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TOPIA 11 117

Andrew Murphie

The World as Clock: The Network Society and

Experimental Ecologies

The concept, politics, and society of the network are examined in the light of concepts
taken from media ecologies, Guattari’s notion of the three ecologies of socius,1 self, and
environment, Simondon’s discussion of transduction, and Guattari’s political deployment of
transversality. The reality of the virtual is taken as the basis for a politics of networked media,
and a case is made for a transdisciplinary response. Recent “ecological”/electronic/digital art
works and media processes are discussed as demonstrating interesting emergent aspects of
the ecological aspect of the network society. These include Lars von Trier’s 1996
production of Verdensuret (The World’s Clock, in which live images of an ant’s nest in the
United States determined the performance of 50 actors in a Copenhagen art gallery), the
digital video work of Joyce Hinterding and David Haines, and the nightly news. The paper
concludes, following Guattari’s “ethico-aesthetic paradigm,” that in a “post-media” world,
experimental media ecologies are crucial to the affective, ethical, and ideo-diversity of the
network society.

All existing theoretical bodies of this type share the shortcoming of being closed to the
possibility of creative proliferation. Félix Guattari (2000:55)
Guattari wrote the above in 1989 when the network society was about to enter a
decade of triumphant “creative proliferation.” Network technologies, network logics,
the very concept of the network seemed to take over the planet. The network gave
passage to new modes of warfare, new modes of Capital, new modes of being, new
aesthetics. At the same time the network challenged not only “existing theoretical
bodies” but bodies of all kinds—the human body, social bodies, institutional, political
and disciplinary bodies. Many important contemporary questions are about remain-
ing open to the creative proliferations of the network after its triumph, even if this is
from a desire to approach the network critically. What “type” of “theoretical bodies”
will adapt? One useful way to think the network through—and to explore the new
pragmatics of the network—is through a reworking of the concept of ecology.
The network—both as an inescapable social event and as concept—calls for a substan-
tial reworking of the concept of ecology. Ecology is pluralized. It becomes not only a
matter of the environment but of media ecologies, cognitive ecologies, ecologies of
perception and affect. Moreover, these ecologies need to be considered singly, in their
interaction with other ecologies, and both at the same time. The pluralization of inter-
active ecologies necessarily has a political dimension, first recognized in Gregory Bateson’s
general ecology of mind which included three “cybernetic or homeostatic systems: the
individual human organism, the human society, and the larger ecosystem” (1972:446).
In Félix Guattari’s work this becomes the three ecologies of the environment, the
social, and human subjectivity. In this, Guattari’s politics is not focussed on changes in
systems of references, the way the world is framed, or the way in which “the logic of
discursive sets endeavours to completely delimit its objects” (2000:44). Rather, he is
concerned with “the logic of intensities, or eco-logic, [which] is concerned only with
the movement and intensity of evolutive processes.” For him, this is indeed politics of
process, apposite to the network, in which the task is to “capture existence in the very
act of its constitution, definition and deterritorialization” (ibid).
In this article I shall first give a brief account of some useful concepts for the study of
the network society in the light of an eco-logic of intensities. These are concepts such
as transversality and transduction, which take us at least part of the way towards
capturing “existence in the very act of its constitution.” In doing so, I am particularly
concerned to separate the concepts of the network from the contemporary technologies
of the network. I shall then discuss some useful pragmatic examples of experimental

ecologies involving ants, satellite communications, actors, artists, newsreaders, and

lobsters (cf. Rossiter 2003). As Guattari writes, we “need new social and aesthetic
118 practices, new practices of the Self in relation to the other, the foreign, the strange”
(2000:68; emphasis added). Dealing with the strange may also be a matter of survival
for institutions when responding to increasingly networked ecologies.

Thinking Ecologically, Thinking Transversally

All the ecologies mentioned above seem less and less self-contained. They are also less
amenable to old, or even newer, disciplinarities. As they diversify, ecologies seem
riddled with transversals (Genosko 2003; Guattari 2000), connections that cannot be
reduced to any one ecology or discipline and transform all those they pass through. In
the process, these new ecologies and their transversals are “initiating new and multiply-
ing existing connections between science-society-ethics-aesthetics-politics” (Genosko
2003:138). As Guattari puts it, we must learn to think differently.
Nature cannot be separated from culture …. we must learn to think “transver-
sally.” Just as monstrous and mutant algae invade the lagoon of Venice, so our
television screens are populated, saturated, by “degenerate” images and state-
ments.... In the field of social ecology, men like Donald Trump are permitted to
proliferate freely.... (2000:43)
Thinking transversally is a challenge to disciplinarity in favour of a transdisciplinary
approach to these interactions (in which transversals not only connect, but qualitatively
change the points connected). This does not, however, involve abandoning the study of
social and political relations. As Guattari makes clear, the case is quite the opposite.
The challenge to think transversally is a response to political, social, and indeed eco-
logical emergencies, occasioned in part by the network. Indeed, either for those who
wish to profit from them, or those who wish to understand and perhaps reinvent
contemporary social relations, these emergencies make two things clear. Firstly, the
individuations of political and social relations, structures, and institutions, are always
ongoing assemblages of previous individuations. They are never settled, and are not
really, certainly not only, “structures” in any static sense. Secondly, the processes involved
are by and large transversal.
However, the transversal nature of individuations is often not obvious because culture
still makes a fetish of transcendent identities that seem to rise above relations, in a
sense deny the ecologies of the network. The search for these fetish identities only
intensifies as the power of the network increases (Castells 2000). In institutions such
as universities, disciplines, even surprisingly media disciplines, often echo this culture
of the identity fetish. They often seem possessed by a panicked desire to restrict a
potentially transdisciplinary materialism. The transdisciplinary withers away to at best
the inter-disciplinary, and more often a simple shoot-out between different accounts of
the perception of matter. Yet social and political analysis demands that we now em-
brace this dynamic materialism before networked ecologies leave many current insti-
tutions and disciplines behind. One of the first great network thinkers, Alfred White-
head, put it this way long ago:
The whole concept of absolute individuals with absolute rights, and with a

contractual power of forming fully defined external relations, has broken down.
The human being is inseparable from its environment in each occasion of its
existence. The environment which the occasion inherits is immanent to it, and
conversely it is immanent in the environment which it helps to transmit.
This suggests an urgent need for re-situating political and social analyses/actions within
their immanent ecological performances and questioning the many points at which
disciplinarity thwarts an engagement with a networked world.

Transductions, Life, and Technics

Any individual is to some extent a network, and any network involves an ecology of
transversals. Of course, viewed from this ecological angle, the network is not new, but
has always existed. What is new is a “network society” based upon what we might call
the conceptual and practical recognition of the networked nature of existence, along
with new technics associated with this recognition. Having recognized the network,
the next question concerns its distinctive processes. In this ecological context, the
processes that make networks work can be thought of as transductions. Understanding
transductions shall lead us towards understanding the power of the virtual within the
As transversality performs its immanent work connecting ecologies, pre-individual
components and processes (living and non-living) are brought together in new proc-
esses of open systemic individuation. This ongoing individuation is precisely what
Gilbert Simondon calls “transduction” (Simondon 1992; Mackenzie 2002). Simply
put, although it is not this simple, transduction is an operation that allows for a trans-
lation of intensities between different domains. This translation of intensities is needed
if different domains are to interact. Simple examples of transductions in the form of
technical elements, as given by Adrian Mackenzie, would include “a blade, a spring, a
switch, or a cultivated seed” (2002:16). Just as Guattari’s transversality calls for a
thought and politics of the transversal, the concept of transduction calls for a thought
and politics that aligns itself with the diversity of transductions.
A more complex notion of transduction implies two related ideas. Both arise because
for Simondon any individual is really a “transindividual” (1992:310), a collective reso-
nance of other (pre)individuals. Firstly then, transduction describes the fact that “The
living individual is a system of individuation, an individuating system and also a sys-
tem that individuates itself ” (Simondon 1992:305). Secondly, transduction is a techni-
cal term (in the broadest sense—we are not thinking only of technologies but of all
kinds of processes, the techniques that make up human culture for example). As
transduction is the technics2 for the translation of intensities so that they can resonate
with each other, it is the technical prerequisite for any system of individuation. It is
important to note that transduction is not initially a matter of shifting representations
or communications between pre-given entities (senders and receivers for example). It
is not only, although at times it might be, a translation of messages or codes. Rather
transduction translates intensities so that they can be brought into individuating sys-
tems. Within systems, transductions take these systems beyond themselves in ongoing

Although appropriate to living systems, the ecological nature of the term, in which the
individual is a matter of relations rather then entities, takes us beyond the normal
conception of the living organism. Thus, for Simondon,
it would be possible to consider every relation as having the status of a being, and as
undergoing development within a new individuation. A relation does not spring
up between two terms that are already separate individuals, rather, it is an aspect
of the internal resonance of a system of individuation. (306)
For Mackenzie, transduction describes a dynamic technicity, the “diverse interactions
and resonances between the elementary technicities present in a technical ensemble”
(2002:15). Simondon himself notes that the term transduction “denotes a process—be
it physical, biological or social—in which an activity gradually sets itself in motion,
propagating within a given area, through a structuration of the different zones of the
area over which it operates” (1992:313). Significantly, in terms of my discussion of
ecologies, networks and (trans)disciplines, the resulting ensemble involves “resonance
and coupling between diverse realities” (Mackenzie 2002:16). This places both living
and non-living in a context of diverse relations, and this in turn helps us to understand
the relations between the environment, technology and life. Importantly, seen from the
point of view of transductions, environment, technology, and life are not fused within
a system. A network is never fusion. Yet neither are environment, technology, and life,
strictly speaking, separable. In fact, they individuate with each other, at the same time
as the tensions between different individuating systems such as “life,” “technology,”
and the “environment” give rise to multitudes of new differences—the more so the
more networked they are.
This complicates our understanding of life, technology, and the environment from a
network perspective. For example, for Simondon, the “living being” is “both more and
less than a unity, possesses an internal problematic and is capable of being an element
in a problematic that has a wider scope than itself” (1992:306).
Understanding an individual as “more and less than a unity” leads us to understand the
power of the virtual. We also understand why the conceptual recognition of the net-
worked nature of existence leads to technologies that tend towards the virtual. This is
not to suggest that the virtual is itself a “technical innovation,” or equivalent to the
technologies that develop from its recognition. The virtual is certainly not reducible to
technologies such as VR (Murphie 2002). Rather, although the technologies of the
network may trade on the power of the virtual, the virtual is best understood ecologi-
cally. I shall follow through on this idea of the virtual briefly before I turn to Lars von
Trier’s network ecology of ants, satellites, and actors.
For Simondon, the ecological nature of individuation is not only real but primary. An
individual is the ongoing process of its relations. Moreover, there are relations within
relations and individuations within individuations. Thus any individual contains an
internal problematic in which preindividual processes are brought into resonance. At
the same time, any individual is simultaneously “immanent to the [broader] environ-
ment which it helps to transmit” (Whitehead 1956:80). The crucial implication is that
any individuation implies an excess of ecological intensities. Firstly, there is more “in”
the individual than can be expressed at any given moment, or even brought into

resonance through transduction. As Simondon writes, an “individual carries with it a
certain inheritance associated with its preindividual reality, one animated by all the
potentials that characterize it” (1992:306). It is from this excess of potentials that
future individuals will evolve. Secondly, there is more from “outside” the individual,
connected to the process of individuation, than can be expressed at any given moment.
In an ecological setting, “participation … means being an element in a much larger
process of individuation by means of the inheritance of preindividual reality that the
individual contains—that is, due to the potentials it contains” (306). Put simply, the
environment always contains more intensity than that part of it that becomes a mo-
ment in the process of individuation. We feel this, for example, in media overload,
although such excess is a part of all perception. Put very simply, in any given moment
of individuation there is an excess over the actual expressions of this individuation.
This excess—the real network from which real potentials arise—is the virtual.
The virtual therefore possesses its own reality (Massumi 2002; DeLanda 2002)—the
network of preindividual reality. The technologies of the network society recognize
this reality, in that they attempt to expand the range of expression of forms of net-
worked individuation. This is the creative proliferation I referred to at the beginning
of this article. Yet, again, the virtual, as the complex structure immanent to any inter-
action, is the vast well from which contemporary technologies are drawing, not the
technologies themselves. The technologies involved thus lead us to think beyond them,
with Guattari, to a virtual ecology (Genosko in Guattari 2002:115).
Accepting the reality of the virtual obviously poses a series of challenges to disciplinary
institutions. The notions of transversality, transduction, and the reality of the virtual
also imply a general breakdown of what seemed the clear and culturally foundational
divide between technics and life, or technics and thought (Stiegler 1998). Yet it is
important to think this breakdown in terms other than the simple fusion of nature and
culture, life and technology, technics and thought, while acknowledging the diversity of
the forms of expression that do indeed lie between them. Nothing less is involved than
the urgency of rethinking the social in relation to its ecologies. As Guattari puts it,
“one cannot separate a transformation of the environment … one cannot come to
grips with … the essential parameters of the biosphere, if one has not also changed
mentalities, if one has not reconstructed social tissue, if one has not reinvented it”
(2001:41). It is quite likely that such conscious reinvention—conceptual and politi-
cal—will be playing catch up with the new techno-social ecologies of the network
Yet we are not starting from zero. There is an increasing recognition of the transversality
of ecologies both in cultural practices and in the development of new concepts that
assist these practices. The aim in what follows is to document some small contribu-
tions to the ongoing transdisciplinary experimentation—the reinvention of mentalities
and social tissue—that networked ecologies seem to require. In the process I shall be
arguing for the importance of media ecologies. I shall also argue for more considera-
tion of their relation to other ecologies, such as cognitive ecologies, or Félix Guattari’s
“three ecologies.” Examining networked structures and ecological emergences as they
occur in Verdensuret (The World’s Clock) (1996), a Danish art/performance installation
by Lars von Trier, the banality of the nightly news, and queues of migrating lobsters,
might possibly tell us something about networked media ecologies in relation to their
broader ecological contexts. It might also tell us something about the ambivalent poli-

tics of attempting to impose “new world orders” on the network.

The World as Clock
My biggest problem in life is control over chaos. I can become crazy for fear of
not having control when I really want to have it. The happiest situation I can
imagine is to accept this lack of control—but this is nearly a masochistic thought
for me. All the situations in which I begin to get anxious are where I lose control.
(Lars von Trier in Kunstforeningen 1996 – my translation)
Danish film director and at times prolific valium taker, Lars von Trier, draws his art
out of the very ambiguity of the term “control freak.” This is not only in his films.
In 1996 von Trier arranged for video coverage of an ant’s nest in New Mexico. Images
of the movements of the ants were sent live via satellite to a computer in a three-storey
gallery in the heart of Copenhagen. This gallery was filled with 53 actors and 19
different sets waiting for instructions. In a corner of each of the 19 sets was a row of
four coloured lights that sometimes flashed—flashed, that is, according to whether the
ants had crossed certain grids marked out on the computer screen a certain number of
times. The 53 actors improvised in part within a structure of moods that were deter-
mined by the flashing of the lights, and in part on the basis of given characters (both
mood changes and characters, different for each performer, were given to them by von
Trier and the writer Niels Vørsel). There was no given plot or story (although there
was, of course, narrative emergence).
The performance continued for two months. So the actors were trapped, improvising
all day for this period. Their characters were given names such as: Petite 1 and 2,
Postman, Body, Guru, Boy Wonder, Moody, AA. Some were designated as generally
love struck, some as psychopathic, and so on. They were also given a bunch of moods
of their very own, which only they knew. A few characters also had specific “behav-
iours” added. If a character called Starseed touched you, for example, you had to
freeze on the spot (Romney 2000). A character called “The Cur,” hating everyone, had
orders to start fights whenever the lights went red. What none of the other actors
knew—and never found out because he was so aggressive—was that he also had to lose
fights when challenged (Wistreich 2000).
The work was titled Psykomobile # 1: Verdensuret (Psychomobile #1: The World’s Clock).
It was a great example of what I call (without wishing to found a movement) differential
media (Murphie 2003). These are media that enhance and fracture differences, includ-
ing, but not only, within the very concept of media itself. They involve media events,
usually networked media events, that make the very term “media” slip so much it starts
to lose its track.3 The differential that gave birth to Verdensuret was between image-
based art, performance and film (indeed, a film now documents Verdensure: De Udstillede
(The Exhibited) by Jesper Jargil (Denmark 2000).
It was, as the catalogue puts it, “a journey to an unknown land … a place between
control and kaos” (Kunstforeningen 1996). Emergence and structure were circling
around each other, at times at giddying speeds. The crucial point is that it was both

control and chaos—structure and emergence—at the same time. In fact, as with all
von Trier’s work, the question posed was one of exactly where the line between these
two can be drawn, or whether they are so entwined that we can neither separate them
nor suggest an ethics (as most are) based on the exclusion of one or the other. This
echoes the realization in many disciplines that emergence and structure are not anto-
nyms (Prigogine and Stengers 1984; Massumi 2002; DeLanda 2002). They rather
form, in the terms of José Gil, a persistent antinomy, a pair of contradictory if both
partially effective explanations. Gil points out that antinomies only “exist because of
reductions of the whole of power to a single object or perspective … power cannot be
seen to be enclosed in a sole object … because of history” (1998:5). The antinomy of
emergence and structures is one that our understanding of networked ecologies ur-
gently needs to work through.
Such antinomies are reflected in some reviews of The World’s Clock. One reviewer,
repeating a common reductive assumption about the networked society, suggested
that it was a matter of “Wondering what it would be like if people’s behaviour were
determined by a system they couldn’t control” (Romney 2000). Yet this control sce-
nario is perhaps not the best conception of either The World’s Clock or the politics of
Firstly, here the controlled behaviour did not refer to action so much as mood. Mood,
not action, was primary, and mood does not “cause” things to happen in the same way
as direct action. In fact, if we (only somewhat cavalierly) substitute Alfred Whitehe-
ad’s term “affective tone” for “mood,” the paradoxes involved in controlling mood
become clear.
[C]onscious discrimination … is a variable factor only present in the more
elaborate examples of occasions of experience. The basis of experience is emo-
tional. Stated more generally, the basic fact is the rise of an affective tone originat-
ing from things whose relevance is given. (Whitehead 1956:226; emphasis
If affective tone is an immanent ecology of relevance4 before it is cooked down to
subsequent identifiable events and “things,” then it cannot simply be pre-directed. In
addition, the sense perceptions via which affective tone works cannot be totally given
except in process—in complex ecologies of emergence. It is only within this process
(and later rather than earlier) that “a pattern of affective tone is conformally produced
by a pattern of sensa as datum” (Whitehead 1956:315). This suggests that directions
given to mood are a strange thing indeed. They are not controls; directing the emer-
gent affective tone of the complex sense perceptions of events is impossible in any
case. Directions relating to mood are, rather, ecological “nudges.” They are like trying
to influence the weather, perhaps in the seeding of clouds, or perhaps in the perform-
ance of rituals to do with bringing rain (in The World’s Clock one was asking for the
equivalent of rain and sunshine, drought and floods, all at the same time, distributed
among the ecologies of actors). Furthermore, the ecological nudges provided are in
part pre-determined by the scripted directions to actors, but also fully acknowledge the
ecology of ants and satellites (an environmental and techno-social ecology). In short,
there is a structure of feedback and emergence rather than control.

Furthermore, mood is not a secondary event. I would suggest that we could see “mood”
as a kind of human weather, with similar sets of consequences. Mood, like the weather,
suggests complex interactions, not simple control. Put simply, the ants did not “cause”
what happened in the gallery. Neither, lest we overdetermine the technical instants of
the network, did the satellites that allow networked communication “cause” the events.
Rather an ecology in which ants and satellites were participating gave rise to what
happened. We could say that The World’s Clock makes Guattari’s three ecologies clear—
in their relation. Ecologies of the self (actors), of the socius (the gallery, the audience,
the technologies) and of the environment (the ants) were deeply enmeshed.
Furthermore, in such an intense situation, mood seemed to carry things beyond the
edges of the installation ecology. Moods and ecologies rarely have neat borders in fact,
as the concept of affective tone makes clear, mood registers the patterns across the
borders of the networks involved. Thus, actors continued their roles offstage and the
famous but always thin line between life and performance was often eroded. Actors
who were supposed to be in love on-set began off-set relationships which fed back into
the work. Others fought with each other off-set about how they could possible justify
what they had done on-set. One actor remarked that “There are light changes which
change lives” (Romney 2000).
The whole system was also subject to violent disruption from outside. On one occa-
sion someone in New Mexico threw a potato chip into the ant’s nest. There was
mayhem in Copenhagen while the ants rushed around, feeding on the chip. Another
time all the ants but two died and there was very little going on in Copenhagen.
How did it all end?
Well in melodrama and soap opera of course—and both are well-known territory for
von Trier. Yet there were twists. For example, one actor, when their character was
killed by another, returned covered in talc to torment the murderer.
Like all good eco-systems, The World’s Clock was also genetic. Other media artworks
and movements came out of it. It arguably gave crucial ecological “nudges” both to the
well known Dogme projects (the manifesto had been written but none of the Dogme
films made) and to a lesser known project by many of those involved in Dogme, D-dag
(http://www.d-dag.dk/), and perhaps even to the reality television show, Big Brother.
D-dag (D-Day) was a fairly major experiment in interactive television on New Year’s
Eve, 1999-2000. Four directors, including von Trier, sent out film crews on New Year’s
Eve to film different characters’ involvement in a real-time story. This was broadcast
over several television channels and viewers at home could watch different versions of
the story merely by switching channels with their remotes. It was tremendously suc-
cessful; 1.4 million viewers participated (about a quarter of the population of Denmark).

Yet if emergence rightly suggests creation, we are only half way there. By coincidence
(and admittedly by virtue of my own whimsy), in Danish, Verdensuret (the world’s
clock) sounds a lot like verdens syre (the world’s acid). Moreover, the ants provided the
“clock” for this piece; ants are as famous for their acid, their erosions, and corrosions,

as their nests. So the ants—as analog world clock—demonstrate that digital grids are
only ever a partial capture of analog relations (even 1s and 0s are ecologies of analog
variations in voltage). Digital structures construct secondary patterns in response to
the analogue world’s mood or affective tone. 125

The underlying ambivalence of world’s clock/world’s acid seems to capture something

like the undecidability between structure/emergence and corrosion. Our ecologies—
media, cognitive or otherwise—are not just nice neat collections of things that happen
to be next to each other and constantly “create.” They converge and differentiate. They
are generative. They do form structures, yet they are simultaneously corroding each
other. Nothing within these ecologies will be standing still.
A networked world is more intensely subject to both (analogue and digital) clocks and
(analog) acids at the same time. It is more of an ordering world and more of a chaotic
world. As such, it is also a world in which time itself is eroded and created at every
moment. These shifting times add to the sense that the ultimate undecidability be-
comes one of world itself. “World,” “media,” and for that matter “culture,” remain
indeterminate. Perhaps more importantly, the relations between them remain indeter-
minate, and need to be approached as such, not only in analysis, but also in the
creative construction of transdisciplinary relations.
Such notions are not so far from McLuhan’s, or from the foundation of media ecologies.
Yet to media ecologies as often currently conceived, we perhaps need the addition of
something like Isabelle Stengers’ “ecology of practices.” In an ecology of practices,
political hope might lie in “trying to feel what lurks in the interstices” (Stengers 2002:245)
in a “world full of interstices where what may become possible is lurking” (247). As
Stengers puts it, an “ecology of practices” is “about how different forms of knowledge
and cultural practices work, but it is also the relation between what is happening and
the way it defines itself in relation with others” (262). This implies a creative ecological
approach “producing new articulations … the creation of such relations are events”
New media arts are important because they demonstrate the need for media experi-
mentation precisely with regard to ecological events. In the process, new media arts
present us with what we might call a more complex materialism. This is a materialism
conceived in a more complex manner both ethically and philosophically: one that
might, for example, incorporate virtual ecologies as much as actual ecologies. This
materialism might also incorporate interstitial ecologies, or lead us to the complexity
of relational ecologies so badly understood in the general politics of the network. Put
simply, this materialism might begin with a politics of affect, as developed by Massumi
in his description of the “autonomy of affect,” where the “primacy of the affective is
marked by a gap between content and effect” (2000:24). Such a materialism comple-
ments, not necessarily replaces, the political analysis of representations and framings,
although I would argue that the latter are secondary to the former. As Massumi puts it,
“passage precedes position” (67).
Ian Angus (1998) approaches these issues a little differently, combining the work of
Innis, Husserl, and Foucault. As Angus describes it, for Innis the focus is on the
“materiality of communication media rather than the manifest content of language”
(Angus 1998:np), and a medium is to do with the “expressive capacity of the living
body rather than the dead materiality of straightforwardly physical characteristics.”

Thus a medium is an individuation of an ecology of what Angus calls “correlative

multiplicities of kinesthetic processes.” The “bias” of a medium is not about its con-
tent initially, but “emphasizes a certain perceptual and cognitive direction of a commu-
nication and makes another direction difficult, or even impossible, to express in that
medium.” For Angus, this means that the issue is not how media represent social life
so much as how they construct it. Even more dynamically, we could say the issue
concerns the individuations, transversals and transductions that are brought into play,
not just in social life but in the broader ecological contexts of this life.
Let us take the rather general example of the increasingly networked nature of news
corporations. This not only provides an increasingly monolithic global transportation
of sameness, of certain messages or representations through fixed circuits (although
this is important to the aims of corporations it is also ecologically impossible). Net-
worked news might also be seen as a matter of an ongoing corporate individuation and
flexibility, of the mobilization of differential intensities so important to politics (so that
the content of the messages given out by politicians or news networks is secondary to
their ability to mobilize intensities—the things that we love to hate as much as we love
to love). Networked news might be seen as a matter of the incorporation of these
differential intensities into resonances, even between antithetical opinions, as long as
these stay with the affective programme. Networked news might also be seen as pro-
ductive of individuations that thrive on these intensities through certain forms of
access to real virtuality. As such, networked news produces certain modes of participa-
tion in the creation of the world, and in the forces that exceed any momentary actuali-
zation of the world. This is not, to take an Australian example, initially a matter of
framing an issue such as asylum seekers. It is initially a matter of individuating the
seeking of asylum as an issue, within ecological contexts. It would subsequently be a
matter of mobilizing the intensities that move through this issue.
Such analyses might begin to account for why so few people seem to believe in any
naive sense what they hear either on the news or from politicians, at the same time as
the news and political statements still carry so much intensity and impact so materially
on political-economic realities. The relation of the network and news might also, of
course, allow for the disruption of corporate individuations by dissonant intensities
(Internet news ecologies versus the televisual, for example).
Another example of the politics of networks that can be approached ecologically is the
creative proliferation of screens. Screens are currently forming many new ecologies;
through the smaller screens on devices such as iPods, PDAs, digital cameras, mobile
phones, passenger seats, or the many windows of any given computer desktop; through
the larger screens of home theatres, video billboards, and video conferencing. These
complex screen ecologies interact with us in more and more aspects of our everyday
life. They could again be seen as an attempt to involve us the more in a monolithic,
fixed circuit of representations, or framings, in which we are increasingly absorbed
into a society of spectacle (Debord), or simulacra (Baudrillard). Alternatively, this
engagement with complex screen ecologies could be seen as allowing for new forms of
differentiation and individuation, in which the screens are not, or not only or at all
times, controlling devices, but rather intensities in relation to other intensities—per-
haps to what Massumi calls “the imagistic potential of the postmodern body” (2002:44).
This is a potential, in the new setting of networked media, in which images form their
own new resonating differentials and individuations with other aspects of affect, per-
ception, sensation and (inter)action.

Again, there is a social and political urgency to all such questions. For example, in
discussing the surprising political effectiveness of Ronald Reagan, Massumi writes that
the far right is far more attuned to the imagistic potential of the postmodern
body than the established left and has exploited that advantage for at least the
last two decades. Philosophies of affect, potential, and actualization may aid in
finding countertactics. (44)
In sum, the kinds of questions that we need to address to the ecologies involving
networked media and contemporary political events are not initially about what these
events represent, or how they represent, or even what they allow to be represented.
They are about changes in what Angus calls the “materiality of expression” (1998).
Considering such questions leads us to approach some basic assumptions about media
and culture very differently. For example, one obvious political aspect of ecological
events and their “affective tone” is that these provide the basis for thought, here con-
sidered not only as symbolic processing but as individuating perception/action within
shifting events. Although a great many questions buried in the relation between media
and cognitive ecologies will go begging here, in the next section I want to ask some
questions about thought in relation to the ecologies discussed so far.

Thought, Ecologies, and Disciplinarity

Can we still conceive of thought as occurring in any one place such as the head/brain
in the context of works such as The World’s Clock? There are thinkers in various disci-
plines who would suggest that the answer to this question is “no.” For example, phi-
losopher of cognition Andy Clark (1997) has written of “extended mind” in which
thought is distributed through brain, body, and world. Roboticist Rodney Brooks has
suggested that the “world is its own best model” (1991b:139) for action, rather than
internal representations or symbolic reason. Deleuze and Guattari put this in terms of
microbrains: “Not every organism has a brain, and not all life is organic, but every-
where there are forces that constitute microbrains, or an inorganic life of things” (1994:213,
emphasis added).
An ecology of thought, then, might begin with the idea that there are ecologies of
microbrains, with which our own brains are engaged, or which our own brains might
be. Our own cognitive systems, perceptual systems and the world are even more
enmeshed within each other than we might often think, even more perhaps than
disciplines such as media ecology might sometimes limit themselves to thinking. Such
ideas have become more common in the more interesting work of contemporary
cognitive science, now it has begun to move away from “good old-fashioned artificial
intelligence” (known generally as GOFAI) (Haugeland 1985:112) models for cogni-
tion, those based generally on the idea that machines could replicate the assumed
symbolic processing of the human brain. Deleuze and Guattari might have approved
of this move away form GOFAI. They wrote that “It is … up to science to make
evident the chaos into which the brain itself, as subject of knowledge, plunges”
In a culture that sometimes sees the brain as the last refuge from the network for the

self, it is perhaps important to note that this chaos of the brain is about more than the
brain. No network, even an advanced network such as the brain, is a stand-alone
ecology. This is again where the shifting patterns of affective tone come in. Mood is
everywhere there is chaos waiting to be formed into patterns—and this chaos is not
only in the brain but all the way through the nervous system and beyond. Deleuze and
Guattari write that
[e]ven in a linear model like that of the conditioned reflex, Erwin Strauss has
shown that it was essential to understand the intermediaries, the hiatuses and
gaps ... acentred systems, networks of finite automatons, chaoid states.
Here again, not only is the brain itself a collection of ecologies (many would say that
any brain is already a collection of brains—not only housed in the skull but also in the
area of the enteric nervous system which thinks via “gut feelings” (Connolly 1999)). It
is complex ecology all the way up and down the lines of stimulus and response. In fact,
“lines” seems the wrong concept. The entire nervous system is not quite the pre-
formed, sharply ordered, and hierarchical medium that it is often taken for, one through
which messages might come smoothly in and out. Rather the nervous system in its
entirety is “uncertain, probabilistic” (Steven Rose in Deleuze and Guattari 1994:234),
full of gaps and chaos at every point. As Deleuze and Guattari remark, this becomes
much more noticeable when we move away from fixed habits and opinions and “if, on
the contrary, we consider creative processes and the bifurcations they imply” (216).
Attending to creative bifurcations leads us back to the importance of experimental
ecologies, media arts, and some kind of conceptualization of media as differential
media. Media arts make strange creative enhancements of the intensive differences
within the ecologies involved (between ants and actors, for example).
Such ecological intensity helps us to pay full attention to the mediations in which we
are immersed. Instead of fixed entities interacting with other entities, we might begin
to see ourselves as a kind of “strange weather” interacting with other constellations of
strange weather. Within and between these interacting weather systems we find nerv-
ous systems, brains (micro and macro), media, and worlds. Yet not always exactly
where we might expect to find them—at least not limited to where we might expect to
find them. For example, in works such as The World’s Clock worlds, ants, and satellite
communications become nervous system in the chaotic ecological sense discussed
above (see also Michael Taussig 1992). Or we might say that audience becomes nerv-
ous system in this chaotic sense, the gallery a kind of collective brain.
Can we draw any lines easily here? This is the problem—the very disciplinary prob-
lem—of discussing things not in terms of lines, but “ecologically.” This problem is
perhaps the problem of our times. It is within the context of this problem that the
importance of specific performances arises. This is clear in The World’s Clock, not just
in the actors’ performances but also, we could say, the ants, or the technology—the
performance of inorganic life within the network. Performance, which here would
have to include the ongoing movement of relation (of mood) as much as action, brings
all these aspects of ecologies together and—at the same time and in the same proc-
ess—individuates them. All performance is structure and chaos at the threshold of the

differentials within the ecologies involved.
I would like to put this more clearly in terms of differential media. In media terms, we
could say that all media are differential, individuating media in so far as they perform 129
within ecologies. And, as we have seen with satellite communications, live video feeds,
ants’ nests, or actors in art galleries, the immanent performance within/as ecologies is
always the most important aspect of media. This immanent performance of ecologies
is also the basis of political-social ecologies, the more so the more networked the world
becomes. Anything else, as Whitehead might say, is an abstraction. To put this another
way, ecologically all media are chaoid (that is, somewhere between chaos and struc-
ture) at every point. There is no absolute outside to this chaoid mediation from which
to measure its sense, but only its ongoing creation of sense as intensive individuation.
Focussing on the performance of the various elements of media ecologies makes this
clear. In performance, lines dividing, for example, global/local break down (so that
satellites, ants’ nests and art galleries thousands of miles apart are connected ecologi-
cally). As many have noted, in performance other apparent opposites, such as tech-
nique and thought or life, also begin to break down. Yet they do so not in general (in a
kind of general deconstruction), but specifically in processes of differentiation and
This specificity feeds back into the ongoing emergence of other specificities. Media,
by virtue of being media—that is, connective, networking—enhance the intensity of
this process; hence the idea that networked media are indeed strange weather systems.
Moreover, any media performance carries the structure of ongoing emergence that is
a matter of “weather” within it. In fact, seen from the point of view of the rise of the
network society (Castells 2000), differentiating, performative mediation is crucial both
to the series of techno-social processes involved and to the series of new concepts that
arise within networks. In academic terms, this might suggest the importance of the
discipline of media studies, even more so that of media ecologies. Yet it also suggests
the dissolution of media studies (and media ecologies) into transversality.
In this dynamic ecological setting, interaction can be reconsidered as a media phe-
nomenon. The first step might be to consider that there is always a virtual structure to
interaction. I have previously suggested that there is a “real virtuality forming a vital
component of the objective world,” as Manuel DeLanda puts it (2002:33). In consid-
ering this real virtuality it would be necessary to rethink the transdisciplinary relations
of media events in terms of the “virtual multiplicities” (44) as well as their actual
components and representations and so on. To return to my main example, Verdensuret
is not just a matter of the actual ecology of ants, actors, and satellite communications.
It also individuates a virtual ecology of multiplicities, in terms of relations and in terms
of the network of potentials the work involves.
The next question might be how the real actual and virtual specificities, with their real
potentials, arise as an interactive network. DeLanda asks “how a population of multi-
plicities can form a virtual continuum” (44), for example, in the dynamism of space as
“virtual space,” or the dynamism of the ongoing individuation of actual time as a
continuum of “virtual time,” or the ongoing individuation of a particular networked
ecology. In all this it would be crucial to avoid essentialist and, crucially for media and
cultural studies, typological thinking. The real virtual continuum, and the networked
ecologies it involves, provide the seat of an interaction that is more interesting than the

oft-noted banality of interactive buttons. As with ants, satellites, and actors, intensive
differences are genetic or creative, not pre-programmed.
130 Media arts in their ecological mode are often viewed as obscure or strange precisely
because they seem so unstable and so specific at the same time. Yet they might be
better models for all media events than more mainstream media such as the news—
even for an understanding of how such mainstream media work. Although new media
such as Virtual Reality/Virtual Environments actively take this as their point of depar-
ture, even in older-style media it is increasingly not so much the “mimetic quality—
[the] ‘representation of an action’ that matters. Rather what matters are the qualities of
modulation” (Murphie 2002:188) of affective tone (this is certainly true, for example,
of so-called reality television).
At the same time, as I have just suggested, new media are more “ecologically aware” in
the terms described here. New media are new in their awareness and shifting of the
“different thresholds of perception” (193)5 afforded by networked ecologies. These
new media ecologies, with their awareness of the modulation of the materiality of
expression, impact upon older media ecologies as much as they arise from them. The
result is a proliferation of differentiations within all media expressions (the transforma-
tions of screens, television show formats, of the function of personal images and the
photograph through digital cameras or video-enabled mobile phones).
In short, we are dealing with a media culture in which there is an increased awareness
that all the virtual structures that invisibly inhabit networked ecologies produce dy-
namic form and this feeds back into that which produces it. As Massumi writes “it has
to be recognized that conditions of emergence change. Emergence emerges. Changing
changes” (2002:10). This is famously true in every individual performance of an ecol-
ogy, even if the technology or medium seems to remain the same.
The response of much disciplinary thought to networked ecologies (aside from those
who break with disciplinary thought, such as Innis, Massumi and so on) is at best an
abstract approximation to the real and specific powers of the network society. In fact,
the very notion of “disciplinary thought” itself is a strange one in such an interactive
and dynamic context. Thought is no longer a neat set of switches turning on and off
within a pre-formed system (the classic GOFAI model mentioned previously). It is
rather, as many have noted, an “electrical storm.” This is a storm in which the ecologies
are again hard to delimit, as thought-as-electrical storm is also a storm interacting with
other storms. Rodney Brooks has noted that thought is not only an electrical storm,
but, in the brain at least, an electrical storm taking place in a hormonal soup (1991a:14).
Or, to mix the metaphors even more, Gerald Edelman compares the conditions of
cognition to those of a rainforest. Such ideas form an important part of the work of
many media artists. A good example would be George Legrady’s Equivalents II (1992),
where installation viewers type sentences that the installation then turns into images of
Here again we need to broaden the notion of a medium. To put it rather bluntly,
networked media signal the end of the traditional delimited (and broad) notions of
media we have known for the best part of a hundred years. We perhaps need more
malleable concepts of media, such as found not only in media ecology, but in many
artists’ work, such as John Cage’s “playing” of an amplified cactus needle with a feather,
or his piece Whether/Weather (1992). In the latter, the piece was to be performed
outdoors and simply cancelled if it rained. Cage said “I am willing to give myself over

to weather. I like to think of my music as weather, as part of the weather” (Retallack
Thinking in terms of ecologies should be a way of reconsidering the nature of the field,
and of our relation to fields in general. This also applies to media production. A good
example is the nightly news, which can be compared to more “radical” media arts

Containing Networked Ecologies

If one forgets momentarily about ideology, information, and so forth, and looks at the
news as a performance, it often begins to look rather strange. Where I live in Sydney
there are many newsreaders, especially late at night, who seem to smile happily through
fast-paced lists of catastrophes. In addition, there is a strange faciality in the immobil-
ity of the reading of the news—something that often seems accompanied by eyes that
look a little wild, as if the entire world is pouring through them. In the terms of
Deleuze and Guattari:
The face constructs the wall that the signifier needs in order to bounce off it; it
constitutes the wall of the signifier, the frame or screen. The face digs the hole
that subjectification needs in order to break through; it constitutes the black hole
of subjectivity as consciousness or passion, the camera, the third eye.
Or should we say things differently? It is not exactly the face that constitutes the
wall of the signifier or the hole of subjectivity. The face, at least the concrete face,
vaguely begins to take shape on the white wall. It vaguely begins to appear in the
black hole. (1987:168)
In an effect perhaps enhanced by cosmetics, newsreaders often seem to have abnor-
mally wide-open eyes (simultaneously black holes and white walls), and for me this
begins to suggest that the news is fascinating for similar reasons to The World’s Clock.
The news opens itself to the chaos of the world and then tries to tie down this chaos
through the application of very strict performance parameters. Yet the news attempts
this in a very different way, for different reasons and with opposite results to The
World’s Clock.
The news frames the world, the face of the newsreader, and the viewer, but there is
always an excess to this framing, as there is to the faciality so framed. This is what
really grabs the viewer, constitutes both viewer and newsreader in relation to the affec-
tive intensities of the networked ecology in which they find themselves. In the reading
of the news the performance that emerges is simultaneously measured, constricted,
and somewhat wild—almost at times a kind of mania.
The strictness of these parameters begins to explain the uneasy mood of the news
(beyond even the terrible information we are given). Events, all events but especially
those the news deals with, are not to be contained. We could say that events are deeply
ecological. In fact, the faciality of the newsreader suggests that the attempt to contain
events’ ongoing emergence within highly regulated structures only emphasizes the dy-
namism of what moves through this structure (we could say the same about disciplinarity
in general).

What would we call this dynamic excess? Affect? An ecology of ecologies? What Massumi
calls “worlding,” in which “the self-network is a worlding of the human” (2002:128)?
Here, certainly
subject and object integrate into a greater autonomy or participation, a matter-
manner meld adding a new line of multiple-singular encounter to the world: that
of a technic, an artificed between of any number of possible subjects and objects,
autonomous of any given particular subject or object. (Massumi 1997:755)
In the wild but forced stare of the newsreader—at the camera, at the prompter, per-
haps—it is as if the “worlding” of the world moves not so much to me from the news
reader, as through them, and through me. In the process it invokes a mood or affective
tone via the media ecologies in which everything participates: events, news reader,
camera, broadcasting, viewer, and so on. It would be pleasant to think that this mood
had something to do with compassion for the world, but this seems not to be the case.
Rather the oft-noted mood is that of an emergent panic.
I would tentatively suggest that this panic is precisely to do with the more fully obvious
ecological nature of the worlds into which the news brings us. Put simply it is not only
the representation of events that panics us. It is the confrontation with the intensity of
ecology itself. Thinking ecologically is not always pleasant, especially in the absence of
appropriate transversal concepts or transductive processes. Ecologies are not always
inherently ethical “there is an ecology of bad ideas, just as there is an ecology of weeds”
(Bateson in Guattari 2001:27). Some ecologies bring us into particular individuations
of intensity that we could do without. Furthermore, the effect of these intensive
individuations is not the correlate to the representations involved, although the contra-
diction between intensity and representational framing might increase the feeling of
panic. This panic even at the very contradiction of ecological intensity and frame
might be a critical response of the body to its individuations in the ecology of the news.
If intensity makes its way to the heart of the performances involved in the news, as a
set of differential forces ecologically nudging my performance as viewer as much as the
newsreaders’ performance, it might be here that we could seek an ethics and politics.
This excess is one of the main conditions of a politics worked through the ongoing
differentiations of media events. Massumi has described (in another context) “the
uncontrolled conditions of [memory’s] emergence” here, the way in which “interac-
tions of the objective dimensions [can be] interfered with and modulated by … an
unconsciously … emotional charge” (2002:222). This excess moving through the ob-
jective dimensions of an interaction such as the news is what gives the interaction its
appearance of the anomalous. This excess is life but also strangeness—the uncanny
nature of ecological drift, sometimes accompanied by false promises of containment
in tighter and tighter, politically useful structures. Globalization, in its current eco-
nomic and political forms, is as much about these promised constrictions of excess as
it is about openings and flows. Thus the network society itself at times seems opposed to
the concept of networked ecologies when the latter do not meet certain requirements.
Yet in the news both constriction and excess seem intensified the more the face is held
still. Perhaps the reason for this is the depersonalizing nature of the rigidly held face,
the wide open eyes. It heads towards the impersonal, the event, the fullness of ecologies

that open up once we forego recognition.
Which leads me, again drawing on the work of Massumi, to quickly pose an ecology of
perception in interactive art/media ecologies—one that takes into account the direct- 133
ness of emergence, of excess. I think that one of the important aspects of new media
arts is enacting this excess consciously, although I am not suggesting that media arts
are always “good” in these respects, or that the news and popular media are “bad.” Of
course, the media arts approach is found throughout popular media—in electronic
music culture just to take one example (and not all newsreaders are quite so wild-eyed).

The Suggestiveness of Emergence, of Excess

We can compare the attempted constriction discussed above to Joyce Hinterding and
David Haines’s digital video installation, The Blinds and the Shutters (2001). In this
installation the four walls of the gallery are covered by screens allowing high resolution
digital images of a decidedly modernist house set amidst bushland. Slowly the contents
of the house—furniture, television sets, and so on—float out through the windows and
doors, across the bushland and around the viewer. It is a surrealism that somehow
captures the everyday excess of our complex ecological engagements.
Here the idea is that the everyday is not contained within an exacerbated interior (as in
the news with its small set, and rigid reader) but set loose precisely from interiors. The
news closes (or attempts to close) the open events it confronts. The Blinds and the
Shutters, like many fine media artworks, sets free the closed—here literally on the
screens but also in terms of the entire mood. Hinterding is indeed well-known for an
approach to technology as a form of openness—often precisely to the weather, or as
she puts it, to “electricity we didn’t make” (quoted in Lumby 1993:51). In another
work, Levitation Grounds (2000-2002), Hinterding and Haines combined 3D im-
agery, and digital post together with satellite images received from passing weather
Such strange ecologies are not only very beautiful art works. They broaden our notion
of media theory and give greater scope to our consideration of the ecological contexts
of media. And this broadening of our notion of media through strange ecologies
within artworks has, of course, a history. I will just hint at this via a work such as
Joseph Beuys’s Honey Pump at the Workplace. In this work, “several hundred gallons” of
honey was pumped through see-through tubes that “ran from the basement to the
roof ” while another motor “rotated a crankshaft coated in thick layers of fat” (Stachelhaus
1991:164). In a room through which all the honey passed Beuys held discussions for a
hundred days about his ideas for a Free International University.
With Beuys we are reminded once again of the importance of the performance as body
and the body as performance (from ants to actors to newsreaders to “bodies” of honey
that galvanize strange ecologies—one could also consider the embodiment of video in
the video installation space). Massumi writes that “In absolutely every instance of
tactile perception a [proprioceptive] awareness of one’s body stands between one and
awareness of the tactile object” (2002:266). This perceptive awareness is here taken to
be an awareness within the world, rather than the barrier to our knowledge of the
world it is often taken for, from at least Kant onward. This performative aspect of the

body takes us away from an aesthetic teleology of either ends or means that informs
much politics, media and cultural. It takes us to something more ecological. As Harald
Szeeman has pointed out with regard to Beuys, the lateral (ecological) connections are
so much more important in his work than impossible teleologies. For Szeeman, this
makes Beuys’s work a non-teleological, connective “time-machine of raging fire”
(1994:35). This time machine reworks time in the present through these lateral con-
For an example of this drawn from contemporary media technologies, consider the
clocks that coordinate all the components of computing but are especially foregrounded
in the use of MIDI to coordinate digital musical instruments and events, or in non-
linear digital video editing. These “clocks” are not just coordinating the progress of
linear time, but are powerful agents of lateral connection. Synchronization in general is
a profoundly ecological event, and one subject to reworking with every subsequent
synchrony, each of which literally remakes time.
Again it is interaction, long since rejected in new media theory as a basis for ethics,
that returns, now in its full ecological sense. Interaction becomes not the provision of
pre-formed choices but the provision of a “plan” of interaction—one with strategies,
systems and techniques that enhance participation in ecologies. Deleuze suggests that one
think in terms of speeds and slownesses, of frozen catatonias and accelerated
movements, unformed elements, nonsubjectified effects.... It is a matter of one’s
practical conception of the “plan.” (1988:129)
Think of von Trier’s plan in The World’s Clock, the nightly news, or Hinterding and
Haines’s plan in Levitation Grounds, or Beuys’s plan for Honey Pump. In each case, the
result is that:
Every territory, every habitat, joins up not only its spatiotemporality but a
posture and a song for example, a song and a color, percepts and affects. And
every territory encompasses or cuts across the territories of other species, or
intercepts the trajectories of animals without territories, forming interspecies
junction points. (Deleuze and Guattari 1994:185)
Where do these “interspecies junction points”—between ants and actors, newsreaders
and viewers, or honey and pacificist ex-Stuka pilots such as Beuys—leave us?

Components of Passage
Firstly, it seems to me that media ecologies call for a concept like transversality not
only to describe but to encourage that which crosses fields and brings them together in
new ways without sacrificing their diversity. Secondly, we could suggest that in media
arts, as Guattari puts it, there is a transductive play with what he calls the “machinic
unconscious, defined as the machinic ecology of assemblages” (1979:231). The task of
media arts would be to “return us to the putting in play of the components of passage
in such a manner that they are susceptible to intervention….” As Gary Genosko puts
it, this requires both connection and an acknowledgement of specific, real circum-
A transdisciplinary assemblage must explore its transversality, initiating new and

multiplying existing connections between science-society-ethics-aesthetics-
politics, while struggling against reductionist versions of this process that have
become increasingly pegged on profit, or accepting of multidisciplinary fuzziness
without real institutional commitments…. (2003:138) 135

Which is perhaps to ask simply: What are the specifics of media events if mediation
comes first, not after that which it mediates?
The fields of mediation I am emphasising in interactive ecologies are even important
to the world of communications—for to communicate, there must be fields in which
communication can take place. Indeed communication is arguably an intersection of
fields rather than a transfer of messages—leading to what we could call ecologies of

Lobsters on the March

A strange model for this approach to media and other ecologies might be lobsters on
the march. Here, a bit like the lobsters following each other by their tails, I follow
Genosko (2002) following Deleuze and Guattari’s own following of no less than Jacques
Cousteau—who is, of course, attempting to follow the lobsters.
To avoid the hurricane season, lobsters go on the march. They begin assembling before
the first winter storms (and before human instruments can detect any storms) (Deleuze
and Guattari 1987:549). With the first storm, they form single-file queues of two to
fifty, depending on whom you read. Lobsters are most vulnerable around the middle,
and they quite literally link up with each other, each lobster’s pincers protecting the
vulnerable middles of the lobsters in front. They cross the sand at up to five metres a
minute and in their journey to deep waters may travel 80 kilometres. The leader is
periodically relieved. As Genosko points out, the “march … is connected with cosmic
forces, and tellurian impulses” (2002:53). So they are somewhat “cosmic lobsters.”
I shall just suggest some of the other ecologies this resonates with for me. These lobster
marches seem to resonate here with The World’s Clock, with fragile and fractal nervous
systems, with bodies in ecologies of performance. The lobsters also resonate for me
with temporary ecologies of the nervous system in response to the weather, with our
protective links to and cultural ecologies derived from the weather. There is also per-
haps a resonance with the mediated and messy transmission of information, as if the
lines of lobsters are like a message (a message again in the nervous system, or perhaps
in the network). Yet this is a message without meaning. Instead the message is about
connecting things and moving them, as an adjustment to a complex field. In other
words this is message as mood. And finally, of course, we find the blending of the three
ecologies in a most striking way, in which the interaction of social, self and environ-
ment leads to new emergences for all three.
For others, there are other resonances. Deleuze and Guattari even claim that “God is
a lobster” (1987:40). By which I think that they mean that life is made of a double
pincer, a double bind, maybe one like that of structure and emergence.
In a networked world we are all are subject to increasingly strange, and yet increasingly
everyday ecologies. These are ecologies in which the trick is to keep movement just

coherent enough to avoid the worst aspects of the storms at the edges of one’s own
ecology, but just loose enough so that sticking to the script does not get you killed.


I am grateful to Lone Bertelsen for invaluable advice on the events discussed in this
article and feedback on the article itself.
1. Socius (Lacan): a body without organs that constitutes a society.
2. I shall describe technics here simply as a combination of technologies, systematic
processes and techniques, whether these are found in the organization of living or non-
living matter.
The term differential describes cultures and technologies that are based upon
the in-between—It is also meant to imply the end of media as clearly bound
forms (film, TV, etc) or genres. The term differential signifies that, now more
than ever, media tend to constantly differentiate themselves in an ongoing
process. This is not just a response to a cultural/natural environment.
Differential media also involve the creation of this environment.... For
Manovich, computers and culture constantly change one another. This leads
to a speeding up and instability of both computer media and cultural forms
and processes.... Differential media—and for that matter differential-based
technics, do not then just enhance connections but draw our attention to
difference as intensity, to movement, to sensation, to ongoing affects. They
draw our attention to the world as our perceptual frames (frames that are
technical and “natural” at the same time) are not normally structured to see
it. This is the world not as data but as modulation. (Murphie, 2003:151-152)
4. I am grateful to some interesting comments by an anonymous reviewer of this article.
They noted that my questions echo Harold Innis’s question: “Why we attend to the
things to which we attend?” (Innis 1971:xvii). The ongoing and intensive modulation of
structures of attention would be a crucial aspect of “differential media” (see note above)
and of the network. There is an enormous burden of debt here to the work of Innis, the
discipline of media ecology, and to those such as Massumi who have led beyond it. My
difference with Innis might be, as the anonymous reviewer has pointed out, that instead
of looking backwards to the oral tradition to provide us with a sense of balance, we are
in a meshwork of selves, socius, and environment where the borders are always criss-
5. So that the “’predicate-as event’ of VR,” that which forms the virtual dynamism for all
the instantiations of VR equipment, environments and events, is the “modulation of
modulation … the threshold of perception is itself subject to a massive broadening of its
own limits … we are brought to the knowledge of the power of [direct] modulation”
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