Wednesday, December 7, 2011

More on Hacking

I only have a brief amount of time before I have to run off and teach, but it seems that my post on hacking and allusion has received a few responses. Harman responds here. Robert Jackson responds to both my and Harman’s posts here. And finally Tim Richardson responds to all three of us here.
A few concessions are in order before I get into what I want to say. First, Jackson and Richardson are justified in correcting my mis-authorization of hacking. As Jackson points out:
“…when you are dealing with the reality of things including computer protocols and software objects, the dichotomy of meaningful authorisation / non-authorisation breaks down considerably. Just because a certain proprietary program is encapsulated so that general public access is forbidden, it does not entail a universal relational structure that can be attributed to relationships where HIV ‘hacks’ RNA strands.”
Very true. In fact the problem with hacking is that it is often hard to place blame on the hack, the hacker, or the hacked. When I find a way around authorizing my iDevice, so that I can install third-party apps, who’s at fault? Me…well I just exploited a part of the system that was already there. Apple…well, they designed the original software that allowed me to do this. Or the hack itself…but it’s just a program or code. As David J. Gunkel points out in “Hacking Cyberspace,” “Hackers cannot be praised or blamed in the usual manner for what it is they do or do not do. In other words, hackers do not, in any strict sense of the term, cause the disruptions or general systems failures exhibited in and by the activities of hacking. Hacking only fixates on and manipulates an aporia, bug, or back door that is always and already present within and constitutive of the system as such” (803). Because of this lack of clear intentionality (and perhaps meaningful authorization), Richardson rightly points out that my formulation of hacking as “a faculty for observing all of the available means of perturbation” is at best inexact.

And Harman makes a good point when he argues that, “praxis falls short of the things themselves no less than theory does.” In other words, neither praxis nor theory successfully mines the depths of objects. No relation, for Harman, is ever direct. But, if allure, as Harman points out in Guerilla Metaphysics, is always something that “either occurs or does not occur,” then what of potential? Why assume, since the RO-SO (or real object – sensual object) relation is always the same (structure-wise) that it is untenable that we or another object could work by exploiting this knowledge? What I am talking about here is a sort of operation that works on potentiality and contingency. Such an operation isn’t interested in predicating unitary objects or reducing them to their parts or qualities, but is instead focused on uncovering (in an ontological sense, rather than an epistemological one) the unknown, subterranean object. In other words, an operation whose final cause is allusion. If such an operation could exist, then this is what I’m suggesting hacking (and maybe object-oriented rhetoric) might be considered. Wouldn't this also be in agreement with Jackson’s two points about code: 1) that code is already contingent and 2) the output of code can only be experienced and not known?

The only problem I see here, though, is that it does bring up questions about language. For like code, isn’t language just as contingent and unknowable in its outcome? And if so, is something like deconstruction already a type of language-hacking? This is where I think it's important, like Richardson points out, to move beyond thinking of hacking as directly related to code and see it as possible in other material relations: Ikea Hackers and body hackers are just two examples of such non-code hacking.

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