Bernard Dionysius Geoghegan, Code: From Information Theory to French Theory – Duke University Press, January 2023
The Introduction is open access here
[update: there is a review at The Duke Reader; and a discussion on the New Books network]
In Code Bernard Dionysius Geoghegan reconstructs how Progressive Era technocracy as well as crises of industrial democracy and colonialism shaped early accounts of cybernetics and digital media by theorists including Norbert Wiener, Warren Weaver, Margaret Mead, Gregory Bateson, Claude Lévi-Strauss, Roman Jakobson, Jacques Lacan, Roland Barthes, and Luce Irigaray. His analysis casts light on how media-practical research forged common epistemic cause in programs that stretched from 1930s interwar computing at MIT and eugenics to the proliferation of seminars and laboratories in 1960s Paris. This mobilization ushered forth new fields of study such as structural anthropology, family therapy, and literary semiology while forming enduring intellectual affinities between the humanities and informatics. With Code, Geoghegan offers a new history of French theory and the digital humanities as transcontinental and political endeavors linking interwar colonial ethnography in Dutch Bali to French sciences in the throes of Cold War-era decolonization and modernization.
“In a wide-ranging recontextualization of cybernetics and related disciplines, Bernard Dionysius Geoghegan’s Code unearths new and compelling connections between the human sciences and regimes of technocratic control in the United States from the 1930s through the 1970s. This is the kind of book that upends standard intellectual histories, making it essential reading for everyone from deconstructionists to historians of postwar communication theories. Highly recommended.” — N. Katherine Hayles, author of Postprint: Books and Becoming Computational
“After reading this original and fascinating book, you will never look at key thinkers of the twentieth century in the same way. Bernard Dionysius Geoghegan shows how information theory, game theory, and cybernetics developed in the United States in the 1940s and 1950s played a key role in shaping the ideas of Claude Lévi-Strauss, Roland Barthes, and others who wanted to bring scientific methods to the study of culture. Today, when humanities are again strongly influenced by new techno paradigms (AI, data science), the archeology of ‘techno-humanities’ for the first time revealed in Code is particularly relevant.” — Lev Manovich, author of Cultural Analytics
“Before there was poststructuralism, there was cybernetics. In this comprehensive, highly original history, Bernard Dionysius Geoghegan weaves the two worlds back together and reveals French Theory’s long-forgotten debt to Cold War America. If you thought Foucault freed us from The Man, this book will make you think again, hard.” — Fred Turner, author of The Democratic Surround: Multimedia and American Liberalism from World War II to the Psychedelic Sixties