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<eyebeam><blast> clues on translocal territories

[the following tries to summarise some of the threads of the last week 
from a personal perspective, and suggests themes for further discussion 
at the end; there are some answers in here to questions that Saskia 
Sassen yesterday asked very pertinently, although i don't address them 
directly; once again, i believe that we can make some headway by 
describing what we and others are practically doing with the net - 
looking for the micro-pragmatics and the politics of networked agency; 

Last night I finally caught up with reading the back-logged BlastForum 
messages and will try to draw together a few comments here. One problem 
in the 'economy of participation' of such a list is that some of the 
list members will never read this far, or will only skim-read the 
well-argued, witty and original little text I am going to put down. (... 
he said jokingly.) I guess we have to face this and make the best of it.

I am happy about the 'localization' thread. The postings show how the 
internet is embedded in material reality, and how 'cyberspace' is 
something that, even for those who are online and in our daily practice 
of living, remains something that is dependent on rates charged by 
telephone or cable companies, modem speeds, and the occasional power 
failure caused by storms

There are two general observations of the Forum which make me think a 
lot. The level of thought and theorisation going into what art, life and 
death might be still far outweigh that devoted to the networks as sites 
of critical practice and agency. For me this partly has to do with the 
fact that we still lack a language for describing the social and 
aesthetical specificities of networked environments in an appropriate 
way, so we resort to trying to get to grips with them by refering to 
discourses on art, theatre, psychoanalysis, stupid concepts like 
'memes', or to theories borrowed from ant-hills and elsewhere. Which in 
itself is a valid technique, but might not get us as far as we want to 
get. Being able to write, as Ricardo Basbaum (13 feb 98) does, 
'Colonizing cyberspace is to dislocate it inside ourselves, letting 
computer screen membrane slide softly through our mind, carrying 
words/images to the body as materials to perform "symbolic metabolism".' 
- that's all very well, but I would like to understand what that means 
as a strategy and a practice, and from there I want to be able to decide 
whether *this* posthuman scenario is actually interesting, rather than 
just scary.

The more important second aspect here is, in my view, the fact that we 
don't really have that much experience with what 'networks as sites of 
critical practice and agency' might actually be. Most of our knowledge 
and experience, and even the phenomena related to 'being online', are 
still very much rooted in the material world of food, houses, people, 
money, etc., and the potential that 'online spaces' might have - well, 
as I indicated in the [local] posting, my own observations, and those of 
many people I know, are strong only in the field of e-mail and the 'dark 
spaces' (Alan Sondheim) of text-based environments. A few experiments on 
the WWW are not really sufficient for understanding what is possible, 
and what isn't. And, as Brian Holmes (12 feb 98) puts it, 'the net can 
convey a fabulous invitation to embodiment, when it's used to provoke 
encounters and develop collaborations over time.' Unfortunately, this 
sort of usage throws us back, on a theoretical level, to the good old 
postal service and the wandervogel movement, and does not help to get a 
grasp on this medium.

One answer could be (something that is lurking behind some of the 
questions that have been asked and archived on this list) that the Net 
will not do it, and that it'll turn out to have a similar kind of 
artistic and political potential as the telephone system or newspapers - 
a lot on one level, very little on another. The successes of 
Zapatista-style net activism that Rodrigo Dominguez wrote about are a 
case in point, but the scarcity of such examples also shows how little 
experience there is with this form of activism. (Compare this, for 
instance, to demonstration techniques for public spaces, leaflet 
distribution, telephone chains; how much more _should_ be possible with 
a supposedly universal medium like the Net.)

A crucial question is in how far people who use the Net as artists, 
activists, or whatever, are able to understand, if not master the 
technology that they are using, and understand what this technological 
frame does to their work. Andy Deck (4 Feb 98) has made some interesting 
remarks on the constraints that software and network protocols pose, and 
on the ideological and commercial interests they articulate. My take on 
the question he poses (15 feb 98): 'How does one address one's work to a 
wide audience on the net without getting caught up in the maelstrom of 
reorganizing protocols, procedures, and versions?  This instability does 
not only provide possibilities, it also keeps artists from developing 
sustained, personal processes.' - is that you can't and it will. It is 
part of the artistic baggage, the conditionality of this body of work 
that it is temporal and a lot of it will have disappeared soon. Imagine 
how much computer art from the 60s and 70s is now irrecoverable. The 
frustrating thing now is that you can watch the software change your 

This, as well as the point that Tim Jordan (5 Feb 98) made ('75% of all 
hosts exist in english speaking languages and many of the Internet's 
elements assume english as the standard language not just in the content 
of communication but also in the software needed to make 
communication.') is something that can only be changed to the degree 
that people are able to take their technical means of production and 
reproduction into their own hands, write code, build the hardware, 
distribute the work, etc., and defend the existence of network protocols 
which support the kind of communication that we favour. (Having to do 
IRC via a web interface is a drag.) This is political work that will 
have to be done and continued. And it will have to cope with the fact 
that it cannot separate itself from the politics of its tools (as nicely 
illustrated by the 'Duration Piece' that Jon Ippolito (13 feb 98) 

Tim Jordan's (20 feb 98) response to Brian Holmes' (18 feb 98) question 
whether it will be possible to use the Net for 'the creation of 
culturally based forms of political resistance, on an international 
scale?' is highly relevant here: 'A distinction between online and 
offline needs to be drawn, for no other reason than to allow the 
possibility that there are fundamental differences between the two (not 
just in politics either). Only once the two are separated and explored, 
which also means exploring their connections, can we confidently discuss 
the politics of resistance in or about the net.' I agree with Stephen 
Linhart (18 feb 98) that globalization can have critical and positive 
effects on the way in which we act in the world and develop new forms of 
agency, collaboration and resistance within the translocal culture that 
we participate in.

I would like to remind us of something that Jordan Crandall wrote during 
the preparatory discussion to this Forum:

'We intend to emphasize those network practices that do not, of course, 
simply generate stylish visuals for commercial media industries, but 
which, deeply engaged with historical currents and contexts, aim to 
empower viewers with perceptual tools, interpretive formats, and 
strategic avenues of action.  By identifying and developing these 
complex modes of cultural articulation, we hope to facilitate 
cross-cultural and historical connections and to broaden the 
possibilities for artistic and critical intervention.'

I still see this as the prime task of this discussion, a sort of 
teach-in that we offer to each other on things we are involved in and 
that we have found to work or not work at all. Jordan continued:

'The emphasis is on those practices that map the clashes and exchanges 
of cultures, bodies, and codes -- uncovering the historical and material 
currents that jostle below the user-friendly surfaces. They articulate 
deep complications.  They unravel. We have to work hard to emphasize 
this, or many people will think we're talking about 'web art.'

I'm afraid that a lot of the things that have been said have been about 
exactly that. And, another limitation of the discussion has been pointed 
out by Gabriela Warkentin (20 feb 98): 'Many of the things I have read 
so far, refer to the Net, WebArt, etc. as seen only through American, 
perhaps European eyes. What about the rest of the world? Or is this 
medium too "western" in nature?' One answer was given by Pedro Meyer 
(these homogeneous entities - the West and the rest - co-exist in hybrid 
mixtures), another is the question why 'the rest of the world' that is 
lurking on this list is not contributing their own observations and 
experiences. I want to hear people's opinions from Novi Sad, from 
Ankara, from Cape Town, from Tokyo and from Moscow. *If* this is an open 
discussion forum, it is the silence from those places more than anything 
else that re-iterates the rest/West divide. Not living in a NATO country 
is no excuse.

I've been going on for too long already, so I want to briefly finish 
with a few points that I see as clues for pushing this discussion ahead. 
In my own writing, I summarise this under the header 'topology of 
agency'. 'The challenge here is to understand not only the new 
topologies of form and of presence, but to tackle the problems of agency 
and events in connective translocal environments. On a political level, 
this leads to the question of the possibilities of a new type of public 
sphere that may or may not be established in and by the electronic 
networks. This public sphere will only come into being if there are 
complex forms of interaction, of participation
and learning, that fully exploit the technical possibilities of the 
networks and that allow for new and creative forms of becoming present, 
becoming visible, becoming active, in short, of becoming-public.'

Here are some clues towards understanding the topology, and maybe the 
politics, of the networks:

- understanding the spatial and temporal paramenters of networked spaces 
(Carlos Basualdo (9 feb 98) hints at the strange 'proxemics' of the net: 
'In the net we are very close. Maybe closer than ever, in the intimacy 
of the act of writing, sketching, almost without anything in between. At 
the same time we are probably very far away from each other, from each 
of the others with whom we are close. I am very interested in the 
proximity of that distance and with the strange relation with faith that 
it seems to impose.)

- understanding the tools, their embeddedness, and the ways in which we 
may have to re-invent ourselves and our politics in a changing 
environment. (Kate Hayles (9 feb 98) writes that 'the posthuman offers 
us a way to think about human-machine interfaces in ways that are 
life-enhancing rather than life-threatening.  It also offers 
opportunities to get out of some old boxes, particularly the mind/body 
split and to put embodiment back into the picture, again in ways that 
are life-enriching rather than life-diminishing.' She adds (10 feb 98): 
'My response to this situation is to try to point out the ways in which 
all technologies, including virtual technologies, are of course 
embodied; they couldn't exist in the world if they weren't. At issue 
here, then, is not only how the technologies are constructed in fact, 
but also how they are constructed in discourse.')

- understanding the new habits, routines and behaviours we are 
confronted with, that we may have to learn or unlearn (Jordan Crandall 
(11 feb 98) writes about the limitations of language-based approaches ad 
asks: 'I'm wondering if one key might be in the realm of the habitual, 
of encoded/embodied routines.' The flip-side of this is the problem of 
'behaviour engineering', something that Tim Druckrey has discussed 
extensively over the past years. The dividing line between art and 
manipulation seems to disapppear in the 'reframing of consciousness' 
that Bill Seaman (11 feb 98) describes as being key to his own work: 
'How can such an environment enhance or trigger particular "states" of 
consciousness in the user? To what extent can we "re-frame" aspects of 
the consciousness of the artist, via specific modes of "translation" of 
operative poetic processes and poetic elements of image, sound, and 
text, within functional computer-mediated networks?'

Brian Holmes (19 feb 98) touches on a related issue in addressing the 
question of how to act as part of dynamic processes of high complexity: 
'To identify predictable patterns is of course useful for controlling 
events or taking advantage of them. But beyond control, could a certain 
kind of sensitivity to the complex eddies and flows of intersubjective 
exchange allow one to help precipitate the unknown? Could one, say, 
recognize pattern formation and intervene where a new pattern could 
possibly come into formation? Or in another direction: could an 
aesthetics of patterned consciousness reveal the social nature of human 
autonomy? Could one learn to accept one's own interventions as 
precipitating a shared unknown? Could this become a more powerful and 
pleasing game than proprietary accumulation?' These are highly 
problematic issues, viewed from a perspective informed by a humanist 
type of politics. Yet, their discussion seems to be vital for mapping 
the room for manoeuvre that we may have.)

- further on the question of behaviour and agency, Greg Ulmer (15 feb 
98) raises the interesting question of what the contemporary equivalent 
could be to the - private and public - ritualistic functions of greek 
theatre could be ('Theater--a place that focused the attention of the 
(how many tribes or clans was it?), focused these families, their 
attention, on the mistakes, no, the folly and blindness of individuals 
(ate) that became collectively (ATH) DISASTER.  assuming that it would 
be good to eschew disaster.
  The members of these clans began to feel like Athenians, citizens of a 
city state, and (eventually), as literacy spread, experienced selfhood, 
post-ritual, post-oral.  Having a thought no more felt as if the Wind 
were giving orders, but as if from inside one's body reflexively "I" 
thought.  Oedipus, the gesture that made the Sphinx disappear points at 

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