Gunkel, David J.  “Hacking Cyberspace.”  JAC 20 4 (2000):  797-823.  Print.

  • The first paragraph of this article makes a lot of cogent points about the problem of problem/question posing: every question is loaded with the terms and conditions, essences, functions, significances of a particular debate.  While we may not know the answer to the question, our question marshals particular epistemological assumptions toward a limited set of possible answers.  This article looks to identify those preconditions and assumptions with respect to cyberspace.
  • Why is “hacking” valuable in considering question of cyberspace?  “Hacking suggests an alternative mode of examination that learns, so to speak, how to enter, explore, and rework the basic systems and programs that have informed and regulated investigations of cyberspace.  It institutes, echoing Nietzsche’s characterization of value in Beyond Good and Evil, a fundamental revaluation of the values that have so far directed and regulated any and all evaluations of this subject matter” (798).  As a method, hacking proposes a way of analysis that “infiltrates, reevaluates, and reprograms the systems that have shaped and delimited cyberspace” (798).
  • G. notes that hacker is a positive term for computer enthusiasts (a creative programmer with skillz) and a negative signifier for authorities/the public (a thief or ne’er do well).  According to G., hacking is a deeply contextual, highly situated and radically empirical participatory act.  These situational specifics lead to its unfortunate and nebulous (lexically adrift) connotation.
  • Hacking is a parasitic activity and parasites trouble our conventional dichotomies between either/or, inside/outside, legal/illegal, and cause/effect.  How is hacking parasitic?  1) It draws all its strength, strategies, and tools from the system on which it operates; 2) the parasitic activity is neither necessarily destructive or corrective – it is an act of outsmarting which cannot be forgiven and, as such, exceeds the possibilities of “wrong/right” (802-3); and 3) hacking exceeds the traditional understanding of agency – hacking doesn’t cause the disruption in a system. . . hacking merely manipulates an aporia, bug or gap that was already always present (803).[1. The takeaway of this is that hacking cannot ever be an external catastrophe “that befalls an innocent and pure system.  This is precisely why hacking cannot be criminalized into non-existence – its existence is present in the design of the system itself.]
  • Cyberspace isn’t some technoscientific development but a “constellation of ideas about technology and technoculture that was created and deployed in the low-tech, print and paper realm of Neuromancer” (804).  As G. notes, cyberspace is a “consensual hallucination.”  It is also “not limited to extant, recently developed, or even fictitious technologies but comprises an entire system of ideas, practices, operations, and expectations that are not only derived from but circulate within a number of different sources, not all of which are, technically speaking, a matter of technology” (805).
  • On hacking as method:  “Hacking proposes a mode of investigation that both learns how to infiltrate systems that have usually gone unexamined and develops strategies for exploring their functions and reprogramming their operations.  This undertaking. . . does not aim at either confirming or refuting the systems in question; it works on and in them in order to learn how and why they function in the way that they do and to experiment with alternative deployments of their own programming” (807).  Hacking cyberspace concerns an analysis that does not target technical equipment per se but works on and in the general infrastructure through which this technical equipment and the cultural context in which such equipment appears to have come to be determined, delimited, and debated.  What is hacked are the systems that connect and (inter)network the various technologies, epistemologies, narrative techniques, research practices, texts, application, and images that comprise what is called cyberspace” (807).  As such, hacking is a systemic analysis – a deconstruction of the system in place.
  • G. describes his view of deconstruction:  a kind of general strategy by which to intervene in this and all other conceptual oppositions that have organized and continue to organize Western systems of knowing (808).  Like hacking, deconstruction is contextual, situated, and an empirical intervention into metaphysics. . . deconstruction operates inside the system of Western epistemology much like hacking works inside the system of code it inhabits – both are parasitic (810).
  • What’s the “two-step” (Biesecker) of deconstruction: first inversion of the binary hierarchy, second the “irruptive emergence of a new concept”  – a concept that lives in excess and is “undecidable” and non-dialectical (no Hegel here folks!).  It is indescribable and can only be referred to by participating in “bifurcated writing” (Derrida) or writing that is always already incomplete and insufficient in describing the excessive third term (811).

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