Thinking at the Speed of the Digital/The Digital at the Speed of Thought

With the possible exception of Wark’s reflections on the Hacker Manifesto, each of this week’s readings focus to some extent on the mutability of the digital, ruminating on the ways in which networked forms of knowledge production might help to unsettle a whole range of taken-for-granted epistemological, corporeal, institutional, and aesthetic formations. In the Vectors editorial statement, for instance, we read of how “born digital” knowledge projects, in privileging an ethos of association, collaboration, and synthesis, might renew our thinking on copyright and intellectual property, peer review and research, publication and display, even work and pleasure. Taking a similar tack, the FemTechNet Manifesto conjures up a rhizomatic community of makers, artists, and researchers who together reconceptualize, under the sign of feminism, the already-fraught relations between body, subject, machine, and knowledge. And finally, in the Glitch Studies Manifesto, Menkman imagines an artistic practice committed to bending computation to the point of breaking, unleashing as the raw materials of a new avant garde those stutters and misfires that ghost every ‘successful’ digital transmission.

In all three texts, moreover, this ethos of transgression figures as more than a rhetorical device, grasping at a politics that seeks to deconstruct extant epistemological and institutional enclosures, even as it strains to imagine alternatives in the present tense (note FemTechNet’s “we are”). Given the stifling conditions under which knowledge is produced in the contemporary moment, such a politics is surely necessary. Especially in the corporate academy, we are in dire needed of thinking that does not answer first to the toxic exigencies of individual achievement and private ownership. Collaboration, at its best, can function as a mode of commoning that slows the consumption of knowledge by property.

Given this urgency, however, I find myself pondering the manifesto as a genre, troubled somewhat by its tendency to traffic in the sort of pithy aphorisms and sweeping imperatives that have become the stock and trade of not only the corporate university, but of the Silicon Valley tech startup, the speculative global art market, the snake-oil TED talk, and so on. As Bernice Johnson Reagon reminds us in her blistering 1981 talk on the subject, coalition politics, though vital, demands an exacting and often exhaustive slowness. In coalition, Reagon writes, “I feel as if I’m gonna keel over any minute and die. That is often what it feels like if you’re really doing coalition work. Most of the time you feel threatened to the core and if you don’t, you’re not really doing no coalescing.” In a moment when discourses of disruption and innovation routinely carry the day, almost to the point of mundanity, what sort of discomfort – what sort of threat – can the manifesto engender?

There is value in meeting power where it stands. As The Critical Art Ensemble once wrote: “treading water in the pool of liquid power need not be an image of acquiescence and complicity.” Today, the manifesto might be how we wade. But still I wonder, in the end, whether it cuts all too close to precisely those punishing temporalities it means to evade; if its rhythms cohere all too readily with the demands of and for speeded-up intellectual and cultural production. I suppose I am asking whether there is a way of writing with the digital that is a bit more prosaic, even parochial, than the manifesto. Can our textual practices go beyond gesturing toward, and instead help to instantiate, the meaningful slowness of coalition? Might slick animations, provocative theses, and responsive interfaces in fact obscure the ragged edges they are supposed to reveal (in the Vectors statement, how did “labour” come to be peripheral and “process” central? How were different concept clusters defined and stratified? According to whose values and interests? Does the text’s interactivity adequately explain itself?)?

Modesty does not become the manifesto. But in the contemporary moment – overflowing with “innovation,” constantly disrupted, fixated on the immensity of mediated networks, geological time, and universal space – modesty, I think, has both a certain pragmatic appeal and an ethical valence. Modest claims can be more easily accounted for, called to account, held accountable. I wonder what would happen if instead of wading, we were to plod.

Slowing down involves resisting neoliberal regimes of harried time by working with care while also caring for ourselves and others. A feminist mode of slow scholarship works for deep reflexive thought, engaged research, joy in writing and working with concepts and ideas driven by our passions. As a feminist intervention, slow scholarship enables a feminist ethics of care that allows us to claim some time as our own,  build shared time into everyday life, and help buffer each other from unrealistic and counterproductive norms that have become standard expectations. Slow scholarship has value in itself, in the quality of research and writing produced, and also enables us to create a humane and sustainable work environment and professional community that allows more of us to thrive within academia and beyond.

For Slow Scholarship: A Feminist Politics of Resistance through Collective Action in the Neoliberal University,” Great Lakes Feminist Geography Collective


Thinking at the Speed of the Digital/The Digital at the Speed of Thought

2 thoughts on “Thinking at the Speed of the Digital/The Digital at the Speed of Thought

  1. lisayhan says:

    Hi Tyler,

    I really appreciate that you engaged with the tensions between fastness, slowness, and unsettlement that underlie the genre of manifesto. I think you’re right in many senses—disruption and innovation is too often framed as a matter of immediacy. There’s a sense in which these terms seem to be in existential relation: how can one expect to dismantle hegemonic practices and epistemologies without creating a sense of urgency? How can a coalition drum up support and interest without radically distinguishing itself from its historical antecedents?

    Your apt ruminations about the slowness of coalition reminds me of Rob Nixon’s “slow violence,” a term that Nixon deploys to draw attention to environmental lethalities that escape the mainstream temporalities of capitalism. Slow violence is urgent, yet its effects are often invisible to a single individual. Rather, these are events that must be grasped through the long durée—through the documentation and attentiveness of generations. I think what you’ve written here is its own “slow manifesto” of sorts. This new type of manifesto allows for the coexistence of both urgency, rupture, and radicalness alongside the slow and prosaic realities of coalition work. In marinating in the often invisible and unremarkable aspects of this work, this slow manifesto is vital to the work of digital media studies which so often facilitates the erasure of its own historical continuities as well as its own complicity in the neoliberal, “on-demand” ethos that it presumes to rebel against.


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  2. naomidecelles says:

    I’m with you! I wonder, though, in answer to your speculation, Lisa, whether urgency is a fundamental precondition for change (“how can one expect to dismantle hegemonic practices and epistemologies without creating a sense of urgency? How can a coalition drum up support and interest without radically distinguishing itself from its historical antecedents?”). As in, is it impossible to frame a call to action that does not in large part depend on its immediacy, either in terms of prevention (if you don’t step in now, etc.) or opportunity (the current conditions for change are expiring, etc.).

    I don’t think so, but then the question is: what else is effective? I ask also because a crucial problem in activating change is resilience and endurance; i.e., how to maintain the level of commitment that is produced by a sense of urgency and its attendant energy over the requisite period of time, and in spite of setbacks?

    It seems to me that your use of “plodding,” Tyler, is intentionally pejorative, to emphasize how a more contemplative or mindful pace must eschew the glamor of speed (we are for the stony goddess of Samothrace over the Bugatti, Marinetti). But can’t we have our cake and ruminate on it, too? Cows and giraffes alike are heavy-gaited cud-chewers; might we not model our scholarship on the latter, in hopes at least of far-sightedness?

    Liked by 1 person

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