Galloway 2012

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Galloway, Alexander R. The Interface Effect. Malden, MA: Polity, 2012.

"Inter- faces are not simply objects or boundary points. They are autonomous zones of activity. Interfaces are not things, but rather processes that effect a result of whatever kind. For this reason I will be speaking not so much about particular inter- face objects (screens, keyboards), but interface effects. And in speaking about them I will not be satisfied just to say an inter- face is defined in such and such a way, but to show how it exists that way for specific social and historical reasons." (vii)

following Jameson, "culture is history in representational form" -- like a map, this representation is a reduction "or indexical and symbolic topology" (vii)

Introduction: The Computer as a Mode of Mediation

acknowledging Manovich, The Language of New Media, and its influence/impact; written in wake of 90s cyberlibertarianism

for Manovich, "new media are essentially software applications" (3)

book is held back by being 1) too beholden to cinema as first media (critiqued by Hansen in New Philosophy for New Media) and 2) blindness to history

"Would it be entirely correct to say that this book has no interest in the social, that it has no interest in the political, that it is blinded (by poetics and formal struc- ture) from seeing history itself? " (5)

"In the end The Language of New Media seems to be doing two things at once. On the one hand it tries to outline the specificity of new media, the particular qualities of the medium that should be understood as absolutely new. But on the other hand Manovich insists that new media are essentially cine- matic, suggesting that we must look not to the new, but back- ward to the various media that have come before." (8)

"Today all media are a question of synecdoche (scaling a part for the whole), not indexicality (pointing from here to there)." (8-9)

"The dual move in Manovich – both to the past and to the present – is in fact a single gesture, for the grand argument given in his work is really one about media in general, that to mediate is really to interface, that mediation in general is just repetition in particular, and thus that the “new” media are really all the artifacts and traces of the past coming to appear in an ever expanding present." (10)

"Objects are never humans to a computer, nor are they faces or bodies. In this sense the computer breaks with those arts (painting, photography, cinema) that fixate upon the embod- ied human form – the face, but not always, the hand, but not always – and its proximal relation to a world, if not as their immediate subject matter then at least as the absolute horizon of their various aesthetic investments. The computer has not this same obsession. It aims not for man as an object. The reason is simple: because the computer is this object in and of itself." (12)

ring of Gyges, wearer is invisible (Plato); "the computer is an anti-Ring of Gyges" (12) -- "The world no longer indicates to us what it is. We indicate ourselves to it, and in doing so the world materializes in our image." (13)

"he promise is not one of revealing something as it is, but in simulating a thing so effectively that “what it is” becomes less and less necessary to speak about, not because it is gone for good, but because we have perfected a language for it." (13)

conservatism of Kittler -- for him techne is "substrate and only substrate"; for him and McLuhan, "media mean hypomnesis" (16) -- but there is an alternate tradition "through the contrast between media (as objects or substrates) and practices of mediation (as middles or interfaces)" (16)

Kittler thinks of media primarily "in terms of artifacts, artifacts for storage, transmission, or processing. But what if we were to take the ultimate step and pose the question of media in reverse? What if we refuse to embark from the premise of “technical media” and instead begin from the perspective of their supposed predicates: storing, transmit- ting, and processing? With the verbal nouns at the helm, a new set of possibilities appears. These are modes of media- tion, not media per se. The shift is slight but crucial. The mode of storage appears instantly within its own illumination; the mode of transmitting returns from a far-off place; the mode of processing wells up like a flood of pure energy." (18)

failure of formalism -- trying to define medium with reference to a specific 'language' or set of essential formal qualities, which then, following the metaphysical logic, manifest in the world a number of instances or effects" (19) -- object-thinking begets the problems of formalism

"the computer is dramati- cally unlike other media. Instead of facilitating the metaphysical arrangement, the computer does something quite different: it simulates the metaphysical arrangement. In short, the com- puter does not remediate other physical media, it remediates metaphysics itself (and hence should be more correctly labeled a metaphysical medium). I shall refrain from saying it remedi- ates mediation itself, but the temptation exists. The metaphysi- cal “medium” of essences and instances is fundamentally dead today. And because it is dead, the medium of essences and instances reemerges in a new mediatic form, the computer. Informatic machines do not participate in the worldly logic of essences and instances, they simulate it." (20)

failure of the remediation argument --

"Recorded sound may remediate performed music, but what is being remedi- ated when a musician plays magnetic tape backward and hears for the first time a true sonic reversal (not simply the reversal of phonemes)? Or consider the computer. A computer might remediate text and image. But what about a computer crash? What is being remediated at that moment? It can’t be text or image anymore, for they are not subject to crashes of this variety. So is a computer crash an example of non-media? In short, the remediation hypothesis leads very quickly to a feed- back loop in which much of what we consider to be media are in fact reclassified as non-media, thereby putting into question the suitability of the original hypothesis." (21)

"The com- puter however, is not of an ontological condition, it is on that condition. It does not facilitate or make reference to an arrange- ment of being, it remediates the very conditions of being itself. If I may be so crude: the medium of the computer is being." (21)

"The computer instantiates a practice not a presence, an effect not an object. In other words, if cinema is, in general, an ontology, the computer is, in general, an ethic. " (22)

explained via distinction between language (that encodes the world) and calculus (an executable machine that worlds through a problem); "the difference between the two, in one aspect, is that a calculus implies a method, whereas a language does not." (22)

"As an ethic, the computer takes our action in the world as such as the condition of the world’s expression. So in saying practice, I am really indicating a relationship of command." (22-3)

restatement of the argument: "the computer has hitherto been defined ontologically; but this approach (using the ontological concepts of possibility and definition) is dubious because the computer tiself is already a matter of possibility and definition; thus if the computer might better be understood in terms of a practice or a set of executions or actions in relation to a world, the proper branch of philosophy that one should turn to is ethics or pragmatics, not ontology or metaphysics; as an ethics, the computer takes our execution of the world as the condition of the world's expression. And this is the interface effect again, only in different language: the computer is not an object, or a creator of objects, it is a process or active threshold mediating between two states." (23)

ends on ultimate failure of formalism, esp in Manovich -- "if the computer were a formal medium, then perhaps our analysis of it could be too. But my position is that it is not exclusively or even predominantly formal" (24)

"if computers must be understood in terms of an ethics (those who wish instead to call it a politics should do so), then the discourse produced about them must also fulfill various ethical and political expectations. Else what is the good?" (24)

The Unworkable Interface

"Reflective surfaces have been overthrown by transparent thresholds." (25)

Paradox of mediation: if an exchange between two channels is "perfect, optimal, immediate" "then the relation erases itself. But if the relation remains there, if it exists, it's because the exchange has failed. It is nothing but mediation. The relation is a non-relation." (26)

"Romanticism and cybernetic systems theory: play today is a synthesis of these two influences. If the emblematic profession for the form er is poetry, the latter is design." (28)

"Today's ludic capitalist is therefore the cnsummate poet-designer, forever coaxing new value out of raw, systemic interactions (consider the example of Google)." (29)

"Play is the thing that overcomes systemic contradiction but always via recourse to that special, ineffable thing that makes us most human. It is, as it were, a melodrama of the rhizome." (29)

"The new ludic economy is in fact a call for violent renovation of the social fabric from top to bottom using the most nefarious techniques available. That today it comes under the name of Google or Monsanto is a mere footnote." (29)

Galloway's methodology is not ludic -- "aspiring not to reenact the historical relation (the new economy) but to identify the relation itself as historical" -- "to identify the interface itself as historical" (30)

"The ultimate task is to reveal that this methodological cocktail is itself an interface." (30)

Interface as "this state of 'being on the boundary'" -- "that moment where one sign material is understood as distinct from another significant material" (33)

"an interface is not a thing, an interface is always an effect. It is always a process or a translation." (33)

"The edges of art always make reference to the medium itself" (33)

Two case studies:

  • Normal Rockwell, "Triple Self-Portrait"; what is an edge and what is a center?; image is a process, not "a set of discrete, immutable items" (37) -- believes in the interface but doesn't enact it (45)
  • Mad Art, "Alfred E. Neuman Self-Portrait) 00 enacts the interface but doesn't believe in it (45)

"So the tension between thsee two images is that of coherence versus incoherence, of centers creating an autonomous logic versus edges creating a logic of flows, transofrmations, movement, process, and lines of flight. The edges are firmly evoked in the second image. They are dissolved in the first." (39)

Intraface: "the word used to describe this imaginary dialogue between the workable and the unworkable: the intraface, that is, an interface internal to the interface." (40)

Where does political art happen? "The edges of the work are the politics of the work." -- it is "an arrow pointing to the outside, that is, pointing to the actually existing social and historical reality in which the work sits" (42)

World of Warcraft example -- the outside of the social has been "woven more intimately into the very fabric of the aesthetic than in previous times" (44)

"At room, the game is not simply a fantasy landscape of dragons and epic weapons but a factory floor, an information-age sweatshop, custom tailored in every detail for cooperative ludic labor." (44)

Door-window theory of interface is inadequate because it "can only ever reveal one thing, that the interface is a palimpsest" -- which it is, but need to push beyond this realization to interpret the layered data of the palimpsest

Regimes of signification (51):

1. Ideological: an aesthetic of coherence, a politics of coherence; 2. Ethical: an aesthetic of incoherence, a politics of coherence; 3. Poetic: an aesthetic of coherence, a politics of incoherence; 4. Truth: an aesthetic of incoherence, a politics of incoherence

Witnessing today a shift from the ideological to the ethical regime

Althusser -- ideology as "imaginary relationship to real conditions"; has "succeeded too well and, as it were, put itself out of a job. Instead, we have simulation, which must be understood as something like an imaginary relationship to ideological conditions. In short, ideology gets modeled in software." (52)

"The more coherence a work is aesthetically, the more incoherence it tends to be politically", and "the more incoherent a work is aesthetically, the more coherent it tends to be politically" (52)

Software and Ideology

Are Some Things Unrepresentable?

data -- raw -- vs information, data given form; "information stresses less a sense of presence and giving-forth, and more a plastic adoption of shape" (82)

data opens a door to the ontological (the level of being); information, to the realm of the aesthetic (82)

"any data visualization is first and foremost a visualization of the conversion rules themselves, and only secondarily a visualization of the raw data" (83)

"Only one visualization has ever been made of an information network" (84)

"My proposal therefore, in plain language, is that every map of the Internet looks the same. Every visualization of the social graph looks the same. A word cloud equals a flow chart equals a map of the Internet. All operate within a single uniform set of aesthetic codes. The size of this aesthetic space is one." (85)

"we have moved from a condition in which singular machines produce proliferation sof images, into a condition in which multitudes of machines produce singular images" (91)

"The problem is that adquate visualizations of control society have not happened. Representation has not happpened. At least not yet." (91)