Dark Side of Digital Culture

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* Book: The Spam Book: On Viruses, Porn, and Other Anomalies From the Dark Side of Digital Culture. by Jussi Parikka and Tony D. Sampson, Editors. Hampton Press, Cresskill, NJ, 2009


Review

Gary Genosko:

"The editors have set for themselves and their contributors a post-representational task of considerable scope: to overcome the representation of media anomalies through categorization, metaphor, analogy, static structuration and instead forge a new dynamic, technomaterialist orientation that regains the anomalous object (spam, porn, etc.) from its banishment into the exclusionary domain of irregularity. They gather such analyses under the banners of assemblage theory and topological analysis. Anomalous objects and events are expressive of their environments and they are not reducible to mere hindrances subject to filtering. Thus the task is not to control but rather to map their becomings, asking how they work rather than defining what they reflect.

There is probably no more obvious connective energy than contagions, and the post-representational cultural analysis begins here. Eschewing good-bad virus; light-dark side and authorized-unauthorized distinctions, John Johnston considers that artificial evolution (ALife research) blurs such boundaries and escapes the representation of the organic by the digital for the sake of a more fluidly biological approach to software evolution that imbues the latter with adaptivity, self-organization and repair thereby eluding the command and control paradigm. Johnston would have us rethink the “bug” in a swarm of lower order creatures as “hopefully friendly creepers” (p. 38) rather than targets of extermination. Tony Sampson tackles the problem of modeling contagions by folding system instability over stability therein bringing inside the hitherto externality of the parasite model. He rehabilitates the figure of the juvenile virus writer for technocultural theory and revalorizes a “constitutive anomaly” that makes instability a key factor of stability in a network not given in advance, that is, not frozen, but sensitive to growth, uncertainty, and vulnerability. This idea of the network “in passage” is rich and foregrounds the robustness of the fragile and, as Luciana Parisi adds, the viral in software design. Stripping the fiction from science, Parisi unleashes a veritable swarm of soft, fuzzy, blobby, dusty and rubbery small components all in the name of a variability, discontinuity, and “uncomputable relationality” (p. 73) that may build experience into digital architecture. Roberta Buiani shows how to productively and positively reassess the potentiality of viruses. She puts the emphasis on the unpredictable production of concrete possibilities by viruses across a field of action that induces “individuals to ‘become viral’ themselves” (p. 100).

An elegant editorial segue into a cluster of papers on bad objects features Parikka’s treatment of an Internet art virus as “simulacrum of the general viral discourse” (p. 113) that introduces extra-discursive visualizations of viruses magnified as infotainment and other cultural ephemera (newspaper graphics and t-shirts). Parikka adds aesthesis to calculation in the viral assemblage in order to highlight the important role of finding tools that may be used to reshuffle media archives. Steve Goodman liberates sonic spam in the form of glitch music from arid art spaces into dance music and rhythmic mutation, while Matthew Fuller and Andrew Goffey announce stratagems for an evil media studies that is refractory of meaning, sophistical, seductive, bug-friendly and at home in sub-semiotic registers.

Susanna Paasonen’s meditation on porn spam, focusing on record sizes and fucking machines, initiates the porno cluster and reflects directly on the varied associations of ‘anomaly’ and the post-penile machinic denaturalizing of the heteronormative. Katrien Jacobs pursues the excesses of pornography through realcore, expansion morphs, Japanese hentai and warporn, ultimately seeking ways to escape macho violence through S&M. While Dougal Phillips asks after the economies of desire in porn file-sharing and whether the screens that manifest intensities will survive the earth’s implosion in any way other than strictly in theory. The censorship section contains elegant technical articles by Greg Elmer on the robot exclusion protocol, cannily deployed by government and business or ignored by spambots, and Richard Rogers’ discussion of Internet censorship research techniques that pursue more dynamical-circulatory methods of discovery: hyperlink analysis, redistributed blocked content, and re-routing via proxy servers.

The book concludes with a coda by Alexander R. Galloway and Eugene Thacker. If this century will be “the era of standards of identification” (p. 259), then the radical task of post-representational thought is to find ways of disappearing, to exist without representation. To this end a Surrealist conception of narcoleptic operations is proffered. Spam is, it turns out, is poetically liberatory." (http://www.leonardo.info/reviews/may2010/genosko_parikka.php)