Summary

  • The Exploit develops a political theory of networks, arguing that the central question of its time (2007) is the tension between networks and sovereignty. These are questions that Bratton will take up in The Stack, and as such form an important link between network and infrastructure theory.
  • “Perhaps there is no greater lesson about networks than the lesson about control: networks, by their mere existence, are not liberating; they exercise novel forms of control that operate at a level that is anonymous and nonhuman, which is to say material” (5). (Connect “anonymous” to Negarestani’s “anonymous materials.”)
  • Three steps to the argument:
    1. “The modern period is characterized by both symmetrical political conflicts waged by centralized power blocs, and also asymmetrical political conflicts in which networked actors struggle against centralized powers.”
    2. “The present day is symmetrical again, but this time in the symmetrical form of networks fighting networks.”
    3. “To be effective, future political movements must discover a new exploit” (21–22).

Keywords

  • network
  • control
  • nonhuman
  • exploit

Notes

Prolegomenon

  • The Exploit is a George W. Bush book: its theory of networks is deeply engaged with the political formations of pre-Occupy, mid-Iraq-War America. As such, it’s a little dated in the Trump years, but it still offers one of the more concise and sustained engagements with networks as political formations.
  • “In contrast to Lovink [who argues that old-style politics still rule the proverbial roost], we maintain that in recent decades the processes of globalization have mutated from a system of control house in a relatively small number of power hubs to a system of control infused into the material fabric of distributed networks” (3).
  • ”. . . even while networks are entirely coincident with social life, networks also carry with them the most nonhuman and misanthropic tendencies. Indeed, sourcing the nonhuman within the human will be a major theme of this book” (6).
  • Critique of Kitterlian determinism: “it often assumes a foundational position for the technology in question. Technology is assumed to, in effect, preexist politics” (10).
  • “Networked power is based on a dialectic between two opposing tendencies: one radically distributes control into autonomous locales; the other focuses control into rigidly defined hierarchies. All political regimes today stand in some relation to networks” (19).

Part 1

  • Networks pose themselves as moral alternatives to hierarchy; connectivity is “so highly privileged”; “everything can be subsumed under a warm blanket of interconnectivity,” but what does this mean?; to de-black-box this problem, the research question is: “what is the principle of political organization or control that stitches a network together?”
  • The issue with Hardt and Negri, useful as they are, is their insufficient theorization of the nonhuman/unhuman nature of technological networks (27). (Why is technicity misanthropic?)
  • Networks are metastable (continuous formations), a concept deployed also in Simondon, but also graph theory and biological sciences; metastability is the production of protocol (33).
  • Ample reading of Deleuze: “Control is not simply manipulation, but rather modulation” (35).
  • The problem of definition: networks slip out of debates around substance, individuation, and sovereignty: Galloway and Thacker propose turning from a sovereignty-of-event to a sovereignty-of-topology, a turn that I don’t quite follow (40). It seems to resolve itself into an aggressive materialism.
  • Return back to the concerns of the TCC reading list: “In both computer and biological networks, the primary function of protocol is to direct flows of information. In this sense, the networks we have described are not new but have their ontological foundations in cybernetics, information theory, and systems theory research in the mid-twentieth century” (55).
  • Ontological definition: networks individuate themselves and are individuated from the outside; networks are “robust and flexible” multiplicities; networks move, they are process-based; networks “are qualified by their connectivity” (62).
  • Turning to questions of biopolitics; note common ground with Cheney-Lippold. “The methodology of biopolitics is therefore informatics, but a use of informatics in a way that reconfigures biology as an information resource. In contemporary biopolitics, the body is a database, and informatics is the search engine” (74).
  • “Yet within protocological networks, political acts generally happen not by shifting power from one place to another but by exploiting power differentials already existing in the system” (81); this is the hacker approach to political change, which we can perhaps argue the right has mastered much better than the left.
  • “Both emerging infectious diseases and bioterrorism reveal the sometimes uncanny, unsettling, and distinctly nonhuman aspect of networks. There is a defacement of enmity, but an antagonism lingers nonetheless” (94).

Part 2

  • Important ref to Liu: “In The Laws of Cool, Alan Liu describes Metzger’s auto-destructive artworks as an early form of what he calls ‘viral aesthetics.’ This refers to an aesthetic in which the distinction between production and destruction is often blurred, revealing ‘a destructivity that attacks knowledge work through technologies and techniques internal to such work.’ If Metzger is the industrial fore-runner of viral aesthetics, then for Liu, the contemporary work of artists like Jodi and Critical Art Ensemble are its heirs. For Liu, such examples of viral aesthetics ‘introject destructivity within informationalism,’ which is so often predicated on the information/ noise division” (108).
  • Network science uses geometry as the Aristotelian “final cause” that motivates the “animation” (e.g., life) of the network (111–12).
  • Note the inclusion of the “Fork Bomb” code, which are short codes that exploit recursion to crash a computer quick: philosophy as carpentry (115).
  • “In the informatic mode, disease is always virtual. It creates a virtual state of permanent emergency wherein infection is always kept just out of reach. And the state of permanent emergency can only be propped up by means of better and better medical surveillance systems” (122).
  • “We suggest that this opposition between closed and open is flawed It unwittingly perpetuates one of today’s most insidious political myths, that the state and capital are the two sole instigators of control. Instead of the open/ closed opposition, we suggest an examination of the alternative logics of control” (125).
  • Important point from Marx for my work: “Life-forms are similar to what Marx called the ‘inorganic body’: ‘Nature is man’s inorganic body—nature, that is, insofar as it is not itself the human body. Man lives on nature—means that nature is his body, with which he must remain in continuous intercourse if he is not to die’ (127).
  • Turn to the divine: “Such narratives and representations can be seen as attempts to recentralize the question of sovereignty in networks. But in this case, sovereignty is scaled up to the level of the divine or demonic, an agency that may be identified but remains unknowable and decidedly nonhuman. It is as if to say, ‘there is no one in control, except at an order we cannot fathom.’ A question of theology, to be sure” (131).
  • “But what of a nonhuman within the human, just as the swarm may emanate from within the network? Or better, what of a nonhuman that traverses the human, that runs through the human?” (141)
  • “For this reason, we propose something that is, at first, counterintuitive: to bring our understanding of networks to the level of bits and atoms, to the level of aggregate forms of organization that are material and unhuman, to a level that shows us the unhuman in the human” (155).
  • Closes with a fascinating turn to the “elemental”: “A movement between a world that is always changing and a world that is immobile, between a world that is always becoming and a world that is full—the movement and the secret identity between these positions seem to describe to us something fundamental about networks. Networks operate through ceaseless connections and disconnections, but at the same time, they continually posit a topology. They are forever incomplete but always take on a shape” (156). Elementality helps address questions of scale, “from the micro level to the macro. . . . The elemental requires us to elaborate an entire climatology of thought” (156–57).

Archive and Impact

  • Galloway and Thacker are both major figures in contemporary media theory; both are NYC-based (Galloway at NYU; Thacker at the New School); Galloway’s focus is more on computation and new media, with an emphasis on continental philosophy; Thacker’s contributions are even more philosophical with a focus on animal/bio studies.
  • Method: “Our approach here is above all a way of understanding certain historical realities through how they express the various attitudes, agents, resources, strategies, relationships, success criteria, and rules of engagement for specific types of struggle within the sociocultural sphere. By ;thinking topologically,’ we mean an approach that compares the abstract spaces of different structural or architectonic systems” (13).
  • The most interesting part of The Exploit is its interest in the fundamental nonhumanity of networks; indeed, the nonhumanity of networks becomes a model for progressive change within them: “The diagram must not be anthropomorphic (the gesture, the strike); it must be unhuman (the swarm, the flood)” (98).