4. Gilles Deleuze, in “Postscript on the Societies of Control”, gives a Foucauldian-inspired account of the change of institutions into systems having mechanisms of control at their core. It is a crisis for these institutions which substitutes the individual for the “dividual”, or the controllable unit which has been subdivided to the point where its significance is wholly in terms of the mechanism of control, rather than something that exceeds that. This might be seen as a dystopian vision for coding. Coding, in some ways of understanding it, might be seen just as the subdivision of significant human relations to a sub-significant level, for the purpose of control. Deleuze gives some examples of this, and we could add more, e.g., an educational system bureaucratized to the point that all humans engaged in the system are subject to the controls that are put in place by the software used to support that system. This comes with the fact that certain tasks cannot be completed and particular innovations are impossible because “the system/computer will not allow it”. Using other authors on the list for this exam, suggest how Deleuze’s/Foucault’s dystopian vision of the future of code in society could be addressed.


Foucault's account of the rise of disciplinary societies from earlier forms based on sovereign power has been extended by Gilles Deleuze in “Postscript on the Societies of Control” into the present age to reveal continuous, automatic control as the new hegemonic form of power. McLuhan, Jameson, Castells, Feenberg, Hayles and others also depict the last capitalist condition as one in which rationalizing, ordering, cybernetic control has infiltrated every sector of society and continues to expand its scope. Deleuze struggles to present physical examples embodying this continuous, modulating control—he asks us to imagine a self-deforming cast and a transmuting sieve mesh—because the materiality of these systems is the built infrastructure, which includes of course computers. Better examples are in the modulating principle of corporate salaries and school grades.The individuals of disciplinary society have been replaced by dividuals; consciousness is not only fragmented by concurrent regimes of control (education, media, family, employer, etc.), but identity also disperses into the networks (bank accounts, credit histories, dental coverage, Facebook). “The operation of markets is now the instrument of social control and forms the impudent breed of our masters. Control is short-term and of rapid rates of turnover, but also continuous and without limit, while discipline was of long duration, infinite and discontinuous” (6). The essay is short, but in it Deleuze delivers a scathing condemnation of the overall ethos of the age, suggesting a “crisis of the institutions,” as well as a direct stab at code—we can assume he means, among others, computer program code: “the societies of control operate with machines of a third type, computers, whose passive danger is jamming and whose active one is piracy and the introduction of viruses” (6). The piece ends questioning why have labor unions lost their might, and what motivates youth to continue participating in the economy. Is the ineptitude of the unions symptomatic of the decline of a form of subjectivity, or rather evidence of the rise of another? Where do the dividuals associate, in what networks, how do they navigate? How to study “the mechanisms of control”, which seems necessary to address the “crisis of the institutions” interacting with “a new system of domination”? How can code, which undergirds the technologies of control, not be solely a tool of the masters, who are not only the rich and powerful capitalists and government officials, and but also and increasingly the inhuman technological systems themselves? In short, how can Deleuze’s dystopian vision of the future of code in society be addressed?

The first pass at a response is to consider the possibility that adhering to Deleuze's philosophical position does not entail despair after all, but rather remains open to creative potential. Tauel Harper takes this stance in “Smash the Strata! A Programme for Techno-Political ®evolution,” published in the 2005 anthology Deleuze and New Technology. While accepting the narrative leading to the societies of control, Harper reminds us that Deleuze and Guattari famously promoted a rhetoric of lines of flight and flow, smooth and striated assemblages, deterritorialization and reterritorialization in A Thousand Plateaus “illustrate ways in which technological development, in all its nihilist entropy, opens up possibilities for a Deleuzian vision of micropolitics” (127).

Deleuzeian vision of micropolitics would be the programmer perspective for living in the network, to which they identify as mechanosphere, along with Berry version of Serres parasite being good streams.

TG: Also, don’t forget the rhetoric of machinic assemblages in Anti-Oedipus, which seems to celebrate the machine (at least as metaphor).

(np) Technological development offers creative potential when technological change releases flows of desire whose outcome may be constrained and quickly recaptured, or open to radical innovation depending on whether they are striated or smooth. Ironically, loosely coupled communities that form and disperse around capitalist marketing supersede prior, ossifed communities formed around state institutions (including religion). “Compared to the state, a community is a rhizome. . . . So long as it remains molecular, rhizomatic, it remains smooth; in a sense it remains smooth entirely because community membership is itinerant rather than arbitrary. The multiplicity of possible connections, networks and interfaces is precisely what makes such models of organization emancipatory” (129). The path Harper leads us along crosses from the negligible freedom to chose among striated spaces of market offerings, which few consider real freedom, to the emancipatory potential of new, smooth spaces for dividuals to wander, disconnect, and reconnect. “Deleuzian theory encourages us to escape the idea of technological determinism and reinsert the influence of desiring-production into history. This aspect of Deleuzian theory is witnessed in the formula n-1, which describes the ever present possibility of becoming-other within a rhizome” (130).

BJ: The model of control that most people think of is rooted in an industrial model of the world. Deleuze, and code understood this way, aren’t in that model.

Theory connects to practice in the domain of code, specifically programming, and specifically under the aegis of free/libre, open source software (FLOSS). FLOSS is typically characterized by its licensing agreements, which instantiates the “four freedoms” articulated by Richard M. Stallman, and are crucial to insuring that the technological flows remain open: freedom to run the program for any purpose; freedom to modify the program source code (entailing it be open to access); freedom to redistribute copies; and freedom to distribute the modified code (18). Combined with the essentially open-ended nature of computer programming, a saving power in the midst of the dangers of techno-politics is revealed.

RM: Well, some types are more open-ended than others. (Think open source vs. commercial vs. personal). In other words, the same issues that one faces in other areas of production (economic and political forces surely, and to some extent even social forces) also influence and shape many instances of coding, which does not take place in a vacuum in straight binary. I’m thinking of the long and arduous road for certain XML technologies to come to light, for example. Here’s an example of a very typical sort of debate/issue I often come across on technical forums: http://tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/xml-rpc/message/1534.

Harper explains:

Computer programming is always a process of deterritorialization – it never accepts a totality, it proceeds through alpha, beta and gamma models in a continual process of deterritorialization and reterritorialization which obeys no General and is based upon a point of intersection of multiple assemblages. Open-source and collective experimental methods make such collaboration a living programme of n-1. . . . The continual reflexivity of open-source software enables communities to constitute themselves as acts of desiring-production. . . . the conditions for a techno-political revolution spring from rhizomatic communication technologies providing universal access to coding practices. (136-137)

BJ: I wonder if this is really a Deleuzian version of de/re/territorialization. It might be, but I’d like to see the intensionality a bit more. What is it that drives the desiring-production? What are the tensions that produce new lines of flight?

Harper argues that four dangers hold us back from realizing this utopic program: fear, clarity, power, and disgust, which, for anyone familiar with the rhetoric of FLOSS, will associate with fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD), the infamous strategy of hegemonic technology companies like Microsoft to dissuade deterritorialization of entrenched, striated assemblages. This tetrachy sustains the distopic condition with which Deleuze left us; Harper suggests a line of flight through universal access to coding practices. However, Harper does not provide insight on how to transform dividuals into the sort of subjects willing and able to master coding practices once given the access. To address that problem, I need to include the ideas of other theorists.

The question that remains after Harper outlines the way open-source software can smash the strata due to the endless deterritorialization of programming is how to produce subjects (from dividuals) who will be inspired to do so, not merely as incidental in rebellious lines of flight, but habitually, if that idea makes sense. David Berry's recently published Philosophy of Software is a significant attempt to come to grips with the materiality of code and the human subjects inhabiting the societies of control. This question of the dividual's relation to code seems to align with Berry's interest in being a good stream, and his notion of post-human subjectivity that rides atop technological streams. The curious concluding image works in Michel Serres' notion of the parasite as a form of comportment to the standing reserve of data being stockpiled, transformed, and circulated by corporations:

The parasite is used not as a moral category, but in connection with an actor's strategic activities to understand and manipulate the properties of a network. . . The question of who this subject 'eats next to', is perhaps reflected in the way in which streams pass through other streams, consumed and consuming, but also in the recorded moments and experiences of subjects who remediate their everyday lives. This computational circulation, mediated through real-time streams, offers speculative possibilities for exploring what we might call parasitic subjectivity. (170-171)

To Berry, it is sufficient for dividuals to learn to comport themselves with technological systems, which happens naturally through acculturation with real-time data feeds, search engines, and other interfaces, but not necessarily engage them in the manner of computer programmers, which is Harper's goal. However, a path begins to trace itself from the new cyborg subjectivity of composite Latour plug-ins, Guatarri's processual, device-dependence, and Lyotard's subterranean streams “that flow through our postmodern cultural economies” in Serres' parasite, to a subject position capable of engaging in the emancipatory sorts of coding practices Harper seeing in FLOSS, which in turn create tactical deterritorializations and reterritorializations in the midst of corporate control schemes, and potentially effecting unpredictable, non-repressive, non-alienating technological change.

Missing from Berry's account are detailed, concrete practices to actually bring this about. A clue can be found in his elaboration of how stream-like subjectivity arises through “restructuring of a post-human subjectivity that rides on top of a network of computationally-based technical devices” (148), suggesting that computer programmers internalize the logic of the computer codes they write and use in their daily work (and that this is a good thing). Ian Bogost has a name for these internalized experiences, which might include high speed interaction, multi-tasking, loops, recursions, substitutions, object-oriented operations, and so on: procedural rhetorics, the subject of his 2007 book Persuasive Games. Unlike traditional rhetorics that employ various forms of argumentation and tropes to “lead souls with words,” as Plato put it, procedural rhetorics are mounted in the activities undertaken to play a game or operate a device. Procedural literacy is learning to recognize, and perhaps call into question, these embedded procedural rhetorics. “All told, artifacts like Guns, Germs, and Steel, Civilization, and Europa Universalis suggest that procedural literacy means more than writing computer code; it also comes from interacting with procedural systems themselves, especially procedural systems that make strong ties between the processes in a model and a representational goal—those with strongly argued procedural rhetorics. Otherwise said, we can become procedurally literate through play itself” (255).

RM: Yes, but I don’t think he’s just talking about the internalized experiences, but also about the relationships between the digital system and the human participant. So, it’s not just programmers who deal with procedural rhetorics, but also users/players.

Bogost recognizes that intense programming activity itself inculcates procedural rhetorics, but widens the scope to game play in general. To achieve this result, Bogost develops a complicated philosophical elaboration based on Alain Badiou's set-theoretical ontology of fidelity, event, situation, subject, and especially the evental site, which he relates to the condition of “simulation fever,” so that “persuasive games expose the logic of situations in an attempt to draw players' attention to an evental site and encourage them to problematize the situation” in an operation that I believe is akin to deterritorialization in Deleuze (331-332). To merge Bogost and Harper, evoking the evental site by critically examining procedural procedural rhetorics allows subjects to emerge from dividuality and smash the strata. Bogost's latest philosophical excursion, Alien Phenomenology, ventures into questions of “what is it like to be a thing?” His notion of carpentry, “construction artifacts that do philosophy,” revives the image of the hands-on, technical expertise of the lifelong programmer theorist-practitioner that both Berry and Harper hint at. The aim is philosophical works that “perpetrate their philosophical positions through their form” (93); all of the examples he gives involve code (the Latour Litanizer, I am TIA, Deconstructulator, Tableau Machine). While some projects manipulate text and images—cultural software, as Manovich calls it—other projects deal with “hardware” devices, machines, things, so that the phenomenologist “creates a machine that tries to replicate the unit operation of another's experience. . . . In platform studies, we shift that focus more intensely toward hardware and software as actors” (100). Developing, using, and disseminating this kind of “philosophical lab equipment” promises to inculcate a new radicalism in which philosophers practice craftsmanship, learn trades. Bogost's project aligns with other recent scholarship. Mark Marino inaugurated Critical Code Studies (CCS) as “an approach that applies critical hermeneutics to the interpretation of computer code, program architecture, and documentation within a socio-historical context” (2006). Clearly a materialist approach, engaging phenomenological and hermeneutic approaches to philosophical study of code, architecture, and documentation, it also insists on substantial programming involvement by its practitioners: “key to Critical Code Studies will be the development in practitioners of programming literacy.”

BJ: Actually, hermeneutics itself isn’t necessarily thought of as materialist, at least by some. Heidegger and Gadamer have been accused of being idealist, transcendentalist and neo-Kantian. I don’t buy that criticism, BTW, but it’s there.

Programming literacy strongly suggests heavy involvement working code. To remediate Nietzsche, I call this philosophical carpentry of Bogost “how one philosophizes with a computer.”

RM: This needs a little more context/unpacking for me.

The new kind of pharmakon imagined combining tapoc and symposia cannot be readily experienced until a dissertation can be submitted as virtual machine archive.

(np) Might the net impact of such a reconfiguration of humanities scholars situate them to creatively combine critical theory and technical know how, positioning them to lead FLOSS projects that can smash the strata?

There remains a large gap between a small number of professional theorists, graduate students, and expert amateurs reading and writing code engaged in platform studies, and the network-wide commotion of FLOSS projects effecting technological revolution through the deterritorialization such programming causes. The first steps to closing the gap are to get some working code released. The next task is to study it; too often the scholarship comes before the software life cycle reaches useful production. How does an idea turn the corner and become a new FLOSS project, or transform an existing one? The lore is replete with heroic narratives of how a single coder started a new project in order to “scratch an itch,” and how others formed from within established software development organizations. I want to suggest that another spring head of new FLOSS projects flows out of interdisciplinary “open-source” collaborative efforts whose primary objective is typically something besides creating software, yet nonetheless winds up generating code as part of its overall solution. A visit to the NEH Office of Digital Humanities website reveals a score of featured projects, some of which already allude to an open source software component, and many others still in their early stages that have not yet realized the need for it. An example this kind of project, reached somewhat at random through an aborted attempt to respond to the second exam question, yet also highly relevant to the current discussion, is the Digital Dissertation Depository Project (D3). Recognizing the limitations digital scholars have experienced in the striated assemblages of existing digital repositories like the ETD and Proquest, which constrain dissertations to particular formats like PDF, this fourteen member collaborative project has so far held a workshop “aimed at identifying the issues, opportunities and requirements for developing an open-source system into which born-digital dissertations (e.g., interactive webtexts, software, games, etc.) can be deposited and maintained, and through which they can be accessed and cross-referenced.” From this and prior research, the group has performed actor network needs analyses for stakeholder personae including dissertator (graduate student), director, provost, librarian, government funding agency, and so on. They have also surveyed and scored existing repositories. These activities constitute the critical rhetorical work of theorist-practitioners that must be performed in the formative stages of a new knowledge management project. This kind of work is described in detail by Applen and McDaniel in The Rhetorical Nature of XML with respect to the creation of XML parsers for a hypothetical knowledge management project like the D3:

The theorist-practitioner model was stressed throughout our three examples because it is so important to the professional communicator working with XML technologies. On the theoretical side, one must recognize that the humanistic elements of information management and design are often overlooked for the sake of technical efficiency or simplicity. . . . On the practitioner side, we need to recognize that by relying on pre-existing parsers, our creative potential and expressive capacities are limited by the designs of other companies or other individuals. Only by immersing ourselves in the low-level programming of XML parsers can we truly design an interactive system for dealing with XML code in exactly the way we want. (294)

The significance of this preparatory effort as twofold. First, in order to succeed, the project needs to be informed by the kinds of awareness that Berry alludes to in being a good stream, how to interface with the existing undercurrent of digital processes, which may include programming a custom XML parser.

RM: It still amazes me in DH work how much attention is paid to the text itself while the software that manipulates and acts upon the text is entirely ignored. Admittedly, much of the interest of an archive lies in the original source materials and their textual representations, but equally interesting (I think) is to consider how the properties and affordances of interactive computation can extend texts into truly new forms rather than just repurposing texts into highly traditional forms layered with some additional multimedia content or a basic search engine.

Agreeing with McDaniel I aim to raise engagement with programming languages forming the language machines manipulating the texts upon which others fixate (Derrida, and oddly, Kittler, too); the discourse network of 2000 contains much code and may need to be machine read, both for analysis and execution, along with human reading.

(np) Second, collaborations of talents are needed to accomplish it. Hayles calls these efforts “Big Humanities” because “implementing such projects requires diverse skills, including traditional scholarship as well as programming, graphic design, interface engineering, sonic art, and other humanistic, artistic, and technical skills” (How We Think 34). Moreover, this fact provides a further insight into Wendy Hui Kyong Chun's notion of code as fetish. Her basic argument is that “we need to interrogate how knowing (or using free or open source) software does not simply enable us to fight domination or rescue software from evil-doers such as Microsoft, but rather is embedded in—mediates between, is part of—structures of knowledge-power” (302). The insistence that freedom is imbued solely in the source code, and the freedom to execute and modify it, “amplifies the power of source code, erasing the vicissitudes of execution and the structures that ensure the coincidence of code and its execution” (303). Fetishizing the power of code leaves unexamined the surrounding social practices and collaborative alliances that convalesce to form a given software project, as the review of D3 demonstrates. This is also the gist of the argument Dave Yeats makes in “The Role for Technical Communicators in Open-source Software Development.” Only a small percentage of the team may actually write code; plenty of other talents are required, particularly technical communicators. The Digital Dissertation Depository is an excellent example because it clearly embodies these collaborative features, and also holds out the promise of fundamentally liberating potential for future scholarship because it purports to smooth out the lines of flight currently constraining the production of digital dissertations, a fundamental expression of intellectual creativity in our culture. And it will do so by eventually creating codes that run this depository. Through this reasoned devaluation of the fetish of source code, the distopic cloud of FUD surrounding the role of code in totalizing control dissipates somewhat.

TG: I remain somewhat unconvinced that Deleuze’s work here is really that productive to the question at hand, but John certainly did a fine job of making it matter, at least in relation to some of the other texts brought to bear on the subject. Yet another solid, substantial essay, completing the triumvirate in strong fashion.

Works Cited

Applen, J D, and Rudy McDaniel. The Rhetorical Nature of Xml: Constructing Knowledge in Networked Environments. New York: Routledge, 2009. Print.

Berry, David M. The Philosophy of Software: Code and Mediation in the Digital Age. Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011. Print.

Bogost, Ian. Alien Phenomenology: or What It's Like to Be a Thing. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012. Print.

Bogost, Ian. Persuasive Games: The Expressive Power of Videogames. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2007. Print.

Chun, Wendy Hui Kyong. "On 'Sourcery,' Or Code As Fetish." Configurations: A Journal Of Literature, Science, And Technology 16.3 (2008): 299-324. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 12 Dec. 2012.

Deleuze, Gilles. "Postscript On The Societies Of Control." October (1992): 3. JSTOR Arts & Sciences III. Web. 4 Jan. 2013.

Digital Dissertation Depository. http://digidiss.eserver.org/. Accessed 27 January 2013.

National Endowment for the Humanities. Office of Digital Humanities. http://www.neh.gov/divisions/odh/featured-project. Accessed 26, January 2013.

Harper, Tauel. Smash The Strata! A Programme For Techno-Political ®Evolution. n.p.: Edinburgh University Press, 2005. University Press Scholarship Online. Web. 4 Jan. 2013.

Hayles, N. Katherine. How We Think: Digital Media and Contemporary Technogenesis. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2012. Print.

Marino, Mark C. "Critical Code Studies." Electronic Book Review (2006): ReferenceSearch. Web. 4 Jan. 2013.

Stallman, Richard M. Free Software Free Society: selected essays of Richard M. Stallman. Boston: GNU Press, 2002.