Platform Politics: A more expository post

Building on from my previous post on the event: here are some more detailed points now that I’ve had a few days to consider the results of the conference.

1.) Given that all of the papers were of an exceptionally high standard in their respective fields, (critical theory, software studies, sociology, censorship law, emancipatory politics, etc) I felt that there was general sense of muted frustration. The frustration I’m speaking of, concerns the efforts of mapping two of the most incredibly esoteric disciplines imaginable; Critical, political theory/philosophy on the one hand, computation and platform analysis on the other. Considering that both have to presume a lot of the viewer beforehand in elucidating technical ability and contextual history, I’m not surprised a lot of the Q&A’s were focused on the conflicts between ‘what is theorised’ and ‘what is actually happening in reality’.

2.) It is for this very reason that I took a lot more from Dmytri Kleiner’s paper than from anyone else’s. Two reasons here. The first is that he has genuinely fresh new ideas about fusing political practice and software together into a bona-fide artistic/mediated practice. The second is the refreshing honesty that accompanied his presentation on being theory-light. A question was asked about whether he had read this thinker, or considered Negri’s multitude politics, and his answer was just one of “Well apart from Marx, I don’t really read much theory, so I don’t know. However I’d like to read some.” The crucial element here was not some rhetorical debasement of theory, nor any complex trumpery that privileged a mixture of practice over theory: Kleiner simply had no inclination towards applying theory towards his practice for the reason that, he simply didn’t need theory to make his work any more potent than it already was.

3.) Crucially this understated position was not one of ignorance. As an experienced freelance developer of some 20 years or so, Kleiner knows what he is talking about when he argues that Capitalism had literally ‘bought’ the internet, or that Peer-2-Peer networks are intrinsically communist and client-server structures are property driven. Kleiner does not need theory, and theory does not need his work, as Kleiner can deliver politics and philosophical ideas through the artistic praxis of his projects. This is important, both for theory and ontology. It doesn’t matter that Kleiner probably hasn’t read the exclusive history of politics and ontology – he is very much doing it, because that is what ontology is.

4.) The reception of Paul Caplan’s paper was well received and generally delivered on its promise of applying an Object Oriented Ontology methodology onto the themes discussed during the conference. There are only objects and their relations, and they are not context driven. It will however, be hard to shake off the network-systems-relations epoch that currently dominates the theoretical sphere of today. This is not to shake off relations totally, as Paul maintained but to rethink the configurability of unitary objects again rather than systems that contain no hidden secrets. You cannot have agency in a totally relational network, something must be kept hidden, so as to present novelty, otherwise it gets passed from pillar to post down the line of causal things, or even worse gets passed to the virtual realm that is never properly accounted for anyway. If you want a sense of that confusion try mapping Object Oriented Programming onto Object Oriented Ontology.

5.) Greg Elmer gave an excellent summary of the conference, highlighting the potential misses (circulation, API’s) that many of the papers touched on, but never hit directly: although I (naturally) disagree with his comments about the problems with discrete objects in media as objecting history, or that we should rethink social media as objectifying history. This was even weirder considering that no-one really mentioned Object Oriented Programming either during the conference: without OOP, you can forget the ‘net’ as it is. Furthermore, Greg suggested that media is tuned into the ever present, obsessed with making future things present or objectified. But this is not object oriented ontology; this is straight up criticism of what Heidegger would call standing reserve, of which object’s are not. OOO objects are not lumps of ‘present at hand’ stuff that need to be removed in order to concentrate on deep relations.


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