Sean Cubitt on Mon, 16 Mar 2009 12:38:03 -0400 (EDT)

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Re: <nettime> Digital Humanities Manifesto

The isomorphism discussion is interesting: it seems to be more about
homology than isomorphism properly speaking. But if it is about homology,
anmd perhaps about the kind of structural homology intimated by Lucien
Goldman way back in Le Dieu Cach?, and very important to the first
generation of Birmingham Cultural Studies, then it raises a couple of
interesting further reflections for a possible Digital Humanities

One is about what is likely to be homologous, and at what scales. For
instance, the math being talked through here is largely logic, and a logic
extrapolated from some key moments at the end of the 19th century concerning
the derivations of number from zero and the distinction between orders of
infinity. Boolean algebra has a close relation with the emergent set theory
of the early 20th century.These are products of a specific period in
history.If the thesis of homology holds good, then there should be a
structural diagram held in common by the political and economic shape of the
era and its emergent universal articulation in enumerable units. To anyone
raised on Marx, this looks indubitably like the general equivalence of
commodities and their potential to be exchanged for a universal equivalent,
money. As money is floated free of material (the gold standard) to become
entirely mathematical in nature, the unit nature of calculation becomes
universal logic. QED.

The other concerns the hardwiring of such homologies, and suggests that we
should be extending discussion from machine code and software studies into
hardware ? after all, that case was made in Kittler?s ?There is no Software?
some years ago now.Here however we hit some interesting problems. It is true
that, for example, both CMOS and CCD chips operate on a unit grid.But the
way they do so differs quite dramatically, in particular the integration of
amplifying functions in CMOS. Chip design would be one more field where we
stand in need of a development of understanding ? if it is the case that
homologies inform the deep structure of the digital regime which we inhabit.
So for example both chips average the light over the area of each pixel over
the duration of exposure and record that as voltage which is subsequently
digitised as a whole number. The averaging function suggests, alongside the
clock function required to ?drain? the array of charge from the chip in row
order, that where not only equivalence but averaging are in play, the
discussion can?t be restricted to the commodity form but requires an address
to the ?management of populations? which the tradition out of Foucault sees
as vital. 

To leap to a conclusion: if there is a characteristic structural diagram for
our epoch  ??let?s call it ?the database economy? ? and there is a
structural homology between it and its key expressions (?a satellite
represents a colossal accumulation of the very forms of industrial, military
and scientific capital and power and knowledge? Lisa Parks, Cultures in
Orbit, p.7)  then the places to look for such symptomatic structures ought
to include the fine points of hardware design, which should never be taken
as given or universal. That is the point.

Must fly


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