Monday, June 29, 2009

Facebook vs Google

Great Wall of Facebook: The Social Network's Plan to Dominate the Internet — and Keep Google Out -- By Fred Vogelstein

WIRED article giving the general outline of a rivalry that's defining the future of the web.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Medea: Against Self-Organization

"Flow backward to your sources, sacred rivers,
And let the world's great order be reversed."
-- Medea, Ovid, Metamorphoses.

"The Medea Hypothesis", named after the murderous sorceress of Greek Mythology who killed her own children, is Peter Ward's polemic against the popular "Gaia Hypothesis", the loving Earth goddess, that claims our planet as a whole is like a single super-organism, an emergent, self-organizing, homeostatic system. Ward argues the biosphere is driven to self-destructive extremes -- life continually consumes all available resources to the point of extinction.

Is this the cold, hard truth of the universe?
Perhaps. Let's face it... and take responsibility.

Again Bataille's general economy.

Steven Shaviro, author of The Pinocchio Theory, provides an interesting analysis, calling for an end to our meta-narrative belief in the virtues of self-organization here

Saturday, June 27, 2009

CRASH! : Ballard, GM, & The Accursed Share

In light of the global recession and near collapse of "Government" Motors, I recently revisited J.G. Ballard's 1973 novel 'Crash'. Far from a trite, rock & roll fascination with sex, violence and death, Ballard's fiction pushes the spectacle to an extreme, his technical language tightly grafting desire and instinct onto flesh, wound, and steal, charting the unexplored possibilities of desire. Affectless and desensitized, the hyper-consumerist hungers for authenticity and liberation, defining itself -- not through production, utility, labour -- but through the squander of excess energy in new forms of experimentation, destruction and play ~~ shock therapy! Nothing symbolizes the luxury and excess of affluent consumer culture better than the American automobile -- speed, power, sex, aggression, death, it is all there -- and has been the driving force of the capitalist economy for decades. This legacy may be slowly grinding to a halt, as our global economy begins to break against the limits of capital, complexity, over-population, excessive consumption and the scarcity of natural resource.

Crash is a cautionary tale. Have we been moving too fast?

The following is a collection of imagery and thought related to the Ballardian universe; a chronological trajectory beginning with the death in 1927 of the mother of modern dance, Isadora Duncan, through examples of pop culture's fascination with the automobile as a vehicle of violence, to the sickening media frenzy surrounding the death of Princess Diana in an uncanny instance of "life imitates art", and terminating in the ritual sacrifice of the American automobile, the accursed share.

1927 CRASH! : Isadora Duncan

"Imagine then a dancer who, after long study, prayer and inspiration, has attained such a degree of understanding that his body is simply the luminous manifestation of his soul; whose body dances in accordance with a music heard inwardly, in an expression of something out of another, profounder world. This is the truly creative dancer; natural but not imitative, speaking in movement out of himself and out of something greater than all selves."
-- Isadora Duncan
"The Philosopher's Stone of Dancing, 1920"

"I spent long days and nights in the studio, seeking that dance which might be the divine expression of the human spirit through the medium of the body's movement. For hours I would stand quite still, my two hands folded between my breast, covering the solar plexus… I was seeking and finally discovered the central spring of all movement, the crater of motor power, the unity from which all diversions of movement are born, the mirror of vision for the creation of dance."
-- Isadora Duncan "My Life" 1928

"Duncan's fondness for flowing scarves which trailed behind her was the cause of her death in a freak automobile accident in Nice, France, on the night of September 14, 1927, at the age of 50 ... As The New York Times noted in its obituary of the dancer on September 15, 1927, 'Isadora Duncan, the American dancer, tonight met a tragic death at Nice on the Riviera. According to dispatches from Nice Miss Duncan was hurled in an extraordinary manner from an open automobile in which she was riding and instantly killed by the force of her fall to the stone pavement.' Other sources describe her death as resulting from strangulation, noting that she was almost decapitated by the sudden tightening of the scarf around her neck."
-- wikipedia

Isadora Duncan's death -- tragic, ironic, absurd -- echoes the Ballardian psyche; the deep anxiety underlying the fragility of the everyday, the thin veneer of a comfortable modern life, that can be shot through at any second by absurdity, violence, horror. The final, convulsive dance of an indifferent universe -- horrible, yet sublimely beautiful in its poetry -- with the sudden, unduly marriage of automobile steel, pavement, flesh, silk and speed.

"Affectations can be dangerous." -- Gertrude Stein
"Adieu, mes amis. Je vais à la gloire!" -- Isadora Duncan

1928 CRASH! : Histoire de l'Oeil

"The caress of the eye over the skin is so utterly, so extraordinarily gentle, and the sensation is so bizarre that it has something of a rooster's horrible crowing".
-- Histoire de l'Oeil

Working out of a Surrealist vein, and influenced by the eroticism of Marquis De Sade, Bataille's transgressive, pornographic novel explores eroticism and the juxtaposition of eros (creation, life, sex) and thanatos (death drive) through the increasingly "evil" transgression of taboo, sexual debauchery, and violent excess of its characters. Bataille discusses the catastrophe that is lived time:

"In the course of ecstatic vision, at the limit of death on the cross and of the blindly lived lamma sabachtani, the object is finally unveiled as catastrophe in a chaos of light and shadow, neither as God nor as nothingness, but as the object that love, incapable of liberating itself except outside of itself, demands in order to let out the scream of lacerated existence.
In this position of object as catastrophe, thought lives the annihilation that constitutes it as a vertiginous and infinite fall, and thus has not only catastrophe as its object; its very structure is catastrophe -- it is itself absorption in the nothingness that supports it and at the same time slips away. Something immense is liberated from all sides with the magnitude of a cataract, surging forth from unreal regions of the infinite, sinking into them in a movement of inconceivable force. The mirror that, in the crash of telescoping trains, suddenly slashes open one's throat is the expression of this imperative -- implacable -- but already annihilated irruption.
In common circumstance, time appears locked -- and practically annulled -- in each permanent form and in each succession that can be grasped as permanence. Each movement susceptible of being inscribed in an order annuls time, which is absorbed in a system of measure and equivalence -- thus time, having become virtually reversible, withers, and with time all existence.
However, burning love -- consuming the existence exhaled with great screams -- has no other horizon than a catastrophe, a scene of horror that releases time from its bonds.
Catastrophe -- lived time -- must be represented ecstatically not in the form of an old man, but as a skeleton armed with a scythe: a glacial and gleaming skeleton, to whose teeth adhere the lips of a severed head. As skeleton it is completed destruction, but armed destruction amounting to imperative purity."
-- from Sacrifices by Georges Bataille

As did Ballard of Crash, Bataille refers to his work as 'a warning':

"It says there is a danger, but maybe once you realize the danger, you have good reasons for confronting that danger. And I think it is important for us to confront the danger that is literature. I think it is a very great and real danger, but that you are not a man if you do not confront that danger. And I think that in literature, we can see the human perspective in its entirety, because literature doesn't permit us to live without seeing human nature under its most violent aspect. You only have to think of the tragedies of Shakespeare ... And finally, it's literature that makes it possible for us to perceive the worst, and learn how to confront it, how to overcome. In short, a man who plays finds in the game the force to overcome what the game contains of horror".
-- Georges Bataille

At the close of Ballard's short story "The Terminal Beach", the protagonist Traven, sits the found corpse of a deceased Japanese man upright in a chair, an image echoing Bataille's glacial skeleton of catastrophe, a confrontation with and affirmation of loss:

"As the next days passed into weeks, the dignified figure of the Japanese sat in his chair fifty yards from him, guarding Traven from the blocks. Their magic still filled Traven's reveries, but now he had sufficient strength to rouse himself and forage for food. In the hot sunlight the skin of the Japanese became more and more bleached, and sometimes Traven would wake at night to find the white sepulchral figure sitting there, arms resting at its sides, in the shadows that crossed the concrete floor. At these moments he would often see his wife and son watching him from the dunes. As time passed they came closer, and he would sometimes turn to find them only a few yards behind him. Patiently Traven waited for them to speak to him, thinking of the great blocks whose entrance was guarded by the seated figure of the dead archangel, as the waves broke on the distant shore and the burning bombers fell through his dreams."
-- from The Terminal Beach by J.G. Ballard

1955, September 30. CRASH! : James Dean

"James Dean in addition to his acting took up competitive race car driving. While James Dean was filming Rebel Without a Cause, he acquired a Porsche 550 Spyder. The car which would become part of the legend was one of only 90 Porsche Sypders, it was numbered 130, had a tartan seat design along with two red stripes at the rear. The car was called "Little Bastard". A week before his was killed James Dean met the British actor Alec Guinness who commented car appeared "sinister" and said to Dean : "If you get in that car you will be found dead in it by this time next week." Words that would prove to be prophetic."
-- Wikipedia

1960, January 4. CRASH! : Albert Camus

Albert Camus dies in an automobile accident. "In his coat pocket lay an unused train ticket. It is possible that he had planned to travel by train, but decided to go by car instead."
-- Wikipedia

"What still had meaning for Camus is that despite humans being subjects in an indifferent and "absurd" universe, in which meaning is challenged by the fact that we all die, meaning can be created, however provisionally and unstably, by our own decisions and interpretations."
-- Wikipedia

"At any street corner the feeling of absurdity can strike any man in the face."
-- Albert Camus

1962–63 Green Car CRASH! : Andy Warhol

"Death and Disaster series offered a prognosis of today’s cult of the self ... Green Car Crash (or Green Burning Car I) is based upon what is arguably the most extraordinary, strange and disturbing source image of all the paintings in Warhol’s Death and Disaster series. The original photograph was taken by photographer John Whitehead and inserted, apparently arbitrarily, into an article on racial integration that appeared in the June 3rd issue of Newsweek Magazine in 1963. The caption that accompanied the photograph in the magazine described the photograph and the scene that it recorded as follows: “End of the Chase: Pursued by a state trooper investigating a hit-and-run accident, commercial fisherman Richard J. Hubbard, 24, sped down a Seattle street at more than 60 mph, overturned, and hit a utility pole. The impact hurled him from the car, impaling him on a climbing spike. He died 35 minutes later in hospital.

The scene, as it is depicted in Warhol’s painting, is a tediously dull suburban street that has been instantaneously transformed into an almost surrealistic nightmare, in which an overturned car in flames is shown in the foreground while the catapulted body of the driver can be seen hanging, although still alive, impaled on a post.

The image becomes even more morbid when one observes that there is a figure at the heart of the picture, a man with hands in his pockets, passing by devoid of any concern, seemingly oblivious to the actual that is hell breaking out just on the other side of the sidewalk. Some have described it as being like something from David Lynch’s Twin Peaks or Blue Velvet, where the charming and banal aura of a suburban community is shown to be nothing more than the tenuously compensatory defense of a shallow, seemingly respectable surface beneath which lurks the darker reality of eternal horror.

Green Car Crash (Green Burning Car I) reveals this disconnect in the world of appearances. The extraordinary contrast between the mundane normality of everyday suburbia versus the exceptional tragedy and violence that periodically strikes at its heart is exactly what Warhol wanted to convey to us, expressed through what one might characterize as a schizoid detachment in the Death and Disaster series. In effect, for the careful observer Warhol doubles the underlying sense of horror in everyday life by expressing its banality without any sense of shock or dismay, but rather in a tone of utterly banal solitude.

In addition to showing Warhol’s preoccupation with what some might describe as the morbid underbelly of realizing the fleeting aspect of life, or of acknowledging the real sense of our own mortality, the Death and Disaster series also presents Warhol’s razor-sharp criticism of the moral complacency that middle-class America had stumbled into by the 1960’s. In his own almost incomparable way, Warhol, who was once described as “a rather terrifying oracle,” now has come to be understood by many observers as holding up a deeply percipient mirror, shattering the illusory American dream mercilessly ...

Green Car Crash ended up going for more than double the predicted auction price, selling on May 16th at Christie’s in New York City for $71. 7 Million."
-- Green Car Crash: Andy Warhol’s Death and Disaster Series

1973 CRASH! : novel by J.G. Ballard

"Is it possible, I asked myself, if perhaps, far from being unhealthy, this interest in violence is a good thing. Is it possible that maybe the car crash is liberating in some way, it may be that human beings need violence? Maybe, their imaginations are switched on by violence? Maybe, our ancestry as hunting creatures, the human race being incredible bloodthirsty in its history, the history of the human race is the history of blood, it may be that violence, and in particular violence created by technology, the technology of the car, maybe this is liberating, maybe this opens the mental doors to a new world. So I thought, I'll write a book in which I say car crashes are good, car crashes are sexually fulfilling, and then see what happens!"
-- J.G. Ballard

"Throughout Crash I have used the car not only as a sexual image, but as a total metaphor for man's life in today's society ... Needless to say, the ultimate role of Crash is cautionary, a warning against that brutal, erotic and overlit realm that beckons more and more persuasively to us from the margins of the technological landscape." -- J.G. Ballard

*Warning! The following video for "Warm Leatherette" by Daniel Miller based on the novel "Crash" is graphic and disturbing:

CRASH! : Pop Cinema, the Automobile, and "Gratuitous" Violence

"Crash upset a great many people ... the strange thing is, at the same time, there was nothing that people liked more than seeing films about car crashes. At the time I wrote Crash, around 1971-72, every Hollywood film had a car crash. But by the 70s people I think were a little bored with sex, and the new sex was violence. People were fascinated by violence." -- J.G. Ballard

"Duel is a 1971 television movie about a motorist (played by Dennis Weaver) on a remote and lonely road being stalked by a large tanker truck and its almost unseen driver. It was the first feature film directed by Steven Spielberg and was written by Richard Matheson based on his own short story ... Spielberg observes that the fear of the unknown is perhaps the greatest fear of all and that Duel plays heavily to that fear ... Spielberg says that the effect of not seeing the driver makes the real villain of the film the truck itself, rather than the driver.
-- wikipedia

The Great American Car Crash (Grindhouse style)

"1986 : Stephen King directs "Maximum Overdrive", and is nominated for "Worst Director" by the Golden Raspberry Awards in 1987. King himself described the film as a "moron movie" and stated his intention to never direct again soon after."
-- wikipedia

"June 19, 1999: Stephen King was struck by a Dodge Caravan minivan while walking along the shoulder of Route 5 outside North Lovell in western Maine. The driver of the minivan had been distracted by his dog when he swerved off the road and hit King, who sustained serious injuries that kept him hospitalized for several months. King had multiple fractures in his right leg and hip, a collapsed lung, broken ribs, and a scalp laceration. After six operations in 2 1/2 months, he would require at least a year of physical therapy before he could walk at 85% of his old strength."
-- wikipedia

1994 !: Quentin Tarantino "Pulp Fiction"

1996! : David Cronenberg "Crash"

"What do you think of Cronenberg’s Crash?

It’s alright — but I’m not a big fan. It takes itself way too seriously, for instance, and ends up just boring the shit out of everyone. I think it was miscast, badly paced, and not explicit enough about its themes. As it is, the movie appears to be about a bunch of dull and uninteresting Canadians who get into a car accident one day and end up wife-swapping. Yet, having said that, the movie isn’t funny at all." -- Geoff Manaugh

1997 CRASH! : David Lynch "Lost Highway"

2007 CRASH!: Quentin Tarantino "Death Proof"

1991 CRASH! : Jean Baudrillard "Ballard's Crash"

"I feel that the balance between fiction and reality has changed significantly in the past decade. Increasingly their roles are reversed. We live in a world ruled by fictions of every kind -- mass merchandising, advertising, politics conducted as a branch of advertising, the instant translation of science and technology into popular imagery, the increasing blurring and intermingling of identities within the realm of consumer goods, the preempting of any free or original imaginative response to experience by the television screen. We live inside an enormous novel. For the writer in particular it is less and lass necessary for him to invent the fictional content of his novel. The fiction is already there. The writer's task is to invent the reality."
-- J.G. Ballard

"In Crash, there is neither fiction nor reality—a kind of hyper-reality has abolished both. Even critical regression is no longer possible. This mutating and commutating world of simulation and death, this violently sexualized world totally lacking in desire, full of violent and violated bodies but curiously neutered, this chromatic and intensely metallic world empty of the sensorial, a world of hyper-technology without finality—is it good or bad? We can’t say. It is simply fascinating, without this fascination implying any kind of value judgment whatsoever. And this is the miracle of Crash. The moral gaze—the critical judgmentalism that is still a part of the old world’s functionality—cannot touch it. Crash is hypercritical, in the sense of being beyond the critical."
-- Jean Baudrillard "Ballard’s Crash"

1997 CRASH! : Diana Princess of Wales

By far the most disturbing; the image of the twisted, black wreck, hanging in the air, a cadaver of modernity, literally gave me nightmares...

"If sex, death and technology were ever compacted into one object, this would be it." -- Pat Kane from The Herald

"We live in a culture that routinely eroticizes and glamorizes its consumer technology, notably the motorcar. We also live in the Age of Fame, in which the intensity of our gaze upon celebrity turns the famous into commodities, too -- a transformation that has often proved powerful enough to destroy them. Ballard's novel, by bringing together these two erotic fetishes -- the Automobile and the Star -- in an act of sexual violence (a car crash), created an effect so shocking as to be thought obscene ...

In Diana's fatal crash, the Camera (as both Reporter and Lover) is joined to the Automobile and the Star, and the Cocktail of death and desire becomes even more powerful than one in Ballard's book ...

The battle is for control; for a form of power. She did not wish to give the photographers power over her -- to be merely their (our) Object. In escaping from the pursuing lenses, she was asserting her determination, perhaps her right, to be something altogether more dignified: that is, to be a Subject. Fleeing from Object to Subject, from commodity toward humanity, she met her death."
-- Salman Rushdie from the New Yorker

"There are no iconic figures today. I wish there were! I would right about them! I think Princess Di was the last iconic figure, and she died in a car crash, in a big Mercedes in a Paris underpass. She died the classical iconic death; the death in the car crash. She is the last one."
-- J.G. Ballard

2009, June 1 CRASH! : General Motors Chapter 11

"For years, we were obsessed with her stylish, shapely body; her lean, aerodynamic curves; her tight, taut lines. But as time went by, we grew bored and she grew complacent. And in recent years, GM all but completely let herself go— continuously losing market share to a barrage of suitors who weren’t afraid to appeal to our vanity. And it certainly didn’t help that she was going through money like it was going out of style."
-- The Disgruntled Dylanologist

"It took the extremity of the economic crisis for consumers to begin to deconstruct the myths and reclaim our independence. Americans are now seeing their cars not as the emblem of their socio-economic rise but an unsustainable encumbrance ... The "need" for three cars and the reasonableness of driving 15,000 miles a year are being challenged ... So with the economic crash has come a visible crash of the car industry ... Televised scenes of smoldering auto carcasses in the desert reveal only the smoke: the fire is the unsustainable car system combusting. As an object of reverence and desire, the meteor of excess, the American auto has come down to earth."
-- Catherine Lutz and Anne Lutz Fernandez "Car crash: The death of the American auto"

2008 CRASH! : Superflex "Burning Car"

"[Death] ... reveals nothing In order for Man to reveal himself ultimately to himself he would have to die, but he would have to do it while living -- watching himself ceasing to be ... In sacrifice, the sacrificer identifies himself with the animal that is struck down dead. And so he dies in seeing himself die" -- Georges Bataille

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Visualizing waste / material excess

"Where does the ゴミ [garbage] stop and the world begin?"
-- William Gibson from 'The Winter Market'

"[In William Gibson's 'The Winter Market'] garbage properly belongs to, and defines, the periphery; but in Rubin’s vision it has invaded the center and threatens eventually to bury it. Yet Gibson does not present this invasion of the center as an entirely negative process. Postmodernism, to venture a generalization, is interested in waste. Waste is a dark counterpart to the surplus value created by material or cultural production; it is an ironic or parodic final twist to the process. At the same time, it is from the periphery, and from waste, that new vitality can arise and new values be created. Each side of the value/waste opposition defines the other, and life itself exists between the polarities of sterility and decay, what is gold and what is shit."
-- Paul Delany from “Hardly the Center of the World”

I'm reminded of La Part Maudite of Bataille's solar economy -- be it violence, luxury, eroticism, or the material waste of an excessive consumer culture. What defines us is not how we deal with scarcity and necessity, but how we choose to deal with excess and waste. The following projects attempt to visualize the material waste of our everyday lives, that which is too easily swept away and forgotten...

Photographer: Chris Jordon

Photographer : Edward Burtynsky

"Journalism students from the University of British Columbia uncovered some secret U.S. military information amid electronic waste shipped abroad ... Criminals also scour the hard drives for credit card information, social security numbers and other personal information ... the recycling of electronic waste pollutes the environment and poisons people who scavenge the e-waste for metal, producing high levels of lead in children and mother's breast milk ... The United States can dump potentially dangerous electronics abroad because the country hasn't ratified an international treaty banning the export of hazardous waste."
-- The Vancouver Sun

SpringThing Applet

connect the dots...

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Surrealism and the Impossible

by agraphia

The following is an undergraduate paper I wrote in University. I was writing 'through' my understanding of these thinkers and post-structuralist theory in general at that time, rather than staying true to the work discussed and writing anything meaningful about the polemic; more of a poetic exercise, at points closer to a practice in the surrealist writing it claims to elucidate, than actual, critical discourse. Anyway, here is the essay resurrected:

Surrealism and the Impossible:
The Polemic of A. Breton and M. Bataille

Elements of the everyday are the raw material of dreams, and dreams, with the release of inner passions, can effect the banal disposition of the everyday. This is the condition modern life has forgotten - prohibiting desire with the surplus of thought - the myths of the sacred have been silenced by the demands of the profane, alienating us from what is most rightfully ours. The vehicle of desire's transit is language, bridging the inner experience of the subject with the external world. The language of the real is servile, it works in the name of logic and reason; any word found out of order is to be designated its proper place. The liberty of words, if there is such a thing, would be freedom from the need to make sense, or at least, common sense, communicating the sovereign expression of the poet's desire. Released from the shackles of an author's premeditated project, exempt from any aesthetic concern, words seem to resonate innocently with an organic life of their own and point to dreams unencumbered by the demands of utility and modern life. An automatic slew of words is more analogous to somniloquy than the coherency of waking speech, and can evoke a détourné‚ of the signs and references of the real to the revelation of a powerful dream.

The phantom enters on tiptoe. He quickly inspects the tower and descends the triangular staircase. His red silk stockings throw a whirling light on the slopes of rushes. The phantom is around two hundred years old; he still speaks a bit of French. But in his transparent flesh the dew of evening and the sweat of stars are paired (Breton, Soluble Fish 52).

One can't write total nonsense or they'll screw it up. A sentence void of syntax, punctuation, grammar is botched alchemy and spells nothing. Rational elements are still the basic building blocks of an automatic word-chemist's experiment; "as necessary as the arrangement of knots in a vibrating cord" (Breton 30). Following a simple formula of passive reception and speed, even those signs most disparate can communicate, tracing a labyrinth of interrelations and correspondence easily traversed by the associative mind. "One need only follow, for a short time, the traces of the repeated circuits of words to discover, in a disconcerting vision, the labyrinthine structure of the human being" (The Labyrinth 174). At times, the labyrinth can be dark and monotonous with its sudden disjointed turns - it does not have a plot, it wanders - leading to bewilderment and frustration, a disconcerting vision. Or a chance affinity can occur, a desire suddenly realized, and a right turn can take place opening onto a landscape thick with possibility. What the alchemist strives to avoid are the pitfalls of nonsense, a fizzled out charm; what he strives to create is gold, the moment when heterogeneous elements of base matter finally mix into the ideal substance - affected by the philosopher's stone at the heart of the maze of symbols, offering a Sangraal like panacea of spiritual perfection. At this certain, "privileged point in the mind where contradictions cease" (Breton 123), the pure essence of life reveals its truest form - and the spirit transforms.

The coupling of opposites induces the immediate, communicative shock of an electrical current -- desire. The magi, through poetic intuition, seeks to become "master of the one and only conductive electricity so that relationships that one wishes to establish may truly be of some consequence" (Breton 303). If the fusion is real, and there is a continuous circuit of energy, the uroboros is summoned, consuming its own tail. The uroboros ushers in the transformative power of eternal regeneration, even if only glimpsed for a moment, revealing the merveilleux of the Surréel. The coiled serpent manifests a pair of opposites, the movement of water and a flame like tongue, and is reborn through shedding its skin. Language and the vital use of metaphor transforms reality - desire will go to any length to possess its object, interpreting the world through the whims of subjective perception and obsessive tendencies - the word and world becoming paired, inner desire and outer necessity converge. In modern life this vital link has been broken, the stuff of dreams and the sacred repressed and subordinated by the everyday. The result is narrow passages haunted by zombies, each existing as a servant for the end of production, rather than for itself, for the wonder that is life. The pressure of constrained passions, passions that can never be fully extinguished, can lead to chaotic eruptions, a sudden explosion of somatic delusions, psychotic bifurcations, wars between nations. The absence of myth has left the community fragmented. Gods lie dismembered corpses, abandoned in the hidden recesses of empty temples. The once ecstatic festivals of ancient societies have been reduced to false stories in closed books. It is the fate of the poet, the magus, Blake's visionary Los, to disrupt this stale air with the stark lightning of words, to open the book and return to everyone the gift of life as art - to reconcile the opposites of inner and outer, irrational passion and rational thought, returning man to the lost purity of natural forces and the supreme point of knowledge. Expression is at the origin of everything. The unconscious holds l'art magique of transformative desire; they must be unleashed or we will perish.

The whole point, for Surrealism, was to convince ourselves that we had got our hands on the prime matter' (in the alchemical sense) of language . . . Our coming face to face with the products of this [automatic] writing focused the projector on the region where desire arises unconstrained, a region which is also that where myths take wing . . . Rather than go back from the thing signified to the sign that lives after it (which, moreover, would prove impossible), it is better to go back in one leap to the birth of that which signifies (Breton 299).

Optimism aside, there is always the dire possibility that these black passages of the alchemical labyrinth lead, not to mystic-gold, but to the monster in the night of the labyrinth. We have been warned: "THE UNIVERSAL resembles a bull . . . hurled by the rage of ruin into the void ceaselessly opened before it by a skeletal torero" (The Labyrinth 177). Remember the myth of Pasiphae, the wife of King Minos, who was mounted by a bull, perhaps willingly (taboo -> transgression), and gave birth to the Minotaur. Contraries coupled spawn monsters. To hide this symbol of his wife's mismating, Minos turned to Daedalus, the architect, and asked him to construct a labyrinth that could house the beast. Minos's daughter, Ariadne, in love with Theseus, persuaded Daedalus to give the young hero a ball of yarn, which aided Theseus in finding his way out of the labyrinth, avoiding his sacrifice to the man-bull. King Minos, to punish the architect for his disloyalty, condemned Daedelus and his son Icarus to the maze. Daedelus fashioned two sets of wings from wax and feathers and he and Icarus fled from their prison. We know the fate of the young, wonder-struck Icarus:

Beyond his father's lead: all the wide sky
Was there to tempt him as he steered toward heaven.
Meanwhile the heat of sun struck at his back
And where his wings were joined, sweet-smelling fluid
Ran hot that once was wax.
His naked arms whirled into the wind;
His lips, still calling out
His father's name, were gulfed in the dark sea (Ovid 222).

The charge of opposites certainly induces a solar shock: "full communication resembles flames - the electrical discharge of lightning. Its attraction is the rupturing it is built on and which increases its intensity in proportion to its depth" (Laughter 60). A lightning flash, an edge of stark clarity in contrast with the night, reveals immiscible difference, and after gracing the sky with its transgression, falls silent. "Being attains the blinding flash in tragic annihilation" (The Labyrinth 177). If the uroboros is summoned, it has already consumed itself. The maze of metaphor does not lead to a Surrealist garden, but to a chasm that opens beneath the mortal adventurer's feet and an inevitable fall toward death. The ambition of black magic consumes its user, rendering him mad. The result of the spell, when most vital, is naked exposure to absolute alterity. The uroboros, when interpreted as a symbol of Zarathustra's eternal recurrence, is not the eternal return of the same, but the eternal return of difference. Time, as Aion, is an infinite series of disjunctions; every moment is its division into past and future. The instant is endlessly displaced from its place, a presence deracinated ad infinitum and bifurcated into the disequilibrium of the before and after. The present is the empty cleft of time, the spacing out of difference. The spiritual substance pursued by the alchemist is a myth, the dream-like trance a nightmare. And the word itself is slippery - le mot glissant:

If one now wants to represent, with an initial clarity, the 'grail' obstinately pursued through successive, deceptive, and cloudy depths, it is necessary to insist upon the fact that it could never have been a substantial reality; on the contrary, it was an element characterized by the impossibility of its enduring. The term privileged instant is the only one that, with a certain amount of accuracy, accounts for what can be encountered at random in the search; the opposite of a substance that withstands the test of time, it is something that flees as soon as it is seen and cannot be grasped (The Sacred 241).

An illustration from a sixteenth century alchemical text, the Splendor Solis of Salomon Trismosin, depicts a beheaded, dismembered corpse, representing the destruction of the old Adam, the old Self (fig. 1). A second illustration shows the sun rising above a sleeping town, bringing light into darkness, a symbol of life after death, of inward spiritual illumination and rebirth (fig.2). This second illustration is mirrored by a third: the dark sun (fig. 3). While the high magi of Surrealism, Andre Breton, can be affiliated with the first and second - the rebirth of the social through the reconciliation of the Surrealist soul with the materialist possibilities offered by a communist revolution - the impresario of the Acéphale, Georges Bataille, certainly consorts with the first and third. Like Breton, Bataille reveled in the margins in order to explore the sacred rituals modern society had silenced. The Acéphale is the myth of the headless man that can symbolize the death of god, and consequently, the death of the 'modern' subject. Decapitation renounces tyrannical reason and authoritative power, resulting in an orgiastic déspense of blood, pronouncing the rupture of improbable being and the excess of desire whose ultimate object can only be annihilation. Sacrifice and the festival are the contagious negation of utility - the only answer to the pressures of excess produced and ousted by the solar economy. For Bataille, Breton's Icarian flight of servile idealism, to climb toward this ideal synthesis - The Surreal - and ambitiously place oneself above the system one wishes to displace, expresses an unconscious desire for an inevitable fall (The Old Mole and the Prefix Sur 42). As if flying too close to the sun, experiencing such a privileged instant is the event of a violent, ecstatic déchirer of the subject. The eye is sliced and the sun itself is cracked: one shiny and enticing at the moment of Icarus's elevation, giving to life an excess of energy without reciprocation; and there is a rotten, l'anus solaire of refuse and combustion that melts waxen wings, emanating with the "horror of a brilliant arc lamp" (The Solar Anus). Bataille witnesses catastrophe: "Thought lives the annihilation that constitutes it as a vertiginous and infinite fall, and thus has not only catastrophe as its object; its very structure is catastrophe - it is itself absorption in the nothingness that supports it and at the same time slips away" (Sacrifices 134).

Consciousness, the negativity that separates us from the intimacy of sacred immanence, throws us out of a complete existence - thought can not envision the conditions of its own absence. We can imagine the world without the eye of consciousness as a meaningless night, a superfluous density which consciousness blazes through clearing spaces, difference, meaning - but this poetry falls short of its intent, unable to write the unwritten, failing to incarnate its radical other. To complete ourselves would entail the impossible experience of our own death, to be our non-being, conjuring the presence of an absolute absence. 'Moi', constituted by the movement of a solar excess, desires the transgression of its own closure, defining the limit of the possible, and with the same gesture, the limitlessness that engulfs it. The reconciliation of these opposites is impossible; the image of solar resurrection an unrealizable dream. The soul, like a solar flare, is a potlatch without return, a useless expenditure, continually in a process loss without profit - perte démesurée. The subject is thus left naked, obscene, trembling in ecstatic jouissance at the necessity to exceed itself.

As the alchemic tradition prophesizes: the Edenic world was lost through a woman (Eve) and shall be recovered through a woman (Simone, Nadja). "It is essential . . . to undertake the reconstruction of the primordial Androgyne that all traditions tell us of, and its supremely desirable, and tangible, incarnation within ourselves"(Breton 302). Eroticism, for Bataille, is the simulation of a petite mort, an orgasmic déspense that disrupts productive homogeneity. In the erotic act one gives oneself over, trembling on the threshold of sacrifice, communicating immanent continuity. One loses oneself to the void of the other - eros and thanatos the same inextricable force. The surface of the naked body is holey, opening its depths onto a world that is other, a foreign body that is its own. Through this fissure communicates the liquids of intimate excess, consuming and excreting, violating boundary. The body is lived as contained yet exposed, closed yet overflowing, both retention and ecstatic release - a liquid state. The body orgasms, collapsing in a brief ecstasy, but never filled it ventures on - increasing desire, climaxing loss. In Bataille's Histoire de l'oeil, Simone's orgasmic 'Oui!' is the haunting affirmation of non-savoir, the cri-rire of the joy before death, horrible ecstasy in the face of the impossible. For Breton, Nadja, the mad woman he is madly in love with, is a sorceress steeped in the wonder of the Surréel, and at the same time, a frail ghost on the verge of being lost in the night, absorbed by the other, losing herself completely to her folie. As in automatic writing, the irrational must be tempered with the lucid moments of reason, or the alchemical mind may meltdown, the charm fail. A pair of lover's "reciprocal attraction must be strong enough to bring about perfect unity, at once organic and psychic, through their being absolutely complementary" (Breton 301). This magical balance, for Breton, is supreme savoir (fig. 4) - as for the lowly librarian of the Bibliotheque Nationale: reasoning perte démesurée is a pathology. Thus, the hilarious polemic begins:

M. Bataille's misfortune is to reason: admittedly, he reasons like someone with a fly on his nose, which allies him more closely with the dead than the living, but he does reason. He is trying, with the help of the tiny mechanism in him which is not completely out of order, to share his obsessions: this very fact proves that he cannot claim, no matter what he may say, to be opposed to any system, like an unthinking brute. What is paradoxical and embarrassing about M. Bataille's case is that his phobia about the 'idea', as soon as he attempts to communicate it, can only take an ideological turn. A state of conscious deficiency, in a form tending to become generalized, the doctors would say" (Breton 184).

M. Bataille does reason, but he has a contradictory insistence on reasoning the unreasonable, reveling in the heterogeneous shit and vomit reason expels. For Bataille, the base and vile is the very stuff of the sacred - "manure is salutary for the plant" (The Use-Value of the Marquis De Sade) - God himself is best described as "un cadavre" (Sacrifices). The sacred is bright and dirty. Bataille's 'idea' is paradoxical, it is the improbable i'm-possible, but it is hardly idea-logical, it is the 'non-idea' of non-logical difference, the ecstatic limit of the knowledge of non-knowledge. Breton's ideology is yet another facade of an ascetic priest and the quality of his will to power is corrupt. In the emergency of a self-created hell, the effeminate ascetic castrates the potency of his own will and erects an ideal heaven.

I have nothing much to say about the personality of Andre‚ Breton, since I hardly know him. His police reports don't interest me. My only regret is that he has obstructed the pavement for so long with his degrading idiocies. Religion should die with this old religious windbag. Still, it would be worthwhile to retain the memory of this swollen abscess of clerical phraseology, if only to discourage young people from castrating themselves in their dreams. Here lies the Breton ox, the old aesthete and false revolutionary with the head of Christ . . . the castrated lion (The Castrated Lion 28).

Both Breton and Bataille respond to the emergency of the absence of myth, the fragmentation of social cohesion, and posit a sacred without God (or at least, a sacred marked by many 'gods'). The profane is the territory of order, work, meaning and the sacred is the necessity of dionysian dance, sublime rapture, ecstatic release. For Breton, the sacred is at once a nascent logos and marvelous play - for Bataille, the inassimilable alterity that is the very condition of communication. Breton calls for the coincidence of these poles that would lead to supreme knowledge - the desire for unity - the negation of negation becoming positive, magically healing the wound, the cut, the mad schism. Bataille contests that the solemn plight of savoir is precisely non-savoir - desire for annihilation - negativity without reserve does not preserve what it sublates. If Breton seeks annihilation, it is only the momentary dissolution of being and its transformation "into a diamond, all blind and interior, which is no more the soul of ice than that of fire"(Breton 124). Surrealism decrees a utopia, a communal existence for all, a return to the garden of original purity. Bataille's sovereign experience, he assures us, is not nihilism, but a disturbing peace calling for man's friendship with himself - Now! (The Problems of Surrealism 101). Despite differences, and their tendencies for rage and name calling, they are, at times, sympathetic. However, while sharing in the motive to undermine traditional bourgeois value and the intellectual edifice that supports it, their positions demand a necessary separation - and their writing separate milieus.

"The name must germinate, so to speak, otherwise it is false" (Breton 299). Free association wrests language away from utilitarian usage, to discover its hidden secrets of power, liberating those words that "float like jetsum on the surface of a dead sea"(Breton). Between the conscious expanse of the sky and the unconscious depths of the sea, language streams in "edifying" (The Problems With Surrealism) movements, marvelously avoiding sea-sick neologisms and the cataracts of non-sense. A disinterested play of words can, if chance has it, hold itself together, warding off the annihilation of syntactic dismemberment and the dis-integration of vocabulary, while proclaiming its freedom from the demands of a premeditated work:

Watch out for
the fire that covers
of fair weather

The first white paper
Of Chance
RED will be.
(Breton 43).

Un coup de dés. Language is a wound and poetry hateful. When we return to "the birth of that which signifies" (Breton) we are exposed to that which denies signification. We must exist as the loss of meaning that we are. Thinking loss entails fragmentation of the language that cannot contain it. Each passage of transgression splinters across the undifferentiated surface of the page, and like a lightning flash, exposes difference, then falls silent. The word silence itself is a betrayal. Words are things, and are servile. As the poet passes from pure passion to its written expression, the passion's wild tension is slackened into the ordered march of words. Surrealism, as that which flies beyond the real, becomes a thing as soon as it utters its own name, and is cast into the sea. If "things are what they are only because of the meanings words give them" (Surrealism and God 182), if that which exists exists only through the grace of Names, Surrealism is surely impossible.


Bataille, Georges. "The Castrated Lion", "The Problems of Surrealism", "Surrealism and God". The Absence of Myth: Writings on Surrealism. Ed. Michael Richardson. London: Verso, 1994.

____. "Sacrifices", "The Labyrinth", "Laughter", "The Sacred", "The Old Mole' and the Prefix Sur". Visions of Excess: Selected Writings, 1927 - 1939. Ed. Allan Stoekl. Minneapolis: U. of Minnesota P., 1985.

Breton, Andre. Manifestoes Of Surrealism. Ed. Richard Seaver. Michigan: Ann Arbor, 1986.

____. Nadja. Trans. Richard Howard. New York: Grove P., 1960.

Browder, Clifford. Andre Breton: Arbiter of Surrealism. Geneve: Librairie Droz, 1967.

Cavendish, Richard. An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Mythology. New York: Crescent Books, 1980.

Hedges, Inez. Languages of Revolt: Dada and Surrealist literature and film. Durham: Duke U. P., 1983.

Ovid. The Metamorphosis. Ed. Horace Gregory. New York: Penguin, 1958.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Amanita :: Machinarium

"Definitely a game can be art. I think the time of 'art games' will come, because in my opinion the game medium brings a whole new universe of possibilities for artists."
-- Jakub Dvorsky from interview at adventuregamers

brilliant soundtrack by:

Jakub Dvorsky, the creator of 'Samorost', which in Czech means a root or piece of wood which resembles a creature; but it is also a term for a person who doesn't care about the rest of the world.

Where we went from

"The app I wrote visits a website and downloads the source text. It parses the text, looking for links to other web pages, links to itself, links to other file types, email addresses, etc. Based on how many links it finds, it creates a “star”. The number of links found equals the number of spines on the “star”. Thus, if it finds no links, it draws a circle..."
-- JK Keller

Friday, June 12, 2009

MAPS: Cartographic Ontogeny

by agraphia

As a child, I spent the good part of summer exploring the woods around our house. In the evening, I would return to a pad of graphpaper and chart out what I had explored; rivers, forest paths, animal tracks, vegetation, old ruins. Each proceeding summer the maps became more intricate as my geographic explorations, mental capacities, and, in some sense, 'spiritual' inclinations, as an imaginative child elaborated in a kind of 'Cartographic Ontogeny'. Common landmarks took on a mythology or dreamtime, each annual layer encoded with an increasingly complex system of symbols representing the emotional or imaginative states of a personal narrative, as opposed to any actual, physical space.

Katharine Harmon suggests something similar:

"I sense that humans have an urge to map -- and that this mapping instinct, like our opposable thumbs, is part of what makes us human ... As a youngster, in the bedroom I shared with my sister, I came to know intimately the ceiling of the room where I was supposed to be napping. I stared upward for hours, making out forms of imagined countries in the water-stained plaster. Why was I seeing international borders even before I knew the meaning of the concept? It was a natural way to pass the time and kept my restless imagination engaged far beyond that bedroom while my body got the rest my mother thought it needed.

... Orienteering is such an odd but impressive word that it has always stuck with me, and in fact moves me to propose a related concept to describe a process somewhat like orienteering but more personal, more historical, more associative, more metaphorical, perhaps more spiritual: "orientating", or crashing through the larger landscapes of memory and experience and knowledge, trying to get a fix on where we are in a multitude of landscapes that together compose the grander scheme of things. Orientating begins with geography, but it reflects a need of the conscious, self-aware organism for a kind of transcendent orientation that asks not just where am I, but where do I fit in this landscape? Where have I been? Where shall I go, and what values will I pack for the trip? What culture of knowledge allows me to know what I know, which is often another way of knowing where I am? And what pattern, what grid of wisdom, can I impose on my accumulated, idiosyncratic geographics? The coordinates marking this territory are unique to each individual and lend themselves to a very private kind of cartography."

-- Katharine Harmon You Are Here: Personal Geographies and Other Maps of the Imagination

"Maps construct -- not reproduce -- the world." -- Denis Wood

Of course, such fantastical musing among the young in the early 80's was the perfect brew for a serious addiction to the world of AD&D. Alas, twas my fate! The somewhat dangerous undertakings (for a lone kid) and fantastic escapades of a fertile youth gave way to sleepless nights, pouring through the charts, maps and statistically rich tables of AD&D modules. A geeky adolescence, fraught mainly with the task of somehow, magically, actualizing the mythos of a spent youth through the manipulation and punishment of naive playmates as 'Dugeon Master'. Good times were certainly had! ...but I think the better part of my adolescence may have been spent in frustration at the inability to conjure into being the lost mythological realm of an early, hyper-imaginative (and undoubtedly romanticized) childhood. All the maps, reference books, lead miniatures and dice were cool... but it just wasn't the same.

Stuart Brown, author of Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul suggests we explore backwards, as far as we can go, to the most clear, joyful, playful image we have, consider how it connects to life now, and we may find ourselves changing jobs, or at least, enriching our life by prioritizing it! ...all wishy-washy, self-help, feel-goodness aside... no doubt, AD&D character sheets and maps of the 'The Forgotten Realms' were some of the most rudimentary forms around which the unruly fungus of my early, unripened brain shaped itself. And before the 'edenic fall' of early youth, the maps of a childhood dreamtime. Unfortunately (perhaps fortunately) most of my maps and records from those days are long gone. Thankfully, guys like Dean_S and things like the internet exist, so I can reminisce...

What is with the big yellow stain of Skone in the south ...about to consume all of Fantasia?! "In the beginning, it is always [yellow]." -- The Childlike Empress

Dean_S 's gut splitting caption:

"This was my first serious attempt at a Dungeons and Dragons world map. It was designed around 1983 with many small features added in at a later date as we went on adventures. Stains are a result of excited gamers spilling drinks on it over the years. It is held together today with masking tape. It is loosely based on the Greyhawk maps among others and also my own design. After all the work, I couldn't think of a good name for the world and settled on "Skone". At 14-15 years old naming a world after an English biscuit didn't seem like such a bad idea! We did most of our adventuring on this half of the map." -- Dean_S

And then there's the fictional maps of Shane Watt:

"The country I have created is called Loyala,” the artist writes. “It’s a reference to my heritage and it's the place all my maps interconnect. It has an imperial – a very British – sound. That’s something I feel a strong connection to being Scottish Canadian. The country exists (sort of) in a geographical location on planet earth. I basically changed history a bit – traveled back in time – and moved some things around. The location is secret. It’s encrypted in the maps. There are riddles and secrets in all of my maps. I never disclose the secrets – I want someone to figure it out." -- Shane Watt

The imaginary railways of traingeek Peter Edwardson:

And fictional cities of avid map collector and roadgeek Adrian Leskiw:

This has got to make you wonder what drives such meticulous, cartographic obsessions!!

MAPS: Mapping The Beautiful