Open Sauce: A Critical Conversation

Lasophielle: Interesting. It immediately coincides in my mind with difficult questions about the "free world" in the so-called "free market" economy: questions about enclosures, utopian collectives, and their relationship with the infinite collective.

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Lasophielle: We've hit upon the doubleness in-built into the notions 'public' and 'private', I think, of which the British tradition of the "public school" (the most elite form of private institution) is a great emblem.

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Lasophielle: What you said about the servers and software proves to what extent we operate on *private* property on the Internet. But those fora are conceived of as "private" in the other - intimate, personal - sense whilst simultaneously serving as public social zones.

Nor: Yes, and this is why I think the interface between feminism - which has long mapped the links and divides between 'public' and 'private' - and free culture, which is concerned with both preservation of privacy and at the same time 'openness' - is such an interesting one.

Donna Haraway wrote in the 80s about the 'fabrication of our imaginations', and the importance of getting in on this social 'coding' as activists. Copyright prevents this, in quite concrete ways. The things which fabricate our fantasies and notions about the world - e.g. Mills & Boon stories for women - are considered to be private property, despite their power to dictate social ideas, mores, narratives. They are 'viral', culturally, and yet mutation is forbidden.

And so these powerful discourses become, in some senses, off-limits except to powerful publishers. There is no ability to 'talk back'. This is obviously a feminist issue - and yet every free culture event I go to is dominated by men. It is still associated mainly with new technology and legal scholarship. Where is the fleshly, sexual application of free culture?

Lasophielle: When I gave a presentation on Haraway's most famous text, The Cyborg Manifesto, recently, I wanted to start it off with a less academic perspective. I said that some of the things I think make me a feminist cyborg are simply these: I have an Implanon under my skin, I eat a lot of cooked food, and I like to write creatively, seeing writing as "pre-eminently the technology of cyborgs".

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Lasophielle: ...That last bit about writing is a quote from the 'Manifesto', which I saw as a very radical concept for "thinking together". Haraway says "cyborg politics is the struggle for language and the struggle against perfect communication, against the one code that translates all meaning perfectly, the central dogma of phallogocentrism."

So if writing is a free technology in Haraway's formulation, a "cyborg" one for not-necessarily-men, then there are serious, non-trivial ways in which things like the No Rights Reserved principle, and the hybrid forum of a wiki, and the monstrous, sometimes unattributable growth of a text like Open Sauce, are "feminist".

I think the "imperfect communication" we've seen in the embedded, hybrid dialogues taking place between Open Sauce wiki editors has been quite cyborgian.

Nor: Yes. There is a certain utopian discourse (which, as I said, seems increasingly dated) which predicts, or predicted, that the internet will blend and fuse subjects seamlessly. Yet what I've seen with Open Sauce is more like bad sex, where people try to interface and it's a bit clunky, no one's quite sure where to put what. And, as one blogger who commented on the project at the start predicted, there are 'fantasy wars' where people battle to get their fantasy accepted by others. When it's deleted, they work it back in again.

I'm interested in this tension, which you have in all collaboration, which to me is inherently erotic. The tension between seamless union and messy individuation. We always seem to want it both ways - or at least, we hover over the border. That is a tension inherent in open source working methods and, like I said, I wanted to make explicit the erotic dimension of that creative struggle between subjects.

Lasophielle: How fascinating. And y/our website said of itself, upon its birth into the world, that it "celebrates the way that sexuality blurs the boundaries between one person's inner life and another. It playfully questions the notion of 'plagiarism' and embraces the erotics of cross-fertilisation, blending and borrowing."

So the sense we have in all interactive things, of a push and pull, a collaborative yet individually combative/assertive war, is inherently erotic to you. I'm just thinking about whether that sounds almost primitivist to me, whether it reminds me of views I don't like about human nature being dog-eat-dog, red in tooth and claw, unable to consense, and largely given to mutual domination...