Cloud Time by Rob Coley and Dean Lockwood

Jul 25th, 2012 | By | Category: Articles, Promotions

978-1-78099-095-8, $14.95, £9.99

With the cloud, we have certainly entered into what China Mieville dubs the ‘Tentacular Novum’. Even as businesses and consumers embrace it, the cloud remains an unknown force. It is an overdetermined, unutterable power of transformation, an escapee from the ‘prison-house of the known’ as Lovecraft had it. Infused within the fabric of the social itself, the Cloud Thing effects a mediatised and banalised numinousness, full spectrum media.

Coding the World

The take-up of digital technologies is conditioned by existing rhetorics and practices. In particular, computing emerged out of the contexts and concerns of war and capitalism, the economic and military imperatives of the twentieth century. In the cybernetic cultural imaginary the rhetorics of technical rationality and order congeal and gather momentum even further. Cybernetics, as initially conceived, is a prophylactic dream of control, of the regulation of flows, a systems theory which is also a fiction predicated upon the evacuation of the evils of chaos, noise, dirt, viral poison.

Technology has been extremely effective at systematically ordering and opening up the world as resource. This is also a rendering of the world as calculable. The power of digitality in particular lies in its giving over of phenomena to numerical, statistical value, permitting the measure and modulation of any variation in their properties. The mediation of all things through binary code evacuates the content of the world, translating everything into homogeneous, replicable form, into information. In the Wordsworthian cliché, the digital ‘murders to dissect’. It cuts into phenomena as it orders, disambiguating and freezing up dead moments in linearized fashion. Anything that can be formally represented is so ensnared. Anything that refuses to surrender its singularity, its complexity and power of difference needs must be discarded. Digitality constitutes a capture, an articulation of the world in terms of increasing resolution, ever tightened thresholds, but no matter the degree of resolution or the grip of thresholds, something about the world is lost, something that escapes. That is, the creative, unrepresentable power of virtuality, the singular not-yet that moves the actual and forces it to differ.8

If first order cybernetics was dominated by an apotropaic mission, second order cybernetics embraced the productive potential of viral pathology, shifting its verdict on noise from unwanted anomaly to facilitator of flexibility and autopoiesis. Viral noise is ‘folded in’, transformed into ‘constructive instability’, excluded precisely via its inclusion and mobilisation.9

Capitalism, like first order cybernetics, can be conceived as preoccupied with hygiene in that it wages war against the noisy, viral evil of singularity. It abstracts all phenomena, rendering in terms of exchange value. All things are equalized, prepared for commodity exchange.  Of course, from Marx’s perspective, it is a revolutionary and brutal stripping away of veils, knocking off of halos, a fundamental compulsive dislodging of things and agitation of the world. And, so, capital embraces ‘revolution’. How hygienic can it ever really be? In fact, its hands are always dirty. Chaos and contagion is fundamental to capital. The Communist Manifesto treats the bourgeoisie as a contagion capable of passing through any imaginable prophylactic boundary: ‘In one word, it creates a world after its own image’.10 Capitalism is itself viral. It is metamorphic, evolving, mutating through contagion. It ‘codes the world according to its own image’.11 Digitally reconfiguring the world by means of networked power, it conquers through viral ontology.

Capital is complicit with second order cybernetic systems. What this book is about, at core, is capital’s radical autopoietic strategy for harnessing digitality in order to breach the not-yet, capital’s predaceous inclinations towards time-out-of-joint, to insert itself into the virtual and take the future in hand. We argue that the Cloud constitutes digital capital’s best effort at the in(ter)ception of the future.

Endorsements:

Cloud Time positively fizzes and crackles with energy and ideas, drawing in a compelling archive of other thinkers, fellow travellers. It reads like a fiction and manifesto, but also as a kind of survey – of what lies at the outer rim...The book has a visceral quality – you can see, feel the tentacular novum. It’s this that I’m left with – a strong sense of the cloud as alive and reptilian...I was reminded of some of Nick Land and CCRU’s writings; certainly, at its best moments, the fictioning element of the book outruns the critique and we get something utterly compelling, an SF dystopia in which friends and enemies all exist in a grey zone. It’s a pessimistic thesis, but there is a kind of joy in the writing.’ Simon O’Sullivan, Author of Art Encounters Deleuze and Guattari: Thought Beyond Representation (2005), On the Production of Subjectivity (2012) and co-editor of Deleuze, Guattari and the Production of the New (2008).

A new kind of anthropophony: the deafening "informatic white noise" of constant push-messaging and gadget updates over the airwaves. The "cloud" – remote storage, "software as a service", pervasive mobile data – is here the subject of a rivetingly angry denunciation. The authors kick off with a reading of Christopher Nolan's film Inception, and go on to employ Foucault, Deleuze and Guattari, China Miéville (on tentacle fiction), Tom McCarthy's novel Remainder, and Derrida: the cloud, they say, is a hideous meta-archive that attempts to impose a new "hygiene of time".

Particularly interesting is the authors' analogy between consumer interaction with the "cloud" and videogames, in both of which the user submits to "systemic imperatives". The persuasive upshot is that the cloud, with its "techno-messianism", constitutes an enclosure of the "digital commons". The book is enjoyably creative in its theoretical spleen, and has the good humour, after one flight of fancy, to admit: "Okay, maybe this goes too far." But glib flag-wavers for corporate control of your data have been going too far the other way for longer. — Steven Poole, The Guardian

Cloud Time offers a much-needed analysis of contemporary capitalism as a perverse form of informationalization and quantification of life to which we happily, voluntarily contribute. — Jussi Parikka, Author of Insect Media and Digital Contagions

Rob Coley is a Doctoral research student at the University of Lincoln, UK.

Dean Lockwood is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Media, University of Lincoln, UK.

 

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