Netopos: ...Notopos: Bodies of Knowledge

> The cyborg would not recognize the Garden of Eden ... (Donna Haraway)


Timothy Druckrey

There is little feedback in human affairs, and the bandwidth is less than we think (Marvin Minsky)

Space and duration have come to dominate discourses of the shift from modernity to postmodernity. And while the debate surrounding the linkage between the various imperialisms of the spatial and the temporal hound, and limit, critical thinking about culture, the smooth contradictions between identity (national and otherwise) and presence persist. Space might be the final frontier, but the issue of the territorialization and inhabitation of the communication matrix outdistances the fictional dimension of sociological space. Yet, the geo-spaces of modernity are still embedded in global politics. Justifying the attacks on Chechenya, Russian foreign minister Andrei Kozyrev invoked intervention into post-imperial space, the territory of identity, the territory of history and the territory of resistance all, of course, to be conquered. Ironically, President Clinton resists intervention into Bosnia as an invasion of sovereign territorial integrity. Space, it seems, like history for Frederic Jameson, hurts.

If we are indeed entering what Virilio calls the no-place of teletopical technologies, then a theory of interaction and communication based not on mere physical presence but on forms of telepresence must accompany the transition into vectors of representation, as Virilio writes, which, in the electronic interface, affect the order of sensations. Worn traditions of the public sphere, the sociology of post-industrialization, the discursive discreteness of postmodern presence, the imbeddedness or better immersion in the mediascapes of tele-culture must co-evolve a communicative practice whose boundaries are not mapped in physical space. Instead, the geography of cognition, the utopos of networks, of reception, and of community are emerging in territories whose hold on matter is ephemeral, whose position in space is tenuous, and whose presence is measured in acts of participation rather than coincidences of location. For the past few decades, the trajectory of so much research has aimed at the development of systems of representation that are mediated by the link between communication and computing. The collision of media that would ultimately meet in the reinvention of imaging and the development of the internet is of momentous importance. It is not much of a coincidence that by the late 1940s the inexorable merging of mathematics, physics, and biology with cybernetics, communication theory, and genetics was to lay the groundwork for an utter reconfiguration of culture, one based on the ideology if not yet the actuality of programming and algorithmics. Not surprising too that the shift from a matter-based industrial system was being supplanted by a media-based post-industrial system in which the engineering of consciousness played a deeper role. Joining televisual and informational technologies was the basis of a social transformation in which broadcast media seemingly swept across the global village at the same time providing what Hans Enzensberger called a reactionary doctrine of salvation. The technological imperialism of western representation found its metaphor in the not illogical bond between broadcast media and democratic capitalism.

Limited by the circulatory system of a one-way street, the broadcast media served as the bully-pulpit of western culture. Unaccoustomed to participatory democracy, the formation of content evolved to sustain some of the ideological imperatives of the cold war west, while the technologies were finding wider availability. These technologies, video, early computer, and interactive provided what are the roots of the development of alternative media strategies and distribution systems. Indeed the development of what is currently provoking dazzling global prospects for communication, the Internet, was being constructed by the defense department for secure international communication and data-exchange. The history, maturation, and move to provide public access to the Internet is an on-going saga whose story has yet to be written. Suffice it to say that the shift towards public access has fundamentally challenged a vast array of cultural practices and initiated the formation of a communicative network that often seems to verge on a kind of anarchy. This, along with decisive alterations in the fields of graphics, image processing, and animation have fueled what is undoubtedly the deepest transformation in the epistemology of western culture. Knowledge, information, and representation have been merged with a communication technology that establishes an experiential link within a distributed system. To be connected now means to be distributed. As Henri Lefebvre writes:

Knowledge falls into a trap when it makes representations of space the basis for the study of life, for in doing so it reduces lived experience. The object of knowledge is, precisely, the fragmented and uncertain connection between eleborated representations of space on the one hand and representational spaces (along with their underpinnings) on the other; and this object implies (and explains) a subject - that subject in whom lived, perceived and conceived (known) come together within a spatial practice.

If the actual world no longer serves to signify cultural narrative, then one must assess those emergent narratives whose legitimacy exists within the relationship between technology and culture. These forms exist at the point of collapse of the matter-bound metaphysics of modernity. Indeed, modernitys undoing began as the trope of the enlightenment reached critical mass in the 1920s. As much for politics as for science and representation, the period between the wars witnessed the apotheosis of modernitys triumphs and disasters. And what emerged in the wake of modernity was a science without a coherent material model, a politics on the verge of destruction, and a field of representation in which abstraction prevailed a momentous time in which the status of form was based on hungover legitimacy and lapsed authority. What materialized in the postwar period was a crisis of the symbolic, what Arthur J. Miller described as visualization lost.

Computing re-established the image as a bearer not of the illusory truths of photographic systems but as a means, like consciousness, of transferring information. Visualization was supplanted by imaging that bore a new layer of epistemological meaning. Merged into the compressed infographic representation is a space in which perception and information seem unified. In Discourse Networks, Friedrich Kittler established the reciprocity between technologies of representation and archaeologies of information. The discourse network can designate the network of technologies and institutions that allow a given culture to select, store, and process relevant data. (DN p, 369) Further, Kittlers work realizes the limits of rhetorical theory unmediated by technology itself. Practices of information exchange plagued the culture of modernity as they would its economic practices. Writing, that process of inscription aligned with data transfer, rooted catastrophic shifts in the relation between developing technologies and culture. By 1900, the ability to record sense data technologically shifted the entire discourse network...For the first time in history, writing ceased to be synonymous with the serial storage of data. The technological recording of the real entered into competition with the symbolic registration of the Symbolic. More pertinently, the strained continuity of exchange exposed the semiotic constitution of both the mechanism and meaning of information: To transfer messages from one medium to another always involves reshaping them to conform to new standards and materials. In a discourse network that requires an awareness of the abysses which divide the one order of sense experience from the other, transposition necessarily takes the place of translation. Transposition might serve as a metaphor for the development of communication technologies that establish a metascape in which experience evolves collaboratively.

Marshall McLuhan's Global Village, Manual Castell's Informational City, Marvin Minskys Mentopolis, stand beneath and astride the fictional cities of William Gibson in Neuromancer and Neal Stephenson in Snowcrash. In these environ-mental spaces, shifting events are the key to experience. Castells writes:

The fact that new technologies are focused on information processing has far-reaching consequences for the relationship between the sphere of socio-cultural symbols and the productive basis of society. Information is based upon culture, and information processing is, in fact, symbol manipulation on the basis of existing knowledge. If information processing becomes the key component of the new productive forces, the symbolic capacity of society itself, collectively as well as in postmodernity. One might think of the networked communities as postgeographical. Yet, they are linked by the imperative to sustain continuity in the midst of a nomadic digital culture wired for uninterrupted contact but alienated from the utilization of technology as intimate and empowering. The issues raised by the relationship between the development of cybernetics, communication, urbanism, identity and the network pose stunning challenges to the traditions of culture. And simultaneously these issues once again accentuate the necessity to consider the whole function of culture within the technological conception of connectionism and distributed systems. It is clear that systems theories of communication, intelligence, biology, identity, collectivity, democracy, and politics will not fully suffice to encompass the meaning of digital cultures. Instead, theories of communication will need to be refigured in terms of interaction, dispersal and technology.

On the countless sites on the network - MOOs, MUDs, World Wide Web pages - loss of the real.

The ramifications of this accelerated social shift are difficult to assess. No cultural transformation has occurred without a corresponding technology. Networks, expert systems, artificial intelligence, immersion, biogenetics, etc., are forms in which the practices of the future are grounded. How much this relates to the issues of cognitive research and representation is pivotal to grappling with the development of hyper, inter, cyber, virtual, and networked media. Indeed, the development of digital media, necessary, one that would account for the cultural meaning of technology in terms of the meanings it forms aesthetically and politically. Of course, even in the distributed system of digital communication, the issue of power is crucial precisely because it seems dispersed: The cyberelite is now a transparent entity that can only be imagined.
[Critical Art Ensemble . Conjoin this with a range of effects concerning everything from surveillance to identity and the ramifications of electronic culture take on stag-gerering proportions. As Virilio writes:

With the industrial proliferation of visual and audiovisual prostheses and unrestrained use of instantaneous-transmission equipment from the earliest childhood onwards, we are now routinely see the encoding ofincreasingly elaborate mental images together with a steady decline in retention and recall. In other words we are looking at the rapid collapse of mnemonic consolidation.

This collapse seems only natural, if one remembers a contrario that seeing, and its spatio-temporal organization, precede gesture and speech and their co-ordination in knowing, recognising, making known (as images in our thoughts), our thoughts themselves and cognitive functions, which are never passive.