Friday, November 20, 2009

Mapping the Affect

The relationship between mapping and actualizing in de Certeau is a confused one. Yes, the spatial acting-out of the place must be performed for one to move through the city, obtain action, but before this may happen, there is a "process of appropriation" that must take place. In other words, how does one actualize a map without having the map to begin with? Things quickly turn into a sort of Beckett-esq dream where the individual constantly stumbles through (a world? a map? a location? their own mind?) trying to escape any sort of representation, to purely actualize, to even escape the limits of their own material body, to remove the virtual from the world. This is (very generally) the dream of both Barthes and Badrillard; to escape the "myth," the "simulacrum" (neither of which describe the same thing exactly, but do occupy a similar position in both theorist's most famous work). The two use similar methods for their attempt; Barthes subjects his myths to pure critical dissection, tearing apart its language to reveal the sort of psychic, real forces lying underneath (the sort of Freudian theory used in essays such as "Striptease" is clearly pre-Lacan in this respect); Badrillard, observing that the simulacrum destroys what it means to represent, attempts to construct a simulacrum of the simulacrum, so that the recursive implosion allows the real to again shine through. (All of these statements are controversial, I'm sure, but I only mean to make them here as provisional observations to contrast against later observations))
These two stand in stark contrast to Chris Csikszentmihályi and the MIT media lab, who clearly look at a lot of maps and know how to use them. Their projects often involve at least two forms of mapping; either engineering (the mapping of physical structures and forces) or geography (as with his project mapping natural gas wells in Colorado). We can take the comparison to de Certeau even further when we note the use of Google Earth in these projects; the map has been appropriated and (in a sort of feedback loop) can be fed back into the community to inspire collective action; his robots are counter-actualizations of military technology, using military techniques to send a robot out to some mapped blank space (mapped because these blank spaces used to maintain military secrecy are indeed missing spots on the map; even they cannot fully escape cartography). Collecting data on the personal damages caused by these drilling industries can serve as a rallying cry, a way for those suffering to "feel as if they are not alone" (a bit of language borrowed from the queer rights movement); the military counter-actualizations seek to testify for those whose voices have been robbed. The various projects all make powerful use of affects, exploring, connecting, and expanding the reach of social groups through the appropriation and actualization of mapped spaces, returning them to (political) representation. Or, at least a limited power; for as much as the MIT Media Lab's projects energize some, it enrages others: as Chris notes, he feels as if he should have been fired from MIT a while back; old war hawks find nothing challenging in protest-bots, they only see something to oppose.
But there's still one last question that needs to be dug out: what is the relationship of affects to mapping? Clearly, affects are not something that can be used by just leftists, radicals, etc. In fact, one could trace the earliest contemporary use of affects to the GOP's southern strategy, playing off of affects of racism, social conservatism, and general fear of the Other (why else would people like Rudy Giullani go out of his way as much as possible to mention 9/11?) to add the voting block that (in conjunction with traditional fiscal conservatives) would win them several elections. The assumption that liberals don't know how to phrase their message correctly to "connect with the affects of the people" is not a new one, nor is it unique to Terranova (despite the uniqueness of her argument); Chomsky's rival George Lakoff wrote a book around 2003 that, after providing a 'rational' argument for why the 'liberal' state was clearly better than other states, argued that the left just needs to know how to "frame" their arguments in order to sway the votes of the people/public. What seems troubling here is the intensity of the 'rational' argument (Lakoff's starts in bizarre form, arguing that the central difference between conservatives and liberals is the view of the ideal nuclear family), especially as it becomes warped in media-space/scape (Glenn Beck?); different rationalities produce different results, and all of them believe themselves correct to various degrees. With this, I can potentially map the affect as existing around common spaces shared by certain groups (fixed in space; two unions in two states will possibly have different languages for their actions) that are fixed and connected by common axes of logic and rationality. The problem is that, if taken to an extreme (Karl Rove, manipulating emotions of fear to achieve power?), the affect can be very dangerous. There is perhaps a way to get around this; namely, not looking to oppose affects, but expanding them through differing levels of synthesis. Yes, we can't synthesize to the level where certain humans lose identity and humanity, but simple opposition, ressentiment is not going to get us anywhere; in the words of Terranova, "We need a commonly shared affect." This is not just a process of strengthening currently existing affects or opposition to currently existing affects; it's continually creating new ones altogether. But then the question is: how does one synthesize affects (or create new ones) without endangering their own identity, their ability to defend their rights as human?

(note: I don't mean to criticize Chris' work here, the natural gas project in particular (which I can't remember the name of, unfortunately) is wonderful and doesn't really attract the sort of issues developed here, and the sorts of responses garnered by other compcult projects are more complex than is given room to here. I'm just trying to use the work to help me bring things together in my thoughts.)

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