Tangled Knots

Found in the Itaewon neighborhood in Seoul — a tangled web of the old carted off to make way for the new. The muck and mess of an old building taken away and hidden off in a landfill or perhaps it will be smashed, melted and repurposed. That tangle could be good steel if redone. I can think of no more appropriate physical metaphor for the ways in which things made become something else again, in time. The intractable tangle and knotted hair ball embodies the history — Latour’s “knots” and “entanglements” are more apropos of the complexities of social collectives than the finished, burnished glass-and-steel that will likely replace whatever had been here in this spot.

I often get peculiar looks when photographing these sorts of half-built/half-broken objects and crap — definitely not tourists sights. For the most part, these sorts of things are compelling physical metaphors of ‘social assemblages’ — the things that hold us all together. Seeing them in “ruined” form and not as generically photogenic resonates the “made” qualities of the world around us, and brings to the foreground the sense that the world is constructed and always in process — always changing, always being re-made.

Perhaps the most concise appreciation or understanding of what “the social” is can be seen in this image — it is what holds us together, and not the result of that ‘holding together.’ But, it is more than a physical metaphor because we should not, to paraphrase from Latour, limit what gets to participate in ‘the social’. That is, it is not only people — humans — who do the structural holding-together. Things, as well — things of all sorts participate as much as normal (and not-so-normal) human beings shape and mold and vector the entire collective, stretching it into odd shapes and enrolling all kinds of human and non-human ‘hybrids’ into something new. A good reason to think about new ways to map these associations and assemblages with things other than just people, for example.

Why do I blog this? I find myself again reading Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory (Clarendon Lectures in Management Studies) simultaneous with The 33 Strategies of War (Joost Elffers Books) so as to gain additional (perhaps better? perhaps ultimately worse?) perspectives and points-of-view on the ways social-technical assemblages function and survive. A mix of tactics and strategies to create these assemblages, which always look more disciplined in their final presentation, but are always somehow much more intriguing in the process of their making. The ways things come to be is always much more than the technical particulars of their components, which is a point I think I misunderstood until my first professional job designing mini-computers while the mini-computer industry was well into its tumble off the cliff created by the X86 and 68000 architectures. Shifting into new territories requires epic degrees of flexibility, insight and guile perhaps above all. Luck, I am fairly certain, has nothing to do with responding successfully and reacting quickly to system altering changes.

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