The Opposing Statements

The reading of the different manifestos, statements and interviews were very instructive, especially in the way it conveys new approaches to escape the mainstream modes of production, consumption and perception. Each of these readings provoked different questions to arise, questions that I believe can go beyond the scope of the digital cultural and social forces behind the production of these texts.

In “Glitch Studies Manifesto,” Rosa Menkma not only advocates for the acknowledgement that the development of any media brings produces different and unexpected noise or glitches, but also that artists and activists must incorporate these glitches in their works so that listeners, viewers and users can experience what is “outside knowledge.” At the same time, Menkma acknowledges that “Not all glitch art is progressive or something new. The popularization and cultivation of the avant-garde of mishaps has become predestined and unavoidable.” Every scientific, religious, political, cultural and social structure seems to have started as a radical departure of a previously established system that, with time, may get accepted as the new norm if it is successfully implemented. While Menkma does attempt to warn artists to avoid creating works that employ techniques that have been incorporated by the system, this advice seems to be a silent scream in the noise of history. Glitch art, when speaking to most of us in an intellectual and emotional level, will probably have the same fate as the impressionistic art before it.

Nevertheless, when the system incorporates different forms of expression, the system can change. Arguing, then, that we need to rid our minds from established binary oppositions of what is clean and what is noise, like Menkma does, seems particularly appropriate. This merge of apparent oppositions can be found in the way that the authors of “Vector journal’s dynamic editorial statement” speak about the important use of text as the “clearest form of expression” while at the same time encouraging new forms of viewing and reading through vectors that provide unique ways of experiencing and understanding. Particularly interesting was how the searches, including those the statement has not found, stay visible on the screen, creating a kind of a visual map.

This kind of integration of binary oppositions can also be felt when reading McKenzie Wark interview on A Hacker Manifesto. Wark seems not only to have acknowledge, but also to be conformed to the fact that hacking has been incorporated as a mainstream practice in our society, without being able to provide clear paths through which hackers (with all the diversity found in the word) should march (besides acknowledging that the fight has gone from data to metadata).

“Femtechnet Manifesto” did not stay in the confines of its own ontology but is grounded on diverse layers of society. For this reason, it gets closer to abolishing binary oppositions. After all,

“We are a work group.

We are many genders.

We are an innovative learning technology.

We are FemTechNet”.

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The Opposing Statements

A Line of Questioning

Perhaps because I began with the provocative “Glitch Studies Manifesto,” I was really intrigued by the tension between linearity and interruption that seemed to pervade all of the readings (or should I say, media experiences) for the week. Menkma’s manifesto sets the table for this dichotomy most cleanly: “the dominant, continuing search for a noiseless channel [read: uninterrupted linearity] …has been—and will always be—no more than a regrettable, ill-fated dogma” because “flow cannot be understood without interruption.” This basic premise of championing the unexpected interruption immediately bore fruit when I moved on to the Vector editorial statement, what appears to be a traditional few paragraphs curiously ‘interrupted’ by an invitation to click an image and move to an interactive display for the actual statement. Within this interruption was another series of interruptions, as the words I entered soon revealed themselves as part of a larger hierarchy that if not completely linear is at least conceptually adjacent. My own agency allowed me to skip around the hierarchy in my exploration, shifting the tension to myself as the user to sink or swim in an interrupted statement.

The McKenzie Wark interview was the most intriguing piece to this puzzle in my opinion, as my read of Wark’s answers versus Melissa Gregg’s questions pointed to a shift in his view of the “vectoralists” in relation to the hackers from the publishing of his book ten years prior. Where the initial idea of A Hacker Manifesto seemed to echo Menkma’s same championing of understanding the interruption to understand the flow, I read Wark’s current answers as somewhat disinterested from that ideological position; Wark seems far more concerned with simply explaining the state of hacking in 2013 (and consistently pushing his anti-carbon agenda) than in championing it. The notion that hacking as the interruption of the “vectoralists’” linearity is beneficial has given way to a more distanced view of the situation as almost deterministic: “few hackers end up owning the rights to what they produce. They become part of the vectoral class. But apart from a lucky few, they end up working for someone else.” I wonder if ‘hacking’ has become too antiquated to be truly counterculture, the technological equivalent of children dressing up as hippies for Halloween. If hacking is now an accounted-for piece of the vectoral class, what is the next step?

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“Death to the fascist insect that preys upon the life of the people!”

A Line of Questioning

On Process and Manifestos

Reading, listening, and interacting with various types of manifestos this week, I could not help but meditate on the ways in which playing with format can contribute to critical and historiographic interventions in digital media and data studies. The interactive editorial statement of Vectors was obviously striking in the way that it engages a more active participant and troubles the boundary between both author and reader as well as manifesto and manifestation. In particular, I love the way that the search function and hyperlinking of components adds a collaborative element to the plain act of reading. Ironically, the philosophical question at the heart of this issue is brought out through a question asked under the search term, “search”: “Can an argument be interactive and remain an argument? We think that it can.”

This is a really interesting claim, and I’m not sure I’ve fully formulated my own understanding of its implications. But I do think that there’s a definite limit to the extent that it can be universalized into other forms of “interactivity.” What if, for instance, we were to encounter the Glitch Manifesto as a glitched or deformed text? So much of what is important in that manifesto is represented within its semantic content, so in that sense glitching it would either destroy its argumentative weight or transform the argument altogether. In fact, I think glitching the manifesto would be disingenuous—more a gimmick for the times than a genuine reflection of how new ideas can intervene into the old.

On the other hand, the sound file of FemTechNet is a more passively experienced, but still conveys a sense of process and temporal depth that is so important to experiences of digitality today. The use of a “female” mechanical voice to “read” the text similarly suggests a collaboration between the human and machine and in particular, feminism and its technicity. It moreover retains traces of its textuality in the way that it gets read and the way that it is organized. There’s an indexical, semiotic relationship in having a computer read a text—it’s almost as if you can hear the paragraph indents with each declaration.

By experimenting with format, FemTechNet and Vectors are both self-reflexive, creative meditations on the messages they put forth, but like the Glitch Manifesto and the Hacker Manifesto, they are also both reflections of the moment in which they are written. The self-conscious choice of sound coincides with a historical moment in media scholarship when people are calling for the de-centering of visual epistemologies over acoustemologies or haptic knowledge, just as a written list-form manifesto about glitch inevitably confronts established “templates” and “action scripts” through both its form and content.

What I think is ultimately a worthwhile challenge in writing these editorial statements is acknowledging the particular time and place that they arise and engaging in an extended dialogue with the past. Questions that McKenzie Wark’s interview asked are important consider: How might the battlefield shift over time? Who are the warriors? Who will be the inheritors?Why are we at “war” in the first place? This is why I liked the Vectors statement so much—by incorporating search, there is an embedded sense of the mundane acts of online mediation that have led to the event of the publication’s creation, as well as a record of relevant cultural keywords that we can reflect back on in the future.

 

On Process and Manifestos