1995: Echographies of Television

Reading Jacques Derrida and Bernard Stiegler's Echographies of Television (Trans. Jennifer Bajorek, Cambridge: Polity P, 2002).

the Date
At first, Derrida's response to issues of teletechnologies--i.e., the Internet, television, radio, and so on--comes across as dated. This is not surprising considering the extended (and recorded) series of interviews were conducted in 1995. A few statements concerning technology have not aged to taste, however the general structure of these comments are more than relevant today and speak to the ways in which Derrida's generalities in regards to the contemporary (whether it be politics, technology or war) can prove highly informative over time. This is notable considering much of what was said in the '90s concerning technology now sounds very pseudo-prophetic, caught in the rhetoric of time. If Derrida sounds dated, it is because he sounded dated then, i.e., out-of-date, not quite in touch, utilising general rather than specific terms. It is this temporal distance which makes his work enduring and marks the careful deployment of his language as technology.

Global Technologies
As the questions progress into considerations of technology, culture and the nation state, Derrida's views not only refrain from a specific eagerness, deferring a propensity to wax prophetic (or lament the 'loss' of a real, np. Baudrillard, Virilio), they anticipate the general sentiment of Hardt and Negri in Empire (I wouldn't say that they concord, rather, that Derrida is not so far off the mark as many suppose). For example, on protectionism ("cultural exception"): "...not only is all regulation in the form of state law, all cultural protection decided by a nation-state dangerous in itself, but it is outdated from a technical standpoint. [...] The risks of state authoritarianism are in this case doubled by its every-increasing inefficacy" (53).

State Control, & the Control of the Archive
For Derrida, the function of the state is not to control, determine or otherwise enforce nationalist content (a continuous issue with the CBC in Canada) but "open programs of education and training in the use of this technology," and moreover, globally: "You've got to promote diversity of preference all over the world" (54). This is also a structural change in the relation of the sender/addressee in classical communications theory. Already, Derrida calls for an "open archive" of all media (television, radio, images, etc.) accessible to all "citizens" (and by this he seems to mean everyone, on the global scale): "The fact of having access to these archives, of being able to analyze their content and modalities of selection, interpretation, manipulation that superintended their production and circulation, all these things are therefore a citizen's right. [...] but also of 'foreigners'" (36).

Sampledelia & Music: the Addressee
Derrida and Stiegler then mention how music is being made out of archive remixing, i.e., electronic music (53), which leads to Stiegler saying: "If I have understood you correctly, the addressees must themselves participate in production," to which Derrida responses: "It is precisely the concept of the addressee that would have to be transformed. And isn't this essentially what is happening?" (55). The sample: cue Dj Spooky's assertion of deconstruction-as-remix-culture, of the remixing of the archives as a "politics of memory" (check out this interview). Yet it's also understanding that what Derrida appears to encourage via the deconstruction of sender/reciever, thereby positing the position we are in today--where we all remix our culture, our art, our music on a daily basis, with blogs, the Net, iPods, actual remixes, DJ Danger Mouse, and so on--is the positioning of the question of this structure as the production of action on behalf of the newly displaced schema. He doesn't go so far as to affirm it, but this is the gap between Deleuze and Derrida. To ventriloquize: Deleuze is all hip to produce from this gap; Derrida is about (already) generating the (spectral) effects of this gap without overdetermining it, without wanting to determine, in the manner of the authority (such as the authoritarian state) its possibilities, its content.

Content & Form: Copyright
Yet this distinction between content and form should also not be held apart at any great length. "The distinction between formal frame and 'content' is obviously highly problematic" (52). Yet, "Crude as it may be, it is always in effect" (my italics). One should pay close attention to this effect as despite the collapse of content to form or medium to message, a collapse that has always been in place for Derrida (and unlike Baudrillard's romanticization of a pre-simulacra era), it nonetheless structures such apparatuses as copyright. Copyright is of course a primary site of pragmatic contestation today (check Creative Commons).

And this effect is always one of responsibility, which is why Derrida does not manifest an overt declaration, a manifesto, of the remixer or (re)producer. The right to inspect the archives and the right to comment, in public, as I comment here, also entails a responsibility: "Obviously, this right implies the duty of responsibility, that is to say, the concern to be able to calculate the effect that saying this is going to produce" (my italics, 48). Remix culture is not a free for all. The limit is always open to (re)negotiation. This is what Derrida understands as "framing, rhythm, borders, form, contextualization. I don't think it would be easy to enact fixed rules, in a rigid fashion, with respect to this" (52). This is also the force of the seme, the movement whereupon the content of the network is not that which produces change, but rather, the dissemination of the network itself across media from virtual to real. Basically, the movement of teletechnology to all aspects of living, and thus, death/ing--for teletechnologies incorporate techniques or machines of spectrality and death (ultimate deferral, past our limit, past our death, they disjoint the always-disjointed "live," preserving it beyond our death, in a manner never "live").

Global Markets
If the state is exceeded through the energies of teletechnologies, thereby redefining "citizen," we approach a sense of global multitudes. We also exceed a simplistic, imperialistic analysis of the market and the state. It's not so easy to demarcate the market vs. the state, the state vs. the public, the market vs. the public, and so on in this matrix (moreover it presupposes certain schemas, ideologies, ideologies of ideologies). Derrida's stance differs from Hardt and Negri's foundational Marxism in this respect and approaches the pragmatism found in a few of Abe Burmeister's recent posts. Derrida (note how he implicitly critiques all authoritarianism):

"One musn't, under the pretext of regulating the market, place limits on the publicness of public space [a great argument for the Wireless Commons]. These two things, which are not to be confused, are often inextricably intertwined. There is always a risk of limiting citizens' access to public speech under the pretext of limiting the market effect. What happens in the press, on radio and television, is at one and the same time the market and the condition of what is called democracy, the condition of the free expression of any and everyone about anything or anyone in public space. It is therefore necessary to really determine what belongs to the market--if there is one strict sense--and, on the other hand, what belongs to the openness of public space (in which it would also be necessary to distinguish the limits of a 'civic space')" (44-45).

Off the Political Map, Out of the (Ivory) Tower
It is necessary to quote more to understand how Derrida's position is neither "radical" nor "conservative" nor "liberal" in any traditional sense. It is cosmopolitan but always "insofar as..." (which for me, dances with an an-archism). In many ways, it is globally site specific. Locative Media calls for Locative Philosophy, yet neither are non-general: both are networked. It is also necessary to note that anyone, particularly journalists, claiming an "ivory tower" in academia, at least among certain "French intellectuals," such as Adbusters, is reproducing the effects (through the affects) of media: presence and authority of relevancy, fact, truth, the determination of the spheres (what constitutes inside and outside of this apparent "ivory tower"). Derrida, for his part, is moving around some fairly direct political questions and offering a few answers from 1995 that have born well to 2004. One of the most powerful statements comes when he connects to work on the political in the development of technologies such as the Internet, and the extent of its effects that will not only emanate from the content/form structure (which is "obviously...problematic" yet nonetheless en/forced), but possibly change the very effectual limit and constitution of this structure:

"A new ethics and a new law or right, in truth, a new concept of 'hospitality' are at stake. What the accelerated development of teletechnologies, of cyberspace, of the new topology of the 'virtual' is producing is a practical deconstruction of the traditional and dominant concepts of the state and citizen (and thus of "the political") as they are linked to the actuality of a territory." (36)

Expansion: Un/Connected, A Question of Belief
Again: politics without territory; the politics of mobility are shapeshifting the "terrain" of the political. For me, this is the test site, or case, of anarcho-rave culture. Finally, even though the "live" is always deferred, edited, and so on, in ways that Chomsky discusses (the mediation and control, or manufacturing or production, of the media), there is an effect of the live that is coming to change our field of perception and "experience." Combine this with a shift in the political, and one arrives at the gap today, not between Deleuzeans and Derrideans, but, in worlds both inside and outside of academia, between the "connected" and the "unconnected" (to borrow from Steven Shaviro). Derrida:

"As soon as we know, 'believe we know', or quite simply believe that the alleged 'live' or 'direct' is possible, and that voices and images can be transmitted from one side of the globe to the other, the field of perception and of experience in general is profoundly transformed" (40).

The question of transformation is a question of belief: theos. The belief in a metaphysics of presence brought to us, live, by tekhne. Although Derrida does not add it here, this transformation has always taken place, it structures the possibility of this belief. The charter of belief is the basis of confirmation in the other, and thus the absolute other, i.e., "god." Technology and religion, ritual and politics. Which is why Derrida is neither for nor against this belief, but rather, seeking to twist the conditions of this belief: the Deleuzian how.

posted. Fri - March 19, 2004 @ 02:24 PM           |