ANT/Gramsci, pt. 3

by CarlD

I need something or two short, pithy and on-point to frame my talk, perhaps even to pass out to participants. To both validate and complicate the idea that the blog medium can participate in the assembly of networks of Gramscian praxis, consider this from the Prison Notebooks, Q 24 (also in Selections from Cultural Writings):

The unitary … elaboration of a homogeneous collective consciousness demands a wide range of conditions and initiatives. … A very common error is that of thinking that every social stratum elaborates its consciousness and its culture in the same way, with the same methods, namely the methods of the professional intellectuals. … It is childish to think that a ‘clear concept’, suitably circulated, is inserted in various consciousnesses with the same ‘organizing’ effects of diffused clarity: this is an ‘enlightenment’ error. … When a ray of light passes through different prisms it is refracted differently: if you want the same refraction, you need to make a whole series of rectifications of each prism.

It may be that the goal of a homogeneous collective consciousness is itself an ‘enlightenment’ error; in view of the revolutionary terrors of the last century, a dangerous one. The balancer here is Gramsci’s understanding of the diversity of consciousness, culture and methods that must be honored with “a wide range of conditions and initiatives” rather than bulldozed with domineering dogmatic intellectualism. This is the preparatory work of the ‘war of position’ for hearts and minds among the ‘forts and pillboxes of civil society’ that must precede the more classically revolutionary ‘war of maneuver’.

Thinking then in terms of war of position, Gramsci encourages us away from a singular magic bullet approach and toward a plural strategy of initiatives and methods responsive to diverse conditions. Oppositional consciousness is not an existing thing but, as John Law says in explaining ANT, the contingent product of network-ordering relationships among objects, “better seen as a verb — a somewhat uncertain process of overcoming resistance — rather than as the fait accompli of a noun.”

There are ways in which the blog medium, which in itself encompasses “a wide range of conditions and initiatives,” is well-suited to the work of resistance-overcoming network construction, if not the construction of homogeneous collective consciousness. And there are ways it’s not. But that’s for a following post. Any thoughts?

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17 Comments to “ANT/Gramsci, pt. 3”

  1. Well, if the goal is NOT to create a “homogeneous collective consciousness” because such a thing is a pipedream (which seems likely), the closest thing that one could press for is the genuine notion of an “individual” as Spinoza defines it, any multiplicity that is taken as the cause of a single effect. It would seem that the best pragmatic use of the diversity of blogging would be to assemble quickly and across strata, a coalescence for a particular act. Perhaps petition signing, or a public assemblage or an email campaign. But “homogeneous consciousness” seems unlikely…unless one perhaps taps into the actual collective consciousness of the technological practices that unite bloggers in the first place, that is, through the very social form of blogging (its use of screen names, its posting protocalls, its comment rhythms, its use of images and links, etc.) there exists a kind of collective homogeneity. But how to bend this reservoir towards some kind of political or liberal social consciousness I haven’t a clue. I suppose something of this happened in a narrow scope in the Lynux open code software evolution, which may be worth checking out, where technological form and ideal principles dovetailed…

    just rifting…

  2. Kvond, I like the idea of a multiplicity causing a single effect, although I’m almost as suspicious of singularity on the effect side as on the cause side. What seems more likely to me is push toward a density of desirable outcomes.

    I’ve been thinking about the technological affordances of blogging as a social form. Posting protocols, comment rhythms, links and text/image strategies seem important to me to understand just how alliances might be enabled in the short and long term. I don’t really see it as a medium that’s well-suited to persuasion; it’s too easy to ignore what one disagrees with here. So I think the potential for bending is limited. But it is a good way to assemble, develop and mobilize communities that already share something.

    Raymond’s book on open source looks fascinating – thanks.

  3. I certainly agree that it is not a medium open to persuasion as its primary tool. Largely it is chorus preaching (and people run around and pretend to be parts of different choruses at different churches taking what they want in bits and pieces). At least the persuasion is not one of argumentation. Porn sites on the internet, on the other hand, seem quite able to produce a “homegeneous collective consciosness” without much trouble at all. Perhaps bloggist powers lie somewhere in between.

    The Linux case was really amazing, in that people devoted to principles (that eventually got betrayed) found ways of integrating their wills over a technology which eventually drew to itself revolutionary powers and tremendous wealth.

    A shortcut to this narrative is this wonderful documentary “Revolution OS”:

  4. I am on another (stinking) business trip, so I have very little time to comment, but I wanted to see if you’d ever read Robert Axelrod. He did agent modeling work on alliances (essentially, predicting what alliances would occur) based on “landscape theory”, which is a way of representing actors via a set of parameters and placing them on (basically) an energy landscape. Alliances form as the actors short-sightedly move, and the entire system seeks a configuration of lowest energy (like marbles finding the bottoms of “bowls” in a physical landscape). The stable configuration that is reached is not always a global optimum.

    The reason this is interesting in terms of what you’re talking about is that changes to the parameters (how much power an actor has, what new actors appear, what the actors concerns are) cause a change in the landscape and a reconfiguration of alliances. How to “effect” that sort of change in real situations is an area that is, so far, scientifically underdeveloped.

    This is going to seem a little random because of my limited time, but George Saunders’ essay “The Braindead Megaphone” talks about the way a certain homogeneity is achieved in U.S. culture as a result of the sheer volume of the media. His metaphor is a party in which one not-very-intelligent member has a very loud megaphone, and he talks about how that person would affect the goings-on at the party. The volume of the megaphone corresponds to a “power” parameter in Axelrod’s model.

    If you haven’t read George Saunders, Carl, I think you would really like him.

  5. This is great stuff, Kvond and Asher, thanks. Amazon had Braindead Megaphone for the Kindle Dad got me, so I sucked it up and paid the ten bucks. Looking forward to it. The reviews of Axelrod suggest the theory is intellectually exciting but not obviously ‘operationalizable’ for preselected outcomes, not a surprise because that’s how chaos works.

    Speaking of Dad, I think you both would enjoy his work, so I’m posting a draft of one of his more recent things for your perusal.

  6. I vote for the old layout, easiler to read, reflecting your spirit as well.

  7. Thank you, Kevin. This was among the better of a bad lot, in my view. There are some things I like about it – the wider reading pane, slightly snappier graphics, better wrap-handling on the sidebar, fun avatar-staggering in the comments – but I agree it’s a little harder to read and taking some getting used to. And I resent the dead space around the edges. Verdict is still out but your vote is noted and valued.

  8. How about wordpress “simpla” or “shocking blue green”?

  9. or “the journalist”!

  10. Cool – I like both “sbg” and “simpla,” including the titles. Simpla gets the nod because I like what it does with comments a little better. Also like the title of “journalist” given some of the themes we’ve talked about with Gramsci, but found it too graphically severe.

  11. What was the theme after the old theme but before this one? I liked it — a little Windows Vista-y and of course fixed-width, but it was pretty snappy and the text was of a decent size.

  12. That was the one Kvond found hard to read. How about this one?

  13. Ooo. I like – and can read – that!

  14. Cha-ching, we have a winner. Ecce Dead Voles.

  15. Provocative resonance with “The inextinguishable color comes from nonbeing . . . Philosophy is the prism in which its color is caught.” (Adorno, Negative Dialectics) So, what kind of prism would that be, then, and what series of rectifications required . . . ?!

  16. It is, thank you. I haven’t read as much Adorno as I should, but the quote you offer with its metaphor of capture seems to turn inward rather than outward; wouldn’t the rectifications here be about taking in more of the world in thought rather than about creating a more diversified praxis? Not that these two moments are necessarily incompatible.

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