A specter is haunting the world—the specter of illegal downloading.
Type hello to the nascent “hacker class,” McKenzie Wark’s loose confederation of fixers, file sharers, inventors, shut-ins, philosophers, programmers, and pirates—”Geeks and freaks,” he cracks in a rare show of levity. The Lang College professor’s ambitious A Hacker Manifesto Googles for signs of hope in this cyber-global-corporate-brute world of ours, and he fixes on the hackers, macro-savvy visionaries from all fields who “hack” the relationships and meanings the rest of us take for granted. If we hackers—of words, computers, sound, science, etc.—organize into a working, sociopolitical class, Wark argues, then the world can be ours.
The manifesto is a fascinating genre that usually mainlines passion at the cost of clarity, but Wark suffers the opposite problem. Though he clearly means what he says, occasionally offering a rousing “we” to punctuate his call to arms, his prose is a tad dry. Given the enormity of his concepts—chapters are dedicated to “History,” “Nature,” and “State”—perhaps his paragraphs-as-equations style and obsession with punchlines are excusable.
Though Wark’s musings generally occur in the netherworldly vacuum of academic theory—he sprinkles in references to Bataille and Deleuze with a Cheers-like casualness—they suggest very practical applications. His hackers care less about the means of production than the ideas spurring that production, so he assigns ultimate blame to the “vectoralist class” intent on controlling, then commodifying, hacked information.
It’s the same dynamic of class warfare we know and despise, but here the contested resources are abstractions and new ideas, not products or production. For example, present-day conflicts over drug patents and file sharing have little to do with physical commodities; rather, they are proxy class wars between the moneyed powers that be and the less-moneyed traffickers of a free, raw, and occasionally threatening would-be commodity: information.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 7, 2004