Aesthetics Politics Reviews

Haven’t They Suffered Enough?

The original Blade Runner was a postmodern film noir. It had a noir movie’s nihilism and pathos, its archetypes of character, plot, and visuals. The events of Blade Runner make sense within that framework, they are justified as story choices and pay off narratively and conceptually within it. Los Angles 2019 seen from 1982 was a decaying dead-end of sterile images and simulation. From culture and architecture that loops back on and consumes itself, through empty rotting buildings and a few overcrowded streets, everything is second order and running out of time between its quotation marks. Everyone wants to defect. Human beings want to leave the dying Earth for the Offworld Colonies, dying Replicants want to escape their handlers and get back to Earth to escape their pre-programmed obsolescence.

Rik Deckard is not, to quote one of those Replicants, “a good man”. As the opening text crawl of the movie makes clear they are a state executioner of escaped slaves. As the movie makes clear, they’re not very good at it. Deckard’s violent, incompetent, systematically constructed and exploited masculinity may be human or it may be a simulation of humanity, or at least manhood. Critiques of Blade Runner that reduce that to a biological question diminish rather than ring-fence the idea of humanity. The spectacularised, aestheticised slo-mo killings of women that Deckard stumbles through – and Deckard only kills women, the men are taken care of by other means – are a contrast to the realtime depiction of their grimacing, sweating, shaking, bellowing murderer who never makes the clean shots that would cinematically cauterise the violence.

Blade Runner 2049 is a blockbuster sequel. That’s a very different framework from either postmodernism or noir. Blockbusters must offer spectacle, catharsis and closure. They must have heroes and villains. And they must have a heterosexual nuclear family at their core, however constructed. When a film noir story is continued in within this framework it causes problems. Deckard goes from hard-boiled killer and seducer to nobly absent father and widower. The film is not without critical potential: Deckard’s replacement, Officer K, is trapped in mausculinity-as-violence-for-capital by the disciplinary cybernetics of circuits of images of desire. The giant and pocket-sized holograms that this entails have drawn criticism for being exploitative, but this is a confusion of depiction with endorsement.

Where Blade Runner 2049 does become reactionary beyond the collateral damage of mapping from noir to blockbuster is in its central mystery, which replaces the original’s abstract question of the worth and construction of identity to a concrete one of simple parentage. Building on this, its MacGuffin is the replacement of escape from the infinite replicating capacity of technocapital with embracing the nine-month reproductive capacity of its subjects. The nihilism of the original Bladerunner was liberating, in its own way. The sequel’s restoration of the yoke of reproduction is played as hopeful and even revolutionary but is in fact cause for despair. In 2049 both the system and the defectors are obsessed with faith and fertility. Defect from the human security system and you are personally responsible for ensuring the continuity of the replicant race. No matter who wins, the future for replicant women is The Handmaid’s Tale.

Haven’t they suffered enough?

Accelerationism Politics

Left Universal Basic Income

The Universal Basic Income proposed by the Left is different from that proposed by the Right. Rather than replacing the welfare state it is a supplement to it.

As Srnicek & Williams note in “Inventing The Future”, 2015 (p.297):

The conservative argument for a basic income – which must be avoided at all costs – is that it should simply replace the welfare state by providing a lump sum of money to every individual. In this scenario, the UBI would just become a vector of increased marketisation, transforming social services into private markets. Rather than being some aberration of neoliberalism, it would simply extend its essential gesture by creating new markets. By contrast, the demand made here is for UBI as a supplement to a revived welfare state.

In the footnote to this, they quote Alyssa Battistoni, “Alive in the Sunshine”, Jacobin 13, 2014 (p.4):

A UBI programme would ideally involve a transformation of the welfare state. Programmes that provide services must be kept and expanded – for example, healthcare, childcare, housing, public transport and internet access. All of these should be immediate goals of the left, not only for their inherent good but also because expanding public services is necessary for reducing overall energy consumption.

And in response to the question of why the rich should be given money as well as the poor, they respond (p.296):

As there would be no means-testing or other measures required to receive the UBI, it would break free of the disciplinary nature of welfare capitalism.

It is perfectly possible to disagree with any or all of this. That does however first require acknowledging it. And there’s a lot more where this came from…

Aesthetics Hyperstition Politics

Rationally Irrational Aesthetics

By Headlessplatter at English Wikipedia - Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons by Shashenka using CommonsHelper., Public Domain,
Local Maximum by Headsplatter, Public Domain.

Rational aesthetics are an infinite improvement on vapid, asset-class aesthetics but (and this is identifying an opportunity, not an objection) Gödel. If we cast art’s reason as AI-style search (not to fundamentally describe it as such, but to make a hopefully useful comparison) then we encounter the problem of “local maxima“. This is where a direct search of a problem space finds only the closest highest value, not the globally highest one.

In human creativity we can rationally use irrationality to break free of local maxima. Whether creativity theory,surrealist techniques, or pure randomness. Beyond the details of any one technique, what is important is that to get further, we sometimes need to use irrationality (or arationality) for rational ends.

Mythology can be such a source of transformations (in the mathematical sense – we’re talking about search spaces here). Freed of the affective and significatory limits of fact, mythology can lead us to places and to lengths that we might not otherwise reach. This includes science fiction.

In guiding and constructing  new possibilities (or at least finally addressing old problems) through aesthetics, mythology becomes hyperstition (in a general rather than numogram-centred sense). Where we (for a social media value of “we”) believe it is not possible or practical to change anything (for the better), it is rational to construct hyperstitional entities to treat the local maxima of ideology as damage and route around them.

This is haunted by the Big Lie and The Republic, but we do not need to deceive or believe for non- (and a-) existent entities to be historical causes. Just ask Cthulhu. Or Katak. Hyperstitional engineering is accelerationist aesthetics, artistic reason, because of its irrational content not despite it.

Accelerationism Aesthetics Art Crypto Politics

The Entropy Man


D16 Hex Dice by Saharasav licensed Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International.

The Dice Man” by Luke Rhinehart is a 1971 novel about the moral consequences of making life-altering decisions using the roll of a die. The use of chance operations in art was common in mid-20th-Century avant-gardes but, reacting against his background in psychiatry, Rhinehart applied them to more consequential decision making.

We can use cryptographic hashes rather than dice as the source of entropy for aleatory, chance operations in art and decision making. The last hexadecimal digit (or digits, for wider ranges of values) can be quantized to the range of values we need: e.g. for a coin flip 0-7 is tails and 8-F is heads.

Private hashes can be the sha256 of a question, statement, or range of options. Or of entropy pulled from /dev/random or a hardware source. Combine these two approaches or use a timestamp to make answers specific to the occasion or time at which they are asked.

Public hashes can be Bitcoin’s block hashes, or the hash of a Bitcoin transaction. The transaction can be time locked or contain the question (etc.) encoded as a has to delay and/or allow proof or disclosure of its content.

Or we can use any of these methods as the decision making basis for computer based or handmade generative art, replacing software pseudo-random number generators with entropy deterministically derived from the existing content of the work or from external sources of “inspiration”.

It’s much more contemporary than a dice, although dice do make good sources of artisanal entropy.

Aesthetics Art Art Computing Culture Politics Projects

Art For Algorithms


My first article for Furtherfield as guest editor is now online:

Rob Myers takes a look at how we can subvert the operation of the algorithms that the Digital Humanities, corporations and governments use to read, see, and draw conclusions about human expression by treating them as the true audience for contemporary art and literature.

Politics Projects

The Art Of Management


I have an article about the Management Theory context (I promise it’s much more interesting than that might sound…) of socialist Chile’s “Cybersyn” system at AVANT:

A big thank you to Stephen Fortune for suggesting I write something and for improving it so much by editing it.


Thinking About Value

36f1: A given multidimensional intrinsic motivation space will intersect the complement of a given multidimensional affordance space.

95a1: A multidimensional extrinsic motivation space is a non-affine projection of the former.

187e: Dimension-reducing extrinsic motivation space is a (mathematically!) degenerate projection of that.

0ecb: Monodimensional extrinsic motivation space (…money) is a (mathematical!) singularity.

f61d: (Points, badges and awards are as extrinsic as cash. Intrinsics may be culturally or historically determined or influenced.)

9833: Topological extrinsic motivation spaces with extrinsic motivational singularities are perverse (…incentives) to a degree that is a function of the relation of their centroid to that singularity.

cfe6: Extrinsic value command and market economies are (pretty much affine) reflections of each other, as they themselves argue, given this.

747a: Libertarian/market anarchists and socialist anarchists are probably extrinsic/intrinsic anarchists.

1c85: Intrinsic motivation may be learnt. Extrinsic motivation may be projected.

e2f5: Neither intrinsic nor extrinsic motivation is avoidable. They may complement or clash.

Art Art Computing Generative Art Politics Projects Satire


Facecoin, 2014, HTML5 and JavaScript.

Click here to run a visualization in your web browser.

Cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin use a “proof of work” system to prevent abuse.

Artworks are proofs of aesthetic work.

Facecoin uses machine pareidolia as its proof of work. This is implemented by applying CCV’s JavaScript face detection algorithm to SHA-256 digests represented as greyscale pixel maps. An industrial-strength version would use OpenCV. Due to the limitations of face detection as implemented by these libraries, the digest pixel map is upscaled and blurred to produce images of the size and kind that they can find faces in.

The difficulty can be varied by altering the size and blur of the pixmap. Or by only allowing particular detected face bounds rectangles to be used a set number of times.

Aesthetics Culture Politics

Not Now James, We’re Busy

This post does not include the phrase “frantic academic clopping”.

Where The F**k Was I?James Bridle’s “Where The F**k Was I?” (2011) is a book containing 202 maps depicting his movements over the previous year. The maps were produced using OpenStreetMap (2004) to plot the secret location database that iPhones (2007) had been discovered to be keeping (April 2011). It is printed as a hardback book using Lulu (2002), although images from it can be seen on flickr (2004).

In writing about this project, Bridle reflects on the impact of discovering that he was being spied on and takes this as a leaping off point for wider and deeper reflection on the nature of memory and of the mediation of experience by technology. In doing so he discusses contemporary art, contemporary literature, and contemporary cybercultural theory.

I would like to make two points about this project.

The first is that it would have been impractical before 2007, and unnecessary before 2011. I appreciate that in the 1990s JODI were multi-billion-dollar companies profiting from pervasive digital devices and logistics that meant the virtual tail of the military-industrial-fashion complex was wagging the actual dog of society in ways that were bleeding through into everyday experience, but I think we all have to admit that they didn’t have a Tumblr (2007).

The second is that the project is a serious and literate consideration of personal experience as shaped by our present situation that uses aesthetics not due to Theoretic inarticulacy but precisely to communicate the full impact of its subject effectively.

I am arguing that Bridle’s project of The New Aesthetic (TNA) is indeed considering both the new and the aesthetic, and that both these aspects of it are critically valuable and cannot be reduced to historical or textual surrogates.

My favourite responses to TNA so far have been:

David Berry critiquing Object Oriented Philosophical approaches to TNA and provides three different ways of considering it that come from within cyberculture –

Saul Albert providing some very useful historical comparisons to –

And Honor Harger pointing out the gap between the straw man of TNA that many people are attacking and what it actually is –

Aesthetics Art Politics

DDOS, Aesthetics, Speech

Distributed Denial Of Service attacks have a form. They have a political form, and they have a spatial form. The latter is the network topography of the attacks. At present the spatial form (and its properties) are incidental, but it is possible to make them part of the political message. This could make the form of the DDOS political speech and/or artistic expression.

Firstly the specific servers and the clients accessing them can be chosen for their geographic position using a system such as GeoLite. Shapes, diagrams and letters can be drawn in this way to communicate a specific message above and beyond the mere fact of the attack.

Secondly the properties of the network traffic sent to the servers can be varied to encode a message. The timing of messages can be used to transmit values and thereby numbers, text, images and even sound or video although the latter would be very slow.

The problems with these schemes are that the variation of traffic volume involved in structuring the messages, the topography of the Internet and the effects of the DDOS attack itself would work to destroy the coherency of the encoded messages. This functions as a commentary on or allegory for the effectiveness of reasoned argument versus simple rage.

Attacks of these kinds could be simulated using virtual machines on a closed network. This would function as a proof of concept and as art. Capturing and visualizing the network traffic of the attack would serve to recover the intended message or to track its degradation, and again would function as art.