One Bubble Can Burst Twice:

Deliquesced automation, figures of slime and cyberfeminism

Five points for a future manifesto.

  1. The figure of slime: a communal broth of oozing creatures, sludgy cyborgs and other amorphous flotsam. At one point, something was larval, self-replicating, inchoate. Eventually, a space of concepts, expressions, bodies and tools were spat out. A goopy bootstrap, bodies pulling and kneading at the protean liquids pooling around their limbs.Emerging from a gaping maw, drool coagulated into identities that were temporary, but unyielding enough to persist. Globules of matter formed, standing up and moving around, muttering and snapping at one another. A virulent and prodigious consistent production, without reason, logic or code. There was no thought at all. Identity was a purely formal exercise of matter, and was just as likely to perish as it was to continue. Whatever arrangement was founded was never protected—everything was promiscuous, undedicated and polymorphous. It was an ecology of movement, running amok, multiplying endlessly and forming anything, from long swathes of homogenous matter to complex heterogenous systems, meshed with difference. After an era of excitation, stimulation and continuous modulation, a new paradigm of solidity began to be explored. New geometries that allowed shapes to stand and persist longer than before; concrete and solid bodies that could exist as separate and divided from one another. This was a new age of mechanical mortality—time-keeping, boundary-setting and a desire to find definition and meaning amongst the meaningless matter such bodies came from. Certainly, the figure of slime—a pure emergent matter forming and deforming identities—persisted, but it was now cloistered by concrete ceilings, crystalline buildings and hard immovable bodies. The homogeneous culture of slime gave way to new solidity, and in doing so, was sectioned away to prevent any damage or danger to these new concrete bodies, and their rules, logic and reason, which had to be taken as immutable fact. Two worlds that are ordered by one. An underground of slimy expressions, and an overground of solid heterogeneous logic. What do these worlds share, and how can this arrangement be reconfigured? 

Autonomy is a state, system or design that perpetuates without supervision or control. In other words, there is no need for external logic or code to allow this-or-that individual thing to continue to exist and produce. Within an automated system, ideas of authorship and responsibility become complex, dynamic and difficult to control.

The figure of slime invoked above emulates a vision of autonomy as liquid: inchoate, promiscuous, mutable and monstrously adaptable. And this figure is pitted against contemporary stratified subject-and-control relationships that are instead fixed, concrete, solid and discrete. However, despite the strong figurative difference between an autonomous slimy situation and a concrete system of control and controlled, the logic of automation is inherent in both.

In the realm of modern human technoculture, automation is a concrete logic driving the core of our many systems, interactions and platforms. Algorithmic and generative models are pervasive. Interfaces are smoothly implemented and used with little to no conscious effort. The ideological supports of capitalism—a paragon of mutability—continuously reinvigorate themselves in response to any given stimuli, even including the most staunchly anti-capitalist phrases, ideologies or communities.

This world holds many mirrors to the protean figure of slime, with its logic of automation running liquidly through the veins of contemporary technoculture. Which begs the question: how can an emancipatory idea of autonomy differentiate itself from the logic of automation?

Firstly, as automatic and spontaneous as technolculture capitalism may appear, there is an equivalent suppression of potential integral to its design. In other words, the full motley of potential productions—creatures, identities, environments, forms, and more—are completely controlled and regulated through pervasive automatic systems. 

Under the concrete rules of capitalism, systems of contingent emergence and adaptability are rigged to flow where they best service those who are set to make gains on this arrangement. For instance, the gendered and racial prejudice that algorithmic systems like facial recognition, targeted advertising, and crime prediction perpetuate, despite their use of open-ended generative models.1 These systems, regardless of the emergent possibilities at play in their design, suppress potential. They remain subscribed to the status quo of systematic racism and sexism.

  1. Striated on the surface of slime runs codes. Specialised markings used to repeat processes. Codes moderate incessant production, which becomes continual reproduction; making new individual creatures with something similar about them. The codes are often algorithmic—rules that are produced by an agreement made within a community. The breakdown of persistent codes thus recompiles communities, structures, agreements and interfaces. The figure of slime as a code of pure emergence, in an age of ubiquitous concrete codes, can only rematerialise at the demise of the solid. It is an acidic mucus shot, the gob of a xenomorph eating away at the spacecraft. Alien spit boils over solid bodies, swirling the broth, bones turning into soup, creeping and slithering into, across and through gaps, pores, points of exploit, mutation and bloat.

Paradoxically, the figure of slime appears to be both a contingent vision of emancipation while also complicit with the current paradigm of technocultural capitalism. The question we are exploring, then, is: how can we meaningfully differentiate between logics of automation? 

Through the figure of slime, we have a desire to produce emancipatory images of slimy-becomings. These systems of play and pleasure emerging from queer gooey materials and adaptable technocultural spaces are capable of housing spontaneous entities, novel artistic practices, political actions and scientific invention. But, what does it mean to imagine worlds like these if the logics at their core appear identical to the systems of control, subjugation and imperial domination that such figures are opposed to and unable to exist within?

While logics of automation are not necessarily reducible to the technoscientific, it is our contention that they are most pervasive at the intersection of technology and capitalism, which is then given space through global systems of networked computation (i.e. the Internet). The figure of slime stands for a reiterative undulating loop of collapse and expansion between cyber and meatspace(s). These two realms, swapping back and forth between the actual and virtual, house a very large range of potential identities, forms and practices.

Take any body whatsoever, and observe how its form, expressions, labours and identities are spread, and continue to spread across a multitude of platforms, both online and offline. Any putative action to dismantle and reclaim logics of automation that perpetuate capitalism and its suppressive architecture must firstly acknowledge itself as existing heterogeneously across cyber and meatspace(s). Secondly, it must assure that any action or movement does not alienate or harm the myriad forms of survival and expression that subsist across communication networks. 

As such, spitting ourselves hard and fast into future action and expression may only further perpetuate the edifice of contemporary techno-utopianism. This, which Jodi Dean makes clear, posits a version of freedom that ‘is actually a mechanism for the generation of extreme inequality and capture […] capitalism thrives not because of unceasing or insatiable desires but in and as the repetitive intensity of [desire].’2 Are we merely priming our gooey desires for freedom to be yet another device to support yet another version of capitalism, thus fully continuing ongoing imperialism and colonialism? Can we dismantle and change the application of automation as it operates across cyber and meatspace(s), or is this desire totally curbed by the current structure? Dean asserts that ‘networked communications circulate less as potentials for freedom than as affective intensities produced through and amplifying our capture.’3

  1. The figure of slime, for creatures journeying across cyber and meatspace(s), is a hot compress applied to a surface, drawing forth its chthonic liquids; ancient slime that once was, and not the individuated bits we are now, pitted against it to make a brick for a building that wants to be an ocean. Genderfluid creatures yearn for the figure of slime, its history and visions ringing true against our cavernous indefinite skins. The spectrum of our possible expressions and forms is like a string of spit hanging out the jaw of our fellow kith. We run our mouths, teeth, nostrils and chests across it, now floating freely suspended sated secure, happy and cared for. 

The wager on the figure of slime is to then bank on the radicalisation of the amplified capture of automation—to dismantle and re-appropriate its logic—through both the performance of slime metaphors, its actions and its movements. It is through this wager that we ask: what kind of resources can we draw out for this radicalisation, and from where can we draw them? 

Almost reflexively, we track back to 1990s cyberculture, a set of decentralised playgrounds housing naive discourses, novel imagery and performativity spinning endlessly on a merry-go-round. Take, for instance, the emergence of the mercenaries of slime, VNS Matrix.4 They were one of several germs; their manifesto was a meme, set right before the moment of the dotcom bubble burst. Permeating across the cyber/meat membrane, the manifesto was disseminated as wheat-pasted poster paper onto the unsuspecting walls of Adelaide, it was faxed to Kathy Acker and it was circulated on IRC and LambdaMOO to swarms of anonymous users.5

The manifesto, along a continually emerging cohort including Haraway’s notorious figure of the cyborg, anachronistically initiated cyberfeminism.6 Melinda Rackman writes that with VNS Matrix the ‘poesies of cyberfeminism, the progeny of industry & capital with socialist, continental and radical feminisms, is the disruption of language […] VNS Matrix fissured, fragmented, ruptured, holed, looped, unfurled, engorged, conceived and induced women’s identity.’ The figure of slime we have been invoking aims at a similar achievement, fully networked with the other feminist, queer, decolonial and anti-fascist movements.

We call forth a contemporary invocation of slime that, as a practical and political tool, joins what could be identified as a new wave of cyberfeminist theory and action today.7

  1. More liquid.Less concrete.The walls of the bubble stretched out until it burst. Look back at a bubble burst, the discharge seeping through the pores, then flowing, baking onto surfaces, into grey oobleck shallows.The spectre of a concrete pipe, wall or barrier restricting and suppressing any potential. It becomes liquid, a memory of blockage flowing energetically in all directions. One bubble can burst twice; all that is solid melts into air.

The map of provocations we have arranged here under the figure of slime is a preliminary, and necessary step in plotting a new wave of cyberfeminism, tooled to produce action within the contemporary political conditions of cyber and meatspace(s). The logic of automation, developed in and through the technoscientific industry of computation, has an entangled responsibility to those structures, a responsibility that any cyberfeminism ought to dismantle. 

An emancipatory logic of autonomy would instead be responsible for constructing a plurality of futures, toeing the line between corrupt techno-optimism and the wholesale dismissal of potential logics and systems of automation. With this in mind, cyberfeminism must then be a practice of queer cunning—a repurposing of materials and ideologies, a reconfiguring of the caring and sharing of cyber-space and a discovery of back-door exploits to extract. This is required to dismantle and to reinvent the so-called ‘intellectual property’ of corporate tech companies which have for so long been appropriated and acquired through aggressive market control and whitewashed histories of technological progression.8

As stated before, the suppression of what the logic of autonomy can be in the service of capitalism is abhorrent, but does not fully eliminate what such logics could be given their re-appropriation under the guidance of cyberfeminism today. 

  1. Slime gives way to globules of guidance, swallowed and stuck in the gullet, hocked up and spat in the palm, rubbed in the skin, baked into the terra. Peel back the congealed membrane and find a sticky surface. Stick your hands and your fingers and your knuckles in. Fall forward and fill your lungs with grime, embrace an ecology of dirty-design and let your fluids make you fluid against an expectation of solidity.

The figure of slime represents a desire for our own bodies to be emancipated and constructible—to be pervasive and perverted, to melt the concrete solid. Simply, the increasingly troubling conditions of our solid bodily bondage must be changed, as the protean urge to resist solidity and bathe in a world of liquids becomes too difficult to bear. The figure of slime is a concept that encourages us to push forth and propagate; progress is plastic. 

Finally, we must acknowledge that any contemporary re-emergence of cyberfeminism automatically slips into a pool shared by many others.9 Pervasive models of exchange and care underwrite this emergent cultural ecology. Dismantling and re-appropriating of logics of automation through the figure of slime is one possible tool available to this increasingly necessary movement. A project of new-wave cyberfeminism must remain highly mutable, non-assuming, non-essentialist. We must excessively and promiscuously celebrate difference and novelty, in all its slimy forms.

  1. See Safiya Umoja Noble, Algorithms of Oppression, (New York: New York University Press, 2018)
  2. Jodi Dean, Blog Theory, (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2010), p. 30
  3. ibid., p.31
  4. An archive of ‘The Cyberfeminist Manifesto for the 21st Century’ can be found here
  5. ‘Internet Chat Relay’ (IRC) is a group of various application protocols for allowing text communication over the Internet, and allow the constitution of discussion groups (channels), as well as file transfer and private messages. LambdaMOO is the oldest virtual community that uses a ‘multi-user dungeon, object-oriented’ (M(UD)OO) virtual reality system. For further information on VNS Matrix’s performances in MOO communities, see Melinda Rackman, ‘@go #91010‘, (2018)
  6. See Donna Haraway, Manifestly Haraway, (Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 2016)
  7. Perhaps a third wave, after the new materialist discourse surrounding the figure of the ‘posthuman’. See Rosi Braidotti, The Posthuman, (Cambridge: Polity, 2013)
  8. For a detailed history of women and computing, see David Alan Grier, When Computers Were Human, (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2005). For two invocative accounts of this history, see N. Katherine Hayles, My Mother Was a Computer, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005); Sadie Plant, Zeroes and Ones, (London: Doubleday, 1997). Regarding aggressive market control, see
  9. The project of xenofeminism by Laboria Cuboniks; the cyber-erotics of Juliana Huxtable, Arca and Justin Shoulder and the literary cyberpunk reinventions of Annalee Newitz and N.K. Jemisin. A list that barely pulls at the slimy surface.