Four things to hold on to according to Antoinette Rouvroy

A few months ago I was at a workshop in Brussels, on the side of which Antoinette Rouvroy and Seda Gürses were invited to speak. They both said really important things about their work: algorithmic governmentality, and Why Are We Talking About The Cloud Now?, respectively.

I asked Rouvroy about what resistance looks like in the face of narratives of big data that appear totalizing (the narratives about, and big data, both appear totalizing). What are the things that escape digitalisation? She said that there is a tendency of life to be recalcitrant to organisation, and these things:

– Physical things: the fact of bodies and organic life, which are wholly unpredictable;
– Utopias we had/have that don’t find a place in any present
– Dreams of the future.
– If we were really present and complete, we would not talk to each other: we are separated from ourselves through language anyway; trying to find a way back is resistance.

“Algorithmic thinking is tempting because it precludes hesitation, doubt, and failure; failure is a space to hold on to.”

Three times invisibility

Today I was in three conversations about invisibility.

The first one took place in the formal conference room of an international development agency where three people find themselves talking about the B in LGBTQI. Whoever heard about B meetings or support for B people. Gay heteronormative men will tell you there is no such thing as B. Who wants to be a Beta when you can be an Alpha. B is for bridge that you can walk across to the other side. B for blanket under which different configurations of hands, knees and giggles coexist. Under the blanket there is no world outside. Poor invisible B. B is prey to Observer Effect and the Heisenberg Principle; no one is actively both all the time, who do you think you are, you think you can have it all?! [Goddamn fools]. Why are they equating desire with body? Erasures, everywhere.

Second, Jeremiah [name changed] pouts and says that I think he can’t see what I’m doing. He saw me bringing in a salad from the French cafe. I know you don’t want to eat my food any longer so you’re going elsewhere. Pout pout sniff. The thought bubble in my head says – Jeremiah, you aren’t my Indian husband. Jeremiah’s food is so-so. I want to introduce lentils to Jeremiah. LENTILS ARE INVISIBLE HERE.

A third this morning inside my headheart. Smart, lovely Western-born women of colour talking about claiming space and resisting otherness and all I can think is that this is not my fight. I support your rights but I’m not a WOC, really. Where I come from we are all coloured anyway. I have incredible privilege where I’m from; but it’s true I’m not there enjoying it and I’m here negotiating something else and because of what those things are, I’m just behind, not invisible. I’m not invisible  – I can’t claim your histories of oppression and I don’t really have (m)any of my own (except all those terrible things Indian girls get told growing up). In fact, here, I’m so painfully visible; to the little old lady at the tram stop who stops (in her walker) to gawk at me top to bottom, and the 9 year olds who stare and giggle – I spit and say: not migrant, I’m a gentrifying expat, motherfucker. Deal with it.


Seeing/ Not seeing

Socialization is "the lifelong process of inheriting and disseminating norms, customs and ideologies provide an 
individual with the skills and habits necessary for participating within his or her own society. Socialization is
thus ‘the means by which social and cultural continuity are attained." The social internet socialises us, its users. 
It, us, teaches us new ways to be. 

Here is a somewhat new practice on social media, which has been written about: encouraging fellow 
social media users to not see something violent/violating because the act of sourcing and 
seeing is acknowledged as perpetuating that violence. After James Foley's and Steven Sotloff's murders,
internet users were saying of the videos circulating online: 'don't see it, don't look at it'; and, 
there were pictures of the journalists with their families, shared, possibly, to counter these videos. Their families, 
understandably, wanted their loved one to be remembered in a certain way, not as a headless body or as the victim of a
gruesome crime. Even as fact is being ruthlessly documented, there is a reactive counter-pressure to erase the facts. 

The same thing played out as personal photos of the actor Jennifer Lawrence were stolen and revealed. Social media saw some specific kinds 
of struggles over seeing and not seeing:
"this is the internet and this is how it works, so just deal with it… and take a look at how hot she is"; 
"seeing those pictures is abusive so be part of the solution, not the problem"; and another version of this:
"if she sent them to you, then you were meant to see those pictures, not otherwise"

How does this relate to the work of images in politics? It is a little like the visual equivalent of the right to be forgotten, 
or the peekaboo games that delight babies: if you can't see it, the violence isn't there any more, the violations 
don't hurt, it has been neutralised.