Let me begin by saying that this week’s readings were pretty much AWESOME. Any reading that begins with extensive discussion of the 1960s art, psychedelic, and counterculture scene wins points in my book. Roll up for the mystery tour! Hayles competes with Turner for awesomeness points by discussing cyborgs and A. I., and making clever sci-fi film references.
I’d like to hit on a couple disparate points in the works we read:
Fred Turner discusses Stewart Brand’s attempt to create a newly ordered system, freed from bureaucratic hierarchy and the cold war attempts (or supposed attempts) to extinguish the individual. He sought a system based upon informational flow within individuals and between individuals in a highly organic way (the same way that individual organisms process information within, and interact with other organisms without through information flows). The hippie movement and Lower-Manhattan art scenes quite clearly play into this mindset; what’s interesting, however, is the movement into the business world that chapter 6 discusses.
Turner discusses the “countercultural business scene” that developed with Brand as well as Peter Schwartz and other in the ’80s (185). These innovators, explains turner, had “a deep faith in business as a site of social change and a habit of working in an informal, networked way.” (185) That is, Brand and his cohort (and those who inspired him) wanted to “recreate the New Communalist turn away from politics and toward business and everyday life as sites of social change” (181). What fascinates me here is the focus on business as the means of social change–of abolishing bureaucratic hierarchy, freeing the individual, and facilitating social and technological progress. “Business” is so often associated with strong right politics, that it seems odd and rather fascinating that new business models stemmed from the extreme-leftist movements in the ’50s and ’60s, associated with “bringing down the man” (often associated with big business). The “enemy,” so to speak, seems to fundamentally be the government in Brand’s world, and the freeing up of business is associated with the freeing up of individual enterprise allowing individuals to network more readily and cross disciplines. The question arises then, are Brand’s ideals of individuality and informational networks aligned with any politics, or are they essentially apolitical? Are they more social then? More scientific?
N. Katherine Hayles spends a great deal of time introducing her book by discussing the notion of “posthumanity” and the history of the transition from “human” to “posthuman.” I was struck by her discussion of the “deconstruction of the liberal humanist subject” by understanding that subject as a “set of informational processes” rather than as a body (4). That is, Hayles explains that there arose “an emphasis on cognition rather than embodiment” (5). Her ideas here strike me as clearly related to Foucault’s notions of history, discourse, and the role of the author. For him, the body means less than the ideas themselves and the discourses they generate; that is, Foucault focuses on the information more than embodiment, as Hayles explains. Hayles herself notes Foucault’s relation to her discussion in her endnotes, but even without the explicit note the relationship between these thinkers jumped out at me. (N. B. – that sentence alone is problematic, since based upon the ideas discussed here, the relationship is between sets of ideas rather than two “thinkers” or bodies. Just thought I’d throw in some self-reflexivity there.) I think a good question to raise amidst these thoughts, then, is how the individual fits into the disembodiment of information. Is everything informational collectivities, or does individual volition and experience have relevance?
That’s all for now! Peace and love, dudes.