Revision of On atemporality from 26 February, 2010 - 21:48
I wanted to lay out some thoughts about atemporality in response to Bruce Sterling's great presentation on the topic over at Transmediale.* We've had a dialogue about this back and forth over the net, in places like Twitter, so I suppose it's my turn to respond.
The topic of atemporality has been absorbing a bit of my time now and forms the first chapter of my book on network culture as well as the core of an article that I'm working on at present for the Cornell Journal of Architecture.*
Anyway, I was impressed by how Bruce framed his argument for network culture. This isn't a new master narrative at all, there's no need to expect the postmodern anti-periodization take-down to come. Instead, network culture is going to last about a decade before something else comes along. There's no telos, just the product of massive changes in the way we understand knowledge (among other things).
Then there's Bruce's tone, which suggests that he disbelieves in all this. Now that's classic Bruce, always seeming to be on the verge of laughter, but it's also network culture at work, the realm of 4chan, lolcatz, chatroulette and infinite snark.
I can imagine one day Bruce saying "It's all a big joke. I mean come on, did you think I was serious about this?" And I wouldn't just emphathize, I'd agree. After all, a colleague once asked me if the Internet wasn't largely garbage, a cultural junkspace devoid of merit? Of course, I said, what do you take me for a fool? She replied by saying she was just wondering since after all, I studied it. I said, well yes, it's mainly dreck but what are you going to do with these eighty trillion virtual pages of dreck, wave your hands and pretend they'll go away? It's not going to happen. So yes, snark as a way of talking about this material, because that's not only what it deserves, it's what it wants. To a term from literary criticism: snark is immanent to network culture.
I was also interested to hear Bruce talk about early network culture and late network culture. Again, network culture isn't a master narrative. It has no telos or end goal. We're not going to hold up Rem Koolhaas or hypertext or liberalism or the Revolution or the Singularity, Methusalarity or anything else as an end point to history. In that, we part from Hegel definitively. Instead, network culture is transitional. Bruce suggests that it has ten years before something else comes along. He also talks about early network culture, which we're in now, and late network culture, which we can't really anticipate yet.
I'd like to make a further division: network culture before and after the crash seem different to me. The relentless optimism of the pre-crash days is gone, taking starchitecture, Dubai (remember Dubai?), post-criticism, the magazine era, Prada, and hedge fund trading with it.
We are in a different phase now, in which portents of collapse are as much part of the discourse as the next big thing. Let's call it the uneasy middle of network culture. Things are much less sure and they're unlikely to get any better anytime soon. It's going to be a slow ten years, equal to the 70s or maybe somewhere between the 70s and the 30s. Instead of temporary unemployment, we're looking at a massive restructuring in which old industries depart this mortal coil. Please, if you are out of work, don't assume the jobs will return when the recession ends. They won't. They're gone. Why people think I'm cynical when I say this is beyond me…it's the truth…cynicism is knowing something is wrong or untrue and doing it or believing it anyway… Zizek would suggest they're the cynics! or more likely, they're in denial.
But as Bruce suggested, we have to have some fun with network culture. Over at the Netlab research blogs, we're starting to put together a dossier of evidence about practices of atemporality in contemporary culture.
*The talk is below.
If you prefer, you can now read the transcript online here.
** Yes, I know I once swore I'd never do anything for Cornell again, but they were nice and they asked. Plus they weren't at Cornell when I was there. All positive things.