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Machinic Modulations: New Cultural Theory & Technopolitics,

Editor: John Armitage
Publisher: London, UK: Taylor & Francis, 1999
Review Published: August 2000

 REVIEW 1: Mark Andrejevic
 REVIEW 2: M. Michael Schiff

"From Machinic Modulations to Cybercultural Struggles?"

I must say that I was most surprised and delighted to receive David Silver's e-mail from the Resource Center for Cyberculture Studies (RCCS) at the University of Maryland informing me that RCCS had selected the issue of Angelaki I recently edited as the book of the month for August 2000.

Nor did I realise that Ph.D. students Mark Andrejevic's and M. Michael Schiff's separate reviews emanating from the USA and Canada respectively would turn out to be so much in tune with my own thoughts and influences with regard to cybercultural studies. There can be little doubt that David chooses his reviewers with care if Mark and Michael's reviews of Angelaki 4, 2, September 1999, Machinic Modulations: New Cultural Theory & Technopolitics are any guide.

As Mark and Michael rightly point out, the aim of the collection is to provide an international response to contemporary developments in cultural theory and, in particular, the acceleration of cyberculture. But the volume is also centrally concerned with the question of whether cybernetic machines and postmodern cultural theories of technology are now yielding to new hypermodern theories and the emergence of technopolitics? Given such a starting point, my vision of the issue focused primarily on the work of those whose writings are informed by Continental philosophy and the critical spirit. That is, on the thought of authors influenced by Marx and Debord, Derrida, Nietzsche, Baudrillard, Virilio, Deleuze, Haraway, Latour and Stelarc.

For it seemed to me that the project required the input of Marxist, Situationist, post-Marxist, poststructuralist, postmodern and hypermodern thinkers and artists. Consequently, McKenzie Wark and Alastair Bonnett joined Joanne Roberts and Manuel Castells, while James Der Derian and Roy Boyne linked up with Arthur and Marilouise Kroker, Mike Gane, Paul Virilio, Friedrich Kittler, Mike Weinstein and Louise K. Wilson. Clearly, as M. Michael Schiff suggests, these are currently the leading members of "the academic powerhouse and artistic pantheon" of cyberculture. Indeed, for Michael, these initial contributors to Machinic Modulations represent "the best of our time at the intersection of cultural theory, politics, and technology."

However, as editor, I was not simply interested in new cultural theory for its own sake. For me, cultural theory without political practice, like cultural practice without political theory, is a truly pointless pursuit. It is the academic equivalent of writing a cookbook with the express intent of never making or sharing a meal derived from its contents. In a world already replete with starvation, the celebrity chefs of high theory sometimes have an unappetising and rather too frequent tendency to squabble over whose recipe best represents the idea of food. Meanwhile, beyond the pristine kitchens of the exclusive restaurant in the Grand Hotel on the edge of the abyss, the bellboys and the scullery maids realised long ago that, as Hakim Bey puts it somewhere, one cannot eat information. It is for these reasons that I wanted the issue to concern itself with, to coin an old but still important phrase, Heidegger's "question concerning technology," or, in the contemporary era, the question concerning technopolitics. It was, then, a matter of questioning technological globalisation and democracy from a variety of radical political perspectives encompassing Douglas Kellner's critical theory and Hakim Bey's anarchy, Verena Andermatt Conley and Mark Dery's take on cyberfeminism and Patrick Crogan and T. Hugh Crawford's poststructuralism. In sum, the aim of Machinic Modulations is, in M. Michael Schiff's evocative phrase, to provide a "crash course" in new cultural theory and technopolitics. How successfully the aim of the volume has been achieved is of course ultimately not a matter for its editor or for its contributors but for its reviewers and its readers.

Riders on the Storm -- of Progress

Having said that, I do believe that Mark Andrejevic's and M. Michael Schiff's individual reviews of Machinic Modulations have caught the political mood not only in the English-speaking world more generally but also in the particular cybercultural world of critical cultural theory and technopolitics.

For me, the most immediate task in the present period is to develop new concepts such as "hypermodernism." Why? Because such ideas are founded on a recognition that Deleuzian "deterritorilisation," machinic modulation and "recombination" are all useful approaches to a genuinely critical technopolitics in the era of what Phil Graham has recently called "hypercapitalism."

Moreover, I think that the majority of the contributors to Machinic Modulations would wholeheartedly concur with Mark Andrejevic when he asserts that technology, theory and politics are key components of "culture as a site of struggle" Challenging theoretically dominant discourses and political complacency are issues of academic and practical engagement, issues of uniting and re-uniting theory and praxis. Making a deterritorialised critique of globalised hypercapitalism and its speeding vectors of acceleration and domination is crucial if we are to open up the possibilities for change. But who among what I call the "(s)lower classes" today wants to question and challenge the "global kinetic elite," those deterritorialised landlords of speed, with only a single tactic or strategy?

Virilio, the original "archeologist of the future" and the John Connor of "terminator" gene technologies, for example, reduces such contemporary cultural, theoretical, technological and political questions into one in the very first line of his recent book, The Information Bomb (London: Verso, 2000): "The civilianization or militarization of science?" Let us, along with Virilio and the other contributors to Machinic Modulations, start to resolve these questions by clearing away the wreckage of "crash culture" and, after "the battle for Seattle," pull the caravan on to the highways and byways of "hypermodernity" and throw the gearshift of resistance into overdrive. Next stop? "Biotech City" -- the capital of the 21st Century.

It is, as Kevin Robins, Nicholas Zurbrugg, Mark Little and the Critical Art Ensemble and numerous other contributors to Machinic Modulations note, a question of cybercultural struggle as much as cybercultural studies. What is at issue right now is the question of resistance and, crucially, new forms of technopolitical resistance. As Virilio told me recently: "Resistance is always possible! But we must engage in resistance first of all by developing the idea of a technological culture." The possibilities of resistance are, as the Network of Alternative Resistance proclaims, therefore fertile not futile. Challenging the technological fixations of the sales representatives of cultural and political alienation along with the local agents of global or "pancapitalist" power brokers is the beginning of the end of the passive approach to technopolitics. It is, though, as Cathryn Vasseleu argues in Machinic Modulations, absolutely vital to keep "open the question concerning technology." As the Situationists declared all those years ago, "we can comprehend this world only bycontesting it." One of the myriad ways in which we can begin to comprehend and contest it today is to create our own journal of theory but one that is operating within the context of praxis, our own Internationale Situationniste, Cybercultural Struggles perhaps?

John Armitage

John Armitage


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