Sketches on Mutant Design (or, Situationism at the after party)

  1. (worldmap: command and control)


Beyond the Judgement of God. Meltdown: planetary china-syndrome, dissolution of the biosphere into the technosphere, terminal speculative bubble crisis, ultravirus, and revolution stripped of all christian-socialist eschatology (down to its burn-core of crashed security). It is poised to eat your TV, infect your bank account, and hack xenodata from your mitochondria.[1]

Specters of crisis and scrambles for revolutionary agency emerge from the updating forms of privatizations that occur concurrent with capitalism’s continually updating of the modes of production through powerful social and machinic technics. The demise of feudalism saw the partitioning of land in the form of private property; the faster paces of the industrialization – particularly under its Fordist-Keynesian mode – proceeded with the unleashing of cycles where seemingly everything under the sun could be transmuted into commodity form. The transition towards post-Fordist production, made possible by the advent of computational technology, has engendered a paradigm where all things, each movement and exchange, takes place within a digitized mechanosphere that leaves an informatic footprint of metadata. These footprints, in turn, become themselves commoditized and capable of producing realer-than-real modelizations to better capture the actions of agents within the system. This new economy, as it was hailed by the utopians of Silicon Valley in the 1990s, makes of its internal architecture a futuremap or virtual cartography: under a heterogeneous regime of post-Fordist, neoliberal capitalism, consumer markets have become contingent on globalized supply chains, requiring dense logistical webs balancing numerous factors and variables. Such a system entails the surveillance of all consumer behavior (in both the physical realms of what was once called a marketplace, and in the realm of digital shopping. Neither, at this stage, requires purchasing to actually produce the data footprint) and the existence of database infrastructures to aggregate and analysis this captured data. The extrapolations that arise from these analyses becomes modelizations, simulations, which is fed-back into the marketplace to shift the environment accordingly in order to inform and influence consumer behavior. This whole process is nothing short of the rearrangement of all coordinates of action. Internal and external spaces are remade to better suit the postmodern flexible of the new markets, ushering in a life as something spent in a continually modulating and upgrading succession of control spaces.

Against all projected utopias the neoliberal globe has been nothing but a never-ending chain of systemic crises. The postmodern sunrise of the post-Cold War world was brutally devastated in the attacks of September 11th and the war that followed in its wake; the foreign policy of openness, “democracy,” and interdependence has produced not a globalized smooth capitalism – what we got instead has been the resurrection of the most virulent forms of statecraft and the warmachine. Likewise, the promises of free trade and deregulation has led to a financial crisis from which a true “recovery” seems unlikely, and what has followed in its wake has been a violent reminder of the persistence of  racism, xenophobia, fascism, and religious fundamentalism. The accident, in Paul Virilio’s sense of the word, that was created in the birth of neoliberalism has been the resurrection the social’s worst and most dangerous aspects, amplified only by the climate crisis, exacerbated and accelerated by the equation of growth with progress. Unlike previous times, when crisis and ideological conflict unfolded through spatial parameters that implied a geopolitics oriented around containment (the global north and south, the East and West, the American and Soviet spheres of influence, etc), these crises are now everywhere and immediate, following the intersecting and growth paths of networks.

In face of this grand accident, which makes the question of uncoupling from the systemic a matter of life or death for both humans and nonhumans alike, to even begin discussing the political dimensions of everyday life may seem like an exodus from what is really necessary. Indeed, problems of such a scale require thinking on a scale of equal size, but in this age of planetary computation the traditional modernist binaries have become unglued. There is no line demarcating the local and the global, the east from the west, or even the capitalist from the anti-capitalist, the human from the nonhuman. Dividers and boundaries are implemented in a different sense, something far more flexible, complex, and trending towards the imagery of self-organization in an information-saturated environment – as McKenzie Wark says, “It’s time to think the scale-free mesh.”[2] And yet it is alongside the very raw matter on which existence finds its ground that everyday life becomes the integral zone of capture and unleashing that power operates through; it is everyday movement and interaction that produce information footsteps and that form the tunnels of production and consumption. It is capitalism’s laboratory, petri dish, and, through the feedback processes of postindustrial production, its end product.


  1. (nonplace)

Understandings of everyday life are correlated towards the spaces of inhabitation. At one time these were analyzed along the dialectics of town and city, rural and urban, but in the free-scale world of cognitive capitalism these categories find a certain theoretical bankruptcy. This is not to say that they don’t exist, per se, but the logistics of hyperconnectivity point towards a hybridized assemblage where asymmetrical plateaus coexist and intermingle without any regard to deterministic progress through stages of historical development. The expression of information as production tool through its bracketing into ideological technics urges upon us a maxim of “everything, everywhere, now!”, establishing supersession of the town and the city by the metropolis. In those spaces were populations are concentrated, the urban category, this implies the intensification of the overcoding conducted on the usage of space to better optimize its contours to those of the system. “…the skyscrapers and highways, the design of the streets, the curvature of its dimensions, the usual hang-outs of the police, the strips-malls and megamalls and box stores, neighborhood borders, government districts, art museums, university blocks, public housing and the rich suburbs, factory zones, shipping zones, zoning laws of all kind, each wrestles control of the city away from its inhabitants and puts it in the hands of the planners, the experts, elite factions and those that profit on the social order that they establish and that we reproduce.”[3] Each of these elements conform to the invisible superstructures of a global nomos, of which the cloud is only the most obvious form.


The Situationist approach to the urban was a reflection of the boredom inflicted on everyday life by industrial production, expressed so too the point by Ivan Chtcheglov: “We are bored in the city, there is no longer any Temple of the Sun.”[4] Guy Debord is even more expressive, acknowledging the necessity of urban transformation to better enable new and experiental ways of being and becoming: “Historical conditions determine what is considered ‘useful.’ Baron Haussmann’s urban renewal of Paris under the Second Empire, for example, was motivated by the desire to open up broad thoroughfares enabling the rapid circulation of troops and the use of artillery against insurrections… Present-day urbanism’s main problem is ensuring the smooth circulation of a rapidly increasing number of motor vehicles. A future urbanism may well apply itself to no less utilitarian projects, but in the rather different context of psychogeographical possibilities.”[5] The proposed solution of the Situationist International was one of psychogeography, of moving through the city with an eye towards the hidden spaces of ambient and imaginative production, beneficial for the construction of Situations. While it was construed as a nomadic traversal through spaces of codification, it was ultimately a practice of design, of approaching raw materials with the intent of transformation and new creation. It was also a radical critique that was formed through a development of powerful counterknowledge, crafted with one foot in the underground streams of the European avant-garde and the other in Marxist analysis of class struggle. This unity, they hoped, would create the New Temple of the Sun.

The Situationist critique was also a reflection of the dominant escape myth of its time: an escape through delirium made possible by derangement and excess. Capitalism, like Christianity before it, made use of promises which both wielded as mechanisms of control by acting as a supreme mediators. For Christianity this promise was of heavenly bliss and direct communion with God, only made possible by servitude (and tithing) to the Church; capitalism updates this by offering an earthly bliss of comfort, abundance, and adventure that can be obtained through the submission to labor, consumption, and the stipulations of private property.[6] Situationism, by contrast, called for the metaphorical unification of both promises and their ultimate realization. “The revolutionary transformation of the world, of all aspects of the world,” wrote Debord, “will confirm all the dreams of abundance.”[7]

This sort of convergence of revolution and excess, employed by the pre-Situationist avant-gardes from Rimbaud’s poetics to Jarry’s pataphysics to Surrealism, continued into the ferment of May ’68 and found its expression in design and architectural thought emanating from the upheaval. Utopie, for example, was a sociological consortium for urban critique that maintained close ties with the Situationists (counting Henri Lefebvre and Jean Baudrillard among their members); led by Hubert Tonka, they searched for a design praxis that recalled the sort of delirious utopianism created by thinkers like Charles Fourier. The one of the possible transformations of the capitalist urban into the play of an imaginal machine, they argued, was through pneumatic architecture, or the construction of buildings and commodities that were plastic and inflatable. Marx had famously argued that capitalism made everything solid melt into air; air, for Utopie, could now be the underlying basis of a new and intensively inventive paradigm of experiencing everyday life. “It was an architecture,” one member of the group retrospectively wrote, “that would no longer be linked to a site and to an environment but solely to an internal function, an egotistical and celibate architecture with the possibility of total mobility.”[8] Above all, it was a sort of pop art architecture, similar to Warhol’s appropriation of the iconography of capitalist cultural production and subverting it in ways to engender new forms. Looking at the sketches, drawings, and diagrams of pneumatic architecture it isn’t hard to recall Lou Reed’s words on Warhol’s multimedia experiment, the Exploding Plastic Inevitable (of which he and his band, the Velvet Underground, were a part): “Hey, don’t be afraid. You better take drugs and learn to love plastic. All different kinds of plastic – pliable, rigid, colored, colorful, nonattached plastic.”[9]

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Pneumatic architecture was the envisioning within great plastic bubbles of air; is this not today what we inhabit, except in a completely different register? The very words – “plastic”, “bubbles”, and “air”, are a very literal reflection of everyday life in the midst of catastrophe. They reflect pollution, the trash heaps of disposable plastic containers littering every conceivable surface, the Great Pacific garbage patch, an island of plastic and junk twice the size of the state of Texas. We’ve seen the dangers of bubbles and of what the fallout of them can be – the bursting of the dotcom bubble which ended the first wave of digital utopianism, and the much larger bubble pop that ushered in the financial crisis. And finally, the “air” itself, which we have so taken for granted, is turning against us, filled with emissions from the chains of industry. Living in the world of plastics has demolished the possibility for the utopias called for by others in the Situationist trajectory – Vaneigem, himself following in Fourier’s footsteps, longed for a political horizon based on spontaneity rooted in a kind of post-capitalist pastoralism. There will be no pastoral utopias on our horizon, and very likely no utopias whatsoever. We can’t rely on the realization of abundance, for this very thing has been delivered in the centers of the overdeveloped world, at the cost of so much.

What application, then, can we find for the practices of the avant-garde in our current juncture? Modernist visions of excess are truly smashed to bits in the reality of the Anthropocene; this necessitates, over all, a profound reconfiguration for architecture – and every element of design, by extension – away from its implied complicity with neoliberalism at every step of its practice. Grandeur and the scale of visionaries will be replaced by a design driven by environmental necessity and scaled-down functionality. The question of space and its uses and its effects must be doggedly question at each and every turn; the word ‘salvage’ must enter lexicon as frequently as ‘sustainability’. Just as Barthes had once preemptively detourned the postmodern condition with his proclamation of the “death of author,” living in the Anthropocenic metropolis proclaims a different kind of death, fixed in the fundamental physical fabrics of everyday life – the death of the architect, the death of the designer. But is this not exactly what the Situationists and their kin argued for? Using Le Corbusier and his sermons on the “Radiant City” as a stand-in for architects and their urban projects everywhere, they had compared planning and design to police work; at the same time, Asger Jorn tells us, it was an ideal to strive towards. “Architecture is the final point in the achievement of any artistic endeavor because the creation of architecture implies the construction of an environment and the establishment of a way of life.”[10]

  1. (parameters)

Felix Guattari’s late writings contain extensive – if only in passing – reflections on architectural and design practices with the intent of recasting these forms in a manner equitable not to capitalism, but to schizoanalysis, as a mode generating open-ended and radical cuts in the age of accelerating planetary computation. Like the Situationists, he argued for an architect who approached his or her craft not from the perspective of an artist-dictator, but as a sort of reality-hacker whose work entails “offer[ing] his services in revealing the virtual desires of spaces, places, trajectories and territories…”[11] As such, the practices, for Guattari, must include the “analysis of the relations of individual and collective corporeality” and of “certain specific functions of subjectification.” In doing so, architecture is not police work in the service of capital, but is a tool by which new subjectivities, mutant subjectivities, and new types of encounter and embodiment can take off and splinter into new forms.

In this way and in the company of numerous other social and cultural operators, he could constitute an essential relay at the heart of multiple-headed Assemblages of enunciation, able to take analytic and pragmatic responsibility for contemporary productions of subjectivity. As a consequence, one really is a long way here from only seeing the architect in the simple position of critical observer![12]

Design practices, for Guattari, become an affair that is at once socio-collective and ecological, polyphonic and affective. This arena becomes a space where collective encounter can take place. Even as the rumblings of the Anthropocene begin to swarm (these writings on architecture come from his Schizoanalytic Cartographies, of which The Three Ecologies was originally intended to be a part) he sees a constructive role played here for the imaginal elements of social – transversal design is purposed with the opening up of new territories from the existential territories, that is, the territories composed by the rhythms of varying intensity and refrains found in everyday life. “The architectural form,” he writes, is not called on to function as a gestalt closed in on itself, but as a catalytic operator triggering chain reactions at the heart of modes of semiotization that make us escape from ourselves and open us up to original fields of possibility.”[13]

Thinkers and practices like Guattari and schizoanalysis allow us to move away from political transformation on the level of superstructure (or is it now the hyperobject?) and towards a postpolitics of mutation and hacking that takes infrastructure, regardless of its scalular position, as its locus.  At the same time, his approach may persist too simply in the singular, giving too much power to the architect or the designer as an individual and not enough on the collective elements that design could entail, with those elements only emerging in the after-effects of creation. Should the creation of new rhythms and refrains not emerge only in the fully constructed spatial parameters, or in the use of an object, but at each step of its emergent processes? Furthermore, how can we apply these notions in the context of the Anthropocene?

Moving backwards and returning to the milieu of the Situationists and their comrades, we can find certain usefulness in Henri Lefebvre’s concept of the “Right to City,” described by David Harvey as “a right to change ourselves by changing the city… [that] inevitably depends upon the exercise of a collective power to reshape the processes of urbanization.”[14] For Lefebvre this right is gained not by the leverages of power in the realm of political representation, but because the population, the users, of the city in fact generate it by their own generation of daily rhythms. This right “affirms,” he argues, “on the one hand, the right of users to make known their ideas on the space and time of their activities in the urban area; it would also cover the right to the use of the center, a privileged place, instead of being dispersed and stuck into ghettos (for workers, immigrants, the ‘marginal’ and even for the ‘privileged’).”[15] Most importantly, to invoke this right is to break the codifications of urban space and its corollary marketization and command-and-control structures.


Today we could speak of the “Right to the Metropolis”, a right oriented towards the scale-free mesh of the informatics everyday that encompasses the urban form (regardless of geospatial locale), its rhythms, and its cybernetic capture. The urban is controlled by the fusion of surveillance, legislative bureaucracy, and libidinal economics; the Metropolis extends these parameters while also implementing a control program through the application of the protocol, “an elaborate instruction list of how a given technology should work, from the inside out, from the top to the bottom.”[16] The Right to the Metropolis challenges the superiority of the protocol by challenging the twin myths that power protocological systems: enclosure via privatization and efficiency via a certain technologically-enhanced rationality. Lefebvre’s writings on the city urge the necessity of appropriation, which finds immediately its relevance today: appropriation is invoked in the drive to unhook the value captured in the commodity from its circulation, in the act of occupying or even becoming physical spaces, and in the act of salvaging, of turning the shells and husks of the old into the new. Each of these, in turn, points to a deeper and far more ambiguous appropriation of the information circuits itself, which would no longer be capturing behavior equitable to the smooth functioning of the market; it would be capturing a behavior that appears to be in excess or overflowing the boundaries of protocological regimes. One could even imagine bodies playing elaborate and subversive games with the informatic feedback loops that aim to micromanage cultural production.

Invoking the Right to the Metropolis would also entail a transformation or mutation of value and ethical structures, moving from destructive anthropocentrism to the meshworks of nonhuman agents and agencies that cut across the human and the social at every level, an assemblage of forces described by Andrew Pickering as “posthuman space” (“a space in which the human actors are still there but now inextricably entangled with the nonhuman.”[17]) and by Gilbert Simondon as the “inhuman” (“When glimpsed in all its pitiless materiality, there is nothing so inhuman as life itself.”[18]) This transvaluation is foregrounded by the Anthropocene itself, by forcing human agency to recognize that it is not the grounding of the cosmos, and that our timescales are but a blip in the grander scales of geological, cosmological time. At the same time, we can recognize our terrain on struggle focused on the blurred zones where protocol warps physicality to its own needs, where it becomes hardwired into the circuitry and infrastructure of the everyday. The zone of struggle and mutations, then, becomes a question of the apparatus itself, the socio-technic register that mediates our relationship to the world at large and the discursive and bodily regimes that move behind it. It is on this very point of mediation that the inhuman raises its head again: “We measured time using marks on a stick or a rock, perhaps right from the start. There was never a point where we didn’t have tools. We experience wood or stone or the earth through tools that cut and dig. We have always experienced the world via an inhuman apparatus of labor and tech. There was never a human without the inhuman.”[19] The technic mediation, an eternal process (as far as the human is concerned) of becoming-media of all things, is the foundational point of our modeled and simulated worldmap. It is at precisely at the point where it welds itself with networked protocol that the Metropolis emerges.

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  1. (information guerrilla design)

In several recent writings I’ve attempted to sketch out a figure that I’ve dubbed the “Information Guerilla” (here, here, and here). The idea isn’t new: it takes its cues from the construction of Situations, nomadic thought, electronic civil disobedience and Slacker Luddites (as described by the Critical Art Ensemble), Zapatista swarms, and the mythopoetic tactical media practiced by the Association of Autonomous Astronauts, the Luther Blissetts, and the Wu Mings of the world. Most importantly, it’s modeled on the figure of the hacker itself, but disregards the physical/divide that hacking presents to social imagination. Hacking, by contrast, can come in any form: thought, art, sexuality, biology, ecology, resistance, and even in the practices of the market itself. Hacking is a practice of an imaginal machine, but one that is different from the excessive splendor of the modernist avant-gardes – it isn’t concerned with the movement from the “real” to the “possible,” opting instead to blending the two by taking the actually-existing infrastructure as its starting point. It doesn’t proceed in revolutionary monoliths, of storming Winter Palaces and toppling the state. Its movement are instead a virology operating in the communication channels themselves. “Hackers,” Alexander Galloway tells us, “push protocol into a state of hypertrophy, hoping to come out the other side.”[20] The art of hacking is an invocation of the Right to the Metropolis.


The Information Guerrilla preys on the ambiguities present in the relationship between signal and noise in communication and information theory; for Claude Shannon and Warren Weaver, amongst the other scientific thinkers bundled together under wartime directive, noise, a forceful inhuman agency, was something to be regulated and disciplined if the signal was to enable the proper transferal of a communicative message. Yet from a slightly differing perspective, presented by Heinz von Foerster and Gregory Bateson, noise is that which mutates systems to higher forms, bursting with information that operates as a transformative power. As Serres tells us, noise is the parasite that disrupts communication while also enabling it.[21] The parasite, he tells us, is the excluded third, the apparatus itself – the medium and the environment itself. Noise is the noise of the infrastructure, or more properly the assemblage of the infrastructure and the ground. It is the integral accident of information, but one whose existence forms the very rational of protocol’s existence.

In the realm of cultural production, noise once occupied the space of the outside – noise was the sound of the avant-gardes, Dada glossolalia and Fluxus and the Exploding Plastic Inevitable. These noise zones, the margins were the places one fled to escape, create, experiment, and plan interventions into the heart of the commodity circus. Passing through to a stage where there is no binary logic to the rhythms of the margins and centers, we can see that noise zones no longer function purely as antagonists to the intricacies of the abstract machine, but instead give content to new commodity forms and lifestyles to augment its spectacular underpinnings. This sort of ‘software upgrade’ was described perfectly by Hardt and Negri when they wrote that “this new enemy is not only resistant to the old weapons but actually thrives on them, and thus joins its would-be antagonists in applying them to the fullest.”[22] Tatiana Bazzichelli has analyzed this paradigm using Deleuze and Guattari’s idea of holey spaces, gaps or blind spots in striating control that serve to disrupt its programmed linearity. Examining digital subcultures, hacking practices and tactical media networks, she finds evidence of holey spaces acting as ‘networked disruptions’ that “act from within the economical system, discovering its bugs and holes. They emerge from inside the capitalistic machine, acting through its cracks and interstices.”[23] But instead of pursuing the proliferation of holey spaces through to an absolute break, she finds a sort of muted subversion enabled by the capitalist recuperation of the actions inside the holey space: “The Internet technology industry can become a path to find holey spaces of rebellion and lulz, while mechanisms of consumption, if inverted and appropriated, can become an incentive for the creation of artistic and political interventions.”[24]

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The problem with Bazzichelli’s analysis is that while a network disruption performs the role of an accident, neoliberal capitalism is completely contingent on the continuity of accidents for its existence, and not strictly in the realm of culture. The whole of neoliberal governmentality is a succession of accidents: the collapse of the global Fordist-Keynesian system, debt and oil crises, the “shock doctrine” identified by Naomi Klein and the disaster eco-biopolitics discussed by Brian Massumi[25] all point towards the absolute synthesis of control and crisis. Viruses and hackers push digital protocol into more private, restrictive, and disciplined spaces. War machines require an enemy that appears as exteriority. By intensifying the regulation of the infrastructure through institutionalization and privatization, ‘weaponizing noise’ becomes more and more problematic when command and oversight is present at every intersecting line and node in the meshwork. It all but obliterates the possibility of imagining alternatives.

Instead of gesticulating in the margins and noise zones, the Information Guerrilla works in a different space and serves to generate a different sort of noise. These spaces are not necessarily holey spaces (though they can be!), but are the in-between spaces, fuzzy spaces, where disciplines blend and melt together – the encounter between the activist and the designer, the designer and the scientist, the NGO worker with the architect, the hacker with the urban farmer, all sorts of infrastructure workers interweaving the disparate strands of their craft. Through increased encounters and collaborations and connected to subversive intent, the fuzzy spaces become a Zone of Experimentation that aims not to outpace the future, but to retreat ahead of it, as Barthes once said. It is a matter of resurrecting the insurrectionary ethos of the old avant-gardes, but not with the promise of utopia in mind. Instead, the Zone of Experimentation, in conjunction with the invocation of the Right to the Metropolis, should produce alternatives more in line with the harsh realities of the Anthropocene, transforming the infrastructure and its integral glitches in ways to put into play new modes of productions, new methods of subsistence and distribution, and alternatives to emergency governmentality and disaster capitalism that are far more equitable to human and nonhuman actors. Designers as information guerillas must produce resuscitated spaces for the co-mingling of all bodies, expressions of intra-agency, and make tools for an earth that might not be a new earth, but one whose meshwork can become increasing unhooked from command and control.

[1] Nick Land “Meltdown” Swarmachine, Cybernetic Culture Research Unit

[2] Gean Moreno and McKenzie Wark “New Ancestors: Conversations with McKenzie Wark” E-Flux, January, 2014

[3] Committee for the Liberation of Autonomous Amusement “Communique from the Committee for the Liberation of Autonomous Amusement: on the foreclosure of possibility in everyday life” Deterritorial Investigations Unit December 23rd, 2013

[4] Ivan Chtcheglov “Formulary for a New Urbanism” 1953,

[5] Guy Debord “Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geography” Les Lèvres Nues #6, September 1955,

[6] See Raoul Vaneigem The Movement of the Free Spirit Zone Books, 1998

[7]Debord “Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geography”

[8] Marc Dessause (eds.) The Inflatable Moment: Pneumatics and Protest in ’68 Princeton Architectural Press,1999 pg. 67

[9] Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk April, 2006

[10] Asger Jorn “Architecture for Life” Potlatch: Information Bulletin of the French Section of the Letterist International No. 15, December 22nd, 1954

[11] Felix Guattari Schizoanalytic Cartographies Bloomsbury Academic, 2013, pg. 232

[12] Ibid

[13] Ibid, pg. 238

[14] David Harvey “The Right to the City” New Left Review, No. 53, September-October 2008,

[15] Henri Lefebvre Writings on Cities Blackwell Publishers, 1996, pg. 34

[16] Alexander Galloway Protocol: How Control Exists After Decentralization MIT Press, 2006 pg. 171

[17] Andrew Pickering The Mangle of Practice: Time, Agency, and Science The University of Chicago Press, 1995, pg. 26

[18] Quoted in Alisa Andrasek “Dustism”, in Eugene Thacker and Ed Keller (eds.) Leper Creativity: Cyclonopedia Symposium Punctum Books, 2012, pg. 96

[19] Moreno and Wark “New Ancestors”

[20] Galloway Protocol pg. 158

[21] Michel Serres The Parasite University of Minnesota Press, 2007

[22] Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri Empire Harvard University Press, 2000, pg. 138

[23] Tatiana Bazzichelli Networked Disruption: Rethinking Oppositions in Art, Hacktivism, and the Business and Social Networking Aarhus Universitet Multimedieuddannelsen, 2013 pg. 21

[24] Ibid, pg. 147

[25] Naomi Klein The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism Picador, 2007; Brian Massumi “National Enterprise Emergency: Steps Towards an Ecology of Powers” Theory, Culture & Society, vol. 26, no. 6, November, 2009

21 responses to “Sketches on Mutant Design (or, Situationism at the after party)

  1. welcome Edmund, so I’ve been consulting on organizational management for more than a decade now with private and public organizations from hospitals and research universities to high-end engineering&coding, plastics manufacturing, and even a prison, and I just don’t see the means for much in the way of highly effective/coordinated mass efforts on the human side of the equation (which is a big part of the push to literally mechanize such efforts/jobs) that would be the direct equivalent of a cloud/superstructure, so think we need a different mode(l) for thinking of what is truly new on the machine side and how such effects (to the degree they exist in generalizable forms, and or it is useful to characterize them as such) are actually happening/being-made on the alltoohuman side.
    Was just part of a working-group the other day discussing a state university lab’s work on developing human-computer interfaces and to date things are pretty klunky-buggy and as far as I can tell that’s pretty much the state of the art.

    • I absolutely agree with the infeasibility of deploying some technological superstructure to ‘singularize’ the world, so to speak. We essentially have such a superstructure right now, and that’s the neoliberal system itself! Perhaps its too Foucauldian of a viewpoint but I can’t see technics and infrastructure as a neutral force (not in terms of human agency and especially not for nonhuman agency) due to the particular governmentalities or protocols that govern their usage, that whole sort of socio-economico-juridicial process of codification. So it becomes a question of a new model (or as I prefer, drawing on Guattari, a metamodel) that can challenge the hegemony of these protocols – not some accelerationist gesture but a sideways step, not a superstructure to challenge hyperobjects but the fostering of urgency and even militancy inside the zones of work where infrastructure is concerned, for those that generate it and the users alike… Easier said that done, but while older avant-gardes called for the immediate construction of situations I think today requires a call for the immediate cultivation of zones of experimentation…

      • alas as usual I’m unclear in my attempts at writing, this ” superstructure right now, and that’s the neoliberal system itself” is what I was questioning I don’t think there is such a system/superstructure as there is no way to truly systematize/synchronize humans,
        so I think we need to attend to how the attempts (of the kinds you generously investigate and report for us) to make us more machine/tool-like actually play out in differing circumstances/assemblages, maybe some are close enough that we can characterize them as being the ‘same’ in regards to some intervention/concern or another but I don’t think we can generalize much before we get into the thick of some particulars or another on the ground.
        hope that’s a bit clearer?

      • I like the call for ‘zones’ here. The only way I see us avoiding the brutalizing prison of a master-network of control and regulation, while still using technology and regulation (which I think we must), is to indeed to move towards a “sideways” politicking of insurrection (broadly conceived), exit and militant niche-construction. There is so much more to this type of move than I can say here, but at minimum we would need a) ways of resisting surveillance, b) innovative subsistence strategies, as well as c) massive technic repurposing/salvaging efforts in order to carve out and build altern places and spaces of habitation resilient to acts of aggression, wider systems crisis and internal dynamics.

        This, I think, is where places like Detroit (and working with mariginalized populations) becomes so important for study and experimental sociality.

  2. Absolutely! I mostly understood the first time and was simply reiterating. But yeah, I like how you put it – “don’t think there is such a system/superstructure as there is no way to truly systematize/synchronize humans.” I do agree, even if I’ve been deploying terms like “neoliberalism,” “control,” and “superstructure.” Much of the past two years have been spent looking at physical infrastructures, the sciences that enables them, the way they play out in the world, and how they link together. That’s really what neoliberalism is: the linkages between differing systems that operate in a fairly asymmetrical paradigm (in terms of location, development, and politico-juridical systems)… the relationship between global supply chains and behavior monitoring, the application of sensor web technology, the correlation between material trade and immaterial finance, etc, etc. But even if what we call “neoliberalism” is really quite multiplicitous in the truest sense of the word, there are standards that operate diffusely across the transnationalized globe that govern the way each of these separate technical/machinic systems operate; this implementation and enforcement of standards (which is itself always changing and evolving) is the protocol, which becomes rhetorically conflated with nature to the point where “infrastructure” and “protocol” become indistinguishable on the surface level – even if underneath they are not!

    The strategy is warding off generalizations, which I think is the big crime of critical theory in general (and something I find myself falling into quite often), because the meshworld is so big, so complex, so full of incalculable variables (which systems dynamics tries to tame) that we must stress the uniqueness and occasions and regional agencies and vectors. This is why I find hands-on critical research so enthralling, the kind that grapples with, say, the technical logistics of a specific network of free-trade zones, or tackles the literal electronic infrastructure beneath Wall Street’s trading hubs. This all gets too frequently overlooked because on the surface it appears rather mundane at times, but we’ve got to recognize the fact that infrastructure and protocol is a certain modulation of geographical space, and spaces are doing something in our everyday lives. Its a medium, just as is media, just as is capital. One of the big questions, I think, is how to foreground this kind of stuff and connect it to other modes of critical inquiry (the processes of subjectification? Law? Ecology?), and while this is being done its the amplification and eye towards the possibility of intervention or exit that needs to be furthered – not the reduction of it to theoretical universals.

    • “The strategy is warding off generalizations, which I think is the big crime of critical theory in general (and something I find myself falling into quite often), because the meshworld is so big, so complex, so full of incalculable variables (which systems dynamics tries to tame) that we must stress the uniqueness and occasions and regional agencies and vectors” ah yes very good, foregrounding the particulars of infrastructures/actors/etc is my driving concern as well (as the poor folks at can attest to) and i think fits in well with Andy Pickering’s preaching that complexity/emergence means that we (writ large) are not in control (no matter how rich/geared-up/in we may or may not be) and so how to live with/in that and not succumb to the depression/learned-helplessness that Bifo diagnosed so movingly in his friend Guatarri?

      • Always been a big fan of Andy Pickering (and I’ve definitely been digging the stuff you’ve been putting up by him)… what’s interesting is that I think an argument could be made situated on the relationship between regional control and the larger out-of-control systems embedded within neoliberal governmentality. I tried to point this out a little in this piece – what we call “neoliberalism” has been a series of responses to a swarming lack of control coming from both human and nonhuman forces. From the get-go, neoliberalism itself was the “fix-it” applied to the crisis of control over the Fordist-Keynesian economy, which had become too top-heavy by the time the postwar reconstruction had completed. From there, it was applied wherever turmoil or catastrophe struck; it’s like the solution to systems that appear irrational (to the human eye) is the so-called “rational actor” theories cooked up at the Chicago School. Never mind chaos and complexity, acting in the market will rationalize it all! Then it gets coupled with the illusion of total situational awareness made possible by technical dynamics and surveillance. But as the Anthropocene shows us complexity will place our “rational action” at the end of the day.

        “how to live with/in that and not succumb to the depression/learned-helplessness that Bifo diagnosed so movingly in his friend Guatarri?” And therein lies the key question that we’re all trying to grope towards an answer for! I’ll have to check out the folks at installingorder…

    • Parsing out the different and intra-acting sub-systems, human practices, ideological images, affordances, etc., (active assemblages within assemblages) is so important – especially in terms of resistance and mutational praxis. For example this is where my idea of glitchwork comes in. In order to create opportunities for mutation we must enact the appropriate but sometimes chaotic ‘glitches’ within otherwise smooth systems of control. And to do this we need to have a familiarity with those systems and the try and have some sense of the effects any glitches might have. Parsing for possibilities.

    • Generalizations aren’t the problem so much as the way reflection is apt to misconstrue them. It’s their power that makes them so pernicious when we lose sight of their limitations. This is why I think it’s healthy to use the term ‘cartoon’ here and there, as a way to reference the limits of our tools.

      As cartoonist, the labour of the theorist (on this cartoon at least) takes on quite a different cast. Political cartoonists communicate patterns, pluck gestalts from supercomplicated social phenomena in a manner that feeds back into those phenomena, but the similarities thin out pretty quickly from this point. Where the theorist is continually adducing claims in an effort to implicitly ‘realize’ the low-resolution pattern peddled, the cartoonist continually exaggerates, explicitly ‘derealizes,’ in an effort implicitly motivate the low-resolution pattern. The idea is to get one thing right enough in the right way. In this sense, I think neoliberalism is invaluable as a cartoon, even if horribly suspect as a description of reality.

      When it comes to the latter, I think we all need to bite the big data bullet. The machines are great at isolating patterns–they are here to stay. Critical theory has to break up the technocratic monopoly on the interpretation of those patterns–invent a new school of political cartoon.

      • I don’t think that the cartoons are actually powerful in the usual ways people speculate about with supposed ideologies/Concepts and all (and as such are not the same as literal machine-codes), but instead are just terms/signs/etc get used and abused for a whole variety of ever-revolving interests/situations as if they were powerful/existed and so shift our focus away from who is actually exerting power/influence with what means and to what ends.
        Patterns still need to be interpreted and acted on so back and forth we will ever go mangling things as we can.

      • Sounds like critical theory! The difference being that the uncovering of the ‘who is actually exerting power/influence’ claimed by critical theory authenticates the legitimacy of those powers for those who include critical theory among those things they identify against.

        Either way, I’m not suggesting we all become literal cartoonists, only that we see the ways that recognizing the cartoonish nature of theory can actually advance the things theory sets out achieve.

      • When it comes to the latter, I think we all need to bite the big data bullet. The machines are great at isolating patterns–they are here to stay. Critical theory has to break up the technocratic monopoly on the interpretation of those patterns–invent a new school of political cartoon.”

        Absolutely. Dreams of reversing the present machinery contain a great deal of dangerous nostalgia that is reactionary at best but can come in forms far worse. Primitivism and the espousing of luddite rhetoric is profoundly out of step of our time, ignoring that a major terrain of political struggle must focus on the social side of these technics, their uses and abuses. But this has to extend beyond the interpretation of patterns – aside the questions of surveillance and privacy, the limits or lack-thereof, and all of the modulations that dynamic systems imply, we’re going to have to approach the question of the ethics of these technics from the perspective of our ungrounded position. Or, more simply put, these systems are not simply neutral tools put to bad use. They’re also materialist constructs, cobbled together assemblages of silicon and tin, cobalt and copper, a variety of raw materials whose current processes of extraction have welded together despotic bureaucracies and social denigration with environmental devastation. They make their way across the world, from free trade zone to free trade zone, in massive container ships – an industry which accounts for some 4% of global climate change emissions. The industries they engender – from finance to logistics to the military to all forms of everyday work and leisure – gobble up energy and spit it out as pollutant. So yeah, we need these machines, but we’ve gotta recognize and work with the fact that their proliferation is concurrent with the shrinking possibilities of sustainability – the creation of a political ‘cartoon’ right there!

  3. This piece is outstanding. It is overflowing with concise analysis and intensive associations. I have been taking notes towards formulating a response and they are longer than the post itself. I get lost in one or two sentences only to go off on a tangent before remembering to try and take this post as a whole. Thank you much for this contribution Edmund.

    I will try to get a larger response up ASAP but for now I can only appreciate almost the entirety of what you sketch out. I also see an increasingly cumbersome multi-network of ‘big data’, surveillance, and infomatic control coupled to a largely incomprehensible (for most of us) intensification of technoscientific micro-management of matter (and with it sapience) itself. Yet, while these sub and trans-conscious regulatory and algorithmic tendencies are converging we also see a complete degradation of the still fundamental ecosystems and processes that continue to supply this mad civilization. We are consuming and disintegrating the world faster than we can reengineer it.

    It seems to me more and more a race between a complete and hubristic technicification of the biosphere (T-transitions) and the massive disintegration of civilizational systems via messy biospheric collapse (D-transitions). Will the Transcenders triumph and install their smooth operations or will Icarus fall and be reckoned by the pure (non-ideological, non-infomatic) presences of mass starvation/thirst, rampant disease, war, etc.?

    Those who seek to prioritize “understanding” as a mode or grounds for control and capture over corporeal integrity and compositionality are trying to project and will(-to-power-over) and phantasize their way out of over-lapping crises born of that very mode of being (virulent idealism) without first integrating the logic of flesh/matter/embodiment. Their abstractions become the content of every possible dream. Their images mask our misery and hunger. Their detachment becomes our global disorder. But can they reach some state of maximum ideation (the info-singularity?) – with its correlate ultimate ideology – before the non-humans rise up and overthrow the order of image?

    No doubt scattered possibilities still exist in-between but considering our species as a group, and the scale of the problems involved, it seems to me a trend towards a planet that resembles the more extreme versions of the fictions I propose above. Bifurcation of our species into Transcenders (insulated technoscientific elite castes) and Descenders (ecologically impoverished chronic survivors) seems all but inevitable at this point, as resources become scare and the terrains of possibility empty out.

    • “Bifurcation of our species into Transcenders (insulated technoscientific elite castes) and Descenders (ecologically impoverished chronic survivors) seems all but inevitable at this point, as resources become scare and the terrains of possibility empty out” yep this is where things are already so those of us being expulsed (as @SaskiaSassen has diagnosed) need to be scrappy (pardon the pun) and start to work on hacking/bricolaging open-sourced means of making do with what’s at hand, maybe a kind of 21C: ?

      • Tool-kits and guides are great but I think each carved out niche or zone of insurrectionary living will need to be adapted to their specific ecological and political environs. The preparatory work for building from and out of the ruins would be a dual process of gathering the broad strategies and technical know-how at the same time as cultivating the holding capacity within individuals and group practices for radical ecological and evolutionary sensing and evaluating. Because a major problem in pushing for new zones will be in finding ways to encourage advanced adaptation practices and habits and mentalities (and thereby retaining the fruits of modernity), while avoiding regressions to self-justifying insularity and backwardness. The tendency of self-enclosed sub-niches is that many of the humans turn inward toward cultish behavior. So maybe this is an issue of foundational pedagogical practice and educational design within any give ‘zone’ or niche of alterity as a point of community cognitive maintenance?

        The possibility of generating and cultivating post-ideological imaginaries exists only after nihilism (as the collapse individual and institutional certainty and the cessation of habits of doxic closure), so any reversions to insularity, traditional culture or reactionary dogma will be an opportunity lost for our species.

      • “will need to be adapted to their specific ecological and political environs” yep thus my focus on prototypes
        ” gathering the broad strategies and technical know-how at the same time as cultivating the holding capacity within” for me these aren’t separate categories/tracts (was thinking about this during the cyborg interview) all just varieties of human-doings/extended-minding(s), heidegger wasn’t wrong that techne is a matter of our anthropo-logoi and not just about literal technologies he was just wrong to think that we could do/be otherwise.

    • Wow Michael, thanks for the kind words and the furthering of the thoughts I’ve tried to put together (and once again, thanks for inviting me to participate in Synthetic Zero)! I think you pretty much summed up the whole of situation I want to articulate in a single sentence: “We are consuming and disintegrating the world faster than we can reengineer it.” And then with the dichotomy of T-Transitions and D-Transitions, the pacing between the acceleration towards a state of smooth control and collapse – I fully believe that catastrophe will come to us quicker than a control singularity (which of course would be more in line with an imagery of control singularity and not its absolute application). I find it to be a fascinating paradigm where large portions of the top-tier classes of the overdeveloped world rely so strongly on systems dynamics, cybernetic technology, and control schemas to motor capitalism (from surveillance to pervasive advertising to balancing transnational logistics), embedding it deeply into the integral functions of the infrastructure, while ignoring the application of these same meta-sciences and technologies in revealing patterns of ecological change and devastation on the level of geological time. Is this not hubris taken to the level of absurdity? As you say, “Their detachment becomes our global disorder.” It is as if apparatuses continue to apply only in the case of human agency, and that is exists in a state of complete and total detachment from the ground and the soil and the air.

      “I like the call for ‘zones’ here. The only way I see us avoiding the brutalizing prison of a master-network of control and regulation, while still using technology and regulation (which I think we must), is to indeed to move towards a “sideways” politicking of insurrection (broadly conceived), exit and militant niche-construction.” In the collapse of previous orders from both external and internal pressure and with it the evaporation of the possibilities large-scale, superstructural responses, “zones” appear as the only way forward! I think of Hakim Bey with his “Temporary Autonomous Zone,” which was at one time such a provocative concept but now can be only be viewed as something extremely indulgent (with its ‘flashes-of-carnival’ approach) and isolated to its time and place. But I like to take what we can from the older avant-gardes – what would the concept of the T.A.Z. look like without its fanciful accouterments removed and retooled in light of the current world, when combined with the new ethics and new modes of action that our time calls for? I also think of Tiqqun’s Zones of Offensive Opacity, which Andrew Culp has described so aptly as the “weaponizing the elements of a space that are either invisible or unintelligible to the perspective of governance.” I don’t think that zonework (for lack of a better word) can be anything but intrinsically insurrectionary, as it challenges the dominant codifications and protocols governing space. It seems then that there would be a strong relationship between the construction of experimental zones and what you call glitchwork – its all about that interrogation of the functioning of a system, probing it and parsing through. To return to Culp’s treatment of Tiqqun’s own zones: “Everything that is uncaptured is to be directed back against the apparatus of capture.” Despite the imagery, I think this could take on a variety of forms, so I agree completely with your point on Detroit and the workings of marginalized populations.

      Much, much more to say but I’ll have to continue in a few hours!

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