This is a story that begins a while ago when I was approached by this bloke with a more than somewhat dubious moustache. He had heard of some software and wanted to know if I could crack it for him. The programs he was after were either a piece of US military software used for advanced cartographical modelling and real time navigation, or the version of it that has trickled down to corporate and high-end academic levels.
Basically he wanted to get into a company that used the software and pirate a copy. Well, in fact, he actually wanted someone else to do it. According to him, this software was incredibly powerful. It could automatically update its global image from satellites via a cellphone modem, store information, zoom in from the scale of a continent to that of a house and map features in both 2d and 3d (including information such as the location of power lines, sewerage tunnels and potentially, movements of people and vehicles). It was an amazingly powerful piece of work.
Needless to say, there were plans for this software once it had been liberated and his eyes glistened as he rapturously described the possibilities of crusty street warriors equipped with top of the range laptops going into riots dialling up an anarchist mainframe somewhere to find out the latest satellite information on police movements in the area. It was a tool that would make every man his own Lenin. Somewhat unlikely, but, as an omnipotence fantasy, one only matched by that of the police themselves.
If you’ve read Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash you’ll recognise the similarity to the application he describes called “Earth.” Whilst maybe not quite having the fantastic level of detail, resolution and clarity, of “Earth,” one of the pantheon of programmes that this guy was dreaming about, Terra-Vision, produced by the German company Art+Com reportedly does make ‘the transition between data from different sources as seamless as possible – from satellite images captured from hundreds of miles above the earth’s surface, through aerial photographs, down to computer models of streets or buildings with recognisable features only a few centimetres in size.”1 Somewhat hubristically , Joachim Sautner of Art + Com acknowledges, “We realised the earth is larger than any hard disk.”2
In this text fantastical claims will be made for relationships between the model of perpetually reiterated, perpetually appended “windows into information” of much contemporary computer interface; the development of dysfunctional bureaucracy as institutional form; and those neobiological representations of the market as entering a new “heroic” phase, against which no borders must be allowed to stand.
This gruesomely dumb anarcho-omnipotence fantasy provides a clue. Control is mutating. The solar disco ball shooting rays of pure immanence transcendentally charged with overwhelming velocity and pin-point coercion has reconfigured into an infinite field of immanence. A Sierpensky’s Sponge – a mathematical object produced by removing an infinite number of increasingly small parts from a three dimensional object such as a cube – a structure that has infinite surface area yet zero volume. The utopian moment of control to be everywhere yet unlocatable, transcendent.
The fractalisation of control is not merely the cosmically hued figure of cloudy softness and enveloping smoothness, slimy and warm as a cum greased shit, but also one of absolute routines clicking into place in a predatory dynamic where – in a psychedelic anschluss – everything is connected to everything. Fractal control is a progressively constricting peristalsis, in which at every iteration, something is on your back and biting.
Senseless Products are the Most Desirable
In this best of all possible worlds, there are many capitalisms: the capitalism of off-brand instant noodles; the capitalism that sees the nets as a gigantic and glorious job-creation scheme – for other, stupider people; a capitalism where there is no society, just neighbourhood patrols and armed individuals; a capitalism where everything comes with the option to “buy it today or lose it forever;”3 pathetic, violent and glorious, capitalism encompasses multitudes. Within this field of attraction and repulsion, money can itself be treated as a medium. A good example of its transmitting capabilities is given in this extended section from Hackers:
The unforgettable next two years were indeed marked by unprecedented growth in the industry that was almost unwittingly started by the hardware hackers. The hackers in Homebrew either went into business, trotted off to one of the new companies forming in the opening stages of this microcomputer boom, or kept doing what they always been doing: hacking. The planners, those who had seen the advent of the small computer as a means of spreading the hacker spirit, generally did not pause to evaluate the situation: things were moving too fast for contemplation. Left by the wayside were purists like Fred Moore, who once wrote in a treatise entitled ‘Put Your Trust in People, Not Money’ that money was ‘obsolete, valueless, anti-life.’ Money was the means by which computer power was beginning to spread, and the hackers who ignored that fact were destined to work in (perhaps blissful) solipsism, either in tight, ARPA-funded communities or in meagre collectives where the term ‘hand-to-mouth’ was a neat analogy for a ‘chip-to-machine’ existence.4
Money as Media
Money is in particular a medium for systems in search of the material for their realisation. But, just as money has the power to transmit, it also has variable qualities of transmission. It also works as an anti-medium, white noise, signal blockade. Just as Capital has always been utterly dependent on the reproductive powers of unwaged “social” work and Mutual Aid – dynamics which it parasites in order to keep staggering on, the design flaws in money demand its consistent reinvention.
Manuel DeLanda makes the distinction between “the small buyers and sellers in a real market, who are price-takers (that is, they buy and sell at prices that set themselves)”5 and oligopolies, antimarket forces that “create prices by adding a mark-up to the cost of production.”
Following Fernand Braudel, DeLanda distinguishes a tripartite hierarchy in economics: the material conditions of life; authentic markets, which are, “the dynamics generated by many interacting small producers and traders (where automatic co-ordination via price does occur)”6 where commodities are spontaneously allocated via price; and thirdly, capitalism, which “as far back as the thirteenth century, and in all the centuries in between,”7 has been “engaged in anti-competitive practices, manipulating demand and supply in a variety of ways”8 in which the regulatory force of the market is countervailed or replaced by, “rigid planning by a managerial hierarchy”9 where, “prices are increasingly replaced by commands as co-ordinating mechanisms.”10
Viewed through this optic, Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand of The Market is replaced in “authentic” markets by thousands of smaller hands that, as a result, you merely can’t see. In their insistence that a single variable – the price – is used to regulate all the other variables of resource allotment these arguments double those of Frederick Hayek, and other economists in the 1920’s Austrian School, whose writings are favoured bedtime reading for those putting into place the sadistic economies that we enjoy so much today.
In these actual existing markets, external fields such as the gravitational drag of transnational corporations, the state, landowners and others are at times both evaded and reinforced. Though should things get out of hand, and self-organisation starts to migrate to the wrong part of the market equation, when people rather than capital become autonomous, the threat of violent paramilitaries is there to keep you “feeding the beast.” As the EZLN Zapatistas make clear in one of their first statements, in the marketplace of San Christobal de las Casas in the Mexican state of Chiapas: “Here you can buy or sell anything except indigenous dignity. Here everything is expensive except death.”11
Apologists for the market using neobiological metaphors to describe it as seductively Out of Control end up in the duplicitous production of a Cyborg Lysenkoism in order to avoid dealing with the reality of the Outer Control that money entails. In an era of predatory globalisation, to talk of pure, untainted markets is more than a bad joke.
The advantage of money as a medium is that it allows the transmission of a wildly fluctuating heterology of capitalisms. Each one highly adaptive, personally tailored, even allowing a little feedback now and again.
In this, its creative, revolutionary phase; slave morality calculates by means of subsuming all economic exchange under the mercantile contractual relationship between creditor and debtor. Everything has its equivalent. Everything can be paid for. Somehow, everything will be paid for.12
Moving into an urban context of a temporally and spatially dispersed market, Chester Himes writes of Harlem looked down at from an analogous height of purified abstraction:
Looking eastward from the towers of Riverside Church, perched among the university buildings on the high banks of the Hudson River, in a valley far below, waves of grey rooftops distort the perspective like the surface of a sea. Below the surface in the murky waters of fetid tenements, a city of black people who are convulsed in desperate living, like the voracious churning of millions of hungry cannibal fish. Blind mouths eating their own guts. Stick in a hand and draw back a nub.13
Surely, this isn’t what you find writhing underneath the surface of the screen of a computer running economic modelling software? This doesn’t sound like Sim City. These people don’t sound like Rational Actors.
The Tumults Within a System that Help to Maintain It: Philosophy Moves from State Thought to Managerial Thought
There are very real projects of domination embodied as money, but also very real projects of victimisation embodied in romantic, political fetishisations of powerlessness that are actually most often the ones used to deal with capitalism. Foucault, writing with what he called “the great Marxist obedience”14 as a historical backdrop states:
We must cease once and for all to describe the effects of power in negative terms: it “excludes”, it “represses”, it “censors”, it “abstracts” it “masks”, it “conceals”. In fact, power produces; it produces reality; it produces domains of objects and rituals of truth.15
Foucault should perhaps have at least known better than to have not ceased ceasing once and for all, but the point stands. Money is a forcing device, like a keyhole that demands that the key be moved along a specific axis in order for the locking mechanism to be put into motion. It necessitates and implements certain types of relationships. As an abstract unit of exchange it negotiates a synthesis between the sides of what Kenneth Dean and Brian Massumi call the “dialectic of transcendence and immanence.” Writing about the body of the despot, the emperor, the president they observe that:
Each move to a higher unifying substance requires the new Number One to subsume all preceding terms. That substance must subsume in one way or another its own conditions of emergence. Every image of unity contains within it a trace of the dialectic of immanence and transcendence that produced it. Since the dialectic takes the form of an alternation between a lack and an excess inscribed in the unifying substance, images of that substance will also alternate between these two poles.16
Money is the best attempt so far at such a unifying substance. The conditions of emergence that it is required to subsume is the direct connection to its old general equivalence, gold. As a self-organising system, “capital becomes autonomous by domesticating the human being.”17
To misparaphrase Prigogine and Stengers: in equilibrium money is blind, but in far-from-equilibrium conditions it begins to be able to perceive, to take into account, in its way of functioning differences in the external world. It is this smartness in its design as a medium that has proved it as an escape route from the homeostatic mire of equilibrium, but as a mechanism designed to negotiate and rein-in the “far-from-equilibrium conditions imposed on the biosphere by the sun,”18 the ceaseless pouring of energy into the planet’s general economy it is a mechanism that has a crippling tendency to bring us back to the miserable routines of the man.
“Capital forces human beings to be human.”19
Contemporarily we can find this instantiated in the instalment of “bottom-up” management procedures such as “Teamwork” into workplaces – a system where a group of workers is responsible amongst themselves for apportioning workloads and meeting targets, including – when required – which of their number is to get sacked. An instance where a self-organising system can be inserted in a rigidly demarcated way to, not just maintain, but intensify domination. Being in a job becomes an activity where you are committed to innovating yourself out of work at the same time as playing kapo to your workmates. Whilst the grammar of money works to render certain things unsayable, it is always subject to the kind of linguistic bastardisation that most of us use in order to make life liveable.
Financial relationships can also be dramatically foreground in ways that explode the cultural protocols that keep exploitation unspoken. As Pat Califia points out: “…an office worker can be paid to do anything except perform sex, and propositioning her is ‘sexual harassment.’ By her manner of dress, the hooker marks herself out as an outlaw. She can be paid only for sex, and has little communication about anything else with her clients.”20
Prostitute tactics, working to rule: money is also subject to dislocation by non-stratifying dynamics – things are always going on everywhere. The framework of equivalence locked into place by money, where everything must give account of itself, is itself subject to repulsion. Braudel:
We should not be too quick to assume that capitalism embraces the whole of western society, that it accounts for every stitch in the social fabric… that our societies are organised from top to bottom in a ‘capitalist system’. On the contrary, …there is a dialectic still very much alive between capitalism on the one hand, and its antithesis, the non-capitalism of the lower level on the other.21
These non-capitalist strata are far more multifarious than that which coheres at the level of the market or anti-market. As, for instance, the activist group Reclaim The Streets state: “We live under a system in which walking or cycling have no economic or political value, because, unlike guzzling petrol, they involve no consumption and therefore make no contribution to economic growth.”22 All of this points us towards the composition within conflict of fractalising control – money is the medium that capitalist power, a power that makes the innovation of being entirely without responsibility, uses to traverse society. Whilst, integrative, it depends entirely on never being inclusive – instead, producing a field wherein every other transmission, or circulation of energy is placed under a compulsion to make account of itself within the terms of money.
Windows: A Disorder Riding Machine
The Reverse Fax Effect
In discussions of computer interface design it has become commonplace to note that the standard QWERTY keyboard and its international variants is an anachronism, designed for the pace of nineteenth century machine typewriters. Having become the standard, it is a design that apparently proves impossible to break.23 There needs to be some other kind of text input device. One which matches the processing potential of the computer – and, with the increasing incidence of repetitive strain injury – one which is kinder on the human frame. Nevertheless, there are as many factors closing this change down as there are pushing for its occurrence.
The fax effect is that situation when, for the first few people to own a fax, the machine isn’t very useful. As more and more and more faxes are attached to the networks, each machine becomes more and more useful.24 The reverse fax effect is that situation when, as more and more people use a piece of technology, and it becomes a standard, the possibilities of that technology being improved or of a radically new approach to it being developed are incrementally closed down.25 The reverse fax effect is the process currently occurring to interface design for personal computers.
Mark Dery gives voice to a common apprehension when he says that: “…the computer, resists representation. Its smooth, generic casing is too inscrutable and its inner workings too complex, too changeable for the imagination to gain purchase on them”26
To embed computers in a shroud of inscrutability turns them into a place where the imagination fears to tread – a representation that itself masks the fact that computers are machines for absolutely specific representations, a place where concepts become materialised, sprayed onto a wafer, soldered into position, plugged into a grid. The workings of computers, however complex, can always be reduced to a mathematical table. Both Babbage’s Analytical Engine and the Turing Machine existed for several years at first as sets of mathematical specifications. Several generations of machine on, this utter predictability is still the case.
It is not the entire case though. The usefulness and beauty of digital technology is exactly that it does also resist representation, and is always finding itself as a new way to make itself other. This slipperiness is not something that is only possible once the hard graft of locking this table into place has been achieved, but is also a driving force in its construction: “Desire never stops making a machine in the machine.”27
As Manuel DeLanda writes:
Interactivity, the passing of the machinic phylum between humans and computers was developed both as an intellectual goal by visionary scientists, and ‘conquered in battle’ by the Hackers at MIT. It was scientists like Englebart and Kay who transformed the computer screen into a place where a partnership between humans and machines could be developed. But it was hackers like Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs who out of sheer desire assembled these ideas into a machine that could compete in the marketplace…28
In 1982, Jacques Vallee, a French computer scientist based in the US, published a prescient, cocky, book, The Network Revolution. Towards the end of it he imagines a psychedelically enhanced meeting with the Washington research funding bureaucrat of his dreams. In the reverie that ensues he utters the blasphemy that the then Office of The Future, a square room full of machines, will never achieve what it promises. Why?
I just don’t think it’s that simple. An office has people in it, you see. They have lives and ambitions and needs and emotions. They interact. Most of the ‘productivity’ everybody talks about comes from the interaction, not from the ability to write and process pieces of paper. And those machines will do nothing for the people interaction….29
This desire for interaction, in or out of an office context, coupled with a joyously declamatory revelation of the largely unspoken truth that computer technology is, “…the most absurd, irrational thing ever devised,”30 signals the immanence of the then being formed personal computer. We are now at a point where we must ask what form does this desire take once this hole has been punched into history, how it is embodied, how does it flow or solidify?
The window device is not an abstract machine but a shell of it, another layer in the interface to it, that whilst it is at once “a certain way of regulating and constructing discourses that in their turn define a field of objects and determine at the same time the ideal subject destined to know them,”31 also provides a machinery for working on discourse – a self-reflexive tool.
Government simulation programmes such as Sim City have strict though largely covert boundaries that force the player to maintain a steady “realistic” middle of the road between the too-much-fun poles of anarchy and despotism in order to sustain the game for any length of time. In the case of games such as these, the boundaries are necessarily relatively hard to define in order to keep the player guessing and to enjoy playing for long enough. In the case of operating systems where the actual code is rabidly guarded, there is no real necessity, and no real possibility either for the conceptual machines running underneath the interface to be so veiled. Nevertheless, the “Mystique of the Macintosh” is closely maintained with only clues to it revealed up front, for instance in the “Religion,” the Human Interface Guidelines manual.
For the machine unconscious, there are always virtualities pulling the strings. From Turing’s schematics for the universal machine to a corporate vision of what might be the hot new thing five years down the line, there are always attractors being put into place now, pulling things into the future. (In a very real sense for people in research labs or design workshops, the future is now. Scientists, designers, managers, often running themselves as guinea pigs but also running potential futures through an obstacle course of concepts, heuristics, profit/loss projections etc.).
Virtual futures that have already receded far over the dateline can also function as attractors into the past. The continued dominance of the QWERTY keyboard, despite its widely acknowledged technological redundancy is of course just one example. Chances are currently not against the attractors of the future being as half baked and packed with dumb compromise as most of those whose results have accreted into the present.
A retro-melancholy Toni Negri, speaking in another context – of factory automation and struggles over the length of the working day – suggests that:
Automation is freely invented by the knowledge that springs from the rejection of work but is, on the other hand, applied in order to break and mystify the generality of this proletarian and labouring need.”32
If, contemporarily, it is hard to imagine a personal computer otherwise than as an aggregate of windows, bit-mapping, icons, pop-up menus, the mouse, of routines and subroutines spiralling in and out of each other, one use and effect of cyberculture is to recognise and open up dialogue with this machine embedded desire for the abolition of work. To stop this dream image congealing into a fetish through the engineering of a “childlike wonder”33 in the “subtle dance of mode and modeless, menu bars and trash cans and mouse buttons.”34 The membrane of the screen reflects and puts into place events occurring at the very deepest levels of the computer. But just as the window catches and commands the attention of the computer, it provides an axiomatic – a forcing device for the behaviour of the user.
Whilst, “The first principle of human interface design, whether for a doorknob or a computer, is to keep in mind the human being who wants to use it.”35 it is also, “an exciting challenge precisely because the goal is to change the world by improving the way real people accomplish their tasks in classrooms, offices, factories, homes.”36 According to Stephen Levy, what made the “Leading edge yet compassionately designed”37 Macintosh so insanely great to the development teams that worked on it was that it would change the way people thought and interacted with each other. It would be a discourse machine that produced its operator.
Operating Systems are designed to be abstract, to be general. They must be non-specific enough to allow ease of use and consistency, across a multitude of tasks and data types. Currently, various strands in the computer industry are converging on breaking the rigidity of separate applications where, “users must break their work up into separate tasks and perform each within its associated environment – taking the tasks to the tools.”38 This is being achieved through the development of small specific software tools designed to be used in clusters and taken to the task, often regardless of the data-type. However, whilst increasingly unwieldy applications are fracturing to meet the upsurge of data-types, the conceptual models that construct operating systems and their interfaces remain largely the same.
The concept of windows as a means of looking at part of a large sheet of paper was developed by Doug Englebart at his NLS laboratory at Stanford Research Institute in the late 1960s. His system used two tiled windows on the screen. Alan Kay’s group at Xerox PARC extended this concept to overlapping windows in the 1970s.39
Paul Heckel, the author of one of the few key texts on interface design, goes on to suggest that once a software device has gone beyond the rear-view mirror of a superficially familiar metaphor and into the actuality of a device, it becomes more useful. For Heckel, scroll bars are the most dynamic and radical aspect of the window – hence their uptake across many disparate applications.
Indeed, the redevelopment of the Macintosh OS, for instance, has pretty much been that of packing the Apple menu with more and more ways to slice across the arboreal directory structure, as the hierarchy of windows has continually had incursions made against it in the shape of Finder, desktop manager, Recent Files, Recent Applications, icon aliasing, et cetera. Nevertheless, the layered windows device is not so quite cumbersome that it has had to be done away with.
The powerful impetus behind its introduction was to create a way around the constraints obviously imposed by the size of the display screen, and thus to get as much on screen and hence manipulatable as possible. For the computer as hardwired epistemology, everything depends on the machine’s position within wider dynamics; what it is able to come into composition with, and how; the ensemble of conditions which it precipitates, and the devices moving through it. As I have suggested earlier, in terms of money, all devices have axiomatics that force what they can and cannot do, and that these restrictions last only when they are productive of certain effects that come into composition with wider formations. This doesn’t mean that they aren’t frustrating. A problem found in the production of general tools – where the general is often mistaken for the generic – carries over into the lazy reiteration of devices that are at best not necessarily applicable in the development of other programs.
Whilst in this manner the dominance of a device accrues as a convention – the reverse fax effect – we can also make some observations starting from the question: “What realities, what domains of objects and rituals of truth does the window produce?” The little animations, frames zooming out from an icon – visual rewards exploding across a 3d but ultra-shallow space; the promise of “an infinite amount of folders”40 that Apple used early on to coax in the custom of stationary fans who found its potentially hypertext-like neurotic vastness appealing; the perpetual unfolding, all perhaps provide something of an answer. Windows provide a system through which systems of categorisation operate. In this it is inducive to classification rather than circulation. This fixity though is complicated when, peering into the flicker of its flexible, repetitive grid, the user is encouraged to view windows as, “your view into information” – a synthetic space where you can actually “see” your documents. In this alloy of dynamics, the user is the disorder to which and by which this device to negotiate alterity with choice trees, directories – a determinedly neutral and homely version of Foucault’s “capillaries of power”41 – is applied. The windows device is a disorder riding machine, turning mess into a straight line.
A mutant development: the chore culture of management layers present themselves more as a chain of windows, winking out in rapid succession on the screen, than as a positively deterministic hierarchy. Dysfunctional bureaucracy is a recursive, enveloping routine that combines the classical realpolitik of Machiavelli with the negative imprint of managerial delirium. Playing a game of deferral, of unplaceability, it is fractal control done femme. Realising itself almost by accident through the form follows frustration pragmatics of massive cuts in staff and efficiency it reduces those areas of government concerned with welfare, health, education, benefits into a morass of complaints departments.
Emerging from the ruins of the Welfarist post-war historical blip by affirming nothing, and indeed by the fact that it affirms nothing, it implies a system of values that it is impossible to define after the event. That it must not be tied to any clear cut values or specifically stipulated modes of operation whilst always being strictly adhered to, dysfunctional bureaucracy is a sacred practice of government.
Dysfunctional bureaucracy surges up to caress your nostrils with the faint, coaxing possibility of getting your problem dealt with. The next moment, gravity tilts and it slides away in an avalanche of misfiled papers, corrupted disks and caffeine twitch office romance. This is the scene scoped by a video camera, patched into an indeterminate television, watching bleary pixelated faces down below in the waiting room, found within the ruins of the welfare state:
the swelling to bursting point, the malice that breaks out with clenched teeth and weeps; the sinking feeling that doesn’t know where it comes from or what it’s about; the fear that sings its head off in the dark; the white eyed pallor, the sweet sadness, the rage and the vomiting… are so many evasions.42
Ghostly, in inducing these side-effects in you it has already moved on, in a wretched processing of itself as the slime trail of the necrotic state.
Modernist bureaucracy, (in part replacing parademocratic or premodern shortcuts up the hierarchy such as graft, corruption and personal favour),43 is an infinitely reiterated structure taken as an end itself. Buried in this planning machine is the desire to avoid pain by fixation on function.
The father does not accept – for himself or his word – that everything has already been started by resemblance, for he wills himself eternally self-identical. He prefers to be [his] absolute mirror, reflect [himself] in[de]finitely. As-if the standard for everything that is.44
If this has a kinship to the mode operated by money, idealised as a blind force equilaterally taking possession of the phase space of fiscal opportunity with a vegetal will to power, dysfunctional bureaucracy is caught up in a modality of refusing fixed identity, of entropic subversion and – taking the radical political tactic of refusing to acknowledge the legitimacy of power into a paranoid hall of mirrors – embraces pain and leaves behind any predictable structure. “…everyone at the welfare office gave off the feeling that they were gazing at things that were faraway, almost invisible.”45
This is a war of attrition fought with overheated offices packed with cheap broken furniture and surveillance cameras furred up with ancient dust lurching out of the walls. Behind spit-flecked bullet-proof glass, badly trained over-worked staff attend to nomadic filing systems whilst the clients are summoned by inaudible PAs to confront their data-bodies: information that floats in a recessively polymorphous space on eye-destroying monitors. Information that will always be wrong, and that will always be somehow inaccessible at the moment. A medium for the transmission of domination and a method of navigating disorder that linearises mess are joined by a recursively recessive model of the subversive state.
Power is Nothing Without Control 46
As in Islamic pattern design, where topology is a direct expression of cosmology, Fractal Control is a generative rule cut loose from its moorings, a ceaseless rising up from the depths of itself. This schema works so effectively because, “bottom line in the pyramids of power and containment one demon gets replaced by another in a moment’s notice and no one gesture can erase it all that easily.”47
This is a pyramid, though, in which there is no bottom line. When desire is the one who is repressed as well as the one who represses, every angle seems to offer us nothing but a seemingly endless reverse shot along this particle accelerator of power.
The Inhuman Potential Movement
Fractal control, along with other elements in the contemporary bestiary of power, is for domination, a way of maintaining balance in a period where rationality – a routine essential for its synthesis – has become either increasingly unstable, or increasingly unwieldy. Rationality was essential for the bourgeoisie to bootstrap itself into a position where it could exploit matter – a class of materiel that, not incidentally, defined those excluded by this class synthesis as beneath rationality. With local realisations of the dematerialisation of the economy, Arthur and Marilouise Kroker posit a drive to hyper-subjectivity as the condition of power within the virtual class.48 Rationality having served its purpose, game plans and strategies can become almost arbitrary and may indeed be more effective so. Whilst Tarot readings to determine high level deals on the stock market are already commonplace, if little discussed, managerial hypersubjectivity also takes the shape of a kind of too-late-postmodernist thanatos:
Me, I’m going down reading Mark Leyner and Jean Baudrillard simultaneously, a copy of Wired in my lap, hypertext by Carolyn Guyer on the computer screen, television tuned to MTV, windows wide open, a jumbo jet falling out of the sky, my fire-retardant corrosion-resistant nickel-base alloy robo-enhanced methyl isocyanate flamethrower exploding, while I listen to Sonic Youth’s Dirty turned up real, REAL loud.49
How rock ‘n’ roll can you get?
Faux-Dionysus as a perpetual motion machine: it is the project of fractal control to yoke the dynamics of immanence up as a control routine that can get infinitely close without the danger of contamination. The effects of which would be merciless. As Sadie Plant illustrates, control as domination, as deistic nervous system, has its double:
Domination is a version of control, but also its confinement, its obstacle: even self-control is seen by man as the achievement of domination. Only with the cybernetic system does self-control no longer entail being placed beneath or under something: there is no ‘self’ to control man, machine or any other system: instead, both man and machine become elements of a cybernetic system which is itself a system of control and communication.50
From the minuscule to the massive, Control is finding a pattern, a sustainable dynamic, that, whilst it must get used to the perpetual loss, reassertion and loss of its rocklike identity allows it to maintain domination. A way of maintaining the benefits of homogeneity whilst channelling the rush of energies created by an infinite multitudinal churning – desperately reconciling the nomadic with the sedentary. The “insanity of an infinite outward rush,” reinforced by “the reasoned circularity of social reproduction attended by the petty satisfactions of privilege.”51
“Where one believed there was the law, there is in fact desire and desire alone”52 – a desire that produces and suborns the forcing device of subjective control:
It could be asked of the First Emperor if he had an empire, or if the empire had him. And of the emperor’s Oedipal son, in his many reincarnations throughout the course of history: did you inherit your Father’s desire or did your Father’s desire inherit you?53
Operating as fractal control this great reiteration opportunity is available to all citizens, their sub-personalities and other social formations at every level of society. For those specifically enfranchised as operators of fractal control, managers as twenty-four hour poetic terrorists, what is on offer is the chance to become the medium for the transmission of a strictly non-attributable sadism whilst simultaneously revelling in the role of tragic hard-man, never further than ten seconds from a chilled martini or a chance to express himself.
Do You Think Dead People Live Longer, Healthier Lives?
If prison is where you are punished for what you have done in the past, work is where you are punished in order to be able to do things in the future. When future managementologists like Peter Drucker preach the end of work, they do so in the same manner as the Situationist International preached the end of art. Work must be supressed in order to be realised. Control must disappear in order to install itself everywhere. The assembly line is blown off in favour of decentralisation, destabilisation and deregulation, each operation putting into effect its own unlimited schizophrenic proliferation.
Amidst the turbulent choice-making opportunities, of damage limitation oriented career changes or nutritional flavour options, creative corporate relocations, dissident leisure time pariah revenge and the epiphanic maintenance of the self facilitated by pay-per-second emotional workers, fractal control absolutely refuses to dissipate, but to lock the circulation of energy either into a conservative stasis or into expanding the range of its potential operations, and those areas which it draws into its influence via contiguity. Flicking two-fingers at the status quo, free-wheelin’ micro-fascisms are machined as fast as their shrink-to-fit info-smog as personality procedural machines.
Fresh from the production line of subjective assemblages, fluctuating in and out of an infinity of sizes including all-action executive nomads; pimp states; the gadget-heavy freelance unemployed; anorexic data-breathing incorporations as the figure of the conceptual maverick, fuelled with an isolated out-there experimentalism bringing to heel ever newer, ever tighter niches.
Fractal control is a schematic operating in what Guattari calls the “wars of subjectivity.”54 For many mathematicians, when fractals where first mooted these shapes were “monsters,” “pathological cases.” Despite their soupy Gaian wholesomeness, the attraction remains. To represent control merely as an algorithm belies the funhouse delirium of domination. At the moment of the failure of rational actor model systems theory, irrationality is hooked up to its disciplinary grid, providing a multi-hued slew of opportunities for “personal growth through abject servility.”55
Freed from ideology, change becomes inevitable, or a matter of personal choice; politics merely the obeying of natural laws and the application of the best technocratic solution. In a “futuristic thinkpiece”56 entitled “Cyberwar is Coming!” John Arquilla and David Ronfeldt, of the International Policy Department of the RAND Corporation, speculate on the endless quest for certainty of military control in the light of new political and technical contexts:
The information revolution, in both its technological and non-technological aspects, sets in motion forces that challenge the design of many institutions. It disrupts and erodes the hierarchies around which institutions are normally designed. It diffuses and distributes power, often to the benefit of what may be considered weaker, smaller, actors.57
For the military, “success will depend on learning to interlace hierarchical and network principles.”58 After warmly praising the nomadic war machine of the Mongols, they quote Mao: “Command must be centralised for strategical purposes and decentralised for tactical purposes.”59 Impacting topsight and decentralisation through the mirrors and repetition of fractal control is a way of avoiding disruption caused by alterity in scale.
To this may be added a further set of observations drawn from current events. Most adversaries that the United States and its allies face in the realm of low-intensity conflict, such as international terrorists, guerrilla insurgents, drug smuggling cartels, ethnic factions, as well as racial and tribal gangs, are all organised like networks (although their leadership may be quite hierarchical). Perhaps a reason that military (and police) institutions have difficulty engaging in low-intensity conflicts is because they are not meant to be fought by institutions.
The lesson: institutions can be defeated by networks, and it may take networks to counter networks.60
Indeed, in their proposals, Arquilla and Ronfeldt quite plainly state that the techniques of cyberwar and netwar they propose “are uniquely suited to fighting non-state actors.”61 Echoing COINTELPRO of the 70s, The War on Drugs of the 80s, and their compounding into an active global strategy for the 90s, somewhat faux-naif they suggest that:
…exercises consider some potentially unusual opponents and countermeasures. The revolutionary forces of the future may consist increasingly of wide-spread multi-organisational networks that have no-particular national identity, claim to arise from civil society, and include aggressive groups and individuals who are keenly adept at using advanced technology for communications, as well as munitions. How will we deal with that? Can cyberwar (not to mention netwar) be developed as an appropriate, effective response? Do formal institutions have so much difficulty combating informal networks…
…the United States may want to design new kinds of military units and capabilities for engaging in network warfare.62
It would be interesting to discover in what shape, and at which point – in this outlook influenced heavily by Toffler – would this transition from Second to Third Wave and its erosion of institutions by networked civil society constitute a conflict justifying Malcolm Lowry’s novel Under the Volcano describes a Mexican town where the guerrilla warfare of streets is a subversion that makes a subtle dance between entropy and the livid mess of life:
The walls of the town, which is built on a hill, are high, the streets and lanes tortuous and broken, the roads winding. A fine American-style highway leads in from the north but it is lost in its narrow streets and comes out as a goat track.64
At the infinite recursive edge, cruising the motorways, the “necrophiliac death squads of the phallus”65 have no greater desire than to be evaginated at top speed by the sudden obliterating impact of a steering column.
Fractal control is a joke of course: pathologically naff. Just as you can diagnose the ongoing trauma of a chronically depleted suave gland from the sight of a rainbow-hued Mandelbrot Set on (or in conjunction with) someone’s person, when a structure like this moves out of the laboratory condition of maths, everything goes all over the place. So whilst this conjugation is as hopeless as trying to catch a scientific “causality” in the wild, in its impossibility, it does allow us to proceed without finding or attributing an original causal germ to our problems. One reaction to the engineering of disorder and its negotiation by fractal control in the context of the economy is to wail:
How will this corporately organised world be governed? If national authority continues to decline, and corporate resources allocation and general decision making continue to grow, and the needs and welfare of approximately two-thirds of the world’s population go unattended and even deteriorate, what will keep these conditions from provoking large-scale political convulsions in one place or another? And, from the standpoint of the globally privileged, whatever their location, can they be insulated from these inevitable upheavals? What authority, if any, now exists to intervene and check these powerful currents?66
This perspective flickers between worrying about the fate of elites and how to maintain the position of locally designated middlemen against the explosive escape from the domination that it gains so much delightful frisson from cataloguing. Forever in supplication to an authority that can never save it, it is a nostalgia that fears convulsion more than its own irrelevant obliteration – and thus actually ends up encouraging the dissolution of the collective, social or public life that it supposedly strives towards.
In terms of finding absolute solutions to fractal control, of course there are none. More importantly instead, this story has an aim of suggesting that “power centres are defined much more by what escapes them or by their impotence than by their zone of power”67 For those situated in the recursive cockpit of control, willing itself eternally self-identical, commanding endless vistas of mirrors as the standard for everything that is, the mere existence of certain subjective assemblages is about as comfortable as taking a shit with a pack of starved rats camped out round the u-bend. At every point, through every motion under domination, there is the possibility of establishing another universe. The war of subjectivity and of social composition surges up from the past. At times, pulling things together is like knitting through setting concrete, at others, sheer multiplicity ensures that what is needed happens almost by accident, as Chester Himes describes:
They went across the sidewalk, entered a long, narrow hall lit by a dim fly-specked bulb. Graffiti decorated the whitewashed walls. Huge genitals hung from crude dwarfed torsos like a harvest of strange fruit. Someone had drawn a nude couple in a sex embrace. Others had added to it. Now it was a mural.68
Thanks to the Australian Network for Art and Technology.
1. Clive Davidson, “Pinning Down Terra Firma,” The Guardi an, Online section, March 14 1996.
3. Slogan for the The Empire Strikes Back advertiseme nt for video edition, shown on UK TV December 1995.
4. Stephen Levy, Hackers. New York: Dell, 1984, p. 26 8.
5. Manuel DeLanda, Markets, Antimarkets and Network Econo mics.
11. Subcommander Marcos, “The Southeast in Two Winds,” in Zapatistas, Documents of the New Mexican Revolution. Brooklyn NY: Autonomedia, 1994, p.32.
12. Stephen Metcalf, “Even When the Heart Bleeds,” introdu ction to Friedrich Nietzsche, Hammer of the Gods. London: Creation Books, 1996, p.18.
13. Chester Himes, “A Rage in Harlem,” in The Harlem Cy cle Volume One. Edinburgh: Payback Press, 1996, p.102.
14. Michel Foucault, Remarks on Marx, Conversations wit h Duccio Trombadori. New York: Semiotext(e), 1991, p.94.
15. Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish. New Yor k: Viking, 1079, p.194.
16. Kenneth Dean and Brian Massumi, First and Last Empe rors, the Absolute State and the Body of the Despot. Brooklyn: Autonomedia, 1992, p.95.
17. Jacques Camatte, The Wandering of Humanity, Black a nd Red. Detroit, 1975, p. 6. On the same page Camatte traces the evolution of money: “Capital becomes representation through the following historical movement: exchange value becomes autonomous, human beings are expropriated, human activity is reduced to labour, and labour is reduced to abstract labour.”
18. Ilya Prigogine and Isabelle Stengers, Order Out of Chaos, Man’s New Dialogue with Nature. London: Flamingo, 1984, p.14.
19. Jacques Camatte, Op. Cit.
20. Pat Califia, Public Sex, the Culture of Radical Sex . San Francisco: Cleis Press, 1994, p. 207. Califia continues: “It is interesting to note that the complaint most frequently heard when an appeal is made for stepped-up enforcement of laws against solicitation is that hookers are bold, aggressive and persistent. The same gender ‘inappropriate’ behaviour that is a necessary part of their trade is also used to argue for the suppression of that trade.”
21. Fernand Braudel, cited in DeLanda, Network Economic s.
22. “Reclaim The Streets,” leaflet produced for M41 blocka de festival, July 12th, 1996.
23. The repeated enculturation of QWERTY is bolstered by t he costs of staff retraining, etc.
24. “Roughly speaking, the relations of this sort go up as the square of the number of elements in a system. This means, for instance, that the difficulty of running something like a telephone exchange increases not in proportion to the number of subscribers, but more nearly in proportion to the square of the number – hence the installation of electronic switching apparatus in place of the village postmistress.” C.H. Waddington, Tools for Thought. London: Paladin, 1977.
25. A variant of the reverse fax effect is applicable to c ars – the more people have them, the more useless they become.
26. Mark Dery, interview by Geert Lovink, NetTime mailing list, 1/6/96.
27. Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Kafka, Towards a Minor Literature. trans. Dana Polan. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986, p. 82.
28. Manuel De Landa, War in the Age of Intelligent Mach ines. Zone Books,1991, p. 226.
29. Jacques Vallee, The Network Revolution: Confessions of a Computer Scientist. Berkeley: And/Or Press, 1982, p. 208.
31.Michel Foucault, Remarks on Marx, p. 101.
32. Antonio Negri, Letter to Felix Guattari on “social pra ctice,” in The Politics of Subversion, A Manifesto for the Twenty-first Century. trans. James Newell. Cambridge: Polity Press, 1989, p.157.
33. Insanely Great, p.131.
34. Ibid. p 165.
35. Howard Rheingold, “An Interview with Don Norman,” T he Art of Human-Computer Interface Design. Brenda Laurel, ed. Wokingham, UK: Addison Wesley, 1990, p.8.
37. Levy, p.147.
38. S. Joy Mountford, “Tools and Techniques for Creative D esign,” in Laurel, 1990 p.26.
39. Paul Heckel, The Elements of Friendly Software Desi gn. Alameda CA: Sybex, 1991, p.191.
40. Mac Plus introduction tape, Apple Computer Inc., 1985.
41. Michel Foucault, “Truth and Power,” in Power/Knowle dge, Selected Interviews and Other Writing. Colin Gordon, ed. New York: Pantheon, 1980.
42. George Bataille, Theory of Religion. Robert Hur ley, trans. New York: Zone Books, 1992, p.50.
43. See for instance American political machines at the tu rn of the twentieth century, where power groups had localisable, neighbourhood clubhouses where “the corruption and graft of these institutions was the way the goods of industrial urban society were spread down to the little man. The system of legality had to be violated if those at the bottom of the city’s structure were to be ‘cut in’ on power and its fruits.” Richard Sennett, The Uses of Disorder. London: Faber and Faber, 1996, p. 80.
44. Luce Irigaray, Speculum of The Other Woman. Gil lian C. Gill, trans. Ithaca” Cornell University Press, 1985, p.308.
45. Peter Plate, Romance of The American Living Room. Edinburgh: Polygon, 1993, p,104.
46. Advertising slogan for Pirelli tyres, 1996.
47. Wojnarowicz, p.33.
48. Kroker A. and M., “Thesis on the Disappearing Body in the Hyper-Modern Condition,” in Body Invaders. A. and M. Kroker, eds. New York: St. Martin’s Press, p.20-34.
49. Lance Olsen, “Deathmetal Technomutant Morphing,” Am erican Book Review, Volume 16, Number 1, April-May 1994, p.7.
50. Sadie Plant, “Weaving Women and Cybernetics,” in Cyberspace/Cyberbodies/Cyberpunk. Mike Featherstone and Roger Burrows, eds. London: Sage, 1996, p.54.
51. Dean and Massumi, p.19.
52. Deleuze and Guattari, Kafka, p.49.
53. Dean and Massumi, p.56.
54. Felix Guattari, “Institutional Practices and Politics, ” interview by Jacques Pain, Lang Baker, trans. The Guattari Reader, p.124.
55. Bill Boisvert, “Apostles of the New Entrepreneur: Busi ness Theory and the Management Crisis,” The Baffler, No. 6, Chicago 1995, p.69.
56. John Arquilla and David Ronfeldt, “Cyberwar is Coming! ,” Comparative Strategy, Volume 12, No.2, p 141-165.
63. Friedrich Nietzsche, Maxim 26, Twilight of the Idol s.
64. Malcolm Lowry, Under the Volcano. London: Picad or, 1990, p.3.
65. Rosi Braidotti, phrase from panel presentation, “The M etaphor Machine,” the Next Five Minutes Conference. Amsterdam, January 1996.
66. Herbert I. Schiller, Information Inequality, the De epening Social Crisis in America. London: Routledge, 1996, p.98 (A Euro version of this dirigisme in search of an object, is “The Californian Ideology, unstated prologue to a European Community grant application” by Richard Barbrook and Andy Cameron, Mute, issue 3 London 1996).
67. Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plate aus. p.217.
68. Chester Himes, “A Rage in Harlem,” in The Harlem Cy cle Volume One. Edinburgh: Payback Press, 1996, p.104.