14 febbraio 2007
In speculative and operative ventures, asking ourselves questions is always extremely important if we are to give a conscious development to our work.
In the specific case regarding the creation of singular elements and digital combinations aimed at viewing and redistributing on the internet the virtual version of the printed book, we asked ourselves what necessities had to be satisfied and what results were achieved within the more general cooperative project promoted by architetturadipietra.it. A partial response began to emerge from analysing the concept developed by Giorgio Agamben in his recent essay “Che cos’è un dispositivo?” (What is a device?), as a continuation of the theoretical foundations devised by Michel Foucault in The archaeology of knowledge. Agamben is inspired by the meaning given to the term “device” by the French philosopher during an interview in 1977:
“What I endeavour to identify with this term is, firstly, an absolutely heterogeneous whole, which involves language, institutions, architectural structures, decisions in terms of regulations, philosophical propositions, in short: much of what is said and much of what is left unsaid, these are the elements of the device. The device is the network which establishes itself amongst these elements (…)
By the term “device”, I mean a kind of formation which, at a precise moment in history, had the essential role of satisfying an urgency. The device, therefore, has an eminently strategic function (…)
I said that the device is of an essentially strategic nature, which implies that there is a certain degree of manipulation in the rapports of power, with the aim of either orienting them in a precise direction or fixing and using them.” (1) Bearing in mind the words of Foucault, we could point out how the term device has, first of all, a general meaning, insofar as it does not regard purely the world of technology or that branch of knowledge.
Its fundamental characteristics regard:
the heterogeneity of the whole (linguistic and non linguistic elements, issues, propositions, experience, mechanisms…) and the network of relations established amongst these elements;
strategy (of which the device makes use) in order to respond to an urgency and to produce an immediate and direct effect;
the manipulation of latent rapports of power so as to influence them (orienting them, re-balancing them, blocking them) in the intersection of rapports of power and those of knowledge.
If we presuppose that each device is a group of elements, united through a network, we can more precisely redefine its strategic meaning – thanks to the help of Agamben – as “something that in some way has the ability to capture, orientate, determine, intercept, model and control the gestures, conduct, opinions and conversations of human beings. Not just prisons, schools (…) but also writing, literature, philosophy (…) computers, mobile phones and – why not – language itself, which is perhaps the most ancient of devices.” (2)
At this point, if we return to the question we started with, we could say that the entire network of elements and graphic displays linked to the editing of the virtual book and the opening of a space of financial transaction, can be effectively and coherently held together through the concept of “device” specified above.
But the device is also the “place” in which the elements are united, the space where “events” are produced, interactions amongst individuals who make use of it. We interpret our device as a “place” and “space”, inserted into the architetturadipietra.it website, appraisable as a node in internet’s multi-centred network.
Let us imagine for a moment that we know nothing of the existence of the printed book Stone Architecture. In this “place”, we may stumble upon the virtual book and consequently develop an interest in the former. Or supposing that we have only had a brief moment to consult the printed work in a bookshop and we would like to examine its contents further, get a better overall picture.
This is where the virtual book, a “mirror” of the printed work, reveals its value of immaterial and ubiquitous presence throughout the web, enabling its potential users to discover and consult it online wherever, whenever.
So the two adjoining functions available in the website space do not appear to be accidental. The thematic areas “leaf through book” and “purchase book” represent, in dematerialised form, the traditional physical places of the public library and bookshop, which internet innovatively succeeds in merging within a single digital device, hooking up with cultural expectations and financial processes.
Internet has clearly given life to a complex and multiform reality. The network is much more than a communicative sectorial medium. It lies at the crossroads of channels of calculation, registration, information, communication, social relations and financial transactions. Internet has also become a powerful immaterial platform, capable of giving intangible value to products, promoting them from the lower ranks.
From a symmetrical perspective to the immense mass of capitalised data, at the root of internet’s success, we could represent the network as a vast group of individuals and organisations that – apart from producing information – communicate, converse (directly or indirectly) with one another, formulating and expressing opinions. A public that manifests itself in what is defined “new internet” – constituted by the network of blogs, videoblogs, podcasts, social networks – no longer solely a passive receiver of news and data, but an active protagonist who exploits the accessibility, ductility and bi-directional interactivity of the net’s communicative channel to voice his or her opinions, reply, relaunch ideas, criticise and promote actions which depart from the cyberspace and often end up being reflected in the same physical reality.
We refer, in particular, to internet which allows us to share knowledge and opinions on the basis of a predominantly free-of-charge system of intellectual and relational resources. This, in turn, gives life to communities, whose members become acquainted and exchange ideas, information, values and trust. (3)
The most significant aspect which enriches internet at the outset of the new millennium is that an increasingly broader, active public, equipped with fast and efficient tools – pcs, digital cameras, recording equipment, video mobile phones – is developing improved abilities in terms of producing content, taking part in the formation of the both informative and cultural environment rather than being merely a passive user of (predefined) values and (pre-estimated) goods from the higher ranks of strong market competitors. By creating a flow of cultural information and conversation, the interactive and relational public of the new internet devises a production method and gathers horizontal opinions from the lower ranks.
Within these communities, the scale of values expressed (or expressible) never appears pre-determined and unequivocally oriented, but always subject to collective dialectics, to sharing, to re-negotiating personal viewpoints.
The peculiarity we should point out in the mass media context of the communities is how this free relational tool influences the assessment of ideas and not vice versa. What tips the scales are the rapports of trust, advice and word of mouth.
This is where the assessments in these relational spaces acquire special value. Evaluations and decisions regarding the potential access to services are in some way filtered by the community which nurtures them.
This incentive to buy becomes a question of “opinion” and, not by chance, analysts speak – with regard to these new situations emerging from the network – of social shopping, a term deriving from the fusion of shopping and social network, that is, those thematic websites which invite individuals to share issues and common interests, to develop interaction, confrontation and production of content in a cooperative form.
It is within a relational ambit of this kind that we believe should be introduced the device of the virtual book (which allows us to use a significant part of its contents) and the online bookshop (which puts the book Stone Architecture on sale two years on from its publication).
The book dematerialises to exceed the traditional limits of “niche” editing (e.g. scientific) and explore new contemporary channels of knowledge, along which the roles and life itself of cultural artefacts are combined in order to reach an increasingly wider public, formed not just by scholars or institutional organisations such as libraries, study and research centres, etc.; a public which can be “captured” (using the words of Agamben) through innovative devices, and involved in a cooperative project far broader and more ambitious than that of the book; this is precisely what is happening on internet thanks to the collective intelligence of the architetturadipietra.it community.
So the device that we have put into play is clarified in all its strategic value to the developing community. Whatever is recovered from the resources invested in the printed book is targeted at developing this very project of collective intelligence, at conceiving a well-equipped stage for the Stones of Italy, our Stones of Identity.
1 Michel Foucault, “Dits et ècrit”, vol. III, pp.299-300, cited in Che cos’è un dispositivo?, by Giorgio Agamben, Roma, ed. Nottetempo, 2006, p.6. See Foucault’s Archeologia del sapere, BUR, Milano, 1999 (original title: L’archèologie du savoir, 1969), pp.257.
2 Giorgio Agamben, Che cos’è un dispositivo?, Roma, ed. Nottetempo, 2006, p.21.
On these themes see: Giuseppe Caravita, “La nuova civiltà del web” in Nòva Sole 24 ore 19.1.2006; Alessandro Longo, “Anche lo shopping diventa d’opinione”, Nòva Sole 24 ore 5.10.2006; Giuseppe Granirei, La società digitale, Bari, Laterza, 2006, pp.189; Tiziana Terranova, Cultura Network, Roma Manifestolibri, 2006, pp.223.