Dean, Jodi. Blog Theory: Feedback and Capture in the Circuits of Drive. Malden, MA: Polity Press, 2010.
Although brief, Dean’s monograph is a conscious attempt to slow down contemporary communications media and think critically about the networked hegemony she calls communicative capitalism, “that economic-ideological form wherein reflexivity captures creativity and resistance so as to enrich the few as it placates and diverts the many” (4). Following Žižek, Dean contends that the modern media epoch is caught by “the decline of symbolic efficiency, the recursive loops of universalized reflexivity, the extreme inequalities that reflexive networks produce, and the operation of displaced mediators at points of critical transition” (29). To explain the reflexive circuit, Dean suggests that Lacan’s notion of the inhuman, undead, and disruptive drive — which posits pure loss as its object and “attains jouissance in the repetitive process of not reaching it” (40) — “expresses the reflexive structure of complex networks,” and that “[c]ommunicative capitalism thrives not because of unceasing or insatiable desires but in and as the repetitive intensity of drive” (30), a never ending loop within which media users are stuck. “Caught in reflexive networks” without being grounded by sufficient symbolic efficiency to make choices meaningful, “we lose the capacity for reflection. Our networks are reflexive so that we don’t have to be” (78) — a situation that produces what Dean, with a nod to Agamben, names a whatever being, a contemporary subjectivity that is “‘neither generic nor individual’” (80), both anxious and apathetic, “passive . . . because they are subjects of drive” (85). In effect, enjoined by the network itself, whatever beings communicate on the Internet, whether through a blog post or clicking ‘Like’, for the sheer fact of communicating, without a care for what is communicated: “Like a tweet, a Facebook update marks the mundane by expressing it, by breaking it out of one flow of experience and introducing it into another” again and again (98), producing a nugget of jouissance in the failure to land while simultaneously making it impossible to move beyond the loop. “In the reflexive doubling of communication, the enjoyment attached to communication for its own sake displaces intention, content, and meaning” so that ultimately the “something extra in repetition is enjoyment, the enjoyment that is capture in the drive and the enjoyment that communicative capitalism expropriates” (116).
This post is one entry in an ongoing annotated bibliography of my bookshelf. If it’s useful to any person other than myself, all the better.