As I watched a documentary on the real pirates of the Caribbean this afternoon while marking papers I found my thoughts turning towards sticky networks. In many respects I find this concept to be the most difficult to articulate, but also among the most important to articulate. The image that always comes to mind is that of a spider’s web or quicksand. The more you struggle against it, the more you seem to be pulled in. Subtractive object oriented ontology dictates that objects are independent and autonomous. Yet nonetheless objects often get locked in entanglements from which it’s very difficult to extricate themselves. Sometimes these networks are beneficial, but often they are acutely painful and alienating.
The Caribbean pirates found themselves in such an entanglement. Initially they were commissioned by various nations such as Great Britain to “liberate” goods from other nations like Spain. Yet when these nations achieved peace with one another, their actions were criminalized (and they were deeply criminal to begin with, but that’s besides the point here). With the criminalization of their activities the buccaneers now found themselves trapped within a sticky network. Because they were now coded as criminals, more piracy was among their only recourse for bare survival. Yet the more they engaged in these activities the more they were criminalized. There was no way out of the loop.
The situation is similar with the logic of capital. Most of us are not capitalists, but are entangled with capitalism. If most of us aren’t capitalists, then this is because we don’t live according to a M-C-M (money-commodity-money) logic. We don’t purchase commodities with the aim of producing more surplus-value as a result of that purchase. Rather, we follow a logic of C-M-C (commodity-money-commodity). We sell our labor as a commodity to earn money so as to buy other commodities like food or rent. Yet in selling our labor we find ourselves trapped within a sticky network. The more we engage in this activity the more we undermine and alienate ourselves, producing our very undoing by producing the capital that the M-C-M logic uses to assault us through diminishing jobs, stagnating wages, and all the rest. The more successful we are at producing capital for the capitalist, the more we undermine ourselves by creating the very dynamics that stagnate wages, destroy jobs, de-skill us, diminish our freedoms, etc., etc., etc.. Yet if this network is sticky then it is because we’re perpetually faced with the question of what the alternative is. We try to struggle against it perhaps, yet we find ourselves compelled to accept this logic despite ourselves.
All of this reminds me of Meillassoux’s wonderful illustration of correlationism at the Goldsmith’s Speculative Realism back in 2007. Meillassoux compared correlationism to a bit of double adhesive tape. You get the tape stuck to one finger so you try to remove it with another. Yet because the tape is double adhesive tape it is now stuck to that other finger. Eventually, as the tape shifts from finger to finger the person exclaims with the obscenity– in his comic portrayal –“Typhoon!” I didn’t know “typhoon” was an obscenity but I found it amusing nonetheless. This is how the logic of correlationism works. If you try to think the unthought, you’re still thinking it, and therefore it’s not unthought. I don’t find the correlationist argument very convincing– it’s a bit like undergrad arguments that everything is perception –but I do believe that sticky networks exist. We often find ourselves trapped in life or spider webs of our own making. Sticky networks are like correlationism in this respect, with the added caveat that they are accurate representations of what life is actually like rather than phantoms of tired philosophers. In trying to escape them you unwittingly reproduce them. The question then becomes that of how it’s possible to nullify the adhesive of these sorts of networks. At what point does the network become something entirely other?