Data Trash is yet another far-left apocalyptic pamphlet from the last third of the 20th century, fated to rest unnoticed for ages, that pompously announced the imminent collapse of not just “capitalism,” whatever the far-terrorist-left decides every morning to understand this be, but of the whole western civilization. Thus, the authors foresee, like possessed prophets, that the shining technology from the eighties and the nineties is but the light of a supernova in the process of dying. What a beautiful metaphor for a sick pathetic dream of witnessing the end of civilization! We’re still here, however—not just having survived the worst end-of-the-world ever, but staring as sweet memories to these glowing devices that made Kroker and Weinstein phantasize about their longed mundicide. What they hated became an object of admiration and awe, a source of nostalgia and cheerful tears. How dare they despise the video games that nourished us such wonderful images, the ones we now yearn for more than for anything else in the world?
It is from this pile of crap that we may now recover the oldest recorded use of “retro-capitalism” as a word. The first reason for this succession of letters to have occurred is the literary style of the extreme left, which senselessly adds prefixes and suffixes. In page 3 we already encounter “pan-capitalism,” explained in parentheses as “virtual political economy,” while so unnecessary as the rest of the book. Later we read “cyber-authoritarianism” or “pro-technotopia” (4), both of which are intended to create the illusion of deep meaning, yet are but the result of unhappy lexical creativity. In predicting a tyranny of the wired network, the authors are but expressing whatever concern comes to their minds because they just assume that any technologic development will enslave humankind as long as that development has evolved through the free market economy. It doesn’t matter that you’re able to browse the web through your wireless phone now—they have decided that this technology is evil no matter what. This is why nobody could take critical theory seriously, for what’s even “critical” about it?
There’s a meaning, nevertheless, under this apparent nonsense. Hard to reach through a rational approach, yet self-evident through the poetical reading. I’d say each of Nietzsche’s imitators follows this pattern, indeed, so all of them can be unlocked with the key of poetical reading. Kroker and Weinstein state that the Internet will be taken by a virtual class that perpetuates class struggle now in a virtual space. In this respect, they dismiss John Seabrook’s concern over William Gates’ control of the most popular operating system in the world, by then Windows 95, as they see operating systems as a mere access channel (information highway) into the Internet, but the real deal would be on the information provided by the user—in the user himself as a set of information. I’d say this is a clever foreseeing, as coming from 1996. So, in the view of Kroker and Weinstein, the Windows Refund Day, recently featured on this blog, was an act of resistance over an irrelevant medium, as the users who demanded a refund for having received a product they didn’t ask for would still connect to the Internet through another one and would ultimately become as much a piece of currency as the rest of us. Inspiring, no doubt.
As the virtual class is a replication of the bourgeois within the Internet shaped by the communications industry, “It is one of the supreme ironies that a primitive form of capitalism, a retro-capitalism, is actualizing virtuality.” The spirit of the nineties might have seemed to expect the technologic evolution to be paralleled by contemporary fitting structures, new ones born out of the new technologies, and thus not mere copies of the previous analogue samples. This is yet another wrong assumption by Kroker and Weinstein, probably influenced by the blind enthusiasm of a press that did either not understand or decided not to make clear that the new technologies still relied on the same logic and patterns as the old ones. Might be common sense to state this, but the illusion of an entirely new phenomenon reported by Kroker and Weinstein came from these over-excited TV shows and magazines and newspaper notes—I saw it myself. Yet Kroker and Weinstein look astonished because both visionary computer specialists and capitalists were informing the virtuality on the same mould as the real-world subject to the late-capitalism dystopia they saw dying in the shining neon lights. Isn’t this poetic, indeed? The capitalist nightmare continued on the new virtual space, the class struggle perpetuated through the arriving communication fields, the gatopardismo of virtuality mediated by the exchange of (personal) information.
And they refer to nostalgia as well, a component I have so far rejected as part of a definition for retrocapitalism. Kroker and Weinstein see a nostalgic leaning in the virtual class as it intends dragging “technotopia back to the age of the primitive politics of predatory capitalism” (16) what could mean either the 18th or 19th century, maybe even the 20th—does it really matter when this assertion comes from lunatics who believe in the “class struggle”? Their discourse makes an attractive artefact, indeed—like a nice castle built with Lego pieces. But it’s to no avail trying to make sense out of it in the real world, as it stands on false premises and absurd assumptions. This nostalgic feeling they refer to, nevertheless, rests upon the intention of reusing old structures within new settings. So this nostalgia of the virtual class is inspired in power and greed (just to make the fairy-tale colourful), while the nostalgia that seems to have lifted retrocapitalism recently is rooted in a deep love for this charming past during which Kroker and Weinstein believed to witness the last breaths of late-capitalism. And here’s the thing—it might be true that old structures are replicated within the Internet, yet this isn’t due to some kind of evil plan unfolded by the techno-bourgeois (creating fake words gets contagious), but to the fact that the ‘new’ technologies are not founded on unprecedented patterns—they are fitting the same knowledge we’ve carried for a long time now into improved systems that ease communication and exchange. The obscure account of Kroker and Weinstein depicts a dark nostalgia where there would actually come a flickering one, and not as a sign of death, but as a long-standing manifestation of beauty and happiness.
There is, then, no ‘retro-capitalism’ actualizing virtuality—it’s the same old creative spirit of humankind displaying itself into new forms of material culture granted that there are not (so many) restrictions restraining it. It’s, therefore, exactly what happens when you don’t place an unbearable burden on men, which Kroker and Weinstein would possibly call ‘dignity’ or ‘equality.’ So this ‘retro-capitalism’ they claim to exist is but an illusion, a monster, or a “cloud that took the form (when the rest of heaven was blue) of a demon in my view.” Perhaps it is not by chance that Sopor Aeternus launched The Inexperienced Spiral Traveller the next year. Current retrocapitalism, on the contrary, is not a phenomenon you must imagine as coming out of a wicked mind, but an evocation of cultural products from the 80s and 90s—not a structure of oppression, but an experience of beauty; not a transposed class struggle, but an archaeology of the Cold War’s pivot.