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Daniel Rourke (M, 39)
London, UK
Immortal since Dec 18, 2007
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All things would be visibly connected if one could discover at a single glance and in its totality the tracings of an Ariadne’s thread leading thought into its own labyrinth.
- Georges Bataille
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    From sjef
    A Basic Introduction to...
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    The thing modelled
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    The informational realm -...
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    Temporal hypertext
    Rourke’s projects
    Polytopia
    The human species is rapidly and indisputably moving towards the technological singularity. The cadence of the flow of information and innovation in...

    The Total Library
    Text that redefines...

    Start your own revolution
    Catching up with the future. All major institutions in the world today are grappling to come to terms with the internet. The entertainment...

    What happened to nature?
    How to stay in touch with our biological origins in a world devoid of nature? The majestic nature that once inspired poets, painters and...
    Now playing SpaceCollective
    Where forward thinking terrestrials share ideas and information about the state of the species, their planet and the universe, living the lives of science fiction. Introduction
    Featuring Powers of Ten by Charles and Ray Eames, based on an idea by Kees Boeke.
    This essay was originally published on my site: MachineMachine.net

    In two short essays – written in 1933 – Walter Benjamin argues that primitive language emerged in magical correspondence with the world. The faculty we all exhibit in childhood play, to impersonate and imitate people and things loses its determining power as language gradually takes over from our “non-sensuous” connection with reality. In a break from Saussurian linguistics, Benjamin decries the loss of this “mimetic faculty”, as it becomes further replaced by the “archive of non-sensuous correspondences” we know as writing.

    To put it in simpler terms... Where once we read the world, the stars or the entrails of a sacrificed animal, now we read the signs enabled and captured by written language.

    From Benjamin’s The Doctrine of the Similar:

    “So speed, the swiftness in reading or writing which can scarcely be separated from this process, would then become... the effort or gift of letting the mind participate in that measure of time in which similarities flash up fleetingly out of the stream of things only in order to become immediately engulfed again.”

    The GIF – standing for Graphical Interchange Format – has been around since 1987. Their early popularity was based, in part, on their ability to load in time with a web-page. In the days of poor bandwidth and dial-up connections this meant that at least part of a GIF image would appear before the user’s connection broke, or – more significantly – the user could see enough of the image for it to make sense. In the mid 90s avid web hackers managed to crack the code of GIFs and use this ‘partial loading’ mechanism to encode animations within a single GIF file. Thus the era of personal web pages saturated with looping animations of spinning hamsters was born.

    Brought on – ironically – by their obsolescence the GIF has become the medium of choice for web artists, propagating their particular net-aesthetic through this free, open and kitschy medium. GIFs inhabit the space between convenience and abundance, where an apparent breakdown in communication can stimulate new modes of expressing non-sensuous similarities in the internet world.

    Sites like dump.fm, 4chan and ytmnd revel in the GIF’s ability to quickly correspond to the world. GIFs can be broken into their constituent frames, compressed and corrupted on purpose and made to act as archives for viral events travelling the web. A playground of correspondences that at first reflected language and the wider world, in time has looked increasingly inward. As language and writing find themselves pulled through and energised by the semiotic sludge of the broken, corrupted and iconic animated GIF Benjamin’s sensitivity to similitude continues to echo its magical significance.

    GIFs take a variety of forms, some of which I will try to classify here:

    GIF Type I: Classic


    Small in size and made up of few frames, this is where animated GIFs began. Corresponding to single words or concepts such as ‘smile’, ‘alien’ or ‘flying pink unicorn’.

    GIF Type II: Frame Capture




    Frame grab or video capture GIFs pay homage to well known scenes in pop culture. But as the ‘art’ of animated GIFs grew the frame capture began to stand for something isolated from context. This leap is, for me, the first point at which GIFs begin to co-ordinate their own realm of correspondence. An ocean of viral videos turned into a self-serving visual language, looping back on itself ad infinitum.

    GIF Type III: Art


    Leaking then directly into the third category, we have the Art GIF. Much larger in resolution and aware of their heritage in cinema, these GIFs are acutely refined in their choice of framing.

    GIF Type IV: Glitch


    A badly encoded or compressed GIF can result in odd, strangely beautiful phenomena, and with a little skill and coding ability these glitches can be enhanced to enormous proportions. Glitch GIFs break the boundaries of another non-sensuous realm: that of computer code. A significant magical order Benjamin was little capable of predicting.

    GIF Type V: Mash-Up


    Lastly, and perhaps most prolific, is the mash-up GIF. These GIFs are comprised of a combination of all the previous forms. The mash-up is THE most inner-looking species of GIF. It is possible to track the cultural development of some of these. Often though, the source of any original correspondence becomes completely lost in the play of images.

    other types:

    sci-tech/educational, geometric/texture, 3D renders, 8 bit inspired


    Here again, I think Benjamin’s essay can help us:

    “Language is the highest application of the mimetic faculty: a medium into which the earlier perceptive capabilities for recognising the similar had entered without residue, so that it is now language which represents the medium in which objects meet and enter into relationship with each other...”

    In other words, what these images MEAN I can’t tell you in words. But perhaps by showing you other GIFs I might go some way to helping you understand them.


     
    This paper was originally delivered at Birkbeck's, Flash Symposium, 24th May 2011
    It was also published on my website: MachineMachine.net

    GIFs sourced from...

    dump.fm: ryder, timb, ucnv / tumblr: iwdrm, maxcapacity / web: ryder ripps

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    This article was originally published at 3quarksdaily and io9

    Mid-way through H.G.Wells’ The Time Machine, the protagonist stumbles into a sprawling abandoned museum. Sweeping the dust off ancient relics he ponders his machine's ability to hasten their decay. It is at this point that The Time Traveller has an astounding revelation. The museum is filled with artefacts not from his past, but from his own future: The Time Traveller is surrounded by relics whose potential to speak slipped away with the civilisation that created them.

    Having bypassed the normal laws of causality The Time Traveller is doomed to inhabit strands of history plucked from time's grander web. Unable to grasp a people’s history – the conditions that determine them – one will always misunderstand them.

    Archaeology derives from the Greek word arche, which literally means the moment of arising. Aristotle foregrounded the meaning of arche as the element or principle of a Thing, which although indemonstrable and intangible in Itself, provides the conditions of the possibility of that Thing. In a sense, archaeology is as much about the present instant, as it is about the fragmentary past. We work on what remains through the artefacts that make it into our museums, our senses and even our language. But to re-energise those artefacts, to bring them back to life, the tools we have access to do much of the speaking.

    Like the unseen civilisations of H.G.Wells’ museum, these Things in Themselves lurk beyond the veil of our perceptions. It is the world in and of Itself; the Thing as it exists distinct from perceptions, from emotions, sensations, from all phenomenon, that sets the conditions of the world available to those senses. Perceiving the world, sweeping dust away from the objects around us, is a constant act of archaeology.

    Kant called this veiled reality the noumenon, a label he interchanged with The-Thing-Itself (Ding an Sich). That which truly underlies what one may only infer through the senses. For Kant, and many philosophers that followed, The Thing Itself is impossible to grasp directly. The senses we use to search the world also wrap that world in a cloudy haze of perceptions, misconceptions and untrustworthy phenomena.

    In another science fiction classic, Polish writer Stanislaw Lem considered the problem of The Thing Itself as one of communication. His Master’s Voice (HMV), written at the height of The Cold War, tells the story of a team of scientists and their attempts to decipher an ancient, alien message transmitted on the neutrino static streaming from a distant star. The protagonist of this tale, one Peter Hogarth, recounts the failed attempts at translation with a knowing, deeply considered cynicism. To Peter, and to Stanislaw Lem himself, true contact with an alien intelligence is an absolute impossibility:

    “In the course of my work... I began to suspect that the ‘letter from the stars’ was, for us who attempted to decipher it, a kind of psychological association test, a particularly complex Rorschach test. For as a subject, believing he sees in the coloured blotches angels or birds of ill omen, in reality fills in the vagueness of the thing shown with what is ‘on his mind’, so did we attempt, behind the veil of incomprehensible signs, to discern the presence of what lay, first and foremost, within ourselves.”

    Stanislaw Lem, His Master's Voice

    In HMV and Lem’s better known novel, Solaris, the conviction that an absolute true reality exists under the dust of perception leads humanity down ever more winding labyrinths of its own psyche. For Stanislaw Lem the human mind exists in a perpetual state of archaeology, turning away from Itself in search of truth, but time and again finding Itself confronted as the very Thing that underlies the reality it is trying to decipher.

    To transcend phenomena, to clear away the dust, one must, according to Kant, think. Thus his Thing Itself, derives from the Greek for 'thought-of' (nooúmenon) and further implies the concept of the mind (nous). Kant’s Thing Itself is accessed through pure thought. A clear enough mind, devoid of the bodily shackles of pain, pleasure or emotion, might see without seeing, sweeping away the perceptual cobwebs by guile alone. What Plato referred to as the only immortal part of the human soul, reason, becomes through Kant the dominant principle by which The Thing Itself may be reached.

    In the short space I have allotted myself here, I have not the time, or the guile, to fully analyse the Kantian noumenon. Needles to say, countless thinkers, from Nietzsche to Wittgenstein, Hegel to Agamben, have grappled with the suppositions and presuppositions made to cohere and then crumble by Kant’s addiction to reason. What interests me about science fiction, and most readily about the works of Wells and Lem, is the attempt made to search for 'The Thing Itself' beyond the mind; beyond the human altogether.

    Science fiction allows the creation of an imaginary set of conditions by which the human being may break their most burdonsome shackle: their own mind. Human timescales, bodies, forms of thinking and perception: each of these must be circumvented if one is ever able to grasp The Thing Itself. Kant’s principle of noumenon embodies a discourse on the limits of perception that has remained relevant to philosophy for millenia. The paradox of the archaeology – the arising – of an underlying reality is the defining principle of a thousand sci-fi tales.

    For Stanislaw Lem our limitations become obvious once we are confronted with the existence of an intelligence which is not human. Lem’s novels seek to connect us with the absolute ‘other’: that most alien of Things, ourselves. Reality, for Lem at least, is composed in an indecipherable language. Humanity lives in an eternal stasis, unable to circum-navigate the new realities it constantly 'discovers' for itself. And in the end we find ourselves limited by the brains that think us, unable to distinguish the twinkle-twinkle from the little star:

    “There exist, speaking in the most general way, two kinds of language known to us. There are ordinary languages, which man makes use of – and the languages not made by man. In such language organisms speak to organisms. I have in mind the so called genetic code. This code is not a variety of natural language, because it not only contains information about the structure of the organism, but also is able, by itself, to transform that information into the very organism. The code, then, is acultural...

    Now to go straight to the heart of the matter, we begin to suspect that an ‘acultural language’ is something more or less like Kant’s ‘Thing-in-itself’. One can fully grasp neither the code nor the thing.”

    Stanislaw Lem, His Master's Voice

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    Encoding and decoding appear in contemporary context as a fundamental feature of technology, in our use of language and in our social interactions, from html to language coding and literary symbolism. How, and through what means, do people encode and decode?

    A couple of weeks ago I was invited to take part in a panel discussion on London based, arts radio station, Resonance FM. It was for The Thread, a lively show that aims to use speech and discussion as a tool for research, opening up new and unexpected angles through the unravelling of conversation.

    The Thread's host, London Consortium researcher Seph Rodney, and I were lucky enough to share the discussion with Dr. Lane DeNicola, a lecturer and researcher in Digital Anthropology from University College London. We talked about encoding and decoding, about the politics of ownership and the implications for information technologies. We talked about inscriptions in stone, and the links we saw between the open-source software movement and genome sequencing.

    (Audio of the show has been embedded above)

    An edited transcript of the show can be found here, but I encourage you to visit The Thread's website, where you will find more information about the participants. The website also contains information about upcoming shows, as well as a rich archive of past conversations.

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    The text below is an image of a Discursive (Hyper)text...

    Please click it to read the full, unedited, Hyper(textual) version of this work:



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    When we think of minds we think of intentions. Intentions that lie behind acts, acts that unfold at the recourse of agents: agents with minds. In short, when we look out at the world we see objects that are acted upon and entities that do the acting. This clear cut distinction between the 'done upon' and the 'doer' appears stable, but it hides one of the mightiest constraints of our world view. A logical stand-off that threatens to undermine the logical systems upon which it is based.

    In Another city all matter pulses like a living organ, where time imposes significance upon the most dilapidated dwelling or murky gutter.

    Take this article, for example. It is an unwinding spring of phonic sounds, encoded into a series of arbitrary symbols, stretching from left to right within an imaginary frame projected onto the surface of your computer screen. Here lies the perfect example of an artefact with intention behind it. A series of artefacts in fact, positioned by my mind and placed within a certain context (i.e. 3QD: a fascinating and widely read blog). As a collection, as an article, its intention is easy to distinguish. I wanted to say something, so I wrote an article, which I hoped would be read by a certain audience. But what of the intention of each individual object within the whole? What was the original intention of the letter 'A' for example? Do we decide that the intention is connected to all speakers of the English language, perhaps? Or maybe all literate members of the human race? Or maybe the human race as a whole?

    Another city begins at the out-stretched tip of a human finger and ends as artefacts gathered from the dust. It is a spider-web, a precious ball of dung, a bare and crimson backside glinting in the jungle sun.........

    Continue reading In Another city another me is writing...

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    “There was a time when it was not technology alone that bore the name techné... Once there was a time when the bringing-forth of the true into the beautiful was called techné. And the poïesis of the fine arts also was called techné.”

    Martin Heidegger, The Question Concerning Technology (1954)

    For Martin Heidegger the essence of technology is to be understood as distinct from technology itself. Etymologically the word technology stems from the Greek techné, "the name not only for the activities and skills of the craftsman but also for the arts of the mind and the fine arts". Techné is to be understood as craft: a “bringing-forth” / a “revealing”:

    “Bringing-forth brings out of concealment into unconcealment... The Greeks have the word aletheia for revealing. The Romans translate this with veritas. We say “truth” and usually understand it as correctness of representation.”

    Martin Heidegger, The Question Concerning Technology (1954)

    This unconcealment of truth is a poïetic process, a bringing about of presence in the craft of creative engagement. This concept of the techné seems to emerge naturally when we look at art, at text, as palimpsestic. The essence of the x-ray as it peers under the surface of the painting reveals - brings-forth - a greater truth to the painting, e.g. what the painter sketched before she layered the oil upon the canvas. Our root in the present, as entities only capable of engaging with art as it appears to us now, is mediated by the essence of technology. The past becomes revitalised as a cross-section through the present.

    “By going back to its own root and almost beyond it, technology is made to disclose its revealing and concealing gesture, and further yet, its deep complicity with poetic creation.”

    Jean-Michel Rabaté, The Future of Theory - 2002

    Any engagement with art that effectively realigns its perceived surface with its palimpsest can be understood as poïetic: as techné.

    This essential mode of technology does not rest naturally with our modern view, yet in the negative of essence, one finds a boundary via which to re-define technology yet further:

    “The product of technology is not a function of a mutual context of making and use. It works to make invisible the labor that produced it, to appear as its own object, and thus to be self-perpetuating. Both the electric toaster and Finnegans Wake turn their makers into absent and invisible fictions.”

    Susan Stewart, On Longing (1984)

    The idea of technology as labour towards product is intrinsic to our modern comprehension. But what of the technology of text? of the written or printed word? The labour which produced the technology of text is irrelevant to the essence of text itself. The essence of Finnegans Wake is in the crafting labour of readership – an active reversal of traditional perceptions. Text as techné reveals nothing less than the boundaries of consciousness, of truth, of humankind:

    “For man, as Julian Huxley observes, unlike merely biological creatures, possesses an apparatus of transmission and transformation based on his power to store experience. And his power to store, as in language itself, is also a means of transformation of experience.”

    Marshall Mcluhan, Understanding Media (1964)

    Language is revealed through text as the mode of our conscious experience – a truth which furthermore transforms the very capacities of the thoughts which think it. Once text, in its essence, is transmitted and elucidated via readership there is transformation “of the process of coming-into-being of the world” :

    “From a phenomenological standpoint... the world emerges with its properties alongside the emergence of the perceiver in person, against a background of involved activity. Since the person is a being-in-the-world, the coming-into-being of the person is part and parcel of the process of coming-into-being of the world.”

    Tim Ingold, The Perception of the Environment (2000)

    [ Note: This is an extract from my MA thesis, which is still in the process of being revealed. I hope you enjoyed it. ]
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