Ongoingness is relational; it builds across, be it species or time, taking its relations, or arising from those very relations, in a way that might appear considered, but not exclusionary.11 – see thorax What needs to be examined - louse belly-up - is the mode in which these relations operate, how they can proceed in a manner that might be generative. I will focus here on one choice mode of relating that seems to hold positive potential in the functionings of ongoingness - this is the ontological mode of the ‘categorized’ that enables a form of resistance, and is a tactic for ongoingness as well as a relational structure: I am referencing the potentials of opacity.
The connection between opacity and ongoingness is worth drawing out in order to fully understand how opacity can influence the way ongoing relations operate. In order to do so, I will first explore the uses and particularities of opacity.
Zach Blas has employed the theory of opacity in relation to various modes of data collection and tracking, pointing out that “the world’s people are increasingly reduced to aggregates of parsable data”22 – http://www.zachblas.info/writings/informatic-opacity-2/ (Accessed 11 June 2019) - this can be through Big Data, Government Surveillance, or the “growing popularity of the Quantified Self”. Opacity is employed as resistance to infomatic standardisation and quantification. It is a stating that the self cannot be made fully transparent through data, that it retains an impenetrable materiality, or is perhaps in a continual state of change.33 – That may be closely predicted by aggregates, but still remains a probability, a prediction
Blas’ use of Opacity stems from the writings of Édouard Glissant, who formulated ‘transparency’ as the basis in Western thought of understanding people: transparency is a measurement against an ideal scale, a reduction. Glissant calls for opacity against this Imperial scaling, to “displace all reduction”.44 – Édouard Glissant, ‘For Opacity’ in Poetics of Relation (Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 2010), p.190 Identity, for Glissant, should not be “cornered in any essence”, and he is undisturbed by the acceptance of there being places in which the individual’s identity is obscure to that same individual.55 - Ibid, p.192 It is this opacity of the self that determines relations, allowing a network to express an ethics: “I am thus able to conceive of the opacity of the other for me, without reproach for my opacity for him. To feel in solidarity with him or to build with him or to like what he does, it is not necessary for me to grasp him. It is not necessary to try to become the other (to become other) nor to “make” him my image.”66 – Ibid, p.193 The recognition of the opacity of the self is therefore a necessary step in determining a relation with others that enables solidarity, coexistence, kinship, but without a dominating and consuming aspect.77 – Judith Butler expands on the opacity of the self and its relational effects, that “precisely my own opacity to myself occasions my capacity to confer a certain kind of recognition on others. It would be, perhaps, an ethics based on our shared, invariable, and partial blindness about ourselves.” Judith Butler, ‘Against Ethical Violence’ in Giving an Account of Oneself (New York: Fordham University Press, 2005), p.41
The opacity of the self implies a depth that is in danger of a kind of mysticism; there being something that can never be known seems close to essentialist ideas, and yet Glissant is clearly against any notion of essence.88 – For Judith Butler recognition builds on opacity, one that is always changing with the subject, rather than something constant or surface level, and, in a turn to Lacan and Hegel, to understand this or give an account for recognition, we must also look at ‘desire’. Recognition is underwritten by a “certain desire to persist”, so forms of recognition that seek to relinquish or destroy the desire to persist, undercut the very preconditions of recognition. Ibid, pp.42-44 This is perhaps rectified in an acknowledgement that, in a relation with another, the self changes - it is in a constant mutation, so is never at the point where the whole could be fully known. The self is in flux within a network. Opacity can be built on change rather than essence.99 – Further, the acknowledgement of opacity of the self or of another is not a transformation into transparency. Ibid, p.42
Framed in this way, opacity determines how relations occur, and can be seen as built on a self that is in flux, changeable, responding to relations. Ongoingness operates through relations, relations that can transverse, beyond singular species, atemporally. The approach of opacity - in which there is no need to ‘grasp’ the other, to become them, or to encompass them - is a way of being, of relating, without the construction of harmful, imperialist, power dynamics. Opacity therefore presents potential for a generative ongoingness; an ongoingness that operates through modes of opacity, one that resists and simultaneously constructs in ways that are mutual, agreeable, aware. There is no limit to how ongoing relations can occur - the possibility of the multispecies, atemporal, transversing aspect is preserved, they simply embrace their states of opacity at all points. This is not a suggestion that opacity is the only approach to ongoingness, but it is a highlighting that opacity lends to an ongoingness that is generative, or even ethical.1010 – That is to say that there is a possibility for the deployment of opacity even in the myriad of relations that make up, for instance, Donna Haraway's multispecies interminglings. I see no reason for opacity and multispecies thinking to be mutually disagreeable. See thorax
The ethics of ongoingness are sometimes hinted at in these writings, but cannot be fully explored in this dissertation, which mostly aims at some sort of picture of ongoingness, a tracing of it.
Returning to data, opacity here is similarly based on change and relations, in a way that denies data ever achieving a complete detailing of the self, or even of wider, human-engaged patterns, such as language use.1111 – A data set such as the World Loanword Database (WOLD) classifies into categories or values, in ways that might assist a certain representation or goals, but also might disrupt a necessary connectedness to do so. This kind of data set can be a numerical or graphical expression of the abstract diagram - see hair - but only within certain limits. WOLD runs into such issues in its use of a set vocabulary of meanings, as not all languages have the same lexical meanings that have are expressed by words - instead variations are dealt with by finding the closest relation, if one exists. A slight glossing over. Moreover, WOLD also uses the pictorial world map to display the approximate locations of language, an obvious cartographic approximation. For example https://wold.clld.org/meaning/3-8112#2/24.3/-7.8 (Accessed 11 June 2019)
For an introduction to WOLD see head, for loanwords see leg 2 An ongoingness that not only utilizes opacity as a tactic, a compartmentalising away from surveillance, but as a way to determine all relations, does so within the age of data. This can be taken alongside and amongst a continued use of data - it is not a luddite turn, one that resists data’s many forms altogether, but one that establishes a maximum position of relation within that use. In such a way, a networked ongoing is preserved without barbarism. For to fully capture via data - to be made to be transparent - is louse on its back, six legs in the air, a pin straight through the belly.i
fig.3 Counterpart words map of the body louse.
Source: World Loanword Database (Accessed 17 June 2019)
Source: World Loanword Database (Accessed 17 June 2019)
One further consideration of opacity in relation to data (and non-human ongoingness) is a speculative reversal, in which it is data that embraces opacity, itself finding a means to escape. This is a question of data that might be allowed to develop autonomously, or develop some form of agency. An example would be the way AI1212 – Which are of course distinct from data sets, but might utilise them in construction or chatbots can derive a shorthand language when interacting with another, perhaps other form, of AI; a shorthand language that uses a relational approach in order to hasten communication, to simplify as signs, to achieve effective negotiations.1313 – Such as in the case of Facebook’s experiment of two semi-intelligent bots negotiating, in which “the programmers realized they had made an error by not incentivizing the chatbots to communicate according to human-comprehensible rules of the English language. In their attempts to learn from each other, the bots thus began chatting back and forth in a derived shorthand” https://gizmodo.com/no-facebook-did-not-panic-and-shut-down-an-ai-program-1797414922 (Accessed 11 June 2019) Or a using of initially provided tools in an autonomous, unprogrammed way, such as the “intelligent maneuvers” recorded where, in the well documented case of two chatbots negotiating with each other for items, “agents initially feigned interest in a valueless item, only to later “compromise” by conceding it”1414 – https://code.fb.com/ml-applications/deal-or-no-deal-training-ai-bots-to-negotiate/ (Accessed 11 June 2019) - a behaviour that was not programmed by researchers but discovered by the bots in the negotiation process. Data can build in a way that, although it can be analysed and understood later, uses the possibility for its own changeable self in a relational way, and through doing so achieves development beyond human planning. This use of ever-changing relations likens it to opacity, rather than simply opaqueness; the chatbot without realising increasingly becomes a blurred outcome of its relations.1515 – Although AI does not take the opacity of itself as a mode going into relations, the concept of change following relations is still present, which can bring about a thinking in terms of opacity. The relation of AI to opacity, and to ongoingness, is a much larger and nuanced topic than I’m able to truly interrogate here, but I intend this to nod to some of the relevant issues
There are therefore potentially numerous embraces of opacity in relation to ongoingness and the data set: the human embrace away from aggregation, an ongoing in avoidance of a pinning down completely, and a computer embrace that might increasingly simplify via shorthand or develop in an unplanned manner through relations. A simultaneous simplification of communication alongside an increasing complexity of the self (programme), an ongoing that is both reduction and compounding.
The engagement with the the data set for the sea louse, at least, is an increasing concern. Facial recognition on farmed salmon allows individual, infected, fish to be recognised and assessed, to then be extracted and treated - deloused.1616 – iFarm - Individualized aquaculture - youtube (Accessed 11 June 2019)
" Let coarse bold hands, from slimy nest / The bedded fish in banks out-wrest, / Or curious traitors, sleavesilke flies / Bewitch poore fishes wandring eyes. "
John Donne, 'The Baite' in Herbert J.C.Grierson (ed.) Donne: Poetical Works (Oxford University Press, 1971), p.42 Sea louse, too, must find a means to escape the data set, which develops itself in its attempts to eradicate a relational continuing. Louse looks to its water-dwelling relative, assumes nothing, and carries on.↩