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Reading the Ergodic against the Traversal

September 14, 2009 Leave a comment

I published this first in my blog, since again, it has me engaged at the dialectical level with my own work, and the objective of my work. I am republishing it here again for the purpose of this class.

(First published on http://modularcriticism.blogspot.com/2009/09/reading-ergodic-literature-against.html)

Also, this is a poem I wrote 5 years ago that was published in Anthurium that I decided to revisit here as I think about the link between the psychological, psychosis, Lacan, Manovich’s database complex and media art in the moving talk by Jonathan Harrison (I daresay his visuals are made more poignant BECAUSE of the way he narrated their intentions rather than the actual visuals themselves)

glassy clear beads converge into aqua blue sea of white foam, splashing, ravishing mares enveloping inlets and inclines, bubbling, crystallizing into delicate skin of a naked nymph frolicking among waves leaping high as she metamorphosizes into a curvaceous snowy swan flying high to melt into the horizon where the sun transforms into an orange glob of heat, seizes H20s, and gathers clouds impregnated and producing cumuli which soon dissolves into liquid droplets that reverse precipitation to glassy clear beads splashed blue by Neptune, the fish, producing glassy blue beads that converge.

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In reading through Aspet’s work on the meaning of Ergodic Literature, in light of the class discussions and blog posts (and I found David Gruber’s post on this very enlightening), I a now thinking as to what is it about media art that is poignant or ground-breaking compared to hand-crafted or even machine-crafted art (after all, art created with the help of machines and the skills of artisans, be they smiths, welders, machinists, furniture makers, builders etc, have been in existence, in different modes and forms according to existing tools (I refrain here from using the word technology, as it has been over-utilized in very unclear terms). One thing we do know about art, as Jonathan Harris himself would agree, is how it invokes our emotion. One need no sublime art to do that, even the cheesiest forms that hits at a raw nerve or emotional events that is within our recent history, would be enough to break the dam. But what is this new level of emotional access that we could and would like to do with Ergodic literature, a literature that seems able to break through the surface level to allow the audience to interact with the work at the making, or not? How is this different from the campsite fire game of spinning a yarn where each person seated in a circle would add a piece to the tale. Or even a book version where people used to add their own version of a tale that could have been started by anybody else, and continued by another anonymous writer.? Are we able to articulate the collective consciousness of the authors and readers in a manner more incisive as we begin to data-mine the mental models of these different contributors by deconstructing and then reconstructing the way in which their creative processes work by the way in which they choose use particular adjectives, verbs and leading cues?

While Aspeth’s arguments of the Ergodic model is dated in the sense that he seems unable to transcend the old computational model of unicoded ASCII mode of scriptons and textons, he provides a model that can be ripped apart and reconstructed if we now think in terms of a literature (across all textual platforms) whereby the scripton and texton can by turns be transformative to and away from each other. Wardrip-Fruin has provided a pretty good beginning to the re-articulation of Aarseth’s model when he parallels data and process, separating them only by a porous line to signify the artificial separation of the two just to aid our mind that has been schooled and trimmed in a manner not unlike the old-school literary critics that Aarseth had sharply criticized to grasp this layered model of reluctant categories. But more importantly, how can the ergodic model, with its traversal function that seemingly promise the reader/audience the freedom to traverse and trespass the rigid limitations that have been trained by their ids. I see in the traversal function the same form of traversal function that Lacan advocated in his model of the graph of desire


(borrowed from the Lacan and Monotheism:Psychoanalysis and the Traversal of Cultural Fantasy article because I was too lazy to draw my own), where the purpose of traversing the fantasy of the barred subject who is the split subject as the subject who tries to move from original signification to a new form of signification after imbibing the analytic discourse. The analysand crossing over. But in the crossing over, the split subject is able to form his/her own subjectivation by acknowledging the cause of the desire, the objet petit a. But at the point of traversal of phantasy (fantasy), there is something that drops up, which I will call the remainder. And it is this object that drops out that is my point of interest here. For likewise, in traversing the function that Aarspeth and Waldrip-Fruin talks about, there is always something that will escape the net of the model, or something that has to be sacrificed. I have not put my finger into what is being sacrificed, but perhaps in narrating the tale of that which is unnarratable in the conventional literary sense (but then, when one has read Lawrence Sterne’s Tristam Shandy, the very notion of a tale that violates Propp’s 31 functions of narrative elements is not a proper tale has long been dismissed). The protagonist is not human and will not being given humanistic qualities (which is another point of contention and problematics that I will not be tempted to discurse into here). Nor is it an animal or a being that is living and breathing in the cell-biology sense. It would be the narrative tale of a machine and in this tale, there would be many secret chambers, intentional and unintentional. And there would be the remainder. Will the remainder articulate itself organically in the tale, or do I have to find a way to work it in? I will be posting on this in my next post but for now, I want to go back into what it means to be ergodic.

I wrote this piece of poem at an age and time when I knew not what ergodic literature is. Nor did I know much then (except through a slight glance at the crude pomo generative text site
which only those uninformed in the inner logics and rationale of post-structuralist thought could have thought laughable) about how to think through the difference between a machine-generated text using Natural Language and a humanly structured text, where much thought and care is given into making the creation light and spontaneous, and to hide the layers of careful work that is put into creating that effect of sponataneity. The machine likewise is a result of carefully worded code, since to be careless is to invite syntax errors and logical inconsistencies that will result in a manifestation that is obviously ridiculous. Yet, it seems that we think of the software that is created to run the machine as an extension of the way in which the human thinks (and maybe in the way in which certain construction projects are done) ; a series of unfinished work (code) that is left hanging and merely covered over by other code, but always there and waiting to be accessed at some point by one who may be searching for it, or who may have stumbled upon it, a series of random texts that is the articulation of the connection between a score follower and computer-based speech recognition software. Or even texts that have been fed into a database that the code has been instructed to call up whenever certain strings or scripts are detected. As Wardrip-Fruin would say, the “central logic is planning.”This is what Talan Memmott did. Neologism takes on a different meaning, and the author becomes a virtual being, one that goes from mimesis to autopoesis to becoming one that mirrors the real (one that, as Lev Manovich says in his article “Database as a Symbolic Form” about unlimited database size which is the promise dream of the leading commercial database Oracle, parallelling the story by Borges about the map equal in size to the territory the world represents (and I struck by how resonating the stories written by a man who was blind at the peak of his creativity can resonate so well with what one would see in media art, does this speak of an inner eye, the ability to access the unconscious more strongly when one is able to block out the continuous interference from the outside.) Does the promise of infinite storage in the virtual landscape means that we can build a real-life holodeck of all memories and fantasies, with all our thrill at discovering the unexpected and unanticipated that seems to have organically sprung out from the genetic algorithm we have spun? Perhaps this speaks to the psychological database that is a part of the tale. I would like to quote here a poignant articulation of such a database in Manovich’s article

Other types of interactive interfaces make the paradigm even more explicit by presenting the user with an explicit menu of all available choices. In such interfaces, all of the categories are always available, just a mouse click away. The complete paradigm is present before the user, its elements neatly arranged in a menu. This is another example of how new media makes explicit the psychological processes involved in cultural communication. Other examples include the already discussed shift from creation to selection, which externalizes and codifies the database of cultural elements existing in the creator’s mind; as well as the very phenomena of interactive links…New media takes “interaction” literally, equating it with a strictly physical interaction between a user and a screen (by pressing a button), at the sake of psychological interaction. The psychological processes of filling-in, hypothesis forming, recall and identification – which are required for us to comprehend any text or image at all – are erroneously equated with an objectively existing structure of interactive links…Does new media similarly function to play out a particular psychological condition, something which can be called a database complex? In this respect, it is interesting that database imagination has accompanied computer art from its very beginning.

Hence, what is the relationship between this psychological database complex that Manovich is talking about with the procedural rhetoric that Bogost has highlighted in the function of persuasive games. Game engines can only function if there is a database to store that function. By creating persuasive games instead of serious games, are we then performing the traversal of function, the traversal of phantasy, where we reach into a higher ethical level than is possible through traditional modes? Are we closer to building this engine/database of ontology that has only been a series of abstract words and sketchy diagrams? Are we now revolutionizing the original conception of syntagm and paradigm by making them the signifier (or framework) by which we can now position our generative text and art? By making tangible the paradigmatic and syntagmatic what has only been a discursive construct of the lexical, can we now build a database of consciousness based on a clearer and thorough-going articulation of the ontological?

Maybe new media, and media art, has never been anything new or the province of the digital age. It’s ability to play a more discursive role is perhaps only accelerated by the existence of digital tools. But at the same time, it gives voice to pseudo-artists who has only scrapped slightly at the surface of the

envisioned by Aarseth and later Waldrip-Fruin.

And to end, I do agree with Harrison in his article Beyond Flash, that

I believe our medium – the online medium – has the potential to become the next great way of processing and expressing our world. Some would say it has already reached this point, but I believe it still inhabits an awkward adolescence, with no real virtuosos and no real masterpieces, and that the only way for it to mature is for its leaders and practitioners to push themselves to make better work, which will, in turn, reach a larger and less insular audience. If the work is purely technological, it will be less likely to reach this larger audience, for it won’t resonate with as many people. If it connects on a more human level, on the level of ideas, it stands a better chance of touching people deeply and spreading widely, like a Toni Morrison novel or a Steven Spielberg movie.

And that is the vision of my project, I have hinted on in this page, and which I will be blogging about after this. An intellectual idea that cannot change lives even at the most banal level is one that is stuck at the canal of its birth.