The economy of culture is, accordingly, not a description of culture as a representation of certain extra-cultural economic constraints. Rather, it is an attempt to grasp the logic of cultural development itself as an economic logic of the revaluation of values.
I am enjoying Groys’ non-market ‘economic’ interpretation of Nietzschean truth. He develops an economic conception of Nietzsche’s non-moral version of value without turning to Marxist conceptions of value that would position cultural value as a consequence of the social relation between capital and labour power.
In my True Detective essay I develop a notion of ‘meta’ so as to grapple with the epistemological displacement that occurs in the midst of a revaluation of values. I call this a ‘liminal epistemology’, which has been commodified as ‘discovery’ in contemporary ‘apps’ that assist users access various kinds of cultural texts (music, written texts, phatic/social media texts, etc). The media event of True Detective (as compared to the televisual text) is interesting as it dramatises the ‘detective work’ of this liminal epistemology itself. From the introduction of my True Detective essay:
If nothing else, True Detective clearly triggers meta-detective work by the audience. The show, its inter-textual references, and non-diegetic exegetical explanations of these references produced new edges of surprise and a new sense of expectation. For example, there is a folding of the crime fiction genre into existentialist horror and a topological transformation wrought upon both. Both genres frame a passage of discovery by the characters and audience. “Discovery” has become a buzzword in user-centred design to describe the design of platforms that assist users discover appropriate content, and this refers to the way users willingly embrace the delegated agency of “smart” interfaces. The liminal epistemology of discovery in meta-stable media assemblages pose answers to questions that haven’t yet been asked. The question isn’t simply asked of the characters of the show, but of the entire event itself as it repeated different elements of genres in different ways; in effect, the audience carries out meta-detective work.
The reason why I am excited about Groys’ work is that he has already isolated a similar problematic with regards to the revaluation of values. His focus so far is not animated by the same concerns as I am, but there is a similar problematic. I make it very clear that what I found the most interesting about the True Detective media event is that it is part of a broader constellation of cultural texts that are all, in different ways, working through this revaluation of values. From the introduction of my essay:
In the final section I develop meta in terms of what Sianne Ngai (2012) calls a minor aesthetic category, and in this case what characterises meta as a minor aesthetic category is the way any text, object or event that dramatises the suspension of cultural values. In Simondon’s terms, meta is an aesthetic category that refers to works that in some way repotentialise values that serve as the “preindividual norms” of value in a state of meta-stability ready to be potentialised in a multiplicity of ways (Combes 2013: 64). As I shall explore in detail, True Detective dramatises a conflict between systems of belief and cultural value through the figures of the two main characters, Rust and Marty. In this way, “meta” signals a threshold of value (or what Nietzsche (1968) calls “transvaluation”) more often associated with nihilism.
Nearly every single student in my big Introduction to Journalism lecture knew what I was talking about when I mentioned #thedress. I used it as a simple example to illustrate some core concepts for operating in a multi-platform or convergent news-based media environment.
Multi-Platform Media Event
Journalists used to be trained to develop professional expertise in one platform. Until very recently this included radio, television or print and there was a period from the early to mid-2000s when ‘online’ existed as a fourth category. Now ‘digital’-modes of communication are shaping almost all others. We’ve moved from a ‘platform only’ approach to a ‘platform first’ approach — so that TV journalists also produces text or audio, writers produce visuals, an so on — and what is called a ‘multi-platform’ (or ‘digital first’, ‘convergent’ or ‘platform free’) approach.
When with think ‘multi-platform’, we think about how the elements of a story will be delivered across media channels or platforms:
Live – presentations
Social – Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, etc.
Web – own publishing platform, podcast, video, etc.
Mobile – specific app or a mobile-optimised website
Television – broadcast, narrowcast stream, etc.
Radio – broadcast, digital, etc.
Print – ‘publication’
‘Platform’ is the word we use to describe the social and technological relation between a producer and a consumer of a certain piece of media content in the act of transmission or access. In a pre-digital world, transmission or delivery were distinct from what was transmitted.
Thinking in terms of platforms also incorporates how we ‘operate’ or ‘engage’ with content via an ‘interface’ and so on. Most Australians get their daily news from the evening broadcast television news bulletin. Recent figures indicate that most people aged 18-24 actually get their news about politics and elections from online and SNS sources, compared to broadcast TV.
#thedress is a multi-platform media event. It began on Tumblr and then quickly spread via the Buzzfeed post to Twitter and across various websites belonging to news-based media enterprises. It only makes sense if the viral, mediated character of the event is taken into account. #thedress media event did not simply propagate, it spread at different rates and at different ways. The amplification effect of celebrities meant #thedress propagated across networks that are different orders of magnitude in scale. Viral is a mode of distribution, but it also produces relations of visibility/exposure.
New News and Old News Conventions
Consumers of news on any platform expect the conventions of established news journalism. What are the conventions of established news journalism?
The inverted pyramid
Grammar: Active Voice, Tense
When we look at #thedress multi-platform media event we see different media outlets covered the story in different ways. Time magazine wrote the most conventional lead out of any that I have seen; the media event is the story:
I’ve only include the head, intro and first par for Time and Cosmo and you can see already they are far more verbose compared to Buzzfeed’s original post. The original Buzzfeed post rearticulated a Tumblr post, but with one important variation:
What Colors Are This Dress?
There’s a lot of debate on Tumblr about this right now, and we need to settle it.
This is important because I think I’m going insane.
Tumblr user swiked uploaded this image.
There’s a lot of debate about the color of the dress.
So let’s settle this: what colors are this dress?
68% White and Gold
32% Blue and Black
The Buzzfeed post added an ‘action’: the poll at the bottom of the post. Why is this important?
Buzzfeed, Tumblr and the Relative Value of a Page View
Some of its sponsored “story unit” ad units have clickthrough rates as high as 4% to 5%, with an average around 1.5% to 2%, BuzzFeed President Jon Steinberg says. (That’s better than the roughly 1% clickthrough rate Steinberg says he thought was good for search ads when he worked at Google.) BuzzFeed’s smaller, thumbnail ad units have clickthrough rates around 0.25%.
At BuzzFeed our mobile traffic has grown from 20% of monthly unique visitors to 40% in under a year. I see no reason why this won’t go to 70% or even 80% in couple years.
Importantly, Buzzfeed’s business model is still organised around displaying what used to be called ‘custom content’ and what is now commonly referred to as ‘native advertising’ or even ‘content marketing’ when it is a longer piece (like these Westpac sponsored posts at Junkee).
On the other hand, Tumblr is a visual platform; users are encouraged to post, favourite and reblog all kinds of content, but mostly images. For example, .gif-based pop-culture subcultures thrive on tumblr and tumblr icons are those that perform gestures that are easily turned into gifs (Taylor Swift) or static images (#thedress).The new owners of Tumblr, Yahoo, are struggling to commercialise Tumblr’s booming popularity.
I had a discussion with the Matt Liddy and Rosanna Ryan on Twitter this morning about the relative value of the 73 million views of the original Tumblr post versus the value of the 38 million views of the Buzzfeed post. Trying to make sense of what is of value in all this is tricky. At first glance the 73 million views of the original Tumblr post trumps the almost 38 million views of the Buzzfeed post, but how has Tumblr commercialised the relationship between users of the site and content? There is no clear commercialised relationship.
Buzzfeed’s business model is premised on a high click-through rate for their ‘native advertising’. Of key importance in all this is the often overlooked poll at the bottom of the Buzzfeed post. Almost 38 million or even 73 million views pales in comparison to the 3.4 million votes in the poll. Around 8.6% of the millions of people who visited the Buzzfeed article performed an action when they got there. This may not seem as impressive an action as those 483.2 thousand Tumblr uses that reblogged #thedress post, but the difference is that Buzzfeed has a business model that has commercialised performing an action (click-through), while Tumblr has not.
Yesterday, I sent off my final version of a paper I’ve been working on for some time. The question of gender in the context of my existing work is somewhat problematic. Except for a few notable exceptions, I was not entirely happy with the way masculinities have been critically discussed. Clifton Evers work on surfing and masculinity is the primary (published) exception. Clif develops what I’d call an intensive masculinity by mapping the transversal circulation of affect across and through surfing bodies, boards, waves, beaches and a broader ecophilosophical context of beaches in Australian culture. I am aware of forthcoming work from at least one other person who thinks the development of gendered subjects in similar ways. Feminist philosophers (Grosz, Probyn, Driscoll) have been discussing the relationship between affect and becoming-gendered subjects for about two decades.
The paper I just sent off was a thorough engagement with the garage as an assemblage. My focus was developing an account of the passage of masculine action, primarily in the context of men working on cars. The ‘highlights reel’ of the substantive points made in my argument include:
1. The garage is a territory, but the garage-assemblage is a territorialising machine. Classic example is of the roadside repair.
2. Men territorialise technical discourses in intensive or ‘minoritarian’ ways by mappng the intensities of socio-technical objects through a process of anthropomorphisation. Technical discourses become heteronormatively gendered not so much to exclude women, but to enable a sensuous engagement with technology.
3. This produces produces statements, visibilities and ‘tactilities’ congruent with the affects in circulation. (Minor point here about Foucault’s epistemic conception of discourse, I am looking at discourses of techne.)
4. Draw on Simondon’s notion of techno-aesthetics to argue that the vernacular epistemologies of the garage-assemblage operate according to an immanent sense of ‘(mal)functionality’. ‘This’ technology functions in ‘this’ manner ‘here’.
5. Masculine techno-aesthetic competence is valorised through this intensive discourse by articulating a relation between this ‘functionality’ and the subcultural tests of effectiveness by which technological performance is measured.
6. ‘Know how’ is the outcome of ‘figuring out’ the immanent functionality of a given socio-technical object.
7. The homosociality assembled through the garage-assemblage is premised on an economy of respect determined by a subject’s techno-aesthetic competence.
8. Production of ‘know how’ is one passage of masculine action afforded by the garage-assemblage. It draws on the affordances of an intensive technical discourse and the other affects of the garage assemblage.
9. There is another complex passage of action developed through a correspondence between related assemblages (garage and street, or garage and motorsport track, etc.). Masculine ‘appetition’ (Whitehead) belonging to the garage-assemblage is organised around the ‘associated milieus’ (Simondon) of these related assemblages. A mechanical failure on the track, for example, serves to structure the challenge in the garage; it is this challenge that mobilises masculine enthusiast bodies into action.
Overall, my argument is largely a critique of Connell’s structural concept of masculinity, as it is focused primarily on the movements between different assemblages of contingent patterns of affect and bodies ‘in relation’. I’ve tried to expunge as much ‘normativity’ as possible and focus on the processes of (collective) individuation.
Like Clif I have spent some time in the spaces that I am writing about. To give you an example of what I mean by the correspondence between assemblages, below are some images of the last time I worked on my Falcon (that I still own, in storage). I took this shot while working on my Falcon so as to replace a snapped pushrod.
Here is the offending pushrod.
This is the above car just beforehand. I filmed it idling on the driveway.
Below is the title and abstract of a paper I shall be presenting this Friday as part of our working papers seminar series. It is based on about the first third/half of a paper I am trying to finish about the garage-assemblage. Actual paper does not really engage with Summernats.
Title: “Show us your tits”: Summernats, Gender and Simondon’s Techno-Aesthetics
Abstract: A genealogy of the Summernats street machining festival must include the mid-1980s historical turning point of where it shifts from the Street Machine Nationals run “By street machiners for street machiners” to the 1987 spectacular Summernats event. The Street Machine Nationals was organised around the display and appreciation of the street machine projects understood as the outcome of the creative labour of enthusiasts. The Summernats event shifted the composition of relations where the elite street machines (still appreciated as above) were used to individuate a much larger market of the interested public. This spectacular mode of car enthusiast festival was pitched as a “party”. A constant critique of this party-like event is its explicit masculine character best captured by the misogynist demand: “Show us your tits”. “Show us your tits” is a demand for visibility and invitation for females to ‘belong’ to the hyper-masculine experience of the event.
In a 1982 letter to Jacques Derrida, philosopher of technology Gilbert Simondon outlines what he describes as “techno-aesthetics” and explores technology and the technical from the point of view of aesthetics. Early in his letter Simondon includes a comment from the architect Eupaulinos (in Paul Valéry’s version of Socrates’ dialogue with Phaedrus): “Whereas passersby merely see an elegant chapel, I see the exact proportions of a girl from Corinth whom I happily loved.”
The seemingly incongruous relation between Simondon’s techno-aesthetics and the misogynist cultural practices of Summernats I shall stake out in this paper involves thinking about the way men heteronormatively aestheticise technology through gendered anthropomorphisation. I shall argue that the libidinal-affective intensities of the female form are mapped onto the non-human intensities of (pre-digital) technology. Later gendered relations to technology map the intensities of war to the non-human intensities of computers, particularly in gaming cultures. I shall read Simondon’s theory of the individuation of environment-subjects in terms of Felix Guattari’s theories of the multi-dimensional subject. The pre-individual field of the subject co-individuated with technology at an intensive level (such as found in the homosocial spaces of enthusiast car culture) transversally connects different experiences from any given subject’s development (‘individuation’). The point I shall make is that in the case of Summernats, the misogynist domination of women is a consequence of the reproduction of heteronormative and intimate relations with technology (and other men) that ward off the anxiety of wayward libidinal-affective desire.
In the latest issue of Parrhesia is a translation of a 1982 letter from Gilbert Simondon to Jacques Derrida where Simondon discusses what he calls “techno-aesthetics”. There has always been a tension, if not a latent snobbery, running between the high aesthetics of the art world — that practicing artists and other professionals approach with a keen sense of technique — and the high technics of the machinic phylum — that practicing engineers, scientists and others approach with a keen sense of aesthetics. The publication of this translation is timely for my own work (currently in the process of being reviewed for publication) that has tried to think about the character of technê using concepts of ‘experience’ and the ‘event’ from contemporary philosophy work on aesthetics (Massumi, Manning, etc.).
Simondon begins by reflecting on the character of visibility in techno-aesthetics, what he calls phanero-technics. (Phaneros, visible; from phainein, to cause to appear.) He has two examples, that of the Eiffel Tower and the architectural practice of Le Corbusier. He emphasises slightly different points in his two examples. In the case of Le Corbusier it is a case of rendering visible what is normally hidden. This exposure is a kind of consecration or valorisation of the technics of function and the technics of design. The frame, such as embodied in the magazine front cover, is a valorising-machine designed to function as an apparatus of capture on the newsagency stand. The frame of exposed-technics is abductive, rather than premised on a shared reading-technics of emphasis, and it dissolves in the solution of experience. Le Corbusier’s “phanero-technical attitude” may render visible the pipes and cables conventionally hidden but the non-normative frame of the exposed-technical relies on the repetition of aesthetic experience and contraction of memory to appreciate the difference of exposure and therefore of the valorisation.
Simondon suggests that the Eiffel Tower didn’t have a function, beyond that being “merely an elevated vista point”, but it became the “best emission antenna in France”. If we agree with Jonathan Crary’s point that the spectacle (as in Debord’s Marxist critique of the image-commodity) is more an architecture for fixing spectators in a certain relational point in space than a semiosis for the communication and indoctrination of an ideological meaning, then the elevated vista point of the Eiffel Tower gains a different resonance. The Eiffel Tower contributes to the technics of what John Urry has called the “tourist gaze”.
The “tourist gaze” is a concept Urry develops from a certain reading of Foucault’s work on the clinic and the “medical gaze”. Urry maps a quasi-genealogical account of contemporary tourism in terms of the way there is an economy of image-perspectives that tourists are encouraged to inhabit. Although not necessarily the sole reason for travelling tourists come to occupy specific “vista points” and the layering of tourist-subjectivities is captured in the work of Swiss-French artist Corinne Vionnet and her project Photo Opportunities. What is interesting about the Eiffel Tower is that the Tower itself becomes the site/sight captured by tourists rather than being the location from which vista-points are constituted; Simondon argues that phanero-technics “is itself already aesthetic: the Eiffel Tower (the tower of the World’s Fair) and the Garabit viaduct on the Truyère river have an undeniable aesthetic power”. Noting the same connection between Vionnet’s work and Urry’s in a brief note on the art project, Madeline Yale suggests that “its distorted visual referent functions as a device for memory transport by funneling many experiences into one familiar locale”.
Vionnet’s work is interesting in the context of what has been described as the “New Aesthetic” in the sense that David Berry describes NA as a “form of abduction aesthetic linked to the emergence of computationality as an ontotheology”. The ‘fuzziness’ of the Eiffel Tower above, not unlike the blurred edges of the pirated video-camera filmed of a 3D film at the cinema, is in part the layering of tourist vista-points captured by a camera, but it is also the outcome of Vionnet’s online activity to use everyday Internet search engines to find appropriate images and the design-work of image processing software. The images map an interplay between two series of events: the collective experience of implication in the discursive-architecture of the tourist spectacle and the ‘historical discontinuity’ of shifting from the photo album (or slideshow sceening) to the Internet and social network-enabled sharing of photos — vernacular mnemotechnics and practices of photography from ‘Kodak moment’ to ‘Facebook moment’.
Simondon then shifts to a discussion of the contemplation and handling tools. Using the example of a double-ended wrench specifically designed for cyclists. The two heads of the wrench have four diameters and having a head on each end makes the tool easy to grip in a fist. This tool “answers very well to what it is required to do” and “gives aesthetic pleasure when one contemplates it”. It reminds me of a trivial event from my teenage years. Discussing cars with a father of one of my friends (the father had just bought a Corvette), I was consuming a mint. The father exclaimed to the simplicity of the design of the mint’s container that would release a single mint when squeezed. On investigation the container did not have any moving parts, rather the flexing of the plastic ejected a mint by modulating a series of three chambers. One to extract a mint from the holding chamber, and then a third to release the mint from the extraction chamber. It was an elegant design and a I remember my friend’s father being very excited by this.
This is still contemplation, however, and Simondon goes on to note that “contemplation is not techno-aesthetics’ primary category. It’s in usage, in action, that it becomes something orgasmic, a tactile means and motor of stimulation”. This is a “very particular pleasure of sensation”. Between the ‘consumer’ of the work of art and the sensations of the artist can also be thought of in terms of the pleasures of sensation. One of the more important insights in the brief letter is that Simondon argues there is a “continuous spectrum that connects aesthetics o technics”. Simondon’s example here has a direct connection to my previous research (on enthusiasm in car culture). He discusses the interplay of technics and aesthetics in the context of the Jaguar EV 12 from the perspective of functionality. The body of the Jaguar is designed to be aerodynamic, however the undercarriage is less so. In a later passage Simondon returns to discussing the Jaguar’s engine in a rough comparison to that of the Citreon 2CV. The engine fo the 2CV is “that of car at degree zero”, which for Simondon means that the technical elements have been arranged for function, ease of access and so on. The engine of the Jaguar, on the other hand, has been designed to be an exaggerated technical object that has been araanged for the purposes of a techno-aesthetics incorporating the long hood of the engine and the positioning of the radiator. The exaggerated ‘spoilers’ of modified-car culture are a more extreme example of the point Simondon is making here. Modified cars fitted with ‘body kits’ use a technical aesthetics in subcultural ways. This is a material semiotics of force and function noted by Gene Balsey in the very first critical work on modified car culture “The Hot Rod Culture” (1950); what he called the “competition aesthetic” of post-war hot rodders drawing on the aesthetics of the slat-lake racers.
Similarly, aesthetic objects lend themselves to technical analysis, with Simondon referencing the reception of the Mona Lisa’s technical analysis. This entire paragraph of Simondon’s is remarkable. He is contemplating the Mona Lisa’s smile-event (in Deleuze’s sense of the event, pun intended;), here is the relevant section:
On the very same canvas, one encounters the beginning and the end of a smile–but not the exhaustion of a smile, the entelechy of the smile. […] The smile that begins, and the smile that ends so as to return to the face’s mask of seriousness, are the extreme terms of this temporal thickness: the smile will unfold itself, and at the same time it will also already be disappearing. The only thing that exists and is materialized are the outer limits of the moment of exhaustion, of full realization. But the entelechy is not figured as part of the painting. Are there not in this unique image two superimposed techniques, as is the case with palimpsests? Aren’t there two messages to decode, in order to infer the source-message (the master-message), which is lacking? It’s the original reality that remains mute, non-present, but past and to come in a quasi-immediate but nevertheless mysterious way. What is of central importance is the mystery itself of what is not-figured.
‘Entelechy’ comes from Aristotlean philosophy and refers to when an object is completely actual and fully present. The smile-event exists between two movements — a ‘becoming’ — one where it is exhausted and the face returns to seriousness and the other when the smile is fully realised. These ends in the double-movement of the smile are fully real but virtual. In the same way Vionnet’s work captures this double-movement, but is complicated by a transversal movement across the two (double) series of the vista-point of the tourist gaze and the algorithmic return of a keyword search of photos proffered for ‘sharing’ and their doubles in the mnemotechnical iterations of these two series across generational differences (both of human collective memory and technics).
In the realm of consumption techno-aesthetics intervenes in what Simondon describes as the “conditioning (in the commercial sense of the word)” of commodities. Simondon describes an example of food and the way it is received across cultural differences vary in reception in a given region. Perhaps most interesting of all for those into Object-Oriented Ontology is Simondon’s example of electricity: “Industrial aesthetics can be, first of all, the aesthetic of produced objects. But not everything is an object. Electricity is not an object. It can only be detected and manipulated through objects and possibly also through natural environments: lightning passes through and structures itself through corridors of air that have already been ionized.” Simondon’s example is from nature but his point is that techno-aesthetics deals with action, or ‘function’, not objects.
I’m currently about half way finished writing an article about the garage as an assemblage that has certain gendered and affective affordances for the passage of action. One of the critical remarks I want to make about Simondon’s brief note is ‘functionality’ is always already present in the forms of action either in practice or designed ‘into’ a technical system. I’ve been thinking about how enthusiasm is often a constituent element in vernacular epistemologies of a techno-aesthetic disposition. What is at stake for these amateur tinkerers and what not is that they do not appreciate ‘function’ in the same way as an expert or professional. ‘Functionality’ is backformed from the experience of engaging with “what works” not “the way it works”.
Although Simondon acknowledges that assumes that we engage with technologies according to “the way it works” but technologies do not work the same for everyone even though they may be designed as such. The enthusiast’s knowledge is born of experience and involves an intimate appreciation of ‘function’ immanent and congruent to practice. Without this immanent sense of function and correlative co-determination of the subject and object arrayed by the function, a techno-aesthetics can easily lapse into a neo-Modernist technologism (or critical appreciation of the dialectical opposite, ala Ellul’s technique). Function is a consequence of design for Simondon, while I am suggesting it is immanent to ‘work’. In other words, I am arguing for a techno-aesthetics belonging primarily to technê and not episteme (and ‘truth’); or a techno-aesthetics on the technê end of the spectrum on knowledge and experience.
Like the smile discussed above, functionality is an event, a double-movement between what works and what doesn’t. Something that is malfunctioning is still functioning albeit poorly from the perspective of Simondon’s assumed entelechial functionality. Enhusiasts are often suspended, in action, between two relative compositions of a technical assemblage characterised by different states of functionality. There is a terrific moment in Hugh Howey’s novel Wool (spoiler-free introduction on Geek Dad blog) that captures this movement. The novel is set in a ‘silo’ and its inhabitants are survivors of some kind of apocalyptic event. I want to talk about an event where a character, Juliette, repairs a generator, but I won’t give too much away because it is a very good book.
The generator is a huge industrial machine that generates electricity for the whole silo, which is enough for hundreds of people to live. For as long as Juliette has been alive, the generator has been an incredibly loud machine the vibrations of which can be felt throughout the lower levels of the silo. Juliette convinces the administrative superiors in the silo that preventative maintenance is necessary to ward off catastrophic failure. Juliette carries out the repairs and when the generator is started she needs to be signalled by another person close to the generator that it is operating and that the first character needs to stop pressing the ‘starter’ button. The generator’s rotating assembly is now so finely balanced there is no vibration and very little noise. The repairs carried out might as well have been improvements because the repair/design of the generator was born of experience and involves an intimate appreciation of its working functionality. Juliette is operating in a context where there is a constant struggle between all the parts of a machine working together in functional harmony and the constant pressure of entropic decline (used as a metonym in the novel for the functioning of the silo).