Author Archives: Travis Bartley

Troubling Post

At risk of perversity, I would like to use this week’s readings to discuss how our current moment presents a place of analysis regarding capitalist infrastructure and crisis (or perhaps its fabrication). Through the lenses of Harroway and Ahmed, the current social threats posed by the epidemic seem to draw from a place of “disorientation,” a state of queered perception of the body (social, politic, bio’logical’) in which the public is forced to abandon the standard perceptions of ourselves as discrete, sanitary units. By necessity, we contend with ourselves as an interconnected assortment of “critters” and must address new forms of assemblages and articulations that can accommodate the introduction of a new contagion into our “holobionts.” Such states of disoriented symbiosis extend beyond the molecular level to also be exhibited in the realms of the social and international, with common interactions and commercial engagement being forbidden and even the foundational unit of Western capital (if I remember Reich correctly) becoming itself a site of queered interaction. (Can the familial hug now become a risk of contagion? Does mortality and violence now emerge in those normative spheres that supposedly exempt such risks?)

Such disruptions of the social have a Latourian bent to them when we recall that this disruption of the social occurs simultaneously with disruptions of the infrastructure that produce the social and have permitted the introduction of this new “critter” into our present “Chthulucene.” If there is anything to (re)learn from COVID, it is the sheer interconnected nature of our global holobiont and the complete incapability between its self-awareness and continued functioning. The revealed precarity of the ‘gig economy’ and ‘right to work’ legislation has prompted suspensions of rent, loans, and investment – the very structural techniques that have facilitated the development of late-stage capitalism. Despite years of a rising economy we find our individual lives unsure of their continued value as productive workers and our ability to engage in necessary consumption patterns.

In essence, the discrete markers of growth and structural sufficiency (quantitative rise in NASDAQ/DOW/S&P indexes, low unemployment) are revealed insufficient when the underlying network becomes the target of focus. That economic markers are insufficient is a common critique and needs little discussion; what is curious is why these markers must be discrete. Why, given the recurring realities of the “Cthulucene” does capital return to the limitations of digital logic, presenting the crisis of one locale/person/community as exempt from the continual circulation of globalism?


– Are crises of capital produced by direct ‘interruptions’ of the “Cthulucene” or by moments of awareness?

– Why does discretionary logic seem so crucial to capital when it must manage non-discretionary logic for it to expand (consider the likelihood that ‘distance learning’ may be expanded by some universities after the crisis or that more offices may ask workers to perform labor from home during ‘off hours’)?

– How does one permit a continual awareness of the “Cthulucene” instead of a flux between its forgetting and remembrance?

– Are there crises that can escape the expansion of capital (many have already made fortunes off the loss of gains from 2008)?

Intervention Thoughts

So I want to voice some thoughts on the planned intervention and consider explicit next steps for getting this off the ground. (Feel free to correct me if I’m off – my brain is off kilter this week for some strange reason….) Regarding data, I think we still need to figure exactly what data we are looking to collect in general (social media vs. instructions vs. individual ethnographies) and that may be a few more conversations until consensus is reached (e.g. determining group ethical positions on what data). Given that this conversation and the possible human subject questions that follow may take a tad more time than desirable, I believe that we should at the very least prioritize getting the project’s off the ground first and then reassess our data later. I believe this entails the following:

  1. Infrastructure. Let’s get the archive platform and submission system up and running so we can start collecting data when possible. I suggest using Omeka since it’s open-source and is better supported by the GC’s resources (I know this is Stefano’s platform for his work for instance).
  2. Participants. While it’s likely annoying to ask for participation while the specifics are still in the air, it may be helpful to start building up a sense of what data we have access to (e.g. only what our group can access vs. larger GC community vs. CUNY wide).
  3. Preliminary data. We’re already on this but might as well make it explicit: let’s try throwing together what data we can, even if it’s data we may reject later. For anyone that wants to add on to the web scraping but haven’t had much experience with API’S, the GC Digital Fellows made a rather straightforward guide for making a Twitter bot that we can use (I’ll add the link when I can find it). I also have an old RSS feed reader that we can tinker with if we want to probe new sources as well.

This is all I have off the top of my head. Any thoughts? Addendums?

Queen’s College Resources

A colleague shared resources Queens College is sharing with instructors during the outbreak. i’ve also uploaded a file to the Commons blog.

Hey y’all, curated feed brought this one up for me to share:

Week 1 – Star and Larkin readings.

    For discussion, I would like to dwell on Larkin’s consideration of the poetics of infrastructure and its place within the libidinal economy. Accustomed to the lenses of Langdon Winner and Don Norman, I’m more familiar with treating infrastructure as a praxis of coercion – a series of effectively designed (and thus excluded from explicit cognition) political agents – that exerts a unidirectional influence on a user’s behavior despite the latter’s ostensible agency. That is, it is normalized to first discuss what infrastructure desires out of its user-base in implementation before focusing on the physical infrastructure itself. While this discussion of the artifact’s ‘politics’ provides more critical insight than merely treating infrastructure as a neutral entity, doing so falls into the same pitfall that Star outlines in her treatment of infrastructure’s transparency: as it comes to be the main topic of discourse, the political comes to obscure the ontological existence of infrastructure. From a methodological standpoint, a focus on the poetic and aesthetic dimensions of infrastructure – that they are evaluable things to be felt, experienced, and desired – would appear to be ideal points of departure as they retain focus on the actual entities throughout any discussion of the political. 

    That Larkin retains infrastructure as objects of desire allows an appreciation of a feedback mechanism beyond the technical of user and interface; one sees infrastructure and user entering into a circuit of desire within the libidinal economy: one experiences a desire towards infrastructure (the enjoyment of driving on a freshly paved road, the timely running of trains, crisp reception on a video call) simultaneous with the infrastructure’s ‘desire’ towards user (pressure to use toll roads to improve commute time, push to privatize public transportation for cleaner operation, suggestion to switch to more costly data plans). In such an economy of desire, one ponders the effects of transference and fetishism. Or, considering how the question of user fetishizing is already a trope in genre fiction (David Cronenberg’s Crash and Videodrone come to mind), it is perhaps better to consider the means (or even conceptual forms) through which infrastructure can fetishize ourselves. How may the object (be it user or infrastructure) become a fetish within this circuit and what effects would this pose for the circuit?

  1. What mistakes may arise from a  methodology of infrastructure based in the poetic?
  2. Does the question of aesthetics and politics transfer well into the domain of infrastructure? Why (not)?
  3. What is the place of the fetish within the poetics of infrastructure (e.g. building systems for the sake of expansion itself)? How may this impair methodology and can it be prevented?
  4. Can we envision other feedback loops that enter between user and infrastructure?