Chun 2011

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Chun, Wendy Hui Kyong. Programmed Visions: Software and Memory. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2011.

" All new media objects allegedly rely on—or, most strongly, can be reduced to —software, a visibly invisible or invisibly visible essence. Software seems to allow one to grasp the entire elephant because it is the invisible whole that generates the sensuous parts. Based on and yet exceeding our sense of touch—based on our ability to manipulate virtual objects we cannot entirely see—it is a magical source that promises to bring together the fractured field of new media studies and to encapsulate the difference this field makes. To know software has become a form of enlightenment: a Kantian release from self-incurred tutelage." (1)
"if software illuminates an unknown, it does so through an unknowable (software). This paradox—this drive to grasp what we do not know through what we do not entirely understand—this book argues, does not undermine, but rather grounds software’s appeal. Its combination of what can be seen and not seen, can be known and not known—its separation of interface from algorithm, of software from hardware—makes it a powerful metaphor for everything we believe is invisible yet generates visible effects, from genetics to the invisible hand of the market, from ideology to culture." (2)
"Computers—understood as software and hardware machines —this book argues, are mediums of power. This is not only because they create empowered users, but also and most importantly, because software’s vapory materialization and its ghostly interfaces embody—conceptually, metaphorically, virtually—a way to navigate our increasingly complex world." (2)
"To be apprehended, software’s dynamic porousness is often conceptually transformed into well-defined layers. Software’s temporality, in other words, is converted in part to spatiality, process in time conceived in terms of a process in space." (3)

shift in software from a service to a thing

Enlightenment era distinction between subject/object, internal/external being broken down; information is now always external to the thing that embodies it

"Software as thing has led to all “information” as thing. Software as thing reconceptualizes society, bodies, and memories in ways that both compromise and extend the subject, the user. Importantly, software as thing cannot be reduced to software as a commodity: software as “thing” is a return to older definitions of thing as a “gathering,” as pertaining to anything related to “man.” Treating software as a thing means treating it, again, as a neighborhood, as an amalgamation." (6)

"Software as thing is a response to and product of changing relations between subjects and objects, of challenges brought about by computing as a neoliberal governmental technology." (6)

Foucault, governmentality - the conduct of conduct

"Computers embody a certain logic of governing or steering through the increasingly complex world around us. By individuating us and also integrating us into a totality, their interfaces offer us a form of mapping, of storing files central to our seemingly sovereign—empowered—subjectivity. By interacting with these interfaces, we are also mapped: data-driven machine learning algorithms process our collective data traces in order to discover underlying patterns (this process reveals that our computers are now more profound programmers than their human counterparts)." (9)
"New media, like the computer technology on which it relies, races simultaneously toward the future and the past, toward the bleeding edge of obsolescence. Software as thing is inseparable from the externalization of memory, from the dream and nightmare of an all-encompassing archive that constantly regenerates and degenerates, that beckons us forward and disappears before our very eyes." (11)


rhetoric of computers rendering all things "transparent" -- contrasts with the opaqueness of hardware and software, inability to see the code

"The current prominence of transparency in product design and in political and scholarly discourse is a compensatory gesture. As our machines increasingly read and write without us, as our machines become more and more unreadable so that seeing no longer guarantees knowing (if it ever did), we the so-called users are offered more to see, more to read. As our machines disappear, getting flatter and flatter, the density and opacity of their computation increases. Every use is also an act of faith: we believe these images and systems render us transparent not for technological, but rather for metaphorical, or more strongly ideological, reasons." (17)
" Revealing the illogical intertwining of computers we cannot understand with understanding will not dispel the power of the computer as metaphor because this intertwining grounds its appeal. The linking of rationality with mysticism, knowability with what is unknown, makes it a powerful fetish that offers its program- mers and users alike a sense of empowerment, of sovereign subjectivity, that covers over—barely—a sense of profound ignorance." (18)

On Sorcery and Source Codes

"Rather than seeing technology as simply fulfilling or killing theory, this chapter outlines how the alleged “convergence” between theory and technology challenges what we thought we knew about logos." (20)

countering the turn away from "vapor theory" (Manovich, Galloway, Lovink) by arguing that "a rigorous engagement with software makes new media studies more, rather than less, vapory" (21)

source code -- must be compiled and interpreted by the computer; not a numerical relation but a technical one that "engages art or craft" (24)

"source code only becomes a source after the fact. Execution, and a whole series of executions, belatedly makes some piece of code a source, which is again why source code, among other things, was initially called pseudocode." (24)
"Source code becomes a source only through its destruction, through its simultaneous nonpresence and presence." (25)
"Source code as technê, as a generalized writing, is spectral. It is neither dead repetition nor living speech; nor is it a machine that erases the difference between the two. It, rather, puts in place a “relation between life and death, between present and representation, between two apparatuses.”26 As I elaborate throughout this book, information—through its capture in memory—is undead." (25)

Daemonic Interfaces, Empowering Obfuscations

"Rather than condemning interfaces as a form of deception, designed to induce false consciousness, this chapter investigates the extent to which this paradoxical combina- tion of visibility and invisibility, of rational causality and profound ignorance, grounds the computer as an attractive model for the “real” world. Interfaces have become functional analogs to ideology and its critique—from ideology as false consciousness to ideology as fetishistic logic, interfaces seem to concretize our relation to invisible (or barely visible) “sources” and substructures. This does not mean, however, that interfaces are simply ideological. Looking both at the use of metaphor within the early history of human–computer-interfaces and at the emergence of the computer as meta- phor, it contends that real-time computer interfaces are a powerful response to, and not simply an enabler or consequence of, postmodern/neoliberal confusion. Both conceptually and thematically, these interfaces offer their users a way to map and engage an increasingly complex world allegedly driven by invisible laws of late capital- ism. Most strongly, they induce the user to map constantly so that the user in turn can be mapped. They offer a simpler, more reassuring analog of power, one in which the user takes the place of the sovereign executive “source,” code becomes law, and mapping produces the subject." (59)