Patrick Lichty: Zoom Burnout, Teletopics and the Age of Covid

Agony and the Ecstasy: Zoom Burnout, Teletopics and the Age of Covid by Patrick Lichty

The era of Covid lockdown is Zoom-time. Although at the time of this writing, the crest of the wave is starting to pass, its impact is evident. In over three months of lockdown, stay at home, 24/7 Zoom culture has come to dominate global telepresent communications, standing in for ever-present cyber-vernissages, online conferences, talks and visits. The need to work, communicate, and even socially function has necessitated the rise of platforms like Zoom and Adobe Connect[1], and what I have come to understand as platform politics and their neoliberal connotations.  Although places like The Well was founded and John Perry Barlow’s “Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace” [2] was created under the notion of cyberfreedom and fluid congregation outside of the agendas of capital, the Covid pandemic has created a scenario where the private sector has found tenterhooks into the foundations of institutional communications. This is not to say that Social Media (sic) does not do this, but one of the differences I want to allude to is the institution-in-itself (e.g. Facebook) as opposed to platform as channel of communication for institutions themselves.

Unlike a public utility, Zoom, as well as others like Adobe Connect and Facebook Rooms, are portals in which institutions found a necessity for network that was not facilitated by a commons, but by corporations, and by agendas of maximizing connections and communications. These two effects (institutional adoption of private protocols)[3] and the necessity of a will-to-connect)  are the poles in which capital has pushed further into the control regimes of markets, networks, and political engineering as to where private interests further govern sociocultural concerns. It even got the UAE to release its national ban on VoIP communications, which is usually fairly rigid[4], as it provides a significant revenue stream. Such a comment isn’t so much about any particular country, but the effect that Zoom has had on global communication under the Covid crisis.


Fig. 1 – The next Zoom Generation (Stock Photo, Shutterstock)

The idea of having online platforms be the lens for focusing social interaction isn’t new. Second Life, with its inherently capitalist foundations tried to tout itself as the 3D World Wide Web, almost like an analogy to the 3D Internet analogue in the Robert Longo movie, “Johnny Mnemonic”[5].  With the neoliberal dream of the Linden Dollar superceding John Perry Barlow’s Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace, FOMO-driven corporations from Domino’s Pizza to American Apparel flooded into the platform.  Christian von Borries’ documentary, “The Dubai in Me,[6] imperfectly compares financial speculative evangelism between Second Life and the ‘Dubai Miracle’, much of which operated on the notion of rotating real estate speculation. For some time, this was reflected in Second Life, when the mythology of Chinese real estate trader Anshe Cheung  (FIG.1) announced that she had made her first million dollars on virtual real estate[7].

However, the differences between a foundation based on a technology (HTTP) and that based on a single-provider platform that clusters technologies under a single provider (Second Life), in that a provider (Linden Labs) takes a majority of the profit, and that the upsurge of traffic caused multiple technical issues, caused most of those glittering dreams to collapse within 2-3 years. Corporation after corporation pulled out of SL, and or years articles announced its demise.[8] With the Covid crisis, Second Life is in a resurgence, but this is driven by its community; not corporate buy-in. Another difference is that while the interaction with the World Wide Web is relatively simple, Second Life required a relatively powerful machine and at least a couple days learning SL’s rather cumbersome interface. In interaction and commerce design, the rule is that the least friction yields the greatest returns.

Fig. 1. Anshe Chung – First Millionaire in Second Life (Image published under Fair Use)

The socio(economic) frictionlessness is actually one of the more problematic points with platforms like Zoom, or Adobe Connect, and so on.  In the artworld, the friction that artists thought had to happen was a value proposition based on an exclusivity or access to an event or an object.  In cities large enough to have a community that harbors a consistent local art “scene” (e.g. Dubai, Istanbul, Tehrran, even Chelsea NYC), there are effects that come along with this social cohesion. Taking this in mind, with accessibility comes the expectation to attend.  Once you are there and become part of the scene, there are expectations to be met, places to go and to be seen. This is a crucial point – the demand to see and be seen. If a community like the art world, that in part is dependent on personal engagement, having access implies a demand to engage. Further linkage to privilege in the case of Zoom is multilayered, from communities that wish to engage, and from the company, wishing to focus social capital through its portal.  These sites of privilege include the access to equipment itself, and the fact that in order to have longer than 40-minute meeting access, one has to pay a fee to Zoom. This imposes another financial protocological layer beyond the assumed internet utility charge.

What is important about this will-to-access is not that it is from the community; it is resultant from the platform as well. These effects are the result of Galloway’s protocological layers in the sociotechnological network. The first layer of a demand-to-access is the expectation to attend by those in the mis-en-scene – but the other is that of the platform itself. In the end, the platform is a cybernetic system that is a control apparatus and a form of Deleuzian regime of control[9].  Although Adobe Connect has also been adopted widely (there is an understanding that it may go offline due to its dependence on Flash technology, which is being phased out by Apple), the frictionlessness of the Zoom platform has allowed it to be quickly adopted by the institutional community.  Again, without having a professional account, interactions are limited to 40 minutes.  This reiterates the socioeconomic limits to access to further neoliberalization of communications.  The emergence of a solution in a panic event-space mitigates an acritical adoption in light of necessity. The notion of panic adoption has resulted in the institutionalization of Zoom as one de facto standard without full best practices development.  There is a need, there has to be a solution, and the market supplies one, and it has to be adopted as soon as possible.  Just Do It.

The other challenge with post-COVID networked society is that the notion of access falls under the panoptic optical regime of neoliberal capitalism.  What this means is that, as Sara Cook noted in the discussions surrounding the Sleep Mode exhibition at Somerset House,[10] that internal documents by companies like Facebook consider sleep a challenge to their business model of attention optics. The show described sleep itself as a tactic against neoliberal infocapitalism’s need to consume and convert every possible resource into use-value. In another text, Event Horizons,[11] I describe that even if sleep were to be conquered, there would be the Malthusian limit of the sidereal day itself. How do you multiply the cognitive load of the attention span of one human being as convertible labor once the physical limits of the system are reached. Perhaps there are exotic solutions like parallel cognitive loading across multiple machines, monitor arrays like the bridge of the hovercraft Nebuchadnezzar from the 1999 movie, The Matrix.[12] Perhaps there are even more abstract metaphors likening the deterioration of attention to the evaporation of a black hole due to Hawking Radiation – but the reality is far more simple. A human being is simply not going to stay awake 24 hours a day to comment on your cat video, and taken to extremes, we simply cannot fulfill Zoom’s, Second Life’s, or whoever’s desire for us to be alone together constantly, forever public, forever panoptic.  It is an ontological equivalent to the 2008 financial collapse – expectations for access, like capital productivity, continue to balloon until all methods to appease the machines collapse, mitigating solutionism.[13]

It’s just not going to happen. Computers, and digital networks for that matter, are simply not sustainable technologies.

With the Covid crisis in the foreground, and the Climate crisis looming behind it, the sociocultural terrain has changed.  With the Coronavirus not going anywhere soon, and the automation of the labor-site, even if that labor is merely visibility, collapsing into the home, institutions see no need to be entirely physical anymore, and like the “gig” economy, investiture in the physical space is no longer entirely necessary.  Therefore look for a more “hybrid” ontology.

Relating to New Media Art of the 1990’s, There are some parallels largely minus the capital, when the network was the necessary channel for connection, then due to the small size of the community, now due to the necessity to distance.  But the frictions of infrastructural support are less with the privately funded model of Zoom.  In the neoliberal environment, when governments pull away from funding of infrastructures, favoring market politics, the ability to link capital to the network facilitates the platform. Period. Even incrementally, with minimal cost, this is a wringing out capital from the socioeconomic frame of need to solution, and Zoom life is the solution.

It’s a cost-benefit solution. Online portals like Zoom that create less frictioned telepresence give access to more programmes, create more opportunity to interact by the screen. But on the other hand, there is the pressure to take ten classes a month, be at twenty vernissages, call ten friends, up your productivity tenfold – from your home. A 2020 Washington Post article cites a National Bureau of Economic Research paper stating that the average American work week increased 48 minutes a day, and that meetings went up 13%.[14] And of course, this extra time behind screens will take mental and physical tolls in the techno-enabled world, like “Zoom anxiety”.[15]

It’s a win-win for neoliberal culture. Actually, it’s back to “The Matrix”, where we are tied into our scopophilic pods, viewing and being viewed. Zoom as new Panopticon, regulated by the frictions of the platform, epidemiology, and socioeconomic politics. As this writer sees the age of 60 on the horizon, speaking from a personal perspective, the cost-benefit of being increasingly online has not always realized itself, and in moving back to America in 2021 from the United Arab Emirates, there is a desire to be truly “hybrid”, that is to say, more engaged with the real, like more family time, friends, cooking, seeing nature, and being physically present.  This is also ironic in that VR artists are becoming more obsessed with realism through programs like Substance and ultra high rez scans, as can be seen on the Unreal Marketplace, an asset space for game-engine based media developers.[16] Reaching back into the real from the “Desert of the Real”.[17]

Fig. 3 “Welcome to the Desert of the Real”, Meme. (Author unknown, published under Fair Use guidelines)

But from this writer’s perspective, this is the frission that venturing closer to the event horizon of total access leads towards; the lure of connectedness while being paralyzed at the computer screen. In Virilio’s “The Third Interval”, from his volume. “Open Sky”,[18] he discusses the impact of networked presence on the body and the urban environment.  The notion of critical mass in the context of the lived environment is presented as analogy to develop the idea of critical space, in which the teletopia eliminated the body’s movement. He dates himself in centering on the megalopolis, where the Covid crisis points toward a return to the countryside, maybe not for the agricultural class, but the telematic class.

While the motor created a general mobilization of the population, collapsing space[19], telematic communication only requires the individual to be mobile on the spot. “Interactive desktop home shopping today”, as was coopted from a British advertisement for this writer’s Haymarket Riot Web series of critical rock videos[20], echoes paleofuturist ideas of pushbutton living, or even the idea of Holodeck technology from television shows like Star Trek: The Next Generation.[21] The conquest of real space by the motor, as Virilio states, is replaced by the control of real time with the frozen, instantaneous 24/7 access of the network.  Stephen Graham, in his introduction to Third Interval,[22] writes provocatively that the model for the future is that of the online disabled citizen; the paralyzed body that is saturated by endless telematic mobilities. While Virilio takes the critical stance toward this movement, contemporary Covid culture at least seems to be seeing the new teletopia with a more idealistic view.

The metaphor for the online disabled individual, constantly seen and viewed, frozen by the will to access, with neoliberal social media desiring the eyeball’ attention, leaves it to be constantly pointed at the screen, like a contemporary version of the scene from Kubrick’s adaptation of A Clockwork Orange.[23] This leaves the McLuhanist individual of the electronic global village in a conundrum of the benefits of immobility, and the instrumentalization by neoliberal capitalism. Having everything you would want from your own Matrix pod is the existential paradox of Zoom-life. The teletopia is the new meme-dream, as long as one accepts its regimes of control and the technical, social and political blind spots that come with it. It is also a site of resistance, as it is neoliberal forces that encourage this effect, and as Sarah Cook suggested, perhaps sleep, managing willful disconnection and social intentionality are the things that will shape the post-Covid culture.  For the time being, the telematic necessity forces humanity’s lifeblood through the funnel of the online telecommunications portal, but the approach to the event horizon of the 86400 second a day attention span event horizon, reconsidering quality of life versus being servile to services begs questions in the time of Covid and the Zoom-time burnout.

References:

[1] Although at the writer’s institution Adobe Connect was discontinued; apparently this was just licensing, but as Adobe’s discontinuation of support for the Flash technology takes place at the end of 2020, the future of the platform is in question.

[2] J.P. Barlow, Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace. Davos: Electronic Frontier Foundation. 1996.

[3] Alexander R. Galloway. “Protocol: How Control Exists After Decentralization” Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 2004.

[4] Bernd Debusmann. VoIP Services Banned in UAE, Telecoms Warn. ArabianBusiness.com, ArabianBusiness.com, 31 Dec. 2017, www.arabianbusiness.com/technology/386703-voip-services-banned-in-uae-telecoms-warn.

[5] Longo, Robert, William Gibson, Peter M. Hoffman, Don Carmody, Keanu Reeves, Dolph Lundgren, Takeshi Bīto, Ice-T, Dina Meyer, Denis Akiyama, Henry Rollins, Tracy Tweed, Don Francks, Barbara Sukowa, and William Gibson. Johnny Mnemonic. Culver City, CA: Tri-Star Pictures, 2003.

[6] Christian Von Borries, THE DUBAI IN ME – Rendering the World. Masseundmacht, Film, 2010.

[7] Roger Parloff, Anshe Chung: First Virtual Millionaire. Fortune, Fortune, 27 Nov. 2006, fortune.com/2006/11/27/anshe-chung-first-virtual-millionaire/.

[8] Rather than include one of the endless articles that heralded one of the many gleeful announcements of Second Life’s “demise” (an effect that I attribute to the corporate sector’s bitterness on a failed ROI). included is an article on its persistence. Emanuel Maiberg, “Why Is ‘Second Life’ Still a Thing?, 2020, www.vice.com/en_us/article/z43mwj/why-is-second-life-still-a-thing-gaming-virtual-reality.

[9] Patrick Lichty.  Notes on Control by Patrick Lichty. Arebyte Gallery, 2018, www.arebyte.com/notes-on-control.

[10] Sarah Cook. Sleep Mode Broadcast. Somerset House – Sleep Mode Broadcast, Somerset House , 23 June 2020, www.somersethouse.org.uk/whats-on/sleep-mode-broadcast.

[11] At this time, Event Horizons is currently a set of notes in development on the limits of the leverage of human attention and strategies of resistance.

[12] The Matrix. Village Roadshow, Film, 1999.

[13] Robert Reich. director. Who Rigged the System, 27 June 2018, www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y_sjfchNsiM.

[14] As an academic who had to adjust to Covid-19 situations abroad, McGregor’s appraisal seems extremely accurate, or even somewhat modest. McGregor, Jena. Remote Work Really Does Mean Longer Days – and More Meetings. The Washington Post, WP Company, 4 Aug. 2020, www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/08/04/remote-work-longer-days/.

[15] Constant online interaction has created new classes of pathology, like Isolation Sickness and Zoom Anxiety. Degges-White, Suzanne. Dealing With Zoom Anxiety. Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 13 Apr. 2020, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/lifetime-connections/202004/dealing-zoom-anxiety.

[16] The irony of this is that this quote came from one of the endless processions of online conferences that “Zoom-time” has facilitated, providing almost more insights and information than can be tracked.

[17] Although this quote, coined in the “Construct” scene of “The Matrix” is often attributed to Jean Baudillard in relation to his text, “Simulations and Simulacra”, it is actually the title of a title of Lacanian media theorist, Slavoj Zizek. Welcome to the Desert of the Real. Verso Books, 2013.

[18] Paul Virilio, “The Third Interval” The Cybercities Reader, by Stephen Graham, Routledge, 2004.

[19] The notion of spatial collapse through the technological acceleration of the body through the motor in the form of transportation technology the central theme of  Paul Virilio, “The Art of the Motor” University of Minnesota Press, 1998.

[20] While Haymarket Riot is a progressive Southern Rock band founded in the 1980’s by frequent creative partner, sociologist Jon Epstein, during the 1990’s, it changed to an Industrial genre trio with Sam Seawell, in which I created a series critical/tactical theory rock videos that were inserted into American graduate sociology programs as a early tactical media intervention. The quote was included in the first of the “Web” series, “The Voice of World Control” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-CIvqdVUH34&list=PLFrQ2uiujisaR7OuJOenh-bU65CbdcOMW&index=6&t=142s

[21]  “Star Trek – The Next Generation, Episode 13: The Big Goodbye. Video, Paramount, January 11, 1988.

[22] Actually, Graham does “The Third Interval” a service in teasing out the notion of the online disabled individual in the introduction, which is only inferred in the original Virilio text.

[23] Stanley Kubrick and Anthony Burgess. A Clockwork Orange. Los Angeles: Warner Bros, 1971.

Biliography:

J.P. Barlow, “A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace”. Davos: Electronic Frontier Foundation. 1996.

Sarah Cook, “Sleep Mode Broadcast.” Somerset House – Sleep Mode Broadcast, Somerset House , 23 June 2020, www.somersethouse.org.uk/whats-on/sleep-mode-broadcast.

Bernd Debusmann, “VoIP Services Banned in UAE, Telecoms Warn.” ArabianBusiness.com, ArabianBusiness.com, 31 Dec. 2017, www.arabianbusiness.com/technology/386703-voip-services-banned-in-uae-telecoms-warn

Alexander R. Galloway, Protocol: How Control Exists After Decentralization. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 2004.

Stanley Kubrick and Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange. Los Angeles: Warner Bros, 1971.

Patrick Lichty, “Text: Notes on Control by Patrick Lichty.” Arebyte Gallery, 2018, www.arebyte.com/notes-on-control.

Robert Longo, William Gibson, Peter M. Hoffman, Don Carmody, Keanu Reeves, Dolph Lundgren, Takeshi Bīto, Ice-T, Dina Meyer, Denis Akiyama, Henry Rollins, Tracy Tweed, Don Francks, Barbara Sukowa, and William Gibson. Johnny Mnemonic. Culver City, CA: Tri-Star Pictures, 2003.

Emanue Maiberg, Why Is ‘Second Life’ Still a Thing?, 2020, www.vice.com/en_us/article/z43mwj/why-is-second-life-still-a-thing-gamling-virtual-reality.

“The Matrix.” Village Roadshow, Film, 1999.

Jena McGregor. “Remote Work Really Does Mean Longer Days – and More Meetings.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 4 Aug. 2020, www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/08/04/remote-work-longer-days/.

Roger Parloff,.“Anshe Chung: First Virtual Millionaire.” Fortune, Fortune, 27 Nov. 2006, fortune.com/2006/11/27/anshe-chung-first-virtual-millionaire/.

Robert Reich. Who Rigged the System. Who Rigged The System, 27 June 2018, www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y_sjfchNsiM.

“Star Trek – The Next Generation, Episode 13: The Big Goodbye. Video, Paramount, January 11, 1988

Paul Virilio, The Art of the Motor, University of Minnesota Press, 1998.

Paul Virilio, Paul. “The Third Interval, .” The Cybercities Reader, by Stephen Graham, Routledge, 2004.

Christian Von Borries. director. THE DUBAI IN ME – Rendering the World. Masseundmacht, Film, 2010.

Slavoj Zizek. Welcome to the Desert of the Real. Verso Books, 2013.

Vulnérabilités, santé et société en Afrique contemporaine. Expériences plurielles

Sous la direction de Bouma Fernand Bationo et Augustin Palé

Pour accéder au livre en version html, cliquez ici.
Pour télécharger le PDF, cliquez ici.
Pour commander le livre en version imprimée, écrivez à info@editionscienceetbiencommun.org.

Acheter un livre, c’est nous soutenir et permettre à ceux et celles qui ne peuvent l’acheter de le lire en libre accès.

Comment, en Afrique francophone, comprendre la vulnérabilité médicale de personnes ou de groupes sociaux au regard de leur genre, de leur âge ou de leur statut socioéconomique? Quelles stratégies déployer pour endiguer les facteurs qui fragilisent la santé et l’accès aux soins de santé des plus vulnérables? L’intérêt des sciences sociales pour la notion de vulnérabilité n’a fait que s’amplifier durant la dernière décennie. Cet ouvrage collectif aborde ce thème en dix contributions d’auteurs et autrices aux profils variés qui, dans leurs travaux de recherche, ont privilégié la parole des patient-e-s et de leurs accompagnant-e-s qui font face à ces vulnérabilités, ainsi que celle du personnel soignant. Les nombreux témoignages permettent de saisir avec plus d’acuité toutes les dimensions non seulement sanitaires, mais également historiques, socioculturelles, économiques, relationnelles, juridiques qui interviennent dans la vulnérabilisation des individus et des populations face aux questions de santé. Les différents chapitres de cet ouvrage apportent des pistes de réflexion et de solution utiles pour les scientifiques et les soignant-e-s préoccupé-e-s par la réduction des inégalités dans l’accès à un droit fondamental : la santé.

ISBN version imprimée : 978-2-924661-78-9
ISBN ePub : 978-2-924661-80-2
ISBN PDF : 978-2-924661-79-6

DOI :

220 pages
Couverture réalisée par Kate McDonnell, photographie de Florence Piron
Date de publication : mai 2020

Table des matières

Préface. La vulnérabilité : un concept émancipatoire ou un vii modèle politique contrôlant?
Maryvonne Charmillot

Introduction – Bouma Fernand Bationo et Augustin Palé

  1. Femmes atteintes du cancer du col de l’utérus et accès aux 5 soins dans la ville de Ouagadougou
    Salifou Zeba
  2. Vulnérabilité sociale et accouchements en milieu 37 hospitalier dans le district sanitaire de Diapaga
    Joseph Bazié et Bouma Fernand Bationo
  3. Soins palliatifs, vulnérabilité d’accès aux soins cliniques et 51 pratiques populaires émergentes au district sanitaire de
    Nouna
    Hamidou Sanou, Moubassira Kagoné, Ilario Rossi, MauriceYé, et Ali Sié
  4. Perception et riposte au VIH chez les personnes âgées 81 dans la ville de Bobo-Dioulasso
    Adjara Millogo, Anselme Sanon, Abdramane Berthé,
    Blahima Konaté, Isidore Tiandiogo Traoré, et Patrice Toé
  5. Don et consommation néonatale du colostrum 95Pratiques, représentations et enjeux de santé publique au Burkina Faso
    Ludovic Ouhonyioué Kibora et Roger Zerbo
  6. Santé et entreprenariat au féminin. Réflexions sur le cas du 115 Burkina FasoMarie-Thérèse Arcens Somé
  7. Expériences associatives dans l’action publique en faveur 133 des populations vulnérables
    Cas des associations African Solidarité et REVS+ au Burkina
    FasoKamba André Soubeiga
  8. La vulnérabilisation des femmes africaines et séropositives 157 en contexte migratoire
    Laura Mellini, Francesca Poglia Mileti, et Michela Villani
  9. Éduquer et soigner avec Kant : la route éducative vers 177 l’humainFatié Ouattara

Les autrices et les auteurs

Résumés en français

Résumés en dioula – Bakurubafɔ

Résumés en moore

À propos de la maison d’édition

LAVA BRIGADE: LAVA #2 / AIR & EARTH & FIRE

“I was not born to be forced. I will breathe after my own fashion.”
Henry David Thoreau, Resistance to Civil Government.

(Please check the CALL FOR CONTRIBUTIONS for the new issue of LAVA – Letters from the Volcano! https://lavaletters.org/ & https://lavaletters.org/call-def.pdf)

We can’t breathe.

After 50 years of neoliberal barbarism – which has accelerated the necrotic tendencies inherent to the cancerous logic of white growth and colonial and post-colonial depredation –, the resources of the planet, together with the political awareness of (white) humankind in terms of ability to handle the on-going collapse, are running short.

After the mutation and expansion of capitalism metastasis as a way to resist the social movements that have raised worldwide in recent history since ’68, and that have been trying to provide the antibodies to the depraved looting of the planetary body, we’re reaching a global necrotic edge. At this pick, which produces all the symptoms of vertigo (spinning, tilting, swaying, nausea, vomiting, eye jerking, headache, sweating, ear ringing), breathing turns into the root of all other political categories, and the strategy to deal with the panic associated to vertigo.

We can’t breathe.

Social movements in recent history have attempted to articulate a variety of new breathing patterns against the automatic and mechanical hyperventilation enforced by the capital, trying to give a collective body to the millions of brains that across these last 50 years felt they couldn’t breathe at the pace of the planetary slaughter. Carbon dioxide has been taking over the brain of civil society and the lungs of the planet, capitalism hyperventilation has been gobbling all the available oxygen and is now disposing of the zombified body of the collective planetary intelligence and sensitivity as a mere externality. The planetary body is now filled up by the metabolic waste produced by capitalism hyperventilation, and the trillions of human and non-human entities that compose it, are asphyxiating.

We can’t breathe.

We can’t breathe because the expiration phase of planetary capitalism entered a phase of spasm that not only flood the collective human and non-human body with toxic by-products, but also impede the proper inspiration of oxygen to the parts that willingly or not have been almost completely swallowed by the system. This produces awful contraction and neurotic jerks that not only hinder the functioning of the singular body but also its capability to coordinate metabolically and politically with the heterogeneous elements that compose the planetary collective it is part of, and depends upon – and which, ultimately, make it always and from the beginning, plural, and not singular. Inspiration lacks oxygen and inhales poisoned AIR, while the expiration of the human and non-human parts becomes cumbersome because their bronchioles are clogged. As a consequence, the possible conspiration of the multiple bodies which tries to articulate a new breathing pattern is under siege, and the collective body colonized by the capital is either taken by spasms, or paralyzed.

We can’t breathe.

Both spasms and paralysis are revealing the current condition of suffocation, and the challenge ahead consists in finding ways to build an insurrectional politics capable to listening to the spasms and the stiffens: to reticulate the spasms when they converge towards forms of collective and autonomous breathing away from the iron lung of the capital, and to diverge them when they stiffen accelerating the expansion of the cancer they’re the expression of. Jerks and paralysis not only produce spastics movements, but also the internal bleeding of the organs in charge of supporting the vital function of a complex heterogeneous system, both at the individual and collective level, human and non-human alike. The bleeding leaks out from the membranes that contain it, and reveals its incandescent nature.

LAVA spills out at every latitude and longitude, in its human and non-human forms. Do we remember the last spasm and its bleeding? Do we remember the visceral sound of the Volcano exploding, only a few months ago, and its furious LAVA running unchecked, burning everything on its way? Do we remember the fires burning from Australia to California to Siberia to Middle-East and Africa, as a result of capitalism’s ecological devastation, revealing once more the deep gash cutting through the strangled planetary body?

The convulsions of a planet under the pressure of a chocking game gone wrong for too long trigger its incontinence, which bleeds out into a hemorrhaging scream of toxins, and enters into a vicious feedback loop with the human forces that produce them, accelerating the destruction of ecological niche able to support complex forms of life and their diversity and the delicate condition necessary for a virulent and fragile species called humankind. By doing so, these forces turn into subject-less meta-political vectors and become signals for a politics that need to involve from its inception the non-human breathing pattern our seemingly “own” is indissolubly bound to, to turn them as symptoms of a disease and political action and not as accelerators of the catastrophe.

Do we remember the almost simultaneous human spasm which echoed this planetary non-human bleeding? Do we remember the global insurrection that took over more than fifteen countries worldwide in the fall of 2019, during which the exasperated body of an inter-worlding coalition of youngsters attempt to gasp some oxygen out of the gas chamber of global neoliberal barbarism, in contexts as diverse as Chile, Lebanon, France, Hong Kong, and counting? For a moment, the intrusion of the EARTH as a political vector resonated with the violent scream of its human counterpart, and articulated a gasping which lasted long enough to give a glimpse of a new breathing pattern where human and non-human LAVA melted together to become a new ground for FIRE, from where ultimately a new form of life could emerge.

Only a few months ago, the human and non-human LAVA involuntary converged to bleed together with the anguished state of things: capitalism is rotting and it is rotting everything inside of it, capitalism is hyperventilating because its resources are running short: the human/non-human assemblages start giving signs of agony and torment, and capitalism needs to consume them faster and faster wrongly believing it can gobble what’s left to gobble to sustain its accelerated infecting breathe before its sources of breathing can generate the antibodies necessary to regain control over their singularizing breathing. Capitalism doesn’t work differently from cancer, taking over the whole organism part by part to finally consume it until it dies, eventually halting also its own reproduction, and leaving nothing behind for reconstruction. Capitalism is pandemic.

We can’t breathe.

We can’t breathe because the virus of capitalism doesn’t push forward evolution via the transversal recombination of genetic sets, allowing evolutionary jumps that increase diversity exponentially. This is what lysogenic viruses do since before the beginning of life, against the biological myth of autopoiesis, which conceptualizes the livings as individually and independent closed units, mimicking in biology the neoliberal doctrine of individualism at the level of the single organism in the very same way that Darwinism does at the level of the specie. Instead, the virus of capitalism proceeds via necrotic exponential zoonosis that infects living and non-living alike, turning them into ashes. The virus of capitalism produces SARS-CoV-2, a biological virus which is human-engineered not because it is a weapon of biological warfare went out of control, but because if it has been capable to branch out to the world of the humans it is because capitalism has actively destroyed the biological niches from where this virus is coming from, or eradicated from there the animals who carry it, selling their plumes, skins, bones, organs, at the fair of human gratuitous inter-species genocide.

We can’t breathe.

The on-going pandemic expresses the bleeding of the planet by turning the spilling non-human LAVA of the fall of 2019 into an invisible entity capable of permeating humans’ orifices first and later the cells’ membranes whose metabolic filtration allows organisms to survive, hacking their engines, and reproducing endlessly. Like LAVA, SARS-CoV-2 is formless and capable to take the forms it encounters, yet it marks the passage from a visible and incandescent material which is how the LAVA appears with the fire burning and the human upraises during the last fall, into an invisible and rarefied being filling the interstices and the intervals between humans and things, and making them, all of a sudden, visible. SARS-CoV-2 is paradoxical because, by its very invisibility, it makes visible, by its very formlessness, it takes and gives form, turning the explosion of the human and non-human LAVA into its implosive phase, suspending the roaring scream of the explosion by bringing an apparent silence and suspension, turning the magmatic element into something closer to AIR, rather than WATER – to which the human magma have resembled, during the 2019 insurrection.

The non-human LAVA of fires produces clouds of smoke and releases tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, while the human LAVA and its watery, shapeless consistency partly solidifies and partly evaporates, stiffen under the toxic repression of the State or forced to change elemental status after the arrival of the virus, which impede public gatherings and the erotic conjunction of bodies defining the human magma in the fall. The toxic AIR – infested of carbon dioxide, tear gases, and similar chemical weapons – turns even more weaponized by the particles which humans emit while breathing or talking, potentially containing a virus capable to attack other humans and engulf their breathing. The implosion of the Volcano traps the LAVA inside a crust of digital mirrors, outside of which a fully invisible cloud of smoke takes over the world of the humans. SARS-CoV-2 assaults specifically the respiratory traits of human beings, producing shortness of breath difficulty breathing fever chills cough fatigue muscle aches headache new loss of taste and smell sore throat congestion runny nose nausea vomiting diarrhea persistent pain or pressure in the chest confusion inability to wake or stay awake bluish lips or face – roughly making visible to a greater number of people the result of the strangling grip of capitalism.

The disease the virus produces, COVID-19, forces capitalism do slow down, and attacks also the white parts of the world which have been partially screened from capitalist acute damages (or which have been affected at a lesser degree than the poorer parts of the planet), and gives a taste of the on-going conditions of catastrophe non-white humans have been exposed to since a long time. Nevertheless, capitalism manages to react immediately attempting to produce its last virulent mutation, accelerating the production of the alienated and zombified forms of life it requires for its subsistence.

The exogenous colonial orientation which allows the primary accumulation necessary to bootstrap capitalist globalized society – exogenous spatially in the starting process of colonization of faraway lands and people – intensifies lately its endogenous traits (long-lasting in the colonization of the female body, dating way before the exogenous colonial phase) towards minorities and all kind of diversities (bodily, neuronal, and broadly biological and ecosystemic) in both militarized occupation toxic exploitation and normalization of the human (personal and public spaces) of life, as much as of the non-human elements (living and not) that allow him to survive.

Lately, because of the pandemic, the neoliberal barbarism based on designing molecularly the expressivity of desires and its consequent immediate capture and capitalization slow down for a moment in the offline world to intensify in front of the screens: millions of humans are locked up into their houses, interacting only via digital devices that sterilize their bodily fluids and track every single click, while they order compulsively on Amazon or while they stare, terrified, at the dizzying numbers growing exponentially from statistics obsessing over a curve to flatten, without any agency beside that of staring at their screen, and buy more on Amazon.

The LAVA of the fall of 2019 implodes into a hygienist securitarian dystopia which gives form to the last schizophrenic mutation of neoliberal barbarism: on one side, the system wants to open and go back to normal as soon as possible to halt the economic collapse, on the other, it displaces the attention from both essential and non-essential workers being forced to work during the pick of the pandemic (either without proper gears and health coverage, and the latter risking their life not even to provide basic services but simply to allow the rich to get richer), to the need of arresting runners with their dogs, because if you have a dog you’re allowed to go out, because in this last mutation a dog is freer than its owner. In so doing, capitalism injects the policing demon into civil society, which cheerfully supports drones and cops chasing people exercising on empty beaches, forgetting about the non-essential workers dying of COVID and spreading the virus around.

On one side, it gives the right of expression to people willing to open the economy and, as a consequence, to eugenically exterminate the weakest and poorest members of the society, mainly non-white, on the other, everybody else needs to fuck the shut up, and polices each other from the windows when not busy staring at screens, breathing at the rhythm of the next death toll notification.

We can’t breathe.

Although at the beginning of the pandemic crisis, the virus has been ingenuously looked as an ally to the previous phase of volcanic eruption, capable to lock financial markets and global logistics, it became clear quite quickly that the implosion of the Volcano was preparing a phase of a massive transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich, and that the vulnerability of the classes in need would have increased – and that, ultimately, capitalism was attempting its ultimate genetic mutation. For doing so, capitalism needed to attempt its latest massive hyperventilation, depriving the weakest of the last bits of oxygen available, and getting rid of them the same way an infected limb gets chopped off from a moribund organism to increase its possibility of survival.

The cancer of capitalism – cancer that has already transformed itself into a composite, flexible and yet monocultural body –   tries to get rid of the elements it can exploit less or it needs to provide for, so to be able to concentrate its effort to the resilient parts of the body which try to resist it. Mass testing has been avoided pretty much everywhere because capitalism has money to store bombs and weapons but not enough to store reagent or produce and distributes immediately test-kits, and if during a war any kind of factory can turn into a factory of weapons and bombs, during a pandemic which kills the weakest, it cannot turn into a facility to produce masks and ventilators. Yet, capitalism claims it is a war, but only to scare people, enforces security policies which instrumentalize care (of which capitalism doesn’t give a damn, as proven by delaying locking down economy, betting on herd immunity, forcing non-essential workers to go to work), and concentrates wealth.

We can’t breathe.

The human and non-human spasms and stiffens of the last years reveal as Janus-faced, ambiguous, with toxins turning anti-bodies, and vice-versa. When the liberating spasms attempt to free themselves from the strangling of capitalism, they produce and accelerate its very stiffening as the sole necrotic answer of a system that, closed to collapse, cannot handle them differently without otherwise burying itself, and yet paradoxically burying itself (and everything with it, and this is the problem) by doing so, as well. When the stiffening spasms attempt to recompose the rotting pieces of the system – in the form of the allegiances between de-territorialized global capital and localized fascism, which play opposite on the surface but in reality preserve the same structure of power – new insurrectional explosions emerge which try to smooth up the rigor mortis of a walking cadaver and reanimate the parts still capable to breathe enough oxygens to face reality and do something about it.

The implosive phase of the Volcano, in the form of the SARS-COV-2, understood as a non-human force driven by capitalist factors and immediately capitalized by them, served to contain the previous explosive phase in which non-human forces in the form of fires and human forces in the form of insurrections burning up the symbols of capital – from police cars and military vehicles to banks to high-end shops to malfunctioning supposed to be public transportation privatized and turned into speculation engine – were finally producing a spasm capable to synchronize and diverge similarly fashion to how neoliberal barbarism proliferate, and with the same violence.

After a few months of lockdown, which has produced revolutionary stiffens and fascist spasms, a new insurrectional subjectivity seems to emerge at the pick of the necrotic horizon, resilient to vertigo. Playing death during the crisis hoping that the disruptive force of the virus would have helped to unmount some of the bolts of capitalism, didn’t seem to work alone – or, better, did work in the form of acts of refusal such as organized rent strikes or work strikes only once supported by an active agenda which helped these refusals to be sustained in the long term, and sided by pro-active activities such as re-appropriation and re-distributions.

The inflamed WATER of the 2019 fall in its human and EARTH(ly) expressions evaporated into a toxic AIR, where oxygens is taken away and human and non-human beings alike are forced to a form of atomized digitally supported breathing never experienced in history, which accomplished the detaching of the breathing from the planetary body, in a form that resists the endo-symbiotic metabolic laws of the planet, where breathing is circular, cyclical, transversal across beings, heteropoietic, and intrinsically opposed to capitalism forced hyperventilation, covered by an autopoietic dress which masks the heterogeneous elements that instead are necessary for its survival, and which the vest is suffocating collapsing them at an increasing speed, to sustain its growth, a growth which indeed starts to lack its substratum, a growth of mirroring respiratory machines which start exhaling their metabolic waste on each other, covering up their toxicities by cosmetic interventions and botox surgeries appealing crowds on Instagram and Facebook but eventually incapable to resurrect a dead body of which the primary sources are starting to lack.

The toxic AIR can be infused with oxygen again only if the painful spasms of the collective planetary body manages to expropriate enough oxygen from the cancerous cells of the capital to initiate an intra-planetary breathing exercise capable to precipitate a trophic cascade of inter-species ontological eroticism repristinating the cycling equilibrium of intra-respiration. Circulating clean oxygen into the locked coffin of capitalism where the zombified planetary body oscillates between spasms and stiffens will inevitably make the atmosphere inflammable, and produce FIRE. The cancerogenic prison of capital could at that point burn and turn into ashes, and the remnants of the collective planetary body surviving from the final explosion of the Volcano could finally start anew.

Because enough is enough, and we can’t breathe.

After the first pick of the pandemic, FIRE is the new WATER for the fight of a transversal inter/intra-species insurrectional spasm inside an almost completely sealed coffin, of which the last spikes are tentatively nailed down in the upcoming decade. Most likely, the pandemic will hit back, but the securitarian iron spell seems now broken and unable to contain the magmatic rage of the Volcano, and dogs will not be freer than their owners, no more. FIRE erupts again in the world of the humans with the slaughtering of an Afro-American named George Floyd (Rest in Power) by a US pig who has suffocated him for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, and which has prompted the alchemic transformation of toxic AIR into purifying FIRE, fueled by the pressure that the implosion has exercised to the magma which exploded in the fall of 2019, triggering a new explosion.

The upraise of LAVA and of breathing is not a matter of re-composition, as in the wet dreams of white revolutionary theory, but of polyphony, strategic accelerations and slackening, simultaneous disjunctions and conjunctions to resist algorithmic connection and ecological depredation, it is the necessary and extenuating need of constant and daily civic guerrilla within the boiling viscera of the Volcano:

In the concentration camps of Xinjiang.

In the starving crowds of Bogota and Santiago de Chile and Guayaquil forced to protesting and looting, having to choose between risking COVID tomorrow or die of hunger today.

In the Mediterranean graveyard and its coastal concentration camps which have been trying to tame its explosive vitality and the inevitable beginning of a new emerging culture.

In the Hong Kong protesters sharing insurrectional tactics with other movements worldwide and trying to resist the manipulations of a decadent American Empire while fighting an expanding Chinese dystopic nightmare.

In the Beirut Molotov day against financially protected sectarianism. In the prisoners’ upraises of France, Italy, and across Latino-America.

In the foyer of the Gilet Noir, in the Black Live Matter movement burning police stations and looting banks and corporate businesses and re-emerging unpredictably stronger from the rotten-egg-smelling asshole of an increasingly more unequal and fascist United States of America.

In all the places of the planet wracked by anguish and despair slowly but inevitably and at times subconsciously building an insurrectional consciousness as an inevitably survivalist strategy far from the white polite dreams of revolutionary theory.

In the inorganic and haphazard revolts of a wounded planet where the shapeless needs to approach the corpse before re-emerging from the ashes like a phoenix – against the professed normality of glittery silenced and indifferent genocide of difference, against the return to normal and against the new normal. It’s either the survival of one, or the others.

AIR is toxic, and from Eric Garner’s I can’t breathe (another Afro-American chocked to dead Rest In Power by another US pig Fuck 12 a few years ago) to George Floyd, the scream associated to the spasm of asphyxia has turned collective. The lapilli of LAVA seem to be capable to converge and diverge at an increasing speed, the scream of a single turns into the roar of the growing many, and I can’t breathe becomes We can’t breathe. Let’s move towards the inorganic, towards a molecular geological thaumaturgy and become EARTH, let’s diverge anxiety from exhaustion by socializing anxiety so to turn the stiffening emerging from exhaustion into the intervals between the contradictory spasms and their rhythms of implosion and explosion, so to be able to expand the intervals and prepare therein the intensification of insurrectional eruptive spasms, let’s turn the generational betrayal into an inter-generational reversal of roles and responsibility, let’s turn toxins into antibodies as in the plasma therapy.

Come hell or high water, extinction for extinction, better to extinguish throwing bombs at the oppressor and making orgies of sweats and spits and muds dancing and singing with rocks and plants and animals in between battles feeling the warmth of each other breath and proximity, than dying miserably staring at our own deaths live over a screen. We can’t breathe. Let’s the FIRE begin.

Bibliographical Note

The text is inspired by:

Berardi, F., Breathing: On chaos and poetry. MIT: Boston, 2019.

Azar, M., Berardi, F.,“I can’t breath as schizo-analysis: chaosmosis, poetry and cinema”. Interview with Franco “Bifo” Berardi, La Deleuziana, The schizoanalytic clinic, n. 9 / 2019.

Mbembe, A. “The Universal Right to Breathe”. Critical Inquiry, April 2020.

Digital stitch

Written by: Pamela Nelson

Sewing is an act of mindfulness. When we embroider or engage in other creative activities like painting or sculpting, our perception of time can become distorted and give the illusion of ‘slowing down’, as discussed in ‘The Restructuring of Temporality During Art Making’ by Ariana van Heerden. In a fast paced, technocentric world, we must not underestimate the power of being able to slow down.

Recently, I have been using stitch as a way of understanding my relationship with technology, while at the same time reflecting on the harmful environmental impact that technology can have. I did this by monitoring my own internet usage and habits and trying to estimate my carbon footprint for certain periods of time. I embroidered diagrams and data onto pieces of whiteboard cloth or old tote bags as a way of visualising this information. I set aside time for myself to embroider that was intended to be ‘tech-free’; no laptop playing Netflix in the background, no podcast streaming from my phone. I was successful for the most part in doing so, but in some cases I gave in to watching a show or listening to a Spotify playlist.

Lockdown

During lockdown, my focus shifted to my changing relationship with technology and growing reliance on it due to Covid-19. I had a ‘worry pillow’ that I would embroider with passing thoughts and changes I was noticing during this time. I found the process of logging and dating these observations useful for keeping track of my ever-changing outlook on technology.  I noted the tension between wanting to be offline but at the same time needing to be online for other work, I thought about ways to allow for a more authentic social experience over Zoom by brainstorming how to ‘make a screen disappear’ and I noted the websites I was visiting most frequently during lockdown, like gov.ie to check for corona virus updates.

I spoke with my tutor at the time who recognised what I was doing as a type of ‘documentary embroidery’, as used by researchers Aviv Kruglanski and Vahida Ramujkic, which uses no previous planning. It encourages the sewer to ‘economise and abstract’ certain information. Consequently they follow a process of encrypting and ‘creating symbolic graphics’ when limiting details. In documentary embroidery, the slowness is considered an opportunity to engage with each other, and share ideas. I wanted to introduce this community aspect into what I was doing too, but it would mean having to compromise the ‘tech-free’ element of my exploration.

The Circles 1

By simply Googling ‘virtual sewing circles’, I discovered that there was an emergence of ‘digital stitch’ communities during lockdown, where many in-person groups from all over the world had gone online for the first time. Sewing circles on Meet-Up, were now adapting and embracing video calls as a way of keeping these communities alive during Covid-19. This opened up opportunities to join dozens of sewing circles all over the globe that would have not been accessible to me otherwise. Of course, there is always a risk involved when opening up to a wider, online audience, so for the Glasgow Virtual Stitch and Knit group, I went through a type of ‘vetting process’ before hand by answering questions to verify who I was and reduce the risk of attacks, like ‘Zoom Bombing’.

First, I was introduced to the members; Rachel*, had been working on a cross stitch piece, but explained that as she was getting older and her eyesight was deteriorating, therefore she would more often knit to wind-down. Emma* had recently suffered from a stroke and as a result had forgotten how to knit. She was taking the time to relearn the basics and was working on a patchwork blanket using an Icelandic wool that her son brought back from a trip last year. I told them a little about my sewing project too, and just by sharing what we were working on, we had already learned so much about each other that was not necessarily directly said. I don’t think any of us were too concerned about producing a ‘finished piece’, the common ‘thread’ here was the act of sewing/knitting had its own set of rewards.

We talked about how they had to adapt to new technologies to keep the circle going, like video calling over Zoom for example, which they had never used before. My general impression was that using this technology was a positive experience for them for the most part as it allowed them to reintroduce structure to their weeks by scheduling these online events. For me, being engaged in conversation and in the act of sewing simultaneously made me less aware of the screen as a barrier. I noticed that I was experiencing less ‘video call fatigue’ as I usually would. I decided to leave after an hour, put my needle and thread down and get some fresh air. I think it is really important to be aware of your own limits and take breaks accordingly when you are online.

The Circles 2

The Fashion Revolution hosted a virtual ‘Stitch and Bitch’ panel event with many fashion/textile revolutionaries from across the globe. This year, all in-person Fashion Revolution Week events were cancelled and held online instead. The main benefit of this was that they reached a far wider audience than possible if the events had taken place locally. Each of the panelists were working away on something; whether it was darning a pair of socks, mending a hole in an old denim jacket or picking lint balls off an Aran sweater. I streamed it and embroidered along with them too. I was beginning to notice how the physical engagement during these calls was counteracting the anxiety I often feel from being on video chats for long periods of time.

It was here that I became aware of the scale of the growing popularity of embroidery and mending during quarantine that was happening all across the globe. Throughout this global crisis, people seem to have turned to sewing as a way of maintaining their mental health. Often times, embroidery is used as a tool in prisons or in refugee centres as a way overcoming trauma. Since the outbreak of Covid-19, refugees in Direct Provision centres in Ireland have also been using sewing as a way of remaining somewhat autonomous during this time by making and selling face masks online. A participant shares words of wisdom passed down from her grandmother, who emphasised the importance of teaching her grandchildren to sew; ‘as a first instinct, we use our hands’.

The Circles 3: Hosting my own circle

I was eager to discuss these insights further with some of my old textile classmates and thought that a sewing circle would be the best format for that discussion. Looking to the book ’Draw it with your Eyes Closed’ for inspiration, I designed a ‘guided-meditation’ session, where the participants followed simple instructions; sew where you are living now, sew a journey that you frequently make, sew how many hours you average online per day, sew the number of video calls you make a week…etc. There were no strict rules or no pressure to complete every task, instead they could stitch the information or answers that were most important to them, or that resonated the most with their own personal stories and experiences of quarantine.

The end result of this sewing circle resembled a small collection of ‘maps’, each an abstract and symbolic representation of our current lives in relation to the technology we are using and the restrictions that currently in place. They felt like souvenirs or memories of that gathering, like a ticket stub from an event that you might hold onto as a memento. I realised that I was now engaging in the digital world in a way that was deliberate, mindful and had a physicality too. I was becoming more aware of being in two ‘spaces’ at once; conversing in a virtual space, while sewing brought me back into my own physical world.

Conclusion

Traditional methods of crafting, like embroidery, seem to reemerge for a number of reasons during times of crisis; whether that is as a coping mechanism, as a practical resource or as a method of storytelling/documentation. The strange thing about this re-emergence for me is the juxtaposition of the return of this craft through technology. The isolating nature of this crisis has left us all at home, some strongly relying on online communities for comfort and support, meaning that most of these groups, for now, exist virtually. The emergence of the ‘digital stitch’ community during Covid-19 makes me wonder that while we are in lockdown or if we should ever be again, will we ever truly be able to disconnect? Instead of interpreting ‘slowing down’ as being offline, we will just have to find ‘slower’ ways of being online? Could hand sewing and the world of ‘digital stitch’ allow us to stay connected with each other but also to our own minds and bodies?

Selfies Under Quarantine: Students Report Back to Rome (Video Episode)

After the fifth episode of the Selfies Under Quarantine series, here at the Institute of Network Cultures we discussed how such online courses, but also lectures and debates can make more use of the video essay form. If there is such as thing as the ‘visual turn’ in education, away from mere reading (text)books and articles and discussing them in class, how can we use the increased visual literacy among students? Why only passively look at video conferencing session? Over the past months we heard enough about Zoom fatigue… Can we please talk back to the media, change the architectures and get more involved ourselves in order to beat the boredom that comes with one-way top-down interpassivity of webcasting? One possible way is to leave behind the PowerPoint sheet form and start to apply the Snap/TikTok video aesthetics to the world of theory, critique and reflection. No fear to leave behind the Gutenberg Galaxy, let’s explore post-textual forms of thinking, research and critique.

Three students of Donatella Della Ratta’s selfie class (enrolled in the Selfies and Beyond: Exploring Networked Identities’class at John Cabot University/Rome, Spring 2020) were willing to produce small video assignments on the topic of the politics and aesthetics of the online self.  Thanks to Donatella for organizing the video essays and thanks to Briana Di Sisto, Natalia Stanusch and Giulia Villanucci!

In the coming period INC will focus more on video integration of critical content and networks. What does full video integration mean for book production? How can we take video beyond the trope of the archive (such as our own channel on Vimeo)? Can we think through the video? This is an ancient debate, but one is bound to become even more contemporary, and urgent, with the rise of memes, video witnessing (-> George Floyd case), emojis, short videos, data visualization and the tactical uses of drones.

Enjoy!

Selfies in Quarantine by Briana Di Sisto

 

Alienation. A Digital Autoetnography by Natalia Stanusch (see also her related essay on the INC site about emojis, here)

Nine to Five, Quarantine Shift by Giulia Villanucci

Knowledge and equity: analysis of three models

Abstract:

The context of this paper is an analysis of three emerging models for developing a global knowledge commons. The concept of a ‘global knowledge commons’ builds on the vision of the original Budapest Open Access Initiative (2002) for the potential of combining academic tradition and the internet to remove various access barriers to the scholarly literature, thus laying the foundation for an unprecedented public good, uniting humanity in a common quest for knowledge. The global knowledge commons is a universal sharing of the knowledge of humankind, free for all to access (recognizing reasons for limiting sharing in some circumstances such as to protect individual privacy), and free for everyone qualified to contribute to. The three models are Plan S / cOAlition S, an EU-led initiative to transition all of scholarly publishing to an open access model on a short timeline; the Global Sustainability Coalition for Open Science Services (SCOSS), a recent initiative that builds on Ostrom’s study of the commons; and PubMedCentral (PMC) International, building on the preservation and access to the medical research literature provided by the U.S. National Institutes of Health to support other national repositories of funded research and exchange of materials between regions. The research will involve analysis of official policy and background briefing documents on the three initiatives and relevant historical projects, such as the Research Council U.K.’s block grants for article processing charges, the EU-led OA2020 initiative, Europe PMC and the short-lived PMC-Canada. Theoretical analysis will draw on Ostrom’s work on the commons, theories of development, under-development, epistemic / knowledge inequity and the concepts of Chan and colleagues (2011) on the importance of moving beyond north-to-south access to knowledge (charity model) to include south-to-south and south-to-north (equity model). This model analysis contributes to build a comparative view of transcontinental efforts for a global knowledge commons building with shared values of open access, sharing and collaboration, in contrast to the growing trend of commodification of scholarly knowledge evident in both traditional subscriptions / purchase-based scholarly publishing and in commercial open access publishing. We anticipate that our findings will indicate that a digital world of inclusiveness and reciprocity is possible, but cannot be taken for granted, and policy support is crucial. Global communication and information policy have much to contribute towards the development of a sustainable global knowledge commons.

Full text: https://ruor.uottawa.ca/handle/10393/40664

Cite as: Morrison, H. & Rahman, R. (2020). Knowledge and equity: analysis of three models. International Association of Communication and Media Researchers (IAMCR) annual conference, July 2020.

‘Thieves’ marks’ and ‘tinder-wolves’: The Lexicon of Medieval Nordic Law

‘Thieves’ marks’ and ‘tinder-wolves’: The Lexicon of Medieval Nordic Law

The Lexicon of Medieval Nordic Law – a project created within the department of Swedish Language and Multilingualism at Stockholm University, and which is part of the wider ‘Medieval Nordic Laws (MNL)’ project based at the University of Aberdeen – is an ambitious, vibrant and indispensable resource for scholars and students of medieval Scandinavia. The dictionary correlates and juxtaposes legal terminologies that span the various languages and geographies of medieval Scandinavia (drawing on material composed in Old Swedish, Old Icelandic, Old Norwegian, Old Danish, Old Gutnish and Old Faroese), thereby offering its reader a fascinating, comprehensive window into the legal milieu of medieval Scandinavia as a unified whole.

Here, we encounter such vivid and idiosyncratic lexical constructions as the ‘slímusetr’ (Old Norse) (literally, a ‘slime-sitter’) – a term found in Old Icelandic and Old Norwegian texts, applied to somebody who overstayed their welcome as a guest in another’s house. This abuse of hospitality could be dealt with through forcible ejection of the slime-sitter, and the ejector would be immune to any legal penalties for the assault. Elsewhere in Iceland, you might be liable to pay a ‘snápsgjald’ (Old Norse) (literally, a ‘snob-fine’) if you were convicted of being a ‘snápr’ – someone who has falsely boasted of having slept with a woman. The negative term ‘snápr’ has no direct English translation, although it is cognate with our term ‘snob’. The term appears to be a distinctly Icelandic concept (with no attestations in texts from the other Scandinavian areas), and features not only in legal texts but also in poetic contexts: it appears in the anonymous collection of Norse-Icelandic mythological and heroic poetry known as the Poetic Edda, where it is listed as a poetic synonym for an ‘unwise man’.

The lexicon also affords us somewhat darker glimpses into the quotidian realities of crime in medieval Scandinavia, as well as the laws which sought to regulate such crime. For example, in medieval Sweden, you would have to pay a ‘torvogæld’ (Old Swedish) (literally, ‘turf payment’) if you had buried someone alive between stone and turf – that is, if they were discovered and rescued alive. Meanwhile, in Denmark, a thief might receive a ‘thjuvsmærke’ (Old Danish) (literally, ‘thief’s mark’) for his theft – the loss of his nose or an ear, or being branded or flogged – a physical marking which would allow for the identification of repeat offenders. While the word is unique to Old Danish, the concept appears in other Old Icelandic, Old Norwegian and Old Swedish laws.

Furthermore, the semantic analysis of certain legal terms in the Lexicon yields insight into not only the practical and social dimensions of legal processes in medieval Scandinavia, but also certain ontological dimensions: the term ‘vargher’ (Old Swedish) or ‘vargr’ (Old Norse) – etymologically ‘strangler’ – is used of both wolves and humans in Old Swedish legal texts, while in Old Icelandic it applies specifically to outlawed criminals. This double valency suggests how a human’s violent actions might compromise their status as a human being, moving them out of the category of the human and into that of the animal, at least lexically. This potential correlation between animality and crime in the medieval Scandinavian mentality is further supported by the appearance of ‘vargr’ in a number of other compounded legal terms: an arsonist might be dubbed a ‘brennuvargr’ (Old Norse) (literally, ‘fire-wolf’) in Old Icelandic and Old Norwegian, a ‘kasnavargher’ in Old Swedish (literally, ‘tinder-wolf’) or the cognate ‘kasnavargr’ in Old Gutnish. A murderer might be called a ‘morðvargr’ (Old Norse) (literally, ‘murder-wolf’) in Old Norwegian and Old Icelandic, while in Iceland, ‘vargdropi’ (Old Norse) (literally, ‘wolf-droppings’) constituted a derogatory term for a child conceived during the father’s outlawry. Such children would be excluded from any inheritance. This is striking, since it suggests that the legacy of outlawry – which at times frames an outlaw in bestial terms – could be passed on to such children congenitally.

Legal texts constitute an unparalleled – and often untapped – source of information for those studying Old Norse literature and linguistics, and medieval and Viking Age Scandinavian history, society and culture. This polyglot dictionary makes accessible a wealth of historical documents for an English-speaking audience. It contains over 6000 Nordic headwords, and, for around a quarter of these, provides detailed information and analysis on the textual and/or historical contexts within which a term might appear (including common expressions and idioms), often providing cross-references to aid readers in locating synonyms or cognate terms within the lexicon.

It is thus designed to provide its readers not only with succinct single definitions of Norse legal terms and the concepts underlying these terms, but with a sense of the wider Scandinavian legal landscape and worldview within which these concepts were used and developed. It is in this respect that the Lexicon of Medieval Nordic Law differs from the other major lexica that came before it (e.g. the Norse-English dictionaries produced by Geir Zoega; and Richard Cleasby and Gúðbrandur Vigfússon): where relevant, it gathers closely related terms from multiple languages beneath single headwords within single entries. This approach illuminates the differences (and similarities) in usage of specific lexical items and legal concepts across geographic areas and through time.

The Lexicon is laid out as a standard reference work, and is easily navigable, with a clear and consistent structure to each entry that provides headword forms across the relevant languages; explanatory text describing and defining terms and their contexts (where relevant); English equivalents; textual references (divided by language grouping); phrases in which headwords frequently appear; a ‘See also’ section in which cross-references are provided; and references to published works discussing the headword. The print version of the lexicon also has a digital counterpart , developed as a collaboration between the lexicon’s editors and the ‘Digital Humanities Institute’ at the University of Sheffield. This digital version is searchable by Nordic headword and through an English > Nordic section, which enables readers to peruse the range of medieval terms encompassed by an individual English equivalent.

This dictionary constitutes an important contribution to the study of medieval Scandinavia, not only as a user-friendly reference book which makes medieval Nordic legal terminology accessible to a wider English-speaking audience, but in the further academic research and discussion it will no doubt stimulate and inform.

A Lexicon of Medieval Nordic Law is a new open access title available to read and download for free here.

On ‘Liminal Spaces: Migration and Women of the Guyanese Diaspora’ by Grace Aneiza Ali (ed.).

Written by Domenic Rotundo

On 'Liminal Spaces: Migration and Women of the Guyanese Diaspora' by Grace Aneiza Ali (ed.).

Liminal Spaces: Migration and Women of the Guyanese Diaspora, offers the reader an intimate and insightful experience. In the Introduction to her edited volume, Grace Aneiza Ali asks, “when we have more Guyanese living outside the country than within its borders, what becomes of our homeland?” This question and much more is addressed in this selection of thought-provoking essays, poems, photography, and artwork from fifteen women of Guyanese ethnicity. This book examines the implications and experiences of migration: from the separation of family (and friends), and the great hardships faced in a different country (including anti-immigrant hate), to the mindset of those women that left Guyana (as well as the impact their movements had on their children). Personal narratives are explored against the backdrop of wider issues—Guyana's poverty, corruption, racial violence, and the potential impacts of offshore oil. The age-range of the contributors is wide, and the stories cover seven decades (1950s to present) of Guyana's history; as Ali states in the Introduction, “Liminal Spaces centers the narratives of grandmothers, mothers and daughters, immigrants, and citizens—women who have labored for their country, women who are in service to a vision of what Guyanese women can and ought to be in the world.” Their emotional journeys are explored, and their relationships with Guyana dissected: as Ali puts it, “remaining connected to a homeland is at once beautiful, fraught, disruptive, and evolving.”

On 'Liminal Spaces: Migration and Women of the Guyanese Diaspora' by Grace Aneiza Ali (ed.).
Erika DeFreitas’s grandmother in Georgetown, Guyana poses with a wedding cake she made and decorated, circa late 1960s. © DeFreitas Family Collection, Courtesy of Erika DeFreitas. CC BY-NC-ND.

Beginning with affecting epigraphs and informative “curatorial notes,” the four parts of this book are all-encompassing: (I) Mothering Lands, (II) The Ones Who Leave. . . The Ones Who Are Left, (III) Transitions, and (IV) Returns, Reunions, and Rituals. In Part I, Ali states:

Mothering Lands engages the tensions between our place of birth (motherland) and the space of othering (otherland). For artists Keisha Scarville (United States), Erika DeFreitas (Canada), and journalist Natalie Hopkinson (Canada/United States), all first-generation daughters, their relationships with their Guyanese-born mothers serve as a metaphor for their relationship with Guyana—a space frequently wrestled with as a mythical motherland.

The importance of photography, documentation, and memory is clear, as is the pain of loss: as DeFreitas notes, “when I look at that photograph, I see my grandmother as my mother as myself.” In “Surrogate Skin: Portrait of Mother (Land),” Keisha Scarville states, “the death of my mother left me with a sense of displacement and an internal fracturing.” By photographing herself in her mother's clothes (from the series: Mama's Clothes, 2015), Scarville pays homage to her and eases “the anxiety of separation by conjuring her presence within the photographic realm.” Along with the moving photographs, Scarville brings powerful description: “beneath the weight of her clothes, I exist as beneath a veil. I breathe my mother into me and feel her presence in my body.” This first part of the book also includes engrossing letters between Natalie and her mother Serena Hopkinson.

On 'Liminal Spaces: Migration and Women of the Guyanese Diaspora' by Grace Aneiza Ali (ed.).
Anastacia Winters (b. 1947), lives in Lethem, Upper Takutu-Upper Essequibo (Region Nine), Guyana. Khadija Benn, Anastacia Winters from the series Those Who Remain: Portraits of Amerindian Women,2017, digital photography. © Khadija Benn. Courtesy of the artist. CC BY-NC-ND.

Part II deals with those leaving (including their feelings of guilt)—and especially those left behind. Ali's “The Geography of Separation” is a travelogue of four vignettes, each focused on a woman or girl encountered in distinct geographic spaces, and as Ali notes, “I find myself weaving the stories of these places and the people I’ve encountered with those of Guyana.” The generations-old karahi is special; it carries memories of Ali's grandmother, as we see in Ali's description of her mother's packing: “in her suitcase bound for America, there was no prized jewelry, no priceless antiques, no precious silk saris. There was only the karahi—the sole possession she had after her mother died. It was not going to be left behind.” Objects like the karahi connect the past with the present, homeland with new land. Dominique Hunter speaks of each of us [immigrants] as being, “a body and a tree, flexible and fixed,” shapeshifting, uprooting and transplanting, and, in this vein, provides an insightful, “guide to surviving transplantation and other traumas.” Khadija Benn provides impressive black-and-white photography of elder Amerindian women living in Guyana's remote villages; in interviewing these women, Benn shows that they are essential to Guyana's history and its migration stories. In their stories we hear the negative consequences of migration: loss of traditional cultures, languages, and communal ways of life; we also see the important role of matriarchs, as well as the pride and resilience of those who stay. Ingrid Griffith reveals the pain for those leaving: “my mother tilted her head up at us; tears filled her eyes. ‘Mammy loves you,’ she said.” We are shown the feelings of a child left behind, including Ingrid's heartbreaking letter to her parents, that was never sent.

On 'Liminal Spaces: Migration and Women of the Guyanese Diaspora' by Grace Aneiza Ali (ed.).
Christie Neptune, Memories From Yonder, 2015, diptych of archival inkjet prints. © Christie Neptune. Courtesy of the artist. CC BY-NC-ND.

Part III focuses on the space between departure and arrival—the acts of processing life in a past land and constructing life in a new land. We see how women leaving their homeland is a matter of necessity, not desire—as expressed by poet Grace Nichols. Artist Suchitra Mattai targets colonial power and its consequences, producing artistic acts of “appropriation.” Landscapes and symbolism are also central to her work; as Ali observes, “Mattai’s landscapes, used to explore her relationship to the idea of homelands in transition, teem with texture, materiality and laborious detail.” Christie Neptune's art essay deals with memories of her mother and crocheting (popular among Guyanese women): as Ali points out, “for Neptune, the art of crocheting becomes a metaphor for the necessary acts of unfurling a life in a past land to construct a new life in a new land.” We see the heartbreaking impact of migration for Ebora Calder, an elder who, like Neptune's mother, migrated to New York in the late 1950s. Artist Sandra Brewster brings to the forefront the voices of the matriarchs in her family, with memories, telling photographs, key questions, and stories: Brewster observes, “they want us to experience what they experienced by flying us there, on the backs of their words.” Brewster records the process of migration and shows, as Ali states, “it takes the driving force of women to get to a place of not merely surviving and adapting but thriving.”

On 'Liminal Spaces: Migration and Women of the Guyanese Diaspora' by Grace Aneiza Ali (ed.).
Maya Mackrandilal,Keeping Wake I, 2014, mixed media with found images on artboard. © Maya Mackrandilal. Courtesy of the artist. CC BY-NC-ND.

Part IV deals with returning to Guyana, reuniting with relatives, and learning deeply about their homeland—as well as keeping a strong connection to it. As Ali explains, “collectively, the essays in Returns, Reunions, and Rituals explore how daughters of immigrants like Michelle Joan Wilkinson, Maria del Pilar Kaladeen, and Maya Mackrandilal have rekindled, restored, and repaired frayed bonds. They illuminate, for those in the diaspora still estranged from Guyana, how to rediscover a place once lost.” Michelle Joan Wilkinson's curatorial essay discusses the objects bound up in migration; she explores two very personal, contrasting objects (a concrete house; and filigree jewelry), one left behind and one taken. Wilkinson also speaks of lost language and lost space. In her memoir-essay, Maria del Pilar Kaladeen focuses on the relationship between father and daughter, and unpacks the complexities surrounding cultural identity and migration: “this was a time when every institution that carried authority attempted to convince immigrant parents that a sense of cultural identity was an obstacle, rather than a lifeline and a necessity.” Maya Mackrandilal deals with loss and death in her art essay, “Keeping Wake.” Here, water is an important symbol; as Ali notes, “Mackrandilal connects generations of those who ventured into the kal pani two centuries ago with those who embark on symbolic crossings of their own twenty-first century dark waters.” This book concludes with, “A Brief History of Migration from Guyana.”

The rich variety of contributors, methods, and styles that coalesces in this book brings a powerful experience for the reader. These fifteen talented women of Guyanese ethnicity express themselves in their own unique and authentic ways, giving us a genuine look at their stories. In Liminal Spaces, we encounter visual storytelling and multimodal creativity in the photography; great depth and symbolism in the artwork; and stimulating essays and poems. In addition, there are telling official documents, expressive memoirs, as well as family letters and snatches of dialogue. This deeply personal and sensitive look at the full migratory experience of generations of women from Guyana is truly revealing. For those interested in the migration of women, Guyanese diaspora, or diaspora in general, this creative and informative book is a must-read.

Works Cited

Ali, Grace A., editor. Liminal Spaces: Migration and Women of the Guyanese Diaspora. Cambridge, UK: Open Book Publishers, 2020.

Baddour, Dylan. "Massive Guyana Oil Find Continues to Grow with Fresh Exxon Discovery." Forbes, Jan 27, 2020, forbes.com/sites/dylanbaddour/2020/01/27/massive-guyana-oil-find-continues-to-grow-with-fresh-exxon-discovery/#54d2ba272781. Accessed 11 June 2020.

* Cover image:  Grace Aneiza Ali, The SeaWall, Georgetown, Guyana (2014). Digital photo by Candace Ali-Lindsay. Courtesy of the artist, CC BY-NC-ND. Cover design: Anna Gatti

About the Editor

On 'Liminal Spaces: Migration and Women of the Guyanese Diaspora' by Grace Aneiza Ali (ed.).

Grace Aneiza Ali is Curator and an Assistant Professor and Provost Fellow in the Department of Art & Public Policy at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University in New York City. Ali’s curatorial research practice centers on socially engaged art practices, global contemporary art, and art of the Caribbean Diaspora, with a focus on her homeland Guyana. She serves as Curator-at-Large for the Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute in New York. She is Founder and Curator of Guyana Modern, an online platform for contemporary arts and culture of Guyana and founder and editorial director of OF NOTE Magazine—an award-winning nonprofit arts journalism initiative reporting on the intersection of art and activism. Her awards and fellowships include NYU Provost Faculty Fellow, Andy Warhol Foundation Curatorial Fellow, and Fulbright Scholar. She has been named a World Economic Forum ‘Global Shaper.’ Ali was born in Guyana and migrated to the Unites States with her family when she was fourteen years old.

Out Now: TOD#33 Algorithmic Anxiety in Contemporary Art

PDF of Listening into OthersePub of Listening into Othersinc_icon_lulu_@2x

Over the past decade, a growing number of artists and critical practitioners have become engaged with algorithms. This artistic engagement has resulted in algorithmic theatre, bot art, and algorithmic media and performance art of various kinds that thematise the dissemination and deployment of algorithms in everyday life. Especially striking is the high volume of artistic engagements with facial recognition algorithms, trading algorithms and search engine algorithms over the past few years.

The fact that these three types of algorithms have garnered more responses than other types of algorithms suggests that they form a popular subject of artistic critique. This critique addresses several significant, supra-individual anxieties of our decade: socio- political uncertainty and polarisation, the global economic crisis and cycles of recession, and the centralisation and corporatisation of access to online information. However, the constituents of these anxieties — which seem to be central to our experience of algorithmic culture — are rarely interrogated. They, therefore, merit closer attention.

This book uses prominent artistic representations of facial recognition algorithms, trading algorithms, and search algorithms as the entry point into an exploration of the constituents of the anxieties braided around these algorithms. It proposes that the work of Søren Kierkegaard—one of the first theorists of anxiety—helps us to investigate and critically analyse the constituents of ‘algorithmic anxiety’.


Author:
Patricia de Vries

Cover design: Katja van Stiphout
Production: Sepp Eckenhaussen

Institute of Network Cultures, Amsterdam, 2020
ISBN: 978-94-92302-52-6

This publication is licensed under the Creative Commons
Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International.

Get the book here

Order a print copy here

Download .PDF here

Download .ePub here

++just out++ Video Vortex Reader III: Inside the YouTube Decad

Edited by Geert Lovink and Andreas Treske

INC Reader #14

Download it here, as e-pub, pdf or print-on-demand (via Lulu):

Video Vortex Reader III: Inside the YouTube Decade

What is online video today, fifteen years into its exponential growth? What started with amateur work of YouTube prosumers has spread to virtually all communication apps: an explosion in the culture of mobile sound and vision. Now, in the age of the smart phone, video accompanies, informs, moves, and distracts us. Are you addicted yet? Look into that tiny camera, talk, move the phone, show us around — prove to others that you exist!

Founded in 2007, Video Vortex is a lively network of artists, activists, coders, curators, critics, and researchers linked by the exchange of ideas, materials, and discussions both online and offline. Video Vortex has produced two anthologies, a website, a mailing list, 12 international conferences, several art exhibitions, and more to come as the internet and video continue to merge and miniaturize.

The first Video Vortex reader came out in 2008, followed by a second in 2011. This third anthology covers the turbulent period from Video Vortex #7 (2013) in Yogyakarta, across the meetings that followed in Zagreb, Lüneburg, Istanbul, Kochi, and finally Malta in 2019, where the foundations for this publication where laid before its production began in the midst of the corona crisis.

The contributions herein respond to a broad range of emerging and urgent topics, from bias in YouTube’s algorithms, to the use of video in messaging, image theory, the rise of deepfakes, a reconsideration of the history of video art, a reflection on the continuing role and influence of music video, indy servers, synthetic intimacies, love and sadness, artist videos, online video theory in the age of platform capitalism, video as online activism, and the rise of streaming. Click, browse, swipe, like, share, save, and enjoy!

Contributors: Annie Abrahams, Ina Blom, Natalie Bookchin, Pablo deSoto, Ben Grosser, Adnan Hadzi, Judit Kis, Patricia G. Lange, Hang Li, Patrick Lichty, Geert Lovink, Gabriel Menotti, Sabine Niederer, Dan Oki, Aras Ozgun, Daniel Pinheiro, Rahee Punyashloka, Oliver Lerone Schultz, Alberto Figurt, Ana Peraica, Peter Snowdon, Andreas Treske, Colette Tron, Florian Schneider, Jack Wilson, Dino Ge Zhang.

We hope to be able to offer a (free) printed edition soon!