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'Superconversations: Machines that Matter' symposium live coverage, 12/11-12/12


T’ai Smith: is an Art Historian looking at fashion capitalism. Smith departs from definitions of style and branding, in which the latter can be characterized by the metaphor as an epigenetic mutation (cellular phenotypic variation, that effects our life and what it means to be human) and in that sense brand a futurity as well as intersubjectivity. Branding thus implies an mnemonic system that is nevertheless flexible enough to self-actualize, close to Plato’s concept of anamnesis, i.e. how an idea changes over time. Branding as exteriorized collective memory, is an epigenetic mutation of style, and with branding we become the type value form Marx described. But here is where the metaphor of epigenetic mutation dissolves, as it becomes a literal reality:

Recently it was discovered that a common brand of antidepressants could create epigenetic mutations in mice and perhaps also human patients. These blue or yellow gel-cap devices apparently change the way gene proteins attach and replicate, thereby reforming neural links—that is, the way we think about or fashion ourselves as emotional beings. Taking an SSRI every morning does not simply affect this body now, on this day, like changing one’s clothes from Prada to Gucci; it is reformatting the computational logic of my psychical genes. So my psyche is branded and rebranded in keeping with the seasons, and then some future anterior. This is not because I’ve changed styles, but because I’ve restyled these cells and their mode of replication.

However, it seems the author is also interested in how this case is also able to feed & reinforce metaphor of cultural propagation as epigenetic mutation, perhaps proposing a rhetorical two-way link (my association) of this concept of branding—akin to the blockchain technology that @karenarchey describes above. I wonder what motivated the author’s omission of Dawkin’s meme as an epigenetic mutation? It seems that Dawkins did enough to brand that metaphor already, but there seems to be a lots of interesting cracks to explore Dawkin’s hegemony over the metaphor against its grain here.


I love how Negarestani is placing Chomsky in the history of Artificial general Intelligence.


Reza Negarestani! Our last speaker of the evening.


Chomsky’s assumption that we are all born with an innate knowledge of grammar that is the basis for all language acquisition has, curiously, recently been legitimized by neuroscience:


the paper shows hierarchical linguistic structure, yes, but this is really quite different from innate grammar. Chomsky knows very little about brains and how they function, Chomsky is still a late structuralist, but the brain knows no signifiers, which is to say, there is nothing like a linguistic sign anywhere to be seen in the brain, it is all “connectionist spaghetti,” which is to say, a mess of living wires that pulse in various rhythms. Chomsky’s entire paradigm is old school, and tends to view humans on the model of machines and languages, but contemp neurosci and cutting edge ‘deep learning’/connectionist AI shows how the Chomskyian model is not necessary, and in fact, quite out of sync with how real brains seem to do things. I think this is much of what Reza is getting at, though I’d really need to see a paper of this difficulty in written form to say.


sorry, that was typed on a phone while at the event, so the grammar was a bit off, I was trying to say that ultimately the perspective of POCs matter most in determining the potential constructiveness of Marc’s contribution, yet I think allies perspectives also matters. And the voices of the oppressed while necessarily come first, even if the utopian possibility of no privilege were to happen, if even because the memory of past oppression still often has so many powerful effects.

But yes, I agree with replies that there’s a real careful balance that I think needs to be struck between preserving the voice of the oppressed and marginalized, and allowing for allies to become involved in the struggle, in ways which go beyond the reification of identities even while realizing the very real manner in which identities are at least impact our daily lives and are often powerful sites of what Spivak calls strategic essentialism in organizing and speaking back to power. I don’t think there are simple answers to any of these things, but rather a ground which always needs to be negotiated in regard to the particular situations involved.


Thanks to all the participants in the Machines that Matter symposium, as well as all those who dedicated a precious weekend of theirs in New York to intense discussions about philosophy, technology and politics in the welcoming salon-style space of e-flux. A big thank you also to everyone involved in e-flux, our board member Julieta Aranda as well as Anton Vidokle, Brian Quan Wood, Amal Issa, Karen Archey and others for their hospitality and dedication to this project, proving one more time that the space of art still remains as one of the most open places for radical discussions about contemporary life.