- Counter-Networks in a Network Society: Leslie Marmon Silko’s Almanac of the Dead
This essay calls into question the opposition between global capitalist economic, cultural, and social networks and modernity’s industrial capitalist social spaces, an opposition between the “space of flows” and the “space of places,” as it is developed in Manuel Castells’sthoroughgoing analysis of the information economy. Putting Castells’s insights to cross-purposes, the essay foregrounds troubling continuities and collaboration between these divergent social spaces. The essay reads Leslie Marmon Silko’s novel Almanac of the Dead for its critical reflection on global capitalist networks and examines its spatio-temporal mapping of the Americas, which implicates these purportedly novel, deterritorialized spatial networks in a five hundred year system of colonial and imperial expansion. The novel’s spatio-temporal mapping of the Americas rethinks the socio-spatial logics informing global capitalist networks in light of these continuities, identifying a resistant potential within them. Its counternetworks take advantage of global capitalism’s dismantling of the three worlds system, developing a transnational, subaltern model of resistance that refuses both a nationalist, essentialist conception of identity grounded in place and a liberal multicultural identity politics encouraged by global capitalism’s “space of flows.”
The proliferation of critical work on the networking logics that underwrite capitalism’s global restructuring suggests, quite mistakenly, that capitalism’s rearticulation of the spaces of the world to suit it is something new. Working immediately prior to these shifts, Henri Lefebvre, in The Production of Space, had already developed his account of capitalism’s “social space” as a dynamic “matrix of social action” that, in addition to providing an infrastructure or backdrop for social relations, is itself the medium of material practices within which social relationships are realized (Brenner 141). While not completely novel, these dramatic spatial transformations have led to a “general revivial of interest in geographical knowledges” in social theory because, as David Harvey suggests, “from such a perspective, in which history and dynamics cannot be evaded, geographical knowledges turn out not to be so banal as they seem” (299, 300). This critical turn to render the “dead spatiality” of geographical knowledges dynamic, as “active aspects or ‘moments’ in social processes,” though, is just the beginning of serious inquiry into “geographical praxis” as “a vital aspect of power and an object of political and social struggle” (Harvey, “Cosmopolitanism” 299, 300, 296). Thinking through the social production of space, and the power of social space in turn, to shape social relations, theorists grappling with these shifts typically differentiate global capitalist social spaces and their dynamic, flexible, deterritorializing logics from the preexisting, territorial, place-based social spaces that paved the way for industrial capitalism and its modern socio-spatial configurations. The network serves as the privileged sign of this difference. Yet the very visibility of capitalism’s restructuring, the ubiquity and apparent novelty of the spatial logic of its information networks, hides remarkable continuities between emergent, networking logics and these divergent, though co-implicated social spaces. In reading the spatial logic of networks as a sign of postmodernity’s difference from modernity, as the distinguishing feature of a post-Fordist as opposed to a Fordist economy, theorists such as sociologist Manuel Castells, Lefebvre’s one-time student, establish a set of rigid oppositions between the spatial logic of networks and the spatial logics structuring modernity, leading them to overlook and underestimate continuities, even collaboration, in their functioning.1
This essay redirects Castells’s exacting account of the networking logics informing the global information economy, opening up a line of inquiry into the present co-articulation and co-implication of the emergent spatial logic of networks and existing modern spatial formations such as the nation-state. This reading reveals, in particular, their shared implication in colonialist, neo-colonialist, and imperialist spatial practices, and it also identifies significant differences between these social spaces and discrepancies in their spatial logics that enable a thoroughgoing, strategic rethinking of these socio-spatial practices and the Euro-American epistemologies they further. Most remarkably, global capitalist networks’ emphasis on simultaneous global spatial connections has led to the breakdown of the three worlds system and its temporal differentiation of the...