Code Drift: Essays in Critical Digital Studies
What is the fate of the regime of computation? A global techno-culture inscribed by the terrorism of the code or an emergent age of networked individualism driven onwards by the ecstatic visions of augmented reality, mobility, and connectivity?
When the regime of computation suddenly slams into the real world of globalization, when code is forced to tangle with the always messy world of blown away referential values — the real world of gender trouble, stormy challenges to the big signifiers of race, class and ethnicity — we finally know that we are living in the beginning days of something radically new, namely a culture of code drift.
All the pure signs are present in code drift, from the radiating positivity of the terrorism of the code to the irrepressible creativity of augmented reality. How could they not be? The formal structure of all programming language also carries within itself traces of the modernist episteme with its endless variations of the supposedly counter-languages of form and syntax. So too, code drift is most certainly always framed by the politics of the pure signs of these the most computational of all times: pure cybernetic terrorism, pure mobile contingency. But for all that, when the language of the code follows its fatal, but no less inevitable, passage across the real world of globalization, when form is deeply inflected with the syntax of the human, non-human, and post-human, we are suddenly propelled into a new era of indeterminate trajectories, unpredictable inflections, strange complexities. Call it what you will — hauntologies, specters, disavowals, disappearances, the missing third term — one thing is clear, understanding code drift urgently requires that the technical language of the regime of computation be supplemented by that which it thought it had successfully excluded, namely the always doubled imagination of the artist, the poet, the philosopher, the hacker, the gender outlaw, the systems administrator gone bad, the visionary of unknown borderlands of the body, mind, and spirit. For all these, a digital culture moving at the speed of light is most interesting when emphasis is placed on that which is the dreaded object of escape velocity — the surrounding darkness with its complex passages between light and dark, speed and slowness, exclusions and inscriptions, codes and remainders, computation and that which is irresistibly – indeed joyfully inevitably – incapable of being numerically signified under the sign of the bin or the hex.
Tracing the curve of technology as it now arcs relentlessly, and with no small measure of ideological hubris, towards mobility, connectivity and augmentation, a creative group of digital theorists gathered at PACTAC on two occasions — June 2009 and March 2010 — to collectively consider the specter of the digital future. Travelling from many different parts of the digital spectrum — visual artists, photographers, philosophers, computer theorists, performance artists, thinkers of the sonic, capitalist and genomic economies — there was a very real sense of code drift in the air. Somehow within the creative mystery of collective reflection on a common digital project, barriers to thought were successfully eclipsed by the creative imagination, allowing the full complexity of the digital future to reveal itself. How else to explain what happened: stories of code drift inflected by the rich imaginary of fractal philosophy, becoming dragon, illuminated darkness, digital resisto(e)rs, technology as magic, lenticular galaxies, phantasmal media, digital conversations in a coast Salish longhouse, and augmented realities in life and fiction. Here, the spirits of many different thinkers, from Borges to Deleuze, were summoned to stand at the gateway of the digital future, not so much to haunt the present as to remind us again and again that in Code Drift: Essays in Critical Digital Studies there is rehearsed anew the traditional practice of the intellectual imagination — namely mixing past, present and future into sensitive attunements for understanding issues related to technology and society. That the digital future will be replete with complex iterations and slippery codes was hauntingly brought into presence by Stelarc’s performance lecture, “The Comatose, the Cadaver, and the Chimera: Avatars have no Organs,” presented as part of the continuing Critical Digital Studies workshop at PACTAC.
Supported by the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada [Image, Text, Sound & Technology (ITST)], as well as by a SSHRC grant in support of Arthur Kroker’s Digital Inflections project, sponsored by New World Perspectives, convened under the auspices of CTheory, and held at the Pacific Centre for Technology and Culture at the University of Victoria (Canada), Code Drift is the first of a continuing series of publications and workshops on the digital future. We are most grateful for the hard work and dedication of Ted Hiebert, Aya Walraven, and Simon Glezos in helping with the organization and tech support for the workshop as well as presenting at the workshop itself. We would also like to thank Nicholas van Orden (English, UVic) for his careful copy-editing of the text.
Pacific Center for Technology and Culture
University of Victoria