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Blog Theory: Feedback and Capture in the Circuits of Drive

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The challenge of this book is thinking critically about media practices in a setting where they are fast, fun, and ubiquitous. As an avowedly engaged and political approach to thought, critical theory of any sort encounters challenges. Attempting to analyze and intervene in the present, it nonetheless adopts a backward gaze, an idea G.W.F. Hegel figures with the owl of Minerva flying at dawn, Michel Foucault practices through his historical methods of archaeology and genealogy, and Slavoj ?i?ek conceptualizes with the notion of “retroactive determination.” A problem specific to critical media theory is the turbulence of networked communications: that is, the rapidity of innovation, adoption, adaptation, and obsolescence. The object of one’s theoretical focus and critical ire quickly changes or even vanishes. The time of theory is over-taken, even taken over, by ever-morphing, interlinking, media.

Since books can easily be surpassed by events, they appear particularly ill chosen as a medium through which to present a critical media theory. A theory that is current, if it is possible at all, seems confined to presentation within the forms and circuits it analyzes. It can be presented in face-to-face conferences, workshops, or meet-ups; it can be posted on discussion lists or blogs. It can be visualized, videoed, shared and distributed, critiqued, amended, sampled, and forwarded. Thought can be made immediate, an element of its moment or, more precisely, of the fantasy that attempts to delimit a moment out of the present’s rush to the future and absorption into the past.

Blog Theory offers a critical theory of contemporary media. Furthering her account of communicative capitalism, Jodi Dean explores the ways new media practices like blogging and texting capture their users in intensive networks of enjoyment, production, and surveillance. Her wide-ranging and theoretically rich analysis extends from her personal experiences as a blogger, through media histories, to newly emerging social network platforms and applications.

Set against the background of the economic crisis wrought by neoliberalism, the book engages with recent work in contemporary media theory as well as with thinkers such as Giorgio Agamben, Jean Baudrillard, Guy Debord, Jacques Lacan, and Slavoj ?i?ek. Through these engagements, Dean defends the provocative thesis that reflexivity in complex networks is best understood via the psychoanalytic notion of the drives. She contends, moreover, that reading networks in terms of the drives enables us to grasp their real, human dimension, that is, the feelings and affects that embed us in the system.

In remarkably clear and lucid prose, Dean links seemingly trivial and transitory updates from the new mass culture of the internet to more fundamental changes in subjectivity and politics. Everyday communicative exchangesÑfrom blog posts to text messagesÑhave widespread effects, effects that not only undermine capacities for democracy but also entrap us in circuits of domination.

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