Author Archives: rareinke

Craig Willse and Dean Spade, “Freedom in a Regulatory State?: Lawrence, Marriage and Biopolitics”

Background: This piece was published in the Widener Law Review in 2005. Willse and Spade have collaborated a lot, often writing about LGBT social movements, most recently with “Sex, Gender, and War in an Age of Multicultural Imperialism,” forthcoming this year in QED: A Journal of GLBTQ Worldmaking.

–Craig Willse is now assistant professor in Cultural Studies at George Mason University, where he is faculty sponsor for GMU Students Against Israeli Apartheid. Willse co-edited Beyond Biopolitics with Patricia Clough. Willse’s book A Diagram of Surplus Life: Housing, Race, and Capital (currently under contract) “examines how housing insecurity becomes organized as an object of knowledge and intervention.” Willse is also interested in “the ways in which racism and poverty are made productive in the context of urban neoliberal service and knowledge industries, including social services and social sciences.”

Dean Spade is associate professor at Seattle University School of Law (Administrative Law, Poverty Law, and Law and Social Movements).  Spade was also a Williams Institute Law Teaching Fellow at UCLA Law School and Harvard Law School, teaching classes related to sexual orientation and gender identity law and law and social movements. In 2002, Spade founded the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, a non-profit law collective that provides free legal services to transgender, intersex and gender non-conforming people who are low-income and/or people of color. Spade is currently the co-editor of the online journal, Enough, which focuses on the personal politics of wealth redistribution. Spade’s most recent book is Normal Life: Administrative Violence, Critical Trans Politics and the Limits of Law (2011).

Argument: This law review article contextualizes the Lawrence v. Texas (2003) decision that is lauded as the “biggest victory yet” by LGBT legal organizations and advocates. Instead, Willse and Spade argue that Lawrence and its subsequent contribution to the “gay agenda” fighting for “marriage equality” actually represents a lack in commitment to radical political change.

            –Represents a reduction in the demands of what was once “a movement against violent and coercive systems of gender and sexual regulation”; it actually maintains these regulatory systems as LGBT legal organizations (which are the most well-resourced) tie the Lawrence victory to a “broader framing of a ‘gay agenda’ that focuses on marriage rights and fails to meaningfully oppose state regulation of sexuality, gender, and family structures” (311).

            –There must instead be a shift from focusing on formal legal equality (primarily benefits white/wealthy gay men and lesbians) to more radical deregulation of gender, sexuality, and families. The key to this shift is understanding regulatory mechanisms, and “moving away from understanding marriage as simply an enclosed institution that either includes or excludes and towards understanding marriage as a technology of power that organizes all parts of a population in terms of access to resources necessary for survival” (312).

Lawrence and Disciplinary Politics: To take attention away from this association of Lawrence to Hardwich, the implications of Lawrence that are emphasized by the majority are its “newly-validated and more palatable” gay identity àEmphasis on parallels to “incentivized heterosexual family norms.”

            —Lawrence over Hardwich: seen as a victory in terms of disciplinary power on an individual level, however actually doesn’t challenge the mechanics of discipline itself. Instead, can be read as “loosening of certain disciplinary mechanisms—legal holds on some sexual acts—because those mechanisms are no longer sufficient or efficient for managing bodies and resources (316).

            –Demonstrates how power is regrouping in different techniques that address queer as disciplined subject and ensure the domination of some queers

Biopolitics and Gay Marriage: current debates about “gay marriage” represent an inability to move from a disciplinary to a biopolitical model. Consolidation of legitimacy/power in organizations whose priorities are far from radical origins of Stonewall era.

            –Marriage as biopolitical mechanism, therefore “‘Marriage equality’ itself is an ironic term, given that the legal designation of marital status serves to differentiate between and to privilege select family structures and sexual choices” (318).

            –Same-sex marriage does not actually challenge the institution of marriage, but redirects/intensifies biopolitical functions of the state (marriage historically challenged by feminists in a biopolitical capacity as exploitative to women, particularly through the targeting of low-income and women of color in welfare reform and “healthy marriage promotion”)

Raising the Stakes: Potential frameworks for understanding discrimination: discipline targeting individual subjectà remedy as individual rights, or systemic creation of unevenly distributed life chances/biopolitical modelà remedy is redistribution/critical view of status quo that removing barriers to an individual’s access to rights or benefits will not be enough (LGBT movement that also struggles for racial/economic justice)

            –They argue that the current LGBT movement uses individual rights model: “takes the status quo as a given, and argues only for formal equality within the existing distribution of life chances” (328). However a broader framework for queer and trans rights would make redistribution a central goal: the more “just” approach would give resources to those who experience the greatest impact of gender/sexual orientation oppression (329).

Question: Willse and Spade argue that there is a lack of understanding of how marriage functions “as a mechanism for organizing populations in relation to resources for life chances,” that is contributing to the disconnect between a just movement to oppose gender and sexual orientation oppression and the “LGBT movement” as it is currently functioning in the U.S. How would these arguments go over in U.S. public discourse? Where else are biopolitical mechanisms disguised by individual “disciplinary” activism, and how can knowledge of biopolitical functions help us work toward more “just” social movements overall?

Catherine Waldby and Melinda Cooper, “From reproductive work to regenerative labour: The female body and the stem cell industries”

Authors: Like Melinda Cooper, Catherine Waldby is located at University of Sydney, where she is the Director of the Biopolitics of Science research network. Her research is largely focused on biomedicine and the life sciences. She has received national and international research grants for her work on embryonic stem cells, blood donation and biobanking. She has also been an author on two books on the subject: The Global Politics of Human Embryonic Stem Cell Science: Regenerative Medicine in Transition (2009) and Tissue Economies: Blood, Organs and Cell Lines in Late Capitalism (2006). 

Overview: The article draws on Cooper’s work on the bioeconomy by examining the way women’s bodies in particular are exploited in the service of expanding biomedical research into the stem cell/regenerative medicine industries. The authors situate their analysis within a framework of feminist theories of reproductive labor that, they argue, does not go far enough to theorize the current shift in the global capitalist bioeconomy that is occurring with technical development of the stem cell research industry, particularly in transactional exchange of biological material of women’s oocytes for their “regenerative potential.”

  • Feminist rethinking of labour in post-Fordist economies; emotional labour, care labour, affective labour as spaces of feminized labour that involve the nurturing of others (4) 
  • Stem cell industries expanding across UK, North America, Western Europe, India, China; women are the primary tissue donors in these industries, but economic value of women’s role in this process is “largely unacknowledged”

Female reproductive biology and regenerative medicine

  • Regenerative medicine: “to promote in vivo tissue regeneration, rather than relying on donated organs, by either stimulating the patient’s own tissues or transplanted stem cell tissues” (5).
  • Stem cells: “can renew themselves and give rise to more specialized cell types with specific functions in the body […] major source of pluripotent stem cells is in vitro embryos” (5).
  • Securing “generative potential” of stem cells involves negotiating with potential female donors:
    • Soliciting IVF clinics for “spare embryos”; Egg sharing arrangements; “Foetal material […] harvested from pregnancy terminations for medical research”; Private cord blood banking

Labour and the stem cell industries

  • Biological material/collaboration to obtain that material is essential “labour” of life sciences R&D, but it is not valued as labour like the “cognitive labour of the scientist and the clinician” is (8).
    • Takes place at level of women’s biological embodiment: naturalized
    • Difficult to calculate its “productivity”: not quantifiable in linear units of time/codified tasks (9)

Reproductive labor debates

  • Historically, feminist commentary on industrial production/feminized labor (feminist materialist) actually reproduces a Fordist industrial model of labor and nation-state model of reproduction, which have since been displaced economies of clinical labor associated with regenerative medicine (10)
    • Reproduction “denationalized,” exposed to global precarious labour markets where laborers have uncertain relationship to citizenship rights
    • Gift and market systems of recruitment are under pressure/losing their distinctiveness: “gifting and transactional exchange are increasingly unstable” (12)
    • National citizenship model of blood/tissue donation undercut by emerging transnational circuits of tissue exchange: sale of eggs is a viable source of income for women living in economic margins
    • “renegotiation of bodily limits and productive possibilities” is now core business of bioeconomy

Rethinking labour: potential, experiment, regeneration

  • “New economy”/post-Fordist knowledge economies: search for new techniques, value-added commodities, modes of communication and ways to orient and treat the body as essentially experimental economies
  • Rather than “reproductive labour”à “regenerative labour”: because the understanding of “organic, reproductive life” is displaced by contemporary political economy of life sciences (15)
  • Infrastructure of biomedicine being reorganized around economy of promise, and temporality of the cell being shifted
  • Informed consent: a contractual engagement of bodily potential for regeneration with experimental system
  • Reconceptualizing “reproductive labor” to include stem cell industries: requires acknowledgement of the mutual constitution of politico-economic and technological conceptions of potential itself
    • “While reproductive medicine demands a literal labour of reproduction from the female body, regenerative medicine is interested in the body’s capacity for embryonic self-regeneration, prior to and independent of any process of development” (17)

Question

  • How are other bodies impacted by such speculative futures that are foundational to the “new” bioeconomy? Can we read these bodies as “cyborg” in the context of the post-Fordist restructuring of the economy/widespread expansion of the bioeconomy? 

Melinda Cooper, “Life Beyond the Limits” (Ch. 1: Life as Surplus)

Author: Melinda Cooper, in the Department of Sociology and Social Policy at University of Sydney. Has previously been a research fellow with the Centre for Biomedicine and Society, Kings College London. Between June 2011 and June 2015, will be undertaking a Future Fellowship funded by the Australian Research Council. The title of the project is ‘Experimental Workers of the World – The Labour of Human Research Subjects in the Emerging Bioeconomies of China and India.’

Basic overview: First chapter of Cooper’s book Life As Surplus: Biotechnology and Capitalism in the Neoliberal Era (2008). Tracing the ideas and institutions that have “brought the promise of the bioeconomy into being” (19). Looking specifically at the economic crisis in the U.S. in the early 1970s and how the life science industries promoted a certain response to the crisis.

Context: “the biotech revolution”: a result of a series of “legislative and regulatory measured designed to relocate economic production at the genetic, microbial, and cellular level, so that life becomes, literally, annexed within capitalist processes of accumulation.” Includes property rights, regulatory strategies, investment models.

  • Connection between “shift in world imperialist relations” (neoliberalism) and “growing importance of biological life within capitalist accumulation strategies” (biotech).
  • Ultimately wants to ask how we can critique the political economy once biological, economic, ecological futures are so “intimately entwined” (19-20).
  • Framework: classical Marxian extending into the realm of life sciences, as well as contemporary developments in biology, environmental sciences, evolutionary theory (theoretical and technical)
  • Delerium: Freudian, but as a concept to analyze contemporary capitalism “where speculative mediations on the future of life on earth are never far from the agenda.” This concern is therefore “with the limits of life on earth and the regeneration of living futures—beyond the limits” (20)
  • Chapter structured to demonstrates how the “delirium of late capitalism” is translated in day-to-day government and science infrastructure (showing both global scale and practical methods for challenging)

Responding to crisis: regenerating waste

  • By early 1980s, major chemical and pharmaceutical companies investing in genetic technologies, consolidating all aspects of the commercial life sciences, capturing new markets in life science production. Sought to reinvent themselves as “purveyors of new, clean life science technologies” (22-24)
  • Imperative to self invent: new space of production as well as new regime of accumulation, which relies heavily on financial investmentà speculative future(s) (profits)
  • Destandardization of biological productionà biological patents “to generate and capture production itself, in all its emergent possibilities” (24).
  • Profits now depend on accumulating biological futures rather than extracting nonrenewable resources/mass production of commodities
  • The one limit capitalism never escapes: “the imperative to derive profit and thus to recapture the ‘new’ within the property form” (25).

Rules and regulations: creating the biotech revolution

  • Inventing the U.S. biotech industry was a speculative maneuver underwritten by rigorous federal productions (ex: Bayh-Doyle Act, commercializing public research)
  • Rise of high-risk investments: U.S. has advantage + liberal patent laws = was able to massively promote life science industries when competitors were cutting back

World economies: on debt creation, limits, and the earth

  • Debt imperialism: U.S. is the focal point of a “world empire that is curiously devoid of tangible reserves or collateral, and empire that sustains itself rather as the evanescent focal point of a perpetually renewed debt and whose interests lie in the continuous reproduction of the promise” (30). Capital represents mode of production that desires to liberate itself from debt.
  • Promise of capital (oil) in present form so far outweighs earth’s geological reserves that we are already “living on borrowed time, beyond the limits” (31).

Biology beyond the limits: destandardizing life

  • Expansion of what constitutes biological reproduction
  • “Where industrial production depends on finite reserves available on planet earth, life, like contemporary debt production, needs to be understood as a process of continuous autopoiesis, a self-engendering of life from life, without conceivable beginning or end” (38).
  • New emphasis on catastrophism: “certitude that microbial life will outsurvive all limits to growth” (human race, end of earth).
  • Biosphere and complexity science: cannot be ignored in trend toward industrialization—can lend themselves to a distinctly neoliberal anti-environmentalism (41).
    • “..in the absence of any substantive critique of political economy and philosophy of life as such runs the risk of celebrating life as it is” (42).

Growth beyond the limit: the new Laissez-Faire

  • Biological influence returning to equilibrium models of classical mechanics
  • “What is neo about neoliberalism is its tendency to couple the idea of the self-organizing economy with the necessity for continual crisis” (44).
  • Complexity approach to economic/biological evolution: Schumpeter, p. 44

Industrialism beyond the limit: Bioremediation, energy futures, and the bioeconomy

  • Bioeconomy (“new concept,” but actually with longer history): part of economic activities which captures the latent value in biological processes and renewable bioresources to produce improved health and sustainable growth and development (45).
  • Environmental sciences have long been incorporating biological growth into the very infrastructure of production (speculative solutions to ecological crisis)
    • Ecological modernization motivated by internal positive incentives
    • Ability of regenerative life to overcome waste products of industrial productionà bioproduction forms part of generalized bioeconomy
    • U.S. Energy Policy Act of 2005: “calls for a reduction in American dependence on foreign oil supplies and the promotion of domestic R&D in the production of alternative, bio-based fuels” (48).
      • U.S. industrial and foreign policy coming together with speculative solutions developed by NASA to suggest ways “America might quite literally remake the imperialist world—beyond the limits of the geochemical paradigm and its increasingly visible signs of depletion” (48).
      • Act is still contradictory: “terms of capitalism are being played out on a global, biospheric scale and thus implicate the future of life on earth”
      • Living on “the cusp between petrochemical and biospheric models of accumulation”: new forms of scarcity are being built into promise of a bioregenerative economy. Urgency: “to formulate a politics of ecological contestation that is neither survivalist nor techno-utopian in its solutions” (50).

Questions:

  • Cooper writes, “Any critique of the bioeconomy therefore needs to address itself to the intense traffic of ideas between recent theoretical biology and neoliberal rhetorics of economic growth” (20). What does this critique look like, and what are the so-called “practical implications” of such a critique (in the day-to-day infrastructures of science and government”)? Has Cooper put forth any here?
  • How else does the bioeconomy function? What does insight into the bioeconomy add to our understanding of biopolitics?

Haritaworn, “Introduction: Haunted Origins” (Chapter 1, The Biopolitics of Mixing)

Author: Jinthana K. Haritaworn, assistant professor in environmental studies at York University. They has a background in sociology (PhD: London South Back University), Gender & Ethnic Studies (MA: Greenwich University), and Thai & Development Studies (BA: SOAS, London University). Describes research interests as “trying to make sense of the concurrency of celebration and pathologization in narratives of sexual and racial Otherness, in everyday lives and encounters in landscapes that remain shaped by the longue durée of racism, colonialism and gender oppression.” In addition to The Biopolitics of Mixing, they is working on another project on queer and trans politics and the racialization of space in gentrifying inner city areas in London and Berlin. Future interests include “the role of the environment, both as a psy discourse on racialized families and as a material space where bodies are disciplined, controlled and sorted for life and death, in legal, policy, activist and media texts on crime and changing urban areas.”

Overview: introduction to book examining multiracialized subjects via ethnographic work with individuals of Thai and non-Thai parentage in Britain and Germany between 2000 and 2003 (1). In doing so, Haritawan demonstrates important insight to mutliraciality in the context of emerging neoliberal governmentality in Europe (and through globalization beyond). The goal is to “trace a context where the realms of value and pathology, social life and social death are radically reshuffled” (2).

Historical context: work is emerging at the time of the mixed race/multicultural debates, war on terror, as well as “first UK census to include a ‘Mixed’ box.” Haritawan identifies this time as the moment when the “mutliracialized subject has been appointed an ideal candidate to usher in the post-race future, simply by virtue of hir ‘mixed’ parentage” (1).

How multiracial discourses are being seized on for “new” purposes: further contextualizes multiraciality as part of a nationalist project as specifically in the context of neoliberal citizenship regimes  (which Lauren Berlant notes are privatized and scripted through heteronormativity and sentimentality) in which “Pasts of oppression are reinvented…as myths of origin for exceptionally tolerant and diverse nations” (2). This process of  “mixing” ultimately creates “multiple Others past and present” (4).

Studying racialization transnationally/relationality: Writing as part of a body of transnational literature, Haritaworn importantly critiques how this work has been done, and what Haritaworn seeks to do in this study. Specifically, “Instead of ranking nation-states according to their greater or lesser progressiveness […] we may ask how some bodies, figures, subjectivities and political methodologies travel while others stay put, and what wider power asymmetries structure those uneven mobilities” (6).

  • Multiraciality can be used as “a conceptual tool to make room for specificity while keeping in view the broader processes through which place becomes race, nationality becomes terrirorialized, and bodies become racialized as out of place” (9).

Biopolitics of Multiraciality: usefully applies the concept of multiraciality to biopolitics. “Instead of exceptionalizing multiraciality we may trace the classificatory shits and ask how they affect not just those read as ‘mixed’ but racialized people more generally” (11).

  • Using Foucault’s concept of biopower, argues that multiraciality discourse is an example for liberal governance par excellence (12).
  • Also notes the importance of an intersectionality framework in order to, among other reasons, account for Foucault’s failure to fully explain colonialism and racism (13).

A Sociology of Ghosts: describing the methodology of the book as “a place where multiple figures of Thainess and hybridity comingle” 1(4).

  • Stories from Haritaworn’s project often (somewhat surprisingly) described “happy mixed subjects” and “happy multicultural communities,” and they goes on to theorize these descriptions as “haunted” (Avery Gordon’s concept of “forms of subordination that are not and cannot be made fully visible […] that which appears to be not there is often a seething presence, acting on and often meddling with taken-for-granted realities” 16-17).
  • Disciplinary/classifying logic of sociological inquiry must be problematized: reflexively considering what questions do we ask/fail to ask? Important: How to address hauntings?
  • Biopolitics of Mixing ultimately examines how we attempt to become neoliberal citizens in relation to figures that promise/threaten different forms of value/pathology that we don’t access/possess in any “straightforward way” (21).
  • Thos who lack capital to present themselves as neoliberal multiracial subjects encourages the question: “How do we make sense of a neoliberal regime that increasingly has space for minor voices, as long as we diversify, authenticate and repeat the dominant discourse, even and especially when it turns murderous?” (22).

Questions:

  • Haritaworn argues that we should “hang onto and extend” a “radical intersectionality lens” in order to “attend to contingent and contradictory mobilizations of race, class, disability, sexuality, and other ideologies of morality and stock that in the current liberal post-multicultural context are pitted as mutually exclusive and competitive” (13). What does “radical intersectionality” really look like, and is it a helpful extension as Haritaworn describes? Would this be useful in your/feminist research?
  • How is the concept of “hauntings” helpful to, or potentially a source of resistance against, biopolitical regimes? Is this concept only useful in an ethnographic research context?
  • This is made more apparent in chapter two, but questions of agency always seem particularly difficult to deal with in the context of neoliberal citizenship regimes and subjectification (which is something that I’m trying to foreground in my own work). If our “stories” of subjectification are always “haunted” by neoliberal discourse—both in our research and in our lived realities? As Haritaworn questions toward the end of the chapter, “How are some moulds already prepared for us before we can even think of the question? How do answers readily leap at us, pre-empting other possibilities of being, and being in community?” (22). How does this framing help or further complicate our understanding of the “agency issue” in processes of neoliberal subjectification?

Gloria Anzaldúa, “The Homeland, Aztlán”

Context            

  • Gloria Anzaldúa is a Chicana, feminist, and queer theorist who is most known for co-editing the volume This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color (1981) with Cherríe Moraga, as well as her own groundbreaking work Borderlands/La Frontera, from which this piece comes from. In Borderlands/La Frontera, Anzaldúa was the first to use her own experience as a queer Chicana woman living at the U.S./Mexico border to theorize not only the borderlands as a space of a particular “border culture” (3), but also to use this unique experience of interlocking oppressions as the foundation for a social justice framework that she calls “new mestiza consciousness,” addressed later in the book. Anzaldúa’s works throughout her book works to decolonize the process of knowledge creation, from its form—including both poetry and prose, multiple (un-translated) languages such as English and Spanish—to its content which attempts to re-write the “history” of the colonization of Mexico by telling it from an Aztlán perspective.  

Main ideas

  • Anzaldúa envisions the geopolitical U.S./Mexico borderlands as a “third country” that is a specific place that has been, like other borders, “set up to define the places that are safe and unsafe, to distinguish us from them” (3). However this division transcends geography, as such a division creates a space wherein those on the “wrong” side of the border are deemed “perverse, queer, troublesome” and “those who cross over, pass over, or go through the confines of the ‘normal’” (3).
  • In retelling the history of Mexico being colonized, Anzaldúa acknowledges how “The Gringo, locked into the fiction of white superiority, seized complete political power, stripping Indians and Mexicans of their land while their feet were still in it” (7). She supplements this colonial history with stories of her lived experience as being torn apart by the implementation of the “border” in her family’s history, including her father becoming a sharecropper after she watched “the land, cut up into thousands of neat rectangles and squares,” combining lived experience/affective reaction to arbitrarily imposed land regulations that come with colonizing/creating borders (9).
  • Her perspectives on more contemporary globalization processes provides insight into the material/embodied effects of global biopolitical regulation:
    • The infiltration of Mexican markets by American factory owners leading to “the devaluation of the peso and Mexico’s dependency on the U.S. have brought on what the Mexicans call la crisis” (10).
    • Resulting migration: “La travesía. For many mexicanos del otro lado, the choice is to stay in Mexico and starve or move north and live” (10). 

Discussion questions

  • What are the biopolitical implications of living/working/embodying these—and other kinds of—borderlands? How does Anzaldúa’s conception of the border complicate our understanding of regulatory/disciplinary “norms” as we have discussed so far?
  • The material/embodied experience of life as constantly regulated/surveilled at a physically (arbitrarily) imposed border is a huge part of Anzaldúa’s theorizing—how does help us further understand the function of biopolitics/what is at stake in biopolitical processes?

Bifo, “Biopolitics and Connective Mutation”

Bifo, “Biopolitics and Connective Mutation” Culture Machine 7 (2005)

 

Franco “Bifo” Berardi: an Italian Marxist theorist, writer, and media theorist/activist. He was a founder of “Radio Alice,” which was the first free pirate radio station in Italy (1976-1978). He is an important figure of the Autonomia Movement, and like others involved in this political movement in 1970s in Italy,  Bifo fled to Paris. There he worked with Felix Guattari in the field of schizoanalysis. Currently: co-founder of the e-zine rekombinant.org and the telestreet movement, collaborating on the magazines Loop and Alfabeta2, teaching Social History of the Media at the Accademia di Brera, Milan (from through europe). Well known publications include The Uprising: On Poetry and Finance and The Soul at Work: From Alienation to Autonomy (from MIT Press).

 

Context Bifo is writing “Biopolitics and Connective Mutation” in: commenting on the fact that biopolitics “implies an evolution that goes beyond the classical form of mechanical discipline of the industrial age. The concept of biopower designates that which brings life and its mechanisms within the realm of calculus, in order words, that which makes knowledge an agent of the technical transformation of human life”—Deleuze’s control society (par. 2).

  • “We move here from the phase of industrial discipline to that of the mutation of the organism, taking place through the inoculation of mutagenic principles, and the cabling of psychic, cognitive, genetic and relational circuits. We might replace the word ‘control’ with cabling.’ Biogenic cabling. Techno-linguistic cabling of the human brain’s printed circuit, cabling human brains in connection” (par. 2).
  • Levels where cabling is taking place: biotechnology (i.e.: Human Genome Project), production of techno-linguistic means of production, psychopharmacology, media production, production of the imaginary

Bifo’s point of observation: “processes of cognitive cabling induced by communication technologies and by techno-linguistic and techno-perceptual dispositifs. The latter process a psycho-pathology, which presents endemic features” (par. 5).

Radically rethink our notion of politics: “Politics should be reconceptualized as the art of interference in the relationship between the techno-mediatic universe (dominated by specific agencies which act on the production of the imaginary and on the production of knowledge and are identifiable in the global capitalist corporations) and the ecology of the mind” (par. 5).

 

Elephant

  • Historical context of this shift is in the late 1970s/early 80s: “Since 1977, the collapse of the Western mind has assumed a sneaking, subterranean, episodic trajectory, but at the threshold of the millennium, it takes on the rhythm of a precipice, of a no longer containable catastrophe” (par. 9). Exemplified by mass youth suicide in Japan, Twin Towers, Columbine—“spoke of daily life, of American normality, of the normality of a humanity that has lost all relation with what used to be human and that stumbles along looking for some impossible reassurance, in search of a substitute for emotions which it no longer knows” (par. 9).
  • Questions interrogated by the film Elephant: “What has happened and what is happening the mind of that generation coming of age at the turn of the millennium? What does it means and where can its psychic fragility take us, endowed as it is with a terrifying technological and destructive power? Technological Hyper Power and psychic fragility are the mix which defines the first videoelectronic generation, especially in its North American variant” (par. 10).
  • Video-electronic generation: underestimated by the natural sciences and psychiatry, ignored or completely removed by politics. “…if we want to understand something about what is happening in the society of the new millennium, we need to move our point of observation…toward the psychosphere.” This is where “Time-based psychobombs are exploding in the interconnected global mind. The effect is unpredictable” (par. 11). This is the generation that is most affected by the mutation from “conjunction” to “connection” via technological advances.
  • Reduction in empathy: Exposure of organisms to neuro-mobilizing stimuli has “thinned the cognitive film that we might call sensibility” (par. 12). Because the time “available for responding to nervous stimuli has been dramatically reduced,” it may seem to be seen as a reduction in the capacity for empathy.
    • “The time for empathy is lacking, because stimulation has become too intense” (par. 12).
    • How did this happen? “Can we hypothesize a direct relationship between the expansion of the Infosphere (acceleration of stimuli and nervous solicitation, of the rhythms of cognitive response) and the crumbling of the sensory film that allows human beings to understand that which cannot be verbalized, that which cannot be reduced to codified signs?” (par. 13).

 

Connective mutation

  • Passage/mutation from “conjunction” to “connection”: “The digitalization of communicative processes produces a sort of desensitization to the curve, to continuous processes of slow becoming, and a corresponding sensitization to code, sudden changes of state and the succession of discrete signs” (par. 20).
  • “The first videoelectronic generation is experiencing a mutation, and the social, political and technical future depends on the effects of this mutation. But in the tradition of the cognitive sciences, the notion of mutation is not acceptable, because the epistemological foundations of these sciences remain anchored to a premise of a structuralist nature […] For the cognitive sciences, the technical complexity of communication is incapable of modifying the modalities of cognition” (par. 20). 

 

Acceleration language identity

  • “…the mass of information that we receive, decode, digest, and must respond to in order to maintain the rhythm of economic, affective, and existential exchanges, brings with it a crisis of the faculty of verbalization” (par. 21).
  • Replacement of verbal language with “forms of communication that are more rapid, more synthetic and more agile in carrying out different tasks simultaneously” (par. 23). Therefore we see how the “expansion of a specific cognitive function redefines the whole of cognition” (par. 24).
  • Memory: “The modalities of memorization depend on the mind’s capacity to store information that has left a deep impression […] But what happens to memory when the flow of information explodes, expands enormously, besieges perception, occupies the whole of available mental time, accelerates and reduces the mind’s time of exposure to the single informational impression? […] mental activity tends to be compressed into the present, the depth of memory is reduced and thus the perception of the historical past and even of existential diachrony tends to disappear” (par. 25-26).
    • “And if it’s true that identity is in large part connected to what has dynamically settled in personal memory (places, faces, expectations, illusions), it is possible to hypothesize that we are moving towards a progressive dis-identification, where organisms are increasingly recording a flow that unfolds in the present and leaves no deep imprint because of the rapidity with which it appears to the eye and settles in memory” (par. 27).

 

Cybertime, eroticism, desensitization

  • Young people/current generation are most affected: “the most exposed to the effects of this mutation, because the invasive power of cyberspace has impacted on them to the full, and as a consequence their potential to adapt cybertemporally (that is the potential of their cognitive, psychic and psycho-physical apparatus) is subject to an extreme solicitation” (par. 29).
  • Effect on eroticism: “In the happy perception of one’s own body and the surrounding environment what is at play is an essential question of rhythm, time, and lived temporalities. But if, into the circle of excitement, we introduce an inorganic element such as electronics and impose an acceleration of stimuli and a contraction of psychophysical reaction times, something ends up changing in the organism and its forms of erotic reaction” (par. 31).
    • Excitation without release replaces pleasure: “The unlimited nature of cyberspace endows experience with a kind of inconclusiveness. Aggressiveness and exhaustion follow from this unlimited opening and circuits of excitation” à contact seems impossible, slow emotion is rare/improbable, “slowness of emotion is transformed little by little into a commodity, an artificial condition that can be exchanged for money,” time is cut into fragments that can no longer be enjoyed. (par. 32)
    • Cultural phenomenology of late modernity (transition from sixties and seventies to eighties and nineties): punk phenomenon, No Wave, heroine, cocaine, adaptations to “conditions of excitation without release” (par. 33)
    • “What was taking place here was the shift in infospheric speed that made it possible to subjugate human time to the regime of absolute and uninterrupted exploitation of the neurotelematic network—the flexibilization of work” (par. 33).