automation, control, cybernetics, derrida, history, human, machine, metaphysics, nonhuman, system

Systems of Control: Derrida and Machines

(notes for an abstract)

If the theory of cybernetics is by itself to oust all metaphysical concepts — including the concepts of soul, of life, of value, of choice, of memory — which until recently served to separate the machine from man, it must conserve the notion of writing, trace, written mark, or grapheme, until its own historico-metaphysical character is also exposed.

[…[E]ven before being determined as human… or nonhuman, the gramme — or the grapheme — would thus name the element. An element without simplicity. An element, whether it is understood as the medium or irreducible atom, of the arche-synthesis in general, of what one must forbid oneself to define within the system of oppositions in metaphysics, of what consequently one should not even call experience in general, that is to say the origin of meaning in general.]

(Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology 9)

Norbert Weiner introduced the neologism ‘cybernetics’ — in connection with the ancient Greek root meaning ‘governance’ — to denote a new science of systems of control. Cybernetics studies real complex systems and their automatic management, but it is also a rigorous science of energetics and pure information. The most essential expression of cybernetics itself and its own working ontology can perhaps be traced to Von Neumann, who conceived of a swarm of networked machines which could also function together as a kind of generic factory, and so would be able to reproduce all of its own component elements (and hence itself.) In this image we perhaps witness a glimpse of an “adult” cybernetics — the closure of metaphysics, the end of writing, the convergence of biology and cybernetics — a “transubstantiation” of flesh into the virtual.


This image is not without its poignancy. Is cybernetics a symptom, even of the horizon of a metaphysical — and not only a historical — era? A new dawn which has not even struck the horizon: we catch glimpses, a blurring of boundaries, an impression of lightening. Interfaces become depths while automation whirrs smoothly. Computational ease produces enormous, vivid and completely new spaces for thought. Cybernetics in its fuller historical sense has revolutionized not only production but the way we process information itself — in many ways transforming the face of the earth — and promises only to accelerate this bizarre interpenetration of systems of control.

This is perhaps the reason why the question of cybernetics is such an uncanny one: it questions us in return. Cybernetics is deconstruction, an historical equivalent. We experience this revolution simultaneously as integration and decentralization, a dramatic leap in both intelligence and automatization.
In a profound sense we experience cybernetics only in anticipation — that is neither as a subject or an object, but as a pure interface, producing various integrated systems of control. In this sense we can speak of a cybernetics which itself is in control of a system of metaphors and can therefore be taken apart and re-assembled; such a re-assembly is underway and must even be pushed forward. This science of information, of managing non-linear systems, is an anticipation of a historical and metaphysical era which has not yet arrived, and which still depends on the intensification of writing to a new plateau of celerity.

Today the question of cybernetics has begun to pose itself with some urgency. How do we “decentralize” and “reintegrate” a science of control driven by a virtual presence — an exterior or futural presence — and which opens itself up in terms of a new dimension of time, an immanent rupture of history?

Other Possible Paper Titles for Cybernetics Panel:

“Transforming Technology: Simondon and Deleuze”

“Noise, Interface, Information: Serres and Levinas on Communication”

“The Software of Desiring-Machines: Guattari, Cybernetics and Politics”

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