e-flux journal issue 123

e-flux journal issue 123

e-flux journal

Alessandro D’Aquino, for “Recursive Colonialism, Artificial Intelligence and Speculative Computation” symposium, 2020. 

December 15, 2021
e-flux journal issue 123: “Dialogues on Recursive Colonialisms, Speculative Computation, and the Techno-social”

guest-edited by the Critical Computation Bureau

with Luciana Parisi, Denise Ferreira da Silva, Ezekiel Dixon-Román, Ramon Amaro, Steve Goodman, Tiziana Terranova, Iain Chambers, Ravi Sundaram, Jasbir Puar, Martina Tazzioli, Oana Pârvan, Ethan Plaue, William Morgan, and GPT-3

Issue 123 of e-flux journal is guest-edited by the Critical Computation Bureau (CCB), a collective of researchers and writers working between technology and culture, computer science and information theory, aesthetics and politics. The members—Luciana Parisi, Ezekiel Dixon-Román, Tiziana Terranova, Oana Pârvan, and Brian D’Aquino—are situated in the US, the UK, and Southern Italy, and engage with networks spanning several continents to intervene in the techno-politics of racial capitalism and its recursive regeneration. We understand recursivity, a central concern for this issue, to be about the self-regulation, self-adaption, and self-regeneration of systems—including the recursive regeneration of the colonial episteme, which we call “recursive colonialisms.” We also understand speculative computation as the possibility of re-elaborating the limits of knowledge from the standpoint of what cannot be measured. Following Cedric J. Robinson, we see racial capitalism as the process of extracting social and economic value from specific groups on the basis of race. Thinking through this method and process as well as its incumbent epistemologies and cosmologies, this issue asks what technology can tell us about the recursive formation of racial capitalism, and how the logic of recursive feedback (foundational to cybernetics) becomes a basis for the ways in which the machine’s role as a medium for computation is also that of a medium for today’s racial capitalism.

This issue stems from dialogues conducted during the CCB’s symposium Recursive Colonialism, Artificial Intelligence, and Speculative Computation, which took place online over two weeks in December 2020, and included more than twenty speakers and a selection of artworks by contributors from Europe, North America, Asia, and Africa. This special issue then departs from perspectives on representational form, discourse, and the critique of technology to interrogate how the servo-mechanic model of knowledge reproduction has been foundational to both the abstraction/extraction of value constituting racial capitalism and the postcolonial genealogies of contemporary techno-social networks.

The dialogic texts in this issue address the intersections of colonialism, racial capitalism, and technology, particularly foregrounding types of computation and machine epistemology (or automated learning) that have configured intelligent automated knowledge systems such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, and techno-social networks. Furthermore, the issue extends the dialogues from the conference in written form and expands upon their questions—also addressing Black Feminist Poethics, haunting algorithms, and Mediterranean techno-cultures in incomplete, recursive modes of critical and speculative thinking.

Working in the strange attraction between speculative approaches, critical theorizations, and imaginary practices, this issue also asks how a technology or machine epistemology constituted by the entanglement between racial capitalism, recursive colonialisms, and computation can still overcome the overrepresentation of Man or Promethean cosmogonies. How does machine epistemology also allow for futures that run counter to a mere feeding into and from techno-social networks? In this procedure of abstraction, which could be called socio-technical or techno-sociogenic, the iterability of techno-signs through the flesh discloses the possibilities of otherwise languages, otherwise worlds, otherwise cognitions. If machine epistemology depended only on the cognitive extension or prosthetics of the brain’s neural networks, it would be just another version of the Promethean project of the mastery of tools. Machine epistemology does not articulate cognition in terms of embodiment in an environment, but rather in terms of a form of cognition. This entails a possibility for a techno-semiosis whereby the flesh at once remains and becomes the medium of the world and as such becomes a techno-sign of cultural formations. We have thus become aware of how the socio-technical or techno-sociogenic can inherit existing cosmogonies, not in a deterministic or imitative way, but through its iterability. But if techno-sociogenic flesh is shaped by repetition with alterity, it also takes on a mix of cosmogonies to make something else.

What we call “cosmo-computation” entails a fully automated recursive system for which there is supposed to be no human-in-the-loop. This term applies Yuk Hui’s concept of cosmotechnics (which calls for a technical mediation between metaphysics and cultures that do not conform to the universal standardization of knowledge) to the cognitive paradigm of technology by asking what it would mean to experiment with auto-imaging multiple ontologies and multiple metaphysics through computation. But cosmo-computation still maintains the specter of whiteness and intensified legacies of racial capital within itself. These are legacies whereby computational schema cannot erase anti-blackness or the brutalities and techno-semiotic hieroglyphics marked in flesh. In other words, cosmo-computation must also work on the cyber-mechanics of the machine in relation to slavery, to take on and step outside the dialectic of the human and the thing … [continue reading]


Luciana Parisi and Denise Ferreira da Silva—Black Feminist Tools, Critique, and Techno-poethics
When playing in the context delineated by the thesis introduced by recursive colonialism, black feminist poethical tools and procedures seem to support what the latter both diagnoses and proposes, which is the uprooting of the infrastructure of global capital. It is again a moment that includes (a) a strike from above, which is creative rather than destructive, and which unleashes (b) a downward blow—an implosion perhaps—that shifts attention to the foundations. It is as if looking at global capital from down to up reveals precisely that which is not visible from its windows because it is what sustains the walls onto which they have been carved.

Ezekiel Dixon-Román and Ramon Amaro—Haunting, Blackness, and Algorithmic Thought
Today, how should we consider that this colonial appeal to reason has left a parting gift, namely the frantic double exposure of the racial image? On the one hand, the current human-to-human relation is still largely saturated by images of a world constructed through epistemic whiteness. On the other hand, the technological object, in its ignorance, has been largely programmed to overwrite the complex dynamics of historical race relations, and has instead been designed to infer logical conclusions from a racist human history, as if this data is anything other than an ensemble of racial processes dragged through time on the instruction of the white imaginary. If a harmony is to be achieved, then the structures of these processes, as well as the resultant double images, must be brought into an authentic awareness.

Luciana Parisi and Steve Goodman—Golemology, Machines of Flight, and SF Capital 
The golem myth becomes a sonic fiction, a retroactive engineering of dispossessed data rhythms that expose the systematic canceling-out of origin. As feedback circuits, logic gates, and automated hypothesis merge with Afro-diasporic flesh, codes become sensual matter that enter black musical sociality and proliferate underneath and across the global infrastructures of the master/slave modeling of command and control. The “futurhythmachine” tells us of the irreversible complicity of automation and dispossession reconfiguring the techno-cultural matrix of innovation and subjection in the operating systems of planetary capital. Golemology here offers not a withdrawal from orality, but rather advances through the alien frequencies of worlds otherwise, mingling and infecting the organic integrity of human language.

Tiziana Terranova and Iain Chambers—Technology, Postcoloniality, and the Mediterranean
If we are to think with Mediterranean archives and the challenge their recursivity poses to the conceptualization of the present and possible futures, we cannot avoid registering the formation of the basin as a “colonial lake.” This conception foregrounds that since 1900, and until quite recently, the Mediterranean was directly ruled from London, Paris, and Rome. To consider what escapes this coloniality, and to insist on the incalculable slipping through the nets of a still hegemonic positivism—secured by a faith in the European human and social sciences—is to encounter that we, Occidentals, do not know what we thought we knew.

Tiziana Terranova and Ravi Sundaram—Colonial Infrastructures and Techno-social Networks
The techno-social is the form of the social that comes after its end. It is neither a virtual nor a global digital community, but a component of the milieu generated by a new technical being—the digital computational network. It was triggered not so much by social media, as first assumed, but by the turn whereby social computing no longer simply supported social interaction but started “to process the content generated by social interaction,” making its results “usable not just by users but by the digital systems that supported their activities” (Thomas Erickson).

Ezekiel Dixon-Román and Jasbir Puar—Mass Debilitation and Algorithmic Governance
The question then is how the recursive creates the potential for remaking time, for inhabiting temporalities askew. Where is the potential in dividual economies? We do not yet know what kinds of rearrangements of domestic and political spheres can be generated from these scenes of mass debilitation. We come to Spinoza—what can a body do?—through the bio/necropolitical, asking: How do populations live the unlivable? As the becoming-pandemic introduces novel precarities while reinforcing old ones, we will be asking these questions again and again.

Martina Tazzioli and Oana Pârvan—Technologies of Control and Infrastructures of Redistribution
Invoking a term from Tiziana Terranova, participatory confinement in refugee humanitarianism can also be considered a form of “soft control.” Asylum seekers are increasingly asked to answer questionnaires and provide detailed information to humanitarian actors about their coping strategies, migratory journeys, the logistics of border crossing, and their protection needs. These activities are presented to refugees as an opportunity to improve their individual situation and, at the same time, the asylum system at large; in actuality, they just increase the control that the system has over refugees. 

Ethan Plaue, William Morgan, and GPT-3—Secrets and Machines: A Conversation with GPT-3
In line with its showboating tendencies, the AI claims that its secrets are the very secrets of the universe, and that these secrets are still hidden. In other words, even if the AI has “seen it all, heard it all, recorded it all, stored it all, used it all, analyzed it all,” it still cannot understand any of it. Thus, what is revealed is the rather mundane secret that interpretation is required. But how should one interpret the fact that the AI lets the preferred methods of the humanities back into the game?


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