The Rhizome Digest merged into the Rhizome News in November 2008. These pages serve as an archive for 6-years worth of discussions and happenings from when the Digest was simply a plain-text, weekly email.

Subject: RHIZOME DIGEST: 7.02.04
Date: Fri, 2 Jul 2004 11:22:43 -0700

RHIZOME DIGEST: July 2, 2004


1. Francis Hwang: Director of Technology report, June 2004
2. Rachel Greene: blogging survey (please participate)

3. Pall Thayer: Trans-Cultural mapping: Iceland inside and out
4. ryan griffis: FWD: Memefest 2004 up
5. Rachel Greene: Banyan Project - Newsletter

6. Kevin McGarry: FW (crumb_)job posting: MANW COORDINATOR POST
7. George Scheer: Elsewhere Artist Collaborative
8. Christian Schult: Call for Participation/ Halle School of Common property
9. David Goldschmidt: San Francisco Mediatrips Competition - Summer 2004

10. Kevin McGarry: FW: shout-out line to steve kurtz

+book reviewt+
11. Curt Cloninger: even better than the [ethe]real thing: a response to
Alex Galloway's "Protocol"

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Date: 7/01/04
From: Francis Hwang <francis AT>
Subject: Director of Technology report, June 2004

A few interesting things got accomplished this month:

1. Advanced search features
The search engine now has new features, including:
+ Search results tell you if they're a Person, a Text, an Artwork or a
Net Art News Story.
+ You can also filter searches, so you can say: "I want to see only Net
Art News stories with the word 'Nintendo'."
+ We also fixed a bug in which Net Art News stories weren't being
indexed at all.
This is the start of a long process of trying to up the usability of a
very large site; more improvements are coming. And if you ever have
problems finding anything on the site, feel free to email me, since
knowing what people can't find helps me figure out how to improve the
search engine next time 'round.

2. Commission voting debrief
Poli-sci geeks might want to read my commission voting debrief at, in which I
discuss how the commission voting worked in practice, and how we plan
on improving it in the future. Comments are welcome.


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Date: 7/01/04
From: Rachel Greene <rachel AT>
Subject: blogging survey (please participate)

We are conducting a simple, 4-question survey regarding blogs to collect
data for a possible forthcoming addition to We value your
opinions about arts writing and your support for online publication, so who
better to take our questions on blogging to but you?

Please, if you have a moment, visit the URL below and complete the survey -
it should only take about 10 seconds -

Thanks and all the best from Staff

Kevin McGarry

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Rhizome is now offering organizational subscriptions, memberships
purchased at the institutional level. These subscriptions allow
participants of an institution to access Rhizome's services without
having to purchase individual memberships. (Rhizome is also offering
subsidized memberships to qualifying institutions in poor or excluded
communities.) Please visit for more
information or contact Rachel Greene at Rachel AT

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Date: 6/28/04
From: Pall Thayer <palli AT>
Subject: Trans-Cultural mapping: Iceland inside and out

Iceland inside and out is a 10 day workshop that will take place in
Iceland from June 30 till July 9, 2004. The workshop is one of a series
of 6 workshops taking place in several countries throughout Europe as
the Trans-Cultural Mapping project
( organized by RIXC in
Riga, Latvia (

As the workshop title suggests, this workshop will, on one hand, map out
inner regions of Iceland and on the other, outer regions (fishing
waters). Due to the remoteness of these two locations, the workshop will
also have to address several technical issues. Thus the primary focus of
the workshop will be to create and develope open software and tools for
artistic/cultural, collaborative, interactive mapping.

The main purpose of the workshops website will be to allow the public to
literally follow along with what is going on throughout the workshop. An
interactive, realtime map will constantly display where we are and where
we have been, complete with links to media-files related to various
points on the map. The site also has a "blog" element where workshop
participants will constantly be posting information on what is going on
and things we may be thinking about or working on.

Partners: RIXC - LV | Ellipse - FR | Trondheim Electronic Arts Center -
NO | Piknik Frequency Organisation - FI | Project Atol - SL | K AT 2 - LV

Pall Thayer

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Date: 6/29/04
From: ryan griffis <grifray AT>
Subject: FWD: Memefest 2004 up

More than 350 entries poured in and for the first time in Memefest's
history, we had submissions from every continent on the planet.

This year's jury has sifted through this mass of creative subversion
and chosen the top entries from a damn impressive lot. Go to the
Memefest website ( ) to find their picks for
the Best of Memefest 2004 in Visual Arts, Communications Studies,
Sociology, and the enigmatic Beyond... category. This year's
competition guidelines and seed texts were very difficult, and we're
pleased that so many people rose to the challenge

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Date: 7/01/04
From: Rachel Greene <rachel AT>
Subject: Banyan Project - Newsletter

From: abanze <abanze AT>
Date: July 1, 2004 1:54:50 PM EDT
To: abanze AT
Subject: Banyan Project - Newsletter
Reply-To: abanze AT

1th of July 2004

this newsletter will be sended regulary.
(If you don´t like it, send me an email with the titel: unsubscribe)

The BANYAN PROJECT is a traveling festival, visiting Thailand, Laos,
Cambodia, Mynamar and India in december 2004 to march 2005.

The Banyan website has a lot of new stuff, have a look!

New Banyan artists forum

New Banyan art works browser

New Banyan tree of pictures - made by children during Banyan workshops
in schools

Project news
Banyan presentation at the Künstlerhaus Bethanien in Berlin, Germany,
7th of September 2004, 8pm. All Banyan artists in the area are invited
to present their contributions.
More presentations in preparation...

Banyan workshop at the Hunsrück Primary School in Berlin, Germany,
2h weekly from aug 2004 for 1 year.
Banyan workshop at the Art Academy in Münster, Germany, 2 weeks in
oct/nov 2004
Banyan workshop at the Silpakorn University in Bangkok, Thailand in dec 2004

Alfred Banze
Köpenicker Str 46
10179 Berlin
++49 (0)30 27590784
mailto:abanze AT

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Rhizome is now offering organizational subscriptions, memberships
purchased at the institutional level. These subscriptions allow
participants of an institution to access Rhizome's services without
having to purchase individual memberships. (Rhizome is also offering
subsidized memberships to qualifying institutions in poor or excluded
communities.) Please visit for more
information or contact Rachel Greene at Rachel AT

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Date: 6/25/04
From: Kevin McGarry <Kevin AT>
Subject: FW (crumb_)job posting: MANW COORDINATOR POST

posted from Kathy Rae Huffman at Cornerhouse

> MANW (Media Arts North West)
> Coordinator
> Fee: £16,000
> MANW (Media Arts North West) is a newly constituted group of
> organisations
> active in the curation and practice of media arts regionally,
> nationally and
> internationally, who are committed to developing the fieldâ??s profile
> in the
> region through advocacy, marketing, education, networking and new
> activity.
> MANW wishes to appoint an experienced freelance arts worker to deliver
> MANWâ??s objectives over a two year period. MANW memberships includes
> representatives from venues, academic institutions, charities, and
> small
> businesses, each with existing demands on their time and resources. To
> this
> end, there is a need for a dynamic, independent, coordinator who will
> not
> only facilitate the group administratively but will provide input and
> fresh
> thinking on how to address its stated objectives.
> It is anticipated that the successful applicant will have considerable
> knowledge of media arts practice and practitioners across the North
> West
> region, and be based themselves within the North West. They will be an
> experienced researcher with critical writing skills and have
> demonstrated
> strong leadership in developing and implementing new strategies. It is
> expected that the successful applicant will instigate a programme of
> further
> initiatives such as artistâ?? projects, commissions or events. These may
> be in
> collaboration with MANW or other organisations and may require further
> fundraising and support.
> Interested individuals please contact Helen Wewiora for details of the
> brief
> and application process.
> Closing date for the submission of applications: 5pm Monday 5 July 2004
> This position is funded by Arts Council England, North West and is an
> Equal
> Opportunities post.
> Telephone: 0151 707 4438
> Email: wewiora AT

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For $65 annually, Rhizome members can put their sites on a Linux
server, with a whopping 350MB disk storage space, 1GB data transfer per
month, catch-all email forwarding, daily web traffic stats, 1 FTP
account, and the capability to host your own domain name (or use Details at:

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Date: 6/29/04
From: George Scheer <wanderingzoo AT>
Subject: Elsewhere Artist Collaborative

ELSEWHERE, art processes re-invent Art contexts.
(interpret THE SPLACE speaking TO ITSELF)

Dear eyes right at origin,
Elsewhere Artist Collaborative, a conceptual artists space in Greensboro,
NC, is seeking journeypeople to pursue artistic creations and criticism in a
contextually interpreted and designed environment.

Participating in a residency-like program, Journeypeople will be provided
access to a 12,000 sq. ft. converted thrift store and haunted mansion (stuck
in a locational palindrome). Artists are expected to integrate the plethora
of 70 years of thrift resources: toys, furniture, books, clothing, fabric,
etc. or their experience at Elsewhere into the content (subject or object)
of their work. Elsewhere artists explore traditional and emerging media and
media fusion, representational possibilities, and community/communication

Elsewhereââ?¢Ë?s non-commercial space is a constantly reflexive environment
where artwork becomes the medium of expression between other members of the
living installation. Located in Greensboro, NCââ?¢Ë?s small town, historical
district, the experience of southern America offers a backdrop to
Elsewhereââ?¢Ë?s conceptual, artistic and intellectual realm, which houses a
gallery, orientation center, press office, studio, kitchen, performance
venue, library, closet, lounge. Artists are encouraged to redesign space and
its accompaniments (objects) for a contextual artistic experiment that can
be as powerful as the works created within. Elsewhere seeks writers,
musicians, painters, designers, and others to make-up the living art
installation piece.

Toys are people too.

Journeypeople are needed to engage projects: spatial development and
construction, documentation via still and video photography, fashion design,
interior design, graphic design, magazine and newspaper publishing run via
the press office, archiving, research, educational programming and design,
and artistic pursuits in traditional and emerging art forms. After
participating in the community for a week, Journeypeople will submit
proposals for independent or collaborative projects. With a project
underway, you will be given free rent (some utilities are requested),
inexpensive meal options with the food co-operative, access to the seemingly
infinite resources, customizable space within which to work, and involvement
in a community of artists all speaking to and interacting in a post-modern
thematic of Americana and re-application. Journeypeople will also be
involved in the larger conceptual project which includes a functioning
performance venue in addition to other community interfacing programs.
Gallery and performance space will also be made available to journeypeople
free of cost. Work becomes property of Elsewhereââ?¢Ë?s concept and contextual
environment for a negotiated period of time. Nothing of the space leaves the
space (objects function like a number set), however possibility exists for
works to become part of a national collaborative show.

Those interested in the residency program or in booking a performance or art
show should contact George Scheer and/or Stephanie Sherman at
wanderingzoo AT or 336.549.5555. We will respond with a brief
application to gauge interest and experience. Elsewhere, a 501(c)3
organization, is funded in part by a grant from Greensboroââ?¢Ë?s United Arts
Council. For more information, check out

Signed, the understated.

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Date: 6/30/04
From: Christian Schult <project AT>
Subject: Call for Participation/ Halle School of Common property

To view this entire thread, click here:

+ + +

Halle School of Common Property, Halle (Saale) August 2004


Within the context of the 6th Werkleitz Biennale's debates on knowledge as
common property, the Werkleitz Gesellschaft will organise a 5-day series of
workshops and seminars under the title Halle School of Common Property from
27 to 31 August 2004, directly preceding the festival. (6th Werkleitz
Biennale Common Property/ Allgemeingut, 1 to 5 September 2004)

In a number of workshops international cultural producers and artist groups
working within the frame of informal (that is deliberately alternative,
self-organised, non-institutional) knowledge production will invite
participants to develop new forms of artistic and cultural production within
and outside academic structures.

The following artists, producers and groups have been invited:

AGENCY (Belgium)
Craig Baldwin (US)
Critical Studies (Sweden)
Dennis Kaspori (The Netherlands)
Mute Magazine (International)
School of Missing Studies/SMS (International)
Universit�© Tangente (France)

The Halle School of Common Property addresses a national and international
audience. Some first results of the workshops will be presented at the 6th
Werkleitz Biennale. In addition, the event is intended to serve as a
condensation point for a continuing exchange between the individual groups
and participants.

All workshops will be held in English. We recommend you to register early as
the number of participants is restricted - the deadline for registrations is
15 July 2004. Participation in the workshops depends on the date of arrival
of the filled application form at the office of Werkleitz Gesellschaft.

Application forms and more detailed information on the several workshops can
be found on our website at
For all inquiries please contact Christian Schult.

Please forward this to people who might be interested in participating.

The 6th Werkleitz Biennale is funded by the German Federal Cultural
Foundation, the state of Saxony-Anhalt, Stiftung Kulturfonds, Lotto-Toto
GmbH of Saxony-Anhalt, the City of Halle (Saale), Mitteldeutsche
Medienf�¶rderung GmbH and Burg Giebichenstein University of Art and Design

Werkleitz Gesellschaft e.V.
Zentrum fÃ?Ï?r kuenstlerische Bildmedien Sachsen-Anhalt
Christian Schult
Coordinator Halle School of Common Property
T: +49 345 68246 15
F: +49 345 68246 29
project AT


Halle School of Common Property, Halle (Saale) August 2004


Im Zusammenhang mit der in der 6. Werkleitz Biennale gefÃ?Ï?hrten
Auseinandersetzung um Wissen als Allgemeingut veranstaltet die Werkleitz
Gesellschaft unmittelbar vor den Festivaltagen vom 27. bis 31. August 2004
eine Reihe von fÃ?Ï?nftÃ?â?¬gigen Workshops und Seminaren unter dem Titel Halle
School of Common Property.

In mehreren Workshops werden internationale KÃ?Ï?nstlerInnengruppen und
ProduzentInnen, die im Rahmen informeller (also bewusst alternativer,
selbstorganisierter, ausserinstitutioneller) Wissensproduktion arbeiten,
gemeinsam mit den TeilnehmerInnen neue Formen der Kunst- und
Kulturproduktion in und auÃ?Æ?erhalb akademischer Strukturen entwickeln.

Eingeladen wurden:

AGENCY (Belgien)
Craig Baldwin (USA)
Critical Studies (Schweden)
Dennis Kaspori (Niederlande)
Mute Magazine (International)
School of Missing Studies/SMS (International)
Universit�© Tangente (Frankreich)

Die Halle School of Common Property wendet sich an alle Interessierten aus
dem In- und Ausland. Erste Ergebnisse der Arbeitsgruppen werden auf der 6.
Werkleitz Biennale prÃ?â?¬sentiert. DarÃ?Ï?ber hinaus soll die Veranstaltung als
Kondensationspunkt fÃ?Ï?r weitergehende Projekte dienen - angestrebt wird ein
nachhaltiger Austausch zwischen den einzelnen Gruppen und TeilnehmerInnen.

Die Arbeitssprache in allen Workshops ist Englisch. Da die Zahl der PlÃ?â?¬tze
begrenzt ist, empfiehlt sich eine frÃ?Ï?hzeitige Anmeldung - der
Anmeldeschluss ist der 15. Juli 2004. Der Zeitpunkt des Eingangs vom
ausgefÃ?Ï?llten Anmeldeformular im BÃ?Ï?ro der Werkleitz Gesellschaft
entscheidet Ã?Ï?ber die Teilnahme am Workshop.

Detaillierte Informationen zu den einzelnen Workshops und Anmeldeformulare
finden Sie auf unserer Website unter FÃ?Ï?r weitere Informationen
kontaktieren Sie bitte Christian Schult.

Bitte leiten Sie diese Informationen an all jene weiter, die an einer
Teilnahme interessiert sein k�¶nnten.

Die 6. Werkleitz Biennale wird gef�¶rdert durch die Kulturstiftung des
Bundes, das Land Sachsen-Anhalt, die Stiftung Kulturfonds, die Lotto-Toto
GmbH Sachsen-Anhalt, die Stadt Halle (Saale), die Mitteldeutsche
MedienfÃ?¶rderung GmbH und die Burg Giebichenstein Hochschule fÃ?Ï?r Kunst und
Design Halle

Werkleitz Gesellschaft e.V.
Zentrum fÃ?Ï?r kÃ?Ï?nstlerische Bildmedien Sachsen-Anhalt
Christian Schult
Coordinator Halle School of Common Property
T: +49 345 68246 15
F: +49 345 68246 29
project AT


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Date: 7/01/04
From: David Goldschmidt <david AT>
Subject: San Francisco Mediatrips Competition - Summer 2004


I am hosting a quick media arts competition and all the prize money is to be
donated (on behalf of the Winner) to either Creative Commons or the
Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Please forward this Call for Submissions to anyone you think may be

Competition info can be found at


david goldschmidt
san francisco, ca <>

+++sampling popculture is not a crime
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Date: 7/01/04
From: Kevin McGarry <Kevin AT>
Subject: FW: shout-out line to steve kurtz

>>>>>> for immediate release:
>>>>>> Public outcry at Grand Jury indictment of Steve Kurtz and Robert
>>>>>> Ferrell collected and archived at
>>>>>> Bureau set ups Kurtz Shout Out Line to capture the public out cry
>>>>>> at
>>>>>> the persecution of this man, the
>>>>>> criminalization of dissent and the intimidation of academic
>>>>>> inquiry
>>>>>> that this action effects.
>>>>>> Voice your opinion:
>>>>>> dial 212 998 3394
>>>>>> press *911 (make sure to press the * first and then dial 911, the
>>>>>> number that Kurtz dialed for police support
>>>>>> but triggered instead the condition of emergency he is now facing)
>>>>>> make your voice heard
>>>>>> All calls will be uploaded to an online database
>>>>>> for public listening,
>>>>>> syndication,
>>>>>> annotation and response.
>>>>>> uphone - a phone-to-net utility to capture direct specific events
>>>>>> audio recordings to the public domain, applications for witness
>>>>>> outcry
>>>>>> or
>>>>>> evidence
>>>>>> Natalie Jeremijenko
> and related:
> we are going to play them (live probably) into the SUPERSONIC show in
> LA, through Matt Hope's Horn Massive. all summer.

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Date: 7/02/04
From: Curt Cloninger <curt AT>
Subject: even better than the [ethe]real thing: a response to Alex
Galloway's "Protocol"

even better than the [ethe]real thing:
a response to Alex Galloway's "Protocol"

"All of us were slowly losing that intellectual light that allows you always
to tell the similar from the identical, the metaphorical from the real. We
were losing that mysterious and bright and most beautiful ability to say
that Signor A has grown bestial -- without thinking for a moment that he now
has fur and fangs."

- Casaubon from Umberto Eco's "Foucault's Pendulum"


When reading a text on media theory, my underlying skeptical question is
always, "How much do the nuances which are foregrounded and analyzed here
practically relate to human experience and human society?" If they barely
do, the book winds up being one more exercise in scatological academia
and/or cyber-utopian fluff-urism. Refreshingly, Alex Galloway's "Protocol"
succeeds in avoiding what Geert Lovink calls "vapor theory." This is due in
no small part to the fact that Alex Galloway is a geek (or at least a
wanna-be geek). Not "geek" in the pejorative sense, but "geek" in the "down
with the root workings of technology" sense. For example, Galloway's
research led him to read hundreds of RFC (Requests for Comments) documents,
the technical documents that establish Internet protocol (among other
things). Galloway writes, ""Far more than mere technical documentation,
however, the RFCs are a discursive treasure trove for the critical
theorist." I wonder how many other critical theorists would think so.

Observation, interpretation, and application are the three steps of
inductive textual criticism. Not a few technological pundits breeze through
the initial observation step, acquiring only a superficial understanding of
the tech, and then rush off to boldly interpret and apply. This leads to
elaborate, inventive conclusions that are frequently misguided if not
altogether wrong. But Galloway has looked long and hard at the network and
its protocol, and his interpretations (even though I disagree with some of
them) are more intricate and less cliche as a result of his having looked.
As such, "Protocol" lays the groundwork for anyone to riff off of Galloway's
insightful observations, even if her preconceived biases differ from his.

Furthermore, Galloway's range of sources is so diverse, it feels like an
academic compilation tape. His research is intimidatingly broad -- from
usability expert Jeff Veen to generative software artist Adrian Ward, from
open source evangelist Richard Stallman to cult lawyer Lawrence Lessig.
Marx, Baudrillard, Barthes, Foucault, and Deleuze make expected appearances.
But also appearing are Marxist media theorist Hans Magnus Enzensberger,
cyberfeminist Doll Yoko, and phone phreaker Knight Lightning. The list goes
on (and on and on). Furthermore, "Protocol"'s tangential anecdotes about
the formation of the internet and the history of hacking and virii read like
a scattershot compendium of geek folklore.


Galloway's prose, although not exactly McLuhan-esque, is inordinately
sound-bytable. Below are just a few "spoilers," nuggets of particularly
acute and concise insight:

On the nature of protocol:
"From a formal perspective, protocol is a type of object. It is a very
special kind of object. Protocol is a universal description language for
objects... Protocol does not produce or causally effect objects, but rather
is a structuring agent that appears as the result of a set of object
dispositions. Protocol is the reason that the internet works and performs
work... It is etiquette for autonomous agents. It is the chivalry of the

[Note the rare combination of precise description and poetic flair. "The
chivalry of the object" is a definite keeper.]

On protocol's inherent imperviousness to Modern criticism:
"Only the participants [of protocol] can connect, and therefore, by
definition, there can be no resistance to protocol... Opposing protocol is
like opposing gravity -- there is nothing that says it can't be done, but
such a pursuit is surely misguided and in the end hasn't hurt gravity very

Along the same lines:
"The internet can survive [nuclear] attacks not because it is stronger than
the opposition, but precisely because it is weaker. The Internet has a
different diagram than a nuclear attack does; it is in a different shape.
And that new shape happens to be immune to the older."

Galloway rightly insists that just as code is more than a mere semantic
language (it causes machines to actually do something), the network is more
than just a metaphor for connectivity (it actually behaves according to

He instructively traces of the cultural perception of computer viruses --
from a form of intellectual exploration to a form of machinic contagion
(akin to AIDS) to a form of terrorist weapon.

He makes the important distinction between protocol and proprietary market
dominance (Windows XP is not a form of protocol because its source code is

And he offers these inspirationally punk rock samples regarding tactical

"Everyone interested in an emancipated media should be a manipulator."

"Fear of being swallowed up by the system is a sign of weakness."

"The best tactical response to protocol is not resistance but hypertrophy."

All culminating in this rousing definition:
"The goal is not to destroy technology in some neo-Luddite delusion, but to
push it into a state of hypertrophy, further than it is meant to go. Then,
in its injured, sore, and unguarded condition, technology may be sculpted
anew into something better, something in closer agreement with the real
wants and desires of its users. This is the goal of tactical media."

Right on! Where do I sign?


Having sufficiently praised "Protocol," I'd like to enter into critical
dialogue with it. My first problem with the text is that it oversteps its
stated scope. Galloway makes epistemological assertions without offering
epistemological defenses.

He says in the introduction, "I draw a critical distinction between [the]
body of work [that deals with artificial intelligence], which is concerned
largely with epistemology and cognitive science, and the critical media
theory that inspires this book. Where the former are concerned with minds
and questions epistemological, I am largely concerned with bodies and the
material stratum of computer technology."

Unfortunately, "bodies" and "matter" to Galloway take on markedly
metaphysical meanings, meanings that delineate a fairly explicit view of
reality which he feels no obligation to defend. He asserts a kind of
"aesthetic materialism" (his term). In short, he seeks to recast the
spiritual and soulish in terms of the "virtual," the "second nature," the
cultural/sociopolitical, the "artificial," a "patina," the essence or sheen
that derives from matter but is not "other than" matter. (More on this

"Protocol" eschews epistemological questions as not pertinent to its scope,
but by deeming such questions irrelevant, Galloway has already entered into
implicit dialogue on "the matter" (pun intended). If I wish to discuss
human origins without talking about evolution, I'm a creationist. If I wish
to discuss life without talking about soul or spirit, I'm a materialist.

In the book's foreword, Eugene Thacker calls "Protocol" a type of
"materialist media studies." He goes on to observe, quite accurately:
"'Protocol' consistently makes a case for a material understanding of
technology. 'Material' can be taken in all sense of the term, as an
ontological category as well as a political and economic one." Galloway
gladly owns up to politics and economics, but his ventures into ontology,
although apparent, are less disclosed.


My next critique of "Protocol" is that it awkwardly uses Marx's "Capital" to
justify a contemporary materialist understanding of artificial life.

After 14 pages of foregrounding Marx's vitalistic language, Galloway
concludes, "'Capital' is an aesthetic object. The confluence of different
discourses in 'Capital,' both vitalistic and economic, proves this. The use
of vitalistic imagery, no matter how marginalized within the text, quite
literally aestheticizes capitalism." That poetic language can transform a
theoretical text into an aesthetic object seems perfectly plausible. That
poetic language can "literally aestheticize" capitalism itself is a more
vague and suspect assertion.

Even if Marx does attribute a kind of "will" to objects within capitalism,
he's not exactly celebrating reification or commodity fetishism. Galloway
asserts, "[The] vitalism in Marx heralds the dawning age of protocol, I
argue, by transforming life itself into an aesthetic object." Aside from
the fact that "life itself" was understood as an aesthetic object in the
soulish realm long before Marx, likening commodity fetishism to machinic
artificial life seems an awkward stretch. Galloway himself points out that
Foucault's theories of control date Marx's, and Deleuze's date Foucault's.
Is Marx so canonical that he's worth 14 pages of deconstruction in order to
claim him as the historical genesis of one's contemporary assertion?


Continuing on the "artificial life" critique (and invariably stepping on
dozens of cyber-toes), there are two ways to make "computers" seem more than
what they are. You can discern life where there is none, or you can
redefine "life" until it matches what you discern in computers. Galloway
subtly snubs futurist Ray Kurzweil and the Wired "gee whiz" crowd for doing
the former, and then proceeds to do the latter.

Building on Foucault and Deleuze, Galloway asserts that "life, hitherto
considered an effuse, immaterial essence, has become matter, due to its
increased imbrication with protocol forces."

He assents to Crary and Winter's definition of "protocological" life as "the
forces -- aesthetic, technical, political, sexual -- with which things
combine in order to form novel aggregates of pattern and behavior."

After an explication of Norbert Weiner's ideas on cybernetics, Galloway
concludes, "If one views the world in terms of information..., then there is
little instrumental difference between man and machine since both are able
to affect dynamic systems via feedback loops." Would Weiner himself have
agreed to such a sweeping generalization?

So matter is life and life is matter. Not metaphorically, but actually.
This is achieved by defining "life" very loosely.

I'm reminded of a passage in "The Language of New Media" where Lev Manovich
comes very close to defining "narrative" as any action that constitutes a
change of state. Walking from room to room thus becomes a narrative. At
which point I would simply choose a different word.


Why is Galloway so keen to show that a "second nature" of aesthetic
materialism exists in both social and machinic systems? Because such a
"second nature" affords the exploration of an aesthetic realm without the
abandonment of a materialist world view. Such a "second nature" also admits
the possibility of man/machine hybridization. If reality is all just
matter, and matter may be abstracted into organized information, artificial
life and biological life are "virtually" kissing cousins. Galloway actually
defines the information age as "that moment in history when matter itself is
understood in terms of information or code. At this historical moment,
protocol becomes a controlling force in social life."

At the end of his chapter on "control," Galloway goes on to predict a
historical period "after distribution" -- a future where computers are
replaced by bioinformatics, information is replaced by life, protocol is
replaced by physics, and containment is replaced by peace.

A similar "gee whiz" passage occurs earlier in the "control" chapter: "When
Watson and Crick discovered DNA..., they prove not simply that life is an
informatic object..., but rather that life is an aesthetic object; it is a
double helix, an elegant, hyper-Platonic form that rises like a ladder into
the heights of aesthetic purity. Life was no longer a 'pair of ragged claws
/ Scuttling across the floors of silent seas' (Eliot), it was a code borne
from pure mathematics, an object of aesthetic beauty, a double helix! This
historical moment -- when life is defined no longer as essence, but as code
-- is the moment when life becomes a medium." I agree that DNA is
fascinating stuff, but to attribute the mystery and wonder of existence to
the aesthetic beauty of a DNA strand seems more like cyber-utopian poetry
and less like scholarship aloof from ontological concerns.

Elsewhere, Galloway waxes eloquent about biometrics: "Biometrics [the
science of measuring the human body and deriving digital signatures from it]
considers living human bodies not in their immaterial essences, or souls, or
what have you, but in terms of quantifiable, recordable, enumerable, and
encodable characteristics. It considers life as an aesthetic object. It is
the natural evolution of Marx's theory of second nature." The progression
from souls to quantifiable biometric information is presented as an
aesthetic advancement? If anything, biometrics seems a neo-techno form of

Another curious assertion: "Computer use could possibly constitute a real
immigration of bodies (from the online to the offline)," which seems akin to
this cryptic statement by feminist Sadie Plant: "You can't get out of
matter, that's the crucial thing. But you can get out of the confining
organization of matter which is shaped into things and of course,
organisms." I find it difficult to accept such conceptions of the self at
face value.


"Protocol" radically posits that the Internet is successful not just because
it is anarchic, but because this "anarchy" coexists with a rigid form of
control. I agree, but I think the rigid form of control is not the DNS
(Domain Name System) hierarchy (as Galloway proposes), but the core, old-boy
geek community of RFC-writing protocol-shapers (which Galloway critiques as
an institutional weakness of protocol). Domain names are a mnemonic
convenience, but their use is not a prerequisite for entry to the network.
One can still access a server using its IP number, it's just inconvenient.
Yet protocols, according to Galloway's definition, are not merely meant to
make access more convenient, they are meant to either enable it or forbid it
altogether. Thus the real control of the Internet derives not primarily
from the DNS but from the fact that protocol itself is shaped by an
altruistic, but nonetheless human and extra-protocological community.

Galloway argues that, "Life forms, both artificial and organic, exist in any
space where material forces are actively aestheticized." I agree. But who
is doing the aestheticizing? He continues, "The same protocological forces
that regulate data flows within contingent environments such as distributed
networks are the same forces that regulate matter itself." I'm not so sure.
The forces that regulate "non-organic" "life" in network environments are
protocols created by humans. The forces that regulate organic life in
"natural" environments are material needs like food and shelter that are not
created by humans (unless we're talking about a capitalistic environment,
where many forces are man-made. But capitalism is not "matter itself.")

A reasonable string of questions thus arises: can vitality exist in economic
and social systems apart from human life? Is Foucault's desire to "define a
method of historical analysis freed from the anthropological theme" really
viable? Does vitality exist in machinic systems without initial human
input? There may be some minimal form of "vitality" on the network even
without any humans actively using it (Eugene Thacker muses, "Is a network a
network if it's not being used?"), but would that vitality exist without
humans first constructing the network's protocol to begin with? Is
individual human soulishness (mind, will, emotions) at the root of such

Even Tom Ray's "Tierra" (software that creates a virtual evolutionary
environment in which "artificial lives" autonomously "live") still begins
with human input. The "life" initially comes from Tom, and only indirectly
from the protocol of the environment.


"Protocol" concludes on a less speculative, more balanced note. Galloway
summarizes the problems inherent in protocol, and recognizes that its
ethical use will ultimately depend on what we humans make of it.

The fact that I'm able even able to dialogue with "Protocol" from a
non-materialist, soulish perspective is testament to the solid, methodical,
observational foundation Galloway has laid.

Personally, the chapters in "Protocol" on hacking, tactical media, and
internet art made me excited to be making internet art in 2004. Not because
"Protocol" extols the virtues of some futuristic AI utopia that's just
around the bend (and has been just around the bend for the last 30 years
without ever quite materializing), but because it exposes and delineates the
very actual, sexy, dangerous shifts in media and culture currently underway.
The truth is always stranger than fiction, and strange is good.

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Rhizome Digest is filtered by Kevin McGarry (kevin AT ISSN:
1525-9110. Volume 9, number 27. Article submissions to list AT
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