Fall Appearances

I have a very full schedule this fall, with six talks, five of which are outside of the New York area. It’s a great privilege to be invited to participate in so many incredible venues and I hope this gives me a chance to see old friends and make new ones in the various locations I will be visiting. 

24 September, Lūžio taškas (Breaking Point), Palanga, Lithuania

09 October, Image.Architecture.Now, Julius Shulman Institute, Woodbury University, Los Angeles

12 October, Once Upon a Place, 1st International Conference on Architecture and Fiction, Lisbon, Portugal

14 October, Who Owns Images, panel discussion with Geeta Dayal, Thomas Demand, and Sam Thorne, Frieze Talks 2010, London, England

07 November, Datacity, Amber Conference, Istanbul, Turkey

18 November, Design and Existential Risk, Parsons The New School for Design, New York, NY

Last but not least, the New City Reader, a collaboration with Joseph Grima and many amazing individuals and networks in the form of a print newspaper starts October 5 at the New Museum. This is a sneak preview. More soon.

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The Saddest Ship Afloat

Is there a sadder ship afloat than the Democratic party?

The groundswell of support for "Hope" and change has turned against them. Why? Barack Obama, class clowns like Larry Summers and Rahm Emmanuel, and the DNC should really lead a sing-along to Led Zeppelin’s immortal song "Nobody’s fault but mine." Take a look at this piece from PBS Newshour and Patchwork Nation, which identifies where the Tea Party movement is the strongest. Turns out that support it is in those areas in which the housing boom soared the highest and crashed the hardest. It’s easy for these "liberals" to poke fun at the beer-drinking, ATV and jet-ski riding crowd in their exurban homesteads, but this could have been a source of support for the Dems. Instead they decided to put all their cards in supporting Wall Street and the financial sector since, after all, that is where they come from, that is who funded them, and that is all that mattered to them. Of course now that Wall Street is turning against its former allies—perhaps to extract another round of concessions from the Republicans—a mid-term rout is in progress. What a fiasco!  

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What is our Antiquity?

I often think of TJ Clark’s observation that "Modernism is our antiquity. … the forms of representation it originally gave rise to are unreadable." This statement makes clear the way that modernity—the process of the modernizing a world not yet fully modern—is lost to us.

It’s hard to tell precisely where the break happened. Is it when Ernest Mandel’s late capitalism takes over? Or is it a bit later, when progress has collapsed? After all, it’s hard to see the Great Society as a postmodern program. A couple of years later, 1968 is the definitive break: product of the dashed hopes of postwar modernism, an early cry of the culture of overaccumulation, an upheaval toward postmodernity. 
 

Network culture, I would like to suggest—and I think that in his talk on atemporality Bruce Sterling does this as well—has a certain affinity to modernity in that it is not yet complete.

For all the talk of the generation currently entering college being born digital, this simply isn’t true yet. My sense is that pervasive locative and mobile technologies as well as the spread of non-computer Internet browsers is necessary for this and they only become everyday with the 2007 launch of the iPhone.

It’s at that point, let’s say some ten to fifteen years from now—coincidentally a time when we might have recovered from the crisis of overaccumulation that we find ourselves in—that something quite new will come to pass and that world will be as unrecognizable to us as ours will be to it.   

[1]



[1] . T.J. Clark, Farewell to an Idea (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999), 3.

 

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Network Culture Fall 2010

My latest syllabus for the Network Culture course as I am teaching it this term at Columbia.

Columbia University
Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation
A4515: Network Culture. The History of the Contemporary

Fall 2010 Professor Kazys Varnelis
Lectures/Seminars Wednesday 11-1,
408 Avery

Description

The purpose of this seminar is to come to an advanced historical understanding of the changed conditions that characterize our networked age. We will explore how the network is not merely a technology with social ramifications but rather serves as a cultural dominant connecting changes in society, economy, aesthetics, urbanism, and ideology. As a history of the contemporary, the seminar is organized around a series of topics tracing a genealogy of present-day culture.

Topics to be addressed include network theory, changing concepts of time and space, the rise of networked publics, contemporary poetics, new forms of subjectivity, and methods of control. Throughout, we will make connections between architecture and this insurgent condition.

Requirements

Participation: 20%

Each class will consist of a presentation by the instructor on selected themes, followed by an in-depth discussion in seminar. Students are expected to prepare all readings in order to facilitate a discussion in which all students participate. Active participation by all students in each session is required.

Tumblr: 20%

Each student is expected to maintain a tumblelog on tumblr.com and to post at least twice a week. Beyond mere reblogging of information pertinent to the course, the tumblelog will form a record and commentary upon their research during the semester.

Curatorial Project: 60%

The term project will be a curatorial project, exploring a cultural topic related to the subject matter with a written and visual component.

Both design and scholarship are integral to the term project. A carefully curated and designed work will be accompanied a 2,500 word essay on the curated material.

Plagiarism of any sort will result in immediate failure

Reading

Readings will be available on-line

01

09.08

Introduction

02

09.15

An Overview of Network Culture

Manuel Castells, "Informationalism, Networks, and the Network Society: A Theoretical Blueprint. In Castells, ed. The Network Society: A Cross-cultural Perspective (Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar, 2004), 3-45.

Gilles Deleuze, "Postscript on Control Societies," Negotiations, 1972-1990 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1995), 73-77.

Kazys Varnelis, "Conclusion: The Meaning of Network Culture," Networked Publics, 1-13 and 145-163.

03

09.22

Postmodernism and Periodization

David Harvey, "Fordism" and "From Fordism to Flexible Accumulation," in The Condition of Postmodernity, (Oxford, UK: Blackwell, 1989), 125-172.

Fredric Jameson, "Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism," New Left Review 146 (July/August 1984): 53-92.

Optional:

Hal Foster, "Postmodernism: A Preface," in Hal Foster, ed., The Anti-Aesthetic: Essays on Postmodern Culture (Townsend, Washington: Bay Press, 1983), ix-xvi.

04

09.29

Network Theory

Albert-László Barabási, "Six Degrees of Separation," "Small Worlds," and "Hubs and Connectors," Linked: The New Science of Networks (Cambridge, MA: Perseus, 2002), 25-63.

Nicholas Carr, "From the Many to the Few" The Big Switch: Rewiring the World from Edison to Google (New York: W. W. Norton, 2008), 127-149.

Optional:

Mark S. Granovetter, "The Strength of Weak Ties," American Journal of Sociology 78 (May 1973), 1360-1380.

Duncan J. Watts, "The Connected Age," Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age, (New York: W.W. Norton, 2003), 19-42.

05

10.06

Time

Jean Baudrillard, "The End of the Millennium or the Countdown," Economy & Society 26 (1997): 447-55.

Jean François Lyotard, "Answering the Question: What is Postmodernism?" Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1984), xxiii-xxv.

Jeffrey Nealon, "Once More, With Intensity, Foucault’s History of Power Revisited," Foucault Beyond Foucault, 24-53.

Bruce Sterling, "Atemporality for the Creative Artist," http://www.transmediale.de/en/keynote-bruce-sterling-us-atemporality

transcribed: http://www.wired.com/beyond_the_beyond/2010/02/atemporality-for-the-creative-artist/

 

06

10.13

Special Class

Special Surprise Guest

 

07

10.20

Space

Michel Foucault, "Docile Bodies," Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. (New York: Vintage Books, 1995), 135-156.

Georg Simmel, "The Metropolis and Mental Life," Georg Simmel, On Individuality and Social Forms: Selected Writings, ed. Donald N. Levine (Chicago, 1971), 325-339.

Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, "Capitalist Sovereignty, Or Administering the Global Society of Control," Empire (Durham: Duke University Press, 2000), 325-350.

Marc Augé, "Prologue" and "From Places to Non-Places," in Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity, (London; New York: Verso, 1995), 1-6. 75-115.

Hans Ibelings, "Supermodernism," Supermodernism (Rotterdam: NAi Publishers, 1998), 55-102.

Optional:

Kazys Varnelis, interview with Hans Ibelings, to be posted online.

Kazys Varnelis and Marc Tuters, "Beyond Locative Media: Giving Shape to the Internet of Things," Leonardo 39, No. 4 (2006): 357-363.

Jordan Crandall, "Operational Media," Ctheory, http://www.ctheory.net/articles.aspx?id=441.

Martin Dodge and Rob Kitchen, "Code and the Transduction of Life," Journal of the Association of American Geographers 95, no. 1 (2005): 162-80.

 

08

10.27

Publics

Yochai Benkler, "Chapter 1. Introduction: A Moment of Opportunity and Challenge" and "Chapter 4. The Economics of Social Production," The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006), 1-28 and 91-127.

Chris Anderson, "The Long Tail," Wired, October 2004, http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/12.10/tail.html

Clay Shirky, "Power Laws, Weblogs and Inequality," Clay Shirky’s Writings About the Internet. http://www.shirky.com/writings/powerlaw_weblog.html

Bill Wausik, "My Crowd. Or Phase 5: A Report from the Inventor of the Flash Mob," Harper’s Magazine (March 2006), 56-66.

Bill Bishop, The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing Us Apart (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2008), 1-77.

Optional

Selections from Michael J. Weiss, The Clustered World: How We Live, What We Buy, and What it All Means About Who We Are (New York: Little, Brown, and Company, 1999).

Malcolm Gladwell, "The Coolhunt," New Yorker (March 17, 1997), 78-88, http://www.gladwell.com/1997/1997_03_17_a_cool.htm

Grant McCracken, "Who Killed the Coolhunter?" http://www.cultureby.com/trilogy/2006/06/who_killed_the_.html

Duncan J. Watts and Peter Sheridan Dodd, "Influentials, Networks, and Public Formation," Journal of Consumer Research (December 2007), 441-458.

 

09

11.03

Poetics

Geert Lovink, "Blogging: The Nihilist Impulse," Eurozine (2007), http://www.eurozine.com/articles/2007-01-02-lovink-en.html

Nicolas Bourriaud, Postproduction (New York: Lukas & Sternberg, 2002), 7-48.

Alan Liu, The Laws of Cool: Knowledge Work and the Culture of Information, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004), excerpts.

Jordan Crandall, "Showing," http://jordancrandall.com/showing/index.html

 

10

11.10

Subjectivity

Kenneth J. Gergen,"Social Saturation and the Populated Self," The Saturated Self: Dilemmas of Identity in Contemporary Life (New York: Basic Books, 2000), 48-80.

Brian Holmes, "The Flexible Personality. For a New Cultural Critique," Transversal, http://transform.eipcp.net/transversal/1106/holmes/en

Warren Neidich, "Resistance is Futile," Artbrain. Journal of Neuroasthetic Theory 4, http://www.artbrain.org/neuroaesthetics/neidich.html.

Nicholas Carr, "Is Google Making Us Stupid?," Atlantic Monthly, July/August 2008, 56-63.

 

11

11.17

Control

Joseph A .Tainter, "Introduction to Collapse," The Collapse of Complex Societies, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), 1-21.

Richard Barbrook and Andy Cameron, "The Californian Ideology," http://www.hrc.wmin.ac.uk/theory-californianideology-main.html.

Saskia Sassen, "Electronic space and power," Journal of Urban Technology 4 (1997): 1-17.

Alexander R. Galloway, "Physical Media,"Protocol: How Control Exists after Decentralization, (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2004), 29-53.

 

12

13

11.24

12.01

Research Week

Conclusion

 

Some Books to Consult on Design and Presentation:

Allen Hurlburt, The Grid: A Modular System for the Design and Production of Newspapers, Magazines, and Books (New York: Van Norstand Reinhold, 1978).

Enric Jardí, Twenty-Tips on Typography (Barcelona: ACTAR, 2007).

Josef Muller-Brockmann, Grid Systems in Graphic Design (Zurich: Niggli, 2001).

Timothy Samar, Making and Breaking the Grid. A Graphic Design Layout Workshop
(Beverly, MA: Rockport, 2002).

 

 

 

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Book Updates

I updated my book in progress yesterday, uploading new versions of the introduction, chapter one, and chapter two. Read it here

My book, presently titled Culture in the Age of Networks. A Critical History takes on a seemingly impossible task (I am drawn to those, apparently): how to periodize the contemporary. During my education as a scholar, postmodernism was a topic of heady debate. If some of that debate was blather, it also helped us understand our milieu. Today, however, such discussions are all but non-existent. We do talk a great deal about the impact of technology or the economy, but in doing so, we compartmentalize discussion and debate to our detriment. This book sets out to understand the outlines of our culture as a whole. 

The introduction elaborates that argument in much more detail.

Chapter One "Time. History under Atemporality" addresses the question of atemporality, a matter that Bruce Sterling and I have bounced around between us in detail via our two blogs. It also serves to ratchet the book deeper into its methodological argument. Take a good look at it. As Bruce suggests in a talk on atemporality "This is a problem in the philosophy of history." Yes, that sounds onerous and I suppose it is, but we live in onerous times. 

Chapter Two "Space: Pervasive Simultaneity and the Financialization of Everyday Life" looks at the changes in space. For just as time is being called into question, so is space. Both modernity’s abstract, gridded space and postmodernity’s hyperspace are being overridden by the space of the network. This chapter looks at manifestations of network space, in particular, the spread of simultaneity from something that takes place in mass media to something that takes place in everyday life as well as the techniques of financialization that value space in new ways.

It’s a bit painful to watch my progress. I had hoped for a draft by the end of last year, then by the end of the summer. Now I’ve set my sights for the end of this year. It may still be possible. The first two chapters correspond to spring and summer of this year which suggests a completion date of December 2011, but Iam optimistic that it’s going to be much, much earlier. These were difficult chapters to write and involved me digging into a huge swath of information. Moreover, they set the scene for the book in ways that I hadn’t expected. I don’t pretend that the final four chapters won’t have surprises, but I think it likely that they will move considerably more rapidly, especially since I have drafted parts of them for other audiences (e.g. my essay for Turbulence’s Networked project forms the core of the poetics chapter). 

So today I’ll be sitting on my porch, working on the chapter on Publics. Since I’ve already drafted a bit of it, I’m about 1/4 of the way through already which is a considerable relief. So onwards … to try and get a handle on just what we mean by "networked publics."  

 

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On Black Swans and Realism

A couple of weeks back the Planet Money podcast hosted Nassim Taleb, author of the Black Swan. Click here for the interview. I have not read Taleb’s book, although I am likely to now, but I am baffled by how the real estate crisis and the crash of the market could be considered a hard-to-predict or rare event. In that, Taleb seems like an apologist for the neoliberal school of thought which is in love with totalizing arguments: "There is no alternative" or "Nobody could have predicted it." So sorry, but there are alternatives and plenty of us predicted it long in advance. Look, I only have a basic training in economics, but it was a good one, and it was obvious to me that the market was out of whack. Unless somehow more training in economics leads to diminishing returns, the idea that the crash was a black swan seems bizarre, even delusional.

But again, I have not read Taleb’s book and much of what he said in the Planet Money interview made a great deal of sense. Although I enjoyed the show, it seems like the interviewers, who tend to be free-market apologists, did not want to hear what Taleb had to say, which is that the Obama administration is completely out of touch with the will of the people. Nobody wants to prop up the financial system anymore. If I were Obama, I’d begin by firing Larry Summers, Rahm Emmanuel, Timothy Geitner, and the whole rotten crew. But I would’ve never hired them in the first place. It’s going to be tough to do a 180 but it’s either that or—barring a real black swan (or perhaps a candidate so Right wing that he or she is unelectable by a majority)—the Republicans take the midterms and have the next presidency locked up. 

I know that some of my readers have expressed the wish that I would come out and say that everything will be ok soon and that the boom of the last decade will be back. But with the neoliberal bag of tricks exhausted, I just don’t see how that can happen. If the Great Depression is too upsetting a model (and inaccurate, after all, we have YouTube to entertain us, they didn’t), then take Japan since the asset bubble popped in 1991 or, heck, take the United States from 1966 to 1996, my formative years. It’s not my fault that the economy is the way it is (if it were, I’d be a lot richer, like Obama, Summers, Emmanuel and Geitner) and I don’t take great pleasure in predicting the Great Recession will not end soon. But I was very much alarmed by all of the people going around talking about the boom as if it were the greatest thing since slight bread. Now they wonder why their real estate investments went awry. I guess black swans are the answer…    

Still, I hope that these same individuals listen to Taleb and understand that extrapolating short-term trends is nonsense. I am not sure how we will dig or if we will dig ourselves out of this hole. It could be that this is a terminal crisis for capitalism, which will be replaced by some new economic system. I am not sanguine about that prospect either for instead of socialism we could well have a (happy faced) neo-fascism (after all, we have YouTube).    

In sum, do give the interview with Taleb’s a listen, but be skeptical about the black swan. Instead of black swans, maybe it’s better to hunt for the Owl of Minerva, who as Hegel reminds us comes out at twilight to paint her grey on grey when a form of life has grown old… Ask yourself where the owl is flying now. 

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