McKenzie Wark on Sun, 22 Jun 1997 16:21:19 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> What is a belief?

I'm still working through Erik Davis' fascinating post about 
religion, nettime and the net. Its an exemplary nettime post,
for one thing. Thoughtful, discursive, (mostly) polite, altho'
Richard may not agree in that last quality.

Some questions so far: is there really any value in the
periodisation of cultural contents as premodern, modern and
postmodern? It seems to me that if we accept this as a 
chronological series, that its really impossible to assign
any cultural artefact or mode to any particular category. 

If these categories have meaning, i think it as at the level
of the relations according to which the production and 
distribution of social life is organised. I think i'm with
Richard on this: History really isn't transitive. It goes
in one direction. But the dimension of it that can be
characterised thus is restricted to the form of relations.
Its not possible to categorise cultural contents with any

For example: 'enlightenment' appears at first sight to be
modern. BUt what do we mean by enlightenment? If by that
we mean a structure of belief, then we find that belief 
of a premodern religious kind may have quite a lot in
common with belief of a modern enlightened kind. The objects,
signs and practices may have changed, but its still a 
structure of belief. 

What i find curious is the way technological change in the form of media
relations can assist formerly 'atavistic' modes of belief in recirculating
and reproducing themselves all over again. The way radio and then
'tele-evangelism' seemed to strengthen certain patterns of 
religious belief in the United States, for example. Or the way
the cassette tape fascilitated the circulation of the word of
the mullahs in the middle east. 

Perhaps theres a distinctive and anomalous moment in the breakup of
mass broadcasting, which was quite a unique moment in the history
of media. As i'm inclined to see it, we're coming out of that
anomaly and heading back to something like a more familiar pattern.
The mass broadcast era made possible a certain dominance of patterns
of belief by secular modern discourses. This took state and market
forms, in various mixes in different parts of the west. The
form of the media relation had as one of its possibilities the
creation of temporally unified spaces of state and market 
rationality, and belief in the efficacy of state and market rationality.

There's a great deal of huffing and puffing about the passing of
this -- both state and corporate entities worry about the break up of
zones of belief in the necessity for such administrative entities.
Various 'decline of the public sphere' rhetorics are mobilised here,
but usually in the defence of administrative self interest. 

Out of the breach in the rhythms of adminstrative discourse arises
various 'untimely' patterns of cultural distribution and structural
formation. THis stuff never went away under the broadcast regime, but
were merely pushed to very marginal vectors of distribution. The
reconfiguring of media vectors undermines the apparent triumph of
the rational enlightened modern public sphere -- the dominance of 
which was secured by fiat rather than by the unforced force of the
better argument. 

Or in sum: the only history is the history of the vector -- what it
carries may vary in its scope of distribution and effect, but will
tend to persist. Belief, after all, is something that doesn't go
away. But the redistriubution of patterns of belief can be an
opportunity for reconfiguring the relation between the possibilities
of the vector and the institutional forms that capture and limit
those possibilities. 

McKenzie Wark
Netletter 12.12AM Eastern Standard Time 23-06-97
Sydney, Australia

"We no longer have roots, we have aerials."
 -- McKenzie Wark 

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