Parallel Session 2: Politics of Information


‘Speculative Realism As Symptom: Computationalist Ideologies’
David Golumbia (English, Virginia Commonwealth University)

The theoretical movement called by its adherents Speculative Realism has at its center a 2008 volume by Quentin Meillassoux called After Finitude. This book is said by some to have provided a devastating critique of ‘correlationism’, a term for a philosophical error that Meillassoux says characterizes ‘modern philosophy since Kant’. This judgment plays a role in justifying a self-reinforcing lack of attention to theoretical and conceptual movements outside of Speculative Realism itself. With certain strategic exceptions (especially Heidegger, in the works of Graham Harman), this practice is widespread. In keeping with this strategy, After Finitude’s direct attack on Kant avoids all direct reading of Kant’s texts. The failure to read Kant is symptomatic of After Finitude, which fails to read much if any of the modern philosophy or poststructuralist theory with which it takes frequent issue and which the critique of correlationism is said to render irrelevant. Despite his invocation of ‘contemporary science’ as justification for his methods, for example, Meillassoux fails to discuss any science that might bear on his questions (and much does, with important consequences). However, his reliance on ‘digitization’ as a criterion for a kind of ‘absoluteness’ meshes with the thinking of computational enthusiasts, and helps to expose some of the deep commitments of computationalist ideologies. Perhaps most importantly, the overall orientation of the attack on Kant, along with the dismissal of but failure to engage with poststructuralism, makes more visible some of the reasons that a certain critical Kantianism has always been vital to poststructuralism, especially as practiced by Derrida and Spivak. It also helps us to understand why there is such avoidance today, in theory, in higher education, and in political discourse, of the critical Kantian currents in Enlightenment.

‘Liquid Crystal Aesthetics’
Esther Leslie (RP/English, Birkbeck, University of London)

This paper considers animation as it combines with contemporary digital technologies in entertainment and scientific procedures. It focuses on the ways in which the liquid crystal screen comes to bear on that which is represented and argues that notions of liquidity and crystallization are present in various ways as form and content. From the first moment of its discovery, the liquid crystal has been annexed to concepts of animation in the sense of life in-putted or self-assembled (crystal life, crystal souls) and this does not subside as it is put to use in the service of display and the conjuration of form. What are the politics of liquid crystals? This question gains in resonance as the body becomes screen and container of the liquid crystal as deployed and conceived in the new sciences.

‘Civilizations Without Boats: Security, Property, Piracy and the Walled City’
Finn Brunton (School of Information, University of Michigan Ann Arbor)

Spurred by the extraordinary terms of the federal indictment of Aaron Swartz, this talk will argue that we are at a critical juncture, where models and infrastructure are being put into place that may be very difficult to avoid in the future, in which alliances are being formed between security systems and intellectual property and copyright regimes. To counteract this, and maintain open spaces in networked computing against monopolistic consolidation, precarious immaterial labor, and tyrannical political projects, we need something academics are uniquely placed to provide: a positive model of open, post-scarcity intellectual production and distribution. Drawing on projects from pirate radio and amateur telephone networks to the correspondence circles of the Invisible College and the utopian computational cities of the 1970s, I will present possible shapes to add to the project of new discourse online.