(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.
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.” 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.
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.” 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.” 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.” 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. 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.”
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.” 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.”
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.”
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…” 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!
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.”
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.” 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’).” 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.” 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.”) and by Gilbert Simondon as the “inhuman” (“When glimpsed in all its pitiless materiality, there is nothing so inhuman as life itself.”) 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.” 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.
(information guerrilla design)