Bogost’s Philosophical Carpentry of what?

During my trip last weekend back to Perth for an old school friend’s wedding, I woke up at about 3am in the midst of a jet lag and impending lecture writing anxiety, and couldn’t get back to sleep. I thought this was an appropriate time to read the ‘Carpentry’ chapter of Ian Bogost’s recent book Alien Phenomenology. The forthcoming ‘Nonhuman Turn’ conference is streaming its plenaries, and Bogost is delivering a talk about “The Aesthetics of Philosophical Carpentry”, so I am looking forward to seeing how Bogost develops his thinking about ‘carpentry’ into the aesthetic realm.

Bogost had tweeted that he’d received a 1-star negative review on Amazon.com so I had a look and noticed another reviewer (5-stars) suggested that the book was worth reading just for the Carpentry chapter. The OOOer’s world is full of (post)grad student fanbois who dis/like certain OOOing so I’d take any user-generated review, be it positive or negative, with a healthy dose of skepticism. Unless, of course, it is backed up with a thorough analysis that at least demonstrates that the reviewer has read the book. I was intrigued that this reviewer singled out a chapter as worth the ‘price of admission’ so I decided to return to Bogost’s book.

Yes, ‘return’. I read the first chapter and filed the Kindle ebook away under ‘when I have more time’. The first chapter largely rehearses the OOO ‘origin story’ without any substantial development (something Goldsmiths, something Meillassoux, etc.). I like the rhetorical move of announcing that ‘speculative realism’ is an event and discussing it as such; it is an example of the sort of thing I would do (what I would call ‘event mechanics’, OOO-as-event presents a very straight-forward analysis). Bogost does a bit of discourse analysis, historical analysis, media archaeology and so on.

For example, ‘correlationism’ could happily be defined is a Foucaultian style ‘statement’ configuring the field of OOO discourse. Yeah? Organising compositions of power relations and so on. How? Enter Bogost: “to proceed as a philosopher today demands the rejection of correlationism”. The scholarly field becomes happily organised for OOOers into those who reject ‘correlationism’ and therefore can be regarded as ‘doing philosophy’, versus those who do not, for whatever reason, perhaps because they think the ‘problem’ of correlationism isn’t one. Bogost references Alain Badiou’s ‘decisionist’ conception of the event. (‘Decisionist’ moniker comes from Badiou’s reading of Spinoza, see that Pli essay on it.) I’d argue it is far closer to what Foucault called a ‘discourse event’, a kind of ‘order of objects’. Philosophy itself is transformed through the articulation/enunciation (or denunciation) of ‘correlationism’. What does this incorporeal transformation of philosophy herald? Bogost is clear, “it names a moment when the epistemological tide ebbed, revealing the iridescent shells of realism they had so long occluded.”

That first egg was named “Thought”. Tathagata Buddha, the Father Buddha, said, “With our thoughts, we make the World”. Elemental forces caused the egg to hatch. From it then came a stone monkey. The nature of Monkey was irrepressible!

Anyway, it is a pity that no one (at least that I am aware of, even from the regular OOO blogs) has carried out an OOO analysis of the OOO ‘origin story’. I would find this fascinating. Mainly because it would force the OOOer fanbois to forego the cult of personality surrounding key OOO figures… unless these figures are ‘objects’ but that would be a waste of an analysis surely, why detour through ‘objects’ at all? Or maybe we’d end up with a kind of analysis of OOO following Alliez’s Signature of the World (following Deleuze and Guattari) where the concept of the ‘object’ has its own autonomy? Or maybe Bogost wasn’t doing philosophy yet, so early into the book. This would be a curious response, in the sense that an OOO analysis of OOO should be possible, considering that OOO is meant to celebrate “stuffs [as enjoying] equal being no matter their size, scale, or order” (Bogost). Maybe OOO needs a non-OOO introduction so as to be sensible to first timers? (A bit like the birth of Monkey born from an egg on a mountain top.) Hmmm. I don’t think my ‘off hand’ point regarding the non-OOO presentation of OOO is inconsequential, however. (As opposed to the ‘ready-to-hand’ critique of ‘correlationism’ bandied about by those who don’t seem to follow or even have read Meillassoux’s argument.) Does irony exist for objects? (Less ‘molar’, Deleuzian: What is machinic irony?) Regardless, this is clearly a case of ‘theory’ irony.

Oh, and the Carpentry chapter. Bogost launches into a critique of writing, in particular scholarly writing, and then develops what he names “carpentry” as the “practice of constructing artifacts as a philosophical practice” which “entails making things that explain how things make their world”. I am currently researching ‘know-how’ as an experience-based form of practical knowledge and in particular the ‘how to’ article as a key text in discourses of ‘know-how’, so Bogost’s invocation of carpentry was at least interesting.

Of course, my PhD was on enthusiasm, the creative industries and modified-car culure, plus having come out of an ‘aspirational’ working class context I actually built a few cars in my late teens and early twenties. That and I worked on a mine site to pay for the cars. I’ve always approached philosophy as a kind of ‘mechanics’, not in the classical physics sense, but an in-the-garage-under-the-hood sort of way. Hence, the title of this blog. I spend a week in my first year foundation unit discussing what these ‘tacit knowledges’ are required for the practice of research. I’ve discussed this a number of times on this blog drawing primarily on Michael Polanyi and then go from there. To be clear, I don’t think Bogost is advocating this kind of ‘tacit knowledge’ approach, even though this is the approach of Matthew B. Crawford in his book Shop Class as Soulcraft, who Bogost cites. Well, I didn’t think Bogost was advocating this kind of approach until I got to the concluding section of this chapter (see below). On the other hand, Crawford is clearly arguing this, i.e. “real knowledge arises through confrontation with real things”. For more on Crawford’s book, see my review from a number of years ago. My position is very similar except I’m interested in a more sophisticated appreciation of experience, and a better understanding of how ‘know-how’ is circulated through media, etc.

It is unclear exactly what Bogost is arguing. Bogost: “The carpenter […] must contend with the material resistance of his or her chosen form, making the object itself become the philosophy.” Ok, kind of Polanyi-Crawford-ish here. And then when he introduces his first two examples of “philosophical software carpentry” he describes them as “ontographical tools meant to characterize the diversity of being”. When discussing the unintended (‘sexist’) consequences of one of these tools, he suggests changing it would lead to it losing its “ontographical power”. What is its philosophical accomplishment? Bogost:

[It’s] philosphical accomplishment comes from the question it poses about the challenge flat ontology and feminism pose to one another. On the one hand, being is unconcerned with issues of gender, performance, and its associated human politics; indeed, tiny ontology invites all beings to partake of the same ontological status, precisely the same fundamental position as many theorists would take ob matters of identity politics. But on the other hand, the baggage of wordly stuff still exerts a political challenge on human experience that cannot be satisfactorily dismissed with the simple mantra of tiny ontology. The [accidently sexist ontographic tool] hardly attempts to answer these questions, but it does pose them in a unique way thanks to carpentry.

Hmmm. The univocity of being is indeed irrelevant for most real world situations. I can’t help but feel Bogost is ignoring the bits of Crawford that don’t fit within the anti-correlationist party line. Take Crawford’s axiomatic statement that “real knowledge arises through confrontation with real things”. Ok, what are the ‘real things’ in the accidently sexist ontagraphic tool example? An image of a Playboy bunny randomly selected from Flickr? The OOO event website with sexist image as viewed by two female scholars? The code of the website? All of them? What is the ‘real knowledge’ produced then? Does a flat ontology privilege the reality of some things over others? No, of course not! That would be entirely against the point of the concept. Yet, there is a clear contradiction here. Crawford’s “real things” are only ‘real’ because of their relationality and implication in the production of “real knowledge” as part of the experience of being a mechanic/carpenter/whatever. This is precisely the kind of position disavowed by OOO as ‘correlationist’.

The experiences of things can be characterized only by tracing the exhaust of their effects on the surrounding world and speculating about the coupling between that black noise and the experiences internal to an object. […]
The phenomenologist who performs carpentry creates a machine that tries to replicate the unit operation of another’s experience. Like a space probe sent out to record, process, and report information, the alien phenomenologist’s carpentry seeks to capture and characterize an experience it can never fully understand, offering a rendering satisfactory enough to allow the artifact’s operator to gain some insight into an alien thing’s experience.

How did the accidently sexist ontagraphic tool gain any insight of an alien thing’s experience? Or is ‘woman’ not sufficiently ‘alien’ for ‘man’? Or is it a case of the ‘alien’ experience of those specific women and the haecceitty of an unfortunately sexist OOO event website? Has OOO somehow managed to overcome relations of alterity? These aren’t fair questions, perhaps, as it would be ridiculous to suggest an OOO version of the differend, as this would make Bogost’s entire project untenable. But what does this ‘carpentry’ do?

Bogost’s I am TIA project sounds pretty cool. Through a metaphorical lens it characterizes (Bogost prefers ‘characterizes’, it seems, as compared to ‘represents’) the experience of a ‘television interface adaptor’ of an Atari VCS. Cool! Now what?

The Tableau Machine example illustrates how a ‘machinic’ perspective of a home “helps deliver the home’s residents out of anthropocentricism” (Bogost, citing Jane Bennett’s Vibrant Matter 120). Good! So what? Can we infer that Bogost (or maybe Benett) is implying that the residents are transformed akin to Felix Guattari’s introduction of ‘transversal’ practices into the psychiatric institution of La Borde and his hopes for the reconstitution of subjectivity etc?

The concluding section of Bogost’s chapter is titled “A New Radicalism”. He says that “real radicals […] make things” and challenges OOO to “become craftsmanship, challenging us to learn a trade”. Maybe Bogost is not aware of the whole “philosophy as toolbox, concepts as tools” notion from an interview between Foucault and Deleuze, or the development of Serres’s work on the invention of physics into what Deleuze and Guattari called a ‘minor science’ in A Thousand Plateaus. The purpose of mentioning Polanyi above was that he goes to great lengths to indicate how all abstract (‘explicit’) knowledges are premised on ‘tacit knowledges’. Or even Harman has noted that Heidegger discussed the extraction of ‘theory’ as part of a scholastic disposition from experience (in one of Heidegger’s very early lectures).

Bogost then returns to Crawford (his colleague Hugh or Soulcraft’s Matthew B.? I think it is meant to be Matthew B.) in the concluding passage to this chapter:

When people or toothbrushes or siroccos make sense of encountered objects, they do so through metaphor. As Whitehead and Latour suggest, this process requires creative effort, challenging OOO to become craftsmanship, challenging us to learn a trade. We tend to think of creativity as construction, the assembly of something new out of known parts. A novel is made of words and ink and paper, a painting of pigments and canvas and medium, a philosophy of maxims and arguments and evidence, a house of studs and sheetrock and pipes. Perhaps in the future, following Crawford’s example, radical philosophers will raise not their fists but their hammers.

Now I am really confused. Bogost seems to be collapsing two kinds of experience. One that is developed in humans, following Crawford’s axiom “real knowledge arises through confrontation with real things”, and the experience that objects have of whatever (the other objects that constitute their ‘environment’ in the ecological/systems sense?). That is not the confusing thing however. Confusing is, firstly, the suggestion that any objects whatsoever “make sense of encountered objects” as Bogost has not discussed ‘sense’ at all, at least not in any way that correlates with philosophies of sense that I am familiar with (vaguely Frege or Deleuze), and secondly that this sense making is carried out through “metaphor”. Hmmm… Bogost has described how human philosophers have created artifacts that offer a metaphorical representation of machinic experience, not how those actual objects have used metaphor (or some kind of machinic equivalent…?) to “make sense”. I can understand a multiplicity of experiences (this experience is as singular as that experience), but the simple projection of anthropomorphic concepts like ‘sense’ or ‘metaphor’ from the OOO philosophical domain and using them to ‘characterise’ the existence of objects is contradictory (and that is putting it mildly) of what would seem to be the basic tenets of OOOism. What is all this gruff talk about ‘taking objects seriously’ if objects are reduced to being mere vehicles of philosophical metaphor?

On the Flip Side of Exposure

It is late when I am writing this, so hopefully I do not make too many gaffes. I may fix it up tomorrow.

Most professionals and amateurs working within the creative industries have recognised that there is a somewhat dubious payoff for keen amateurs and early career professionals for submitting free work that would otherwise demand payment and that is exposure. ‘It is a good way to gain exposure’ or ‘Make connections’ say many senior professionals to juniors and amateurs. What this produces is a hub-and-spoke type network arrangment where one senior professional gets to choose what work by certain juniors or amateurs gets further exposure and perhaps ultimately some kind of financial reward. The point of ‘making connections’ is that eventually you come to be seen as someone who is a hub and has the power to shine the quasi-transcendental beam of ‘exposure’ upon others.

There is a flip side to this logic of exposure. Jason Potts, Stuart Cunningham, John Hartley and Paul Ormerod co-authored a journal article published in 2008 on the concept of ‘social network markets’ as a general concept that should replace the ‘industrial’ era concept of the creative industries. Social network markets, as a concept, hasn’t really taken off, although I have not read everything in the field, so maybe it has.

They define the creative industries “in terms of the system of activities organized and coordinated about flows of value through the enterprise of novelty generation and consumption as a social process”.
Furthermore, the creative industries are “properly defined in terms of a class of economic choice theory in which the predominant fact is that, because of inherent novelty and uncertainty, decisions to both produce and consume are largely determined by the choice of others in a social network”. People choose to consume based on the choice of others. The weakest version of this was identified by Adorno who wrote (as I have recently noted) that in “Amercian conventional speech, having a good time means being present at the enjoyment of others, which in its turn has as its only content being present”.

They run through a series of descriptive postulates:

1) The set of agents and agencies in a market characterized by adoption of novel ideas within social networks for production and consumption
a) The CIs are not about the allocation of resources: they are about the creation of new resources. “The core business of the CIs is, after all, the representation and coordination of new ideas”, because “the origination, adoption and retention of novel ideas is the primary cause of economic growth and development”.
b) The CIs are not about mature technologies; they are about the evolution of new technologies. “In essence, design is the new engineering, but between physical and social technologies.”
c) The CIs are services; specifically, services to the growth of knowledge and economic evolution.

2) The creative industries are the set of economic activities that involve the creation and maintenance of social networks and the generation of value through production and consumption of network-valorized choices in these networks. “In turn, the new cultural industries, both historically and contextually conditional, are rightfully included as their production and consumption is heavily influenced by social networks for the simple reason that their value is uncertain.”

I think this work is fantastic and I am annoyed to have largely missed its development. What it certainly needs however is a bit of a Marxist and even a Foucaultian shunt.

If there is an upward pressure from these amateur and junior professional practioners regarding the production of new cultural commodities, then surely the hub-exposer senior professionals experiences this pressure as a threat to their position? No. Well, sometimes. What happens more often than not, the hub-exposer only selects ‘ideas’ that conform to the existing ‘correct ideas’, which may have originated from… the hub-exposer professional. This reproduces the heirachical distinction between hub and spoke, exposed/exposer and exposee. Hence, there are micro-power relations in effect visible in the discursive fabric of innovation (ie the ‘stuff’ creative industries/social network markets produce). This is the Foucaultian bit.

EDIT: There is something else going on here regarding the shaping of markets and the labour required to massage communicative action. Here is an example that just popped up in my Facebook stream today about Ferrari.

The Marxist shunt is a little bit more complex. It revolves around the recurring problem of ‘value’. Firstly, I don’t want to get into a stoush with quasi-classical economists about where value is located within a market or at what point is it realised. Having said that however, I argue that the creative industries turn enthusiasm into a resource. It is not ‘ideas’ that are a resource of value (just like it is not a commodity as the originator of value), but the labour required to produce them. Within the emergent social networks of the creative industries, the social network markets organise around enthusiasms. Crowd sourced valorisation is derived from a subjective appreciation of an impersonal and collective enthusiasm for various challenges that define a given cultural formation. For example, car enthusiasts are not into cars per se but the socio-technical challenges that the car represents. I have rendered this concept and process and explicit at the magazine publisher where I work when training new writers. They don’t write about the car as an object but the car as a project, the narrative of which is determined by the challenges faced by the enthusiast.

One last point. The authors write: “The standard (DCMS) definition of the CIs is based on an extension of the cultural industries, and so inherits a propensity to view CI policy in terms of market failure in the provision of public goods. […] The domain of policy is radically shifted from a top-down re-compensatory model to a bottom-up model of experimental facilitation and innovation.”

Indeed. What I find very exciting about all this research is that I very closely examined the last three decades of a single cultural industry and uncovered precisely this shift in the composition of the cultural formation itself and the function of the creative industries and role of government in them (ie. what Foucaultians call the dispositif or composition of power relations). I now have a very powerful way to frame my research.

Online Niche/Enthusiast Media: Business Models

Online business models. I hadn’t thought about ‘business’ at all except in a critical (but not always negative) sense until about a year ago. Here is an abstract to a paper I have in the works. However, I’ve been thinking about business models for the magazines since I’ve been involved in developing a new online presence for some of them. This post is the result of some of the thinking I have been doing on the subject and has been in the works for a while now (several weeks). I’ve been thinking about it constantly but have little time to actually work on it.

I work at Express Media Group, which publishes a number of niche-market enthusiast titles. EMG is currently developing its online presence and is working on ways to successfully integrate print and online publishing. As well as working as a Production Editor, I’ve been involved in developing some of the websites for the motoring titles. The first new website up is that for Zoom magazine.

We have a massive advertising campaign starting tomorrow that requires the other websites to be up and I am waiting on our overworked web team to finish them. I look forward to seeing the results.

I’ve been carrying out research in my own time to think about new business models that integrate print and online publishing. I have no official role in this at EMG (yet), rather I have been treating it as an extension of my PhD research on enthusiasm in modified-car culture where I looked at the relation between the enthusiast media and the scene over a 30 year period.

I used philosophical concepts to examine the composition of power relations in the organisation of the scene (dispositif) and how this has changed a number of times over the time period (an event-based conception of history). Now it seems my research is going to be the most relevant if it is developed in a simple set of critical tools for understanding legacy business models.

The general character of these legacy business models is mostly well understood. The current public workshops being hosted by the FTC are working on the issues and problems of “how the Internet has affected journalism”. The FTC has posted a Staff Discussion Draft paper that explores some of the points raised over the course of several months worth of hearings. In the first few pages of the paper (2-3) the FTC outlines the general problem with legacy business models faced by all print-based publishers. I have extracted the three main points below:

1. Newspapers’ revenues from advertising have fallen approximately 45% since 2000. For example, classified advertising accounted for $19.6 billion in revenue for newspapers in 2000, $10.2 billion in 2008, and is estimated to be only $6.0 billion in 2009.
2. With the advent of the Internet, advertisers have many more ways in which to reach consumers, including, for example, through a marketer’s own website or through topical websites that relate to the products that an advertiser wants to sell (e.g., a soccer blog for soccer equipment). Search engines also provide sites for advertising related to particular search queries.
3. Although some types of online advertising (e.g., advertising targeted to a consumer’s known interests) can generate greater revenue than other types (e.g., banner ads), the vast supply of online sites for advertising reduces the amount that an online news site can charge for advertising at its site. This means that online advertising typically generates much less revenue than print advertising (often described as “digital dimes” as compared to the dollars generated by print ads). It appears unlikely that online advertising revenues will ever be sufficient to replace the print advertising revenues that newspapers previously received.

First year journalism students are taught about the ‘news hole’ well in the actual publishing business there is often an ‘advertising hole’ as well. As more advertisers have moved online to directly target the niche market enthusiast communities that the advertiser services, there are less advertisers looking at print-based advertising. Of course, this is a generalisation as there are many enthusiast communities, of mostly older enthusiasts, that have not gone online.

All is not lost, however. There are other ways to sell advertising beyond simple ‘display’-type advertising. Dan Blank has a good post up from over a year ago on different sources of revenue for online media publishers.

The main goal here is for editorial teams to be pursuing fewer standalone articles that rely solely on CPM ads, and look to more integrated packages that build many products from a single effort.

For the last six years or so I have long looked at this from the flip side. Media events assembled from a series of inter-related texts. Often these texts are assembled around a non-media product, so a product is doubled as its media-based simulacra. It was the basis of my work I carried out on exchange to Sweden during my PhD looking at media events not as the media coverage of an event, but the event produced through the media.

In social media circles posting the same material across a number of channels is called ‘content leverage’. So a Facebook post about a blog post describing a Youtube video is Tweeted. At EMG I have been working on producing media content from single opportunities that can be distributed across a number of media channels. So far the best example of this was an ECU guide in Zoom issue 147 that is currently on the stands. I have several hours of video that I shot and I am currently editing to be posted to our Youtube channel and posted to our blog. Here is an example:

The real problem with thinking about new business models for niche/enthusiast media that integrate online and print elements is that most of the current discussion about the state of print media has been about ‘hard news’. Niche/enthusiast media and ‘hard news’ work following different journalistic models of content production. For example, Blank writes:

An underlying theme in many of these is to create evergreen content whose shelf life is longer than a news article – with multiple segments that extend the ways you can market it and sell it. Focusing on business needs beyond the cycle of “breaking news” may diminish the reliance on the single revenue model of advertising.

We already do this to a certain extent, but we are going to be doing much more of this style of content production and it is going to be a real challenge for editorial teams working under increasingly tight deadlines (we make a magazine per week on average!). To make this possible Blank has two suggestions:

1) Editorial teams mapping out a product roadmap, not just an editorial calendar.
2) Editorial teams working more closely with their sales teams to come up with these ideas, and ensure that the sales dept has this information with enough time to test the market, and ideally, sell these products.

Working closer to advertising sales teams is not a problem, the other challenge, beyond deadlines, is getting a sense of what is happening in the scene. There is so much activity nowadays that to track it all, even just all the online activity, for the scene in Australia is a full-time role.

So where to go from here? I am currently rewriting some of my PhD research for a draft paper about legacy media business models for niche/enthusiast media.

fraughtness

It is past one in the morning and for the last few hours I have been madly trying to put the finishing touches on a job application for an academic position. Over the past several weeks I have been feeling pressure from a number of people I know to get a job in academia. From aquaintences and colleagues at the State of Industry conference to the most intimate of relationships that are very dear to me. I have felt savaged by their explicit bewilderment and brash questions about why I am not working in academia, their well-intentioned assertions that I should be an academic, and the implication that I am basically wasting my time in my current job.

All of this is probably true. Yet I realised tonight as I have been writing my responses to the Key Selection Criteria that I am basically not yet ready. My biggest problem is that I have not demonstrated my expertise. To do this I need to publish. My greatest error has been to treat academia as an intellectual pursuit. It is not. I have over-invested in my capacity to intellectualise anything, to critically engage with it, to use highly esoteric, but powerful social and philosophical theories and to develop my own conceptual tools to genuinely understand social and cultural phenomena. None of this really matters when it comes time to get a job. I need to play the game. This shall involve me going to war, to mobilise and redirect my energies in a slightly different way.

I need to publish from my PhD, rather than simply having a list of interesting but non-expertise-based scholarly and quasi-scholarly (ie blog) publications. Most of my journal articles published have little or nothing to do with the core focus of my Phd. I am beginning to understand that the ruthlessness I have been cultivating in my current capitalist workplace needs to be redirected towards myself and my intellectual pursuits. I can feel an encroaching sadness born of the fact I need to relinquish my naive appreciation of scholarly work and recognise that it must be framed in terms of the current discourse of outcomes. I need to be ruthless with my own thinking, harness it, exploit it and produce outcomes.

What are my outcomes? I need to demonstrate them. I need to go to war against myself.

Maybe I am becoming an adult.