Phantasmagoric Systems: On Konrad Becker’s Strategic Reality Dictionary

by Brian Holmes

“Information is indeed ‘such stuff as dreams are made on.’ Yet it can be transmitted, recorded, analyzed and measured,” remarked Karl Deutsch in 1963, in his book The Nerves of Government. The Czech-American social scientist was the leading Cold War specialist in “models of political communication and control.” The latter half of the twentieth century saw a world-wide implementation of computerized social programming, aimed first at instilling order and paranoid regularity into the chaos that followed WWII, then increasingly, from the 1960s onward, at evoking febrile dreams from populations whose new mandate was not to labor, but to invent; not to produce, but to consume; not to fear, but to desire. By the late 1990s, after the massification of the Internet had begun in the wake of the integrated world spectacle of the First Gulf War, this condition was well known by at least some of those on the receiving end. Tactical reality hackers such as the Critical Art Ensemble, Arthur and Marielouise Kroker, Luther Blissett, the Yes Men, the Association of Autonomous Astronauts, Marko Peljhan and the Institute of Applied Autonomy arose to infiltrate the global information system and expose its (dys)functions with probes, pranks, parodies and satirical jokes. All of these groups and individuals operated in the tactical space of momentary incursion and instant retreat that had been mapped out by Peter Lamborn Wilson aka Hakim Bey, in his poetic anarchist pamphlet on the Temporary Autonomous Zone. The concerns of this slim volume are different. With his seventy-two keys, Konrad Becker aims to unlock the gates of strategic reality: its construction over centuries, its imposition through stealth and force, its dull and laborious maintenance, and its dissolution and destruction by those who can’t take it anymore.