nettime's_indexical_utterance on Fri, 14 Mar 2003 01:02:32 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> vector, all to vector digest [snelson, wark, flagan]

Subject: Re: <nettime> There are only Vectors
     Kermit Snelson <>
     "McKenzie Wark" <>
     Are Flagan <>

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Date: Thu, 13 Mar 2003 13:18:42 -0500
Subject: Re: <nettime> There are only Vectors [2x]
From: Are Flagan <>

Re: 3/12/03 22:12, "nettime's digest" <>:

> David writes that "surely power has always had a vector." yes, but its
> historical-technical form changes. The most significant change, in my
> view, beginning with the telegraph, which bifurcates time, splitting the
> time of the movement of information from that of objects and subjects.

One can equally argue that the most significant change, and split, came with
Genesis, when God used words to create things. The time and space warp has
always been the technological forte, from the steam engine puff-puff train
to the TGV, and has figured in just about every accounts of the why, what,
when and how of another progressive time. This is why this "splitting" of
the time of the movement of information from that of objects and subjects
becomes problematic to accept as a condition. The speed of this
transportation vector is of course changing, as always, but the proposed
split is arguably not a result of the telegraph, as information, and only
when thus thought, has by some ontological measure been separated from its
material strata. Instead of separating information from materiality to
create another time, which is a suppressed side-effect what you are doing to
form a premise, one could say much more clearly that it is actually the
substance of materiality and this materiality's ability to move that has
changed. In the case of the telegraph; the encoding of signals in
electricity made a quantum leap in speed possible. But did it create another
time zone? Did it split information from subjects and objects? Of course
not, information was embodied in electricity, which moved at a faster speed
over longer distances than a truckload of letters. Morse's own desire is
quite instrumental here. He literally expressed a wish to make electricity
_visible_, and it is precisely in this coming into sight through another
matter, with the ability to encode and embed, that the gain in speed lies.
(We are now hot on the heels of light.) The fact that information is hard to
see and hear when passing through the wire does not in itself justify a
twilight zone of vectors.

> I don't really find this in Virilio, who does speak about differentials of
> speed, or the gearbox of speeds. But in the main i think my approach is
> quite different. Virilio does not really address what I am calling third
> nature, where the landscape of the communication vector becomes a space
> and time over and above the space and time of things, both directing it
> and managing it, but also producing new kinds of 'accident', or what i
> call the weird global media event.

The accidental effect is very much agreed upon. But we don't need the
vectors of third nature to call 911. The collapse of the WTC was arguably
precisely such a made-for-TV event of speeds and technologies violently
crashing. Does is matter if this collision course is then called a vector? I
think the fact that we are now discussing nomenclature instead of positions
and effects tells me that it matters in a way that is quite unproductive.

> Thanks to Miguel for mentioning the epidemological use of the term vector,
> which is also a good way of understanding the term. A vector for HIV is
> human blood; a vector for cholera is water. It defines a space of
> possibility and also of impossibility. You can't get AIDS from drinking
> water; cholera cannot really use the air as a vector, etc. Even within the
> space of possibility, it doesn't determin why *this* blood, *this* water
> is actualized as the vector. Or in other words, this is a 'technological
> possibilist' line of thought, not a technological determinism.

This is the same mindset repeated; the vector terminology becomes a
superfluous, yet potentially instrumental, modeling kit. Personally I truly
enjoy James "double helix" Watson these days. After his landmark lecture on
melanin and savage black sexuality (featuring slides of bikini-clad girls),
he has proposed to eradicate stupidity and make all girls pretty. Honestly.
We rather need to vector that in when talking about the possibility and
determinism of modeling.

> I would point out to Are that I was *not* one of those people wetting
> their pants over headsets and data gloves. In fact these are the concepts
> by which i managed to *avoid* some of the fetishisms of technoculture
> writing.
> Of course you are all free to just worship at the feet of famous names,
> and attribute all that is good in thought to your favorite idols. Or we
> can think for ourselves, here and now, by finding what is productive in
> each other's thought. That way might lie an ethics of the vector...

My contention was rather that you are creating another techno-fetish for the
information age with all the distinctly mathematical-logical vector talk.
Although I can grasp a tangential handle on what you are talking about, to
inevitably redraw the Bezier to fit my own way of thinking, it returns
precisely to what you want others to distill as useful. The Derrida postcard
mentioned contains, in my view, a useful note on any telegram from nowhere.
I'll try sending it again. Anyone who has read your stuff here and elsewhere
knows that you're not by any means a one-trick writer, so the question is if
this theoretical framework and trademark of the vector, which seems
strangely akin to some kind of universal flowchart in application, is worth
riding like the famous thought experiment that carried Einstein to
celebrated relativity. Look how that simulation brand effectively killed off
Baudrillard when it was no longer the hippest thing around. While there may
indeed be vectors everywhere, I think and hope that we are past another
round of completely confusing the map with the territory. (Although it is
remarkable how nettime jumped on this vector business, just as the world, as
we pretend to know it, appears ready to be redrawn in blood red. Ah, the
luxurious comfort of bubble baths...)


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From: "McKenzie Wark" <>
Subject: Re: <nettime> There are only Vectors
Date: Thu, 13 Mar 2003 13:15:25 -0500

There's lots of great ideas threading together on this vector thing. This is
how i always imagined 'distributed theory' could work. "What if vector was
a publicly sourced idea that had many meanings", as Brian C sys. Yes

Eugene quite properly draws attention to the history of information studies,
in which information is defined quantitatively, and where content is taken
to be radically separate from form.

While this view of information is the dominant one, it doesn't really fit 
the biological world, "In biological networks, there is no channel separate
from message."

I argue that we live in an era that subordinates the materiality of
communication to the abstraction of information. I would include in that the
subordination in *information theory* of alternatives to the dominant view. It
is not just that the dominant view is dominant ideologically, however. The
vector is abstraction *made concrete*, in the world. The world is being made
over in the image of an abstraction.

The whole point of critical thinking, in my view, is to identify abstraction at
work in the world and unmask the powers that it serves. The 'pathology' Doug
speaks of is exaclty the one my writing explicitly identifies.

To me this is just updating Marx's procedure. He started with bourgeois
concepts of political economy, and showed both how they mapped an abstraction
made concrete, in the world, while masking its class basis.

When Marx explains exchange value and the general equivalant, he uses examples
such as 10 coats equals 3 bushells of wheat, and so on. Only he never discusses
the materiality of the emergent space where such comparisons are actually
possible. He notes the significance of communication for the world market in
the margins of the Grundrisse, but he lacks a materialist approach to the

"Is information a mobile?" Eugene asks. In my approach, information is
displacement.  Difference is displacement. The acceleration of the
possibilities for displacement, the wiring of the world, opens a new historical
domain for the virtual. No wonder the vectoral class is striving so vigorously
to stuff those possibilities back within the purely quantitative envelopes of
strategy and commodity.

That there might be other ways that communicating might work is one reason i'm
reluctant to join Brian C in speculating on vector graphics, etc. I don't see
vector as a metaphysic. It's a local theory. However it is interesting to me
that the 'universal machine' is the ultimate example of the separation of
vectoral form and information as content.

Brian C rightly points out that there's no differentiation of scale in this
discussion of the vector. I thik one of its qualities is to short-circuit
hiearchies of scale -- which is one of the causes of what i call weird global
media events. (One of which we may be entering right now...)

Poor old Doug -- did you really not learn how to read during that fancy-pants
education you had? Nobody is suggesting that "you can run your virtual reality
machine without oil" The question is: how are resources identified, calculated,
ordered and controled?  As everyone else seems to have figured out, I am not
arguing some species of the 'weightless economy' or any such nonsense.

When Brian H asks about geopolitics, my question would be: along the lines of
what abstract force does geopolitics align? There's an analysis of the
particular forces in contention, but beyond that there is the analysis of what
powers of projection across space and time do those forces use? What is the
virtual space (with real hsitorical, geographic and technical coordinates) of
empire. This i don't se really addressed in the Hardt-Negri tool set, useful
tho it is in many other ways.

Brian H stresses one particularly important feature of the Negrist position.
The extent to which popular forces are not resistant or reactive, but the
driving engine.  The creative, popular appropriation of the vector seems to me
to be the thing to look at.  The materiality of new subjectivities. They didn't
just arise out of a reading of Spinoza.  They arose out of the historical
development of the vector. If I keep translating Brian's otherwise very
interesting ideas back into this language, it is because the H+N language he
favors is not strong on the materiality of communication. It relies on less
than help concepts: general intellect, immaterial labor that are clearly not of
a materialist cast.

But -- why not? -- let's call it a subpolitics, as Beck suggests. A good term.
"'We' do this to the extent that wqe engage in collective thinking, which
actually happens, as you can see by the forms of networked coordination across
the world that are producing the peace movement. Vectors everywhere!" Well

Or -- why not? -- call it jurisprudence, as Tiziana suggests, taking a cue from
Deleuze. The beginnings of a new coneption and practice of democracy. Or
rather, that the west is finally catching up with the east and the south in
using the tools to practice this. Let's not forget Tiananmen square, People
Power, Reformasi, the democratic movements of Taiwan and S Korea. In the
popular appropriation of the vector, the west does not lead.

While my sympathies are more with the Bifo Holmes perspective, one might say at
the same time, with ._., two cheers for the European Union. Not three cheers.
That would be too much. But there is something to be said for a countervailing
power, operating at the 'molar' level. Even if it is mostly self interested.

But, in the long run, the struggle is to think and live outside of the
representations of authority in all its forms: state, market, academy, media.
Bowing down before Bush or Chirac or Virilio -- its all the same to me. A
refusal of the challenge of autonomous life, without appeal to origin, order or
foundation. There is nothing outside the vector.  but what is 'inside' it could
be very different, indeed.

                   ... we no longer have roots, we have aerials ...

Add photos to your e-mail with MSN 8. Get 2 months FREE*.

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Date: Thu, 13 Mar 2003 13:14:30 -0800
From: Kermit Snelson <>
Subject: Re: <nettime> There are only Vectors

Ken Wark:

> Thinking about culture, questions of power are never far away.
> From the telegraph onwards, these vectors progressively create
> a new space of possibilities for organising what happens.

For me, that summarizes Ken's message fairly clearly. If his readers
were to pay less attention to the word "vectors" and more attention
to the words "power" and "organising what happens," they'd understand
more readily what he's getting at. At the very least, this would spare
them further detours through the not-so-relevant fields of electro-
magnetism, Shannon-Weaver communication theory and epidemiology.

> They are the conditions of possibility for the 'abstract community'
> of nation which can imagine itself, at one and the same time, as
> diverse and coherent. They are what make possible a virtual republic,
> where specific cultures bring their interests and passions into an
> ongoing conversation about what kinds of thing might be possible.

Note that the message here isn't, in fact, "vector, vector, vector."
It's "possibilities, possibility, possible, possible." Negri and Hardt
prefer the more obscure (of course) word "posse" [1]. This is the "civil
society" gospel. George Soros spends a lot of good money around here
to promote it. His friend and fellow Karl Popper disciple Ralf
Dahrendorf, speaking in 2001 (three months before 9-11) to an audience
rather less naive than Negri and Hardt's, called this idea "democrats
without democracy" [2]. These are words you use with people who won't
be fooled. There aren't many of them.

Basically, the idea is that we give up the vote and other obsolete
fetishes of "democracy" in exchange for lots of cool telematic tackle
and other media technology through which we find and express our
"identity". In the new post-national world, rights no longer come from
WHERE you are. That's the old, tired, territorial, border-ridden
cartography. Rights now come from WHO you are! And WHO we are consists
of our interests, our passions, and our specific cultures. Our
differences make us democrats! So who needs democracy?
That's the Empire idea. And it's finally here. In a delicious irony, the
Ides of March have arrived again, except that Julius Caesar isn't dying
this time. He's coming back to life. And this time, the Senate has
already surrendered. No Battle of Pharsalus will be necessary. "We
Plebeians," on the other hand, are already mostly settled behind big-
screen TVs, getting ready to watch CNN present the Mother of All
Gladiator Shows, live from Baghdad. No more hanging chads; the only
votes that matter now will be counted by Nielsen. And the upscale few
who prefer the more edifying media productions of the Harvard University
Press are also gleefully cheering the whole thing on, just as Negri
has told them to do, imagining themselves in the role of the persecuted
early Christians who will someday take the whole thing over from their
spiritual inferiors.

Ken is right. We are in the middle of an epochal change, and it does
have to do with abstraction and the shifting balance between matter
and information. What's more, the whole distinction between matter
and information stems from the very two issues closest to our hearts
here at nettime: art and technology, or how we make things. Michelangelo
once said that the process of creating something like his "David" is
easy; you simply take a big chunk of marble, and knock away the bits
that don't belong. But where did "David" live before Michelangelo
knocked away the bits of marble that didn't belong to him? Questions
like this one have puzzled every philosopher since the beginning of
philosophy. Plato invented his famous theory of forms to answer it.
That's why Socrates in the Dialogues talks more about the arts than
anything else; endless discussions of whether the art of flute-making
serves that of flute-playing, and so on. Platonism is a theory invented
to explain, and to control, art and technology. His answer to the
"David" question is that information, or the "forms", are what is real.
Matter isn't. David exists, the marble he's made out of doesn't. In
Ken Wark's terms, Michelangelo's David is a "vector". David exists as
a specter of abstraction from his "material substrate," and spooky
things like him, now becoming increasingly distinct in the thickening
haze of intellectual property law, are increasingly running today's

What all of this has to do with Empire is pretty clear from historical
events, both ancient and current. Plato invented his theories largely
in order to save Greece, which was then dying from the self-inflicted
wounds of the Peloponnesian War. He found a tyrant, Dion of Syracuse,
through whom to try out his political theories on the dying culture,
but it was already too late for Greece. But Plato had a student named
Aristotle. And Aristotle had a student named Alexander the Great.
Centuries later, the theories of Plato and the metaphysical ideas of
Greece in general had come to dominate the thought of Greece's
conquerors, the Romans, and became Stoicism. The Stoics believed in
living life according to that greatest of the Greek inventions, Nature.
The greatest of the Stoic disciples were the Antonine Caesars, lords
of the Pax Romana at its height, and the greatest of these was the
emperor Marcus Aurelius.

Many centuries later, another devotee of Plato's Nature, Leo Strauss,
fled his native country, which was then also a republic decaying into
an Empire, and left behind one of the leading legal architects of that
Empire, his colleague and mentor Carl Schmitt. Leo Strauss ended up in
the USA and found a disciple there named Allan Bloom. Allan Bloom had
a disciple named Paul Wolfowitz. Paul Wolfowitz's current boss is
Donald Rumsfeld. Rumsfeld's current boss is George W. Bush. Yes, a new
Tyrant of Syracuse has been found. Is a Kingdom of (Third) Nature at

Ken Wark, in one of his recent posts, talks a lot about Harold Innis
and a little about a man who was greatly influenced by Innis, Marshall
McLuhan. As most of us here know, McLuhan was a literary critic, a 
personal friend and champion of Ezra Pound and Wyndham Lewis. By the
end of his career, McLuhan believed he had taken achieved the highest
goal possible in his chosen field of poetics; namely, a general theory
of the human artifact. Plato again. McLuhan's book appeared posthumously
and was called the "Laws of Media: The New Science." The reference is
to Giambattista Vico, a 18th-century Italian "anti-Modern" who was
steeped in ancient Roman law and its informing Stoic natural law
doctrine that those who live according to Nature are fit to rule those
who do not. Contemporary "anti-Modern" Leo Strauss, as he reports in
the 1971 preface to his book "Natural Right and History," studied Vico
thoroughly, as do Strauss's disciples today.

But perhaps more obviously relevant to our current situation is a much
earlier work of McLuhan's, found in "The Interior Landscape," a 1969
anthology of McLuhan's literary criticism. The editor of this volume
placed this essay at the end of the book because he considered it to
be an epitome of the great man's entire career. This essay, which first
appeared in 1946, is called "An Ancient Quarrel in Modern America." It's
mostly about the Great Books program at the University of Chicago that
Leo Strauss eventually took over from Robert Maynard Hutchins in 1948.
But it's also about the old struggle in the USA between the North and
the South, between a North that long ago opted for abstraction and
technology and a South that opted instead for the competing "Nature"
tradition of Cicero and Stoicism, in which "all knowledge is sub-
ordinated to the development of political prudence" [3]. Reading this
essay leaves no doubt that McLuhan, self-appointed standard-bearer of
the Vichian "new science" of natural law, sided with the South in this
quarrel. As did Hutchins, of course, that "eminent Kentuckian."

Most of us are familiar with the "peculiar institution" of the American
South that followed rather naturally from the idea, familiar also in
the South's beloved legal tradition of Greece and Rome, that some are
destined by Nature to rule over others. Most of us are about to become
more familiar with it than we have ever been before. As we willingly
give up our democracy to become "radical democrats"; as we willingly
embrace, at the advice of our tenured and foundation-funded gurus, a
world in which our rights, like those of the Southern slaves, depend
on WHO we are, not WHERE we are; as we embrace a "Global South" that
isn't perhaps what we expected; as we willingly and joyfully jettison
the dying world of science and technology in favor of a Ciceronian
world in which all knowledge is subordinated to "the political"; as
we enter a world in which we may once again be punished, this time
via the DCMA, for reading things we're not entitled to read, we're
about to learn again exactly what that "peculiar institution" feels
like on our own skin. Didn't McLuhan also say that a key effect of
the electric environment of telesthesia would be to retrieve pre-
modern, pre-industrial, tribal forms of organization? Well, starting
this month, we'll finally discover what he really meant. Enjoy.

Kermit Snelson

[1] Hardt and Negri, _Empire_, p.407-11
[2] Dahrendorf, Ralf, "Can Democracy Survive Globalization?",
    _The National Interest_, Number 65 (Fall 2001), p.22
[3] McLuhan, Marshall, "The Invisible Landscape", 1969, p.227

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