The network has become the core organizational structure for postmodern politics, culture, and life, replacing the modern era’s hierarchical systems. From peer-to-peer file sharing and massive multiplayer online games to contagion vectors of digital or biological viruses and global affiliations of terrorist organizations, the network form has become so invasive that nearly every aspect of contemporary society can be located within it.
Borrowing their title from the hacker term for a program that takes advantage of a flaw in a network system, Alexander R. Galloway and Eugene Thacker challenge the widespread assumption that networks are inherently egalitarian. Instead, they contend that there exist new modes of control entirely native to networks, modes that are at once highly centralized and dispersed, corporate and subversive.
In this provocative book-length essay, Galloway and Thacker argue that a whole new topology must be invented to resist and reshape the network form, one that is as asymmetrical in relationship to networks as the network is in relation to hierarchy.
Alexander R. Galloway is associate professor of culture and communications at New York University and the author of Gaming: Essays on Algorithmic Culture (Minnesota, 2006) and Protocol: How Control Exists after Decentralization.
Eugene Thacker is associate professor of new media at the Georgia Institute of Technology and the author of Biomedia (Minnesota, 2004) and The Global Genome: Biotechnology, Politics, and Culture.
In the age of global biotechnology, DNA can exist as biological material in a test tube, as a sequence in a computer database, and as economically valuable information in a patent. In The Global Genome, Eugene Thacker asks us to consider the relationship of these three entities and argues that—by their existence and their interrelationships—they are fundamentally redefining the notion of biological life itself.
Biological science and the biotech industry are increasingly organized at a global level, in large part because of the use of the Internet in exchanging biological data. International genome sequencing efforts, genomic databases, the development of World Intellectual Property policies, and the "borderless" business of biotech are all evidence of the global intersections of biology and informatics—of genetic codes and computer codes. Thacker points out the internal tension in the very concept of biotechnology: the products are more "tech" than "bio," but the technology itself is fully biological, composed of the biomaterial labor of genes, proteins, cells, and tissues. Is biotechnology a technology at all, he asks, or is it a notion of "life itself" that is inseparable from its use in the biotech industry?
The three sections of the book cover the three primary activities of biotechnology today: the encoding of biological materials into digital form—as in bioinformatics and genomics; its recoding in various ways—including the "biocolonialism" of mapping genetically isolated ethnic populations and the newly pervasive concern over "biological security"; and its decoding back into biological materiality—as in tissue engineering and regenerative medicine. Thacker moves easily from science to philosophy to political economics, enlivening his account with ideas from such thinkers as Georges Bataille, Georges Canguilhem, Michel Foucault, Antonio Negri, and Paul Virilio. The "global genome," says Thacker, makes it impossible to consider biotechnology without the context of globalism.
The world is increasingly unthinkable, a world of planetary disasters, emerging pandemics, and the looming threat of extinction. In this book Eugene Thacker suggests that we look to the genre of horror as offering a way of thinking about the unthinkable world. To confront this idea is to confront the limit of our ability to understand the world in which we live – a central motif of the horror genre.
In the Dust of This Planet explores these relationships between philosophy and horror. In Thacker's hands, philosophy is not academic logic-chopping; instead, it is the thought of the limit of all thought, especially as it dovetails into occultism, demonology, and mysticism. Likewise, Thacker takes horror to mean something beyond the focus on gore and scare tactics, but as the under-appreciated genre of supernatural horror in fiction, film, comics, and music. This relationship between philosophy and horror does not mean the philosophy of horror, if anything, it means the reverse, the horror of philosophy: those moments when philosophical thinking enigmatically confronts the horizon of its own existence. For Thacker, the genre of supernatural horror is the key site in which this paradoxical thought of the unthinkable takes place.
The cover of In the Dust of this Planet can be seen in a New York gallery, on a banner at the 2014 Climate Change march in New York and on Jay-Z's back promoting Run. The book influenced the writers of the US TV series True Detective and has been lambasted by ex-Fox News broadcaster, Glenn Beck in this podcast https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2IW8OK4_1gQ
Extending the ideas presented in his book In The Dust of This Planet, Eugene Thacker explores these and other issues in Starry Speculative Corpse. But instead of using philosophy to define or to explain the horror genre, Thacker reads works of philosophy as if they were horror stories themselves, revealing a rift between human beings and the unhuman world of which they are part. Along the way we see philosophers grappling with demons, struggling with doubt, and wrestling with an indifferent cosmos. At the center of it all is the philosophical drama of the human being confronting its own limits. Not a philosophy of horror, but a horror of philosophy. Thought that stumbles over itself, as if at the edge of an abyss.
Starry Speculative Corpse is the second volume of the "Horror of Philosophy" trilogy, together with the first volume, In The Dust of This Planet, and the third volume, Tentacles Longer Than Night.
Eugene Thacker explores this situation in Tentacles Longer Than Night. Extending the ideas presented in his book In The Dust of This Planet, Thacker considers the relationship between philosophy and the horror genre. But instead of taking fiction as the mere illustration of ideas, Thacker reads horror stories as if they themselves were works of philosophy, driven by a speculative urge to question human knowledge and the human-centric view of the world, ultimately leading to the limit of the human—thought undermining itself, in thought.
Tentacles Longer Than Night is the third volume of the "Horror of Philosophy" trilogy, together with the first volume, In The Dust of This Planet, and the second volume, Starry Speculative Corpse.
In Gaming, Alexander Galloway instead considers the video game as a distinct cultural form that demands a new and unique interpretive framework. Drawing on a wide range of disciplines, particularly critical theory and media studies, he analyzes video games as something to be played rather than as texts to be read, and traces in five concise chapters how the “algorithmic culture” created by video games intersects with theories of visuality, realism, allegory, and the avant-garde. If photographs are images and films are moving images, then, Galloway asserts, video games are best defined as actions.
Using examples from more than fifty video games, Galloway constructs a classification system of action in video games, incorporating standard elements of gameplay as well as software crashes, network lags, and the use of cheats and game hacks. In subsequent chapters, he explores the overlap between the conventions of film and video games, the political and cultural implications of gaming practices, the visual environment of video games, and the status of games as an emerging cultural form.
Together, these essays offer a new conception of gaming and, more broadly, of electronic culture as a whole, one that celebrates and does not lament the qualities of the digital age.
Alexander R. Galloway is assistant professor of culture and communication at New York University and author of Protocol: How Control Exists after Decentralization.