[NetBehaviour] Interview with Jussi Parikka

Eduardo Navas eduardo at navasse.net
Tue Feb 26 18:30:51 CET 2008

INTERVIEW: Virus / Body / Signal Transmissions. Interview with Jussi
Parikka, by Ignacio Nieto

Spanish http://newmediafix.net/daily/?p=1866
English version: http://newmediafix.net/daily/?p=1867
newmediaFIX: http://newmediafix.net

Jussi Parikka, author of Digital Contagions is interviewed by Ignacio Nieto.

[Ignacio Nieto]: I am very interested in the way virus is conceived as
thought: as an abstract form that can auto-replicate itself on an
environment, in an autonomous way, without considering the system of
relations based on capitalism or in religion or in politics (usually as we
are organized in the public and private sphere). Do you think that there is
a possibility to translate those kinds of considerations for human
relationships? Could you imagine or describe, a possible world, where
bioelectronic devices attached to humans, or to other organic forms or to
other generations of machines could exist with that kind of protocol?

[Jussi Parikka]: What interested me early on with this project (Digital
Contagions) was how to think the virus in itself as a form of though, a
vector, a mode of transmission and media. Instead of approaching it merely
as a socially constructed metaphor that is fabricated in order to impose
sense on the imperceptible events of the computer, it might be fruitful to
approach the viral as carrier, a condensation point concerning much of the
agenda concerning media in the age of networks. What is a perfect virus. An
ideal medium, defined only by its abilities of infect, transmit and copy
itself? This idea was of course picked up early on by the theories of the
meme, which to my mind are more telling of the media technological changes
of the late twentieth century than merely of the discussion relating to
evolutionary cultural genes. So when Richard Dawkins suggested that perhaps
culture works according to the idea of the selfish cultural gene, the meme,
that is interested only in propagating itself, he proposed a very ahumanist
vision of the media sphere, where later on for Susan Blackmore the Internet
and the viral ecology are key examples of the copy machine mechanisms of the
meme. In a way, they were of course giving a scientific version of William
Burroughs¹ notion of the Word Virus which uses us human beings as secondary
vehicles. In this scenario, ³copying² is not merely a human controlled
activity as in the age of Melville¹s Bartleby (the unreliable scribe from
the 1853 novel) but an automated action more akin to the unconscious level
of genes, or the as imperceptible layers of the computer systems. So what
Burroughs and others were already proposing is that far earlier than coming
up with bioelectronic devices that make us into cyborgs, were are being
haunted by another kind of a virus in a more older media, language.

Concerning autonomy of the viral, I think I am more interested in the
affinities the viral have than its identities. How the viral is continuously
articulated through various such affinities, from software and networks, to
philosophy and fiction. This might easily lead us to think of the viral as
merely a pattern that spans beyond the material substance, but this dualism
of pattern vs. substance is a mistaken one. Instead, I opted to think this
through in terms of diagrammatics, of how the ³viral² crosses through a
whole social field and becomes a term that seems to be defining various
practices and discourses of network society. In a certain Deleuze-Foucault
vein, also adopted by Eugene Thacker, I wish to approach the viral as a
diagrammatic social programming of the cultural field, a way of organizing
concrete assemblages into more abstract modes of resonation. Here, the
concept of diagrams can help us to understand how concrete machinations,
such as in medicine or technology or network security, are intertwined on a
level of abstract machines, diagrammatically and immanently linked on a
social field. Here, human social relations are not removed from technical
social relations, but both of them are approached in terms of a common
folding. The crucial question of much of cultural studies of media and
technology is to find approaches that do not reproduce the dualism Œhumans
vs. machines¹, but finds concepts and approaches that flow through the
binaries, crisscross and move transversally. This is one of the reasons why
I wanted to adopt the idea of a media ecology from Matthew Fuller and Félix
Guattari. In its Guattarian sense, the term ³ecology² can used to illustrate
the transversal relations between various ecologies from environment to
social relations and onto the technical ecologies not reducible to human

[IN]: In your paper co-written with Jaakko Suominen: ³Victorian Snakes?
Toward a Cultural History on Mobile Games and the Experience of the
Movement,² you make a call to the reader to adopt an analytic point of view,
an anthropologic way of seeing this crossed referential notion that talks
about space-time and entertainment. What do you think about the title of the
workshop made in by the Nokia Research Center at Nokia Syracuse University,
called: ³Wireless Grids Research Group: Cognitive and Cooperative Social
Networks vs. Home & Office Grids²? Are there, common places between the
paper: ³Victorian Snakes? Toward a Cultural History on Mobile Games² and the
experience of the Movement and the workshop that took place at Nokia
Syracuse University?
Making a critical analysis: What is this wireless grid project about? An
environment of control relations? The next phase of the ecology understand
under the sense of Guattari? What?

[JP]: In our analysis of the cultural history, or perhaps the ³media
archaeology² of mobile entertainment, we did not want to focus so much on
content, or in individual technologies or sociological characteristics of
mobile media culture. Instead, we wanted to approach the question how mobile
entertainment can be characterized as a modulation of space and time, of the
crucial phenomenological coordinates that connect recent years of boom in
mobile games and entertainment to the broader history of media and modern
experience. Connected to such earlier ³inter: faces² as the pocket book and
such techniques of transportation like the train, contemporary enthusiasm of
mobile entertainment on the move discloses a modulation of the psyche in

I am not in a position to comment directly on the conference as I did not
attend it, but we can see how it relates to the issue of capturing the body
in movement. The very simple fact that human beings are moving, mobile
entities, has been realized also by the capitalist media industry which
tries to tap into those moments of movement, tapping into the moving,
sensing body. One could see mobile entertainment related to Maurizio
Lazzarato¹s postfordist philosophy of immaterial labour and the capturing
mechanisms of media capitalism. Contemporary capitalism is not merely about
the production of consumer objects but more accurately defined by the way it
modulates and creates worlds ­ a becoming Leibnizian of capitalism. Bodies
are marked by media cultural signs, suggests Lazzarato, and it is analysing
this Kafkaesque act introduced in Prison Colony that is of crucial interest,
analyzing it through the singular ways different new technologies frame,
grid bodies. And as we know, this creation of worlds is not restricted to
the broadcasting media of e.g. television and radio, or cinema, but works
now also through the small screen. Wireless grids are, then, beyond the
technical invisible gridding of the globe also about gridding and framing
the sensing moving body, channeling it into a world where the mobile
entertainment content providers and other players are competing for the
attention of the user.

In what sense does this relate to a Guattarian analysis of ecology? In The
Three Ecologies, Guattari suggest that the overlapping ecologies of the
environment, the social and the psyche are being polluted by the Integrated
World Capitalism (IWC). The relation of the body to its exteriority is being
captured by polluters like Donald Trump (and Bill Gates might one add) whose
ways of structuring the ecologies of e.g. city planning and living, or
computer architecture span much wider than the restricted area where they
are working in. Here, subjectivities are consisted of groups, subjectivity
being articulated on the ecological layers of the world, not detached from
social relations but neither from the environment and technology we might
add ­ affinities again. The important way we can use Guattarian ideas is to
note the complex intertwining of the various ecologies, where technological
solutions feedback to social relations but also for example ecologies of
perception like in the capture of perception on the move in mobile
entertainment. So in this, perhaps the designers of mobile media could be
seen not merely creating technological products but also producing psyche,
affects, the body in movement, or at least capturing the body in movement on
a level that is prior to consciousness, or meanings. Where are then the
possibilities for an ³ecosophy², experimentation in mobile media? There is a
wide range of emerging work that connect mobile media, art and activism
under the banner of new urban social relations, new modes of perception and
ways of thinking for example ³sociality², or ³community².

[IN]: This wide range of emerging works that are under the banner of new
protocols and architectures produced by the market of communication
technologies, are different from the
other state(s) or the other generation of communication technologies in two
general aspects that are relevant to notice:

- small and low cost technologies (bluetooth modems, mobile phones) versus
more expensive and medium size technologies (computers stations)

- global networks versus piconets or micro networks.

How have these aspects been an influence to the re-thinking of the notion of
activism, and how do these new ways of critical exercises challenge grid and
sensor control technologies?

[JP]: The issue moves on various scales. Whereas e.g. mobile phones might be
seen as low cost technologies that are easily acquired and put to
experimental use, the same technology can be quite closed in the sense that
the operation system manufacturers, network operators, etc. act as bottle
necks for a distribution aimed at larger audience. How one is able to work
around is to ³rescale² the mobile phone and find the significant crack in
its logic on some other level. How to incorporate the mobile as a catalyst
of relations (human and other), how to open it up from the technological
closedness so that it can become a tool of creativity. Even such a
straightforward thing like the London transport oyster card can be ³opened²
up for artistic experimentations as with the project Arphield Recordings
where a recording of the sounds of the cards and their readers was made into
a ³ready made² sound art piece.

I find in this sense Matthew Fuller¹s use of Whitehead¹s notion of
³miscplaced concreteness² very helpful. By fabricating standard objects,
elements of any assemblage are isolated and produced as clearly
functionalized. However, every assemblage and object carries in itself a
margin of indeterminacy, a potentiality to be switched on and connected
alternatively, to be inserted into relations cut out from the
objectification. Standardized technological culture needs modular components
in order to work - the so everyday requirement of any technology - but this
does not rule out other possible uses, connections. Naturally, technologies
and protocols carry with them different kinds of potentials in any case. The
qualities of temporal and adhoc connections have been discussed for a long
time as needed organizational prerequisites for a dynamic activism (for
example Hakim Bey¹s Temporary Autonomous Zones being the obvious reference
point) so it will interesting to see how these in itself simple and low cost
technologies could be translated into networks that are because of the
temporary nature of the connections between bodies and signals so effective.
This is a curious kind of a relation, or interaction, between the temporary
organisational forms that have been part of political guerrilla tactics for
a long time and the network technologies that resonate strongly with this
temporary duration.

I think that one of the crucial questions will be how to make the
experiments with signals, protocols and frequencies resonate with social
bodies on the streets and public spaces, and how to find the new forms of
the political immanent to the potentials of the technologies. The radical
meaning of politics, as underlined by various thinkers from Alain Badiou to
Jacques Ranciere, is not the normal way of ³policing² on a set agenda, but
of summoning events, radical breaks. In this sense of the political or
activism, we cannot know before hand what is the agenda, what the uses are,
or what the results might be. Activism in this sense is a probing of a kind,
not policing or doing politics, but finding what even might be political
with no guaranteed results beforehand. In this, one crucial probing of the
political happens through experimentations with technologies. Or actually,
the political is precisely this probing, this zone of experimentation, where
activism should keep tuned for the unexpected.

[IN]: I agree with you, referring to the third question, that we have to be
aware about these new forms and possibilities. In this sense, could you give
an example, maybe of an art piece you have studied and established some
differences with the recent previous state of signal transmission and
computers linked to the body and signal connections?

[JP]: Heath Bunting and Kayle Brandon¹s Borderxing Guide is a fine example
of the intertwining and tensions of the presumed friction free borderless
state of networks, of the space of information, and the human materiality
that are is bound by the gravity of national borders. The project maps the
potential crossing points with maps and tools, and making them available on
the Internet ­ to some authorized people. This is the way surveillance and
the control of bodies in a technological society does not happen solely
based on the spatial architecture of the Panopticon, but via access,
passwords, and modulation of networks and signals, as Deleuze suggested in
his Control Societies text. But still there is no less reality in this
sphere of signals and networks, its not a boundary free space (if it even is
a space, or a temporal modulation). I really like the Heath Bunting quote in
this context as well: ³The artist doesn¹t just gaze. It¹s not just the
perception of reality that is up for grabs, it¹s reality itself.²

I find myself interested similarly in the translations between those
imperceptible spheres of signal transmission, wireless signals, and the
phenomenological world of the human being. The Cell Phone Disco project
visualized the electromagnetic fields of an active mobile phone into a light
pattern, and Life: a user¹s manual project was based on the frequency which
surveillance camera¹s use (2,4 Ghz) and which could be tapped in order to
get a glimpse to the radio spectrum. Technical media is not reducible to the
meanings, significations and perceptions of the human being, but still,
there is a continuous translation between the non-human spheres of signal
transmission and the human perception of those things. I think the same
thing was underlined with the Biennale.py virus project some years back with
virus code ­ in itself beyond the modality of human perception, at least
when it comes to execution etc. ­distributed via human bodies (virus code
printed on t-shirts) and in other visual forms. The imperceptible and
harmless nature of the code was continuously made perceptible and
iconographic in a way that questioned the ontology of networks and code:
where does code begin, where are its borders, where does the code encounter
the body of the human?

Naturally, the danger in general is the blackboxing of the human being
(instead of the blackboxing of the technological): to neglect the intensive
qualities and potentials of the human body in movement, its continuous
folding with its outside. Avoiding this danger, recent years of
Deleuzian-inspired theory, e.g. Luciana Parisi and Brian Massumi, have been
looking into the living architectures of Greg Lynn, Lars Spuybroek and other
designers where the technological creations mix and intermingle with the
human bodies involved in those evolving spaces. There is a dynamics of
bodies and technologies and their crossing points that is under scrutiny,
not just the points being connected (technology or human). The technological
should not be left in the hands of the corporations or the engineers, but
neither should theory be forgotten; similarly as activists and artists with
technologies and media, theory should be bent and twisted for new realities,
experimented, worked rigorously in laboratory fashion, created, probed and
connected to the reconfigurations of technological spaces and temporalities.


Jussi Parikka teaches and writes on the cultural theory and history of new
media. He has a PhD in Cultural History from the university of Turku,
Finland and is Senior Lecturer in Media Studies at Anglia Ruskin University,
Cambridge, UK. Parikka has published a book on ³cultural theory in the age
of digital machines² (Koneoppi, in Finnish) and his Digital Contagions: A
Media Archaeology of Computer Viruses is published by Peter Lang, New York,
Digital Formations-series (2007). Parikka is currently working on a book on
³Insect Media², which focuses on the media theoretical and historical
interconnections of biology and technology. In addition, two co-edited books
are forthcoming: The Spam Book: On Viruses, Spam, and Other Anomalies from
the Dark Side of Digital Culture (Hampton Press) and Media Archaeologies.
His articles have been published e.g. in CTheory, Postmodern Culture, Game
Studies and Fibreculture, as well as in several Finnish journals and books.

Extended Bio: users.utu.fi/juspar/ 

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