- Blog Theory: Feedback and Capture in the Circuits of Drive
Jodi Dean's new book has a great title—Blog Theory—but it is the subtitle that clarifies what the book is about: Feedback and Capture in the Circuits of Drive. Less a detailed software analysis of politics of blog software as platforms of communication, and more a Žžekian take on the affect worlds of repetitious, circulatory desire in network culture, Blog Theory uses "blogging" to dig into fundamental political concepts such as crowds, action/passivity and reflection as well as enjoyment. What Blog Theory is about is the culture of the digital everyday—also in the most banal sense—that makes up network culture through its actors and the binds between social actions; as such, Dean is more accurately after the critique of social network and participatory culture, beyond just blogging—and using "blogs" as a gateway to this wider field of "communicative capitalism."
Using psychoanalytic methodology, and drawing much from Žižek, Dean claims that much of the seeming activity of network culture—from participation to discourse/response, action and activism—is more or less either illusory, more about interpassivity, or actually contributing to the flow of capitalism. Participation is far from subversive.
In the most interesting developments of the book, Dean argues that the themes of creativity and participation are far from adversarial to the circuits of capitalism and at the core of its logic. This is analyzed as part of the decline of symbolic efficiency: There is no longer a big Other that would offer a horizon for meanings, and hence this lack of stability is, according to Dean, an apt way to understand the circulatory space of the social network culture that in the midst of illusions of communications is actually more emblematically characterized by "crapflooding." Dean also mobilizes other interesting conceptualizations, such as displaced mediators, when arguing how this capitalism of communications is at its core unstable. Similar to other theorists, such as Terranova, Dean argues that "communicative capitalism is a formation that relies on this imbalance, on the repeated suspension of narratives, patterns, identities, norms, etc." (p. 31). Hence, again in a Žižekian twist, things are often their opposite, argues Dean; social networks are really not that social, or about friends; communication is less about actually communication than submitting data to the platforms and their databases (even if that political economic side could have been analyzed in more detail), and political activism is actually not that active. Dean paints a bleak picture of the complexity of capture that problematizes the traditional grounding of oppositional politics (democracy, truth, activism); and despite the bleak message, such notions as blogipelago are to me actually quite apt ways of understanding how the imagery of community, or connectedness, is underpinned by a much more fundamental fragmented nature of Internet culture and a good counter-force to celebratory discourses of virtual communities.
Yet, when it comes down to analyzing politics, something more could have been developed. Is it only that media activism and network politics aims to develop "tool and apps" to "get their messages 'out there'" (p. 125) that constitutes the way politics works—or might we need a more meticulous analysis of various projects creating alternative networks (the first that come to mind are Diaspora and Thimbl) where the point is not only to get the message out there but to get people "in"—the mere fact being that such platforms do not contribute to the data-mining economy of proprietary social networks? This is why it seems that differing notions of "affects" in network culture—such as for example Nigel Thrift's notes on political organization and the pre-cognitive might capture more accurately the stakes in media activist practices— which are as much about the fact of participation, in itself important, as about the communicated, communicative goals.
Dean discusses a range of interesting theories and theorists, but some are tackled a bit too quickly...