Geert Lovink on Thu, 7 Jan 1999 08:08:04 +0100 (MET)

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Syndicate: All that is solid ends up in Technofile (fwd)

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>From Thu Jan  7 01:51:54 1999
Subject: All that is solid ends up in Technofile

Another international recognition of ARKZIN work:
Sunday Review - Independent on Sunday, Jan 3, 1999
Technofile 67
by Marek Kohn


If you want to know which bits of Marx's thought continue to haunt us, the
digital industries will tell you. Of all Marx's writings, one passage
leaps into electric relief: 

Constant revolutionizing of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all
social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the
bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast frozen relations,
with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are
swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify.
All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is
at last compelled to face with sober senses his real condition of life and
his relations with his kind. 

        That's from the Communist Manifesto, which Marx and Engels wrote
in 1848. At the time of the final great upsurge of Marxist faith, in 1968,
these words would perhaps have seemed anachronistic to many of the great
unconverted. Television was going into colour and men were going to the
Moon, but for millions of people in the West, the phrase "everlasting
uncertainty and agitation" would not have spoken to their own experience
of daily life. People thought that they could enjoy both progress and
security.  If they were lucky, they might stay in a job for life; their
times of sickness and old age underwritten by social contracts that would
not be rewritten or torn up. By now they have become much richer, but
everlasting uncertainty and agitation is the normal condition. 
         The digital industries are the vanguard of the constant
production revolution, in which technology is stable for weeks rather than
months, let alone years. Last spring, wanting to check the quote, I
downloaded a copy of The Communist Manifesto from the Marx/Engels Internet
Archive. When I came back to it in the summer, it wouldn't open, because
the copy I had saved using Internet Explorer 4.0 was incompatible with
Explorer 4.01, to which I had upgraded in the meantime. 
         Meanwhile, over in Zagreb, the wired dissidents at Arkzin were
working on a new interface for the Manifesto itself, which they have
published in print and as a multimedia Web production, with an opening
title sequence and images that drift around the text. A old communist logo
bearing the faces of Marx and Engels is followed by those of Microsoft and
Sony. The Manifesto can be launched by clicking on a Windows 'Start' icon.
It's Pop Art in reverse: instead of taking the ideology out of an icon of,
say, Chairman Mao, it pastes the ideology into the pages of popular
culture. And it re-brands communism as a dynamic force for the coming
century, complete with Dynamic HTML. As the Arkzin crew say, the spectacle
is worth a look even if you can't read Croatian, in which the text
         It would be unwise to assume that just because the pages look
cool, the exercise is merely a fashion venture. Whatever the reasons for
the minor vogue that Marx and the Communist Manifesto enjoyed in this
country earlier in this 150th anniversary year, the motives in an
ex-communist region are different. "Perhaps the answers offered by The
Communist Manifesto are no longer pertinent," admits the Slovenian
philosopher Slavoj Zizek in his introductory essay, sections of which
appear in English on the Arkzin site.  But the post-communists know better
than anyone why answers are needed, Zizek observes. Forced as they are to
live out the contradiction between globalised capitalism and reasserted
national identity, most of them get the worst of both worlds. 
         On the Web page, the IBM logo hovers above these remarks,
together with the corporate slogan: Solutions for a small planet*. It can
only be a matter of time before some Internet enterprise enhances its
brand with 'All that is solid melts into air*'. 

_____ also