Platforms—political platforms, software platforms, reinforced concrete pads with code-mandated footings, vaporous vectors of techno-ideological determination, the rack, the rig, the ‘architecture,’ the infrastructure, the format, the page you now read, the language in which we write to you, the beach beneath the paving stones, the world turtle upon whose back that beach rests and the stack of other turtles under it, which in the account of Bertrand Russell’s noble savage/little old lady, extend “all the way down”—dictate the conditions of what is and what is possible. Platforms are both prison and home, spectacular scaffolds or mute scaffolding, that which limits what can be said, done, and thought, as well as the thing that makes possible what never was before. Whatever relations these structures negotiate with or impose upon Nature, they are most significantly “made” and therefore it is always possible to imagine them unmade or made differently. In this way, all platforms are designed and all design operates within and upon the platforms that support it, define it, pose its problems, and establish its criteria for success. In relation to this, however, it is important to state that platforms—or at least the ones of interest here—are not plinths. They are not the thing that gives discreet things that little lift off the earth which elevates them into the sphere of “high” art; they are not neatly bounded “artificial ground” upon which compositional figuration can be imagined to take place; and they are not mantlepieces or curio cabinets for object fetishists to fill with their tchotchkes. Platforms are heavy, pervasive, and capital intensive—they both support and confine the lowest and highest, the most and least free.
In the context of capitalism’s contemporary condition—either “late” or “advanced” depending on one’s level of optimism—issues of platform have become both increasingly important and miserably fraught and conflicted. Structures founded on innovations in mediating relations of exchange, choreographing logistical flows, and creating spaces for communication, have surpassed the massively-material productive forces of heavy industry as the drivers of both the economy and the culture it forms and deforms. As these structures have flourished, those who create and control them have assumed roles as framers of world-defining ideological schemas, and, as they have come into crisis, regimes of austerity have asserted, not their rightness or goodness, but rather the impossibility of any alternative not already facilitated by existing platforms. Likewise, much of the most hopeful, most radical, and most beautiful work of political praxis and aesthetic production-become-reproduction has come to be focused on creating new platforms, or occupying, transforming, or subverting existing ones.
This issue of Counter Signals began with an interest in discussing platforms, as a specific scalar level of the publishing process: those systems and structures by means of which texts are produced, and through which they circulate, are invested with value in various ways, and eventually are made public. This collection is by no means encyclopedic. It does not claim to omnisciently map the entirety of this territory of territories, but neither does it pretend be a naïve juxtaposition of idiosyncratic oddities, or a cabinet of curiosities reducing carefully, and culpably engineered apparatuses to ‘objects’ in the ‘post-human’ faux-populist, know-nothing democracy of ontologically flat, actor networks. What is attempted here is to create a critical assemblage of exemplary cases, historical fragments, contemporary experiments, and analysis both practical and theoretical, that adds up to a consideration of the concrete situation.
Recent discussions of “platform” resonate with historical and ongoing discourses on similar concepts, such as “network,” “infrastructure,” “system,” and, more generally “structure,” that have marked the later phases of modernity, and the modernisms and postmodernism that have sought to understand and contend with them. Much of this discourse has been defined by either an ecstatic embrace of the dematerializing, depoliticizing, and emptying-out of content and significance attributed to systems by neoliberalism, or by a (neo)reactionary horror at the interconnectedness of the world and the way that the contingency of support structures destabilizes and denaturalizes the supposed solidity of the humanist subject. In contrast to these two poles, the call for contributions to this issue of Counter-Signals was also a call for courage. Most immediately, this is the courage to resist trembling either in terror or ecstasy at the seemingly-sublime enormity of platforms, of infrastructure, or “The System.” Further, however, it is the courage to refuse melancholic paranoia, and the glib cynicism in which it is so often, and so inadequately, masked. Rather, it is hoped, a discourse can be defined here that goes beyond delirious projections of “possible futures,” either dark or enlightened (or darkly enlightened, or simply brightly dim), and turns away from both scandalized denouncements of sinister conspiracies, and smug elegies to higher orders and deeper truths. The often-quoted passage from Marx and Engels’ Manifesto of the Communist Party asserting that “all that is solid melts into air” is, somewhat less famously, followed by the assertion that “man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.” This issue of Counter-Signals offers a space to play-out this compulsion, and to ‘face’—soberly or not—the reality of life and work defined and conditioned by webs of human relations, even as our very faces, bearing the organs of sight, and representing the sites of these ethical engagements, themselves sublime into vapor, melt into air, or, as Hito Steyerl suggests, “become liquid.”
Platforms are inhuman and often de-humanizing but they are made and maintained by the work of people, and built as much out of tangled, densely felted tissues of human relations as they are by material infrastructure and intricate lattices of software code. These structures of relation establish a recursive, mutual constitution of the turtles of subjectivity that, impossibly but manifestly extend forever in infinite regress, and eternal return. Jeff Bezos—as well as his legions of immiserated “fulfillment associates,” and the consumers whose desires they fulfill—create Amazon-dot-com even as they are created by it, and the rest of late capitalism. Counter-Signals—this issue specifically but also the publication as a whole—and Other Forms are likewise a platform of mutually-constituting subjects: “self-publishing” for selves yet-to-be; publishing addressing publics not yet formed, or endlessly in flux. This collection of texts seeks simultaneously to define terms, parameters, and points of fixity, and to identify paths of flight, opportunities to subvert, escape, unfound, and destabilize the structures that both support and confine our work and our lives. This is done in full acceptance of the fact that to challenge or attack platforms is to—in the tradition of Gordon Matta-Clark, or Daffy Duck—saw the floor from beneath our feet. Whether this will leave us standing on the beach, falling into the infinite void, or simply dropping down into a deeper sub-basement full of even darker, grimier machinery remains to be seen. If this interests you, comrade reader, take up your saw, stand next to us as we hack through this issue, and wait for the drop.
Down with platforms! All the way down!
Fall 2018 – Winter 2019
Edited by Alan Smart and Jack Henrie Fisher
Published by Other Forms
On Pamphlets and Class Struggle: Notes on The Communist Manifesto, Part 1
Literary Communism and Communal Poetics, Part 3
The Risograph in Context: Notes towards a Cultural History of the Mimeograph
From The Totality Cantos, 18–22
The Froebel Uprising of 1973: Recovering the Struggle for Benito Juarez Community Academy High School
Homely and Unheimlich: The Brutalist Mound at Robin Hood Gardens
Architecture Mustn’t Burn
The Vectoralist Class, Part 1
Un Autre Monde: Another Encounter with Marcel Broodthaers
Soldiering through a Land of Lies: William Morris, Communism, and The Story of the Glittering Plain
Séance de Lecture
Black & Red, Issue 6½ (1969)
Agitate then Negotiate: Artifacts from the Life of Helen Sargent Hitchcock
We All Know What the Problems Are, but Who Now Meets Them Directly? Aesthetic Services circa 1980
The Vectoralist Class, Part 2
Archive Sophistry and False Futures
Between Desire and Deterritorialization: Read-Aloud Questions about Cooperativism, Affective Networks, and the Co-production of Meaning amid the Expansion of Labor-Exploitation into the Domain of Subjectivity and the Entirety of Everyday Life
Fall 2017 – Winter 2018
Edited by Jack Henrie Fisher
Published by Other Forms
Jack Henrie Fisher
Edit deAk (1950–2017)
Alloturgies in the Annex: Something Else Press and the Fluxus Mode of Production
Self-woven, Self-shod, and Self-liberated
Fashion Capitalism, Part 2: The Frock Coat and the Value Form
Fashion Capitalism, Part 3: The Mode of the Libidinal Economy
New Demands, Part 1
Scenes of Instruction, Scenes of Insurrection
1-M@n Dr1ll: Smokepenny Lyrichord Heavenbred, Act III
Ocean Flights and Crashed Planes: A Reading of Brecht’s Two Learning Plays
John A. Tyson
Between Marxism and Cybernetics: Seth Siegelaub’s Committed Compilations
Technical Images for Social Engineering
Charlotte Taillet and Joel Colover
Imagine holding out your hands and catching words, pictures, and information floating by.
Anarchism in your Pocket: The Rise of Mass-market Anti-authoritarianism
Modernism and Traditionalism: Points of Convergence in European Typography, 1925–1950
Strike and Riot: A Possible Syllabus
Literary Communism and Communal Poetics, Part 2
Untotal Recall.zip: Basic Remarks on CGI
Feedback in Radical Software
(illustrations by TXTbooks)
The Digital Dilemna: Meaning, Environment, Counter-culture, and Aesthetics
The Radio as an Apparatus of Communication
Fall 2016 – Winter 2017
Edited by Jack Henrie Fisher
Published by Other Forms
Jack Henrie Fisher
Dear Vanguard …
The Smoking Communism
A Sketch of Myths and Legacies: Tbilisi’s Illegal Printing Press, 1904–1906, 1937, 2016
Literary Communism and Communal Poetics
The Politics of The Joy of Printing in Detroit
The Historicization of Resistance in Pyrsos Magazine; Some Visual Fragments
Fashion Capitalism, Part 1: Redressing Dressage, Managing Style
excerpts from La danse et la gymnastique by Raymond Duncan
“Infolio Simply Means The Sheet of Paper Folded Once”: A Conversation with Tom Raworth
Interview with Denise Ferreira da Silva
The Manual del editor con huaraches:
Media Appropriation and Organizational Systems, 1974-1985
Rules for Breaking in: Squatter’s Handbooks as Radical Specifications
Nasrin Tabatabai and Babak Afrassiabi
Letters that Go Folded into Shredder, 2008–2011
New World Paperbacks / Old World Designs: American Communism’s Strange Attempt to Join the Paperback Revolution
Jack Henrie Fisher
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 exemplary3. Faced with various delays in the publication process, and confronting an intellectual market “where books have long lost all likeness to books,”4 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”5 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.”6
Notes for an Incomplete Counterpublic
Counter-Signals generically begins with the circular convocation which Michael Warner says is crucial to the discursive formation of a counter-public7. As a discourse — this one for instance — is printed and circulated as a publication, the collective which it addresses comes into being in the exact and indefinite space which the address opens. There is a curious circularity in this imaginary formation: while the collective is “conjured” by the discourse that addresses it, the discourse can’t exist without a particular public to address; neither comes first. So, a reflexive thank- you to everyone projectively assembled in this imaginary totality, here. (You’re welcome.)
The discursive counterpublic this journal aspirationally composes is not just the countable set of comrade acquaintances we’ve happen to have lately made, in real life travels to New York, Chicago, Mexico City, Berlin, and Hawai‘i, nor the friends of friends encountered on social media platforms — though you all are here too I hope. Rather, this counterpublic is a notional one, and therefore must always seek to exceed its empirical social basis. It is, in other words, open to strangers, but not just anyone — congenial strangers, fellow travelers, comrades — when and if you read this, you know who you are. It’s an epidemic of ideology in the making!
As its first sheet of paper is folded, Counter-Signals technically begins, as all printed publications must, on the left — on the verso side. The reflexive openness of its address is materially accomplished by the circulation of the book as an autonomous object — ink on paper, folded and glued together — which might be stumbled upon at any time, in any place (art book fairs, info shops, pop- up libraries, academic conferences, Amazon) by erstwhile unrelated people. The contradiction, between an open-ended address and the acutely contingent material limits of circulation, is another dialectical moment in our communitarian assembly. This address — hello again world — is inscribed in a circulation which might always go awry.
Counter-Signals is print (for the moment) oriented towards a pub-lic, one which didn’t already exist. What else would it be? It is, reflexively, “a form oriented towards its own circulation,” in necessarily militant orbit.
Printed Matter, NYC
McNally Jackson, NYC
Graham Foundation Bookstore, Chicago
Oooga Booga, Los Angeles
Pro Qm, Berlin
After 8 Books, Paris
Hopscotch Reading Room, Berlin
Aeromoto, Mexico City
Casa Bosques, Mexico City
San Serriffe, Amsterdam
Salon für Kunstbuch, Vienna
Art Metropole, Toronto