Interview with Arthur Kroker
Liam Mitchell and Guillaume Filion
University of Victoria
Arthur Kroker is Canada Research Chair in Technology, Culture and Theory, Professor of Political Science, and the Director of the Pacific Centre for Technology and Culture (PACTAC) at the University of Victoria. He is the editor with Marilouise Kroker of the internationally acclaimed journal CTheory and Critical Digital Studies: A Reader (University of Toronto Press). His recent publications include The Will to Technology and the Culture of Nihilism: Heidegger, Nietzsche, and Marx (University of Toronto Press) and Born Again Ideology: Religion, Technology and Terrorism. In addition to the recent Japanese translation of The Will to Technology, eleven of Dr. Kroker’s books have been published in translation including German, Italian, Japanese and Croatian. Dr. Kroker’s current research focuses on the new area of critical digital studies and the politics of the body in contemporary techno-culture.
PJRP sat down with Dr. Kroker to discuss his work, the thinkers with whom he is currently concerned, and the topic of relationality as such. Click here to watch the interview from the beginning. Click on any of the links below to jump to a specific interview question.
Figures of abject bodies often appear in your work: from sexual bodies to capitalist bodies to religious bodies to coded bodies, your thought seems to be grounded in the notion of "abuse value." How is this concept significant for your understanding of power, provided that power is understood in Butler's sense as both social and psychic? That is, if power is a relationship that constitutes subjects, how do the specific concepts of "abjection" and "abuse value" nuance this conceptualization of power?
If abjection has a social and historical element despite possessing a certain transhistorical character (as we might see in Nietzsche's ascetic ideal), do you think that recently - especially since you focus so heavily on questions of technology - there have been intensifications of this process of abjection? Or is it just happening now in a slightly different technological way?
Donna Haraway insists that the political outcome of global "networks of connection" is ambiguous: on the one hand, she discusses the formation of an "informatics of domination" based on the "social relations of science and technology" (namely an historical apparatus organized through structured material relations among people); on the other hand, she discusses the formation of innovative, potentially emancipatory and resistant technological affinity groups. So, considering that cyborgs are the offspring of militarism and patriarchal capitalism as she says, what do you think of her enthusiastic claim that the "fathers [of cyborgs], after all, are inessential"? In other words, can the human-machine coupling be separated from its origination in an apparatus of domination in order to give rise to autonomous forms of life and sociality?
Haraway seems to be enthusiastic about the emancipatory potential of the cyborg in the manifesto, but in her larger work she is more ambivalent. Your paper on Obama and the Arab Spring seems to be similarly ambivalent on the character of emancipation and violence inherent to charismatic liberalism. For instance, you recently said that "[t]he cultural values of charismatic liberalism, from democratic participation and education to women's rights, are set in motion by the forces of technologically-enabled globalization." Does Obama, as the shining light of charismatic liberalism, represent the ambiguous entanglement of emancipation and violence? Is violence the necessary by-product of the marriage of liberalism and technology?
There is a continuity between the violence of the Bush regime and the mercy now put forward by Obama. There is clearly a tension there, but it also seems like the mercy of the Obama administration is built on this prior violence. Is that right?
The UK and the USA are increasingly seeking an equilibrium between traditional and digital warfare. Besides the language of the "just war," how are liberalism and technology becoming coupled today?
Does the politics of the societies being identified by the term "Arab Spring" have a different relationship with liberalism and/or technology than the politics of the West?
In My Mother Was a Computer, Hayles suggests that cybernetics helps disrupt the Cartesian generative equation between scientific mastery and the constitutive subject by inaugurating a "feedback loop" connecting "human and machine, dominator and dominated, subject and object." Practically, the production of this effective cybernetic apparatus gives rise, in her view, to a phenomenon of "intermediation," by which she means a circuit of nonlinear and recursive exchanges between bodies, texts, and media. From this, two questions arise. First, methodologically, what is the importance of the contemporary infrastructure of digital connection in her conception of the "coproduction and coevolution of multiple causalities"? Second, practically, how do network connections complexify the subject-object relationship? Is connectivity in and of itself a technological form of relationality?
In the context of a network society where connectivity is the norm, does breaking connections constitute creativity or complexity?
Melancholia, ressentiment, and nostalgia are important themes for your understanding of politics and subjectivity. When the will to nothingness becomes the will to technology, does the subject's relationship to itself change? Do melancholia, ressentiment, and nostalgia come to play a bigger role? Or, in the absence of a melancholic digital subject, do psychic forces manifest in a different mode in the expansion of technological consciousness?
Does the failure of the technological singularity to come to pass motivate the transhumanist movement? Is there a psychopathology of boredom and a sort of desperation with which they adhere all the more strongly to this notion of the singularity? Is that what drives people like Ray Kurzweil?
The posthuman and the cyborg are figures that help Haraway and Hayles, among others, to reconfigure the relations between humans (and between humans and their environment). To what extent can the images of the posthuman and the cyborg help us to think through the complexity of our dwelling in digitality?
Are the posthuman, the cyborg, and the companion species promising heuristic tools that can help us to make sense of technology in terms of relationality (or vice versa)?
Are thinking and relationality conceptually synonymous for Heidegger? On the first page of "The Letter on Humanism," he says that "thinking accomplishes the relation of Being to man," and in using the word "accomplishes" he is deploying a non-causal concept. He continues to deploy obvious terms in a non-obvious way throughout the rest of the essay. So relationality could be taken, then, as thought, but a thought which is the withdrawing of withdrawal.
In Being and Time, Heidegger says that Dasein is constituted by a network of relations with others. This is one of the temporal ecstases to which Heidegger calls our attention: in the present, we are with others. This is clearly a "relational" concept in some sense -- maybe one of the "ontological units" that the later Heidegger is less concerned with. But he also talks about coming to the present from the past, and about being projected toward the future. So he talks about Being in terms that are bounded by this threefold temporal horizon. So, the question: is there a sense in which Being as such, rather than Being-with-others specifically, is in and of itself "relational"? That is, can we speak of relationality in ontological terms as well as in interpersonal or bodily (or digital) ones?
In your seminar Bodies and Power, you have often suggested that the language of the vampire, the undead, and the zombie best fits the grammar of our subjectivity. Can you explain what you mean by the generative dimension of the uncanny? What are the implication of this form of imaging and discursive unconsciousness?
With the progress of biotechnologies and the digital connection of bodies and image machines, it is often said that we no longer inhabit a body but a multiplicity of bodies. Is it true that we live in an increasingly borderless and fluid world? Do "we" share these bodies "with others"?
Are we passive or active nihilists? Is the longing sometimes found in political theory for an "outside", like a better foundation myth or a more inclusive ontology, an indication that we remain incomplete nihilists looking for something in which we can invest our faith? In other words, is relationality a symptom of post-modern nihilism.
In retrospect, does the notion of relationality have a place in your approach? If so, in which context did you have encountered it for the first time? And can the notion of relationality help us to better understand technology?