I have a new book in the works:

The Human in Bits

The Human in Bits tells the story of a mode of technologized personhood that is simultaneously a newer history of the personal computer and its graphical screen and an older history of aesthetic experiments with a non-representational politics of blackness. I call this mode “graphical personhood,” after the graphic user interface (GUI) of the personal computer. But while the history of the GUI plays an instigating role, the book ranges across a number of cases where that mode of personhood was encoded, elaborated, and insistently racialized under the yoke of post-racialism. These include: early computer research labs working out the terms of computer graphics; Apple’s later mass marketing of the GUI; Leo Steinberg’s thinking about “operational processes” in relation to mid-century painting, post-industrial labor, and cybernetics; the emergence of post-racial discourses, both in Silicon Valley and the art world; and black artists working in the wake of the Black Arts Movement, all of whom were trying to work out the forms and possibilities for non-representational modes of blackness.

All of these cases ask, in their own ways: how could information space be realized? What kinds of work could be made to happen there? And what were the implications for the human who would have to be adapted to work in that space? Ultimately, all participate in a longer history of non-representational politics, one that has had a long life in the black radical tradition, and a shorter life in the context of computation and computational personhood—a context that has acquired so many resources, in part because of its technocratic bent, for thinking itself to be beyond race.

Looking to Alma Thomas, Jack Whitten, Charles Gaines, and Julie Mehretu, all artists whose work has been understood as having a relationship to technology (usually unspecified), the project tracks the racial and labor politics of graphical personhood, from its encoding in early computer screens in the early sixties, back through the history of the black radical tradition and its commitment to non-representational politics, through to the dominance of the graphical computer screen today. It argues, first, that the graphical field, whether realized on canvas or as pixels in a raster, is fundamentally nonrepresentational. As such, it demands that aesthetic critique, especially in its engagements with technology broadly and computation specifically, end its commitment to the Liberal drama of alienation and inclusion. The book argues, second, that the development of graphical personhood in the history of computing was part of a larger effort in the U.S. to recuperate white personhood as post-racial. The Human in Bits is thus a racial history of the graphical field, arguably the dominant visual technology of the present, and a computer history of black abstraction.