Summary

  • “The computer has hitherto been defined ontologically; but this approach (using the ontological concepts of possibility and definition) is dubious because the computer itself is already a matter of possibility and definition; thus if the computer might beer 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. . . the computer is not an object, or a creator of objects, it is a process or active threshold mediating between two states” (23).

Keywords

  • Galloway resolutely refuses to define “interface.” That being said, we can see the interface as a figure for the transmission between, the effects generated at interstices. “The interface is not a thing, an interface is always an effect. It is always a process or a translation” (33).
  • “The intraface is the word used to describe the imaginary dialogue between the workable and the unworkable: the intraface, that is, an interface internal to the interface” (40).

Notes

0. Introduction: The Computer as a Mode of Mediation

  • Begins with a reading of Manovich’s The Language of New Media: as a dated but nevertheless important record of thinking about new media in the first stage of its putative revolutionary development; Galloway characterized Manovich’s view on the world as “modernist . . . [He] returns again and again to the formal essence of the medium” (3).
  • So what is new media? Manovich claims it’s software; Chun and Kittler hardware; Lovink or Benkler social interaction; Terranova or Thacker informaiton networks (3-4).
  • “In Manovich a medium is never a dispositif. . . . Manovich would rather make the argument that new media are first and foremost aesthetic objects” (8); “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), which shares more than a passing similarity to Bolter and Grusin’s remediation.
  • Kittler and McLuhan share a fundamentally conservative attachment to media as techne, as the externalization of man into objects (16); we can contrast this to “an alternate philosophical tradition that views techne as technique, art, habitus, ethos, or lived practice” (16). Kittler furthermore reduces the media down to one, whereas “A philosophy of mediation will tend to proliferate multiplicity; a philosophy of media will tend to agglomerate difference into reified objects” (17); hence Kittler’s undertheorization of software.
  • Kittler (and here Galloway agrees) denies the relationship b/t computers and the optical: “Subsequent to television, which began a retreat away from optical media and a return to the symbolic in the form of signal codification, the computer consummates the retreat from the real of the imaginary to the purely symbolic realm of writing” (17). And right here is part of the justification of why I’m doing my work in an goddamn English program!
  • “Instead of facilitating the metaphysical arrangement, the computer does something quite different: it simulates the metaphysical arrangement. . . . Informatic machines do not participate in the worldly logic of essences and instances, they simulate it” (20).
  • And lol: “The remediation argument . . . is so full of holes that it is probably best to toss it wholesale” (20). And here I have to agree, on even simpler terms: what is remediation if not mediation stretched thin?
  • Galloway contrasts ontology and ethics with the example of a language and a calculus: the first attempts to encode or describe the world, the second, to do something to it (22).

1. The Unworkable Interface

  • “As technology, the more a dioptric device erases the traces of its own functioning (in actually delivering the thing represented beyond), the more it succeeds in its functional mandate; yet this very achievement undercuts the ultimate goal: the more intuitive a device becomes, the more it risks falling out of media altogether, becoming as naturalized as air or as common as dirt. To succeed, then, is at best self-deception and at worst self-annihilation. One must work hard to cast the glow of unwork. Operability engenders inoperability” (25).
  • “I acknowledge such shifts in the critical landscape. Nevertheless I also maintain that Marx and Freud still allow us the ability to do two important things: 1) provide an account of the so-called depth model of interpretation; 2) provide an account of how and why something appears in the form of its opposite. In our times, so distressed on all sides by the arrival of neoliberal economism, these two things together still constitute the core act of critique” (27).
  • Galloway pretty beautifully synthesizes some of the main thrusts of my TCC list: “Romanticism and cybernetic systems theory: play today is a synthesis of these two influences” (28).
  • Method: “It is instead that of a material and semiotic ‘close reading,’ aspiring not to reenact the historical relation (the new economy) but to identify the relation itself as historical. In other words, not to reenact the interface, much less to ‘define’ it, but to identify the interface itself as historical” (30).
  • “Politics thus reveals why the door or window theory of the interface is inadequate. The door-window model, handed down from McLuhan, can only ever reveal one thing, that the interface is a palimpsest. It can only ever reveal that the interface is a reprocessing of some other media that came before,” i.e., another reiteration of the tired remediation model (44).
  • “To take Deleuze and Guattari to Gaza is not to blaspheme them but to deploy them. Michael Hardt and Negri, and other have show also how the rhizome has been adopted as a structuring diagram for systems of hegemonic power. Again this is not to malign Deleuze and Guattari but simply to point out that their work is politically ‘open source’” (50).
  • “Ideology, which was traditionally defined as an ‘imaginary relationship to real conditions’ (Althusser), has in some senses 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).

2. Software and Ideology

  • This essay is structured around Chun’s essay “On Software, or the Persistence of Visual Knowledge,” and as such provides an interesting model for doing critical/theoretical/philosophical work in my archive.
  • ”. . . software is by definition formal (as symbolic or abstract mathematical and logical code), and thus it acclimates well to structural comparisons—even better than, one might argue, its cousins the visual image or verbal narrative” (55).
  • Kittler’s argument against software on the level of technicity doesn’t actually deny that the machine is available to aesthetic critique: “It simply requires that we speak in terms of a machine aesthetics, rather than a verbal or visual aesthetics. What I shall propose here is that software is an example of technical transcoding, without figuration, that nevertheless coexists with an exceedingly high level of ideological fetishism and misrecognition” (60).

Postscript. We are the Gold Farmers

  • Begins with the question of the contemporary status of race in a time when race seems to have exhausted itself as a heuristic of analysis: “Within global neoliberalism we have reached a state in which race matters absolutely, but only because it does not matter at all anymore. The very lack of necessity drills forward like an irresistible force” (124). While I follow this logic, it seems to collapse under the re-assertion of white nationalism as a dominant force in global politics; race does matter in every conceivable sense. “With Obama racism is finally liberated so that it may exist in a purely ideological form. In essence, the most perfect racism is that which lives inside a mediated simulation” (124); but this analysis stops at Obama and does not anticipate Trump.
  • Cites the anti-postmodernism section from Empire as an example of the anti-textual turn in post-postmodernist philosophy: “For in certain philosophical circles there exists today a newfound desire to divorce politics from ontology. There exists a desire to neuter the force of critique by removing dialectical reason from the structure of being” (125). Galloway situates Meillassoux within this critique as well: “rejects the hegemony of finitude and urges us to awake from our slumber and reconcile ourselves with the absolute” (128).

Archive and Impact

  • Galloway is prickly, to say the least. His terrain is unabashed philosophy; he’s closer in style to Meillassoux than to Manovich. But his work is among the most theoretically and philosophically rich among those working in media and mediation today, even when it seems that the distinctions and arguments he’s making are so fine as to be barely imperceptible.
  • The Interface Effect is a cumulation of what I consider the first phase of his career, and also marks a shift away from an interest in new media and more toward continental philosophy (his Laruelle book, for instance, is barely about computation at all). The book is, as Patrick Jagoda argues in a review of this book, a fundamental rethinking of the terms of media studies—a rejection of the “new” and an insistence on a Jamesonian return to politics and history. (Remember: Galloway trained with Jameson at Duke; for that matter, so did Jagoda.)