Space and Place (Network Culture: Politics for the Information Age) (Tiziana Terranova)


Finished reading a little while back Tiziana Terranova’s Network Culture. I liked in particular the move from granular attention to technical aspects regarding “cybernetics” to larger questions regarding politics and bio-politics. Again and again what I’m finding in the literature on technology is that all the old techno-utopian and techno-enthusiastic discourse about technology and de-territorialization have been, for lack of a better word, misplaced, or rather displaced. Throughout the entire book, careful attention is paid to intersections between open space and closed circuits in network culture, between pure flow, on the one hand, and fractured information environments. Looking past a more pure form of classical post-structuralism, what I’m finding here a keen attention to locality and structure, be it the grid-like and sub-dividable points on a network, local points of centralized information. Perhaps this turn to structure and to place was inevitable as continental theory turned information technology, based as it is on modularity and discrete, binary cuts.

Regarding my own interests, I’m learning how to place religion, Judaism, and politics as small units within a large mass and flows. What I especially like is the sense of connectivity that for Terranova represents the essence of network culture, the interconnection between different networks, the connection between points of difference, and always, what Deleuze would have called “lines of flight” that allows a system to look past its own more narrow confine, and yet always the realization that these open networks are anchored socially and politically. With apologies to Mies van der Rohe, Network culture is based on the principle that “more is more.” The takeaway against classical post-structuralism is that the bigger the system gets, the more a network needs to overcome “incompatibilities.” And yet, at the same time, Terranova’s political argument is that more local forms of constellation constitute points of resistance that exacerbate tension in the larger, global flows upon which contemporary (neoliberal) capitalism depends.

Religion, as a reactive site of tension, resistance, conflict, and intolerance is mentioned explicitly (p.146). Interestingly, the point here is less about “religion” per se. It’s not so much religion that makes the world more intolerant. It’s the network that does, even more than religion, or as much as religion. The theory here is that the contemporary turn to fundamentalism is in part a phenomenon of globalization, which we already knew, and networks. Religion then remains that utopian placing of purity inside and outside a flow of information recognized by religious actors as “impure,” even as those same religious actors themselves become networks users and network actors.

I would like to think that there are more felicitous way to think about Judaism and perhaps Talmud, in particular, as network phenomena. There’s an interesting tension. Internally, let’s say Talmud, constitutes an expansive, open network that would seem to include everything in its ambit, human social life, material objects, physical bodies, angelic life and a canny God. And yet, historically, Judaism, unlike Christianity and Islam, was always and remains a very closed, local network, and Talmud even more so, namely more confined to what Robert Cover would call a paideiac nomos or place. Talmud and Judaism would seem to emblematize this “combination of the very small and the very large” that characterizes network culture (p.104) at the tension between boundedness and openness (p.105). But this too is a normative question, not just a descriptive one. How then do social actors organize, at least conceptually, within Judaism an open network combining incompatible, divergent layers?

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish though and philosophical aesthetics.
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