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The Ambiguous Panopticon: Foucault and the Codes of Cyberspace

March 25th, 2007

by Mark Winokur

We cannot agree on an historical point of origin for the Internet. (Bletchley Park? The telegraph? The diorama? The abacus? The Atlantic Cable? Painting? Writing?) Its techniques and tools are still in the process of development, perhaps even in their infancy. Internet culture is heterogeneous and dynamic. Its economy is not stable, seeming sometimes as fantastic and illusory as the Internet itself. Its status as global tool or tool of globalization is still unclear. Most importantly, even the object of study, and so the appropriate methodologies for study, are unclear. Like other nascent forms of representation before it, the Internet in its infancy presents itself as — and may actually be — the site of cultural, political, and ideological contestation. Or it may not: the contest may in fact have ended before it began, in which case scholars interested in such things can, like Lawrence Lessig, write only about who won and who lost. The grandest claim one might plausibly make is that the Internet at the present moment is the material actualization of the post-structural indeterminacy that characterizes post-Nixon/Mao/Gandhi representation and cultural theory, from the post-1949 Middle East, to the films of Peter Greenaway, to deconstruction, to White Noise. However, it behooves the critic to find a sector of critical theory through which some of these assertions might be more clearly elaborated.

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