- Resistance is FutileThe cultural politics of transformation in the digital age
"Move Fast and Break Things"
The desire for technology is only matched by the technology of desire, for which no amount of chiasmus can mask the dialectical knot this represents, historically, politically, and theoretically. One only has to the think of the misprision that now attends the Luddites—those brave souls who protested the deceitful use of technology to vacate standard labor practices, but whose title today unequivocally means the opposition to new technologies per se. I will not lend credence to the latter interpretation over the former necessarily, although I am interested in the clash of fictions where politics claims to live, a kind of aesthetic contusion, or what Jameson once called a "libidinal historicism," bound to all attempts to rethink "industrial society and its future" (the original title of Ted Kaczynski's manifesto, here minus his less than benign conclusions). Ned Ludd himself is an empty cypher, a necessary fiction, like the frightful hobgoblin that stalks at the beginning of the Communist Manifesto, or the model worker of the People's Republic of China, Lei Feng, who worked hardest as an ideological reflex of Maoism. We are told every fact has an alternative; some regimes of truth, however, are more subtle. If the resistance of the Luddites has been rendered obtuse, resistance today sometimes seems close to translucent. Seen as a lifestyle, resistance is the easiest of fictions: it is something that can be claimed with righteous aplomb. If cultural capital were a supermarket, resistance, in this declension, would be bottom shelf. It is like binging in the armchair and Facebook updates, or endless unimpeachable yet disposable hashtags like "I am Charlie Hebdo," "Not my president," or "Suck an egg Kim Jong-un." Resistance lends itself well to gesture, both as intense engagement and as knowing detachment. You can argue against resistance but since, in its most banal form, that is resistance, it is not much of a debate. One of the lures of what is now called "resistance studies" is surely that it takes little imagination to see it everywhere. The internet feeds this sense of all insurrection all of the time by not only beating words to death but constantly flogging the dead horse for good measure. Every meme is an original "pièce de résistance" and resistance, the word, [End Page 304] has become an idiot's tale of sound and fury. Obviously, there are all kinds of significant resistance and it is not my task in this essay to negate somehow that crucial valence; indeed, I will be addressing such resistance further below. Yet what happens to politics when resistance is hyper-niched, mediated not according to subjective desire but by a kind of machinic desire for subjectivity (an actual machine, of course, desires nothing, yet the concept metaphor is precisely the space of subreptive desire, that is, of contradiction)? Is this a grammar that questions how social change is ordered, cognized, captured? I mean this as more than a series of 0s and 1s (although we sometimes need to remind ourselves that the fabulousness of the digital universe is structured by a binary if not binary logic) but as a matrix where resistance has a fail-safe, a point of criticality that resistance must not meet. You can have any resistance you want, but not that one. It is the kind of resistance that can neither be "had" nor, in essence, experienced; it is neither the group you can join, nor the "like" you can signal, nor the mob you can flash, nor even the Derridean "gram" you can "insta." The space of composition is not individual will, the app that can be played or shopped, but it is the composite itself, the space of appropriation, appropriated. It is a space where voluntarism falls away (as well as all consumerist versions of the same: shopping for resistance, shopping as resistance, and resistance to shopping), but not the crux of political possibility. Paradoxically, perhaps, it is where resistance is futile.
Beyond what might seem like the random access memory of the above, what is the architecture and architectonics that...