Issue 146: “A Hacker Manifesto at Twenty”

Issue 146: “A Hacker Manifesto at Twenty”

e-flux journal

Cover illustration for William Gibson’s novel Neuromancer (Phantasia Press, 1986). Painting by Barclay Shaw. Courtesy of the artist.

June 13, 2024
Issue 146: “A Hacker Manifesto at Twenty”

Edited by McKenzie Wark

with Yifan Wang and Changwen Chen, Isabel Ling, Bami Oke, Liara Roux, Chelsea Thompto, Francisco Nunes, Valérian Guillier, Luce deLire, Hugh Davies, Kim Córdova and Bruce Schneier, and Janus Rose and Chelsea Manning

I had some trouble finding a publisher for the book-length version of A Hacker Manifesto. It was turned down by MIT Press, Semiotext(e), Verso, Soft Skull, and maybe one other I’ve forgotten. Out of desperation I sent it to Lindsay Waters at Harvard University Press. He called me on the phone just a few days later, convinced he could make it happen. Thanks to Lindsay’s enthusiasm, it came out with Harvard in 2004. Harvard’s legal counsel absolutely refused to make it Creative Commons licensed, so it has a copyright. I figured it would just get pirated anyway, and of course it did.

Before I had a contract for its publication in English, I had a contract for its publication in French. This was because of a chance encounter on the Nettime listserv with “Louise Desrenards,” aka Aliette Guibert-Certoux. She ran a small publishing concern called criticalsecret. That edition came out after the English one, but I’m thankful for her early faith in the book.

I wrote A Hacker Manifesto in an imaginary language I call “European,” which is equal parts Church Latin, Marxism, and business English—the three transnational languages of the continent. Perhaps as a result, it’s been widely translated. Of the three words of its title, the only hard one to translate is the first word: “A.” The indefinite article is important as it is part of its argument that there can be no definitive manifesto of the movement it sought to name.

I’ll come back to the contexts and genesis of the book. First, just a few words on why I wanted to curate some contemporary texts that to some degree or other might engage it or differ from it. Having a few books to my name, I find that there are some where you write the book, and there are some where the book writes you. A Hacker Manifesto was the second kind. It set me on a path as a writer for a quarter of a century.

There are aspects of one’s own books about which the author knows very little. I’m aware of some of the limitations of A Hacker Manifesto—which is why I wrote Capital is Dead (2019), to revise some of its key theses. I thought it would be interesting to see what other people thought about either the book itself or some aspect of the situation it attempted to critique. The contributors to this special issue have all helped me rethink some aspect of the ongoing project which for me really began with this book, and which in one way or another continues to constitute my writing life.

The contributors to this issue come from a wide range of backgrounds, disciplines, and aesthetic, theoretical, and political orientations. If I may say so, not the least interesting thing about A Hacker Manifesto is the way it cuts through assumed polarities on a diagonal. Needless to say: the contributors to this issue do not share the aesthetic and political lines that I’ll unpack in what follows. It would be boring if they did … [continue reading].

—McKenzie Wark

Yifan Wang and Changwen Chen—The Unauthorized Repair of the World
A politics of repair is a healing politics. This healing politics doesn’t seek to overthrow, reform, or return to the old; nor does it still believe in a miraculous leap into the radically untethered new. It reassembles, reinvents, and remakes. It re-pairs. Healing politics discloses the path for expressive politics to stage its escape from the actual into the virtual, from what the world is into what it can become.

Isabel Ling—Daylighting Cryptocurrency’s Waterstreams
Toni Morrison once compared the act of imagining to the Mississippi River’s predilection for flooding: “All water has a perfect memory and is forever trying to get back to where it was.” Here, leakage serves as a persistent archive, a ritual return that refuses burial. If the act of imagining is bound up with memory, as Morrison says, the practice of building new worlds is inextricable from history.

Bami Oke—Life in Fifteen Gigabytes
Successful hoarders tend to share one commonality: the information they distribute is collated, with rigor, and often tied to an organized movement for radical action. This methodology separates the “collection” from the endless stream of “content” we see today. It removes all distractions from the hacker class’s chief aim: the production of new knowledge and culture, made freely available, as part of a larger move towards collective transformation.

Liara Roux—Pussy Capital
Sex work is often at the avant-garde of new technologies, from VHS to the internet, and the present moment appears to be no exception. By mining these images of what they consider to be attractive people and using them as fuel for social media algorithms, vectoralists have fully severed the connection between the human laborers who grease the wheels of commerce and the value they produce.

Chelsea Thompto—A Hacked Manifesto
A Hacked Manifesto is an artwork in the form of an online tool for exploring McKenzie Wark’s A Hacker Manifesto, giving the user/viewer the ability to manipulate, disassemble, reassemble, shift, search, and otherwise modify the text. This net art piece engages directly with hacking as a gesture as defined within the source text.

Francisco Nunes—The Hacker Class Is Dead, Long Live the Hackers!
The problem today, in the age of fully fledged vectorialism, is not the struggle between the limits of the negative and the emancipatory potential of the positive, but rather the dire reality that flows are the dominating forces, that systems have long been replaced by mobile arrangements, and that it is obviously capital today that is the highest form of nomadism. Vectors have won.

Valérian Guillier—Vectors Mutate
Can a theory of information forged twenty-five years ago still apply today? After all, in a number of ways, the “free movement” seems to have emerged victorious: there is “free” content, “free” software, “free” information everywhere—even as we might debate how free it really is.

Luce deLire—Towards a Transsexual Understanding of Nature
A flickering flame operates with the same motivation as the movements of the planets. Your choice of partner or anybody’s transition in any direction are no exceptions. Whatever you are feeling right now happens with the same motivation as the feelings of the vilest person on earth. Oppression isn’t any less natural than bliss and boredom are.

Hugh Davies—Hacker Theory
Writing at the turn of the twenty-first century, what Wark brought to this hacker legacy was the urgency of the present. Wark was then and remains now an antenna of the culture around her. During an era of unbridled techno-exuberance, Wark warned that we risked devolving into the darkest mental prisons of the pre-Reformation Church.

Kim Córdova and Bruce Schneier—The Hacking of Culture and the Creation of Socio-Technical Debt
We are in a strange transition. The previous global order, in which states wielded ultimate authority, hasn’t quite died. At the same time, large corporations have stepped in to deliver some of the services abandoned by states, but at the price of privacy and civic well-being.

Janus Rose—After Doomscroll: A Conversation with Chelsea Manning
Whatever we build, it can’t just be decentralized. Things can be decentralized and can still be co-opted by incumbent powers. It has to be distributed tools, low cost, accessible, verifiable, and require a low amount of power.

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June 13, 2024

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