Network Architecture and Electronic Civil Disobedience: Electronic Disturbance Theatre and Transversals of Rhizomatic Resistance
If the injustice is part of the necessary friction of the machine of government, let it go, let it go; let your life be a counter friction to stop the machine.
-Henri David Thoreau
Many have suggested that the iconic global force holding together the world today is the Internet. As a medium for human communication the Internet directly affects almost every aspect of our lives. From the instantaneous worldwide communication we enjoy with friends and family, to the way we seamlessly move through our spatial environment using GPS technology. Like it or not, cyber utopian or luddite, the Internet is a central aspect of twenty first century life.
This insurrectionary essay examines discursive practices of electronic civil disobedience (ECD), or lines of flight emanating from the art and activist collectives Electronic Disturbance Theatre (EDT) and Critical Art Ensemble (CAE). Metaphorically, this essay forms conceptual constellations around art, activism and the Internet. The result of which is a foray into the invention of the Internet from a multitude of different perspectives, juxtaposing different theories, ideas and narratives, attempting to formulate an interdisciplinary and multiperspectival experimental inquiry into the past, present and future of the Internet. Indeed, as Walter Benjamin would have it, “out of infinite distance into infinite proximity;” this polyvalent analysis will attempt to understand the Internet not as a homogenous isolated technological development of human communication, but rather contextualized within the development of electronic media more broadly, analogous to several other historical developments including the electric telegraph. This study then departs from traditional narratives addressing the Internet, and attempts to situate it within Karl Marx’s concept of the “general intellect”, found in the Grundrisse, connected to Marx’s notion of the machine in relation to surplus value and the accumulation of capital.
In so doing, this disobedient essay will argue that the Internet is best conceptualized both as a machine perpetuating the hegemony of the ruling capitalist class (through a concatenation of the “general intellect”), while simultaneously arguing that the Internet can also function as a discursive assemblage for spreading ideas counter intuitive to the ruling capitalist class. Some may consider this an argument for both sides, but this is incorrectly perceived. Rather, this essay articulates an ontological framework coupling man/machine a kin to Donna Haraway’s conception of the “cyborg”, representing a lack of distinction between natura (nature) and machina (machine). This ontological framework is largely informed by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, explored in their magnum opus A Thousand Plateaus, applied and studied in contrast to Marx’s ontology of man as separate from machine. By comparing and contrasting these two separate and distinct ontologies, a thought experiment conducted in advance by philosopher Gerald Raunig, I hope to demonstrate that the Internet is manifestly material and immaterial, dually physical and nonphysical, equally electronic as well as visceral. A technology in perpetual intermezzo; analogous to the botanical rhizome: with no beginning and no end; a heterogeneous decentralized compositional arrangement of human communication; what William Gibson describes as a “mass consensual hallucination”, or more directly, a multiplicity of networks of immense communicatory complexity. This essay pertains to the concept of the Inter+(network).
Author and cultural critic Brian Holmes has described the Internet using similar terms. In Drifting Through the Grid: Psychogeography and Imperial Infrastructure, Holmes argues that the labyrinth of Internet and satellite communications systems, such as GPS, are fraught with ambiguity in terms of their emancipatory potential, “in an era when civil society has been integrated to the military architecture of digital media.”
However, it is well known that operating systems such as Linux are built on open source software, and today with web sites such as Bit Torrent and ISO Hunt and peer-to-peer file sharing systems, as well as the emergence of dissident groups such as Anonymous, Lulzsec and Wikileaks, or the introduction of electronic currency such as Bitcoin, or the reemergence of the concept of a Time/Bank (c/o e-flux) online, the Internet must dually be considered a frontier for revolutionary politics and subversive economic and communicatory potential, albeit developed on top of imperial infrastructure and securitized communications technologies. This is accomplished through a variety of hacking techniques, including, but not limited to, Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) actions against web sites, ammounting to a form of digital occupation. Within this transversal model, echoing Manuel Castells’ claim that “in a networked culture, the topographical metaphor of ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ has become increasingly untenable”, forms of networked virtual resistance emerge in stark opposition to governments and representational politics more generally. These networks of resistance have formed in opposition to the control and dominance of what Rem Koolhaas describes as “the world of €/$/¥.” Or alternatively, globalization and the world economy built on the yen, the euro and the dollar, representing the three major establishments of international political economy. This is also what David Harvey and others refer to as “neoliberalism”, whereby the Internet represents the enigma and communications apparatus of transnational capitalism. Ironically, within this milieu, the Internet has developed packets of resistance to the world of €/$/¥. Against the backdrop of neoliberal political economic policy, characterized largely by privatization and what Harvey refers to as the “time/space compression of global capital through the emergence of a new kind of information society,” several resistance movements have emerged. Among these, the Zapatista movement in the early 1990s is widely considered one of the first informational uprisings that made use of the Internet in conducting guerilla operations.
According to Manuel Castells, the Zapatista uprising in Mexico was “the first informational guerilla movement.” Others including Graham Meikle agree, describing the movement as:
The first culture jamming guerilla movement, an ingenious detournement of the predictable—and hence controllable—imagery and rhetoric of insurgencies. Subcomandante Marcos’s ever present pipe and balaclava, his refusal to accept the label of leader, and the cryptic parables through which he communicates, make it hard for opponents to frame the Zapatistas on easily understood terms.
The troops of Ejercito Zapatista de Liberacion Nacional (EZLN) rose up on January 1st 1994, the day the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was enforced, with direct negative economic implications for farmers associated with the large corn sector of the Chiapas region in Mexico. Meikle contends, “this erosion of local control over the economy carried nasty reverberations from Mexico’s colonial past,” with the Mexican government reacting predictably and employing heavy military and police presence in response to the uprising. What followed was a media and electronic augmentation of civil disobedience and political engagement, whereby the “Zapatistas were able to set the media agenda, circumventing the governments attempts at crisis management.” It can be argued that the Internet provided the Zapatista movement with a forum to not only spread information, news, bulletins and alerts, without the help of the mainstream media, but that it also enabled the movement to gain traction with NGOs and activists from all over the world and build physical networks of support. On December 22nd 1997, 40 members of the Zapatista community were shot and killed at Acteal by state supported paramilitaries. This series of events in turn led Ricardo Dominguez, media artist and activist, to develop the concept of FloodNet and to build coalitions with others equally concerned with putting into praxis the idea of ECD.
According to Dominguez, CAE developed the theory of ECD while EDT developed the practice. ECD is a term that was first introduced by CAE, a five-member collective working in tactical media exploring the intersections between art, technology, critical theory and political activism. ECD was initially conceived in relation to more traditional forms of civil disobedience, and in 1995 CAE published a collection of essays, eventually put into circulation by Autonmedia, publisher of Hakim Bey’s seminal A Temporary Autonomous Zone, entitled Electronic Civil Disobedience. Influenced in part by Hakim Bey as well as Bruce Sterling’s The Hacker Crackdown, CAE member Steve Kurtz and other members of the collective wondered, “what if this practice was radicalized” and used in the context of virtualizing resistance movements? Shortly thereafter, EDT developed the idea of hacker actions against virtual institutions such as government websites, in response to what they perceived were direct military or civilian threats to oppositional movements and voices, initially in solidarity with the Zapatistas. As with traditional forms of civil disobedience, ECD initially employed the techniques of trespassing and blockading to garner attention and publicity for laws and institutions deemed socially unjust. With these ideas in mind, EDT initiated the development of FloodNet, software made specifically to facilitate these types of virtual insurgent activities and blockade and invade the websites of oppositional political parties and individuals. FloodNet was initially conceived as a yearlong project in 1998, although it has existed and actions channeling its aims have continued since then. Dominguez claims that the first FloodNet action drew 18,000 participants over two hours, with reports that Mexican President Zedellio’s website was taken offline for several hours. Essentially, FloodNet activity consisted of participants gathering in ‘FloodNets foyer,’ whereby they would be met with a series of instructions. These instructions consisted of browser configurations necessary for the software to work and a set of warnings: “this is a protest, it is not a game, it may have personal consequences as in any off-line political manifestation on the street.” This accompanied a warning to participants that IP addresses could also be collected by government, in the same way that photographs of participants might be taken during a street protest.
There are those such as Evgeny Morozov, writer, researcher and author of The Net Delusion, who would argue that these types of actions scarcely have any real consequence. Morozov isolates two “delusions” in particular, “cyber-utopianism”, or the belief that the culture of the Internet is inherently emancipatory; and “Internet-centrism”, or the belief that every important question about society and politics can be framed in terms of the Internet. Morozov argues that these beliefs are deeply problematic in lieu of present transnational capitalism and the world of €/$/¥. This argument follows the logic of the Internet’s fundamental and underlying imperial architecture, now privatized and under the control of Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and top-level domain distributors such as the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a private corporation located in the United States, whose bylaw underscores its responsibility “for the coordination of the global Internet’s systems of unique identifiers and, in particular, ensuring its stable and secure operation.” Meaning, the Internet is build on a network initially developed by the United States government, specifically the United States Department of Defense Research Projects Agency (DARPA), pioneered by mathematician and researcher Leonard Kleinrock, and ultimately activists and dissident movements suffer from a “net delusion”, in particular, their faith in the emancipatory possibilities of virtual resistance tactics.
According to Leonard Kleinrock, pioneer in digital communications and the mathematical mind behind the advancement of digital networks though a process known as packet switching, the Internet ‘originated’ in DARPA, and was developed during the late 1950s and early 1960s. Kleinrock’s major contribution to the development of the Internet came with his concept of queuing theory, which essentially functioned as the key mathematical foundation for what is known as packet switching, an electrical application allowing for bits of information to be transmitted between two or more computers in separate locations. Kleinrock describes the Internet as emerging from two distinct threads which eventually merged in the mid-1960s, coalescing and “creating the historical break” that led to the development of ARPANET (the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network). The first thread describes the role of some the Internet’s earliest protagonists at MIT – in chronological order – Kleinrock, Paul Baran and Donald Davies. These early researchers independently pursued data networking theory, architecture and it’s implementation in mechanical hardware contained within large mainframe computers. The second thread Kleinrock describes pertaining to the growth and creation of the Internet relates to ARPA (the Advanced Research Projects Agency), the institution that funded and implemented packet switching into tangible communications applications, albeit without any early involvement from the private sector, with Kleinrock particularly critical of AT&T due in large part to the company’s shortsightedness when presented with an early opportunity to become involved with the wider dissemination of the Internet. Thus, through a combination of social, political and economic circumstances, it was largely the U.S. military through ARPA who initially conceived of the Internet as a decentralized network conceptualized in order to avoid control by a vulnerable or possibly hostile or under attack centre, made up of autonomous computer networks that would have innumerable ways to connect and overcome electronic barriers and distant geographies in the event of a large scale attack on a nerve centre of communication. Shortly thereafter, ARPANET became the foundation of a global communication network that would later become known as the World Wide Web (by the early 1990s).
Those such as Janet Abbate draw a distinction between the Internet and the World Wide Web. Abbate asserts that the World Wide Web did not spring from DARPA, rather, that “it was a new set of actors, including computer scientists at CERN [with] the first incarceration of the Web created in 1990 by Tim Berners-Lee and Robert Cailliau.” Berners-Lee and Cailliau were involved in the early hypertext system that would link files around the world, forming a “world wide web” that according to Berners-Lee, would create “a pool of human knowledge.”
Indeed in ironic confirmation of the US Defense Department’s thinking, as the Internet grew rapidly and became the World Wide Web, it quickly escaped the direct control of the U.S. military and is now routinely used by all sorts of networks, including those whom the US Defense Department calls its ‘enemies’, such as ‘terrorist’ networks. Furthermore, echoing the central argument contained with this essay, Kleinrock is quick to point out that “the Internet did not suddenly appear as the global infrastructure it is today, and neither did it form automatically out of earlier communications.” Kleinrock posits that the Internet as it has come to be understood, developed from a specific set of technological advancements in packet switching and network architecture, but even these were not isolated breakthroughs in science that emerged from some sort of isolated petri dish. Rather, the technological advancements utilized in the first incarnation of the Internet, also known as ARPANET, must be contextualized within the realm of electronic communication more broadly, with visible parallels arguably found in the development of the telegraph over a century earlier. The principal difference being that the architecture of the Internet developed along the lines of transferring bursts of large amounts of electronic data within a decentralized milieu, whereas the telegraph was principally developed as an electromagnetic device for human-to-human transmission of singular coded messages.
The history and origins of the electric telegraph, or simply the telegraph as it is popularly known today, like the Internet, is equally hard to pin point to an exact date or moment in time. Resulting from early studies of electricity, electrical phenomenon was discovered to travel at a very fast speed and applications were soon in development to transpose electricity and apply it to the realm of human communication. In 1825, British inventor William Sturgeon revealed the power of the electromagnet by lifting nine pounds with a seven ounce piece of iron wrapped with wires through which the current of a single cell battery was sent. In a matter of decades, electric telegraph networks permitted people and commerce to almost instantaneously transmit messages across continents, resulting in widespread social and economic changes.
According to Tom Standage, author of the Victorian Internet, the Internet was precipitated by the invention of the eclectic telegraph. Standage recounts the tale of Samuel F.B. Morse, who in 1842 demonstrated a working telegraph between two committee rooms of the Capitol in Washington to Congress, who in turn reluctantly voted to provide $30,000 for an experimental line to Baltimore, with a winning vote of 89-83, with 70 abstaining “to avoid the responsibility of spending public money for a machine they could not understand.” By 1850, Standage states there were 12,000 miles of telegraph line in the US and twice that amount two years later. In 1858, according to Standage, news of the first transatlantic cable led to predictions of world peace and an end to old prejudices and hostilities. Standage examines the parallels between the language used to describe the telegraph during it’s formative years, against the language used to describe the Internet during the late twentieth century, pointing to some interesting connections and conclusions. Furthermore, Standage resituates the uses of the telegraph – for instant message routing, social networking (between Morse operators – with gossiping and even marriage proposals sent via the telegraph), cryptography, text coding, abbreviated language slang, network security experts, hackers, wire fraud, mailing lists, spamming, e-commerce and stock exchange minute by minute reports (through the ticker tape invented by Edison) – as relatable to the Internet as it is known presently. These comparisons led Standage to refer to the 19th century telegraphic network as the “Victorian Internet.”
It can therefore be argued that Internet in the twenty-first century solidified the image of the network as the dominant form of organization in the popular imaginary, arguably manifest over a century earlier with the development of the electric telegraph. Those such as Marc Tuters, of gpster.net and PhD candidate at the University of Amsterdam, suggests that this is also reflected in the architecture of Buckminster Fuller, well known for his geodesic domes, as well as within the ethos of the 1960s counter culture movement, articulated within Steward Brand’s Whole Earth Catelog. For Tuters, the concept of the network in the popular imaginary led to developments in personal computing and a hacker culture that developed congruently with the official imperial infrastructure of the Internet. Still others including Brian Holmes have linked Situationist aesthetics with the concept of the network in the popular imaginary of the 1960s, “today, the sensory qualities of the derive are mimicked by hyper-linked voyages through the datascapes of the World Wide Web.” What can therefore be deduced is there is no single unifying theory concerning the history or genealogy of the Internet, the World Wide Web, or whatever word or series of words one would like to attribute to this phenomenon of human communication and reality.
But can this be unpackaged even further? Can the Internet be conceived beyond the narrow confines of networked architecture and the World Wide Web? Or, more abstractly, what does it mean to question the very nature of language, be it in the transmission of electromagnetic currents or the very words you are reading on this page? Is there a metaphysics and ontology to communication that can be found microcosmically within Internet? To answer these questions it is important to move past the narrow definition of the Internet as noun, understood as a fixed and formal symbiosis of electrical technology and human interaction, instead describing the Internet as both noun and verb, a kin to its etymology within the word network; whereby the term ‘Internet’ resonates with deeper and more complex meaning in order to be considered a constituent ordering principal of reality. Within this milieu, or rhizomatic set of relations in which the Internet exists as both noun and verb, we can now turn to an analysis of Marx’s concept of the “general intellect”, and its relationship to the concept of machine found in the work of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari.
But, once adopted into the production process of capital, the means of labour passes through different metamorphoses, whose culmination is the machine, or rather, an automatic system of the machinery […] set in motion by an automaton, a moving power that moves itself; this automaton consisting of numerous mechanical and intellectual organs, so that the workers themselves are cast merely as its conscious linkages.
-Karl Marx, Fragments on Machines
On the contrary, we think that the machine must be grasped in an immediate relation to a social body and not at all to a human biological organism. Given this, it is no longer appropriate to judge the machine as a new segment that, with its starting point in the abstract human being in keeping with this development, follows the tool. For human being and tool are already machine parts on the full body of the respected society. The machine is initially a social machine, constituted by the machine-generating instance of a full body and by human being and tools, which are, to the extent that they are distributed on this body, mechanized.
-Gilles Deleuze, Felix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus
If we can accept that the Internet can be considered both as noun and verb, explicitly related to the word ‘network’, could the Internet then also be considered a machine? Taking as a point of departure Gerald Raunig’s section Machine Fragments, also where the two block quotes above appear, the question invariably arises: what then constitutes a machine? The commonplace concept of a machine refers to a technical object, which can be situated in time and space, as well as its usability towards a practical purpose. In general, Marx views the machine as specifically a “means for producing surplus value” inextricably related to the exploitation of the working class. Indeed, the same can be said of the Internet as a discursive field of labour in the context of postfordist or cognitive capitalism. However, as Raunig points out: the concept of the machine, in Latin machina, underwent a change from approximately the 1200 – 1600, wherein the concept became alien to human labour:
The term entered into the German and the English languages through the influence of the French machine as a purely technical term alongside the still existent Latin machina concept and its derivatives. The enormous leap in the development of technical apparatuses and equipment in the 17th and 18th centuries, their dissemination and the knowledge about them in every possible field of society, was followed in the 19th century by the development of an economic dispositif of technical apparatuses, in other words a dispositif of the economic functionality and the exploitation of these apparatuses to increase productivity.
Writing in 1857-58, the Fragments on Machines by Karl Marx analyzes the negative aspects of historical development, at the end of which the machine, unlike the tool, encloses the knowledge and skill of workers, opposing the once scattered workers as a dominant power. Marx situates the division of labour as a precondition for the rise of machines. Here, it is only after human labour has become increasingly mechanized, that the conditions became favorable for the mechanized tasks of the proletariat to be taken over by machines. According to Gerald Raunig:
Marx indicates that the machine itself, in the final stage of the development of the means of labor, not only structuralizes and striates the workers as automaton, as apparatus, as structure, but it is also simultaneously permeated by mechanical and intellectual organs, through which it is successively further developed and renewed.
Indeed for Marx in the Fragments on Machines, the machine does not appear limited to its technical aspects, but rather as Raunig describes as a “mechanical-intellectual-social assemblage.” In effect, for Marx, although the technology and knowledge behind the machine has a negative effect on the workers, the concept of the machine must nevertheless be considered not only a concatenation of technology and knowledge, of mechanical and intellectual organs, but also related to social organs, to the extent that it mobilizes and organizes workers in streamlined coordination. Likewise, the same can be said of the Internet. As this essay has demonstrated, the Internet can dually be considered a sphere dominated by the interests and underlying architecture of €/$/¥, as well as a sphere of transversal rhizomatic resistance deterritorializing concepts of subject hood on and offline. A kin to the ways in which the printing press invented by Guttenberg subverted dominant class structures in the 15th century by printing and disseminating Martin Luther’s 95 Theses, the Internet: as noun and verb, techne and machina, is what Marx referred to when he spoke of the “machine [as] the power of knowledge, objectified.”
Marx’s short Fragments on Machines thus points to the conclusion that knowledge and skill are absorbed into fixed capital as “general productive forces of the social brain,” but also as Raunig suggests, “refers beyond the technical machine and the knowledge objectified in it to social cooperation and communication,”found within the concept of the “general intellect.” For Marx, the linear development from tool (understood as an extension of the human being) to machine (understood as independent and separate from the human being) isolates the productive forces from the social conditions of their application. Viewed from a Classical Marxist perspective, the Internet as machine, noun and verb, tool of human communication, must be seen as a negative technological development leading to workers’ alienation from their means of labour, the process through which machines externally determine workers, and finally the domination of living labour by objectified labour. According to Marx, “in machinery, knowledge appears as alien, external to him [the worker]; and living labour [as] subsumed under self-activating objectified labour.” The Internet as machine in a Classical Marxist sense thus isolates and subsumes individuals, contemporaneously interpolating them into computational control and surveillance societies. I suspect Evegeny Morozov would approve.
But, what about Marx’s concept of the “general intellect”, can this concept possibly point to an emancipatory conception of the Internet, apart from its negative connotations as alienating through Marx’s concept of the machine? Many Italian Marxist theorists including Paolo Virno have given attention to the importance of the section in the Grundrisse, the Fragments on Machines, the sole place in Marx’s entire oeuvre where the term ‘general intellect’ is used. In Notes on the General Intellect, Virno discusses the emergence of a new political potentiality; due to the fact general intellect does not primarily reside in the machinery but in the bodies of living subjects. Echoing this stance and in the Appendix to Anti-Oedipus, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari not only develop a “Programmatic Balance for Wish Machines,” but also write, in direct contrast to Marx, their own machine concept relating to the general intellect. What this involves is not a figurative or even metaphorical reissuance of the machine as concept; instead it is an attempt to reinvent the term at a distance from its everyday use as well as its use by classical Marxist scholars, according to Deleuze and Guattari:
We do not presuppose the metaphorical use of the word machine, but rather a (indistinct) hypothesis about its origins: the way in which arbitrary elements are made to be machines through recursion and communication.
Here the general intellect takes on a different genealogy, inclusive of the pre-modern understanding of the Latin machina, in which the separation between the natural and mechanical is irrelevant. Imagined beyond this linear conception of the machine put forth by Marx, Deleuze and Guattari posit the term machine as no longer a mere function in a series imagined beginning with the tool, as it is for Marx. Rather, similar to the way the concept of techne was used in antiquity as both material object and practice, for Deleuze and Guattari the machine is in a similar vein not solely an instrument of work, through which the general intellect is absorbed or enclosed, as conceived by Marx. Instead of placing tool and machine in a linear series, Deleuze and Guattari seek a more nuanced definition. This conception of the machine put forth by Deleuze and Guattari opens up an entirely new discourse concerning the machine (understood in relation to the Internet within the concept of the general intellect and the breakdown of its verb/noun distinction), opening up different concatenations, connections and couplings: “There is no such thing as either man or nature now, only a process that produces the one within the other and couples the machines together.” Thus for Deleuze and Guattari the machine takes on a symbiotic role in relation to the human being, not something that simply extends or replaces the human being as for Marx, but rather indicative of a new man/machine ontology:
It is no longer a matter of confronting man and machine to estimate possible or impossible correspondences, extensions and substitutions of the one or the other, but rather of conjoining the two and showing how man becomes a piece with the machine or with other things in order to constitute a machine.
Therefore the Internet should not be analyzed as an isolated homogenous linear historical development in communication, but rather is best conceptualized as indicative of the man/machine ontological symbiosis, the epitome of the general intellect in combination with techne, a network of decentralized computer nodes facilitating human interactivity.
Conceiving of the Internet within the framework of Deleuze and Guattari is not a novel or original idea. George Landow’s 1994 book Hyper/Text/Theory, contained several chapters that apply Deleuze and Guattari’s rhizome model to hypertext theory and ideas concerning the Internet. As well, Stuart Moulthrop’s Rhizome and Resistance: Hypertext and the Dreams of a New Culture borrows ideas from A Thousand Plateaus on “The Smooth and the Striated.” Moulthrop’s piece includes a section called “Smooth and Striated Writing Spaces”, in which striated space is defined as:
The domain of routine, specification, sequence, and causality. Phenomenologically, it consists of the world of perception as processed by the coordinate grid or some other geometric structure into a set of specified identities. Socially, striated space manifests itself in hierarchical and rule-intensive cultures, like the military, the corporation, and the university.
For Moulthorp, smooth space, on the other hand, is associated with:
(…) defined dynamically, in terms of transformation instead of essence. Thus, one’s momentary location is less important than one’s continuing movement or line of flight; this space is by definition a structure for what does not yet exist. Smooth social structures include ad hoc or populist political movements, cooperatives, communes, and some small businesses, subcultures, fandoms, and undergrounds.
“Smooth space and striated space – nomad space and sedentary space,” are decisively termed by Deleuze and Guattari and applied to technological, musical, maritime, mathematical, physical and aesthetic models of enablement. As a model of transversal rhizomatic resistance, the work of CAE and EDT can be considered microassemblages of nomadic poesis, traversing the striated space of the ‘imperial infrastructure’ with the smooth space of electronic civil disobedience, back and forth, back and forth.
In Rhizomes, Nomads, and Resistant Internet Use, author and communications researcher Stefan Wray observes:
Resistant Internet use follows a lineage of earlier forms of resistant media application. All types of mediated communication technology print, telegraph, telephone, radio, film, television – have at times been instruments for collective acts of resistance. Resistant media use in moments of revolutionary social upheaval ranges from the application of the printing press in the 1525 German Peasant War to the use of the fax machine in the 1989 Chinese student movement.
Wray elucidates on the influence of Deleuze and Guattari within the praxis of CAE and EDT, suggesting the duo’s conception of smooth and striated space as principally influential. Indeed, it can be argued that their influential text Electronic Civil Disobedience, exists principally to put forth tactile possibilities for nomadic resistance against the suffocating encroachment of €/$/¥. Wray states, “this second work [Electronic Civil Disobedience] by CAE focuses less on an explanation of nomadic power and more on the tactics of nomadic resistance.” Several passages contained within Electronic Civil Disobedience pertain to this at length:
One essential characteristic that sets late capitalism apart from other political and economic forces is its mode of representing power: What was once a sedentary concrete mass has now become a nomadic electronic flow. Before computerized information management, the heart of institutional command and control was easy to locate [….] Even though the monuments of power still stand, visibly present in stable location, the agency that maintains power is neither visible nor stable […] Blocking the entrances to a building, or some other resistant action in physical space, can prevent reoccupation (the flow of personnel), but this is of little consequence so long as information-capital continues to flow.
In conclusion, this essay has examined several discursive threads of the Internet and forms of ECD. It is my hope that this essay appears as a map of transversal multiplicities channeling Deleuze and Guattari and further situating the praxis of Critical Art Ensemble and Electronic Disturbance Theatre within an activist/interventionist/nomadic paradigm of artistic production. In so doing, this essay has attempted to provide contrasting views where possible. Namely, those belonging to Karl Marx and Evgengy Morozov, in order to provide the reader with proper context and information in which to formulate his or her own opinion on the nature and existence of the Internet. Questions the reader may invariably consider: does the Internet serve the dominant transnational capitalist class? Or does the Internet serve the working/proliterariat/99% class? Or is the question best situated pluarlistically intermezzo, as I would argue. Furthermore, with recent pieces of proposed legislation including SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect Intellectual Property Act) in the United States, as well as Bill C-30 in Canada, and multinational policy proposals including ACTA (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement), there is, as Sara Bannerman suggests, an “increasing importance to remain vigilant and cognizant of issues concerning net neutrality.” Against these issues, one might ponder an ethics of engagement pertaining to different forms and contexts of ECD. Indeed as Edward Said – forever the humanist – rightfully considered, “what is critical consciousness at bottom if not an unstoppable predilection for alternatives?” These lines of flight could include a reexamination of the work of Henry David Thoreau, abolitionist, philosopher and author of Civil Disobedience, published in 1849. Finally, this essay is a step forward in bridging the ideas of Deleuze and Guattari and applying them to the discursive fields of Communication Studies, as well, through a detailed analysis of Critical Art Ensemble, the study of Art History. More work could be developed bridging subjects of analysis in Communication Studies and Art History with the ideas of Deleuze and Guattari, particularly, forms of artistic practice in relation to deterritorialized nomadic striated spatial excerises of electronic civil disobedience. Art History + Communication Studies ÷ Deleuze and Guattari.
-Peace to all the Lumpenproletariats, unite.
Dizzy F Richard, Hamilton, Ontario, 2012