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?