Empires of Sense

Been having great pleasure reading and viewing talks and videos in preparation of our documentary film, Empires. Last week we spent the morning with Michael Hardt here in New York at the Hudson Hotel. He and Toni Negri are the authors of Empire and Multitude.  Micheal was the first person I interviewed for the film and I had a great many questions for him, not questions really, but rather wanted Michael to speak to the many things he is very erudite about, to the heart of what the film’s trajectory is, which is how do we come to know ourselves, to map the world for ourselves, to be self and collective, to be global, and of a place, to be singular and multiple.  I have felt the grounding within and against how we define and know ourselves, place, time, nation, heredity, money, transaction, our appetites and pleasures, our wars and diseases, our networks and social relations, our biology, our cosmos, our sciences and histories, our polity and economics, need new narration, new description – by no means definitive description – and not new from me, but what is new and old seen again new, gathered up and spoken to from a variety of people, each with their knowledge and from their varied angles  – and together in the confines of a film, create an assemblage, an engine for concepts that form a new narration.

I know that this is very dense, but things are dense and layered until in some sense we take them in, we live inside them, and then in front of them – so the first task is to make seen the everyday, to make seen the things we don’t see, to see those things we have no sense are shaping us, or assume are absolute and natural – let’s say such things as ‘free markets’ or the inevitable triumph of ‘democracy’ or time as ‘clock time’ or ‘nations’ or ‘peoples’  or ‘measurement’ or ‘appetite’. We live within the empires of these ideas if you like.  Or rather we have ideas about these very real and living systems that are always doing and undoing themselves, in deluezian terms territorializing and deterritorializing . How we negotiate these realities is part and parcel of how we come to know and activate ourselves.

I will write more about the concerns of the film but want to write something about the form of the film and how a film finds its form or a form finds a film. A good friend of mine told me once that art deals with affects and philosophy, concepts. He gave me the book, ‘What is Philosophy?’ by Giles Delueze and Felix Guattari. Two philosophers whose works have informed almost every academic I have spoken to and of course countless students and of course me – and Michael Hardt – and I will get into this in later posts. But let’s return to concepts and affects. If we think about all the big big topics above – how do we think about or how to express the affects of these things, the feeling tone, the lived reality, the sense and sensibility, the texture, the ambient qualities, the temperatures, the intensities of living in all this – the light and taste and emotion.

With this said I have been thinking while making the film, Empires to do a series of smaller films and other works that work along the register of affect and with that said post here a recent film that works along the lines of the Empires of Sense.


I have been working on a new film, a documentary film.

A conversation  a form of conversation like jazz a dinner conversation not an argument –

an interplay like
perhaps more
baroque than jazz

a conversation in and around empires of sense, sense making, being, of time, cosmic and genetic about nation states, money, food, our planet, the cosmos etc..

the film looks at cultural and natural forms as they concern the production of subjectivies at the confluence of empires of money, cities, fashion, body politics, sciences

some of the topics and guest include

polity globalization, citizenry the multitude, the body politic (michael hardt, galloway, holmes, 16beaver, Giorgio Agamben
the history of money (nigel furgeson
cities (greg Lindsay, rem koolhass,
a conversation about the senses, appetites foods  – the businesses they engender (sarah murray, diane akerman
mappings, voyages, encounters  (James Delbourgo,Jorge Cañizares-Esguerra, Richard Wurman, raymond tallis, oliver sacks
sound  (david toop, jaques attali,
art (claire bishop, goa shiming, Nicolas Bourriaud,
computers, the technium (jaron lanier, galloway, varnelis, kevin kelly
environment, biology (maturan&varela, bill mckibben, Jorge Cañizares-Esguerra
networks as conception of figuring discourse – media, information, networks   (varnelis, galloway chrystia freeland, tim wu, david simon,

the conversation then is a mapping of affect not of facts getting at the living from the inside of humans, plants, foods, waterways, biology – all these networks coming together

to allow the audience to see and ponder

Where are you inside yourself?
Where you are in time?
Where time itself it.
A body
A city
The world today
The cosmos
and the movement of these these things through a variety of times
And human becoming and the story of its becoming is
The time of milliseconds and macrogoogglepllexes

the effect of the film is to bring upon wonder   to discover  new metaphors

Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life
Giorgio Agamben
The work of Giorgio Agamben, one of Italy’s most important and original philosophers, has been based on an uncommon erudition in classical traditions of philosophy and rhetoric, the grammarians of late antiquity, Christian theology, and modern philosophy. Recently, Agamben has begun to direct his thinking to the constitution of the social and to some concrete, ethico-political conclusions concerning the state of society today, and the place of the individual within it.
In Homo Sacer, Agamben aims to connect the problem of pure possibility, potentiality, and power with the problem of political and social ethics in a context where the latter has lost its previous religious, metaphysical, and cultural grounding. Taking his cue from Foucault’s fragmentary analysis of biopolitics, Agamben probes with great breadth, intensity, and acuteness the covert or implicit presence of an idea of biopolitics in the history of traditional political theory. He argues that from the earliest treatises of political theory, notably in Aristotle’s notion of man as a political animal, and throughout the history of Western thinking about sovereignty (whether of the king or the state), a notion of sovereignty as power over “life” is implicit.
The reason it remains merely implicit has to do, according to Agamben, with the way the sacred, or the idea of sacrality, becomes indissociable from the idea of sovereignty. Drawing upon Carl Schmitt’s idea of the sovereign’s status as the exception to the rules he safeguards, and on anthropological research that reveals the close interlinking of the sacred and the taboo, Agamben defines the sacred person as one who can be killed and yet not sacrificed—a paradox he sees as operative in the status of the modern individual living in a system that exerts control over the collective “naked life” of all individuals.

Science and Empire in the Atlantic World (New Directions in American History
James Delbourgo (Editor)
Nicholas Dew (Editor)
Science and Empire in the Atlantic World is the first book in the growing field of Atlantic Studies to examine the production of scientific knowledge in the Atlantic world from a comparative and international perspective. Rather than focusing on a specific scientific field or single national context, this collection captures the multiplicity of practices, people, languages, and agendas that characterized the traffic in knowledge around the Atlantic world, linking this knowledge to the social processes fundamental to colonialism, such as travel, trade, ethnography, and slavery.

Nature, Empire, And Nation: Explorations of the History of Science in the Iberian World
Jorge Cañizares-Esguerra
This collection of essays explores two traditions of interpreting and manipulating nature in the early-modern and nineteenth-century Iberian world: one instrumental and imperial, the other patriotic and national. Imperial representations laid the ground for the epistemological transformations of the so-called Scientific Revolutions. The patriotic narratives lie at the core of the first modern representations of the racialized body, Humboldtian theories of biodistribution, and views of the landscape as a historical text representing different layers of historical memory.

The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires (Borzoi Books) [Deckle Edge] [Hardcover]
*Tim Wu (he is at Columbia)
According to Columbia professor and policy advocate Wu (Who Controls the Internet), the great information empires of the 20th century have followed a clear and distinctive pattern: after the chaos that follows a major technological innovation, a corporate power intervenes and centralizes control of the new medium–the master switch. Wu chronicles the turning points of the century’ s information landscape: those decisive moments when a medium opens or closes, from the development of radio to the Internet revolution, where centralizing control could have devastating consequences. To Wu, subjecting the information economy to the traditional methods of dealing with concentrations of industrial power is an unacceptable control of our most essential resource. He advocates not a regulatory approach but rather a constitutional approach that would enforce distance between the major functions in the information economy–those who develop information, those who own the network infrastructure on which it travels, and those who control the venues of access–and keep corporate and governmental power in check. By fighting vertical integration, a Separations Principle would remove the temptations and vulnerabilities to which such entities are prone. Wu’ s engaging narrative and remarkable historical detail make this a compelling and galvanizing cry for sanity–and necessary deregulation–in the information age.

You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto
Jaron Lanier
For the most part, Web 2.0–Internet technologies that encourage interactivity, customization, and participation–is hailed as an emerging Golden Age of information sharing and collaborative achievement, the strength of democratized wisdom. Jaron Lanier isn’t buying it. In You Are Not a Gadget, the longtime tech guru/visionary/dreadlocked genius (and progenitor of virtual reality) argues the opposite: that unfettered–and anonymous–ability to comment results in cynical mob behavior, the shouting-down of reasoned argument, and the devaluation of individual accomplishment. Lanier traces the roots of today’s Web 2.0 philosophies and architectures (e.g. he posits that Web anonymity is the result of ’60s paranoia), persuasively documents their shortcomings, and provides alternate paths to “locked-in” paradigms. Though its strongly-stated opinions run against the bias of popular assumptions, You Are Not a Gadget is a manifesto, not a screed; Lanier seeks a useful, respectful dialogue about how we can shape technology to fit culture’s needs, rather than the way technology currently shapes us.

What Technology Wants
Kevin Kelly
Verbalizing visceral feelings about technology, whether attraction or repulsion, Kelly explores the “technium,” his term for the globalized, interconnected stage of technological development. Arguing that the processes creating the technium are akin to those of biological evolution, Kelly devotes the opening sections of his exposition to that analogy, maintaining that the technium exhibits a similar tendency toward self-organizing complexity. Having defined the technium, Kelly addresses its discontents, as expressed by the Unabomber (although Kelly admits to trepidation in taking seriously the antitechnology screeds of a murderer) and then as lived by the allegedly technophobic Amish. From his observations and discussions with some Amish people, Kelly extracts some precepts of their attitudes toward gadgets, suggesting folk in the secular world can benefit from the Amish approach of treating tools as servants of self and society rather than as out-of-control masters. Exploring ramifications of technology on human welfare and achievement, Kelly arrives at an optimistic outlook that will interest many, coming, as it does, from the former editor of Wired magazine.

The Exploit: A Theory of Networks
Alexander R. Galloway
Eugene Thacker
Authors Galloway and Thacker–with New York University and the Georgia Institute of Technology respectively–pose a dichotomy between networks and sovereignty. Sovereignty is the longtime, historical form of government and society; often described as “hierarchic.” Networks, on the other hand as any contemporary person knows, are newer, postmodern, forms of social organization–or topology–and activity. The difference between sovereignty and network is the difference between architecture and biology.
The co-authors take a “more speculative, experimental approach [resulting in] a series of marginal claims” rather than a theory to try to grasp the essential nature and actual effects of networks; all the while recognizing that “the nonhuman quality of networks is precisely what makes them so difficult to grasp”. With sovereignty, leaders–i. e., persons–and laws or conventions were recognizable formative elements. With networks on the other hand, there are no permanent nor widely-accepted leaders and no code of law or centuries of convention forming or even governing them. Yet, there are businesses and services such as protocols and institutions such as Microsoft and Google which strongly influence and in some ways determine the presence and activity of networks. The belief that networks, particularly the Internet, are naturally, intentionally, or inevitably egalitarian is misleading.

Stefano Boeri Rem Koolhaas
Mutations is an eye-popping atlas-cum-analysis of this new urbanization, and much of it is composed of essays and meditations (from a variety of contributors) on the 21st-century international City (often un-)Beautiful. Most of them are written in language that will be familiar to readers of Koolhaas’s past books: in other words, dense, abstract, and chock-full of references to Foucault, Deleuze, and Guattari. If you like that sort of deconstructivist yammering, great; if not, the major small-type essays are best sampled (or, better, skimmed) one at a time, interspersed with the many other more accessible elements of the book that truly do add up to a vivid and fascinating mosaic of postmodern urbanism.
From Koolhaas and Harvard Design School’s Project on the City come two engrossing and wholly straightforward explorations: one of the Pearl River Delta, which China has designated as a zone of unrestricted capitalist experimentation, and whose five major urban centers have consequently exploded overnight in all sorts of instructive and often frightening ways; and another of the chaotic, congested and Blade Runneresque megalopolis of Lagos, Nigeria, whose patterns of growth, housing, and commerce defy all conventional wisdom on how cities should develop. There’s also a bounty of excellent (and often astonishing) statistics on all aspects of urban growth; a “snapshots” section of phenomena from cities all over the globe; a completely spot-on (and unintentionally funny) analysis of the evolution of shopping as the last truly unifying urban public activity (and the subject of Koolhaas’s next full-scale book); and a trenchant look at Kosovo as ground zero in the first major war of the Internet age. (It should be noted that there’s a separate section on the U.S., which with all its soulless, tacky consumerist excess gets the drubbing it usually can expect from the European intelligentsia, although the irony here is that more and more of newly urban Europe is starting to look like newly urban America.)

Relational Aesthetics
Nicolas Bourriaud
Where does our current obsession for interactivity stem from? After the consumer society and the communication era, does art still contribute to the emergence of a rational society? Bourriaud attempts to renew our approach toward contemporary art by getting as close as possible to the artists works, and by revealing the principles that structure their thoughts: an aesthetic of the inter-human, of the encounter; of proximity, of resisting social formatting.

*Claire Bishop (i believe she is at Bard and I would love to talk to her)
The current focus on relational aesthetics seems to have been largely detrimental to a more complex, nuanced and art-historically informed discussion on participatory practices. Claire Bishop’s thoughtful anthology will hopefully begin to remedy this situation. Her book provides the theoretical and historical tools that are essential to perform a closer reading of participatory practices, current and past. Precisely organized and carefully selected, this anthology will surely be consulted widely, both by professionals and students. To its usefulness and clarity, Bishop’s book adds a concern for a geographically expanded field of inquiry, so that her version of history is gladly one that does not disregard the evidence – as much recent writing unfortunately still does – when it comes from outside the well-trodden paths of the Western canon.”
–-Carlos Basualdo, Curator of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia Museum of Art

A Natural History of the Senses
Diane Ackerman
Physiology and philosophy mesh in this poetic investigation of the five senses; essays explore synesthesia, food taboos, kissing and the power and diversity of music. “Rooted in science, enlivened by her own convincing sense of wonder, Ackerman’s essays awaken us to a fresh awareness,”

*Oliver Sacks (he is at columbia)
The title story in Anthropologist is that of autistic Temple Grandin, whose own book Thinking in Pictures gives her version of how she feels–as unlike other humans as a cow or a Martian. The other minds Sacks describes are equally remarkable: a surgeon with Tourette’s syndrome, a painter who loses color vision, a blind man given the ambiguous gift of sight, artists with memories that overwhelm “real life,” the autistic artist Stephen Wiltshire, and a man with memory damage for whom it is always 1968.

The Kingdom of Infinite Space: A Portrait of Your Head
Raymond Tallis
“Selves are not cooked up, or stored, in brains,” Tallis writes. “Selves require bodies as well as brains, material environments as well as bodies, and societies as well as material environments.” So it is instructive to examine the head and its “outer” activities, because, Tallis explains, “the brain is absurdly over-rated”, and for all its power and mystery, a brain cannot constitute a whole being’s world. “I want to celebrate the mystery of the fact that we are embodied,”
Where are you?  Raymond Tallis wants to know. He is not asking about your physical location; a GPS unit could supply an answer to such a simple question. Where are you inside yourself?

The Soundscape
R. Murray Schafer
Schafer contends that we suffer from an overabundance of acoustic information and explores ways to restore our ability to hear the nuances of sounds around us. This book is a pioneering exploration of our acoustic environment, past and present, and an attempt to imagine what it might become.
the sounds that build our enviroment, from nature to cities – murray schafer

Ocean of Sound
David Toop
A member of a radical editorial collective on the cutting edge of British music criticism in the 1970s, later a critic for more standard papers, including the Times, David Toop’S second book covers a vast expanse of music. His tour-de-force survey describes a dissonant and invigorating clash of music and noise from western classical to Javanese gamelan, from Claude Debussy to Miles Davis to Brian Eno, from disco to techno to ambient. He discusses the changes in our sound world caused by the global reach of radio and recordings, and shows himself a rigorous pluralist, open to all styles and forms, but unafraid to offer robust criticism in any musical sphere.

Moveable Feasts: From Ancient Rome to the 21st Century, the Incredible Journeys of the Food We Eat
Sarah Murray
Murray, a Financial Times contributor, takes a look at the literal journey of food through multilayered essays of the history of food transportation. From the banana export business of Central America (which was rife with America’s economic gain and political manhandling) to the creation of the barrel (which revolutionized transcontinental trading and contributed a new dimension to the art of winemaking), the dozen chapters each start with a straightforward item-the shipping container, a tin can, a tub of yogurt, etc.-and delve into topics of greater significance like globalization, empire building, localized farming and food aid programs. For example, her essay on the amphora, a container used to carry olive oil throughout the ancient Roman Empire, not only depicts the social and economic importance of olive oil in Roman times but also leads into the contemporary debate of regional designation of origins for foods like Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese or Newcastle brown ale. Erudite and thoroughly researched, this is a fascinating read for both foodies and those who love how the minutiae of life often provide a fresh lens with which to view the world.

Tree of Knowledge
Humberto R. Maturana  Francisco Varela
This book, a foundation piece of “New Thought,” is required reading for college courses at the University of California at Santa Cruz, and at California’s Humboldt State University. Its reputation is well-deserved.
Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela, two Chilean scientists, lucidly establish HOW we know WHAT we know, as they engage the reader in a series of perceptual experiments designed to present the case for each entity’s absolute right to its own “reality.”
According to Maturana and Varela, an individual’s “reality” is constructed from his or her (or its) perceptions, and these perceptions are interactive with the environment. The authors use the graphic analogy of a raindrop which falls on the mountainside and, as it courses downward, both affects and is affected by the slope down which it rolls. That raindrop’s experience is its incontrovertible truth, though rain falling on an opposite slope finds quite a different path.
Thus, our “reality” is interactive. Moreover, our reality is mutually constructed. Our commonly agreed-upon view of reality is in fact a shared set of assumptions/perceptions. You and I see what we see because we have agreed that this is what is “out there.” Together, we bring forth the world we experience as objective reality.

The Origins of Humanness in the Biology of Love
Humberto R. Maturana
Gerda Verden-Zoller
Pille Bunnell
Of course, we see in present-day humankind an unfortunate mix of the legacy of our chimp ancestry competing with the uniquely human. What this book does is provide a powerful affirmation of an optimistic insight into our future, with important lessons for our co-existence with each other, different cultures and the environment. It unfolds a narrative of how it is the quality of our recurrent interactions with each other as autonomous but responsible beings that lays down both the ethics of our present and the direction of our future.

The Pleasure of Writing

This is a much longer essay – but I quote the ending which leads on to a larger discussion to follow up on.

Between Play and Politics: Dysfunctionality in Digital Art
Marie-Laure Ryan


Why in the end is dysfunctionality so prevalent in New Media art? In the course of its history, humanity has created art out of sensory data (sight for the visual arts, sound for music, taste for gastronomy, smell for perfume), out of the symbolic code of language, and finally out of technologies (the camera for photography and cinema), but never before has an art form been dependent on a machine designed to perform many different tasks, most of them non-artistic. The use of the computer as an entertainment and artistic machine came relatively late in its evolution. It is their origin in a highly functional technology, one that played a crucial role in the development of contemporary culture and economy, that makes new media so enamored with the dysfunctional: for if art is an aesthetic object, and if aesthetics is a “purposefulness without purpose” (“Zweckmägkeit ohne Zweck”), as Kant defined it, art cannot be subordinated to a practical end. To become an art machine, the computer must therefore be taken out of the world of business, of work, of science, and of everyday life. The practice of creating art by depriving an object of its practical use goes back to Dadaism and Marcel Duchamp’s urinal, but the versatility of the computer makes the pursuit of dysfunctionality much more diversified than with non-programmable objects or media: there may be only one way to turn a urinal into artwork, namely to take it out of the restroom and put it in the museum, but with the computer, every application and every layer of its architecture can be potentially disrupted for an aesthetic effect.

But dysfunctionality in new media art is not limited to play with inherently digital phenomena such as code and programs: in many of the examples discussed above, dysfunctionality affects language itself, by making it either physically unreadable or semantically inconsistent. How can one explain this sustained assault on the most fundamental, the most versatile and powerful mode of signification – the one that makes us truly human? The computer has shown extraordinary efficiency in the visual domain; computer graphics, digital photography, and animations have not only taken realism to new heights, they have also made possible genuinely novel forms of graphic art, from the mapping of fractals to the creation of visually stunning virtual worlds that users can explore. The contributions of the computer to language are much more debatable.notenotenote
For more on this problem, and on the predominance of the visual in electronic writing, see Ryan 2008.note9note The networking capabilities of digital media – e-mail, twitter, blogs, and web sites – have greatly facilitated textual communication, but most of these uses have been focused on social relations rather than on aesthetic experience. The other distinctive properties of the computer – interactivity, code-driven operation, multi-media capabilities, and volatile inscription – are not particularly well suited at directing attention to the semantic, rhythmic, and phonic qualities of words, nor at helping language transport readers into imaginary worlds, tell spellbinding stories, and articulate intriguing ideas. Videogame designers and digital artists have for instance devoted great effort to the creation of interactive narrative, in the hope of reaching a wider audience, but the magic formula that puts active user participation in the service of a spellbinding story has remained elusive: the best game stories are created by temporarily taking control away from the player.

Seen in this perspective, the dysfunctional use of language in electronic literature makes virtue out of necessity. Are new media unable to improve on the book as an instrument of reading for pleasure?

I write ‘for pleasure,’ because with their search facilities, electronic devices, such as Kindle or tablet computers, are much more efficient than codex books for information reading. The network capabilities of digital media have even promoted a new form of reading for pleasure that is, unlike the standard kind, not particularly aesthetic. This new form is surfing the web, especially Wikipedia, grazing superficially the vast field of knowledge (no article over a page or two, please, and preferably lots of pictures), driven by curiosity rather than by a specific goal. Theorists call it flâner, and invoke Baudelaire and Walter Benjamin to give it intellectual prestige, but for most people in our work-ethics dominated society, it is simply ‘wasting time.’ Let them produce anti-books, by creating liberties where the book constrains reading, and by creating constraints where the book affords liberties. Rather than letting a bound spine prescribe a rigid ordering of pages, let’s have a variable sequence; rather than expecting readers to parse the entire text, as do most book-bound literary works, allow them to pick and choose; rather than letting readers choose their own pace, let’s impose a tempo; rather than presenting a stable text, to which readers can return at will, let the screen modify itself and render previous displays inaccessible, or only randomly accessible. Above all, rather than using language to construct worlds, tell stories and present logical arguments, let readers focus on what Katherine Hayles calls the materiality of language – which means, mostly, its visuality – by making signifiers dance on the screen, by playing with their appearance, and by turning code into a ringmaster who makes words perform on command like circus animals. Let meaning arise from the disruption of reading habits, rather than from the propositional content of sentences.

For a plea to maintain the semantic integrity of language in electronic writing, which means, making it an object of “reading” and no simply “parsing,” see Brian Kim Stefans, “Privileging Language.”note11note These practices literalize Roland Barthes’ call for the replacement of the “readerly” with the “writerly.” The negative theology of dysfunctionality is a refusal to let literature yield any content – a notion which, not coincidentally, plays a major role in the culture of technological efficiency (cf. the replacement of the term of author with “content provider” in the language of Internet business). This refusal puts dysfunctionality in line with the signifier-worship that has dominated literary criticism from New Criticism to deconstruction. But what do we get in return for the loss of content? In the best of cases, dysfunctionality can reach a higher functionality (for art can indeed be useful, as long as it is not in a crassly material way) by making users aware of the codes and processes (technological, linguistic, cultural and cognitive) that regulate our social and mental life. It is indeed in moments of malfunctioning, of rupture, of interference that the processes that habit makes us take for granted achieve visibility, and stimulate critical thinking. Dysfunctionality could for instance promote a better understanding of the cognitive activity of reading, or of the significance of the book as a support of writing.

All in all, we should not pass a global judgment on the predilection of new media for dysfunctionality: some of it may be an easy cop-out, some of it may be a cocoon, out of which a beautiful butterfly will emerge some day (interactive narrative? AI-based projects such as Façade?); and some of it is a cocoon so well-crafted, so amusing, so original, that it makes us forget about the butterfly (the most successful ludic applications). Here however I am adopting the point of view of the reader, and this may be beside the point for digital writing. If we take Barthes’s conception of writing as “an intransitive verb” literally, what matters most in new media art is not reading but writing – the fun of inventing new games with machines, language and code, and the fun of participating in a community of like-minded authors.