Exe0.1 Marie Louise Søndergaard

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Executing Pain as Sadistic Computing

I execute the order, and directly he sees me in the state desired (de Sade, 2002, p. 273)

Go with the code

Arm yourself with drugs, magic and computing

Fuck with fucking and drift into abstraction

Zeros and ones turn me on

(Cramer & Home, 2007, p. 162)

Algorithms, networks and code are ubiquitous elements of everyday life. Software pervades society, and consequently computers increasingly execute every aspect of human and nonhuman life. As information invades intimate spheres of human life — tracking actions and generating intimate data — our bodies become connected not only with our smartwatch and fridge, but also in larger political infrastructures. Code as language is performative. Hence, code executes power (Cox, 2015). The inherently violent relation of code and human being is executed in a state of permanent repetition. This exhaustive and programmed character of algorithms is analogue to the repetitive execution of sex and pain. As Bifo (2007) argues, “connected bodies are subjected to a kind of progressive inability to feel pleasure”, and in our ever-striving effort for feeling pleasure or desire, algorithmic living has become subject to compulsive repetition without realisation.

In this text I aim to investigate what this repetitious execution of connected bodies has in common with sadistic behaviour. Sadistic computing is already executed in extreme coding practices, where the execution of pain on human skin forms the basis of a sadomasochistic symbiosis between hardware, skin and code. Such examples include the works of Gordan Savičić [1] (Constraint City, 2007-) and Martin Howse [2] (Pain Registers, 2012). This relation between hardware, skin and code appears to be a cruel, yet intimate and vulnerable one, suggesting that execution exists somewhere in between software, death and sex. In other words, execution of pain points to a sensible and erotic perspective on computing.

Physical execution of pain is a practice of power as seen in torture and death penalty. But this practice of power might also be an act of pleasure both to the executer and the executed. Rituals of death can be aesthetic, pleasurable acts as romanticised by authors Bataille (1988) and de Sade (2002), but rather than romanticising death I want to look for the pain of everyday life, how pain is executed in ubiquitous interfaces of intimate living, and how execution as repeatable changes of state might be seen as a blurred line transgressing pleasure and pain.

Violence, Crisis, and Sadism

Without a sadistic understanding of an incontestably thundering and torrential nature, there could be no revolutionaries, there could only be a revolting utopian sentimentality (Bataille, 1985, p. 91)

Executing pain builds on a transgressive understanding of how society is organized. It's the conception of humans as inherently violent and evil beings, and the idea that society too naively believes in a nature of the good. To de Sade the real, reality, is inherently evil, and the fact that we believe in the good is a survival from religion. We believe that to be means to be good, but according to de Sade this is not true (de Sade). 200 years after de Sade’s death, Castel (2014) argues that the consequences of his thinking can be seen in the way that humans approach catastrophes. These slow, silent catastrophes are a symptom of our own evil. Human being will eventually cause its own destruction (Byrckel, 2015).

The denial of human evilness and the obsession with optimism is something Wendy Chun (2016) touches upon in her thoughts on crisis and technology. According to Chun, we live in a permanent state-of-exception, a ‘crisis ordinary’ where neoliberalism as creating crises dulls the future.

We live in a moment of cruel optimism, in which our attachment to the promises of the good life are precisely that which allow us to tread water, but not to swim (Chun, 2016)

Chun’s expansion of “Marxist notions of capitalism as creating crises […] from which we want to be saved via corporate, governmental, or technological intermediaries” lingers on a sadistic notion of the real. To wake up, swim, or revolutionize, Chun argues, we need to exhaust exhaustion and instead of desiring an end strive for repetition (ibid.). But this repetition might be of another character than the repetitious nature of algorithmic living. Just as de Sade’s erotic activities are not the final end, but rather a repetitious exploration of the real; Chun’s habits are a way to explore the inherently vulnerable (and violent?) nature of networks.

The idea of an inherent violence in society is also explored by Geoff Cox (2015), as he argues that software is inherently violent as “it prescribes and determines certain actions. Like the myth of freedom of choice, violence is demonstrated at multiple levels of execution” (Cox, 2015). This form of “pure violence” that appears to come from nowhere is embedded in culture. It comes from beyond the law and is an expression of the undeadness and therefore sacred life. The pure violence is exactly the form of violence, which exists in the belief of the good life, and therefore a totally different form of violence than the one de Sade is advocating for. For de Sade, and Bataille, violence is necessary to exploit the inherent violence and domestication of evil in human being.

The Pain of Everyday Life

“Constraint City” (2007-) is an artwork made by the critical engineer Gordan Savičić. With the subtitle “The Pain of Everyday Life”, Savičić (2007) investigates the ubiquitous execution of violence in urban space. By searching for encrypted networks in an urban setting, he explores the pain of not being connected, and translates this into physical pain on his upper body. Wearing a corset-inspired wearable device with motors, which tighten when you are near encrypted networks, you suddenly feel pleasure of “reading” immaterial infrastructures. Something you normally cannot feel since the network layers of the city are invisible. An encrypted network is something very private in comparison to open networks, and the fact that they still take of space and invade that which we would consider public space, becomes very apparent when translated into pain on the skin. The painful route around the city is finally translated into a pain map with, as Savičić coins them, “playsure pain zones”: the zones with the most powerful encrypted networks. This critical performance shows the perverse, technological pleasure in constraints, and how the site of repetitious execution enables pleasurable pains. As Florian Cramer argues, “Constraint City” combines the straight jacket with the vibrator, resulting in a “hysterical psychogeography […] turning the performer into a walking phallus, and jerking him off ” (Cramer, 2007, “Hysterical Drift”).

In “Constraint City” execution results in erotic stimulations. The endless repetitious execution of encrypted networks on the performer’s body enacts the violating treadmill of everyday life. Savičić himself explains how it can be a pain to not be connected, but connection itself can be as much a pain. The pain of being connected constitutes the treadmill of everyday life. Connection is a repetitious loop, where every single aspect is continuously executed, and finding an end, escaping was never an answer. Instead of striving for an end (Chun, 2016), we need to find pleasure in pain.


Picture 1: The performer after wearing the corset-inspired device. Picture 2: The pain-map from Berlin. Images from http://www.yugo.at/equilibre/

Repetitious Execution Replaces Pleasure

The electronic excitation conveyed through the entire mediascape puts the sensitive organism in a state of permanent electrocution […] Too few words, too little time to talk. Too little time to feel […] Don’t miss the implication between permanent electrocution, shortening of linguistic attentive elaboration, atrophy of emotional response. (Berardi, 2007, p. 200)

Berardi argues, that the increase in daily inputs has left us with an inability to feel pleasure and to express emotions: “the obsessive repetition of a gesture that is no more able to fulfil its aim” (ibid.). As an alienation that has arrived in the paradigmatic shift from conjunctive bodies to connective bodies, we are obsessed with reaching the end, and finding authenticity in a simulated world. According to Berardi and Cramer, time and imagination are keywords to deconstruct alienation, and whereas Berardi finds this in the ironic joy and cynicism of indie porn, Cramer & Home finds this in pornographic coding. Pornographic coding is the absolute expansion of erotic imagination as visual imagery is reduced, hereby “teaching us to get off on mere zeros and ones”. Cramer argues, that this pornography will overcome the false dichotomy of the artificial and the authentic, and “reconcile rationality and instinct and overcome alienation because the codes will have to be reconstituted into sexual imaginations by the right side of brain” (ibid.). In this way, pornographic coding seems to overcome the false dichotomy of conjunctive and connective bodies, and teach us how to turn permanent execution into pleasurable imagination.


Picture 3-6: The progression of pornographic perfection. Images from Cramer & Home, 2007.

Sadistic Computing

It is always by way of pain one arrives in pleasure (Marquis de Sade)

But pornographic coding is still excitation without release. It might turn our body into one vast erogenous zone, but it only allows us to tread water, not to swim. Compared to “Constraint City” is misses two “things” which makes me question exactly in which way pornographic coding is different from porn, and how it reconciles rationality and instinct. According to de Sade and Bataille, sexual imaginations are not enough to care for our instinct. Getting off is only a confined escape of rationalized living. Instinct and desire will eventually ask for more, and this will be repeated in infinity. Reconciling rationality and instinct therefore seems far away, something that will only be executed in death or involuntary or forced orgasm. “Constraint City” seems to get closer to this by executing pleasurable pain. The sadomasochistic relation between the performer, as a walking phallus, and the repetitious executable networks, confine the space between pleasure and pain, between rationality and instinct, and between conjunction and connection. It does so by forcing physical pain on the performer’s body; a violent yet stimulating act. This connects the physical body with the mind, and hereby sexual imagination is not just a conscious act, but has visceral and temporal effect on erotic sensibilities. Whereas the divide between rationality and instinct is not overcome, the execution of pain by networked space sets the performer in an involuntary role of a masochist enjoying the “playsure pain zones”. In this sort of sadistic computing, execution both has an undercurrent of erotic sensibility and deathly violent sacrifice, in a way where execution of orders and transgressions of states is a repetitious dialogue between executer and executed.


[1] "Constraint City – The Pain of Everyday Life" is an on-going critical performance by Gordan Savičić (2007-2015). http://www.yugo.at/equilibre/

[2] "Pain Registers: shifting the site of execution" is an artwork by Martin Howse, and was part of his solo exhibition "Execution" (2012) http://www.1010.co.uk/org/pain.html


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