“You cannot erase a Malevich Square”
Modern Art. Ungrockable. What’s that square? what are those medicine bottles in a closet? and that pipe?
But then, what’s poetry? what are aphorisms? what are Zen stories all about?
if you want to shoot – shoot, don’t hide behind concise riddles and sparse words. DESCRIBE AT LENGTH! SHOW IT! SHOOT IT!
That’s it – Modern Art doesn’t shoot at anything. It makes you re-think, because you have been habituated to automatically respond to imposed categories. Even the fact that Art – that noble form of human expression – has manifestly become a simple object of commerce, auctions, and, god forbid, markets, is manifestly part of the essence of what modern art is, part of this re-thinking.
What is it all, a joke? an art nobody understands, being bought for millions of dollars by cracked, eccentric billionaires that got too much money to spend… those damn black squares, you paint one and… better than buying a lottery ticket.
Nevertheless, the following 4 minutes vid of anti damien-modern-art criticism is a real pl/tr/easure.
Robert Hughes: The Business of Art. Damien Hirst is all hype
We’re all conditioned to react to symbols. The reaction can be emotional or rational, conscious or unconscious, triggering an implicit response or an explicit one.
And that is not new.
But somehow, although we’re living in a world of symbols, representations, masks and words, where nothing is the real self of anything, but only a symbol of – somehow the pragmatic (i.e. instrumental, operational) essence of even the most innocent-looking symbols have eluded us. Take, for instance, the following painting by Piet Mondrian, an abstract painter, symbolizing something to someone. Is our conditioning to paintings as non-utiliterian carriers of meaning, i.e. as symbols remote from the practical, tool-type instrumentation, is misleading? (I exclude, of course, overtly socio-political imagery).
Composition with Red, Yellow and Blue. 1921, Piet Mondrian.
David Morgan-Mar, invented Piet, a programming language represented by cubes and lines of different size and colors, each combination symbolizing one statement or more, “Hello, World”, the program any newbie to a given language starts with, looking like this:
Piet’s “Hello, World”
Piet is more than a gimmick; it’s an eye-opener, in the sense of “Now I can see the Fnord” (“Fnords” are like tags, appearing before & after certain messages. Children in grade school are taught to be unable to consciously see the word “fnord”, but to react to it physiologically, so that the appearance of the word subconsciously generates a feeling of uneasiness and confusion, and prevents rational consideration of the subject. This results in a perpetual low-grade state of fear in the populace. This in turn perpetuates the need for Government, because without fear, people don’t need Government. Newspapers, naturally, have Fnords all over them. My adaptation to Fnord, Wikipedia). It shows us, simply, that any symbol can be a carrier of a program, activated through an interaction.
Inspired by Piet, and taking it to another dimension, one can see the possibility for a musical convention to represent a programming language, having a “Hello, World” concerto, each note or combination of, representing one or more statements. This musical convention is another eye-opener, issued from the broadcasting, one-to-many nature of music, unlike the one-to-one interaction model of a painting. One can broadcast a tune (or an image) over Twitter that will be deciphered by programs all across the backbone, and consequently whatever thing(s) will happen (I called this kind of tweet, a Twigger).
But are these programs, embedded in work of arts and tunes are only aimed for other programs? What about us? Especially now that millions of us are plugged into that global broadcasting network called Twitter. Can a tune trigger some unconscious mechanical orange in the global audience?
The wise and skeptical will certainly udnerstand that no matter what s/he knows about her conditioning to symbols, there are or there might be some conditionings that elude our consciousness. Keep your eyes, therefore, open, especially when visiting the museum…
i consider the universe to be a clever fake with streets and houses and shops and cars and people all standing in the center of a stage surrounded by props by furniture to sit on kitchens to cook in cars to drive food to fix and then behind the props the flat painted scenery painted houses set farther back painted people painted streets everything not real only a series of tapes been played for us
Philip K. Dick
“The only method I used was to obey no method at all”.
[Deconstruction:] Gifted with a strange ability to deconstruct the unseen, the “non-event”, the “on-going” banality of a daily life, [Exposure:] and to expose those tiny particles which make life so miserable, [Boom:] and then to throw in an extra element, a routine-breaker, that blows it all up, leaving behind a mutilated reality, incapable of restoring its previously false state – is Simenon.
Baudrillard must have deplored the stories of this great author, who tirelessly (365 stories, one for each day of the year, organized in 25 volumes) tore the illusion which is reality, leaving us in a void.
Medicine Bottles Waiting in Line For an iPhone 3G, 2008
Damien Hirst, 1989
Medicine Bottles in a Closet.
and see Each Fish is a Unique Individual
Given the mass of evidence, there is no plausible hypothesis but reality. Baudrillard, The Perfect Crime
The following is a story about the change in the role of the Body in forming Identity, providing Privacy and knowing the Truth, from the Spanish Inquisition to Minority Report – two time-symbols of body-reference. This is also the story of a rare footnote – one that stands apart in a book that owns it: footnote#3, p. 170, in Paul Virilio’s Speed and Politics.
“In the Middle Ages, the question is put to a body under torture, one that “knows the truth” and must let it escape in spite of himself”.
The truth [of a person] is embedded in the body.
“In the 19th century, torture is abolished but not out of humanitarianism, but because they realized that any act (every human movement) leaves external traces, an involuntary stamp. From then on, they scientifically make proofs talk“.
The truth [of a person] is manifested in the body‘s deeds, an involuntary stamp.
“From identical sets of material proofs they could draw different coherent discourses, each canceling the other out, by simply changing the order of elements”.
You stay quiet, Mister, while these two gentlemen, the prosecutor and the defender, tell your story. We’ll see which version of the truth will win. Anyway, your story is no longer relevant.
“We could imagine that the gaps and hazards inherent in the ordering of materials should disappear, since with computers they could make the accusing discourse perfectly coherent”.
… and by that, removing any competing versions of Truth. With the amount of parallel, simultaneous reports about any given event, syndicated and correlated from a mass of individuals, Reality becomes a statistically unified version of truth, Reality, as told by the machine, or as Baudrillard [probably] calls it: the Automatic Writing of Reality.
“At that point, they could do totally without the confession of the accused, who would be less informed about his own crime than the computer, and who, no longer being the one who knows “the truth”, would have nothing left to confess”.
Once Reality is told by the machine (as it is the case in Minority Report), another step forward is taken: Truth is no longer built out of the Past, but is rather an illusion projected into the Future. The computer is using statistics to build patterns of possible behavior out of a single, and somehow correlated event. When that happens, it will suffice to think Murder to be immediately arrested by the Reality Police.
Given the mass of evidence to the contrary, there is no solution but illusion. Baudrillard, The Perfect Crime
The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living
Some banal questions before some even more banal ones:
Is it a shark or a work-of-art? It’s both, no? it’s “a shark placed inside a work”, and it’s “a work placed inside a museum” that makes this shark in a work in a museum a work-of-art. Like Duchamp’s fountain.
Major changes to the object’s native territory provoke shifts in meaning; it’s the re-territorialization into a different topology that reincarnates the object as a different semantic object.
But what about minor changes within the same territory – so minor we can hardly notice?
When, in a given bedroom, you change the position of the bed, can you say you are changing rooms, or else what? (cf. topological analysis)
Georges Perec, Species of Spaces
Barton Fink’s room perpetual metamorphosis
Or in the case of Hirst’ Shark – The Shark began to disintegrate (poor preservation) and so Hirst was hired to replace it with a brand new shark, making sure this time the materials used in the preservation process will beat Time for a little longer.
A philosophical question was acknowledged by Hirst, as to whether the replacement shark meant that the result could still be considered the same artwork. He observed:
“It’s a big dilemma. Artists and conservators have different opinions about what’s important: the original artwork or the original intention. I come from a conceptual art background, so I think it should be the intention. It’s the same piece. But the jury will be out for a long time to come.”
Let alone, our language.
Twenty years went by, and I never saw him again, until that night at the party, when he walked in, with his wife and kids, and I, still under the disbelief of seeing him, getting up, smiling, shaking his hand and saying, as if in a confession: “I still have that book of yours, the one I’ve borrowed from you”.
Not expecting this kind of a reunion speech, he remained confused, but then he shrugged and said: “after twenty years? forget it. I’m sure the book got used to its new place. don’t de-territorialize it again… keep it”.
We had a small talk for a little longer, then I went around to speak with the others. But it bothered me greatly. I caught him at one of the corners and said: “It sounds stupid, I know, but your book doesn’t feel at home in my place. He’s not happy”.
And I saw that beneath all the “keep it” words he felt the same, now that I’ve reminded him of a long-forgotten part of his soul.
Can you feel the yearning for these lost memories?
Nothomb‘s novel Acide Sulfurique is trying hard to be as close as possible to abstraction, leaving almost any concrete description of events behind the curtain. The reader’s imagination is not supposed to complete the missing parts, for the abstraction is the essence here, a skeleton to be perceived and experienced in its bear form.
The story is, therefore, deliberately simple: a reality show named “Concentration”, representing a Nazi concentration camp. The Kapos are elected in an American Idol style of filtering, while the prisoners are randomly abducted from the streets. From this point on it’s a chain of almost pure concepts: animals’ wagons stuffed with people of all ages; numbers tattooed on the prisoners’ hands; dehumanization; starvation; rape; death. Added to these concepts are omni-present cameras that capture every possible audio-visual signals. Materials are edited, and then there’s the daily night show. In the society of the spectacle the rating is great, but when it starts to stagnate “interactivity” is introduced into the show, the audience being asked to participate in the daily “death selections” (performed so far by the Kapos) by means of sending SMSes with the prisoners’ alpha-numeric IDs whose life are to be taken. Remind you – anything in this camp, on this show, is real.
And although intuition warns that this kind of book is about to fall into the banality trap, the opposite happens. Because no description – but the evocation of the above concepts – is provided, banality is avoided. Moreover, the fact that the book is mainly structure, allows Nothomb to introduce a surprisingly powerful technique – an effectively shocking one – which turns you, the reader, into as hideous collaborator as those disgusting-yet-all-human audience of the concentration show.
Our lady of the tombs gives you, reader, a choice: you can restore your human simulacra by closing the book and not reading it further, the equivalent of shutting down the TV set. Or you could keep on reading and see yourself turning, in real-time, into a disgusting voyeur of a hideous reality. And as she’s aware of the weakness of the human nature, she gives not one but two chances for redemption.
Personally, I obeyed the 2nd call, closed the book and intended to not reading it further. Personally, I failed, the cheap curiosity taking over my previous act of honor. Just like anyone else in Nothomb’s book, I couldn’t resist watching.
Rest some of the questions raised by the form:
Can this really happen? (Of course it can – it already did!)
Yes, but can it really happen today? Well, ask yourself the following questions:
1. If such a show exist, how many people will watch it? [“unfortunately many will“]
2. In our “participation age”, with all its technological mediums of mass collaboration and of induced transparency – how many will actively participate in the executions by sending SMSes, or by Twittering their candidates for the daily death selections? [Many will. Some others will think about it, but will refrain from actively pushing the voting buttons]
But wait! There’s no need to actively push the buttons any longer! They no longer need your vote; they can do with your twittered thought! All you need is to think the alpha-numeric IDs of your candidates and your thought will be automatically encoded then transmitted into the show’s Twitter channel.
That’s a great solution, for after all even God blames no one for just thinking!
Acide sulfurique (Sulphuric Acid) by Amélie Nothomb
Otto Dix, Self Portrait of Mars, 1915
McLuhan said: “Every media work us out completely”
I’ve been (re)dragged into excessive conversations with all sorts of softwares, communicating in the inhuman medium called “machine language”, aka programming.
Observing the outside then became a function performed by the machine’s I: it’s seeing the world through a bipolar personality that operates in an acute dichotomy between zero and one, black and white, good and evil. Reality is made of procedures, modules, statements, debuggers, purifiers, validators – it’s rationality all over; it’s specialization all the way.
“SPECIALIZATION IS FOR INSECTS”²
I felt horrible, been growingly molded and worked out into the machine’s reality-tunnel, incapable of emitting any other signal but that acknowledged by “it”.
And then a Voice arrived from the Blogosphere. Hafeez asked me why I no longer write. I answered that “I can no longer write, for I have no soul”. He then replied with a vice-versa smile: “Maybe writing will get you back your soul?”
I feel it’s probably the most subtle and deep answer to the “Why do I write?” question. Writing is fighting, a battle to get back your soul.
The soul, so it seems, neither needs a body nor an avatar – some corresponding words will do.
I’m not sure, but does it matter what kind of corresponding words are sent over the wire?
(Can Twittering save my soul?)
1. It has been noted, By Roland Barthes for instance, that sometimes it is the opposite action – that of cutting off all communications – which restores and/or preserves one’ soul. Barthes interprets Rimbaud’s total silence as an act similar to Abraham’s silence – under the Kierkegaardian perspective – when told to sacrifice Isaac.
2. “SPECIALIZATION IS FOR INSECTS”: a citation from Robert Anton Wilson‘s “Prometheus Rising”, where RAW mentions the incredible diversity and versatility of the human race. We’re capable of anything as a race, and of doing many diverse things as individuals. Specialization is a plague of the modern market forces, aspiring at the creation of cost-efficient humanoids, i.e. robots. McLuhan, in war and peace in the global village says similar things.
3. Music piece from Aisha, Death In Vegas, The Contino Sessions ( a song that worth a separate post)
On October 1960, Klein jumped. Deliberately, consciously, rationally even, he decided to totally give up on his precious grains of life. He didn’t do it to become immortal – he jumped, so says the title, into the void of the unknown, that which is behind the common; that which disobeys the ethical.
Nevertheless, Klein had the strangest certitude at his heart – a profound belief – that he would live. Maybe, I should be more clear here: Klein believed that he’d be able to come back from the void, and consequently to conquer death.
Death – certainly not what you’ve been thinking of – that end which awaits us all; No, I think that Deleuze’s definition of death, not as a state by its own right, but rather as a void returned by the terminated function of life, the function which performs, since birth, nothing but “dying” – that’s what Klein thought to be overcoming.
By his deep desire to live, Klein gave up on his life, reversing the act of dying, creating a new state of things in which his time capsules were not popping out and collapsing but regenerating themselves – the perpetual odor of birth – with every new grain of time. A complete pleasure.
It was not until two years later, that Klein hit the ground of the void beneath. He died, ceasing to regenerate himself, five months after marrying his beloved wife, Rotraut Uecker, for whom he died two years earlier; for it is said that Rotraut Uecker was present at the moment of the jump.
On two worlds narrates Eddington in the introduction to his book “The Nature of the Physical World” (1927): the first being the familiar world, on its colors, odors, forms – and probably more important than all these – the people inside, you and… me.
On the other side of the curtain exists this second, alienated world, immediately recognized by us, the Matrix Generation: endless spaces of dark emptiness, with sporadic sparks and lights crossing the skies – the guts of a huge machine.
“Welcome to the desert of the real”, says Eddington, pointing at the two tables in front of him, the first – a solid, “normal” table coming from “our” world, declared herewith a fake imagery, illegally imposed on us, upon our senses; the second, although completely invisible and insubstantial, being nevertheless a respectful representative of the real world – the shadows’ world of the modern physics.
“Welcome to the desert of the real”, echoes Morpheus, signaling Neo to sit on the armchair beside him.
Two worlds, two tables; Yet Eddington’s goal is not just to describe the world revealed through the measurements of modern physics; this, says Eddington, is not but a necessary preamble, a scratch on the surface of the new philosophy of science. The fake, delusional world we’re living in and the dark, empty, real world we’ve discovered – this, says Eddington is nothing but a teaser.
A teaser for what?
Eddington mentions two post-revelation issues: the first, which I’ll call “Science for Science”, redefines the relation of Science and Society; the second, that can be called “Ecce Homo” reassess human nature in light of the changes to our understanding of the nature of physical world, “the world of shadows” as Eddington calls it.
Science for Science
If once Science was in the service of man, now things have changed. The moment it became apparent that our World is a phony one, Physics turned its back on it and started looking entirely at World 2 – after all, it is the ambition of Physics to find out the immaterial substance of “it all”, and if this something is to be found somewhere, it is definitely not in world 1, which “contaminates” the scientific measurements taken in the pure, real world 2.
“Science has at last revolted against attaching the exact knowledge contained in these measurements to a traditional picture-gallery of conceptions which convey no authentic information of the background and obtrude irrelevancies into the scheme of knowledge”, declares Eddington.
And yet, although for a furtive moment, he hesitates: maybe, Science has prematurely thrown away the illusionary world 1; maybe reality [world 2, the world of shadows] needs our familiar world 1, if only as a nice costume; maybe, like in Chamisso’s Peter Schlemihl, Science hastened to get rid of its shadow…
Whatever. Eddington dismisses these doubts quickly enough, and goes on with determination to establish a total scientific independence from whatever world 1 constrains: politics, moral, sociology… briefly from whatever’s human.
“The path of science must be pursued for its own sake…; in this spirit we must follow the path whether it leads to the hill of vision or the tunnel of obscurity”.
Lyotard would have said that Eddington’ Science for Science is not less fictional than world 1: there’s no such thing as independence. Starting already with Descartes, explains Lyotard, science found itself tightly coupled with… money. Hading to overcome the innate limitations of the human body and to provide themselves with technical extensions in order to accurately generate and collect physical measurements, scientists have become entirely dependent on funding. And as science became the validator of truth, reality turned out to be a question of money.
Science for Science is, therefore, a delusion; Science, even more than any other thing, is enslaved to the economy of exchange.
The second issue mentioned by Eddington is the implications of the discoveries about the sunny yet falsified world 1 vs. the shadowy yet real world 2 on the nature of man. Certainly, says Eddington, there’re implications.
I can only imagine what kind of implications there are. McLuhan nicely describes it in his “Medium is the Massage”: Every media work us out completely. One day, Says Eddington, we will see the world as it is, without the mask enforced upon us by world 1. Indeed, one day there will be only darkness around us. And why? Because of the tools.
It’s a common understanding nowadays, that the observer changes, by the fact of being observing, the nature of the observed object; it is also commonly accepted that the tool used by the observer alters the outcome of the measurement. It is less accepted, though, and even so less discussed, maybe even oppressed, that the tool changes the observer himself/herself.
We’re living in an illusion that the tools are external to our body, obeying our will. Same for language – language is used by us, we believe, like any other tool. Yet with both tools and language, it appears that the situation is the opposite. Language controls us entirely, and the tools – they mold us to their own structure. Every media work us out completely. We translate our existence into the tool’s blueprints so it will be possible to transfer data using the tool. The Internet is a good example. Soon, if you would stay out of the virtual you would stay out of everything. Human life has been transformed into zeros and ones. The scientist observing the world of shadows is, thus, risking becoming a shadow of man.
One day Nansen shut the door of his room, scattered ashes around the threshold, and said to the monks:
“If you can say it, I will open the door.”
The monks said various things in reply, but non pleased Nansen.
Joshu said, “Alas!, Alas!”
Nansen immediately opened the door.
From Radical Zen, Yoel Hoffmann, 1978, Autumn Press
[and compare with A small Jewish tale about the Question]
As told by my father
The famous Rabbi came to the village on his coach. Everyone was already waiting for him, the rumor had been spread that the Rabbi got a Question and that there was also a prize for whoever would solve it – marrying the Rabbi’s daughter.
All the brilliant sages sharpened their mind and polished their memory, eager to demonstrate their wit, to excel before the Rabbi.
The Rabbi arrived, and the Question was asked.
Two days passed and no one came forth with a successful answer.
The Rabbi left the village.
A young man ran after the Rabbi’s coach. “Rabbi!”, shouted the young man, “Rabbi, please wait”. The Rabbi signaled to the coachman, and the coach halted.
“What is it young man?” asked the Rabbi. “Do you know the answer?”
“No, no”, said the young man, “but please Rabbi, tell it to me, let me know the answer. The Question is so… wonderful”.
The Rabbi smiled at the boy. “Come on”, he said, “get into the coach”.
[ and compare with If you can say it, I will open the door]
This post is about eating Knowledge and the creation of the first System. It discusses the moment in history in which man created the first, provisory sign, and that other moment which came right after.
“And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed”, Genesis, 2, 25.
[6 verses later]
“she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.
And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked;
One minute before, one minute after, and in between – the moment of revelation, produced through a method that even Hume couldn’t have but approved – and here they are, Adam & Eve, digesting the naked, shameful truth – the body.
Their eyes wide open, Adam and Eve realize that this truth is too painful to watch, maybe too banal, for sure too concrete. And so they create, on the spot, in the same verse, in the same time capsule – the first sign.
and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.
This first sign, however, was too fragile. The fig leaves were sensible to the blowing winds, to brusque movements, and so most of the time they were failing to hide the flesh, to cover up on the naked truth. The sign was too unstable, the referent being visible here and there.
Borrowing from Lyotard (The Postmodern Explained: Correspondence, 1982-1985), this instability of the sign evoked fear and trembling: the exposure of the referent and the failure to fixate the referencing sign, which is the other, creates a problem of identity. If the other’s identity is not fixed, neither is mine. It is the ability to rapidly identify and decipher the meaning of the sign – not its referent, which should be hidden for good – but the meaning arising from its contextual, structural entourage – that assists in the creation of self-consciousness, and of identity. The more rapid and stable this process of exchanging and recognizing signs is, the more stable are the effects of realism, the more solid is the Fantasy of the Real.
Surprisingly, this floating point of identity bothered God and made him react by providing Adam & Eve with some practical knowledge, that is – how to design and fabricate stable signs.
“Unto Adam also and to his wife did the LORD God make coats of skins, and clothed them”.
No, God didn’t provide us humans with light, or fire; nor did he provide us with arrows or scrolls. The only practical thing God has provided us with was the Fashion System, Le Système de la mode, an empire of signs: a fantasy to hide our flesh.
Franco Moschino, Stop the fashion system, february, 1990