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<eyebeam><blast> Barthes, Derrida and Deleuze/Guattari

Dear everybody,

First thank you for the very interesting discussions on the list. I wish
I had more time to follow it.

My take on the discussion of the emergence of technology and
poststructuralist thinking (to alllude to George P. Landow's very
influential book "Hypertext") would be that what hypertext technology
does is an instrumentalisation or technologizing of the way of reading
pointed out by Barthes et. al. Hypertext technology enables the
computer/network to follow the reader's non-linear drifting, and
capitalize on it. That is especially clear in the case of websites using
cookies, member registration in order to  read the reader and thus know
more about reader behaviour in order to sell advertising or just to make
the site more meaningful and plastic towards the reader's desire.

In this way you could argue that the computer/network is with hypertext
and e.g. object oriented programming finally able to capitalize on the
much hailed reader freedom in hypertextual systems. With the research in
ways of making hypertextual structures meaningful (that is e.g. making
them answer to reader's desires) one is also aiming the way for new ways
of manipulation (the flip side to meaning) and control. Perhaps one
should engage Michel de Certeaus concepts of the tactical vs. the
strategical ("L'invention du quotidien - 1. arts de faire"), where the
tactical is a way of subverting (perhaps too strong a word) the control
or order within the controlled space, e.g. in reading, living, watching
TV. Within these concepts one might argue that hypertext technology is a
way of re-conquering or re-controlling the territory lost to tactical
maneuvres. Therefore ideas of hypertext setting the reader free and
making everybody authors are very ideological cover-ups of what is
really happening; namely developping machines to control the reader or
perhaps read the reader.

In this way Barthes et. al. are used to construct an ideological
mythology around the network, hypertext, computers etc. Barthes was very
well aware of such use of his criticism. In 1971 he in an article
(Mythology today) commented his earlier attempts to construct a myth
criticism (from the late 50's), and  realized that his own criticism of
petit-bourgeois myth had inself turned into mythology. If he were alive
today, I guess he would make an article about how his reading of
Sarrazine (S/Z) has been turned into mythology.

This is not to dismiss Barthes, Derrida, Deleuze/Guattari or even
Hypertext. Also my point is not that hypertextual technology or networks
are 'evil' or that even cookies are evil. Of course one can never set
reading totally free, because then there would be no reading (which is
the problem that hypertexts to some extent have). Reading is something
which happens within a controlled space involving both strategy (form
the author/sender) and tactics (on behalf of the reader in order to
construct his own reading). And of course the sender will use strategy
in order to control the reader (in different ways and with different
aims of course) while at the  same time readers will try to tactically
hack the control. That is how the game is.

I guess my point is just that one should be careful (at least if one is
not seeing oneself as working within the public relation business of the
computer industry) not to be seduced by keywords and isomorphies. Just
because Deleuze/Guattari talk about the rhizome it is not sure that they
meant the Internet. On the other hand it can of course be very valuable
to use Deleuze/Guattari's concepts to critisize the Internet from
within, which I think is very valuable and relevant. But generally the
French poststructuralist thinkers were dealing with concepts closer to
the utopian than the technological, and it can be dangerous to overlook
this.  There I think I agree with Brian Holmes more institutional
criticism. One should remember to re-engage the tactical elements of
their thinking.

Best, (PS! If I don't respond to possible discussion during the next two
weeks it is because I'm away - first on conference, then on holiday.
Sorry - I'll try to catch up when I get back...)

Soeren Pold
Dept. of Comparative Literature    phone: +45 8942 1840 / 1162
University of Aarhus               fax:   +45 8942 1850
Langelandsgade 139                 email: aeksp@hum.aau.dk
DK-8000  Aarhus C, Denmark

My Multimedia Aesthetics Course (in Danish):

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