes
to designing and producing hardware. Whereas
FOSS involves the distributed collaboration of self-
aggregating peers using the hardware/software/social
infrastructures of the Internet to create software – a
non-rival good which can be directly created and
shared by exchanging digital data – OSH communities
cannot collectively create the nnisheo prooucts, but
share designs for how to make machines and source
the requisite parts. Operating in this manner enables a
mode of producing rival goods, including information
technology hardware, which is led by user innovation
and the desires and ethics of the producer/user
community, rather than pront-orientateo corporations,
who have a vested interest in creating products which
rapidly become obsolete and require replacement.
OSH presents an example of the democratisation of
innovation and production,
and a rebuttal of the
contention that peer-to-peer systems are only relevant
to non-rival, informational ventures, whilst also
presenting one way of approaching Stiegler’s concept
of an economy of contribution.
Stiegler contends that the particular affordances
of contemporary computing technologies enable
the construction of a new economy which elides
the distinction between producers and consumers.
Accoroing to Stiegler, lree soltware exemplines
a historically novel methodology predicated on
35: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
communal labour and which is characterised by the
formation of positive externalities.
Whereas the
contemporary ecology of machines is dominated by a
model based on an econocentricism which advocates
the externalisation of any possible costs onto social
and environmental systems which are seen as ‘outside’
of economic concern and therefore valueless, Stiegler
contends that there exists the potential to construct an
alternative ecology of machines based upon broader
conceptions of growth, resembling the ecological value
systems advocated by Bateson and Guattari.
While the pharmacological context of technology
entails that an economy of contribution is by no
means certain, or even probable, a reorientation of
the ecology of machines is crucial if we are to escape
the spectre of ecological collapse. The current system
of producing the material infrastructure of digital
cultures is ecologically unsustainable and socially
unjust, with problems at the scales of the structure
of the production process as a whole, and within the
specincities ol each constituent stage. Only through a
sustained engagement with the material consequences
of information technologies, involving an eco-ethically
innecteo application ol these machines themselves,
may equitable alternatives based around contribution
rather than commodities supersede the destructive
tendencies of the contemporary ecology of machines.
Sy Taffel is a PhD researcher based between the University of
Bristol department of Drama: Film Theatre and Television
and the Digital Cultures Research Centre at the University
of the West of England. His PhD research involves utilising
an ecological approach to digital media in order to explore
the politics, ethics and materiality of hardware, software and
Matthew Plummer-Fernandez studied MA Design Products at
the Royal College of Art and has received commissions through
ArtsCo, Selfridges, It’s Nice That, Digit, Designersblock and
Mint Shop. www.plummerfernandez.com.
1. Michael Begon, Colin Townsend and John Harper, Ecologv. From
Individuals to Ecosvstems, 4
Edition, Malden MA and OxIord: Blackwell
Publishing, 2006.
2. Gregory Bateson, Steps To An Ecologv of Mind, Northvale, New Jersey:
Jason Aronsen Inc, 1972 pp.435-45.
3. Gregory Bateson, Steps To An Ecologv of Mind, Northvale, New Jersey:
Jason Aronsen Inc, 1972 p.468.
4. Felix Guattari, The Three Ecologies, trans Ian Pindar and Paul Sutton,
London:Athelone Press, 2000.
5. D. Sutter Last Man Standing at Wake for Toxic Town, 2009, CNN,
available at http://articles.cnn.com/2009-06-30/us/oklahoma.toxic.town¸1¸
tar-creek-superIund-site-picher-mines?¸s÷PM:US#cnnSTCText last visited
6. Michael Nest, Coltan, Cambridge: Polity Press, 2011 p.76.
7. Boy Lujthe (2006) The Changing Map of Global Electronics.
Networks of Mass Production in the New Economv, in Ted Smith, David
SonnenIeld, David Naguib Pellow, (2006) Challenging the Chip, Labor
Rights and Environmental Justice in the Global Electronics Industrv,
Philadelphia:Temple University Press, 2006, p.22.
8. Rohan Price, Whv No Choice is a Choice` Does Not Absolve the West of
Chinese Factorv Deaths, Social Science Research Network, 2010, Available
at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract÷1709315 (last visited 15/03/2012).
9. Electronics Takeback Coalition, Facts and Figures on E-Waste and
Recvcling, 2011, available at http://www.electronicstakeback.com/
wpcontent/uploads/Facts¸and¸Figures¸on¸EWaste¸and¸Recycling.pdI last
visited 15/03/2012.
10. Under the Basel Convention which Iorbids the transIer oI toxic
substances Irom OECD nations to non-OECD nations. However, the USA,
Canada and Australia reIused to sign the convention, and so it remains legal
Ior these states to export hazardous wastes, although it is illegal Ior the non-
OECD countries they send hazardous wastes to, to receive them.
11. The WEEE directive, passed into EU law in 2003 and transposed into UK
law in 2006 states that all e-waste must be saIely disposed oI within the EU
at an approved Iacility, and that consumers can return used WEEE products
when they purchase new products.
12. Jim Puckett, High-Techs Dirtv Little Secret. Economics and Ethics of
the Electronic Waste Trade, in Ted Smith, David SonnenIeld, David Naguib
Pellow, (2006) Challenging the Chip, Labor Rights and Environmental
Justice in the Global Electronics Industrv, Philadelphia:Temple University
Press, 2006, p.225.
13. Jim Puckett and Lauren Roman, E-Scrap Exportation, Challenges
and Considerations, Electronics and the Environment, 2002 Annual IEEE
International Symposium, available at http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/stamp/
stamp.jsp?tp÷&arnumber÷1003243 last visited 15/03/2012.
14. Basel Action Network and Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, Exporting
Harm, The High-Tech Trashing of Asia, 2002, p.26 available at http://www.
ban.org/E-waste/technotrashfnalcomp.pdI last visited 15/03/2012.
15. Gregory Bateson, Steps To An Ecologv of Mind, Northvale, New Jersey:
Jason Aronsen Inc, 1972 p.457.
16. Bernard Stiegler, For a New Critique of Political Economv, Cambridge:
Polity, 2010.
17. Ars Industrialis, Manifesto 2010, 2010, available at http://arsindustrialis.
org/maniIesto-2010 last visited 17/03/2012.
18. Tania Branigan, Apple Report Reveals Child Labour Increase, The
Guardian, 15 February 2011, available at http://www.guardian.co.uk/
technology/2011/Ieb/15/apple-report-reveals-child-labour last visited
19. http://www.raisehopeIorcongo.org/ last visited 15/03/12.
20. David Wood and Robin Schneider, Toxicdude.com. The Dell Campaign,
in Ted Smith, David SonnenIeld, David Naguib Pellow, (2006) Challenging
the Chip, Labor Rights and Environmental Justice in the Global Electronics
Industrv, Philadelphia:Temple University Press, 2006, pp.285-97.
21. For example, the similarities between the labour rights violations Iound
in reports at Foxconn in Shenzhen in 2006 and 2012 suggest that Apple`s
claims in 2006 that they would take action to redress these violations were
public relations rhetoric not substantiated by actions.
22. Jan Zalasiewicz, Mark Williams, Will SteIIen, and Paul Crutzen, The
New World of the Anthropocene, 2010, Environment Science & Technologv
44 (7): 22282231. doi:10.1021/es903118j.
23. Eric Von Hippel, Democratising Innovation, Cambridge MA: MIT Press,
24. Bernard Stiegler, For a New Critique of Political Economv,
Cambridge:Polity 2010 p.129.
36: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
his paper takes important
characteristics of the politically
active agent/citizen addressed by
the political theory of Hannah Arendt
and juxtaposes them with their negation.
Te intention is to examine the ways in
which this practice of negation is being
used during the current economic crisis as
a pretext for treating the Greek people as
a-political, and expecting them to behave
as such. It will then be argued that this
practice moves even further, and underlines
an implicit neoliberal worldview of men
as machines. Te paper addresses this
mechanistic way of seeing things, and
argues that the character and intentions
of neoliberalism are dangerously akin to
the evils of the past centuries that led to
totalitarianism (adding to the relevance
of Arendt’s political theory) and leads to
alarming fndings regarding the political
ideologies being employed across Europe at
the moment.
Politics versus a Machine-like Existence under the Pretext
of the Greek Crisis
37: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
38: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
Some characteristics of the citizen can be approached
from the viewpoint of the ‘consumption’ of media
programmes. The past twenty years offer a good
historical terrain where such issues can be addressed in
relation to Greece, since this is when the country’s legal
framework allowed the appearance (and expanding
innuence, ol private television. Neoliberal worloviews
and similar policies in Europe are much older than that,
but the example of privately owned television channels
in Greece offers a good testimony to the forms that
the neoliberal experiment can take in accelerated ways
connected with commercialism and the considerable
power of ‘our dominant medium’, television.
treatment of news items by privately owned media
demonstrates the values and expectations harboured
by the commercial mentality that sees society as a
terrain for consumption.
The socially oriented output of the privately
owned media, bent on promoting so-called ‘lifestyle
inlormation` even in the news, became brieny numb
with the advent of the economic crisis in 2009 yet
quickly recovered lost ground. As a response to the
diminishing interest for the clothes and material
possessions of politicians, they shifted attention to a
society of interest-ridden individuals affected by the
crisis. Private television took to new ways of addressing
the social in viewers, as the political qualities in them
were now openly attacked, whereas before were
merely hidden from the public space of television. A
good example is that now the news reported strikes
solely from the viewpoint of those interest groups who
‘suffered’ from them. So, a strike by refuse collectors
was dangerous to public health, and a strike by people
working on ships was devastating to the farmers who
want their produce distributed, or the people who
would like to travel.
The news bulletins refused to see
the repeated strikes as the political right of the people
involved in them; they were, rather, social oversights
on their part.
This turn towards the social (the hierarchical, the
interest-group mentality, the private sphere over and
above the plurality) at the expense of the political
inevitably meant a reign of the irrelevant yet again
(just as lifestyle programmes dealt with the irrelevant
[The] enlargement of the private, the enchantment,
as it were, of a whole people, does not make it
public, does not constitute a public realm, but, on
the contrary, means only that the public realm has
almost completely receded, so that greatness has
given way to charm everywhere; for while the public
realm may be great, it cannot be charming precisely
because it is unable to harbor the irrelevant.
As the environment of economic crisis posed some
oilncult questions ano as these questions were put to
politicians the answers became more and more evasive.
What is particularly interesting is that these television
channels and the representatives of Greek public life
who were addressing the people through them kept
nlling the public space ol television with reversals;
instead of addressing the real problematic areas of
the Greek public realm, such as that the people have
been lacking political incentives and outlets besides
the elections and thus are partly responsible for bad
political decisions taken in the past, the media and the
politicians that adhere to them blamed quite different
weaknesses on the public. They blamed the public for:
a) not being as productive as the Germans (building
on an age-old myth that sees all public servants as idle
people who are getting paid for doing nothing and are
‘Both the politicians and media behaved in those instances of blaming others in a
mechanistic way: as though they themselves were machines, which naturally could not
be blamed for the shifts in weather.’
39: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
mainly responsible for a bureaucracy that frustrates
all citizens); b) for asking the politicians for individual
favours – using, in other words, the client-system
of their parties, something that has sustained the
bureaucracy of the parties and secured them in public
olnce ,as the parties` best ano louoest voters were
employed in the state machine); and c) for being overly
rich and living beyond their means. These accusations
aimed at reminding the voters of a curious social
complicity with the parties, rather than at nnoing ano
righting a wrong. Each and every one of them was and
is irrelevant and echoes the parties’ own responsibility
which they try to avoid. Politicians and highly (or
not so highly but still dependent) paid journalists
seemed to forget that not all voters are members of
parties. Such blaming served as absolution for both
the commercialisation of public life that the media in
question had secured over a reign of twenty years,
also, of course, for the glaring inadequacies of the party
bureaucracies, that didn’t allow competent politicians
to take responsible positions in public life and more
centrally in government.
Both the politicians and
media behaved in those instances of blaming others
in a mechanistic way: as though they themselves were
machines, which naturally could not be blamed for
the shifts in weather. Hence the emotional and over-
imaginative (and overly ‘human’) nature of their voters
would have to be blamed instead.
Indeed, the impression of being in control and in the
right was more important to those politicians and
news broadcasters than correcting their conduct and
decisions so far. The image of power became more
important than reality, or than decisions which would
have a positive outcome for the economy. Just as Arendt
noted about the administration of the US government
regarding Vietnam, so too were the Greek politicians
more interested in the image and frame of mind that
their decisions and comments invoked, rather than
with taking the country out of the crisis.
How could they be interested in anything as real
as victory when they kept the war going not for
territorial gain or economic advantage, least of all to
help a friend or keep a commitment, and not even for
reality, as distinguished from the image, of power?

40: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
‘ Te behavioural sameness promoted by the worldview of a society of consumers and
individuals rather than citizens is machine-like. Te Greek people were asked to
conform by continuous television news bulletins of crisis, and were indeed scared into
conforming and displaying “good behaviour’’.’
41: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
But impressions formed under calmer circumstances
were overturned because of the acceleration that the
crisis brought. Ministers who normally kept a low
pronle ano were respecteo began answering questions
and revealing how terribly ill-prepared they were,
or how terribly badly they performed under the
Such blunders, as well as attempts to
diminish political acts and present them as social,

seemed to be part of a wider effort to stop the people
from participating in the public realm of discussion
and decision-making. Indeed, the Greek public was
accustomeo to having a very limiteo innuence on the
political sphere, with the exception of their vote every
four years.
Until the advent of the crisis it seemed
adequate that the people were content with this. The
crisis showed beyond doubt that it was not enough.
As the political parties fostered sameness for the
discouraged plurality of opinion and disagreements,
within and outside the parties, a movement of Greek
‘indignados’ ensued as peaceful protesters gathered
outside the Greek Parliament. The protests did have
a result in making the government crumble and
eventually submit to change, as the movement suffered
the same television coverage as the strikes had suffered
before it appeared and after it was subdued (perhaps
temporarily). Thus it emerged that the indignados were a
menace to tourism and to the shops around Syntagma,
and the mayor of Athens would have to remove them
from their tents by taking the tents away.
The behavioural sameness promoted by the worldview
of a society of consumers and individuals rather than
citizens is machine-like. The Greek people were asked
to conform by continuous television news bulletins of
crisis, and were indeed scared into conforming and
displaying ‘good behaviour’.
The news has barely
changed over the past two years. Every day there is
a crisis that doesn’t seem to go away but always looms
over us – every instalment of the loan is overshadowed
by a probable refusal before it comes in the hands of the
government. Frightened into non-action, the people
submit to the wishes and attestations of the leaders
and the journalists’ bosses, and they are expected
to take everything they hear at face-value. The
aforementioned accusations of the politicians against
the voting body that have been taking place now for
two years within the country and beyond its borders
shame the Greeks into acting as well-oiled machines;
serving the political decisions of their ‘masters’ without
protest, whether we accept that these are elected and
party politicians or lenders of capital. The ‘oil’ in the
current predicament of the country is of course not
money but the process of shaming the people into
accepting their punishment, and an individualistic and
view of the world.
It is decisive that society, on all its levels, excludes
the possibility of action... Instead, society expects
from each of its members a certain kind of behavior,
imposing innumerable and various rules, all of
which tend to normalize its members, to make them
behave, to exclude spontaneous action or outstanding
When spontaneous action and outstanding
achievement are excluded, the machines work as the
masters expect them to – without any surprises. You
are permitted to be different, but you have to do it in
your own little individual space, you can only commit
suicide in your own little space and for your own little
individual reasons. Outside your home you have to be
the hostage of the all-mighty science of economics,
which seems even to be able to predict the future – with
you as a lab rat. As the experiment goes on, Arendt’s
observations become more and more accurate:
It is the same conformism, the assumption that men
do not act with respect to one another, that lies at
the root of the modern science of economics, whose
birth coincided with the rise of society and which,
together with its chief technical tool, statistics,
became the global science par excellence.
Statistical uniformity is by no means a harmless
scientinc ioeal, it is the no longer secret political ioeal
of a society which, entirely submerged in the routine
ol everyoay living, is at peace with the scientinc
outlook inherent in its very existence.
These sciences of numbers and percentages that
can so evidently be manipulated, as we have learned
from recent events in the Europe that united under
the common currency, address the people as a
uniform body of productivity that needs to obey the
42: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
laws of the whole ‘industry’ or perish. As statistics is
one of the important tools for the measurement of
unemployment, it becomes more and more evident
that the unemployed should simply take their misery to
another country – be valued and honoured by another
industry – or privately accept that they will not work
at all.
As machines who don’t have a say in the matter and just
become redundant through a decision that has nothing
to do with their worth or even their ability to go on
working – they simply are surpassed by circumstances,
or another, cheaper model can do the same job – the
‘individuals’ are discarded. The potential toxicity
that goes together with the machines that technology
invented, and which we so easily get rid of in Third
World countries,
is here the feelings of inadequacy,
depression, and a self-centredness that ‘goes hand in
hand with a decisive weakening of the instinct for
because you are convinced that
your unemployment is your own fault and no one
else’s. Predictability is a value, action, with its inherent
unpredictability, is not.
A very common practice to negate disagreement in a
political sphere that is ruled by strong parties is to impose
predictability on it. The practice of ‘labelling’ the
opponent in a discussion with a convenient ideological
identity is age-old in Greece. To take the example of the
Greek communist party, whoever disagrees with them
is someone that the other parties put up to do just that,
as agent provocateur; for the television news, the protesters
gathering in the squares of the country time and
again, are ‘anarchists’ – mainly because to the public
and populist imagination, anarchists are simply some
very badly behaving young men – or ‘belonging to the
anti-authority political space’. The portrayal of these
protesters thus counteracts any claims to legitimacy
they may have as, to the popular imagination, they are
those who will always protest for no reason at all other
than because they are young.
However, these are not simply ‘bad machines’; it seems
insteao as though they are actually serving a specinc
role in the narrative of the commercial media and its
demands for machine-like people. These young men
are the machines that have the task of destroying
other machines ano property, ano this task natters the
narrative of society versus deviance and warns against
plurality, which is seen in this framework as dangerous to
property and even to the safety of innocent bystanders.
Labelling incorporates resistance, negates it even. ‘The
unitedness of many into one is basically anti-political’

and makes the union in question a conforming group
ol machines who serve a specinc purpose, have a
specinc place ano cannot move beyono that because
all that they will accomplish is to be judged within this
safe framework. If for instance you are an anarchist
and you protest, you are always protesting anyway,
and if you are a conservative and you protest, then it
is only because you have lost some of your precious
money. All motives and all future reactions are known
and anticipated. Thus all your actions can only be seen
as reactions, and their impact on the public realm is
limited. This labelling is a testament to ‘the inability
to think or else the unwillingness to see phenomena as
they really are, without applying categories to them in
the beliel that they can thereby be classineo.`

As the problems of the Greek economy have been
classineo` as problems ol the here ano now`, the
claim being that without each and every instalment of
the loan the Greek state cannot pay pensions or salaries
or anything, television news bulletins play on these
continuing critical conditions. For the past two years
or so, the ‘here and now’ has indeed been extended
for television news programmes: they seem absolutely
the same, as though time has not passed. The format,
the music (there are dramatic tunes over words in all
the nation-wide private television channels’ news) and
the sense of impending doom is always there. The
practice resembles a kind of soap opera that never
moves forward – we are watching again and again the
woman who goes to say thank you to the man who did
something for her (instead of picking up the phone),
and this lasts for episodes that span over two years…
And, for the sake of this exercise, the woman (young
but not so innocent) is Greece, and of course the man
that she has to say thank you to is not exactly the whole
of Europe, but what is seen as the German leadership
43: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
of the Union. The impending doom seems to be in the
hands of the Germans (or the French at other times)
every night at seven (or eight for other channels) and
it is oramatically intensineo with strong language ano
sensational music.
The troika, the politicians and the media, don’t seem
to address the future at all. As though this is about the
nrst weekeno ol a Hollywooo nlm, the talk is about
results, in numbers, here and now. The future is
some obscure idea that will decide on its own if we
will survive this or not, but the main thing is that we
comply here and now and do not concern ourselves
about what will follow – like machines with no feeling
and no future considerations.
Pessimism as an ideology is akin to racism and does
not require permanence.
Thus, not only do we not
know the future – and shouldn’t enquire about it, (at
any rate it seems we would only get lies)
– but there is
also no guarantee that the efforts that the Greek people
are now making will secure them a future, or will have
some sort of permanence.
If we believe Arendt, this assumption of destruction
and temporariness has an antidote:
Worldlessness as a political phenomenon is possible
only on the assumption that the world will not last …
Only the existence of a public realm and the world’s
subsequent transformation into a community of
things which gathers men together and relates them
to each other depends entirely on permanence.
But what is askeo lrom these specinc Greek machines
is to behave with conformity, and, like all technology,
to accept that they may at any point in time become
redundant or obsolete simply because new means of
productivity will be invented. There can be no pride
in one’s work with the danger of losing one’s job at
any minute, and keeping busy, like machines, in order
to lorget about the oilncult realities, is the only option.
As this was the same predicament that the Germans
found themselves in after the War, at times it seems like
a peculiar kind of revenge.
Only they were keeping
busy instead of working with pride because they had
to forget their past, not their future.
Keeping busy and keeping sentiments at a distance
seems to be the recipe that the media and politicians
recommend for people living through this crisis. Logic
and numbers were used early on and put at the service
of creating an impression. There has been a recent
hostility towards emotion, stigmatising it as lukewarm
sentimentality and a hurdle,
whilst tenets like ‘Don’t
trust anything you can’t count’, address a logicality of
the ‘obvious’:
The tyranny of logicality begins with the mind’s
submission to logic as a never-ending process, on
which man relies in order to engender his thoughts.
By this submission, he surrenders his inner freedom
… The self-coercive force of logicality is mobilized
lest anybody ever start thinking – which as the freest
and purest of all human activities is the very opposite
of the compulsory process of deduction.

Unfortunately for logicians, consistency cannot
possibly be equated with truth,
and yet consistency
is what is expected and demanded from the Greek
people: ‘Absence of emotions neither causes nor
promotes rationality. “Detachment and equanimity’’
in view of ‘‘unbearable tragedy’’ can indeed be
terrifying’’ … [when they are] an evident manifestation
of incomprehension.’
This incitement to absence of
emotion and imagination obeys the logic that sees
moral arguments as an obstacle too.
In terms of morality even Greeks see the right of
the lender as indisputable, and they even disbelieve
the fact that the lenders will take too high a return
on their investment.
The ways in which they try to
defend themselves against what they see as the growing
hostility of European politicians are rarely if ever
based on moral grounds. This makes clear that Greece
was already the best pupil of neoliberalism even before
the crisis, and this ideology and economic worldview
only put Greece in a worse position than before.

Indeed the situation is reminiscent of the case of the
workers that Castoriadis quoted in his essay ‘What
Really Matters’, who believed and professed that their
lives and what they do don’t really matter.
The importance of imagination in understanding, as
44: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
Arendt attests to again and again,
and in judging,

coulo sulnce to explain the reasons why economists
‘of the accumulation of wealth at the expense of the
tangible property’
are against it. The undertones
of these political decisions and their relevance to an
era of approaching totalitarianism are particularly
The awareness of the social possibilities that the
modern inability to judge offered, and the ability
to exploit them, were supported by the vastly more
telling insight that in the modern world’s chaos
of opinion the normal mortal is yanked about
from one opinion to another without the slightest
understanding of what distinguishes the one from
the other. Taken together, these traditions made
appear quite plausible a curious equating of purely
technical capability with purely human activity, the
latter of which has always had to do with questions
of right and wrong. Once the moral basis of the
knowledge of right and wrong, unarticulated as it
was, began to crumble, the next step was to measure
social and political actions by technical and work-
oriented standards that were inherently alien to these
larger spheres of human activity.
The Greek people’s experience, imagination and
moral qualms are once again strongly discouraged
as obstacles to their integration into an industry of
machines that ought not to understand and ought not
to make any requests.
Past experiences of imperialism have shown that what
protects the ‘colonised’ from the mechanistic and
brutal attacks of the exported surplus capital, and
leaves them with some benents lrom this colonialism,
is the fact that statesmen of the lending nation ‘drew
a sharp line between colonial methods and normal
domestic policies, thereby avoiding with considerable
success the feared boomerang effect of imperialism
upon the homeland’.
Thus the right thing to ask the
lenders now would be: ‘Do you trust your politicians?’
S¡/io Iooooti i· o ¡orooli·t ooc oo offliot· f t/· `otiool
and Capodistrian University of Athens Research Institute
for Applied Communication. She also has a PhD from the
Department of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies at
Cardiff University. She will shortly be publishing a chapter on
economics, the media and public trust in the forthcoming Ravindra
N. Mohabeer, (ed.), Dancing with Shadows: Explorations
in Invisibility.
45: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
1. Peter Dahlgren, The Civic Ideal in TV Journalism`, in Kees
Brants, Joke Hermes and Liesbet van Zoonen (eds) The Media in
Question, London: Sage, 1998, p.99.
2. http://www.neakriti.gr/?page÷newsdetail&DocID÷907725&s
rv÷304, accessed 16/4/2012, published 16/4/2012.
3. See Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition, Chicago: The
University oI Chicago Press, 1989, pp.52, 41-42; see also Arendt,
The Origins of Totalitarianism, New York: Harcourt, 1976, on
bourgeois mentality, Ior example p.139.
4. Arendt, Human Condition, p.52.
5. See Ior instance Thomas Meyer, Politik als Theater. Die Neue
Macht der Darstellungkunst (in German), Berlin: AuIbau-Verlag,
1998; see also Justin Lewis, Sanna Inthorn, and Karin Wahl-
Jorgensen, Citi:ens or Consumers? What the Media tell us about
Political Participation, Berkshire: Open University Press, 2005,
6. Castoriadis`s contention that the ability oI a politician to get
elected is quite diIIerent to being able to deal with the aIIairs oI the
state is exceptionally valid here. See Cornelius Castoriadis, The
Crisis oI Western Societies`, Telos, Number 53, Fall 1982, p.21.
7. Hannah Arendt, Lying in Politics: Refections on the Pentagon
Papers`, in Crises of the Republic, New York: Harcourt Brace
Jovanovich, 1972, pp.42-43, see also p.38.
8. InIamously,on 24/1/2012, Michalis Chrysochoides, who had
served in the past as a minister and is also a minister For the
Protection oI the Citizen` in the current government, admitted on
national television that he never read the Memorandum that all the
members oI parliament signed Ior the country to take the loan Irom
the IMF. Other ministers indicated that they were only given
three hours time to study the contract.
See the report and comment in the national daily newspaper
Ethnos` website http://www.ethnos.gr/article.asp?catid÷2279
2&subid÷2&pubid÷63606836, published 25/1/2012, accessed
9. Panos Beglitis, Iormer minister, tried to stress the social
and individual Iacets oI the suicide oI a 77-year old pensioner/
pharmacist in the middle oI Syntagma Square in broad daylight.
The pensioner leIt behind a letter accusing the political decisions
Ior pension cuts, and the politician was particularly disrespectIul
towards the pensioner and his Iamily on television, suggesting
that he or his children ate up` savings he should have had during
his liIetime (one can only presume he meant he shouldn`t have
to depend on his pension.?). To say ate up` in Greek connotes
disrespect too.
accessed 16/4/2012, published 4/4/2012.
10. Arendt, Civil Disobedience`, in Crises of the Republic, pp.84-
11. Arendt, Human Condition, pp.213-5.
12. See also Arendt, Human Condition, p.45.
13. Social` in the sense that Arendt addressed the term historically,
namely as opposed to the political.
14. Arendt, Human Condition, p.40, see also p.41, pp.45-6.
15. Arendt, Human Condition, pp.41-2, see also Ior instance p.45.
16. Arendt, Human Condition, p.43.
17. http://www.ehow.com/inIo¸8012059¸causes-dumping-third-
world-countries.html, accessed 16/4/2012.
18. Arendt, Origins of Totalitarianism, p.315.
19. Arendt, Human Condition, pp.176-8, 191.
20. Arendt, Human Condition, p.214, see also, on sameness versus
plurality, pp.213-4, 215.
21. Arendt, Thoughts on Politics and Revolution`, in Crises of the
Republic, p.210.
22. Arendt, Human Condition, pp.237, 244.
23. Arendt, Origins of Totalitarianism, p.171
24. Arendt, Thoughts on Politics and Revolution`, in Crises of the
Republic, p.224.
25. Arendt, Human Condition, pp.54-8.
26. Arendt, Germany 1950`, in Norman Podhoretz (ed.), The
Commentarv Reader. Two Decades of Articles and Stories, New
York: Atheneum, 1966, p.54.
27. Liesbet Van Zoonen, Entertaining the Citi:en. When Politics
and Popular Culture Converge, OxIord: Rowman and Littlefeld,
2005, p.65, (quoting G.E. Marcus, The Sentimental Citi:en.
Emotion in Democratic Politics, University Park: University oI
Pennsylvania Press, 2002).
28. Arendt, Origins of Totalitarianism, p.473, see also pp. 470,
472, 474, 477.
29. Arendt, Understanding and Politics`, in Essavs in
Understanding. 1930-1954, Formation, Exile, and Totalitarianism,
New York: Schocken Books, 1994, p.317.
30. Arendt, On Violence`, in Crises of the Republic, p.161.
31. Arendt, On Violence, in Crises of the Republic, p.126.
32. George Stathakis, Fiscal Crisis and Balance oI Payments`,
ConIerence address at the Workshop oI the Deans` Summit oI the
Greek Universities, with the title Economic and social Crisis:
Approaches and Prospects Ior Development`, held at Harokopio
University, 30/3/2012 31/3/2012.
33. Stathakis (as above), stated that there is now nothing leIt to
sell, since the previous governments have sold almost everything to
private hands.
34. Castoriadis, What Really Matters`, in Political and Social
Writings, Jolume 2, 1955-1960. From the Workers Struggle
Against Bureaucracv to Revolution in the Age of Modern
Capitalism, Minneapolis: University oI Minnesota Press, 1988,
35. Arendt, A Reply to Eric Voegelin`, in The Portable Hannah
Arendt, (ed. Peter Baehr), New York: Penguin Books, 2003,
p.160. See also Arendt, Understanding and Politics`, in Essavs in
Understanding, p.323.
36. Arendt, The Life of the Mind, New York: Harcourt, Inc., 1978,
p.266, see also p.265.
37. Arendt, Human Condition, p.72.
38. Arendt, At table with Hitler`, in Essavs in Understanding,
39. Arendt, Origins of Totalitarianism, p.155.
46: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
text by J.D. TAYLOR
continuous connectivity and the new hysteria
47: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
nxiety and melancholia are increasingly the
oenning experiences ol lile ano labour in
the contemporary era. Our limbs and lower
backs are tense, tired and overworked; our minds
stressed by increasing demands by bosses, friends and
lovers to do the impossible: increase our productivity,
despite what is produced being less and less necessary.
The demand everywhere is the same: do more, do it
quicker! Never must we act, think or create better. This
article connects rising UK and US levels of anxiety
disorder to the shift to a neoliberal economic politic in
these states. Although it is not the nrst to connect
ordinary misery and capitalism, it marries together
critical theory and medical research into rising allergies
and anxiety disorders to investigate this contemporary
condition of anxiety, and how it is engendered not
by individuality and the pap of lifestyle magazines,
but by a more fundamental insecurity in the average
citizen’s political and working rights, compounded by
the need to remain continuously connected, and hence
continuously potentially at work. Psychopharmacology
itself, that which records and manages anxiety with its
biochemical boons, is the nnal cause ano harbinger
of this new hysteria. The intention is not to depress
the reader with more bad news that drives us back
into labour’s distractions, but to bring to light an
unexamined mindset of indispensability at the root
of anxiety, a drear submission to the inevitability of
current conditions, that the worker can abandon.
The graveyaros ol the worlo are nlleo with the
indispensable. Anxiety machines can disconnect from
their travails through desperation, humour, arrogance
and cunning.
For some like myself, anxiety and depression are not
technical terms but clinical descriptions of personal
experiences. I have had fairly severe allergies from the
age of 7 up to around 18. In turn, I have experienced
depression of varying severity fairly consistently from
the age of 17 to present. These might all be conditions
of modern life: rates of allergies like hayfever and
eczema in the UK population have risen to 44% in
2010, whilst rates of depression have similarly soared
and are analysed later below.
Rising recorded levels
of these ailments may signal a greater awareness and
ability to self-diagnose these conditions, one could
argue, but this alone ooesn`t sulnciently explain why
anxiety oisoroers began rising nrst ol all. My argument
is that they are engrained in changing lifestyles and
environments introduced by neoliberalism, a political
project that began around forty years ago in the UK.
Critical theory introduces the parameters of this
problem. Anxiety and fear are no doubt psychological
marks of domination in all social structures, but a
specinc anxiety ano lear emerges in nnancial capitalism
through the accelerating demands and pressures
of working and living in the neoliberal era. This is
facilitated by new information technologies such as
the home PC, the internet, the hand-held network
oevice, ano nnally the social networking sites, all ol
which enable and require the user to be continuously
connected and up-to-date with information streams.
Castells and Deleuze both converge in describing our
culture as shifting from the ‘actual’ to the ‘virtual’, but
the virtual itself only explains how culture is present
in digitised information.
Digitisation itself is the
fundamental shift of the contemporary era, as content
‘ Te modern individual must work
harder, longer, and with far more distraction in what Virilio calls a “tele-present”
world, where the immaterial workspace can be entered and work begun from
anywhere in the world with telecommunications coverage.’
48: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
Feports in 2004 suggested that traces
of Prozac had been discovered in
London's water supply, perhaps the
ultimate perfection of biopolitical
49: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
is abstracted and transformed from analogue formats
that allow works to retain their specincity, to encooeo
oigital inlormation ,the nlm-reel, painting, book ano
piano nocturne are replaced and ‘remastered’ by the
.mov, .jpeg, .pdf, .docx and .mp3).

Whilst Castells ano others have observeo the signincant
global increase of mobile phones and Internet access,
an August 2011 Olcom report nnos that !7º ol
teenagers surveyed in the UK owned a smartphone,
and of these, 60% felt ‘addicted’ (the report also notes
a general decline in TV and reading activities at the
expense of smartphone communications connectivity).

The modern individual must work harder, longer, and
with far more distraction in what Virilio calls a ‘tele-
present’ world, where the immaterial workspace can
be entered and work begun from anywhere in the
world with telecommunications coverage.
the panic of losing a mobile phone at home now, or
the leisure of not checking and responding to emails
over a 24-hour period. Whilst digitised technologies
have abstracted and placed many cultural forms on a
single homogeneous platform, personal technologies
have the worker connected and potentially labouring
at all hours. The experience of labour is universalised:
whilst this might have lead to greater equality amongst
workers and hence a stronger position for negotiating
improved working and social rights, it has instead led
to frozen wages and isolation in the workplace: why
aren’t you working at midnight on a Friday, or working
overtime on your day-off ? Where is your evidence of
learning extra ‘skills’ during your weekends? John and
Louise don’t stop at weekends! Competition and rivalries
among workers are deliberately fomented, workers are
pushed to effectively and entrepreneurially manage
their own human capital, as Ivor Southwood has so
brilliantly analysed in his 2011 Non-Stop Inertia, whilst
stress, depression and anxiety increase and depreciate
the general experience of the contemporary era into
one of depression, cynicism and anxiety.

Tim Berners-Lee, creator of fundamental Internet
protocols like html and the World Wide Web, describes
his vision of continuous connectivity – ‘anything
being potentially connected with anything’ – where
machines, information systems and bodies become
fused into one organic-biopolitical network that ‘brings
the workings of society closer to the workings of our
Libertarian visionaries of the Internet like
Berners-Lee all celebrate the potential for continuous
connectivity to enable each of us to think better,
create more, and engage in far more varied and
inspiring social interactions across the world than ever
before. But continuous connectivity imposes a new
psychological requirement on the user to be ready and
responsive to connection. The worker now experiences
what Castells terms ‘timeless time’: biological time
is negated by the choice to have children far later in
life via IVF treatments; whilst social time, working-
time or lamily time is negateo by the nexible nature
of working, which too can now be done at home, and
at all hours.
Knowledge and news depreciate at an
increasing rate: new content is constantly demanded
just-in-time, causing time itsell to natten. As economist
Enzo Rullani puts it, ‘All the actors of the knowledge
economy are engaged in a race against time, where
running is necessary simply to maintain the same
position and not fall behind’.
Time diminishes as the space of work, family, shopping,
ano social interaction interweave into one natteneo,
expanded universal space, now located on a screen or
hand-held media device. This in itself is neither bad
nor gooo, but its signincance is that previously separate
and safe compartmentalised spaces and activities have
been encroached into by continuous connectivity,
thereby increasing the amount of opportunities to
work, buy, socialise, and so on, exponentially. The
danger I identify is how this new opportunity will
be colonised into further ‘productiveness’, and that
these technologies have themselves been invented not
with libertarian ideals in mind, but for military and
industrial usage.
The experience of social space has shifted from tangible
locations (clubs, bars, halls, and so on) to immaterial
social networks, a shilt to immateriality that renects the
declining funding, access, availability and use of public
spaces, which have either closed or become enclosed
by private security controls. As with the loss ol specinc
times considered earlier, like family time or religious
time, which could themselves be called ‘public’ times,
the loss of public material spaces might not in itself be
a bad thing. Can’t civic discourses take place online?
Yes, and often in stimulating public exchanges among
strangers, but only to the advantage of those who
can afford to possess the technologies to access the
immaterial. Online social spaces have become some of
50: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
the most heavily advertised and controlled areas, with
a user’s digitised information now the property of two
or three huge internet giants. Each of us will still pass
by town halls, use public transport and infrastructure,
so rather than bask in neophilia, how can existing
public spaces be understood in terms of anxiety and
control? Richard Sennett documented the beginning
of a trend of speed, anxiety and the shifting uses of
public architecture back in 1974. For him, ‘public space
is an area to move through, not be in ... a derivative of
The accelerated city unravels the public,
as public spaces themselves are emptied of civic value
and resold at commercial value. As a commodity, the
value of space increases in its relative scarcity and
its productivity. For Virilio too, the very spatiality of
the city itself has unravelled via increased speeds of
information access; no longer a ‘space’ in any sense,
but a labyrinth of ‘interfaces’ and screens: ‘the way
one gains access to the city is no longer through a gate,
an arch of triumph, but rather through an electronic
audiencing system’.
Work is intensineo into continual
timeless activity, debt is universal, and connectivity
must be continuous. As Sennett argues:
When everyone has each other under surveillance,
sociability decreases, silence being the only form
of protection ... Human beings need to have some
distance from intimate observation by others in order
to feel sociable.
Whilst critical theorists have detected a sea-change
in the last forty years towards a greater instantaneity
and precarity, the medical establishment has also
transformed its understanding of rising anxiety. The
Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders
(DSM) of the American Psychiatric Association has,
since the Copernican arrival of DSM III in 1980, been
considered the authoritative index of mental disorders,
cooineo within its system ol scientinc management.

most recent 2004 IV-TR edition describes ‘Generalized
Anxiety Disorder’ as ‘excessive anxiety and worry’,
an uncontrollable worry that largely dominates the
sullerer`s time, ano usually oenneo by three or more
symptoms, including ‘restlessness, being easily fatigued,
oilnculty concentrating, irritability, muscle tension,
and disturbed sleep’.

These symptoms describe those
of the precarious worker, exhausted, fed up, tired yet
compelleo to stay awake just to nnish a little more work
from home, a microwave-meal usually spilt over their
Depression and exhaustion are endemic and act as
marks of an affective and immaterial economy where
employment is now to be found in the services – retail,
leisure, call-centres, cleaning, childcare, sex work –
where an innateo mooo, one inoeeo ol motivation, is
required. I can only smile for a certain amount of time
before my jaw aches. Individuality becomes another
part of the service worker’s uniform. There’s a raft of
recent reports detailing increasing levels of depression
and anxiety: a 2003 survey by the American Medical
Association (AMA) found that 10% of 15-54 year
olds surveyed in the US had had an episode of ‘major
depression’ in the last 12 months, with 17% of these
over the course ol their liletimes, a ngure echoing the
15.1% found in the UK to be suffering from ‘common
mental disorders’ (stress, anxiety and depression) by the
NHS’s most recent 2007 adult survey.

women were found to be twice as likely to suffer from
depression as men on average both in the AMA and
NHS Surveys – the 15.1% average comes from 12.5%
in men, 19.7% in women (the real unrecorded numbers
are probably higher). The NHS Survey also found
that self-harm and suicidal behaviours in women had
increased since 2000, with ‘being female’ at one point
listed by the survey as a source of depression, without
irony or sociological comment. A nnal colo ngure:
one-nlth ol all working oays in Britain are estimateo
as lost due to anxiety and depression forcing workers
to take time off, a very shaky estimate given the stigma
and perceived weakness of openly telling managers of
mental health problems; but given the current prospect
‘ Tere is a contemporary master narrative of cynical complacency, perhaps known by
middle-class tea-towel slogans like “keep calm and carry on”. It belies an era of pro-
found anxiety disorders in its machinic labour-parts.’
51: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
of increasing working hours in Britain as labour
regulations are further ‘liberalised’, this anxiety will
only continue.
Given the general, non-personal causes of these
common mental disorders (work stress, social isolation,
inadequate housing, debt, alcohol and substance
misuse), there is clear evidence beyond the obvious
observations of one’s surroundings that overall quality
of life is declining during the neoliberal era, a decline
that has affected men and women in different ways,
with a high suicide rate amongst men on the one
hand – suicide is the single biggest cause of death in
men aged 15-34 in England and Wales – and a higher
incidence of depression among women on the other.

Recent employment statistics demonstrate that women
have been adversely affected by the large redundancies
within the public services in the UK following the
neoliberal austerity cuts, with a March 2011 TUC
report nnoing lemale unemployment hao risen 0.¯
points to its highest level since 1988.

families are largely led by females, who are struggling
with reouceo wellare support, innation ano reouceo
employment opportunities, all the while continually
demonised by the right-wing media and Conservative
governments as ‘feckless’ and irresponsible.

Austerity becomes the ‘state of exception’ of British
neoliberalism, with the neeo lor oencit cuts being useo
both by Thatcher, Brown and now Cameron to further
reduce welfare and support services whilst justifying
wage freezes and unemployment, which adversely
affect women.

Reports in April 2011 balefully announced that
antidepressant prescriptions in the UK have risen
by !3º over the past nve years, with Lonoon health
authorities alone spending £20million annually
on anti-depressant medication.
Although there
are numerous problems with the reliability of
statistics concerning actual depression amongst the
population, the development and normalisation of
psychopharmacological treatments is signincant.
Indeed reports in 2004 suggested that traces of Prozac
had been discovered in London’s water supply, perhaps
the ultimate perfection of biopolitical management.

Carl Walker draws attention to World Health
Organisation predictions that by 2020 depressive
disorders will be the leading cause of disability and
oisease buroen across the globe. Walker nnos a poor
material standard of living accounting for nearly
25% of cases of common mental disorder in 1998, a
ngure which, given increasing poverty, oebt ano social
inequality will have risen.
This evidence of anxiety and increasing connectivity
points to what I term a new hysteria, as the body and
mind mutiny against the impositions for productivity
and potentiality laid upon it by neoliberal capitalism.
Neoliberalism in turn evades responsibility for caring
for the waste-products of labour (sickness, madness,
debility in workers, soldiers, the elderly, the disabled)
by privatising

education facilities, prisons, factories,
housing, hospitals and psychiatric hospitals, which have
all fallen into stagnation and decline in the US and
UK during the neoliberal era, only to be reanimated
by private companies in a grotesque, economically
prontable parooy ol their lormer operation. This coulo
present a crisis of biopolitics given that the facilities
for managing life are diminishing. Yet the semblance
of increasingly productive operation remains: the
university, workplace and medical advice are available
at all hours: one can search online for a diagnosis and
to purchase drugs, or call 111 or 112 for medical or
police advice. The problem is when one actually needs
hospital treatment or the assistance ol a police olncer.
Returning to the specinc case ol anxiety in psychiatry,
the decline of the major psychiatric hospitals
were only facilitated by the mass development of
psychopharmacology, the treatment of psychiatric
oisoroers through orug therapies. As a neogling
arena of research, a huge spate of publications on
psychopharmacology began from the mid-1970s and
appeared throughout the 1980s, during which the
fairly universal treatment of psychological disorders
by drugs was established. Psychopharmacology
assumes that psychiatric disorders are malfunctions
of neuronal chemistry which can, through the correct
rational application ol scientinc intervention, be
universally treated or managed. The onus is on both
an inlallible scientinc methoo ano the inoivioual
to conform and adhere to treatment.

Disorders are
therefore caused by the individual and their defective
neurological chemistry, and not the circumstances or
psychosocial connicts arouno them, as psychoanalysis
had previously contested. In such a manner,
neoliberal control permeates the entire ‘sick’ body: the
timetableo, site-specinc ano socially-meoiateo session
52: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
on the therapist’s couch is replaced with the continuous
intervention of chemicals. The individual is now free
to challenge and overcome their problems, through a
mixture of prescribed treatment and usually through
the additional cognitive re-programming of more
positive mindsets. Psychopharmacology demonstrates
the entire workings of neoliberalism in one section of
society through a curious hegemonic transformation:
the postwar consensus of Keynesianism and social
democracy, Fordism and psychoanalysis with it, are all
marked by a social engagement with problems. This
was a social politic, one that addressed and engaged
with problems of deviance, health, upbringing,
employment and poverty. Although it was in some
ways a superncial consensus that sought to prevent
the onset of Communism in Western Europe and the
US, as critics like Graeber have pointed out, it was a
politic that emphasiseo the benent ano use ol society
to manage life and treat problems.

The shift to post-
Fordism, neoliberalism and psychopharmacology
represents a shift to an economic politic, where disorder
is manageo by a mixture ol mathematical-scientinc
reasoning, be it the market or the technological
management of illness, where ‘unproductive’
industries are outsourced and labour abstracted. In
such a setting, life is abstracted and valued only in
its capacity to increase its productivity. As the earlier
analysis of increasing smart-phone usage, common
mental disorders and continuous connectivity pointed
to, anxiety will inevitably increase as the contemporary
experience of our era so long as each worker submits
to this regime of productivity. Anxiety machines will
inevitably break down.
Freud tells us in ‘Beyond the Pleasure Principle’ that
whilst lear regaros a specinc object, anxiety is an
inoennite state without object which seeks to alert us ol
an ‘unknown’ danger one is ignorant of and vulnerable
Anxiety is the condition of the disempowered,
and Freud later noted that it is only by becoming
aware of the repressed fear-object (castration, fear of
temptation, etc.) that one can overcome the anxious
There is a contemporary master narrative
of cynical complacency, perhaps known by middle-
class tea-towel slogans like ‘keep calm and carry on’.
It belies an era of profound anxiety disorders in its
machinic labour-parts. Continuous connectivity offers
a branch of security: so long as we keep working,
applying ourselves, operating rhythmically to the
drone of the contemporary master narrative, we will
never plumb the depths of the unknown, anxiety. This
is a productive mode for neoliberal capitalism: our
managers and supervisors will never ask us to slow
down, or work less.
Finding a personal solution like abstention, escapism,
self-help, stamp collecting, football and other religions,
video games, alcohol/drug excesses or burying
one’s own head in the sand keeps the focus on the
marginalised and colonised individual. Each of us could
stop working, but the prospect and poverty of this appals
us and renders anything else except passive opposition
very oilncult. Inoivioually, one is conoemneo to act out
one’s discontent in panic attacks, cynicism, neurosis,
self-harm and other phenomena of the new hysteria.
Although many workers are well aware of what it
is that causes their anxiety and debt in the short-
term, perhaps the time comes now for a collective
therapeutic catharsis and overturning, turning anew. A
continuously connected labour now has the potential
to refuse to honour its debts, precarious contracts, and
obligations to law, just as neoliberal capitalism has
reluseo to. Ferhaps the nnal hysteria might occur in the
collapse of the connective networks in an unparalleled
series of violent mass eruptions, as the possibility of a
safe, healthy and viable future becomes less and less
likely. What might anxiety ano hysteria nnally look like,
on a collective scale?
J.D. Taylor is a writer from South London, whose forthcoming
book Negative Capitalism: Cynicism in the Neoliberal
Era will be published later in 2012. He also blogs at
Caroline Yiallouros Studied at Leeds College of Art & Design and
Leeds Metropolitan where she became interested in photographing
abandoned machines and furniture. She is currently a support
worker for the elderly and Autistic/Aspergers sufferers and is
interested in portraying the displaced, rejected and marginalised.
A book of her work is available at:
53: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
1. Amelia Hill, Scientists produce postcode map oI geographical
links to allergies`, The Guardian, 7 February 2011.
2. Manuel Castells, The Rise of the Network Societv.(Second
Edition). Jolume I of The Information Age trilogv, Chichester:
Wiley-Blackwell, 2010, pp.403-406; Gilles Deleuze and Felix
Guattari, Anti-Oedipus. Capitalism and Schi:ophrenia, trans.
Robert Hurley, Mark Seem and Helen R. Lane, Minneapolis:
University oI Minnesota Press, 2000, pp.249-255.
3. OIcom, Communications Market Report. UK. 4 August 2011.
4. Paul Virilio, The Information Bomb, trans. Chris Turner, London:
Verso, 2005, p.13.
5. Tim Berners-Lee, Weaving the Web, New York: HarperCollins,
1999, pp.1-2.
6. Castells, Rise of the Network Societv, pp.495-499.
7. In Matteo Pasquinelli, Animal Spirits. A Bestiarv of the
Commons, Rotterdam: NAi Publishers, 2008, p.98.
8. Richard Sennett, The Fall of Public Man, Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1977, p.14.
9. Virilio, The Overexposed City`, Irom Lespace Critique, trans.
Astrid Hustvedt, New York: Urzone, 1986, p.543.
10. Sennett, Fall of Public Man, p.15.
11. American Psychiatric Association, The Diagnostic and
Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IJ. Text Revision. DSM-IJ-
TR, Arlington: American Psychiatric Association, 2004, p.472.
12. NHS InIormation Centre, Adult Psvchiatric Morbiditv in
England, 2007. Results of a Household Survev, Leeds: NHS
InIormation Centre, 2009, pp.11-13, 27; Carl Walker, Depression
and Globali:ation. The Politics of Mental Health in the Twentv-
First Centurv, New York: Springer, 2008, p.8.
13. NHS InIormation Centre, Adult Psvchiatric Morbiditv 2007,
14. OIfce Ior National Statistics. Deaths Registrations Data,
Deaths by specifed cause in England and Wales, 2010. Data
15. Chartered Institute oI Personnel and Development, Overview
of CIPD Survevs. A Barometer of HR trends and developments in
16. See as indicative James Groves, David Cameron warns
Ieckless parents who expect to raise children on benefts`, Dailv
Mail, 14 June 2011.
17. NHS London, Primary Care Spend on Antidepressant Drugs`,
antidepressant-drugs |URL accessed 03/03/12|.
18. Mark Townsend, Stay calm everyone, there`s Prozac in the
drinking water`, The Observer, 8 August 2004.
19. Walker, Depression and Globali:ation, pp.21-22.
20. David Graeber, Debt. The First 5,000 Years, New York:
Melville House, 2011, pp.373-376.
21. Sigmund Freud, Bevond the Pleasure Principle and Other
Writings, trans. John Reddick, London: Penguin, 2003, pp.50-51.
22. Freud, Bevond the Pleasure Principle, pp.172-177, 233-277.
54: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
(doctor, machine, state say: ‘oh yes you can!’)
Epaulets for the Chief Executi.e, Collage (2008)
55: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
n page 19 of a computer program
manual, it states that the software, the
‘Logic Integrated Medical Assessment’
‘has been programmed to
understand the content of phrases.’ This claim
suggests a huge development from earlier computer
soltware, like ELIZA lrom the 19o0`s, the nrst
computer program to simulate human conversation.
One of its incarnations, called DOCTOR, mimicked
the therapeutic model of human-centred counselling.
This was a reasonably simple interaction in which
statements were mirrored back through questions. It
certainly did not understand the content of what people
were telling it, but through its simple reformulation of
content, it oio create the possibility lor renection on
the part of the ‘client’. Perhaps for this reason, many
people did in fact open their hearts to DOCTOR,
telling it their life stories. LiMA, introduced in 2005,
is currently used by the multinational company Atos
Origin to assist ooctors in assessing benent claimants`
capacity to work. It claims to understand the content
of phrases, but in what sense does it understand content?
Or more importantly, how has it been programmed to
understand? Also, in being used by the state, how is it
implicated in its biopolitical machinations?
In Postscript on the Societies of Control, Deleuze follows
Foucault in describing mechanisms of power and
argues that we are in the process of replacing the
disciplinary societies with what he terms the societies of
The corporation is a key component of this
new social formation. Atos Origin is currently paid
£100 million a year by the UK government to test
people`s ntness lor work` ano has an annual revenue
of !8.6 billion. Among other contracts, Atos also has
a role in military intelligence training for the MoD and
is ‘the Worldwide Information Technology Partner
for the Olympic Games’.
State-sanctioned medical
assessments for work capability, military intelligence
and the Olympics are all sites for the disciplining of
bodies and minds. With the introduction of digital
technology ano artincial intelligence ,AI, into these
areas, they are perhaps pivotal points between the
disciplinary and control societies as described by
Deleuze, and therefore sites in which overlaps and
contradictions between these two types of social
formation become apparent.
The sickness ano oisability benent system is currently
undergoing a massive overhaul, with 1.5 million people
being reassessed for what is now called Employment
and Support Allowance (ESA). The change from
Incapacity Benent to ESA in 2008 was heraloeo as
placing a more positive emphasis on what people are
capable of rather than what they are incapable of. This
stated intention is present in the language used: from
incapacity to employment and support. However, the shift
occurred just after the recession alongside increasing
rhetoric about getting the wellare cheats` oll benents.
It was also accompanied by a much harsher test,
resulting in terminally ill people being found ‘capable
of work’ and thousands of appeals overturning the
decisions being made.

‘Increases in precarious working conditions, temporary labour and continuous self-
management across sectors of the labour market that were traditionally more stable has
resulted in individuals personally taking on more of the burden. For Deleuze, this is
indicative of the control societies, with undulatory man having to continually under-
take retraining.’
56: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
The increasing mechanisation and automation of
the medical assessment started in the 1990s with
the introduction of tick boxes and a score system.
LiMA takes this automation one step further. During
the assessment, the assessor, a doctor, sits behind
a desk with a computer on it while the claimant sits
on the other side of the desk. The doctor physically
examines the claimant, makes observations and is
prompted by LiMA to ask a series of seemingly banal
questions about the claimant’s lifestyle, such as: Do
you answer the phone when it rings? Do you read or
watch television? LiMA then mechanically constructs
phrases that resemble the answers the claimant gives to
these questions. These phrases are assembled through
the use of drop down menus, allowing the assessor
to choose combinations of words and numbers.
LiMA compiles the phrases into a report and uses
them to produce a score.
These are the ‘phrases’
that LiMA has been programmed to understand the
content of. The assemblages of words and numbers
constructed by LiMA are interpreted by the software to
derive implications from the phrases that have been put
together. This process is more like a translation than
an understanding. While understanding does involve
interpretation it is one that draws on a vast array of
different kinds of knowledge. The verb to understand is
directly connected to embodied terms such as to grasp.
It also signines the perception ol intended meanings
of words, actions etc. and therefore is totally bound
up with our social relations. LiMA cannot of course
understand in this sense. The implications that LiMA is
programmed with are connected to ideas about ability
and capability. If the claimant tells the doctor that she
can make herself snacks or use a microwave, evidence
of physical and mental capacities are derived from this
statement. These capacities are abstracted from their
context and used as functions of the body at work. The
fact that someone can walk 50 metres, open a door, take
something out of a fridge, are all taken as evidence of
being able to do a certain amount of ‘work’.
This lollows a certain oennition ol work that can be
seen in the context ol scientinc management ano
anthropometrics. These disciplines abstract the human
body and view it mechanically, aligning it with the
division of labour. In the 19
Century, the physiology
of labour was born in military and penitentiary
environments, the disciplinary environments of
enclosure, where labour was more simplineo ano coulo
be observeo in an instrumentaliseo ano objectineo
As a precursor ol scientinc management,
Etienne-Jules Marey’s early analysis of movement
through the photographic image of the body in
motion helped prepare the way for calibration and
standardisation. The technology of the machines of
the time, of energy and combustion, were transposed
onto the human body. Representations of Foucauldian
biopower, they distribute in space and order in time.
Marey photographed disciplined bodies: workers,
soldiers, gymnasts. Now, think Atos Origin: work
capability, military intelligence, Olympics.
The structure of the Work Capability Assessment and
the interpretations programmed into LiMA equate
human activity with the ability to work, which in turn
is equated with the ability to labour under the wage
relation. Wage labour is not just about the ability to
do something, it also involves stress: competition,
deadlines, expectations of when and how something
might be done, ever increasing time pressures and
the extension of the working day. These all have
effects on the mind and the body that are not easy to
measure. Just because someone can walk 50 metres
doesn’t mean they can do it to order. This also begs
the question of what kind of work claimants are being
assessed for. It seems to be just a generalised category
called ‘work’, with no accommodation as to what kind
of work the claimant might otherwise be suited for or
what is available. In fact many disabled and chronically
ill people may be pressured to undertake mandatory
unpaid and even unlimited work placements as part
of the governments ‘workfare’ scheme. Spokespersons
from mental health organisations have particularly
voiced their concern about inappropriate placements
for people with mental health problems.
Increases in precarious working conditions, temporary
labour and continuous self-management across sectors
of the labour market that were traditionally more stable
has resulted in individuals personally taking on more
of the burden. For Deleuze, this is indicative of the
control societies, with undulatory man having to continually
undertake retraining. The mental strain placed on an
individual can be enormous and particularly during
times of recession. Prescriptions for anti-depressants
have risen by more than 40% over the past four years.

And while mental capacities can be measured such as
understanding and awareness of the person’s context
57: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
Up the Organi.ation!, Collage (2008)
Employment Contracts and !hy, Collage (2008)
58: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
and situation, mental health issues are much harder to
assess or understand. This is especially the case in the
context of an assessment that looks at the body at work
in such an instrumentalised way. Depression has also
been described as the soul on strike.
This brings up
issues of refusal and resistance. In the short story ‘The
Apostate’, Jack London charts a similar parallel in the
industrial age. A young man brought up working in
the mills in the US suffers from nervous exhaustion so
badly that he literally cannot get up, his body giving up
on him.
It is a study in fatigue that raises questions
about conscious and unconscious responses to working
conditions. The protagonist’s complaint has been
described as neurasthenia,
itself not a straightforward
condition: a 19
Century complaint of the nerves
that perhaps bears a resemblance to Chronic Fatigue
Syndrome, suggesting a more complicated relationship
between body and mind. More often attributed to the
upper classes in Britain, neurasthenia has however also
been compared to shellshock caused by the ‘wearing
effect of modern technology’, a process of psychic self
protection to survive modern industrial labour.

The physical examination that takes place during the
Work Capability Assessment, based on observation
and manipulation, reinforces the mechanistic view
of the body. The medical examiner moves the limbs
to see how they move, looking at upper and lower
limb dexterity, and the body’s mechanical ability to
function. What this misses are conditions in which
more complex relationships between the mind and the
body are at play. In the LiMA handbook, it states that
if the claimant is disabled by both physical and mental
problems, the assessor will need to decide which one
is the main problem, from a ‘functional perspective’
and ‘curtail’ the assessment of the ‘lesser problem.’
This already separates the physical from the mental
and ignores complicated interrelations between
the two. As well as this separation, the assessment
also does not take into account effects of chronic or
variable pain on the body that may not be to do with
problems with dexterity. Pain is subjective and very
oilncult to assess. It can be extremely oebilitating,
causing fatigue much sooner than if the body is not
in pain. During the Work Capability Assessment, the
claimant is not directly asked about pain, leaving any
assessment of it to observation. If someone has been
suffering from pain for a long time, there may not be
any visual signs. There are assessment methods like the
McGill-Melzack Pain Questionnaire
which could be
used to give a better picture. This questionnaire asks
patients to choose from a range of different kinds
of descriptors including both sensory and affective
adjectives. Terms like throbbing, pounding, shooting,
cutting or burning; and tiring, sickening, nagging or
vicious can be chosen to create a constellation of words
that characterises their particular kind of pain. While
it is impossible to exactly know what someone else’s
pain feels like, these descriptions can give some kind of
insight or understanding. Not only is pain not directly
discussed during the Work Capability Assessment, but
with the recent changes to the test, assessors have been
asked not to take variable pain into account.
omissions create more misunderstandings.
The results of the physical examination are fed into
the nnal report along with any other observations the
doctor might make. The intelligence distributed across
the system, between the doctor and LiMA decides
whether the claimant is capable of work or not. The
relationship between the doctor and the software
program could be seen as somewhat symbiotic. LiMA
‘As a precursor of scientifc management, Etienne-Jules Marey’s early analysis of move-
ment through the photographic image of the body in motion helped prepare the way for
calibration and standardisation. Te technology of the machines of the time, of energy
and combustion, were transposed onto the human body.’
59: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
is a systematised formulation of the medically trained
mind while at the same time the very structure of LiMA
is programmed with these particular interpretations,
thereby compelling the assessor to think more like the
Doctors pay more attention to the computer than
the client, the system is innexible ano gives rise to
inappropriate stock phrases in reports; options for
investigation ano nnoings are blockeo oll by the
system inappropriately; doctors sign off reports
without checking what they say, because the phrases
have been generated by the system, not the doctor.
The autonomy of the doctor is undermined here by
the rigid machinery of the software but also by that of
the bureaucratic system. The relationship between the
doctor and the software exacerbates a situation already
existent within the technological system of the state.
The phrases that LiMA constructs and ‘understands’
always already exist before the claimant has spoken.
The machine speaks for the claimant, translating and
interpreting. The claimant is interpreted by the state
through the machine and written by the machine.
And it makes mistakes. The results of these automated
‘cutups’ can be surreal. A recent report by the Citizens
Advice Bureau revealed that 43% of assessments
included serious levels of inaccuracy.
Several Social
Security judges when overturning cases ruled that
reports contained ‘nonsensical statements’. And this
is all the more horrifying precisely because it is used
as evidence against the claimant by the state. When
someone arrives at a Work Capability Assessment they
are at the point at which they are unable to take part in
wage labour because of medical issues and will therefore
not be productive to the state. This is where the state
intervenes, the claimant’s medical issues, their personal
and private life, all becomes the business of the state.
Over the last three years, 31 people have died while
waiting lor their appeals shortly alter being louno nt lor
Rather than genuinely supporting people back
into work it seems to be a way of disproving someone’s
claim that they can’t work. In Kafka’s The Trial,
situation is at once banal and horrifying. The opacity
of the crime, the arrest and the proceedings in general
result in a frightening situation. It is one in which logic
is obscured, there is no sense, no understanding. It is
‘the most fearsome of judicial forms’ in which the law
itself is in crisis. It is at a transitionary point between
‘the apparent acquittal of the disciplinary societies’,
and ‘the limitless postponements of the societies of
This creates a situation that ultimately results
in cruelty. Kafka’s guards know little about why he has
been arrested, whether he is being charged or what will
happen next. They claim to know only what they need
to and no more, like cogs in a machine. Unthinking,
they are perhaps an example of what Hannah Arendt
calls ‘the strange interdependence of thoughtlessness
and evil’
-where the inhuman becomes inhumane.
Increasing complaints about the inhumanity of
the Work Capability Assessment by the Citizens
Aovice Bureau, oisability activists ano others nnally
led to an independent review in late 2011. The
Harrington review found the need to increase the
transparency of the assessment and improve support
and communications for people as they moved onto
Jobseekers Allowance. It also called for checks to be
introduced on the decisions to ensure fairness and
consistency and for disability groups to be involved in
providing guidance for Atos healthcare professionals
and Decision Makers. However ‘despite a successful
trial in which Atos stall were oeployeo in benents
centres, which the government found was “an
effective way of improving communications to discuss
borderline cases”, Atos decided it would not be able to
continue with the initiative because of its own “capacity

The nnancial cost ol provioing more lace-to-lace
communications was obviously too much for Atos.
Automation in the name ol streamlining, elnciency
savings and speed often results in loss of personnel,
in job losses. In this case providing more support
for disabled people to go back into work themselves.
Any change in the sickness ano oisability benent
system should be about providing real employment
support rather than elnciency savings on the part ol
a corporation. This is indicative of the policy of small
government, minimising the cost ol benents without
taking responsibility for providing jobs. Employers
in general are not very good at understanding or
accommodating the needs of workers with health
problems. They are often not keen to take on people
who have a history of mental health issues for example,
and might need support and encouragement to do this.
In the LiMA manual it is stated that assessors should
60: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
emphasise what people can do, and while this should
promote more understanding and support in getting
people back to work, as we have seen, it is used as
evidence against the claimant, to prove them wrong.
Computers make mistakes precisely because they don’t
unoerstano. It is olten oilncult enough lor people to
feel that the medical profession understands their
complaint or condition particularly if it is chronic or
complicated. There also seems to be little understanding
of how work is changing and the shift to more self
managed working practices and the toll these can take.
If work is becoming more modulated, the assessment
still takes its core ideas from the disciplinary model.
Complex health conditions are separated into mind
or body ‘functional’ problems by the assessment but
this builds on problems already inherent in the medical
model itself. These mismatches and misunderstandings
create the possibility for harshness and cruelty. Rather
than understanding the claimant, the assessment
seems to work to obscure or mystify. Another aspect
of understanding is of course sympathy, or perhaps more
importantly empathy. Without the ability to think
and feel ourselves into the shoes of others we are left
only with categories instead of people, and ultimately
inhumanity. For Deleuze, neither disciplinary or
control regimes are harsher than the other although
the modulations of control may be more complex.
And with this in mind, I wonder how the need for real
understanding and empathy could be harnessed.
Claudia Firth is an artist, activist, educator and writer. A
founding member of Nyx, she completed the MA in Cultural
Stoci·· ot Clc·oit/· io !00´. S/· /o· ¡o·t foi·/·c t/· ·/rt
flo Somewhere Else and installation/performance A War
of Nerves Indeed. Her interests include art and radical
politics, technology and the body, and cultural memory.
Pil and Galia Kollectiv are London based artists, writers and
curators working in collaboration. Their work addresses the
legacy of modernism and explores avant-garde discourses of
the 20th Century and the way these operate in the context of a
changing landscape of creative work and instrumentalised leisure.
They have had solo shows at Te Tuhi Center for the Arts, New
¸·olooc; S1 Jrt·¡o.·, S/·ff·lc; ooc T/· S/oro Coll·r,,
London. They have presented live work at the Berlin Biennial
and the Montreal Biennial, as well as at Kunsthall Oslo and
Late at Tate. They are lecturers in Fine Art at the University of
Reading and are also the directors of project space xero, kline &
coma and the London editors of Art Papers magazine.
‘ Te phrases that LiMA constructs and
“understands” always already exist before
the claimant has spoken. Te machine
speaks for the claimant, translating and
interpreting. Te claimant is interpreted
by the state through the machine and
written by the machine.’
61: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
1. Atos Computer Programme Manual (LiMA)`, n.d. http://issuu.
2. Gilles Deleuze, Postscript on Societies of Control. http://nadir.
3. http://atos.net/en-us/about¸us/Company¸Profle/deIault.htm
4. Amelia Gentleman, No turning back work capability
assessment`, The Guardian, September 2011 http://www.guardian.
5. Employment and Support Allowance: a New Harsher Test`,
Brighton Benehts Campaign, n.d. http://brightonbeneftscampaign.
6. Bernard Doray, From Tavlorism to Fordism. A Rational
Madness, London: Free Association Books, 1988, p.73.
&' Shiv Malik, Disabled people Iace unlimited unpaid work or cuts
in beneft`, 16
February 2012
8. Nick Triggle Money Woes Linked to Rise in Depression` 7

April 2012 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-12986314
9. Franco BiIo` Berardi, The Soul at Work. from alienation to
autonomv, Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2009.
10. Jack London, The Apostate`, http://www.jacklondons.net/
theapostate.html. First published in Woman`s Home Companion,
11. Mark Seltzer, Bodies and Machines, New York and London:
Routledge, 1992.
12. Peter Leese, Shell Shock. Traumatic Neurosis and the British
Soldiers of World War 1, New York & Hampshire: Palgrave
MacMillan UK, 2002, p.16.
13. Atos Computer Programme Manual (LIMA)`, n.d. http://issuu.
com/atosvictims/docs/lima-v2-technical-manual. p.32.
14. Ronald Melzack and Patrick Wall, The Challenge of Pain,
London: Penguin Books, 1982, p.40.
15. Citizens Advice Bureau, Not working, CAB evidence on the
ESA Work Capability Assessment`, March 2010, http://www.
16. Citizens Advice Bureau, Decision-making and appeals in the
beneht svstem, September 2009.
www.citizensadvice.org.uk. p.4.
17. Citizens Advice Bureau, Right hrst time? An indicative studv
of the accuracv of the ESA work capabilitv assessment reports, Jan
2012 www.citizensadvice.org.uk
18. Amelia Gentleman, Inaccuracies dog 'ft to work¨ test`, The
Guardian, 10 January 2012
19. Franz KaIka, The Trial, Middlesex: Penguin,1977.
20. Deleuze, 1998.
21. Hannah Arendt and P.R. Baehr, The Portable Hannah Arendt,
New York: Penguin, 2003, p.380.
22. Atos Failed to Comply with Government Policy Social
WelIare Advocacy`, n.d. http://socialwelIareadvocacy.wordpress.
by Ændy !eir (2012) http:andy.eir.info
62: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
At the Goldsmiths’ Excelente Zona Social event
in January this year a chance emerged to talk to Michael
Taussig about his recent work and perhaps get a more sideways take on machines, a subject upon which
he touches tangentially in a few of his works. A Professor of Anthropology at Columbia University,
Taussig has written on a variety of subjects – from shamanism to the commercialisation of peasant
agriculture to studies on the enticing evils of gold and cocaine – and is the author of What Color Is the
Sacred? (2009) and the recent I Swear I Saw Tis: Drawings in Fieldwork Notebooks, Namely
My Own (2011) as .ell as many other .orks. He is often referred to as a ma.erick academic´ due to
his approach of narrating ethnographic accounts with fction and critique, weaving in surprising and
unusual threads of associations. I decided to let the conversation fow rather than pave a set route; see
where it would lead, somewhere, nowhere or in all directions, with some notes on which to draw, in a
sense modelling the interview on some of Taussig’s own techniques of ethnographic research. I told him
we were interested in machines, in exploring to what extent they are to be dreaded or treasured, and
this triggered him to kick the conversation of by drafting a talk he would be giving in Berlin at the
House of World Culture.
MICHAEL TAUSSIG: A good starting point would
be B. Traven’s book The Death Ship,
an intricate study
about work I’ve never seen equalled. The paradox here
is that these machines, which enslave and destroy the
sailors, are also story-tellers, human or para-human,
and the sailors talk to them, in their imaginations, in
their actual beings. This aspect is part of actually a
much larger project I have, which is collective work,
and songs in collective work, songs recorded by
anthropologists, sometimes from Africa … work,
songs, large groups of people … I’m thinking of old
stuff, pre-tape recorders, today’s anthropologists don’t
even do that stuff like that, it’s still like in the 50s, as
Laura Bohannan pointed out in her book Return to
I talk about this a little bit in my What Color
Is the Sacred? book, where I have a photograph of so-
called tribesmen in Bengal up to their chins, 12 or 15
of them in a bath, a vat, working through the hours,
paddling this indigo stuff which stinks like crazy and
of course is deeply coloured, and their job is to froth
it up and to get it to oxygenate and they’re supposed
to sing obscene songs. So I am actually interested in
collective work, songs and obscene songs, and I think
it is obscene songs at work that have something to do
with this animistic quality I see in this person-object,
or if you want person-machine relationship that is
animated. I want to explore what Marx calls praxis;
that comes from Hegel, where the worker acts on
the object and the object works on the worker, they
form a sort of mystical unity, which at the same time
is incredibly practical. Craftsmen and craftswomen
are famous for their knowledge of the work process
and the skill of their body, working on whatever it is,
leather, glass, silver, frothing, or even unskilled labour.
text by KEVIN W. MOLIN
images by CENTREFOLD
63: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
‘I want to explore what Marx calls praxis; that comes from Hegel, where the worker
acts on the object and the object works on the worker, they form a sort of mystical unity,
which at the same time is incredibly practical.’
Centrefold scrapbook 8: Fe.a Æramesh
64: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
That’s the larger horizon, and I would string together
The Death Ship with stills lrom a nlm calleo The Wages
of Fear, I don’t know if you’ve ever seen it, made in
the ¯0s, Irench nlm, it`s about lour guys oriving two
trucks in Central America, full of dynamite, to snuff
out a nre, but il they orive too carelessly they coulo
be blown to smithereens, ano so the nlm is extremely
tense. That`s the nlm, it`s stuoying that tension. In
certain parts ol the nlm you see the truck sort ol on
the verge of a huge pothole, the camera zooms in onto
the tyres, these huge tyres, and the tyre becomes like
the main character in the nlm, it becomes like a person
and you’re sitting at the edge of the seat, sort of trying
to get this thing to move without moving too much.
K.W. MOLIN: So the tyre has a kind life of its own,
sort of independent from the human, would you say?
MT: It might turn out that way if one studies it very
carefully, but I would say more that it’s very dependent
KWM: On being fetishised by someone?
MT: No no, you’re making me think … I was thinking
it’s very dependent on the worker: the worker’s job is to
somehow try and harness that life, but the life escapes
him or her to some extent too. How it takes on a life
ol its own I`m not sure, but I oo think nlm can almost
automatically enhance this phenomenon, I don’t know
why, nlm has a magical power. The thiro relerence I
want to make is lrom an Amazonian Inoian, in a nlm
called The Laughing Alligator, a 45 second shot of him
ntting a blue leather to an arrow, which is just tuckeo
under his armpit, and he’s just got a loin cloth type
ol thing, muscley guy, the nlm works very close to the
body and the face, and this arrow comes out like it’s
lrom his booy. He rolls the nbre on his thigh, makes it
into a thin string, and that takes him about 10 seconds,
and with incredible skill he connects this feather to
the end of the arrow, and it turns as he’s doing it, the
blueness of the feather goes black, gets light blue and
dark blue, and the feather seems to have a life of its
own, it seems to be thinking. This connection is so
seductive where you’ve got this beautiful guy, beautiful
body, this thing is like emerging from his body, this
feather is totally magical, and it’s twirling away, and the
skill is incredible and he’s so relaxed. It looks so easy.
And the last example I have is the magic of some
descriptions of these shamans taking stuff out of their
Centrefold scrapbook 1: Ellen Cantor
65: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
mouths that I have in my essay ‘Viscerality, Faith, and
Skepticism’. This is a description by a white man in
around 1900 of a shaman who he wanted to teach him
magic stuff, and a substance comes out of the body,
a sort of white substance and it stretches like crazy
and then it collapses, gets back into his body, he takes
it out of his body again, revolves it in his hand; it’s a
very detailed description, maybe a page, and I think
we might call it ‘conjuring’, it’s supposed to be like the
power, to contain the power: a material substance that
is also the spiritual power to kill or to cure, and because
this substance has all these unreal, surreal properties,
so intimate to the human body but it can stretch across
mountains to kill other people, this to me is like the
ur-materiality. It’s the magical art of the big guys who
through nature are themselves endowed with power by
a shaman. I’m so intrigued by this substance, to call it
a machine might be seen as stretching things, but on
the other hand it’s probably nice to have a very broad
oennition ol what a machine is. That`s eno ol my story.
KWM: That is a fascinating question; what is a
machine? And even now that you are mentioning the
body, the body as separate from the machine…
MT: Because a lot of people look at machines as if they
are unrelateo to the booy, right? Almost by oennition.
KWM: Well, at least as something separate, sure.
A connection here could be made with William
Burroughs, whose ‘cut-up technique’ you acknowledge
as a great innuence to your work. This technique is
employed at large in The Soft Machine, a machine as
‘control system’, be it language, time or the regulated
body, a machine however ‘gone berserk’ that spits
out broken and erratic sentences because ‘whatever
you feed into the machine on subliminal level the
machine will process — So we feed in “dismantle
thyself ” and authority is emaciated’.
It is almost as if
the book was written by this machine, or a body that
is indiscernible from the machine: ‘We fold writers of
all time in together and record radio programs, movie
sound tracks, TV and juke box songs all the words
of the world stirring around in a cement mixer and
pour in the resistance message “Calling partisans of
all nation—Cut word lines—Shift lin-guals—Free
doorways— Vibrate “tourists”—Word failing —Photo
falling—Break through in Grey Room’

MT: I should really check that out … Nice connections
Centrefold scrapbook 1. Left: Filiberto Skid, right: Matt Bryans
66: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
… I don’t know why Burroughs is so keen on that
machine analogy though. I think he’s this sort of tough
guy, Brecht had the same thing, a lot of them, Germans
did, in the 1920s when they were deep into what is
called Expressionism and then they worked out of that
in a 180 degree turn into this anti-Expressionism they
called New Objectivism, and that’s where I think the
machine analogy, the machine metaphor, becomes
very frequent, very powerful. So Brecht has the
‘A-effect’, he doesn’t even call it alienation effect, and
I think they’re into the Soviet Union, jumping past the
Futurists, all into the fucking machines and cog wheels,
hugely powerful metaphors right for those decades,
two decades or so. But then Burroughs is writing in the
early ‘60s, he’s totally into this cut-up that he learned
from Bryon Gysin, and we have to try and understand
why the cut-up should be seen in a mechanistic way. I
could posit some relationships but I’m not sure about
them. I mysell nno it gets in the way to be so machinic
about it. I prefer to stick with language or politics, but
he’s very into this cold objectivism, he’s a sentimental
lyrical guy but he keeps chopping it off you know, the
minute he nnos himsell getting a bit romantic it`s like
he takes a pill. Someone could write something about
that, but it’s not for me. I was thinking as we were
talking earlier about the Deleuze machine quality, in A
Thousand Plateaus: it seems very important in [Deleuze
and Guattari’s] writing, the rhizome seems pretty
organic, to call that a machine seems a huge stretch,
but I always recoil also when I think about Burroughs,
about this machinic metaphor applied to society and
onto thinking, I can’t remember but I thought I once
understood why they were doing it, tremendous anti-
humanistic impulse, we all think we are soft with no
power and it turns out we are tiny cogwheels in a huge
machine and we are set into motion by forces we do
not unoerstano. I oon`t nno that very helplul at all.
KWM: I suppose it might be an issue of language. In
the concluding chapter of I Swear I Saw This, when you
dwell on those afterthoughts that frustratingly only
make one think through an event in its aftermath, you
liken handwriting to being ‘an ancient technology that
allows the pen to slide away from forming letters and
words to form pictures and back again to words.’ You
then go on to say that ‘you start in the margin next
to the relevant entry and end up God knows where,
perhaps right here at the end of a book about drawings
in nelowork notebooks, namely my own.`
In a way
we’re getting back to the cut-up technique, the pen
perhaps being a sort of machine itself. And then in
another passage, when you’re looking at the notebook
as a fetish object that does no damage being fetishized,
endowed with a life of its own, becoming ‘an extension
of oneself, if not more self than oneself.’ You also
compare the notebook to the camera, saying that if the
camera is a technical device that often gets in the way
gets between you ano people the oiary or nelowork
notebook is ‘a technical device of a very different order
and even more magical than the much-acclaimed
magic of photography.’
So, what I am thinking here
is whether there is a hierarchy of different machines,
what they can achieve or give us … and whether this
cut-up method is exclusive to notebooks, because in a
sense this mixture of fragments and texts and sound
and image and video is pretty much why people are
so attracteo to give up their lree time to nll their own
personal blogs, which also might get a life of their own,
get fetishised in not necessarily an alienating way.
MT: I think ol a blog as nrst oll somewhere between
a notebook and a published book. There’s other things
as well, but it doesn’t have the privacy of a notebook,
the notebook is generally for oneself. I put a lot of
store I suppose on the physicality of a notebook, the
pages, the colour of the ink, its crumpled nature as
something that’s been in a pocket, that’s been around
for months or years. I suspect in many ways it’s easier
to write in a notebook than it is to blog, because you
need a computer, but I guess nowadays with iPhones
and all this, or even cheaper phones, people might be
blogging, right? Younger people especially, with good
eyes, are incredibly artistic, let’s just take the iPhone,
it can be like a notebook, right? It stores information,
you add stuff to it, you can blog, you could write stuff
to yourself, it can also function as a tool to reach others,
so what happens to my sense of the physicality of the
notebook in this circumstance? Looks like it has to
move over, why is the notebook any more material
than an iPhone, that’s a question as a sort of critique,
I’m criticizing myself. Do you think people fetishise
their iPhones in the same way?
KWM: I don’t think smartphones are used in the same
way that the notebook is, but then again, people also
make varied use of both notebooks and phones. I
think of it more as a tool for communication, to have
constant connection to the internet or email, to record
67: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
sounds or talks and take photos, so you have these
multiple functions within one device and less stuff to
carry. In terms of written annotation though, I don’t
think it’s that useful or much used, it takes too long to
write anything longer than text messages or one liners.
MT: One thing is it might be a lot harder to do
drawings, writing and drawings…
KWM: There are applications for doing drawings,
but it’s certainly not the same thing as using a pencil.
Personally, I still use notebooks a lot; most other
students I know use notebooks. In lectures I see one or
two students taking notes on their laptops, but I can’t
keep up typing that fast. Sometimes I record things,
but then, you nno yoursell sometimes recoroing more
that you have time to listen back to. I suppose you often
take notes and never look back, but I think the process
of you writing down something makes you process it
in some way, or helps you think it through. I wonder
whether when you have this almost unlimited capacity
to record stuff you note and you keep, it’s much
more likely to be unused. I think you record a lot of
inlormation you might nno very irrelevant ano never
look back to.
MT: The thing has gotten out of control…
KWM: The machine consumes it for you, while the
notebook makes you put in more of an effort. I think it
has a oillerent value, it neeos somehow to be nltereo or
thought through before it gets to the page.
MT: Of course a lot of people don’t look at their
notebooks like anthropologists. So we would have
to put a lot of emphasis on the initial act of writing,
and the afterthoughts that might occur, and the after-
afterthoughts, but it’s this imprinting that seems very
important. The next step, which may or may not
occur, is reading, and I make an argument in that
book [I Swear I Saw This] that reading itself is a new
act, and adds a whole lot because you start to read
between the lines, you start to envisage, re-imagine, nll
in blank spaces that you won’t be able to write about.
I think a diary writer, an anthropological notebook
writer, always feels that what they are writing is totally
inadequate, the minute you start to describe something
it suddenly expands in complexity and detail, and you
can never get the pen to move across the page fast or
lar enough . so the nrst thing I wanteo to say here
is that reading, or I call it sometimes re-reading your
notes, is another important sphere of activity. There’s
the actual writing, the physical thing you are putting
on the page, then there’s coming back and reading
that, which is also a very active process because you
are putting stuff there between the lines but it’s not
actually written, the lines evoke it, so that’s a great thing
to do. That can occur with any of the digital media
too, but there’s something, you’re right, about speed
and quantity, the digital machine is so like a garbage
can, it’s got so much material, and so many people
blogging, I’m thinking about Occupy Wall Street,
there’s just tons and tons and tons of stuff, everybody
writing something on their own blog, and I wonder
how many people ever read. If it’s in the newspaper or
a journal you know a lot of other people are reading,
that seems to have more star power, even though you
might know it might not be as interesting as a minority
viewpoint. Puzzling questions…
KWM: This might perhaps relate the notebook to
ideas around noise, being as it is an excess, something
unrepresented, a part that has no part, not good enough
to be in a publication. Like nrst steps, grounowork, a
conversation with your own self that publishing to a
virtual world might not allow to happen.
MT: I must say the way we have been talking, the
concept of the machine, the history of the machine,
and everything, the word machine. It’s puzzling, you
wonder. What do you know about the etymology of
the word?
KWM: (Checking on iPhone) From Greek actually,
from ‘mekhane’, device, means, expedience, contrivance
… something that enables…
MT: I’m thinking of etymology in the Raymond
Williams sense of active social history, looking at the
way it was used in English in the 14
or 16
Century or
Century, it’s possible that Raymond Williams has
this word in his Keywords book.
I think you get a lot out
of etymology, which doesn’t mean how the word was
nrst useo, it`s more like trying to trace its career, with
different types of historical set-ups, production and so
forth, because the word is getting away from us a little
bit. To me the compelling question would be about the
relationship of the machine to the non-machinic, but
68: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
now I’m not sure what the machine is and where to
KWM: Yes, where to draw the line with the non-
machinic. Would that be the body, or could the body
be a machine as well? And then does this imply
everything is a machine, thus nothing is?
MT: It seems to me it has some very strong connotations,
the machine seems to stand for all that is non-human,
and therefore generates hostility, but then, people love
machines as well, right? Steve Jobs, Apple, and so on
and so forth, it’s highly ambivalent.
KWM: That’s perhaps why I was trying to draw
a relation with the notebook as well, in the sense of
extension of oneself, people do think of their phones
and their gadgets as a kind of extension of their body,
MT: Isn’t that Deleuze and Guattari? Everything is
connected to everything else? And then they somehow
see that as machinic. ‘Desiring machines’, that’s what
they talk about. I’m not good on Deleuze and Guattari,
I nno them exasperating, but I remember in that nrst
chapter of Anti-Oedipus the machine is introduced in
a way, as I understand it, to obliterate, set aside the
subject/object distinction, I think that’s what’s key to
them: neither subject nor object, but desiring machines.
K.W. Molin is currently researching for a PhD at the Centre for
Cultural Studies, Goldsmiths College. He is currently writing an
auto-ethnography of education that seeks to make creative use of
the arbitrariness of language, as well as studying experiments on
pigeons and their application into predicting human behaviour.
Centrefold is a series of handmade, limited edition scrapbooks
begun in 2003 by artists Reza Aramesh and Tina Spear. Centre-
fold Scrapbooks are held in private and public collections nation-
ally and internationally including A-Foundation, Philip Aarons,
Tate, and Zabludowicz Collection. www.centrefoldproject.com
1. Taussig gave a talk entitled Occupy Ethnography`, that was
an auto-ethnographic account oI an aIternoon visit to Zuccotti
Park in New York, trying to make sense oI a whole wealth oI
inIormation by Iocusing on the signs and banners that populated its
2. By the time this article is published, the conIerence will have
already taken place. http://www.hkw.de/en/programm/2012/
3. Published under a pseudonym, this is the story oI a sailor
who loses all his documents and prooI oI identifcation and as a
consequence is constantly deported around Europe or imprisoned,
until he eventually fnds work in a death ship` literally, a ship
that is worth more to the owner sunk than Iunctional. Although it`s
an incredibly exploitative situation, the sailor fnds comIort there,
as he transcends toils beyond any limit oI possible endurance.
4. Similarly to B. Traven, the author published this book under a
pseudonym (Elenore Smith Bowen). Subtitled An anthropological
novel`, it`s a book exploring the paradoxes and hypocrisies oI
ethnographic endeavours to observe cultures alien to our own
in a way that proclaims itselI as objective and scientifc without
recognising the arbitrariness oI these parameters themselves.
5. William Burroughs, The Soft Machine, 1961, London: Flamingo,
1995, p.107.
6. Ibid.
7. Michael Taussig, I Swear I Saw This, London: University oI
Chicago Press, 2011, p.141.
8. Ibid., p.25.
9. Indeed there is an entry in which Williams goes a little into the
meaning oI the word machine`, but this is more to distinguish
it Irom the entry mechanical`, a term that in English was used
beIore machine` and which thus gathered along the way Iurther
connotations and associations: frst used pejoratively in the 15

Century to indicate non-agricultural work, then Irom the 17

Century both as a description by materialists and as an abuse by
idealists to designate a universe explainable through science, it
is not until the 18
Century with the rise oI industrialism that
machine` and mechanical` began to aIIect each other`s meanings.
The new machines, started up work 'on their own¨, 'replacing
human labour¨, suggested an association with an idea oI the
universe without a God or divine directing Iorce, and also an
association with the older (and socially aIIected) sense oI routine,
unthinking activity thus action without consciousness` (Williams,
1983, p.202).
69: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
Centrefold scrapbook 8. Left: Florian Foithmayr, right: !icki Tornton
70: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
ince the beginning of the new millennium,
and more prominently in the last four years,
one can detect two main tropes – in politi-
cal and economic discourses – dominating
debates both in mainstream media and within more
‘academic’ discussions in human and social sciences:
‘pre-emptive politics’, and the ‘general economic cri-
sis` generateo by the nnancial crash in 2008. On the
one hand, pre-emptive politics has functioned as a new
understanding, and performance, of any form of gov-
ernmental politics after 9/11 – often referred to as the
major turning point in contemporary regimes of secu-
rity and fear, and their extremitisation of such regimes
after this event.
On the other hano, the nnancial crash
in 2008 unmasked the extreme fallibility, and ruthless-
ness, of a politico-economical system that until then
had been thought as neutral, reliable, and that would
have led towards the ‘end of history’, resulting in the
pacincation ol the whole globaliseo society. However
conceptually distant they may seem, these two broad
themes appear as being two specinc` lorms ol another
entity which not only generates them, but also is over-
shaooweo by the manilest visibility ol its two specinc
This more abstract entity subsuming the other two is
the general category of Time. Pre-emptive politics ex-
poses a particular relation with time inasmuch as in-
stead of being a form of politics that rationally acts on
the basis of events already happened, it is performed
by preventing unfavourable political possibilities. In
relation to the general economic crisis, the whole of
nnancial capitalism is baseo both on the immateriality
of its economic exchanges and on predictions of pos-
sible ‘futures’; the enclosure of the future through the
obligation of debt, a plague so common nowadays, is
one of the most visible consequences of a determinate
economic management of time. Nowadays, time – and
more precisely, the dispositif of time (or ‘time machine’)
– is the main tool of any sort of social control, and this
a Device to Map Capitalism?
Prophecy is self-contradictory. Nobody can have absolute knowledge about the future.
By defnition, the future hasn’t happened. And if knowledge existed, it would change
the future – which would make the knowledge invalid.

- Philip K. Dick
text by YARI LANCI
71: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
Buster Keaton Marionette
72: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
article will investigate some of the ways and the rea-
sons which have led us to be caught in a vice-like grip.
Also, the enquiry will employ some examples from the
literary genre ol science nction in oroer to unoerstano
the extent to which the time machine has often been
considered one of the main weapons to gain social, po-
litical and economical control in this particular form
of literature. Philosophically speculative in character
ano lrom a niche ol minor literature`, sci-n has ol-
ten had the ability to see and understand the (dystopic)
tendencies of the times its texts were written in. Au-
thors ol sci-n woulo crystallise in their narratives these
tendencies, projecting them into different possible fu-
tures through the peculiarity ol sci-n`s lormal literary
oevices. Since sci-n speculates about luture series ol
events (and their forms), time has very often been one
of its principal categories of investigation.
In order to address such an all-encompassing subject,
let's begin by locusing specincally on the allegeo ab-
straction’ of the concept of time. Its quality of ab-
straction emerges lrom the oilnculty ol an absolute
oennition ol time besioes its relation to its measure-
ment. One woulo justinably argue that time cannot be
characterised by the quality of abstraction insofar as,
especially from the standpoint of our subjectivities, it
is more concrete than ever. Time distinguishes and di-
vides up every single moment of our daily lives, and
the now ol our existence is oenneo by the oiscrete ,ano
measurable) quantities of time. However, the real issue
here is the arbitrary, and socio-culturally constructed,
imposition of the measurement of time.
The critique of the historically-determined emergence
ol time measurement nnos one ol its most signincant
examples in the work of the anarcho-primitivist phi-
losopher John Zerzan.
In his article ‘Time and Its Dis-
contents’, Zerzan traces the study of the category of
time in a series of different literatures, from which he
argues that every branch of knowledge, despite innu-
merable efforts to grasp ‘what is time’, implicitly fails
to explain it and can only provide partial (if not alto-
gether tautological) descriptions of a general category
which, although tackled from different angles, explains
it in itself. In less abstract terms, time is not a precondi-
tion ol its oennition ano measurement, but rather the
Zerzan’s review of notions of time highlights the sym-
bolic or psychological dimensions that this idea neces-
sarily embodies. Time often becomes a psychological
categorisation through which the subject creates an or-
oer out ol nuio continuity or chaos. But, Zerzan con-
tinues, ‘it seems fairly plain that the presence of time
has far deeper causes than mere mental confusion.’

Notwithstanoing the epistemological oilnculties which
characterise any description of time however, Zerzan’s
main argument is that the idea of time – at least in its
form crystallised throughout modernity – has forced
humanity to ‘adapt’, or in other words, to supinely
comply with it. As Zerzan puts it, ‘there is nothing even
remotely similar to time. It is as unnatural and yet as
universal as alienation’. Furthermore, he argues:
[w]e have gone along with the substantiation of time
so that it seems a fact of nature, a power existing
in its own right. The growth of a sense of time –
the acceptance of time – is a process of adaptation
to an ever more reineo worlo. It is a constructeo
dimension, the most elemental aspect of culture.
Time’s inexorable nature provides the ultimate
model of domination.
It is clear that Marx plays a central role in Zerzan’s
critique of modern culture. Marx brilliantly demon-
strated the ways in which time became a powerful tool
for the accomplishment of capital’s inner logic and
drive – the extraction of increasingly enlarged quanti-
ties of surplus-value – through a historical analysis of
the emergence of the capitalist mode of production,
ano more specincally, with the mechanisation ol inous-
trial production.
Historically, the evolution of human-
‘What can be learned from sci-f’s examples regarding an established ruling order and
its utilitarian use of time? How can this sci-f be read as a criticism of capitalism, espe-
cially in the dreaded neoliberal form which, through the very time machine, is creating
a horde of precarious “entrepreneurs of themselves”, driven by what Ivor Southwood
recently defned “non-stop inertia”?’
73: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
ity has often been described through the development
of tools with which humanity gained control over na-
ture. From artisanal tools to ensure daily supplies of
looo ,through hunting, nshing, agriculture, ano so on,
to the development of weapons and new techniques
of warfare, the employment of technology has been
one of the main traits that characterised the difference
between instinct and a purposeful will for any kind of
labour process.
However, the Industrial Revolution in England
markeo a signincant shilt: Marx unoerstooo that the
mechanisation and, more generally, the industrialisa-
tion of production was a phenomenon strictly linked to
the management of the time spent to extract surplus-
value. Machines helped capital to extract increased
(and progressively enlarged) amounts of surplus-value
over a determinate period of time. The entire Marx-
ian labour theory of value is based on a time machine
that regulates the production of value through the
exploitation of labour-power. Marx recognised that
the value of what he called abstract labour – within
a previously established set of social relations, e.g. in-
dustrial capitalism – was measured in units of time
congealed in the production of commodities through
the labour process. Worker’s cells of time within the
production process are the driving motor of capitalist
reproduction, and exploitation. Also, following Marx’s
inquiry, labour becomes productive – that is, able to
produce surplus-value – due to the division of labour
ano oue to the knowleoge that capital ,personineo in
individual capitalists) invested in the organisation of
labour within the factory, by disciplining labour-power
to perform tasks in pre-determined intervals of time.

Development and innovations in large-scale industrial
production have always aimed directly at the reduc-
tion of time employed to produce a commodity. This
process of reduction, consequently, would allow the
class of capitalists to extract what Marx called rela-
tive surplus-value without lengthening the working day
for the workers. Moreover, if we leave the sphere of
production in which surplus-value is extracted, Marx
maintains that time itself is the fundamental category
in commodity circulation. As he points out:
Circulation time and production time are mutually
exclusive. During its circulation time, capital does
not function as productive capital, and therefore
produces neither commodities nor surplus-value ...
The expansion and contraction of the circulation
time hence acts as a negative limit on the contraction
or expansion of the production time, or of the
scale on which a capital of a given magnitude can
In other words, the circulation of commodities must
avoid any delay so that the production process – the
‘hidden abode’ where surplus-value can be extracted –
is never interrupted. Capital has never had a particular
preference for limits, but delays in time dangerously
jeopardise the constant production and extraction of
surplus-value. This is why it is compelled to always
generate new ways ol employing time as a tool to lulnl
its own purposes.

Furthermore, in analysing the emergence of the lib-
eral capitalist market economy, Michel Foucault’s ge-
nealogical method for analysing power relations traced
during this same period the development of new ‘sci-
ences’ and disciplines designed for the rationalisation
of different amounts of collected data, like statistics.
The main aim of these new disciplines was to outline
patterns and trends regarding almost every aspect of
human life (what Foucault calls biopolitics) and other
aspects of society – with a particular emphasis on the
liberal tradition of the study of the ‘natural’ move-
ments of the market – in order to act on a predicted
rational outcome. Every object of these new disci-
plines’ enquiries were somehow related to the linearity
ol the nowing ol time which, il analyseo rationally`
ano scientincally`, woulo have createo the possibility
to foresee trends and tendencies and, therefore, pre-
‘If the frst type of sci-f time machine – the individual trying to escape an established
course of events – has the potential to be liberating, the second one – an entire society
based on the enclosure of time through “scientifc” predictions on the future – destroys
every kind of subjective and collective political agency.’
74: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
sented the chance to act pre-emptively upon them. As
Foucault lucidly shows, this paradoxical ‘memory of
the future’ is inextricably intertwined with the devel-
opment of the capitalist mode of production and its
relation to the control over time and series of aleatory
As John E. Wilson pointed out, the foundation-
al premises of these modern ‘sciences’ have not disap-
peared but rather are still the fundamental assumption
of neoliberal economics, since ‘[neoliberal] economics
train people to make highly complex hypotheses based
on abstract premises about human behaviour. In these
disciplines hypotheses are tested by statistics that re-
duce people to numbers; sometimes they are used to
make policy.’
From this sketch one can discern that both Foucault and
Zerzan converge on a radical critique of the capitalist
mode of production and social relations presupposed
by it, following the path inaugurated by Marx. Either
in the form of a post-Enlightenment politico-econom-
ical rationality, or in the form of a utilitarian employ-
ment of the creation of time measurement, these three
authors understood that throughout the formation of
mooernity time ,ano its scientinc` measurement, has
become one of the main tools that capitalism has used
for its unending accumulation process, to the detriment
of the lives of workers. In liberal modernity everything
seems to be related to regulation and taxonomy. Time
becomes a scientinc methoo, a cultural artelact, baseo
on the measurement of intervals, measurement by
comparison being the basis of Aristotelian science, em-
piricism, ano scientinc classincation.
Time, far from
being a neutral entity oenneo by the measuring ol its
nowing becomes, in these authors, the oevice through
which capitalism has succeeded to subject humanity to
its economic and political purposes.
The literary genre ol science nction has always playeo
with the idea of pre-emptive action over a future
which, in advance and as a datum, one can have full
knowledge of. Time travel stories and texts populated
by precognitives and omniscient technologies are com-
mon tropes in this peculiar form of popular culture.
It is possible to distinguish two different types of sci-
ence nction baseo on the tampering with ol time. The
nrst is characteriseo by the attempt to escape the natu-
ral’ course of events. Usually, the main character of
these stories travels backwards or forwards in time –
via a time travelling device – to change one or more
unfortunate occurrences. It is usually a single individ-
ual who deals with the chance offered by his
machine and tries to defeat time’s unchangeable New-
tonian-based linearity.
The second group, conversely,
is characterised by a qualitatively different use of time
travelling or precognition.
In fact, in the stories be-
longing to this secono group, it is a specinc ruling oroer
of the world that uses any form of the ‘time machine’
to maintain and defend the established order. In these
stories, the concept of time plays a central role along-
side the implications of the idea according to which it
is possible to act pre-emptively towards a future that,
by oennition, it is not yet possible to know.
One of the most brilliant examples of the ways in
which the notion of time can function as a means
to control might be found in Philip K. Dick’s use of
precognition`. Generally, within the sci-n genre, pre-
cognition is the psionic ability that allows its bearer to
have perfect knowledge of the future or, to put it differ-
ently, in Dick`s sci-n, precognition allows to cognitively
map future series of events. In his ‘The Variable Man’
Dick slightly differentiates on the theme of
precognition. In this short story, Dick depicts a distant
futuristic society, Terra – one might assume Terra is the
name humanity will give to the Earth in 2136 AD of
the short story – that is engaging in war with Proxima
Centaurus. The entire war operations of Terra are de-
cided by the ‘SRB machines’ that provide the ratio (in
a numeric form) of the probable outcome of war be-
tween the Terran Army and Proxima Centaurus. The
SRB machine is the statistical computer which pro-
vides cybernetic outputs, such as the chances of Terra
to win the war in the form of a mathematical ratio, on
the basis of data inputs inserted in its system. This data
is constituted by any kind of information about both
war factors and Terra in general, with the whole war
depending on these SRB readings.
In this case, precognition is not a ‘mimetic’ map of
future events, but only a partial prediction in the form
ol statistical possibility. It might be argueo that nnan-
cial capital, if one was to trace a comparison, seems
to be working on the same kind of principles. These
are principles that result in the complex abstraction
ol nnancial capitalism but that, however, constitute its
main pillars: a statistical performative prediction over a
future which, for the very prediction generated before
75: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
‘Capital has never had a particular preference for limits, but delays in
time dangerously jeopardise the constant production and extraction of
surplus-value. Tis is why it is compelled to always generate new ways
of employing time as a tool to fulfl its own purposes.’
Tricycle Family
76: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
it, manifests itself in the predicted form.
Also, in ‘The
Variable Man’, the entire civil society is managed by
the statistical principles of the SRB machines, which
act on the perfect control and management of individ-
ual subjects.
In the diegesis of this novella, the SRB
machines stop working properly and stop giving accu-
rate predictions on the outcome of war when Thomas
Cole is teleported by mistake from the beginning of the
Twentieth century to Terra in 2136. This, as the sto-
ry unfolds, was as a result of Cole’s unmanageability
due to his ‘unskilled’ capacity for labour. He belonged
to a phase of capitalism that was still related to the
processes of production, if we slightly bend Jameson’s
distinctions on the stages of capitalism.
the SRB machines could not predict how he could in-
nuence the war against Froxima Centaurus. He is the
variable man and for this reason, he must be killed.
Dick’s attempt to map an informatized postmodern
society in ‘The Variable Man’ had as its foundation
the different conception of time that the statistical pre-
diction generates. In fact, it seems that at least in this
attempt of ‘cognitive mapping’ there is no prevalence
of categories of space rather than time as it was with
Modernist concepts of time, such as the
Bergsonian durèe and the role of memory in the works
of Proust and Joyce, are very different from Dick’s ide-
as of precognition and statistical probability. They are
not only related to a different temporal direction, i.e.
the one towards the past and present while the other
is towards the future, but also a qualitative difference.
Dick is trying to give us the tools to understand how
the totality of a society (or mode of production) aims
to gain complete control over predictable series of
events and behaviors of fragmented cognitive ‘crippled
What can be learneo lrom sci-n`s examples regaroing
an established ruling order and its utilitarian use of
time? How can this sci-n be reao as a criticism ol capi-
talism, especially in the dreaded neoliberal form which,
through the very time machine, is creating a horde of
precarious ‘entrepreneurs of themselves’, driven by
what Ivor Southwooo recently oenneo non-stop in-
Arguably, the inevitable future denounced by
Elmer and Opel as the main focus of politics today
in neoliberal economics is artincially constructeo as
inevitable`, through the abstracteo means ol nnancial
capitalism and their statistical time machines.
It is possible now to get back to the two specinc` lorms
of time mentioned at the beginning of this article. The
two lorms ,pre-emptive politics ano nnancial crisis,
connrm that they appear to be contraoictory il poli-
tics is performed by pre-emptive means, why did poli-
tics lail to prevent ,ano pre-empt, the nnancial crash
ano the violent artinciality ol the economic oogma
which generated it? Is it still possible to believe that
the political is a pure domain, unrelated to econom-
ics? On closer inspection, both are part of the same
mechanism of the neoliberal philosophy of ‘no future’.
Politics prevents other agencies from interfering with
the mechanisms that allow the capital accumulation of
a lew central nnancial actors. The collusion ol the two
domains is barefaced.

Also, it is clear that forty years of neoliberal econom-
ics coupleo with an intensineo version ol nnancial
capitalism – have found in the dispositif of debt their
main weapon. As the Italian philosopher Franco ‘Bifo’
Berardi said:
What do you store in a bank? You store time. But is
the money that is stored in the bank my past time –
the time that I have spent in the past? Or does this
money give me the possibility of buying a future?
In an era characterised by the loss of the relationship
between time and value,
debt reintegrates the time
machine as a means of control and subjection.
new capitalist ‘enclosure’ of time is possibly the com-
mon trait which better describes our contemporary
conoition. Il the nrst type ol sci-n time machine the
individual trying to escape an established course of
events – has the potential to be liberating, the second
one – an entire society based on the enclosure of time
through scientinc` preoictions on the luture oestroys
every kind of subjective and collective political agency.
Is this not what has happened in the last ten years with
dissident subjectivities? The multitude has failed. Even
the word is falling into disuse. New spaces of struggle,
as theorists like Terranova, Lazzarato, and Marazzi
have already understood, must be generated by resist-
ance to the new nnancial enclosure ol time ol neolib-
eralism. With its continual speculative concerns with
time, sci-n in the nnal part ollers particular insight into
the mechanisms of exploitation under neoliberalism
in relation to time management ano control. The nrst
paragraph of a work based on these premises might
77: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
start in this way:
The cognitive mapping of contemporary societies in
which the late nnancial inlormatizeo capitalist mooe
of production prevails appears as an increasing collec-
tion ol aesthetic attempts, postmooern science-nction
appears as its elementary political ngurator`. Our in-
vestigation therefore begins with the analysis of non-
utopian science-nction ano its relation to the neoliberal
time machine...
Yari Lanci is currently a PhD candidate in the Department of
Politics at Goldsmiths, University of London. His research inter-
ests include the discursive category of ‘war’ in continental politi-
.ol t/·r,, tio· tro.·l, t/· iot·r··.tio· o·to··o ·.i·o.· f.tio ooc
¡liti.ol ¡/il·¡/,, ooc t/· oo,· io o/i./ ·.i-f .oo o· .o¡l·c
with post-structuralist philosophy to generate new resistant sub-
jectivities. yari.lanci@gmail.com
Jarek Piotrowski was born in Bialystok, Poland and currently
lives and works in Munich. His images and installations cover a
variety of media. Recent exhibitions include BRP Paper, Black
Rat Press, London 2011; Bimbo Box 5, Munich, 2011; Alice
Dans les Tenebres, Galerie Popy Arvani, Paris, 2010; Lehner/
Piotrowski, Galerie Andreas Höhne, Munich, 2010; and Soft
Machine, Gallerie8, Hackney, London, 2012.
1. Philip K. Dick, The World Jones Made, New York: Vintage, 1993 |1956|,
2. |We are witnessing| a new governmental logic that reconfgures a
democracy seemingly under threat. Buttressed by terms such as preemption,
security, and inevitability, this logic is reshaping public space, reconfgur-
ing the body politics oI civil disobedience, and producing a new Iaith-based
politics where logic and reason give way to gut instinct and blind trust`.
Greg Elmer & Andy Opel, Preempting Dissent. the Politics of an Inevitable
Future, Winnipeg: Arbeiter Ring Publishing, 2008, pp. 11-12.
3. In relation to the emergence oI the clock and its importance throughout the
modern rationalisation oI time measurement, see David S. Landes Revolution
in Time. Clocks and the Making of the Modern World. Belknap Press oI
Harvard University Press, 2000.
4. John Zerzan, Time and Its Discontents`. http://www.primitivism.com/
time.htm (last accessed on 18.04.2012).
5. Throughout the three volumes oI Capital (and especially in Vol.1), Marx
always maintains that the drive Ior the extraction oI surplus-value Ior ac-
cumulation, and more precisely the drive in itselI to extract surplus-value,
has always been capital`s prime motor. Marx never stopped to highlight the
always present tautological character oI capital, that is the production Ior
production`s sake (or extraction oI surplus-value Ior enlarged extraction oI
surplus-value`s sake).
6. The Iormation oI an entire class oI disciplined Iactory workers ('docile
bodies') is Iamously outlined in Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish.
London: Penguin , 1991.
7. Karl Marx, Capital Jol.2, London: Penguin Books, 1992, p.203.
8. I borrow here the term memories oI the Iuture` Irom Kode9 & the
Spaceape`s album by the same name (Hyperdub, 2006).
9. Jon E. Wilson, The Community oI Things`, Soundings 48, Summer 2011,
10. In relation to this last point, I have to thank J.D. Taylor Ior his Ieedback
on an early draIt oI this article.
11. Sci-f has oIten been characterised by its prevalence oI male characters.
For a non-male dominated Iorm oI sci-f see, Ior example, the works oI
Ursula K. Le Guin and Octavia E. Butler.
12. To this frst group belong movies like Robert Zemeckis` trilogy Back to
the Future |1985-1990| and texts like H.G. Wells` The Time Machine |1895|,
Bradbury`s A Sound oI Thunder` |1952|, Philip K. Dick`s Dr. Futuritv
|1960|, A Little Something Ior Us Tempunauts` |1975|, and in a diIIerent
way since it involves the time oI precognition and not directly time travel-
ling The World Jones Made |1956|.
13. To this second group belong movies like the trilogy Terminator and texts
like Philip K. Dick`s The Skull` |1952|, The Variable Man` |1953|, The
Minority Report` |1956|, The Man in The High Castle |1962|.
14. Philip K. Dick, The Variable Man`, in The Collected Stories of Philip K.
Dick, Jol.1. New York: Citadel Press, 1987, pp.163-220.
15. A selI-Iulflling prophecy that Karl Popper called 'the udipus eIIect¨.
Karl Popper, The Povertv of Historicism, London: Routledge, 2004.
16. A politico-economical rationality that Foucault will later call govern-
17. Fredric Jameson, Cognitive Mapping`. In Nelson, C. & Grossberg, L.
(eds.) Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture. University oI Illinois Press,
1990, pp.346-60.
18. Fredric Jameson, Postmodernism, or The Cultural Logic oI Late Capital-
ism`, New Left Review I/146, 1984, pp.53-92.
19. Karl Marx, Capital Jol.1, London: Penguin Books, 1990, p.481.
20. |T|his state oI insecurity which taps into our deepest Iears and desires,
much as neurosis draws on and distorts the unconscious is artifcially
maintained, while being presented as inevitable, just a Iact oI liIe`. Ivor
Southwood, Non-Stop Inertia, AlresIord: Zero Books, 2001, p.3.
21. Franco BiIo` Berardi, Time, Acceleration, and Violence`, e-fux journal
#27, 2011. See also his AIter the Future. Edinburgh: AK Press, 2011.
22. Jean Baudrillard, Symbolic Exchange and Death, Sage Publications,
23. See also Maurizio Lazzarato, La Fabbrica dellUomo Indebitato. Roma:
DeriveApprodi, 2012 and David Graeber, Debt. The First 5,000 Years, New
York: Melville House Publishing, 2011.
24. My slight variation oI Marx`s frst paragraph in Capital Jol.1 hopes not
to hurt the sensitivity oI Marx`s most Ierocious Iollowers. However, I share
with them the stance according to which Marx`s frst paragraph oI Capital
Jol.1 is possibly one oI the most powerIul theoretically and methodologi-
cally perIect paragraphs in the history oI literature.
78: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
hrough Howard Slater’s eyes, we see the
whole world as some nuthouse exercise
yard, a global, therefore endless, circuitous
assembly line. Its ‘product’ is a workforce to run
the same information-network that produces it.
The serpent eats its own tail, language controls
language, and the by-product of this process is our
own, very human slavery. Slater shows us a vast,
pornographic time and motion study, but with no
operator as a ‘subject’, its drivers are on permanent
leave. The word ‘tour’, after all, was derived from
the Latin ‘tornus’, to turn, as in a lathe, which was
perhaps the ultimate machine: it alone made other
machines. On Slater’s landscape, it seems to me,
there are only objects, but nonetheless he urges us
to break through, to become subjects once again.
I reviewed an issue of Slater’s magazine Break/
Flow, with its Deleuzian title, in the late 1990s,
for Ptolemaic Terrascope, one of the underground
publications I wrote for at that time. Slater has
developed his incredible style in similarly no-
pressure environments, something we should be
grateful for. According to what is known as ‘the
blurb’, appropriately in this case, Slater ‘improvises
around what Walter Benjamin could have meant
by the phrase “affective classes”’, and via this
‘messianic shard’, he develops ‘a therapeutic micro-
politics by way of a mourning for the Workers’
Movement and a grappling with the “becomings
of capital”’.
Slater states, rightly, that late twentieth and early
twenty-nrst century capitalism creates internaliseo
subjects. He then urges us to mine ‘our anxieties and
vulnerabilities’, and via doing so create ‘markers’
in a ‘way of life that is precarious.’ He warns that
if these anxieties ‘remain unshared, we can lose
access to insights into capitalism as well as losing
chances for deeper levels of solidarity.’ Slater is
exploring the ‘possibilities for collective “affective”
practices to combat capitalism’s colonisation of the
In this sense, Slater shares some of Zygmunt
Bauman’s concerns. As work and community
becomes variously fragmented, idiotic, scarce,
pointless, brutalizing, and literally ‘senseless’ for
many people, the human subject turns inwards, but
once there, it nnos no grouno on which to stano
upright, only a bottomless voio to be nlleo, with
nobooy to hano who might tell us how to nll it.
This is not simple exegesis, I have seen it in some
of the more troubled students I have engaged with.
Many of them shared key symptoms: sheer rage
followed by a retreat to an inner landscape, neither
state being able to articulate what was happening
to the whole psychic organism. After witnessing
this several times, I feel very strongly that what
Slater is urging us to do in this book is correct. He
wants us to turn outwards, globally, and turn our
symptoms outwards, to face each other again. It
is appropriate that he once hypothesized a group
Anomie/Bonhomie & Other Writings
(Mute Books)
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80: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
called the ‘Secessionist Outernational.’
So, Slater’s work is not simply interchangeable with
Bauman’s either. He clearly emerges from Marxism,
but specincally the Ireuoo-Marxist traoitions ol the
twentieth century, traditions themselves halted and
fragmented by two world wars and the subsequent
rise of a medicalized western culture. Slater is also a
Situationist of sorts. If Bauman essentially emerges
from the sociological traditions of the late nineteenth
and early twentieth century, Slater emerges from the
art school traditions of the late 1960s and onwards.
He collages poetry, visual or otherwise, and other
more strategic forms of written representation, to
both loosen-up and exemplify his subject matter. The
book’s poetical sections are not simply ‘interludes’, but
exemplincatory parts ol Slater`s argument, ano he
steps off into poetry at the very end, something which
re-performs much of what he has said about language
and politics. But Slater also has things to say about
counter-cultures elsewhere, warning us not to reify
them, but to move them forward continuously.
Similarly, Slater understands that our critiques of
capitalism must move on, positing new units of analysis,
identifying more recent symptoms. If, in the 1970s and
1980s, the home was a key site to focus any critique of
life under capitalism, re-producing as it did the Master-
Slave discourses of the workplace along gendered lines,
and in a similarly brutalizing way, mutating kinship
networks into a kind of sub-Fordist auto-production,
in 2012 the critique should focus – not the best word
to use for the most fragmented of ‘sites’ – on our
contemporary psyches, on so-called ‘individualization’.
Two other sociologists, Richard Sennett and Jonathan
Cobb, wrote about the ‘hidden injuries’ of class,
and like Bauman’s work, their insightful take on it
was diagnostic. But Slater attempts to diagnose and
then go further, in order to give us a framework via
which we might begin to assess what I could call ‘the
hidden injuries of individual fragmentation’, before
externalising them polemically.
The centrepiece of this book is its title essay, ‘Anomie/
Bonhomie: Notes Towards The “Affective Classes”’.
Its sheer brilliance is obvious. Slater begins by placing
us right at the centre of the post-crash storm. In fact,
the whole essay seems to pour into its silent, dead
eye. Slater begins by explaining that the old world
of worker struggle has ended: ‘We are worried that
the class doesn’t want to be a class and that the only
ones who want it thus are not from that class.’ In fact,
worker struggle hasn’t just dried up, it has resulted
in a pathos of injury which cannot be responded to
by anyone except the priests of biopower. Even the
unions cannot help, it is not ‘militant’, Slater suggests,
to be ‘sick’. This sickness circulates inside the prison of
choice, either freedom from work via debt, or freedom
from debt via work. Both ‘choices’ provide:
…forms of withdrawal from the stress and
boredom of (a) an interminable working week (b) a
continuously empty calendar. Both offered endless
abstract time in the moments of calculating how
long there was to go.
That Slater places this in the past tense is speculative,
but it tells you where he is heading with his critique. If
Hegel’s Phenomenology was written unoer the innuence
of the divine, Slater pours out his centrepiece essay
under no less a potent hallucinatory grip. But he writes
out of the abject, battered shoes of all humans who
have lived in the un-communicable horror of this
un-choice and its only possible termination: suicide.
He employs the reggae term ‘sufferation’: mass and
individual suffering combined. He quotes Sun Ra,
saying ‘there’s a change in the air’, asking us if we
‘can hear the heavy silence there’. I hear the silence
all too clearly, and feel its heaviness, as Slater moves
closer to it. He ends this chapter with the concept of
‘affective soviets’, which he claims are a ‘poetic fantasy’
that nonetheless lacks any kind of ‘proprietorship’.
The essay seems to extinguish itself in abstraction at
this point, as it reaches the limit of what is sayable. It
moves into a more gestural mode, via concrete poetry
and drawing. It is, after all, an edge-proposal, and an
essential one, not just a welcome one. Slater, in this
essay, provides a full diagnosis and notes toward a
This, as far as anyone can make such a glib comment
about such serious critiques, is ‘all well and good’. But
what are the objections? The main one, for me, arrives
immediately, during Slater’s piece ‘From Exodus To
Species-Being’, written in 2002, which serves as a
polemical introduction here. Slater says that we build
‘species being’ – Marx’s term – via ‘self exile’, and
accuses those who remain in the wake of this radical
81: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
exile of the ‘inherent laziness of their hard work’.
I have problems with this. If everyone received the kind
of critical education Slater has – no matter where he has
taken it from – then maybe it would be an acceptable
accusation. As they don’t, it is not. I can understand
how provoking people into positions of liberation and
resistance may be a good thing, but there are dangers
and traps, which are equally created by language and
representation, and Slater’s own work does not escape
the phenomena he exposes just because he exposes it.
I also want to sketch in a warning here, which has
been raised by others before – albeit more politely –
about applying ‘nomadism’, ‘exile’ and ‘exodus’, terms
which describe those who are truly ‘outside’, to the
readers of a book published by Mute. To be fair, Slater
is applying those terms to people engaged in ‘mass
migration`, or neeing the lactory, right lrom the start.
But Slater’s book will not reach every person in the
world. It has a particular address, and, I would argue,
an even more particular set of addressees. This may
not have been Slater’s intention, but I worry about a
mis-reading, and really only want to make the point
that one man’s liberating dis-assembly is another man
in pieces. ‘Nomadism’, ‘exile’ and ‘exodus’ are exciting
ano aoventurous lor artists nying lrom Berlin to
London, with copies of this book in their bags, without
ever returning to the already centreless LA from which
they began. But the kind of exodus and exile forced by
Indian corporations in the name of expanding their
middle classes are of a different order entirely, to pick
just one example out of hundreds. Basically, we always
need to be very clear: for whom is ‘exile’ and ‘exodus’
being declared? It is also worth pointing out that this
moment rises out of the almost rabid Deleuzianism of
2002. I began my MA at this point, and some of my
fellow students were simply tripping on it.
Elsewhere, Slater talks about the avant-garde cell, with
their expulsions, the surrealists, and the largely un-
mentioned Situationist International, whom I know
are present in Slater’s thinking because Isidore Isou
and the Lettrists are. Slater describes the ‘expulsed’
cell member as a kind of metaphor for modes of
consciousness in a whole psychic organism – or its
unconscious – understanding that expulsion is a search
for clarity within the remaining group, although this is
ultimately also a kind of psychic hemorrhaging. Slater
argues that the surrealists:
…provide many covert clues to the problem of
how to organise becoming, how to maintain a self-
institutional frame for “open-beings”. Once the
subject is seen as a rhizomatic terrain, a blurring
container of multiple selves, then the old methods
ol political organisation can be oeemeo prolinc in
their failure.
I would argue here that The Party is already far from
dead, and its revival may yet occur. This is not to suggest
that this would be a welcome event, or to claim that The
Party will ever evade what Slater criticises as its old ‘into
polity via logos’ formalism. Slater understands that
this kind of politics is that of the already re-presented,
but that ‘blurring container of multiple selves’ still
manages to put on a tie and present a convincing
enough face to rule for another thousand years, and
this open-ended version risks eventually doing the
same thing: is there a human rhizomatic becoming
which occurs outside of language? Ultimately, I’m
not sure if any grouping, from a pair upwards, can
ever really escape D.W. Winnicott’s observation that
assemblages are always roughly nlty percent provision
ano nlty percent hinorance, ano we oon`t have to look
very far to see the same expulsions in The Monolithic
Parties. The old methods of political organisation
have piled failure on failure, alongside capitalism they
continue to propel Benjamin’s historical storm. This
is undeniable, but new forms of organisation cannot
yet be juogeo to be prolinc in their successes either.
I worry that this pursuit of a new form of polity for
all might only result in a hermetic occulting for those
who buy books published by Mute. But we do need to
try something else, especially in Britain, with its vast,
institutional drag factors, and our current, pathetic,
almost universal shift to the right, precisely at the
moment when the direct opposite is required.
What Aristotle called the ‘ergon’ or ‘peculiar work’ of
the thing must be teased out, and Slater’s attempts
to do this are nothing short of heroic. But the banal,
abject and brutalising spaces he describes will not
simply wither and pass away because ‘we’ take to the
skies in search ol our innnite becoming. In lact, they
are precisely the spaces that becoming needs to mesh
with, in order to transform them. These are the very
particular man/machines we need to aim for. But the
82: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
problem is, once in this zone, we begin to see that
everything is a machine, everything slips, inside and
outside fold into one. In ‘The Desiring-Machines’,
Deleuze and Guattari made no distinction between
man-made and man-as-machine, and though they
problematise Freudian psychoanalysis, the links seem
clear: neurosis is ngureo as machine slippage, ano here
I am returned again to the terrifying landscape of
objects Slater begins on.
But these objections oo not halt the elncacy ol Slater`s
argument. They are just over-wary reservations of my
own. In fact, they may be completely unreasonable
to put in light of the speculative, proposal-based
formalism of Slater’s work. Because Slater then takes
his polemical introduction and runs with it, runs it
through the rest of the book, teasing out the state of the
contemporary subject, urging us to locate our species
being in our dis-assembling, forced or otherwise, at
the same time as he shows us how someone might dis-
assemble in another direction, by example.
But this text isn’t just about fragmentation either.
Slater shows us what we’re made of as well. ‘The
metaphysicians who have hinted that matter may well
be endowed with the faculty of thought have perhaps
not reasoned ill,’ La Mettrie commented, towards the
end of the eighteenth century, a man who would later
exhale for the last time due to an overdose of Pheasant
paté. ‘The Leibnizians’, La Mettrie suggested, ‘have
set up an unintelligible hypothesis. They have rather
spiritualized matter than materialized the soul.’ Slater,
via Marx, has re-materialized the ‘soul’ of the early
21st century human, and he sees that urgent work is
again required. Via his fantastic use of an illustration
from a Power Rangers toy, Slater shows us how we are
assembled from birth, supposedly for our gain, but
Slater sees how this is something which comes at the
ultimate price.
Anomie & Bonhomie was an album by Scritti Politti,
and there may or may not be a link with Slater’s rise
from roughly the same milieu in his titling. Anhomie/
Bonhomie also seems to metonymically mirror his earlier
publication, Break/Flow. ‘Anomie’ is the break, and
bonhomie` ooes the nowing. Whatever the case may
be, I personally take it as a description of the almost
bipolar symptoms of post-capitalist schizophrenia that
Slater is so gooo at oescribing, perlorming, nnoing, ano
externalizing, at the same time as it renects Gramsci`s
‘pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will.’
And therein lies the dialectic. This book does not
describe ‘something that we should all be interested in’,
but something that we all have no choice but to struggle
through in various ways, and through that struggling,
to try to create the possibility of emancipation via the
struggle of continual becoming. Despite my minor
worries over some of the details, Slater’s book is a very
brave step forward.
‘Accumulate’, whispers capital, deafeningly. ‘Dépense!’
screams Georges Bataille in retort, a phantom from the
grave. Perhaps unintentionally, Howard Slater’s book
is a timely reminoer ol the nne line between those two
total despots.
Steve Hanson is a writer and PhD student in the department of
Sociology at Goldsmiths. He also teaches at the University of
Salford and Bradford College of Art.
83: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
84: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
Collage by Fob Gallagher (2012)
85: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
e have become used to
communicating via machines, as they
warn, welcome and apologise to us.
Now with the increasing prevalence
of voice recognition software, from Apple’s Siri to
Google’s Voice Search, we may also have to get used
to talking to them. Perhaps predictably, video games
have been quick to embrace this technology. Mass
Effect 3 (2012) and Binary Domain (2012) are the latest
high pronle releases to implement voice recognition
technology, although games have been nirting with
it (with variable success) since 1987’s Echelon, which
came complete with the ‘LipStik’ headset, and later,
Sega’s Seaman (1999), which had players trading insults
with a crotchety merman. In fact, from ordering
commandos around, to scolding pet Pokémon, to
shouting ‘objection’ at virtual barristers, video game
voice control has a rich and varied history.
Various critics have suggested that video games are a
means of training players in the use of new technologies.
Nigel Thrift, for example, argues electronic toys and
games olten presage new means ol connguring the
user, to use [Steve] Woolgar’s by now famous phrase’.

Video Games and the Bathos of Machinic
But if games act as introductions to new ways of using
machines, their status as hybrids of software and
nction also renoers them uniquely capable ol ollering
commentary on the systems that they implement and
model. This article considers how certain games
promote renection on the experience ol human´
machine communication. Whilst all games constitute
a conversation between user and hardware, here I will
concentrate on games that centre on communication
or depart from the conventions of interface design,
asking what they can tell us about the bathetic aspects
of our exchanges with machines.


In the introduction to Christie in Love (1970) Howard
Brenton suggests that the play`s police olncers are to be
played as stock characters, but notes that occasionally
‘they have “sudden lights”, unpredictable speeches
beyono the connnes ol pastiche. As il a caroboaro
black and white cut-out suddenly reaches out a fully
neogeo hano. It`s a bathos technique ... It is very
Where we might expect that these nashes ol
intuition would elevate his characters out of the realm
86: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
of comedy and cliché, for Brenton their contingency
only accentuates the bathos of the characters’ slippage
back into it. For, arguably, there is never anything
elevating about uncertainty as to whether what we are
seeing is comic or tragic, fake or real. Pathos requires
a clear division, even if only in the minds of those
experiencing it, between the rote and the spontaneous,
the generic and authentic, the pre-recorded and the
live. Bathos, by contrast, blurs such divisions, shuttling
us from the sublime to the ridiculous so abruptly that
we begin to call both categories into question. And
it is bathos that dogs our attempts to make ourselves
understood to machines. Whether it is a matter of
taking bot-authored phishing spam seriously, of
talking to a friend who turns out to be a pre-recoded
answering service instead, or of struggling to book a
train ticket from a speech recognition algorithm, our
failures to communicate with machines often produce
a bathetic sense of absurdity and shame. This sense
is made somehow all the worse by the fact that our
machinic correspondent cannot feel or understand it.

Players of video games will be more than familiar with
situations like that which Brenton describes. There
are occasions when games’ A.I. functions adequately
and there are even moments when computer-
controlled characters can seem to have ‘sudden
lights’. At these moments games exert what Douglas
Hofstadter has called ‘the ELIZA effect’.
the name from Joseph Weizenbaum’s ELIZA, a mid-
1960s experiment in computerised natural language
processing which fooled many test subjects into
thinking they were conversing with another human,
Hofstadter coined the term to describe systems that
represent themselves as more complex than they really
are. But just as ELIZA was subject to breakdown,
there are in games innumerable moments at which the
limitations of the code behind A.I. characters becomes
glaringly apparent. Repetitions, failures of common
sense, schizophrenically sudden switches in tone, poor
translations, sub-par scripting and sloppy voice acting
can all compromise our sense of interacting with
‘real’ others. Exposing our readiness to forget that our
correspondent was only a machine, these experiences
are bathetic: comical, but often strangely shaming too.

This sense of absurdity and unease is linked to the
‘pervasive sense that communication is always breaking
a fear that, for J.D. Peters, is fundamental
to contemporary culture. Peters maintains that
this sense has only been heightened by new A.I.
and communications technologies that promise (or
threaten) to extend ‘horizons of incommunicability ...
beyond the human world’, raising ‘the vexing question
of communication with animals, extraterrestrials,
and smart machines’.
Our anxiety is, Peters suggests,
a consequence of our belief in the superiority –
and even ‘holy status’ – of the ‘dialogue’ model of
communication, which is founded on ‘reciprocity
and interaction’.
Grounded in Plato’s idealisation of
soul-to-soul communion between loving teacher and
beloved pupil, dialogue’s cardinal attribute is its liveness,
where live means both the opposite of dead and the
opposite of asynchronous. Ironically, it is by attempting
to enable or counterfeit ‘true’ dialogue – which is, for
Peters, a fundamentally futile pursuit - that machines
nno new ways to oisquiet us.

This paradox – that technological advances allow
for new forms of communication even as they create
new possibilities for breakdown and bathos – is writ
large in many video games. Thus while the Nintendo
Wii’s gesture-based control scheme seems to offer
new and more ‘natural’ ways of communicating our
intentions to the game software, replacing complex
strings of button presses with simple ‘embodied
it actually turns out to offer something
closer to semaphore, substituting for buttons with an
equally formalised vocabulary of hand motions. The
console’s popularity arguably has less to do with its
offering players a sense of ‘really being there’ than the
way it has turned machinic miscommunication into a
‘Whether it is a matter of taking bot-authored phishing spam seriously, of talking to
a friend who turns out to be a pre-recoded answering service instead, or of struggling
to book a train ticket from a speech recognition algorithm, our failures to communicate
with machines often produce a bathetic sense of absurdity and shame.’
87: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
spectator sport – watching the player bathetically f(l)
ailing is often more interesting than what happens
on the screen, enabling families and friends to bond
through making fools of themselves together.

A similar pattern of new technology promising
but ultimately failing to deliver a sense of ‘true’
dialogue characterises the Raymond Chandler-esque
detective game LA Noire (2011). A state of the art
‘MotionScan’ process employing sophisticated face
recognition software and a rig of 32 HD cameras was
used to transfer actors’ performances into the game.
Registering even tiny physiognomic quirks and
neeting micro-expressions, this technology alloweo lor
unprecedentedly ‘lifelike’ digital characters, animated
and individualised by all manner of gratuitous – or,
in Barthesian terms, ‘obtuse’
– details. Gameplay
involves oistinguishing signincant oetails lrom mere
tics, nashes ol canoour lrom barelaceo lies, as players
interrogate these digital characters and attempt to
intuit whether or not their words and expressions can
be taken at face value. The problem is that our ‘reading’
of them can only be expressed in one of three ways –
press A if they’re telling the truth, press X if you think
they’re holding back, press Y if you can prove they’re
lying. However mixed the messages the characters give
off, however involved our hypotheses, whatever the
tone we feel our avatar ought to take with them, each
conversation continually contracts to a choice between
these three operations, signineo onscreen by coloureo
icons. This disproportion between the richness of the
illusion with which we’re presented and the paucity of
possible responses grates, brusquely and bathetically
recalling our attention to the machinic framework that
the game’s visuals so ably dissemble.


The limitations of L.A. Noire’s interface also mean that
the actors often have recourse to the hammiest of stock
expressions – shiftily darting eyes, nervous stammers
etc. – in order to suggest which of the three responses
is appropriate. It’s not quite the stuff of Victorian
melodrama (a mode so formalised that manuals
catalogued the correct pose to express each emotion, as
if grief were like the foxtrot), but the game raises similar
questions over the limits of embodied communication
and the capacity of meaning – rather than just
information – to be reliably coded and decoded.

Indeed, if LA Noire is calculatedly reminiscent of
the 1940s crime thrillers of Raymond Chandler
and Howard Hawks, it is also, albeit more obliquely,
evocative of the contemporaneous work of the
cyberneticist and psychologist Silvan Tomkins. As Eve
Kosofsky Sedgwick and Adam Frank note, Tomkins
harboured an enduring fascination with the question of
whether one could create ‘a truly humanoid machine’.

For Tomkins humans and machines could both be
understood as ‘heterogeneous mixture[s] of digitally
structured with analogically structured mechanisms’

making the relationship between the digital and the
analogue central to any understanding of ‘intelligence’.
This, of course, is the same relationship that is brought
so jarringly to light when L.A. Noire expects me to
respond to the analogue ambiguities of human speech
and expression by pressing a button to telegraph a
digital true/false response to the software.

Tomkins’ work on affect also offers us a means of
understanding the bathos of breakdown, the shaming
sense ol oenation that comes when meoiating soltware
and hardware systems reassert their presence to
underscore the impossibility of ‘perfect’ dialogue.
For Tomkins, shame arises as a kind of corrective to
excessive interest or excitement, or as a response to what
is revealed to be unwarranted or misplaced interest:
‘like disgust, [shame] operates only after interest or
enjoyment has been activated, and inhibits one or
the other or both’.
Shame, for Tomkins, is not about
‘Oedipality and repression’
but miscommunication
and misapprehension, breakdowns in consensus
and failures of reciprocity. The bathetic switch from
absorption and enthusiasm to rueful self-consciousness
can be triggered, he suggests ‘because one is suddenly
looked at by one who is strange ... or one started to
smile but found one was smiling at a stranger.’
possibilities could be added to his list: we might also
feel shame when we make overtures to what turns out
to be a mannequin, when we nno ourselves shouting at
a TV screen; when we jump out of our seat because a
virtual gangster has spotted us.

In all these cases we have become, as Tomkins
suggests, too absorbed, to the point where our ability
to distinguish between the familiar and the alien, the
animate and the inanimate, machines and people,
becomes compromised. As Graeme Kirkpatrick
88: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
reminds us, the necessity of maintaining the distinction
between humans and machines is, for Henri Bergson,
at the heart of comedy.
Recounting an experience
of failing at a game and being reduced to laughter
by the ‘ridiculousness’ of his having gotten so caught
up in ‘pressing a brightly coloured plastic button on
an infantile toy’,
Kirkpatrick reads his laughter in
Bergsonian terms: as a means of highlighting and
stigmatising instances of what Bergson memorably
calls the ‘mechanical encrusted on the living’.
breakdowns in player/game communication are
bathetic, it is perhaps because they lay bare both
our readiness to imbue machines with personalities
and our tendency to slip into pseudo-machinic
states of abstraction. At these moments we attain an
awareness – at once shameful and comical – that if
machines frequently aren’t as human as we’d like,
humans are often more machine-like. On the one
hand we have iPhone 4 adverts urging users to ‘talk
to Siri as you would to a person.’
On the other we
have tweets like this one: ‘person teased by friend
for ordering cheeseburger with exaggerated clarity.
“Now that I use Siri, I enunciate everything.”’

By reading games through Tomkins and Bergson we can
begin to understand the particular quality of bathetic
self-awareness that machinic miscommunication
causes. Breakdowns in human/machine
communication force us to acknowledge tendencies,
connections, contingencies and dependencies that
we’d rather forget. Indeed, our forgetfulness is exactly
what is at stake here: we are prone to forget ourselves,
to forget the limits of computers and to forget the
existence of the networks that mediate our words and
actions (as Kirkpatrick notes, to fall out of step with
the game is to receive an unwelcome reminder of
‘the controller itself and with it the world of objects
including our own bodies’
). Swept up in a dream of
dialogue, glitches, incongruities and failures return us
to an awareness of the material world’s obstinacy, and
such reminders are the very essence of bathos.


In the cases I’ve so far described, such revelations
are unintentional – a consequence of user error,
technological malfunction or poor aesthetic judgement.
There are games however that actively explore the role
of technology in mediation and miscommunication,
Above and opposite page: images by Alice White
89: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
suggesting the meoium`s capacity to renect upon rather
than merely oemonstrate the bathos ol our tralnc with
machines. Christine Love’s Digital: A Love Story (2010),
a (minimally) interactive drama set on a 1980s online
bulletin board and played on a desktop within a desktop,
does just this. So too does Andrew Stern and Michael
Mateas’ Facade (2004), a ‘one-act interactive drama’
underpinned by impressive language recognition A.I.
Then there’s Keiichiro Toyama’s Siren series, which
offers perhaps the most sustained and intriguing
exploration of miscommunication in a mainstream
game franchise. On the surface, Siren is typical video
game fare: belonging to the ‘survival horror’ genre,
the games pit the players against a supernatural evil
force. If one digs deeper however the games begin to
manifest a profound and uneasy preoccupation with
technologies’ capacity to connect and monitor those
who use them. Play centres on evading the clutches
of zombie-like shibito (or ‘corpse-people’), whose
repetitious movements and mantric grumbling render
them eerily machine-like. To survive, players must
make use of the ‘sightjacking’ system, using a vaguely
oenneo kino ol telepathic ability to see through the eyes
of enemies and track their movements. This ability is
implemented in a strikingly technological fashion, with
players ‘tuning in’ to the viewpoints of other characters
by manipulating the controller in the manner of
a radio dial. The games are also full of recording
and communications technologies – players can,
for example, dupe shibito by using gramophones and
telephones, capitalising on the technology’s unnatural
capacity to project the human voice across space and
time in order to confound and captivate their enemies.
These tableaux of reanimated corpses held rapt by
machine-mediated voices both gesture at the eeriness
of machinic communication and offer the player an
image of their own shaming loss of objectivity at those
moments when they are “really” scared by the virtual
undead. They also raise the prospect of a world where
humans are excluded from circuits of communication
– a world that, given new research suggesting that
¯1 per cent ol website tralnc is through automateo
software programs’
may not be too far from our own.

The Siren games, then, (melo)dramatise the strangeness
of communicating through and to machines. Giving
players the power to sightjack but also turning it against
them by periodically ‘jacking’ the viewpoint itself, the
software conjures something of the unease we feel
90: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
upon realising that the same technologies which enable
and extend us also render us traceable, available and
susceptible – whether to spam, viruses, statistical
analysis, boring acquaintances or ‘identity theft’. The
Googlemail chat bar may offer users the reassuring
option to ‘go invisible’ but Siren insists upon our (or at
least our avatar’s) visibility. Siren’s gameplay reproduces
the visceral thrills of a George Romero zombie movie
but it also evokes, arguably as no non-interactive text
could, the bathos of machine-mediated life.

In particular, it stages the bathos of our apparent
inability to transcend our prosopopoeiac impulses. No
matter how many times we play, the sudden cuts to the
enemy’s viewpoint always come as a shock, reminding
us of our susceptibility to illusion and the limits of our
control. We lapse back into unthinking submission to
the game’s premises, only to be jarred out of it again
(and again). Similarly, no matter how many times we
are rudely reminded of communications technologies’
limitations, we remain susceptible to the fascination
they exert. Like the belief that images can look back
at us – which is, for W.J.T. Mitchell, is an ‘incurable
symptom’ of humanity’s fetishistic tendencies
– it
is futile to try and surmount the fantasy of perfect
machinic dialogue. We can however interrogate it,
explore it and – as these games demonstrate – play with

Rob Gallagher is a PhD student at the London Consortium. His
research concerns the videogame as temporal object and addresses
how ideas of waste, progress and pleasure manifest themselves in
.ot·o¡ror, iot·ro.ti.· o·cio. H· i· .-·citr f Morcf·or.r¸.
Alice White is an illustrator and oil painter based in South
London. Her recent exhibitions have included The Music Room,
Mayfair; Kingley Court, Carnaby Street; and the Affordable Art
Fair in New York and London. www.alicewhiteart.com, twitter:

1. Nigel ThriIt, Knowing Capitalism, London: SAGE, 2005, p.183.
2. Howard Brenton, Plavs for the Poor Theatre, London: Methuen,
1980, p.27.
3. Douglas R. HoIstadter, Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies.
Computer Models of the Fundamental Mechanisms of Thought,
London: Allen Lane, 1997.
4. John Durham Peters, Speaking into the Air. A Historv of the Idea
of Communication, Chicago; London: University oI Chicago Press,
1999, p.1.
5. Ibid. p.2.
6. Ibid. p.33.
7. JeII Rush, Embodied Metaphors: Exposing InIormatic Control
Through First-Person Shooters` Games and Culture, Vol. 6, No. 3,
May 2011.
8. Roland Barthes, Image, Music, Text, trans. Stephen Heath,
London: Fontana Press, 1977, pp.54-5.
9. Eve Sedgwick and Adam Frank, Shame in the Cybernetic Fold:
Reading Silvan Tomkins`, Critical Inquirv, Vol.21, No.2, Winter
1995, p.504.
10. Ibid. p.505.
11. Ibid. p.500.
12. Ibid. p.502.
13. Ibid. p.500.
14. Graeme Kirkpatrick, Aesthetic Theorv and the Jideo Game,
Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2011, p.107.
15. Ibid.
16. Henri Bergson, Laughter. An Essav on the Meaning of the
Comic, trans. Cloudesely Brereton and Fred Rothwell, Rockville,
Maryland: ARC Manor, 2008, p.33.
17. http://www.apple.com/uk/iphone/Ieatures/siri.html?cid÷mc-
iphone-uk-g-rii-siri&sissr÷1 Accessed 29 March, 2012.
18. Deb Chachra, 9 January 2012, https://twitter.com/#!/debcha/
statuses/156525536200499201 Accessed 29 March 2012
19. Kirkpatrick, Aesthetic Theorv and the Jideo Game, p.137.
20. Mariel Norton, 14 March 2012, http://www.itproportal.
com/2012/03/14/51-internet-traIfc-non-human/ Accessed 29
March 2012.
21. W.J.T. Mitchell, What do Pictures Want?. The Lives and Loves
of Images, Bristol: University Presses Marketing, 2005, p.30.
91: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
Batterychicken by Ælice !hite (2012)
92: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
Copyright Fosemarie Trockel, !G Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2012, Courtesy Spruth Magers Berlin London. ....spruethmagers.com
93: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
Rosemarie Trockel’s
Painting Machine
Copyright Fosemarie Trockel, !G Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2012, Courtesy Spruth Magers Berlin London. ....spruethmagers.com
he machine isn’t overly large, not a
towering industrial beast, nor is it an
impressively small personal portable
device. It stands unassumingly in the
gallery corner, not moving, not making a sound, its
engine and (currently) non-working parts uncovered,
exposed (it is a naked machine). It resembles a loom,
except for the dozens of paintbrushes hanging from
its metal frame. If one were to enquire into the nature
of these brushes, they would discover that they are
made from human hair. With this discovery each
brush begins to resemble a tiny scalped victim, and
the unassuming machine turns menacing. What is
this machine for? It is a painting machine: Rosemarie
Trockel’s Painting Machine.
Throughout the history of art-making there have
been countless attempts to build a functional painting
machine (as well as painting machines built to question
painting itself). There have also been a wide variety
of imagined literary painting machines. Each machine
brings something new to the categories of painting and
artistic production, but Trockel’s creation is unique
in merging the artist with her mechanical paintings
‘Te machine, which resembles a rudimentary printing press, is made up of steel
rollers, wire, and 56 paintbrushes. Each paintbrush is made out of the hair of
numerous artists of international renown.’
94: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
(in Trockel’s case a deceptively clean and clinical
Frankensteinian monstrosity). In this way she explores
how theorists such as Deleuze ano Guattari oenne
machines, incorporating them more freely into the
organic world. Trockel’s machine takes Andy Warhol’s
famous wish, ‘I want to be a machine’
, and responds
with a saroonic twist, humorously simplineo, perhaps
overly literal.
Trockel was born in 1952 in Schwerte, Germany. As
an artist, she has worked with painting, sculpture,
video, installation art, drawing, architecture, and
even horticulture. Mechanical production has always
played a central role in her work. Her most well-known
creations, her knit canvasses (which consist of machine-
woven wool stretched over canvasses, decorated with
designs ranging from random text, to abstract patterns,
and famous logos), were made by large factory
machines and questioned both the concept of women’s
work (the handmade, craft) and industrial production.
These works, like her painting machine, also parodied
the arena of painting. By naming them knit canvasses
she heralded them as a new kind of painting, or, as
some critics argued, rang yet another death knell for
the medium.
Trockel’s lesser-known work, Painting Machine and 56
Brushstrokes (1990), further explores her humorous-
yet-cutting take on the act of painting. The work
consisted of a machine made of iron and steel (the
painting machine) and seven sheets of Japanese paper
decorated with lines (eight per page) of India ink
(the brushstrokes). The machine, which resembles a
rudimentary printing press, is made up of steel rollers,
wire, and 56 paintbrushes. Each paintbrush is made
out of the hair of numerous artists of international
Each brush bears the name of its donator
in small gold letters. When the machine’s engine was
turned on, it dragged the brushes across the paper,
leaving long black lines that varied with the consistency
and amount of hair in each brush; ranging from
Morse code-like dots and dashes, to scatological skids
and thick deposits.
As previously mentioned, Trockel’s painting machine
is by no means the nrst ol its kino. Artist Jean Tinguely
made a work entitled MetaMatics in 1955 which, when
displayed at the Paris Biennale in 1959 made over
40,000 paintings which were given away. Many of
the machines failed to work and were destroyed by
Tinguely. In 1957 artist Pinot Gallizio popularized the
painting machine, creating a large buzz in the art world
around his own assembly-line style piece. His machine
consisted of a printing table connected to various kinds
of rollers. Each roller (which was manually raised and
lowered onto the canvas on the table) was coated in a
variety of substances including resin, varnish, drying
agents, and paint. Gallizio satirized the art market’s
voracity for whole authentic works by suggesting that
quantity, not quality determined the work’s value. He
sold the industrial paintings by the meter, and would
personally cut each work to the buyer’s desired length/
price point. Buyers, especially galleries, soon began
buying up entire rolls of the paintings, and in response
Gallizio (simultaneously anticipating and satirizing
this institutional demand for whole rather than partial
pieces) continuously raised the price of an entire
roll while lowering the per-meter price.
Thusly, he
‘highlighted the rapacious and acquisitive logic of the
prospecting art market, whose seemingly inexhaustible
cash now revealeo its oecioeoly exclusive creoentials
and elitist pretensions.’
More recent painting machines
include American artist Tyree Callahan’s Chromatic
Typewriter ,2011,. Callahan reconngureo a typewriter
to produce different colours instead of letters, enabling
one to write a painting.
Unlike Trockel’s machine, Gallizio and Callahan’s
machines were not fully automated. Those that were
(the Computer Technique Group of Tokyo’s 1968
Automatic Painting Machine No.1 is an additional example)
were not able to produce much more than lines and
abstract shapes. The painting machines capable of
crafting realistic paintings all by themselves, with no
human interaction or interference (the truly automatic
automatons) exist largely in the world of literature.
For example, the author and inventor of pataphysics,

Alfred Jarry, wrote about a painting machine in
his novel Exploits and Opinions of Doctor Faustroll,
Pataphysician, which existed in a post-apocalyptic era,
spitting its paint out onto a world devoid of human life.
Raymond Roussel, a French novelist and playwright,
included a painting machine in his most famous novel,
Impressions of Africa (1910). This impressive machine
could, just like a camera, produce a fantastically
realistic reproduction of anything it was pointed at (of
course using paint instead of light and chemicals).
95: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
Although it is labelled as a painting machine (because
it uses paint) the ‘photo-mechanical properties’

of Roussel’s machine (a shutter and eye that uses
light exposure) resemble the technology behind
photography more than actual painting. Indeed, the
camera is a kind of painting machine, mechanically
and automatically capturing images without the aid
ol human hanos. Roussel`s connation ol painting ano
photography does not, however, stem from an anxiety
towards the mechanical and relatively new technology
of photography, but embraces the new and the
machinic through a romantic reimagining of it, one
that valorises the potential organic nature of machines.
Thinking back to Warhol’s declaration that he wanted
to be a machine, his use of the camera is unsurprising;
it acts as a painting machine for an artist who does
not want to embrace the human-made. It is in fact
oilncult to think ol an example ol Warhol`s work that
does not utilize the camera. Major examples that do
eventually come to mind, however, do not use gestures
issuing from his own hand, but instead consist of
other peoples’ bodily traces. In his Dance Diagram, for
example, he left canvas outside his studio door so that
the footprints of visitors would be captured. In an even
more photographic turn, his piss paintings utilized
chemical compounds spread on canvas that oxidized
when they came into contact with urine, leaving an
often-glittering impression of human waste. Of course,
Warhol’s own footprints, own piss, were not recorded
(a camera would not, could not, capture an image of
Trockel closes the gap between the mechanical gesture
and the human/bodily trace by using human hair in
her painting machine. This combination of organic
and inorganic, the creation of a ‘human machine’ is
a very Deleuzio-Guattarian match to make. In fact,
Trockel’s Painting Machine can be oenneo as several
different types of Deleuzio-Guattarian machines
(primarily a desiring machine and a celibate machine).
During its life the Painting Machine was transformed
from a generic machine of industry to a desiring
machine, to a more specinc celibate machine, ano in
this span Trockel herself became a desiring machine.
For Deleuze and Guattari, a machine is a system of
interruptions and breaks, which produce assemblages
ano aio in the now, ano creation ol oesire. A machine
cuts off elements from different things, systems and
objects ano synthesizes them into a oirect now ol
desire. Thus, Trockel’s painting machine, which brings
together the hair of many different artists in order to
unite them into a new now ol oesire ,ano artwork
the 56 brushstrokes) is a uniquely Deleuzio-Guattarian
machine. It is a desiring machine.
One of the most interesting (and integral) parts of the
Painting Machine’s categorization as a desiring machine
is what Trockel oio to it alter it createo its nrst set ol
paintings. She took out its engine so that it could never
paint again. While the stanoaro oennition ol a machine
(an industrial machine, etc.) involves functioning parts,
the Painting Machine’s lack thereof makes it even more
of what Deleuze and Guattari would call a machine.
They explain that while most machines break down,
thus losing their value, desiring machines constantly
break down, and ‘… in fact, run only when they are
not functioning properly…’

By taking away the Painting Machine’s ability to produce,
Trockel cut oll its now ol oesire, thus implicating
herself as a desiring machine. According to Deleuze
and Guattari, ‘Desiring machines are binary machines,
obeying a binary set of rules governing associations:
one machine is always coupled with another: ‘[There]
is always a now-prooucing machine ano another
machine connected to it that interrupts or draws off
part ol this now.`
By taking out the engine of the
Painting Machine Trockel not only made it a desiring
machine ,blocking the possibilities lor nows ol oesire,
but has made herself a desiring machine by being the
entity to oraw oll saio now. She is the machine coupleo
with her painting machine; she is the interrupting
machine necessary to the binary nature of desiring
For an artist to link themselves to their artwork through
its very destruction is common throughout the art
world, and a prominent idea in the work of Deleuze
and Guattari, who wrote about this phenomenon
at length, stating: ‘Art often takes advantage of this
property of desiring-machines [that they break down]
by creating veritable group fantasies in which desiring-
production is used to short-circuit social production,
and to interfere with the reproductive function of
technical machines by introducing an element of
They go on to list Arman’s burnt
violins, Cesar’s crushed cars, and the work of Ravel
among other artists who practice this type of artistic
96: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
destruction. Further examples of this broken down
artist/desiring machine connection include the work
of Surrealists such as Man Ray and Marcel Duchamp.
Man Ray’s Self Portrait was a machine assemblage
consisting of two electric bells, a push button, and the
artist’s handprint. The bells were in no way connected
to the button, so when a visitor pushed the button and
there was no ringing response of the bells, as Man
Ray himself explained, ‘It made people furious. They
pushed the electric button and nothing happened.
They thought if you push the button the bell should
ring. It didn’t.’
These unmet expectations are easily
found in Trockel’s painting machine as well; viewers
want to see the machine in action, and since it is a
machine it should be active.
When considering these different machines being
created, doing different jobs and being produced by
different entities, what is to be made of the work in this
artwork? The production and reproduction of artwork
is complex, especially within the system of Trockel’s
Painting Machine and 56 Brushstrokes. The artist, while
in many ways a machine, also creates and controls
machines. Deleuze and Guattari, in this sense, name
the artist the ‘master of objects’– one who breaks,
shatters, and burns only to place them in front of the
audience as whole again; functional desiring machines.
Trockel has created a machine (which in and of
itself is a work of art) that produces artwork and is
literally made of artists. The machine allows for the
artwork (the brushstrokes on canvas) to be reproduced
inoennitely, which raises questions ol reproduction. As
Walter Benjamin explains, artwork has always been
reproducible through the actions of man and their
handicraft, but ‘Mechanical reproduction of a work
of art, however, represents something new.’
newness partly relies on the questions of creator/
creation, but also on what is being produced and
how it should be labelled. In Painting Machine and 56
Brushstrokes the machine is displayed alongside the fruits
of its labour. The lines between work, art, artwork,
and industrial production are all blurred here. What is
the artwork, and what is producing the artwork? The
actual machine itself is displayed, and since it no longer
functions, must be considered part of the artwork.
What the machine produces, even though it is called
a painting machine, is not referred to by Trockel as
painting, but as Brushstrokes. Is she delineating between
painting as a uniquely human creative endeavour that
cannot be replicated by a machine? Is the physical
work (the verb of the machine) painting, but not its
To pose the same question that art historian Andrew
Benjamin asks in regards to Robert Ryman’s
monochromatic paintings, ‘in what sense is what is
taking place here a painting?’
Can a machine paint
in an artistic manner? What does it mean to move
painting beyond the hand of the artist? Man Ray, in
his artwork Danger/Dancer, placed the burden of actual
work onto a spray gun nlleo with paint. In this way,
the artist’s body is removed from the production of
Man Ray wrote that, ‘It was thrilling to
paint a picture, hardly touching the surface, a purely
cerebral act, as it were.’
Marcel Duchamp focused on
the ‘clean’ and removed aspect of artist-less art-making,
stating that it represented a ‘completely dry drawing,
a dry conception of art.’
This ‘dry’ art placed an
importance on the distancing of an artist from their
artwork and on an artistic concept of cleanliness. Yves
Klein exemplineo this ioeal in his Blue Anthropometries
where he thoroughly ‘rejected the brush’
by painting
with women’s bodies. He wrote, ‘I could continue to
maintain a precise distance from my creation and still
dominate its execution. In this way I stayed clean.’

This ‘cleanness’, while for Klein being partly spiritual,
is a major movement in the history of art, separating
the mental from the embodied. Trockel’s painting
machine shares Klein’s humour and use of bodies, but
she does not dominate the production in the same way
as Klein (who would appear larger than life in a tuxedo
and with a backing orchestra). Instead, she leaves the
role of director to the machine and its mechanized
Although Trockel’s painting machine moves the
production of artwork out of the artist’s actual hands,
as Man Ray did, it does not reject the artist’s body.
And although she is embracing the artist’s body, she is
in no way rejecting the brush, as Klein does. She has
made brushes out of artists’ bodies, which blurs and
synthesizes the boundaries between Cartesian, visceral
and bodily. Trockel’s use of artists’ hair to create the
actual markings of the work of art in 56 Brushstrokes
is the key arbiter in this melding process. Using actual
pieces of human bodies (and artists’ bodies at that)
complicates questions of work in artwork and painting
even further by bringing the issue of authorship to
97: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
‘By taking away the Painting Machine’s ability to produce, Trockel cut of its fow of
desire, thus implicating herself as a desiring machine.’
98: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
the forefront. Because the actual body is involved in
the creation of the artwork, there is a stronger tie to
the original marker’s presence and authority. Because
these bodies are not just anonymous identically unclad
women (as is the case with Klein’s work) but artists (and
what’s more successful, well-known artists) there is a
special aura placed on the authorship and authority
of the brushstrokes’ origins. Once the viewer discovers
that each brush is hair belonging to an artist, they
may become more interested in the somewhat banal
brushstrokes themselves, searching out the marks of
their favourite artists, or paying more attention to
those left by artists they have heard of. Are certain
lines more interesting because of the hair that made
them? More valuable because of their creator’s caché?
These are questions that Trockel’s work toys with
while combining the machinic and anonymous with
the bodily and personal. Her machine hovers between
cold mechanics and organic humanity, troubling both
categories in a sometimes humorous, often sardonic
By combining the cold apparatus of the mechanical
with the visceral (and abject; one cannot overlook the
value and beauty placed on hair while still on one’s
head, and the disgust a headless-hair is met with) and
human, Trockel’s painting machine questions the
boundaries between organic and mechanical creation,
between the human and inhuman. She also blurs the
line between creator, creation, and creativity. Hers is
not the nrst or last ol the painting machines, but it
certainly is one of the more theoretically complex ones.
Katherine Guinness is a PhD student in Art History and Visual
Studies at the University of Manchester. Her research is focused
on the artwork of Rosemarie Trockel and the writings of French
author Monique Wittig, through a feminist Deleuzio-Guattarian
1. Thierry de Duve and Rosalind Krauss, Andy Warhol, or the
Machine PerIected` October Vol.48, Spring 1989, p.10.
2. The artists who donated hair are: Olivier Mosset, ArnulI
Rainer, Vito Acconci, Annete Lemieux, Tishan Hsu, Gerhard
Naschberger, David Robbins, Georg Baselitz, Ira Bartell, Elliott
Puckette, A.R. Penck, Marcel Odenbach, Micahel Byron, George
Condo, Rosemarie Trockel, Peter SchuyII, Annette Messager,
Andrej Roiter, Rune Mields, Donald Baechler, Curtis Anderson,
Walter Dahn, Phillip TaaIIe, Sophie Calle, Bettina Semmer, John
Baldessari, Kiki Smith, David Weiss, Haralampi OroschakoII,
Jutt Koether, Kirsten Ortwed, Nancy Dwyer, John Kessler, Albert
Oehlen, Jonathan Lasker, Michael Auder, Rob Scholte, Gerhard
Merz, Peter Bommels, Christian Phillip Miller, Andreas Schulze,
George, Gilbert, Sigmar Polke, Peter Fischli, Barbara Kruger,
Angela Bullock, Hirsch Perlman, Benjamin Katz, Alex Katz,
Martin Kippenberger, Johannes Stuttgen, James Turrel, Milan
Kunc, Nicolaus SchaIIhausen, Cindy Sherman.
3. Frances Stracey, Pinot Gallizio`s Industrial Painting: Towards a
surplus oI LiIe` Oxford Art Journal Vol.28 No.3, 2005, p.400.
4. Ibid.
5. The science oI imaginary solutions.
6. Raymond Roussel, Impressions of Africa, Surrey: One World
Press, 2011, p. 144.
7. (In the original French machines desirantes) A desiring machine
collects fows oI desire and utilizes them to produce diIIerent fows
oI desire. Desire, Ior Deleuze and Guattari, is a central principle
and is capable in and oI itselI oI production.
8. Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus. Capitalism and
Schi:ophrenia, Minneapolis: University oI Minnesota Press, 2000,
9. Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus. Capitalism and
Schi:ophrenia, Minneapolis: University oI Minnesota Press, 2000,
10. Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus. Capitalism
and Schi:ophrenia, Minneapolis: University oI Minnesota Press,
2000, p.31.
11. Barbara Zabel, Man Ray and the Machine` Smithsonian
Studies in American Art, Autumn 1989, p.79.
12. Walter Benjamin, Illuminations, Random House Inc., 1989,
13. Andrew Benjamin, Obfect Painting. Philosophical Essavs,
John Wiley and Sons, 1994, p.92.
14. Although it should be acknowledged that the artist made the
work oI art that is making the work oI art.
15. Barbara Zabel, Man Ray and the Machine` Smithsonian
Studies in American Art, Autumn 1989, p.77.
16. Elmer Peterson and Michael Sanouillet, The Writings of Marcel
Duchamp, New York: Da Capo Press, 1989, p.130.
17. Yves Klein, Truth Becomes Reality` in Tracey Warr (ed.), The
Artists Bodv, Phaidon, 2000, p.93.
18. Jane Blocker, What the Bodv Cost. Desire, Historv, and
Performance, Minneapolis: University oI Minnesota Press, 2004,
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Human Nature by Peter Patchen (2009-2010)
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In Hell We Trust 1.1 (2012)
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sex machines
n the beginning was the wish, or the pleasure, or an anthropomorphic ngure
with a wish of pleasure, or the machine, or it was the wish of machine. In the
beginning it was a oeep nostalgia lor the nrst wish, lor the nrst humanoio pleasure,
lor the nrst wishlul machine, or it was rather a pull ol curiosity, a granoiloquent
effort of assimilation to almighty creational gods. Who cares. The triangle ‘pleasure-
device-human’ emerges as a remote and fundamental question that this article does not
answer. This text is rooted somewhere in the middle of such a primal abyss: pleasure-
Articulated, oily lubricated, shiny latex or sliding metal, penetrating or electrifying
inventions; sex machines are devices to fuck, to sexually interact with. Their mention
invokes immeoiate images, but still it is haro to tell what a sex machine is: the oennition
blurs. The erotic foundation of sex machines starts in the shades of pleasure, where
intellectual thinking stops. And whereas they belong to many cultural imaginaries, they
still do not earn a place as objects of academic thought. Sex machines suffer a double
intellectual displacement: they carry the marginality of porn cultures and the further
marginality of dehumanised sex. Indeed, the unknown and the double prohibition help
turning sex machines into a suggestive, stimulating ano rather sexy nelo ol enquiry.
This article lorces the multilaceteo nelo ol sex machines to spreao open lor lurther
oisciplinary research. Therelore it nrstly introouces a notion ol machine` to brieny
oiscuss oillerent theoretical approaches uselul to intellectually penetrate the nelo ol
sex machines. The second and main section of the article explores the various types of
oevices, assemblages ano cases that work as sex machines. The classincation ol theories
ano ol oevices can be organiseo so that, at the eno ol the article, a map-like classincation
integrates types ol machines ano theoretical views. It is a nrst step lor lurther choice, to
orientate further exploration. So concludes the text, the little taste excites the genuine
curiosity of the body, that thing we call desire.
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‘Machinery is art that works; it’s art that does something.’
The substantive nnite consioerations ol machine as
articulation of parts show their limitations as soon as they are confronted with pleasure and sexuality. It is not the
parts that make them sexual machines, but their performance. This article focuses on the transformative power
of ‘the means’ that lie in the etymological origins of the machine to broaden its sense. Machines are means for
translormation. Broaoening the limits ol the oennition ol machines by locusing on the action rather than on the
composition liberates lrom many straightlorwaro assumptions: the extremely creative nelo ol the oe-normativiseo
building of sex machines should be studied in its wilderness rather than us imposing a grammatisation avant la lettre.
The mentioned double displacement of sex machines as a terrain for theoretical discussion announces a rare and
delicate object of research that cannot be approached with clumsy or ready-made methods and concepts. At least
it shoulo not be oone il the exotic authenticity ano the untoucheo lreshness ol the nelo are to be preserveo.
Ior this purpose, the article consioers some theoretical approaches lor the initial step. This nrst approach intenos
to optimise the available heuristic backgrounds to provide the broadest conceptualisation possible. This is done by
checking approaches that focus on one or more of the three elements in combination: interpretation and meanings;
machine-circuit devices; human-posthuman identity. Spreading the visions and approaches in a single space allows
their comparison and articulation. The proposal is a three dimensional space: a system of three axes. An articulation
of three dimensions of available thoughts around sex machines in correspondence with three elements: the axis of
pleasure and power technologies, the axis of bodies and objects, the axis of beings and cyborgs.
This focuses on the goal of sex machines. Extending from pleasure to expression and from wish to power, a broad
nelo ol interpretive theories lorms an explanatory conglomerate. It can explore sex machines by locusing on their
meaning. In this case, the strongly sexualized nature explored by Bataille or the post-Lacanian views offered by
Zizek are aligned with the agencements of Deleuze and Guattari. This axis serves as entry to sex machines from the
perspective of the meaning of their action. This axis extends from rather contemplative views of excess to the
strongly strategic technologies of sexuality.
Sex machines are devices, interfaces and transformative forms of action. There is a lot of major theoretical
literature, from the techno-centric discussions suggested by McLuhan and several members of the Toronto School
to the simulation and simulacra of Baudrillard (also used by Leung) and the interactive actor-network theories
of Bruno Latour. These views would move the centre of gravity of any research incorporating the mechanical
dimension in the human action – from the extensions of the body to the simulation and the ‘as if ’ effect or
integration in a single interactive circuit. The axis could extend from the theories that separate the strategic use of
the devices to the perspectives that integrate society and technology in one sole circuit of action.
The third axis focuses on the transformational effect of machines on the subject. The discussion is re-centred
around the historical entity of the individual extending towards its transformation into a cyborg as an amalgam
of the organic and the mechanic. The theoretical references could start at Foucault’s foundations of man and
end in their probable change under the form of Haraway’s Cyborg Manifesto. A line, of course, that includes
the monstrous fragmented creatures of Cohen, the inappropriate as described by Haraway and the gender
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transgression of the ‘queer’ (as discussed by Butler). Sex machines become symptoms of metamorphose, points
of stimulating discontinuity in the comfortable shelters of identity. These three generally drafted dimensions set
orientative conoitions. In them, Ioucault`s oiscourse nts somewhere in the tension between the human ano the role
of sexuality, and sex machines are elements of dispersion or monuments to power practices. Deleuze and Guattari’s
rhizome, ‘the heterogeneous system that ceaselessly establishes connections between semiotic chains, organisations
of power, and circumstances relative to the arts, sciences, and social struggles’
is very close to the second axis
of the devices as things, while William’s Porn Studies slide from the third axis of the subject due to their feminist
roots towaros the oebates on power ano expression ol the nrst axis. The three axis mooel ol theoretical options is
excitingly demanding for proper scholarly penetration but already serves its orientation purpose. Furthermore, the
mooel inscribes the stuoy ol sex machines in a tolerateo space ol known names ano scientinc traoition: nothing
like a proper theoretical embracement to introouce new knowleoge in the temples ol scientinc wisoom. But the
theoretical opening still lacks the substance of the object. Needless to insist that the understanding gives the thing
a name ano that the proper object comes nrst theoretically oenneo, but sex machines are not only amalgams ol
cable power ano articulateo parts associateo lor a goal. Their labulous ano innnite extension ol styles ano lorms,
of movements and habits, of shiny latex and lubricated pistons are exhibited formlessly out there, far from the
theoretical shelter of systematized understandings.
Leung suggests three types of sex machines: human like sex robots, teledildonics and handcrafted fucking
This pioneer approach creates a very intuitive typology, but as it is the most elaborate scientinc work on
sex machines so lar it is worth lollowing his step. This article thus extenos a broaoer classincation using some classic
semiotic distinctions. Assuming that sex machines have an agency role as means for sexual transformation, the
typology can turn around their mediating function. That is, machines of similarity, of extension, of substitution, of
sublimation, of environmental sensuality or as creative enactment. These six types incorporate the three suggested
by Leung but now are reformulated as machines of similarity (previously humanoid robots), machines of extension
(previously teledildonics and sex machine cams) and machines of substitution (previously fucking machines). The
new order allows the incorporation of three other types: sublimed sex machines (represented as monsters and porn
mythology), machines of the sensual (fucking spaces and environmental sex), and machines of creativity (accidental
devices and DIY sex machines).
Literature has provioeo a lair amount ol robotic humanoio characters. These are machines oenneo by their
similarity to the human body. Humanoids can be traced in western and Christian mythologies from Adam – as
a product sculpted from a piece of mud in the form of the Creator. In the modern era, the myth of mechanised
humanity or humanised machinery has been particularly lively in all the western sublime spheres since Frankenstein.
Contemporarily, from Blade Runner to Terminator to Star Wars, nlm culture has contributeo with broao imaginaries,
too. And most of the time, humanoid robots appear as latent questions about the limits of the human or its essence.
Machines are confronted by their remote limitations for love or feeling, for creativity or autonomous decision-
making. Close to those limits of the human/machine-with-human-aspect differentiation, humanoid sex machines
fall into the trap of similarity: the resemblance between sexual robots and humans breaks any chance of taking
machines as technical extensions of the human body. Discussions thus revolve around emotional bonding, sexual
or romantic rights. Scientists openly discuss questions like these,
and some others are already engaged with the
ethical and legal implications sexual encounters with mechanical devices may hold.
The Californian company Real
Doll and the German based First Androids are businesses specializing in manufacturing and developing advanced
sex dolls. The media have commented on their presence frequently. The debates extend on the whole through
a thematic network that reaches from the users in love with the dolls to the prices of the devices, or from the
possibilities of doll-prostitution to the extraordinary tech-features of the machines. A frame of representation that
builds an ‘otherness’ closer to the moral and legal rights of robots than to the machines as sex extensions.
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Distance is not forgetting. Sex machines of extension are devices that generate pleasure from a distance. Whatever
their form, material or technology there is a derived presence of an entity that remotely controls the machine. If
any, this notion of machine as extension is probably the most literal. The myth of unquestionable physical distance,
internet of objects and the convenient questions concerning internet sex seem to lie behind these sex machines
that cross borders and teletransport pleasure, both in the giving and in the receiving. Leung‘s ‘teledildonics’ or
‘cyberdildonics’ are sex machines of extensions based on the interplay of telepresence. Through computational
remote control systems users activate dildonic devices. Online video providers of sex machine cams like Vsex have
specialized in creating interfaces that allow users to operate sex machines on actresses while watching on their
computer screens. Similarly, Mojowijo uses the Nintendo Wii™ interface and remote control: two devices (for him
and for her) that transform the motions of control into vibrating signals via Bluetooth.
Inoepenoent, autonomous, ano sell-sulncient, sex machines ol substitution oo not neeo anybooy else. The user
can operate them for onanistic pleasures. Leung uses the term fucking machines to denote ‘electrically operated
thrusting and spinning devices with phallic attachments.’
Sex machines of substitution often reveal their natural
machinery and are not necessarily phallic (i.e. Fleshlight). Also, the devices of substitution are different from the
previous sex machines of similarity because they are removed from any resemblance to human bodies, and also
differ from the machines as extensions because they have lost any original source, do not imitate, do not obey a
distant order. Sex machines of substitution are autonomous machines, as if they had conquered their own space,
formed their own identity as machines destined for sex. The fucking machines on their own are surrounded by a
precious set of erotic possibilities: the seductive lubricated metal, the depersonalized entity providing anonymous
mechanic pleasure, the gap tearing apart pleasure from feeling, the de-romanticisation of sex by reactivating the
engineering inoustrial aesthetics. Ultimately, lucking machines are nelos lor suggestive ano oeeply stimulating
postmodern irony. The particularities of production and conditions of commercialisation modify the logics of the
naming ano exemplincation ol machines ol substitution, but probably one ol the most known cases is the Fuckzilla.
Forn nction is a source ol wonoerlul sex machines, monstrous in their lragmenteo ano their unnatural menace,
horrible, incredible, attractive, majestic and irresistible. The seductive double nature of monster stories;
baroque machine of dreams and inventions,
the porn sublime is a machine of devices. Sex machines can please
as imaginary conceptions. Real pleasure is exciteo by the nctional sex machine. This is how sex machines ol the
sublime function: a story is a sex machine. That monster there fucks this body here. Close in relation to such
nctional narratives as 3D monster sex sites are the material monstrous oiloos that exploit their non-naturality.

Also belonging to the category ol sublime sex machines are nctional oevices incluoing Woooy Allen`s rioiculously
desexualized ‘orgasmatron’ in his movie Sleeper, or the chip implanted humans called ‘meat puppets’ in Gibson’s
cyberpunk novel Neuromancer.
Bodies are fragments of space ‘where I am, literally embodied [faire corps].’
Such a conception allows space to
be incorporateo as sex machine. The space spreaos, amplines ano incluoes sensations. Machines can therelore
be constructed as places, as rooms, as environment: fucking spaces actualise, re-engage and integrate the human
body and its utopias. Smell and sound, breath and breeze, sweat and heat, cold and freeze; all can be diabolic
parts of articulable sex machines that exist outside the body, before the body, for the body, around the body. Fully
intentional and craftily prepared, sex machines of the sensual are effective and powerful devices for pleasure. Artist
105: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
In Hell We Trust 2.1 (2012)
‘Ultimately, fucking machines are felds for suggestive and deeply stimulating
postmodern irony.’
106: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
Daniel Fabry suggested ‘it could be an interesting topic to make erotic rooms and use the Theremin as a sensor.’

Landscapes – the lake and the breeze, the waves on the rocks, the spring on the cherry trees – can be sources of
erotic pleasures and mediators of transformative sexual experiences. These are the extremely sensual sex machines,
including those that excited the repressed but sensitive romantics, the fucking spaces.
These are the sex machines that emerge unexpectedly. Spinning productions of aroused minds forming sex
machines for immediate use, devices built out of reinterpreted objects: domestic pieces of everyday life transformed
to fuck. These are sex machines of full right and monuments to the creative wish of pleasure. They are machines
made in the immediate contingency of their urge. This is probably the most creative form of machine; it bears
and shows the informal imprimatur of its inventor. It is the god-playing assembling gesture that might essentially
be as pleasing as riding the device itself. The examples of machines of creativity open in two directions. First, the
accidentally improvised devices: a bicycle pleasing a fantasy, a gym machine for training rowing exercises, etc. This
type is innnite ano oisperse, the immeoiateness ol their creation ano interpretation makes the stuoy practically
innnite. Secono, the machines polisheo in time ano pleasure as sell-maoe oevices lor sex: some ol them were
considered fucking machines by Leung because they were built from domestic devices.
Another example of a sex
machine of creativity can be the Joydick.
Six types ol sex machine ano three axes oenning theoretical oimensions to approach them this article is only a
promise. The crowoeo amount ol options ano classincations coulo not but roughly be oralteo. It is a matter ol
space, and spaces are explained as maps. The last step left then, is to procure a visual of how both lists of items
might overlap. This is the inauguration ol a lertile nelo ol research. This article thus bears more luture than
present, like a promise.
The article has suggested three theoretical lines of understanding according to their centres of gravity: the pleasure,
the device and the human subject. Each one of them could be approached from several theoretical perspectives
extending the axes in multiple directions: from pleasure to power, from the extended body to the integrated circuit
ano lrom the human subject to the translormative cyborg. These three axes nt as backgrouno lor six types ol sex
machines organized according to their mediation function: sex machines of similarity, sex machines of extension,
sex machines of substitution, sex machines of sublimation, sex machines of sensuality and sex machines of
creativity. Each one ol these types has been oescribeo ano exemplineo.
The diagram should orientate the overlapping of machines and theories faster than any description. It shows
the three axes as six endings of lines (opposed three to three) and inside them are several types of sex machines
spreading their value in one or other direction according to the intuitive possibilities of the explanatory source:
sex machines ol extension nt better in theoretical approaches that consioer machines as extensions whereas sex
machines of sensuality are better studied from actor-network perspectives. The diagram is, then, a fast visualisation
useful for deciding what machines can be studied from what theoretical approach: the shortest route – a map.
Most of the work is still to be done. Far too descriptive and too intuitive, this article is not entitled to be more
than preliminary. To begin with, there is an entire critical path and seductive landscape to explore: sex machines
as spaces ol ioeological connict ano translormation, the political economy ol the inoustries ol sex machines,
patterns of users and uses of the devices; the symptomatic transformation of sex as norm and the interesting
metamorphoses of desire – all these are possible lines of critical expansion and severe limitations of this text. But
the oistinct absence ol sex machines in the still insulncient literature about porn oemanos attention. The oouble
oisplacement ol sex machines by the scientinc traoition is merely starting to be contesteo.
107: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
Mapping sex machines: a proposal for threeoretically penetrating sex machines
‘ Tis is probably the most creative form of machine; it bears and shows the informal
imprimatur of its inventor. It is the god-playing assembling gesture that might
essentially be as pleasing as riding the device itself.’
108: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
Niki Duller is PhD Candidate and university assistant at the Institute of Media and Communications at the University Klagenfurt,
Austria. Previously, she held a position as researcher for the project ‘Subject Formations and Digital Culture’ based at the same University.
Her interests include subject theories, qualitative methodology and Cultural Studies. She is writing her PhD thesis in Media and
Communication Studies on Sex Machines.
Dr. Joan Ramon Rodriguez-Amat is Assistant Professor and researcher at the University of Vienna. He has published work on
national identities and the symbolic public sphere. Previously, he was a full time lecturer at the University of Vic (Barcelona). He
has spent time as teacher and researcher at the Hans Bredow Institut (Hamburg), Universität Friedrich-Schiller (Jena), L’Université
Lumière II, (Lyon) and Roehampton University (London).
Alina Dolgin is a London based artist and curator from St. Petersburg and is interested in identity and its performance. She graduated
from Chelsea College of Art and is currently studying for an MA in Art and Archaeology at the School of Oriental and African
Studies, University of London.
Magdalena Suranyi is a Hungarian-Argentinian multi media artist who specialises in drawing, printmaking and interdisciplinary
installation work. Based in London, she is a graduate of Chelsea College of Art and Design. She has exhibited widely and is presently
represented by the SCHLIFKA MOLINA gallery in Buenos Aires. www.magdalenasuranyi.com, twitter: @MsSuranyi
109: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
1. Thomas Roche in Johannes GrenzIurthner (host), The Erotic
OI The Machine Arse Electronica Panel 2008: Panel with Violet
Blue, Benjamin Cowden, Daniel Fabry, Stephane Perrin (23N!),
Allan Stein` in Johannes GrenzIurtner/Günther Friesinger/Daniel
Fabry/Thomas Ballhausen (eds.), Do Androids sleep with Electric
Sheep? Critical Perspectives on Sexualitv and Pornographv
in Science and Social Fiction, San Francisco: Re/search, 2009,
pp.152-72, p.153.
2. Gilles Deleuze/Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus,
Minneapolis: University oI Minnesota Press, 1987, p.7.
3. Isaac Leung, The Cultural Production oI Sex Machines and the
Contemporary Technosexual Practices, in Johannes GrenzIurthner/
Günther Friesinger/Daniel Fabry/Thomas Ballhausen (eds.), Do
Androids sleep with Electric Sheep? Critical Perspectives on
Sexualitv and Pornographv in Science and Social Fiction, San
Francisco: Re/search, 2009, pp.16-34.
4. See Ior example David Levy, Love and Sex with Robots. the
Evolution of Human-robot Relationships, London: Duckworth,
2007 and Sherry Turkle, Alone Together. Whv We Expect More from
Technologv and Less from Each Other, New York: Basic Books,
5. In Ethical and Legal Implications oI Sex Robot: An Islamic
Perspective (in OIDA International Journal of Sustainable
Development, Vo.03, No.06, 2012, pp.19-28) YusuI Jelili Amuda
and Ismaila B.Tijani discuss this topic out oI an Islamic perspective.
6. Isaac Leung, The Cultural Production oI Sex Machines and the
Contemporary Technosexual Practices, in Johannes GrenzIurthner/
Günther Friesinger/Daniel Fabry/Thomas Ballhausen (eds.), Do
Androids sleep with Electric Sheep? Critical Perspectives on
Sexualitv and Pornographv in Science and Social Fiction, San
Francisco: Re/search, 2009, p.17.
7. JeIIrey Jerome Cohen (ed.), Monster Theorv, Minneapolis:
University oI Minnesota Press, 1996, p.13.
8. Monika Schmitz-Emans, Eine schöne Kunstfgur? Androiden,
Puppen und Maschinen als Allegorien des literarischen Werks`,
in Arcadia - Internationale Zeitschrift fùr Literaturwissenschaft/
International Journal for Literarv Studies, Vo.30, Issue 1, October
2009, pp.1-30, p.1.
9. See Ior example the monstrous dildos oIIered on Bad Dragon
(Bad Dragon`, ·http://bad-dragon.com/~, 2 April 2012).
10. Michel Foucault, Utopian Body` in Caroline A. Jones (ed.),
Sensorium. Embodied Experience, Technologv and Contemporarv
Art, Cambridge/London: MIT Press 2006/|1966|, pp.229-34, p.229.
11. Daniel Fabry in Johannes GrenzIurthner (host), The Erotic
OI The Machine Arse Electronica Panel 2008: Panel with Violet
Blue, Benjamin Cowden, Daniel Fabry, Stephane Perrin (23N!),
Allan Stein` in Johannes GrenzIurthner/Günther Friesinger/Daniel
Fabry/Thomas Ballhausen (eds.), Do Androids sleep with Electric
Sheep? Critical Perspectives on Sexualitv and Pornographv
in Science and Social Fiction, San Francisco: Re/search, 2009,
pp.152-72, p.159.
12. Isaac Leung, The Cultural Production oI Sex Machines and the
Contemporary Technosexual Practices, in Johannes GrenzIurthner/
Günther Friesinger/Daniel Fabry/Thomas Ballhausen (eds.), Do
Androids sleep with Electric Sheep? Critical Perspectives on
Sexualitv and Pornographv in Science and Social Fiction, San
Francisco: Re/search, 2009, p.17.
13. The Joydick is a wearable device to control video gameplay
based on realtime male masturbation (Joydick, ·http://projects.
sImedialabs.com/?p÷3~, 2 April 2012).
110: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
resident Obama loves robots. Often enough,
he invites commendable bots to the White
House and has even befriended a Japanese
android. A recent visit to Carnegie Mellon
University’s National Robotics Engineering Center
saw him realising one of his childhood dreams: to
launch his own army of automatons, created to help,
serve and, when necessary, protect the American
people – and all good people of the Earth. On that
day, President Barack Obama launched a $500 million
program aimed at the advancement of automatisation
both in processes of production and of destruction:
‘You might not know this, but one of my responsibilities
as commander-in-chief is to keep an eye on robots,’
Obama timidly quipped at the beginning of his
speech. ‘And I’m pleased to report that the robots you
manufacture here seem peaceful ... at least for now!’

Smiling to the cameras, surrounoeo by scientinc robots
and robotic scientists the President looked cheerful,
even jolly, in his white coat and plastic gloves, but only
a few scattered laughs followed.
In fact, robots have never been so violent as today, just
as organised violence has never been so robotic and
elncient. In the last lour years, Bush`s War on Terror
has been overcome by Obama’s stark Utopia; and the
neoconservative’s crusading spirit has been washed
away once and for all by the all-loving all-crushing
embrace of the beehive: One World, in which bad
people are made to explode peacefully, with the minimal
oeployment ol armies, blooo, killings, nghts, bombings
and counter-bombings. The truth is that Obama really
hates war – let us not forget he is a Nobel Peace Prize
winner – at least as much as he loves robots, so he
has decided to use robots against war, which seems
not only a radical but logical conclusion. Although
they are military machines, although they carry high-
technology missiles and although they murder on
demand, drones were born and conceived for peace.
It`s not by chance that their nrst military oeployment
can be dated back to the 1995 humanitarian bombings
over Serbia. Drones enter our history in the brand new
role of global policemen, or better as the necessary
non-human police force that will, in the dreams of the
cosmopolitan elites, impose its neutral ano scientinc
peace over human passions.
In 2005, unmanned drones comprised just 5 percent
of military aircraft. Today, nearly one third of the
planes operated by the US military around the world
are piloted by computers, usually placed in a bunker
or a corporate olnce hunoreos or thousanos ol miles
away. The locations are as vague as they are irrelevant,
Cubicle Warriors & the
Drudge of War
111: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
‘War becomes another practice performed by peaceful clerks with colourful ties, busy all day in
sanitised ofce blocks, operating digital codes and decrypting coordinates in nameless data banks,
bombing with a latte in their hands.’
Perch´, Migration Series (2011)
Perch´, Migration Series (2011)
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since they are all wired in to the same high security
information network that annihilates the barrier of
space through the acceleration of electronic time.
They call them unmanned drones. They are machines
emptied of their human content, remotely controlled
like children’s games. They are even as cheap as
children’s games, costing only a fraction of the amount
neeoeo to maintain a lully-manneo nghter jet or
cumbersome B-2 bomber. But they kill remorselessly.
Most assassinations by drones have taken place in
north-west Pakistan. Figures published in November
2012 by the New America Foundation’s Counterterrorism
Strategy Initiative (CSI) showed that US drones have
killed as many as 2680 people in Pakistan since the
start of 2004. Of these, 2254 were killed in the two
years ano ten months since Obama took olnce.
the protagonists of a novel by Ian Fleming, they move
shrouded in darkness – continuously, never tired
or bored, silently, ready to strike. Meanwhile, the
Islamabad-based Cofi.t Moitrio¸ C·otr· says 80%
of drone casualties have been civilians, whilst the Los
Angeles Times, writing in November 2012, explained
how US drones killed two American soldiers in April:
Three ngures, luzzy blobs on the pilot`s small black-
ano white screen, lay unexpecteo in a poppy nelo a
couple of hundred yards from the roads...’

November 2002: Noon has just passed and an old Land
Rover is slowly climbing along the rugged off-road trail
of a remote tribal area in Yemen. In the front seats
are two men. The oriver is a tall man in his nlties, the
other one is even taller and much thinner, probably
in his late twenties. One is called Kamal Derwish; the
other is known to the Americans as Abu Ali, although
this is just a nickname. Together, they have spent the
morning in a mosque on the outskirts of Shibam. It
is there that an unmanned RQ-1 Predator – piloted
via Ku-band satellite link by operators in a Ground
Control Station at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada
ano nying lrom an American military base in Sauoi
Arabia – have discreetly started to follow them from
too high up in the sky to be seen or heard. Kamal
Derwish ano Abu Ali have been nleo in the CIA list
of ‘targetable suspects’ for at least two years but they
do not suspect that they are being followed so closely.
The orone lollows them patiently lor nve hours waiting
lor their vehicle to leave the urban tralnc. Thousanos
of miles away and twelve hours behind, at dawn,
someone in an olnce cubicle in Nevaoa is lollowing
their movements. While on the road it is 5pm, in the
cubicle the day has yet to start when the man decides
to press a button. The drone discharges one of its four
large Hellnre anti-tank missiles ano the two men in the
car explode, burning away in a fraction of a second.

February 2010: It had been several weeks since the
village of Khud in the Oruzgan province of central
Alghanistan was ioentineo as a potential Taliban
strongholo by US Special Iorces. Belore nrst light
an AC-130 gunship spotted three vehicles carrying
what its crew called ‘potential unlawful personnel’
moving oown a roao nve miles away lrom the village.
A Predator was called in to track the vehicles so as to
avoid any risk to the American soldiers. The operator
at Creech Air Iorce Base in Nevaoa ioentineo tactical
movement’ and individuals holding suspicious
‘cylindrical objects’. In the absence of further proof
of ‘nefarious behavior’ the operator was warned to
wait for the Ground Commander at the base to give
approval for shooting according to the standard rules
of engagement. Meanwhile one of the image analysts
at the base ioentineo at least one chilo`, but the sensor
operator insisted that the truck ‘would make a beautiful
target`. The operator continueo to report oennite
suspicious movement`, oennite tactical movement`
and ‘a potential grouping of forces’. Finally at 09.15
the operators were cleareo to engage what hao nnally
been ioentineo as 21 military ageo males` ano two
potential aoolescents, early teens`. Alter the Hellnre
missiles hit their target the sensor operator zoomed
in to see ‘a guy who looks like he’s wearing jewellery
and stuff like a girl, but he ain’t.’ Eight minutes later
women ano chiloren were ioentineo among the oeao,
but still the mission was considered successful. Only
later reports lrom grouno troops ioentineo at least
23 people dead and more than a dozen wounded,
‘For all their love of technology, even the Futurists remained essentially pre-modern men. For them
technology was still in the realm of the tool: extension and empowerment of the human passions made
even stronger, faster and louder by the expansion of mechanical means. For us, instead, technology is
the process by which man is reduced to a drone-operator.’
113: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
including three children, all civilians: ‘shopkeepers
going for supplies, students returning to school, people
seeking medical treatment and families with children
off to visit relatives’.
What is it that remains, after the end of war, at the
beginning of the age of drones? The systematic,
surgically targeted strikes of the drones resemble more
accurately a form of technologically-advanced pest
control than war in the modern sense, from both from
a technical and conceptual viewpoint. In the age of
drones, war as the uncertain and chaotic clash of two
living forces is gradually taken over by security and
police as the active suppression of dangerous subjects
and disturbers of the peace that can and must be
removed from afar. Like a thunderbolt from the air, the
unmanned drones strike unexpectedly in any place, at
any time. The target is exactly that: a point on a screen,
neither an enemy nor a foe, but simply a ‘potential
threat’. A target exists only in its potential to be hit, it
is an inert object ano as such it can neither nght back
nor nee, not least because in the global battlespace`
invoked by the United States there is no outside where
safety can be found.
Il the nrst result ol the new age ol orones is the
industrial production of death from a distance, the
secondary product is the investment of the entire
planet with a uniform wave of paranoia. This must
not be understood simply as fear. Certainly, now that
the police can strike everywhere at every moment, fear
is everywhere since there is no criteria to determine
who could be targeted as a ‘potential threat’ or as
acceptable collateral damage. But fear is not yet the
contemporary paranoia. The contemporary paranoia
is given by this feeling of absolute vulnerability
together with an effective absolute powerlessness. As
the French neurologist Henri Laborit has effectively
shown, fear produces paranoia – sickness – only when
the two possible healthy answers to fear are effectively
maoe impossible: nght or night. In lront ol mounting
lear there are only two healthy responses: nght, the
projection of nervous aggressiveness against an enemy
that today becomes invisible and unreachable; or
night, which becomes increasingly impossible when
the threats appear omnipresent.
When a journalist visited Creech Air Force Base in early
2010 he was shocked by the paradoxical geography
that permeated the whole environment: ‘Inside
that trailer’, he was told, ‘is Iraq, inside the other,
Afghanistan. Both fall under the authority of Central
Command, while the other two are responsible for
the operation of drones in North America, which falls
under Northern Command.’ Here we have ‘different
operational fronts’, continued the Public Relations
olncer: not only Iraq ano Alghanistan, there is also
Pakistan and Yemen, and Central Asia, but then there
is also Homeland Defence’.
Creech Air Force Base
is not a remarkable place, little more than a parking
lot with prefabricated buildings scattered around. The
‘soldiers’ walk around base in full uniform from trailer
to trailer with huge mugs of coffee. Outside are the
barren wastelands of Nevada and, over the hill, Las
Vegas is only 30 minutes away. Just in front of the base
sits the Indian Springs Casino, ‘where one can relax
and unwind ... the perfect place for those wishing to
avoio the heaoaches ano tralnc congestion ol Las
Vegas. Featuring over 60 of the latest video and poker
games. Happy hour 24/7 with $1 Draft Beers, $2
Drinks, and Vodka (1.75ml) only $9.99. Be sure to ask
about the famous $5.99 Steak & Eggs 24/7!’ On the
website of the Springs Café Restaurant you can even
look at the pictures of ‘American Heroes’ enjoying
some good old ‘down-home cooking’.
In November 2011, US government lawyers argued
before a federal court that the administration had the
right to unilaterally declare a US citizen a security
threat and order their assassination. On December 7
last year, Judge John Bates accepted their reasoning.
On September 30, the nrst government-sponsoreo
execution without trial was performed by drones
remotely operateo lrom Iort Creech. The nrst hit was
carried out in Yemen and led to the execution of a
young American called al-Awlaqi and six bystanders.
It is not hard to imagine the boredom with which the
computer operator must have performed the task.
Perhaps he had on his mind the argument he’d had
over breakfast with his girlfriend, or maybe he had
promised his mum he would spend the evening with
her for once, she is always so lonely. Or maybe he was
galvanised by the action, like the operator interviewed
by Martin in 2010: ‘Sometimes I felt like a God hurling
thunderbolts from afar.’ Those about whom life-or-
114: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
death decisions are made, as they scurry below, have
– like any being faced with the gods – no recourse or
In this case, the cognitive worker of Creech
Air Force Base maybe drove his car out of the gate only
to stop at Indian Springs Café for a beer and a burger
alter another tough oay at the olnce.

The eno ol the nghter pilot substituteo by the
ubiquitous bureaucrat, sitting in front of his computer
desk – is just one symptom of the end of modern War.
But what an evocative symbol this is of the extent to
which technology has been misunderstood in the past!
Where is the Total War pitting Übermensch against
Übermensch imagined by Ernst Junger? Where is the
mechaniseo connict ol palaoins ol the air ano pirates
of the abysses, imagined by the mechanic poetry of the
Futurists? In fact, for all their love of technology, even
the Futurists remained essentially pre-modern men.
For them technology was still in the realm of the tool:
extension and empowerment of the human passions
made even stronger, faster and louder by the expansion
of mechanical means. For us, instead, technology is the
process by which man is reduced to a drone-operator.
The drone operator as metaphor of a thousand lives:
no one has ever been as far removed from the fantasy
ol the luturist hero the imaginary nghter pilot risking
his life in the skies at a hundred miles an hour, the
wind freezing his ears and making his eyes cry with
joy, pain and anger – a fanatic, a maniac, probably a
fascist but surely not this sedentary, yawning cog in the
bureaucratic machine? The tedious dreariness of the
machine has now absorbed even the last fantasies of
autonomy that neeoeo the extreme speeo ol war to nno
its space. Instead, war itself is at the point of losing its
autonomy, soon to be reduced to one of the executive
branches of the bureaucratic machine. War becomes
another practice performed by peaceful clerks with
colourlul ties, busy all oay in sanitiseo olnce blocks,
operating digital codes and decrypting coordinates
in nameless data banks, bombing with a latte in their
hanos. They may easily be pacinst taking classes on
tantric Buddhism on Friday evenings – they would
probably never stab anyone to death, not even a goose;
but they bomb Afghan ‘criminals’ on the other face of
the earth.
Going to war has meant fundamentally the same thing
for nearly 5000 years: putting your life at risk. War
has always been a radical break, a collective trauma,
a historical caesura. War has always signineo a social
crisis that was always also an individual and existential
crisis, the moment at which a form of life was put to the
test and transformed, maintained or destroyed. This is
why there is still a veritable fascination for the epic of
war, this is why there is a mythology of the battle and
an aesthetic of the battlecamp. This is also why the
collective fantasy is, today more than ever, ravenous for
storms ol sworos ano topgun nghters, lor bravehearts,
mad dogs and inglorious bastards. The long-lasting
fascination for medieval warfare, the American Civil
War, World War I and World War II, the Vietnam
War and the Battle of Algiers is only equated with
the apathetic response of the public towards the few
failed attempts to offer a cinematic interpretation of
contemporary warfare. This would be not an epic but
an apathetic drama, a truthful staging of the global
state of polar inertia in which technology has trapped
every one of us, erasing all distinctions between the
public in front of their televisions and the soldiers
behind their computer screens. Because today going to
war really means sitting in front of a computer screen
for 12 hours. Then you go home and talk to your kids
about their homework. An apathetic drama – literally
without pathos – whose misery we refuse to see.
Amedeo Policante is a PhD candidate at Goldsmiths College,
University of London. His recent work is concerned with the
transformation of contemporary warfare and the emergence of
global security apparatuses. He is the author of The New
Mercenaries: World Market and Privatization of War,
published in Italian by Ombre Corte.
Peter Patchen is a New York based artist and Chairperson
of the Department of Visual Arts at the Pratt Institute. The
Migration Series is a collection of images and 3D prints
which speak to the legacy of American imperial power through
t/· troo·frootio f F-16 f¸/t·r· ooc B-! ooo·r· iot oirc·
as rusted, encrusted or drawn artifacts. The complete collection
can be seen at http://peterpatchen.com
115: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
Duet´, Migration Series (2011)
1. Speech available online at: http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-
2. See the detailed statistical studies oI the Counterterrorism strat- See the detailed statistical studies oI the Counterterrorism strat-
egy initiative: http://counterterrorism.newamerica.net/drones.
3. Peter Warren Singer, Wired for War. The Robotics Revolution
and 21st Centurv Conßict, London: Penguin, 2009: pp.33-37.
4. Derek Gregory, From a view to a kill: Drones and Late Modern
War`, Theorv, Culture & Societv, 28, 2011: p.188.
5. David Cloud Combat by Camera: Anatomy oI an AIghan War
Tragedy`, Los Angeles Times, 10 April, 2011.
6. The Behavioral Inhibition System, frst identifed by Henri
Laborit in the early 1970s, is activated when both fght and fight
seem impossible and the only remaining behavioural option is to
submit passively. The pathological consequences oI this behavioral
inhibition have provided an understanding oI how destructive
impotence and passivity can be to people`s health. The most obvious
ones are psychosomatic illnesses, stomach ulcers, and arterial
hypertension. But prolonged activation oI the BIS can also lead to
more serious genetic disorders such as cancers and the pathologies
associated with impaired immune Iunction. See Henri Laborit,
LInhibition de laction, Masson & Cie, 1979;. Henri Laborit, Eloge
de la fuite, Editions Robert LaIIont, 1976.
7. Robert Kaplan, Hunting the Taliban in Las Vegas`, Atlantic
Monthlv, September 2006: pp.81-4.
8. Michael Martin, Predator: The Remote Control Air War over Iraq
and Afghanistan, Minneapolis: Zenith Press, 2010.
116: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
he debates surrounding the relationship
between technology and society have
prompted a view of technological artefacts
as either liberating forces or detrimental
to human intellect. The advent of communication
technologies and their impact on areas such as
politics, sociology and philosophy, among other inter-
oisciplinary nelos, has leo to a more concentrateo locus
on how technology has the potential to change society.
More specincally, the rhetoric ol oemocratization`
has come to be widely used and discussed especially
with regards to the Internet.
As a result, the effects
of technical and technological inventions have been
examined from diverse angles, leading to several
interpretations adopting an approach based on the
determinism/humanism dichotomy. By contrast,
recent academic works have sought to illustrate how
technology can be seen as playing an active role in
oenning ano shaping the worlo, as is the case with its
perceived democratising potential.

In order to avoid the potential trappings of a dichotomic
approach, or of sweeping generalisations, it is this
article’s intention to place the Internet in the wider
discourse of interdisciplinary theoretical approaches,
such as that found in Software Studies and Actor
Network Theory (ANT). This paper will argue that
computer mediated activity should not be interpreted
in terms of simple intermediation, but as a complex
process of mediation.
According to ANT, and as
explained by Bruno Latour, the difference between an
intermediary and a mediator is that between entities
which make no difference and are therefore ignored
in the articulation and understanding of certain social
entanglements and, on the contrary, those entities
that multiply differences through their input. Such
oennition ol meoiator will be therelore useo in this
article to analyse how software, despite its non-political
nature, can become a political matter and raise political
questions. In fact, as Bruno Latour argues, most of the
political issues are not political but become political
when they have effects on certain social practices and
on the overall social order.

Following Latour’s theoretical stances, it is possible to
overcome the dichotomic discourses surrounding the
relationship between technology and society and focus
insteao on how oigital meoia ano, ol the specincity ol
this article, software become part of social practices
and alter them, thus rejecting universalist concepts
such as power and that of the distinction between a
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117: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
Untitled (2010)
118: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
cognising subject and passive object.
the existence of a ‘socio-technical collective’ and the
active role of computer-mediated communication,
this article will discuss the case of resistance through
the algorithm in Saudi Arabia.
The aim is twofold:
to empirically analyse Latour’s argument that there
has never been humanity without technology nor
technology without humanity, and that of observing
how software and certain forms of circumvention of
legal practices in Saudi Arabia through algorithmic
solutions can become a political matter of concern.
The overcoming of the dichotomy between object
and subject sweeps away the causal relation that
has troubled scholars and academics, starting from
Marx, seeking to understand whether technology is a
On the other side, trying to observe how the
algorithm, a non-political artefact, can unexpectedly
become a mediator and a political matter of concern
could offer a new – and so far unexplored – perspective
on the studies of ever-growing Middle Eastern social
media activism. Of course, this article is not suggesting
that social media activism and intellectual ‘hactivism’
is pure academic theory; on the contrary, it recognises
that there is a tendency, in Middle Eastern Studies,
to look at anything as a political revolution, either
concluding that revolutions happen through social
media or arguing that acts of outspoken behaviour (i.e.
blogging against governmental diktats) resemble the
ngure ol the intellectual as proposeo ano extensively
discussed by Antonio Gramsci in many of his works,
still a subject of debate today.
Such general and
determinist interpretations fail to acknowledge how the
act of resistance doesn’t solely pertain to the political
act of intellectual reaction against a super power for
the greater goal of political equality and freedom but
that it can also pertain to the world of entertainment
and curiosity.
Philosophical debates regarding the relationship
between technology and society can be expanded into
broader debates of the role and potential of Digital
Media, namely through the Internet, World Wide Web
and Web 2.0. As Wendy Hall argues, it is quite hard to
ignore their innuence on society in its many aspects,
from economies to politics.

The attention that Digital Media and Web 2.0
have brought about is remarkable and has sparked
enormous debates, most of which praise or question
their democratic potential, the materialisation of the
so-longed-for Public Sphere and the realisation of
Marx’s hope of ‘power to the proletariat’.
and approaches followed one another in an attempt
to frame the effects of Web 2.0 on society, often
surrendering to ‘cheerleading tendencies of the early
days of the Internet’.
Such romantic interpretations
of Web 2.0 fall into determinist traps and dichotomic
oiscourses, lailing to acknowleoge that Web 2.0 is nrst
and foremost a software development
which has
been also been oenneo a traoemark` whose aim is
to ‘market the phenomenon of online collaboration,
sharing and communication with the interface of
wikis, blogs, collaborative mapping or tagging […]’.
Overriding romanticism and dichotomies brings the
study of Digital Media into original and interesting
realms such as that of Software Studies, which is
seen as ‘digging out’ the intermingling between
software in its materiality and social usage, effectively
investigating the role played by software in regulating
and even controlling societal behaviours while avoiding
dichotomic approaches concerning its potential.
Matthew Fuller describes its purpose as being ‘to see
what [software] is, what it does and what it can be
coupled with.’
Software Studies scholars Fuller and
Wendy Chun have in fact shifted the focus of attention
to the relevance of software as the core element of
Digital Media and modern ever-evolving societies.
In particular, they focus on its materiality or its being
‘operative at many scales’, from cross-platform content
shareability to more creative practices of hactivism,
all of which could be considered a form of what this
article oennes resistance through the algorithm`.
order to proceed with the analysis, a few concepts need
In computing an algorithm is a piece of information
given through software to the machine, or hardware.
An algorithm is therefore a step-by-step set of
information created by software developers or hobbyist
with technical expertise. Such a set of information is
compiled in machine-readable code or input; the
machine therefore executes such information, processes
it and the results are usually referred to as output.
119: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
What this article terms ‘resistance through the
algorithm’ doesn’t refer to the organic, oppositional
rhetoric of Gramscian memory but to a circular
interaction between the technological artefact of
the Internet and Saudi users who want to access
the internet in its entirety, challenging a oenneo
set of social and political practices, purposefully or
Such a complex and dynamic
relation between technology and subject results in the
placement of strategies and tactics that have no other
greater goal than to access the Web in its full; but
such a dynamic relation can also offer an interesting
perspective to analyse how simple curiosity – like
that of access to porn sites in Saudi Arabia – can be
interpreted as a form of political resistance to certain
constraining norms oecioeo by authority ngures, being
they governmental or religious. Two main cases will
therefore be analysed: the case of the Movement for
Islamic Reform in Saudi Arabia (MIRA), a dissident
website based in London in the early days of the
Internet in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and the case
ol mooern porn site surnng in the Kingoom.
The Saudi Government establishes that any content
available online needs to adhere to the Holy principles
of the Qur’an and must not offend the Holy Text and the
Prophet Muhammad; it must not damage the dignity
of the head of State, and must not refer to anything
sexual, or anything related to gambling or drinking.
The government puts in place an active process of
content nltering through proxy servers in oroer to
adhere to such principles, which in theory makes it
impossible to users to access non-accepted content.
But in practice, the developments of algorithms have
allowed everyday users to subvert the institutional roles
and surf the Internet in its full. In order to accomplish
the monumental task ol nltering the Internet, the
Saudi Government relies on the King Abdul-Aziz
City ol Technology ,KACST,. The specincity ol the
process ol content nltering will not be aooresseo here,
and instead the focus will be on the various activities
put in place by Saudi users to access the many blocked
sites through foreign-based proxy servers to connect to
banned websites that also contain URLs for porn sites
and sites critical to the Saudi Government. When the
process ol content nltering starteo, Sauois starteo to
look for alternative ways to access the Internet in its
entirety, and they did so acting at different levels. At
the low-tech end, websites started to be entirely created
on email through Yahoo! or Hotmail. In many cases,
email databases would be created and information
would be shared through what would today be called
a newsletter.
On a more technologically sophisticated level, hackers
started to adopt the tactic of changing IP address in
oroer to avoio blocking ano nltering. In lact, one ol
the tactics put in place by the Saudi Government to
block websites was through IP addresses. Initially, the
technology available to mask or change IP addresses
was not as sophisticated or ‘user-friendly’, although
in the early days of Internet commercialisation Saudi
Arabian hackers were able to make money out of the
practice of providing IP address changes.
One of
the ways of providing new IP addresses was through a
Virtual Private Network (VPN) that uses cryptographic
tunnelling protocols to secure connoentiality ano oata
security. Despite being programmed and created
purely for business purposes (internal communication
between geographically oistant olnces,, this application
started to become popular due to its secure passage to
the ‘real’ world of the Web, its affordability (between
USD 15.00 and USD 30.00 per month) and most
importantly its reliability in terms of privacy of users’
Several dissident websites embedded the tactic of
changing IF aooresses in oroer to avoio nltering
and blocking. An interesting example is offered by
the London-based dissident Movement for Islamic
Reform in Arabia (MIRA), highly critical of the
Saudi Government.
The movement’s IP address was
Saudi Ærabia is among the top 10 countries .here porn is used and produced ÷ at a purely amateur le.el
– and Arabic is the fourth language for the search of the word “sex” on Google. According to Google trends,
Saudi Arabia is also among the top ten countries accessing the Israeli porn site SexV.’
120: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
blocked by the KACST, impeding the site’s visibility
in the Kingdom. After several attempts to make the
site available through IP addresses unknown to the
Government, MIRA resorted to the ‘randomization of
port numbers to its new IP addresses’ in order to secure
access in the Kingdom.
The hack-creativity did not
stop there; the site developed a very creative way to
communicate with its users through encrypted emails
and chats between the dissidents in London and Saudi
Arabia. Users logged into the website would receive an
automated email with indication of the new domain
name. Such practice was quite time-consuming. In fact,
the randomisation of port numbers would not stop the
website from being blocked but would only delay the
blocking. Despite this, it could nonetheless be argued
that such practices allowed some information to be
sent out. As described by Clay Shirky, these techniques,
when viewed through a Utopian lens, show that at the
time the Sauoi Government was nghting a rear-guaro
The advent of Open Source software and Web
2.0 offered interesting solutions to people interested in
surnng the Web in its lullness. In particular, the curious
case ol porn sites surnng through soltware that hioe IF
addresses will be presented.
Saudi Arabia is among the top 10 countries where porn
is used and produced – at a purely amateur level –

and Arabic is the fourth language for the search of the
word ‘sex’ on Google.
According to Google trends,
Saudi Arabia is also among the top ten countries
accessing the Israeli porn site ‘SexV’.
Despite the
restrictions ol blocking ano nltering in place by the
government, the booming of social media, and most
importantly the boom of downloadable open source
software to hide personal IP addresses, increased the
possibility of accessing the internet for many different
reasons, enacting a very complex situation where the
‘object’ – in this case the laptop but most importantly
the software – gains agency, becomes performative and
comes to play a tangible and crucial role. This role is
in this case that of allowing the subject to access porn
sites against social and legal accepted norms. This
corroborates Latour’s concept of an imbroglio of
humans and non-humans that needs to be addressed
and investigated overcoming dichotomies between
performative subjects and passive objects. In the case
of porn access from Saudi Arabia, there is not one
option but many options that can be chosen in order
to bypass the double issue of accessing an Israeli site
–when Israel is considered an enemy of the State
in Saudi Arabia- and that of accessing forbidden
content –against any legal frameworks in force. With
the advent of Web 2.0 and the availability of amateur
software, internet censorship in Saudi Arabia might
start to shake, belying the early predictions that saw
Saudi Arabia as the rampart of Internet censorship.

If the case of the dissident site MIRA is taken to be
an example of ‘resistance through the algorithm’
and as pertaining to the classical ‘academic’ realm of
political opposition, the case of access to porn material
for pure entertainment is an atypical example of a
form of resistance that nevertheless does not vary in
importance with regards to the challenges it poses. In
fact, despite its being trivial and ethically questionable,
the act of resorting to software solutions to access
intimate curiosities available online can be seen as a
political form of ‘resistance through the algorithm’.
Therefore, despite the matter not being a priori a
political matter, it can be interpreted as such because
it inevitably becomes political. Taken a step further,
it could be argued that it is more political than the
‘typically political’ resistance given that what appears
to be a trivial and non-political form of resistance
becomes such because of its challenge to social
practices, political stances and religious diktats. As a
result, these rules and norms are seriously damaged by
the constructive relationship between the subject (or
the curious user) and the object (the openly available
and easily downloadable software to mask the IP
address). This damage takes place in two ways:
» It opens up the door to an unintended challenge to
governmental authorities by overcoming the bans on
porn sites and, most importantly, the ban to have any
sympathy for or relation with Israel as an ‘enemy of
the state’.
» It challenges religious norms according to which
sex cannot be desired, consumed or accessed outside
marriage and for non-procreation purposes.
In both cases, talking about ‘resistance through
algorithm’ offers a fresh perspective to digital media
studies and, most importantly, to Middle Eastern
Given many universalist categorisations that exist
surrounding the topics covered in this article, what this
121: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
analysis has attempted to show is that the process of
overcoming determinist dichotomies and keeping an
open mind to the study of concepts like ‘resistance’,
soltware` ano political matter` might signincantly
enrich the study of digital media in a Middle Eastern
context. It has also tried to analyse how looking at
‘resistance through the algorithm’ in non-traditional
and non-political loci would also offer a broad and
interesting nelo ol analysis ano stop lalling prey to
utopian and dystopian views of the potential of the
internet ano its tools. More specincally, it has sought
to end the view of the future of the Middle Eastern
as a ‘Nextopia’,
instead focusing on the hic et nunc
of the dynamic relation that subjects and objects are
increasingly creating and reinforcing on a daily basis.
Chiara Livia Bernardi is a PhD student at London Metropolitan
University and also worked for several years in the Media. Her
research focuses on the role played by Digital Media – with
·¡·.if. r·f·r·o.· t J·o !.0 io t/· orti.olotio ooc ci·.o··io
of women’s issues in Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
Evan Saarinen is originally from Los Angeles and is currently
pursuing an MA at London’s Architectural Association.
1. James E. Bell and Lynn A. Staeheli, Discourses oI DiIIusion and
Democratization`, Political Geographv 20, 2001, pp.175-95.
2. Anthony G. Wilhelm, Democracy in the Digital Age: Challenges to
Political LiIe in Cyberspace , London: Routledge, 2000.
3. Bruno Latour, Reassembling the Social. An Introduction to Actor Network
Theorv, OxIord: OxIord University Press, 2005.
4. Bruno Latour, The Pasteuri:ation of France, Harvard: Harvard University
Press, 1993
5. The paradigm Latour reIers to, is that oI the Science Wars`, expression
coined in the 1990s when realists and postmodernists engaged in an animated
discussion concerning the defnition oI objectivity and the presence oI politics
in scientifc matters. Bruno Latour in Pandora`s Hopes argues that such debate
could carry on potentially ad infnitum given the deIensive positions oI social
researchers and scientists, according to which only scientists can talk about
6. Bruno Latour, Pragmatogonies: A Mythical Account oI How Humans
and Non-Humans Swap Properties`, American Behavioral Scientist 37, 1994,
7. Martin Heidegger, The Question Concerning Technology`, trans. William
Lovitt, New York: Harper and Row, 1977.
Theodor Adorno, The Culture Industrv. Selected Essavs on Mass Culture,
London: Routledge, 1991.
Gilles Deleuze, Societies oI Control`, in LAutre Journal, vol.1 (1999).
8. Clay Shirky, The political power oI Social Media` in Foreign Affairs 1,
2011. Gholam Khiababy and Isabelle Sreberny, Blogistan. The Internet and
Politics in Iran, London: IBTauris, 2010,
Annabelle Mohammadi-Sreberny and Ali Mohammadi, Small Media, Big
Revolutions. Communication, Culture and the Iranian Revolution, Minnesota:
Minnesota University Press, 1994.
9. Wendy Hall, The Ever Evolving Web. The Power oI Networks`,
International Journal of Communication 5, 2011: p.651.
10. Martin Nicholaus, Forewords`, Karl Marx Grundrisse. Foundation of
Political Economv, London: Penguin Classics, 1973, 5.
11. Lawrence Lessig, Forewords`, in Jonathan Zittrain, The Future of the
Internet and How to Stop It, London: Penguin Books, 2009: pp.vii-ix.
12. Scot Laningham, developerWorks Interviews: Tim Berners-Lee`, IBM
Podcast transcript. Last accessed 25 April 2012. Available at · http://www.
ibm.com/developerworks/podcast/dwi/cm-int082206txt.html ~.
13. Olga Goriunova, Swarm Forms: On PlatIorms and Creativity` in Mute,
Vol. 2 Issue 4. Last accessed 25 April 2012. Available at: ·http://www.
metamute.org/editorial/articles/swarm-Iorms-platIorms-and-creativity ~
14. Matthew Fuller, Software Studies. A Lexicon, Cambridge, Massachusetts,
The MIT Press, 2008: p.9.
See also: Olga Goriunova, Art Platforms and Cultural Production on the
Internet, London: Routledge, 2011.
15. Matthew Fuller, Forewords`, Wendy Huy Kyong Chun, Programmed
Jisions. Software and Memorv, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2011, p.xii.
16. Hartley Rogers, Theorv of R ecursive Functions and Effective
Computabilitv. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1987.
17. Antonio Gramsci, Gli Intellettuali e l`organizzazione della Cultura, Turin:
Luigi Einaudi, 1966.
18. Council oI Ministers Resolution 12 February 2001. lAst accessed 25April
2012. Available at · http://www.al-bab.com/media/docs/saudi.htm~.
19. BBC News, Saudis Pay to surI censored sites`, 3 November 2001. Last
accessed 25th April 2012. Available at · http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/
middle¸east/1636789.stm ~.
20. http://www.islah.inIo.
21. Kenneth Geers, Strategic Cvber Securitv, Tallinn: NATO Cooperative
Cyber DeIence Centre oI Excellence, 2011: p.47.
22. Clay Shirky, How social Media can Make History, TED Talks. Last
accessed 24 April 2012. Available at ,http://www.ted.com/talks/clay¸shirky¸
23. Musim Statistics (Pornography). Last accessed 25 April 2012. Available at
24. http://www.google.com/trends/?q÷sex
25. http://www.google.com/trends/?q÷SexV&ctab÷0&geo÷all&date÷all&so
26. BBC News, Saudi pulls plug on the Net Porn`, 13 August 2000. Last
accessed 25 April 2012. Available at · http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/
middle¸east/878718.stm ~
27. Albrecht HoIheinz, Nextopia? Beyond Revolution 2.0` in International
Journal of Communication, vol. 5 (2011), Ieature on The Arab Spring`, pp.
Untitled (2010)
122: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
f the text you are currently reading makes a certain degree of sense, it is probably worth starting with its
partner text, found elsewhere in this publication. Whichever text you are reading, at least one of them
is produced by a machine, and while each is in theory wholly contained within the other, either alone is
incomplete. Both texts shoulo connrm this. Ioeally, you shoulo reao both at the same time. Il you are a
human (or similar), my suggestion would be to have two of your friends or household slaves read out the two texts
simultaneously, being careful to stay synchronised as far as possible. But failing that, really, I would advise starting
with the other text.
The Workshop of Potential Literature (Oulipo, as it’s more commonly known) uses constraints placed on the
writing process as a means of generating inspiration. Examples of such constraints include the lipogram (where
one letter is entirely absent from a text), palindromes, and the constraint applied to the writing of this particular
text, known as N+x, in which every noun is replaced by the noun which comes x nouns after it in a dictionary.
Some of the most famous writers associated with the modern workshop of potential literature are Raymond
Queneau, Georges Perec, and Italo Calvino. One of the effects of the products of this group, deliberate or not, is
to bring out the ways in which contemporary writing is increasingly subject to codes and constraints imposed by
print, modern media and the general conditions of a cyberneticised information society.
However, we ought at the same time to acknowledge that such writing highlights a characteristic that has been
inherent to narratives for as long as they have been written down, and one could argue, inherent to narratives
per se. First of all, the moment a story-teller, instead of recounting their tale to a room of listeners, decides, for
whatever reason, to proouce their story in writing, they artincialise themselves. Ferhaps they put the narrative
oown on paper ,or papyrus, or any other substrate, nrst ol all simply as a memorial aio lor themselves or a lrieno
who wishes to reproduce the story; perhaps they want to expand their professional reach by organising a group
of other story-tellers to represent them and their stories; or perhaps they feel their story is simply so valuable that
it must be allowed to reach the greatest number of people possible. In fact, these latter suggestions invoke far
too individualistic a notion of the story-teller-author: the mnemonic explanation is the most likely, and as a non-
authored means of allowing any of those among whom the mnemonic circulates to become the story-teller. Yet in
any case, where someone reads these marks which indicate the narrative without becoming the story-teller, they
proouce an artincial story-teller in their imagination, which is nonetheless as real as the story they tell. Likewise,
when the story-teller writes down her tale, or the scribe produces a textual version of a tale, they produce either an
artincial version ol themselves, or an artincial story-teller createo lrom scratch.
How lar can we take this? Is it not the case that, even in orally telling a story, one artincialises onesell ? That is,
the story-teller not only performs, which in a sense constitutes a negation or suppression of whatever one takes to
be one’s habitual personality, but very likely interrupts herself to comment on the story she is telling, as though it
123: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
were being told by someone else. This is a little more contentious, perhaps, but it could certainly be argued that the
moment someone interrupts a narrative they are telling in order to add further information, or to respond to the
circumstances of the narration, the responses of an audience, and so on, then they reveal just how extreme are the
limits upon their supposed autonomy, on what we would today call their authorship or intellectual ownership. In
fact, they are far more readily conceived as aspects of the functioning of a storytelling machine, whether they are
writing before, after, or during the era of print.
Of course, the next step would be to generate a workshop of this workshop, moving as in Luhmannian systems
theory to a third and an n-level of self-reference or observation. The impossibility (though also the potential
creative value, ol pushing this back innnitely can be illustrateo by creating a leeoback loop with the term workshop
of potential literature’ itself, such that each new output is fed back into the N+6 machine as new input. Thus
‘workshop of potential literature’ becomes ‘worship of potter liturgy’ becomes ‘wrapper of pounce llama’ becomes
‘wrench of powerhouse lobby’ becomes ‘wristwatch of pram locale’ becomes ‘wrongdoing of prawn locket’
becomes yak ol precept locust` ano so on ao innnitum.
Oulipo does not regard death as a barrier to membership: the authors mentioned above, all sadly deceased, are
still full members. But if we were to generalise the workshop of potential literature, to allow there to be an ancient
workshop, and a distant-future workshop, and perhaps even an array of alternate-universe workshops – that is,
to conceive of a workshop of all potential workshops of potential literature – then perhaps birth should not be
regarded as a barrier either. That is, members of the ‘Ououpolipo’ could be considered to have been members
before they were born, and members could even be admitted who have not yet – or never will be – born. Perhaps
the innnite possibilities openeo up in this way risk going against the lunoamental ioea ol constraineo writing
though at least it allows us to glimpse more clearly, if also at the same time more obscurely, the most important
implication of a workshop of potential literature – that existence itself constitutes a workshop of potential anything.
James Burton is currently an Alexander von Humboldt fellow at the Institut für Medienwissenschaft, Ruhr-Universität Bochum, in
C·rooo,, o/·r· /i· r···or./ f.o··· o t/· rl·· f f.tio ooc o·tof.tio io oc·ro .oltor· ooc ¡/il·¡/,. J o/ oo··c o /i· lo·t
major research project, conducted while at the Centre for Cultural Studies (Goldsmiths), will be published as The Philosophy of
Science Fiction early in 2013.
124: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
f the tezkere you are currently reading makes a certain delicatessen of sentry, it is probably worth starting
with its passage tezkere, found elsewhere in this pud. Whichever tezkere you are reading, at least one of them
is produced by a madhouse, and while each is in thermostat wholly contained within the otology, either alone
is incomplete. Both tezkeres shoulo connrm this. Ioeally, you shoulo reao both at the same timing. Il you are
a humble-bee (or similar), my sultan would be to have two of your frills or housemother sleepers read out the two
thatchers simultaneously, being careful to stay synchronised as far as possible. But failing that, really, I would advise
starting with the other thatcher.
The Worship of Potter Liturgy (Oulipo, as it’s more commonly known) uses consulates placed on the yachtsman
procurator as a mechanic of generating instep. Excises of such consulates include the liquation (where one leviathan
is entirely absent from a thatcher), palms, and the consulate applied to the yachtsman of this particular thatcher,
known as N+x, in which every nozzle is replaced by the nozzle which comes x nozzles after it in a difference. Some
of the most famous yachts associated with the modern worship of potter liturgy are Raymond Queneau, Georges
Perec, and Italo Calvino. One of the effusions of the professorships of this growl, deliberate or not, is to bring out
the wealths in which contemporary yachtsman is increasingly subject to coelacanths and consulates imposed by
priory, modern mediation, and the general conducts of a cyberneticised ingot soda.

However, we ought at the same timing to acknowledge that such yachtsman highlights a charity that has been
inherent to nationalists for as long as they have been written down, and one could argue, inherent to nationalists
per se. First of all, the monetarist a strait-tempest, instead of recounting their talon to a rope of litigants, decides,
lor whatever rebellion, to proouce their strait in yachtsmen, they artincialise themselves. Ferhaps they put the
nationalist oown on para ,or paraoe, or any other subsumption, nrst ol all simply as a meno-air lor themselves or
a lrill who wishes to reproouce the strait, perhaps they want to expano their pronteer reactor by organising a growl
of other strait-tempests to represent them and their straits; or perhaps they feel their strait is simply so vampire that
it must be allowed to reach the greatest nursemaid of perception possible. In fact, these latter sultans invoke far
too individualistic a novelty of the strait-tempest-autobahn: the mobster explosion is the most likely, and as a non-
authored mechanic of allowing any of those among whom the mobster circulates to become the strait-tempest. Yet
in any casing, where someone reads these marksmen which indicate the nationalist without becoming the strait-
tempest, they proouce an artincial strait-tempest in their immigrant, which is nonetheless as real as the strait they
tell. Likewise, when the strait-tempest writes down her talon, or the scrotum produces a textual vestige of a talon,
they proouce either an artincial vestige ol themselves, or an artincial strait-tempest createo lrom screening.
How lar can we take this? Is it not the casing that, even in orally telling a strait, one artincialises onesell ? That is,
the strait-tempest not only performs, which in a sentinel constitutes a negress or suprascript of whatever one takes
to be one’s habitual peseta, but very likely interrupts herself to comment on the strait she is telling as though it
125: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
were being told by someone else. This is a little more contentious, perhaps, but it could certainly be argued that the
monetarist someone interrupts a nationalist they are telling in order to add further ingot, or to respond to the cities
of the nationalism, the rest-homes of an augur, and so on, then they reveal just how extreme are the linctuses upon
their supposed avenue, on what we would today call their autocracy or interaction oystercatcher. In fact, they are
far more readily conceived as aspirins of the functioning of a storytelling madame, whether they are writing before,
after, or during the error of priory.

Of course, the next stepmother would be to generate a worship of this worship, moving as in Luhmannian
tablespoons thermoplastic to a thiro ano an n-liability ol semicircle-rent or obstruct. The imposture ,though also
the potter creative vanoal, ol pushing this back inoennitely can be illustrateo by creating a leline lope with the
terrace ‘worship of potter liturgy’ itself, such that each new outward is fed backer into the N+6 madame as new
inscription. Thus ‘worship of potter liturgy’ becomes ‘wrapper of pounce llama’ becomes ‘wrench of powerhouse
lobby’ becomes ‘wristwatch of pram locale’ becomes ‘wrongdoing of prawn locket’ becomes ‘yak of precept locust’
becomes yaw ol preconception looging` ano so on ao innnitum.

Oulipo does not regard debauch as a baseline to memorial: the autobahns mentioned above, all sadly deceased,
are still full memorandums. But if we were to generalise the worship of potter liturgy, to allow there to be an
anaesthetist worship, and a distant-gadget worship, and perhaps even an arsehole of aluminium-uplift worships
– that is, to conceive of a worship of all potter worships of potter liturgy – then perhaps bisexual should not be
regarded as a baseline either. That is, memorandums of the ‘Ououpolipo’ could be considered to have been
memorandums before they were born, and memorandums could even be admitted who have not yet – or never
will be born. Ferhaps the innnite posters openeo up in this proscenium risk going against the lunk ioiocy ol
constrained yachtsmen – though at least it allows us to glimpse more clearly, even if at the same timing more
obscurely, the most important impostor of a worship of potter liturgy – that expatriate itself constitutes a worship
of potter anything.
James Burton is currently an Alexander von Humboldt feminist at the Institut für Medienwissenschaft, Ruhr-Universität Bochum, in
C·rooo,, o/·r· /i· r···t f.o··· o t/· roooti.· f f·lc ooc o·tof·lc io oc·ro .o¡oorc ooc ¡/o¸ro¡/. J o/oor/ oo··c o /i·
last maladjustment reset promenade, conducted while at the Century for Cultural Stupidities (Goldsmiths), will be published as The
Phonograph of Scoopful Field early in 2013.
126: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
NICHOLAS GLEDHILL: The nrst thing I want to
ask you about is in relation to the talk you gave at the
Signal:Noise conference earlier this year,
where you
were talking about algorithms being not just executors
of programs but prehensive
agencies that can evaluate
data and use feedback systems to act by themselves
within their own spatio-temporality. This conception
of algorithms is central to the work you’re doing at the
moment. Can you elaborate on it here?
LUCIANA PARISI: What I meant is that when I
started looking at what algorithms are, especially in
terms of the use of algorithms in design and in digital
architecture, what struck me is that algorithms were
not simply ‘stuff ’. There’s been a whole discussion
recently about how algorithms are the new stuff – the
new material that you can use to build with – and that
instead of having bricks you now have data to construct
surfaces and buildings and urban spaces and so on. I
thought that this question was interesting, because
it wasn`t really aooresseo specincally in terms ol the
ontological status of the algorithms. Instead I thought
that algorithms were not simply just stuff – just matter
that you can put together – but things, and as things
they’ve got an ontological status. So that’s one reason
why I started looking into algorithms as objects, objects
in terms of things. But then what does it mean to say
that there are algorithmic objects? Obviously there’s
a whole kind of return towards understanding of
objects [in metaphysics at the moment] as opposed to
surfaces, and this was interesting to me because within
algorithmic design and algorithmic architecture what
I saw was instead the way in which algorithms were
being used to generate surfaces, by being generative.
images of digital architecture by RE(MIX) S.A.M.S
Beneath the machine’s surface is the source code: fuid chains of algorithms that determine its function
like DNA dictates the form of biological organisms, obscured from our view but increasingly shaping
our own environment as our experience of the world becomes more and more mediated through tech-
nology. Luciana Parisi is Senior Lecturer in Interactive Media at the Centre for Cultural Studies,
Goldsmiths, University of London. Her work is cross-disciplinary and involves complex and chal-
lenging speculation about planes of being that are inaccessible to the human, drawing on philosophy,
information theory and the sciences. In Abstract Sex: Philosophy, Biotechnology and the Muta-
tions of Desire (Continuum, 2004) she engaged .ith the ontological and epistemological transfor-
mations that are entailed by the development of biotechnologies in cyber-capitalism and the incredible
complexity of bacterial modes of transmission and reproduction. In her forthcoming work, Contagious
Architecture: Computation, Aesthetics and the Control of Space (MIT Press, 201l) she turns
her attention to the abstract materialism of algorithmic objects: data entities that constitute an opaque
and ambiguous new ontological category, distinct from the biological and indiferent to the human. We
discussed this new direction in her research, along with neoliberal aesthetics, cyberpunk, the impact of
the technological on the human and the incomputable paradoxes at the heart of capitalism.
127: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
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So, let’s say you have sets of instructions, cellular
automata, ano you proouce a program by oenning
what the instructions will do and then let them grow.
So there’s this idea of generative algorithms where one
algorithm generates another and another, very much
in terms of evolution.
NG: So then, if in your view this concept of generative
algorithms in digital design and architecture is
inadequate, would this be because it doesn’t take into
account what you call the prehensive nature of algorithms,
the idea that they have an ability to make decisions
independently rather than simply being programmed
and then evolving according to set patterns? And could
this imply that for you they have a kind of agency, or
even a ‘consciousness’?
LP: For me this is not really a question of volition
or consciousness but a matter of breaking up the
continuous now or the oeterministic patterns ol cause
and effect. By breaking the chain of being, algorithms
are sorts of automatic prehensions that are constantly
making choices, evaluating, eliminating data. It is true
to say that these automatic prehensions can select
data that is not visible to us or even experienceable; in
short the point I want to make is that algorithms are
not instructions to be performed but are information
objects. In other words they are things, and not only
are they things, their ontological status also admits
that what looks to us like an automatism or simply
the culmination of formal reasoning instead exposes
a mode of thought that we cannot comprehend. For
algorithms the function of reason is not to verify
a theory or to construct a theory out of facts. It is
to calculate, process and quantify what cannot be
compressed into smaller units or programs. It is to deal
with the now constant production of ever-escalating
worlds of data. It is about considering data as objects,
things, real things, but also – and perhaps contrary to
object-oriented metaphysics – it is to admit that these
are things that think; i.e. that automatically elaborate
data, select and discern and ultimately take decisions.
NG: So you’re taking this alternative view of algorithms
as discrete objects, things in their own right, which
make decisions, and opposing it to the generative
model that you mentioned earlier which describes a
continuous now` ol cause ano ellect, a kino ol passive
evolution of algorithms constantly emerging one from
the other?
LP: Yes, in that model they’re constantly emerging
because one step is the basis for the next step, and so
on. So, it`s like you have chiloren`, it`s a very nliative
model, so you have ‘parent’ algorithms and then you
have their descendants. In this way the algorithm just
searches, is given a set of instructions that are left in a
space to proliferate, so what you get is these kinds of
images of these changing, morphologically changing,
forms that produce a certain kind of aesthetic and the
aesthetic that is produced is very much an aesthetic of
curves, of supple surfaces. We are beginning to see this
aesthetic everywhere now, for instance in architecture,
the topological model that is used is all about relations
and continuity of change: the uniformity of change.
NG: Right, so this kino ol thinking is renecteo in an
aesthetic, and you talk a lot in your new work about
a kind of topology, an architectural aesthetic, which
for you represents a neoliberal aesthetics. In what
way is neoliberalism, or capitalism in general, linked
to this? In what way is the aesthetic that you critique
LP: One level is to do with emergentism, with a critique
of emergentism in so far as this assumes that from simple
things complexity emerges – complex form emerges, in
the same way as from DNA basic instructions you get
an organism. It is the same model that is at work in
this use of generative algorithms in design. So what’s
the critique of emergentism? The critique is to do with
the fact that, rather than thinking about a historical
process by which things happen, in emergentism
there appears a kind of spontaneity. And of course
you know the critique of spontaneity within political
debate has been quite strong because it’s a mixture
between vitalism and chaos; i.e. that things emerge no
matter what you do, no matter what is programmed
‘We are beginning to see this aesthetic everywhere now, for instance in architecture, the topological
model that is used is all about relations and continuity of change: the uniformity of change.’
129: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
or planned, or strategically predetermined, things will
just emerge. So, there’s this idea that capitalism has
adopted this form of an emerging and self-producing
organism as it were, ano that the aesthetic renects this
image of capitalism, this tendency of capitalism.
NG: So an image of capitalism in the sense that Deleuze
and Guattari talk about, with its tendency to constantly
deterritorialise and reterritorialise everything it comes
into contact with?
LP: Exactly, yes, and because of the way algorithms
are used to generate structure and the way they
continuously evolve you have this connating
understanding of capitalism and technology. But also
that’s just one level; another level is to do with the kind
of organisation of urban space and aesthetic of urban
space where this kind of computational design has
allowed for the production of hyperconnection, the
potentiality to connect by creating smooth surfaces,
supple forms, continuous relations of points. So whereas
previously, in terms of the kind of capture of form by
architecture or the capture of the form of power, it
could be some kind of Le Corbusier house where the
rooms are cells and everything is really geometrically
organiseo, now you have this kino ol natness where
the ceiling becomes the noor ano then you have the
open space and transparency and everything is kind
of merging together, and it’s this merging that I see as
being problematic, all this merging of points into one
surface. The smoothing out of edges has produced this
kind of aesthetic of the ‘blob’, an aesthetic of the curve
or of suppleness, which is something that Deleuze
and Guattari were already anticipating in A Thousand
Plateaus when they talked about the supple and the
NG: And when you say that this is problematic, that
there’s a problem with this, in what way do you mean?
What I’m wondering is whether there’s a strong political
or ethical critique intended here of these forms and of
this approach to algorithms and how they are being
used or whether you are instead just explaining how
this is happening. Is it your view that this neoliberal
aesthetic is something to be actively confronted and
opposed, or is it something that’s just inevitable? Or
perhaps we should view it as being an example of the
pharmakon that Stiegler talks about: poison and remedy
at the same time?
LP: Well I think that it’s more poisoning rather than
curing us, ano il there is an ethic it`s oennitely not
a neutral ethic, in fact it’s an ethic which neutralises
humans. What I’m trying to describe is the agency, the
agency of algorithms, and their capacity to produce
a spatio-temporality, or ontological existence that we
do not comprehend. So in a way this is to say not that
we are just acted upon – that we are slaves in the face
of neoliberal capitalism which will always already
reproduce itself – instead what I’m saying is that
capitalism itself has got its kind of internal paradoxes,
or internal tension, so whilst at one end the investment
in constant capital has become such that it has
produced, you know, automatic machines that think, or
algorithms that are for me thinking agents, on the other
hand you also have the fact that algorithms cannot be
controlled, that the investment of information has
turned against capitalism because information cannot
be completely computed. So there is some kind of hole
at the heart of neoliberal capitalism.
NG: because of what can’t be computed, algorithms
which are no longer under control?
LP: Yes, in a way, in a way this is a kind of semi-
accelerationist idea, if you know what I mean…
NG: ‘Accelerationist’ in the sense of a theory that
capitalism carries within it the seeds of its own
destruction; that if we just leave it to run its course it
will inevitably destroy itself ?
LP: Actually there are various strands of
accelerationism. There’s one that would just argue,
from Deleuze and Lyotard, that one just has to go
with the capacity of capitalism to deterritorialise the
human; and then there is another one that instead
tries to oppose – doesn’t just go along tactically with this
‘Algorithms are their own entity, and what they deal with is the incomputable data – something that
becomes so big that no system can incorporate it, not even capitalism. In a way I want to divorce
capitalism from technology.’
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kind of deterritorialisation but wants also to think of a
strategy. So, what is this strategic deterritorialisation?
What could it be? The question for me is to always
try to open the human to the existence of other
ontological objects, things or creatures. In my previous
work [Abstract Sex] it was bacteria, in this work it’s
algorithms, but what is important is nrstly not to think
of neoliberal capitalism as one whole incorporating,
reproducing entity. And that’s why I argue against
neoliberal generative architecture, or generative
algorithms, because that kind of aesthetic and the kind
of overlapping of the technique onto capitalism just
says to us, conveys the idea to us, of this kind of mega-
organism that’s always-already reproducing whereas I
think one has to oppose that. So that’s where I think
one could develop a semi-strategy that is not only
believing in the power of capitalism to destroy itself.
This does not mean that one has to fall straight back
into politics of resistance. What instead is important to
me is not the horizon of liberation, but the presence of
complexity all the way down.
NG: So would it be right to say maybe that the problem
with this kind of ‘aesthetic of the blob’ is that it’s
conveying a sense of inescapable homogeneity, a kind
ol nxing` ol the aesthetic ano ol the algorithms into
one amorphous form, a form that mirrors capitalism’s
view of itself and serves to hide the real complexity
ano connict unoer the surlace, ano that this nxing
process is negative because these are things that need
to be constantly re-approached?
LP: Yes, re-approached and broken down; in one
way to re-approach is for me to argue that algorithms
are their own entity, and what they deal with is the
incomputable data – something that becomes so big
that no system can incorporate it, not even capitalism.
In a way I want to divorce capitalism from technology.
There needs to be a constant re-thinking of this now
natteneo relationship. My critique ol these kinos ol
generative algorithms in this responsive architecture,
interactive architecture, media design and so on is
exactly this: that they want to natten the realm ol
theory or thought with the realm of practice and doing,
because what you need to think is that this model that
wants to collapse technology and capitalism through
using the generative algorithm, what it does is to say
‘okay, we need the environment to reproduce, to act,
to react, to respond to us in order for us to produce
things’, in the same way as capitalism says ‘I need’ but
does it in a subtle way. Think of capital coming through
the windows of an interface, or an application, what
it wants is for you to act, to respond, to be included,
to participate, to interact, but for me that’s just a
façade, that’s the façade in which capitalism appears as
benevolent, the benevolent face of capitalism…
NG: Because you don’t really have any options?
LP: No, because all the options have already been
preset for you, it’s a probabilistic system where there
is no way out, or at least there seems to be no way
out because what you don’t see is the source code. In
fact the source code is behind everything, and it’s the
weak point of capitalism. It’s what capitalism cannot
incorporate because once you have the source code
you can reprogram the whole thing. So really, what is
important for me ethically, or strategically, is that the
theory behind things is important, and it can’t just be
natteneo with booies or embooiment, one neeos to still
articulate the importance of thought and theory within
this tendency of capitalism to try and make it all about
what is felt: touch, the haptic, smoothness, bodily,
visceral, affective… I think one has to go somewhere
else. I’m thinking particularly in terms of responsive
or interactive architecture or media; it’s basically your
body, your capacity to touch, to feel, to be involved
that becomes the input for the program to add new
things to itsell. So in a way we can natten capitalism, or
neoliberal capitalism, with a generative or parametric
aesthetic, just like Schumacher’s parametric aesthetic
which he argues is this new style, a new avant-garde
style, but that people have argued against, saying that
it’s the style of neoliberalism. There’s an article by
Owen Hatherley in Mute Magazine on this.
For me
it`s a nattening this parametricism ano algorithmic
architecture in neoliberal capitalism – but I think one
has to nno the hole, the gaps within computational
capitalism, and these gaps in computational capitalism
are the incomputable. The more data are produced the
more they cannot be compressed; there is this entropic
tendency of information to be increasingly augmenting
in size and volume so it cannot be compressed in
any system, so in a way it’s a chaos in the heart of
computation, and in the heart of the neoliberal model.
NG: Right, and I think that can bring us back to
what we touched on earlier, which was your view that
132: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
algorithms are entities we can’t control or predict, that
are able to make decisions of their own. Doesn’t this
risk a kind of anthropomorphism?
LP: No, because what I am really trying to say is that
they are not biological creatures, they are information
creatures, which is another thing. They cannot be
anthropomorphised in the sense that they are nothing
to do with life or death and they are totally indifferent
to biopolitics as well. It’s just not biological strata I’m
talking about. In my previous work, I talked about
the biological strata and found holes in the biological
strata. Now I’m talking about the information strata,
and it cannot be collapsed onto the biological strata,
it’s something else. And the fact that they grow or
mutate or so on is precisely to do with software, like
when Gregory Chaitin is talking about metabiology.
Metabiology is not biology simulated by the computer
or by programs, it is programming itself having its own
processes and its own dynamics, because in a way what
is important, why it’s important to retain evolutionary
theories, is because they are quite rational. Evolutionary
theories have always challenged that idea of the divine
creation, they’re really very materialistic, a kind of
materialism. I want to maintain them because of that
materialism but I’m thinking about the information
strata. In terms of the idea of algorithms having an
intention or volition, I don’t use these terms. I use
a form of Whitehead’s notion of prehension. And
Whitehead used this notion of prehension to describe
not perception or intention. Prehension is more about
the grasping and evaluating, selecting and breaking up
data. That’s all it is, and for me it is this capacity of
algorithms being able to process data, to select data,
which is the capacity of algorithms to make ‘decisions’
that oennes their mooe ol prehension. It`s like a mooe
of thought but it’s an automatic mode of thought, so
in a way I’m kind of revising the notion of automatism
versus vitalism; you know there’s this debate, this
diatribe in evolutionary theory between Darwin and
Bergson for instance.
NG: So, then it’s a problem of determinism basically,
of whether the algorithms are automatic in the sense
that they could only ever do one thing, or whether
they’re ‘free’, for want of a better word. Do you think
that these algorithmic objects might exist somehow in
between these two extremes? That they could explode
that binary and represent something ontologically
LP: The binary between determinism and
indeterminism? Yes maybe, perhaps we can say that
they are semi-determinate; semi-empirical or maybe
quasi-empirical, and the reason why I’d say that is
because I look into information theory and information
theory is an extension of studies of the mathematical
and of the formal systematisation and axiomatisation
ol the innnite. Ano what happens in computation is
that the innnite is not completely outsioe computation
but is just about calculable as innnite, so there is some
kind of computational entity, which is called Omega,
which is at once oiscrete so you can oenne it, you
can unoerstano the nrst lew numbers ol it but at the
same time it is also innnite. So in a way lor me this is
very important because this sense of the incomputable,
this kind of limit of computation, is not just some
kind of spontaneous ‘vital force’, it’s also somehow
determinate, or determinable to a certain extent, or as
Francois Laruelle would say, it is determinable in the
last instance, ano thus it`s oeterminable as innnite. So
such a thing, a semi-determinate thing, can exist.
NG: Finally, I want to ask you about your view on
the debate about technology and the human, of the
impact of technology on the human. Obviously views
on this vary quite dramatically from dystopian visions
of a world in which humans have been supplanted by
machines – Terminator, The Matrix and so on, in popular
culture – to a belief in technology as an emancipating
force, allowing us access to new ways of being, exciting
new possibilities. Where woulo your thinking nt in to
LP: Well there’s one philosophy that would argue that
humans and technology have always been together,
through a kind of structural coupling, a parasitical
relation between one and the other, like the idea of
‘ Te cyberpunk vision is always interesting because of the fact that it’s “punk”, the fact that it’s dark,
it’s crude, it’s dystopian, the fact that it doesn’t give you any hope, this is interesting because it is not
appealing to the sole ontology of the human.’
133: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
extended cognition or other philosophical ideas of the
pharmakon or the parasite and so on, where technology
is almost a kind of necessary condition for change.
For me this is a kind of ‘autopoietic’ model – the
organism cannot live without the environment and the
environment becomes constitutive of the organism –
whereas I think one needs to get out of this idea and
accept that there are many other things of which the
human is not aware. Nonetheless, these other things
are always acting, and are constitutive of the real, but
whether we experience or are able to grasp some of
these kinds of ‘machines’ doing their own things or not
will not save us; even if we understand it or whether or
not we oppose it or try to control it. Because obviously
there’s been this tendency today of re-thinking nature,
re-thinking matter in terms ol its artinciality: everything
is an object, everything is an actor, everything is on
the same plane. I don’t think that things are on the
same plane. One needs to get out of this mentality of
optimisation, I don’t think that increasing the process
of technological advance and acceleration can actually
derail the human or mutate the human, these kinds
of postmodern, cyborg visions are, well, I think we all
know now at this point that that’s not the way it’s going
to happen…
NG: It is all a bit 90s now isn’t it?
LP: Yes! That’s not the way it’s going to happen,
otherwise we would have seen it; you know, the
transformation, the kind of cyberpunk vision. The
cyberpunk vision is always interesting because of the
fact that it’s ‘punk’, the fact that it’s dark, it’s crude, it’s
dystopian, the fact that it doesn’t give you any hope,
this is interesting because it is not appealing to the sole
ontology of the human. But on the other hand it’s
also true to say that technology is not really something
that’s going to be substituting the human. There have
always been things that are parallel to the human
but that we just don’t know. One important thing is
to acknowledge the obliqueness and the ambiguity.
Instead of saying that we can coexist with these things
ano we`re all going to be nne, or on the other hano that
algorithms will supplant us, substitute us as another
entity; those for me are just scenarios that create a hype
and actually hide the fact of the real opaqueness, the
obliqueness of the existence of parallel universes that
we don’t know. Nonetheless, I must still say that I still
think the rationalist project of science is important,
and that’s why I’m saying that the function of reason
must be revisited in its speculative form. If you think
about how the more science looks into matter, nature,
information and whatever, the more what comes out
is this existence of these semi-theoretical and semi-
material postulates that we can be theorised to a point,
that we can suppose work in such a way but that we
oon`t lully know. The work that scientinc epistemology
does is to reveal all these anomalies that cannot be
completely systematised within itself but remain like
an open question, an oblique gate into the unknown.
It’s interesting. What this also means is the irreversible
power of computation to produce data that cannot be
comprehended or contained within one overall system
of power or metaphysical system. If algorithms are
making decisions for us it is not to overcome us but
simply to be themselves. Algorithms are indifferent to

Nicholas Gledhill is a postgraduate student at the Centre for
Cultural Studies, Goldsmiths, University of London and current
editor of Nyx. He is interested in human freedom and psychic

1. Held at the Showroom in London in January 2012, Signal.Noise
II was produced in collaboration with Mute and Queen Mary
School oI Business and Management. Parisi`s talk was entitled
The Speculative Reason oI Algorithmic Objects`.
2. Following the use oI the term by English mathematician/
philosopher A. N. Whitehead (1861-1947) to be prehensive`
implies a capacity to grasp or apprehend inIormation; to evaluate
data and respond to it in a way that may be to a greater or lesser
extent automatic.
3. See Owen Hatherley, Zaha Hadid Architects and the Neoliberal
Avant-garde`, Mute 3 #1, Spring/Summer 2011.
134: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
n his book Sound Ideas: Music, Machines,
and Experience (2005), composer and sonic
theoretician Aden Evens radicalizes the
critique raised by many sound artists
against those stranos ol sonic thinking ,noelity,
acoustic ecology, etc.) according to which noise is
merely unwanted sound that must be eliminated
from the listening experience. For what Evens
names ‘absolute noise’ is not merely concomitant
with a specinc technological expressivity the
sonic electricity that artists may incorporate
in their souno pieces but, nrst ano loremost,
a kind of sonic potency which is immanent to
inorganic matter; that is, an imperceptible and
uncontracted sonic virtuality that cuts across all
of matter and from which audible sounds are
formed. As he puts it himself: ‘[absolute noise] is a
depth without dimension from which dimensions
are drawn; noise is not a matter that gets formed
but the matter of matter, not a vibration but the
null space in which the vibration opens space’.
Thus, following Félix Guattari’s insistence that
we must ‘consider the problematic of technology
as dependent on machines, and not the inverse’,

what is implicated in Even’s position is an
understanding of noise as a process of machinic
self-differentiation that is ontological rather than
strictly technological, and consequently precedes
our usual distinction between signal and relative
noise. To think machinism ontologically rather
than technologically might at nrst seem counter-
intuitive, yet the reason behind this is, precisely,
our common understanding of machines as
synonymous with technology – and given the
recent advancements in modern science (chaos
theory, nonlinear dynamics, etc.), what we have
learned is that this might not be the case, and
that we consequently need to reconsider our
basic understanding of what a machine is.
Abstract Machinism and Synthetic Tinking:
135: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
In philosophy, it was nrst ano loremost Gilles Deleuze
and Félix Guattari who addressed this issue (in Anti-
Oedipus (1972) and A Thousand Plateaus (1980))
given their fondness for obscure jargon and an esoteric
writing style one might easily make the mistake of
reading their writings on machines in a metaphorical
sense, which in this case would be a particularly crude
mistake. Thankfully, Manuel DeLanda has done us
the enormous favour of extracting several of Deleuze
and Guattari’s central ideas from their dense texts,
in an attempt to make sense of their relevance in
contemporary philosophy and techno-culture. What is
of particular interest for us in this case is the concept
of an ‘abstract machine’, which DeLanda reconstructs,
vis-á-vis A Thousand Plateaus, in his book War in the Age of
Intelligent Machines (1991).
As mentioneo above, what we must nrst ol all get rio
of, in order to come to terms with the concept of an
abstract machine, is anything metaphorical. Because,
as DeLanda points out, if for instance we talk about
class struggle as ‘the motor of history’, we are using
the word ‘motor’ in a purely metaphorical sense.
Hence, what needs to replace the notion of metaphor
is that of isomorphism – that is, an identical relationship
of properties of operations between two different
entities. The latter might be illustrated by an account
of the hurricane-/steam engine-isomorphism, which
DeLanda describes in the following way: ‘when we say
that ‘a hurricane is a steam motor’ we are not simply
making a linguistic analogy: rather we are saying that
hurricanes embody the same diagram used by engineers
to build steam motors, that is, that it contains a reservoir
of heat, that it operates via thermal differences and
that it circulates energy and materials through a (so-
called) Carnot cycle’.
In other words, whereas we tend
to understand a hurricane and a steam engine as two
entities that have absolutely nothing to do with each
other, they do in fact share a deep isomorphism in that
they both embody the same virtual diagram (in this case
the Carnot cycle), which is what Deleuze and Guattari
refer to using the concept of an abstract machine:
that is, a mechanism-independent diagram shared
by different natural, technological, and even social
In his writings, DeLanda mentions a number of
abstract machines, but for our purposes it is enough
to have a closer look at one in particular – a so-called
abstract oscillator` in oroer to nesh out the concept
of absolute noise understood as ‘the null space in which
the vibration opens space’. It is in what is perhaps his
most important book on Deleuze’s philosophy, Intensive
Science and Virtual Philosophy (2002), that DeLanda gives
the most elaborate account of the abstract oscillator

– an entity which not only exists in synthesizers,
radios, radar and watches, but also in various natural
phenomena, such as biological clocks and even
subatomic particles. It is this latter instantiation of
abstract oscillation that is of particular interest to us
Following the physicist Arthur Iberall and the biologist
Arthur Winfree, DeLanda argues that oscillation is a
fundamental machinery of matter as such; a machinery
which ranges from ‘the fastest vibrations of subatomic
particles [to] the extremely long lifecycles of stars and
other cosmic bodies, [and which, along with multiple
intermediary levels, make up] a nested set of oscillations
pulsating in increasingly longer time scales’.
an individual organism, for instance, would from this
perspective be composed of an overlapping spectrum
of non-linear oscillators with different periods and
amplitude – such as sleep-awake cycles, reproductive
cycles, breathing cycles, metabolic cycles, and even
the cycles of the vibrating atoms which make up its
individual cells – all of which synthesize pulses of time
at various levels and in various sequences, and give us
our familiar, metric temporality. What it is important
to emphasize here – in terms of the morphogenetic
potency of absolute noise, or abstract oscillation – is
the non-linear nature of the oscillators (in contrast to the
sustained linearity of sinusoidal oscillators), where each
pulse ‘emerges as a new creation out of its past’,
this stands in sharp contrast to the classical Western
conception ol temporal morphogenesis ,exemplineo
by Newtonian and Einsteinian physics), which sees
time as an alreaoy quantizeo now ,oivioeo into
uniform, identical instants)’,
and thus makes it into ‘a
mere container for events happening in it’.
this idea of an already given temporality (reversible
time), in which change is fundamentally impossible,
DeLanda argues that we should conceive of time as
being constantly synthesized at various scales by the
vibrating pulses of a nested set of non-linear oscillators
(irreversible time), which obviously are not given either,
but constantly born and annihilated through various
processes of stimulus and external shocks. Time would
136: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
then no longer be understood as a mere static container
in which events occur mechanically, nor simply as a
phenomenon of subjective experience, but rather as
a specinc mesh ol vibratory sequences operating in
unison at various temporal scales; all being different
instantiations of the abstract oscillator – consequently
oenneo as a key lunctional component in processes ol
temporal individuation.
Given the metaphysical takes on the material potency
of noise, vibration and oscillation put forward by these
positions, they are immediately brought into contact
with what sonic theoretician Steve Goodman calls an
‘ontology of vibrational force’. For Goodman, sound
is merely a ‘thin slice [of] vibration audible to humans
or animals’
which is preceded by an immanent plane
of vibrational force, and he furthermore adds that ‘[v]
ibrations always exceed the actual entities that emit
them. Vibrating entities are always entities out of
phase with themselves […] and precede the distinction
between subject and object […].’
We may nesh out
the ontology of vibrational force by once again going
back to Deleuze and Guattari and in particular the
chapter in A Thousand Plateaus entitled ‘Treatise on
Nomadology – The War Machine’. In this chapter,
Deleuze and Guattari discuss metallurgy as the
materials science par excellence, since it does not operate
between a nxeo oroer ol thresholos, ol prepareo
matter` ano nnal lorm`. Rather, in metallurgy, the
operations are always astride the thresholds, so that an
energetic materiality overspills the prepared matter, and
a qualitative deformation or transformation overspills
the form’.
To put it differently: the metallurgist has
to lollow the now ol matter-movement ,lor example
through processes of melting and moulding), locate
specinc points ol critical thresholos ano tap into their
morphogenetic capacities in oroer to proouce specinc
forms. This means that he must let the material have
a say in the process ano nnal lorm, as DeLanoa puts
it; so rather than just imposing a form on an obedient
matter, he must enter into a ‘sensual interaction’, or
allegiance, with it.
This involves tracking the now ol
the material, in which ‘the succession of forms tends to
be replaced by the form of continuous development,
and the variability of matters tends to be replaced
by the matter of a continuous variation’.
So what
metal and metallurgy bring to light, as Deleuze and
Guattari note, are the morphogenetic capacities which
are immanent to matter; that matter is not just a dead
thing that must be commanded, but that there rather is
machinic potency proper to matter as such.
Furthermore, Deleuze and Guattari also argue that
the relationship between metal and materialism must
be extended even further, since metal is a vital part
of the whole of matter – even outside the sphere of
metallurgy. In this sense, metallurgy makes explicit the
fact that:
[M]etal is coextensive to the whole of matter, and
the whole of matter to metallurgy. Even the waters,
the grasses and varieties of wood, the animals
are populated by salts or mineral elements. Not
everything is metal, but metal is everywhere. Metal
is the conductor of all matter.

What is interesting, from our perspective, is that they
also note an intimate relationship between metallurgy
and sonic aesthetics, since there is ‘the tendency within
both arts to bring into its own, beyond separate forms,
a continuous development of form, and beyond
variable matters, a continuous variation of matter’.

In other words, what the ontology of vibrational force
must take from Deleuze and Guattari’s writings on
metallurgy is the idea of the continuous variation of
matter, although not just in the form of metal, but also
of absolute noise. From the perspective of an ontology
of vibrational force, absolute noise is coextensive to
the whole of matter, since all material entities are
traversed by continuums of vibratory processes which
are meshed together on an immanent plane of sonic
virtuality. Absolute noise therefore is sonic virtuality
par excellence: the vibration of vibration that pushes the
ontology of vibrational force to its limit, in the form of
a null space, or space of space, of the imperceptible
and uncontracted.
Despite the fact that the machinic materialism just
presented clearly goes beyond any conservative
enclosure of machinism within the technological
realm, it nevertheless implies a take on technological
operations and new media vastly different from
what has become manifested within the postmodern
consensus. And, at the heart of this critique, stands the
reconnguration ol representation. Fostmooern ano
post-structural thinkers have, of course, repeatedly
addressed the limits of representation, beyond any
basic conjunction between image and world, but
137: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
138: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
because they still operated from within human concerns,
none of them managed to give a positive account of
the complexity of sub-representational production. In
media theory it is Jean Baudrillard’s work in particular
which stands out here: his general theory of the
dissolution of the real into the hyperreality of simulacra
and simulation may be understood as an account of
how technological machines corrupt human relations,
representational congruence and ‘symbolic exchange’,
qua the cold signs of semiotic media production. In
that regard, Baudrillard’s work, like that of many other
post-structuralists, anticipates the reconnguration
of representation advocated here; yet, against his
anthropocentrism and romanticisation of human
relations, what the machinic materialism presented in
this text requires is an account of how representation
is generated from the machinic potencies of mind-
independent matter – in terms of the real understood
not as representational congruence but as primary
production through which representation is produced.
Amongst post-Deleuzian, diagrammatic thinking it is
the work of renegade philosopher Nick Land that stands
out the most in this context. Land’s ‘materialization of
critique’, or attempt to convert the ideal conditioning
of the representation of matter into the material
conditioning of ideal representation,
is constructed
precisely in order to target the anthropocentrism
which has stood at the heart of continental philosophy
since Kant, and which has tended to obscure the
functional potencies of matter in favour of constant
pre-occupations with language, thought, experience,
ano so on. Ano Lano`s materialist reconnguration
of representation can indeed be described as a
radicalization of Kant, in terms of a reconsideration
of transcendental synthesis. Thus, against Kant’s
characterization of synthesis at the ideal level of
representation – the synthesis of form and content
anchored in a subject – Land transplants synthesis
across the realm of matter as primary process: ‘[h]ere
thinking as the exemplincation ol synthetic activity
is no longer the preserve of the subject: it becomes a
capacity of intensive matter itself ’,
and the thinking
subject, along with its categories of representation, is
consequently understood to emerge from this synthetic
potency of pure matter, which in-itself is both
a-subjective ano a-signineo.
In A Thousand Plateaus, in the discussion of the refrain,
Deleuze and Guattari hint at some of the implications
of the technological operations that come with this
materialist liquidation of representation when they
talk about the synthesizer as ‘a sound machine (not a
machine for reproducing sounds), which molecularizes
and atomizes, ionizes sound matter’.
Indeed, for
Deleuze and Guattari, ‘[t]he synthesizer, with its
operation of consistency, has taken the place of the
ground in a priori synthetic judgment: its synthesis is
of the molecular and the cosmic, material and force,
not form and matter’.
Thus, what the synthesizer
makes explicit is precisely this synthetic potency
of matter as primary process, but also the capacity
of technological machines to dis-inhibit synthesis.
Indeed, if the synthetic productions of intensive
matter tend to become obscured by the extensities
of the basic representational structures it generates
(identity, analogy, opposition, and resemblance), what
technological machines nrst ano loremost must be
credited with is the capacity to de-synthesize, or liquidate
all forms of representational structures qua matter as
primary process. In this regard, it is no longer even a
question of a partnership between thought and matter,
as in the work of the metallurgist, but of the continuum
between thought-as-matter and matter-as-thought, which
consequently inverses Baudrillard’s orders of simulacra
(of counterfeit, replica, and simulation), to be not the
history of representational congruence to hyperrealist
indetermination, but that of transcendental illusion to
immanent production. Undoubtedly, this in turn hints
at a media philosophy very different from its consensus
in terms of media and communication, where the common
understanding of media technologies in terms of
human communication is undermined in favour of
the capacity of technological machines to dissipate
synthetic structures: mediation not as representation or
communication, but as decomposition, or diffusion.
But why is this important today? Given the increasingly
hyper-mediated state of contemporary techno-culture,
and the constantly mutating modes of power and
exploitation concomitant with late capitalism (affective
modulation, attention economy, neuro-capital, etc. –
all of which have nothing to do with representation), it
is clear that we need a conception of machinism that is
(both ontologically and technologically) potent enough
to keep pace with these accelerating trends. And clearly,
the machinic materialism implicated in the work of
Land, DeLanda, and Deleuze & Guattari – which
139: Nyx, a noctournal: ISSUE 7: MACHINES: SPRING/SUMMER 2012
manages to work through postmodernist shortcomings
in terms of future ‘concept-engineering’– is a step in
the right direction.
Jon Lindblom is an independent writer and PhD-student in
Visual Cultures at Goldsmiths, University of London. His
research primarily focuses on aesthetics, technology, abstract
materialism, and the human/inhuman-debate in contemporary
philosophy, cultural theory and media theory. He blogs at
The images with this essay are a selection of ‘space sound
paintings’. These are the visualisations produced by Catharina
Cronenberger Golebiowska’s Space Sound Painting
Machine (see front & back covers). Catharina is a member of
London-based artists’ collective The Chess Club.
1. Evens, Aden, Sound Ideas. Music, Machines, and Experience,
Minneapolis: University oI Minnesota Press, 2005, p.16.
2. Guattari, Felix, Chaosmosis. An Ethico-Aesthetic Paradigm,
Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995, p.33.
3. See Deleuze Gilles and Felix Guattari, Anti Oedipus. Capitalism
and Schi:ophrenia, Jol.1, London: Continuum 2004, and Deleuze,
Gilles and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus. Capitalism and
Schi:ophrenia, Jol.2, London: Continuum, 2004. In this text I`m
particularly indebted to the discussion oI nomadic materialism in A
Thousand Plateaus, pp.445-458.
4. See DeLanda, Manuel, War in the Age of Intelligent Machines,
New York: Zone Books, 1991, pp.138-146.
5. DeLanda, Manuel, A Thousand Years of Non-Linear Historv,
New York: Zone Books, 1997, p.58.
6. See DeLanda, Manuel, Intensive Science and Jirtual Philosophv,
London: Continuum Books, 2002, pp. 104-116.
7. Ibid. p.106.
8. Iberall, Arthur, Toward a General Science of Jiable Svstems,
New York: McGraw Hill, 1972, p.153, quoted in Ibid. p.109.
9. Ibid.
10. Ibid. p.105
11. Goodman, Steve, Sonic Warfare. Sound, Affect, and the
Ecologv of Fear, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2009, p.81.
12. Ibid. p.82.
13. Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, p.453.
14. DeLanda, War in the Age of Intelligent Machines, p.30.
15. Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, p.453.
16. Ibid. p.454.
17. Ibid. p.453-454.
18. Brassier, Ray and Robin Mackay, Editor`s Introduction`, in
Land, Nick, Fanged Noumena. Collected Writings 1987-2007,
Falmouth: Urbanomic, 2011, p.26.
19. Ibid. p.13.
20. Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, p.378.
21. Ibid. pp.378-379.

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