Mediamatic Magazine Vol. 6#4 Geert Lovink 1 Jan 1992


Arthur Kroker, The Possessed Individual: Technology and Postmodernity, New World Perspectives 1992

In modern writings about art and technology, a reference to French theorists would seem almost unavoidable. Arthur Kroker, the Canadian 'panic' theoretician, has made a brief tour of well-known French authors and noted down their views on technology.


Kroker -

In Kroker's view, early European philosophy is not by definition spleen or metaphysics. On the contrary, he regards French theory as a prophetic analysis of the speed life of the twenty-first century. The French thinkers have been promoted to the status of sharp-witted futurologists who do the work still neglected by the Americans. They are the fractal thinkers in whose central power one finds the key power configurations of the American hologram. Whether Kroker is accusing the Americans of negligence or Seinsvergessenheit, remains unclear. The international division of labour in the area of theory seems an established fact. The Americans surround themselves willingly with technology, while the Europeans show their strength in reflection on this 'cynical power'. Arthur Kroker puts himself forward as an intermediary between these two continents
which are drifting apart.

Kroker's viewpoint is determined by the concept of 'virtuality', the dominant sign of contemporary technological society. This is no longer determined by alienation, reification or even simulation. Virtual reality is what the possessed individual is possessed by. That is the programmatic title of the introduction, which indicates that the newest technology invades and possesses the body. The French instrumentarium offers us the same surgical quality, which provides access to the deepest recesses of postmodern subjectivity. The Self moves in a space of accidental topology and seductive contiguity of aesthetic effects. The individual is no longer a private person in a public space, but a public self in a private, imaginary time, maintaining himself in parallel worlds. Kroker's individual is horizoned by forgetfulness, charmed by seduction, disciplined by the codes of cynical power. The Self which loses its physical contours and enters the virtual stage is a bimodern minotaur which can't be conceived apart from technology. ''Before the contemporary French account of technology, it was still possible to talk of
a horizon beyond technique. After their writings the horizon finally closes. What remains is pure indifference.''

Kroker correctly observes that the French are not occupied with the genealogy of technology. According to him, that is still exclusively the area of the Germans (i.e., Kittler, Bolz and others).
French theory deals with the aftermath of the implosion and the terminal symptoms such as the death of politics and sex, of art and sociality. Kroker characterises the French books as reports about the age when the will to technique achieves its aestheticized point of excess. It is remarkable that this political scientist does not include a single reference to '68 in his report, while the French body of thought can easily be interpreted as a departure from the 19th century and the period before ww ii. Seen from this perspective, it does produce a kind of genealogy, which created awareness during the historic period from 68 to 89 (certainly after the downfall of communism) that we are definitively under the spell of technological America as the world's first post-structuralist society, which has now become the global hologram.

Kroker is unwilling to consign his beloved French to the great book of history. What he has produced is a conceptual analysis. The Possessed Individual does not present the French as theoreticians of techno-culture or post modernists. We are dealing less with intensification of modernism than with an entirely new cultural phenomena. What is new about his work is the clear images in it which evoke abstract concepts such as Baudrillard's simulacrum, Barthes's empire of the sign or Virilio's war machine. He stays close to the authors, for the most part, and his clear approach, based on virtuality, keeps his work from degenerating into interminable exposees.

In some chapters, Kroker uses Man Ray's Fashion Photo (''no human pretences, only 'significant images'''), Two Machines for Feeling, Tony Brown's robotic performance and paintings by
Attila Richard Lukacs. His analyses are not pedantic or educative. As different as Barthes, Virilio or Foucault may be, he deals with them in their own right and refrains from criticising them or
setting them against one another. Kroker produces acute characterisations, without taking anything away from the authors. He calls Virilio the first virtual theorist and the French Clausewitz. He sees Baudrillard as the Oswald Spengler of the cyborg age and calls him the new French Sartre as well, as he considers Baudrillard to have picked up where Sartre left off. Baudrillard is Sartre's twin star, the writer of the Critique of Viral Reason.


Cover of "The Possessed Individual" -

The Possessed Individual begins with the two authors who have the most to say about technology, Virilio and Baudrillard. A number of conclusions can be drawn from Barthes' descriptions
of daily life regarding the a priori of technology. According to Kroker, Deleuze and Guattari give a reading of the tattood body. They counter Barthes' and Baudrillard's melancholy scepticism with a memory of the tortured body, which continues to build upon the ruins of Spinoza. As we read further in The Possessed Individual, the differences between these thinkers surface with greater and greater frequency. Lyotard as the last and best of the American pragmatists and pioneer of the post-liberal ideology are juxtaposed to the nihilist who is finally reduced to the presence of evil. Duchamp's Trans/Formers occupy a central place in his interpretation of Lyotard. From Duchamp onwards, art is no longer opposed to reality, but is the performative principle of the virtual universe. Thematically, Kroker shifts gradually from technology to the individual and ends up at Foucault, the author of The Care of the Self, who finally came home to his Kantian self.

While Kroker neatly distinguishes the radicality of the sceptical movement from pragmatic naturalism, he does not perceive them as exhibiting dualism; rather an imminent reversibility between primitivism and hyper-technology as the dna of the American hologram. We are not, in Kroker's terms, offered a crash-theory. In view of the fact that the French thinkers still seem to be futurologists who adequately formulate our techno-condition, to turn these prominent intellectuals on their heads would be too much to ask of an introduction for American readers.
Their body of thought still contains so much truth that they cannot simply be passed over nonchalantly. The book entitled Forget Baudrillard has yet to be written, and no one seems capable of it at the moment. Arthur Kroker chivalrously recognizes this, and doesn't mope about trifles. He surrenders himself to the passion of thinking along. Those seeking to short circuit with the French or radically silence them, may have to contact the hard science of informatics.

translation jim boekbinder