5. M-I-M’
Published: 14.07.2017
in the series The Programmable Image

Let’s speculate a bit further, shall we? Going back to the programmable image as deterritorialized factory functioning to generate profit in accord with the formula M-I-M’ ([Money-Information-Money, where M’>M], my rewriting of Marx’s general formula for capital M-C-M’ [Money-Commodity-Money, M’>M]), let’s try to imagine what it would be like to refuse profit – that is to refuse profit at one’s own expense and at the expense of all those undergoing dispossession – dispossession of their senses, properties and bodies. 1Capital’s dissymmetrical exchange with labor is hidden in commodity production by wage labor, and the profit comes from value extraction by means of leveraged value abstraction. Preliminary work on this formula is in my essays “The Programmable Image” and “Informatic Labor in the Age of Computational Capital.” A more complete derivation is forthcoming in the last chapter of The Message is Murder and the idea will be developed at length in another book (Computational Capital; forthcoming Dartmouth and UPNE). The basic notion is that (humanoid) metabolic activity interfaced with ambient computation drives shifts in the states of discrete state machines. Metabolism, captured as information, drives, as it were, treadmill that powers the number crunch of computational capital, which runs at a profit on the social metabolism. We have argued that underneath the cloak of an image lay a relation of production. Now we say, let’s transform these relations of production such that they are not exploitative.

What exactly would it take to overcome this second order alienation imposed by regimes of visuality and computation, this proletarianization of the senses (as Stiegler calls it), that follows on a generalized proletarianization and plantocratic-global South style dispossession of the body, and has further reduced much of planetary life to abjection? Remember here, in the oh-so-civilized world of 2017, that images and techniques of data-visualization are the primary interface with many person-like entities, even though machine-learning pattern recognition effectively treats digital images as data graphs that can be parsed a billion different ways until patterns emerge in the data points themselves. We may see images, but the AI practices optimization. Overcoming this alienation would mean controlling the processes that inhere in images and therefore in imagination. Controlling the processes inherent in that interface called the imagination today means controlling the processing.

Christian Metz, in a memorable assessment of the role of film theory, said that its purpose was “to win the imaginary for the symbolic,” that is, to analytically tease out and put into critical language the mechanizations of cinema which was, for him, a “technique of the imaginary.” While film theory made some definitive progress here, with ideology critique, feminist critique, and with post-colonial and critical race critique, putting powerful symbolic language on those emanations operating upon the imaginary (though with all-too-real effects), the real film theorist here (because also the great practitioner) was capital, which commandeered a foray into the visual that began as a quest by the oppressed for liberation from the dead ends of discourse and industrial-colonial captured bodies by opening the space of the visual and thus of new desires, by systematically converting this self-same quest into fodder for capture and domination. Visuality as space of possible liberation was reformatted into a new version of the factory floor while the ultimate symbolization of all this complex traffic was not film theory but the profits banked from cinematic practice. These pathways to the symbolic of capital have been extended by gaming (whose revenues exceed global film production) and more generally by computation which now underpins nearly everything. With the industrialization and computationalization of the visual, the digital logic of capital has developed ever higher resolution and granularity. Given the capture of the cultural armature (mediation infrastructure including images and language) as fixed capital and the positing of cultural practice as productive labor, today we must update Metz and confront the following challenge: to win both the imaginary and the symbolic for radical finance.

Let me be clear. I am not saying that I have an answer. I am simply doing my best to state the question. Conversations about photography, cinema, visuality, screens, imagination and semiotics must build on their fecundity and begin to be conversations about radical finance because otherwise they, along with their referents, are going to be or have already been captured as means of financialization. Poetic practice may indeed rewire the sensorium, but the conversations (and the theory and the art) are being put to work for profit and thus to support and re-enact global hierarchy, racialization, gender inequality, and its legacies of exploitation and murder. If we really want to break the chain, we must take courage and allow ourselves to return (but with a new key) to the vague and in some ways premature aspirations of communism: to retake the means of production.

If all this sounds like a global plan for theft, then you are hearing me correctly. One need not have moral qualms about it (if one is so inclined), because this plan is a plan to steal back, to steal back ourselves (whatever these “selves” may be/become) and to steal back our future. Really what is at stake is our becoming (and the legacies of our past) – what we can build out of this funeral pyre called the current conjuncture, blazing as if for the unmourned and the all but forgotten, before it consumes the yet living with its hypnotic flames.

Of course, near the conflagration, many of us have people(s) and time(s) to remember; we heed their calls, the cable strong bonds still connect. However, for this invocation of historical haunting and dreams deferred to be more than a poetic exercise, or a sounding of ancestral aspirations or a drawing of inspiration from the possibility of reparations and the promise of solidarity – all of which is by no means trivial and indeed may return us to what is most important – it will be necessary to keep this value for an “ourselves” worthy of having it. Absorbed by the qualities that yet remain as heritage (some of which are the very stuff of art, photography, cinema, social movements) we resonate with our potential futurity built out of survival resources. We seek liberation; and we do not seek to have these spirits used to advance the art world, the university, the mayoralty or the state – at least not in their current forms, and perhaps not in any currently conceivable forms.

This hard edge is not necessarily about making things difficult nor about fighting (though these are strategies that have proven their merit). Rather it is a call for unrelenting clarity regarding the stakes inherent in our making. This edge, which both cuts and refuses, is placed precisely here as an encouragement, shall we say, to develop radical financial tools – a democratization of financial tools – that might represent our value production in ways that allow us to set the terms of our own valuation and to track, organize and deploy that value in new ways. If wage labor is value extraction by means of value abstraction, what we are looking for in the foreseeable transitional period moving towards the end of private property and money as capital is value abstraction without value extraction. We need for what we make by means of our seeing, doing, thinking and living to retain its qualitative and affective dimensions but also be able to circulate as the general form of wealth, and we need to do this without giving our qualitative richness over to capitalism and to capital accumulation.

Thinking finance in the image is a way of mapping what is most often unconscious in social relations mediated by images. It is a form of thinking money (in all turns of that phrase). In my last post I briefly alluded to bitcoin and to the blockchain technologies that underpin most crypto currencies and suggested that there we find something unprecedented – an encoding of sociality that is not controlled by third parties but is the result of collective participation in an algorithmic process. Make no mistake, bitcoin is not an anti-capitalist technology, and as David Golumbia has warned us, it has strong libertarian dimensions and participation. However, it is anti-state in that it gets rid of “trusted” third parties like banks and states by recasting the social contract such that the machines of participants all watch each other and all agree on a permanent and unforgeable transaction record (unforgeable because in order to be reversed one player would have to be able to out-compute the entire network).

This small innovation, a tentative but decentralized answer to the problem of trust in a leveraged and centralized world built on the violent maintenance of the centrality of power, is a constellation of programming, machines, participation and sociality. In short, the blockchain that underpins bitcoin is a medium. We are at the very early stages of being able to create decentralized protocols that also allow participants to be stakeholders in their operations, but if, for example, you own bitcoin you have both the “coin” which functions as the social relation known as money but also a share of the platform. Bitcoin is at once currency and equity. We do not yet really know how to think about the implications of this shift in the protocols of ownership away from legal structures towards unforgeable code, but one can already sense that stake-holding in far more broadband modes of mediation should be possible. This emergent decentralization implies not only the commoning of social media platforms, (currently centralized algorithms for the capture of participation) but the possibility of organization-specific and movement-specific currencies that are at once expressive bonds of sociality and exchangeable for goods.

So, I am leaving you here at the end of these two months with two principle thoughts: a clear picture of a financial logic swarming in and through our images and screens, and the conceptual possibility of a new modality of finance. This convergence brings me to my newest project, tentatively called The Fourth Determination: On the Decolonization of Money, which will explore the notion that via computational screen mediation, we may transform money beyond its three determinations (measure, medium, capital) into a new register that consciously understands finance as an expressive medium and begins its decentralization. In reality, finance already is an expressive medium; the point however is to decentralize it and hollow capital out from within, that is, to transform its expressivity (which is ours) away from the aestheticization of massive accumulation and mass domination. This might be accomplished by creating new forms of solidarity and stakeholding, by leveraging affective structures and shared risk, in ways that will turn the travesty that is the communism of capital into a better, more horizontal non-capitalist communism with communal equity in the social product. This notion of radical finance as an expressive medium takes very seriously the idea that contemporary media have been thoroughly financialized and argues that we must develop the tools to democratize and decentralize expressive financializaton. If finance (ordinarily a very bad word for very good reasons) inhabits the image and the utterance, and if finance is now simultaneous with the snapshot, the webpost, and the speech act, how can we democratize and radicalize the financial instruments underpinning expression so that we can win the imaginary and the symbolic for a liveable future, and retake the means of production (our senses and our minds) to build the world that meets all of our needs rather than the one that imposes needs in accord with the protocols of the reigning AI that is Computational Capital?

1 comment(s)
Posted 17.07.2017 at 23:11

Inevitably your thoughts about of finance and images being closely entangled revoke Guy Debord's phrase that “The spectacle is capital to such a degree of accumulation that it becomes an image.” (Society of the Spectacle (34) [see https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/debord/society.htm], but as you say you offer a clear picture of what this might mean quite more concretely- thanks for that.

Following the above quoted paragraph Debord recites Georg Lukacs as an intro to the second chapter, (“Commodity as Spectacle”), of his text:

“The commodity can only be understood in its undistorted essence when it becomes the universal category of society as a whole. Only in this context does the reification produced by commodity relations assume decisive importance both for the objective evolution of society and for the stance adopted by men towards it. Only then does the commodity become crucial for the subjugation of men’s consciousness to the forms in which this reification finds expression.... As labor is progressively rationalized and mechanized man’s lack of will is reinforced by the way in which his activity becomes less and less active and more and more contemplative. Lukacs, History and Class Consciousness”

To bring up Debord is maybe not a revelation in this context, but maybe worthwhile.

Cancel reply