Tuesday, April 4, 2017

alex cruse, BODY NEGATIVE

I. What do digital visualizations mean for absence? What might an absence of body mean for [cyber/xeno]feminism? What might [cyber/xeno]feminism mean for poetry?

II. ‘We declare the right to speak as no one in particular’
— VNS Matrix

The term scroll: a finite medium that returns itself to more of itself, a tangible, linear reference.

we inaccurately verb our current mode, one that

just impales itself on a void, a floating index.

Priming the distributed body:

Pumping the social capital, the intellectual work, the making visible

into the network, the feed

and all i can think of is a breast pump containing that which

nurtures the ones closest to us

when we are busy feeding other mouths.


Where are you when you are not ‘on the network’? How are your traces mobilized? In our Post-Crisis moment, despite the ongoing profusion of visualization tools and techniques, we are finding new ways of Not seeing (not knowing). To legalize the provisions of invisibilization, because our networks hold at their core values against the material, the human, the Kantian hardware, the politics which make representation fraught. Simon Schaffer: “To make machines look intelligent it was necessary that the sources of their power, the labor force which surrounded and ran them, be rendered invisible.”

absence form data.png

The outwardly facing presence of (majority white and male) social media CEOs is maintained by an invisible labor force, composed mainly of women. Job opportunities for this type of ghostwriting grew 1137% between the years 2010 and 2013. In addition to the widespread erasure of their material contributions to “thought leadership,” these authors also enjoy an embarrassing asymmetry in wages. Writes Alina Heim, “The silence of ghostwriters is secured by one paradox: the nature of the work forbids you from revealing yourself.”2 Social media account management is not necessarily intentionally poetic, yet it is inarguably remunerated work. By devaluing the author functioninvisibilizing the female voicedoes her work count as ‘not writing’?3 Conversely, how do the neoliberal logics of networks impinge upon her (our) right to go unseen? Are ghost writers the only true Xenopoets, the scriptors of alien (non)presence? For, as Amy Ireland says: “in Xenopoetics, the more a subject produces, the more it necessarily recedes.”4

V. There is an allure to media and materials which capture and reflect our presence despite our disappearance: mesmerizing displacement of polyurethane in the shape of a hand in a memory foam infomercial or a trail of gestural shadows in a data visualization.


Where does Invisibility enter? What are its dimensions?
How do we chart our presences’ durability and duration within digital fields (vectors which intersect with ideas of agency and representation)when the crystallization of crises across time + space depends so heavily on our displacement, our alienation? Furthermore, if personal sovereignty is linked to an individual’s formal citizenship (how one belongs, is integrated into a population), then how a body and a life ‘show up’ on the network/feed/surveillance system renders them either ‘legible’ (legal) or ‘illegible’ (illegal? alegal? extra-legal?)

[Here i would argue that it is this line of thinking which was/is responsible for the resurgence of minimalist aesthetics in the field of design: they recode poverty as ‘chicness’ for the precariat millennial masses. Aestheticized invisibility (literally, the extraction of objects, language, and textures from a frame) functions as a gloss on austerity, whereby the subversion of maximalism dovetails with the current economic impossibility of maximizing our options.]

We navigate these denuded visual landscapes that operate as masks across hyper-differentiated planes of difference and computational, geopolitical complexity.

VI. “A plot ( )ole does not benefit on behalf of an absence, but registers and conveys the activities of a sub-surface life.”
— Reza Negarestani, Cyclonopedia: Complicity with Anonymous Materials

Example 1: The Forensic Architecture group based at Goldsmiths, University of London, a research agency whose investigatory principle has been termed the “threshold of visibility.” Using aerial footage, interactive cartographies, and 3D models, FA produces and presents architectural evidence of drone strikes, refugee migration, and ecological devastation otherwise unexplored and undocumented.
Some drone-fired missiles can drill a hole through the roof before burrowing their way deep into buildings, where their warheads explode. The size of the hole the missile leaves is smaller than the size of a single pixel in the highest resolution to which publicly-available satellite images are degraded. The hole is thus at the “threshold of visibility” and might appear as nothing more than a slight color variation, a single darker pixel perhaps. This has direct implications for the documentation of drone strikes in satellite imagery, which is often as close to the scene as most investigators can get. When the figure dissolves into the ground of the image, it is the conditions—legal, political, technical—that degrade the image, or that keep it at a lower resolution that become the relevant material for forensic investigations. A hole is not simply an absence. It is more, not less, information than the matter that surrounds it, be that reinforced concrete or ozone-rich atmosphere. This is because a hole is information both with regard to the materiality it perforates (concrete/ozone) and to the shape of its absence.5
With help from Forensic Architects, a victim of a drone strike builds a 3D model of her home, which no longer exists. Her intent is to communicate the experience of life under drones.

Ex. 2: Congress passed the National Defense Authorization Act in 1997. One of its sections is entitled, “Prohibition on collection and release of detailed satellite imagery relating to Israel.” Aerial and satellite imagery of occupied territories (most notably the Gaza Strip) are also regulated under this amendment, and thereby evade Google’s all-seeing satellites’ eyes.

Ex. 3: “In Masks of the Universe, Edward Harrison suggests that all of the cosmologies of history are so many masks covering a face that will never be seen. The world is always somewhere beyond its mask; no map can use more than a tiny sampling of the information the world continuously offers.”6
Ex. 3a: And what metrical mask do we offer the world? In Japan, the Keihin Electric Express Railway Company introduced software that would literally scan their employees’ smiles and, using this digital image, rank their features on a scale from 0 (suicidal) to 100 (delirious). The entrenched logic of their employers’ technological intervention suggests that there exists a prima facie expectation that users/patrons desire the shallow affect of technicity’s smile; that there is somehow, embedded in our brains’ architectural folds, a mirror neuron that could respond appropriately in this exchange. As we further embed in this future, will we become biochemically inured to high-definition displays of an emotion or reality that isn’t there? Where is the ‘beyond’ of this world’s mask?

Ex. 4: During the summer of 2016, scientists devised a method to observe a full-body scan of a human’s interior, whereby both flesh and bone were made transparent. The process ossifies that which it demystifies. By deleting the mysteries of our insides—incorporating an optics of dematerialization into the medical field—we paradoxically generate more information about “less” of us. Fewer boundaries and blockages towards a total annihilation of invisibility. For example, we also know that Eigengrau (html code #1616d) is the “almost black” one’s brain “sees” in complete darkness.

Ex. 5: “… the creation of the Ellis Act map posed a simple but nevertheless troubling problem of visually/digitally materializing loss.”7

Visualizing accumulation by dispossession makes legible a series of crushing absences of no knowable weight, whether ()oles, holes, gaps in a visual record, or a surfeit of vacancies spurred by unethical property (mis)management.

We already know how compelling are the visualizations of non-presence. For cyberfeminists, and poets whose work aligns with this philosophy (namely, warping and corrupting and exploiting the internet and new media in order to dismantle their patriarchal foundations) a related and pressing task is how to devise memes of language(s), a poetics, and praxes which the network cannot respond to. And adapt to, and assimilate. The aesthetics of futurity are regressing (minimal-izing) in ways that evoke a false nostalgia for a time many young(ish) poets have never experienced: the time of a neutered internet; before Gamergate, before PRISM, before the instantaneous circulation of cell phone footage of State-sanctioned murder. How could we ever substantiate the collective crises of our times when more intensive mediation and abstraction appear to be the rule of the day?

What is the alternative? More ‘not writing’? Can a refusal of participation on the network advance feminisms?

VII. “This looks like the future / this is future”
— C├ęcile B. Evans, “What the Heart Wants”8

Let’s consider this: a self-deterministic evolution in network aesthetics.
Projects, selfies, and tweets that positively recode what was once invisible. Currently, many women are producing works around their chronic illnesses, which are gaining traction in a larger conversation about representation, networked feminisms, and embodiment. ‘Autopathographic selfies’ (aggregated chronologies and visual documents of one’s life with illness) constitute what Tamar Tenbeck refers to as the “politicized dramaturgy of the lived body,”9 which centers one’s medical experiences and lifts it from the unilateral authority of the medical realm. These visualizations of intrasubjective experience can be stapled onto the conversation of absence and cyberfeminism insofar as they respond to a desire to show up in the network as a sick person: as a problematic, messy, deviant body.

In an essay i wrote last year, “Weaponizing Sickness: Gender, Theory, and Capital,” i addressed Johanna Hedva’s “Sick Woman Theory”10 alongside analyses of US healthcare policy and the work of feminist+anti-capitalist poet and cancer survivor Anne Boyer. In this excerpt we may draw a causal connection between the intensive ubiquity of communications technologies (communication AS technology), the precariously laboring body, and the work of self-documenting one’s subject position.
In “Data’s Work is Never Done,” Boyer parses the ‘labor’ of data in a medical context, and how these technologized processes become conflated with the always-already female-gendered labor of care. Describing the repetitious, rote, and abstract process of filling out paperwork in a hospital waiting room, she states, “I am sick and a woman and so I write my own name.” The declaration of one’s identity in relation to her gender/illness is seen as an ingress into a coherent informational network, wherein one takes on a new ontological status as a perversely autonomic agent of semio-capital. Poetry is work, but it may also constitute a reinscription/inversion of identity and the limitations of one’s physical form; it can be a processual unmaking of the real. Here, however, the embodied subject is reconfigured as an engine of data; it undergirds and fulfils a mechanized desire, the locus of which is always immaterial and elsewhere. This machinic apparatus is a mere fulcrum upon which gendered labor pivots, ceaselessly.
Boyer also writes that, during a period of time in which she held six jobs simultaneously, she would often keep her iPhone in her bra so that she could “always be working, never miss an email.”11 She then notes that her tumor developed in that exact place. Her abstracted body, as a producer of data for cultural and academic milieus was ‘delivered’ to her actual body via both networks of raw material, the ephemeral traffic of signals, and affective channels. The technicity of the cell phone operates as a veil between the subject’s concrete labor-function and the ambiguities of uncompensated, emotional labor (intellectual energy, email fatigue), and the nexus of these—their proximity to her body—may very well have produced a literal cancerous mass.
The situation briefly and inadequately described here illustrates that we cannot continue to work like this (while also potentially answering Amy Ireland’s question: ‘Is there a Poem the human cannot afford to make?’)
When we consign the acts of reading and writing to human cognitive platforms, ignoring all the encoding and transference that happens inside the network and outside of our experience of it,12 we unwittingly valorize anthropomorphic systems which are inherently and paradoxically anti-human. Systems that produce sickness, which totalize life under and within them, and whose logics underwrite all the activity that we perform as [cyber]feminists and artists. Considering this, Xenofeminism (a nascent offshoot of cyberfeminism, originated by the international transfeminist collective Laboria Cuboniks in 2014, which promotes gender fluidity and rejects biological determinism) might be an improved tactical and aesthetic program for poets writing from inside networked crisis. This philosophy, working in tandem with Xenopoetics, may offer a new turn for the hyper-present, overlabored, precarious, sick body, as it “puts the status of the human rigorously into question. It disperses the ego, opens occulted lines of communication, and scans for alien signal. It is the black market of contemporary poetics.”13
Perhaps we can own our Zero, our “zone of multiplicity,” a weaponized blur of encryption on the continuum of presence, shimmering as holographs of our negative capability.

1 A phrase from Dennis Adams, whose urban interventions included menacing and poetic texts on bus shelters and false advertisements.
2 https://modelviewculture.com/pieces/the-invisible-female-workforce-behind-the-social-ceo.
3 In her 2015 book Garments Against Women, Anne Boyer (to whom i’ll refer again later) articulates the concept of invisible labor and its clash with poetics in “Not Writing”: “I am not writing a pathetic memoir. I am not writing a memoir about poetry or love. I am not writing a memoir about poverty, debt collection, or bankruptcy. I am not writing about family court. I am not writing a memoir because memoirs are for property owners and not writing a memoir about prohibitions of memoirs.”
4 Amy Ireland, in conversation with a.j. carruthers, “Poetry is Cosmic War,” Rabbit, 95.
5 http://www.forensic-architecture.org/theme/threshold-detectability.
6 Poetics and Praxis, Understanding and Imagination: The Collected Essays of O. B. Hardison Jr.
7 Erin McElroy, co-founder of Anti-Eviction Mapping Project (AEMP).
8 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bSgz3SxIrf4.
9 Tamar Tenbeck, “Selfies of Ill Health: Online Autopathographic Photography and the Dramaturgy of the Everyday,” Social Media + Society vol. 2 no. 1, Jan-Mar 2016.
10 See also: http://www.maskmagazine.com/not-again/struggle/sick-woman-theory.
11 Anne Boyer, “Woman Sitting at the Machine,” Poetry is Dead, Issue 8.
12 Remarks Sadie Plant: “‘Zero’ neither counts nor represents, but with digitisation it proliferates, replicates and undermines the privilege of one. Zero is not an absence, but a zone of multiplicity which cannot be perceived by the one who sees.”
13 Amy Ireland, ibid.

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