for publication in CTHEORY

The Signifire: From lifeguards to firemen on the Post-Cyborg path to Deconism

Deconfigured deconvoluted decontextualized decontamination of deconstructionism in the new deconomy

S. Mann,
Assistant Filing Clerk Trainee,
EXISTech Corporation, with a great deal of input from various other DECONference DECONtributors.


This article describes an annual event called ``DECONference'' that brings together artists, scholars, philosophers, and leading thinkers of our time, to understand, discuss, and conceptualize what might emerge after the Post-Postmodernist ("popo") age in which we live. Deconference (e.g. de-conference) is an inverse conference, as much as it is a conference on deconism (e.g. decon-ference). As an inverse conference, it explores issues such as sousveillance (inverse surveillance, from French "sous" for "below", plus "veiller" for "to watch" --- sousveillence being a word that went from a few references, to more than 30,000 references, shortly after the DECONference), and murcalumis/arcalumis (inverse simulacrum/simulacra). But more important than the inference toward inverses, is the whole calling into question of Postcyborgism. In fact the primary goal of DECONference has been to: (1) question the postcyborg (postpostmodern, or pastmodern, if you will) era we are being led toward, and (2) try to understand what we'll be, how we can best cope with postcyborgism, and possibly what technological clothing we can create to replace our postcyborg-stripped selves. In this sense, DECONference is focused on the deconstruction of postcyborgism (i.e. loosly speaking, on the deconstruction of the deconstruction of deconstructionism).


Loosely speaking, the cyborg-age of yesterday is connected with ideas of postmodernism, deconstructionism, and posthumanism (itself, somewhat related to the ideas of cyborgism). But these somewhat "left leaning" ideas, along with culture jamming, as well as my own sur/sousveillance situationist street theatre, have become ineffectual in the age of Terror in which we now live.

Although the rise of dot commerce, and with it, the growth of spam, certainly destroyed the distinction between culture jamming and culture spamming, Terrorism, and perhaps, more significantly, the response to terrorism, have given birth to a new impotency of inverse culture.

Whether terrorism is the work of a lone miscreant, a foreign government, or an "inside-job" by our own government (or some mixture of these, such as a "blowback" response from injustices we inflict on others), it is the aftermath of war's equation or inequality that often has the widest felt impact. Virilio refers to "images" as giving us a new era of war. In this sense, TeleVision is a weapon of mass destruction/distraction/distrust, as we are assaulted by a blitzkreig of graphic repitition that reaches into the innermost spaces of every home.

Before World Trade got knocked over (both of them), I had begun to wonder, in the postmodern age that we then lived, if we could distinguish between high culture and low culture, between Derrida and Disney, or between Coke's satire of the Pepsi Generation and Adbusters' use and promotion of Adobe Photoshop (TM). At the height of the spam-era, it seemed as if, perhaps, all advertisers were Culture Jammers. As our inboxes filled with digital detritus, we began to lose our ability to dinstinguish Jam from Spam. Gaptivism had already brought us to an era in which advertising was a memesis with activist forces.

But the same filters that eliminate annoyance-based repetition advertising (whether our own human ability to ignore things --- ignorance being necessary to survive the New Deconomy --- or our prosthetic technology-based ignorance-enhancers) have made us equally deaf to Jam, if there even still is such a thing as Jam.

I recently received some Spam from a group called "Culture Jammers Network", calling for me to visit their web site to donate money to a "Culture Jamming" network to fight consumerism and advertising. But I could not fully visit their website because, instead of buying all the software that would be necessary to fully visit their website, I had put together an old computer system from items salvaged from the dumpsters, and from curbside trash. Then instead of buying software, I had built on top of much of the GNU Linux FreeSource. Because I was not willing to support consumerism and software swatshops, my computer system does not run Macintosh, Microsoft, Macromedia (MacMicMac), Flashism, etc.. Thus because I was not willing to support the consumerism and advertising, I was not able to properly respond to their Spam.

Thus one begins to wonder if there even is a distinction between Granolafied Gaptivism and Culture Spamming/Jamming that calls for us to use corporate-owned software systems to participate in supporting the selling of a colour glossy magazine, or the purchase of advertising space for inverse ads, because all ads are inverse ads. All advertising is aimed at "hacking" our human capacity to ignore ads. Thus all advertising is, to some degree, culture jamming.

Although detournment (a la Situationist Internationale) may re-situate the tools of an oppressive monoculture regime in a disturbing and disorienting fashion, to call into question the values of that regime, the "regime" itself sooner or later re-re-situates those same tools. I call this detournment2 (detournement squared, i.e. detournement of the detournement). For example, Some of the great reality-hacking of French artist Magritte has been incorporated into much of our advertising "culture".

Then, of course, we can hack the hackers of the hackers, by re-situating the tools of modern advertising to call into question the monoculture that calls into question the non-monoculture. This I call detournment3 (detournement cubed, i.e. detournement of the detournement of the detournement). See for example,

As this low-intensity peacefare is waged between culture and its counter, the exponent continues to grow, detournmentn (detournement to the nth degree).

But as we blur the lines between culture and counterculture, it gets harder and harder to tell whether the exponent is even or odd, or even if it's an integer --- an odd feeling of confusion.

The equation of double detournement

that seemed so clear yesterday, seems confusing in the aftermath of the terrorist inequalities.

So Magritte's "high culture" has alternately oscillated down to "low culture" and back up, back and forth, cycling in simple harmonic motion, but eventually fading out to the point where we can no longer tell up from down.

Antonin Artaud coined the phrase "Virtual Reality" in the 1930s to describe theatre ("la realite virtuell" translated in "The Theater and Its Double", 1958).

Thus Virtual Reality was once a form of "high culture" that has now been co-opted by the advertising giants.

Ironic, indeed, that the epitome of simulacra is theatre. But now all the world's a stage. And there's no longer a difference between theatre and shadow.

Thus, at least in some sense, satire is no longer possible because the classical Greek Theatre's Proscenium has been smashed to pieces, in the sense that we can no longer distinguish between the audience and the players.

At first glance, one might be inclined to regard DECONference as a Greek Tragedy. The shower (which every attendee was required to take, after each attendee had been stripped to search for contraband) calls to mind cleansing. DECONtrabanding is for purity. DECONtamination is a catharsis of contamination. Fear and pity for and among the "victims" of the bioterror attack that DECONference initially simulates with the script of an anthrax scare.

But it is also an Inverse Brechtian Theatre, where the audience is distanced from the actors --- emotionally detached --- and separated by the walls of a biohazard containment suit. It is an Inverse Theatre (Inverse Epic, or "Cipe", if you will), beacuse the attendees are really the actors (whether they know it or not), and the DECONtamination facility staff (the decon officers off in some distant darkened room, staring at surveillance monitors) are the audience. There's nothing quite so Inverse Brechtian as being required to strip naked in front of an audience fully dressed in biohazard suits.

The DECONism gallery/museum space was a stage, where the actors went through the ritual cleansing before receiving a white paper jumpsuit and being sent to the "upper room" (actually the roof of the gallery).

The Anthrax Theatre we see on television is more real than reality. Simulacra more real than reality.

By reversing the roles of audience and actor, we challenge the directionality of the Proscenium, and thus, its very existence. Theatre has consumed itself. Artaud's theatre of "Virtual Reality" is no longer an oxymoron --- it's the day-to-day world in which we live. And in the manner in which theatre has consumed itself, postmodernism, to some extent has also consumed itself, and certainly deconstructionism has deconstructed itself. The fact that students in theatre school think that they can change the world with theatre seems so closely aligned with Baudrillard's observation that the hair and fingernails of a corpse continue to grow after it is dead. If freedom's not dead, at least theatre is. It was once said that New York's Times Square was the world's stage. But Baudrillard's Requiem for the Twin Towers should also spell a Requiem for Theatre.

Thus we begin to wonder if, perhaps, satire is no longer possible because the division between audience and players has been disrupted. Satire is like an acid that can eat through anything --- how do you contain it? If I were to be invited to do a television show on humour, I'd probably begin by making fun of the TV station, or of TeleVision itself.

And what of biological terrorism? We're constantly bombarded with images of people being stripped naked and hosed down in a parking lot outside a building where somebody saw some white powder spilled on a table. Table salt spilled on a table. Or maybe icing sugar.

I thought of a great underwear ad for a billboard: A picture of people being stripped down in a parking lot, with a caption reading "Fresh Clean Underwear --- because you never know when you might be seen in it on national television". And if I sold the ad idea to Joe Boxer, Prodige, or the like, then perhaps it would be a satire of a satire of a satire... but I'm not sure whether the exponent is even or odd. I can't tell if it would be Spam or Jam.

And now the jokes, hoaxes, and satire, of mailroom mischief are now criminal acts as bad as rape, theft, and murder.


Jordan Crandall's depiction of the military's desire "to both violate and shield ... erotic charge of combat... analyze/violate/protect" is perhaps best captured in defense against bioterror (irrespective of whether the bioterror be real, imagined, or merely an "inside job").

Military computer vision systems are now turned back toward us where the hidden cameras in the public baths transform our world from Baywatch to Bathwatch. Hidden underwater cameras in municipal swimming baths, such as the network of underwater cameras at North Toronto Community Center are connected to a sophisticated network of Internet connected computers. From Baywatch (the many watching the few) to Poolwatch (the few watching the many), we become the specimens (or shall I say, specimen and speciwomen) of an experiment, perpetrated from afar, without our knowledge or consent. Is it a swim meet, or a swim meat? Perhaps by now television cameras have outnumbered television receivers. Even in places where we're not fully clothed.

To save you if you drown in the bath.
Or slip and fall in the showers. Or toilets.

Toilets Against Terrorism! Project SafeBath. Saves Water. Saves Lives.
Function:       noun
Etymology:      Latin, from specere to look at, look -- more at SPY
Date:   1610

Lifeguard Rescyou. To surf and protect from afar.

In Back's exhibit, we see the magnified image of a fingernail --- the voyeuristic sustained gaze focused upon what might have been bitten off --- a nail-biting frenzy of fear --- fear from the feeling of not being protected. It hangs at waist-height, as if to suggest being of the belly, being born of terror, or saliva to the abdomen. And we can only see it on TV. TV is the new reality in the age of anthrax angst. Mediated like Jacob Wrestling with a Digital Angel. Television, Terrorvision. Or the campground. Strong Angel. ( Shower hours)

Foucault once said "Authority loves the plague". Today he might have said "Government loves anthrax". Or "Covernment loves terrorism". Queue up like cattle to be stripped, scrubbed, shielded, protected, and saved. Rescyou in the resqueue.

The Cream Machine, and other nonweapons

Weapons, even the nonlethal ones, define an enemy as "other". Even pepper spray is still inhumane to use on ourselves. And the "war on terrorism" (and peaceful protest) only glorifies the enemy, whether other or oursleves, as a war hero, or at least deserving Geneva Gonvention.

But water cannons cum soap cannons might be the kinder cleaner nonweapons we can use on ourselves.

New soap concentrates that protect us from chemical weapons will make chemical weapons themselves unnecessary.

So are we creaming the competition or creaming ourselves? Cream the competition before they start to compete; pre-emptive Dissidents will get creamed: Rape the mirror with the cream machine. A rich creamy lather squirts across the parking lot at those suspected of being contaminated. Or those suspected of contaminating. Or those suspected.

Quenching our own fire:
Training for submission to the bioterror state

Fighting fire with water. Showers of lead and sparks. From muzzle to nozzle.

In the past we trained for war by waking up on the middle of the night and quickly getting dressed to fight. Now we train for war by falling comatose to common sense and getting undressed in the middle of the day to submit. We cannot bear the thought of firepower. We have instead been taught waterpower. We are taught not to fire, but to quench our own fire. But not to quench our own anger, for that would put an end to the war. Our anger is fueled by state sponsored media, so that the state can continue to fund the war on terror, so that we can continue in our training for war. Not so we can learn to fight, but so that we can continue being trained on how to submit to authority. Showers of lead and sparks have dissolved into soap showers. Or bleach showers. Gunpowder has been replaced with a solution of nine parts water, and one part household bleach. Our standard training uniform is made out of cloth that only intelligent people can see. It's the one we were wearing when we came into this world on the day we were born. Or maybe it's a white paper jumpsuit with no pockets in which to store weapons or contraband. Submission drills are like fire drills. In the past we learned how to get out of buildings. Now we learn how to get out of buildings and then get out of our clothes. Separate yourselves by gender, take off your clothes, and stand in a line to be hosed down. Then it's easier to herd you to the processing or treatment plant. The enemy is within. No longer are we fighting an external enemy, but now the enemy is inside us, inside our governments, and inside our military dictators. As a nation declares war on its own people, it must ensure its people don't fight back. It must strip its people.

Terror control agents

Pepper spray, or agent orange? Or chemical agent provocateur. Or provacateurrorists.

Soap down the unruly unwashed masses. Soap is the solution for the great unwashed. Stop terror with suds.

A fundamentalesson on the fundamentaless. The fundamental lesson we've yet to learn is that lacking any fundamental rooting we may be washed away like topsoil that lacks age-old vegetation, leaving behind only those who are more deeply rooted than us.

Decon is about people, places, things, or shall we say, people, displaced, without their things.

(Three steps: (1) Strip=Violate, (2) Wash=Rape, (3) Cover=Protect)
(1) All attendees are required to remove all clothing, jewellery, and personal effects and check these items at the baggage counter prior to being allowed into the museum space. (2) They are then required to go through decontamination. (3) Finally they line up to get their bodies scanned by a computer, in order to automate the issuing of uniforms, so they can receive a paper jumpsuit that has no pockets in which to conceal contraband. Now the attendees are safely protected from themselves and each other, so that they can attend DECONference 2002 presentations by Steve Mann, Derrick de Kerckhove, Arthur Kroker, Julia Scher, and Critical Art Ensemble.


Most importantly, perhaps DECONference raised questions such as "is there really an inverse"? Is there really an inverse to surveillance (sousveillance)? Is there really an inverse to constructionism? Is there really an inverse to evil ("Axes of good"???)?

Origin of Evil

"Axes", typically denoted (x,y), meet at a point called the "Origin", typically denoted (0,0).

We have been told that IRAN and IRAQ are the "Axes of evil".

But we have not been told what country is at the "Origin of evil".

To quote the cartoon character 'Pogo', "WE HAVE SEEN THE ENEMY AND IT IS US."

Our governments often create various scenarios we must prepare against. For example, we're told "what if there were to be a release of smallpox?" "We must prepare.".

But If the enemy is within --- within our own hearts, and within our collective selves (i.e. our governments), we must equally consider questions like "What if terrorists infiltrated positions of high authority or power?" and "How can we defend our nation against terrorists operating from within the military?".

In the spirit of questioning the direction of (or very existence of) the "Axes", DECONference called into question the distinction between Left and Right, in the sense that it also blurred the line between covernments and gorporations.

Merger of goverment and corporate (covernment if you will) forces.

Short-circuit the left and the right wing. Both are fighting for freedom. Stand back far enough and they're both on the same plane. A level plane. A level playing field. Fold the wings together, and toss it all into the circular file. Not that it's rubbish, but simply that it has no real effect. Because it doesn't matter whether it's left wing or fight wing, as long as it's out on a wing. Of an aircraft.

Pastmodernism (Postpostmodernism, and for that matter, Postcyborgism) is the ashes of the World Trade Center. And something needs to rise from those ashes. That something, whatever it might be --- that something that we call deconism, is what we're continuing to explore as we prepare for DECONference 2003.

Further reference