Media Theory for the 21st Century

March 3, 2008

Queer Technologies

Filed under: Discussion — zachblas @ 2:35 am

On Tuesday, I will discuss my thesis work at UCLA on Queer Technologies.

Queer Technologies is organized as a collaborative entity that operates at the intersections of art, commerce, and politics, developing and publicly disseminating a range of applications and tools for queer technical agency, interventions, and community building.

Projects include transCoder, a queer programming anti-language; ENgenderingGenderChangers, a “solution” to Gender Adapters’ male/female binary; GRID, a new politicized version of AppleCare for the queer techno-agent; Gay Bombs, a technical manual manifesto that outlines a “how to” of queer political action through terrorist assemblages of networked activism; and the Disingenuous Bar, a play / attack on Apple Computer’s Genius Bar for tech support that offers a heterotopic space for political support for “technical” problems.

A goal of the project is to uncover the role(s) digital technologies play in constituting iterations and representations of queerness by interrogating the methods and styles in which queers use digital technologies—artistically, politically, commercially, imaginatively. In tandem, Queer Technologies examines intersections of formal and political technological control structures that have historically and discursively excluded queerness from larger technological ways of being and pursues materialized actualities of freedom and resistance to these control instantiations alongside queer imaginaries of technological agency, desire, existence, becoming, freedom.

At heart, Queer Technologies is a form of knowledge production. Moving with and against homogeneities of producer and consumer cultures, the project echoes Galloway and Thacker’s claim that “the best way to fight an enemy is to become a better enemy.” With this strategy in mind, the discourse of this knowledge production is built upon three main concepts: 1) Judith Halberstam’s outline of “mutual mutation” in queer technotopias: similar to a cybernetics model, this idea moves away from a human-centered position, understanding queerness and technology as co-evolving and constantly redefining one another. Mutual mutation reveals the inability to separate technologies that are digital from technologies of queerness. 2) José Esteban Muñoz’s concept of “disidentifications.” In his own words: “Disidentifications is meant to be descriptive of the survival strategies the minority subject practices in order to negotiate a phobic majoritarian public sphere that continuously elides or punishes the existence of subjects who do not conform to the phantasm of normative citizenship. . . . it is a step further than cracking open the code of the majority; it proceeds to use this code as raw material for representing a disempowered politics or positionality that has been rendered unthinkable by the dominant culture.” We can think of disidentifying as a hacker strategy. If possibilities are determined by technical standards (protocol), then a locus of power must reside within programmed hardware. The queer who disidentifies with technology locates this power within hardware as code, rewrites / hacks / infects / mutates this code, and recodes the entire technological apparatus as a result. We must think of coding here at the technical level and beyond: computer codes, language codes, cultural codes, political codes, biological codes, commercial codes. While the disidentifying subject may recode technology only at the technical level, this act still produces, reveals, generates codes of disidentification in all spheres a given technology resides (hence, life-in-general). 3) Hardt and Negri’s notion of the multitude builds the larger network topology that Queer Technologies circulates within. The multitude of Queer Technologies is known as theSoftQueerBody, an assemblage of the material and immaterial, human and unhuman. theSoftQueerBody works toward 1) arguing for an interpretation of queerness as evolving, mutating, dynamic technology, 2) suggesting that through queerness’ existence as a technological mutation engine lies its political power, and 3) designing an abstract topology of queer technical existence and action (the formation of the multitude).

With these concepts in mind, Queer Technologies produces a form of “counter-protocological” practice. According to Galloway and Thacker, counter-protocological practices “do not center around existent technologies but instead involve discovering holes in existent technologies and projecting potential change within those holes. …[further,] counterprotocol practices can capitalize on the homogeneity of networks to resonate far and wide with little effort.” The counter-protocological practices of Queer Technologies begins with the act of disidentifying with technology to generate exploits (products) and ends with the act of disidentifying with capitalism (the circulation and dissemination of these products). From shop-dropping in commercial stores to retail at Queer Technologies’ Disingenuous Bar, the project adopts the logic of capitalism in order to spread (infect) its knowledge far and wide.

Questions / Discussion Points:
1) the relationship of protocol, counter-protocol, and the politically ambiguous

2) beginning with Liu’s question “what ethical foundation enables identities to live an un-networked and counter-informational fantasy within the spirit of informationalism?” (71) do the (de)regulations of digital technologies ever permit a non-standard of queerness? Or is this always condemned to only imaginaries?

3) Queer Technologies contest the idea of functionality. Keeping in mind Wendy Chun’s statement that there can never be a purely technological solution for a political problem, how do we interpret the technological here? Does this refer to functionality? What are the stakes of functionality in a counter-protocological practice?

4) If corporate capitalism has produced a monoculture of diversity that is stripped of history, can we understand enmeshed, potentially ambiguous capitalist projects, like Murakami’s Louis Vuitton store at MOCA, as spaces that expose monoculture, and as a result, open possibilities of a “counter” practice?

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