The Distributed Sovereign: Political Affect and Network Protocols

Presentation by Jen Boyle (Coastal Carolina University).

This presentation excavates a more textured understanding of the concept of “the protocol.” In contemporary networks and network studies, protocols refer to the horizontal and vertical translations that make possible the material enactments of data between hardware and software platforms (TCP/IP).  The historical dimensions of social and political protocol reveal a performance of the power of sovereign control as a threshold of immediacy between the somatic and the social —  not in terms of slowed down forms of representation and communication but as a kind of reproductive, albeit momentary, immanence.  An intersecting swerve between the above historical and contemporary registers of protocol is pursued through the specific framing protocol of “packet-switching”: beginning with the atom as a fleshy, affectively transformative “packet” in 17th-century epicurean poetics, with a brief turn toward Marx’s appropriation of this epicurean data-unit in his dissertation, and ending with some observations on contemporary network packet-switching in terms of political affect.

Jen Boyle is (Ph.D., University of California, Irvine) teaches and writes about Early Modern literature, theory and criticism, and media change. Trained as a scholar of Early Modern literature and science, she became interested in questions of media transformation and theories of mediation. Her courses explore “new” media objects and performance; bodies and technology; and the virtual and material flows of objects and information through networks, from the seventeenth century to the digital age. A recipient of grants and fellowships from Brown University, the Folger Institute, and the Dibner Library for History of Science and Technology, Prof. Boyle is a member of the editorial board of postmedieval: a journal of medieval cultural studies, and Punctum Books. Boyle has written a book, Anamorphosis in Early Modern Literature: Mediation and Affect, that looks at how the technologies of perspective in the Early Modern period offer us a different way of thinking about our own digital technologies, webs, and interfaces. She is also a collaborator-author of new media installations, including “The Hollins Community Project” (in collaboration with Virginia Tech). Currently, she is co-editing a special journal issue of *postmedieval* (“Becoming Media”) that is experimenting with open and crowd-sourced peer review. When she’s not doing the above, you might find Professor Boyle near water, or dirt. She enjoys hiking, running, and traveling with family and friends. She spends her time outdoors with an energetic hound-mix named Chevy. He is quite fond of water as well (and swamp mud).

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