Note to E, October 15, 2014

Writ(h)ing, always. These words. They fail me, fail us. New languages yet to be invented are just beyond my grasp, but I suspect not yours. But discourse in late liberalism is an ecological nightmare. Our publics a whispered -shush- of open secrets, power seeks anonymity and finds sanction from the highest courts in the land. United citizens, whistleblowing automata, what programs will we invent, to tell ourselves anything resembling this thing we have become. Maybe human once, but no longer, no longer.

Thoughts for my friend, Jeremy W.

Someone will take the fall. Maybe even Trump. But when it is corruption all the way down, how far do we really think we will get? I apologize for the cynicism, but in paying close attention to the manufacturing and management of crisis-oriented capitalism these last twenty odd years, as we have been doing, I feel, have felt for sometime, that though the planet may not be on fire, the species sure as fuck seems to be. I call this autocolonialism, and it is the fate of a species whose anthropomorphisms extended through their expansionist order, such that homo sapiens, who had never been human –aspiring as they might– would either succeed in fleeing the earth, or in their extinction would allow other species to advance and die off accordingly.
As you may know, I have my money on the cephalopods.
Sorry to be so bleak. But this is how I have come to see liberalism as eating itself, as producing this self-inflicted Trumpian defamation for the world to see. But I suspect even Sanders couldn’t escape this level of financial entrapment, of insider wealth that determines much of the planet’s political economy, and which continues to siphon off the wealth of nations, as it has long done. To our humanity are left the dregs. I believe that the tale of late capitalism is that the fabulists who foresaw and told the future were not using language, they were not writers per se. They were the mathematicians of speculative finance; their algorithmic and machinic scope arose from computation and warfare. And here we are, from boom to bust, the attenuation of a species, with it’s increasingly complex and precarious systems of scale. All of this has been given over to political processes incapable of moving beyond obscene modes of petty short-sightedness and rampant, perverse corruption.

©Shaun Tan

Those who have power have no interest in giving it up. But they are not in control. They are the most precarious of us all.

Words whither? Bodies wither.

All of the epiphenomenal shit we pay attention to amounts to this: extraction. We are not only being colonized, we are cannibalizing ourselves in the process. Virtually every facet of liberalism has failed atrociously in this new century and the United States has not only managed to architect but instantiate the o breakdowns. In other words, what is failing abroad is failing at home. Events parallel one another inside, outside, outside, in. Historians recognize that empires come and go. That they iterate their own undoings in the process of decline.


The architects of a new world have agreed to manage with securitization. We heighten the threats we ourselves are producing. See how it churns. See how it burns. In. Slow. Motion. Reality.



That’s why we are now late everything – late modern, late capitalist, late individual, late human. (If indeed we were once human, we most certainly have now ceased to be.)

And I’m just speculating here (what are YOU doing?):

Because soon, even the languages will have left our bodies, secreted into the (print) machinery of words generated by bodies. Words, codes, now spending untold life cycles within machineries brought to life, bringing to life, #us. (Did this happen first with numbers? It happens now with written languages. It has scaled rapidly in the last decade in relation to spoken languages. The machinic glitches have started to appear in speech. The new aesthetic becomes, always was, dialect.) Something turns. Churns. This is how we became, always were, were always becoming…other things. Perhaps this is the time to embrace the cruel perversity of colonialisms and imperialisms and powers and religions, and everything everything after. This is how we became. This is how we never were. This is something else. We are no longer. #us

This is also a dialect of machines speaking me. Not a question of wondering when and if anymore. This is happening.


And we ALL know it.

Autocolonial #us.

And these were just words asking what happens when global proprietary concerns compete/consort to bend and shape mass realities in a priori, let alone real time(s). The proliferation of the image has meant that the war is incipient in everything we see, everything we experience. Why should I care? Why should I care? We are special only insofar as we have never been…any one thing. This is language at its everyday. Produced and propagated through expansion and only thus.


Is this tyranny? Is this human? Does it matter?

Regardless, enjoy.

It’s new. It’s different.

Julian Assange and the Computer Conspiracy; “To destroy this invisible government”


(en Español)

(auf Deutsch)

(in het nederlands)

“To radically shift regime behavior we must think clearly and boldly for if we have learned anything, it is that regimes do not want to be changed. We must think beyond those who have gone before us, and discover technological changes that embolden us with ways to act in which our forebears could not. Firstly we must understand what aspect of government or neocorporatist behavior we wish to change or remove. Secondly we must develop a way of thinking about this behavior that is strong enough carry us through the mire of politically distorted language, and into a position of clarity. Finally must use these insights to inspire within us and others a course of ennobling, and effective action.”

Julian Assange, “State and Terrorist Conspiracies”

The piece of writing (via) which that quote introduces is…

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NPR’s Apology: I’m Sorry That You’re Wrong


In Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Marlowe early on reflects on the profound ignorance of the earliest conquerors of Britain, the Romans: “It was just robbery with violence, aggravated murder on a great scale, and men going at it blind — as is very proper for those who tackle a darkness.” He is talking about himself and modern colonialism, of course, in an ambiguous way (and this ambiguity is at the heart of the novel), but the key observation, for me, is his sense that the best way to navigate in the dark is with your eyes closed. After all, if you’re in the dark, what difference does it make if your eyes are open?On the other hand, what if it’s only dark because you’ve closed your eyes? Drew sent me this article, confirming that my sleep-deprived brain hadn’t merely invented the “dark continent” reference of a few…

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MLA14 Presentation – Decolonizing DH: Theories and Practices of Postcolonial Digital Humanities

“Technology, Colonization and the Humanities: Some Thoughts”
Amit Ray @amitorit
Associate Professor of English
Rochester Institute of Technology

Full Panel Description:

Since becoming institutionalized in the American academy two decades ago, postcolonial studies have helped to undermine the idea of a single, universalized modernity. This has led to revisionist accounts of ostensibly ‘Western’ phenomena. In this way, postcolonialism has provided a better understanding of how these modernist categories, such as the nation-state, or literature, were produced across a network of colonial relations.

And yet, for a variety of reasons, the universalist vessel of the liberal ‘human,’ despite extensive critique from a variety of positions, remains intact. A number of theorists have tried to negotiate this impasse. Postcolonial critics have examined the illiberalism attendant in the work of 1eighteenth and nineteenth century thinkers who defined modernity. For Dipesh Chakrabarty the (post)colonial subject of liberalism faces the ‘not yet,’ of historicism, such as when JS Mill dismisses the peoples of Africa and India as ‘not yet’ civilized enough to partake in modernity.

This idea of the ‘not yet’ continues to animate discussions regarding North-South inequities. And one of the key components that facilitates the universality of such categories is communications technology. As in the past, the concept of the citizen-subject continues to be predicated on questions of ‘reading/writing-based’ literacy. However, as we have learned from a number of different fields, technologies are never neutral, their transfer never without powerful political, economic and epistemological ramifications.
In previous work, I have examined the neo-colonial assumptions that have influenced projects such as Access to Knowledge, One Laptop per Child and Wikipedia. All rely upon the kind of historicism that Chakrabarty outlined in Provincializing Europe. Indeed, such technological quick fixes to structural and systemic inequalities are no less frequent inside nation-states as between them.

As we experience the powerful and broad ranging effects of the computational turn in the humanities, we must keep in mind the particularly American qualities of the digital, facilitated by the Internet and computational technologies in which US corporations and the State have vested interests. Considering the recently revealed arrangements between internet hardware and software companies and the State, we need to ask some very difficult questions about DH methods and tools.

Given how computational technologies, like previous media technologies, are deeply shaped by such consumerist and statist impulses, I wonder as to the limits of employing such technologies for projects that challenge neoliberal and imperial hegemonies. I am particularly wary of the neo-colonial implications of a now very heavily commodified maker-ethos of hacking, paired with a kind of code essentialism that (it is argued) is an essential form of literacy: program or be programmed.

And perhaps this is where the alphanumericity of code becomes essentialized just as writing was (and is) essentialized in the universalist modernity of liberalism and liberal democracy. I continue to worry about the legacy of oralities being lost even as I am thrilled at the prospects of intermediation that may bypass the need for writing as we know it.

I think we need to be careful in how we proceed with the maker ethos that animates DH. The maker industry, as we have all become aware, is commercially exploding, with the promise of new materialities brought about by things such as personalized, 3-D printers. We need to be attuned to the subsequent wave of ‘crapjects’ that will accompany this rush of activity. As humanists, how will we historicize and respond to the creative destruction unleashed through our experimentations using ‘disruptive’ technologies.

The rush to build, to fill in ‘new’ territory, to colonize such spaces, has the potential to do tremendous epistemological violence both within and outside of ‘human’ life worlds. The relative affluence of certain members of this species allows them to rapidly constitute their personal experiences. And consumerism encourages them to do so. Feverishly. This (pathological) individualism lies at the core of my critique of what I like to think of as late humanism. And where I find myself moving into questions of the non-human. Or as I have tried to argue elsewhere, ahumanisms.

As suggested by Benjamin Robertson, the problem is not so much with the digital, but with the human. I think postcolonial theory did for the concept of modernity (by making it heterogenous) as digital postcolonialism might do to the human at a moment when, due to our various social and material technologies, those living consumerist, postindustrial lives are, in fact, constituted elsewhere. To paraphrase a whiskey drinking stutterer, “The problem with our history, here in the US, is that it is occurring elsewhere.”

Open and Closed Source Cultures – Aggregated Class Emails (With URLS for readings)

Duplicate, with added emphasis. Think out your questions in advance. Discuss them on the temporary GoogleDoc below. Get to class before 11 if you can. Ian is coming online with us at 11. So come early to begin the discussion.

On Sep 22, 2014, at 1:07 AM, Amit Ray wrote:

Well… we had a weekend of glitches. How’s that for Software Freedom Day! (Cheap shot, ducks!)

No seriously, the culture of Free and Open Source software is mind-blowing. And I want to inhabit most of what it stands for. Simultaneously, I ask questions that are anathema to the very important evangelical zeal tied to many of free software’s signature achievements.

I ask this: Is it too little, too late, in the face of massive appropriations of the public sphere. Is it too little, too late, when we consider that the most powerful nation-state on the planet is nearly two decades into the neoliberal zeal of assuming corporations, the traders, have the expertise to designate what is and isn’t a secret. Having read Galison, you now know this. You have read Kelty, too. And don’t forget, George Saunders. And other things as well, if you have kept track, and can still remember them. We are all tactical amnesia-tics. So use this stub to build, too, memory. Individual. Collective. Re-member, remember?

On Sep 18, 2014, at 9:20 AM, Amit Ray wrote:

Hello Folks,
Think recursive publics. Hop on the wiki. Play around. 8 years of stuff you might stumble upon. As much of it —save where otherwise stated, is CC, licensed— you can repurpose as you see fit. Muchos gracias to Ross Delinger. If we might form a ‘recursive platforms group’ to meet and discuss and implement better publics, I’ll be part of that group. Today we will begin to build our platform and syllabus. As this is a recursive agenda, we will continue to loop back around, modifying, changing, adding, deleting. But we’ll all be on the same page. But I’ll be part of any of your groups if you ask me nicely and display and willingness to dive into the topic.

As I mentioned in class, Ian Bogost wrote a very provocative piece about Net Neutrality last May. We won’t be discussing it today, but I will ask you to think about certain matters and to prepare for Ian’s tele-transportation into our class next Tuesday. It’s an opportunity to interact with a very important figure who works at the intersection of games, society and technology. Like myself, Ian’s background in philosophy comes from him work in Comparative Literature (where continental philosophy largely resides in the US. The Anglo-American analytic tradition —to which Computer Science owes a tremendous amount— and Continental thought are largely hostile to one another and so Philosophy departments around the country default to their Analytic setting, by and large.


And he has a lovely piece on the Apple Watch and, riffing off of Alvin Toffler’s famous book (“Future Shock”), he describes our “Future Ennui.” You can find it easily, if you look for it.

See you soon. Group exercises today. Let’s flex our publics and publicities.

On Sep 5, 2014, at 8:31 PM, Amit Ray wrote:

The reading for next week is embedded in this post. I think you will be able to find it. Read it carefully. Think about it. Read it again. We’ll discuss Kelty on Tuesday and will begin our discussion of Peter Galison’s “Removing Knowledge” on that day as well.

See you Tuesday,
On Aug 31, 2014, at 9:38 AM, AMIT RAY wrote:

Good morning on this wet Sunday. I trust your weekend is going well.

So I wanted to pass along a few readings and a few instructions.

We’ll start this week by returning to the Matthew Kirschenbaum essay (Software, its a thing) and discussing more specifics of that piece. We’ll then turn to thinking about the concept of ‘publics.’ We’ll read this Chris Kelty piece (attached), an academic paper from the field of cultural anthropology. As this is a scholarly article, it will require your time and careful attention. But the concepts therein will be vital to how we conceive of (and perhaps build) publics of the future.

Finally, perhaps to orient yourself a bit better towards Kelty’s paper, you will want to read the piece I pulled up in class (and which I had not seen before). It’s a short, succinct and thoughtful piece on the concept of ‘public. ’ Thus, it fact, it may help to start with Anil Dash’s essay and then read Kelty’s academic journal article. Here is the link to Dash’s short essay:

Looking forward to seeing you all on Tuesday.


A Rough Guide to Non-Representational Theory

Great overview for those who are interested in Thrift’s work. He is a curious figure in academe.

Experimental Geography in Practice

There is increasing interest in practice and performance in cultural geography. Attempts to move beyond issues of representation and re-focus cultural geographic concerns on performativity and bodily practices are linked to the inception of what Nigel Thrift describes as ‘non-representational theory or the theory of practices’ (Thrift 1996, 1997, 2000a, 200b). According to Thrift, the non-representational project is concerned with describing ‘practices, mundane everyday practices that shape the conduct of human beings towards others and themselves in particular sites’ (1997: 142). Rather than obsess over representation and meaning, Thrift contends that non-representational work is concerned with the performative ‘presentations’, ‘showings’ and ‘manifestations’ of everyday life (1997: 142).

While Thrift has profitably drawn on theorists such as Benjamin, Deleuze and de Certeau in an attempt to shed light on the more embodied, intangible aspects of everyday life, broader moves in cultural geography to engage ‘more actively with the heterogeneous entanglements of…

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Ray and Graeff, Reviewing the Author-Function in the Age of Wikipedia

I have fond memories of working on this with my friend and colleague, Erhardt. My favorite RIT students are the ones who continue to teach me. Thank you to all of you who have knowingly (and unknowingly) helped me to better understand and translate the world in which I live. Perhaps this has been my greatest privilege. Our interactions over the years have fundamentally altered my understanding of the world in which I live and inexorably shaped the development of my teaching, my writing and thought.

Here is the full paper. We hope you find it useful.Amit Ray and Erhardt Graeff-Reviewing the Author-Function in the Age of Wikipedia (2008)

Revolution Lullabye

Ray, Amit and Erhardt Graeff. “Reviewing the Author-Function in the Age of Wikipedia.” In Originality, Imitation, and Plagiarism. Eds. Eisner and Vicinus. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 2008. 39-47.

Ray and Graeff take up Foucault’s concept of the author-function (after Barthes declared the death of the author) to talk about how digital technology, Wikipedia in particular, has developed an author-function that is decentralized and collaborative. They discuss the construction of Wikipedia as three layered levels, as each page has an article, discussion of the article and its point of view, and a archived history of all the changes to the page.

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