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Qui Parle, Volume 30, Number 1, June 2021

Vol. 30 | No. 1 | June 2021

        Special Issue: Networks of Belief

Networks of Belief: An Introduction
William Morgan and Kyra Sutton

It no longer registers as a shock to hear proclamations of an emerging age of networks, of algorithms, of artificial intelligence, of machine learning, robotics, ubiquitous digital devices, or the cloud. From economics to genetics, computation is heralded as the skeleton key to a treasure trove of the world’s best-hidden secrets. [...] But is the belief that “everything is a network” something that emerges in response to the emergence of ubiquitous digital connectivity? Or, rather, does the figure of the network have a deeper history that the digital simply brings into sharper relief? What is the relation between (belief in) the ubiquity of networks and late capitalism, that is, capitalism with cybernetic characteristics?

Read now at Duke University Press

Movement in Repose: Notes on Form of Life
Aaron Frederick Eldridge

How does tradition, a transmission of body and language, disclose a form of life? This article takes as its point of departure Talal Asad’s methodological pivot away from the modern concept of “belief” to Ludwig Wittgenstein’s concept of “form of life.” It elaborates the philosophical and anthropological implications of a rigorous notion of form of life through Asad’s concept of tradition and Martin Heidegger’s rereading of Aristotle’s physis. Interrupting this theoretical argument, a scene from the author’s ethnographic fieldwork with Orthodox Christian ascetics in Lebanon exemplifies the challenge (and insistence) of form of life. The article then turns to consider a powerful reading of form of life grounded in Baruch Spinoza’s theory of emanation and vitalist univocity. While echoing the concerns of this article, Spinoza’s philosophical ethic defers the central question posed by “form of life” by making the latter a world-producing apparatus. That approach to form of life foregrounds the possibility of being other than what one is, rather than the crucial question of “still experience” and its dynamic repose. The article concludes by reading this still experience alongside C. Nadia Seremetakis’s work in Greece, which details the work of stillness and memory, the deathly pain of history, as sites where the cultivation of noncontemporaneous forms of life are brought into relief.

Read now at Duke University Press

An Immanence without the World: On Dispossession, Nothingness, and Secularity
Alex Dubilet

This essay proposes to rethink the conceptual associations that bind immanence to the secular and oppose it to (divine) transcendence. It asks: What if immanence is divorced from the conceptual opposition between the world and its openings to (divine) other(s), between enclosure and the trace of a transcendent outside? What might arise if immanence is severed from its link with secularity, if it ceases to be merely another conceptual support in secularism’s metaphysical armature? To pursue these questions, the essay engages a variety of materials, including medieval mysticism, anthropological critiques of the secular, work in Black studies, critiques of the subject, and François Laruelle’s non-philosophical thought. The result links immanence more intimately with dispossession than with the subject’s self-possession—and entwines it with the undercommons, as the atopic lowest place, rather than with the nomos and topos imposed by the (modern) world and its regime of the proper. Immanence is thought of as anti- and antenomian force, a groundless ground coming underneath the conceptual logics of the world, its normative order of things, and life lived according to its distributions. As a result, rather than a weapon in modernity’s endless self-justifying polemics with religion, immanence opens forth trajectories for its destitution and delegitimation.

Read now at Duke University Press

Living In/difference; or, How to Imagine Ambivalent Networks
Carina Albrecht, Wendy Hui Kyong Chun, and Laura Kurgan

In a 1954 essay Paul Lazarsfeld and Robert K. Merton coined the term homophily to describe similarity-based friendship. They based their findings on friendship patterns among neighbors in a biracial housing project in the United States, using a combined quantitative and qualitative, empirical and speculative analysis of social processes. Since then homophily has become a guiding principle for network science: it is simply presumed that similarity breeds connection. But the unpublished study by Merton, Patricia S. West, and Marie Jahoda, which grounds Lazarsfeld and Merton’s analysis, and the Merton and Bureau of Applied Social Research’s archive reveal a more complex picture. This article engages with the data traces in the archive to reimagine what enabled the residents of the studied housing project to live in difference, as neighbors. The reanimation of this archive reveals the often counterintuitive characteristic of our imagined networks: they are about removal, not addition. It also opens up new imagined possibilities for a digital future beyond the hatred of the different and online echo chambers.

Read now at Duke University Press

A Liar’s Epistemology: Herbert Simon’s Performative Artificial Intelligence
Brett Zehner

This methodologically important essay aims to trace a genealogical account of Herbert Simon’s media philosophy and to contest the histories of artificial intelligence that overlook the organizational capacities of computational models. As Simon’s work demonstrates, humans’ subjection to large-scale organizations and divisions of labor is at the heart of artificial intelligence. As such, questions of procedures are key to understanding the power assumed by institutions wielding artificial intelligence. Most media-historical accounts of the development of contemporary artificial intelligence stem from the work of Warren S. McCulloch and Walter Pitts, especially the 1943 essay “A Logical Calculus of the Ideas Immanent in Nervous Activity.” Yet Simon’s revenge is perhaps that reinforcement learning systems adopt his prescriptive approach to algorithmic procedures. Computer scientists criticized Simon for the performative nature of his artificially intelligent systems, mainly for his positivism, but he defended his positivism based on his belief that symbolic computation could stand in for any reality and in fact shape that reality. Simon was not looking to actually re-create human intelligence; he was using coercion, bad faith, and fraud as tactical weapons in the reordering of human decision-making. Artificial intelligence was the perfect medium for his explorations.

Read now at Duke University Press

How to Make a Class: Hayek’s Neoliberalism and the Origins of Connectionism
Matteo Pasquinelli

It was not a cybernetician but a neoliberal economist who provided the first systematic treatise on connectionism or, as it would later be known, the paradigm of artificial neural networks. In his 1952 book The Sensory Order, Friedrich Hayek advanced a connectionist theory of the mind already far more advanced than the theory of symbolic artificial intelligence, whose birth is redundantly celebrated in 1956 with the exalted Dartmouth workshop. In this text Hayek provided a synthesis of Gestalt principles and considerations of artificial neural networks, even speculating about the possibility of a machine fulfilling a similar function of “the nervous system as an instrument of classification,” auguring what we call today a “classifier algorithm.” This article shows how Hayek’s connectionist theory of the mind was used to shore up a specific and ideological view of the market and schematically reconstructs Hayek’s line of argumentation from his economic paradigm backward to his theory of cognition. Eventually, in Hayek’s interpretation, connectionism provides a relativist cognitive paradigm that justifies the “methodological individualism” of neoliberalism.

Read now at Duke University Press

What is (Machine) Philosophy?
Luciana Parisi with William Morgan

This interview with the digital media theorist Luciana Parisi opens with the hypothesis that cybernetics is not merely the name for that postwar metascience of command and control. For Parisi, cybernetics names a “historical reconfiguration of metaphysics on behalf of technics.” This interview asks about the meaning and consequences of this hypothesis but steers away from the all-too-easy poiesis-as-panacea solution to the computational quagmire. Instead, this interview descends into the computational medium, into the specificity of its logic, asking what it might mean not merely to live in a cyberneticized world but to actively participate and believe in such a world. Parisi’s response puts to philosophy an important task: not to seek the accommodations of an expanding concept of the human within a machinic world but to think with the logic of the ascendant cybernetic metaphysics. For Parisi, a necessary move herein is to negotiate the reality of the algorithm’s syntactic operations, their performativity, a move that for her implies a certain form of belief. In tracking this form of belief across disciplines, this interview broaches questions of scalability, race and colonialism, the nonneutrality of technoscience, and the potential of computational aesthetics. Finally, the interview gestures toward Parisi’s future work, because, as she reminds us, we cannot go back; there are questions emerging from within machines that are eager to emerge and are waiting for us to think them.

Read now at Duke University Press

       Special Dossier: Breath


The all-too-common refrain “I can’t breathe,” in response to obscene incidents of police brutality and the murder of Black people in America, has haunted us through this time where breath is not only dangerous and necessary but also, in this nation, hyperpoliticized at a number of flash points. The widespread refusal to wear a mask is effectively an insistence on breathing together, even if it marks the condition of one’s own last breath—or that of someone else, who may or may not have consented to sharing potentially deadly aerosol particles. Once a concern largely restricted to those with respiratory health conditions, breathing has now become a central preoccupation of the world. This special dossier, “Breath,” considers the politics, history, geography, and conditions of breathing from a moment of respiratory crisis amid a respiratory pandemic, the ecological crisis of California’s increasing wildfires and unbreathable air, and the brutal policing of Black American life. The short meditations in this dossier, from academics in various fields as well as creative writers, are responses to our current moment’s heightened awareness of the complexities of one of the most fundamental requirements for life.

Read now at Duke University Press

Collective Tissue
Jeffrey Moro

The trick about breath is that what goes in does not come out. Alveoli, dendritic sacs in the lungs, collect oxygen and exchange it for carbon dioxide, the fuel and waste of cells respiring at microscopic scale. Breath mediates in the word’s fundamental sense. In an unfolding ecological crisis and acute respiratory pandemic, twin technobiological catastrophes, we now face the question: What do media make us?

Read now at Duke University Press

Grass-Colored Air: Breathing with Osaki Midori
Daryl Maude

Breath holds time.

In a short set of passages on spring from 1934, the Japanese novelist and film critic Osaki Midori (1896–1971), who had suffered a breakdown and left Tokyo for her native Tottori Prefecture two years before, includes the following telegram. It is characteristic of the modernist style for which her work is known...

Read now at Duke University Press

The Anti-giraffe
Maria José de Abreu

The other day someone asked me how I would summarize the moment we are living in. My answer was that we are experiencing a total loss of perspective compensated only by an outstanding agility. Our incapacity to determine relations of cause and effect according to point of view is rewarded by a suppleness of form in responding to quick-shifting scenarios. The now-this-now-that sway of motion associated with the swift resolve of governmental leaders, market impulses, or media warfare is turning us into agile athletes whose intent is no longer to predict where things are going but to adapt as new situations erupt.

It is no wonder that calls for supra-agility come precisely when, due to a global pandemic, our breathing is being intensely regimented. If the virus includes all those who breathe as potentially infected, such inclusion also masks the violent exclusions...

Read now at Duke University Press

A Philippine Asphyxia
Kathleen Cruz Gutierrez

My eighty-seven-year-old father cuts holes in his masks. He says he can’t breathe otherwise. The fabric—whether stretchy, cotton, or woven—keeps him from taking full breaths, he protests. When we’re out, he pulls his mask below his nose, irreverent about public health guidance. His breathing, iyan ang kailangan (that’s what’s needed), COVID-19 be damned.

He was in Quezon City, Philippines, at the time of the first round of global coronavirus lockdowns. The numbers did not abate with the summer heat, and neither did the extrajudicial killings the present-day Philippine president rains on the populace. My father lived alone and preferred it that way. Until he couldn’t. The people he saw regularly—the buko (coconut) vendor, the titinda ng saging (banana salesperson), the labandera (laundrywoman) who helped with his weekly washing—retreated indoors to avoid the contagion. Local officials delivered cans of sardines to his apartment...

Read now at Duke University Press

as I take my seat...
Peter Myers

as I take my seat in the row in the hour of flight whose medium is an essence & my undoing via heartache of social bonds a type of corruptible weather I am in excess to or the debt canopy shadowing those surrounding fields & fields of heartache recede as the space before me turns social blur the night’s weatherless disruption the night’s letterless dysfunction pneumatic purr of the breathing machine I heard & saw my sister use through childhood episodes structuring breath music does this too only flightlessly flightlessly as music is I ascend to a rhythm in love with its own disruption but the breath stays grounded it didn’t make that choice once I made a choice then it made me back toward the origin of the breath it was one unending sentence & now I’m one unending sentence or...

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Kimberly Bain

Listen. There’s no introduction to Nina Simone’s rendition of “Strange Fruit,” only a single note. Her voice emerges. Rough. Direct. Accusing. Denouncing. Her entire performance is predicated on the tightly controlled breath: each word bears the weight of her lungs, none left unarticulated or lost among the bitter poignancy of images made into word.

Placing Nina Simone’s rendition of “Strange Fruit” is an effort in trying to place breath. Simone’s interpretation is no wail or cry. Hers is a performance steeped in a Black tradition of breathing, born of centuries of fugitivity and bearing the scars of a people trying to live in hostile atmospheres. Her “for the leaves to drop” extends “leaves” for a full seven seconds, voice a decrescendo like the wind wailing before a storm or the scream of a siren. Her guttural energy, baptized in anger and disgust...

Read now at Duke University Press

Cover: Tauba Auerbach, Grain - Conjoined Mandelbrot Quartet, Reflect, 2017. More info

Volume 30.1 is available at Duke University Press and Project Muse. Qui Parle is edited by an independent group of graduate students at the University of California, Berkeley and published by Duke University Press.