Readers
Contactless
8 essays
Compiled by Ofri Cnaani and Sarah Vowden

Contactless technologies rely on the careful calculation of distance. Social distancing is a recalculation of contactless; a new measure of closeness in both virtual and real worlds, a reliance on the technological mediation of intimacy, and a new way of navigating urban space with the radical avoidance of touch. As we enter a new era of contactless society, how will our bodies, newly defined as a threat, be molded by new choreographies of the social? Will we urge more towards technologies of touch? How do the physical, emotional, and spiritual meet across networks? In the following texts, conditions of contact and technology intersect as we ponder how the physical limits of isolation are recalibrated by the technological.

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Natasha Ginwala
Corruption: Three Bodies, and Ungovernable Subjects
Originally published in November 2015

Corruption is the disappeared body coming back to life.
Its flesh seizes the veins of the postrevolutionary state, pumping, circulating, and blocking in a synchronized manner while unleashing shape-shifting forms as its residue.

Patricia Reed
Orientation in a Big World: On the Necessity of Horizonless Perspectives
Originally published in June 2019

There are those who champion, or who actively seek to amplify, the navigational turbulence produced by this decentered human position at the planetary scale, making for an urgent battle over claims on orientation. Such tendencies thrive among several techno-neoreactionaries, who, in denying absolutely any form of planetary navigability from a resituated human position, ultimately advocate for the stripping of humanity’s cognitive-political agencies to transform given frames of reference. Paradoxically, what is often perceived as a form of techno-fetishist futurism is nothing but an unimaginative conservatism that celebrates the preservation of existing frames of reference. These existing frames are defended as if they are an immutable fact of nature, a world “naturally” oriented by nineteenth-century navigational frameworks, now augmented by twenty-first-century AI, smart cities, and iPhones. Implicit endorsements for dehumanization can be found in this destructive negation of these capacities. At this juncture, it becomes evident that the struggle for orientation at nth-dimensionality coexistence demands intervention on this artificial plane, in order to dislodge naturalized conservatisms that are often disguised as blinking futurity.

Arthur Jafa and Tina M. Campt
Love is the Message, The Plan is Death
Originally published in April 2017

It’s one of the reasons I’m not generally interested in making films about white folks. I’m really interested in making work that is always foregrounding black people’s humanity, bad guys or good guys. I like the alien. I’m a big fan of the alien. I’m a big fan of Hannibal Lecter, who I think is black and passing. Fundamentally, I just want to see black people who are complex. And competent at what they do, even if they’re mad geniuses or whatever.

Lauren Berlant and Elizabeth A. Povinelli
Holding Up the World, Part III: In the Event of Precarity … A Conversation
Originally published in October 2014

Elizabeth Povinelli: I don’t know about you but my colleagues often remark on the deep conversational possibilities of our recent work, especially where my thinking about the endurance and exhaustion of alternative social projects through the quasi-event overlaps with your thinking about cruel optimism around non-event-like events. I am not surprised, of course. We began talking in Chicago almost a decade ago about the social and affective forms that characterize Late Liberalism. And it’s probably not surprising that I would end up focusing more on what I would call energetic aspects, and you on feelings. I always err on the side of what I think about as the problem of the “endurant” and its social antonym, exhaustion and the problem of the tensile nature of substantialized power. Internal to the concept of endurance is the tense, substance, and eventfulness of Late Liberalism: the problem of strength, hardiness, callousness; continuity through space; an ability to suffer and persist. The endurant allows me to absent the question of feeling-affect. But that’s what I love about your work. You don’t.

Keller Easterling
An Internet of Things
Originally published in January 2012

An “internet of things” describes a world embedded with so many digital devices that the space between them consists not of dark circuitry but rather the space of the city itself. The computer has escaped the box, and ordinary objects in space are carriers of digital signals. This capacity seems to finally fulfill the dream of artists and architects of the mid- to late twentieth century, among them Jack Burnham, Cedric Price, Archigram, and Christopher Alexander, who experimented with a cybernetic apparatus for modeling space. It might also be the practical answer to quests by Nicholas Negroponte’s Architecture Machine Group and architects exploring Artificial Intelligence, who rehearse interplay between digital machines and the space of the city and the body—reciprocal modeling that enhances the capacities of each. On the contemporary scene, manifestoes like Carlo Ratti’s “Open Source Architecture” imagine that in digitized space—this web of things—architecture can be constructed in much the same way that a wiki is assembled.

Ho Rui An
Crisis and Contingency at the Dashboard
Originally published in April 2018

Put bluntly, the point is to interpret and act on the world, but never to change it. The contemporary turn towards the “innovative state” thus cannot be taken plainly as some counter-hegemonic project to prove the state’s ability to achieve the social optimization that neoliberals expect from the free market. Instead, in testing, experimenting, and reinventing itself, the state too often displaces existing functions of social redistribution through its new role of reengineering a defunct system requiring no more than an upgrade.

Geert Lovink and Yuk Hui
Digital Objects and Metadata Schemes
Originally published in December 2016

I would not say that Big Data is boring, but rather that it is truly suspicious, and we will have to transform this practice of Big Data. This is why the digital humanities haven’t risen up against this monstrosity. Many digital humanities projects are part of this paradigm. When you visualize the co-relations between hundreds of thousands of images, you are employing the same logic as the Big Data industry (albeit harmlessly) and you are exhibiting its aesthetics. This kind of digital humanities is reaching the end of a transitional stage. Data is by no means our “Big Enemy.” We should be aware of the history of data, which has been a subject in the humanities for a long time without being thematized. It is now time to enter a new stage by taking the question of data and the organization of data further. It seems to me that this has to be the task of the future “digital humanities.”
 

Kasia Wolinska and Frida Sandström
The Future Body at Work
Originally published in April 2019

Through each action that we convey as bodies, a distribution of expressions shape common forces of radiation, enabling us to fall into, and follow closely, the shared present. Dance proclaims that it belongs to the sphere of the commons, that it can constitute the wave of joint gestures, of outward movements that become means of communication. Bound to sustaining relations, the wave forms a stream of larger movements, overflowing ideas of immobility and singularity. Through this wave, the resonances of historical and future gestures are manifested. In the commons, time slips. The underlying logics of the flow organize states of experience and codes of conduct with regard to possible encounters and collisions. The “underscores”—activated support structures—of the dance space must be tested and activated accordingly, as the dialectics of the wave, continuously contracting and releasing, constitute the world with all its relations and moving subjects. Once bodies, images, and affects are mobilized in space, the gestation of new physicalities requires time. To digest, to know, to give space to bodily responses—these transport us into a temporality that stands in strong opposition to quick formulations based on ready-made discourses that sometimes might mean the world to us, and at other times, without prior experience, might instead mean nothing. But to listen and respond through the resonance of a history that takes place and takes shape, requires waiting. As Hardt and Negri write, “Revolution needs time,” and we need support structures for what we mobilize. We need to take responsibility for the outbursts that we unleash.

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