Ubiquitous Media

The conference theme (TCS 25th anniversary meet at Todai U Tokyo) has set loose a plague whose epidemiology can only be described as the onset of a ‘digital Adorno’ virus (I adapt this from Anthony King – I see Adorno referenced but not read, glossed via secondary readings, named but ignored, as ever it always has been…) and, worse, the conference alibis what looks like isolated individualism positing a corresponding technological determinism, such that new gadgets directly relate – without other mediation – to ‘subjects’ independent of corporate, commercial, or co-ordinating engagements (King again). The avoidance of politics seems to sum up what was wrong when it went wrong (plus the painful moment[s] when Hansen went on and on in a narcoleptic tone), but on the whole the conference was very very good. Despite typhoons and earthquakes, there was hardly a session that was not full of good papers; it was well organised, and the local food fabulous (okinawa bar – thanks Shinji). I’m pleased to know more about Bernard Steigler (from Ben and Jeremy) and to have met Dave, Mia, Tania, plus Shaun, Sean and Tomoko again. Toshiya’s argument that Transformers transformations are linked to the transformation problem of former leftists who went into cultural work was quite brilliant, and of course the best bits happened in between sessions and late at night in obscure bars.

My presentation had to do with ubiquitous paranoia, on the anniversary of the London 7/7 bombings, the fear/scapegoat manufacture of sleeper cells and tube bombers in England excuses an annual ‘event’ related to the efficient production of paranoia. ‘He’s behind you’ is the panto-demonization response, but the court cases and car bombs that coincided this year (2007), and the ‘suicide rapper’ routine of last year (2006), deserve a more detailed response. I have pursued this using the idea of ubiquitous narrative, ubiquitous critique, and retelling the story of that very mild mannered suicide rapper (aka Aki Nawaz) and the bed-time tales of Scheherezade – now captured, renditioned, detained and forced to tell stories to interrogators at Guantanamo for the rest of her days – one thousand and one nights is overdetermined, akin to infinity plus one…

My case is that the incomplete character of Scheherezade’s stories is what saves her. So when it comes to Fun^da^mental’s presentation of a recipe for bombs (readily available on the internet, but somehow also ‘secret’), there is a curious coincidence of interest in secrets on ‘both sides’. The ambiguous space of politics lies here – really lies – the gaps, the appearance and disappearance, the unknowns – this is what we might look at. The lie and deception are structured into story (they call this ‘spin’) and this seems to be an increasingly potent site of struggle.

So the fact that the conference had a great deal to say about repositories of secrets: about archives, about the empire of signs, investigations of code, attention to all kinds of message – this makes me want to ask questions. For example: is it mere coincidence that the proliferation of scholarly interest in code and archive – and of course the desire of google to document EVERYTHING – seems to be symbiotically related to the demands of the security forces that there be no secrets at all, that all information be admissible in court, that every bag be searched at the airport… No-one should have anything to hide – certainly not any Middle Eastern looking Brazilians on the tube….

These parallel information obsessions (archive/security; interpretation/interrogation) amount to what I’ll call the hermeneutics of anxiety. Isn’t it the case that worrying about the known unknowns has reinvigorated scholarship and vibrant debates about non-representation, cognitive systems, archives and code? And is this, not insignificantly, aligned to the homeland security demand to know the whole story, as most clearly and viciously enacted in the endless banality of the interrogation cells at Guantanamo.

The trouble with combating stereotypes is that they continue to bounce back up at you the more you knock them down. The suicide rapper (Aki Aki Aki, ) is not enough to counter the ideological hegemony of the spinsters; but what is? What is adequate to win, where the stereotype and the demon are known knowns, deployed knowingly as objects of paranoia, as necessary targets of a fear that binds the nation (I mean here Eurasia, Oceania, etc., those blocs Orwell had described in the nightmare of 84).

Ubiquitous digispeak. Ubik. Tokyo July 16.

[Photo by Naoko Sakurai]

And it was still raining…

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