March 23, 2011

Four Lists


Sentences (some plagiarized, others not)

Most blues are subtitled either no sense of wonder or no sense of scale

It was like an emotion, and yet it had a cold quality, so perhaps it was not an emotion at all.

What I’m interested in is happiness with a full awareness of the tragedy of life, the potential tragedy that lurks around every corner and the tragedy that actually is life.

A novel about an actor who gets cast as the lead in a big-budget Hollywood action film, thinks the script is complete garbage, the premise reactionary, and hates every moment of shooting it.

What should I do with my violence?

The most effective lie is always the one closest to the truth.

A tsunami of conflicting paradoxes.

To live here you either have to be against everything or become a thief.

The subtlety and delicate brilliance of the questions you are currently asking.

There is no other poetry than real agency.

What you theatre people call your tradition is nothing more than what keeps you parasites comfortable.

Survival of the most caring and most cared for.

I think those films are propaganda for violence, propaganda for fear and propaganda for a very violent view of human nature.

I’ve been having overwhelming feelings of complete failure lately. Then, the other day, my fortune cookie said: “Failure is the mother of success.”

You’re the devil, and like the actual devil, you sabotage yourself at every turn as well.

I want to be one of those writers who is discovered, and greatly recognized, long after they are dead.

Failure is the other of success.

Pain, crime and sadness.
Tears, stupidity and failure.
Violence, light and charm.
Crime, wisdom and more crime.
Bitterness, love triangles and just getting by.
The peculiar, the odd and much, much more.
The polymath, the dictator and true love.
A good joke, a bad joke and a neutral joke.
Slim chances, great wealth and poverty.
Witch trials, public television and melancholy.
Permission, psychosis and the average.
Ambition, fame and regret.
Longing, talent and a lack of talent.
Sexual greed, average lust and plenitude.
Decision making, scarcity and whatever’s left.
The similar, the opposite and the word “yes”.
Again and again and again.

At least five bands have used this name.

Wood is the fire that has not yet learned to burn.

Learning that power only corrupts when we fear losing it.

Time to try all the things that have been tried before but to try them NOW, with all the paradox, complexity, confusion and vitality such a statement implies.

Evolution is a loose, somehow inaccurate metaphor/creation myth that has very little to do with either improvement or survival. Evolution is also about all the species that die off.

Just because everyone is out to get you doesn't mean being paranoid is the most reasonable or effective position to take


March 21, 2011

It is ourselves, as cultural producers, who are called upon to fill these screens with content.


The relation between fluctuating electronic signals and human attention has become a central component of social experience, from Wall Street and Times Square to the great Asian cityscapes, or from the flatscreen TV at the local bar to the cell phone in your ear and the laptop in your bed on Sunday morning. What’s at stake is a sound-and-pixel environment where informational objects unfold in time, exciting human desire and channeling it into mathematically ordered patterns understood by exploring the underlying techno-scientific principles of cybernetics, cognitive psychology and complexity theory. A clearer grasp of how these principles have been applied over the course of the last half-century is fundamental to autonomous practices, since it is ourselves, as cultural producers, who are called upon to fill these screens with content. And beyond these proliferating screens there is a constantly expanding universe of computerized recording, analysis and surveillance, gathering behavioral data in order to more effectively pattern the movements of populations and to produce effects of governance. So we’d better know how these processes work, and how they can be undermined – because experience shows that there is nothing easier to instrumentalize than yesterday’s subversion.

- Brian Holmes


March 14, 2011

Evolution is a loose...


Evolution is a loose, somehow inaccurate metaphor/creation myth that has very little to do with either improvement or survival. Evolution is also about all the species that die off.


Jodi Dean on hubs, notes, networks and the power-law.


Recent developments in network science demonstrate structure in seemingly random networks. On the web, for example, sites are not equally likely to have the same number of links. Nor are links randomly distributed among sites in a predictable, bell-curve fashion. Instead, there are clusters and hubs wherein some sites are nodes to which many sites link. These hubs serve as connectors for other nodes. In his path-breaking work on structure in complex networks, Albert-László Barabási finds hubs on the Web, in Hollywood, in citation networks, phone networks, food webs in ecosystems, and even cellular networks where some molecules, like water, do much more work than others.

Barabási explains that degree distribution in networks with hubs, most real networks, follows a power-law. He writes, “Power laws mathematically formulate the fact that in most real networks the majority of nodes have only a few links and that these numerous tiny nodes coexist with a few big hubs, nodes with an anomalously high number of links. The few links connecting the smaller nodes to each other are not sufficient to ensure that the network is fully connected. This function is secured by the relatively rare hubs that keep real networks from falling apart.” In most real networks, nodes don’t have an average number of links. Rather, a few have exponentially more links than others. Barabási describes the difference between random networks and networks that follow a power-law degree distribution with the term scale. In random networks, there is a limit to the number of links a node can have as well as an average number of links. Random networks thus have a characteristic of “scale.” In most real networks, however, “there is no such thing as a characteristic node. We see a continuous hierarchy of nodes, spanning from the rare hubs to the numerous tiny nodes.” These networks don’t scale. They are “scale free.”

Barabási notes that others have observed power-law degree distributions. The Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto noticed that 20 percent of his peapods produced 80 percent of the peas – nature doesn’t always follow a bell curve. He also found that 80 percent of the land in Italy was owned by 20 percent of the population. In business management circles, Pareto’s law is known at the 80/20 rule (although he did not use the term) and is said to apply in a variety of instances: “80 percent of the profits are produced by only 20 percent of the employees, 80 percent of customer service problems are created by only 20 percent of customers, 80 percent of decisions are made during 20 percent of meeting time, and so on.” Further examples might be Hollywood’s “A list” or the “A list” that emerged among bloggers. Like scale-free networks, Pareto’s law alerts us to distributions that follow power-laws.

How can power-laws be explained? Is some kind of sovereign authority redirecting nature out of a more primordial equality? Barabási finds that power-laws appear in phase transitions from disorder to order (he draws here from the Nobel prize-winning work of the physicist Kenneth Wilson.) Power-laws “are the patent signatures of self-organization in complex systems.” Analyzing power-laws on the web, Barabási identifies several properties that account for the Web’s characteristics as a scale-free network. The first is growth. New sites or nodes are added at a dizzying pace. If new sites decide randomly to link to different old sites, old sites will always have an advantage. Just by arriving first, they will accumulate more links. But growth alone can’t account for the power-law degree distribution. A second property is necessary, preferential attachment. New sites have to prefer older, more senior sites. Differently put, new sites will want to link to those sites that already have a lot of links. They don’t link randomly but to the most popular sites which thereby become hubs. Barabási argues that insofar as network evolution is governed by preferential attachment, one has to abandon the assumption that the Web (or Hollywood or any citation network) is democratic: “In real networks linking is never random. Instead, popularity is attractive.” Nodes that have been around for awhile, that have to an extent proven themselves, have distinct advantages over newcomers. In networks characterized by growth and preferential attachment, then, hubs emerge.

The fantasy of abundance – anyone can build a website, create a blog, express their opinions on the internet – misdirects some critical media theorists away from the structure of real networks. Alexander R. Galloway, for example, emphasizes “distributed networks” that have “no central hubs and no radial nodes.” He claims that the internet is a distributed network like the U.S. interstate highway system, a random network that scales, to use Barabási’s terms. Embracing Gilles Deleuze’s and Félix Guattari’s image of the rhizome, Galloway notes that in a rhizome any point can be connected to any other; there are no intermediary hubs and no hierarchies. For him, the Web is best understood rhizomatically, as having a rhizomatic structure. Barabási’s work demonstrates, however, that on the Web, as in any scale-free network, there are hubs and hierarchies. Some sites are more equal than others. Imagining a rhizome might be nice, but rhizomes don’t describe the underlying structure of real networks. Hierarchies and hubs emerge out of growth and preferential attachment.

- Jodi Dean, Democracy and Other Neoliberal Fantasies


March 7, 2011

Franco Berardi and Marco Jacquemet on The Italian Anomaly


In that long wave of social conflicts we find a constant and recurring element: the refusal of the subordination of life to work. This refusal was manifest in a manifold of different ways: first of all as a Mediterranean idleness, the privileging of sensuality and social life over productivity and the economy. In the 1970s this refusal flourished as a political act of insubordination and resistance against capitalist exploitation. So this concept could be inserted in the framework of progressive political strategy. Workers refused the effort and repetitiveness of mechanical labour, thus forcing companies to keep restructuring. Workers’ resistance was an element of human progress and freedom, as well as an accelerator of technological and organizational development. Contrary to the Protestant idea of progress as founded on work discipline, the autonomous, anti-work spirit claims that progress, namely technological progress, is based on the refusal of discipline. Progress consists of the application of intelligence to the reduction of effort and dependency, and the expansion of a sphere of idleness and individual freedom.

The refusal of capitalist exploitation was not peculiar to Italy, of course. All around the world workers demanded wage increases and more free time for their lives. However, in Italy this insubordination transformed the anarchic spirit of southern plebs into an explicit and politically relevant issue: autonomy of everyday life from capitalist discipline. Did young rebel workers who in the 1970s came from Naples and from Calabria to the northern factories embody the individualist and anti-modernist populism that characterizes the 1799 counterrevolution, and led Neapolitan people to oppose the enlightened bourgeoisie? Yes, in part. But they expressed also the realization that the society of industrial labour was nearing its end, and the consciousness that industrial labour was a remnant of the past, and that new technologies and social knowledge were opening up the possibility of the liberation of society from the burden of physical labour.

- Franco Berardi and Marco Jacquemet, The Italian Anomaly


March 6, 2011

That we make our world is the time-full “truth” that “untruth” most wishes to silence.


Spirit’s “true concern is the negation of reification.” That we make our world is the time-full “truth” that “untruth” most wishes to silence. Reification is that hardening of historically produced conditions into “second nature” – a totalizing ideological and material environment experienced as timeless and unchangeable. It is an enforced forgetting of the political “truth” that structural barbarism is not necessary, not an invariable. Collectively constructed, the given world system can be collectively changed. The practical problem of how to change it, at this point, requires radically rethinking the categories of revolutionary theory. But that the world can be changed – and that both the desire for change and the negative utopian images that provisionally orient that desire can be found within the failures and contradictions of the system itself – remains the core of “truth.” To keep this negative dialectic moving, to resist its arrest and regression, is the work and play of critical thought.

- Gene Ray, Terror and the Sublime in Art and Critical Theory