Arse Elektronika 2008: Talk Abstracts

This year's conference will be structured around three day-long talks and discussion panels, each devoted to a specific theme.

Day 1: Narration

(Keynote address: Constance Penley)

Avoiding the Emily Gould Effect
Susan Mernit & Viviane

"Oversharing", sex blogging & erotica. How to successfully manage your online identity, whether you're pseudonymous or right out there. As the legions of bloggers sharing personal stories of sexuality, erotica and adventure grow and as sex & relationship blogs become big business we hear both stories of bloggers who regret what they've shared (Emily Gould - and survived a tawdry outing (Zoe Margolis -, and those who've parlayed sex & erotica blogging into far more mainstream careers (Rachel Kramer Bussel (, Melissa Gira Grant ( Violet Blue ( How do you manage your online persona so you're in control of your story? What to do if you get outed?  Join Viviane, leader of The Sex Carnival, and Susan Mernit, sex and relationships contributing editor at Blogher, in a discussion of sharing, oversharing, and the best ways to put it out there. A hand out of tips for beginners and getting started will also be provided.

Datamining Slash Fiction: Automated text analysis of patterns in homoerotic amateur science fiction stories
Jens Ohlig

Slash fiction is a phenomenon in sci-fi fandom that deals with stories about romantic and sexual relationships between characters of the same sex, originally in the "Star Trek" series. In our presentation, we explore topical patterns in the stories and present our findings on prevalent actions, plot elements, and story arcs. Using established software tools for social network and semantic analysis on fan-written stories, we deconstruct the text and the underlying story grammar of the genre.
The topic of homoerotic amateur science fiction narratives, or slash fiction, has been the subject of several academic studies. Originally a part of the fan culture around the "Star Trek" TV series, the name comes from the slash symbol (/) in the description of the primary pairing involved in the story, such as "Kirk/Spock". While most works in academia look at the phenomenon from a cultural studies approach and discuss questions of gender trouble in pop culture before the appearance of openly gay or bi-sexual characters (such as Willow and Tara in the television series "Buffy the Vampire Slayer"), we feel that automated and computerized analysis of the works as text may bring in a new perspective.
For our analysis we were able to benefit from the fact that due to copyright restrictions very little fan fiction is available in print form and thus newer works of the genre are published almost exclusively on the Internet. This means that a digital text corpus for computer analysis is readily available.
We look at the texts not as a collection of words or literary works, but rather as a network, a weakly connected simple digraph in which every arc has been assigned a non-negative integer, the capacity of the arc. For our research, the arcs of our slash fiction network are the textual elements (lexemes, phrases), while the capacity represents the value of the textual or topical relationship of these elements. Using network analysis and topic maps, we dig into what constitutes slash fiction statistically and semantically and visualize the data found on some of the more interesting structural elements in the text corpus. Most of the software used for the automated analysis and data visualization will be written in the Java programming language or a variant called Processing specifically for this research project.

Fuck Space: Slashing the Ocean
Constance Penley

The 2004 "Vision for Space Exploration: Back to the Moon, to Mars, and Beyond" failed to capture both the popular imagination and the interest of most scientists. With few exceptions NASA has failed to communicate its vision for human space exploration or involve those who might be interested in its voyages. The dire state of the world's ocean has the potential to attract a large scientific and public engagement. What can ocean scientists learn from female media fans and pornographers about making ocean conservation popular?

Princess Peach the Porn Star: Power in Erotic Video Game Fan Fiction
Bonnie Ruberg

Writing erotic fan fiction is a popular and often under-appreciated---way for video game enthusiasts to take an active role the medium they love. What we want to know is why so much video game fan fiction is erotic in nature.  With the help of erotica close readings, this presentation posits that the sexual nature of video game fan fiction is actually a question of power closely linked to the idea of interactivity.

Science Fucktion
Johannes Grenzfurthner and Richard Kadrey

Johannes Grenzfurthner and Richard Kadrey will talk about meta-level nightmares, pornographic storylines and androgynoids.

What is the 21st-Century Novel?
Reesa Brown & Kit O'Connell

The novel of the 21st-century will be multimedia, multidisciplinary and multigenre. As throughout the history of literature, sexuality will be a driving force in its development.

Day 2: Technology

(Keynote address: Rudy Rucker)

Performance, Identity, and Subversion: Sex and Gender in the Age of Social Networking
Mae Saslaw

Feminist and queer scholarship of the past couple decades has exposed the patriarchal influence inherent in the way we determine sex and gender based on biological cues. This talk will examine the internet--specifically social networking--as a space where biology vanishes, leaving behind only conscious performance. The fluidity of online identity carries several implications for gender politics, and many of these have already been considered by the population at large: If we can claim any identity online, how are we to know who we are really talking to? The immediate reaction is to fear identities that are not predicated on biology, to ascribe a greater importance to outside interactions. Those who present themselves as anything but what is inscribed on their bodies are thought to be deceptive, luring us in with false promises. But is it possible that our anxiety is a symptom of the existing power structure, and not a necessary fear that comes with technology? Are we merely hesitant to abandon the body as the primary index of gender identity? There remains the pressure to transfer online interactions to our outside lives, and it is for this reason, perhaps, that the discrepancy between the online performance and the outside one is cause for anxiety. But which performance, which interface provides us with the greater understanding of another person's identity? If we agree that biology is not necessarily a determinant of identity, we should accept the more calculated online performance as closer to an individual's self-perception. This talk will explore how and why these discrepancies arise, what they mean for online and outside interaction, and how online performance is able to subvert hegemonic practices.

Prosthetics and Future Fetishism
Karin Harrasser

It has been argued recently that fetishims is not only an important concept in western societies’ strategies to mark differences (primitiv vs. zivilized, female/fashion vs. male/functional goods, mythological vs. „wild“ thinking etc.) but lies at the very – ambivalent – heart of modern selfdescriptions. The concept was developed in the 19th century at the intersection of ethnographic and anthroplogical research (de Brosse, Preuss), economic theory (Marx) and theories of sexuality (Krafft-Ebing, Freud). What connects all these theories is their approach to the fetish as an „artificial“ entity, which inadequately replaces something „real“, „original“, „natural“; be it, that fetishisation is considered as an pre-version and/or  surrogate for rational thinking; be it the marxist theory of the fetish-character of commodity that camouflages the reality of production; or that sexual fetishes (shoes, leather, feathers) are considered to „stand in“ for real, genital, reproductive sex. From this starting point I want to ask, what role wartime-prothetics – as technological concretisations of this very trope (they are an artificial substitute of an organic limb) – plays in the shift to technofetishism and the fetishisation of the future in film and literature. I want to argue that prosthetics bring to the front all kinds of ambivalences of western selfdescriptions: euphoria for and discomfort with a scientifically and technologically saturated cultural situation, desire for und fear of political ideas of unity (consider the strange role of maimed and repaired bodies of soldiers in imagepolitics in wartimes), fascination for and anxiousness towards „irrational“ cultural practices (such as relic or cargo-cults), current conflicts on possibilities and risks of selfenhancement, conflicts on the naturality or artificiality of human sexuality (which touches on issues of gender and queer politics). I will illustrate my considerations with examples from archive material of WWI prosthetics and some more recent film-sequences (Crash, Cremaster, X-Men).

Sex0rz: Future Gadgets
Aaron Muszalski

Sexy: Sex-related interfaces in mainstream science fiction
Chris Noessel and Nathan Shedroff

Sex is an essential part of the human experience and, consequently, part of the human narrative. But when creating representations of sex in science fiction movies and television, Hollywood has to balance manifold issues of believability, likelihood, mediagenics, audience prudishness, budget, rating, and, yes, even good narrative. What has actually made it onto screen is both telling and entertaining.
As part of their ongoing analysis of interfaces in science fiction movies and television, Chris Noessel and Nathan Shedroff will share and discuss a collection of video clips depicting visions of sex-related technologies in mainstream science fiction. What will be shown illustrates three common categories of sex interface: partner selection, partner replacement, and direct stimulation. Discussion will address the questions these scenesand what their presence in the larger film or television showraise.

The (Infinite) Library of Porn: Storage and Access
Rose White

>>Decades ago, Jorges Luis Borges wrote about infinite libraries and perfect memory with the slightly sad air of someone who'd seen those things and knew their faults. Today we work toward infinite libraries and perfect memory with little heed for the possible consequences. How could it be bad to have everything possible stored? To remember everything?
I don't know that it will be bad, but I do know that it will be different from our current lives of loss and forgetting. Right now, storing pornography causes problems even for people who have nothing especially perverted to hide: a collection of pornography gets to the heart of what it means to be a private individual. As we move from mass media to individually produced media, from edited collections of porn (magazines, commercially produced films) to individual snapshots and youtube clips and stored bittorrents, the particularity of a collection of porn will be testimony to its owner's private set of tastes.
Of course, it has always been a pain to store pornography -- and so we have the cultural trope of a stash of magazines "under the mattress" or in a box hidden in the closet. But as the sex industry shifts toward digital publication at every level, we might imagine that mere storage will become a problem of the past, or, at least, a problem related to legacy materials (books, magazines, videos, comic books, photographs, etc.). Cheap, massive storage media means no more problem, right?
Well, reviewers of porn find that they quickly amass more material than they will ever have time to peruse; librarians who need to
provide access to controversial and poorly cataloged material end up overwhelmed; even casual collectors of pornography still need some way to keep track of what they have.
Toward that end, I am doing research on how people store their digital pornography collections. Using both surveys and in-depth interviews, I will look at current best practices. In my preliminary interviews, I have already encountered a fascinating mix of responses; one person has said they store their porn "in the cloud", while another explained his detailed system for hiding digital porn files from his partner.
As I close, I will spend some time considering how we will store the pornography that isn't even being created yet. If science-fiction
author Charlie Stross is right, before long we will all be"life-logging" -- recording everything that happens to us, which of course would include all our sexual experiences. If I'm right, we might also be able to indulge in fully immersive AI-driven pornographic experiences (such as texting back-and-forth with artificially intelligent SMS-bots, sending texts and photos and audio to a perfectly responding far-away "partner"), and we'll also want some way to keep those experiences.
We'll have it all stored -- but what will the social consequences be? I'll extrapolate from current social science research and the results
of my interviews, and share the results with our attendees.<<

What is Sex?
Rudy Rucker

Each of us is here as a link in a chain of a zillion reproductive sex acts. The pleasures of partnership and the orgasm help make us obsessed with having sex, even if we don’t know or care about reproduction. We might think of sex as any path that leads to orgasm. Note here the difference between sex with a person and, say, sex via pornography. In sex with a person, you’re talking about emotion, the positions of your limbs, touch across large skin areas, tastes, scents and pheromones. In the “artificial sex” of pornography, you’re talking about visual images, perhaps enhanced by recorded sounds. Amazing how little we’re willing to settle for! How might artificial sex improve? I’ll sketch some science-fictional scenarios.

Day 3: Politics

From Computer-Mediated Sex to Computer-Generated Sexuality: An Outlook on the Posthuman Sexual Trope
Bonni Rambatan

The Internet is full of weird people – and I mean, really weird people. Especially in porn. Tentacle hentai is OK, and maybe even clown porn is understandable... But, seriously, multiple leg worship and macrophilial snuff? How did we get these stuff in first place? Researchers generally take them as a proof of how vast and unexplored the human sexual universe is, while politically-correct liberals thank the Internet (and Photoshop) for letting minority sexual groups have their say. But what if the Internet is what created those minority sexual groups in first place, and thus not a proof but a cause of the vastness of human sexuality? With my psychoanalytic informatics take, I offer an alternative perspective that it's actually not a matter of a couple of weirdos using the Internet to do weird stuff they've always been inclined to – it's how the Internet inspires people to do weird stuff and make weirdos out of themselves. As Slavoj Žižek noted about pedophilial priests, it's not the unconscious of the individual that is at play – the perversion is already inscribed in the unconsciousness of the system.
If sexuality evolves with technology, then, how are we to predict the future of sexual cultural politics? Teledildonic sex and orgasm pills will suddenly look very mediocre as politically-correct movements demand biotechnological generation of easy-to-chop lifeless bodies for snuff fans, artificially-intelligent mollusks for tentacle masochists, and excrement-sterilizing pills for scat parties that can be geotagged to encourage outsiders to join. If many of us now feel guilty and incomplete if we do not engage in anal sex, what will the majority of us feel guilty about in a future in which technology has eliminated all possible malignant properties of sex? What kind of sex life will our grandchildren enjoy – or, rather, feel morally obliged to enjoy – then?

Mechanical morality, Robotic love: the Cultural Representation of Sex Machines in the Modern West
Isaac Leung

Since the "Sexual Revolution" of the 1960s sexuality has become an accepted and popular topic in science fiction films. The core questions of many of these science fiction films concerns what kinds of sexual technology will arise in the future and where our society is leading us with its constantly changing sexual morality. In contemporary society where the discourse of sex and technology is prevalent, the idea of sex with automated partners or mechanical electronic devices has been widely represented in popular culture.  Sex machines that are depicted in science fiction films from the 60s to thepresent have become artifacts of sexual culture.
In the talk, Leung will divide the representation of sex machines into two parts: technological dystopia and AIDS dystopia.  I will discuss in what ways sex machines have been portrayed in science fiction films and how they articulate humanity's evolving cultural attitudes about sexuality in the modern West. He will also demonstrate his new art project "Interactive sex machine".

The Mind Diddlers: An investigation of sex as a symbolic system for non-human communication among UFO contactees, magick subcultures, and alternative religions
Jason Brown

In 1957, Brazilian farmer Antonio Villas Boas claimed had sex with an alien. The attractive blonde humanoid indicated with hand gestures that she had been impregnated, thus laying the groundwork for a alien hybrid mythology that persists in popular culture today, from the anal probing described by Whitley Strieber to the human-alien hybrids in the X-Files and Battlestar Galactica.
This mythology describes a very literal, physical transfer of code -- the co-mingling of human and alien genetic material. But sex and sexuality have also been used as an abstracted communication medium, a means of intimate symbolic contact with alterity.  One thread of this mythology begins in 1904 when Aleister Crowley was famously contacted an otherworldly being named Aiwass who dictated the Book of the Law to him (including passages narrated by  the Egyptian goddess, sometimes called the Queen of Space.) The Book of the Lawbecame the central text of Crowley's church of Thelema, which ritualized the manipulation of symbols -- especially sexual symbolism -- in an effort to contact non-human intelligences.
Jack Parsons, founder of the Jet Propulsion Lab, was a Thelemic magician, and after being contacted by an otherworldly being in the Mojave desert, he tried to usher in the new Aeon using a series of sex magick rituals in his Pasadena mansion.  Parsons was assisted by Lafayette Hubbard (known as L. Ron to his friends and followers), who was at the time one of the most famous science fiction authors in America. Hubbard ended up stealing Parsons' money and wife, and stealing Crowley's symbol system and initiatory grades for his own new religion. (Scientology itself is based around the idea of engrams, the ghost-parasites of dead beings which encode their suffering into our minds and bodies...)
These strange entanglements seem extraordinary and bizarre, but I suggest that they're actually the epistemological foundation of information technologies such as computers, sex, and mythopoetic systems.  And they're also central to the study of hypothetical alien communication. The "extraterrestrial theory" of alien contact suggests that such beings would cross unimaginable interstellar distances in order to prod and probe humans and cattle. But physically rather than scooting around the cosmos in tiny metallic spacecraft, a far more efficient means of communication across relativistic distances would be consciousness itself. Some UFO researchers such as Jacques Valleé have suggested that the reason accounts of alien contact are laced with strange symbolism and seem to make so little rational sense is because they are in fact using mythopoetics as a medium to transfer encoded information.  Aliens could actually be "fucking" humans, but skipping the messy biological transfer of encoded information and using the more efficient and powerful technique of fucking directly with human minds, using sex and death as symbols.
Of course if this were the case, then alien contact it would be impossible to objectively prove because it would literally be a figment of the imagination...

Radical Porn - Intercourse between fantasy and reality
Sharing is

Many attempts to craft radical porn have been structured around a narrative of authenticity and realness. Main stream porn has been analyzed as destructive because it creates 'unreal' expectations of 'real' sex. But what are the implications of this hierarchy of the 'real'? How does the moral association of 'real' with just affect our perceptions of bodies, sex, and desire?
The concept of the real is at the core of what defines pornography, as when one asks, "are there real sex acts depicted", "do we see real body parts", and also the definition of radical porn, "are there real female orgasms depicted?" Still, one could also argue that the moment a camera is picked up or a word is written, any aspect of the real is gone.
What are the implications of using real as a gauge of the value of radical porn? Are transsexual bodies less real? Are hairy bodies more real? If unaltered bodies are seen as more real, then why are some kinds of alteration okay, like tatoos and piercings, but not silicone?
Is this an argument for seeing playboy bunnies as radical porn? No, it means we have to think of a productive way of being radical, or a way that doesn't create a hierarchy of bodies. How can we acknowledge the history of oppression that these ideas of unmodified bodies as more sexy have come out of, but reconfigure or deepen our notion of what is radical so as to not exclude people and deny their agency? What might be better ways of thinking about what makes porn liberatory, by thinking about production and distribution methods, the agency of those involved, the complicity with global capital.
We plan to discuss the usage of the real in narratives of porn projects which call themselves radical, feminist or anticapitalist, including Sharing is Sexy, No Fauxxx, Lickety Split, Annie Sprinkle, the East Vancouver Porn Collective, Suicide Girls, Pink and White Productions and Mandy Morbid.

What is Sex?
Rudy Rucker

Each of us is here as a link in a chain of a zillion reproductive sex acts. The pleasures of partnership and the orgasm help make us obsessed with having sex, even if we don't know or care about reproduction.  We might think of sex as any path that leads to orgasm. Note here the difference between sex with a person and, say, sex via pornography.  In sex with a person, you're talking about emotion, the positions of your limbs, touch across large skin areas, tastes, scents and pheromones.  In the "artificial sex" of pornography, you're talking about visual images, perhaps enhanced by recorded sounds. Amazing how little we're willing to settle for! How might artificial sex improve? I'll sketch some science-fictional scenarios.

What's love got to do with it? Or how there is no escape from metaphysics in the future
Mela Mikes

Throughout the past decade 'love' has become a term that is more and more connected to political agency and utopian theories. Especially philosophers like Alain Badiou and Slavoj Zizek have used and developed political theories the term 'unconditional love' to describe their ideas. In 2003 Badiou tried to claim that it needs a new 'universality' to develop the ability to step out of the boundaries of historical memories. Zizek was following Badiou in a zigzag alike way up to 'The Parallax View' (2006) where he started to define 'the Real of Christianity'.
Both being followers of Lacan'ian psychoanalysis the Real means something different to what we commonly would call reality.
My main focus would be on the question why would they define  'love' as  the potential to overcome existing political orders, and what kind of love it needs to do so. From this focus a set of questions is rising, like why is it that love and utopia work hand in hand and why is paradise waiting at the end of times? Some rhetoric tricks by Zizek enable him to argue towards an agency of singularities that really matter and are bare any need of cultural translation and interpretation. What kind of paradise is it Zizek wants us to break into, and why does it have to be a Christian paradise?
Since Donna Haraway articulated in her 'Cyborg Manifesto', that there is neither a paradise lost, nor one to gain a back clash in political theory is in progress. This insight is pointing to the question who is loved if love is so called unconditional and what would unconditional in this context mean? And that is where the title of my talk sets in 'What's love got to do with it? What is love but a second hand emotion?'