Member 1020
26 entries
563449 views

 RSS
Daniel Rourke (M, 37)
London, UK
Immortal since Dec 18, 2007
Uplinks: 0, Generation 2

MachineMachine / Portfolio
twitter @therourke
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
  • Affiliated
  •  /  
  • Invited
  •  /  
  • Descended
  • Rourke’s favorites
    From sjef
    A Basic Introduction to...
    From Robokku
    The thing modelled
    From Robokku
    The informational realm -...
    From Wildcat
    A CyberReader
    From sjef
    The Medium is the Massage
    Recently commented on
    From Rourke
    Inside Code: A Conversation
    From Rourke
    The Fallacy of Misplaced...
    From Robokku
    The thing modelled
    From wilfriedhoujebek
    Summery Books Too Far Out...
    From Robokku
    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 mini-paper was given at the Escapologies symposium, at Goldsmiths University, on the 5th of December and posted at my blog, machinemachine.net

    Daniel Defoe’s 1719 novel Robinson Crusoe centres on the shipwreck and isolation of its protagonist. The life Crusoe knew beyond this shore was fashioned by Ships sent to conquer New Worlds and political wills built on slavery and imperial demands. In writing about his experiences, Crusoe orders his journal, not by the passing of time, but by the objects produced in his labour. A microcosm of the market hierarchies his seclusion removes him from: a tame herd of goats, a musket and gunpowder, sheafs of wheat he fashions into bread, and a shelter carved from rock with all the trappings of a King’s castle. Crusoe structures the tedium of the island by gathering and designing these items that exist solely for their use-value:

    “In a Word, The Nature and Experience of Things dictated to me upon just Reflection, That all the good Things of this World, are no farther good to us, than they are for our Use...” [1]

    Although Crusoe’s Kingdom mirrors the imperial British order, its mirroring is more structural than anything else. The objects and social contrivances Crusoe creates have no outside with which to be exchanged. Without an ‘other’ to share your labour there can be no mutual assurance, no exchanges leading to financial agreements, no business partners, no friendships. But most importantly to the mirroring of any Kingdom, without an ‘other’ there can be no disagreements, no coveting of a neighbours ox, no domination, no war: in short, an Empire without an outside might be complete, total, final, but an Empire without an outside has also reached a state of complete inertia.

    Crusoe’s Empire of one subject, is what I understand as “a closed system”...

    The 2nd law of thermo dynamics maintains that without an external source of energy, all closed systems will tend towards a condition of inactivity. Eventually, the bacteria in the petri dish will multiply, eating up all the nutrients until a final state of equilibrium is reached, at which point the system will collapse in on itself: entropy cannot be avoided indefinitely. The term ‘negative entropy’ is often applied to living organisms because they seem to be able to ‘beat’ the process of entropy, but this is as much an illusion as the illusion of Crusoe’s Kingdom: negative entropy occurs at small scales, over small periods of time. Entropy is highly probable: the order of living beings is not.

    Umberto Eco:

    “Consider, for example, the chaotic effect... of a strong wind on the innumerable grains of sand that compose a beach: amid this confusion, the action of a human foot on the surface of the beach constitutes a complex interaction of events that leads to the statistically very improbable configuration of a footprint.” [2]

    The footprint in Eco’s example is a negative entropy event: the system of shifting sands is lent a temporary order by the cohesive action of the human foot. In physical terms, the footprint stands as a memory of the foot’s impression. The 2nd law of thermodynamics establishes a relationship between entropy and information: memory remains as long as its mark. Given time, the noisy wind and chaotic waves will cause even the strongest footprint to fade. A footprint is a highly improbable event.

    Before you read on, watch this scene from Luis Buñuel's Robinson Crusoe (1954)

    The footprint, when it first appears on the island, terrifies Crusoe as a mark of the outsider, but soon, realising what this outsider might mean for the totality of his Kingdom, Robinson begins the process of pulling the mark inside his conceptions:

    “Sometimes I fancied it must be the Devil; and reason joined in with me upon this supposition. For how should any other thing in human shape come into the place? Where was the vessel that brought them? What marks were there of any other footsteps? And how was it possible a man should come there?” [3]

    In the novel, it is only on the third day that Crusoe re-visits the site to compare his own foot with the print. The footprint is still there on the beach after all this time, a footprint Crusoe now admits is definitely not his own.

    This chain of events affords us several allegorical tools: firstly, that of the Devil, Crusoe believes to be the only rational explanation for the print. This land, which has been Crusoe’s own for almost 2 decades, is solid, unchanging and eternal. Nothing comes in nor goes beyond its shores, yet its abundance of riches have served Crusoe perfectly well: seemingly infinite riches for a Kingdom’s only inhabitant. Even the footprint, left for several days, remains upon Crusoe’s return. Like the novel of which it is a part, the reader of the mark may revisit the site of this unlikely incident again and again, each time drawing more meanings from its appearance. Before Crusoe entertains that the footprint might be that of “savages of the mainland” he eagerly believes it to be Satan’s, placed there deliberately to fool him. Crusoe revisits the footprint, in person and then, as it fades, in his own memory. He ‘reads’ the island, attributing meanings to marks he discovers that go far beyond what is apparent. As Susan Stewart has noted:

    “In allegory the vision of the reader is larger than the vision of the text; the reader dreams to an excess, to an overabundance.” [4]

    Simon O’Sullivan, following from Deleuze, takes this further, arguing that in his isolation, a world free from ‘others’, Crusoe has merged with, become the island. The footprint is a mark that must be recuperated if Crusoe’s identity, his “power of will”, is to be maintained. An outsider must have caused the footprint, but Crusoe is only capable of reading in the mark something about himself. The evocation of a Demon, then, is Crusoe’s way of re-totalising his Empire, of removing the ‘other’ from his self-subjective identification with the island.

    So, how does this relate to thermodynamics? To answer that I will need to tell the tale of a second Demon, more playful even than Crusoe’s.

    In his 1871 essay, Theory of Heat, James Clerk Maxwell designed a thought experiment to test the 2nd law of Thermodynamics. Maxwell imagines a microscopic being able to sort atoms bouncing around a closed system into two categories: fast and slow. If such a creature did exist, it was argued, no work would be required to decrease the entropy of a closed system. By sorting unlikely footprints from the chaotic arrangement of sand particles Maxwell’s Demon, as it would later become known, appeared to contradict the law Maxwell himself had helped to develop. One method of solving the apparent paradox was devised by Charles H. Bennet, who recognised that the Demon would have to remember where he placed the fast and slow particles. Here, once again, the balance between the order and disorder of a system comes down to the balance between memory and information. As the demon decreases the entropy of its environment, so it must increase the entropy of its memory. The information required by the Demon acts like a noise in the system. The laws of physics had stood up under scrutiny, resulting in a new branch of science we now know as ‘Information Theory’.

    Maxwell’s Demon comes from an old view of the universe, “fashioned by divine intervention, created for man and responsive to his will” [5]. Information Theory represents a threshold, a revelation that the “inhuman force of increasing entropy, [is] indifferent to man and uncontrollable by human will.” [6] Maxwell’s Demon shows that the law of entropy has only a statistical certainty, that nature orders only on small scales and, that despite any will to control, inertia will eventually be reached.

    Developed at the peak of the British Empire, thermodynamics was sometimes called “the science of imperialism”, as Katherine Hayles has noted:

    “...to thermodynamicists, entropy represented the tendency of the universe to run down, despite the best efforts of British rectitude to prevent it from doing so... The rhetoric of imperialism confronts the inevitability of failure. In this context, entropy represents an apparently inescapable limit on the human will to control.” [7]

    Like Maxwell, Crusoe posits a Demon, with faculties similar in kind to his own, to help him quash his “terror of mind”. Crusoe’s fear is not really about outsiders coming in, the terror he feels comes from the realisation that the outsiders may have been here all along, that in all the 20 years of his isolation those “savages of the mainland” may have visited his island time and again. It is not an outside ‘other’ that disturbs and reorganises Crusoe’s Kingdom. A more perverse logic is at work here, and once again Crusoe will have to restructure his imperial order from the inside out.

    Before you read on, watch this second scene from Luis Buñuel's Robinson Crusoe (1954)

    Jacques Rancière prepares for us a parable. A student who is illiterate, after living a fulfilled life without text, one day decides to teach herself to read. Luckily she knows a single poem by heart and procures a copy of that poem, presumably from a trusted source, by which to work. By comparing her memory of the poem, sign by sign, word by word, with the text of the poem she can, Rancière believes, finally piece together a foundational understanding of her written language:

    “From this ignoramus, spelling out signs, to the scientist who constructs hypotheses, the same intelligence is always at work – an intelligence that translates signs into other signs and proceeds by comparisons and illustrations in order to communicate its intellectual adventures and understand what another intelligence is endeavouring to communicate to it...

    This poetic labour of translation is at the heart of all learning.” [8]

    What interests me in Rancière’s example is not so much the act of translation as the possibility of mis-translation. Taken in light of The Ignorant Schoolmaster we can assume that Rancière is aware of the wide gap that exists between knowing something and knowing enough about something for it to be valuable. How does one calculate the value of what is a mistake? The ignoramus has an autonomy, but it is effectively blind to the quality and make-up of the information she parses. If she makes a mistake in her translation of the poem, this mistake can be one of two things: it can be a blind error, or, it can be a mutation.

    In information theory, the two ways to understand change within a closed system are understood to be the product of ‘noise’. The amount of change contributed by noise is called ‘equivocation’. If noise contributes to the reorganisation of a system in a beneficial way, for instance if a genetic mutation in an organism results in the emergence of an adaptive trait, then the equivocation is said to be ‘autonomy-producing’.

    Too much noise is equivalent to too much information, a ‘destructive’ equivocation, leading to chaos. This balance is how evolution functions. An ‘autonomy-producing’ mutation will be blindly passed on to an organism’s offspring, catalysing the self-organisation of the larger system (in this case, the species). All complex, what are called ‘autopoietic’ systems, inhabit this fine divide between noise and inertia. Given just the right balance of noise recuperated by the system, and noise filtered out by the system, a state of productive change can be maintained, and a state of inertia can be avoided, at least, for a limited time.

    According to Umberto Eco, in ‘The Open Work’:

    “To be sure, this word information in communication theory relates not so much to what you do say, as to what you could say… In the end… there is no real difference between noise and signal, except in intent.” [9]

    This rigid delineator of intent is the driving force of our contemporary, communication paradigm. Information networks underpin our economic, political and social interactions: the failure to communicate is to be avoided at all costs. All noise is therefore seen as a problem. These processes, according to W. Daniel Hillis, define, “the essence of digital technology, which restores signal to near perfection at every stage.” [10] To go back to Umberto Eco then, we appear to be living in a world of “do say” rather than “could say”.

    Maintenance of the network and the routines of error management are our primary economic and political concern: control the networks and the immaterial products will manage themselves.

    The modern network paradigm acts like a Maxwell Demon, categorising information as either pure signal or pure noise. As Mark Nunes has noted, following the work of Deleuze and Guattari:

    “This forced binary imposes a kind of violence, one that demands a rationalisation of all singularities of expressions within a totalising system... The violence of information is, then, the violence of silencing or making to speak that which cannot communicate.” [11]

    To understand the violence of this binary logic, we need go no further than Robinson Crusoe. Friday’s questions are plain spoken, but do not adhere to the do say logic of Crusoe’s conception. In the novel, Crusoe’s approach to Friday becomes increasingly one sided, until Friday utters little more than ‘yes’ and ‘no’ answers, “reducing his language to a pure function of immediate context and perpetuating a much larger imperialist tradition of levelling the vox populi.”[12] Any chance in what Friday “could say” has been violently obliterated.

    The logic of Ranciere’s Ignoramous, and of Crusoe’s levelling of Friday’s speech, are logics of imperialism: reducing the possibility of noise and information to an either/or, inside/outside, relationship. Mark Nunes again:

    “This balance between total flow and total control parallels Deleuze and Guattari’s discussion of a regime of signs in which anything that resists systematic incorporation is cast out as an asignifying scapegoat “condemned as that which exceeds the signifying regime’s power of deterritorialisation.” [13]

    In the system of communication these “asignifying” events are not errors, in the common sense of the word. Mutation names a randomness that redraws the territory of complex systems. The footprint is the mark that reorganised the Empire.

    In Ranciere’s parable, rather than note her intent to decode the poem, we should hail the moment when the Ignoramus fails, as her autonomous moment. In a world where actants “translate signs into other signs and proceed by comparison and illustration” [14] the figures of information and communication are made distinct not by the caprice of those who control the networks, nor the desires of those who send and receive the messages, but by mutation itself.

    Michel Foucault, remarking on the work of Georges Canguilhem, drew the conclusion that the very possibility of mutation, rather than existing in opposition to our will, was what human autonomy was predicated upon:

    “In this sense, life - and this is its radical feature - is that which is capable of error… Further, it must be questioned in regard to that singular but hereditary error which explains the fact that, with man, life has led to a living being that is never completely in the right place, that is destined to 'err' and to be 'wrong'.” [15]

    In his writings on the history of Heredity, The Logic of Life, Francois Jacob lingers on another Demon in the details, fashioned by Rene Descartes in his infamous meditation on human knowledge. François Jacob positions Descartes’ meditation in a period of explosive critical thought focussed on the very ontology of ‘nature’:

    “For with the arrival of the 17th Century, the very nature of knowledge was transformed. Until then, knowledge had been grafted on God, the soul and the cosmos... What counted [now] was not so much the code used by God for creating nature as that sought by man for understanding it.” [16]

    The infinite power of God’s will was no longer able to bend nature to any whim. If man were to decipher nature, to reveal its order, Descartes surmised, it was with the assurance that “the grid will not change in the course of the operation”[17]. For Descartes, the evil Demon, is a metaphor for deception espoused on the understanding that underlying that deception, nature had a certainty. God may well have given the world its original impetus, have designed its original make-up, but that make-up could not be changed.

    The network economy has today become the grid of operations onto which we map the world. Its binary restrictions predicate a logic of minimal error and maximum performance: a regime of control that drives our economic, political and social interdependencies. Trapped within his imperial logic, Robinson Crusoe’s levelling of inside and outside, his ruthless tidying of Friday’s noisy speech into a binary dialectic, disguises a higher order of reorganisation. As readers navigating the narrative we are keen to recognise the social changes Defoe’s novel embodies in its short-sighted central character. Perhaps, though, the most productive way to read this fiction, is to allegorise it as an outside perspective on our own time?

    Gathering together the fruits of research, I am often struck by the serendipitous quality of so many discoveries. In writing this mini-paper I have found it useful to engage with these marks, that become like demonic footprints, mutations in my thinking. Comparing each side by side, I hope to find, in the words of Michel Foucault:

    “...a way from the visible mark to that which is being said by it and which, without that mark, would lie like unspoken speech, dormant within things.” [18]

    See original post for full References & Bibliography
      Promote (6)
      
      Add to favorites (2)
    Synapses (7)
     
    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

      Promote (9)
      
      Add to favorites (3)
    Synapses (9)
     
    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.

      Promote (3)
      
      Add to favorites (1)
    Synapses (7)
     
    “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. ]
      Promote (5)
      
      Add to favorites (6)
    Synapses (9)
     


    Before the printed book there was the book as relic, the book as idol to knowledge. Those who could read dictated to the masses who could not. Books were material conduits to hidden, immaterial territories, placed out of reach of the proletariat – atop the holy pulpit or concealed within the labyrinthine catacombs of the private library – books were of the other, were unreachable.

    For a long time the book’s inaccessibility is what granted it an authority. Instances from the stream of time were made real once admitted to the pages of the book. The performed biblical enumeration was a creative act, forging the words of the Priest into a material truth which the audience could almost reach out and touch, almost but not quite. As Susan Stewart notes:

    “The book stands in tension with history, a tension reproduced in the microcosm of the book itself, where reading takes place in time across marks which have been made in space.” – On Longing, Page 22 – Duke University Press, 1993

    History was true, it had form because it was manifest in the pages of the book. This belief in the formative capacity of the book created a culture of desire. It was thus inevitable that the book, once given a symbolic new life by the ink of the printing press, would find its way into the hands of the masses.

    In time written language became the omnipresent signifier of freedom, of knowledge. The authority of the book was shifted to the word itself. If one could read, one had the authority only previously wielded by the few. Reading was a powerful gesture of self-realisation. The authority was now one’s own. This self resolving revolution came at a time of even greater existential resistance in the West. Martin Luther had placed the power of religion in the hands of the individual. Continental art was developing a fascination with the Earthly human not seen since the time of Aristotle. The book still had encoded within it the authority of the word, only now it was the individual who carried the means to crack that code. Access to the highest of truths was not a privilege, but a right. David Lodge:

    “Phenomena such as memory, the association of ideas in the mind, the causes of emotions and the individual’s sense of self, became of central importance to the speculative thinkers and writers of narrative literature alike... The silence and privacy of the reading experience afforded by books mimicked the silent privacy of individual consciousness.” – Consciousness and the Novel, Page 40 – Penguin Books, 2003

    The contents of the book became equivalent with the contents of consciousness. Words affected an inner space, twisted an internal narrative, were dictated by a clock that ticked in the mind of the reader. Books began to evolve. The novel is probably the most important of the forms which transpired. Its tendency to focus in on the mind or actions of a single individual gave readership an empathetic union with what was read. Where previously truth had been a feature of the world which stories reflected, now truth was an author’s prerogative. Stories in books were self-contained realities able to control the minds of their readers. Suddenly the authors of books were the bringers of authority, of authenticity. But not everyone agreed.

    Books were now seen as having such power over the individual that they could be banned, burned en-mass, wiped from history. All the major political, psychological and intellectual upheavals of the 20th Century came with their associated book, whether actively chosen or emerging in retrospect. And with the power of retrospect many claimed that books had foretold the World Wars, the rise (and fall) of Communism, the death of history, the death of the author - even the death of the book itself. Books from the past were re-examined via new theories, new technologies of the intellect. Marxist, Freudian, Post Modern... In a world where the individual ruled, books had become the ultimate artefacts of history. A new code emerged, one which an everyday reader would not necessarily understand. A book could not merely be read anymore, it must be examined under the most explicit of conditions in order to tease apart the infinite tangles of culture that had accumulated within it. In the latter half of the 20th Century a new view began to consume the academic establishment, that truth was a misnomer.

    Since that time many arguments have been fought over where true authenticity lies, and how to mediate the multiplicities that the book encompasses. In the past ten years or so it is the masses that have been given the privilege. The internet binds us together and explodes readership. For the first time in history the act of reading can be considered a truly communal experience. Web-entities such as Wikipedia and Blogger have allowed information and knowledge to authenticate itself. Cultural evolution can occur at the click of an 'edit' link, and if it doesn’t exist in the pages of Wikipedia, well, then it isn’t worth noting.

    But what now of the book? That tome of knowledge, of history, of somewhat questionable self-located truths? Once again the book is emerging as an idol, only this time to itself. As mass produced information slowly moves from the printed page to the computer screen, to hand-held digital-ink devices, so the value of the printed word will transmogrify. Books will re-assume an identity that revolves around their individuality rather than ours. Artists books, self-published limited prints, historically significant palimpsests – these are the books we will come to register our faith in. Books will no longer represent a simulacrum of the idea they encompass – as in the mass-produced paperback – instead they will act as archaeological signifiers to otherwise un-locatable pasts. The internet contains buried beneath its surface a copy of its previous selves. Browsing the ‘history’ section of any Wikipedia article is like projecting your perspective back a few edits. Take time to navigate through The Internet Archive’s Way Back Machine and pristine, perfect versions of internet history will find their way into the archived menus of your internet browser. The data we perceive in books is very different. Each copy of a book is different, it has a history beyond the content it attempts to justify. My copy of Gravity’s Rainbow is a microcosm of the journeys I have taken it on/it has taken me on. Particles splashed onto it from a Croatian sea shore, specks of my sandwich from Venice airport, pencil scribbles and every single word they circle in an order I defined as I sat and took in some of the words, misread others, allowed other still to fall through the sieve of my conscious mind into the unconscious well beneath.

    And books can be re-read in ways as yet inconceivable for the internet. Take The Archimedes Palimpsest for instance, a text of significance for its archaeological value as well as for the fresh insight it gives scholars into the mind and works of the ancient mathematician. Contained within its multiple, physical layers are histories that scientists have had to design new technological means to access. Shine a laser onto the calcified pages and beneath each a multi-verse of forms emerge, each layer needing to be decoded separately, each signifier spanning off into infinite possible meanings beyond. Books are crucial to our understanding of our place in time and space, because they are fundamentally composed of time and space. They carry with them the history of thought, of physical presence and of psychological evolution that created them, moved them forward and now sends them explosively back into their own pasts. To understand ourselves we need to understand our pasts, to understand our pasts we need to examine the artefacts we carry with us, which carry us forwards:

    Michael Shanks: A lot of people think that archaeology—archaeologists—discover the past. And that's only a tiny bit true. I think it's more accurate to say that they work on what remains. That may sometimes involve, absolutely, coming across stuff from the past—maybe a trilobite fossil, or a piece of Roman pottery... but the key thing about archaeology is that it works on what's left. And that makes of all of us, really, a kind of archaeologist. We're all archaeologists now, working on what's left of the past.

    ... as we explore this stuff, we figure out how to bring it forward, first into the present, through our interpretation of it...

    Lynn Hershmann Leeson: Exactly. Revitalize the past, inserting it into the present, which gives direction to its future.

    Michael Shanks: Yeah. Displacement is another key feature of this archaeological sensibility. What happens when old stuff—remains—are shirted into new associations...

    And, actually, this is what archaeological science has always offered—accounts of everyday life with which we can all identify and yet find uncanny. It may simply be a thumbprint upon an ancient pot that connects an inconsequential past moment with the present; it may be the evidence of the lives of those who built a place like Stonehenge. It is the archaeological focus on the everyday that many people find fascinating.

    Lynn Hershmann Leeson: Because these are the relics of ourselves.”

    – Archaeologist Michael Shanks in discussion with artist Lynn Hershman Leeson : Extract taken from Seed Magazine, October 2007


      Promote (6)
      
      Add to favorites (2)
    Synapses (5)
     


    Project Proposal:

    There are hundreds of thousands of books published every year. Many are bound to be forgotten, but some are capable of altering the very patterns of human thought.

    I propose that Space Collective members gather together their knowledge of the literary universe and compile the definitive list of books that explode the components of thought.

    Fiction and non-fiction titles can be included, but clichés are discouraged (i.e. Ray Kurzweil, Stephen Hawking, etc.)

    The list is intended to uncover original, thought provoking books which bring something new to the realms of human wisdom and understanding.

    Books that redefine reality.

    UPDATE: The Total Library Project is now open!!
      Promote (15)
      
      Add to favorites (5)
    Synapses (4)
     
    Infinity defies absolute definition. Perception of the infinite, for anything other than a mind which is itself infinitely composed, is an oxymoron. And yet, in historical conceptions of the infinite, or at least the imperceptibly extended, can be found abstract tools by which to better comprehend the very nature of thought, and thus reality itself.

    The idea of infinity can lead you to grasp the mind of God.

    Let me show you:

    In Islamic tradition:

    When Mahomet was transported to heaven, he says: I saw there an angel, the most gigantic of all created beings. It had 70,000 heads, each had 70,000 faces, each face had 70,000 mouths, each mouth had 70,000 tongues, and each tongue spoke 70,000 languages; all were employed in singing God's praises.

    This would make more than 31,000 trillion languages, and nearly five billion mouths. - link

    In Hindu tradition:
    A kalpa consists of a period of 1,728,000 solar years called Adi Sandhi, followed by 14 manvantaras and Sandhi Kalas...

    Thus a day of Brahma, kalpa, is of duration: 4.32 billion solar years.

    Two kalpas constitute a day and night of Brahma; the life cycle of Brahma is one hundred years of Brahma, or 311 trillion years. We are currently in the 51st year of the present Brahma and so about 155 trillion years have elapsed since He took over as Brahma. - link

    I find these mythologies fascinating because of the way they manipulate the schema of infinity (or the excruciatingly large) to evoke a sense of awe. What is telling here, and in more familiar concepts such as the omnipotent, omniscient Judaeo-Christian God, is how the human mind absolves itself from ever accessing these infinities whilst at the same time invoking that sense of awe as reason to believe in the infinite:

    By the name God I understand a substance that is infinite (eternal, immutable,) independent, all-knowing, all-powerful, and by which I myself and everything else, if anything else does exist, have been created. Now all these characteristics are such that the more diligently I attend to them, the less do they appear capable of proceeding from me alone; hence, ... we must conclude that God necessarily exists.

    - Rene Descartes, Meditations

    The logical error here rests on the premise that Descartes is capable of attaining access to 'God's perfect form'. The very idea of infinity, or breadth therein contained, is nothing but a schematic simulacrum of the true form of infinity. The mind IS NOT capable of perceiving the infinite, yet I think in conjunction with semiotics a clearer path to infinity can be reached.

    In this perceived moment, itself a composite whole made of an infinite number of infinitesimal components, there is the potential in your consciousness for an infinite number of conciliations to occur. The universe of form is, in mind, schematic and transitory. It is the method by which form is assimilated into mental schema which manifests the universe so true. The infinite universe infinitely schematised:

    [An] aspect of consciousness I wish to mention here is modeled upon a behavioral process common to most mammals. It really springs from simple recognition, where a slightly ambiguous perceived object is made to conform to some previously learned schema, an automatic process sometimes called assimilation. We assimilate a new stimulus into our conception or schema about it, even though it is slightly different. Since we never from moment to moment see or hear or touch things in exactly the same way, this process of assimilation into previous experience is going on all the time as we perceive our world. We are putting things together in recognizable objects on the basis of the previously learned schemes we have of them...

    - Julian Jaynes, The Origin of Consciousness...

    In this conception of consciously formed reality finite limits on the nature of our schema halt the further assimilation of external stimulus. Thus all subjective representations of the objective universe can only ever go part of the way to attaining a true tautology of semblance. In a universe of varying types of consciousness, as evolved in the various central nervous systems on this planet, this problem of semblance can be some way overcome. Distinct consciousnesses will form different schema to represent the same stimulus. The universe is better realised in many consciousnesses, of which perhaps an infinite variety have the capacity to exist:

    Consciousness is "a holistic emergent property of the interaction of neurons which has the power to be self-reflective and ascertain its own awareness"

    - Max Velmans, Understanding Consciousness

    I am still left wondering about true infinity, at least that which consciousness can attain. What would be the nature of a stimulus which had the capacity to assimilate an endless variety of schema? Or alternatively, is there such thing as a mental construct, a concept, which has no limit to the stimulus it can assimilate? Perhaps the mind of God is capable in its imagined brevity to perceive every objective truth from an infinity of angles. In fact, this need necessarily be the case for any infinitely capable being, such as God. To this kind of consciousness even the proverbial dog shit you carry around on your shoes has an infinite number of ways it can be perceived.

    Further still, I was lead into thought on matters of entropy (not least because of this forum post). The black-hole is nature's favourite point of infinity. All data in the universe, once subsumed by the awesome gravity of the black-hole, would come to be represented at a singular point of infinitesimal breadth; a singularity. The mind of God may be such an entity, for in its infinite density of assimilative capacity the only form it could take is that of a singularity.

    Not only is a black-hole, and now perhaps the mind of God, a singularity of infinite density, so too was the very universe we now reside in at the momentary point when nothing became everything: the big-bang:

    If the singularity at the centre of a black hole lies in the future, representing a final state, the singularity of a white hole lies in the past, as a beginning, as in the big bang. So if our universe is a white hole, the big question is: is there a black hole universe on the other side of the big bang?

    - Mikio Kaku, Parallel Worlds

    Or perhaps (to assimilate both mine and Kaku's concepts into one, infinitely schematised entity) the mind of God itself exists on the other side of this universe. A mind so dense in assimilatory power that all concepts, all datum, all matter and entropically governed consciousness converge at a point only to be spewed majesically out the other side, into this reality.

    The conscious mind is a schematic canvas on which subjective reality is being painted by the infinite, yet unattainable, idea of God. The cyclical power of assimilation, of consciousness, or self-reflexion should not be overlooked, because in the evolved mind of all conscious beings everywhere the idea of infinity, and the God-Simulacrum therein made prisoner, reorders reality such that it can reflect upon itself. Infinity is coming to perceive itself through us. All minds are infinite, my schema tell me so...

    (This article was originally posted on my site, The Huge Entity)

    See also:

      Promote (8)
      
      Add to favorites (4)
    Synapses (2)
     
          Cancel