Alien UndergroundBook Reviews

Critical Art Ensemble: The Electronic Disturbance (Autonomedia, 1994)

Review from Alien Underground 0.0, London 1994
by Flint Michigan

Critical Art Ensemble:
The Electronic Disturbance
(Autonomedia, 1994)
A collection of 6 essays that take a look at the changing face of resistance in the now much hyped technological age with its electronic spaces that are creating social conditions that the CAE like to call liquescence. On a first flick this collection looks like one more revamping of the Deleuze and Guattari vocabulary with a nod to everyones best mates – the Situationist International. On a second look this is confirmed, but this doesn’t get away from the fact that the essays are thought provoking and some could say more readable than their prompters work. Whether or not this is trickled down, watered down or an example of a recombinant text, the CAE give us concrete applications to work with though sometimes their terra firma tips into that prescriptive manifesto language and men with a mission feel beloved by the SI and Trots alike.
The essay I’d like to paraphrase here is Nomadic Power and Cultural Resistance not least because it takes an angle on D&G’s notion of nomadism. The CAE believe that nomadism provides a model of power for late capital – the global economy is seen as a diffuse power field without location. Power has now become invisible and when this is integrated through technology to what the CAE call the fixed sight machine (i.e. the spectacle) a situation arises where power no longer needs to take a defensive posture and resistance is thrown into limbo, no longer able to rely on the old models of overthrow, and no longer even to be able to define a site of resistance. For this reason the CAE believe that the meanings inherent in the word subversion are no longer operable as knowing what to subvert assumes the forces of oppression are stable.
The CAE then go on to look at their own definition of spurious opposition and like the SI they begin with charting the fall from grace of the avant garde which succumbed to an aestheticised retreat into 19C notions of the poetic self: The SI liked to call this the autism of the artist. Communal experiments mark a similar retreat, a hiding from social authority and an embracing of spaces of tentative and short lived freedom. The CAE are quick not to forget the labour movement whose force has never been actualised and is now undermined by a global labour pool where everybody scabs on everybody else. Because power wanders in absence the sacred cows of militancy – the occupation/the street – almost become empty gestures as power cannot be resisted by strategies predicated upon the contestation of sedentary force… these places can be occupied but they will not disrupt the nomadic flow. One useful metaphor for power that the CAE come up with is that of the Bunker – privatised public spaces/ places overinscribed with oppressive ideology – and these can be electronic, i.e. the media, architectural, i.e. the universal presence of the church and McDonalds and sedentary, i.e. Whitehall, shopping malls etc. Moreover Nomadic Power has created panic in the streets, with its mythologies of political subåçversion, economic deterriorisation and biological infection (which) produces a fortress ideology and a demand for bunkers.
It is to these Bunkers that the CAE believe that electronic resistance must be applied in order to disturb the illusion of security and this means that the vocabulary of resistance must be extended to include the strategies of electronic disturbance. Moreover, it is the CAE’s belief that the nomadic model of power is facilitated and nurtured by the technological opening of cyberspace and the fact that the electronic word has not fully been inscribed (fortified) yet means that there is still time to take advantage of this fluidity through invention, before we are left with only critique as a weapon.
Flint Michigan

In a separate box we printed this quote from the book:
“Technlogy is the foundation for the nomadic elite’s ability to maintain absence, acquire speed, and consolidate power in a global system. Enough technology has fallen between the cracks of the corporate-military hierarchy that experimentation with cell structure among resistent culture can begin. New tactics and strategies of civil disobedience are now possible, one that aim to disturb the virtual order. With these new tactics, many problems could be avoided that occur when resistors use older tactics not suitable for a global context. The cell allows greater probability for establishing a nonhierarchical group based on consensus. Because of its small size (arbitrarily speaking, 4-8 members), this group allows the personal voice to maintain itself. There is no splintering, only healthy debate in an environment of trust. The cell can act quickly and more often without bureaucracy. Supported by the power of technology, this action has the potential to be more disturbing and more wide-ranging than any subelectronic action. With enough of these cells acting – even if their viewpoints conflict – it may be wagered that a resistant social current will emerge… one that it is not easy to turn off, to find, to monitor. In this manner, people with different points of view and different specialised skills can work in unison, without compromise and without surrender of individuality to a centralised aggregate.”from:
The Electronic Disturbance. Autonomedia 1994.

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