Frogging Kroker

Dennis R Redmond dredmond at OREGON.UOREGON.EDU
Tue Oct 13 02:22:30 PDT 1998

On Mon, 12 Oct 1998, Doug Henwood wrote:

> Ok, so who is Arthur Kroker? I just bought a book on the street by him &
> Michael Weinstein called Data Trash: The Theory of the Virtual Class

Ah, Canada's very own Baudrillard, eh? Well, let me rev up the literary-hermeneutic Marxist chainsaw (rrrrrrrrrrmmmmRRRRRR) and do some carving. Warning: this post is a bit long, so hit the delete key if you're not into lit-critique. First, some text from the afore-mentioned tome, scammed off of CTHEORY's website:

> The Hyper-Texted Body, Or Nietzsche Gets A Modem
> (Arthur Kroker and Michael Weinstein)
> Why be nostalgic? The old body type was always OK, but the wired body
> with its micro-flesh, multi-media channeled ports, cybernetic fingers,
> and bubbling neuro-brain finely interfaced to the "standard operating
> system" of the Internet is infinitely better. Not really the wired body
> of sci-fi with its mutant designer look, or body flesh with its ghostly
> reminders of nineteenth-century philosophy, but the hyper-texted body as
> both: a wired nervous system embedded in living (dedicated) flesh.

Basically, this is what you'd get if you crossed David Cronenberg with a bunch of detergent commercials, and allowed the resulting life-form to dabble in Post-Structuralism. The Internet has no operating system, of course, but that's the least of our worries. In general, po-struc ideologies use telecom and media metaphors in a very devious, depoliticizing way: instead of informatic class struggle, all you see is this multiplying or hyperreproductive Body growing flesh all over the place, a kind of idealized professional-class subject which then inhabits the Matrix of the Net (immemorialized by the Japanese anime flick "Akira", where this Body is positively threatening and ultimately has to be destroyed; "Akira"'s politics are actually pretty neoconservative). Instead of the merciless and incessant expansion of capital, the K&W see only the glistening use-values of cybernetic or info-processing machinery; not for them the retro sweatshops of Second World Taiwan and Third World China, where all this stuff is actually manufactured. One bright spot is how K&W shift the argument away from the body in the machine, and towards the wired system in the body -- a nice scansion, really, of the cultural aporia facing Canadian intellectuals, who get the full brunt of the American media typhoon but don't have the upwards mobility of the US punditry, and therefore tend to fantasize about that magical connection which will bring them to the Cosmic All (or at least a functioning TCP site, same difference). Still, this promising beginning soon goes haywire:

> But the wireless body could be, and already is, something very
> different. Not the body as an organic grid for passively sampling all
> the drifting bytes of recombinant culture, but the wireless body as a
> highly-charged theoretical and political site: a moving field of
> aesthetic contestation for remapping the galactic empire of technotopia.
> Data flesh can speak so confidently of the possibility of multi-media
> democracy, of sex without secretions, and of integrated (cyber-)
> relationships because it has already burst through to the other side of
> technotopia: to that point of brilliant dissolution where the Net comes
> alive, and begins to speak the language of wireless bodies in a wireless
> world.

This notion of the wireless body forgets that the body was never wired in the first place, and is never identical to the tools and products which late capitalism creates. Substitute "mobile phone" for "body" in the above passage, and it almost makes sense: this brave new info-tech-telecom infrastructure will make the Revo possible, and we will break through, not to genuine multi-culturalism or North-South solidarity, no, comrades, far more important, we'll all get to speak *wireless* in a wireless world! Again, the thought stops exactly where it should start: the problem of interpreting this brilliant haze of images and icons, of dealing with the concrete language of the mass media is short-circuited by a speculative stampede of images hastily ripped off from the latest CNN videofeed. K&W thus get to be more American than the Americans, while throwing a sop to those poor, dullard Canucks who still fret about the archaic content of those bodies -- when we know it's only form that counts, right? It should be pointed out that Canada has some pretty cool media activism, and there have been attempts to finance public TV and film and rein in imports from the US, but of course K&W don't seem to be really interested in *changing* anything concrete about the media. This suggests that this magic Body is hardly an innocent bystander in the global class struggle, something confirmed by the telling detail of "sex without secretions": as if the real body was somehow still scandalous or obscene. Of course, there's a gender ideology here as well: the notion of being "plugged into" the Net, of a kind of permanent techno-erection of glistening data. In the end, we don't even get the visual satisfaction of the mundane porno site or S&M photos (watch out for those hairpins!); the thought just sits there, downloading a concept which never arrives.

> Always schizoid yet fully integrated, the hyper-texted
> body swallows its modem, cuts its wired connections to the information
> highway, and becomes its own system-operating software, combining and
> remutating the surrounding data storm into new virtualities. And why
> not? Human flesh no longer exists, except as an incept of the wireless
> world.

Everyone gets to be their own IPO in what amounts to a subspecies of video McLuhanism. It figures that the highest ideal of this essentially neoliberal mediatic ideology is not abolishing the principle of ownership, but becoming *self-owned* -- an electronic manumission, as it were, for the lucky few of us who read and write theory and have the leisure time and cultural capital to specialize in Web-jargon.

> The hyper-texted body, then, is the precursor of
> a new world of multi-media politics, fractalized economics, incept
> personalities, and (cybernetically) interfaced relationships. After all,
> why should the virtual class monopolize digital reality? It only wants
> to suppress the creative possibilities of virtualization, privileging
> instead the tendencies of technotopia towards new and more vicious forms
> of cyber-authoritarianism. The virtual class only wants to subordinate
> digital reality to the will to capitalism. The hyper-texted body
> responds to the challenge of virtualization by making itself a monstrous
> double: pure virtuality/pure flesh. Consequently, our telematic future:
> the wireless body on the Net as a sequenced chip micro-programmed by the
> virtual class for purposes of (its) maximal profitability, or the
> wireless body as the leading-edge of critical subjectivity in the
> twenty-first century.

The whole thing just gradually decays into the standard Net-libertarianism of society as an unlimited shopping spree, held back only by that ancient coven of evil, the partisans of Monopoly. And what the hell are "fractalized economics"? Have they never heard of the *stock market*, for Pete's sake? Fred Jameson once said around 1991 or 1992 or so that critical theorists ought to avoid two words: "power" and the "body", and replace these, wherever possible, with "capital" and "class". This wireless body -- does it have a name? A tax bracket? Does it have good days and bad days? A vested pension? Trade union rights? What factory does it work for? What's its wage-rate? We never find out. In the name of smashing capitalist monopoly, K&W unfairly monopolize their own role as mediators of discourse, who have a responsibility to use their talents to listen to what those bodies, the bodies of real working-class people, all over the planet, are saying (or would say, if they had the chance). Bodies don't just talk, they heal, wound, suffer, bleed and even, occasionally, rebel (and the Zapatistas show that there's more than one way to out-Web the Webbers). Well, if the people lead, the media theorists will follow.

-- Dennis

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