December 15, 2014
1913 - 2004
The Letters and Poems of Samuel Beckett
Why radio might be the medium “best suited” to Beckett comes down to a single concept — silence. No writer has understood the power of silence better than Beckett. No one has understood better than Beckett that silence is not an absence of sound but a physical presence, perhaps even a character. That certainly seems to be the case with “Krapp’s Last Tape,” the monologue he wrote for Patrick Magee, which is the single greatest evocation of loss and longing of the 20th century. (Beckett’s affection for Magee is one of the many heartwarming discoveries of this volume.) It’s no accident, so, that it was an icon of the “silent” era, Buster Keaton, who would star in Beckett’s “Film” (1965), shot in some of the more dilapidated areas of Lower Manhattan.
This enduring, endearing self-doubt is a mark of most great writers. For some, it may seem like a pose. Not for Beckett. Again and again, this volume of letters allows Beckett to come off as being genuinely assured of his vision of, say, how a part should be interpreted (describing one recalcitrant actor as “another Beckett specialist”), while being genuinely uncertain about his own role. Writing to the translator Arland Ussher in 1962 about Ussher’s musings on “Beckettism,” he asserts:
“My unique relation — and it a tenuous one — is the making relation. I am with it a little in the dark and fumbling of making, as long as that lasts, then no more. I have no light to throw on it myself and it seems a stranger in the light that others throw.”
Is There a Vespa?: An Interview with Michael Hofmann
Discouraging, isn’t it? It’s just a fact that there are never very many poets around at any given time. I think poetry is always one or two poets away from extinction anyway. If it’s any comfort, it’s not a living tradition—it doesn’t depend on being passed from hand to hand. It could easily go underground for a couple of decades, or a couple of centuries, and then return. People disappear, or never really existed at all, and then come back—Propertius, Hölderlin, Dickinson, Büchner, Smart. Poetry is much more about remaking or realigning the past than it is about charting the contemporary scene. It’s a long game.
Landscape in North Wales
d. December 14, 1959
You Make Me Opaque
We Try to Share Perspective, Both Looking to Smash Something.
“Night in St. Petersburg is virulent, insidious. I do not support him.”
We do leave the coffee shop. Time passes. Listen. Time passes. I am willing to allow that. I am hungry and I eat cold cut meats that have stuck to the back of the fridge. I like to eat cold meats. I like to eat cake, but I couldn’t eat any. I watched your change lie, untouched, on the coffee counter. I lie in a white-night bed, think, I could imagine this place as St. Petersburg. Yes, I will give it that name: Think, for the light. I try to feel the night’s femininity, believe it is there. I imagine her embracing me, lying draped over me, tensing beneath me. I stir my hands through pools of her, let her flow like hair down my body. I search for muscles, but find none. I think of the audience I dreamed of, grow tired, and sleep.
Verso 2014: Free Ebook Collection
With contributions from leading radical names including Arundhati Roy, Benjamin Kunkel, Gabriella Coleman, James Meek, Nadya Tolokonnikova, Shlomo Sand, Walter Benjamin and Slavoj Žižek, this volume covers topics ranging from philosophy and Israel-Palestine politics, through to the politics of sex work, Mexico, feminism, and the misery of contemporary capitalism.
Introducing the Emerging Toronto Poets Folio
Old Printing Office
Making AI Philosophical Again: On Philip E. Agre’s Legacy
Phil Agre, an appreciation
The point, in any case, is that the practical reality with which AI people struggle in their work is not just ‘the world,’ considered as something objective and external to the research. It is much more complicated than this, a hybrid of physical reality and discursive construction. The trajectory of AI research can be shaped by the limitations of the physical world—the speed of light, the three dimensions of space, cosmic rays that disrupt memory chips—and it can also be shaped by the limitations of the discursive world—the available stock of vocabulary, metaphors, and narrative conventions.
This also gives hints as to how exogenous discourses, like philosophy, are supposed to be incorporated into technological practices. Agre is of the opinion that the point is not to invoke Heideggerian philosophy, for example, as an exogenous authority thus supplanting technical methods: “the point, instead, is to expand technical practice in such a way that the relevance of philosophical critique becomes evident as a technical matter.
On Agre’s view, traditional AI practitioners have not conscientiously attended to this partitioning of levels of analysis. Particularly, the reflexive level that prescribes an awareness of the role of metaphors in technical work has been disdained, as though AI researchers could simply bootstrap their way to technical success without being aware of the underlying metaphors pervading their work. For Agre, this is particularly problematic because “as long as an underlying metaphor system goes unrecognized, all manifestations of trouble in technical work will be interpreted as technical difficulties and not as symptoms of a deeper, substantive problem”.
Computation and Human Experience
Phil was a seminal figure in the development of Internet culture. His Red Rock Eater email list was a early predecessor to the many on-line pundits of today. Essentially he invented blogging, although his medium was a broadcast email list rather than the web, which didn't yet exist. He would regularly send out long newsletters containing a mix of essays, pointers to interesting things, and opinions on random things. He turned email into a broadcast medium, which struck me as weird and slightly undemocratic at the time, but he had the intellectual energy to fuel a one-man show, and in this and other matters Phil was just ahead of the times -- now the web is stuffed to the brim with outsized personalities, but it wasn't so back then. Here's one of the last recorded posts on RRE, on Vaclav Havel, which includes an explanation of what Phil termed "issue entrepreneurship". I picked this out at basically at random from the archives, and it typifies the insight, clarity, and urgency of Phil's writing:
What is needed and missing in the United States is the other major component of Vaclav Havel's life story -- the intellectual seriousness that believed down deep that the world is made of ideas and that the health of a society depends on the health of its language. ... Civilization cannot survive when language becomes the terrain of a thoroughly instrumentalized political war. Vaclav Havel and his colleagues won a contest of decency against the dead hand of an authoritarian system that had nothing living inside it. Today's authoritarians are altogether more resourceful. Today's civil society will have to discover a correspondingly deeper meaning in its own ideals.
at Monoskop Log
Technology and Privacy: The New Landscape
Philip E. Agre, Marc Rotenberg
Philip E. Agre
Philip E. Agre
The Network Observer
monthly from January 1994 to July 1996
Red Rock Eater News Service
December 12, 2014
b. December 12, 1863
Eileen R. Tabios
Poetry from Eileen R. Tabios
Reproductions of the Empty Flagpole
I forgot clutching the wet mane of a panicked horse…. I forgot the night was unanimous…. I forgot how an erasure captures the threshold of consciousness…. I forgot how one begins marking time from a lover’s utterance of Farewell…. I forgot Mom beginning to age when she started looking at the world through heartbreaking resignation…. I forgot dancing furious flamenco with vultures under a menopausal sun…. I forgot learning to appreciate rust, and how it taught me bats operate through radar…. I forgot the plainest of bread can clear an oenophile’s palate…. I forgot dust motes trapped in a tango after the sun lashed out a ray…. I forgot the bliss deep within an ascetic’s eyes as he wandered with a beggar’s bowl…. I forgot how detachment includes. I forgot how detachment enabled a white rattlesnake to penetrate my dreams.
at the Poetry Foundation
from Citizen: “Some years there exists a wanting to escape...”
Some years there exists a wanting to escape—
you, floating above your certain ache—
still the ache coexists.
Call that the immanent you—
You are you even before you
grow into understanding you
are not anyone, worthless,
not worth you.
Even as your own weight insists
you are here, fighting off
the weight of nonexistence.
And still this life parts your lids, you see
you seeing your extending hand
as a falling wave—
at the Poetry Foundation
Claudia Rankine Interview
by Lauren Berlant
I met Claudia Rankine in a parking lot after a reading, where I said crazy fan things like, “I think we see the same thing.” She read a book of mine and wrote me, “Reading it was like weirdly hearing myself think.” This exchange is different from a celebration of intersubjectivity: neither of us believes in that . Too much noise of racism, misogyny, impatience, and fantasy to weed out. Too much unshared lifeworld—not just from the difference that racial experience makes but also in our relations to queerness, to family, to sickness and to health, to poverty and wealth—while all along wondering in sympathetic ways about the impact of citizenship’s embodiment. Plus, it takes forever to get to know someone and, even then, we are often surprised—by ourselves, by each other. Claudia and I have built a friendship through consultation about whether our tones are crazy, wrong, off, or right; about whether or not our observations show something, and what. And, through frankness: a form of being reliable that we can trust, hard-edged as it can be, loving as it can be (and sometimes the former is easier to take than the latter). We are both interested in how writing can allow us to amplify overwhelming scenes of ordinary violence while interrupting the sense of a fated stuckness. This interview, conducted via email, walks around how we think with and against the convenience of conventionally immiserated forms of life and art. _______________________
b. December 12, 1905
So this is the Anthropocene: An historical time, perhaps even a geological time, in which what we think of as separate entities, the human and the natural, find their fates entwined. What was once a separate nature or environment is no in place to ground us as us._______________________
Not only is God dead, so too is ecology, that pantheistic place God went into hiding. The biosphere is no longer a self-correcting, homeostatic deity. The later civilizations, said Valery, know they are mortal. This last civilization know the Earth is mortal too.
I feel like Nietzsche’s madman in the marketplace, saying such things. Nobody really wants to know that the world we inherited, the world of our ancestors, is already something unreal. People shrug it off, change the subject. Yet as Canada’s national poet Leonard Cohen once memorably put it: everybody knows. Everybody knows things can’t go on.
Cinema knows it. One of the things cinema is there for is to find some kind of objective correlative for feelings that can’t be acknowledged. Maybe cinema is not about desire at all, or even anxiety. Maybe it is about seduction, of turning us aside from unacknowledged feelings, and slipping us into worlds of objects and relations that displace those feelings onto something else. Thus: perhaps all cinema is now about the Anthropocene. Its all about a sense that this is not a Never Ending Story.
To unbalance. To keel over, accidentally, or submit to the pressures of gravity.
To plummet in worth, especially currency.
To lose altitude. To take place at some pre-ordained time and date.
To swallow tall tales at face value.
To lag such a distance back along the trail as to disappear from view.
To surrender, especially a country,
to the enemy camped in its margins for all of two nights and three days.
To vanish from the radar of grace.
To have no qualms any longer when it comes to telling friends and foes alike
precisely where to stick
their olive branches. To be the kind of sap who lapses now and then
into clandestine amorous crushes.
To indulge a whole continent its own broadleaf syllable for autumn.
To arrive back unexpectedly in the afternoon
and happen upon yourself dancing a single-handed two-step on the landing
to Bechet’s ‘As-tu le Cafard?’
at the Poetry Foundation
The Poetics of Spaces: After Rain
After rain, we already know that it all looks different. This city, you, me. Rain changes everything and we only know to keep deferring moments until the next time it rains. When it rains, the people in this city seem to be in perpetual deferment. The clouds that move as the rain refuses to abate, the rain lasts for as long as it lasts and no longer, and during the rain, it either feels like a single, glistening moment or like a deeply black eternity. I wonder how wet I can get before I am filled to the brim. Because of the weather, plans change and so do my eyes. I can’t tell colors and it’s raining all over the place and I just want to sit down in a puddle and soak.
After rain, no matter how torrentious it might have been, we wonder where did it go: the rain. How could it leave us so quickly? The air is thick. No. It isn’t. It’s rather thin now. And all the bodies that accumulated inside of houses, under rooftops, slowly stumble out and blink and stutter. After rain, we stutter.
No. After rain, we wait.
December 10, 2014
Peder Mørk Mønsted
b. December 10, 1859
The Neuroplastic Dilemma: Consciousness and Evolution
Franco Berardi Bifo
(....)e-flux journal issue 60
The unbridgeable gap between information (zero-dimensional and a-temporal) and the body (multidimensional and evolving in time) is the condition of the interminability of the process of subsumption. The game is over, but the game is continuously opening again.
The current theoretical focus on neuroplasticity can pave the brain to adapt to an environment that grows every day more intolerable for a psychological, aesthetic, and ethical mind that was forged in a previous age of human civilization. Adaptation to the connective mode of communication, adaptation to the ferocity of competition, to the barbarity and horror of the submission of life and attention to financial abstraction, may take the form of a sort of social lobotomy: a pharmacological or surgical cancellation of what in the human psyche is incompatible with abstract domination.
But there is an alternative possibility. It lies in the conscious ability of the brain to reshape itself.
In order to conceptualize the shift from the past forms of political action—now devoid of effectiveness—to the evolutionary horizon of conscious neuro-evolution, a preliminary question has to be answered: What is the relationship between consciousness and evolution? Can we envisage a nondeterministic adaptation to neuroplastic evolution? Can we consciously govern this neuro-evolution?
In order to answer this question, we should focus on the relationship between aesthetic sensibility and the epistemic foundation of social action. Then we should focus on the creation of a platform (social, cultural, institutional, artistic, neuroengineering) for the self-organization of the general intellect and the recomposition of the networked activity of millions of cognitive workers worldwide, who must get reacquainted with their social, erotic, and poetic body.
We must to walk this territory where technology meets epistemology, psychopathology meets poetry, and neurobiology meets cultural evolution.
March of Intellect
Social progress, high-speed transport and electricity everywhere – how the Victorians invented the future
Iwan Rhys Morus
Bfore the beginning of the 19th century, the future was only rarely portrayed as a very different place from the present. The social order, like the natural order, was supposed to be static, with everything in its proper place: as it had been, so it would be. When Sir Isaac Newton thought about the future, he worried about the exact date of Armageddon, not about how his science might change the world. Even Enlightenment revolutionaries usually argued that what they were doing was restoring the proper order of things, not creating a new world order.
It was only around the beginning of the 1800s, as new attitudes towards progress, shaped by the relationship between technology and society, started coming together, that people started thinking about the future as a different place, or an undiscovered country – an idea that seems so familiar to us now that we often forget how peculiar it actually is.
Inventing the future
Our Connection to the Future
John G. Messerly
So the copy and transfer of your old mind file—like the data on an old computer—would preserve, at most, only a sliver of a past self. Furthermore, the old mind file would be transferred into a reality so different from its previous one that if it survived and adapted, it would be unrecognizable. This future self would stand in relation to our current self as we now do to starstuff. We came from the stars, but we are not stars. Our current minds would not be well adapted to the future. They couldn’t be. They were forged in the past. We can’t live in the future, only some sliver of us can live there.
So we live, if we live at all, in this reality, in this time. This is our time. And when that time ends, we have to let go of ourselves. And yet … we do live in the future. When we imagine it, when we long for it, we are, to some extent, there. No, our little egos will never be there, that is a triviality best discarded. But as long as there are minds free to roam space and time we live on … within other minds. No one expressed these sentiments as well as Bertrand Russell in his essay “How To Grow Old.”
Proxy Politics: Signal and Noise
Computational photography is therefore inherently political—not in content but in form. It is not only relational but also truly social, with countless systems and people potentially interfering with pictures before they even emerge as visible.2 And of course this network is not neutral. It has rules and norms hardwired into its platforms, and they represent a mix of juridical, moral, aesthetic, technological, commercial, and bluntly hidden parameters and effects. You could end up airbrushed, wanted, redirected, taxed, deleted, remodeled, or replaced in your own picture. The camera turns into a social projector rather then a recorder. It shows a superposition of what it thinks you might want to look like plus what others think you should buy or be. But technology rarely does things on its own. Technology is programmed with conflicting goals and by many entities, and politics is a matter of defining how to separate its noise from its information.3
So what are the policies already in place that define the separation of noise from information, or that even define noise and information as such in the first place? Who or what decides what the camera will “see”? How is it being done? By whom or what? And why is this even important?
Stuart Ross exists. Details follow.
An interview with Stuart Ross
Gary Barwin: Let’s begin by addressing the surrealist elephant in the room. We’ll leave the sewing machine and the umbrella for another time. Discussions of your work often invoke notions of surrealism, and in fact you edited an important anthology of Canadian poetry that engages with surrealism: Surreal Estate: 13 Canadian Poets Under the Influence (Mercury Press). How do you see your work in relation to “realism,” language, the “real” world, and surrealism?_______________________
Stuart Ross: I don’t much concern myself with issues of what is real and what is surreal. I don’t set out to write surrealism, or to include surreal elements in my work. When I write, I simply don’t bother obeying laws of reality, and I have no problem if one of my characters, or some object, transforms into something else or flies, or sizzles, or otherwise does the “impossible.” My reading covers a real range: Patricia Highsmith is one of my favorite writers because I like the closet of terror and paranoia she thrusts me into, and she’s as real as it gets, but I also love Roland Topor’s Joko’s Anniversary and B. S. Johnson’s Christie Malry’s Own Double Entry and Roberto Bolaño’s Monsieur Pain. They’re real too, but they’re not real by being realistic. The “real” world: I don’t think there’s any such thing — or there’s nothing that’s not part of the real world. Language: it’s the thing I write in.
Stone Stair New York, Part 1
contra mundum press has just published a voice full of cities, a heaping anthology of Robert Kelly’s essays, selected by Pierre Joris and Peter Cockelbergh. the book is a winding labyrinth of wonder; trails of intelligence, attention, desire, and pleasure that curl inward and nest among each other. The overdue assembling of them into a book affords an opportunity to feel how richly and intricately these thoughts coexist, how the roof of one serves as floor of another, shared walls enlacing to produce a tremendous contemplative cortex, dotted with sancta in which old gods – the oldest gods – still darkly sleep.
I’ve been particularly rereading one piece from 1971 called Identity Preference Temple-Complex. it’s a short essay that begins by inquiring into ‘certain vectors of desire’ – where does that feeling originate in us, and what are the suns it grows toward? what does it mean to be both made of the past and endlessly multiple in a world of ‘felicities, miseries & confusions?’ remembering Robert Duncan’s notion of The Poet as a single voice spoken thru many mouths in a given age, he wonders whether there might not likewise be a voice – a prounikos he calls it, a ‘carrier’ – some polyvocalic, integral whole of Desire that speaks as the illusorily discrete desires inside each of us.
& as soon as this question is posed, the essay shifts radically and introduces a second section with the observation that scholars of ancient mesoamerica do not refer to mayan population centers like uxmal and palenque as ‘cities’ – rather, they call them ‘temple-complexes’, emphasizing the way in which it was not distinctly economic, military, or agricultural concerns that animated these places, but cultic ones, rituals of tithe, sacrifice, purification, time-keeping, formalized contemplation. So, altho the word will prove very problematic – which we’ll get to – we might casually name as religion the primary force that gave these places coherence.
& then there’s an amazing passage where he turns his attentions to new york city, and describes it, too, as a temple-complex, one where ‘a bewildering hierarchy of temple-functionaries arrives each day… ready to devote (in the technical sense, sphagia) one-third of their biological time to the national cult.’ As to the object of this cult, the question of ‘what god is worshiped on this most complex of all human altars,’ the answer is Preference, the continual act of choosing to think some things better than others and to design a self as the sum total of all these choices. this will be familiar to anyone who’s lived under late capitalism. (Reminiscent of it, I think, is the thesis of Bourdieu’s landmark la distinction, which was published eight years later.) & then, affirmingly, the essay considers some fertile heresies that thrive amid but against the grain of this religion, among ‘those deeply committed to some one or few actual substances,’ like drugs, sex, and poetry, any immersion into ‘the worship of the thing, as meaningful existent.’