the holy fools

the lost utopia

The Net is haunted by the disappointed hopes of the Sixties. Because this new technology symbolises another period of rapid change, many contemporary commentators look back to the stalled revolution of thirty years ago to explain what is happening now. Most famously, the founders of Wired appropriated New Left rhetoric to promote their New Right policies for the Net. [2] Within Europe, a long history of class-based politics and compulsive theorising makes such ideological chicanery seem much more implausible. However, this does not mean that Europeans are immune from embracing digital elitism in the name of Sixties libertarianism. Ironically, this bizarre union of opposites is most evident in writings inspired by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari.

Although these two philosophers were overt leftists during their lifetimes, many of their contemporary followers support a form of aristocratic anarchism which is eerily similar to Californian neo-liberalism. By doing so, the Deleuzoguattarians have unwittingly exposed the fatal weaknesses within what appears to be an impeccably emancipatory analysis of the Net. Trapped within the precepts of their sacred creed, the disciples of Deleuze and Guattari can’t even grasp why the spread of the Net really is such a subversive phenomenon.

At the end of the century, the superficiality of post-modernism is no longer fashionable among radical intellectuals. Because the Soviet Union has collapsed, the European avant-garde can return to its old obsession with Leninism. Instead, TJs look back to the libertarian spontaneity of May ‘68. [3] Even after decades of reactionary rule, the folk memory of the Sixties still remains an inspiration for the present. The democratic ways of working, cultural experimentation and emancipatory lifestyles initiated in this period survive - and even flourish - within the DIY culture of the Nineties. [4] However, belief in the overthrow of capitalism is no longer credible. Therefore contemporary European intellectuals have turned social transformation into theoretical poetry ˆ a revolutionary dreamtime for the imagination.

The cult of Deleuze and Guattari is a prime example of this aesthetisation of Sixties radicalism. Above all, their most famous book - A Thousand Plateaus - now provides the buzzwords and concepts for a specifically European understanding of the Net. In contrast with the USA, a vibrant techno-culture has been flourishing across the continent for over two decades. Pioneered by computer-generated dance music, this digital aesthetic now embraces fashion, art, graphic design, publishing and video games. When it emerged in Europe, the Net was at first seen as a place for social and cultural experimentation rather than as a business opportunity. Unlike the Californian ideology, the writings of Deleuze and Guattari do seem to provide theoretical metaphors which describe the non-commercial aspects of the Net. For instance, the rhizome metaphor captures how cyberspace is organised as an open-ended, spontaneous and horizontal network. Their Body-without-Organs phrase can be used to romanticise cyber-sex. Deleuze and Guattari’s nomad myth reflects the mobility of contemporary Net users as workers and tourists.

D&G now symbolises more than just Dolce & Gabbana. Within the rhizomes of the Net, the Deleuzoguattarians form their own subculture: the techno-nomads. These adepts are united by specific ‘signifying practices’: computer technologies, techno music, bizarre science, esoteric beliefs, illegal chemicals and cyberpunk novels. There even is a distinctive Deleuzoguattarian language which is almost incomprehensible to the uninitiated. Above all, these techno-nomads possess a radical optimism about the future of the Net. While all that remains of hippie ideals in Wired is its psychedelic layout, the European avant-garde and its imitators still champions the lost utopia of May ‘68 through the theoretical poetry of Deleuze and Guattari. The revolution will be digitalised.

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