Pit Schultz on Mon, 19 May 1997 19:27:52 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> Peter Lamborn Wilson: Response to the Tactical Media Manifesto

Fax from Autonomedia  05-12-97

Response to the Tactical Media Manifesto:
A Network of Castles

Tactical media, then, would be a kind of filth--an organic process--as 
compared with the ideological cleanliness of strategic media (the "author").

Do we need a defense of filth, or a theory of filth--as fertility, as 
pleasure, as relaxation from the rigidities of "Civilization"?  Not 
nostalgia for the mud, but the mud itself ?  Or would such theorizing simply 
become another kind of tidying-up process--an erasure of its own theoretical 

The tactical problem consists of the need (or desire) to stay ahead of 
representation --not just to escape it, but to attain through mobilization a 
relative invulnerability from to representation.  And the problematic aspect 
of the problem is that all media--even tactical media--deal in representation.

Thus one can follow the trajectory of a given tactical medium, through ever 
greater representation, towards the fate of being subsumed into some 
strategy.  And the fatal black hole toward which so many of these 
trajectories vanish is Capital--of course.

Everything is a process of being cleaned up.  To preserve its autonomy the 
tactical medium wants to remain dirty--it can never let itself be surrounded 
and cleared by strategy, by ideology.  It must stay out ahead, drifting 
before all possible waves, uncertain even of its own trajectory.

By another paradox, this uncertainty itself becomes a "principle."  It comes 
to occupy the space of a strategy--and thus to define a strategic space.  No 
"authors" need to be implicated.  A messy organic process--involving both 
reason and unreason--not imposed or categorical--emergent.  Shape-shifting.  
Dangerous and plagued by failures.  But not aimless or undirected.  In 

Media as technologies ("machines") are perfect mirror-representations of the 
totality that produces them (or vice-versa).  The internet, for example, 
mirrors not only its military origin but also its affinity with Capital.  
Like globalism, it breaks through borders--it is a "chaos," like Capital 
(which seeks the Strange Attractor of the numisphere, where the numinous and 
the numismatic are one and eternal).  One might even speak of "nomadic" 
features ("migratory capital").  Like Capital, the Net is drawn toward 
virtuality, cognitive prosthesis, disembodiment.  But (the "vice versa" 
process) media tend simultaneously toward the production of the totality:--a 
complex multi-feedback relation.

In one sense, tactical media would then have to engage in the destruction 
and/or subversion ("substruction") of this complex--driving a wedge between 
the machine and the totality.  Such action would imply that the totality is 
far from total, that there will be interruptions along the feedback lines, 
breaks in "service"--missing zones, and zones of resistance.

Ad-hoc, constantly mutating, determinedly empirical, at this point tactics 
begin to coalesce into a strategy ("spontaneous ordering").   Because this 
strategy has no "author" (and is not ideologically driven) each tactical 
medium--each tactician as medium--will be able to seek direction from it 
without losing autonomy to it.  Thus the complex interplay between tactic 
and strategy is one of mutual validation or "co-emergence."

At this point, the metaphor of the castle--introduced by the 
Manifesto--takes on an added luster, or perhaps a baleful gleam.  The Nizari 
Ismailis (the so-called "Assassins") structured their polity around a 
network of remote castles, most of which were inaccessible to every medieval 
military tactic--even prolonged siege, since they were supplied with their 
own gardens and water.  Each high castle typically protected a fertile 
valley and was therefore self-sufficient--but full communication and even 
economic activity could take place within the network thanks to the 
"porosity" of medieval borders.  And thanks to the policy of assassination 
or threatened assassinations, kings and religious authorities hesitated to 
interfere.  This went on for centuries.

Some years ago I remarked that the Nizari model for utopia had been rendered 
impossible by modern technologies of war and communication.  Perhaps it 
would be interesting as a thought-experiment to see if this negative 
judgment still holds true.  From a military viewpoint of course it does--the 
"isolated castle" (or commune or the like) can still be eliminated by the 
push of a button.  But "the military" must have a reason for such action.  
Since "assassination" is an absurdity (e.g. the Unabomber)--and even 
"militance" must be re-defined--there may be no immediately apparent reason 
for the military to suppress a given "autonomous zone."

The question of communication technology is trivial by comparison, but 
interesting.  The Net as a "military" structure is "accessible to all," and 
even as Capital absorbs the Net these tactical areas of indeterminacy 
persist--the same holds true for all "intimate" or tactical media.  Thus the 
"network of castles" becomes possible--but the real question is whether the 
castle itself is possible.

Like any institution the castle will exist in part as a representation of 
itself in media.  The Assassins' castles were rooted partly in the 
imaginaire, in the image that pervaded medieval media (text, work-of-mouth, 
legend), in the image of mysterious inaccessibility and danger.  The Mongols 
finally destroyed Alamut not by direct assault but by demoralizing it with 
an even more fearsome image (pyramids of skulls from China to Hungary, 
etc.). But at its height of power, Alamut could dispense even with 
assassination, since the image alone sufficed to ward off all military and 
political attention.

Under the regime of global neo-liberalization or pan-capitalism that 
triumphed in 1989, the nation-states of the world have begun to "privatize" 
all social functions for the collection of taxes for the support of military 
and police force, and the use of that force in the interests of Capital.  
The "natural law of the free market," however, clashes with the remnants of 
social ideology embedded in such structures as the UN, the EU, or even the 
"old" liberal or conservative regimes of certain states.  Politics in such 
situations becomes a matter cognitive dissonance. 

This is exacerbated by the appearance of "new media" which mirror the global 
totality but also enhance the cognitive dissonance (negative feedback, 
"noise") inherent in the representations of the totality.  Capital seems to 
have a logic of its own--the tendency of money to define all human 
relations, if you will--but in truth neither capitalists nor politicians can 
really penetrate this logic or understand its direction--much less control 
it.  Huge conceptual gaps open in the structure of the "totality."  The 
question remains: are these gaps strategic? 

The gaps cut across sedimentary layers of actuality, and the gaps themselves 
tend to shift position, change shape, open and close.  Geography as well as 
the virtual space of the image, space as well as time constitute the 
mutating forms of these potential tactical regions.  some will be zones of 
depletion, in which all power has been shut off (there are rumors of strange 
tribes around Chernobyl...); others will be accidental autonomous zones 
which might involve classes, groups ("refugees") or specific areas.  Some 
will be liberratd zones (Chiapas), others will be deliberate seams.  Some 
will be "unseen," others will enter into representation.  In the midst of 
such fluidity, there must emerge some islands or rocks.  Castles will be 
occupied in the confusion, and later there will be no military advantage in 
destroying them.  The castles will not be defendable, but they will be 
irrelevant, unassimilable--to "remote" (even in the middle of ancient 
cities)--apparently pointless.  An air of shabby eccentricity might be 
useful here.

Another reason for Alamut's success was that any king who allowed it to 
exist could consider the possibility of a secret alliance, whereby money 
could be used to purchase immunity from the dagger--or perhaps even a 
contract on some other king--or most interesting of all, access to the 
secret sciences (astronomy, engineering and hydraulics, political 
philosophy, medicine, yogic techniques, etc.) of the Nizari observatories 
and libraries.  In modern terms we might say that capitalists and 
politicians are so confused and ignorant about new media (far moreso than 
the average artist or 14-year-old) that large sums of money are currently 
being spent on "secret sciences."  Out of the conflict between Capital and 
State over monopolies of representation, gaps can be produced--and made big 
enough to contain castles.

All this of course remains on the level of tactics.  But the construction of 
a "network of castles" would constitute not only (in itself) a pleasurable 
act of autonomy and self-organization, but also a "strategic" structure, or 
rather an organic and embodied complexity out of which a strategic dimension 
might well emerge.

Tierra y libertad

Peter Lamborn Wilson

NYC April 1, 1997

Some notes on the document history of the manifesto of tactical media:

The official version of the manifesto was posted to nettime and is available 
as "The ABC of Tactical Media" at http://www.waag.org/tmn

Peter Lamborn Wilson obviously answers to a previous version of the document
which was sent around earlier this year:

and David Garcia one co-author wrote already a new and own version of it:


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