Interfaces are back, or perhaps they never left. The familiar Socratic conceit from the Phaedrus, of communication as the process of writing directly on the soul of the other, has returned to center stage in today's discussions of culture and media. Indeed Western thought has long construed media as a grand choice between two kinds of interfaces. Following the optimistic path, media seamlessly interface self and other in a transparent and immediate connection. But following the pessimistic path, media are the obstacles to direct communion, disintegrating self and other into misunderstanding and contradiction. In other words, media interfaces are either clear or complicated, either beautiful or deceptive, either already known or endlessly interpretable.

Recognizing the limits of either path, this lecture will explore an alternative course by considering the interface as an autonomous zone of aesthetic activity, guided by its own logic and its own ends: the interface effect. Rather than praising user-friendly interfaces that work well or castigating those that work poorly, we will consider the unworkable nature of all interfaces, from windows and doors to screens and keyboards. Considered allegorically, such thresholds do not so much tell the story of their own operations but beckon outward into the realm of social and political life, and in so doing ask a question to which the political interpretation of interfaces is the only coherent answer.

  • Alexander R. Galloway is a writer and computer programer working on issues in philosophy, technology, and theories of mediation. He is a founding member of the software collective RSG and creator of the Carnivore and Kriegspiel projects. Currently associate professor of Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University, he is author or co-author of three books on media and cultural theory, Protocol: How Control Exists After Decentralization (MIT, 2004), Gaming: Essays on Algorithmic Culture (Minnesota, 2006), The Exploit: A Theory of Networks, written with Eugene Thacker (Minnesota, 2007). In 2010 he and Jason E. Smith translated Introduction to Civil War by the French group Tiqqun (Semiotext[e]). Recently, the Public School New York published French Theory Today: An Introduction to Possible Futures, a set of five pamphlets documenting Galloway's seminar conducted there in the fall of 2010.