Archive for the ‘web2.0’ Category

Our Lady of the Tombs

May 18, 2008

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

The Death of the Author; the Birth of the Voice

February 10, 2007

In my post DJ Spooky’s Remix Simulacrum I questioned the concept of an “authentic voice” in general, and the concept of a “remix” in particular:

“Given that the human history of ideas, progress, art, etc. is the history of remix, i.e. the unexpected association of different, seemingly unrelated memes, should “remix” be classified as an authentic voice or an unauthentic one?”

That post ended with only questions. I might have now a sort of an answer, which will be based on literary criticism, specifically on Roland Barthes “The Death of the Author”, as well as on our memory, or rather on our capacity to… forget.

In “The Death of the Author” (1967) Barthes states that “the writer can only imitate a gesture forever anterior, never original”. Any text, therefore, be it an “original” or a “remix” is deemed to be the reincarnation of older texts. Let’s forget, than, the illusion of authenticity [, or of truth, or of reality etc.] – there’s no such thing.

Here’s an excerpt from Barthes:

“We know that a text does not consist of a line of words, releasing a single “theological” meaning (the “message” of the Author-God), but is a space of many dimensions, in which are wedded and contested various kinds of writing, no one of which is original: the text is a tissue of citations, resulting from the thousand sources of culture. Like Bouvard and Pecuchet, those eternal copyists, both sublime and comical and whose profound absurdity precisely designates the truth of writing, the writer can only imitate a gesture forever anterior, never original”.

barthes.jpg

Yet I’d like to suggest a distinction between the authenticity of the text and the authenticity of the voice (leaving aside concepts of author, writer, speaker etc.). Indeed, the text is essentially unauthentic; the author is being dead, and the reader is, righteously, the new meaning-provider. Yet from all this destruction, I think that something new is born: the voice.

The Voice

Barthes continues the above quoted text with what can be understood as a minor observation on his part, but a one that I think is key to understanding the essence and the role of the authentic voice – that which tells an essentially unauthentic story:

“his [the writer, the dead author, the layman speaker] only power is to combine the different kinds of writing, to oppose some by others, so as never to sustain himself by just one of them”.

I’d like to interpret this last sentence as suggesting that authentic voices are those associating old texts in a certain way in a certain time for a certain society. And even if the last sentence from Barthes doesn’t say that, I’d still like to stick to this idea, and to maintain that this role of the authentic voice is of an extreme importance.

The authentic voice is that which reminds us of old, forgotten texts. What I’ll say now is not original, but it’s important: the past contains many answers for us, mostly in the form of unanswered questions (yes, I noticed the paradox). Faulkner has this saying that the past is never dead and that it is not even past. This insight, I think, is critical for our survival, for our progress. The right old question [or text in its broadest meaning] brought up in the right moment in the right context can change things. What Barthes cannot take from the dead author is his choice of the texts and of the moment and context of their reincarnation.

In other words, the role of the authentic voice is to bring up, to remind, in a certain point in time, some old texts so that the “reader” will start his/her process of creating meaning – actual, relevant meaning – around them. The authentic voice is the catalyst, the trigger of the whole process.

Remember (for future use): a society that cannot forget is a society that cannot remember.

DJ Spooky’s Remix Simulacrum

February 4, 2007

“Today, the voice you speak with may not be your own”, DJ Spooky

dj-spooky-todaythevoice.jpg

I thought this sentence was clear. But then, after thinking about it for a while, I concluded that it eludes me. I have several possible meanings with much more unanswered questions about its potential semantics.

Meanings

It can refer to the pessimistic Baudrillardian Integral Reality theory, in which anything is a simulacrum, a fake, including our “self”, our voice.
[OR]
It can be understood as an optimistic, web2.0 share-all style, in which the right to remix and to appropriate others’ voices goes mainstream.

Questions

– What is “My” voice? What guarantees the authenticity of a certain “Voice”?
– Remix: Given that the human history of ideas, progress, art, etc. is the history of Remix, i.e. the unexpected association of different, seemingly unrelated memes, should “remix” be classified as an authentic voice or an unauthentic one?
– What is different “Today”? Until Today, what kind of voice have we used – our own or others’?
– What is “Today” – where does it point to?

The sequel to this post is The Death of the Author; the Birth of the Voice.

Wordie: Playing with Structuralism

January 7, 2007

In a most common coincidence, two posts after Laswell’s pure content, I encounter an opposite phenomena – that of the pure form. But before that, a very short intro to Structuralism.

A simple definition for Structuralism would be a meaning acquired from the geometrical relations among the different elements of the system. Speaking of languages, words acquire their meaning not because they refer to an external thing, but from their political position in the overall linguistic structure – and open a dictionary to see what I mean.

Now, Structuralism can be very cruel. You are defined – not by what you are – but by what others say about you. It’s pure form, pure structure – no content.

wordie.JPG

Wordie – a new web2.0 service – allows you to experience structuralism, playing with words – pure words, without any context. As their tagline suggests: Like Flickr, but without the photos.

Wordie – playing with Structuralism. I feel an unexplained uneasiness here.

The Long Tail of the Coastline

December 25, 2006

I got to that point in Hakim Bey’s TAZ where he describes the concept of Psychotopology.

northcornwall5.JPG

State’s control is space-oriented.

It doesn’t matter if this space represents inches (RL) or bits (SL).

Every State has a border line. Every State is a Borderline.

Whoever is inside the border line is under the State’s control.

Temporary Autonomous Zones exist.

TAZ is a physical space, although it gives place to a metaphysical space.

Maps are never accurate. A map can never be accurate. Coastlines, for instance, are never accurate because of their fractal nature.

Because of the fractalic, chaotic nature of complex systems, there will always be a place outside of the map.

TAZ uses the fractal leftovers as temporary bases. Using Web2.0 lingua franca, we would say that TAZ is using the long tail of the coastline.

150px-britain-fractal-coastline-200km.png150px-britain-fractal-coastline-100km.png150px-britain-fractal-coastline-50km.png

200km, 100km, 50km:

Conceptual TAZes will always exist

TAZ occupies those fractal spaces not yet mapped.

The topographic map is an alegory.

The State (and the Society) has many other maps: moral map, ideological map, sociological map, economical map and so forth.

No map is accurate. TAZ encampments are always possible.

Attacks on ideological maps are the most painful. Foucault pointed out that niether the army nor the police are as strong as ideologies whenever the subject is the taming of the shrew.

I am Data

December 3, 2006

I am Data

Memex – memory extension – is a device conceptualized by Vannevar Bush around 1945. Microsoft has launched My Lifebits project accroding to Bush’ specs. In this recent project, a man records every single event that occurs: audio & video capture of his meetings, images taken by his camera, documents he writes – even his blood pressure and biometric data are constantly gathered and recorded for good inside the personal memex.

This leads to a world where memories never fade out. This leads to a world where human beings are turned into a stream of well-organized and searchable bits.

Martin Buber

“The being of a subject is a unity which cannot be analyzed as an object. When a subject is analyzed as an object, the subject is no longer a subject, but becomes an object. When a subject is analyzed as an object, the subject is no longer a Thou, but becomes an It.”

Citation taken from Martin Buber’s I and Thou