Jodi Dean’s new book has a great title: Blog Theory – but it’s especially the subtitle what the book is about: Feedback and Cap
Blog Theory. Feedback and Capture in the Circuits of Drive
by Jodi Dean
Polity Press, Cambridge, UK, 2010
140 pp. Trade, £45.00 / €54.00; paper, £14.99 / €18.00,
ISBN: 9780745649696; ISBN: 978-0-7456-4970-2.
Reviewed by Jussi Parikka
Anglia Ruskin University
Jodi Dean's new book has a great title: Blog Theory – but it's especially the subtitle what the book is about: Feedback and Capture in the Circuits of Desire. Less a detailed software analysis of politics of blog software as platforms of communication, and more a Zizekian take on the affect worlds of repetitious, circulatory desire in network culture, Blog Theory uses “blogging” to dig into fundamental political concepts such as crowds, action/passivity, reflexion as well as enjoyment. What Blog Theory is about is the culture of the digital everyday – also in the most banal sense – that makes up network culture through its actors and the binds between social actions; as such, Dean is more accurately after the critique of social network and participatory culture, than just blogging – and using “blogs” as a gateway to this wider field of “communicative capitalism.”
Using the psychoanalytic methodology, and drawing much from Zizek, Dean claims that much of the seeming activity of network culture from participation to discourse/response, action and activism is more or less either illusory, more about interpassivity, or actually contributing to the flow of capitalism. Participation is far from subversive.
In the most interesting developments of the book, Dean argues how the themes of creativity and participation are far from adversary to the circuits of capitalism, and at the core of its logic. This is analyzed as part of the decline of symbolic efficiency: there is no more a big Other that would offer a horizon for meanings, and hence is according to Dean an apt way to understand the circulatory space of the social network culture that in the midst of illusions of communications is actually more emblematically characterized by “crapflooding”. Dean also mobilizes other interesting conceptualizations such as displaced mediators, when arguing how this capitalism of communications is at its core unstable. A bit similarly as other theorists, such as Terranova, Dean argues that “communicative capitalism is a formation that relies on this imbalance, on the repeated suspension of narratives, patterns, identities, norms, etc.” (31).
Hence, again as a Zizekian twist, things are often their opposite, argues Dean; social networks are really not that social, or about friends; communication is less about actually communication than submitting data to the platforms and their databases (even if that political economic side could have been analyzed in more detail), and political activism is actually not that active. Dean paints a bleak picture of the complexity of capture which problematizes the traditional grounding of oppositional politics (democracy, truth, activism); and despite the bleak message, such notions as blogipelago are to me actually quite apt ways of understanding how the imaginary of community, or connectedness is underpinned by a much more fundamental fragmented nature of internet culture, and a good counter-force to celebratory discourses of virtual communities.
Yet, when it comes down to analyzing politics, something more could have been developed. Is it only that media activism and network politics aims to develop “tool and apps” to “get their messages ‘out there'” (125) which constitutes the way politics works --- or might we need a more meticulous analysis of various projects creating alternative networks (first that come to mind are Diaspora and Thimbl) where the point is not only get the message out there but to get people “in” –the mere fact that such platforms do not contribute to the data mining economy of proprietary social networks? This is why it seems that differing notions of “affects” in network culture – such as for example Nigel Thrift's notes on political organization and the pre-cognitive might capture more accurately the stakes in media activist practices that are as much about the fact of participation in itself important, than about the communicated, communicative goals.
Dean discusses a range of interesting theories and theorists, but some are tackled a bit too quickly, for example Kittler. Dean suggests that Kittler is suggesting a post human vision of digital media culture where computers dispense with humans, whereas for Dean computer networks actually demand the existence of human beings as part of their functioning – an apt point in itself, but actually Kittler is more complex than is criticized; the notion of the “so-called man” hints already towards the fact that “man” anyway, even before technical and digital media, was only “so-called”, and embedded in such networks of media, even if non-technical. In the digital age, the notion itself is already suggesting elements to which Dean gives a political edge; that the networks feed on human energy and drive. Yet, what Kittler's perspectives afford is what is missing from this book: what are the energies inherent in the other bits of such networks: for example software and the engineered mathematics from which our biopolitics of non-human media circuits consist of. In other words, the fact that our computers engage continuously in traffic that we do not see; you just need to have your Ethernet cable plugged in. The drive is not the only inhuman element in societies of technical media.