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McKenzie Wark on Alberto Toscano, Jeff Kinkle, and cognitive mapping


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At Public Seminar, McKenzie Wark assesses Cartographies of the Absolute, the recent book by Alberto Toscano and Jeff Kinkle that seeks to revive the practice of “cognitive mapping,” first championed by Fredric Jameson in the early nineties. Wark writes that the book is “excellent” as far as cognitive mapping goes, but thinks that the practice itself should be abandoned:

Marxist aesthetic theory so often wants to be the special theory that guides aesthetic practice, where the special object in view would be social labor revealed at work beneath the surface of exchange. But it more rarely wants to be what Bogdanov thought was essential: the labor point of view. Not an ideal labor point of view posited by a special theoretical method, but the actual points of view (plural) of actual social laborers. The road not taken so often is something like proletkult, because it means building another practice of collaborative work in which the aesthetic and theoretical have no special powers but have to negotiate with all kinds of labors and their metaphorical extensions and self-understandings. In this sense ANT is what you end up with as default setting for not trying to practice proletkult: you end up trying to do the negotiations within existing institutions from which the social movements are excluded in advance.

If one gives up the magic claim to know the totality, how then does one not fall into the trap of taking bourgeois economics to be a complete and last description of reality? Well, perhaps one has to give up the command and control center view, but not then accept that the general equivalent is the only kind of information. Its functioning depends on the other three forms. A new kind of abstraction might reorder the relations between the four forms of information, their four forms of equivalence and generality, and lack thereof. Perhaps that other socialist Machist, Otto Neurath, was onto something in his pioneering attempts at data visualization in the service of the self-organization of socialism. (An idea put to me a long time ago by nettime.org comrade Frank Hartmann, the significance of which I am now starting to see.)

What we need, then, are not so much cognitive maps (theory controlling aesthetics) as a new kind of proletkult, or a new kind of dérive, a new way of collectively experimenting in the act of mapping, as an ongoing practice, rather than an aesthetic work for contemplation. So while Toscano and Kinkle present an excellent summary of cognitive mapping as a concept and practice, I think we might need to move on.

Above image via www.geos.ed.ac.uk.