Xenophily and Computational Denaturalization


In e-flux Architecture: Artifical Labor, eds. Nick Axel, Nikolaus Hirsch, Christoph Thun-Hohenstein, Anton Vidokle, Marlies Wirth, 2017. Read Online.

Intensive incompatibility marks our moment. The multiple crises we face, socially, economically, and ecologically (which are impossible to disentangle), are incommensurate with our existing means to justly mitigate them. These crises did not suddenly appear out of nowhere, but are the result of human making; a deeply uneven making, whose acute consequences disproportionately follow well-trodden trajectories of historical domination. Unbridled technological development is partially complicit in amplifying these crises, but this is largely so because it is embedded in particular socio-political diagrams that set far more determinate constraints on what, for example, algorithms do, than what algorithms, as such, could do. The crux here lies in the “could,” which is a question of enablement: in what conditions can, say, the algorithmic serve us, in what conditions will it devour us for spare parts, and in what conditions does it preemptively criminalize the innocent? It’s from this question of enablement, and the conceptual models of planetary-scaled cohabitation diagramming said enablement, that we need to depart. The concepts we construct to model a world delineate a landscape of possibility (what is, or the given), while often violently foreclosing others, making the struggle over them an essential battle to be collectively waged. These models (whether explicitly embraced and known, or mutely practiced) set up chains of incentives, reasoning, relations, valuation, categories and behavior—infusing all manner of material and/or computational actualization and directing the ways in which reality is intervened upon. Today we seem caught in routines of “changeless change,” with “innovation” largely monopolized by shareholders or confined to solutionist (false) promises, because our conceptual models have been calcified by what is.1 There are powerful interests invested in sustaining what is; these “conceptual battles” are also, quite obviously, long-term political ones. Nonetheless, since substantial, enduring transformation is enabled at this conceptual level plotting who we are, where we stand, who/what composes a “we,” and how we understand coexistence, humble first steps need to be taken. This movement marks an affirmative labor in deontologizing that which is given, leveraging a chasm between what is and what could be. To transform these conceptions of givenness, a necessary, albeit always provisional myth, is to intervene in the world on a diagrammatic plane, both because of the potent nexus between ideality, materiality and reality, and because of our ability to grasp and be grasped by concepts.2 Concepts remodel us as much as we model them.

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Patricia Reed, "Xenophily and Computational Denaturalization" in e-flux Architecture: Artifical Labor, eds. Nick Axel, Nikolaus Hirsch, Christoph Thun-Hohenstein, Anton Vidokle, Marlies Wirth, 2017.