Change for the Machines


O(rphan) d(rift>)
Cabinet Editions
ISBN 0-952-58240-6

Orphan Drift is a 'signal' produced or channelled by a loose London based collective. The facilitators of the signal also produce installations, performances and music as part of the project. In common with other manifestations of the Orphan Drift signal, 'Cyberpositive' exhibits themes and techniques including visual and textual debris, human machine interface, autism, posthumanism, possession, and particularly in this case, the production of a textual analogue to Trance music.

This is a text which, rather than attempt to document technological change from a realist, 19th century standpoint, embodies change by becoming infected with the technologised impetus of the 21st. As a comparison, Neal Stephenson in 'Snow Crash' , does a very nice book about computers and tasty interfaces extrapolated from Apple's corporate imaginary, but the text itself is not machinic. Here though, is the book as feedback: words which have been pushed too close to the language to bear the strain.
These transcripts of dissipation are a product of a wave of textual activity involving other groups and individuals. Perhaps 'Cyberpositive' even constitutes the first book in a new genre, one that might stretch to the net-based textual delirium of Gashgirl, the inventive Birmingham based group of students SWITCH, or Mark Downham's influential essay from 1988 'Cyberpunk: the final solution' (which is itself scavenged for this text). The book has parallels too with some other, distinctly unconnected works. It is for instance more literary and less politicised than some of the experiments by Chromosome X the Italian cyberfeminist grouping and less funny than, whilst in parts stylistically very similar to, some of the tongue-in-cheek neo-lettrist techno-poetry written for the Paris-based newsletter TNT.

This is a book which bears the marks of an age when Science Fiction fans are writing computer viruses rather than books but 'Cyberpositive' is by no means a book written after the age of books. The threads of formal and compositional experiment are readily sensed. Fortuitously perhaps, 'Cyberpositive' is able to give a body-swerve to some of the more self-indulgent characteristics of for instance, Surrealist automatism or the cut-up of Gysin and Burroughs by being almost completely constructed from plagiarised fragments that already work. Many postmodern writers obediently write books about books and about writing: books of books, but this is no bible, this is a bookon books.

Necessarily though, being facilitated by top postmodern subjects, the Orphan Drift project is full of contradictions. One of these is that for a collective which has vehemently and repeatedly declared itself not to be part of the art world they have to date manifested almost exclusively in art locations and in art funded events and projects. There is of course nothing specifically 'wrong' with this (although it does just have a slight tendency to lead people into a maze of elitism, self-referentiality, and careerism under the magnetic pull of the market and publicity). Given that they are avowed materialists though, the consideration of the context of their activity and its material properties (access, rates of flow, overdetermination by class codes etc) might have constituted an integral component of this practice. This disjuncture reveals another characteristic which is at once both frustrating and productive: Orphan Drift can be extremely vague. Perhaps mistaking the vague for the polymorphous can actually defuse or undermine the exciting and potentially crucial processes that they are attempting to reiterate through the text.

In the rush to be seen embracing the destruction of all social systems 'Cyberpositive' lists heavily towards a pro-capitalist Nihilism Lite, where given the radical restructuring impetus of the market, we are left with nothing left to observe except that all that is good appears and all that appears is good. Transgression fans will be happy to lap up the resultant pseudo-Mansonite posturing - which should have dried up after the industrial band Throbbing Gristle milked all that was worth anything from it - but that is sustained in an attenuated form by not actually having to be acted upon.

Visually, the book is suitably inventive. Looking like nothing so much as a mutant tome from the Jorge Luis Borges story 'The Library of Babel' it aims to seduce the reader with wave after wave of the obsessive reiteration of fragmented memories. Pulsating through the text are streams of symbols emerging from the darkest recesses of the keyboard to cascade across the page. Sentences and words are fragmented, collapsing into the data stream (page after page can sometimes occur where there is nothing except a relentless configuration of ones and zeros).

This same relentlessness though, quite often results in finding oneself experiencing the same kind of involuntary wince that can be achieved by flicking through the kinds of literature; from car catalogues and religious ephemera to technology magazines, that are also rather concerned with being 'new'. Indeed, though decidedly unironic in intention, 'Cyberpositive' can some times read like a Cyber-flavoured version of knowingly ironic Japanese copywriting and package design where English words or names are used because they look typographically good or make the right kind of noise.

That said, it is a heady and intriguing book to dip in and out of, to be used as a stream of unconsciousness that, as time explodes out of where it is supposed to be, can be started at any point. The text is a patchwork that makes gloriously fetishistic use of common tropes in neomaterialist philosophy and cyberpunk science fiction. Occasionally, whole essays are folded in. (Indeed with few sources outside of the emergent canon 'Cyberpositive' could function as a basic cybertheory primer). Random immersion perhaps even best matches the method of the book's construction. Fittingly, but in a move that is at once daring yet precious, the signal's facilitators claim to not have read the fully accreted text until after its publication.

"Yearn desperate towards the voices. They're pulling you now. No choice and no resistance either. The sound has no place in this non-space that has no boundaries. No time either, its history camouflaged as music. It isn't even sound. It's flow, it's aether, streaming sentient self-organising data that has always been there. NOW, by accident, if viewed from a human perspective, it can be viewed from the functional architecture that is cyberspace - the only words possible to describe the glimpse we have of this cosmic intelligence; inhuman indifference, neither positive nor negative towards the human subject. We are merely collateral in its process. The terror comes when you slip back into self protective consciousness. Human and inhuman separate then, and you know you're incidental."

At the most intense moments, 'Cyberpositive' achieves its rabidly neologistic promise and, as it is read, the insidious, relentless, reconfiguring power of this text makes it spasm wildly in your hands.

"Drifts of densely semiotized quasi-intelligent garbage" begin to twitch and stink into life.