Archive for September, 2008

Arse Elektronika 2008 Report!

Posted in Announcements! with tags , , , , , , on September 30, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan
Eating My Cake and Having It Too

Eating My Cake and Having It Too

So I was not able to get permission to enter the US for Arse Elektronika, but as host Johannes Grenzfurthner put it, we managed to trick the State department by filming my lecture beforehand and doing a telepresence via Skype connection. Don’t know Arse Elektronika? Check these links out:

Click here if you want yet more links.

And it was wonderful! I kept following Bonnie Ruberg’s twitter-updates on the event and watched as dozens of photos are being uploaded, and of course the MP3 recordings of the talk. You can find all of the MP3s here, but of course, I’ll be generous and provide a direct link to my talk and the massive all-star closure panel, in which I had the chance to clarify certain things I left out in the original talk. Here they are:

Bonni Rambatan — From Computer-Mediated Sex to Computer-Generated Sexuality:
MP3 | Video | Lecture Notes

Arse Elektronika 2008 Closure Panel, featuring all participants:
MP3

There is also a launching of Pr0nnovation? monochrom’s Arse Elektronika Anthology, and of course I’m getting my copy. Get yours here for $25.

And, last but not least, Flickr photos!

But ah, if you also have photos or want to browse more, just join the Arse Elektronika 2008 Flickr group!

So yeah, it was a lot of fun — very sexy, truly geeky, and all the time critical and intriguing. Though I cannot say I fully agree and endorse all the views of the speakers, nonetheless they are smart people worth listening to, far from your usual daily hedonist club. I am very glad that the Skype telepresence and filmed lecture screening went well (not to mention properly fitting the futuristic sci-fi setting!).

The only downside, though (beside missing all the live physical fun), is that it turns out to be pretty hard to predict how long you should talk and how detailed you have to explain things, since I cannot see the audience’s expression. In hindsight, I don’t think I did too well on the Q&A. My paranoid fantasy of me never getting my real point across still haunts. But I guess satisfactory audience understanding is my objet a, much as the electric sheep is the object-cause of desire for your stereotypical android.

UPDATE (10/06): Oh, and hey, there is now a picture of my televised self taken by Mela Mikes. Also, my talk is now available on TPM’s YouTube channel. Go and watch it if you haven’t, TPM readers! ;)

Of Facebook and Porn

Posted in Postmodern 2.0 with tags , , , , , , on September 27, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan
Mashable

image credit: Mashable

Much debate has been going on lately surrounding the idea of whether Facebook is actually killing online porn. Although the idea has been around for almost a year and a half on Mashable, it looks like that it is just now with the recent publication of Bill Tancer’s Click: What Millions of People do Online and Why it Matters that people debate about it. Many say no, that it is only a matter of statistics, that people still surf for porn but use other mediums to find it (e.g. UGC sites like YouPorn or P2P networks), etc. And although I tend to agree with those who say no, I still consider it nevertheless important never to underestimate the changing ways of online communication.

The question is not whether porn is dying or not — while piracy may be killing the big industries, I am sure that people will still be looking at online porn for a long time. The question is why are people so attracted to other things that are not porn at all? This is not meant to be an ironic comment — when you think about it, unless you’re serious about using them as a professional networking tool, social networking sites and MMOs barely have more productive things to generate than online porn. So why go for social networks at all?

The typical answer is of course that we wil always still need social connections. But is not the opposite rather true — we are getting more and more tired of real social connections, and we leave it up to the web to do it for us? The logic of the Žižekian interpassive subject applies all too well — with Facebook, we can just add a friend and forget about making a real connection with her/him without feeling guilty about it! Is this not why we love the social Web in first place — because talking and connecting in real life needs too much effort?

Pornography, I would claim, has the same logic. Recall the standard implicit moral disclaimer that real-life sex will never be as good as pornography (it is much more awkward, has so much more bad sounds and smells and unpleasant tactile sensations, we have to constantly negotiate our partner(s)’s bad taste remarks, etc…). Is this not why we can enjoy watching pornography without feeling jealous to the people behind the screen — because we know perfectly well that, if we are in their place, having the real experience, things may not turn out as good as our fantasies? Cybersex is much less tiring than real sex, but nevertheless fantasy can be sustained just as well. The computer already reach orgasms for us.

How, then, should we read the correlation between the rise of Facebook and the decline of porn into the mainstream Web? It is not the usual one that maintains how the Internet is finally put into better use by having less LOLcats and porn. Nor it is the other usual skeptic one that argues that porn is not declining at all, but moving into another realm of the Web, as it were, as mentioned above. My thesis here is much more pessimistic: I would claim that this only proves that we are not only satisfied with externalizing sex so that we do not have to do it (and whenever we do it we need more and more enhancements to keep up with our fantasies and be able to forget the dirty, tiring, awkward parts — dildos, cocaine, viagra, anal beads… — to such extent that there are no longer “real” sex), but that we now find more and more an injunction to externalize our human connections — to “map out [online] every possible human connection” we have, as Mark Zuckerberg famously put it.

I should warn once again, however, that all this is not even meant to be a criticism of the social Web, but a pointing out of its strength. If anything, I will be the first person in any room of skeptic intellectuals who would shamelessly say out loud that he loves technology outright — I am far from being a technophobe; one could even call me a Promethean. Let us just not have too much illusions about it — but neither too much illusions of what the subject essentially is.

Pornography Bill: Obscenities

Posted in Political Focus with tags , , , , , on September 24, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan

People have been asking me what I think of the Pornography Bill — me not only being a cultural critic but also a passionate researcher of pornography. For me and my personal enjoyment, I think it is a wonderful idea and I love it: I would still be able to enjoy all the pornography (with proxies, P2P, etc. — I’m good at them) while others are busy stupidly hiding all their porn stashes and killing each other in Bali. It adds the sense of pride and thrill of being a winning criminal — who does not like enjoying their sexual pleasures with an added sense of sin, crime, victory, and the last laugh?

The Bill is by now already over-discussed that it seems embarrassing to do it further. But let’s get more serious and take one obscene point of the Bill not many notice: the Bill has very strong potentials of condoning sexual harassments. When one regulates the object instead of the subject, does one not precisely create a space for dramatically reducing subjective guilt by transferring it to the object? A society with free porn circulating everywhere presupposes a very strict moral restriction that maintains sex to be kept only in porn, and in a curious effect radically desexualizes social life (unless, of course, the porn watched consist of mainly bad porn that condones rape and maintains stereotypes). There may very well be an abundance of swinger parties and BDSM festivals, but not many harassments and rapes. The obvious is also true: is not the rape statistics of Amish tribes and pedophilia statistics in priesthoods our ultimate proof?

Reading in a purely Žižekian turn, the bill is thus not at all restrictive: on the outside, it is saying, “We should stop the sins and restore moral order by eradicating all pornographies!” Secretly, it promises, “Let us stop all the porn so we can enjoy real women on the streets (because it will be their fault to dress like that, because we can always provide an excuse that we hate pornography, etc)!”

I’ll leave you with this interesting video (still good, though it has early-2007 statistics):

NOTE: One very depressingly laughable aspect of the Bill is its categorization of oral sex as an obscene perverse act on the same plane as zoophilia and necrophilia (others on the same list include anal sex and homosexuality). Speaks volumes of how sexually uneducated the Indonesian government is… And to think that they are even debating this while I am supposed to be attending a presentation on dildos that vibrate on earthquakes, how heartbreaking!

UPDATE (10/13): I now have a writing on The Jakarta Post regarding the Pornography Bill.

A Plea for Intolerant Politics

Posted in Political Focus with tags , , , , , , , , on September 18, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan

Just yesterday there was the sad news of a beating and sexual harassment of Nong Darol Mahmada, an activist of the Religious Freedom Association (AKKBB) and Facebook friend of mine by the Front for the Defense of Islam (FPI) in a courtroom in Jakarta during FPI’s trial for the “Bloody Monas” incident. And I ask myself a question: have we not had enough?

Everybody today talk about how we must teach the “false/militant/anarchist/fascist/terrorist” groups of Islam to have more tolerance, to know how the real cultural politics of the world works, how today we should all be modern and adapt the liberal politically correct stance of freedom and tolerance. Some, like the JIL, etc, choose to engage in verbal criticism of militant Islam. Others take the softer side of flaunting how beneficially peaceful it is to adapt a fashionable Zen-Buddhist style of spirituality in Islam. Both strive for only one thing: to right the wrongs of a militant Islam and bring them towards the romantic dream of a politically- and spiritually-correct tolerant Muslim utopia.

But why is it all conceived as a problem of a lack of tolerance from a perverted religious belief? Do we not dare to say that this is a problem of a severe flaw in our democratic legal system, a very real political problem instead of an abstract, spiritual one? There are very few things that I think are more miserable than the idea of suggesting a spiritual healing and liberal democracy lessons for such actors of violence. One of them is the idea of preserving these minority militant groups in the name of justice: “Let us tolerate their violence because everyone deserves a chance to speak out!” Is such stupidity not the ultimate proof that all these romantic discussions of religious difference and tolerance do nothing but blur and displace of from the real question: that of politics?

What about restoring the dignity of democratic politics without cultural tolerance? Do we not dare to admit that there are certain limits of democracy, of liberal freedom, that can never be crossed? Why are we today very afraid to admit that liberalism, multiculturalism, pluralism, etc. are actually far from benign sunshine-and-daffodils utopias of universal equality, but itself consist of inherently superior attitudes to those of fundamentalist people? The correct lesson to learn from Derrida is not the common one that strives for more equality by means of deconstruction, but instead an honest one in which one is willing to realize the boundaries of deconstruction and celebrate the hierarchic opposition when it is politically not possible to accept the Other.

We have had enough lessons of tolerance and all those stupid spiritual-correctness. What we need today are strict legal codes of discretion and protection of our citizens. I would be personally severely disappointed if no legal action is taken to defend Nong in her courtroom incident this past Monday. If there is a past that I am missing right now, it would be the past in which the authoritarian ex-president of Indonesia, Suharto, can easily ban organizations at his will. Would it not be nice if the same banning happen right now to all of the anarchist Muslims?

Okami: Divine Subjects and Image-Instruments

Posted in Pop Culture with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on September 9, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan
Okami

Okami

OK, most of you probably know that I’m a hardcore Wii fan by now, so I’m guessing it’s about time to put the gaming geek of myself to elucidate my Lacanian new media theories. One of the core concepts of my thesis is a new subjective experience I call the divine subject. This notion of transcendent subjective experience made possible by technology has its roots in cybernetics and the Macy conferences of the 20th century, as Katherine Hayles has explained in her 1999 book How We Became Posthuman. The postmodern notion of contingent bodies and posthuman transformations is not, as many may argue, a rejection of the liberal humanist subject of Enlightenment (“ethics is deconstructed with biotechnology,” “it’s all about the dehumanizing market,” etc.), but instead, as John Searle is well aware, a faithful move to take the Cartesian subject one step further: a desperate move to preserve the cogito under postmodernity — precisely because thought is the only viable experience, we need no more bodies!

What better piece of literature to illustrate the divinity of the subject than Okami, a game in which you actually take control of God herself? This game in which your avatar is the Japanese sun God, Okami Amaterasu (taking the form of the white wolf avatar, Shiranui), has as its core element the ability for players to create objects in the scenes by painting on them directly — you create suns by painting circles in skies, stars by painting dots, cut enemies by painting slashes, etc. This is a perfect example of what Lev Manovich calls the transformation from image to image-instruments. With the advent of the computer age, signifiers now has a double role: not only a part of the sign, but also something to be acted upon, a portal to another dimension.

What to say of today’s world of signs? It is no longer the Baudrillardian object-dominated world of simulacra in which subjects are fashionably dead, but a world in which the simulacra is an extension of subjective experience. The correct way to read the popular postmodern dystopia in which even our bodies is nothing but a simulacra is not that we are dead, reduced to mere Foucauldian sand imprints, but the opposite one: every simulacra may be our body. (Is this not the ultimate dream of ubiquitous computing, ambient intelligence, etc?) With Žižek, the (Cartesian) subject is not dead, but preserved through its reflexivity.

Okami perfectly illustrates my thesis: with signifiers evolving from its original purpose to include a role as portals of actions, with subjects depending more and more on avatars (the contingent simulacra body, explained further on my theories of the psychoanalytic monitor phase) both for social interaction and individual enjoyment, it is only prudent to note the possibility that there is an evolution going on in the dialectics of the Symbolic and Imaginary orders. Does the divine paintbrush of Okami not show that the Imaginary self may very well lie outside the visible biological self?

Arse Elektronika 2008 Coming Up!

Posted in Announcements! with tags , , , , , , , on September 6, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan
Arse Elektronika 2008

Arse Elektronika 2008

Hi, TPM readers! I’m excited to announce that Arse Elektronika 2008 is coming up in less than three weeks! If you happen to be either 1) a culture/sex/tech theorist, 2) a sexy geek, or 3) a geeky pervert and are in or near San Francisco in September 25th to 28th, go and grab your tickets now because it will be an event you wouldn’t want to miss out!

Since I am all three above, I am privileged enough to be a speaker, and I’ll be presenting my latest research paper titled “From Computer-Mediated Sex to Computer-Generated Sexuality: An Outlook on the Posthuman Sexual Trope” (abstract available here — scroll down to my name) on the final day (September 28th) at 1 PM. I had a little trouble coming to the States last time (the country won’t let me in), but this time things should (hopefully) work out.

For those of you who cannot come, I will post a download link to my lecture notes in PDF on this website after the event is over. An audio recording of my lecture will also be available at a later time.

Stay tuned to The Posthuman Marxist, and see you in San Francisco!

=====================================================================

UPDATE (09/15): I WILL NOT SEE YOU IN SAN FRANCISCO. IT TURNS OUT THAT I AM STILL NOT ALLOWED TO ENTER THE COUNTRY DUE TO RIDICULOUS INSTITUTIONAL AND FINANCIAL REASONS THEY DEMAND. I WILL BE TELEPRESENT VIA VIDEO PRESENTATION AND LIVE AUDIO SESSION FROM INDONESIA INSTEAD.

And this also means I will be canceling ALL my future appearances in the United States indefinitely. I cannot tell you how this news frustrates me. But I will continue to provide links to resources on this website.

The Deontology of Sexual Relations

Posted in Posthuman Perversion with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 5, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan

The Lacanian “there is no sexual relations” realizes itself perfectly with posthumanistic technologies — with sex technologies getting better and better (cybersex, teledildonics, novelty sex toys and fucking machines, etc.), we are made to become more and more aware that enhanced sex is a lot more enjoyable than “vanilla” sex. Hence, the Lacanian notion that sex itself is nothing but masturbation with a living partner is not at all surprising to us anymore — is that not the reason why we are so seduced by gynoids, virtual or real, in science fictions?

Deontological ethics implies an inherent virtue of action, regardless of their consequences or practical functionality. For example, demarcation lines and money are deontic — they function purely in the Symbolic order and are the big Other itself. Of course, in the contemporary age we have less and less of deontology — you may have found yourself laughing at it, since it has become compulsory now to deconstruct everything, and to realize that there is no such thing as “inherent virtue”. While all this is true, we should not forget that Lacan is nonetheless correct in his psychoanalytic formulations; which is why I like to say, you can deconstruct as you may, but in the end be aware that the only deconstructable experience is the Symbolic, as deconstruction is nothing but a play on signifiers.

Of course a total deconstruction of deontological values, the Names and Nos of the Father, would result in nothing short of a social foreclusion and cultural psychosis. Which is why Žižek notes that our skepticism today is a false, ironic one — it is not that we do not believe, it is that we are afraid to believe. Thus, the true deontological ethics of today resides not in an inherent virtue of action, but in an inherent virtue of desire.

What is very strange about today’s sexuality is the sheer number of bizarre perversions proliferating online. My thesis here, what the title of this post means, is that sexual relations, far from being liberated, is instead being more and more regulated, not at the level of practice but at the level of desire: “You must enjoy sex in more and more new ways, because now (with viagra, political correctness, safe BDSM toys, online anonymity, secure cybersex, Photoshop, porn forums…) we have nothing to worry about!”

A wall, as we proceed in history to become more civilized, can be stripped down into an invisible demarcation line that nevertheless retains its social function as a wall. Gold, as we proceed in history to become more modern, can be stripped down into inherently worthless numbers on screens or papers that nevertheless retains its social function as wealth. Sex, as we proceed in history to become more politically correct, can be stripped down into mere exchange of media that nevertheless retains its social function as “let’s make each other(‘s fantasy) aroused.”