Deus Ex Machina


Excerpt from an old Project concerning the Ghost in the Machine.

File under: /Lostprojects*

*Tara Hill, Abstract / Outline / Ph.D.-Project, IXDM, Basel, 16.11.2014

Deus ex Machina

Facing ‘Spectral’ Interference: Towards a Hauntology of the ‘Ghosts’ in the Machine




Traditionally, in continental philosophy, the relationship of man and machine has been described in terms of mutually exclusive, binary oppositions – the most famous probably being the dualism of mind and matter, in which the ‘sacred’ human spirit – conceptualized as sort of an ‘élan vital’ – in its animated human corpus designs a device as means to a certain end, thereby usually rendering a sequence of discrete functions (or later: computations) automatic or industrial. trademark traits of measuring the effectiveness and economic value then would be their utility or usefulness as auxiliary tools, thereby ‘outsourcing’ and standardizing procedures of human handicraft to several automatized steps (though usually still operated by human beings, but in a more remote, abstract, centralized way of operating: one might label said machine-handling ‘at a distance’). machines, then, understood in a broader sense of the term, according to the ‘credo’ of instrumentality, functionality and rationality/rationalization would be key instruments of humanity’s rise above their species, key reference of the establishment of culture, key figures in the rise of mass society and engineering throughout the modern ‘industrial’ age or ‘fordist’ era and its specifics, i.e. processes of rationalization/industrialization. the key significance of the concept since the dawn of ‘enlightenment’ even (which in itself has become closely interconnected to the arrival of the ‘electronic’ age, aka ‘l’illumination’) – as a sort of spectacular u-turn – led to the view of the body (as well as organic matter) as ‘machinic’, actually successfully turning the paradigm shift from idealism to materialism into an ideology of matter as ‘machine-like’. dystopian tales of this reliance or even dependency on machines usually just swapped the roles of man and machine, thereby ascribing agency and domination or power to machines and passive dependency, on the other hand, to the hapless, oppressed human victim who witnesses his own transformation into a ‘guinea pig’.




but nowadays, in our age of post-postmodernity, late capitalism, neoliberalism, intelligent design, software apps and life-hacks (or even A. I.) this predominantly ‘modern’ concept increasingly seems downright dated. not only are machines today regularly operating on their own, in their own semi-autonomous space or even ‘biosphere’, often themselves regulated by even more, even ‘cleverer’ machines for checks and balances, a lot of them also handle tasks, that no longer resemble a fixed ensemble of human work sequences but massively transgress the potential of human labour, however skilled. a lot of the innumerable machines in our everyday-life have become far too complex for the usual, regular user to understand them albeit partially (apart from their concrete ‘functions’ and the handling of their ‘interface’), and therefore seemingly continually grow to ‘outsmart’ us humans. along with the profound impact of this realization and insight, new theories have flourished, which search to problematize and further differentiate this man-machine ensemble, e.g. the historical ‘decentering’ of the ‘subject’ of humanity. yet even if one challenges the traditional view of the man-machine-relationship with a, for instance, highly differentiated, posthumanist and thoroughly postmodern-anthropological approach such as bruno latour’s ANT (actor-network-theory), thereby levelling the playfield between human and non-humant agents/actants, i.e. machines and men, on a structural, semiotic level, a lot of the fundamental concepts still persist, and a lot of its framework still continually returns to ‘spook around’ or even haunt us as a witness of the ‘olden days’, before ‘machines’ took over most of our duties.




in this ph.d. project i will emphatically und fundamentally challenge this ‘common sense’ view of the man-machine-relationship from three different though densely interwoven, critical viewpoints:


first, i will argue, that the dichotomous distinction between man and machine is not deducted from the seemingly fundamental opposition of mind-matter or spirit-corpus but, as as a first and foremost analytical differentiation, actually lies solely in the frame of reference. a machine therefore should equally be able to describe the interaction of ‘living’ organic matter as well as computational processes (cybernetics) or industrial-mechanical devices. to demonstrate this i will make use of deleuze/guattari’s geophilosophical concept of ‘desiring-machines’ which does not ascribe or prescribe ontological features to machines, but sees them as assemblages or devices of (inter-) connectivity: in short, interfaces, determined by the complex array and interplay of forces/desire and (stratified as well as living/organic) ‘ordered’ matter. the distinction thereby is drawn between ‘states of chaos’ (state-of-flux/flow state/stream of consciousness, plateaus of intensitiy, the ‘body without organs’/chaosmos(e)’ (understood as an anarchist-positive, life-afforming force) and ‘states of emergent order’ (processes of stratification, hierarchization, territorialisation, arborification, ‘capture’) the latter assuming a vectorial quality or directed interplay of forces which also – through means such as the ‘war-machine’ sowing ‘dis-order’ or ‘becoming-other’ – can be reversed or disrupted:

a very basic model therefore would be an electric circuit which can serve both ends (free flow, pinpointed energetic activity, friction or shortcuts/blackouts). a big advantage of this theoretical concept in my opinion lies in its intermediary function: it locates itself in-between classic mind-and-matter-conceptualizations (by still distinguishing between the ‘wish’ or desire and force as a renewed notion of a certain kind of ‘élan vital’ or ‘chi’ (aether) and its constant couplings and reconnections within ‘real’ assemblages, i.e. ordered matter/strata) and more radical, nonhuman(ist) or scientific approaches (in its refusal to reduce machines to ‘dead’ or an-organic matter, on the contrary describing human life and bodies from an unborn baby up to the ‘socius’ as machines aswell), and at the same time a basic theorem and frame to understand life with absolutely no need of either ‘subjectivity’ or ‘society’.


second, i will resort back to the axis spinoza-nietzsche-foucault which i have already outlined in my master thesis to circumvent the classic shortcomings of more systems-theoretical or cybernetic concepts of power relations and reframe it according to two vital elements of my own project: power, understood as arbitrary interplay of forces, will be explicitly used in its energetic and electronic context, as the possibility to affect and be affected through ‘sparks’ of force/desire. at the same time i will attempt to open and establish a bypass to derrida’s concept of ‘différance’ as a more complex model of the problem of ‘presence’ and ‘absence’ in terms of a ‘currency’ of ‘alternate’ currents, which will lead us to the much cited ‘ghost’ in the machine.


third, i will make use of derrida’s promising theorization of ‘spectrality’ and ‘hauntology’ to challenge the shortcomings of conventional concepts of functionality on this very topic. this is especially important to my project, as it problematizes the concept of ‘functionality’ itself, understood as transparent successions of causal relations with certain means and ends. epitomizing the role of the ‘advocatus diaboli’ i will argue much the opposite: first, that functionality is not ‘normal’ , but only the norm in ideologically biased arguments, a second-order perception so to speak, and therefore an abstraction and reduction of the real, imminent forces at play, and second, that concepts which act complementary or ‘complicit’ with functionality and cater for the seemingly isolated incidents of ‘breakdowns’ and ‘emergencies’ or such as ‘malfunction’,’fault/failure’, ‘short-circuits’ or ‘interference’ are fundamentally and intrinsically part of machines, or with a slight hyperbolic edge ‘at its core’ as they do not themselves obey to the human logic of rationalization – as much as we’d like to conceptualize machines that way. logic therefore constitutes a hermetic ‘outer’ or ‘beyond’ to machines, and is not inscribed in their ‘dna’, even though we usually simplify this ‘chain of command and causality’, when we regularly make that assumption (in a sort of collapsing-the-map-with-its-territory-mistake). the machinic logos, as i will argue, is an emergent order with autopoietic as well as electromagnetic features, and does not usually comply with humanist or cantian notions of reason or rationality – in this respect, ‘Frankenstein’ and all these terrifying accounts of machines-come-alive is spot-on.




after these three crucial, introductory ‘axioms’ i will examine the consequences of this train-of-thought and apply my theoretical stances to several other theoretical concepts as well as – in a final, separate step and practical investigation – models of practice in form of a critical re-interrogation and open, theoretical dialogue. to begin with, i want to clarify the effects of my approach for pervasive and ubiquitary concepts such as ‘design’ and ‘creativity’, or more basically spoken: ‘innovation’ and ‘invention’. therefore, i will follow the alternate and minoritarian sociological and anthropological tradition all the way back to its modern ‘roots’ and trace this specific ‘school’ to gabriel tarde’s concept of hypnotism, imitation and innovation (which also was a central influence on latour’s ANT) and also, later (semi-) reformulations during the short era of the collège de sociologie as well as other key anthropological thinkers. i will then consider certain classical pioneers of anthropologically founded and ‘informed’ (cultural) media and design studies such as marshall mcluhan or vilém flusser which seemingly offer a fresh and daunting perspective on notions of creativity and innovation. i will also consider specific philosophers from a more systemic (yet open and feasible) theoretical tradition such as whitehead (and russell), bateson, von foerster et al., and trace the evolution of certain concepts into the related realms of a history of science, perception and technology, as conceptualized by michel serres et al..


after a brief ‘interlude’, which signifies a necessary excursion into the realm of cybernetics, physics and electrical engineering to clarify certain notions and concepts with the help of maverick rogue genius nikola tesla and, also, buckminster fuller, i will set out to adopt and use this focal ‘electromagnetic’ knowledge (on possibly ‘ghostly’ or ‘spectral’ features of alternate currents affecting both organic and anorganic matter and machines through the magnetic ‘vectors’ of desire/electric impulse) on the nature of the ‘spark’ of ‘desire’ (understood as flow or flux according to the ‘BwO’in deleuze/guattari, or the ‘ghost’ in their machinic assemblages). finally, i will proceed to the final emphasis and focal point of the project which will center on the practical aspects of my own reformulation of the machinic relations and its intrinsic qualities as well as its features in building assemblages and networks (nodes and hubs).




i will then try to put the hypothesis (the one i will at that point already have fully verbalized) to test and assess its theoretical as well as practical advantages and shortcomings. my aim is to demonstrate the benefits of such a concept in an experimental and explorative setting (small-sampled case/field study) in three deliberately very different and diverse settings, as in its basic reformulation it should thus ‘work’/’function’ and produce insight for all three examples .


first, i will apply the conceptual framework to an often untended field of research: sound studies. thus, my aim is to focus exactly on complex and difficult-to-conceptualize arrays (assemblages or dispositives) of sound design in contemporary electronic, i.e. ‘techno’ music. key aspects of the field study will discuss the interplay of forces at work and the effects/affects of certain machinic, electromagnetic impulses (e.g. delta, theta and gamma waves) and stimuli on the audience or listener (or more precisely: ‘user’), thereby possibly shedding some light on the actual, immediate interaction of ‘music’ (frequencies, rhythms and vibrations), bodily movements (sensations) and (subjective as well as social) ‘consciousness’ (narrative levels) and emergent ‘spectral’ machinic assemblages and networks that follow from these mutual and interdependent display of  ‘affections’. (for instance, meditation, hypnotism and technologies of ecstasy, without hereby assuming a simplified cause-and-effect-relationship.)


second, i will try to outline the possible impact on a potential study of certain social media and its intrinsic networks of power. thus, i will trace a select few of minoritarian, yet high-profile blogs and their own, emergent order of a complex ‘web 2.0’ consisting of hubs and nodes in a high-profile, yet up to now at the same time more or less ‘secretive’ or ‘hidden’ realm, such as for instance grassroot-based resistance and activist networks like ‘Anonymous’ or ‘whistleblower/wikileaks’-databases (this part is to be further elaborated and substantiated – my specific goal will here be to hopefully show certain advantages and (r)evolutions or redevelopments of the model in a more conventional, ANT-inspired network-analysis – more specific to follow). is it possible to speak of ‘Anonymous’ as a form of ‘A.I.’ or emergent phenomenon, maybe even in the sense of a ‘sentient’ being (like e.g. reza negarestani demonstrated with his highly polarizing yet pretty much jaw-droppingly-convincing conclusion of the sentience of ‘oil’ in his brilliant manifesto ‘cyclonopedia’)  


third, and very probably the most precarious endeavour of them all, i’ll try to put my own focus on ‘hauntology’/’spectrality’ in machinic assemblages and cybernetics to test in one of the most debated and dangerous (pseudo-)scientific battlegrounds: the realm of ‘nun-human entities’ and ‘sentients’ aka ‘ghosts’ itself. my working hypothesis of course will be a very grounded, non-esoteric one: that alot of seemingly spectacular ‘apparitions’ or ‘poltergeist’ phenomena can in fact be traced back to electromagnetic interferences and resonance (‘echo chambers’) which lead to ‘emergent’ phenomena such as mass-panic/hysterics or ‘new-age pilgrim tourists’. a systematic approach with an analysis of a small sample of accounts and renditions might serve as empirical base to show how until now ‘blackboxed’ phenomena in scientific discourse could possibly greatly profit from an inter- and transdiciplinary approach to so-called ‘psi’-labelled activity without aiming to ‘debunk’ or ‘reinforce’ alternate, mythological or religious beliefs, but by simply attempting to thoroughly analyze the phenomena with the means of an extended, reinforced ‘post’-ANT-approach. (maybe similar to neuroscience now offering a convincing, but by no means complete and exhaustive explanation of OBE’s and near-death-experiences)


to avoid falling into epistemological traps the explorative ‘field work’ will carefully focus on the drawing of a preliminary ‘cartography’ assembling all potential machinic and non-machinic ‘agents’ and the currents between them. if the theoretical framework outlined in the first part of the project will in fact – as i expect – prove to offer interesting and exciting insights on the interplay of forces at (net-)work within such phenomena it might offer a promising new outlook into such much-debated topics and fields of research beyond the usual lopsided idealist/materialist-reductionism. a complex analysis of the different currents, forces and vectorial-desiring ‘sparks’ should then open up new connections and interrelations and portray nodes and hubs as well as trace effects/affects on several different analytical levels: thus enabling a broader post-anthropological, interdisciplinary approach in the tradition of ANT predestined to draw revealing or even surprising conclusions (just as the scholars of the collège de sociologie managed to depict on the subject of ‘sacrality’, ‘spirituality’ and ‘witchcraft’ in the 1930ies/40ies). will we be able to locate and picture the ‘ghost in the machine’ by rendering the ghost itself ‘machinic’?  




In the final chapter i will not only summarize the theoretical stances and preliminary empirical results as well as possible practical benefits of the approach, but also offer a thorough discussion of the shortcomings and problematics of such a theoretical-practical framework crossing (or ‘short-circuiting’ and thereby ‘bypassing’) lots of different subjects and sciences. finally i will attempt to ‘map’ out a diverse synopsis of possible further study fields and area’s which might directly profit from such a critical post-anthropologist project, thought of as constant ‘work in progress’ (james joyce), forever inspired by the electric ‘sparks’ and ‘currents’ of the constantly evolving spectral-desiring ‘hu-machine’.




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