Limen, portal, network subjectivities

Cubitt, Sean. 2020. Limen, portal, network subjectivities. Parallax, 26(1), pp. 9-19. ISSN 1353-4645 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

The ambiguity of the term 'network subjectivities' is enticing: is there a subjectivity proper to networks? Is that subjectivity itself distributed? The inference in each case is that there is or has been a subjectivity that is or was not networked in either sense. It follows then that there must be a passage between non- or pre-networked subjectivity and networked, a threshold. Anne Friedman's work would suggest that the key threshold is the human-computer interface, the physical display and the software interface that appears in it. Her analysis concerns the actual, but subjectivity also concerns the potential. To pursue that we need to look at imaginary (fictitious, experimental) accounts of thresholds between worlds. This paper looks at liminal spaces and portals in popular culture as evidence for the potential of subjectivities in transition between IRL or individualist subjectivity towards networks and networking. From Odysseus' visit to the gates of the underworld and Orpheus' rescue of Eurydice, all the way to Malevich's black icon, the liminal has been approached with ritual and trepidation. Transitions between worlds retain their magic in the Narnia books of C.S. Lewis and the tesseract of Interstellar, but lose their ritual and their power to demand awe and fear in the promise of easy, cost-free travel between the mundane world and any one of thousands of networked worlds.

Such transitions, we know from our GPS trackers, do not involve a change of place; therefore they must involve a change of state, whose essence will be temporal rather than spatial, and thus also historical. The major historical change of the period covering the rise of network communications has been the rise of dataveillance, and its corollary, the real subsumption of consumption under capital. With the approaching exhaustion or higher risks associated with the extraction of natural resources, capital turns to the exploitation of human nature, notably through mapping behaviours as predictors of future activity, exploiting the creativity of interactors as unpaid sources of innovation, and personal debt. The derivatives market in debt producers the singular temporality of contemporary network capital and its subjectivity.

This paper follows the histories that have produced this condition, including those of individuation, the construction of states of affairs as data, and the variety of terms frequently used as binary opposites of truth, each constitutive of a different kind of subject. This analysis prompts a definition of ideology as the intersection of the wishful and the paranoid, a position characterisable as subjunctive that should be taken as the typical form of network subjectivity as liminal. This in turn suggests two further hypotheses, that the category and the reality of the human has become environmental, that is treated as economic externality and as divorced from the core of the social; and that this alienated, subjunctive, mass subject is now in process of dissolving its links with the subjectivity as sovereignty, to replace it with the grounds for a new sociality. The challenge of the present conjuncture is therefore to construct a new 'we' capable of expressing the newly interdependent networks, not only of communications, but of ecological and technological imbrication of humans and non-humans, in a new politics.

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network subjectivities, networks, liminal spaces, portals, transitions

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Media, Communications and Cultural Studies


1 February 2019Submitted
10 September 2020Published

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Date Deposited:

01 Mar 2019 14:19

Last Modified:

31 Jul 2021 05:08

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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