Affect Trapped: On Algorithmic (Ir)Rationality

Denis Petrina
(Lithuanian Culture Research Institute)

In 1992, Gilles Deleuze established a frame to analyze new taxonomies of power, based less on a disciplinary power (associated with the power of sovereign) than “free floating” control. Technologically, this novel society of control breaks from sovereign societies that mainly relied on simple machines, employing with much more complex machines – computers. Viewed from a Marxist perspective, given that means of production (machines) are tools reinforcing a regime of power, these new complex machines Deleuze speaks of require a more nuanced and critical analysis of the nexus between power and its techne – tools. Yet, these are to be scrutinized not merely as a certain sociopolitical reconfiguration (not as a shift towards networked society and its potential political implications), but, indeed, as a biopolitical one – as a new regime that targets, governs, and controls subjects, their minds and bodies, and, most importantly, their affects. This presentation will focus on the relation of the former to algorithms – the operational principle of the aforementioned machines. More precisely, I will discuss how affects are captured and transformed in the digital environment through the means of what we, after Eugene Thacker, might conceptualize as “biomedia”. What I call in my paper “algorithmic (ir)rationality” is a two-fold phenomenon, as, on the one hand, it represents “cold rationality” of the machinic algorithm, and, on the other, it gestures towards what Patricia Clough calls the “user unconscious” – enabled by the machines affective modulations that exploit users (subjects, dividuals) yet remain opaque to them. In this regard, I am going to examine (a) a biopolitical framing of algorithm-driven media (through the lens of Foucauldian account of the apparatus of security), (b) algorithms as power mechanisms, (c) instances of algorithmic (ir)rationality illustrating the modus operandi of biopower, and, finally, (d) potential (political) scenarios of subversion of operating digitally biopower.

Denis Petrina is a PhD student at the Department of Contemporary Philosophy (Lithuanian Culture Research Institute), writing a dissertation on philosophical interpretations of affect and its political implications. His research mainly focuses on biopolitics, theories of subjectivity & sexuality, and media studies.