Geert Lovink on Fri, 17 May 96 20:45 MDT

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nettime: about Hypernation

From: (Hank Bull)


"Sovereign nations' politicos will find that trying to arrest=20
networking is like trying to arrest the waves of the ocean."
R. Buckminster Fuller, 1983.

Commissioned by OBORO in Montreal, with the assistance of the=20
Western Front in Vancouver, Hypernation is a project in art and=20
telecommunications that was initiated by Daniel Dion and Hank=20
Bull through telephone and e-mail exchanges during the last=20
referendum in Quebec on October 30th 1995. Currently coordinated=20
and conducted by Hank Bull, with the assistance of many artists=20
accross Canada,  it is intended to address the impact of network=20
technologies on the identity of nation states in general, and on the=20
future of Canada and Quebec in particular.

An Internet discussion list was begun at the end of February, 1996.=20
This group and its debate keeps expanding and 80 people are=20
currently participating. Excerpts of the discussions and more=20
information about the project is available by consulting the Western=20
Front Web site at

Between May 27th and June 21st 1996, a number of live=20
communications events will take place, employing IRC, CUSeeMe,=20
fax, mini-FM, videophones and ISDN teleconferencing. At Oboro=20
in Montreal (May 27-31), At S=E9quence in Chicoutimi (June 5th), at=20
Inter/Access in Toronto (June 18th) and at the Annual Meeting of=20
the Film and Video Alliance in Winnipeg (June 20th).

"The nation state, as defined by borders, passports, central=20
governments and economic policies, is chronically dysfunctional,=20
destabilized by trans-national capitalism, information technology,=20
and the aspirations of  indigenous peoples and communities defined=20
over the centuries by language, religion, and art. Nation is=20
henceforth defined by culture. What nation are you? Maybe you are=20
several nations." From the opening statement.

The discussion takes off from the context of Canada and Quebec,=20
and moves quickly onto international terrain. DER SPIEGEL runs=20
an interview with the German Minister of Justice, Edzard Schmidt-
Jortzig.  "The internet has no borders. What is illegal in one state=20
will simply be served to the net elsewhere... I think the internet with=20
its unlimited possibilites of communication and its anarchistic=20
structure is one of the most amazing challenges the state currently=20
has to face. Faster than we would have thought, the traditional=20
national state will prove obsolete." The idea of the global citizen in=20
the internet, who no longer has to cope with national ideas, is a nice=20
vision, he says, but still very unrealistic. For some time, national=20
states would remain authoritative and defend their function. "But I=20
am afraid that this stuggle will eventually fail."

Leaking through the borders of nation states, are nomads, networks,=20
diasporas, genders, triads, refugees. The nation state, construct of a=20
patriarchal imagination, is circumvented, if not rejected outright, by=20
many who prefer to define themselves as First Nations, Queer=20
Nation and and now Netland, not unlike the independent black=20
nation in America proposed by Malcom X.

Images of community, based on shared interest, gender,=20
sexuality-are they enough to define a nation? Yes, if their=20
members say so. The Slovenian industrial band, Laibach, starts its=20
own nation, the NSK State, issuing passports (that people have=20
actually used successfully), postage stamps and currency, "based on=20
the principles of no borders, no nationality and so on." Faced with=20
the urgency and compromise of Slovenia's transformation, they=20
"only feel comfortable in the Utopian states that we can create=20
ourselves." The semi-detached parody of political realities.=20
"Territoires Nomades", a project of le lieu, a group from Quebec=20
City, also involves handing out passports and inscribing citizens.=20

The Hypernation discussion rejects the trope of staking a claim to=20
some virtual territory, of recreating the nation, or finding its=20
'equivalent' in cyberspace. "I do not want to participate in the=20
creation of a nation in cyberspace.  It is an oxymoron. I propose=20
that we ask: what is culture in cyberspace?" Peter Sandmark.=20
"Communities I can dig," says Pam Hall, "collectives I can ralate=20
to, but 'nations' seem like board games of the male god... In=20
cyberspace, perhaps there is an opportunity to meet the 'curious=20
other' and bond/build/bridge on the basis of consensual=20
participation... I find those things more present in 'neighbourhood',=20
regional terrains of commonality, and little groupings, not in big=20
ideas about the nation state.

All nations are imaginary constructions. They are a collective=20
fantasy, depend on a border, and the creation of an outside, an alien=20
unknown. How to resolve the frontiers. It's a framing problem=20
really: how can you have two works of art inside a single frame?=20
There must be a way. But Hypernation also rejects the idea of "one=20
planet one nation" (complete with space aliens as foreigners.) =20
Difference is important, a wealth of cultural diversity, ideally=20
ensured on the net by the difference of languages. Will English,=20
with a California accent, become the lingua france of the net?

"I agree with cybercitizen Peter, were it not that I am left hanging=20
desperately to the notion of nation as the last stand against=20
American consumer culture." Ken Anderlini, writing from=20

Corporate powers rule. "As capital becomes more and more mobile=20
the worker, the citizen, the definable by place culture and the nation=20
state itself becomes a side show of the transit and speed of power."=20
Oliver Hockenhull.=20

"Ethnic cleansing is done by accountants according to IMF=20
sanctioned economic models. Clean. Unplug the old and sick."  Ken=20

"Am I paranoid to feel that there's astonishing parallels between=20
Germany pre-WWII and the US now?" Ardelle Lister.

"To articulate the past historically does not mean to recognize it 'the=20
way it really was'. It means to seize hold of a memory as it flashes=20
up at a moment of danger... Only that historian will have the gift of=20
fanning the spark of hope in the past who is firmly convinced that=20
even the dead will not be safe from the enemy if the enemy wins. =20
And this enemy has not ceased to be victorious." Walter Benjamin.=20
(Yes, the compiler of citations himself returns, on a listserv.)

An oscillation between skeptical and optimistic, between uptopian=20
and dystopian visions of the the future, affects this list as it does=20
many. There is nothing approaching consensus, but the discussion is=20
at least willing to dream of a new democracy.

"Synarchy, or synchronous, synthetic anarchy, involves individuals=20
linked technologically, socially, collaboratively, and professionally=20
in organic spontaneous relationship webs instead of linearly defined=20
or institutionally directed roles. Synarchy is an non-organizational=20
non-structure (network) based on the principles of a responsible,=20
synchronous, creative, caring, coordinated anarchistic and artistic=20
involvement. Making this anti-system possible is computer assisted=20
community networking, facilitating intercommunications within the=20
nomadic virtual tribe. Not a collectivist or industrial model=20
cooperative, there are no meetings, no dues, no qualifications=20
except the self-declaration of participatory engagement. I network=20
therefore I am." Derek Dowden.

It is difficult putting words to something only now coming into=20
being. The image of a spiral, or helix, is invoked to descibe this=20
evolutionary movement, this new nation. The spiral metaphor leads=20
through poetry, fiction and eventually to Bronze Age Gaelic culture=20
initiates crawling naked through a spiral tunnel dug into a barrow,=20
or some such earthworks. Net spelunking. At one point even the=20
name destabilizes, morphing into Hybernation, Hemponation,=20
Ruination, Slow Sedation, Fast Sedition -- as if the very act of=20
fixing a name to something is a capitulation that our distributed =20
identity can no longer support.=20

"It's the connection between the world and knowledge, between=20
ideas and things, that is really at stake here, for it is our structures=20
of knowledge that are most radically shifting as a result of=20
massively networked culture." Michael Century.=20

The world and knowledge. Here in Hypernation, world means=20
Land. As identity becomes hybrid, and distributed over the the net,=20
how does that change our ecology, the relationship of human=20
community to the land and to other beings? In April, signatures,=20
copyright, the ownership of words become an issue.=20

"Who tills the land owns the land," said Emiliano Zapata.  Does=20
anybody really own the land, or is it all usurped? Nationalism is=20
really a local response to imperial oppression. Zapata's, like all=20
agrarian revolutions had the removal of a coercive landlord class as=20
its chief agenda item. It sounds like the contemporary Zapatistas=20
want to move it ahead a notch. The current principle of Aboriginal=20
Title could function as a pointer. It resists ownership of the land. It=20
says rather, "We are the custodians of the land." Can Aboriginal=20
Title permit the possibility of several nations living together on the=20
same territory. Can it recognize nations in motion, nomadic,=20
traversing the land.=20

"I agree that the land is not owned but would add that we are the=20
land; we exist because of the natural process of transforming one=20
life form into another; from rock comes soil comes plant comes=20
animal comes human" Bob Ewing.

"Here [on the net] is the mind-world of the people. An abstract=20
world where material objects are replaced by ideas. An anarchical=20
everyone's world with an ethos based on sharing. Long may it stay=20
so. It is the revolution." Samela Harris.

Meanwhile, copyright tightens its grip on the planet. Nationalist=20
institutions and the real powers behind them (real power is oil,=20
electricity, coal, nuclear) are still masters on the net. The hierarchies=20
are stronger than ever. Just look at the way your computer handles=20
files and algorithms. Far from decentralizing things, electronic=20
communications, on cables that run along the old railway and=20
automobile rights of way, have concentrated power like never=20

At this point there is a sense of melancholy longing about=20
Hypernation. Where is home? Are we exiles in this space? Or is=20
this indeed the site of some great upheaval, a huge turning point in=20
human history, like the invention of agriculture? The net transcends=20
borders, escapes all attempts to control it, deals a post-money=20
economy, and functions, finally, as a massive, entirely innocent, and=20
even unconscious subversion of the existing organization of power.=20

It is easy, and irresistibly tempting, to dream. Geert Lovink calls it a=20
"universal mirror of collective wish production." The net is a=20
desiring machine. What's needed is a "fusion of collective desire=20
and revolutionary organization" Felix Guattari.=20

Tonight, finishing this report, I check for new messages:  "All kinds=20
of wonderful things and ideas happen in dreams ... and the net is as=20
close to a dreamscape as I can imagine. I have been sitting in front=20
of a machine like this for as long as I can remember and dreaming=20
my dream across the planet with whomsoever happened by. It is the=20
dream of the ham radio freak, the hacker, the artist ... There was a=20
time when I expected a networked utopia -- a time when we would=20
ALL be "connected" in digital Valhalla ... connected by our=20
fingertips on the keyboard.  The remarks above show that I expect=20
that dream to remain a dream ... it was the dream of a "white,=20
middleclass, reasonably educated English speaker" (who does not=20
happen to live in California).... The ~desire~ remains." Robert=20

"Politics is the science that teaches the people of a country to care=20
for each other." William Lyon Mackenzie, Canada, 1836

These notes are compiled in Vancouver by list moderator,=20
Hank Bull <>

Information about Hypernation may be found at=20
You may join the list by sending email to
with the message: subscribe hypernation
Zone autonome de recherche, de cr=E9ation et d'=E9change.
What is a nation in cyberspace?

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