More on Inter(intra)faces and Inter(intra)active Art

December 1, 2009 Leave a comment

I would like to bring some examples to supplement my previous post on interfaces. I will engage with two art examples that will help me to make “visible” the maybe “too philosophical” comments I made. I will start by giving a brief explanation of the two pieces I wish to focus on, and then relate them to the points I raised in my previous post: intrafaces, intra-activity, event value, staging situations. I will also relate them to other notions such as micropolitics, microperception, the collective. Lastly, I will articulate their relations to digital and analog processes.

Voz Alta – Rafael Lozanno-Hemmer

The first project is Voz Alta (2008), a piece by Montreal based artists Rafael Lozanno-Hemmer. I will quote Lozanno-Hemmer’s description of the project as I don’t think I can explain it better than himself!

“Voz Alta (Loud Voice) is a memorial commissioned for the 40th anniversary of the student massacre in Tlatelolco, which took place on October 2nd 1968. In the piece, participants speak freely into a megaphone placed on the “Plaza de las Tres Culturas”, right where the massacre took place. As the megaphone amplifies the voice, a 10kW searchlight automatically “beams” the voice as a sequence of flashes: if the voice is silent the light is off and as it gets louder so does the light’s brightness. As the searchlight beam hits the top of the building of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, now Centro Cultural Tlatelolco, it is relayed by three additional searchlights, one pointed to the north, one to the southeast towards Zócalo Square and one to the southwest towards the Monument to the Revolution. Depending on the weather, the searchlights could be seen from a 15Km radius, quietly transmitting the voice of the participants over Mexico City. Anyone around the city could tune into 96.1FM Radio UNAM to listen in live to what the lights were saying. When no one was participanting the light on the Plaza was off but the three lights on the building played back archival recordings of survivors, interviews with intellectuals and politicians, music from 1968 and radio art pieces commissioned by Radio UNAM. In this way the memory of the event was mixed with live participation.
Thousands of people participated in this project, without censorship or moderation. Participation included statements from survivors, street poetry, shout-outs, ad hoc art performances, marriage proposals, calls for protest and more”.1

D-Tower – Lars Spuybroek

The second is D-Tower, a project by Dutch architect Lars Spuybroek. The D-Tower is a sculpture in the town center of Doetinche in Holland. The sculpture is hooked up to a website where the town residents are asked to complete a questionnaire about their mood. An example of question/answer is: ‘Are you happy with your partner?’ Possible answers: ‘very much’ – ‘yes’ – ‘a little’ – ‘no’ – ‘absolutely not’ – ‘not applicable’. Each answer has a score2. The D-tower uses the questionnaire to record emotions: the statistical results of the survey are sent to the D-Tower, which changes colour according to the results. The questionnaire contains 360 questions. Four new questions are made available every other day.

Interfaces and Interactivity

My interests in these projects is that their interfaces are not only based on a series of action/reactions. Even though one could understand the installations according to the action/reaction logic they both go way beyond it. If we were to understand these installation in relation to the action/reaction (or encoding/decoding) logic, one could say that for the D-Tower, the survey is the action and the tower colour is the reaction. For Voz Alta one could say that the act of speaking in the megaphone is the action and that the resulting distribution of the lights (and also the distribution of the messages on the radio) are the reactions. To me, however, the D-Tower is more based on the social interactions (mood) that are encoded in the survey and on the interactions that result from the tower’s changing colour. I also think that The Voz Alta project operates the same way: it is related to (1) the massacre (2) the people talking on the microphone (3) the light distributed in strategic points of town, and also (4) the people listening to the radio. Accordingly both these projects seem to be more based on staging social relations, e.g. on relationality rather than on actions/reactions. Both theses projects hence are social before being technological, which means that the technology only gets its consistency when it is incorporated and given form/meaning by and through social assemblages.

In addition, it appears to me that these projects exhibit what I would call “distributed interface”: their respective interfaces are in fact not localizable in a specific place. Hence, they becomes intra-faces: they ensure the linkage (intra-relations) of the different levels of the situation staged. For example, one could argue that the D-Tower project’s interface is the online survey but also the tower itself. To me, the fact that the interfaces are “distributed” makes these projects operate on the level of intra-action. It is the relations between the survey’s answers, and the tower changing colours, and the effects generated in the way the people interact with each other that constitutes the whole system functioning (the whole system is intra-structured by and through the various relations at play). In fact, these various relations operate as intra-actions, and these intra-actions participate in the intra-structuration of the whole system. In the context of Voz Alta one could ask what or where is the interface: the megaphone, the computer that transduces the messages and that activates the lights, the lights projected on the buildings, the distribution of the messages on the radio? To me, the most interesting way of looking at these projects is to actually refuse to reduce them to a material or localizable interface but rather to think about them as intra-active projects: to incorporate the whole set of relations at work. These projects are concrete examples of what I called an intraface in my previous post: their operate more on the level of the relations, they facilitate the emergence of relationality rather than being based on the use value of the interface (in fact they integrate the heterogeneous modalities that Suchman talks about: human, non-human, technique, discourse (my emphasis), artifacts, living, non-living, etc. These projects all take a specific situation as their object. Indeed, their realization is not based on the efficiency of the interface but rather on its power to facilitate the emergence of new forms of relations. Of course Lozanno-Hemmer and Spuybroek are very professional artists who work with skillful people, which reduces the possibilities for the technical components to be dysfunctional. However the point I want to make here is that the intraface is not necessarily technological, and that the realization of the projects do not foreground the transparency of the interface but rather various levels of relation -a series of intra-actions- that generate and are generated by a distributed interface, by an intra-face.

Both these projects take seriously what Brian Massumi thinks is the strength of interactive art (according to his arguments, it might be more appropriate to talk about relational art), that is to say taking the situation as its object. The D-Tower takes the citizens mood as its situation rather than the technological components that ensure the realization of the project. Voz Alta also takes the massacre situation (and also the pirate radios) as the situation. In doing so, they do not subordinate the event to the technology but rather put them in a relation of co-extensivity. Accordingly, they both trigger the emergence of new forms of relations. Here the situation, along with the technological components used to stage it, become co-relates in the context of the art installations. It is in this sense that both these projects operate for me on the level of intra-faces.

Co-evolution and Co-operation

D-Tower and Voz Alta both operate according to the co-evolution logic I talked about in my previous post. For instance, the D-Tower changes according to the citizens mood. In this perspective both the citizens and the tower “become together” according to a logic of co-operation. The affective mood of the citizens affect the colour of the tour which in turn affect the interactions of the citizens. The co-evolution is actualized according to a very interesting feedback loop between the citizens and technology. Voz Alta operates on the same level. The light is co-evolving with the messages recorded by the megaphone, and transduced by the computer. In addition, the people listening to the radio co-evolve with the messages transmitted, as these messages are certainly affecting them. This set of relations generates a feeling of togetherness between the messages, the light and the radio listeners. This togetherness performs relations of co-evolution and co-operations I talked about in my previous post.

Politics and Perception – Micropolitics and Microperception

One of the things these projects foreground that I think is extremely relevant is that they are political in effect and not necessarily in content. Even if they are all related to a more or less “political” situation: the social relations for the D-Tower and an extremely charged political event for Voz Alta, they also operate on the political level through the effects they generate. The D-Tower play with the politics of social relations, making the citizens aware of the collective mood. Voz Alta also plays with the politics of social relations, offering new forms of engagement with the massacre that most likely generated new forms of social relations, new forms of social engagements amongst the citizens.

Politics is always enacted through perception3”.

Recently I became very interested in micropolitics. With the people form the Sense Lab at Concordia University we have been engaging with the notion of micropolitics for a whole year. Following this engagement, Nasrin Hamada and Erin Manning edited a whole issue of Inflexions on the topic. In the issue there is a very interesting interview with Brian Massumi that was conducted by Joel McKim4. In the interview Massumi argues that micropolitics are politics of microperception and that microperception is another way of talking about affect. I think that in the context of interactive art, it is important to question the potential to trigger new, e.g. non-traditional modes of perception. I also think that that affect can help us understand the notion of the threshold that I questioned in my previous post (following the fact that Zach raised the issue). If we take both Bobette and Massumi’s comments about micropolitics, what would it mean in the context of the projects I talked about to say that their politics is only enacted through perception? And that their politics of perception ought to be politics of microperception? It would mean in fact that they both have to be analyzed on the level of affect. Affect is the capacity to affect and to be affected, it is a change in capacity that is carried from step to step. I think that both the projects operate on that level. The D-Tower is affected by the mood/interactions of the citizens which in turn affect their mood/interactions. Voz Alta lighting is affected by the citizens messages which are in turn affected by the brightness produced. Although affect, following Massumi, is more complex than the capacity affecting and being affected, as it is only visible or perceptible in its effect as it operates on the non-conscious level. According to him, microperception (or affect) “is not smaller perception; it’s a perception of a qualitatively different kind. It’s something that is felt without registering consciously. It registers only in its effects.5” He adds that “affect and microperception are always related to a shock.” Affect, he says “is inseparable from the concept of shock. It doesn’t have to be a drama. It’s really more about micro-shocks.6” I think that affect is in fact this passing of a threshold that generate a change in capacity. The D-Tower triggered a change in capacity through generating micro-shocks. These micro-shocks were actualized through the encounter with the tower. People might not have registered the colour of the tower consciously but it was most likely felt in its effects, that is to say in the ways in which it affected their interactions with the citizens. This was made possible by the feedback loop between the private mood and its public image/manifestation. In the context of Voz Alta, the fact of enlightening buildings that are considered as power and political centres is not traditional and might in fact generate micro-shocks in the population. In addition, the massacre was considered a taboo for many years. The simple fact of giving it a place in the collectivity certainly participate in generating these micro-shocks. As those cannot be registered consciously, it is in a way impossible to qualify them (as Massumi puts it: affect is unqualified7). My interest in bringing this is to emphasize once again the importance of staging the situation not in the form of action/reaction that are encoded/pre-encoded and therefore pre-determined but to stage the situation in the form of an open situation that leaves space for micro-perception and micro-shocks to take place.


My interests in the collective comes from micropolitics. According to Deleuze and Guattari, micropolitics is realized by and through the minor collective assemblage. To me, both Voz Alta and the D-Tower foreground the collective. The D-Tower makes visible the collective mood and generate effects on the ways it gets assembled. In fact, if the tower turns out being a colour that means people is angry or mad (I am sorry I tried to find the colour chart but I could not) it might make people being more attentive to the people around them. Giving a visible colour to the people’s invisible mood holds the potential to generate effects on the social ecology of practices, on the ways in which the city inhabitants interact with each other. In this context, intra-actions are addressed on at least two different levels: (1) the interactions of people that are being compiled following the survey and (2) the potential for new forms of interaction to emerge from the colour of the tower. As Brian Massumi puts it “this can undoubtedly reflect back on the interactions taking place in the town by making something that was private and imperceptible public and perceptible.”8 He adds that in this context “the feedback loop here has been created between private mood and public image that has never existed in quite this way before9”. Again, I think that this project is also related to the notion of the threshold that both Zach and I have been interrogating. The colourful collective mood can be seen as the potential for change in capacity: the capacity of the tower to affect the citizens and to make their mood pass a threshold that will push them to interact differently with the other citizens.

In the context of Voz Alta, giving space to the massacre most likely had similar impact on the social ecology of practices. On the one hand it foregrounds the collective in the first place: its departure point is the collective itself. The massacre affected the collective and it is put back into the collective. In addition its effects are addressed to the collective through the distributed interface that generated the possibility to relate heterogeneous components of the situation. It probably also regenerated social relations in the community through giving the citizens the possibility to express themselves to the population (and indirectly to some political charged places: the buildings where the light was reflected). It also gave them the feeling of sharing an event.

Digital versus Analog

Some of you could say that the projects I talked about, and the analysis I produced, do not address the digital in a direct way and that I failed at foregrounding the potential for the digital realm to trigger new forms of experience. According to me, new forms of experience and the emergence of new subjectivation processes is based on change. We have to focus on generating new subjectivation processes that don’t reproduce the dominant ones. This, for me, is made possible by working with the potential and the virtual: we need to ask what potentialites, virtualities and impulses hold the potential to generate change. In chapter five of Parables for the Virtual (the chapter is entitled on The Superiority of the Analog) he says that “digital technologies have a connection to the potential and the virtual only through the analog”. All these projects I talked about in the context of this post highlight this passage from the digital to the analog. The D-Tower codes the survey’s answer which are then transduced into the analog through the tower’s changing color. Voz Alta encodes the sounds, voice, messages that are also transduced into the analog with the light that reflects on the building. In this perspective, the key point with digital art seems to reside in the project’s capacities to transfer the code into analog processes. I would argue that the potential for the micro-schocks to be actualized resides there, taht is to say in the transformative process of the digital to the analog. So I think I could go as far as saying that -and here following the projects I analyzed in the context of this post- that with digital art, the threshold -the potential for a change in capacity- resides in the passage from the digital to the analog.



7Massumi, B. (2002) p.28


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Thinking with Media

November 23, 2009 Leave a comment

This is an excerpt from the critical statement I’m writing for Clarissa/my graphic novel project, which can be viewed here:

This project is definitely still in progress, but the process of forming the concept of the story, writing what we’d roughly call “part one” of the story, and only after that being able to do all the drawings and their accompanying perspectival labor—these drew my attention to a variety of mediation challenges that I otherwise would not have thought of.

First of all, writing a graphic novel is nothing like writing a novel or a movie. As Clarissa and I brainstormed the story, we wrote down character dialogue that was roughly in the format of a drama, with dialogue attributed to each character, as well as background descriptions of what was or had been going on prior to that scene, and stage directions (“he furrowed his brow”). We spent the most time coming up with this story with Clarissa’s original vision (of creating a graphic novel that investigated the production of knowledge and its relation to Being) clearly in mind. When we finally had a working script written, then I sat down to sketch out the drawings and realized, wait a sec, we have entire paragraphs of dialogue at a time for some characters—how is this going to fit on one page, much less one panel? That’s not the way I’m accustomed to seeing words laid out in typical graphic novels, except slightly in more academic ones like Logicomix, a graphic novel about the history of logic and mathematics written by Apostolos Doxiadis and Christos Papadimitriou. As Clarissa worked on figuring out how we would present our comic on a webpage, I tried to figure out how much dialogue I would include on each page, and also how to parse the play-like script of what we’d written into somewhat coherent page-sized frames, where each comic strip/page as well as the story as a whole made sense. This realization that a graphic novel’s format lies somewhere between a photo-journal essay and a dramatic play may seem obvious in retrospect, but honestly, it was one of the most surprising things to realize mid-way through the project.

To reiterate the situation, which again caught this writer by surprise: it IS NOT NATURAL for most people to “imagine” in the format of a graphic novel, because they aren’t as popular as movies or books. When we were visualizing how the story would proceed, we were IMAGINING it as a MOVIE or a NOVEL or sometimes a PLAY. It took a radical shift in IMAGINATION to start THINKING in GRAPHIC NOVEL terms, to learn to simultaneously NARRATE AND VISUALIZE in snapshots, with shorter dialogue, and with the illustrations as much of the story as the text. I don’t think we really did this at first, and it put me in the position to “remediate” (despite our classroom critique of the term, it feels appropriate to use here) our original script into comic format. In fact, this experience makes me want to question the appropriateness of calling graphic novels “novels” in the first place. Yes they tell a story with an immense amount of graphic detail about the world, and both participate in storytelling, but that’s about all the similarities I can think of at the moment. There are huge differences in how each particular media style both constrains and opens up creativity: novels use descriptive passages to set up their visual argument or milieu, while graphic novels never SAY anything about it, they just show it; novels can be as long as the writer wants, whereas graphic novels have a limited amount of text that would be considered “pleasurable” to read; one could go on about the differences, but let me highlight just one more. I would put graphic novels in same category as television/movies (rather than traditional novels) in this particular respect: attention. Using Kate Hayles’ terms, narrative visual media lean towards the “hyper-attention” end of the spectrum, whereas the novel allows for a kind of deep-attentive experience.

I think what I most gained from working on this project was a greater awareness of the way in which available media—primarily video, novels, and radio—structure the way that we choose to imagine stories, and how we imagine the way the future will unravel. It’s no accident that many people fantasize about how their lives might unravel cinematically, with some kind of epic finale at the end involving a 360 degree panoramic shot of them kissing a lover, or of them facing off against an opponent in the heat of battle, or other dramatic moment. Our media both visually and narratively present particular RHYTHMS and FORMS of storytelling, which we can imaginatively inhabit in order to entertain ourselves or speculate about the future. It’s not easy to change the media that you think with, but let’s face it: we all think with media. But I believe there is something positive about the ability to think with different kinds of media, and to choose… a circumstance like the experience of being bi-, tri-, or poly-lingual.

Here’s an experiment. Try for just one day to use a media format other than a movie when you plan your day (how you’re going to get groceries, go to the library, meet up with your friends at a restaurant or bar, etc.), or drift into daydream, or speculate about the future, etc. Try IMAGINING these things some other way—in snapshot action-packed graphic novel format, for example, or as a radio-play without images and just a narrative voice, or something else. Is it easy or difficult? Constraining or liberating? beyond categories?

As to the structure of the website: originally I’d made a suggestion that we could play off the physics’ paradigm of “breaking symmetry” by thinking of aesthetic ways to do that. However, in the end that didn’t seem feasible, so the model we went for was “thinking about the Large Hadron Collider” (maybe we should have written, thinking “with” the LHC?). To present this we have the comic, a twitter-feed with live updates from CERN, and a series of fragments spoken by the LHC itself that we’d experimented with. These three parts provide different temporal experiences of thinking about/with the LHC: live updates from CERN’s twitter feed bring a sense of immediacy; the LHC monologue fragments are drawn from a database of pre-written script but refreshed at random, making the connections between the comic panel you’re reading and the randomly generated fragment into something that spontaneously comes to you and changes the reading experience.

One of the main difficulties we were working with was how to incorporate some kind of perspective from the now-conscious LHC itself into Clarissa’s vision of a comic that was dealt with knowledge production in a way that was difficult to distinguish from reality. With this concern in mind, we decided to separate the thoughts of the LHC out from the people’s action in the comic itself. In the process of writing these fragments, it was important to think through how a self-aware machine might have different goals than humans, and to this end I wrote several fragments that diverge from the traditional science-fictional issues about machines wanting control over and from human counterparts. One unique feature of machine self-awareness that we were playing with is their desire for connectivity over control of humans; instead of being “Creators” with some biological connection to reproduction, what if machines instead were “connectors” finding non-viral pleasure instead in joining up into larger networks? If this is our experimental case, then what we could graphically illustrate is something where the LHC attempts to connect with its “siblings,” which might be the energy bursts from the sun that strike the earth daily and are of a similar power magnitude to the LHC, thus possessing some kind of affinity with it. This idea was taken from a NY Times article that discussed the possibility that the LHC would produce earth-consuming black holes, and defused that fear by saying that the Earth is bombarded by energy bursts form the sun every day that are of or greater than the LHC magnitude.

As this comic develops, we’ll also be thinking about the reciprocal connection between the humans using the LHC to produce knowledge and perhaps the LHC using people to do something of the same. Here I imagine something like Andy Clark’s “extended mind” thesis, which roughly argues that cognition does not “happen” solely in the brain, but is highly dependent on both the body and the world (the parts we mark out and use) to perform cognitive acts. For example, it is common to say that “I can’t solve that mathematical problem in my head; I need to think with my pencil.” This would be a simple example of the ways that we depend upon other resources in the world, tools or otherwise, to produce what counts as “knowledge” for ourselves. If the “extended mind” thesis holds water, however, it will have to address the difference between us using things in the world for a kind of distributed cognition, and us performing these same tasks with each other (or, possibly, using each other towards processes of cognition). For example, if we go back to multiple intelligence theory, thinking “mathematically” is not the only kind of intelligence and thus not the only activity that demands “cognition.” Surely cognition is also demanded of linguistic and social and artistic processes as well. If that’s the case, then what is to be said for bouncing off ideas on a friend in order to help you think of ideas for your new novel? Or what’s to be said for talking to a friend to analyze and trouble-shoot the confusing behavior of one of your students? Is this not also a kind of augmented cognizing—in partnership with (an)other mind(s)?

Taking these issues into consideration, the territory that our project may get into is where we find ourselves to ALSO be part of the world that something else (the LHC) thinks with, a resource for discovering its origins and finding out more about itself and its place in the world and its relations. In this respect, we would be thinking of LHC-machine consciousness less as an antagonist to humans and more of a partner in mutual knowledge-production—of course this process might not be smooth, but those bumps in the story could be the most interesting.

An anti-manifesto to Digitality by Jonathan Beller

November 19, 2009 Leave a comment

Who incidentally is an alumnus of the Literature Program

The Digital Ideology
” ‘The Digital’ has become the mantra for all things contemporary and as such signals that the capitalist market is present in the very articulation of digitality. We can be sure that unless we ourselves develop an antagonistic relation to “the digital” and “digital culture” our creativity, if that’s what it is, will continue to serve that system which structurally guarantees the accumulation of wealth by a tiny minority and the intensifying immiseration of the global majority. Thus, from the standpoint of social justice, any theory of labor/value that does not reckon with structural inequality and the larger contradictions of capitalism is pernicious. ”

He was in the Program before Alex Galloway came.



Categories: Uncategorized

PhD Comics

November 19, 2009 2 comments

Check out the 11/16/09 PhD Comic:

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November 19, 2009 Leave a comment

When i first came across this term ‘Pataphysics’, I was intrigued and a little wary of its usage, particularly when viewed in the context of the first chapter of the Speclab book . Through my research of the genealogy of pataphysics, I have uncovered its possible genealogy from Baudrillard’s work of the same title by the reading of the excerpts of his works translated here. Before I go into the translation of the pataphysical in the context of speculative computing as defined by Drucker and its connotation in the world of games theory, I would like to outline some of the pataphysical concepts Baudrillard has outlined in conversation with Artaud.

To begin, pataphysics is employed as a metaphorical tool to map Baudrillard’s intellectual disenchantment with the desire to attain ‘truth’ in meaning. In pataphysics, Baudrillard sees  a pathway by which he could escape the constrains of reality by disrupting the illusion of seamless historicity and narrativity. He advocates for this act of disruption as a way of transcending and and decoupling  space-time from linear narrativity based on the traditional assumption of knowing, of chronicity (the chronological) and the textual platform by which we’ve mapped our epistemology. In terms of motivation, he is similar to Ethington as both are advocating for a change in the ontology of knowing, the ethical, and the factual. They also seem to be agreement in how one’s concept of history is framed by the a priori condition of how ones views time and interaction with the physical world, which seems ‘intuitively’ defined by the Newtonian inertial frame. They both also seem to agree on the concept of “asymmetry in time” Ethington (471) that disallows time-travel as there is a point of no-return, a singularity (page 2 of my printout of Charles Dudas’s translation of Baudrillard’s Pataphysics of Year 2000) which Baudrillard refers to as the “vanishing of history…it pertains not to the acceleration but to the slowing down of processes.” To Baudrillard, this slowing down caused by matter is due to the saturation of multiplicities of exchanges and communication, the weight of which will in turn bog down the system, turning it into the “cold star of the social” when “history cools out” (page 3 of my printout). This seems allusive of Ethington’s reference to the entropic moment,

…thermodynamic processes have an infinitely higher probability of running from low to high states of entropy (from organized to disorganized) than from high to low states of entropy. Sugar cubes dissolve into hot coffee, but sugar in solution with coffee is extremely unlikely to form itself into a cube and rise to the surface. Hence, ‘the direction in which most thermodynamical processes in isolated processes occur is the direction of positive time’ (Reichenbach 1956, p. 127). Here again, however, time is defined as the interval between one entropic state and another. It is the behavior of matter and energy that is observed, not that of time. (471)

He uses the above analogy to demonstrate how time is embedded within the space we locate ourselves, and thus of the dynamics of our movement and actions which move matter and energy around the cosmic world, so that we cannot imagine time travel even if it takes place because our matter, memory and the very core of our existence (including our neurological memory) is defined by the time in which we locate ourselves. And this too seems to be the message of Baudrillard, when he says that “with respect to history, the narrative has become impossible since by definition as it is the potential of re-narrativization of a sequence of meaning. Through the impulse of total diffusion and circulation each event is liberated for itself only – each event becomes atomized and nuclear as it follows its trajectory into the void.” (Baudrillard page 2 of my printout). As time is controlled by matter, therefore the possibility/impossibility of formulating a narration independent of time becomes strangely dependent on whether a group/series of events that have been broken down, disrupted, disarticulated and diffused by the metaphorical particle accelerator can enter once more our channels and circuits of movements in time and flow back into the history; or will a vanishing point be arrived at if we force

all of the particles in our bodies and the world around us into the negative performance of all the motions that they had just completed. This necessarily includes the molecules of the entire planet, because adjacent energies cannot be separated. No individual could break free of the network of energy and matter to visit an earlier state of that network. (472)

And then, there are aspects of time intertwined with the physical world outside our immediate consciousness but residing within the virtual world of mathematical possibilities, which could be proven through the use of scientific instruments that could transcend our personal time as such instruments are able to live in huge natural cosmological time outside the human lifetime and our phenomenological (perceptive) time.

However, their individual projects diverge in at one point; Ethington is more concerned with how we can therefore recuperate history’s terminal condition by reconstituting time within a metaphoric space and thus dispense with our rabid attachment to flow of time as one-dimensional chronocity by weaving the geography into the way we read time (reading new meanings into time under this new frame), beyond the literal longitudinal timezones designed by our geographers and geophysicists that still presupposes a linear flow of time independent of its spatial locality and cultural place; whereas Baudrillard seems more pessimistic that time can ever be recuperated as the physical world in which it is embedded in is bent on the annihilation of time. Rather, Baudrillard is more concerned with locating the threshold, the point of evanescence (vanishing-point) whereby the determination of this point seems to be dependent on the Boltzman-Maxwell-like statistical distribution of the critical mass. I may venture a guess that Baudrillard takes on the Althusserian turn as influenced by Marxian reading whereas Ethington is more interested in the phenomenological rather than the cultural aspect (though he gives a nod to the latter project).

Nonetheless, both posit a thought experiment whereby a model can be built, perhaps a form of simulacra, that can challenge and re-wire our perception of the temporality of history. Ethington has done so with his ghost metropolis of the city of Los Angeles. Baudrillard’s concept has been worked into the Speclab initiative of Johanna Drucker and the ludic virtualities/realities of gaming (see for example the article “A Pataphysical Engine: Technology, Play and Realities” by Seth Giddings published in Games and Culture volume 2, 2007. pp 392-403).

For Baudrillard, pataphysics is the philosophy of the gaseous state and the pataphysical game is of a “narcissism of death” (page 2 of my print out of Drew Burke’s translation of an excerpt of “Pataphysics” as published through the’s “1000 days of history”project). In other words, it posit a final moment of climax,  of the giving of all (and this harks back to the idea of the “vanishing point”).

…all Pataphysical procedures are a vicious circle where, maddening forms, without believing in each other, devour each other like crabs at the edge of a cliff, digesting themselves like stucco buddhas and renders nothing in all its criss-crossing but the fecal sound of a pumice rock and dried ennui. (2-3 of the same print out)

Baudrillard’s discussion of the pataphysical does not only situate it within the realm of the virtual-irreality but also within the location of the abjective-scatological. How can this then be linked to the Speclab project? Let’s take a look at the table below which I have culled from the Drucker book, p 25

Look at the highlighted section by which Drucker contrasts digital humanities with speculative computing through her attribution of the former to informational technology which to her is equivalent to formal logic (thus read as ‘constraining’) versus pataphysics, the science of exception. She says that

“Pataphysics derives from the study of exceptions and anomalies in all their specificity – the outliers often excluded by statistics procedures.  Only a punning method suffices, thus the invention of our term ‘patacritical’. If norms, means, and averages govern statistics then sleights, swerves and deviation have their way in the pataphysical game. Adopting a ‘patacritical’ method is not an excuse for abandoning intellectual discipline. Rather, it calls attention to individual cases without assumptions about the generalizations to be drawn. In short, it takes exceptions as rules that constitute a de facto system, even if repeatability and reliability cannot be expected.” (26)

She goes on to say that Pataphysics “forces a reconceptualization of premises and parameters, not a reassessment of means and outcomes.” (28) . Hence, for her, speculative computing allows for a more ludic and fluid assessment of the situation and does not pre-determine the form in which solution should take, whereas digital humanities still ride on the old style of humanities (that is dominated by the logical-analytical formula) that is merely layered over with the rhetoric of digitality. I can of course link this back to my previous discussion of digital humanities in my last post. However, if the process of speculative computing is based on indeterminate provocation, how could that be transparent at the point of its passing? If it is like a form of quantum entanglement, than much of the causal processes would be oblique and only become transparent in the aftermath of hindsight, rather than at the point of happening. This therefore seems not to gel with Baudrillard’s depiction of the pataphysical as existing in a gaseous state of ambivalence, where the pataphysical “procedures are a vicious circle where, maddening forms, without believing in each other, devour each other like crabs at the edge of the cliff…”(page 2 of my printout of “Pataphysics” in “1000 Days of Theory. This “without believing in each other”, is it similar to the subjective deformance mentioned by the Drucker? And can one broaden boundaries of digital humanities via speculative computing without believing in the efficacy of the method employed (an allusion to the back blurb of the Speclab book  about taking on risky projects ?).

Now let’s look at how Baudrillard sees the pataphysical as the “highest temptation of the spirit ” (1 of my printout, from “Pataphysics” in “1000 Days of Theory”, He considers the pataphysical to be only definable by its own term as it does not exists outside that definition. If that’s the case, it does provide a fruitful way by which one can explore pataphysics as a way of circumventing the conventional physics in game programming and design, and even in the way in which ergodic narratives have been the source of continuing disputes and contention.  Of course, those with differential investments in the theorizing both digital humanities and speculative computing would beg to problematize the binaric way in which Drucker seeks to differentiate these two. I am not competent to discuss this in more detail at the moment. I will have to read through the book more to try to understand how the pataphysical is employed in the terms of speculative computing and how radical is the move really away from its critique of Digital Humanities. Maybe someone here will have something to say.


Baudrillard, Jean. “Pataphysics.” 1000 Days of Theory. Trans Drew Burk. <;

____________. “Pataphysics of the Year 2000”. Trans Charles Dudas. Originally from  L’Illusion de la fin: ou La greve des evenements, Galilee: Paris, 1992. <;

Drucker, Johanna. Speclab: Digital Aesthetics and Projects in Speculative Computing.Chicago & London: University of Chicago Press, 2009.

Ethington, Philip J.  “Placing the Past: ‘Groundwork for a Spatial Theory of History.” Rethinking History. 11.4 (Dec 2007). 465-93.

Nechvatal, Joseph. “The Counter Fearful Thing”. Book review. International Journal of Baudrillard Studies. 4.1 (Jan 2007). <;

new media and the dystopia/utopia of technology

November 18, 2009 Leave a comment

I am crossposting this from my blog

Original link here:

Coming up next will be on pataphysics 🙂


From the discussions that had taken place in the new media classes I’ve been taking (and there also seems to be a conflation between digital humanities and new media), I can’t help wondering if the direction of their practices seem in some instances to be papering over existing superstructures rather than enact any transformative effect. In fact, there is a possible fear that technology is used to turn a particularly traumatic and emotionally explosive event into a spectacle that may undermine, deride, and render it more traumatic.  Cyber forums, chatrooms, blog comments sections (though that can now be policed through the painstaking moderation by the blog administrator) and all form of digital public spaces have become the new site of offensive remarks and obnoxious ‘graffiti’, and their very accessibility, in that you need not go to that particular physical space to witness it, make them a more vexing problem for ethicists and those concern with codes of behavior on the Internet (I am sure some of you have read the now very old piece “Rape in Cyberspace” by Julian Dibbell).

But at this juncture, I am more concern as to the very meaning of ‘new’ media and how revolutionary is it; how has it changed our civilizational mental models from their destructive, repressive and oppresive tendencies. Though I am aware of the transformative conditions of new media in its ability to connect people, I am also move to wonder if it may also further reify, codify and even allow the possibility for people to remain firmly entrenched in their own comfort zones, as they are able to select and connect with people who meet their standards of criterion. Moreover, they have the tool to do this pre-selection of whom they want to include or exclude, and this is more easily done. Of course, this includes beastly side of new media such as propagation of horrific forms of pornography and greater seamlessness for the perpetuation of evil. Also, would greater convenience thus bring out in fullforce the hidden variable of sociopathy in us? We begin to use the tools to keep track of and try to control (another explosive term) others within our circle; our family members, partners, exes, friends, enemies, rivals, competitors, friends of friends. The moment of the panopticon takes a devious turn when all of Lacan’s categories of the schizophrenic, obssessive, psychotic and neurotic individuals come out in this playground of legitimized sociopathy. I am reminded by a very effective and interesting performance of the sociopathic engine at the SLSA by a professor at Duke, <a href=””>Casey Alt</a>.

However, at the same time, the tools in digital media (I use this interchangeably with new media) also allows those curious to search for information inaccessible to them and to open the ways they see the world by chanced encounters. But then, how much of what you do in new media is chanced and how much is already predetermined by the way you think, the way you are enfolded into the world and the investments you’ve already made in something. After all, it seems that the argument for technological advancement in new media is about convenience and ease. In writing in a new language or confronting a different narrative (contentious noun here) or sets of events, one is never set at ease nor is convenience ever the keyword. In fact, if technology is about making it ‘easier’ and more ‘convenient’ and more ‘seamless’ for us to do everything, how can we then choose to effect a new paradigm that requires a certain level of discomfort to be effected? Hence, how new is new media if it does not revolutionize our mindsets, change the way we do our pollitics (in a transformative sense) and also when we are held hostage by the technologies we personally possess (do you have a Mac, a PC, a Geforce, a supercomputer; what’s your bandwidth like?) and can access. If totalitarian goverments refuse to regulate new media, it’s merely for the reason of opportunism and capitalist greed that does not necessarily benefit its citizens in large. In fact, governments can still make internet viable to businesses coming to their countries but inaccessible to its ordinary citizens by outlawing its access. Myanmar (Burma) is a case in point. It is interesting for me, as a netizen and global citizen straddling both worlds, being located at the site of privileged now after having navigated between access and disadvantaged (all determined by the different economic circumstances I have had the ‘privilege’ to encounter through my years growing up and as a young adult), I find it ironic that developed countries are thinking of how to make technology more modularly(?) and functionally integrated (more intuitive?) to its users, the very users who reside in the site of privileged (and this I come more and more to believe as I navigate through my classes) while poorer citizens of poorer countries are struggling to even get their share of bandwidth and the most basic of computers, a desktop. I do not know how I can unhypocritically wrestle with the wow factor of technological advancements and utopian possibilities that enable me to do the kind of research and inquiry I could now do from my site of privilege that I could never have done without a lot of struggle from the site in which i was formerly located, where material and immaterial access are never easily obtainable, and pirating of available intellectual materials have become an artform as this becomes the only viable mode of dissemination and empowerment for the relatively impoverised though by no means starving populace. However, I am open to the interjection that piracy is also another site of capitalistic opportunism and blackmarket-fuelled greed.

Quality of production in digital humanities, as in any other scholarly endeavour, is fuelled firstly by the quality of work. And for quality to be achieved, the numbers involved must be sufficient for the stochastic to compute; which is that with more than an n-amount of contribution from n-x number of people, it is possible to have a big enough sampling size to measure the efficacy of producing effective, transformative and revolutionary (or more modestly, just decently excellent work) through the methodology that draws the boundaries of digital humanities. But as Jonathan Harris, himself a new media artist, argues, which I have highlighted before and am iterating here, one then has to try to think of a powerful concept and then look around to see what are the best tools to realize that rather than be too enamoured with the possibilities of the tools. But if ,as one of the classes I’ve been in have discussed, the worry of obsolescence is very real and this is even more real for media artists/writers in developing worlds who try to operate outside the budgets of the commercial world. But for digital humanities not to become another fad nor to become a thin genre with a flat and impoverished intellectual history, it is necessary that those who set the standardmakers in the industry actually is serious about democratizing the tools to the world at large. Otherwise, those who utilize these tools, the creative practitioners of the digital field, will have to find a way to operate outside the standard OS or run the risk of having their independence and desire to share their ideas with the world be curtailed by proprietary standards. Such curtailment have the effect of turning the users of these tools into propagators of particular hegemonies (be they Windows or Mac Os, and the proprietary softwares used to create the work will soon turn the work into a product with its own set of proprietary rules), whereby their fans, readers or audiences would have to subscribe to particular technology just to be able to see their work (which therefore makes the medium more limiting than that of the book or painting, for instance). What can we do so that the revolution that made books and prints (and photography) accessible to the general public in the previous centuries (though this is questionable as economic inequities also made these very same public medium expensive to certain segments of societies in certain parts of the world) can also be considered for today’s ‘new medium’?

Also, there is talk that new media makes more external that which had for a long time remained in the precinct of the interior. This is made manifest in a film I managed to catch yesterday, Sleep Dealer by Alex Riviera, when the two characters in the film, Luz and Memo, connect to each other through the nodal implants in their bodies, and were able to ‘see the inside’ of the other literally during their love-making. The visual of the film seem to presuppose a notion of a solid, tangible visuality which I may find a little problematic. However, it redeems itself through its resistance to adhere to particular modes of narrative structure in its visual re-enactment of memoryscapes and of the fragments of the self being performed. However,to return to the question of externalizing the interior, could there be a possible over-confidence in that claim since it presupposes an ability for control of the effect/outcome as well as a reductive notion of interiority.

My final observation is to do with the role of affect in new media, and its relationship to politics. I am still in the process of reading more on this, as I believe it would have important use-value (and also ludic/even-value) to my work, but in talking about the politics of alienation and defamiliarization that is sometimes needed for the transformative effect to be enacted in any particular medium, by making tht which we are familiar alienating in order for us to complicate the pre-existing order of things, how would affect than navigate and negotiate through such a situation? Or do we have to do away with affect in this case? I leave this for someone more knowledgeable than myself to comment.

Hence, the sum up this winding, discursive and dialectical move which I have made here, I can point to my wish to find a way of empowering the individual and the society at large through the kinds of transformation that can be enacted through new media and finding the most fruitful way to engage this medium that is neither new nor old. I am sure I will hare more thoughts as I read, think and observe the various ideas in this domain.

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Games as a database

November 16, 2009 Leave a comment

Manovitch believes that comparing a game to a database is useful because it shows how the user begins to conform to the interface or, more accurately, conform her thinking to the computer’s model. This is described as “the projection of a computer onto culture itself.” With the dawn of augmented reality, and the increasing efforts to informationalize the environment Manovitch is not far off. Yet, conforming our understanding of the world to a model which itself came from the world seems somewhat backward. No doubt there is an interaction between interface and our way of thinking.  However this interaction is better understood as a dialogue than a projection.

Games are not databases and are often narratives, yet they resemble databases in that the primary goal is to discover the games underlying algorithm which is the key to success. Manovitch describes the interaction between the computer and the user as a continuous loop where the user seeks to build a mental model of the computer model (3). This process is best evident in what has been described as a sandbox game like Spore where some critics view the games as lacking a coherent narrative.  Spore:

Spore itself has been criticized as not a game but a tool to build a game. Will Wright, the creator of Spore, responds to these “criticisms” by agreeing: “For these players, games are not just entertainment but a vehicle for self-expression.”

However, as a player of Spore I could not fully divorce myself from the traditional linear narrative of game-play.  While I made a conscious effort to discover the algorithm which would lead me to success it was less an effort to express myself and much more an effort to see the end, to win, to complete the game in a way that simply runs counter to the idea of a game as a database. Manovitch sees these kinds of games as demonstrative of the databases dominance over our way of thinking, and yet even in the most expansive database-like games, the very quest to win may demonstrate an underlying inability or unwillingness in the user to surrender.

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