Xenophily and Computational Denaturalisation // Patricia Reed
  ~ Queer College of Art

In Xenophily and Computational Denaturalization (2017), Patricia Reed deconstructs the direct feedback loop between concepts and actualisation, highlighting the need for collective change to come on a conceptual level if we aim to see concrete change in the physical world. In order to do this Reed draws our attention to: the inequalities in the formation of universal givens; the importance of the process of alienation away from our current human condition; the significance of redefining the future ex-centric human position in regards to life on earth and intelligence; and the significance of mechanic intervention in regards to “average objects” utilising the hypothetical as a means of critiquing current inequalities.

Reed begins the paper by addressing the direct connection between the construction of universal givens on a conceptual level and how these inequalities actualise in the physical realm. Here we begin to see what Reed describes as:

“these current crises did not suddenly appear out of nowhere, but are the result of human making; a deeply uneven making, whose, acute consequences disproportionately follow well-trodden trajectories of historical domination.”1

The oppression of marginalised communities alongside many other damaging “givens” such as changes in global temperature are not naturalized forms of inequality that the regimes of power enforcing them would like us to believe, but are constructed by humans. In order to change our future possibilities we must strive towards naturalised and institutionalised laws that govern current human conditions. Reed eloquently textualises this for us by stating “enduring transformation is enabled at this conceptual level plotting who we are, where we stand, who/what composes a “we,” and how we understand coexistence, humble first steps need to be taken.”2 Reed offers the example of how current dominant gendered clichés materialise in digital personal assistants taking the role of the “complacent woman, politely absorbing any abuse thrown at “her” whilst duly enacting “her” task in sorting out your calendar.”3 

“Without the attentive embrace of fallibility, perspectives ossify into entrenched naturalisations of what is, confusing the accounting of a world with the world as such, like gazing at an object from a single, particular position and insisting on consolidating that view with the object’s full dimensionality.”4

Reed goes on to elaborate the collective tools needed in order to create future possibilities without the limitations of current socially ingrained inequalities. In order to create universal change of a conceptual level we must alienate ourselves from current human conditions, while redefining the current position of humans in relation to all life on earth and intelligence. We no longer define the limitations of knowledge and machine intelligence must be embraced in order to move past current inequalities in the physical realm. For Reed the future planetary condition depends on our ability to negotiate our current anthropocentric position and embrace a Copernican humiliation. Just as the introduction of early scientific technology allowed the understanding that earth is not in fact the centre of the universe, current machine intelligence must allow us to view the human from an ex-centric position. Here Reed refers to alienation not in its commonly accepted negative context but as an essential tool in moving away from what is. Making the important point that “alienation can never be“total”: it expresses the quality of a relation, and not a thing unto itself; something is alienated from something else, and to properly understand it requires reflection in at least two directions.”

We see an interesting link between Reed’s emphasis on an alienated subject and how we view queer as a politics of fluidity. Here we could understand the subjects of marginalised and oppressed communities, the subjects with fragmented identities, in flux, socially regarded as performed, who do not have the privilege of legal, educational and medical representation and are in a constant state of alienation. We could see alienation here as those subjects who do not occupy the normative or dominate position in a socially constructed linear line of authenticity.

Reed comments on the current material condition as being one in which we are confronted with “average objects” of ”ungraspable proportion (both large and minuscule).”
6 In order for us to effectively engage with these objects we must conceptualise from an alienated, hypothetical position that does not take current inequalities as the limitation of future possibilities. Reed draws on Wendy Hui Kyong Chun when stating “Chun’s central call is for uncertainty to become an enabler of activity because of the capacity of the hypothetical, rather than instrumentalized for inertia.”7 The regimes of power alongside the changes in planetary conditions infiltrate at every level of reality, whether micro or macro, visible or invisible. What Reed draws our attention to here is that future collective demands must aim to address the effect and influence “average objects” have on every level.

In concluding the paper Reed highlights the necessity of future human/ machine alliances. In order to move through and evolve past the state of “changeless change” we must effectively begin hypothesising new perspectives. We must replace the hemophilic automation of familiarity with the strive to overcome concepts capable of denaturalising current universal givens that control human conditions.

1. Reed, 2017
2. ibid.
3. ibid.
4. ibid.
5. Reed, 2017
6. Reed, 2017
7. Reed, 2017, Chun, 2015

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