If agency is a matter of multiple distributions, and those distributions are effected in many different coordinations and contrasts, then to understand the character of agency it becomes necessary to explore the character of these interferences. It becomes important to explore the ways in which they overlap or don’t. And it also becomes important to explore the Others that are generated in the course of setting up those contrasts—which means, predominantly, the distributions of passivity and their corresponding interferences.
The specific conclusion I want to draw in this chapter is that the performance of technological agency is complex. Perhaps technologies are indeed predominantly characterized by their capacity for action in a series of partially related contrasts. In the present case we have come across a series of pairs: activity and passivity, invulnerability and vulnerability, transcendence and mundanity, resourceusing and constitution as a resource, containment and contained threat, rapist and victim, technical controller and technical outcome, man and woman, and woman and man. All of these are different (in some cases considerably so), but they all tend to perform the technology as an active and controlling agent and to distribute those contrasts in a way that simultaneously performs the passivity and vulnerability of (aspects of) nature and culture.
140 Aesthetics I am arguing, then, that the distribution being built by the brochure
is strong precisely because of its complexity. It is a complex of interferences between different and partially connected strategies for distributing agency and passivity. For if the distributions are different, indeed so different that in places they appear to be in direct contradiction, those contradictions are problematic only if they are brought together. But this does not happen. Often they work to reinforce one another, but because they are distributed, kept apart, even their inconsistencies are not necessarily troubling. In a multiple or a fractional world constituted from partial connections,37 there is no great premium on “overall” consistency—for there is no overall viewpoint, no god-eye view. Thus the division between the ‘‘purified’’ realms of the aesthetic and the ‘‘strictly technical’’ is precisely a source of potential power. For if these are said to have nothing to do with one another, then they can work in quite contrary ways to generate mutually supporting distributions or singularities. This helps to explain why the aesthetic might be so deeply removed from and subordinated to the technical in modernism and yet also remain so important to it. For the aesthetic entertains contrasts that are impossible within the technical or the pragmatic, contrasts that are discursively inconsistent or outrageous but that often enough work with those of the technical to produce singularity.
So agency, including technical agency, is performed in both technical and aesthetic distributions. But if these strategies for coordination have their specificities (and of course it is consistent with the argument that this is the case) we need to study both.38 It becomes important to avoid treating the aesthetic as ‘‘merely illustrative’’ while attending to what is taken to be ‘‘serious,’’ for to do so is to set draconian and quite unnecessary restrictions on our understanding of the distributions made by technical agency and its Others. But the converse is also true: we also need to attend to that which calls itself‘‘techni – cal.’’ It is important to avoid restrictions that perform purity while, all around us, we are being distributed by impurities in ways that simply pretend to purity.
In short, once again, we are witnesses to the operation of an oscillation between singularity and multiplicity, an oscillation that juxtaposes multiplicities in a pattern of interferences that are the necessary condition for the strength of singularity thereby generated.
Soyez realiste! Demandez I’impossiblel—Text of French student poster at the time of the 1968 French evenements
S’il y a une tradition quinous singularise, c’est, me semble-t-il, celle quia nom ”politique.” La question de savoir ce qu’est la cite, quiluiappartient, quels droits, quelles responsabilites traduisent cette appartenance, et les mouvements de lutte, inventant des exigences, des obligations et des identi – tes nouvelles, transformant les modes de’appartenance, sont ce quisingular – ise d’abord notre histoire.—Isabelle Stenders, ”Le Medecin et le Charlatan,” in Tobie Nathan and Isabelle Stengers, Medecins et Sorciers
So there are multiplicities, multiple subjects and multiple objects. There are interacting performances. And there are many distributions between subjects and objects. Or simply between different objects. And then there are overlaps, resonances, alignments, coordinations, and interferences. Performances, multiplicities, distributions, and interferences come together as a package: it is not possible to talk about one without, at least by implication, talking of the others. And the singularities of ‘‘the modern project’’ arise from the interferences between multiplicities produced in that characteristic oscillation between one and many. Singularities arise even if the interferences and the multiplicities are effaced in deferral—are rarely visible, except perhaps as a technical problem to be addressed and resolved in the next bout of problem solving, the next attempt to render ‘‘truly singular.’’
In this chapter I explore the coordinating interferences of political decision making. I’m interested in capital P Politics, the kind of politics that calls itself‘‘Politics,’’ that makes itself big and important, the methods by which it assures its distributions. And at the same time I am concerned with the overlaps and interferences implied in a notion like ‘‘decision making.’’ My case is the 1965 cancellation of the TSR2 project. Behind schedule and much more expensive than anticipated, cancellation, long debated, became a real possibility with the election of a Labour government in late 1964—a government that replaced thirteen years of Conservative administration.
EXHIBIT 7.1”The discussion showed there had been a certain divergence amongst those concerned. James Callaghan, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, wanted to cancel the plane altogether for purely financial reasons. Ranged against him were (a) Denis Healey, who wanted to cancel the TSR2 and to substitute the American F-111-A, which would mean a certain saving of money but an enormous increase of outlay in dollars; and (b) Roy Jenkins, who wanted to cancel the TSR2 and replace it with a British plane—which was roughly George Brown’s view as well; and (c) George Wigg, who held the view that we might have to cancel both but we musn’t make any decision until we had finished the strategic reappraisal which would show what kind of plane was required.” (Crossman 1975, 190-91)