Postinternet?

Hamish Win

There is a great line by Donna Haraway in which she states, “I never wanted to be posthuman any more than I wanted to be postfeminist’1. The point being that the posthumanities isn’t really a disavowal of the human, but rather a rethinking of what it means to be human after humanism, particularly around assumptions about autonomy and individuality. So what we get in posthumanism is an idea of the human that is mixed up, that is symbiogenetic (to use Haraway’s term) or associational (to use Bruno Latour’s term), involved as it is in a range of agencies and capacities, some human, some not. I mention this because it’s something I think of every time I hear the term postinternet and whilst I don’t want to replay arguments we’re all too familiar with (the post in postcolonialism2; the post in postmodernism3), I do however want to reflect upon its capacity to signpost the associations and hybridity our net-savvy culture increasingly brings into play.

To begin, take Tim Gentles’s recent use of the term postinternet in the inaugural issue of Magasine: ‘For musicians and producers operating within the postinternet milieu, the signifiers they deploy are more significant for how they re-invest certain genres with new meanings and in doing so facilitate a critique of taste’4. Gentles goes on to write a compelling argument for the profusion of micro-genres that saturate contemporary production, benchmarking them to the social capital of a meta-criticality that is both postironic and polymorphous in its disposition towards genre. Gentles is using the term postinternet to explain the influence of Google’s algorithm and the associational context inherent in a milieu of carefully groomed blogs and tumblrs like Jah Jah Sphinx, all of which breed an emergent social capital through their ability to cultivate a “well-tuned” engagement within an ever diffuse cultural environment.

Writing about the blog Contemporary Art Daily Micheal Sanchez usefully deploys Michel Serres’ concept of the quasi-subject to describe how these sites turn their discerning agglomeration of objects and situations into avatars which become ‘an activator of subjects’.

Consequently, Sanchez suggests:

This newly “transitive” model by which objects move through networks…is not simply a way out of the old problem of reification, but a clear reflection of the transitive conditions under which value is created.5

Perhaps then, we might look at the post in postinternet not as we might first presume, as a moment that signals a meta-critical engagement with the profusion of information bolstered by new constituencies of consent (let’s not forget that a blog’s social capital is directly relatable to the micro-constituencies that a networked sociality makes possible), but rather as a moment in which to rethink the ways in which a technology apparatus has always confused the presumed boundaries that define what it means to be human. That is, and to expand on Sanchez’s transitive function, cultural production has always constantly passed through objects or surfaces, whether that’s books, manuals, pdfs, websites, blogs, shoes, pastries, laundry powder (this list is potentially endless).

What I want to suggest then, is that that perhaps we might think of the internet as definitive iteration that exposes the constitutive performances our technological apparatus is embedded in. Afterall, is the internet itself, especially considering its evolutionary transmission from telephone-cables to wireless transmission, its appearance from clunky pc’s to portable tablets, not the shape shifter that makes clear once and for all, just how mercurially inclined this constitutive force is. Surely such considerations would make the post in the postinternet not only an entirely redundant signifier for considering the hype around new production values and methodologies, when it is instead a de-naming of the phenomena itself in preference for its preoccupation with how it is shaping the equally performative constitution of the human6.

I can’t think of a world before the internet, except perhaps the library, and before that maybe my parents’ bookshelf. They all seem to me the same constitutive forms through which a much wider cultural production is constantly filtering its way towards me. But then of course, this transitive function doesn’t just affect the products it takes momentary shape in, for it also shapes me. After all, we never pick up a nail-gun thinking we’re posthammer, nor do we take to the air in a floatplane thinking we’re postwheel, but nonetheless, we’d all (perhaps reluctantly) agree that we are significantly different humans because of the delegations these technological apparatuses make possible. Perhaps then, the postinternet age, concerned as it so often is with the immaterial transformation of the human, might finally show us just how entangled our species is with agencies and associations that have never been, nor ought we want them to be, all of our own making.

Image from the Opte Project

  1. Donna Haraway, When Species Meet (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008): 17 []
  2. See Ian Adam and Helen Tiffin’s compendium of the “post”colonial , Past the Last Post, Theorizing Postcolonialism and Postmodernism (Alberta: University of Calgary Press, 1990). []
  3. Jean-François Lytoard, The Postmodern Condition (trans. Geoff Bennington and Brian Massumi, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1991). []
  4. Tim Gentles ‘3-step and the micro-gentrification of the contemporary interent underground’ Magasine 1 (January 2013); 13.
    []
  5. Michael Sanchez, ‘Contemporary Art, Daily’, Art and Subjecthood (eds. Isabelle Graw, Daniel Birnbaum, Nikolaus Hirsch, Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2011);60. []
  6. It is telling that Gentles and Sanchez both focus not on how the internet enables new forms of production but on how it transforms the social capital of human taste. []
Hamish Win lives and works in Wellington and Christchurch, New Zealand.