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digital rhetoric

Reading Hansen's New Philosophy for New Media

I’m in the midst of reading this book, and I’m finding it quite interesting. It builds on Hansen’s earlier work, Embodying Technisis, (see the ebr review) in some useful ways. Where the prior text was essentially a critique of earlier theories, New Philosophy is more proactive. One of the interesting issues that came out of the first book was Hansen’s developing view of Deleuze and Guattari, which was one of my own areas of concern with it. Following Technesis, Hansen modified his take on D/G in an article in Postmodern Culture. New Philosophy further modifies this position, particularly in relation to Deleuze’s Cinema texts. It strikes me that Hansen has a this ongoing issue of Deleuze and Guattari. I recall seeing a presentation of his in 1998 at the SLS conference in Gainesville that also reflected this issue.

The odd thing about it, and I think this is more apparent now in New Philosophy, is that of all these philosophers, Deleuze is likely Hansen’s closest conceptual ally. As such though, Deleuze ends up being the figure from whom Hansen must differentiate himself. This rhetorical situation brings me back to graduate school, where it always seemed like faculty and students alike would be most savage in their critique of thinkers who were closest to them. For example, the red theory collective Marxists at Albany certainly were opposed to right-wing, capitalist thinkers, but they reserved their real venom and put the majority of their energies into attacking/critiquing post-Marxists.

Anyway, its a curious thing, and I am making a conscious effort to not take the same tactic with Hansen, because, in essence, I agree with him and support the pursuit of this theory of embodiment. At one point he writes

affectivity is the privileged modality for confronting technologies that are fundamentally heterogeneous to our already constituted embodiment, our contracted habits and rhythms…[and later he articulates] affect as an interface between the domain of information (the digital) and embodied human experience. (133/134)

And this is very close in spirit with the argument that I am making in my book, which also situates the virtual in the body. Now Hansen’s fundamental objection to Deleuze is how he modifies Bergson’s theory of the virtual and accords technology greater power to frame affectivity. Hansen essentially seeks to reverse this move. Hansen’s point makes sense. It’s built upon a very nuanced reading of a specific aspect of Deleuze’s theory–something that is probably too esoteric to make it into the kind of book I’m writing, which is for a broader rhet/comp audience. However, one can also read Deleuze in other ways, as Massumi and DeLanda do, ways which more closely support Hansen’s project. So again it seems to me that Hansen is going out of his way to oppose himself to Deleuze. Naturally I could be missing something here. If you can see it, let me know. Regardless though, I see Hansen’s argument as important for anyone in new media to consider.

However, here is my one concern, and I haven’t made it all the way through the text yet so maybe it is coming. One of the critical benefits of articulating technology’s power to frame affectivity is the potential such a theoy has for helping us to make the function of ideology on a preconscious level, which is, in effect, the contribution of Deleuze’s theory of the control society. This is what Deleuze and Guattari’s theory of facialization permits, but it is also, in a more substantial way, what results from Baudrillard, Kittler, Kroker and others of that ilk, who are more substantially opposed to Hansen’s theory (Kittler in particular).

Clearly we cannot simply dispense with this concern. The cybernetic manipulation of affectivity through new media results in the insertion of an ideological interface into the production of consciousness. But this is only conceivable if we extend to new media an ability to shape affects, rather than imagining that affects fall into an absolute indeterminate state within the context of the body.

I am going to be reading Hansen closely to see how he deals with this issue. At the end of Technesis, Hansen looks to Benjamin’s theory of innervation as an example of a potentially strategic embodied resistance to media. This is similar to how Massumi deals with affect as synaesthetic, functioning in excess of capture within any one sensory mechanism. However, this raises two questions for me. First, is Benjamin’s observation merely a technical problem that can be resolved with better control over media that will result in more predictable embodied responses? Second, even if the first is not the case, how does this then become a form of consciousness and then subjectivity/agency?

I guess I’ll just have to see if this sequel has any answers to these questions.

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2 replies on “Reading Hansen's New Philosophy for New Media”

As a aside…having worked with grad student members of the Red Theory Collective in the past, I’d say they were disinterested in any sort of practical application of Marxist Theory; we tried to engage them in many arenas of political organizing, from work against racist police brutality, to strike support organizing for unions in Albany, to tuition hikes at their own institution. I think they skipped over the XI thesis of Marx’s Theses on Feuerbach…
“The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.”
Evidently armchairs are particularly comfortable in certain grad programs.

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currently doing a masters investigating developing augmented realities with a basis in an understanding of computation as a form of materiality @ Spatial Information Architecture Lab RMIT… finding Hansen very useful for this… as part of developing a praxis of applied-philosophy (where techne is episteme) that is very pro-body, thus pro-exterior, thus pro-joy too :^) ps thanks for the tip off to the lynd paper in foundations of physics letters…

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