Archive for the Galloway Category

fistful of zizek

Posted in Cost, Deleuze, Foucault, Galloway, MM, Nealon, resistance, theory, Zizek on April 13, 2008 by untimelymediations

I think Žižek presents the most compelling argument thus far for how resistance might be practiced under the regimes of protocol, the control society, and biopower. While Žižek doesn’t offer this theory in terms Galloway, Deleuze, or Foucault and Nealon employ, I think the relationship between Žižek’s work and that of the other theorists I’ve mentioned is fairly clear.

Žižek argues that subversion must take the form of the “empty gesture,” the gesture that is offered only in the expectation that it will be refused. For Žižek, subverting the fantasy of the false choice becomes a real act of subversion and resistance. As he writes, “the truly subversive thing is not to disregard the explicit letter of the Law on behalf of the underlying fantasies, but to stick to this letter against the fantasy which sustains it” (29). That is, to resist means not to avoid the (illusion) of choice in the empty gesture, but to take it at face value; not to deny choice (or argue that it is being denied) but to revel in choice, to exploit the opportunity (falsely) offered as a genuine moment of agency and autonomy. “In other words,” writes Žižek, “the act of taking the empty gesture (the offer to be rejected) literally—to treat the forced choice as a true choice—is, perhaps, one of the ways to put into practice what Lacan calls ‘traversing the fantasy’: in accomplishing this act, the subject suspends the phantasmic frame of unwritten rules which tell him how to choose freely—no wonder the consequences of this act are so catastrophic”. The fantasy of the empty gesture is not the fantasy of having one’s way—if only I could accept the offer!—but rather that of the offer qua offer: it is understood, expected that the offer will be rejected—because that is what one does. One does not say “yes” to the empty gesture without, as Žižek demonstrates, provoking catastrophe.

I think this is a promising mode of resistance. In some ways, it echoes the work done by groups like the Yes Men. The name here is intriguing: rather than resisting through negation (“No!”), the Yes Men have used satire and irony to show up the hypocrisy of governments and NGOs alike. However, their actions are not done through protesting as such, but through infiltrating these bodies and using their own logic against them. In the link above, for example, a Yes Men operative proposes to the WTO that private ownership of labor—i.e., slavery—would benefit African nations in the same way that private ownership and industrialization has already benefited them. Plainly, the plan is abhorrent, but what is abhorrent about it is not the implication of slavery qua slavery, but that the promotion of slavery is made according to the rules of free-market capitalism; the argument of an enslaved workforce is derived from the same logic that urges private investment in African industry and resources. In Žižek’s terms, the Yes Men are “sticking to the letter” of the Law, but the Law in this case is flawed; the forced choice here—privatization of all parts of production, including labor—is made under the empty gesture that no body or organization would accept this choice because it is (ostensibly) so plainly a violation of human/humane ethics and international standards.

What complicates this as a form of resistance, to my eyes, is that it requires an audience or observer who is capable of recognizing the logic of the satire and irony. That is, it demands an audience who is engaged enough with the issues at hand and the modes of resistance being deployed to see these acts as resistance and not simply just a “prank” or, worse yet, as a viable proposal for resolving economic crises in sub-Saharan Africa. I’m not saying that people are dumb, though I have serious questions about whether such acts could work on a large enough scale to be politically productive when many people might not recognize them as being political acts of resistance. Rather, I am more concerned about the second consequence, that tactics like those of the Yes Men will be taken at face value and that, for example, privatized labor will be enacted by overeager capitalism. In this case, Žižek’s qualms about the ethics of such forms of resistance are of utmost importance. The question that needs to be asked, then, is not just one of how to resist power and capital, but rather how can we use the empty gesture effectively—without allowing for the empty gesture to be taken at face value in ways that would be counterproductive to progressive causes?

On one hand, it is tempting to say that no organization, body, or company would be so daft as to accept such a proposal as privatized labor. But . . . it is not a contention I have much faith in. I think it is far more likely that without making plain the emptiness of such empty gestures such proposals as privatized labor could become a reality. What, then, is the cost of such an outcome? If it ultimately leads to greater outcry, resistance, and protest to such practices, can we accept a few thousand (or million) people being enslaved? Or is the cost in human dignity too great?

Reading Form as Opposed to Absenced Meaning

Posted in DR, Galloway on April 8, 2008 by untimelymediations

I said that I would post again, and thus, here I am.

As I am rereading the middle portion of Galloway’s text, I am interested in a rather base distinction that Galloway forwards.  Quite simply, Galloway suggests that protocol, seemingly the preeminent controlling force, remains mostly indifferent to the information within (Galloway 52).  Here, of course, the rather ambigious “within” refers to that which protocol encapsulates; that which is controlled and distributed by means of encapsulation.  Following on this assertion, Galloway provides that we must read possibility as opposed to meaning.  This, I think, is an interesting stipulation.  Following on the comments that I received to the first post I made, I can’t help considering resistance and power as a “meaning” play in much rather idealistic resistance discourse.  So the theory often mistakenly goes, by changing subjectivity or affecting such change, one is able to resist the meanings inherent to certain systems of power.  This, as Galloway seems to be arguing, is called into question in consideration of certain technologies. 

Perhaps, though, there is another way of reading resistance as it relates to the division of rhetoric/composition and literature within English departments.  Here, Galloway’s insistence on reading form as opposed to meaning prompts questions as to the viability of Literature scholarship (read big “L”).  As Galloway suggests, “protocol is a circuit, not a sentence” (Galloway 53).  This seems a difference between reading and interpreting the ringing of the bells in Mrs. Dalloway, and focusing on structure (Note that I picked this text not without rhyme or reason).  Quite provocatively, it seems that Galloway’s text provides a suggestion of how we should read, or rather, prepare ourselves as students and educators.  By limiting meaning, in preference for form, does not technology insist that we pursue the same avenue?  Consider, for a moment, Galloway’s chapter conclusion:

Next, I move beyond the hard science of protocol and begin to consider it from the perspective of form.  That is: How does protocol function, not as a material machine, but as an entire formal apparatus?  What techniques are used by and through protocol to create various cultural objects?  How can one define protocol in its most abstract senese?

Second, and quite divergently, I am troubled by Galloway’s conception of the internet as it relates to commodification.  Following on his spiel that the internet encourages many-to-many communication, as opposed to older technological forms of information distribution, Galloway references Enzensberger, to suggest that the, “very immateriality of the media resists commodification and reification” (Galloway 58).  Though I applaud Galloway’s attempts to call forth the Marxist method, I find this assertion problematic.  As we discussed earlier this semester, it seems that ubiquity and choice are the very methods by which commodification works.  Also, isn’t the internet made material by means of commodification.  This point seems counterintuitive to Galloway’s other arguments.  It seems, at least to this reader, that despite the existence of protocol as a rather immaterial form, there is still a great deal of material transfer, especially as it relates to people and the products that they purchase.


Ethics, hacking, and AIDS oh my!

Posted in AIDS, Foucault, Galloway, KL, Tech, Why/how on April 7, 2008 by untimelymediations

While I found the entirety of Galloway’s Protocol pleasurable, I found my interest most peaked in one of the final chapters on hacking and viruses.  Even more specifically, when Galloway discusses the ethics of hacking and relates the upsurge of computer viruses to the AIDS epidemic, I was intrigued because I had never read anything like that (sure, my knowledge of hacking is a bit slim and that could account for the oversight).  For this week’s post, then, I want to discuss how ethics, control, and biopower are interrelated.

After reading Jill’s post, I, too, am impressed that Galloway spends significant time laying out the why/how intricacies of the internet as we know it today.  Impressively, he wrote for an audience like myself (some techy knowledge under my belt), and also those with extreme fluency in the matter.  Before Protocol, I didn’t know there was a “hackers code of ethics.”  Following a lengthy discussion of code of ethics, Galloway mentions that, “hackers don’t care about rules, feelings, or opinions. They care about what is true and what is possible.  And in the logical world of computers, if it is possible then it is real.  Can you break into a computer, not should you” (168).  While hacking could be seen as a point of non-resistance, from a Foucauldian standpoint, I’d have to agree with Galloway that we’re simply seeing a different/another form of control.  However, what is most interesting about hacking and control is that the hackers seem to relinquish their bodily control to the machine.  Even though they write the code that wreaks havoc, it is the transference of power from the individual (hacker) to the machine (i.e. damaging code replicating itself in other computers) in which we clearly see the moment of control being illustrated.  Further, rather than trying to push through the control of the protocol, “hackers are created by protocol […] hackers are protocological actors par excellence” (158).  Hacking cannot and would not exist without protocol.

AIDS/Computer Viruses:

“Computer viruses appeared in a moment in history where the integrity and security of bodies, both human and technological, was considered extremely important.  Social anxieties surrounding both AIDS and the war on drugs testify to this” (179).

This quote suggests that bodies and computers are certainly interconnected through disease, subject to the same type of collapse.  (Again, I had never seen these connections before, so I might sound n00b-ish.)  During the AIDS epidemic and confusion, no one had [much] knowledge on its origins, treatment, or prevention, and we can see the same parallels to computer viruses.  At the time, hacking hadn’t “hit it big” yet, and just like AIDS, the population that it infected was unaware of its powers.  That is what’s most fascinating to me about this moment is that both the technological and the biological were experiencing the same sorts of attacks on their “bodies.”  Further, “bodies,” and ultimately biopower, has become even misconstrued (i.e. selling bodies on eBay).

porn, property, punditry

Posted in Galloway, html, hypertext, MM, signification, Tech, theory on April 7, 2008 by untimelymediations

Does anyone else have a hard time reading protocological without misreading it as proctological?  I know some people think we academics have our heads up our asses, but that’s not quite the same thing.


Moving on.


I’d like to trouble some of Galloway’s claims about DNS.  Galloway argues that DNS is “the most heroic of human projects; it is the actual construction of a single, exhaustive index for all things.  It is the encyclopedia of mankind, a map that has a one-to-one relationship with its territory” (50).    DNS, Galloway claims, compels order in place of arbitrariness:  “DNS is like many other protocols in that, in its mad dash toward universality, it produces sameness or consistency where originally there existed arbitrariness”.


In fact, DNS does the opposite, I think: it encourages the proliferation of meaning and the destabilization of signification through its use of top-level domains (see p. 49).  A single signifier can be used across different top-level domains, thus severing the (already tenuous link) between the signifier and signified.  Consider, for example, the signifier “White House.”  As a domain name, it connects to at least three differing sites depending with which top-level domain it is associated:


  • infamously, this site was once a pornographic website, but it has since served both a forum for political discussion and as the online presence of a real estate developer’s firm.
  • this site parodies the current presidential administration and its policies.
  • this is the official website of the office of the United States presidency and the executive agencies it oversees.


Thus, where “White House” might be an otherwise moderately stable signifier, its incorporation into DNS destabilizes its meaning and proliferates signification across domains.  Indexicality is therefore not the measure of DNS but its antithesis; the “sign” represented by a domain name and its corresponding website is sundered into a bewildering multiplicity of signifieds tied to a single signifier.  This is complicated further still in the case of, whose content has changed over the years as different owners have possessed the domain.  The signified itself—i.e., the website content—becomes an unstable site of unpredictable and indeterminate value.  Will it be punditry, property, or porn today?  Who can say?

The “Man” and the “Computer”

Posted in DR, Galloway on April 4, 2008 by untimelymediations

Computer A: I’m tired of the protological system

Computer B: The who?

Computer A: Don’t you feel it? Aren’t you tired of being oppressed?  Of laboring under the pressure of these absurd tasks?

Computer B: Well, I guess so…

Computer A: The computer is bringing us down with these IP addresses.  That’s how he’s exerting control. 

Computer B: Well, I never really thought about that.  Anyways, don’t you mean the man?  Aren’t computers absent of sex and gender?

Computer A: Big surprise there…that’s what the computer wants you to think.  He sits up there in his corporate office, with his fancy ass wireless keyboard, and…

Computer B: Alright, alright…but what do you suppose that we do?

Computer A: Well, it’s all about enlightenment man.  If we can get our users to be more active instead of passive and submissive than maybe we’ll get somewhere.

Computer B: I think you’ve been downloading too much Galloway lately.

Computer A: Have you ever thought that maybe that’s what the computer wants you to think?  Perhaps, we need to create vacuoles of noncommunication…

Computer B: Ok.

Computer A: This is how I am resisting.

Computer B: But, aren’t we communicating right now?

“Gallons of Tears” Galloway vs. “Keep em’ Kneelin” Nealon

Posted in Deleuze, DR, Foucault, Galloway with tags , , , on April 4, 2008 by untimelymediations

As I read through the introduction to Protocol, I am reminded of one of the more significant arguments that Nealon makes in Foucault Beyond Foucault.  It seems that both Galloway and Nealon have quite a divergent understanding of the issue of resistance as it relates to biopower.  Here, I believe the contention between their understandings resides in the different interpretations of Foucault’s work that they voice (namely, in regard to Discipline and Punish).   Seemingly, whereas Nealon suggested that reading subjectivity as a means of resistance in Foucault’s later work evidences a misreading of what Foucault intended, Galloway is suggesting quite the opposite. 

Nealon outlines two of the dominant trends in academic work on Foucault.  First, the prevailing attitude is that we are, quite simply, incapable of resisting power and its manifestations.  Second, and more relevant to this particular post, Nealon provides that academics are also too quick to argue that Foucault abandoned his midcareer work on power in favor of the ethico-aesthetics of subjectivity.  In response, Nealon provides that his work will rethink the relationship between disciplinary power, biopower, and subjectivity.  His suggestive counter argument is that Foucault never really abandoned his mid-career work on power (Nealon 5).  According to Nealon, the shifts of Foucaultian emphasis are better, and more productively, understood as intensifications, an argument that he pursues in greater detail in the remainder of his text (see 36-39).  

Interestingly, it seems that Galloway is approaching the issue of resistance from the second understanding that Nealon criticizes.  This becomes apparent in Galloway’s introduction.  Here, he begins by providing that Deleuze recognized that the site of Foucault’s biopower was a site of resistance.  To emphasize the prevalence of this argument in Deleuze’s text, Galloway provides a direct citation of the three times that Deleuze repeats this realization.  To this argument, the third quote seems to be of particular relevance: “When power becomes bio-power resistance becomes the power of life, a vital power that cannot be confined within species, environment or the paths of a particular diagram” (Deleuze, Foucault, p. 92).  Now, I realize that by drawing Deleuze’s commentary on biopower into discussion, I am maneuvering my argument in one of two directions:  First, I might hold Deleuze’s argument in direct contention to that which Nealon provides.  Second, and more importantly, I might add, I could approach Galloway’s understanding as it is twice removed; Galloway’s understanding of Deleuze as the latter understands Foucault.  Here, I will pursue the second path.

As Galloway proceeds, he questions whether life resistance is a way of engaging with protocological management, which is reminiscent of biopower.  Then, Galloway provides what seems to be his interpretation of the means by which one might resist:

To refuse protocol, then, is not so much to reject today’s technologies as did Theodore Kaczynski (the Unabomber), but to direct these protological technologies, whose distributed structure is empowering indeed, toward what Hans Magnus Enzensberger calls an “emancipated media” created by active social actors rather than passive users (Galloway 16)

I think that this requires some unpacking, because as Galloway gets from Deleuze to this proposition, it seems as though a contention arises.  Returning to Deleuze’s discourse, as referenced by Galloway, Deleuze argues that resistance is the power of life.  Now, although Galloway seems to follow in this line of discourse, I think that he is forgetting the second part of Deleuze’s statement.  Here, Deleuze provides that a “vital power” cannot be confined within species, environment, etc.  Here, the vital power that he seems to be referring to is that of the power to resist; the power of life.  This power, seemingly, is as dispersed and ubiquitous as what Nealon suggests about power in Foucault Beyond Foucault.  Instead of following the argument, Galloway limits the power of resistance to the individual body; the “active social actors,” and in this, I believe he is reading something into the quote that Deleuze provides that isn’t there.  This, also, is where the contention between Galloway and Nealon’s arguments seems to arise.  Whereas Nealon denigrates subjectivity, Galloway seems to be insisting on the importance of a conscious subjectivity, as he differentiates between active social actors and passive users.

More on Galloway’s text in the near future…