glitches are us

At Computers and Writing, I was asked several times about my discussion of glitches in my keynote talk. Since I was addressed the New Aesthetic, a discussion of glitches was inevitable. However, I then moved on to think about the glitch as a "key ontological condition." As I see it, this is another way of thinking about the way problems become multiplicities and then assemblages in Deleuze. A glitch is a problem, but it is also an assemblage. Moreover, in its original usage (by John Glen, the astronaut, in 1962), a glitch was a voltage surge in a circuit. So I also want to think about the glitch as intensity.

Typically we think of the glitch as a problem-to-be-fixed. Glitches interfere with our ability to see or act as we might hope. But what the new aesthetic and many speculative realist philosophies point out is that the technologies we build do not extend our perception or agency in relation to a pre-existing real world; instead they produce a new hybridized realm. It's not a purely discursive or social realm! That's the misstep so many have made in reading Latour, that the insistence that technologies construct knowledge means that knowledge is social or discursive only. In OOO terms here we might think of "nature" as overmining. There is no pre-existing nature into which objects are situated or that provides a space in which we act. The glitch is perceived as error because it imagines that devices ought to mediate reality without error.  Once one recognizes that can't happen then glitches are seen differently. That doesn't mean that one can't repair a glitch in the sense of fixing a device so it operates more in the way one wants, but it does mean that we can't view glitches as wholly fixable.

As I noted in my last post, we might think of correlationism as a fundamental philosophical glitch. If we imagine that a real world exists out there, but we can't really access it because of the limitations of human perception, cognition, and language, then we could reasonably call that a glitch. We build technologies and institutions to mitigate that glitch (or at least to attempt to do so), but we can't ever truly repair it. Absolute knowledge of a pure natural world is beyond our reach. However, one of the implications of OOO is that objects do not exist in a way that would allow for absolute knowledge. In other words, this isn't a human glitch; this glitch is a fundamental ontological condition. 

In my view, it is this glitch that allows for our experience of thought and agency. In a world of pure knowledge, purely communicated, there would be no need for thought or any need to make a decision. But that isn't the world we live in. If I had pure knowledge, I would know, without thinking, what to say next, but I don't. I have to think about it. Whatever agency we attribute to our subjective experience exists inasmuch as the subjective relations with both the external world and our internal processes are glitchy and leave some uncertain space. The character of that uncertainty depends upon the capacities that emerge through our relations. 

So if thought and agency are the products of glitches, we might think of them as analogous to those voltage spikes in a circuit, as excessive points of intensification. When I perceive an object, I enter into this glitchy relation with it. That encounter is productive of these intensifications, which might be more or less intense to be sure, but even seeing the color of the flower pot before me is an excitement of the optical system to some level. I can then have a wide range of phenomenological and aesthetic responses. While those responses are not exactly in my control, they are not determining (unless you throw the flower pot at me and then maybe I duck out of reflex). All of these perceptions, sensations, and intensifications are as materially real as the flower pot or my body. There is a virtually bottomless rabbit hole of relation here, which one might think of as the withdrawal of objects from one another: a procedural rabbit hole that cannot undermine the objects participating in this relation. So all these objects are real and real glitchy. 

In all this we can see composing, and the apparent objections of composing, as the glitches that introduce thought and agency (and rhetoric) but also allow us to understand composing as natural, technological, discursive, and social all at once.