Neïl Beloufa: A Reading List

ICA Bookshop

9 Oct 2014
Deepen your understanding and appreciation of Neïl Beloufa's first UK solo show with this handpicked reading list from the ICA Bookshop.

To accompany Neïl Beloufa’s first UK institutional exhibition Counting on People, Harman Bains introduces a helpfully precise reading list selected by the ICA Bookshop: a wide-ranging set of texts chosen to flavour and illuminate the various issues, especially the place of emotion in our networked world, raised by Beloufa’s work. All of the titles reviewed here are available online or in our Bookshop on the Mall

Branden Hookway
The problem of the interface is inherently multidisciplinary, with many possible ways to address it.’ In his book, Hookway considers the interface not as technology but as a form of relationship with technology. It’s a site of contestation—between human and machine, between the material and the social, between the political and the technological—that both defines and elides differences. In this sense, the interface can best be understood on cultural grounds, as an active moment of contact between culture and technology. The interface, he argues, stands in a relation both alien and intimate, vertiginous and orienting to those who cross its threshold.

It's Complicated
danah boyd
In the good old days the rule was, ‘if you’re not on Myspace, you don’t exist’. Now, it is no longer a matter of ‘they haven’t called or texted’, instead being unfollowed or unfriended has become the new mode of social and personal rejection. In It’s Complicated, boyd explores tropes about identity, privacy, safety, danger and bullying. Ultimately, she argues that society fails young people when paternalism and protectionism hinder teenagers' ability to become informed, thoughtful and engaged citizens through their online interactions.

Politics of Friendship
Jacques Derrida
Friendship has been an apparently marginal concept within the field of politics and of political philosophy for centuries; usually it's left to ethics or psychology or morals. But as soon as you read the canonical texts in political theory, starting with Plato or Aristotle, you discover that friendship plays an organising role in the definition of justice, of democracy even. The future of the political, for Derrida, becomes the future of friends, the invention of a radically new friendship, of a deeper and more inclusive democracy.

Big Data 
Cukier & Mayer-Schonberger
Someone, somewhere is able to track the moment you asked the internet ‘are chicken nuggets an aphrodisiac?’; although a seemingly harmless question, you may be surprised over the days that follow that phallic-shaped poultry objects are lined up between Wella Hair products and Asos. ‘Big data’ refers to our burgeoning ability to crunch vast collections of information, analyse it instantly and draw sometimes profoundly surprising conclusions from it. It also poses fresh threats, from the inevitable end of privacy as we know it to the prospect of being penalized for things we haven’t even done yet, based on Big Data’s ability to predict our future behaviour.

Carnal Thoughts: Embodiment and Moving Image Culture
Vivian Sobchack
In these innovative essays, Vivian Sobchack considers the key role our bodies play in making sense of today's image-saturated culture. Emphasizing our corporeal rather than our intellectual engagements with film and other media, Carnal Thoughts shows how our experience always emerges through our senses and how our bodies are not just visible objects but also sense-making, visual subjects.

The Promise of Happiness
Sara Ahmed
The Promise of Happiness is a provocative cultural critique of the imperative to be happy. It asks what follows when we make our desires and even our own happiness conditional on the happiness of others: ‘I just want you to be happy’; ‘I’m happy if you’re happy.’ Combining philosophy and feminist cultural studies, Sara Ahmed reveals the affective and moral work performed by the ‘happiness duty,’ the expectation that we will be made happy by taking part in that which is deemed good, and that by being happy ourselves, we will make others happy.

The Culture of Connectivity
José van Dijck
By drawing on recent academic works produced within the field of digital media research, José van Dijck puts forward an analytic model for the understanding of social media. She uses a hypothetical family to exemplify her arguments, which makes it easier to put her thoughts in a practical context. The culture of connectivity seeks to disclose the aspects of mediated culture that are hidden from—or ignored by—common users, and which have deep cultural, political, and economic implications. Examples can be found in her discussions about the blurring of boundaries between public and private spheres of personal life, about new media governance and about the complex business models underlying social media corporations.

Cruel Optimism
Lauren Berlant
More often than not the grass is not greener on the other side. Offering bold new ways of conceiving the present, Lauren Berlant describes the cruel optimism that has prevailed since the 1980s as the social-democratic promise of the postwar period in the United States and Europe has retracted. People have remained attached to unachievable fantasies of the good life—with its promises of upward mobility, job security, political and social equality, and durable intimacy—despite evidence that liberal-capitalist societies can no longer be counted on to provide opportunities for individuals to make their lives “add up to something.”

Willing Slaves of Capital
Frederic Lordon
Why do people work for other people? This seemingly naïve question is more difficult to answer than one might at first imagine, and it lies at the heart of Lordon's Willing Slaves of Capital. A thoroughly materialist reading of Spinoza's Ethics allows Lordon to debunk notions of individual autonomy and self-determination while simultaneously saving the ideas of political freedom and liberation from capitalist exploitation. Willing Slaves of Capital is a bold proposal to rethink capitalism and its transcendence on the basis of the contemporary experience of work.

Ugly Feelings
Sianne Ngai
Envy, irritation, paranoia - in contrast to powerful and dynamic negative emotions like anger, these non-cathartic states of feeling are associated with situations in which action is blocked or suspended. In her examination of the cultural forms to which these affects give rise, Sianne Ngai suggests that these minor and more politically ambiguous feelings become all the more suited for diagnosing the character of late modernity. Ngai mobilizes the aesthetics of ugly feelings to investigate not only ideological and representational dilemmas in literature—with a particular focus on those inflected by gender and race—but also blind spots in contemporary literary and cultural criticism. Her work maps a major intersection of literary studies, media and cultural studies, feminist studies, and aesthetic theory.

Networks without a Cause
Geert Lovink
Networks Without a Cause examines our collective obsession with identity and self-management, coupled with the fragmentation and information overload endemic to contemporary online culture. With a dearth of theory on the social and cultural ramifications of hugely popular online services, Lovink provides a path-breaking critical analysis of our over-hyped, networked world with case studies on search engines, online video, blogging, digital radio, media activism and the Wikileaks saga. This book offers a powerful message to media practitioners and theorists: let us collectively unleash our critical capacities to influence technology design and workspaces, otherwise we will disappear into the cloud.

Cold Intimacies
Eva Illouz
Cold Intimacies: The Making of Emotional Capitalism is a compilation of three Adorno Lectures delivered by Illouz in Frankfurt, 2004. Illouz finds evidence of this process of emotional capitalism in various social sites: self–help literature, women′s magazines, talk shows, support groups and internet dating sites. Building on and revising the intellectual legacy of critical theory, this book addresses these questions and offers a new interpretation of the reasons why the public and the private, the economic and the emotional spheres have become inextricably intertwined.

How to Live Together
Roland Barthes
Barthes focuses on the concept of “idiorrhythmy,” a productive form of living together in which one recognizes and respects the individual rhythms of the other. He explores this phenomenon through five texts that represent different living spaces and their associated ways of life: Émile Zola’s Pot-Bouille, set in a Parisian apartment building; Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain, which takes place in a sanatorium; André Gide’s La Séquestrée de Poitiers, based on the true story of a woman confined to her bedroom; Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, about a castaway on a remote island; and Pallidius’s Lausiac History, detailing the ascetic lives of the desert fathers.

Love, a Sketch
Niklas Luhmann
Love seems like the most personal experience, one that touches each of us in a unique way that is more personal than social, and hence it is not surprising that it has been largely neglected by sociologists and social theorists. While it has long been a central preoccupation of writers and novelists, love has rarely attracted anything more than the most cursory attention of social scientists. Rather than seeing love as a unique and ineffable personal experience, Luhmann treats love as a solution to a problem that depends on a wider range of social structures and forms. Human beings are faced with a world of enormous complexity and they have to find ways to order and make sense of this world.

The Signal and the Noise
Nate Silver
This book explains the unerring accuracy for Nate Silver's election predictions using Bayesian statistics. We predict that you will like it. ■

Neïl Beloufa: Counting on People continues until 16 November.

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