Partially Automated Dystopias + Utopias (Call for Submissions)

The following is a call for submissions for Red Wedge’s fall online issue, “Partially Automated Dystopias + Utopias.”

Adam Ray Adkins, Boy watching the vanishing shores of capitalism

Every new technology seems to promise both liberation from drudgery and new forms of economic and social control. The contradictions between dead labor (accumulated productive capital) and living labor (workers), between the forces of production, and social relations and reproduction, have always been central to Marxism. The way these contradictions play out in the cultural realm is contingent and evolving. Karel Capek’s 1920 play, R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots), was translated into dozens of languages, popularizing both the idea of the robot – and the idea of robot rebellion.

“Robots of the world! The power of man has fallen! A new world has arisen: the Rule of the Robots! March!”

Working-class audiences, at the time, tended to identify with Capek’s robots – who were not exactly mechanical automatons, but rather artificial persons of a sort. Within a few decades, however, the mechanical automaton “robot” replaced Capek’s artificial humans in popular consciousness. The mechanical robot was increasingly viewed as a threat; perhaps in response to the growth of unemployment by automation, the mechanical slaughters of the imperialist and world wars, and the alienation of post-war corporatism.

In the 1990s and early 2000s a wave of cyber-utopianism washed through certain sections of the cultural left and academia. Initially focused on the radically democratic and anarchic potential of the Internet, and later underwritten by the consolidation of new information technology monopolies, the utopian veneer of the early Internet has been supplanted by something more complicated and insidious. A system of information and capital accumulation, masquerading as an egalitarian space, has come to dominate much cultural life. In 2011 it seemed this technology could help topple dictatorships. In 2019 it seems to enable fascists and disorganize the left; while at the same time calling into question the entire idea of the unique individual subject, for good or bad.

The radical democratic potential of universal digital self-publishing is matched by expanded systems of surveillance, discipline and control. The documentary evidence of racist state terror no longer seems to (help) force the bourgeois state to redress grievances. Instead, reproduced constantly, this evidence seems to recapitulate terror. The image of outrage becomes an image of discipline. 

This faltering of realism begs questions about left aesthetic strategy – nearly a hundred years after the Brecht-Lukacs debates. The collapse of literary genres – for example science fiction and fantasy into speculative fiction – point to larger shifts in popular and working-class imaginations.

Moreover, the narrative of linear/automatic/teleological human progress, central to both capitalist liberalism and vulgar Marxism, has clearly and demonstratively failed (again), producing new questions about the gothic-futurist relationship of the exploited and oppressed to past and future.

As we write this call for submissions the Arctic is literally on fire. The Anthropecene, simultaneously named after humanity while threatening the collapse of human civilization, hangs over every political, social, and cultural project like a Sword of Damocles.

The next online issue of Red Wedge intends to focus on such questions – and more.

We are looking for essays, reviews, visual art, poetry and short stories that confront the major technological-political-cultural shift of recent years. 

Here are a few examples of things already in the works:

Red Wedge editors and contributors are working on essays on Techno/Grime and the aesthetics of assemblage and collage; artificial intelligence and value theory; histories of the left and digital spaces; videogame culture; the romantic origins of the robot trope; and tech fetishism in contemporary art. 

Contributors are reviewing James Bridle’s New Dark Age: Technology and the End of the Future; Adam Greenfield’s Radical Technologies; and Ruha Benjamin’s Captivating Technology: Race, Carceral Technoscience, and Liberatory Imagination in Everyday Life.

We have short story submissions that touch on the relationship between social media and assassination, and poetry that examines the temporal disruption of contemporary working-class life.Visual art submissions, thus far, focus on everything from collaged glitch art to the “salvage” of anachronistic media.

We are open to all submissions, but, in addition, we are looking for the following:

Articles or essays dealing with the contradiction between freedom and control related to disabled technologies; the digital and technological impact on recent debates about art and representation; shifts in visual (and other) culture post-Internet; the collapse of genres; digital surveillance as it relates to racism and fascism; the relationship of highly technological production to daily working-class life; and so on. 

We are also, in particular, looking for reviews of the following texts: Angela Aguayo’s Documentary Resistance: Social Change and Participatory Media; Christian Fuchs and Vincent Mosco’s Marx in the Age of Digital Capitalism; Jamie Woodcock’s Marx at the Arcade: Consoles, Controllers and Class Struggle; Max Haiven’s Art After Money, Money After Art: Creative Strategies Against Financialization; and Nizan Shaked’s The Synthetic Proposition: Conceptualism and the Political Referent in Contemporary Art.

The deadline for submissions is October 1st; but we encourage you to talk to us ahead of time if you are interested in submitting. Please e-mail submissions and proposals to and with the subject line “Red Wedge SUBMISSIONS.” We will respond within a week to all proposals and submissions.

The Red Wedge editorial collective includes Jessica Allee, Jordy Cummings, Anja Weiser Flower, Tish Markley, Joe Sabatini, Laura Fair Schulz, Omnia Sol, and Adam Turl.

About the cover artist: Adam Ray Adkins, aka Dirt Son of Earth, is a mixed media artist drawing from various avant-garde schools including surrealism, automatism, and abstract expressionism, combining drawing, painting, poetry, and collage with philosophy, politics, and psychoanalysis to ask questions and provoke thought.