Culture Machine, Vol 15 (2014)

CM2014 Article: Gabriela Mendez Cota

Fifteen Years: a Textual Celebration

Gabriela Méndez Cota

Mediating 'Life After Death of the Text' by Johan Fornas from vol. 1 (1999) Taking Risks With The Future

In Mexico, it is traditional to mark a girl’s 15th birthday with a highly elaborate celebration called a quinceañera. It is one of those rites of passage so frequent across cultures, which in this case combines elements of Catholic religion and communitarian practices that reach back to pre-Hispanic times. After thanking God in a church for her childhood coming to an end, the young woman (that she now is) is presented to the community at a huge party thrown by her extended family. The party is an expensive affair, involving colourful dresses and flower bouquets, maids of honour and male escorts, dancing, toasting and listening to wise speeches about the challenges ahead. The ceremony may seem an unlikely metaphor for Culture Machine’s 15th anniversary issue. Obviously, Culture Machine is not an individual person; its past issues are not a woman’s childhood and, perhaps most importantly, its mission in life is not to preserve ‘culture’ or even ‘community’ in any traditional sense. Yet it might be said that in a certain sense Culture Machine shares the predicament of a contemporary Mexican girl celebrating her quinceañera.

Never what she appears to be, never a stereotypical character acting out a well-known narrative or plot, our contemporary Mexican girl may be experiencing desire as well as uncertainty: non-narrative forces that may become the seed of a singular, unpredictable future. If this future still appears to her as a ‘modern’ possibility, her well-known ‘postmodern condition’ already appears to neutralise it through ubiquitous machines of domination that operate beyond the traditional modes of linguistic apprehension. Before she knows it she is already profiled as a consumer, a worker and a target of both domestic and international crime. Her future, then, involves paradoxes, such as having to somehow re-articulate broken narratives (not least those regarding ‘culture’ and ‘community’) in order to tread the dangerous waters of the capitalist world. Yet her party and her life can also be regarded as a ‘text’, an iterative process made up of all the little differences that, at times incomprehensibly, manage to displace the most deterministic ‘society of control’. Thus regarded, her celebration appears as a risky business, as a bet on the difference that her life can make at a time when global capitalism has rendered untenable all hopes of progress, rights, sovereignty, reason and moral truth.

Taking Risks with the Future was the title of Culture Machine’s first issue from 1999. In his contribution to that issue, Johan Fornäs reflected critically on what he saw to be ‘efforts to kill the text and dance on its grave’. In his words:

Sociologists have called for hard social facts, ethnographers for embodied and lived experience, and historians for material evidence of such past experience. The recipes they propose diverge, emphasizing either the phenomenology of lived experience or the quasi-positivist factuality of social or economic structures, and the demand for more ethnographic fieldwork is not obviously compatible with a demand for longer historical perspectives. Such contradictions should not be erased in order to construct a homogenous camp out of highly diverging positions. But there is a common thread in some of these recently voiced critiques: the urgent wish to get rid of textualist labyrinths by rejecting interpretation and mediation in order to return directly to the social reality of ‘real’, basic facts of life, whether they are thought to reside as lived experience in living people’s actions and minds, or as material forces in the institutional power structures that frame them.

Fifteen years later, to highlight the textual nature of any social practice such as a Mexican quinceañera is still likely to provoke no less than sceptical interrogations along the following lines: ‘Can textual approaches yield any useful insight into the real life and problems of, say, contemporary Mexican girls? Wouldn’t it be more adequate to deal with that empirically, by means of sociology or ethnography? At any rate, if we are truly concerned about human and non-human agency in Mexico or elsewhere, shouldn’t we be developing new materialist approaches, beyond mere language and discourse?’ This is indeed the tone of some of the more recent interrogations of the idea of ‘the text’, interrogations which assume that ‘the text’ amounts to mere language or discourse and that it is therefore inadequate for a critical analysis of contemporary issues, from climate catastrophe to ubiquitous computing. The interrogations would be heard not least in Mexico, where ‘the text’ understood in a radical, deconstructive sense is far from being a methodological celebrity. At any rate, given that the majority of contributions to this issue come on this special occasion from Mexico, we propose a rhetorical game-play that celebrates Culture Machine’s 15th anniversary with a textual quinceañera. Given the plain contingency of this Mexican ‘presence’ in Culture Machine, rather than attempting to represent a geographical location in theoretical terms, this issue seeks to enact the ‘contaminating notion’ of text that, as Fornäs stressed in 1999, was and remains foundational to both cultural studies and Culture Machine – necessarily in a paradoxical way. Returning to the risky metaphor suggested above, the uncertainty and desire at the heart of this celebration can be articulated as follows: does ‘the text’ exist today as something like a broken, dysfunctional narrative, or can it still be articulated and mobilized as a dynamic, irreducible process of mediation from which singular, unpredictable futures can emerge?

In order to assess the evolution of debates around the analytical value, as well as the politics and the ethics of textual approaches, Culture Machine’s quinceañera issue is organised as a retrospective of past issues. Each contribution to this volume responds in one way or another to one or several articles previously published in Culture Machine. Importantly, the responses are not necessarily aligned with, or explicitly committed to, the signifiers such as ‘deconstruction’ or ‘cultural studies’. Whereas the current relative marginality of such terms might be associated with the ‘backlash against theory’ phenomenon so well identified, more than a decade ago, by Fornäs and the advocates of ‘New Cultural Studies’, in most cases it is a more complex matter involving other histories, other languages, other institutional processes, other capitalisms and other cultural struggles. At any rate, such ‘others’ are never as exotic as external observers may wish; rather, they exist in a ‘polluted’ epistemic situation that has been analysed by many postcolonial and deconstructive theorists of Latin America. Some of the contributions to this issue do touch on specific debates around the controversial status of ‘theory’ (including ‘deconstruction’ and ‘cultural studies’) in Latin American regions, yet in this regard the aim of the issue as a whole is more general – namely, to host contemporary perspectives from places that have traditionally been treated as objects of knowledge rather than subjects of active theoretical investigation. In this spirit, the contributions explore the possibilities as well as the limits of shared theoretical agendas around institutions, new technologies, science studies, cultural research, ethics and politics, among other issues previously taken up by Culture Machine. While neither exhaustive nor justly representative of Mexican or any ‘other’ perspectives, this experimental celebration of Culture Machine’s 15th anniversary invokes a future in which more and more non-Anglo collaborators will be invited to participate in and respond to guest-edited issues of Culture Machine. In a sense, this is a commemoration of that injunction with which Fornäs ended his 1999 text: ‘Cultural researchers of all countries and paradigms, communicate!’

In the remainder of this introduction I will weave together some of the themes explored by past issues that have been taken up in the contributions to this volume. I begin with the question of the University, which was most explicitly addressed by the second volume, The University Culture Machine (2000). There, Samuel Weber argued that the future of the Humanities would lie, if the Humanities are to have a future, in a deconstructive rethinking of the subject, a project that would involve ‘experimenting’ with figures and performativity. In a perhaps provocative response to that piece – which, after all, seeks to retain both the University and the Humanities, albeit in a deconstructive spirit – this issue presents a conversation with Benjamín Mayer Foulkes, a Mexican psychoanalyst who has chosen to leave the actually existing university in order to invent a ‘post-University’ space in Mexico City. 17, Institute of Critical Studies is an institution that combines insights from deconstruction and Lacanian psychoanalysis in order to intervene socially through a disruption of the boundaries between academic and non-academic culture in Mexico. In addition to offering postgraduate programmes in Critical Theory, 17 operates as an editorial house and as an incubator of critically-orientated cultural enterprises. In addition to explaining the specific context and the reasons that led him to this project, Mayer Foulkes delineates a theoretical position on the relationship between deconstruction and psychoanalysis that directly challenges a perhaps-too-common perception that the latter is useless, or at least seriously limited, when it comes to creating collective struggles against capitalist governmentality. For instance, in his contribution to Culture Machine’s 2004 volume, Deconstruction is/in Cultural Studies, Jeremy Gilbert had suggested that a cultural theory grounded in psychoanalysis and semiotics is always at risk of complicity with neo-liberal culture. In his view, there was an individualism ‘inherent in psychoanalysis’ assumptions about the nature of the subject’ that rendered the ‘affective’ turn of cultural theory politically desirable. Gilbert’s argument was premised on both a rigorous attention to the radical implications of Derrida’s deconstruction of the sign and on a peculiar stance about what was foundational to British Cultural Studies, namely, an anti-capitalist political orientation. Whereas his rigorous appreciation of deconstruction encouraged Gilbert to embrace non-semiotic approaches to culture, his commitment to anti-capitalism led him to a judgment of psychoanalysis that can today be usefully contrasted with Mayer Foulke’s deconstructive and psychoanalytic bet on the ‘post-University’.

The psychoanalytic bet of the post-University can be described as a disposition towards the event in its subjective dimension. As Mayer Foulkes’s interview suggests, the advent of subjectivity is an ethical event prior to and necessary for undertaking the labours of a progressive or, we may say, non-capitalist, social bond. The fruits of that bet are further exemplified in this volume in a response, by Etelvina Bernal Méndez, to Culture Machine’s issue titled Community (2006). As a graduate student at 17, Bernal Méndez developed an original approach to the aftermath of catastrophic floods in the Mexican state of Tabasco in 2007. Combining a careful reading of the media coverage with a series of 17 testimonies given by local witnesses, she foregrounded the ethical imperative of recognizing ‘a collective debt towards memory, to thinking through that which was said and decided, which was given and taken, in the face of disaster’. While this action was not exactly an attempt to reconstitute ‘community’ in political terms, it did involve an attempt to intervene by stimulating a collective sense of responsibility for the social consequences of a non-human event. The effort was pertinent because, as Bernal Méndez shows, the impact of an environmental catastrophe such as the floods in Tabasco did not by itself generate consistent solidarity or a more critical disposition among those referred to as ‘the people from Tabasco’. It is perhaps at this point that it becomes crucial for Bernal Méndez to reassert that something took place and continues to take place, both in the physical space of Tabasco and in an ‘other’ place – hence, the flood is elsewhere. From this perspective, the contribution of psychoanalysis certainly does not reside in providing the ground for cultural theory as it is practiced within the university; rather, and in close spirit with deconstruction, it resides in its practical power to disrupt identifications that block the creation of progressive forms of sociality, including identifications with the university itself – which, as Weber has pointed out, is still reliant on the Cartesian model of subjectivity.

Similar concerns about the obliviousness of such a hegemonic subject are implicitly raised by Mexican biologist Francisco Vergara Silva’s response to Culture Machine’s third issue, Virologies and Contamination (2001). In his contribution to that volume, Ed Cohen examined the implications of the forgetting the metaphoric aspect of scientific theories. Referring to Nietzsche, Derrida and Lacan, he argued that humans existed improperly as ‘mediators’ or ‘transports across boundaries’, with desire rather than reason acting as their driving force. To this philosophical tradition Cohen added his own reading of the biological theory of autopoiesis. Autopoiesis is also an autopoethics, he concluded, because it is an ethical and political decision to forget the dependence of an organism on an environment from which it must (paradoxically) differentiate itself. While broadly sympathising with the orientation of this argument, biologist Vergara Silva detects a lingering universalism in Cohen’s discourse and invites us to consider the historical specificity of autopoietic processes, which would require ‘us’ to ask questions about who and what is being forgotten or excluded every time one invokes ‘life’, ‘nature’, ‘justice’ and ‘responsibility’. These questions come from his own research into epistemic colonialism in biological theories, including those which appear to be most progressive or are more fashionable in contemporary cultural theory. In a sense, Vergara Silva is concerned with pointing towards the unconscious of both the scientist and the cultural theorist, to their inevitable forgetting of the historical detail that had been wiped out at some point in history and for which ‘we’ nonetheless remain responsible. This is in fact a central topic also addressed by Culture Machine’s Ethico-Political Issue (2002), in which Roger I. Simon, Mario Di Paolantonio and Mark Clamen described ‘historiographic poetics’ as an ethical practice of remembrance that aimed to educate the participants for a responsible historical consciousness. Learning through remembrance, they argued, takes us beyond the usual questions of power, towards ‘an opening of the present in which identities and identifications, the frames of certitude that ground our understandings of existence, and one's responsibilities to history are displaced and rethought’. In her response to this article, Ecuadorian theorist Beatriz Miranda reflects on what ‘an opening of the present’ would take in the field addressed today by critical disability studies. Her case studies from Rwanda and Colombia – where attempts to set up memorials of disabled populations have been both vindicated and criticized – reveal that achieving the aim of ‘historiographic poetics’ is both ethically desirable and politically complex, particularly beyond the university setting.

Questions of memory and subjectivity are perhaps not as controversially ‘textual’ as questions of the body and technology. While it would be absurd to rank the latter as more important than the former, or indeed to postulate a sharp separation between them, over the past fifteen years a call has been increasingly heard to renew vocabularies and analytical tools in order to accommodate bodily and technological experiences that do not fit the linguistic models. The article mentioned earlier by Jeremy Gilbert is only one among several in the past issues of Culture Machine that illustrates a growing demand to mobilise ‘the text’ beyond verbal language and semiotics – and presumably also beyond psychoanalysis. At any rate, as Gilbert argues, to give serious consideration to concepts such as ‘affect’ is certainly not to give up on the critical legacy that Johan Fornäs affirmed when he defended ‘the centrality of mediation in cultural studies’. Fornäs had insisted that different forms of mediation were ‘able to connect people only through mediation by some third textual element, whether this consists of printed letters on a paper, electromagnetically formed images on a screen or vibrating airborne sounds’. Using music as an instance, Gilbert argued for a post-logocentric understanding of culture as ‘the site at which experience is organised by processes which are irreducibly social, but not necessarily meaningful’. What he meant is that, just like the Derridean ‘trace’, ‘non-linguistic aspects of social experience can be discussed and differentiated, even if they must be brought within the realm of linguistic meaning in order to make this possible’. From this perspective, Deleuzian desiring machines, intensities and planes of immanence are useful concepts for the theorization of social affective experiences such as music. A further example of the concern with ‘affect’ was to be found in Eugene Thacker’s contribution to Culture Machine’s issue, Recordings (2007). Thacker’s piece, titled ‘Pulse Demons’, alluded to the album by Japanese Noise musician Merzbow. There, Thacker attempted to think about complex phenomena in acoustic terms, having first noted that mainstream approaches to modelling and simulating complexity were inadequate in so far as they reduced it to a visual phenomenon. He pointed instead to the etymology of the word ‘swarm’ (from the Sanskrit, svárti, meaning ‘to resound’), which is to have an effect that permeates. To think through this effect, he argues, it is necessary to think of something that cannot be calculated by the mathematics of mainstream approaches. As an alternative, Thacker proposes to approach complexity acoustically, as a sublime experience, or ‘a kind of affective counting’. 

The respective arguments by Gilbert and Thacker are taken up in this issue by Emilia Ismael Simental, a musician and cultural researcher based in Puebla, Mexico. As a musician, Ismael Simental analyses and interrogates Thacker’s use of examples from popular and classical music. In her view, the phenomenological dimension of acoustic experience is somewhat lost in Thacker’s piece due to his implicit emphasis on the formal aspects of sound organisation. As a researcher of culture, Ismael introduces the question of whether technology ‘has an effect beyond aesthetic results by altering creative practices, disturbing social interactions, and, ultimately, subjectivity processes’. In other words, she re-introduces the question of the sociality of affect in order to pair up her analysis of ‘Pulse Demons’ with a response to Gilbert’s ‘Signifying Nothing: “Culture,” “Discourse” and the Sociality of Affect’ (2004).

This latter response involves a conversation with important representatives of Latin American cultural studies, Néstor Garcia Canclini and Maritza Urteaga, who recently conducted fieldwork on the use of new technologies by young ‘creatives’ in so-called ‘developing’ countries. Their work suggests that in the concrete situation of the creative youth in Mexico City, ‘affect’ can hardly stand on its own, regardless of the limitations found in semiotics or psychoanalysis. In order to effectively theorize the sociality of affect in that concrete situation, it is necessary to acknowledge its irreducible entanglement with material practices (for example, working as a freelance DJ in precarious conditions) as well as psychic processes (for example, reliance on interpersonal relationships that allow the DJ to carry out her activity without a decent and regular salary). The question, as summed up by Ismael Simental, concerns ‘what to do with bodies, relations and processes of subjectivity’ once we have acknowledged their ‘affective’ substratum. Current ethnographic research such as the work conducted by Garcia Canclini and Urteaga may provide part of a positive answer to it. Psychoanalysis may also prove useful once again, not least through its capacity to ‘pay attention’ to that which cannot be captured by any discourse, including discourses about attention.

‘Attention, Economy and the Brain’ is the title of Tiziana Terranova’s contribution to Culture Machine’s issue, Paying Attention (2012). There she mapped some of the ways in which ‘attention’ has been economically framed as a scarce resource that is susceptible to automated measurement, as well as a commodity and an object of financial speculation, in response to the preoccupations of corporate giants that face a new, ‘distracted’ type of consumer market. In this context, she interrogated whether theories of attention economy were actually able to deal with the socially productive character of attentional assemblages, confined as they seemed to an individual model of cognition which was too centred on the individual brain. In order to go beyond that model, we need to explore ways in which ‘paying attention can become a practice that will be able to produce different forms of subjectivity and different models of what an economy of social cooperation could be like’. In his response to Terranova’s piece, Argentinian psychoanalyst Néstor Braunstein suggests that such a project is only made possible by the very existence of the unconscious as theorized by Freud and Lacan. The unconscious, rather than the brain, is bound to frustrate the project of contemporary neurosciences and economy that attempts to model and calculate ‘attention’. As Braunstein puts it, ‘the subject inhabits a space that does not coincide with the skull’; indeed, the subject ‘inhabits the environment of a language shared by others equally subjected to it and which can only be studied by the “unnatural” (“negative”) sciences of social interaction’. Yet, unlike sociology, anthropology and even semiotics, psychoanalysis focuses on that which refuses to be described and which cannot be calculated. It might even be said that what some contemporary theorists are looking for in the term ‘affect’ appears to be the unconscious subject itself.

The time has come to return to the question posed at the beginning of this introduction: does ‘the text’ exist today as a kind of broken, dysfunctional narrative, or can it still be articulated and mobilized as a dynamic, irreducible process of mediation from which singular, unpredictable futures can emerge? Rather than pushing us to choose between the two paradigms, the past issues of Culture Machine hosted a plurality of critical takes on mediation. After fifteen years of continuous debate, Fornäs’ understanding of ‘the text’ as mediation may appear ‘old’, that is, too centred on meaning, interpretation and communication, yet his warnings against ‘an antitextualist cult of immediacy’ remain pertinent in our continuing search for new critical vocabularies in which ‘the text’ (which is always mediated) stands not just for the structural logic of natural language but also for the complex, embodied and above all finite processes of which the world is made – and of which human ‘communities’ and ‘cultures’ form only a small, increasingly vulnerable part. Perhaps the most important shift in recent years has involved the shifting emphasis on creativity, understood in a critical sense. In their introduction to Culture Machine’s issue Creative Media (2010), Sarah Kember and Joanna Zylinska argued for a shift from the mainstream treatment of media as a set of discrete objects towards ‘a second-level reflection on the complex processes of mediation’. According to the authors, these processes were ‘all-encompassing and indivisible’; nevertheless, they argued it was is possible to analyse them for critical as well as creative purposes. It is in fact an aspiration to create media in the very act of doing academic analysis of media that explains Kember and Zylinska’s appropriation of the notion of performativity as deployed by Jacques Derrida and Judith Butler. For them, performativity implies that ‘any bit of language, any code, or any set of meaningful practices has the potential to enact effects in the world’. This is of course not to say that everything has the same potential or that everything will meet the conditions of its potential realisation, but it does mean that ‘any bit of meaningful practices’ can in principle contribute to ‘a gradual shift within the ideas, practices and values even when we are functioning within the most constraining and oppressive socio-cultural formations’. Kember and Zylinska’s take on performativity does emphasise written and spoken language and ends with an open injunction to ‘invent well’. Read in this light, the analytical and the ethical orientation of ‘the text’ understood in the radical sense that is favoured within deconstructive and psychoanalytical fields does not therefore appear as a broken narrative but rather as a crucial perspective for an ethico-political struggle that is to take place at the level of invention.

In her review of the Creative Media issue, Stefania Haritou asks what that process of ‘inventing well’ might mean in practice. Drawing on the ‘ontological politics’ of Anne Marie Mol, Haritou argues that the examination of how objects are enacted instantiates a shift from searching for knowledge in the mind of a subject to locating knowledge primarily in activities, events, buildings, instruments, procedures and so forth. Would that imply that ‘the text’ becomes irrelevant for an epistemological search? Haritou suggests the very opposite when she argues that David Penny’s textual presentation of his own photographic project (which also appears in the Creative Media issue) illustrates that ‘inventing well can be done within various materials, situations and sites’. Her own example of creative media comes in fact not from an academic milieu but rather from the streets of Mexico City, where she is currently undertaking an investigation, informed by empirical ontology, into the creativity at play in pirate film distribution. This is a very different instance of ‘piracy’ than the one examined by Adrian Johns in his contribution to Culture Machine’s issue, Pirate Philosophy (2010). There the author traced the libertarian discourse embraced by various open-source and free-software circles to mid-twentieth-century assaults on British public broadcast media. As pirate broadcasting became definitive of popular culture in the 1960s, pirate broadcasters had a pivotal role to play in the attack, led by liberals, on the BBC. This attack, Johns argued, ‘was never only economic but also, and more fundamentally, moral – and epistemological too’. Indeed, the liberal defence of piracy at the time ‘reflected imperatives buried deep in the heart of what became the neo-liberal cause that attained ascendancy after the Thatcher and Reagan victories in 1979 and 1980’. Thus, Johns demonstrated just how problematic the political legacy that was at play in recent exaltations of ‘digital creativity’ in the Anglo-Saxon world was. This issue’s response to such a critical take on ‘pirate philosophy’ is found in the article by Alberto López Cuenca titled ‘Writing Errancy: Outcasts, Capitalism and Mobility’. The author here takes a longer historical view that includes the Spanish-speaking world and that is not focused just on piracy but also on the concept of mobility. Not unlike Johns, he emphasises the paradox that the mobility associated with piracy was instrumental to capitalism's self-renewal just as much as it was a condition of resistance to capitalism. Yet López Cuenca also invites us to consider the similar fate of other figures of mobility such as the gypsy, which fascinated the Situationist International. As we know, the mobility that pirates, gypsies and many other exotic ‘rascals’ made so fascinating to artists (as well as to Hollywood audiences) ultimately came to underpin the moral philosophy of the contemporary creative class, that of the subject that is an ‘entrepreneur of himself’. How do we know today that there is something more to contemporary mobility than just capitalist governmentality? López Cuenca’s piece enacts a creative response to this question through the very form of his writing and not just at the level of meaning.

Further instantiations of ‘creative media’ are illustrated by two conversations with contemporary Mexican writers, Vivian Abenshushan and Benjamín Moreno Ortiz. The first one constitutes a response to Franco 'Bifo' Berardi’s contribution to Culture Machine’s issue, Biopolitics (2005), in which the Italian author addressed the general problem of ‘emerging subjectivities performed by techno-biological and technocognitive automatisms’. As an experimental writer and editor that engages with digital platforms in order to create alternatives to such automatisms in the industry-dominated publishing world, Abenshushan also reflects on the paradoxes that are at work in her own attempts at resistance. Moreover, she situates these paradoxes in the Mexican context, where political issues of poverty and above all inequality make it inappropriate to characterise the behaviour of ‘emergent subjectivities’ exclusively through references to ‘technocognitive automatisms’. This situated (yet sympathetic) counterpoint to techno-centric theory is expanded by the conversation between Mexican writers Juan Pablo Anaya and Benjamín Moreno Ortiz around the issues raised in Katherine Hayles’ contribution to The E-Issue (2003). There, Hayles argued that electronic literature required a new critical language that recognized the material specificity of the digital medium, which included the interplay of natural language with machine code. In this regard, Moreno's work illustrates that in electronic literature it does not have to be an absolute priority to learn and write a new digital language, incarnated in and made possible by the machine. It is equally important to explore the capabilities of the machine to formulate questions about the literary and expand its conventions. Such a perspective tries to put the emphasis back on the social dimension of literature, which in this case is enacted, though not exclusively, through Moreno’s critical engagement with the Mexican ‘high culture’ establishment as symbolised by poet Octavio Paz – whose voice Moreno uses to highlight the poetic qualities of popular culture.

We can say, in sum, that a tension between the natural language layer (presumably best addressed by the semiotic paradigm as well as psychoanalysis) and the non-human layer of mediation processes (best addressed, presumably, by non-linguistic paradigms) can be translated into a debate regarding how to think the social and, most importantly, how to intervene socially in responsible ways. One of the editor of the latest issue of Culture Machine, Platform Politics (2013), Joss Hands, wisely concluded in a different but closely related context: unless we deny that digital platforms are ‘fully integrated with matter, bodies, space and discourse’, there is no reason for discarding either subjectivity or natural language in the struggle to subvert the protocols that govern them. In a similar materialist spirit, Culture Machine has resisted the ‘conceptual cleansings’ and ‘purifying attacks’ on ‘the text’ that Fornäs identified, and that merely speak of that old metaphysical desire to close the debate and thereby neutralise time itself. As a project founded on the critique of metaphysics, Culture Machine has attempted to intervene by hosting innovative takes on mediation that interrupt the ‘unhappy wavering between contradictory extremes’ that Fornäs detected in Anglo-American Cultural Studies, and that he thought could be addressed through a careful elaboration of the concept of mediation. This Latin American contribution to Culture Machine’s project of critical and creative mediation wishes to be something more than a series of friendly speeches at Culture Machine’s quinceañera party. It wishes to stay around after the party so as to host the event, which is to take a responsible part in the difference that critical mediation can make, at a time when the future almost seems to have vanished from human imagination.