Summary

  • “The argument of Network Aesthetics is that the problem of global connectedness cannot be understood, in our historical present, independently of the formal features of a network imaginary” (3).

Keywords

  • “network imaginary”: “the complex of material infrastructures and metaphorical figures that inform our experience with and our thinking about the social world” (3).
  • “network aesthetics”:

Notes

  • “This book attempts to revise the common treatment of networks as control structures that originated in the computing and cybernetics research of the early Cold War. . . . What senses of networks, I ask, become available when we begin an analysis of the Internet, for instance, not with technical protocols but with everyday affects (such as expectation or frustration) that they generate?” (7). This is a compelling frame but one that I think pre-supposes a dualism that doesn’t have to exist. Hu’s work combines an attention to infrastructure and affect, to say nothing of Farman’s most recent book as well. But then again this is one of the consequences of this being a book chiefly about form and aesthetics—and Jagoda’s approach being a cinema and media studies one first and foremost.
  • Networks in two senses: “a tool or an interconnected system”; “a configuration of human or nonhuman actors” (9); Castells formulates “network society” as a bridge between these two senses.
  • Much of the meat of this introduction runs through the basic thinking on networks in media theory today; indeed, it runs through almost the entirety of my reading list. Note this for later: when re-capping for the quals themselves, this introduction is a great way to quickly refresh contemporary thinking on networks.
  • Following Ranciere, aesthetics as a system of “a priori forms,” which Jagoda takes to include the network (17).
  • Important critique of “unrepresentability” as a category of aesthetic expression: “Though Galloway’s observation about the aesthetic consistency of network images is persuasive, his claim about the unrepresentability of networks resembles the common critique (really, the truism) that realist representation fails to totally capture its object. However, even if some things or totalities are ‘unrepresentable,’ they can still be encountered and experienced” (20–21).
  • Shifting away from questions of control and sovereignty; following Berlant’s critique of sovereignty “as a fantasy structure,” Jagoda proposes beginning with nonsovereignty: against Galloway and Thacker’s emphases on technological infrastructures and protocols, and instead foregrounding “human experience” (23).
  • “What might we learn about networks if we encounter them, often uncertainly, not as totalizing models but rather as immanent opportunities for thinking through human and nonhuman relations in the historical present?” (25). While I appreciate Jagoda’s project, I contest his inherent argument that Galloway and Thacker’s work isn’t also engaged in the same project—or that an emphasis on protocol and infrastructure is inherently anti-humanist, and that aesthetics, form, and affect offer some more privileged access to the human interiority of networked forms. And tbh, I would rather we focus on nonhumanity for a bit, given that I’m just less interested in the role of the human in this kind of scholarship.
  • “The core project of my book, and the close analyses that follow, is to demonstrate that we do in fact have the language for grappling with crucial experiences of (if not the totality of) finance capital, control societies, and network form. That language may be provisional and in process, but it already extends across media from novels and poetry to film and television to video games and transmedia storytelling—and beyond” (27). So the bulk of this project is a turf war with Galloway.
  • “My focus on the aesthetic and formal aspects of artistic and literary works created for human audiences may seem conservative at a moment in which scholarship in the humanities has turned increasingly to the nonhuman” (31); For Jagoda, aesthetics occupies a “middle ground between the more extreme positions in media studies that we see in the work of scholars such as Kittler and Hansen” (32); Aesthetics “serve as one critical interface between the nonhuman and human aspects of networks.” Jagoda’s feint is toward affect theory as an enfolding of human and nonhuman intensities—but to be honest again I think that the assumption that there even is a category of human available to our analysis within our bodies strikes me as willfully obtuse (33).

  • “Networks are arguably a dominant episteme and ubiquitous form of our time, rather than an intrinsic property of the universe” (221); this is a lucid and important claim.
  • Coda turns to the problem of the outside: what is beyond networked thinking?
  • “An ordinary smartphone may connect us to electronics producers who distribute networked devices using tantalum capacitors created from coltan that is mined in the Democratic Republic of Congo, amidst human rights abuses, including forced child labor” (223); I am exceedingly disinterested in these rhetorical formations (Parikka is guilty of them as well) that dissolve material injustice into tropaic figures. They are gestural and not intervening in reality in any way. My work must be opposed to these rhetorical formations if it is to be meaningful in any way.
  • “ambivalence” rather than avant-garde or opting-out (225); which Jagoda says doesn’t risk accelerationism BUT I THINK HE’S WRONG MY MAN.
  • “Aesthetic works encourage us, despite the discomfort it may entail, to slow down thought, oscillate among divergent perspectives, inhabit complex contradictions, and enter into uncertain collective configurations. If network aesthetics have something crucial to contribute to ongoing thought, feeling, and play with networks from an immanent inside that promises no outside, it is the patience, modesty, dissatisfaction, empathy, and thoughtfulness that are necessary, if never wholly sufficient conditions of politics in the early twenty- first century” (228). What makes me angry about this is the ways that he constructs his argument so as to make the avant-garde guilty of insufficient nuance and ambivalence, a kind of aesthetic centrism. It really grinds my gears when the world is falling apart and we need to make some decisive interventions to occupy a stance of “we just need more space, time, and nuance, which I’ve learned because I took the time to engage with this shit” (228).

Archive and Impact

  • Method: “This book explores aesthetic and affective encounters with network form through a comparative media approach . . . This method is closely tied to the growing interrelationship among cultural forms that digital and networked technologies make possible in our time—as well as the increased embeddedness of these forms in everyday life” (3). This is an important methodological intervention: the simple realization that we can’t easily distinguish b/t media forms, if we ever could.
  • Once again, we have a contemporary book of media theory making a conscious decision to avoid definition. This is a far cry from the projects of poetics that characterized digital studies in the 1990’s, to say nothing of earlier work in the 70’s or 80’s. What can we make of this definitional aversion? Why do scholars today resist naming things? (I mean, I know why, but it’s an interesting demarcation of the project of scholarship.)
  • Jagoda is working against Galloway in a lot of ways;