Nelly Yaa Pinkrah – The Value of Opacity

[This text is a rough and rather long draft of what will eventually be developed into one or (parts of) more chapter(s) of my dissertation on Édouard Glissant and Cybernetics.]

Opacity, initially traced here in the writing and thinking of the Martinian Philosopher, Poet, and Cultural Critique Édouard Glissant, will serve to argue that the histories and epistemologies, and therefore materialities, of how we make sense of and understand media (and) technology are closely intertwined with the histories and epistemologies of – hereby echoing Glissant – how we relate to each other and ourselves. This, at first, does not seem to be a radical claim, for media (and) technology are known to become evident where they intermediate, namely mediate two things in order for them to carry out their differentialities. These media, of course, not only tend to remain uncertain, undetermined, and obscure. In fact, they have to be. »Thus we arrive at a paradox: any mediating technology is obliged to erase itself to the highest degree possible in the name of unfettered communication, but in so doing it proves its own virtuosic presence as technology, thereby undoing the original erasure.«[1] The histories and epistemologies of relating to each other and Relation[2] call into the arena the question of (the nature of) understanding and suggest the negotiation of identities. So, this above mentioned sense making shall include such constructs and concepts as race and blackness, difference and representation whose installation and character are part of the lineage of colonialism and imperial rule, they are thus markers of imperial powers. These powers, over approximately the last 500 years, have become and stay hegemonic in defining cultural, political, economic, and social knowledge and realities and today are widely referred to as Western countries.

The argument, I want to make, is not merely concerning analogical references – say, the prevalence of the master/slave terminology in the language of informatics and engineering until today[3], or the reading and understanding of the black body as a (pre-)capitalist technology, as capital and commodity form. The argument rather links Glissants oeuvre comprised of his poetics and poetic knowledge, his understanding of and play with language, and of revolutionary concepts such as Creolization, Relation and opacity to a cybernetic epistemology, to computational knowledge and realities and to contemporary politics. Opacity not only invokes the enlightenment episteme, »which unites (some might say collapses) knowledge and the visual in various technologies of representational transparency and communicability« [4], but has the potential to defy it on certain levels and/or under certain conditions. Therefore, in the following short outline I will focus on the contemporary politics of transparency (I.), on Glissants understanding of opacity (II.) and only hint at some of the intentions on how to further investigate a dialectical relationship between opacity and transparency, and reformulate the linkages between the politics of visibility and representation to think about identity, blackness/race, solidarity and resistance under conditions of digitality (III.).

I.

Transparency, as a metaphor, as desire and promise, and as mantra and ideology, has become a »major phenomenon of the postmodern media society«[5]. In recent years, it has been a focal point in discussions centered around surveillance and state control, democracy and political autonomy, especially due to the transforming media-technological conditions where a »form of digital world-generation has prevailed«[6]. Digitality I consider to be the »media-technical condition« for the omnipresence of the concept of transparency.[7] (Digital) media and technologies organize cultures, they determine the production, distribution and preservation of social, cultural, and economic knowledge and thus of power relations and hegemonies.

The multilayered semantic structure of transparency reveals how metaphorical levels and relations of light and shadow, of the dark and monstrous, of visibility and invisibility, and of understanding and non-understanding overlap in ideas, knowledge production, and the construction of the world. Epistemological implications for how best to understand subject and object, how to perceive, constitute and create them in the first place can be traced back to ancient Greek philosophy[8], they are present in many other fields, and can be described, as many have, not only as a specific, often Western, mode of understanding. In fact, the practices informed by the idea of transparency are among the guiding forces that have led to the subjugation of humans, their exploitation and control.[9] This violence and control of »the gaze«[10] for one thing, and the making, forcing and leaving all things visible, have been theorized innumerable times, from anti-colonial thinkers to, arguably most famously in the form of the Panopticum, Michel Foucault.[11]

»(T)ransparency involves a view of things that understands them as potentially transparent and (…) the light that pervades them is subsequently the light of mind«[12], it is the rational light of Enlightenment. Nothing is left to be dark, there is only transparency – ever extending. »But enlightened thinking is not only a switch from philosophy to science but, moreover, one that is fundamentally technological. […] Exposing the inner workings of things is in fact a technological act.«[13] So, is the longing for exposure and understanding of objects and subjects technological in itself? Is the appearance in the disappearance and the disappearance in the appearance a necessary interplay of opacity and transparency? And as mentioned above: We undeniably live in a world of blind workings, we certainly always have – media (and) technology needs and loves to hide. Why does something have to be hidden in the first place, be done in hiding, be held a secret, hide its presence, or dissolve its appearance in order for a structure, a system, an organism or else to work flawlessly and be functional?[14] What would it mean to stop taking things at »face value« and become aware of the impenetrable? How do we think opacity, practice opacity or even produce it? For opacity is not good in itself but its value emerges in certain constellations and formations, which need to be analyzed and determined.

II.

»This […] transparency, in Western History, predicts that a common truth of Mankind exists and maintains that what approaches it most closely is action that projects, whereby the world is realized at the same time that it is caught in the act of its foundation.«[15]

The concept of opacity is already visible in Glissants first works and deeply tied to his earliest experiences of reading and writing literature. It is present not only as an object of theoretical and poetical inquiry, but also as a method. Glissant applies it in his writing himself as a resistant strategy, to then precisely in this writing conceptualize opacity as a strategy of resistance. Glissant started writing poetry in the late 1940ies, when he had just moved to France. He first encountered what he would later call opacity which then was tied to the problem of translatability as well as to the internal differences within the French language spoken in France and Martinique where his mother tongue actually was Creole. This early poetic writing is filled with contrasts, contradictions or whole word series of contradictions, strong metaphors and images and overall rhetorical means, that show a way into his »incomprehensible« poetics and provide a glimpse into the dialectical and »chaotic« movement of Glissants writing which throughout his body of work[16] remained consciously obscure. »This literature’s distinctive opacity, its resistance to easy comprehension or explication, reinforces the sense that the most productive and enlightening vision of the world arises from experiences of abysmal darkness.«[17]

As a political strategy, and specifically as a strategy of resistance or self-protection, an early form of thinking the opaque also shows in his literature. The literary involvement of maronage is exemplary here. Maroon communities could only emerge where the enslaved people were able to find shelter from the eyes of the masters in the impenetrability of the forests, which where »the first obstacle the slave opposed to the transparency of the planter«[18]. Thus, a way of surviving was only imaginable where the impenetrable – which in this case is symbolized through the thick[19] of the forests – was existent in the first place. It is also a reminder from where a Caribbean philosophy and epistemology must be thought: from the abyss of the Middle Passage, the void of a non-history of a people and the darkness that stems from it.

Glissant conceived of opacity first and foremost in his poetry and in his readings of earlier writers, from Mallarmé to Saint-John Perse to William Faulkner, whose moments of complication or incomprehensibility he found productive. By examining the literary valence of this concept of Caribbean philosophy, I claim that opacity not only protects the subject from the invasive grasp of (neo)colonial thought but also, more affirmatively, invites the reader to join the poet on equal footing in the process of sense-making. It is this kind of collective poetics, a collectivity created in opacity, that Glissant imagines in his broader world vision of Relation and the Tout-Monde.[20]

In 1969 on a conference in Mexico Glissant demanded a »right to opacity« for the first time.[21] The claim is accompanied by a sort of militancy in comparison to the earlier engagement with opacity, which probably led to its eventual prominence.[22] The fact that Glissant demands this »right to opacity« is revealing in three respects. It shows, first, that opacity is something that is not presupposed in a society experienced by Glissant – at least for specific subjects or groups of subjects – and must therefore be named in its essence and necessity. Secondly, his stance implies an understanding of how existence, a being-in-the-world, is possible, namely, in recognition of the opacity of subject and object, of anything and everything. And third, it refers back to an understanding of freedom. The freedom to be then would mean to be moving in an environment where people can accept each other and live together without fully understanding each other. Or to put it differently: the freedom to exist occurs where people feel obliged not to become violent when they do not understand someone or something. As Fanon wrote in »Black Skin, White Masks«: »I find myself suddenly in the world and I recognize that I have one right alone: That of demanding human behavior from the other. One duty alone: That of not renouncing my freedom through my choices. «[23] A resistant mode that can be imagined through opacity thus functions epistemologically first, it grants the right to an unknowability of the self.

»In order to accept you, I have to measure your solidity with the ideal scale providing me with grounds to make comparisons and, perhaps, judgments. I have to reduce.«[24] Within his 1990 work »Poetique de la Relation« the question of understanding for Glissant is relevant in the context of society, social life and cultural exchange; ultimately, he is concerned with a being-in-the-world. Opacity is thus both an individual and a cultural phenomenon, concerned with the collective voice of a single speaker as well as the collectivity that inhabits every form and modus of subject formation. Insofar opacity, and with it, reflections on transparency became one core element of Glissants work, not only in regards to literary production, translation, or language in general but all the more concerning questions of (the totality of) Relation, sense-making and epistemology, positionality, truth, understanding, and the human, among others. Opacity, then, is that which cannot be penetrated – be it by light or by logic, be it because of its material and/or aesthetic form (something has to be present and appear before us, therefore we could ask about the important relation between form and content), or because of the inner ties, tissues and workings of subject or object.

III. (This part needs thorough revising and focus and will be extended. It does not live up to the initial promise yet)

»[The] cybernetic philosophy was premised on the opacity of the Other. We are truly, in this view of the world, like black boxes with inputs and outputs and no access to our or anyone else’s inner life.«[25] In light of a »technological condition«[26] and the increasingly centralized and monopolized control of digital technologies in the present, the forms and effects of what visibility, truth and legibility mean can be reconstructed – especially by remembering the technologies’ moment of origin.[27] Transformations of the respective societal media systems shape and change the perceptions, representations and cultural techniques of their individuals and so do notions of »understanding« which means that digital media technologies are currently a very relevant orientation. Understanding becomes visibility, which becomes readable information. A mass of data then equals information which implies knowledge which, as we know is powerful, and not innocent.

In his essay Black Box, Black Bloc Alexander Galloway associates the cybernetic Black Box with the Black Bloc of the political left. His thesis is: »Politics of the new millennium are not politics of time or of space anymore, but politics of appearance.« Following Galloway, in cybernetic societies certain forms of political appropriations of the invisible, the anonymous, the unpredictable, the non-representable, absence, non-legibility, non-identification or identifiability, disappearance or non-being are in motion. These forms will become important for any politics and a tactical tool for resisting. In cybernetic societies, we are confronted with a politics of appearance«, or a »politics of being«.[28]

The Black Box increasingly seems to become a household name for the general need to describe a state of non-understanding or rather impossibility of understanding, that is an impenetrability that concerns various fields and phenomena. From referring to the human physiological brain as a black box, therefore, the human herself, to technical devices like a smart phone, to technologies such as deep learning algorithms, the black box is that which cannot, should not, and will not be opened.

However, the black box originally receives its name from a Second World War situation in which secret war technology had to be transported across secured borders from the United Kingdom to the United States past the Germans, in secure black boxes, in which again secured black boxes were in place inside which the technology sat. The first black boxes were used in combat inside aircrafts and they were often equipped with self-destructing mechanisms in case they fell into the hands of the enemy. The example of the cybernetic black box thus implies what cybernetics as a science implements: The emergence of cybernetics has produced an »[…] approach to knowledge/cognition (»Erkenntnisansatz«) that no longer requires intrusion into the objects’ interior, but rather leaves the object in its opaqueness and judgments are only passed on the basis of its observable behavior.« [29] Cybernetics levels »the human« as a frame of reference in the thinking of »phenomenological connections« (Phänomenzusammenhänge) but thinks these connections quite simply »[…] in terms of informatic switching and control circuits […]«[30]. The questioning and re-positioning of hitherto established epistemologies were just as much a part of cybernetics as the creation of entirely new processes of observation and thought. [31] And in cybernetic systems control can be exercised without understanding the system.

[…]

[1] Galloway, Alexander R. (2006): »Language wants to be overlooked: On Software and Ideology«, in Journal of Visual Culture, Vol 5(3), London: SAGE Publications, p. 320.

[2] Relation is one of Glissants core concepts, outlined most thoroughly in his 1990 work »Poetique de la Relation« (English translation 2010). »Rhizomatic thought is the principle of what I call the Poetics of Relation, in which each and every identity is extended through a relationship with the Other.« (Glissant 2010, S. 11)

[3] Chude-Sokei, Louis (2016): The Sound of Culture. Diaspora and Black Technopoetics. Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, p. 79f.

[4] Galloway, Alexander (2006), p. 320.

[5] Frissen, Paul (2016): »a critique of transparency«, in: Brouwer, Joke/Spuybroek, Lars/Van Tuinen, Sjoerd (ed.): the war of appearances. transparency, opacity, radiance. Rotterdam: V2_Publishing, p. 12-29, p 12.

[6] Beyes, Timon/Pias, Claus (2014): »Transparenz und Geheimnis«, in: Mattl, Siegfried/Schulte, Christian (Hg.): Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaft: Vorstellungskraft. Band 8, Heft 2, p. 111.

[7] Ibid.

[8] See Schneider, Manfred (2013): Transparenztraum. Berlin: Matthes & Seitz, p. 47.

[9] See among others Manfred Schneiders analysis of for example the French Revolution: Schneider, Manfred (2013): Transparenztraum. Berlin: Matthes & Seitz; analysis of »the look« or «the gaze« in Fanon, Frantz (2008): Black Skin, White Masks. Orig. published in 1986 (1952), London: Pluto Press; on transparency Bhabha, Homi K. (2011): »Zeichen als Wunder: Fragen der Ambivalenz und Autorität unter einem Baum bei Delhi im Mai 1817«, in: Ders.: Die Verortung der Kultur. Tübingen: Stauffenberg Verlag, p. 151-180.; critique of the visuality of women in Chow, Rey (1995): Primitive Passions: Visuality, Sexuality, Ethnography, and Contemporary Chinese Cinema. Columbia University Press, among many others.

[10] Fanon, Frantz (2008): Black Skin, White Masks. Orig. published in 1986 (1952), London: Pluto Press.

[11] See Foucault, Michel (1977): »Der Panoptismus«, in: Ders. (1994): Überwachen und Strafen. Die Geburt des Gefängnisses. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, p. 251 – 292.

[12] Brouwer, Joke/Spuybroek, Lars/Van Tuinen, Sjoerd (ed.) (2016): »introduction. in the thick of things«, in: (ibid.): the war of appearances. transparency, opacity, radiance. Rotterdam: V2_Publishing, p. 6-11, p. 9.

[13] Ibid.

[14] See among others Simmel, Georg (1908): »Das Geheimnis und die geheime Gesellschaft«, in Id.; Untersuchungen über die Formen der Vergesellschaftung. Duncker & Humblot, p.256-304; The user engagement with the first Macintosh for example was described as more effective the more the processes of the actual machine were hidden (reference missing); »For Serres, a smooth functioning is not the general case in communication, but rather its exception. Misunderstanding and divergent interpretations are an integral part of the symbolic order. So even if we misunderstand a certain situation, it presumes the attempt to catch the meaning of this situation. It is always a potentially common meaning, a symbolic order, our understanding is referring to. Without this common meaning there is no understanding.« (Apprich, Clemens 2018: forthcoming).

[15] Glissant, Édouard (2010): Poetics of Relation. Translated by Betsy Wing. Michigan: University of Michigan Press, p. 62.

[16] Glissants oeuvre consists of several collections of poems and theoretical essays, political writing, works of fiction, and plays.

[17] Allar, Neal (2015): »The Case for Incomprehension«. In: Journal of French and Francophone Philosophy – Revue de la philosophie francaise et de langue francaise, Vol XXIII, No. 1, p. 42-58, p.48.

[18] Glissant, Édouard (1989): Caribbean Discourse: Selected Essays. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, p. 83.

[19] In his early poetry Glissant often uses the word »drue«, indicating a reference to the materiality of something. »Drue« means thick and wiry-haired (drahthaarig) and the usage in a way foreshadows Glissants prominent later adoption of Deleuzes and Guattaris concept of the rhizome in »Poetique de la Relation« (1990). (see Allar: 46f.)

[20] Allar, Neal (2015): »The Case for Incomprehension«. In: Journal of French and Francophone Philosophy – Revue de la philosophie francaise et de langue francaise, Vol XXIII, No. 1, p. 42-58, p.42f.

[21] »Forty years ago in Mexico, in a conference with Octavio Paz at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, I demanded the right to opacity. There’s a basic injustice in the worldwide spread of the transparency and projection of Western thought. Why must we evaluate people on the scale of transparency of the ideas proposed by the West? I understand this, I understand that and the other – rationality. I said that as far as I’m concerned, a person has the right to be opaque. \[…] And the audience said: but what kind of barbarism is this? We have to understand, and if we don’t, etc., etc. And I can assure you that twenty or thirty years later in the same auditorium, in the same city, there was a meeting, and quite pleasantly I reminded them of what I had said twenty or thirty years before, and everyone in the room said, we have to demand the right to opacity at the UN. Why? Because people came to understand that what was barbaric was imposing one’s own transparency on the Other.« (Diawara, M. 2011. https://www.liverpool.ac.uk/media/livacuk/csis-2/blackatlantic/research/ Diawara\_text\ _defined.pdf, last checked 12.12.2017).

[22] The artist and theorist Zach Blas has been working with the concept for several years now. He developed various art projects building upon the refined concept of informatic opacity. The right to not be understood translates in his work to the right to not be visually captured, he developed tactics that refuse facial recognition technologies. »To harness this light, digital, networked surveillance relies upon the production of global technical standards, or protocols, to account for human life, what media theorists Alexander R. Galloway and Eugene Thacker label the “universal standards of identification.”(1) Technologies of identification like biometrics, GPS, and data-mining algorithms require normalizing techniques for indexing human activity and identity, which then operate as common templates for regulation, management, and governance. It is through the utilization of such standards that surveillance is able to rapidly increase at a global scale.« (Blas, Zach (2015): »Informatic Opacity«, in: The Journal of Aesthetics Protest. Autumn 2015, No. 9. http://www.joaap.org/issue9/zachblas.htm). (last checked 14.12.2017)

[23] Fanon, Frantz (2008): Black Skin, White Masks. Orig. published in 1986 (1952), London: Pluto Press, p. 179.

[24] Glissant, Édouard (2010), p. 190.

[25] Galison, Peter 1994: »The Ontology of the Enemy. Norbert Wiener and the Cybernetic Vision«, in: Critical Inquiry, Vol. 21, No. 1, p. 256.

[26] Hörl, Erich (Hg.) (2011): Die technologische Bedingung. Beiträge zur Beschreibung der technischen Welt. Berlin: Suhrkamp Verlag.

[27] »In general, the cultural meaning of concepts or practices, I would argue, is indissolubly tied to their genealogy. To understand the specific cultural meaning of the cybernetic devices is necessarily to track them back to the wartime vision of the pilot-as-servomechanism.« (Galison 1994: 264.)

[28] Galloway, Alexander R. (2011): »Black Boxes, Schwarzer Block«, in: Hörl, Erich (2011): Die technologische Bedingung. Beiträge zur Beschreibung der technischen Welt. Berlin: Suhrkamp Verlag, p. 267 – 280.

[29] Galloway, Alexander R. (2011): p. 271f. (Translation by me, need to check original)

[30] Pias, C., https://www.uni-due.de/~bj0063/texte/utopie.pdf (last checked 14.12.2017). (Translation by me)

[31] Cf. ibid.

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6 Comments

  1. Hi Nelly,

    Thanks for your text. I find your discussion of the hegemonic power of Western philosophy and technology to approach a Caribbean one intriguing. It reminded me of this article that came up in my feed recently, though I feel it goes deeper than this: https://aeon.co/essays/why-the-western-philosophical-canon-is-xenophobic-and-racist And the work being done on Digital Blackness: http://www.digitalblackness.com/

    Colonisation also happens on the level of language which constitutes thought. How can we approach a Caribbean, Chinese or Indian philosophy that is not underpinned by more Western philosophy? Since colonisation cannot be undone perhaps we can approach a hybrid philosophy or as you say ‘creolisation’. I touch upon this lightly towards the end of my text.

    In terms of opacity and transparency also suggest openness and closedness. I am thinking more in terms of companies retaining trade secrets or financial information. There is a power to opacity but transparency also suggests accountability or the power in leaked information. In this sense the values are reversed with a preference for open data vs. closed or proprietary. In other situations, privacy and control of one’s data is more important – the power to be unsearchable as you mention through Galloway. Opacity becomes one of data protection, privacy and anonymity. Other than the black box will you be exploring other forms of computational systems or protocols? Looking forward to hearing more.

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    1. Hi Ashley, thanks a lot for your comment! I really appreciate it, also in this short amount of time.

      Yes, I know the aeon article – though from another context, thanks for that.

      And yes, I think I’ in this text I’m very anal about that epistemological point which is that how we gain knowledge and make sense of things (e.g. concepts like race and blackness, technology, but also a lot of others) is part of a modern/colonial legacy which has certain implications for how to deal with them, maybe deconstruct them, be careful in using them and so on and so on. Glissant actually has a very interesting, and I would say, unusual view on colonialism, slavery and enslavement which heavily informs his concept of creolization and History (with capital H). We can talk about that next week!

      I’m careful what to actually call opacity and where to use different terms. That’s why I’m exploring opacity first through Glissant because he provides an actual practice and usage of it (along with theoretical conceptions) which I can analyze, theorize and make some kind of systematic out of it. So, directly to your question:

      1. Strategies and/or tactics such as encryption, obfuscation, being anonymous etc. for me are in certain ways different from what I want to call opacity. They certainly function in a similar realm and are important techniques for navigating todays world but opacity for me assembles the level of knowledge and understanding, a kind of theory of knowledge, referencing and reflecting on a specific history, therefore implying resistance or resistant forms from it’s very own ontology. We should talk about this more, too.

      2. The Black Box fits well into that approach because it represents an epistemology (again 🙂 ) I’m interested in. In the bigger picture I am interested in how Glissant understood language as a certain kind of media system, a medial form and something that mediates and what he did with it (because language for him contains the quality of opacity, produces it, preserves it, and also receives a specific kind of productivity and movement out of it ..). So yes, I definitely want to explore the linkages of medial forms and the potential of opacity within them respectively.

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  2. Hi Nelly,

    I feel so lucky to read this. Unfortunately I don’t understand French and haven’t been able to read Glissant myself. So this has been a very intriguing read for me! Thank you so much.

    Opacity is a much needed concept in trying to steer away from the subjugation, violence and control that western thought has exposed people to. I love how you, through your readings of Glissant, connect the concepts of opacity and relation, solidarity, collectivity etc. – and in relation to your description of opacity as a method, I would really like to hear more about how you think opacity can be used and is being used as a method in our contemporary computational culture? So here I’m touching on the highly relevant ethical and political questions – especially the “practice and produce”-part of them – that you pose in the beginning of your paper:



    “What would it mean to stop taking things at face value and become aware of the impenetrable?”

    “How do we think opacity, practice opacity or even produce it?”



    You touch on Blas’ art – what potentials and limitations do you see in art practices like his and in what you call contemporary political appropriations of the invisible, anonymous etc.? And what do you think the potentials are in activism? How can we be “impenetrable” in a technological moment so obsessed with visibility and transparency? And in what ways could this take the form of collectivity, solidarity? Where do art and activism intersect when it comes to practicing and producing opacity? I’m so sorry that I keep on raising new questions – I don’t expect answers… I think I’m just trying to open up some of the thoughts that come to my mind when reading your text. Looking forward to talking in Potsdam!



    /Lea

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  3. Hi Nelly and thanks for a really interesting text. Sadly I don’t know too much about the works of Glissant, but you’ve really made me interested in learning more about his life and thoughts. I like how you trace the concept of transparency back to enlightenment thinking, and not least colonial oppression. I was also intrigued by the way you connect your work to Cybernetics and the conception of the black box as fundamentally opaque and unknowable entity, whose nature can only (partially) be grasped at the surface level.

    One sentence in your text got especially stuck in my mind: “media (and) technology needs and loves to hide.” This, I believe, was really nicely put, and made me think of Susan Leigh-Starr (and others) discussions on how technology tends to sink into an invisible background.

    Your text also got me thinking about how opacity may function both as a tool of resistance and oppression. As a whole, you write about opacity as a form of subversive tool. But what if opacity is not mobilised by the oppressed, but rather those in power? How to deal with opacities that do not stem from radical movements, but discriminatory powers in themselves? I’m thinking about digital corporations that hide practices of consumer surveillance, for example.

    Look forward to hearing more about your work next week!

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  4. Hi Lea Laura, thanks a lot and so nice to hear! At least few of his works are translated into English, especially his whole body of poems. Those are a wonderful read!

    I’m trying to replicate the relation of opacity to other similar concepts and ideas, images of the world, and so on to get a sense of what it actually is or could be. So sort of map it’s location and function, you could say. Because in »Glissants Poetics of Relation« it’s practically there, everywhere in a sense, or rather all the time. But if I want to think through it in various ways I need some kind of thread to hold on to. That’s why I’m concerned for example with media’s role as a third, the mediator, that which loves to hide and what that means in concrete cases and events. That’s why I’m also concerned with race because I think the principle of how it functions has something to do with opacity which has something to do with technology and media which have something to do with how experience becomes possible. That’s why I’m concerned with collectivity and solidarity because I think those are made possible by opacity’s epistemology. I could go on and on ..
    And I think it’s like with lots of other things: you can say we are all free or have the right to freedom but in reality we actually have to produce it. So what does that mean?

    You raise lots of interesting and important questions – I’m happy that my drafty text did that for you! Let’s talk about them next week.

    Thanks again and I’m also looking forward to meeting and talking!


    Nel

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  5. Dear Nelly, thx for sharing! I’m really interested in the relationship between transparency and opacity. I’m not sure, though, that using a dialectic frame would really work to describe the kind of intertwining between the two you’re talking about (transparency in opacity and vice versa) – i’m wondering if assemblage theory would provide a better methodology. Given the type of work i have the impression you want to do, it might be interesting to relate transparency and opacity to a philosophical concept such as that of Begriff – the translation of which would be something like “capturing without leaving a rest” as a concept referring to transparency, and also to digitality as the media Umwelt in which this type of capture seems to manifest. At the same time, digitality also builds cluster of opacity – and it actually seems that the more transparent the system tries to be the more, inevitably, opacity seems to re-surface – think about machine vision and the complexity of neural network algorithmic processes that can’t really be untangled because of their increasing complexity. Also the AFI i talked about seems to reproduces this overlapping of opacity and transparency, if you think that by pushing transparency to the extreme (the unicity of the face as a measurable data) it also creates opacity (the same technologies that can recognize your face to unlock your new iPhone can possibly morph your face into the face of somebody else practically seamlessly).
    I think it is also interesting that you want to distinguish between opacity as a strong epistemological (I’d say also ontological?) principle and practices of obfuscation – which at the same time might be building towards an understanding of the opacity you’re talking about?
    Finally, i think the connection between opacity and solidarity is also very productive – and it’s opening opacity to an understanding of difference also as an epistemological and most importantly political principle – e.g. I love you because i don’t know who you are rather then I love you cause i know who you are and I recognize you. Difference and recognition seems indeed possibly relevant ideas to think about in relation to opacity – how can i recognize something opaque? how can i recognize something without possessing it as in the Begriff ideology? Looking forward to talk more!

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