Thinking Janet Freed/Freud

Following our brief conversation two Wednesdays back, I’m admittedly still fascinated with the significance of Janet Freed/Freud and the possible questions that she poses to both Hayles and the Macy Conference.  Hayles use Freed/Freud to suggest that meaning is embedded and embodied in context, “she knows that words never make things happen by themselves–or rather, that the only things they can make happen are other abstractions…material and embodied processes must be used” (83).  While Freed/Freud becomes an example of how a message cannot move until it is “connected up with incorporating practices” (83), I think the more interesting question that Hayles strikes against is one of the boundaries of these incorporating practices and forms of embodiment, “where the relevant boundaries are permeable, negotiable, instantiated” (83).  This brings around to the Neil Badmington reading for this week, “Theorizing Posthumanism,” which puts to question the “end of man” and the margins of the machine to suggest that humanism, like a virus that’s learned to mutate and develop new immunities, has found a way to incubate in even the most apocalyptic accounts and so-called “breaks” that post humanism attempts to make with “humanism.”  Badmington proposes that these breaks to the “outside” of humanism will always be haunted by the remains of humanism, so Badmington proposes that posthuman inquiry should instead function as a working through and re-writing of humanism, “The writing of the posthumanist condition should not seek to fashion ‘scriptural tombs’  for humanism, but must, rather, take the form of a critical practice that occurs inside  humanism, consisting not of the wake but the working-through of humanist discourse” (22).  Although Badmington reads Hayles’ text as haunted by the possibility that the remains of humanism will taint the posthuman project, I wonder if Hayles’ account of Janet Freed/Freud doesn’t complicate this picture in a way unacknowledged by Hayles.

Badmington begins his critique by recalling Time Magazine’s (post)hu-“Man of the Year” in 1982: the computer.  The cover of Time read “The computer moves in,” a phrasing which is important to reflect on for it marks not simply the death of humanism, but the computer as a kind of roommate or neighbor that has now taken of residence on and within the margins of human domestic space.  The setting, which Badmington skims, echoes the domestic/private sphere by placing the computer on a red wooden desk propped up on a wooden floor and plaster man sitting in a wooden yellow chair.  While the surroundings are composed of organic materials and textures, our new neighbor is coated in a sleek medical white plastic, displaying a chart of statistics on a monitor facing away from the man and the reader towards an unseen horizon beyond the margins of the image.  Curiously, but unsurprisingly, the image persuades readers of the “rise” of computers by filling the monitor’s screen with sharply ascending yellow lines that intend to not-so-subtly signify the rise of the machine.  The popular posthuman rhetoric of the “rise of the machine” contrasts sharply against the relatively neutral banner printed on the magazine’s cover, which reads “The Computer Moves In,” imbuing the machine with a perspective that transcends both the author of the banner and the abilities of text-nology.  Indeed, writing and text is a reflective technology, while the machine is a technology that, as the bar graph demonstrates, can predict and visualize the future.  To get metaphorical with this: the text is a dumb mirror, but the computer is an intelligent crystal ball that can foresee and outlast.  Of course, what this does to the body of the human on the cover is also fascinating.  The human is frozen, a stiff plaster with a texture much like a cast that suggests the human has been emptied or hollowed out by the lively little box looking towards its future.  The body is also contorting, bending forward, balding (perhaps both a baby and an old man), with right foot slightly raised to suggest an anxious foot wiggling — the body’s energies have been redirected, the machine has transformed the human. We are both infants and geriatrics in the glow of this new temporality, jettisoning the human out of time or confusing the flow of time as it actualizes itself on the surface of the flesh (another screen that is challenged within this cover). …Oops, time for class!  Will return to this later today.

The cover, of course, chooses to dramatize the new neighbor by placing the machine

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Back (b)log post #2: From the Hyphen to the Splice: Navigating the Body’s Spatio-Temporal Binds in Sakamoto’s Super Metroid

(I’m thinking of building this post into my paper for the seminar…hope this isn’t a problem!)
This week I want to explore Hayles’ concept of hyphen and splice, and the role that these two concepts play in the architectural design of Sakamoto’s Super Metroid.  Specifically, I’m interested in the posthuman/glitch literacy patterns that Super Metroid teaches to its players.  Through this analysis of the game’s geographical and architectural structures, I attempt to articulate a literacy of the glitch/posthuman that Super Metroid conveys to players as it subverts the traditional role of space and time in games.  I draw concept of hyphen and splice from chapter five in Hayles’ How We Became Posthuman, which explores the relationship between writing, prosthetics, and the boundaries of the body.  Specifically, Hayles examines the truncations, cleavages, and splices that occur within and at the level of the textual body in Bernard Wolfe’s Limbo.  The narrative itself is split by the revelation that Martine’s mark i notebook, which contains a satiric fantasy of Western society that preempts the immobilizing outcomes of war by severing off their limbs, has become the blueprint for the Immob doctrine and society that emerges after World War III.  The present narrative, told through Martine’s mark ii notebook, “tries to heal the split narrative by renouncing the first notebook and destroying the second” (126), but Hayles observes that the narrative continues to fragment at the level of the text itself.  This fragmentation is significant as the body of the text parallels the

geography of Immob.  The text splits into a trunk, consisting of the main narrative, and prosthetic extensions constituted through drawings that punctuate the text and lines that scrawl down the page where the trunk ends.  Prosthesis and trunk are connected through puns that act like cyborg circuitry, splicing the organic body of the writing together with the prosthetic extensions that operate in a subvocal margin. 126

Although I haven’t had an opportunity to read Wolfe’s book, Hayles’ summary and description of how the main narrative (the trunk) is intersected and expanded by prosthetic extensions joined in the splice “pros/e” that names this new body that is both prose (the name of the text’s body) and pros (the name of the prosthesis) is reminiscent of the stage design in Super Metroid.

Zebes, the planet on which the events of Super Metroid occur, consists of six main areas, which are typically joined together with doors and elevators.  Doors lead to new rooms in one of the six areas, and elevators typically lead players to a new area.  Using  Hayles and Wolfe to read this design, the door and elevator exist as a conventional threshold, a hyphen holding together (but still dividing) two different areas, whereas the concealed passageways literally create a circuit that splices together various areas of Zebes in unpredictable and unmapped ways.  Hayles provides a useful contrast of the hyphen and splice that should help us better understand how space informs the player’s experience in Super Metroid, “The difference between hyphen and circuit lies in the tightness of the coupling…and in the degree to which the hyphenated subject is transfigured after becoming a cybernetic entity.  Whereas the hyphen joins opposites in a metonymic tension that can be seen as maintaining the identity of each, the circuit implies a more reflexive and transformative union.  When the body is integrated into a cybernetic circuit, modification of the circuit will necessarily modify consciousness as well…the ideology of the hyphen is threatened by the more radical implications of the cybernetic splice” (115).  In Super Metroid, the splice is deeply embedded in the environment.  The doors’ high tech appearance contrasts greatly against the often organic environments through which Samus navigates, and the elevator rooms are actually environments unto themselves very much unlike any other areas in the game.  While the hyphen sets itself apart from the environment on Zebes, and in doing so contrasts technology with nature, the splice is embedded within the environment itself.  The player learns that it is she and the other organisms on Zebes who creates the splice between areas, whereas the hyphen is a coupling device left behind by an unnamed architect.  The player also learns to use her abilities to circumnavigate these traditional doorways and is often rewarded for doing so.  Many of these environmental splices will reward the player with new power-ups, which allow the player to suture together the surface areas of the planet with those buried deep within Zebes.  While the player’s map visualizes these splices on a linear X Y graph, the player generates an entirely different image of the game world cut through with circuits that dig deep into the body of the planet – one that argues that the player has escaped the parameters established by the map that the programmers provide the player.

Super Metroid’s splice-based design is an important shift in gaming as it moves the medium from merely representing space as a static field, to rendering it as a malleable resource.  I would go so far as to argue that Super Metroid, through its assortment of power-ups and level design, in fact enables the player to actually produce space.  This is a radical departure from most 2D side-scrollers that treat space as a predetermined element that the player can play in, but never transform and alter in the way geo-mod games like Minecraft, Portal, and Red Faction enable their players to.  I locate Super Metroid in the same canon because the game has often been compared to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night for featuring similar styles of non-linear exploration and aesthetics.  However, I’ve always found this categorization problematic as Super Metroid stands apart from SotN for its malleable environment cut through with organic tunnels and passageways created by the player and other organisms on Zebes.  Whereas SotN does feature breakable walls that lead the player directly to a reward, architecturally and topographically these corridors rarely loop back into other areas of the Castle.   Super Metroid, on the other hand, contains a myriad of hidden rooms that constantly result in loops that guide the player back into other areas from an unexpected or unreachable entrance point.  A floor might unexpectedly collapse and drop the player into a new area, an enemy might prompt the player to shoot at the ceiling and expose a hidden passageway, or the player might activate the speed boost and unexpectedly charge through a wall to produce a tunnel to a previous area.  The player is not always the agent of these changes, and often these walls and floors will regenerate themselves, which are two radical departures from the architecture of SotN that helps the game to model the living, dynamic ecosystem that it visually represents.  In terms of a literacy of the glitch, these contortions in the environment teach the player that she can manipulate space to her advantage in order deviate from the map that the game supplies.  The logic of the glitch, or glitching in terms of slipping or escaping the visible and physical parameters in the game, very much underpins the experience in Super Metroid.

Super Metroid teaches and rewards the player for finding ways to splice together the game world with augmentations to Samus’ Power Suit, all of which dramatically change her relationship with the environment.  As the player finds ways to create a fluid circuit through Zebes that circumnavigates the traditional hyphenated means of stage navigation through doors, pipes, portals, stage cleared screens and other thresholds, players develop a specific literacy of how to pass through the game’s barriers.  At the same time, the player is transforming Samus into a goddess of space and time, enabling her to transcend the physical limitations that once inhibited her own body from exploring much of the game world (which, it should be noted, isn’t located behind doors, but through concealed passageways that the player creates by applying her abilities and powers to the environment).  By teaching players to transcend environmental and physical boundaries, Super Metroid argues that it is desirable to find a way to liquidate the boundaries of space and the flesh to ultimately master time – the glitch is merely the next step in this literacy practice.

To ground my analysis, it’s important to first contextualize Super Metroid by laying out the design choices behind its construction.  Anna Anthropy’s essay, “to the right, hold on tight,” argues that the original Metroid is very much inspired by Shigeru Miyamoto’s verb-based design, which Super Metroid largely echoes.  Verb-based design begins by selecting a key verb that the character will use to interact with the world, such as “jump” in Super Mario Bros., and then constructing the world and character around this verb.  For example, “Mario jumps into a block,” “Mario jumps onto a Goomba,” “Mario jumps on top of a pipe,” and “Mario jumps across a pit” demonstrate how this design method is based in linguistics.  Player activity in the game effectively constructs a sentence from the player’s use of a key verb, which is activated whenever the player presses a button (in this case, the A button).  Anthropy explains that “this is why almost all of the doors in metroid are opened by gunfire, even though i’ve never encountered a door i had to shoot to open: samus aran, having a gun for an arm, interacts with her world primarily by shooting. it makes sense, within the context of that game, for doors to open upon being shot.”  Super Metroid, like its predecessors and unlike many recent games that overwhelm the player with tutorials, never overtly states the application of these verbs.  Instead, the game slowly teaches the player how to read places that will respond to her application of various verbs through certain adjectives and adverbs.  The super missile, for example, is colored with a green tip and can therefore be applied to doors with green shields.  It can also destroy super missile bricks (bricks with the missile icon) that are embedded in walls, ceilings, and floors.   Similarly, the power bomb can open doors with yellow shields (corresponding to the super bomb’s yellow blast radius), as well as power bomb bricks.  Additionally, the screen-covering blast radius also enables it uncover hidden passageways to other regions on Zebes.  The player learns this advanced application of verb from certain rooms in the game that feature power bomb bricks that draw on the player’s literacy pattern and cause her to activate a power bomb.  The power bomb will erase the power bomb brick in addition to other bricks in the room that had originally appeared to be a inconspicuous wall.  The game never needs to directly tell the player to use the power bomb to discover unmarked secrets, it instead allows the player to learn this application from its environmental design.  The numerous upgrades to Samus’ Power Suit constitute a form of speaking (to follow Anthropy’s metaphor) to the game that enables her to bend, contort, and manipulate space in unexpected and beneficial ways.

While the verbs in Super Metroid allow the player to manipulate the external world, these verbs also transform the body’s physical relationship to space.  The space jump and screw attack are jump upgrades that shrink space by enabling Samus to indefinitely (and swiftly) jump through any corridor without taking damage, whereas the morph ball enables Samus to transform into a tiny ball thereby expanding the space in which she navigates.  The bombs that Samus acquires allow her to bomb-jump to inaccessible places until she finds the Spring Ball, and the Speed Booster compresses time by enabling Samus to accelerate through lengthy corridors.  Samus eventually acquires the Ice Beam, which she can use to transform enemies into platforms to access previously inaccessible spaces.  Finally, Samus receives two suit upgrades in Super Metroid, the Varia Suit and the Gravity Suit.  The Varia Suit enables Samus to navigate through extremely hot areas that would normally damage her, and the Gravity Suit allows Samus to move through lava as well as water without slowing down or taking any damage.  What all of these upgrades have in common is that they allow the body to transcend the environmental and physical hurdles that prevent Samus from completing her mission, positioning the environment and the body as two bosses which Samus must struggle overcome.

Once the player starts to pick up on how to read the environment in Super Metroid, the game really begins to test the player’s literacy by challenging her apply specific verbs to some less-than-obvious situations.  Between Brinstar and Norfair there is a glass tube surrounded by water that the player must pass through.  At first glance, this tube looks like a normal passageway through a hazard that could potentially harm Samus, but it eventually turns out to be the only access point for the game’s underwater area: Maridia.  What’s interesting about this tube is that the game expects the player know that power bombs can in fact shatter glass.  At no point does the game let on to this fact.  Super Metroid never requires that the player break glass with the power bomb prior to this area, which results in not building the necessary environmental literacy and forcing the player to discover this application entirely on her own.  Other hidden applications of the player’s verb set involve two species of non-violent animals that live on Zebes and teach Samus how to use her mechanical exoskeleton: Etecoons and Dachora.  When the player first encounters the Etecoons they sing the fanfare that typically plays whenever the player acquires an item and begin jumping from wall to wall up a narrow escape shaft.  Their motions mimic the player’s spin jump and teach the player that she can perform a wall jump with proper timing when spin jumping into a wall.  Similarly, the player encounters the Dachora after she has acquired the Speed Booster and fallen into a pit.  The Dachora will run until flashing, crouch, and then shoot off into the air, teaching Samus how to perform the “shinespark” jump.  Each of these three examples illustrate the brilliant design that grounds Super Metroid, which plays on the assumptions that players make about the programmer’s spatial rhetoric.  Whereas obvious applications of verbs (i.e. super missile for green doors and super missile blocks) tend to define the player’s experience of space, Super Metroid subverts this expectation with an interesting sleight of hand that suggests that power bombing the glass tube, wall jumping, and shinesparking were abilities not written into the game by any programmer.  In these moments, Samus seems to discover her own voice and escapes the pre-ordained language granted to her by a game designer and in doing so points towards a literacy of the glitch whereby the player discovers her own verbs to interact with the game environment in a way that is completely outside of the programmer’s design.

What I find so interesting about the literacy patterns in Super Metroid is that if the game is built around verbs such as “shoot,” and if the rules and environmental design both develop out of verbs that construct limits to the avatar’s body, using “glitch” is a verb that de-stabilizes the limits of the avatar’s body and, in the context of verb-design, literally communicates to the program in a language outside of its parameters.  In this sense, videogame glitch is a form of writing and communication with the program to which the program is forced to generate a response to compliment this new body.  Ultimately, glitch re-defines the language and limits of the avatar’s body, but also reflects this body in the new environment that it generates.

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Conversion Errors

This week I want to think about Haraway’s claim that writing is a cyborg technology by looking at the prominent noise and interference that appears throughout Stanford’s version of her text.  What I briefly develop in the following entry is just one method of deploying glitch and noise as analytical tools for unpacking the myriad of texts that intersect and grow from a text as it is circulated through the digital.  By noting specific marking patterns, I suggest that these errors generate productive contradictions that achieve Haraway’s vision of cyborg politics as a “struggle for language and the struggle against perfect communication, against the one code that translates all meaning perfectly, the central dogma of phallogocentrism. That is why cyborg politics insist on noise and advocate pollution” (177).  What these noise patterns ultimately challenge, I think, is the dualism that it is the human is who makes and the machine or text is that which is made (178).  In this text, the machine is no longer a passive receptacle for intellectual detritus, but an active co-author exposing the violence that is enacted upon it as it is tailored to serve a specific language.

The error I’m referring to appears as a pattern in which many of the “ti”s have been replaced with “d”s and vice versa.   The following is a list of all the instances I noticed in which this error appears,

“sciendfic”

“disdnction”

“Communicadons sciences and biology are construcdons of natural-technical objects of knowledge in which the difference between machine and organism is thoroughly blurred”

“domeshc” (here the “ti” has been replaced with an “h”)

“privadzation”

“dissendng”

“There is much now being tione” (here the “d” in done has been replaced with “ti”)

“collecdve”

“uldmately”

“Ambivalence towards the disrupted unides”

“But what people are experiencing is not transparently clear, and we lack aufficiently subtle connections for collectively building effective theories of experience”  (the “a” instead of “s” in “sufficiently” breaks the error pattern, suggesting a typo and not a conversion error)

“The permanent pardality of feminist points”

“Contrary to orientalist stereotypes of the ‘oral primidve’, literacy is a special mark of women of colour… risking death to learn and to teach reading and wridng”

The emergent pattern here is pretty obvious, and it suggests that something happened to the “d”s and  “ti”s when Stanford migrated this text to the internet.  In a certain way, these errors lead the text to perform Haraway’s argument against imperialistic dream of a totalizing and perfectly true naming that resolves all contradiction.   As Haraway notes, “there are also great riches for feminists in explicitly embracing the possibilides inherent in the breakdown of clean disdnctions between organism and machine and similar distinctions structuring the Western self” (175), but what are the personal and political possibilities offered by this digital pollution?  In the confusion that this error pattern generated, I found myself automatically converting the “d”s to “ti”s.  Although I suspect dyslexia played a more prominent role in the example I’m about to provide, this automatic fast mapping of meaning eventually lead me to misread “infidel” as “infinite” in Haraway’s close, “This is a dream not of a common language, but of a powerful infidel heteroglossia” (181).  Not only did this process inspire regrowth at the site of the mark (or the “damaged” / polluted text), but it extended to realize unseen potentials in other segments of the text.   I’m still mulling over the larger implications of this, so you’ll have to forgive the lack of groundbreaking insight with this blog entry – perhaps something to return to.

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Text and Silence

Today I want to address Andy Clark’s Natural-Born Cyborgs through Zach Gage’s text chat program, “Can We Talk?”  The premise of “Can We talk?” is to eliminate the ambiguities of silence in text chat by visually modeling the degrees of the addressee’s silence and hesitation.  As Gage notes, the ability to remain visually concealed isn’t necessarily a bad thing, since “they allow us to multitask as well as broach difficult and embarrassing subjects by not requiring us to look the other person in the face.”  Yet this makes it difficult for the writer to perceive whether the addressee is contemplating your communication or just browsing neogaf.  While the “[user-handle] is entering text…” line has been a useful way of approaching the topic of how to disclose the addressee’s initial reception and cognitive processing, Gage cites Google’s Wave text chat which would show character by character live typing as each user entered text instead of delaying until the user clicked send.  Google Wave hit the internet in early 2009 and by August 2010 was shut down, as the official google blog postmortem states,

We were equally jazzed about Google Wave internally, even though we weren’t quite sure how users would respond to this radically different kind of communication. The use cases we’ve seen show the power of this technology: sharing images and other media in real time; improving spell-checking by understanding not just an individual word, but also the context of each word…But despite these wins, and numerous loyal fans, Wave has not seen the user adoption we would have liked.

While Google Wave’s launch was unsuccessful for numerous reasons, Gage observes that one of the key reasons was how uncomfortable this instant disclosure of the text made users.  The problem was that Google Wave materialized the compositional point of utterance where users were using the text as a tool to work through and organize their thoughts.  The draft on the Derridean “mystic writing pad” becomes instantly externalized as the permanent mark, thereby eliminating the process of pre-writing that is central to grasping at meaning through the technology of writing.  Meaning was made instant, and by introducing the surveillance of the other Wave transformed the infinitely receptive digital pad back into “paper,” which thus inspired users to first write the message in word in order to hide or conceal the formation of thought through language.  Wave directly challenged the idea that the text is a mere vessel for thought, and exposed the recursive loop of seeing thought as text to then reflect on that thought to then fully articulate it in text to again reflect ad infinitum.  In Wave, consciousness is displaced from the experience of “having been written,” and shifts it back to apprehension without the trace.  Here the various thought processes and linguistic patterns that collide in the moment of writing were unveiled and users seemed profoundly uncomfortable with inviting the addressee (other) into their word-by-word compositional process.   I do agree that this disclosure or unveiling of ran afoul of what Clark calls “complimentary functionality,” in which technology should provide a new mode of functionality as opposed to briefly patching a perceived defect, “e-mail is nothing like face-to-face interaction, and therein lies its virtues.  It provides complimentary functionality, allowing people informally and rapidly to interact, while preserving an inspectable and revisitable trace” (110).  Yet I think Wave also shows the value of silence and secrecy in the compositional process — two elements that Clark’s work seems to spend little time exploring.  For Clark, and many of the theorists that we’ve read, the posthuman future is laden with exposures and openings, but I wonder whether silence and the secret can exist in this future.  What do we risk by surrendering our capacity to conceal?  Are silence and uncertainty no longer valued forms of violence and resistance in the posthuman canon?  And, generally speaking, if the sense of self depends on what one chooses to not disclose to the other, then the secret, and the decision to guard it, seems like it should have a more prominent role in the discussion of the cyborg and the merging of consciousness.

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Time and Gestell

I want to explore Verbeek-Heidegger’s concept of breaking as a process of unconcealing the “earth” or material out of which equipment is constructed.  Through their description, I sense that we can arrive at a better understanding of why glitch and databending have become prominent aesthetics that run counter to the hyper-productivity underpinning the digital turn.  This week, I want to start by exploring the relationship between time and gestell.  I use “hyper-productivity” to invoke the woes of both Baudrillard and Virilio, who each perceived the emergence of the digital as the acceleration of societies into the simultaneity of the hyperreal – a present which is present only for those wealthy enough to afford greater and greater transmission velocities through cutting edge digital tech.  While Baudrillard argued that the acceleration of human activities through digital augmentation created a biopolitical rift contrasting those who can afford to keep up with the increasing speed of the capitalist labour market against those who cannot—a coming to prominence of a new corporate-temporal subject who performs at 300% efficiency as opposed to her tech-less counterpart—Virilio saw the digital turn as increasing the potential of accessing information and performing work, but not fundamentally transforming the capacities of the human operators in the “hyperreal” network.  Simply because technology has the potential to increase efficiency by 300% does not mean that this potential won’t be directed towards browsing archives of lolcats and corgis.  The difference here becomes one of who can access the hyperreal.
The other problem for Virilio is that the technological innovations in 21st century communication systems have replaced succession and duration with the experience of simultaneity and instantaneity.  Not only has the subject changed due to the emergence of gestell, but this technological “coming-into-being” has compressed duration to zero.  Gestell replaces “natural” rhythms with “artificial” rhythms of a temporal posthuman subject that can be sped up at the mandate of the machine or programmer.  According to Virilio, “For the biologist, excitability is the fundamental property of living tissue…If it is to be excited, then to be alive is to be speed, a metabolic speed that technology is compelled to increase and improve, the way it has done with animal species” (123, The Art of the Motor).  While I find Virilio’s automation of technology as the agent of acceleration problematic, he does capture the important point that our ability to create faster transportation and technology has re-defined our relationship with metabolism.  The car has enabled us to travel fifty miles with the same amount of food that it once took to walk four miles.  The ability to access knowledge databases, entertainment, “sex,” and work through the computer without having to leave the house has also intervened in our relationship with metabolism, which does certainly distinguish us from how other animals put metabolism to work.  This transformation is spreading, as Barbara Adam observes near the end of her work Time.  Adam uses The Art of the Motor to theorize that Virilio’s laws of modern acceleration and dromocracy are already being inscribed in the genetics of plants and animals.  Adam writes, “With genotechnology scientists have the capacity to reduce to an instant what took generations to achieve with conventional breeding methods.  It is not just that this particular intensification of processes hold out the promise of phenomenal economic rewards, it has equally enormous sociopolitical implications for control, accountability and responsibility…Virilio understands human history in terms of a race with time, of ever-increasing speeds that transcend humans’ biological capacity” (134).  For Adam and Virilio, this extending and transcendence over time and metabolism is moving inward thanks to genetic and nanotechnologies.  While I do admit that I share Virilio’s lament over the biological rhythms introduced in the digital turn, our class forces me to question how Virilio perceives the end of “natural rhythms.”  Dance, music, the festival, and writing, are all technologies that have each contributed to adding new temporal strata to the human subject.  The rhythms of poetry or music can at once sync with a steady heartbeat only to suddenly indulge in a fatal prestissimo that is beyond “natural” biological rhythms.  The human is trans-temporal, a subject that exists across time strata.  While digital technology introduces new rhythms into the hive-time, I don’t see gestell doing anything different than previous technologies.  Yes, there is certainly compression, but I would argue that the subject realizes its trans-temporality best in the digital network – one can research Wikipedia, be half-way through a twenty minute download, write the first two paragraphs of a seminar paper, all while listening to the last ten seconds of a five minute song.  In part two I’ll explore the role of glitch and databending in the trans-temporal subject.

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This station is…now…operational

…And we’re back!  Today’s light post mixes At the Drive-In with Descartes to explore how Descartes’ concept of “humanism” is learned through his interaction with the technology of writing.  ATDI’s “One Armed Scissor” (the video above) presents an interesting platform for cutting into Descartes’ Discourse on Method and suturing composition with post-humanism.  Amid a post-hardcore barrage of post-human imagery1, unpredictable rhythmic shifts, tight pants, and Cedric’s death defying microphone antics, Cedric repeats, “I write to remember.”  In the context of the song, the words refer to the activities of the One-Armed Scissor, an omniscient character who, according to Wikipedia, follows the band and records their touring troubles.  The relationship harkens back to Socrates’ accounts of Plato’s tours and specifically invokes Plato’s perspective on writing as technology (without all the doomsaying about the destruction of orality and memory).  Writing is itself a technology for storing information and locating affect that enables the writer to not only recall, but also reflect and meditate on these passing moments.  That one “writes to remember” suggests that the technology of writing teaches the practice of reflexive thinking that Descartes ascribes to the soul / mind,

From that I recognized that I was a substance whose essence or nature is only thinking, a substance which has no need of any location and does not depend on any material thing, so that this “I,” that is to say, the soul, by which I am what I am, is entirely distinct from the body and is even easier to know than the body, and that, even if the body were no longer there, the soul could not help being everything it is.

My question is, has this “soul” been implanted in the body through the body’s interaction with technology?  Perhaps another way of saying this is that if Descartes’ “I am” comes from his “I think,” and his “I think” is learned from interacting with the technology of writing, then I might be persuaded to argue that his “I am” (what I’m understanding as “humanism”) is in fact a condition brought about by technology.  Reaching truth by undertaking “to remove them [opinions] once and for all, so that afterwards I could replace them [opinions] either by other better ones or perhaps by the same ones, once I had adjusted them to a reasonable standard,” involves an explicitly reflexive process that I would argue develops through language and writing.

Additionally, the four qualities that define Descartes’ method of thinking / being and moving toward truth seem to develop directly out of his interaction with the medium — his first rule especially,2  which is based on cognitive perception, or the mind’s ability to perceive an idea clearly.  This internal perception is, I sense, shaped by language, so even while Descartes’ wants to suggest that clarity comes from within the idea itself, I would argue that mediation arises he enters into an “inner dialogue” with a specific idea. Moreover, Descartes’ second3 and third4 rules seem derived from the categorical and organizational qualities of language, especially the sign’s ability to store and arrange events.

While this is an admittedly brief run-down of a huge topic, I’m curious to see how this idea unfolds as we move through other texts in this seminar and start to think about how our contemporary “I am” is (or is not?) influenced by our current compositional tools and processes.

Endnotes:

1.)   “Banked on memory / Mummified circuitry / Skin graft, machinery / Sputnik sickles found in the seats”

2.)   “The first rule was that I would not accept anything as true which I did not clearly know to be true. That is to say, I would carefully avoid being over hasty or prejudiced, and I would understand nothing by my judgments beyond what presented itself so clearly and distinctly to my mind that I had no occasion to doubt it.”

3.)   “to divide each difficulty which I examined into as many parts as possible and as might be necessary to resolve it better”

4.)   “The third was to conduct my thoughts in an orderly way, beginning with the simplest objects, the ones easiest to know, so that little by little I could gradually climb right up to the knowledge of the most complex, by assuming the same order, even among those things which do not naturally come one after the other.”

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Debris / Noise / Archive

One of the concepts I’ve been kicking around for a while now is the idea of “debris” and their transformative role as silent agents lurking in the archive.  The hypothetical here is that by following the accumulation of debris or “noise” accumulated over the background document as it circulates (and especially as archives migrate into digital space), I’m thinking we can re-conceptualize the archive as an organic entity prone to unpredictable evolutions.  I’m building this scenario from an image of the archive as a relatively stable assembly of objects and documents whose growth and potential is regulated by archivists feeding in certain materials and eliminating others.  Similarly, this example (whether these “examples” exist is a point I’ll return to momentarily) draws on an image of the archivist as a heir to a vast catalogue, the agent of preservation who also toils at migrating parts of the legacy into the inheritance of a future “to-come.”  From the “archivist” node emanates this promise, and it might be argued that the promise embedded in the legacy collapses the stages of past, present, and future into a circuital return of the same within the ever-present of the archive.  While stabilizing the presence of the present, the archive jettisons this to-come “end of the archive” beyond it, transforming it into a point when the current archive will cease to be the container for this  history and become a node along another history.  Preservation of the archive and its looming spectral beyond.  For all its apocalyptic significance, is it possible to shift the location of agency in the archive and challenge this construction of temporality?  This is essentially what I want to work at in the following entry, that by studying the archive’s evolution through the influence of unregulated substances that submerge into the document during the archival process (external elements outside of the archivist’s hegemonic control) we can understand the archive as an organism always evolving and troubling the institutionalized time of the archive’s legacy.  For me, the import and exigency of debris and their role in the evolutionary archive stems from both the migration of archives into a digital telepresence as well as the ubiquitous desire and injunction to construct archives.  Who ain’t a poor devil of a sub-sub indeed.  Storage-based tech from game consoles to smart phones has been breeding both the archive / “user” as “archivist” dyad, growing through the cloud of social media and software such as facebook, itunes, google books, last.fm, video game “achievements” (the discrete parcelling of analog gestures and actions into an archive of isolated moments), yelp, e-mail clients, goodreads, foursquare, craigslist, the blog sphere, browsing history and so on.  Considering this from a sociocultural and psychological angle, the prominence of archival tools and the increase in archivistic interactions with information may prompt the question of whether there exists a noticeable shift in our performance in the public and social spaces that we extract and convert into discrete digital archives.  While the task of tracing this feedback loop may be beyond the scope of this entry on debris in the archive, what are the implications of sitting in the presence of the to-archive, having it speak, and then transcribing the moment for a to-come?  And what of the desire to preserve discretely, to manage and separate the body into a set of stable and immobile notches as opposed to a blurry smear stretching across space.  The secret archive and its specters, an installation of s(h)elves.

But I suspect I’m getting off track and want to re-focus on the concept of an organic archive (the digitalized properties of the organic archive being, perhaps, a useful question to explore later).   I’m pulling the concept and my primary example of debris / noise in the archive from my experiences as a junior digital custodian scrubbing out the cracks and crevices in the Hemingway Letters Project’s digital archive of transcribed and photocopied materials.  At the project, we were entrusted with scans, which meant that we were reading and transcribing documents that contained multiple layers of compositional stratification bleeding into the background of the “original.”  The concept of stratification, of course, comes from D&G, but I’m deploying it here to suggest the layers of miscellaneous print material that had accumulated since the document was first penned.  Unlike editorial marks and marginal notes, which could also prove difficult to isolate, these “lines” of stratification picked up during the document’s circulation were often invisible on first pass, and required different methods of interacting with the text to make the text “speak” in certain way (through a historic contextualization that would “logically” eliminate certain transcriptions, or typically by using technological devices to magnify and manipulate the text).  Our interactions with the document began to materialize these lines and thereby flay the text into the discrete layers that had built up over time.  In short, our job was A.) to figure out what the hell Hemingway had scratched on the original, and B.) to account for the “material” that had accumulated and stratified onto the text as the materials circulated through university databases, e-bay auctions, publishing houses, libraries, transcriptions, basements and other storage spaces that may or may not have anticipated their re-emergence.  While editorial marks and marginal notes could be traced to an individual interacting with the text in an archival “institution” (meaning anything from a library to an attic), the materials that constitute debris / noise often appeared in the intermediary circulatory space between institutions where agency was less determinate.  The digitization of an “original” into a “facsimile” constitutes a “between” where these debris and noise commonly collected, producing varying degrees of interference that we’d document and edit back into a facsimile state.  The source of interference in the facsimile could include almost anything from dust, a poorly aligned document, improper drum illumination/image distortion, creases in the document, typos in transcription, to documents corrupted through programs not designed to support certain formats.  While poor alignment and careless file format conversation could be linked back to an archivist, elements such as dust and imperfections in the scanning of a document introduced a different form of interference into the archive.  While most interference was purely aesthetic, some required the magnification of a facsimile to a point where the text itself separated into clumps of pixels in order to discern whether a letter was a “g” or an “o.”  Negotiating this vague and rarely explored space between the letter and the dpi microcosm of pixels that form the letter helped to elicit spaces of instability and evolutionary potential in the archive as documents migrate into a spectral telepresence projected through various modes of digital circulation and reprint.

 At this juncture, I want to pose some preliminary & possible questions concerning debris / noise and their role in the archive (all of these require greater elaboration, I’m just feeling sort of lazy right now):

1.)  What can we do with debris?  What methods do we have to make debris speak, and how can we encourage the accumulation of debris / noise?  How can the force of the active debris work to both separate and solidify the “text?”  How can we put the text in motion to observe the stratification of layers of debris?

2.)  What does it require to move certain parts of the text debris (what types of motion do our reading patterns emit into the text)?  This question is prompted by the saying that certain parts of the scan “stand out,” as if we were watching for an animal to emerge from the brush.  If debris can be moved in certain patterns distinct from other types of typographical motion, how do debris bleed into the background body.  Can they exchange positions and be mistaken for the background?

3.)  Are debris to be imagined in terms of “exchange” and “negotiation?”  Are we working in an economy of patriarchal origin, or is this dichotomy between “debris” and “origin” tenuous at best?

 4.)  In what directions can tracing debris open for us as readers and communicators? Do debris / noise possess a traceable “etymology?”  How does awareness of debris’ presence open, deconstruct and re- solidify the text, thereby allowing us to read the text as a  assembly of debris, as well as the singular debris intersecting with the text.

One of the points that’s necessary to unpack at this point the difference I’m imposing between debris and noise, and how this difference perhaps elucidates what I mean when I use “evolution” to describe transformations in the archive.  While the distinction isn’t as crucial when thinking about the document for-itself, the difference takes on greater import once the document hits the archive / legacy.  Debris are those materials that do not necessarily impact the reception of the document’s primary content.  They may and often do change the affective and aesthetic experience, but they don’t directly impact the writing itself.  Noise, on the other hand, are debris that intermingle with the text, thereby creating a higher degree of interference while reading.  Yet since this noise will often bleed into the background, interference isn’t always registered as such, creating the potential for documents to enter the archive that trigger an archival “evolution” in unpredictable directions.  Of course, in thinking about the archive as organism, I’m not thinking in terms of sentience.  Instead, evolution, as I understand it in the compositional realm, is a difference that brings about a change in the body of the organism.  So, for example, I might categorize a transcription “error” that changes “slate” to “state” as evolutionary, whereas a discrete mark in the margins may influence our reading of the text but not alter the body of the text itself.  Evolution might then be described as that nick which changes the composition of the text, whereas interference is the nick that influences our interaction with the text.

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