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Re: <eyebeam><blast> Cyberpower

Dear Tim Jordan -

Having been struck by each of your posts to this forum, I was naturally
pleased to see a fuller development of your reflections about art and
politics online. There is something quite generous about the way you
follow an individual's journey into cyberspace - the initial skepticism
and enthusiasm; the discovery of a new fluidity of identity; the gradual
awareness of a social dimension to the cyber-experience. Perhaps then
when you cite Marx and you shift to another level of analysis in your
fourth and fifth theses, you intend merely the deepening and broadening
of a common experience, whereby the individual, reflecting on his or her
inscription in a historical process, comes to question what before
seemed a progressively greater conquest of freedom, and now appears a
more powerfully charged implication in the larger patterns of a
civilization's development. You point to the ways that a fantasy of
individual omniscience fuels an increasing dependence on technological
tools for the management of information. At the end of your fifth
thesis, when you speak of the irony of this situation, you are
essentially quoting Foucault from the conclusion to his book on the will
to knowledge - or reinventing him. At this point you have gone far
beyond the specifics of the internet, to deal with matters fundamental
to the modern experience over centuries of development.

I am very much in agreement with this drift, because for me, the
internet in all its manifestations is simply characteristic of the
current phase of our social or civilizational pattern, whose cellular
building-block is possessive individualism (which I see at work, very
clearly, in the fantasies of omnipotence you describe). It seems to me
that we might now begin to make some progress on a challenge that you
addressed quite forcefully to myself among others, when you wrote:

"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."

You are outlining the specific of forms that social power takes in the
individual and collective psychology of the online experience, and at
the same time, through your references to Marx and Foucault, you are
(implicitly) drawing critical connections to the larger world.  This
double thrust seems to me essential to the real power of "cyber-power."
But I would suggest that it is equally urgent to make
psychological/ideological observations, and to go beyond them. When I
wrote a few days ago of the cyber-public sphere and of the importance of
cultural diversity, I was also attempting a delayed response to your
remarks above. After the research for the Documenta book, it became
apparent to our group here in Paris that two directions are particularly
promising for cultural-political engagement today. One, appealing to
Habermas, involves a scandalously idealistic assertion of the social
power that remains in the notion of the public sphere. I suggest that
this public sphere acquires a specific form through the internet, and
through the interplay of national and international institutions that
the internet helps make possible. This approach can be developed as a
necessary extension of enlightenment universalism in the age of
capitalist globalization. It cannot even be fully imagined without the
net, and it cannot hope to attain its potential without the
organizational capacities that the net really does provide - for I wish
to point out, pace Saskia Sassen, that not just ethereal information but
also very real resources are managed by corporations and governments
with the help of their encrypted channels, while the transparent
democratic public sphere, as usual, lags behind. One important thing to
do today it to catch up to the corporations. But another approach must
no doubt largely take place off the net. It involves diving into the
mesh of collective pasts, to discover and reactivate scattered threads,
latent historical energies, which can allow individuals to recognize
themselves in the mirror of potentially sharable and potentially
alternative projects. This adventure, I think, is something that
Foucault himself turned towards at the close of his life: the attempt to
plunge into a collective past and to replay certain fundamental
decisions. This is of course a dangerous game, and every good
neo-liberal will brandish the specter of identitarian fascism. Those
whose heart and imagination goes out to the collective pasts of the
losers, to the vanquished, and to the still unborn ideals gestating in
whatever neighbors and friends one has been able to find, can best reply
to this accusation by seizing the ultra-modernity of the networks at the
peak of their democratic potential, and calling out reasonably and with
passion for a new common sense that accords every cultural pursuit some
right to live in the city of man- and womankind. This is a message we
can offer through this universal network: that there is a place in the
world-space for all particular ideals, and not only for the
collectivized and standardized grasping of possessive individualism.

Like all the realms of social life, the internet is not only shaped by
manipulative powers. It can still be a tool of emancipation, if it is
tied to other levels of experience in such a way that the reciprocal
differences between on- and offline effect a valuable critique of what
promises to be the very dicey experience of surviving the
twentieth-first century.

Sorry for the length but I couldn't put it any more concisely,

Best regards,

Brian Holmes-

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