towards a portable net critique

ZK Proceedings 96 @ 5Cyberconf, Madrid

towards a portable

net critique


when we started the second edition of ZKP we had only a slight idea of what it should become. Net hype had reached its zenith and a critical voice became the official tone to drown out false expectations. The central event this year may have been Barlow's independence manifesto, which triggered its own critical countermovement. No guerillia practique could have done it better. The days of the first generation cyberpriests seem numbered, but there is no need to celebrate victory when the future remains a battleground. Of course the situation just becomes more complex, and 'The Net' evolves into something all-powerful in every day life. This pragmatization doesn't mean that critique becomes obsolete. Admittedly there may be more practical aspects than writing texts, but our aim in this version is to maintain an openess towards the dirty data, the need to leave the standards of the book behind without being able to define the new, a certain trust in social structures which give such a collection an inner coherence and temporary usefullness.


When Clausewitz wrote 'vom Kriege' he did not know about 'The Net,' but developed a set of theoretical and interdependent tactics, (deployment of appropriate means, camouflage and faking, adaptabilty to changing situations, building cores, concentration of forces, balanced individiual initiatives) which were organized in the frame of a general strategy and based on pre-existing networks of power, like streets, military hirarchies, and means of communication. We often get questioned about 'the position' of net critique, mostly attached with complaints about its 'negativity' and 'arbitrariness'. It is a trap to believe that it has to do with a strategy, a 'new order', a unified movement, a new school or discipline, a set of upcoming paradigm shifts, or even an avant-garde. Instead, the fact is that 'The Net' in many aspects, is becoming a collective belief system and the way one tries to unify and integrate all parts of the world and its societies with it 'automatically' evokes a multiplicity of resistant practises. The net is not the world. Of course we believe that these resistant practises are much more fun than establishing new regimes. Meanwhile there are a lot of battles to win, but there is no holy war.


'They declared war on cyberspace.' There is no need to continue the violence in speech, instead there are many ways to carefully refer and connect to the excluded outside. The totality with which information should revolutionize our worlds does not explain the central lack of what the goal was. There is no way to escape into cyberspace without getting into trouble. 'Information is information, no matter or energy.' The desire to become digital has its own negativity which can only be 'vitalized' by connected living beings. The alternative is a late-millenium-spiritualism which sees in cyberspace an empire of dead souls. In our 'information society' all kinds of metaphors and seductive narrations confuse the recognition of one's own externalised wishes and give way to a language of constant distrust and alienation. Kritik here means to bind information back to subjectivity and collective strata, to localize desires, to express alienation and the pain of being digital, find narrations which make sense without abusing unquestionable collective myths and unleash the will to not get wired in such a way. It is always a question of the right mix, and often a Kritik may crash before it reaches people. Why not? Netzkritik cannot be a unified theory, but it enfolds around all kinds of local fights which it tries to make transparent. It stays in the tradition of older projects like the critique on technique, or the critique on the church, textual interpretation as a kind of heresy against the ruling symbolic orders, with one difference: Netzkritik operates from within the borders, from inside the system, with infiltration, guerillia semiotics, humour, excluded knowledge, local ontologies, tactical negativity, and a certain degree of overexagerated subjectivity.


Beyond theory there may lay not a paper or digital code or electric current, but human desire. There are many ways of 'inscription' which have not yet appeared on the net or in a text, but are virtualities of the in-between, the potential of human wish production. Praxis stands above techne, process over product, making use of technology and theory it refuses to fetishize them. Rather becoming object as approaches to practise it 'adds value' to the cultural field. The daily local practise merges with a mutating joy in text, which often has more to do with music and sound than with theory and philosophy. In the end it's about giving meaning to a technified life. One may fail, one may try it again, for us it's a way to legitimize the bastard between the Gutenberg and the Turing Galaxy.