[-empyre-] empyre Digest, Vol 111, Issue 5

Florian Cramer flrncrmr at gmail.com
Tue Feb 11 03:54:11 EST 2014

Hello Micha, hello list,

> I still hold that your configuration does not address the gendered and
racialized forms of difference that underlie the logic of colonialism and
which find their expression in western conceptions such as individuality
and objectivity that lead to boolean logic and digital computing.

In my view, it's not that simple. Boolean logic - which one can equally
find in the reasoning of Chinese 4th century BC philosopher like Hui Shi
(Hui Tzu) - and digital computation (literally=computing with your fingers)
are by far not only Western conceptions. I agree with you that Western
culture and science have pursued them to their extreme. But as you point
out yourself, dualisms of, on the one hand
Western/individualist/objectivist/boolean/digital vs.
Non-Western/non-individualist/subjectivist/non-boolean/non-digital are in
themselves romantic (and colonialist) Western stereotypes. On top of that,
they're historically wrong. For example, the modern concept of the number
zero, without which there would be no binary computing, was invented in 9th
century AD India, with precursors in Egypt and Mesopotamia but not in
Europe. Identifying digitality with Western colonization would
unintentionally foster a Eurocentric view of cultural, scientific and
technological history.

> Your essay seems to eschew any political possibility for the post-digital
in your concluding sentence. If I'm misreading it, I would appreciate your

You mean the sentence 'It is not a crisis of one or the other system but a
crisis of the very paradigm of "system" and its legacy from cybernetics.
It's a legacy which (starting with their mere names) neither "digital", nor
"post-digital" succeed to leave behind.'?

I don't quite get how you read this as 'eschewing any political
possibility'. All I am trying to say is that neither "digital" nor
"post-digital" are the right concepts for criticizing and leaving behind
cybernetic systems thinking, or in your words, boolean logic and digital
computing. After all, if you call something "post-digital", you don't leave
the digital paradigm behind but still keep it (dialectically) in place.

> "Although the Aztecs, Mayas and Incas practiced writing before the
Conquest- either in pictogram form, heiroglyphs, or knotting systems- it
never replaced the performed utterance... What changed with the Conquest
was not that writing displaced embodied practice (we need only remember
that the friars brought their own embodied practices) but the degree of
legitimization of writing over other epistemic and mnemonic systems.
Writing now assured that Power, with a capital P, as Rama puts it, could be
developed and enforced without the input of the great majority of the
population, the indigenous and marginal populations of the colonial period
without access to systematic writing."

What is being described here is a pre-colonial and pre-digital vs. a
colonial political system organized through alphanumeric (and hence
digital) writing. The next question would be: Which post-colonial practices
are also post-digital?

Apart from that, one should not brush over the complex ambivalence even of
formal systems, being tools of both control and of freedom to quote Wendy
Chun. There are similar ideas in postcolonial theories like that of Homi
Bhabha (for whom colonialism/postcolonialism ends up as a two-way process).
Regarding the gendered form of difference, to use your words, inscribed
into digitality and computing, I think that it might be historically
interesting to reread Sadie Plant's "Zeros and Ones"; a work whose
cyberfeminist optimism regarding digital networking has become perfectly
counter-intuitive in the age of Google, Facebook and the NSA, but at least
documents a different reading of the very technology that we now prefix
with "post-".

> I haven't read Eglash's work, thanks for recommending it, I'll check it

One of his books has just been made available on Monoskop:

By the way, it's rather unfortunate that the papers of the "research group"
are linked and cited here as if they were anything canonical. As a matter
of fact, these are preliminary, unedited papers/drafts written by a highly
diverse workshop gathering of artists, media studies people and arts/media
Ph.D. candidates at Aarhus Kunsthal. The definition of "post-digital" that
Michael cited is partly tongue-in-cheek - it was based on a voluntary data
mining of our drafts where we determined the most commonly used words and
built a definition from them. We ultimately rewrote the drafts for
transmediale.14's newspaper based on the same principles, with a high score
for those texts that managed to squeeze in as much of that vocabulary as
possible. That playful context becomes a bit clearer in the newspaper. It's
unfortunate that these texts are online without referencing the context.
Which ultimately says a lot about embodied and disembodied writing, no
matter whether it's digital or not.

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