Pedro Zylbersztajn (SMACT ’18)

Pedro Zylbersztajn, Final Review 2018.
ACT at MIT

Final Review, Spring 2018
Pedro Zylbersztajn

Conclusion

As I have tried to demonstrate in this thesis, to assume a readerly position in the the face of any text, verbal or otherwise, is to put oneself in a position of relevance in the construction of its meaning. When it comes to software, the discursive regimes that surround it have pushed regular users and affected individuals out of this position, and meaning-making authority has been highly concentrated on one end of this circulation system. Relying on Hall’s terminology once again, the status of code today is to its larger extent based on dominant-hegemonic decodings.

While much of this text was spent arguing for an association of software with the exercise of control, such breath of analysis is hardly necessary today to justify this notion. We are, for the most part, increasingly aware of the ways in which code-running technology manages our behaviors and affects and is affected by our habitus, only not necessarily with the same vocabulary or clarity. What the thesis tries to get at is that authority is mutually constructed in a process that is both political and aesthetic and we can produce negotiations with containers of power by using any and all of these two means. Refusing the notion of art as a mere reflection or representation of a current state, and aiming for an understanding of art as being able to disturb and sway norms, practices and dispositions, I suggest that this active process of reading can lend back agency in dealing with the overbearing command structures contained in modern computation, from the most obvious Leviathan-seeming intelligence gathering project to the subtlest nudging of social media.

Far from taking on a luddite attitude, or, as my mother would say, throwing the baby out with the bathwater, I find it extremely relevant to notice that this is in no way a condemnation of software, computation, code or digital technology, and that all of these have profoundly positive, interesting and beautiful outcomes in the contemporary world. To a similar extent, however, they are generating or are implicated in very problematic social relationships, and it is our responsibility as users, cultural producers, technologists, theorists, and the like to re-architecture the technology and, maybe most easily and most importantly, its current uses. Making a constant effort to avoid illusions of symmetric distributions of power in the reading process itself, an artistic mode of reading is one that acknowledges that all coding and decoding practices emerge from a structured social context, but that allows itself to betray this context and uphold the relevance of uncertainty and ambiguity. It is a way of looking that considers that everywhere you look at is a specific site, and that no other site will be equivalent—and can only be closely related—to that one. And most of all, apart from all other things it can also be (but that this document was too short and this author too limited to encompass), it is committed to negotiating the positions of the ifs, thens, ors, ands and nots.