Against Communication

In the current regime of electronic sociality, every message — posted, forwarded, reposted, liked — is captured and counted as it circulates, thereby producing value for its monetizing platform. In these fluid networks, messages must be radically abstracted and made equivalent, moving with the least material friction, in order to produce the maximum of sociality and capital accumulation. As communication thus tends, through its increasing abstraction, to become an economic form — the preeminent commodity form, as many have argued, of Late Capitalism — it must become ever more instantaneous, accessible, individualized, and disposable. “Collective settings” in “authoring platforms” are technically discouraged, if not impossible. Archives are hindered; references to the past are made difficult.

It is within and against this context that Counter-Signals polemically insists on the historical and material forms and forces which condition what Regis Debray calls the transmission of information. Against an amnesiac and dematerialized “ecstasy of communication”, Counter-Signals affirms, documents, and theorizes the historically militant forms of “the struggle to transmit,” especially the communitarian project, in all its material and conflictual arrangements.

These militant transmissions emit peculiar signals. They are agonistically shaped by ad-hoc constellations of technology and political necessity. The counter-signals thereby acquire distinctive forms of compression, mutation, and self-reflexivity in the project of their militant social poesis. Theodor Adorno’s informal distribution of Philosophical Fragments as a package of mimeographs, prior to its official publication as Dialectic of Enlightenment, is exemplary. Faced with various delays in the publication process, and confronting an intellectual market “where books have long lost all likeness to books”, Adorno improvised with a technology at the edge of obsolescence, the mimeograph, which thereby acquired for Adorno a dialectical power: no longer cutting edge but not yet made obsolete by Xerography, it was less technically advanced than lithography but more accessible. And as a means of reproduction, it enabled both the work’s informal circulation, and, concomitantly, its “incomplete and perhaps even contradictory” editorial composition — one which Adorno would later significantly revise for the book’s official publication.

Mobilizing this anecdote, Counter-Signals seizes on a double program: to track and document like-minded forms of militant publishing — incomplete and contradictory — in all their historical and technical mediation, and to reflexively elicit its own formal and editorial mutations, abridgments, and excursions in the present tense. While the contents of this first issue have been elicited without an initiating theme — eschewing the prevailing tendency of contemporary art and design journals — an implicit and after-the-fact interest has emerged, reflexively doubled: the historical militancy of left-oriented publishing, and the inherently militant aesthetic of the medium of print, as it becomes obsolescently figured by a present in which electronic forms of communication have been increasingly overcome by the “total power of capital.”