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Jonathan Beller: "The Computational Unconscious"

May 20, 2015 @ 12:00 pm - 2:00 pm  |  Stevenson Fireside Lounge


Abstract: This talk understands the rise of Capitalism as the first digital culture with universalizing aspirations and capabilities, and recognizes contemporary culture, driven as it is by electronic digital computing, as something like digital culture 2.0. Rather than seeing this shift strictly as a break, we might consider it as one result of an overall intensification in the practices of quantification. Thus, if capitalism was already a digital computer, then “the invisible hand,” as the non-subjective, social summation of the individualized practices of the pursuit of private gain, was an early expression of the computational unconscious. With the broadening and deepening of the imperative towards quantification and rational calculus posited then presupposed during the modern period by the expansionist program of Capital, the process of the assignation of number to all variables first discernible in the commodity-form, whereby every use-value was also an exchange-value, entered into our machines, rendering first the rationalization of production in the assembly line and then modern computing. Today, as could be well known from everyday observation if not from media theory, computation arguably underpins all productive activity, and particularly significant for this argument, activities that stretch from image-making, to writing, and therefore to thought. The contention here is not simply that capitalism is the unconscious of computation, it is that the unconscious itself, as the domain of the unthought that organizes thought, is computational. Therefore, not only is consciousness a computational effect, but all the structural inequalities endemic to capitalist production – often appearing under variants of the ostensibly analog categories of race, class, gender, sexuality, nation, etc., but just as importantly and as often disappeared into our machines – inhere in the logistics of computation, and consequently, in the real-time organization of language, which is to say, our thought.

Jonathan Beller is Professor of English and Humanities and Critical and Visual Studies, Pratt Institute. He is one of the foremost theorists of the visual turn and the attention economy. He works on the history of cinema and the way in which the screen-image has altered all aspects of social life. These alterations range from the lived experiences of gender, sexuality and race, to the socio-economic reorganization of peoples, governments and the environment. His research and pedagogy is undertaken with a commitment to those struggling for social justice in what he calls “the world-media system.” Books and edited volumes include The Cinematic Mode of Production: Attention Economy and the Society of the SpectacleAcquiring Eyes: Philippine Visuality, Nationalist Struggle and the World-Media System; and Feminist Media Theory (a special issue of The Scholar and Feminist Online). His current book projects are entitled The Rain of Images and Computational Capital. Beller also serves on the Editorial Collective of the internationally recognized journal Social Text, and is the current director of The Graduate Program in Media Studies. He teaches Mediologies I and a variety of electives.


Spring 2015 Colloquium Series
April 8, 2015 – Neloufer de Mel: “The ‘Perethaya’s’ Fury: Ethical Frameworks and Zones of Justice in Post-War Sri Lanka”
April 15, 2015 – Karen de Vries: “Queer Storytelling, Secular Religion, and the Anthropocene Blues”
April 22, 2015 – T.J. Demos: “Rights of Nature: The Art and Politics of Earth Jurisprudence”
April 29, 2015 – Brian Connolly: “The Curse of Canaan: A Fantasy of Race in the Nineteenth-Century United States”
May 6, 2015 – Joshua Dienstag: “The Human Boundary: Democracy in a Post-Species Age”
May 13, 2015 – Megan Thomas: “Lascars, Sepoys, and the Traveling Labor of British Empire (Manila, 1762-4)”
May 20, 2015 – Jonathan Beller: “The Computational Unconscious”
May 27, 2015 – John Modern: “Toward a Religious History of Cognitive Science”


May 20, 2015
12:00 pm - 2:00 pm
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Stevenson Fireside Lounge
Humanites 1 University of California, Santa Cruz Cowell College
Santa Cruz, CA 95064 United States
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