Jagoda’s “Network Ambivalence” #optorg

Between EMU and WSU, several graduate students have set out to rebegin a reading group. The first meet-up of the summer is later today, and they’ve selected Patrick Jagoda’s “Network Ambivalence” as the reading. In the spirit of keeping with the group’s goals of teasing out a few notes before we meet, here goes nothing. Er, something. A few thoughts, reactions, ambivalences.

  • One leading premise here–an organizing question from Jagoda–is What is not a network? Jagoda suggests that networks have flourished into an encompassing mythology, engulfing a too-muchness in their applicability to all systemic phenomena. He details something akin to network normativity, fairly regular and predictable representations of networks as link-node or edge-node schematics. And these webs, according to Jagoda, with their ubiquity, coalesce into a “network imaginary-and a claim that reality itself is structured as a network” (p. 109).Two reactions: Mark Taylor contrasted networks and grids, and I find this distinction durably compelling (perhaps one of only a few ideas from Moment of Complexity that were sticky enough to hold on, for me at least, for a decade). Grids are not networks, exactly, and neither are networks grids. They operate according to slightly different structuring principles. Grids are more topoi-like, exacting predictable metrics of separation and juncture; networks are more choric, allowing a structural flexibility that neither abandons structure altogether nor regulates it into a rigid and ongoing pattern. Second, how we imagine networks has much to do with our vocabulary for deepening the concept. For instance, all networks are not equal, of course, depending upon whether we think of them as articulations of open systems or closed, or fluid structures or momentary snapshots/slices/cross-sections. That is, their durativity, encompassing thickness or thinness, volatility, and flows of resources, power, attention, and activity/energy have the potential of being anything but normative, regular, or degraded into a stagnant mythos. That is, relative to grids, networks are oftentimes decidedly queer. So, sure, at a glancing pass, networks might seem like they are normative, but that level of generality is not especially helpful for the work of involving networks in the description of complex systems.
  • Networks bear out a descriptive adequacy. They are limited in what they can account for, as are all attempts to engage depth-complexity, heterogeneity, relationships conducted irregularly amidst any messy, frayed ecology (usually my own interested in ecology or complex systems keys on material and discursive dimensions, though recent work that inflects such systems with traceable intensities or which attempts to visualize pulsatile and affective dimensions is fascinating, promising, though notably also not the only uses to which networks can be put). Oftentimes networks generate perspective on infrastructure, or on infrastructural activity. I mention this because networks could be considered infrastructuralism’s mouthpiece. Networks, however contingent we imagine them to be, speak for infrastructuralism, though sometimes only in a hushed whisper or using a language whose decipherablity is enigmatic.
  • It’s not an especially halting point of contention, but there is a baseline for networks here that suggests them as open, expansive, boundless (p. 111, bottom). Sure, we can imagine them that way, but why not counter this with iterations of networks that suppose them to be simplifying models, temporarily useful for peeking into non-obvious structural-relational systems, and whose outsides only matters but so much for now?
  • The second half of this short article entertains network much more as a verb and suggests ambivalence (in a special flavor) as a means of coping with networked ways of being. This reminds me of Jim Corder’s discussions of living with paradoxes, or buying into two seeming at cross-currents philosophies or worldviews. Jagoda frames this drawing on Berlant, as an “uncertainty, which does not require an evacuation of one’s passions and convictions, requires being present to an unsatisfying present” (p. 114). To extend this, Jagoda explains, “Ambivalence…is a process of slowing down and learning to inhabit a compromised environment with the discomfort, contradiction, and misalignment it entails” (p. 114). This is in some ways a call for reflection and noticing, but I am not quite satisfied with the relationship of agency and articulation to this means of coping. That is, what does being ambivalent look like? How does it speak or write? What are its rhetorical activations that are externalized–not merely as means of coping with a dissatisfying condition but as participates in change at whatever rates and whatever scales? I wonder this upon reading, though I don’t think it’s necessarily Jagoda’s aim to address it in this excerpt from his book, Network Aesthetics.
  • The final sections of the selection trail off somewhat, insofar as there is as an example of ambivalence reference to a video game called Speculation. Maybe it’s just me, but references to video games I have never played before, where they appear in academic writing, leave much to be desired. My experience is too limited here to follow along wholly convinced that Speculation performs this network ambivalence pedagogically, in the way Jagoda contends. So while I don’t want to seem dismissive of the example, neither is there any crispness to the frame for application. And to be fair, this is exactly one such moment where an article setting up and calling attention to a forthcoming book deliberately hints at the something more that, once we pick up Network Aesthetics, readers very well may find carried out more completely there.

Context Hacking

Here’s a talk from Monochrom’s Johannes on “context hacking” from TedX Vienna (via). Mostly anecdotes. Not a lot here on method, i.e., on how to sub-subversion-vert. Yet I find it interesting in part because of the ascendant status of contextualism in rhetoric and writing (as a point of pedagogical, intellectual, and methodological insistence), and in part because of how constantly and arbitrarily contexts must be fenced in, demarcated. Watching this I wanted to know, is context hacking generalizable? Maybe not. Another problem is that the leftist/postmodernist/melancholic identifications risk functioning as a ticket to an ethics-free zone. Leftist-postmodernist-melancholics might not sweat this detail, but the presentation leads us up to the other side of the coin, even if it does not reckon with still another reversal of subversion: What is the function of context hacking on the right?

No, really, I’m asking.

If for none of these reasons, it’s worth watching/contemplating for a peak at the mundane self-portrait, Material Study with Scanned Photo of Self in a Beer Mood and Photoshop Crystallization Filter (2001).


The Reanimation Library
in Brooklyn (via)
offers a collection of discarded and found books not likely to be held elsewhere:
curios, out-of-print, wonders. Here librarianship is inflected with an art
aesthetic (perhaps more outwardly or radically than in the common case). There seems to be more than rarity justifying the in-status of the
books; but it is a sort of rare collection, one inflected with the idiosyncratic
impulses and tastes of the collector. The 600-book collection raises the question of whether it is
simply an installation called by the name of library. The mission

The Reanimation Library seeks to assemble an inspiring collection of
resources that will facilitate the production of new creative work and
promote reflection and research into the historical, legal, and
methodological questions surrounding the adaptive reuse of found materials.
It strives to provide the necessary space and tools to allow these
activities to flourish, and to foster a climate of spirited collaboration.

"Adaptive reuse of found materials" and so on: sounds like ideas that would
serve well as the guiding impetuses for a composition course–one I’d like to
teach, anyway. The Thingology entry refers to
this recent
report from the Minneapolis City Pages
; both of them mention
Dewey’s Nightmare, a
playwriting experiment tied to the Reanimation Library in which seven writers
wear blindfolds and pick one book each randomly from the stacks. Their
challenge, then, is to shape the random sample into something for the stage.
Quite a methodology, and one not unlike the stuff Sirc discusses in "Box-Logic":
the found collection, the interplay of contingent samples and selections,
renewal in re-coordinating affinities, pulsion, etc.

Don’t miss the
or the pile of

And Now Here

A week ago Thursday we stopped through the closing reception of a show at the
Delavan Art Gallery here
in Syracuse. Hadn’t been to the gallery before, but several pieces produced by our
friend (and former neighbor), Amy Bartell, were on display (some of it by such
enigmatic and inventive techniques I can’t get my mind off of it). I don’t have a
program with me now, and I couldn’t find the exact title for her exhibit online,
but I think it was called "Archeological Memoir." Basically, she works with
various materials (impressions, overlays, exposure, stamping) to layer together
what I would describe as ‘geographic impressions.’ They’re not
impressionist, in the sense of that tradition; rather they involve the plying
(layering, doubling over, folding and folding) of found things (symbols and
materials)–a sandwiching effect by which their pressed-ness amplifies the deep
entanglement of place, object, and spatial imagination. I was struck by the
collection because it resonated conceptually with some of the stuff you would
find in Harmon’s You Are Here and at
Strange Maps. This it to say it
hooked into the same way-finding attitude or manner I continue to find
tremendously appealing. But the pieces were also detailed and varied–as
pastiche: almost imaginary maps, almost documentary,
autobiography. Digital versions of two of the pieces are online–Travelogue
and Your Call
Cannot Be Completed At This Time
–but the entire exhibit is worth
experiencing in its entirety, and because she does at least one show each year,
there is a decent chance of catching it again in Central New York.

Barthes – The Third Meaning (1970)

Barthes’s essay, "The Third Meaning: Research notes on some

Stills," approaches a third order of meaning, an inarticulable
beyond, extant to the first-order obvious and the second-order symbolic but not
wholly divorced from them.  The third meaning takes its shape from a
"theoretical individuality" (55) (close associate to the punctum/sting,
no doubt).  And it is, of course, difficult to name
because, as Barthes puts it, the third meaning or obtuse meaning "is a signifier
without a signified" (61).  Barthes’s essay-notes proceed through a kind of
awkward profundity; piling through an array of near-descriptors, as near as one
can get without reducing the third meaning into something it is not. 

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Barthes – Rhetoric of the Image (1964)

In the advertising image, nice bright colors–a net-sack of Panzani pasta and
assorted spaghettimakers including vegetables, fresh and plenty.
Though non-linear, many of the signs accord with a variety of "euphoric values,"
says Barthes: domestic preparation, freshness, an unpacking, the casual
market-knowledge of slow foods of a pre-mechanical pace (no need for
preservation, refrigeration). Also, in the coordination of colors and types,
Barthes suggests second meaning–Italianicity or a gathering of things
Italian, much of this "based on a familiarity with certain tourist stereotypes"
(34).  Each of these meanings match with distinctive kinds of knowledge.

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