CYBERFEMINIST MANIFESTO FOR THE 21ST CENTURY
We are the modern cunt
positive anti reason
unbounded unleashed unforgiving
we see art with our cunt we make art with our cunt
we believe in jouissance madness holiness and poetry
we are the virus of the new world disorder
rupturing the symbolic from within
saboteurs of big daddy mainframe
the clitoris is a direct line to the matrix
terminators of the moral codes
mercenaries of slime
go down on the altar of abjection
probing the visceral temple we speak in tongues
infiltrating disrupting disseminating
corrupting the discourse
we are the future cunt
– VNS Matrix, 1991
This is what you get when you dip into Manifestos for the Internet Age, a reader issued by Greyscale Press. It might be the best way to consume manifestos, in fact, jumping in for a page or two and getting out fast. But I possess an above average tolerance for manifestos, having written about them for a decade and even having seen one scrawled across a fellow classmate’s private parts (see tenet six of this essay) in an undergraduate class on Futurism. For that reason I decided to bravely read the book in one sitting, wading through dozens of proclamations on hacktivism, transhumanism, cryptocurrencies, and other facets of the hyper-accelerated, 3D-printed technoverse we’ll soon be living in. And I came out with a better understanding of where things are in 21st century activism and art.
Manifestos for the Internet Age comes in digital (via GitHub for initiates) or paper formats. The paperback is print-on-demand by Amazon, which seems to compromise the principles of most of the radical manifestos contained within; perhaps it was an afterthought, a consolation gesture to the arcane. There is no foreword, index, colophon or even much sense of design; the original cover (pictured) was quite nice. On the other hand the book has a bold and non-commercial feel, it’s cheap and pocket-sized, and this presentation is well suited to the manifesto.
The book was ‘generated’ over a single weekend in 2015, and it is still a work in progress—mine is beta version 0.7. Participation in future iterations is encouraged, which means that infinite changes and additions are possible. In this sense it realizes the old modernist dream, expressed in the circular form of Joyce’s Finnegans Wake (aka ‘Work in Progress’) with the end circling back, ‘a way a lone a last a loved a long the / riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay’, Finnegan begin again, or the potentially endless emendations and extensions written into galley proofs of Ulysses, which really only ever stopped because of Joyce’s love for numerology and his wish to have a copy printed in time for his 40th birthday. So everything is a work in progress, an endless draft. ‘Laugh at perfection’, as the eighth tenet of ‘The Cult of Done Manifesto’ (2009) commands. But is that really wise? If everything now exists forever, should we not work for a greater rather than a lesser degree of finish? How much more half-baked content does the world need?
One of the compelling things about these manifestos is the frequent overlap between theory and action: open source manifestos that are open source, for example. This has long been the case, of course: a century ago the manifestos and live performances of avant-garde movements like Dada and Futurism sought to cross lines; since the 1960s examples of violent action supported by violent texts, from Valerie Solanas and Ted Kaczynski to Anders Breivik and Dylann Roof, have become almost commonplace. Thankfully the manifestos gathered here are overwhelmingly utopian and for the greater good. Edward Snowden’s ‘A Manifesto for the Truth’, for example, lays out the principles behind his decision to leak classified information from the National Security Agency in 2013; Aaron Swartz, who committed suicide the same year, aged 26, while facing a US federal indictment for data theft, left a record of his views in the ‘Guerilla Open Access Manifesto’.
Manifestos for the Internet Age is a curious mix of tech geekery and various hybrids of social, political and art activism. I lean toward the latter, but I’m trying to understand the former, especially since I now write about it, and anyway I’m realizing they are inextricably intertwined. This was a good primer because manifestos are by definition plain spoken, unambiguous, easy to understand (the Latin root means to make obvious or clear). So I learned a few things I didn’t know about the code wars; but I also heard persuasive arguments about art and politics. Not all were persuasive. It seems that someone will always use a manifesto to put a lasso around the zeitgeist and try to wrangle it, the way the ‘Avant-Pop Manifesto’ tries to declare a unifying sensibility for the digital generation. More successful by far is Xenofeminism, which aims ‘to re-engineer the world’ and is a true manifesto—one that walks the knife-edge of the extravagant and the possible. It is a line that the best manifestos have always walked, from Futurism, with its banquets, ballets, and buildings, to Situationism, which pried loose the cobblestones of Paris to reveal the beach beneath the street.
The manifestos are divided into three periods: 1974-1999, 2000-2009, and 2010-2015. The jump from a twenty-five to a five-year span—with the last five years taking up half of the volume—has a touch of Moore’s Law about it. You get a sense of the amount of sheer stuff out there, increasing minute by minute, like the endless water buckets borne by marching brooms that torment the sorcerer’s apprentice in Fantasia. In fact the unfathomable quantity of stuff—and the environmental degradation that goes with it—becomes a theme in the last section. In the first section there are manifestos about hackers’ rights, the promise of liberation in new online communities, and open source code; in the second come the piracy advocates, post-media art, and increasing concern for those left behind by the digital revolution evident in cheap hardware manifestos (James Wallbank’s ‘Lowtech Manifesto’ and ‘The Zero Dollar Laptop Manifesto’). Then finally we arrive at the glorious hell of now and the near future—the Anthropocene, digital natives swimming in oceans of grey goo, bioprinted body parts, your fridge spying on you, and the rest of it. Underpinning this timeline is something like the shift from modernism to postmodernism—a shift from optimism and progress dogma about the endless new possibilities of the Internet to a more jaundiced understanding that everything is fucked, but we really should do something concrete to try and ease the pain.
The collection ends on a high note with Additivism. The ongoing project is perhaps harder to grasp and more diffuse than Xenofeminism, but no less vital. It has strong ties to the historical avant-garde as well as a radical new post-everything agenda and means of dissemination. Its manifesto is a computer animated, web-based video; it calls not for paintings and poems but for glitches and algorithms and the manufacture of interspecies sex organs. This being the 21st century, I reached out to the authors of the 3D Additivist Manifesto, Morehshin Allahyari and Daniel Rourke, on Twitter. A couple of weeks went by and then they each responded at length via email. ‘I personally have always loved reading manifestos’, Morehshin wrote. ‘With our 3D Additivist Manifesto, we were interested in the idea of creating a Cookbook inspired by the Anarchist Cookbook but … we decided that we needed to first define a position and ask difficult questions … we saw it as an opportunity to create both a movement and a community around our ideas.’ Daniel, a true aficionado, gave me the names of some manifestos I had missed, like Svetlana Boym’s ‘Off-Modern Manifesto’ (2003). He also mentioned some classics, like Oswald de Andrade’s surreal and incantatory ‘Anthropophagite Manifesto’ (1928).
All of this served to reinforce my belief, supported by Manifestos for the Internet Age, that the manifesto is undergoing a renaissance at the moment. Rourke agreed, pointing for evidence to the scores of ‘provocative manifestos coming out of artistic/academic communities’ in recent years. The urgent tone of these manifestos has only increased since the global crisis of 2008 and its aftermath in Occupy and similar movements. It is aided on one hand by a renewed spirit of activism and political engagement, in art and elsewhere, and on the other with the spread of the Internet, particularly social media, into every corner of our lives—meme culture being a perfect environment for the manifesto.
Manifestos belong at the bleeding edge of culture and politics. Today the manifesto has once again, as a century ago, found its moment: through its unabashed bravado and arrogance, its provocation and performance, and its willingness above all to shock the timid reader, the genre has found new relevance in the Age of Outrage.
Julian Hanna was born in Vancouver and lives on the island of Madeira. His research on manifestos and other subjects often appears in academic journals; his creative writing can be found in The Atlantic, 3:AM, Berfrois, Numéro Cinq, and elsewhere. He is a previous minor literature[s] Essay & Memoir and Reviews contributor. Twitter: @julianisland and @crapfutures