Mstation Book Reviews
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Fri, 01 Apr 2005

Hacker Manifesto

McKenzie Wark, A Hacker Manifesto, Harvard University Press

This book was initially greeted with some excitement which turned to dismay when it was found that the prose was a little on the obfuscated side for most people. It is not a particularly easy read but then who said it had to be?

People who are resolutely against dumbing down will find themselves automatically defending the book but when you've used up all your initial energy on that front, you might still find it a little annoying.

Part of the problem seems to be a child of an urge to be a little bit timeless and not be boxed between say Xbox2 and 3, for example. Another is given by the first clue in the book -- a dedication to the author Kathy Acker (Blood and Guts in High School amongst others). She wote dystopic, disconnected stories in what some people have called unreadable prose. Oh well.

Not that this is disconnected. It has a completely logical flow through the arguments it professes. Ok here's a completely random quote, from paragragh 153 as it happens ..."In the overdeveloped world, the total transformation of nature does more than complete the disappearance of nature as nature and lead to its return as the representation of what desire lacks."

So the people expecting to be told to hack their iPods and games consoles to make a better world, and the reasons for why, find themselves in an unaccustomed place, floating above what they want to see, which has become a blurry thing.

What it's really about is to be found in the large and useful "writings" section at the back of the book (paragragh 072 as it ...) in which he says "If A Hacker Ethic (referring to the book The Hacker Ethic by Pekka Himanen) seeks to resurrect the spirit of Max Weber, then A Hacker Manifesto offers a crypto-Marxist response."

Aha! Crypto-fascists will turn red (the color of the book) but most others, disatisfied with feral capitalism, laws for the rich, and the mindless the-market-will-sort-it-out mob, will find the ideas at least worth a look but they will have to work hard to fully appreciate what's on offer.

It's a nice little production done in red cloth hardback with black plates and white lettering. The paper and print is also nice and it has handy (or presumptious, according to your feeling) numbering of the paragraghs. It'll look just great alongside your hardback set of Donald Knuth's The Art of Computer Programming.

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