The Negation of Negation

The kind of defamiliarization and reappropriation that Raley discusses in “Border Hacks” is not unfamiliar to all of us. In the recent presidential debates, Romney’s comments about “binders full of women” caught fire and was all over Twitter and Facebook in “meme” form and otherwise. The joke took on a life of its own to the point that the context was lost. Those who did not even watch the debate knew of this comment and were amused and weren’t even sure what was so funny.

Raley writes that rather than interfering with infrastructure, “Web activism aims to transform the social conditions in which that infrastructure is situated” (42). I would consider some events like Facebook going all pink for breast cancer awareness to be a form of web activism. Additionally, Google does this almost daily with changing their widely recognized logo to alert users to and important event going on in the world such as the anniversary of a significant discovery or invention or the birthday of a person who a noteworthy person.

This “border hack,” as Raley calls it, is one of many acts that seek to defamiliarize the signs of everyday life, pursuing a series of provocative events or spectacles rather than a program of systematic change. An event like the Occupy Movement could be a form of border hacking. Protesters were occupying, invading or hacking a space in which they did not belong. Which begs the question of where does border hacking end and go ol’ fashioned protesting begin? Isn’t a border always being “hacked” when a protest is taking place? I would say Raley would agree when she sums up this non-revolution as the “negation of negation” (46). I think she would feel that the Occupy Movement would certainly apply, especially considering the media was confused and almost annoyed that there was no coherent message coming from the movement, but Raley would consider them a success because, as she says, “A temporary provocation, however momentary, can change the signifying field in which it occurs” or to put it more simply, any disturbance is good because it causes the observer to pause and think about why that disturbance occurred. Much like the changing of the border signs.

Can Disruptive Data Exist?

Manovitch (“The Database”) and Raley and the yearn for a disruptive artwork. Both scholars push for a Data-based artwork that does more than represent. Raley specifically mentions the way that Tactical Media can “disrupt” normal society.In the introduction of Tactical Media, she mentions hactivists shutting down or changing websites temporarily as an example of this – this example I understand. But some of her examples in the chapter of Speculative Capital do not seem disruptive to me. Black Shoals and ecosytem are provocative, fit into Manovitch’s specifications of a database, and successfully create a narrative of data through their visualizations – Black Shoals with the story of an economic universe and ecosystem with the progression of the birds movements and actions. Raley specifically mentions that these artworks are disruptive.

I don’t know about you; but when I imagine disrupting the stock market, I imagine a scene from the most recent Batman movie. Perhaps I am thinking of the word “disruptive” in too concrete terms but even when I try to conjure up ideas of how the artworks disrupt in abstract senses, I am unimpressed with my result.

  1. The artwork disrupts the viewer’s day. This greatly belittles the salient and serious subjects of the work.
  2. The artwork disrupts the stock market. Nope.
  3. The artwork disrupts our understanding of economics. Maybe?

I could see option 3 working out but I would argue that “disrupt” is not the right term here. Educate, perhaps is. In fact Raley actually speaks briefly about education, but doesn’t give it enough credit. And maybe educate is not the right word either, if you already have a good understanding of the way the economic world works. In that case, confronts is best. These works confront us with a new visualization that might make us think critically about capitalism and monetary standards. By making it immediately visual, it brings the ideas to the front of our minds – and I am nor sure if that is disruptive or not.