People would Go Crazy

Date: Tue, 14 May 1996 19:17:44 +0000

From: Matthew Fuller <>

People Would Go Crazy

introduction to Word Bombs conference

'techno-' panel, May 1996

Matthew Fuller

In the 17th century the word technology was used almost exclusively to talk about grammar. At the and of the twentieth century, the machines of language and those of electrons are so irresolvably cross-contaminated that, whilst we are at once facing a world in which you can only tell whether you're a child or an adult by making the transition from being infantilised by the hardwired ontology of Disney to being infantilised by that of Microsoft, we are also being taken by the migration of language into new, transmogrifying contexts that shred such stable relations on contact.

When flesh is becoming increasingly protean, those who have historically been considered morphologically dubious share the doubled situation of facing both immense opportunity and of becoming increasingly subject to alteration and 'improvement'. When the current stories about the human being do not fit what is actually occurring, a hybrid model of existence is required to encompass a new, complex, and contradictory lived experience.Machinic fictions are ideally placed to deal with this mess of situations. As JG Ballard points out, 'Science Fiction is the literature of the Twentieth Century'.

This having been realised as a commonplace, we have seen a frenzy of stitching healthy plastic organs into a dead patient, SF writers such as Gibson and Stephenson have been decontextualised to revivify mainstream fiction. Never at one with itself though, Science Fiction has always been a place for border creatures of every kind. A speculative fiction that throws up more instruments of speculation than a looted hospital. As a motor of aberrant reflection it throws the truths that we are told about the world by endlessly narcissistic father / critic / author / authority into the blender. The multivalent paranoia of Science Fiction writers like Dick or Ballard or Pat Cadigan for instance is also echoed in the feminist writings of Luce Irigaray where:

"The logos would no longer simply be, for itself, the means of translating his will alone; of establishing, defining, and collecting his properties into one Whole. Truth would loose its univocal and universal character. It could be doubled, for example. At the very least it would have a reverse and an inverse to shore up its constitution as such. In any case, another, still hidden, aspect. Or another focus? Another mirror? There would be no way of knowing which way to look any more, which way to direct the eyes (of the soul) in order to see properly. People would go crazy."

An addiction to driving themselves or other people crazy throws writers into a directly political conflict. News Corporation's Asia Star satellite broadcasting is programmed in Mandarin, the region's numerically and culturally dominant language. Steamrollering out linguistic variation from space is seen by Rupert Murdoch as being extremely useful in the furtherance of the global mind become global clapometer. As he says: "it will be not only prosperity that we catch in our networks, but also order - and ultimately peace."

This plane of consistency enforces nothing but a peace smoothed by conformism: a smothering of tongues. Murdoch sends his image into orbit, but there is an intense fear at the source, the single satellite commanding millions of reflections of its signal. This is the fear of an alteration in some mirage that is always on the verge of being deformed, or transformed, but of which it still claims to be the source.


One development that has been thrown up in a literary context as a way of maximising the circumvention of the annexation of speech by a single unitary source is hypertext. The institutionally solidified nexus of hypertext studies around George Landow, Jay David Boulter and Michael Joyce has largely failed to produce anything much more than smug diagrammatical work-outs of a neutered poststructuralism. The great thing about hypertext after all is that there can be no masters, no final word. You can go on. and on. and on. Its interminability may just have something to do with why it is so favoured by many academics with an eye for the long chance. Thankfully though, the proponents of the tastefully interminable find themselves terminated, or at least locked into a loop by a kind of sorites paradox: how much literariness can you remove or do without before language ceases to be literature and your status by association evaporates into just one more breath?

Both hypertext and print have the doubled aspect of striation and smoothness. In a solely hypertexted universe, someone would have to invent the book. Once hypertext leaks out of the hands of its apologist priesthood however the virulence of its dynamic becomes apparent. One thing that is particularly important, and that we relish for instance in the production of I/O/D is that because of the strictly transitory nature of the format, the thing has got to be done for the moment. As Bruce Sterling notes: It doesn't matter how brilliant your program for the Atari 400 is, it's dead. Some huge section of the American populace sweated blood over software for the Apple IIe and pretty soon it will all be gone. It's just dreadfully impermanent; it's more like performance art than literature"

Already well beyond the power of its would-be intellectual protectorate though, the dynamic of hypertext - which has to be treated as a conceptual, or virtual dynamic, rather than one which is 'realised' by any particular existing system - is emerging and taking shape as the result of a massive amount of distributed action. As Sadie Plant states, embodied as the Net, this dynamic is starting to 'creep through the screens of representation which have previously filtered it out.' This is not of course to say that these screens themselves are not subject to constant reinvention. Again calling up Irigaray, we can note that, attempting to reinvigorate the Source, John Perry Barlow, certainly a poet warrior in the truly classic sense, can glibly assert: "The Internet is female because it is horizontal."

Whilst being on your back ain't of course so bad, I can think of better ways of getting formulated over than by a superannuated technoshaman. Forced into maintaining its functionality at the edge of dissolution into the hall of mirrors, control has had to become fractal, operating in a recursive manner at many different scales. The insect panic of not being the Source - the priest of the future - the same fear that composes Murdoch, is largely what passes for a culture of legitimation of the networks. One can sympathise of course with the motivation: "Next to domination, ownership is no doubt somewhat trivial."

Blocking up the future filtration systems of the net has been taken up by political activists, notably the Net Strikes initiated by the Italian group Strano Network. Finding ways to maximise their inevitable leakage, has, on the Alt X web site hosted by Mark Amerika provided a crucial example of how in a networked environment a writing project differentiates and, more necessarily, conjoins at times with a publishing project. One effect of the nets, and of this site in particular, is to encourage a mutant fictionality which could exist in no other context.

At present, technoculture in the UK tends to find itself most intensely realised on the dancefloor rather than on the telephone, and techno music provides a vector through which much of the fiction under discussion today can be explored. The materialist and instrumental understanding of language meshes with the compositional imperatives of techno: fast, distorted and brain-damaging - according to Praxis Records, true hardcore is, "anything that's not laid back, mind numbing or otherwise reflecting, celebrating, (or) complementing the status quo" .

Not suprisingly then, the yawnsomely canonical intertextuality of much postmodern fiction gets the stinky finger in favour of texts more along the lines of that described by DJ Deadly Buda in his Morphing Culture manifesto, hyping a turntable scenario that is seriously threatening to the continued stable identity of anyone expecting what they're expected to

"Jumble break to the best part of every song - that jet engine take off, that good ole football crowd noise, the explosion at the beginning of every KISS live album, that nutty pre-acid house baleric movement" "how often do you wish the musicians would just give it up and make a whole song out of all those kool sounds?"

As TechNET have shown, and like Jazz before it, electronic dance music seems set to provide a hardcore methodology that will find in fiction a perfect medium for its mutation and transmission. Cutting the legs from underneath a purely stylistic interpretation of what I am suggesting, Hardcore methodology - being nothing itself but a stupid joke - just laughs at its inevitable clip-art reiteration. Whilst most writers could do worse than produce an encore to the typing of their precious manuscript with an equal number of strokes of the delete key we are approaching the release of a fiction that swallows up the processing of words into the mutation engine of the sound studio. All the adaptivity and dysfunctionality of language is reinvigorated, thrown into communication.

Hardcore methodology, mashed up in the machines, induces a depth and power of revelation. Infesting fiction with the disturbing noise at the depths of language; and always yet another, still hidden, aspect. Another focus. Another rhythm. Another mirror. There is no way of knowing which way to look any more, which way to direct the eyes in order to see properly.

People are going crazy.

1 Luce Irigaray, Speculum of the Other Woman, trans. Gillian C. Gill, Cornell University Press, Ithaca 1985

2 Bruce Sterling, Interview with Steve Steinberg, Intertek, Vol3.2, Summer 1991

3 Sadie Plant, The Virtual Complexity of Culture, Future Natural, George Robertson ed. Routledge, London, 1996, p.206

4 Statement made in debate with Peter Lamborn Wilson, Next 5 Minutes conference, Amsterdam, January 1996

5 Louis Aragon, Irene's Cunt, trans. Alexis Lykiard, Creation Books, London 1996

6 Cristoph Fringelli, editorial, Praxis Newsletter 7, London, 1996

7 Deadly Buda, In Search of Morph, (The Morphing Culture Part 2), Alien Underground 0.1, London 1995