Guest editor: Julie Reshe
Where does the boundary between human and animal lie? Is it possible to look at the other side of anthropocentrism? Is man a species of animal — a human animal — or something completely different? In the best traditions of philosophical thought, the authors of this section, rather than answer the questions above, instead put them into doubt — each of the articles can be seen as different ways of avoiding the question.
In her article “Human Animal,” Alenka Zupančič starts with Nietzsche’s idea of man as etwas Halbes (an animal aborted before it was “completed”) and links it to concepts from Lacanian psychoanalysis.
Oksana Timofeeva’s article, “What Awaits Us After the Switch to Non-Human?,” gives proof for the assertion that the switch to non-human does not cancel out the central position of the human in their views of the world and is a part of human self-definition. The desire to get rid of the human returns humans to themselves.
Maxim Goryunov’s article “Immanuel Kant’s Moral Law and Georges Bataille’s Ritual: Variations of Correlation” compares the positions of Kant and Bataille in their definitions of the difference between humans and animals. While the ethical positions of these philosophers seem diametrically opposed, their positions fundamentally align. In both Kant and Bataille, man is a beast deprived of instincts but endowed with reason; the difference lies only in the conclusions that the philosophers reach from this premise — Bataille proposes returning to the animalistic bliss of instinctiveness, and Kant, becoming wholly human.
Vladimir G. Bogomyakov’s “Archaeology Poetry: from the Wolf-Villain to the Wolf-Companion” is devoted to the problem of the representation of the figure of the wolf in Russian poetry. Within the framework of this topic, we are brought to a wider subject — the relationships between people and animals as a whole, their historical transformations, and their prospects. The corpus of poetry is an invaluable archive of models of interpretation and poetic discourses, and the history of the formation of meaning. Based on the comparison of poetic works with other sources (theological, philosophical, ethological), the following types of wolves in Russian poetry were identified: allegorical, symbolic, academic, heroic, romantic, Cartesian, corrected, noospheric, holistic, and wolf-men (men-wolf).
In the article “Nietzsche, Domestication, Neoteny,” Julie Reshe discusses the evolutionary formation of humans, examining it, following Nietzsche, as a process of self-domestication, and also shows that Nietzsche’s thought metaphorically anticipated many of the most progressive biological theories of the evolution of humans.
Machines and Images
Guest editors: Armen Aramyan, Denis Shalaginov, Nataliya Tyshkevich
As a part of this special issue, the concept of “machine” is used as a key instrument for the analysis of contemporary technological/science fiction narratives. Thus, machines are examined at the point of their convergence/divergence with images. The authors of the texts are proceeding from a common purpose — to trace the internal logic (or counter-logic) of the functioning of the machine and the technological.
In the article “Machine and Structure,” Félix Guattari proposes a conceptual difference between machine and structure. Explaining the introduced distinction, the author argues that the machine is inseparable from its structural joints, whereas any structure is pursued by a system of machines. The author points to the fact that structure is related to generality, which is characterized by the position of exchange and substitution of parts, while machine refers to the order of repetitions as movements, corresponding to a singularity that cannot be exchanged. From the three conditions that determine a structure proposed by Deleuze, the author retains the first two: 1) structure by necessity implies two dissimilar series (signifier and signified); 2) each series is composed of terms that exist only in relationships of mutual determination. The author relates the third condition (two heterogenous series are reduced to a distinguisher) to the order of machines. In the article, it is argued that the structural process closes the subject until it moves to another structural determination, whereas in the framework of the essentially disjointed order of the machine, the subject is always in a different place. Proceeding from the introduced concept of differentiation, the author demonstrates their potential for rethinking subjectivity, science, history, and labor, and the author also shows the implications for the conceptual pair of machine/structure.
In the essay “Anthropocene, Exhausted: Three Possible Endings,” Andrew Culp asks, “What if the Anthropocene is actually merely a failed film project?” This leads him to consider the horizontal perspective of the Anthropocene associated with recent environmental thinking. This line of thought takes him back to early discourses of the human, the current visuality of the cosmic zoom seen in space photography of the Earth, and their recent deployment to spur environmental change. He finds the much-touted newness of the discourse is already ubiquitous in contemporary film and military technology. Then the essay proposes three alternate endings for the Anthropocene, each drawing on a different mythological figure: Gaia, Prometheus, and Medea.
In the article “Getting off the Ground: Techniques of the Future Against Gravity,” Denis Shalaginov and Marina Simakova attempt to conceive of a philosophical significance for gravity and scenarios of overcoming it. In connection with this, the possibility of overcoming gravity is examined in three registers: epistemological, ontological, and technological. One of the concrete and technical means and key images of overcoming gravity is the space flight, which allows the authors to root their reasoning the field of philosophy and science fiction, having given “thought” and “fiction” equal rights. This perspective also implies the need for the conceptualization of techniques that forms the material basis for theoretical and artistic antigravity projects. Making the claim that contemporary technocapitalism and its accompanying cosmic imagination reveal a utopian and instrumental relationship to technology and space exploration, and thus require a critical evaluation, the authors take on the task of formulating its alternative.
Eugene Kuchinov’s “The Technology of Anarchy: Utopias on the Margins of the Heidegger Question” takes on the task of the radicalization of the Heidegger question of “the essence of technology,” as well a search for productive technoutopias in the history of anarchism and in contemporary anarchism. The key questions are questions on the connections between technology and time, technology and utopias, and technology and anarchy. Dating to Aristotle’s Politics, the instrumental attitude toward technology is dominance as necrocosmological enthusiasm in which the master knows nothing about technology. Overcoming instrumentalism opens before us a perspective on the “unfulfilled” history of technology, which is on the other side of the opposition of the technological and the natural, the productive and the unconstrained. On the other side of the pharmacology of technology, a spacious area of conviviality is observed, a celebratory collaboration between what is alive and what is not. The technological utopias of the Gordin brothers and the emotional bio-poetry of Aleksandr Svyatogor are examined in the convivial context of such collaboration. Here, an alternative to the necrotic logic of instrumentalism take shape: an understanding of technology as the uprising of ambivalence (idleness), the uprising of a lack of correlation, an uprising of the unconstrained. This uprising begins before life (on the level that Deleuze and, after him, DeLanda called non-organic life) and interweaves life together where it prosthetically running ahead of itself, and further (in the manner of the techno-theological uprising from the dead) becoming an uprising “from” life. The country of Anarchy, a description of which we find in the utopia of the same name by the Gordin brothers, can be seen as one of the worlds after the successful uprising of the machines.
The number of vibrations recognized today by a person in the range of audibility (or at its fringes) is constantly growing, gradually erasing the boundaries between “musical” and “non-musical.” In addition, the development of science and technology allows us to go deeper into unheard vibrations, translating that which cannot be called “sounds” into graphic objects. The passion for recording and capturing the real back in the 19th century was realized in the construction of a giant vessel for the reproduction and recording of sound. The vessel was serviced by the machines, which, according to Jonathan Sterne’s classic studies of sounds, were created to “listen for us.” The extraction, description, modeling, and mechanization of the functions of the human body open up a special area for the cooperation of the human and non-human, but the sociopolitical effects of such an expansion of technical virtuality cannot be described by existing theories. In the article “Viral Transduction: Towards a Question Concerning Technology of the Sonorous,” Nikita Safonov examines several innovative approaches to sound studies, linked by a desire to reexamine the relationship between sound and art. At the basis of these approaches lies the abstract machine theories of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, but the fundamental goal is a reexamination of Martin Heidegger’s The Question Concerning Technology.The Matteo Pasquinelli’s article “Machines that Morph Logic: Neural Networks and the Distorted Automation of Intelligence as Statistical Inference” highlights the role of logic gates in the distributed architecture of neural networks, in which a generalized control loop affects each node of computation to perform pattern recognition. In this distributed and adaptive architecture of logic gates, rather than applying logic to information top-down, information turns into logic, that is, a representation of the world becomes a new function in the same world description.
In her arcticle “Instrumental Reason, Algorithmic Capitalism, and the Incomputable,” Luciana Parisi argues that algorithmic reasoning plays a key role in contemporary capitalism. Algorithms are forming a new means for thought and control — from the rationalization of labor and social relationships to the financial sector. In the context of the transition to the total machine phase of digital capitalism, it is no longer sufficient to side with critical theory, which blames calculation for the reduction of human thought to simple mechanical operations. As the information theorist Gregory Chaitin has demonstrated, incomputablity and randomness should be thought of as the very condition of calculation. If technocapitalism is contaminated by computational randomness and chaos, traditional criticism of instrumental rationality also should be questioned: the incomputable cannot be simply in opposition to reason.
Game Studies: Visual/Ideological
Guest editor: Egor Sokolov
Video games are still a problematic subject for Russian academia. Researchers older than 40, who do not have personal gaming experience or do not perceive this experience as culturally significant, are often skeptical both toward the games themselves and to their possibilities in academic research. Therefore, it is worthwhile to give a few examples that illustrate the significance of video games in contemporary culture. First, video game development today is a business with multi-millions in profits, which means that the audience is also enormous (2013 was a watershed year, the year Grand Theft Auto V made 800 million dollars the day of its release and more than one billion dollars in three days, thus becoming the most successful media project in history). Second, gamification (that is, the use of gaming technology in non-gaming contexts) has become one of the most effective techniques of neoliberal management and is being applied in business, education, research, etc. (one of the most impressive examples is the game Foldit, developed at the University of Washington, which models the structure of proteins; in 2011, players were able to decipher the structure of the Mason-Pfizer Monkey Virus, solving a problem in ten days that scientists had been unable to solve for 15 years). Third, over the course of the 2010s, video games have received simultaneous recognition both as art (for example, in 2012 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, there was an exhibition created out of 14 video games) and as sports (in Russia, esports were added to the register of sporting disciplines in April 2016). Fourth, in the context of Russian media, moral panics arise flare up around video games. Journalists, psychologists, priests, and politicians ascribe to them absolute suggestive power (explaining shootings using the influence of shooting games), seeing within them the quintessence of the danger of contemporary culture and insisting on decisive educational and political actions: introducing bans, increasing jurisdiction and strengthening control over them, etc. Examples, of course, could keep going. But it seems that the ones that have been given should be enough in order to recognize that there is reason enough to talk about games in a serious way.
The question, however, is what exactly can be said about them? In the West, the institutionalization of research occurred at the very beginning of the 2000s with the emergence of a research center at the IT University of Copenhagen and Game Studies, a peer-reviewed journal. In Russia, the study of games first began to be undertaken seriously in 2012 by the Moscow Game Center, a self-organized group of researchers from Moscow State University (Aleksander Vetushinsky, Alexei Salin, and Egor Sokolov) and Russia State University for the Humanities (Leonid Moizhes, Maxim Podvalny). Continuing this work, researchers of the Center and their colleagues offer in this section a series of their research projects focused on problems of the visual and ideology, on the genealogy of the visual, a critical history of means of seeing and interacting with objects in games or the gaming space, on visual techniques that lead to reflexive or emotional effects, the problematization of the border between the real and the virtual, and finally, on the ideological implications of gaming narratives, images, and spaces.
In the article “Video Game Platforms Imagine Instead of Us: The End of Imagination in Video Games,” Aleksander Vetushinsky writes about the “end of the imagination,” changes in visual technology (primarily the emergence of 3D graphics) that lead to changes in the perception of video games. He attempts to reconstruct the “logical history” of games and arrives at the conclusion that the reflexive step connecting with the development of video game technology is reduced to the “externalization” of the imagination: while until the late 1990s, the player saw something different behind the image in the game, now they see exactly what they are seeing. The comparison of video game images and print images distributed by developers along with the games (covers, pictures in manuals and magazines) allows him to assert that it was at the end of the 1990s that the gap between what the player saw on the screen and what he was supposed to see disappeared.
In the article “Try to Turn: A Genealogy of First-Person View in Games” Andrey Muzhdaba offers a first-person genealogical perspective, presenting a scene and providing control of sight from “the point of view of the character.” He proposes looking for its source not in the physiology of sight, but in prior media and gaming practices. Today, this perspective seems inextricably linked with the first-person shooter genre; however, in reality, “first person” had already appeared by the early 1970s. Growing out of the solving of engineering problems, the objects of the first games of this kind were finding one’s way out of a maze (Maze War) and controlling a ship in outer space (Spasim). Movement in these closed/open spaces has become a universal interface and experience, realized in various genres, a “no-brainer” for the video game industry.
Using the example of Dishonored 2, Hans-Joachim Backe’s “Self-reflexive Simulacra. Visuality as Meta-commentary” shows how images within a game (pictures, photographs, advertisements, etc. in the game) can be used by developers to problematize the border between reality and representation. He examines images with games as an aesthetic technique that, by blurring this boundary, allows the games to produce an effect of exclusion and thus pushes the player toward reflection on agency and the possibilities of acting in the virtual/real world.
Yaroslava Ismukova’s “Outside of Games: On Machinima and the New Visual” analyzes the special visual qualities of machinima, video clips created on game engines. She notes the duality of the interpretation: on the one hand, machinima refers to the context of creation (gaming); on the other hand, it moves away from it, coming close to film or video art. This duality gives rise to an ambiguity of perception, which is expressed in the shift of audience expectations and the increase in aesthetic distance, which allows not a clearly formulated message, but rather a strong emotional impression to be conveyed to the viewer. Thus, video games are examined here as a visual technique appropriated by contemporary art.
In the article “More than Bows and Arrows: The Portrayal of Native Americans in Western Movies and Video Games” Alexey Salin and Polina Khanova compare video game and movie Westerns. Early movie Westerns depicted Native Americans as raw materials for the construction of the United States. Beginning in the 1950s, a “revisionist” tendency started to emerge, which problematized the colonialist narrative and brought forth a more complex and realistic image of Native Americans. In video games, an analogous transition occurred only in the mid-2000s, when typical tropes that form the myth of Otherness (savagery, hypersexuality, and the supernatural) were replaced by other, more complex forms of representation, which, however, are also problematic (for example, the image of Native Americans victims in the name of humanity’s salvation in Assassin’s Creed III).
Egor Sokolov’s “Tanks and Kisses: Gender Models in Games for Young Children” offers an attempt at a gender analysis of video games. The question lies in how games for young children form gender identity and how the description, images, and game mechanics set standards of appearance and behavior. Boys are offered “shooters,” and girls are given “dress up”; developers give boys the opportunity to associate themselves with “cool” heroes and to compete and win, and on girls, they impose an attitude that is at once pragmatic and unambitious: skills for increasing body capital, housekeeping, and childcare, which must be learned passively, outside of the discourse of competition and achievement. In this way, normative models, skills, preferences, and body and mental schematics are formed that are the basis for the reproduction of gender inequality.
Anders Sundnes Løvlie’s “Speaking Through Omission: Game Maps as Spatial Rhetoric” examines the maps of the computer game America’s Army as a special case of rhetoric, military propaganda (the game was developed for the U.S. military) through the video game space. The game’s claims of verisimilitude are realized in the form of the “realism of the thematic park,” through the creation “effects of reality,” which, however, should not ruin the enjoyment of the game. In other words, “realism” is used as a rhetorical figure to “decorate” completely unrealistic game mechanics (analogous to multiplayer shooters). An analysis of user commentary shows the unexpected effectiveness of this rhetorical strategy.
Boris Kolymagyn’s “Here is Heidegger, or My Silence” examines silence in the context of ontology. Using material from unofficial Soviet poetry, the role of silence is shown in works in which the call of existence is heard. In addition, the author distinguishes between one’s own and others’ silence. If the first contributes to the assemblage of a person, the second is connected with the rejection of the world and a breakdown into emptiness.