joanne richardson on Tue, 13 Nov 2001 19:22:03 +0100 (CET)

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

[Nettime-ro] subsol: "Notes on Sovereign Media"

Preview of next issue of subsol,

We would like to compile a selection of short texts
and reflections on "sovereign media", and invite them
in the form of responses to this post… 

Please reply to Joanne Richardson at


Notes on Sovereign Media 
Geert Lovink & Joanne Richardson 

In this age of media overproduction, information
immunity is a question of life or death. Data are no
longer stimuli to interest, but an inimical barrage
constituting a physical threat. From exchange to
effacement: communication is preying on naked
existence. This condition takes the shape of the
catastrophe while simultaneously embodying a promise
of liberation. 

Sovereign media do not criticize the baroque data
environments or experience them as threats, but
consider them material, to use as they please. They
operate beyond clean and dirty, in the garbage system
ruled by chaos pur sang. Their carefree rummaging in
the universal media archive is not a management
strategy for jogging jammed creativity. Sovereign
media refuse to be positively defined and are good for
nothing. They demand no attention and constitute no
enrichment of the existing media landscape. Once
detached from every meaningful context, they switch
over in fits and starts from one audio-video
collection to the next. The autonomously multiplying
connections generate a sensory space, which is
relaxing as well as nerve racking. This tangle can
never be exploited as a trend-sensitive genre again.
All the data in the world alternately make up one
lovely big amusement park and a five star survival
trek in the paranoid category, where humor descends on
awkward moments like an angel of salvation and lifts
the program up out of the muck.

>From the calculating perspective of the mainstream,
media are intermediaries, conduits for communication,
communicators of information. Media mediate
information and carry it from A to B. They are
presented as the condition of possibility for the
exchange of information in its commodity form. The
most useful media efface their presence; they
disseminate the information in the most condensed form
in the shortest possible time to the largest audience.
Economy ultimately reduces itself to the economy of
time--Marx said somewhere. And vice versa, time
reduces itself to economy--to measurement and
circulation for profit. The clock is necessary for the
calculation and the organization of life under the
rules of business. At the dawn of capitalism,
merchants discovered the price of time as a
consequence of the calculability of space. The
exchange of commodities entailed movement from a point
to its destination, and the time taken up by movement
through space became subordinated to the money-form. 

Media signify mastery over time under the rule of
profit. Sovereign media are instances of mastery over
nothingness … free of motivation, without purpose,
they let themselves go, driven by the winds of data.
Sovereign media are fundamentally disinterested, they
don't care about the extraction of value or a surplus
of meaning, they are beyond the demand for information
and the utilization principle of the network.
Sovereign media lack any comprehensive idea of its
customer base. They cannot comprehend the language of
mass media, a language militarized by the clock,
reduced to sharp words that carry blunt concepts. They
do not pay attention to the attention economy.
Sovereign media are self-exponential. What they
communicate is something other than information. They
communicate themselves, liberated from the most
oppressive category around: the audience. Casting
beyond "the public" is the ultimate form of media

Sovereign media insulate themselves against
hyperculture. They seek no connection; they
disconnect. This is their point of departure--we have
a liftoff. They leave the media surface and orbit the
multimedia network as satellites. These
do-it-yourselfers shut themselves up inside a
selfbuilt monad, an "indivisible unit" of introverted
technologies which, like a room without doors or
windows, wishes to deny the existence of the manifest
world. Sovereign media are not individual monads,
rather, the world they inhabit is a monad, a parallel
universe… beyond (or beside) the universe of the
mainstream media and its demand for representation,
reality and truth. 

Sovereign media have not abolished the desire for
connection and communication; they communicate with
each possible node within their parallel universe. But
their communication act is a denial of the maxim "I am
networked, therefore I am." The atmosphere inside the
sealed cabin conflicts with the ideology of
networking, which subordinates the process of making
links and connections to a practical goal, a concrete
project, the promise of a future gain. Networking is
never fully in the present nor fully in-itself, it is
endured for the sake of something always just out of
immediate reach. Sovereign media have severed the ties
to utility, the weight of time, the labor of the
project, the measurement of profit. Freed from the
demand for information, communication becomes
gregariousness, a gracious form of sociability. It
becomes what in fact it always was--a process of
forging social relations that are not subject to
exchange (giving something for the purpose of
extracting a return). The public is freed of its
obligation to show off its interest and can finally
stop paying attention. The desire to connect is
determined by the pleasure of communication rather
than the imperative to exchange information or
establish a (political) agenda. 

Sovereign media differ from the post '68 concept of
alternative media (and its most recent metamorphosis
into "Indy" media) as well as from 1990s tactical
media. Alternative media work on the principle of
counter propaganda and mirror the mainstream media,
which they feel needs to be corrected and
supplemented. Their strategic aim is a changed
consciousness--making individuals aware of their
behavior and opinions. These little media work with a
positive variant of the cancer (or virus) model, which
assumes that in the long term everyone, whether
indirectly or through the big media, will become
informed about the problem being broached. They
presuppose a tight network stretched around and
through society, so that in the end the activism of a
few will unleash a chain reaction by the many.
Alternative media have to appropriate Truth in order
to operate. For sovereign media there is no Truth,
only data which can be taken apart and reassembled in
trillions of bytes.

The post-68 alternative media universe took shape as a
swarm of little grassroots initiatives, self-organized
by the "radicals" and militants--media from below in
the form of community newspapers, radio, and
television, which were only locally available, but
untroubled by their local constraints. This changed
during the 1990s when the internet made it possible
for do-it-yourself media to transcend their local
boundaries, and become transnational, like their
uni-directional global counterpart, the mainstream
media. The Independent media of the 1990s is the
globalization of the alternative media (due to the
democratization of technology) and the
universalizability of the principle of

Indy media, as the most recent legacy of the
alternative media model, seek to supplant the old
media universe. These counter media constitute an
internal, dialectical negation, an immanent critique
that can never get out from the presuppositions of the
system it challenges. (We need only think of Marxism's
dialectical negation of capitalism, which preserved
the imperative of productivity, the utility of
instrumental technology, the repressive apparatus of
the State, police and standing army, as a necessary
"first stage.") The mass media universe purports to be
a true, genuine, democratic form of representation.
Indy media critique these pretensions from the inside,
wanting to expose the ideological shell behind them.
But they want to preserve the rational kernel, to
offer a form of media that is a true, genuine,
democratic form of representation. Indy media aspire
to become the dialectical supersession of mass media,
and dream of a future when media itself will be
transcended, insofar as media implies a separation
between sender and receiver. With the democratization
of information, as the receivers can become,
potentially, the senders, such a separation is
abolished, and information becomes a free-floating
field, a pure transparency. The truth of Indy media is
the post-medial universe of unmediated relationships.

Indy media work by deploying counter-propaganda. They
oppose the false, ideological shell of the mass media
with counter-statements made from a
counter-perspective. Independent media are dependent
on the image of the mass media, which they seek to
reverse--they need to bounce off this shell, often
borrowing the same strategies. Propaganda is putting
forward a position without being aware of its
construction, taking it for something natural or
inevitable, disarticulating the ideology it shelters
and preserves. The counter media do not question the
position from which they speak. It is self-evident.
And like mainstream media, they are deadly serious,
they fight, militantly, to defend their position. They
have a mission, a supreme Cause--the revolution in
ruins--and, perpetually, they wait. Caught in the web
of journalistic discourse, they too calculate time.
Still not actual, they invest their energy toward some
future beyond that legitimates their existence.
Showing off their militancy, they are often blind to
internal contradictions, closed off to the possibility
of criticism, and devoid of the principle of pleasure.
Propaganda and reflection do not always make good
friends. And pleasure can become a danger to the
Cause, it can throw it off-track, it can drown its
unaware victims in a sea of forgetfulness. And above
all, the counter media need to remember, to measure
offenses, to accuse, to seek retribution. 

Tactical media, by contrast, do not take themselves
that seriously. They don't need to take the moral high
ground and instead look for cracks in the media
system. They know how to laugh, occasionally, even at
themselves. Urged by their desire to form new
coalitions they are capable of taking risks, even if
this means they might self-destruct in the process.
Clever tricks, the hunter's cunning, maneuvers,
polymorphous situations, joyful discoveries, poetic as
well as warlike. The tacticals are rebellious users of
the mass media universe, whose messages they jam and
hijack. As happy negatives, they are determined by
their enemy. A fake GWBush page by RTMark cannot exist
without the "authentic" one, which it parodies without
reserve. Culture jammers do not exist without
corporate billboards. Tactical media use what is
handy, what can be improvised in the moment. They do
not deploy the same strategies as the inside, they shy
away from solemnity, and the claims to truthful
representation. Tactical media create a system of
disinformation, which implicitly questions the power
and status of signs. Information becomes laughable, it
is exposed as a sham. The truth is not a hardcore
database full of "facts" but only appears as a brief
moment of revelation, popping up out of the
(collective) unconscious.

Tactical media may be art, but they are not, however,
"disinterested"--ultimately, they have some long-term
political aim, they labor for a future cause, even
though they may know how to enjoy the moment. They
have given up the masses, but they seek to change the
consciousness of a minority, by conducting a politics
by other means, a politics that has surpassed itself
and become an art form. They wage not
counter-propaganda, but propaganda of the hoax. The
toolbox of tactical media is sometimes borrowed from
the basement of the avant-gardes, who although not
"militant" in the strict political sense, made a
fetish out of the metaphors warfare and terrorism. And
metaphors are not always innocent. The avant-gardes
began decomposing a long time ago, as the militarism
concealed in their names, gestures, and mode of
organization came increasingly under disrepute.  But
sometimes they can still be heard gasping for life,
somewhere beyond the grave of history, having since
metamorphosed into "communication guerrillas." 
Unlike the media of opposition, which are based on a
radical critique of capitalist (art) production,
sovereign media have alienated themselves from the
entire business of media politics and the contemporary
arts scene. An advanced mutual disinterest hampers any
interaction. They move in parallel worlds which do not
interfere with each other. No counter information or
criticism of politics or art is given in order to
start up a dialogue with the authorities. Sovereign
media have cut all surviving imaginary ties with
truth, reality and representation. They no longer
concentrate on the wishes of a specific target group,
as the alternative and tactical media still do. They
have emancipated themselves from any potential
audience, and thus they do not approach their audience
as a moldable market segment, but offer it the "royal
space" the other deserves.

The royal Other is not a receiver of information, but
a partner in a communication without purpose.
Sovereign media are media without the message, the
dialectic of media at a standstill. They are stalled
at the intermediary step of making connections,
without moving toward an aim, without the finality of
exchange. Sovereign media lift up the media as an end
in-itself. This should not be understood as a desire
for the "purification" of the medium, a desire that
has accompanied every old and new media revolution. On
the day film was born, for instance, the
conceptualists of purity wanted to eliminate from its
realm everything that did not belong to it--narrative,
representation, metaphors--and which had been imported
from other media, like literature. The sovereignty of
media is not a phenomenological reduction or
purification of a language specific to "media as
such." Sovereignty is not a conceptual project, but an
aesthetic wandering. Communication ceases to be a
general equivalent through which something is
quantified and squeezed; it becomes an end in itself,
narcissistic, ecstatic, and free. 

If Indy media labor to become the supersession
(Aufhebung) of media into Truth, sovereign media are
its total dispersion. The counter media seek to
abolish the separation between sender and receiver,
between medium and the message, thereby completing the
internal development of media. Sovereign media inhabit
a universe which is post-medial in another sense.
There is no sender and receiver because there is no
broadcast and no message. Sovereign media do not
surpass the sender-receiver regime by bringing it to
its completion, they take no interest in it, they
annihilate the problem, and with it, the desire for a

Without being otherwise secretive about their own
existence, the sovereigns remain unnoticed, since they
stay in the blind spot that the bright media radiation
creates in the eye. And that's the reason they need
not be noticed as an avant-garde trend and expected to
provide art with a new impetus. The reason sovereign
media are difficult to distinguish as a separate
category is because the shape in which they appear can
never shine in its full lustre. The program producers
don't show themselves; we see only their masks, in the
formats familiar to us. Every successful experiment
that can possibly be pointed to as an artistic or
political statement is immediately exposed to
contamination. The mixers inherently do not provoke,
but infect chance passersby with corrupted banalities
which present themselves in all their friendly
triviality. An inextricable tangle of meaning and
irony makes it impossible for the experienced media
reader to make sense of this.

So what are sovereign media? The form of the question
might be incorrect. Sovereign media are. In the
pleasure of Being Media, sure of themselves and
lacking nothing, they embark on a journey to shape the
data universe.

November 2001, Sydney/Zagreb

Do You Yahoo!?
Find the one for you at Yahoo! Personals
Nettime-ro mailing list