Monday, November 12, 2012

Hacking Affect

Something about V for Vendetta that strikes me is the explicit formulation of information as the source of the state's power and the embodiment of that knowledge in the Fate computer and its cybernetic, sensory aparatus (the Eye, Ear, etc) -- and in fact the state is inseparable from this aparatus. I have to ask, though, where are the programmers? Computers often show up in fiction as emblems of total knowledge, but of course systems are contingent and dynamic and biased, so I think Susan's love is misplaced in more ways than one. V is the only programmer around, gaining access and undermining Fate's absolutism, engaging in the interrupting of information as a means of terrorism.

That psychological break for the state, that its knowledge has been compromised, reduces its agents to operating on base drives, and V skillfully orchestrates their individual self-destruction. This demonstrates that V's hacking skill extends beyond computer systems -- his torture of Evey in particular is a similar kind of override, albeit a psychological one. In this case it is theater as an affect-programming language, and V's target is the cruel optimism embedded in Evey's victimized identity, a desire for security rather than freedom. Letting that go, she's left with conscious self-control rather than being subject to the 'atmosphere' of affect that Thrift discusses, and which he suggests is typically involuntary.

V is seemingly content for Evey to be his privileged project while the masses are left with the spectacle of the state's collapse and his less-nuanced PSAs, preserving the superhero narrative. Anonymous then perhaps does a better job than V at providing an aspirational cognitive map rather than a degraded critique of the state -- as Coleman suggests, though there is no articulated utopian vision in play with Anonymous, the simple demonstration that evading institutions is "easy and desirable" offers some hope (especially as the Anonymous mask takes less committment to wear than V's). Our real-world threat is not fascism, and our information topology is distributed and porous, even in spite of state and corporate territories, and it includes individual agency. I am enamored of the idea of affect as extending to our network bodies, and as Thrift says of the network, "the prosthesis is not a mere extension of the human body; it is the constitution of this body qua 'human'". That "citizens must be the guardians of their own individuality, or determine for themselves how and when it is reduced into data packets" (Coleman) takes an affective response and moves it to the domain of conscious intention. Anonymous, therefore, hacks the multitude both on the systems and the affectual level.

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