Complexity

[As I get back into writing, I’m going to put up some fragments I’ve jotted down this year of extreme unproductivity. Beware: they are undeveloped and likely trite.]

There was in interesting discussion on Nettime recently. Or I should I say, as with most discussions at Nettime, it had the makings of an interesting discussion, before it fell into recriminations and went down the usual uninteresting byways. Here’s the link to the OP. Leaving aside the privileged position given to intellectuals’ position in the shape of things, what interests me are two things: the oversimplified analysis that what the 1% wants is the killing of all creatives and critics, as if it didn’t depend on the capture of independent creativity to clean up its crises; and the idea that “complexity” is an ideological simplification, a capitulation to the rulers, and the refuge of cowardly intellectuals.

Well, the idea (“fact”) of complexity is an ideological concern of management gurus, administrators, and capitalist theorists. In that sense, it’s certainly objectionable, not to mention aesthetically unpleasant. I’m sure it’s especially distasteful to the (para)academics at the Nettime discussion that the notion of complexity was refined in the academy. But notice that the instances of when complexity is invoked in the academy, it is used in one of two ways: as a wave to catch and conquer, or as a thing to control. Of course these are the same things, or two sides of a process: the harnessing of creative energy produced by complexity, and the managing and steering of it, as far as possible, to ends that become profitable and controlling.

So saying that complexity is craven capitulation to management gets it exactly wrong: Complexity has been foisted on management (writ large) by a multiplicity of struggles, evasions, and refusals. Complexity studies (i.e., management programs, organizational development, etc.) represent management’s response. Browse the course catalog for almost any non-humanities masters programs, and it’s immediately apparent that the obsession with complexity is all about taming it and directing it. Recognizing complexity is no more a capitulation to that than, say, accepting tenure is.

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