Control and Accident:
Images of Thought in the Age of Cybernetics


Jussi Parikka (bio)
University of Turku
Department of Cultural History

“Cinema seems to be at the heart of the society of control, at the same time producing information, communication and control as well as an intelligence of the virtual that insists and subsists, and that can produce resistance.” – Patricia Pisters (2001, p.140)


“Capitalism modulates all assemblages of life before life – nature before nature – the human before the human by augmenting the capacity of doing and thinking, communicating and reproducing: the tendency of capitalism to regenerate itself.”

– Luciana Parisi (2004, p.85)


In contemporary societies of control, capitalism “does not first arrive with factories” but with “words, signs and images”, as the Italian philosopher Maurizio Lazzarato (2004, p.190) aptly points out. Several other philosophers and media theorists have similarly accentuated the cinematic nature of subjectivity in network societies. For example Patricia Pisters (2001, p.140) notes how cinema resides at the center of societies of control. Cinema, as a certain principle of audiovisual production, is in this view to be understood as a Post-Fordist factory of the mind, directly tapping to the brain in order to create not only bodily loyal factory workers, but also mentally suitable subjects of capitalism. Pisters is referring to Jonathan Beller’s views from 1994, when Beller articulated the inherent connection cinema and audiovisual production of consciousness have with capitalism. For Beller, cinema is seen as a factory for production of commodified consciousness that is integrated into the world system of capitalism; capitalism does not anymore expand spatially but intensively into the flesh and the brain. “Vision becomes a form of work” (Beller, 1994, p.59) and the body is deterritorialized as part of the network system of communication capitalism where the question of controlling the attention of users of digital technologies becomes the key issue of power. Thus, it seems that the “old media” of cinema can still be understood as a key technique of modulation of subjectivities in the age of new media, remediating new technologies and attitudes towards them as well as creating patterns of use (and users) that are susceptible towards those media spaces.

In this article, I engage this idea of cinematic subjectification through three exemplary films of science fiction from the 1990s. By examining a certain theme of technological subjectivity in the films Johnny Mnemonic (USA 1995), Matrix (USA 1999) and Pi (USA 1998) I argue that such depictions that are often labeled as “cyborg-films” are not to be understood so much as representations of man-machines, but as modulations of subjectivity and part of the creation of digital culture. In Johnny Mnemonic and the Matrix, brains are tapped into computers, which produces a new state of subjectivity where the limited human perceptions and capabilities are enhanced with technological assemblages. [1] In Pi, an independent film production by Artisan Entertainment, the main protagonist’s astounding mathematical capabilities level those of supercomputers able to decipher the chaotic basics of the world. It also, although in a different tone as the Hollywood mainstream productions, articulates the theme of technological thought, but highlighting the friction in this interconnection and acting as a kind of revealer of the discourse networks otherwise hidden.

I approach the films as enactors of certain modes thought, working as factories of subjectification, connected to the thematics of control societies and information capitalism. Following Luciana Parisi (2004), I argue that the representationalist ethos of cultural studies of the recent years has produced a problematic agenda, whereas we would need concepts that deal with becomings and metamorphoses and an eye towards mixed semiotics where issues of signification are analyzed in connection with asemantic semiotics and asignifying materialism. In this sense, I focus on how audiovisions fabricate models to think with and models of thought. The notion of cyborgs, so thoroughly linked to contemporary media condition can actually be a) understood as a cinematic production of technological assemblages of subjectivity which b) encompasses a wide media-archaeological history of formalized images of thought and technology.

The construction of this brain-computer-coupling appears as a process of subjectification that guarantees the functionality of the individual: the brain is formed into a processing (information) machine, which helps the slow and noisy human thought (Licklider, 1990) to hold together. While earlier media technologies have succeeded in imposing themselves on the faculties of the eye, the ear and the mouth, transforming key notions of transmission and storage technologies of culture, then the computer as an expression of a more general cultural logic has developed into a paradigmatic model for subjectivity, something that connects to issues of biopolitics, digitality and capitalism’s ability to create and modulate life in order to recreate itself. This technologization of the sensoria can also be understood as an ultimatum of a sort, or as a general problematics of contemporary culture, as N. Katherine Hayles (1999, p.243-244) has it: “If the name of the game is processing information, it is only a matter of time until intelligent machines replace us as our evolutionary heirs. Whether we decide to fight them or join them by becoming computers ourselves, the days of the human race are numbered. The problem here does not lie in the choice between these options; rather it lies in the framework constructed so as to make these options the only two available.” How is the brain formed in the rhythms of contemporary science fiction depictions of brain as a computer, and in addition, how to approach the openness, the undifferentiated mass of the brain as an event in contemporary technological culture and find ways that do not reduce the brain to its techno-capitalist contexts? This is addressed in the final chapter with the aid of the idea of events as accidents, accidentum.

Cerebral Switching Circuits

In the film Pi Maximillian Cohen (Sean Gullette) suffers from severe headaches. Max became ill while staring at the sun as a child – a sickness that lead to his fear of human contacts. Yet, almost as an exchange, he got incredible mathematical abilities to interpret the whole world as numbers. The plot of the film turns around the three axioms of Max: 1) mathematics is the language of nature; 2) everything can be understood and presented as numbers; 3) if you present the numbers of any given system in a graphic form you will find patterns. In the film, Max’s Leibnizian obsession is to find the universal code determining the world, the general diagram which explains all the occasional-seeming and chaotic phenomena such as stock prices. In the context of more cosmological goals, such ideas of calculation were already prevalent with the Medieval and early modern cosmologies of Raymond Lullus (1235-1315) and Athanius Kircher (1601/1602-1680) engaged with what has been called the first wiring tables of modern computer theory. (See Künzel & Bexte, 1993.) Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz, and his idea of a calculus ratiocinator, a universal calculator of universal code continued the ideas of calculation as the basis of the universe. In addition, Leibnizian ideas were formalized later on in the calculus of thought by George Boole (1854), whose version of binary logic formed the backbone of later electro-mechanical connections in computers.

Unfortunately for Max, he is not the only one interested in this peculiar ability located in his head. Greedy business people want Max to determine the riddle of the stock exchange while a Hasidic sect wants to solve—with the help of Max—the code of the world, of length of 216 numbers, which also is the name of God which is found in Talmud. As Max seems to close on the solution his headaches worsen which resonates with the crash problems his own “supercomputer” Euclid is experiencing. However, even though the belief that in the background of the chaotic world there is a beautiful and simple diagram drives Max, he seems to be drifting towards growing disorder. Thus Pi is largely a film about mental disorders in the age of generalized mathematization and abstraction of the world. Interestingly the mental states are constantly equated with technological phenomena, especially the mysterious crashing and bugs in the Euclid computer (visually thematized with the aid of an ant in the computer circuits.) The audiovisual stuttering of the film further emphasizes the slight out-of-focus nature of Max’s venture: the director Aronofsky uses several noise-elements as well as e.g. crooked camera-angles in this. Here we find a multiscalar crossing  between semiotical layers from signifying narratives to asignifying materiality of images.

The main character Johnny (Keanu Reeves) in Johnny Mnemonic (USA 1995) also suffers from hard headaches. He is a so-called data courier who with a biotechnological implant has changed his brain into a storage medium, a hard disk (the film was advertised with a poster in which the main protagonist Johnny was commented with the text “Meet the ultimate hard drive.”) However, the price of increasing the ability of brain was a removal of certain parts – Johnny’s childhood. Human memories are replaced with mechanical ones. Due to overload, Johnny’s technological brain starts to leak, causing terrible headaches. The leaking data threatens to kill him if not removed in time. The climax of the film is a finale in which a cyborg dolphin hacks into Johnny’s brain to assist in finding the key code to remove the extra payload from his head – this scene is highlighted with spectacular images of cyberspatial nature where the normal, Euclidean time-space coordinates are supplemented with the non-space of informational matrix: these of course are part of the cinematic enthusiasm of late decades to get inside the machine and to apply computer-generated images as part of the filmed sequences, in fact turning the surface of the image into a data matrix of a kind. Tron (1982) was the pioneer in this, followed in the 1990s with e.g. Lawnmower Man (1992), Johnny Mnemonic (1995), whereas The Matrix-trilogy (1999, 2003) succeeded in creating the celebrated suturation of the computer created images with the computer enhanced bodies and movements of these still-human actors (Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Ann Moss, Laurence Fishburne, Hugo Weaving). Interestingly, this emphasis on special effects and the “cinema of attractions” has been one of the key themes in the revival of Hollywood since the 1980s, something which has also been called the neobaroque cinema (Cubitt, 2005,p. 217-244).  As Norman M. Klein (2004, p. 238) notes, the visibility (instead of naturalness) of f/x was in itself taken as a key trait of the post 1977 films: “[M]ovies revealed how the media corporation operates. Hollywood special effects are filled with traces—clues—left by production methods. In fact, often the story implies production: aliens as media making war; frequent paranoic details about feedback systems; stories about the gruesome backbiting in warlord capitalism.”

This “New Hollywood” with its mode of production entangled with certain narrative and audiovisual conventions was especially connected to the blockbuster thematics of huge profits financing the increasing budgets (due especially to special effects). As J. Macgregor Wise notes, analyzing the “living machine films” of the 1980s and 1990s, the New Hollywood product “tends to be a more multimedia presentation, spinning of sequels, television series, toys, T-shirts, books, comics, and other items.” (Wise 1997, p. 19. Cf. Cubitt, 2005, p. 218) Cinema has succeeded in distributing itself across media, and recent years the Internet has provided an apt platform for such ecologies of cinema spin-offs. Thus, in a way, “cyberspace” has realized itself also as a cultural product of the New Hollywood, as a new age of attracting the spectator to the screen, demonstrating the complexity of the man-machine assemblage as a cultural narrative and a symbol, but also as the very concrete spectator-film relationship of cinema of attraction. [2]

Maximillian Cohen embodies in his brain one of the central properties of modern computing, the ability to process data, whereas Johnny incorporates two other issues, storage capacity and transmission. [3] These features of the modern computer seem to be also tenets of the process of subjectification in the age of cybernetic machines. Hence, besides their aching heads, these male protagonists share a more intimate link. The characters and their cerebral pain act as passages to mapping the subjectivities and the demands placed on the faculties of thinking, memorizing and feeling. The pain can also be understood as a residue, a sign of the openness of the brain, its basic potentiality of being out of tune with formal models, and also as a sign of the accident at the center of this “the brain is the computer”-model. Pain is the friction point in the creation of an artificial system brain-machine. I will return to this at the end of the article.

Following Lev Manovich  (2001, p.57-59) we can argue that the central theme of the media technologies of modernity has been the externalization of the sensorial. The media objectifies and stratifies certain traits of thinking, which succinctly deterritorialize from being mere faculties of the human (while also deterritorializing what it means to be human.) Francis Galton used overlapping photographs at the end of the 19th-century to identify basic human types with their physical characteristics. Hugo Münsterberg saw the essence of cinema in its ability to reproduce states of mind on the screen. At the same time, in the 1920s and 1930s when the cinematic image gained a lot of intellectual interest in Europe and in Soviet-Russia, Sergei Eisenstein presented his theory of how the cinema thinks with the technique of montage. In a similar spirit, Jaron Lanier presented his phantasy from the 1980s of how virtual reality technologies enable the integration of the psyche to the computer, the amalgation of inner images with technologically produced ones. Such views rest on the assumption that the subject should be approached as a folding of the inside and the outside, a process of individuation where interacting elements are immanently related.

The brain is the computer is then a reformulation of Deleuze’s idea of the brain as the screen. In an interview from then 1980s, Deleuze expressed this as follows:

The brain is unity. The brain is the screen. I don’t believe that linguistics and psychoanalysis offer a great deal to the cinema. On the contrary, the biology of the brain – molecular biology – does. Thought is molecular. Molecular speeds make up the slow beings that we are. (…) The circuits and linkages of the brain don’t pre-exist the stimuli, corpuscles, and particles that trace them. (…) Cinema, precisely because it puts the image in motion, or rather endows the image with self-motion, never stops tracing the circuits of the brain. (Deleuze, 2000, p.366).

We see how e.g. Pisters’s ideas stem exactly from these Deleuzian pathways. The brain is formed with the rhythms of cinema, the key media technology of modernity. Media technologies act as an a priori layer for thought, yet in the Deleuzian emphasis the brain is an immanent part of this layer which conditions thought and sensibility: there is no causality from technologies to the brain. In Deleuzian terminology this can be seen as a process of de- and reterritorialization where e.g. the mouth deterritorializes from eating to making sounds which are reterritorialized to meanings and so forth. These movements can be deciphered as assemblages of heterogeneous parts, where also technologies can be understood as de- and reterritorializing elements for the sense and thought capabilities. (Johnston, 1999, p. 28-29). The modes of perception created by cinema are folded with the brain as they form a common plane of immanence. In relation to this I focus on the brain-computer rhythm as it is expressed on a plane of cinema. This leads to interesting questions concerning not least the creative potentiality of the brain: does the computer, or informational, model of the brain leave space for creativity, novelty and the recreation of the brain or is the brain increasingly captured as part of the information capitalist flows of subjectification? What kind of modulations and histories of thought and the brain are we presented with?

Stimulation and Concentration

Pi and Johnny Mnemonic relate closely to such histories of man-machine relations, as well as the autopoiesis of the factory. The factories of industrial modernization as the prototypical new machine-complexes were obviously not modeled on people (as some of the automata of the 17th- and 18th-centuries) anymore, but incorporated them as parts of the cogs and wheels of productive processes. The human being became more of an observer of these complex factory and steam engine systems, a reactive part of the speed of the factory. This reactivity was expressed in the underlined faculty of attention and adaptation, illustrated comically in the classic Charlie Chaplin-scene of Modern Times (USA, 1936) of the poor worked being sucked into the orifice of the machine. Even though the conveyor belt might seem an old-fashioned model of production and societal organization, it still has relevance when considered as part of the formulation of “brain factories” in the sense articulated by Beller and Pisters, among others.

Jonathan Crary argues in his Suspensions of Perception how attention is an especially important issue concerning the industrializing Western society and modernity in general. According to Crary , (2001, p.1-14), the world of increasing sense stimuli has been usually conceptualized as fragmentation, shock and distraction, while at least as important role should be given to cultural techniques of attention and concentration. According to his analysis, attention became a central requirement in the capitalist world of sense stimuli: lack of concentration was analyzed as a medical and societal problem in a world which was increasingly based on the capability of the worker/consumer to receive massive amounts of sense input. The daydreaming worker at the conveyor belt was a danger for the capitalist production process in a similar manner as the consumer’s incapability to focus on the stimuli produced by advertisements and other commercial distractions was judged a hindrance to the whole principle of exchange on which the rising consumer society was based. At the same time as capitalism was producing continuous movement in the form of novelties, it was necessary to produce a subject that was receptive towards such processes.

With the psychological problem of perception, a norm of attentive subject was postulated within this field of research of reaction times, sensory sensitivity, chronometrics of the mind and conditional reflexes. This can be analyzed as a certain discourse network where the two-fold phenomena of attention and distraction were given consistency. (See e.g. Crary, 2001, p.25-25; 49. Cf. Crary, 1998, p.96). Crary has emphasized how Hermann von Helmholz’s psychological studies in the 19th-century set a new basis for the rationalization, instrumentalization and gradual replacement of the human sensory skills with technological prosthesis. (Crary, 2001, p.319-329. Cf. Wiener,1961).

Cybernetics and other early computing projects during the 20th-century continued along this scheme. John Von Neumann was preoccupied e.g. with the brain-machine-symbiosis question which, as occasionally simplified, was not about seeing the brain as a computer but working towards conceptions of how to find points of community between these two “processing machines.” As Von Neumann noted, the brain was a much more complex “machine”, yet it came second in speed: “There is, however, a factor in favor of these machines: they’re faster than the human brain. The time in which a human nerve can respond is about ½ millisecond. However, that time is not a fair measure of the speed of the neuron, because what matters is not the time in which the neuron responds, but the time in which it recovers, the time from one response to the next potential response.” (Von Neumann, 1966, p.65) Even nerve cells seemed to be reliant on attentive perception, the capability of coherent and focused multi-paralleling action. Of course, as has been widely analyzed, cybernetics brought the same issues to the forefront first in connection with sensory perception requirements in war-time situations and subsequently in connection to the rise of media culture.

Whereas it would be an impossible task to cover the whole field of cybernetics that is relevant to our analysis, it suffices to underline the importance that these discourse networks had in relation to contemporary production of digitality. Cybernetics and system theories conceptualized the openness of Man to her surroundings as with the famous ideas of Herbert Simon (1969, 23-54) from the end of the 1960s. The capabilities of the human being are an interfacing of the complexity of its surroundings, even though certain internal limitations act as bottlenecks for enhancing these faculties. As Simon notes, human beings have restricted memory capabilities (unlike computers) which restrain her processing capabilities as well. With Simon, as with several key proponents of systems theory, the human being was conceptualized as an interfacing between the environment and the so-called-human being. This continued as a theme that did not succumb merely to a science fiction narrative but was used in the design and planning of key interfacing devices of digital culture in various computer labs and research institutes. Similarly, also recent steps in cognitive science (such as Andy Clark’s work) have analyzed higher cognitive capabilities as intertwined with external resources, for instance machines. (Johnston, 1999, p.43.)

Hence, one cannot understand the cyberpunk imaginary of late decades without this historical background in psychophysics and cybernetics. Also Johnny Mnemonic’s world should be analyzed in terms of its intensive sense stimuli rather than the extensive representative forms; the film embodies a capitalist landscape in the cyberpunk-mode, an urban environment filled with various stimuli such as advert neon lights, traffic noise, chemically induced accelerations and slowing downs and the endless connections of screens and displays. In this sense, it is part of the capitalist process of the 19th-century, which is based on the continuous flow of things (due partly to the idea that electricity, the prima motor of new media culture, was thought of as a flow)—flows of money, images, sounds, identities connecting in heterogeneous assemblages. The constant production of newness can be deciphered as a central theme relating to bodies, signs, images, languages, social relationships, commodities and capital. (Crary, 1998, p.10-11). In addition, Johnny Mnemonic marks also the passage from a psycho-physical sphere of urbanity to digital era of networks and communication.

The protagonist Johnny is employed as an information courier in order to emphasize the role of the brain as a processor and recorder of data. As the intro text to the film says: “The most valuable information must sometimes be entrusted to mnemonic couriers, elite agents who smuggle data in wet-wired brain implants.” Again, as both the scientist testing human capabilities since the 19th-century as well as the computer pioneers of the 20th-century have taught us, the unwired brain is incapable of handling such enormous amounts of information. Even though the eye with its capability to process info has remained something much unparalled, the brain has other bottlenecks e.g. with decision and recording capabilities that make it obsolete concerning the potential amount of information that could be transmitted via fiber optic cables.

The Nerve Attenuation Syndrome, a curious viral sickness, emphasizes the centrality of the brain in Johnny Mnemonic. It induces strong cramplike seizures that cause unconsciousness and eventually death. The cause of the virus is “information overload, all the electronics around you, poisoning the airwaves, technological fucking civilization, but we still have this shit because we can’t live with out it”, as dr. Allcome (Henry Rollins) clarifies. Here, as in Pi, the vitality of the brain is marked by an accident, or sickness, a point of friction.

The protagonist Johnny is part of the elite due to his technological enhancements that guarantee his capabilities to survive the information overloads. The narrative of the film raises Johnny as a messianic figure of a kind when it is revealed that the data overloading his brain is in fact a cure for the nerve attenuation syndrome. Johnny and the data in his head can make these people subjects again, engage them in the process of subjectification. By curing these people from their nerve syndrome and their lack of tolerance they are also cured to become self-controlling, attentive, focused and autonomous subjects that participate in the media capitalist way of life; they are again able to see the images, hear the audio and focus on the commodities offered to their senses and their brain. As a parallel to the 19th-century sciences that constructed the attentive subject with their own mechanical-technical measuring devices this narrative from Johnny Mnemonic can be understood as emphasizing the need for a particular kind of attentiveness and the faculties for channelling information. Again I want to underline that perhaps the scene and the narrative should not be taken as a representation of a situation within the western media world. Instead, the film forms a much more complex assemblage where Johnny Mnemonic is not merely a film about attention and media culture, but itself as a cultural product is depended on such faculties of concentration and consumption. It does not merely depict a world of sensorially challenging media scenes, e.g. virtual reality, but it itself tries to employ a certain amount of visual spectacles that demand a basic level of responsiveness from the capabilities of the viewer. (See Melehy, 1995. Wise, 1997, p.53-54.) [4] It invites to a position of a spectator that is also doubled as one of participator, a theme which Sean Cubitt (2005, p. 227) sees characteristics of the Hollywood “neobaroque” in general.

Consequently, Johnny Mnemonic can be opened via the social-technological changes that have raised the computer as an apparatus of connectionism (and information as the key symbolic value and the “stuff of communications”) and also as the diagrammatic abstract machine [5] with what to conceptualize also the thematics of thought and perception. Even though the film itself is technocritical, as exemplified e.g. in the quotation from Dr. Allcome above, it cannot solve the tensions inherent in itself as an assemblage part of the very media cultural production of “New Hollywood”. In the film, the computerized media culture degenerates the ability to think; yet at the same time Johnny finds in the digital cyberspace the possibility for creative thinking and in the end even bits of his long lost childhood memory. The memories of paradise lost and the warmth of childhood are as well technologically preserved and mediated. Johnny’s brain is externalized from the beginning on and the lost authenticity reveals to be media technologically conditioned as well, transmitted as digital images. So, without technology no images, without attention no reception of images, and with no images, no subjectivity.

Compulsive Refrains

In general, media theorists have been eager to incorporate cybernetics as the focal point in the creation of contemporary subject of media culture. The cybernetic circuits of feedback and teleology have offered valuable concepts to such thematizations of subjectification as noise-reduction, control and stabilization. According to Paul Virilio, humans are able to pass the threshold of their natural limits solely by slipping into cybernetic suits with what to adjust the space-time coordinates of perception into the non-spatial speed of information culture. This is to be understood as a specific form of control, where the computer “[…] has suddenly become the arranger of tangible reality.” (Virilio, 1997, p.131).  This connects to Virilio’s view of the history of perception as one of logistics – a rearranging of the perceptual capabilities of the human being according to military and police logic. (Johnston 1999, p. 29-30.)

In other words, this acceleration and logistics of speed is no novel theme of cyberculture, but something inherently part already of modernization at the end of the 19th-century. The media archaeological traces of such an experience of speeding-up the human body can be found for example in the novel experience with the new transport technologies, especially the train, whose impact on the human sensors is perfectly illustrated in William Turner’s painting “Rain, Steam, and Speed The Great Western Railway” (1844), or in the time travel fantasies of H.G.Wells, who in his Time Machine-novel (1895) presented the jacking into the flux of time as a kind of a acceleration of the human perception. In addition, Wells’s time machine resonates with the cinematic experience where the human sensorium is speeded up to match the movie projector’s speed of 24 images in a second. [6]

Virilio is, of course, famous for his problematization of this issue of cybernetically enhanced, or accelerated, perception. Computers and other technologies of perception increasingly set the norms to which the human perception and thought must adjust, an issue that moved from the design blueprints at computer research labs to be part of the personal computer culture since the 1980s. [7] This is also the line that I follow with the aid of the specific films at hand: the fine-tuning of the sensorial and cerebral basis of the human being in order for it to be capable of “technological perception.” Such an assemblage encompasses numerous lines that converge, ranging from the continuous theme of modernization and the senses to the computer pioneers of the post- WWII-period such as J.C.F. Licklider, who aptly regarded the on-line experience as one of intelligence amplification (Licklider & Taylor, 1990), and onto the cinematic assemblages of these specific films that are in themselves, also, production machines for subjectivities of the network culture. Such subjects are increasingly also networked subjects where issues of communication are further emphasized. This theme can be deciphered also as a general cinematic pattern in cyberpunk-narratives such as Johnny Mnemonic where of course the movie revolves around transportation of data but also the whole narrative is based around movement of looking for someone, meeting new people – a complex system of networks. Similar is the theme in The Matrix, where networks of communication (accessed via telephones) are an implicit organizer of the narrative, and the whole three-piece series is in cyberpunk fashion organized as a complex network of relations between people, places and events.

In Pi, artificial systems are continuously on the verge of instability, chaos. On the level of the narrative, Max’s gift for rational calculation is part of his fight against the chaos of the world, the axiomatic refrain that keeps both his mind and his mathematical theory together: the world is – it has to be – a code. The narrative refrain is furthermore amplified with the contagious audio refrain of the movie. This is another asemantic element that ties with the signifying semiotics of the narrative.

This compulsive refrain is crystallized in Max’s dialogue with his old teacher Sol Robeson (Mark Margolis). For Sol, who has dedicated his whole academic career to the mathematical problem of the pi, the world is a Go-game board, which is potentially open to infinite amount of combinations. No game is like another one, thus there is no linear pattern, or a code, that would restrict the virtual potential of a game. For Max, this view is unacceptable, too chaotic. For him, as a game of Go advances, the number of potential moves is reduced and we see patterns emerging: there is always an order inherent in the potentially chaotic.  Max’s neurosis connects to the engineering problems of early computers and transmission technologies, discussed e.g. by Shannon and Weaver. By discussing these games, Max and Sol are also discussing issues of stochastic processes and Markoff chains, that is, the statistical regularities of informational systems (see Shannon & Weaver, 1949, p.102-103). Go is the world, which for Max and several key scientists of late decades, is a computer or a computer-like process, like a cellular-automata.

The spiral is another key asemantic visual form in the movie. Max finds spirals everywhere: the milk poured into the coffee, the cigarette smoke revolving in the air, the seashell found on the beach, etc. Such diagrams of geometry and the distanced viewer suit Max’s models of thought perfectly; the spiral is a symbol of evolutionary movement, which however always ends in the middle, the peaceful terrain of non-movement, timelessness, and harmony. In addition to the symbolic connotations the spiral has in Christian symbolics and e.g. in psychoanalysis, it is a mathematical theme. The Spiral was discovered by Pythagoras in the 5th century BC. The mathematical definition of spirals sees them as “derived via the golden rectangle, a unique rectangle which has the golden ratio. When squared, it leaves a smaller rectangle behind, which has the same golden ratio as the previous rectangle. The squaring can continue indefinitely with the same result. No other rectangle has this trait. When you connect a curve through the corners of these concentric rectangles, you have formed the golden spiral.” (Pi-Website). The symbolical movements of Max are actually a tracking of mathematical patterns. “My new Hypothesis: If we're built from Spirals while living in a giant Spiral, then is it possible that everything we put our hands to is infused with the Spiral?” The Spiral is a diagrammatic element in the movie, stretching the social field from Max’s pathologies to mathematics and onto a visual theme, or a refrain.

Cerebral Tools

Max’s pain seem, however, to worsen as he approaches what he thinks is the “Euclidean point” and the final code. The migraine-like aches act as if reminders to Max of the chaotics of the world, hinting that his urge for control and order are penetrated, similarly as mathematical patterns, by the eternal flow of the world. As Gödel demonstrated in 1930 in his “On Formally Undecidable Propositions of Principia Mathematica and Related Systems”, even mathematical, formal systems cannot be closed but are always dependent on their outsides.

In his insistence, Max reminds us of Norbert Wiener. The mentor of cybernetics also experienced the intertwining of physical symptoms – pain, respiration difficulties – to his mathematical work. Wiener himself thought that any experience could function as a symbol for a mathematical pattern, leading him to conclude that his personal physical pain was an expression of such an unsolved problem (Pfohl, 1997). Perhaps Max’s and Norbert’s painful states of body are only passing phases in the route to solving the crucial equations that haunt them as psycho-physical symptoms. [8] Or, then, they can be taken as indicators of a much more interesting issue having to do with the accidentality of the assemblage of externalized thought.

The film Pi functions as a store house of media history, also opening towards the research into the after-image phenomenon of the eye. This key-problem of the 19th-century was of interest already to Goethe, who was followed by the Czech Jan Purkinje and his meticulous studies on the relationship of the eye and the brain. Regarding the film Pi, we should foremost consider Joseph Plateau’s studies, where he almost lost his eyesight. Similarly, several people analyzing the phenomenon of persistence of vision suffered also from severe headaches. The link is obvious: the after-image phenomenon was analyzed e.g. with tests in which one stared at the sun, just like Max tells he had done in the film Pi. The tests in the 19th-century were inherently connected to developing key devices of moving image, such as the thaumatrope and the phenakistiscope. (Crary, 1998, p.104-107.) Max’s remark on how senses and especially the seeing eye are made meaningful only with the brain, the connection organ, is thus a direct link to the empirical experiments and theories concerning human perception. At the same time it also articulates the connection between the contemporary focus on the brain in relation to computer technologies and the early psycho-physiological experiments of the 19th-century.

The perception of light (perception) and movement (action and attention) were key issues in the midst of the 19th-century modernization, whereas the brain is a vital focal point of post-Fordist production (although these processes amplify and build on each other). Capitalism is increasingly focused on the incorporeal transformations within the brain, as Lazzarato (2004, p.189) notes: “Incorporeal transformations produce (or would like to produce) first and foremost a change in sensibility, a change in our way to value and perceive.” This kind of a “cerebral work” takes as its object the brain in its quest to produce virtualities, possible worlds (where there is a whole industry focused on this Leibnizian task). Our heads are the object of language, communication, rhetoric, images and so forth that produce spiritual subjectivities and modes of life that adhere to the capitalist way of life. (Lazzarato, 2004, p.193). The body is not the focus of control societies, but the brain, and the brain is tapped with the aid of signifying and asignifying refrains. Subjectification happens through the capturing refrains also produced by the marketing industry (Lazzarato, 2004, p.190), but also in an implicit form of other cultural products which tune us in for a specific wave-length receptive to capitalist production/consumption. [9] The brain is captured as part of the capitalist agenda through specific tactics of imitation and mimesis, as Jussi V˛h˛m˛ki (2004) notes, which in our case connects to the issue of mimesis of computers as the expressive machines of control society.

Pi and Johnny Mnemonic also visualize how the intertwining of the brain and the computer is an issue of folding and individuation. Technologies are not external prostheses of man’s perception organs, but they act as deterritorializing and reterritorializing agents of perception: they are internal to the process of perception, elements with which a perception is formed. Also the brain is deterritorialized in the digital age from the organic form of the human being as they stretch towards the networks of information – the patterns and processes of technologically enhanced cultural perception in the age of cybernetic connection machines.  Following Manovich this can be seen as the theme of technological externalisation of perception and thought that began with Galton’s photographs and continued e.g. along with the cinematic man-machine apparatus. This all relates to the issue of thinking the media culture of modernization not so much as a visual age of the eye, but as an era of the brain: images are merely a form of information and therefore the brain, the connection machine, is the general issue at hand. (See Johnston, 1999, p.27-48). As Max states in Pi, “what good is the eye for without the brain? Nothing.” The visual theme of the brain is highlighted in the critical refrain with Max’s deliriums of brains lying uncannily on the pavement of a metro station, or in the kitchen sink (in one scene covered by ants, which also bug Max’s computers – ants are in this respect an element of accidentality and near chaotic self-organization in Pi). [10]

Processual Thinking

Pi can be characterized as a baroque film that revolves around mathematics, an element which, to follow Cubitt (2005, p. 234), turns the image into an allegorical fugue that is characterized by the presence of a Code that seems also to haunt the protagonists and narratives. Such themes of algorithmicity have marked also other recent movies. The hit film Matrix (USA, 1999) and its sequels (2003) can also be approached as assemblages that articulate the connection of the brain and the computer via the theme of programmability. The protagonist Neo (Keanu Reeves) notes quickly how easy it is to learn in the cybernetic age. No more reading books, writing notes, hammering facts and figures to your head: all that can be directly programmed to the folds of the brain.

The paradox of the movie is that although Neo is released from the Matrix-virtual reality of computers, he is not altogether disconnected from being enhanced by similar machines. As the plot goes, he is to be trained as a freedom fighter that would show the people still connected to the Matrix that they are living in a dream world. Neo’s training means plugging into the computer via connection in the back of his head, and feeding the needed training programs as part of his psychophysical capabilities. In this scene, in a few instances, Neo learns jujitsu, karate, tae kwon do and a range of other key skills. His adaptability, or “learning abilities”, is raised as an issue, or as Tank, the computer operator, states: “Ten hours straight. He’s a machine.” And aptly, that seems to be the case considering Neo’s processes of thinking and learning: the brain is a connection machine that reaches out towards the outside, which in this case, refers to the computer enhanced media equipments of the mother ship – and in general the virtual reality acceleration of the Matrix. Neo truly is a key figure of the contemporary media culture (as is the spectator giving her attention to the pace of the Matrix-films) who folds the complexity of the surrounding system to himself (Cf. Simon, 1969). Even more so than Johnny Mnemonic, The Matrix-movies demand fine-tuned perception skills from the viewer, perpetually trained attention to the state-of-the-art special effects and continuous acceleration and decelerations of the moving image. With the Matrix, the relation to digital games is evident: video games can be seen as a similar training ground for the senses, not merely for the visual, but also for the tactile bodily movements which have to react to the interactive rhythms of the game.

In contrast, the discourse networks of 1800, analyzed by Friedrich Kittler, saw great pains to develop precise and meticulous techniques of learning, producing also huge amounts of manuals for educators in order to cultivate children in a proper manner in the especially important techniques of reading and writing. (Kittler, 1990, p.25-69).. Neo seems to obliterate this network by his near unmediated ability to adapt—as if there would be no need for specific cultural techniques to incorporate the human into the cultural discourse networks. The process of learning is thus in itself (seemingly) unrepresentable, visualized merely in the twitching body of Neo as he is downloaded with data. This unmediatedness is of course a mere illusion, the central phantasm of cyber culture of recent decades of immediate, non-symbolic communication, whereas every electrical engineer knows that digital communications are not immaterial, but need very meticulous knowledge of the material substrates which convey signals we receive as images, sounds and words. Yet, such images of adaptation and learning are propagated continuously, behaving also as signals of the demise of hermeneutics. As information has been increasingly articulated as a process of downloading data without a view on the semantic context as Shannon and Weaver established the formal engineer definition of information, there seem to be no need for such specifically human endeavors of Gadamerian nature as hermeneutics. The machines do the interpretation for us, and the act of “thinking” is reduced on such planes of thought to mere channeling of information, and adjusting to the capability to receive as much as data as sensorally possible. In other words, “the human sensorium was fragmented and redistributed as a multiplicity of particularized and ‘autonomic’ functions, brought together again if ever only in the specious unities proposed by the entertainment industry,” as Johnston (1999, p.32) describes a Kittlerian view of the passage from discourse network 1800 to 1900.

Tank, the operator of the mother ship and the discourse network of 2000, gives us another key quote. Tank thinks that it is unnecessary for Neo to waste his time with operating systems; they are merely boring and time-consuming when you could be spending your time with something more exciting like downloading combat programs. This insignificantly mentioned phrase implies that Neo, our paradigmatic figure of a media cultural subject, does not need any interfacing, operating systems, or any method for interpretating machine impulses. His brain is already tuned, which is emphasized visually: Neo’s brain is formed into a diagram on a computer screen, where his brain capacity is defined and measured. A direct neural connection from the back of his head leads to the computer and the screen visualization, where computer feeds information to the correct places in his brain, controlling the successful transfer of data. This scene finds apt resonance with Beller’s views of the cinema-capital connection: “What if one thought of cinema not so much as a factory for the production of concepts, but as a factory for the production of a consciousness more and more thoroughly commodified, more and more deeply integrated in a world system?  In a world organized like cinema, consciousness becomes a screen on which the affects of production are manifest.  What if one thought of cinematic technologies, with their ability to burrow into the flesh, as a partial solution to the problem of expansion faced by the full globalization of capital?” (Beller, 1994, p.58) Capital is therefore perceptive towards the fact that the brain is open to media technological modulations and the constant creation of worlds.

The Matrix, Pi and Johnny Mnemonic are in this sense assemblages to think with, tools for thought with which to plunge into the issue of this particular cultural shift: the brain deterritorializes as part of a technological assemblage, implying a shift from “man as the interpreting animal” (hermeneutics) to man as the calculating animal (Turing) – in this simplification I of course neglect all the quasi-mystical themes of e.g. The Matrix. Similarly Johnny Mnemonic’s and Pi’s narratives rely on romanticized views of natural human subjectivities hidden inside the technological surfaces, but at the same time, paradoxically, their so-called-humanness is formed only as part and in relation to the technological assemblages. In addition, especially Johnny and the characters of The Matrix are stressed as cartoon-like which fits well into the thematics of the digital image as brushlike: the capabilities of the human figure are increasingly painted and computationally designed on desktops than performed by human bodies – of course, as the short documentaries presenting “The Making of” of such digital films show us, the human bodies do move – but are layered with the help of computer programs into worlds and situations humanly impossible. Digital cinema techniques of composing, modulating, and so forth, enable the audiovisual enactions of such post-human bodies that are not merely performed in the body-phenomenological sense, but increasingly calculated. [11] As Morpheus teaches Neo that the rules of the Matrix-reality are no different from rules of any computer system, meaning that these rules are susceptible to bending and twisting (as the bodies nearly convulsively twist and bend in The Matrix-trilogy. [12] ) The superbodies are not merely bodies of flesh but bodies of digital bits, organized in the representational mode as nearly-human figures.

Interestingly, the first computers of the 1940s and 1950s were titled as ”superbrains”, electric brains and electron brains, as the designers and financiers wanted to underline that these computers could perform such tasks that were earlier restricted for humans (Suominen, 2000, p.40-43). Originally the word ”computer” was reserved for people (usually women) who were hired to companies and organizations to take care of the calculation duties.  As the calculations became too complex and the amount of data to be processed grew enormously (demonstrated especially during the Second World War operations organisation), the human brain became obsolete concerning the needs of modernization. (Fox Keller, 1995, p.82. See also Light, 1999). The cultural change and articulations of the brain has overflowed this organ with connections with the information infrastructure (television, telephone, mobiles, faxes, memos, commercials, computer screens, etc.) enhanced by digital connections. Information fatigue is of course the diagnosed name for the “everyday cyborgs” that connect with those devices, and who are overwhelmed by their pace – a curious disease that manifests itself in anxiety, irritability, tensions and feelings of helplessness. The so-called-human being has to participate in the acceleration of the technological rhythm, which was in the age of steam engines and factories principally a question of physicality and the ordering the physical capabilities of people, for instance at the factory. Yet, now, the virtuality of the brain is modulated as part of the rhythm of the cybernetic feedback loops, something that the films analyzed here participate in as well. 

What has to be noted is that the discussions on “electron brains” and “electric thinking” cannot be just taken as amusing and defective metaphors but the analogy is diagrammatically more profound. Such views have found resonance not only with science fiction stories of computer-brains, but also in the very concrete cultural assemblages of brains and the incorporeal capacities of people folded with computerized machines, and digitally processed and transmitted products of audiovisual culture. Thus, I think, that we should take those products of science fiction, a good example of an apt novel is Bruce Sterling’s Distraction (from 1998), as vehicles and “tools-for-thought” which take us deep inside the reality of digital media culture of multitasking, parallel processing and other information network processes. Following Steven Shaviro, who has analyzed the viral condition of contemporary culture, we can argue that such fictions are important mappings of the openness of the human condition in the age of biotechnology and informational networks: “The individual organism is only a transitory by-product of the multiple processes running through this network. I cannot make any categorical distinction between the replicators (genes or memes) that would intrinsically belong to me and those (biological or linguistic viruses) that would have only affected me from outside. […] The imperative that gives rise to me are never truly my own. Parasitism thus becomes a universal principle.” (Shaviro, 2003, p.16-17).

The Accident of Thought

In this light, the brain-computer complex seems to be underlined foremost as a control machinery of a kind, something that resonates with Deleuze’s ideas of control society and the subsequent theorizations by e.g. Italian theorists (Lazzarato, Hardt & Negri, Paolo Virno, Franco “Bifo” Berardi, etc.). Yet, the recent decades of cyber culture, especially the American examples of Mondo 2000, Wired, and others, has continuously emphasized the liberating effects of this revolution of the mind, the freedom from restrictions of hierarchy, the creativity in personal computers. Such views, however, point to the focal issue within the idea of “computationally enhanced subjectivity”, whereas it is no wonder that most of the cyberpunk inspired fictions, like Johnny Mnemonic and Matrix, have been hailed by such enthusiasts.

The line from such films goes back to the cyber culture of 1980s and further to the computerized hippie fantasies of previous years, which during the recent decades have deterritorialized from the specific communities of West Coast of the US to spread in the form of an audiovisual refrain throughout the globe. Timothy Leary, a pioneer figure in this movement, can be taken as an exemplary figure for our argumentation as well. Leary’s ideas of connecting the brain and the computer to form a novel “chaos machine” are apt regarding how power functions in post-Fordist societies.

Leary (1994, p.35-38) wants to emphasize how the computer is able to take the brain into new assemblages and to create new events. The linking of the brain and the computer is foremost a creative event, which is placed as an opposite to rigid models of power that mould thought and cultural practices with laws, regulations and other norms.

Leary (1994, p.14-15; 38) fantasizes that the brain wants to be connected to the cybernetic circuit which enables it to swim and navigate in the flow of information and electronic data. According to Leary, the brain needs data just like our bodies need nutrition: the brain loves overloading as it is able to process hundreds of millions of signals in seconds. The brain wants to process, but also to connect with other brains and form cerebral networks which maximize the endless flow of information. Leary is trying here to model the very traditional hacker imaginary of the revolutionary effects of free information and primacy of thought, issues which however stand at the center of contemporary forms of control. True, such ideas of self-creativity and development serve a break from the disciplinary societies of hierarchic spatial control. Yet, whereas we do not have so much moulding of our bodies and minds, we have modulation and channeling. To use Deleuze’s (1987) notion of control societies as highways: you can drive freely on the highways as much as you like and experience the liberty of it, but still you are continuously following the routes and plans of organization that keep you on the road.

Cybernetic control is exactly based on new thoughts, creativity and new connections, which are performed as spontaneous expressivity of people. Just like Max, Neo or Johnny, Timothy Leary wishes to guarantee his operability by forming himself into a brain machine, which would swim like a fish in the flow of digital information, and surf on the top of such flows. However, these flows resonate intimately with the flows of capitalism.  

The crucial question remains, in the midst of these discourses and practices that create audiovisual spaces of freedom and creativity, whether we want or even can resist such enforced communications, compelled connectionism? As creativity has been captured as part of the advertisement industry, how to come up with novel ways of seeing, thinking and acting—that is, where is the interval of micropolitics? Can we rely on seeing the brain as a linking machine of novel connections, recreation and heterogeneous alliances, when the cybernetic control is based on similar ideas of “spontaneous autopoiesis?” I want to end my article with a short questioning towards the possibilities of resistance in the age of cybernetic machines, where, to remind of Pisters’s (2001, p.140) words, cinema distributes both control but also the virtual potentials for resistance.

For Deleuze, the potential of the brain (as a concept and a principle of creation of novelty) is somewhere else than the acceleration of thought or increasing of performance capacity—the functions of a communication society. Brains are for Deleuze machines of the event: events are something that cannot be reduced to their origins or contexts, nor can their effects and end results be determined beforehand. The brain-event is a potentiality of the new and a potential of creating novel connections that resist both the rigid lines of segmentarizing discipline but also the microlines of control of e.g. capitalism that folds on itself, the body of capital. (Deleuze, 1990, p.238-239.) In his cinema philosophy Deleuze delineated the new understanding of the brain as one that refuses to be tied down in a harmonious totality of organization, continuity and similarity. Instead, the brain network is an acentric system of distributed agencies: the cinema of networks. This also connects to the emphasis on the cut as an opening between series, not anymore subjugated to the continuity of images in harmony. The cut is a linkage, an event that forks in new directions. (Johnston, 1999, p.44-46.)

Hence we have to find ways to discern open-ended becoming from determined becomings that are merely ostensible modulations that function according to the logic of information capitalism. This phantasm of capitalism, exemplified from certain cyberpunk themes onto audiovisual production of subjectivity in advertisements, films, etc., does tap into the ontological openness of the so-called-human-being that is a creation of the socio-technological forces running through him – here the masculine tense is intended. Such “becomings-machine”, however, conform to the already established, known and experienced and fails to deliver any novel pathways in the becoming-technological of the human being. The illusions of change and transformation are at the core of capitalism, whereas novel events are still rare. (Ansell-Pearson, 1999, p.206-208).

François Laruelle (2000, p.176) captures the essence of eventuality aptly: events are able to create cracks between the substantialities of Being, History and Time, ruptures of a kind, not empirical “happenings.” In this sense, events are between things and able to make those seemingly stable entities vibrate into new kinds of constellations via their ability to create novel connections.  What has to be accentuated, however, is that events are not restricted to being capabilities of the human being and the human brain, but the human is only secondary in relation to events. Such a priorizing of the human is a common theme in fiction and academic theory, which try to decipher the autonomity of the human in the pressures of the technological world. As Matrix tries to romanticize the human creativity and emotionality, similarly cultural studies have often been too focused on thinking based on the separatedness of the human and the non-human (nature, technology, etc.), instead of trying to find approaches and contexts to bypass such distinctions. This, of course, is due to a revitalization of the Kantian schema of duality between the outer world of materiality and spatiality and the internal (human) world of temporality and thought. (Cf. Wise, 1997, p.3-13. Wiley, 2006). Yet, what we need are thoughts as events that short-circuit such rigid themes, which actually do not get us anywhere in relation to the key assemblage of technological thought in the age of cybernetic capitalism. In other words, we have to get past of the cultural studies / social constructionism thematics of representation and signification which are not sufficient enough to map new modes of material subjectivities and  the material asignifying semiotics of media technologies, whether we are talking of audiovisuality of cinema or the circuits of digital computers and computer networks. In this sense the films analyzed above are not mere representations but complex intertwinings of mixed semiotics that are part and parcel of the very technological-economic condition they “represent” – in this sense the focus should be turned to the events and constitutions that maintain such films.

One suggestion for mapping such gaps would be to start with the anomalous in the films, the headaches. As a narrative and visual theme (functioning especially well in Pi with specific audiovisual underlining of the pain) it highlights the point of fuzziness in the brains of the protagonists. Headaches act as accidents of a kind, where the Latin etymology of accidentum bears the enlightening connection with happening, falling out and with “event.” Whereas the history of (media) technologies has relied on the special phantasm of presumed rationalism, expressed well in the rationalist man-machine connections from Fordist conveyor belts of Taylorian fashion to the Post-Fordist factories of mind with the scientifically conveyed audiovisual consumer products, cracks open up alternative perspectives into machines and people. So-called-human beings are accidental beings, outside themselves, but so are also the technologies we live by. Again, I want to highlight how interestingly Pi underlines with the parallel thematizations of the brain and the crashing of the Euclid-computer due to bugs – what is significant is that the solution seems to come at the point of its crashing down when the computer spits out the code Max has been waiting for, 216 numbers in length. The accident proves to be the event, and the supercomputer seems to work out best at its moment of failure. As with Deleuze’s idea of the cut in cinema, the accident is not to be taken merely as a temporarily dysfunction in the normal functioning of a machine (a principle of homogeneous series) but it should also receive its own consistency as a friction that marks the borders of the “normal” operation of the system. The accident is the equivalent of cut (cinema) in the register of network media.

In the context of computers, Adrian Mackenzie’s (1996) analysis of the Turing machine is of special interest. Mackenzie argues that computers should be seen as machines that surpass the human subjectivity in that they cannot be understood as merely processors of programmed instructions. Mackenzie argues furthermore that according to our common sense (and Kant’s ideas as well, we might add) only humans have the ability, or capability, for non-determination and intuition, whereas machines are programmable, passive and repetitional. Yet, what has been neglected according to Mackenzie is that also the idea of a Turing machine incorporated at its focal point the idea of insolvable problems and the realization that all processes and calculations of technological kind could not be understood as self-referential algorithms. Mackenzie wishes to use this observation as a key to demonstrate that also the computational core of thinking includes the vagueness of insolvability – the continuously deferred moment of solution. In other words, even though the computer – and technology in general – has been posited throughout its history of the late 20th-century as the miracle machine of rationality, such processes are always relational to the logical theme at the core of the Turing machine, that is, accidents, break-downs, the outside. [13] These can also be seen as events in the sense of cracks in the substantiality of technology.

Subjects that are formed with technological rhythms, such as Johnny, Neo and Max, are technological subjects in the sense Kittler proposes: so-called-human beings that have their sensory and cerebral faculties formed according to the media ecologies of an age. This is also the theme that connects the films to their outside: they are products of a technological-economic assemblage, two of them apt examples of the Hollywood-system, which produces such packets of sound, vision and text packed into consumer products. But what does such a theme of so-called-subjectivities mean when the accidents and break-downs of discourse networks are raised to the forefront?

The films produce problematics of technological subjectivity that tap directly to the vein of modernization and media culture – yet, the solutions provided do not deliver what could be call sufficient complexity but end up in reinstating rigid distinctions of people, technology, nature, sexuality, and so forth. Thinking, spontaneity and creativity are not human capabilities but to be understood as non-personal events and accidents. In addition, this puts into new light Virilio’s call for a specific field of research that addresses the accidents of technologies, a certain agenda of mapping out the crucial breaking points of the media technologies of recording, transmitting and calculating. “How is it possible to state,” Virilio asks, “ that technologies are being developed, without any attempt being made at learning about the very specific accidents that go with them?” (Virilio & Kittler,1999, p.84). This is a question all the more critical considering the intimacy of technologies and people, not just as scifi-cyborgs, but in the smooth form of cinematic-digital-cerebral production of capitalist worlds of technology, of channelings of perceptions and thoughts pertaining the to friction-free utopia of digital capitalism. What are the accidents, the friction, of thought that should be amplified, the noise that should be affirmatively channeled in order to produce resistances and new perspectives on technology and subjectivity? Regarding such questions, merely Pi seems to provide interesting pathways with its theme of the crack, the interval, the point of breaking down. Technological and subject malfunctions are not mere failures of identification (as for example in the analysis of hysteria in the psychoanalytic tradition, nowadays proposed by e.g. Slavoj Žižek) but the crucial events that can be affirmed.

The crack and the breaking point are zones of indetermination which is followed by an actualization – in this, the intervals are primary even though they are the ones that remain unrepresentable and can be approached merely as becomings, as potentia – a potential novelty. Such views have been lately embraced by e.g. Rosi Braidotti with her project of affirmative nomadism and material theory of becoming. This also fits perfectly when mapping the potential affirmative understanding of the accident, the crack in technological subjectivities as social imaginary modulations of thought and subjectivity: “These in-between spaces, these spatial and temporal points of transition, are crucial to the construction of the subject and yet can hardly be rendered in thought and representation, given that they are what supports the process of thinking in the first place. The intervals, or in-between points and processes, are facilitators and, as such, they pass unnoticed, though they mark the crucial moments in the whole process of becoming a subject.” (Braidotti, 2002, p.40).


I am grateful to professor Jukka Sihvonen for his comments on an earlier draft of this paper.


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[1] My use of the term assemblage is instructed by Deleuze & Guattari (1987) and Johnston (1999) who uses the term “machinic vision” to refer to the de- and reterritorialization of human capabilities in technological contexts. I however use the term “technological assemblage” to underline the issue of technical media in the context of this article.

[2] In addition, national cinema e.g. in Europe has been also keen to employ special effects and computationally fine-tuned aesthetics the late years. In this sense, we are not talking merely about a Hollywood phenomena, but of the change of the whole audiovisual landscape in cinema and other audiovisual products, e.g. digital games, which live in intermedial, or a media ecological relationship with each other.

[3] Cf. Kittler, 1996. The issue of the sexuality and the maleness of these figures should not be underestimated. All of these audiovisual productions focus on opened and “invaginated” male bodies and brains, something that is aptly analyzed by Braidotti (2002, p.212-263).

[4] Perhaps we are approaching the question of why such neural disorders are a crucial issue on the biopolitical agenda. Shannon E. Lowe (2002) has analyzed attention deficit disorders as inherently connected to issues of contemporary culture. According to her, the diagnosis of AD/HD (Attention Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder) as such a key cultural problem is telling of the new ways of conceptualizing the subjectivity and the body of the human. AD/HD is often seen as a lacking capability to focus on tasks that are defined as boring and repetitious. Most often the focus is on children, who are able to stand still and who have something that is referred to as “lack of self-control.” The syndrome is understood as a lack of organization in the patient’s brain, where the “lack” has also been visualized and localized to the right pre-frontal cortex. Lowe analyses this diagnosis of lack and problematization of hyperactivity as a product of the novel machines of subjectification of contemporary culture, which aim not merely to control the body (as in disciplinary societies analyzed by Foucault) but also the mind/brain. Aptly Lowe writes about the externalization of the brain with medicaments. For example, Ritalin is one such medicine that is used to slow down the excessive movement within the brain. In addition, stimulants are used to accelerate the brain.

[5] The abstract machine is a diagrammatic plane of piloting that according to Deleuze and Guattari is not a representation of the real, but constructs the real. Yet, it is not an infrastructure nor a transcendental idea (Deleuze & Guattari, 1987, p.142).  It is immanent to its actualizations.

[6] Such themes are analyzed by the Finnish cultural historian Hannu Salmi (2003).

[7] See for example the discussion in popular computer magazines such as Byte which underline issues of the brain and brain monitoring and enhancement. “The Visual Mind and Macintosh.” Byte January 1985. See also “Computers on the Brain.” Byte June 1988 and July 1988 (part 2).

[8] There are also certain resonances between Pi and A Beautiful Mind (USA, 2001). Both address the issue of thought, illness and society; whereas thinking is a continuous folding of the brain and the outside (whether “society”, “history” or “media technological discourse networks”), similarly diseases of thought are symptoms of that very folding and can also traced back to the assemblages in which the normalcy of thinking is posited.

[9] This form of creation of possible worlds through distribution of audiovisual commodities can be linked to late 19th-century and for example Thomas Alva Edison. Crary (2001, p.31) writes: “Edison saw the marketplace in terms of how images, sounds, energy, or information could be reshaped into measurable and distributable commodities and how a social field of individual subjects could be arranged into increasingly separate and specialized units of consumption.”

[10] Pi states the issue of programmability of the brain clearly – medicaments clear away the chaos (the pain) of the brain: 80 mg of Prozamine, 6 mg of Sumatripan, 1 mg of Dihydroergotamin, and so forth, are not any metaphors for the (re)organization of the brain, but ways of manipulating the speedness and connections of the cerebral system. In this case these migraine medicines affect among other things the blood circulation of the brain. Chemicals are soft prostheses, which directly tap into the brain as one is able to interfere with the processes of programmable computers – a parable would be the possibility to design and mould media objects such as digital images with program tools. This issue of medicalisation and the conceptualisation of the human cerebral organ as a soft machine is thus inherently connected to the general ontological and epistemological issues of digital culture. Digital media products as data are never finished but dynamical, just like web pages, in the potential state of updating, and similarly human capabilities are increasingly depicted as open, subject to learning, self-improvement and enhancement. The so-called-human being of the digital media culture is never finished with anything; (s)he is doomed to the spiral of perpetual training. (Deleuze, 1990, p.237).

[11] On digital cinema and new media, see Manovich’s (2001) The Language of New Media.

[12] Of course, although new media techniques have made such gestures and post-human postures easier on the screen, the historical and diagrammatic theme is part of the simulatory scheme of the cinema already. An apt example are the twisting bodies and detached heads of Georges Méliès from the early 20th-century. See V˛liaho, 2005.

[13] This is furthermore emphasized by Trond Lundemo (2003, p.13) who argues that the essence of technology is to break-down: machines are defined “by their failure to fulfill their tasks.” Time-based media, namely computers and cinema, are haunted by the accident of erasure of information. With computers this is made visible by computer viruses and the effects they impose. In this sense they are the “general accidents”, demonstrating the inherent Turing principle of also modern day computers. In addition, also cinema is an art of breaking-up, not just in the form of film cans decomposing over the years, but by its very essence, demonstrating the technological ontology of accidents we live by. Films are by definition cut-ups, decompositions and recompositions: “The movement of the film image is frozen, speeded up, has amendments added to it and departs from the realm of the analogue. The image does not just store and transmit objects, but render things subject to interaction and manipulation at will.” (Ibid., p.26)

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