"The age of miracles is nearly over. Coming next is the age of mysteries. 20th century technology has allowed us to drive, fly, phone, broadcast and surf the net. How wonderful yet... how dull. Are we any the happier for all this comfort? Are we any the wiser for all this information? It is not a quest for physical power that will dominate the next century - but a search for psychic insight. We've tried travelling. We've even been to the Moon. The only journeys left to make are inner journeys. For these, we will need to piece back together the remnants of ancient knowledge that are still available to us." jonathon cainer
Contrast that wistful pining for some primordial salvic epistemological ooze [and the attempt to bracket invention] with a perhaps more open eyed assessment of the contemporary environment in a recent book by Roberto Calasso called `The Ruin of Kasch':
"In 1956, when John Von Neumann used his Silliman Lectures to give a quick summary of recent and ongoing developments in machines that could calculate on their own [and also what the author here doesn't mention, but that `Von Neumann Machine' is a phrase now used to refer to self-reproducing automata], and when he began by distinguishing between digital computers and analogue computers, he gave new names to the two poles that secretly sustain us. The digital pole seems biologically secondary and dependent, for exchange always seems secondary to the object being exchanged. But then the digital pole takes command, revealing its ability to envelop the other pole, to absorb it --and, naturally, to exploit it. The digital pole confers great power, but it does not contain, within the machine, the physical realitiy of the varying values, which is a last palpable memory of the outside world. Digitality is pure sequence of signs: when its dominion is extended to everything, we no longer know what earth sustains us -- or even if there still is an earth. We continue to experience the analogue pole, but we no longer know what to call it: it is mute emotion, which overwhelms and no longer flows into its old estuary. Digitality has given it a new bed made of indestructable silicon. Over it flows a silent stream..." (Roberto Calasso, The Ruins of Kasch)
Calasso's book is a twisting labyrinthine primer on the early history of modernity and its sublated mythic premonitions and urgings of what he sees as a new realm of the `unlimited' and how any concept of `legitimacy' (and other concepts that vex us so much now like, authenticity, identity, knowledge of origin, place, and possibility -- that is, the possibility of knowing a past or a future, much less a present --) can possibly be anchored in an ocean as vast and trackless as the one which we humans have awakened to find ourselves in, with no shore in sight and no soundings from a `bottom'. As he puts it, "In the heart of progress, the demon of the limited was stirring..."; echoing Karl Marx's earlier phrase that `everything that is solid turns into air,' we can perhaps quote the following from Calasso as a general marker of the age, in the wake of deconstruction, poststructuralism, and an age of global instantaneous communication and exchange, when everyone has a cell phone glued to her ear:"[....] things no longer have a fixed weight. They fluctuate -- immense, vaporous, poisonous bodies. They do not rest in themselves. Nothing stands firm. There is nothing less corporeal and more empty than the will, nor is it possible to find an immediately visible bond between the silent emptiness, pure compressed energy and the rampant transformations that it provokes, often without granting any truce before the devastation."
The spectacular accretion of highly technical devices to the human will comes to seem onion-like I take it he is asserting, ...and with the reminder that at the center of said onion is nothing. Whether that `nothing' is the nothing of nihilism that Nietzsche celebrated, that is, vacancy by god and occupancy by human will to will which as we saw above is ALSO empty, or some sort of samsara which still has a salvational repose to it ... (One reason I find contemporary science fiction films so fascinating is that technology serves both salvation and redemption--frank tipler--and damnation and catastrophe, as in the terminator films...all the while as the Maxwell's Demon of the underlying tech of special effects and projection/photographic technologes frames the very ways in which we CAN ask such questions, teasing us with the possiblity of the technical-infra structure's own demise, that there is no way the robot monster can win...even as the robot monster sits in the wings of the theater projecting this fantasy!)
Well, we won't moderate between forms of emptinesses tonight since our main concern is with those `accretions' , that is, the technical, and the phenomenology of their penetrations. (There is also the necessarily deferred question of whether the `technical' is ONE thing or MANY).
"We find it painful to be men--real men of flesh and blood with OUR OWN PRIVATE BODIES; we're ashamed of it, and we long to turn ourselves into something hypothetical called the average man. We're stillborn, and for a long time we've been brought into the world by parents who are dead themselves; and we like it better and better. We're developing a taste for it, so to speak. Soon we'll invent a way to be begotten entirely by ideas."
the following two stories were quoted by a therapist in a recent `Wired'
2) A 41-year old man claims he is a witch and that he runs an on-line service for new witches. He reports that he creates web sites for others, and he believes his powers are so strong that he can surf the internet using only his mind. He also says that he receives magnetism from the internet each day at 2, 4, and 7 p.m.
Neither patient had any, or minimal, experience with computers or the internet.In 1919, psychiatrist Victor Tausk wrote a paper entitled `The Influencing Machine' elucidating what has become a common place phenomena as twentieth century machinery has increased in its distribution, complexity, and now with minaturization, it's omnipresence and virtual transparency.
Here is Tausk's description: "The schizophrenic influencing machine
is a machine of mystical nature. The patients are able to give only vague
hints of its construction. It consists of boxes, cranks, levers, wheels,
buttons, wires, batteries and the like. Patients endeavor to discover
the construction of the apparatus by means of their own technical knowledge,
and it appears that with the progressive popularization of the sciences,
all the forces known to technology are utilized to explain the functioning
of the apparatus. All the discovers of mankind, however, are regarded
as inadequate to explain the marvelous powers of this machine, by which
the patients feel themselves persecuted."
[Main effects of the influencing machine:
In the nineteenth century, Baudelaire's generation became fascinated with nerves, as if finding them for the first time. The power of `nerves' to be shocked by the modern (that is, the technical), jolted out of their normal patterns, became a fixation of increasing power with Baudelaire's `shocking of the bourgeoise,' the celebrated case of Judge Schreber's nervous delirium and Freud's subsequent elucidation of the mechanism of paranoia, then Freud's notion of the ego as a protective cushion against excessive shock to the nervous system and on up to Walter Benjamin and his thesis of Emergency, the Extreme,[TALK ABOUT EXTREME SPORTS] involuntary memory, and the phantasmagoric archaic return of the psyche under the pressures exerted by technology. it was as if we were all tied to either electric chairs, electric fences, or laboratory apparatuses, the human body forming some sort of electrode, some circuit breaker in a larger circuitry, always in a condition of meltdown or upgrade
A modernist sequence, indeed, as if the body had been scraped down to the nervous system, leaving the ends dangling, exposed, screaming, waiting with both fear and anticipation for the body's new prosthesis to be fitted.
Calasso puts the sequence this way: "Here is the first sign that the network of the Body has become the ultimate abode of the Spirit--once resonant, then luminous, then all-enveloping, then aura-like, then vaporous, finally just nervous. And this transition to the body is inevitably accompanied by the urge to EXPERIMENT on the body." And in accord with Stirner's quote above, the body even comes to be seen as sphacelate, gangrenous, something to experimented upon in order to improve, if not done away with entirely. (Long before any apparatus appears a space appears in the culture where it will be incubated; it would seem that occasionally this `spacing' gets slightly confused and lays its eggs in certain individuals. It could perhaps be said that some become inventors and some become the invented, much like those who fall prey to Tausk's Influencing Machines.)
Walking is a little too micrological, its too easy for me to get caught up in the minutae of my surrounding. A car is just totally out of the question since it inhabits some middle range of speed where everything is muddled...not fast enough or high enough to get a really good overview like a plane but so close and fast that only the most thumb like aspects get noticed--and as regards smells--forget it.
But a bike at twilight...um, nothing like it. Pockets of warm and cool air flowing over as i move through them, a hint of a landry detergent as i glade past one modest house, a hint of rose or newly mown lawn or rosemary past another or another; a whiff of garbage even has a certain curious delight. Sounds of night bugs crawling, stritching up the approaching gloom. Riding a bike gathers in all the moments, offers a brief savoring then stacks up another, just the right amount of time spent with each event---not so long as to become obsessive, yet just enough for recognition and longing to occur, enough for remembrance to very briefly bloom then decay.
(Im thinking to myself that maybe the typewriter fulfilled a similar functionality somehow, a midwayness between the hand and the computer where writing was concerned...thinking that because I had occasion to do some typing recently. Faux-typing really since it was going to be used to give a simulation of typing in a computer graphic.)
The bicycle just seems like a so much saner approach to transportation..but it doesnt embody the hyper-aggregated society. i had to do some work on my car recently and I had to go over there it get my tires, over here for the emissions inspection, over there to have the brakes fixed, then the tag sent in---an endless parade of money pouring out and beauracracies being fed.
The automoile is the product of, and productive of, a society obsessed with displacement, movement, speed: its the Futurist vision written into the very interstices of the ordinary workday, a vast violent concrete hieroglyph which can be viewed only from (or as perhaps) the vantage point of some deranged god-like creature (which it turns out is us humans making satellite fly-bys).
The automobile has its place for sure--the only problem is that its taken over and dictates EVERYTHING about human life now.
Much of the time, things just seem to be floating in some sort of featureless soup. Its not necessarily disconcerting--until I sit down and try to write, to actually THINK about something that seems to be of some importance. Maybe I should leave off the writing for awhile and move over to more concrete (or at least gestural supports).
I did a video interview the other day. In thinking back over it today i realized I said almost nothing of any consequence. Nothing. I was vague, uncertain....and nowhere more so than when i was talking about my own work...ok, then well lwhat the hell IS my own work?? Just doing things doesnt seem to count. If I had any sense I would have talked about integrating all aspects of creating into ones life, etc blah blah...
well, its good to do those things cause if it ever happens
again maybe Ill be better prepared or maybe not...much better are
the conversations I have over at RRE with M.
Im taking my mother to Mississippi tomorrow. Im not looking forward to it. Im going to just try to relax and ignore the ghosts of christmas past. although maybe I shouldnt ignore them but invoke them and press them into paper.
Besides LE is out of town for the week; I think I would really miss her if I were to stay here...so maybe the fortuity is a good one.
Maybe because I take the back way, getting off i-20 miles before Meridian, through the piney woods, past hundreds and hundreds of acres of non-development (funny the way that I phrase that, as though development were the norm), just the occasional house or clump of houses which have managed to become incorporated: past Emelle, Scooba, Dekalb, past areas which undoubtedly are named by its inhabitants but the syllables lost at 60 miles an hour. After almost an hour of riding through this country side, it finally becomes almost a shock to see any sizable development at all.
Recently here in town before I left for the trip i picked up one of those large Rand McNally book maps of MS and was amazed at the amount of just sheer open space between towns, almost forbiddingly so in parts.Well. its not New Mexico, say, in that regard, but scarier in a way, because of all the STUFF, trees, bugs, frogs, snakes, vines in all that space. When I was there I went to a movie in a new little cineplex that had just been built on the edge of town, sorta of down in the lowlands and going toward the casino (built on the Choctaw indian reservation and changing the whole town). When I came out of the movie into the dark, there was an incredible cacophony of tree frogs from across the road. That whole side was totally undeveloped and a solid dark wall of 60 foot trees and undergrowth stretched as far as you could see to the left and right. There seemed to be millions of creatures in the dark. Almost a vast creature in its own right, like the ocean seen at night, restless and heaving.
Its a very pragmatic world in this small town of philadelphia mississippi, a world defined by an extreme regionalism and provincialism, the sort of ignorance one finds just as well in the small villages France or Italy. Except now there is this overlay of globalism, with megastores, and cable tv and internet access. For the older people it hasnt seemed to make any difference, just seems to have made them seem more tired and older in comparison. But it also turns whatever little town it hits into a model of corporate hype, plastic signs, avenues of fast food and francise brake repair outfits.
and yet....and yet...im uncomfortable, restless when Im sitting there on the other side of town, like I need to be in movement myself, need speed, need fast food, need plastic, in some repsects need that development itself, am addicted to actually in some way (and often in a very contrary way--doesnt make it any less of an addiction, after all what is a drug but a contrary way?) (It has something to do with appetite and desire; I suppose if you could circumvent those--as many partisans of eastern religions claim--you could , um, make some progress...but toward WHAT???! So then the next step would be to just circumvent thought I suppose, thereby preventing those nasty teleological, expectant; thoughts from arriving -- the whole vocabulary there is infected with a very western mindset. Is that NECESSARILY the case with technology also? Or let me be a little clearer, at the price of making it more problematic: does technology EMBODY, in a very real sense, in the sense at any rate that a watch embodies time, these self same telological, even MESSIANIC assumptions, so that one now longer has to THINK about these things but rather these things think one, in the very workings of their operations, even as one grasps the handle so to speak. Maybe technocrats dont have to be theological just as an embalmer doesnt have to care about the afterlife--the very basis of much theology--but just is practicing his profession. It isnt necessarily the case that the tools are thinking but rather that they facilitate a type of thought or allows thought to move in a certain direction to the exclusion of certain other directions, just a channel (a chreode its called I believe in some circles) cut in a material begins to allow liquid flows there, preventing flows in other places.
at any rate, on the edge of development, because of uneven developments,
I fancy that I can begin to see certain disjunctions, certain fracture
points, through which, ever so briefly and faintly, the outlines of other
things can be seen. Perhaps the outlines of other things can be seen in
the jungles of Brazil or in Mexico; perhaps they are the outlines of the
same forbidden things. But for sure the shrink wrapping over the culture
is getting tighter and more form fitting as heat is applied. I doubt even
my own thoughts and senses (and i probably even doubt them in the direction
of the grain of the shrink wrapping). And the ODD thing is that the tech
is beginning to bulge some pretty weird things up through the wrap, even
if it does all have the same oily iridescent sheen.
Ive tried to please you by making this more personal and less theoretical but Im thinking: what have you ever done for me??!