Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Imagined play, imagined rule (c. 2014)

-Can we say that there is a law that governs play?

-Old question. But let's see how it will turn out when we ask another: and what governs the law that governs this play?

-Another law that governs another law? If a law is governed by another law, it wouldn't be a law.

-That seems right. It is like saying the rightness of my statement depends on the rightness of the basis of rightness.

-That terribly sounds circular. If I have determined that this play is governed by a law which is in turn governed by another law, then the first is really just another play.

-That would be the play of law, and not the law of play, if you like.

-The "play of law" sounds too loose, doesn't it? If the law is just part of play, doesn't that reduce it to nothing but a moment of that play? That is, if we treat "play" as something different, even opposite of, "law."

-I would agree, as long as we keep this distinction on a purely semantic level. In the end, the real question we should ask is, How is it even possible that we can make this distinction to be able to relate them after? What amazes me is that we can talk about one and the other, when they should be mutually exclusive. Can the universe really accommodate them both?

-Language does. So perhaps it would be hasty to conclude against it. But if all plays have rules, then rules too must have some governing logic that shapes them.

-Well, maybe we should say "games" for smaller species of play, just to avoid the confusion that your new phrasing might create. Games have rules, play has laws. What rules do for a game is to create a space of signification where ends and means, start and finish, right and wrong, error and correctness, skill and inexperience, failure and success, etc. gain a meaning. Games provide us with a concrete platform that enables these concepts to attain a tangible dimension. Needless to say, without this tangible aspect, we wouldn't really know how these concepts would work, even if we already know what they could possibly mean intellectually. Without a tangible dimension, we would only be able to form emotive valuations where we prefer one term over another. It is easy to say I prefer good over bad, but we wouldn't really know what they would imply practically speaking until we see how we would relate these valuations to an evolving concrete platform.

-But wouldn't that make it appear that the rules we impose on games are based on what we value? The highest performance in the least of time or effort, the best marriage of force and form, and so on, all implying the elimination of an adversary who loses by contrast, but who makes possible the attribution of superior value to another.

-It seems so that way. Which would lead us to ask, What law determines what values we value? Is it the product of a collective desire or whim, in which case, what we value can change any time; or is it based on something else beyond us, something more permanent? In the example of form, what determines the criteria that assign a superior value to one form over another? For example, when we say it is "very polished," we confer the value of gems and shiny surfaces to another object, hinting at the way we transfer one value system (jewellery) to another. But this, too, hints at another value system, the evolution of matter towards a "perfected" state beyond which it cannot proceed further. Gems are generally like that. A circle cannot be more perfect than itself. The seeming immutability of these objects places them outside time, giving them a status that contradicts everything else that is time-bound, us, and the universe. 

-Are you implying that a value-system may just be founded on a linearist metaphor? That's not a very original conclusion.

-It isn't. But it does make us understand why athletes, for example, have the value given to them. The athlete represents the attainment of a certain human limit. This is why athletes become idols, literally and socially. This happens to many human figures, of course. And although limits can be broken or exceeded, the rule remains the same. Anything that attains a certain preferred level of "perfection" is valued, since this state comes closest to either a maximum point of evolution or to a point where an object, organism, or practice can no longer evolve further, that is, at least not toward states we would not like them to evolve into.

-I can't really disagree, now that you phrase it this way. Wouldn't that be one of the laws, if not, the law of play?

-You can say that, why not. But won't that also mean that the law of play is actually based on a value that assigns the highest premium on the end of play?

-Now you're playing with words. What you actually mean is putting a premium value on the metaphorical end of play, if we concede to the idea that this value is founded on a metaphorical transfer of values. To shake this off, it would just need us to ask if this transfer is a valid movement, or if there is any validity in putting gems, art, and athletes on the same side of the coin.

-Coins? That reminds me why counterfeits, imitations, and parodies have inferior valuations. You cannot duplicate an object already in a perfected state. It does help the value of minted currencies to have idolized figures on them.

-And when someone who just cuts and pastes copies of mundane textual material from one page to another comes along claiming that this duplicative or replicative process is already the perfected state of language today, we know that this is symptomatic of a reversal in the laws of play.

-Sounds dramatic. We actually don't really know what a perfected state means in this universe, apart from those moments to which we sometimes prefer to give this nominal state of affairs. If we are going to be stricter about it, we have to consider what will happen to the earth--house of perfected object-states it claims to be, after hundreds of billions of years. It is true that the material base of an art object may already be dust, and that a digital copy of it may be on a spaceship hard drive, making copied states superior and more everlasting. But those hard drives, too, will probably decompose with all the baryonic states in the universe, unless there is another storage medium that transcends all universal processes.

-Like a hyper-dimensional database you mean? Sounds like good stuff for science-fiction. If that technology is even available, what would prevent the future from actually re-instating the initial or original state of the material and formal reality of our perfected object? And what if our dear objects are now indeed just futuristic molecular restorations of the original? We're just not aware of it.

-You are indeed at warp speed now with those ideas. It's my fault. But you can write that if you want, with today's molecules, of course.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Spatial concepts

                                                      ''My discovery was the hole and that’s it.'' (Lucio Fontana, 1968)


Concetto-spaziale-Attese-1965-no9

It would probably be more apt to say that painting did not simply disappear in Lucio Fontana's "discovery" of the hole, but that it was "absorbed" by its true medium (1), which is "space" itself. In other words, in his quest to incorporate space and time into the art form, Fontana broke down ''the distinction between the art object and the space around it" and opened up a radical moment of abstraction.

It is true that the buchi and the tagli which have become the main signature of his oeuvre can also be seen to be emphasizing the material substrate that supports the art object, dissolving all illusionist or ''retinal'' tendencies in art. The veil has been ripped open (or slashed), the fourth wall has been broken (or punctured), and "behind" or ''under'' it there is not more of Matter, or more of the Real. (Analogously, when we trace a line on the page, is that a fullness we see, or is it the dark crevice of infinite space? It is interesting to note that making ''holes'' was part of old forms of writing. The Greek word graphein even carried the idea of  ''scratching and scraping'' in its etymology.)

However, let us go one step further: there are actually only more holes, and perhaps only holes, nothing more. To add a hole in any material is arguably a ridiculous idea, given the fact that, microscopically, we know ''things'' are by nature full of empty spaces. This is why we need to underline the fact that Fontana only ''discovered'' the hole: he did not create it. No one creates what is already there to start with, and the art+object arrives only as a kind of ''differential conjuring'' of an event that cannot be created because it is already everywhere.

To bring together a claim of presence (''there are'') and a nominal category designating an absence (''holes'') may sound like an abuse of language dipping into nonsense. Yet, it is probably not more or less than catachretic to speak of concetto spaziale (''spatial concepts'') where the abstract and the concrete collide, mix, and interchange values. (We will cut off any foray into lexical histories by simply saying that the apparent opposition between concrete and abstract often neglects the fact that even the word ''concrete'' itself is as abstract as any other term.) In other words, the ''hole'' and the ''object'' are limit concepts without intrinsic value or form on their own. They can only exist as extensions of each other, never ceasing to revert into the other in order to open up the spaces of ''expectation'' (2).

What is hence ''demonstrated'' by Fontana's work is the paradoxical medium that merges or blurs the polar notions of Something and Nothing, Presence and Absence, Fullness and Emptiness (3). His work, which ''(breaks) down the distinction between the art object and the space around it," can be best described less as matter with holes than as holes with matter, bringing us closer, by a sort of retrospective foreshadowing, to ideas in contemporary quantum theory where nuclear particles are only excited states of the vacuum.

It is an almost impossible object, existing only as pure abstraction since, for Fontana, ''No form can be spatial.''  It is as if the artist were merely the continuation of Time itself. By raising abstraction (''drawing away,'' ''extraction,'' ''removal'') into a purely semiotic or symbolic gesture with no real metaphysical or demiurgic value, Fontana does nothing but resume the auto-generation of a primeval cosmic motion where the artist (4) is just another dynamic link or moment in the Void:

''Now in space there is no longer any measurement. Now you see infinity … in the Milky Way, now there are billions and billions … The sense of measurement and of time no longer exists, and so, here is the void, man is reduced to nothing … And my art too is all based on this  purity, on this philosophy of nothing, which is not a destructive nothingbut a creative nothing …  And the slash, and the holes, the first holes, were not the destruction of the painting… it was a dimension beyond the painting, the freedom to conceive art through any means, through any form'' (italics added).

All in all, this reminded me of  Maurice Blanchot's ''dead time'' and the space of writing. What interested me in Fontana is the way both the Mirror and the Window give way to the Medium, which is not an opacity blocking perception. The Medium, in fact, is everything, without measure or limit or end. It is what is more invisible than visible, like Frenhofer's canvas of the ''Unknown Masterpiece'' whose only actual reality resides simply on the fact of having been named in language.


1. ''Fontana’s painting represents neither destruction nor a reduction of painting. On the contrary, it is an eloquent visual argument for a radical expansion of the medium'' (italics added).  Anthony White, http://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/essay/no-form-can-be-spatial-the-origins-of-lucio-fontanas-spatial-concept-2/. Some quotes above were from White's essay.
2. Attese, ''expectation'' or ''waiting'' seems like an intriguing title, with all its nuance of delay, postponement, hoped for arrival, suspension, in short between being there and not being there, an imperfect absence or presence.
3. See, for example, Fontana's turn to ovoid formats, provocatively titled "La fine di Dio" (1964). It is perhaps an illustration of another critique of a plenitude at the center of the Egg, figural image of primordial creation.
4. ‘’The artist must have the courage to stop idolizing himself, to stop seeing himself as the centre of the earth and of all things.’’ An analogue, no doubt, of the death of the author in literature.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

A Magic Staff

     I finally said yes to an old invitation on the day it was about to expire. Suddenly, I was floating away, and a musical wooden staff or a meter-long twig was in the background. I was carried away with it towards some location that I somehow knew to be hidden but familiar. (All the staffs in this dream were rough twigs, as if they were just torn off a tree.) I could sense how the whole world had transformed. Everything on Earth became brittle. Fresh leaves would crumble down to white ash when touched, as if the world--the air, the soil, even Time itself--were made of a very thin and fragile material.



     I arrived in a big house with all the candidates. The next scene involved some tests. We were supposed to find something somewhere "underneath." When I tried looking under the carpet or the flooring, instead of uncovering the ground itself, I would just peel off one layer after another, as if the ground were an infinite series of crusts made of foam or mattresses.

     Then I remembered a previous message that came with the invitation. I had a kind of puck or token in my pocket and so I threw it in the air. It floated away and stopped spinning over some hidden entry point for an underground bunker or garage. I lifted it with the help of two or three candidates who I felt were close associates. Below were four or five pairs of old, really run-down, classy leather shoes, all ankle-cut high, in different styles, all colors faded brown or tanned. I picked up the pair with a greenish hue and let the others choose from the rest. There was a hint that these shoes had some magical import.

     After that, there was a set of combat tests. The last one had me facing a powerful female magician. I simply said it would be futile to fight her because I would just certainly lose. Because I declined to challenge her, she revealed that she has now become my ally and mentor.

     In the last scene, while I and my mentor were walking together, an old man who seemed vaguely familiar suddenly appeared out of nowhere and he stabbed her with another wooden staff. I thought she was going to die, but eventually her wound started healing up. The old man left the scene casually, and even hinted that he did it to protect me, although I wasn't convinced, and I felt that there was yet another undisclosed reason for his actions.

Friday, June 10, 2016

The metaplasmic machine

     But there is a point where the authority of final jurisdiction is neither rhetorical nor linguistic, nor even discursive. The notion of trace or of text is introduced to mark the limits of the linguistic turn. This is one more reason why I prefer to speak of 'mark' rather than of language. In the first place the mark is not anthropological; it is prelinguistic; it is the possibility of language, and it is every where there is a relation to another thing or relation to an other. For such relations, the mark has no need of language. (Jacques Derrida, 1976)

-Can we start from a rudimentary superficial scratch? No arché or telos, not the mirror of nature nor the expression of an interior subjectivity, no transcendental force governing its permutations, no triadic fantasy of meaning: inner, outer, medium. an unknown marking means, we don't know what it means. it is what cannot be referred to, pointed out. it is neither meaningful nor meaningless. a medium that is not a medium, since it does not have anywhere to go. it is not in between anything. a charming chain that is almost like ''mojibake.''

-Now, this is not a call to anarchy. what replaces anarchy is a minimal locally-determined order that is temporary in duration, whose territory can be large or small, but always multiple. what replaces an idealized, imagined anarchy is another imaginary normalizing space, the fantasy of a provisional one-second rule in continuous mutation.

-Everything enacts a rule. they are not rules that are followed, but rules that follow, that happen. the minimum requirement of an event is a rule, a trivial fantasy. it can be a mania governing a whole set of untameable and innumerable elements, or the fantasy of an extended action echoing nothing, a materialist event, or more “intelligently,” a process, like text production, or making marks. in a non-symbolic gesture, the marks don’t acquire a thicker semantic dimension than the fact that they are being produced.

-A material mark is the vague metaplasmic space between sign and nonsign, and following which rule? it’s anybody’s guess. ideally, it should not refer, because the introduction of a second element is the beginning of allegory. what speaks should not be another. this is unavoidable, the doppelgänger is always waiting. the essential factor is that it keeps moving. even the attempt to contradict is the beginning of a dialogue. is the mark then a monologue? an impossible meaning or concept. any logos is already a dialogue, any mark is already a coinage.

-There are ways a mark stays a mark in a metaplasm that has no known meaning. it stays as a jumble of letters or glyphs, and "reroutes semantics." the doppelgänger hovers but does not land. it remains indefinite. it can be a case of production and variation, with some minimal order, without it creating a dialogical or allegorical pair. the mark is not meaningless, but it isn't meaningful either. there is only mutational play and that's it. what is mutating is nothing but mutation itself, like a slot machine infinitely rolling.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Looking for signs

Looking for signs, Fisher King, signs in old literature etc. The signs of the times, the end etc. The sign of impending doom or catastrophe. Anything gets caught up in the whirlwind of becoming-sign. The sign is a mysterious object that can take any form, like a goddess whose shape is unpredictable, and yet producing history and events.

Metasigns that postulate signhood, caught in a cat-tail chase. Both are mutually self-constitutive. Again, neither have any real value. It is the tension they create that produces the vibration of meaningfulness.

Alien language of unknown format, in an unknown material or medium etc. what if the mind can only see a limited number of kinds of patterns, like with the visible or audible spectrum?

What have been communicated: soul material, world material,  then just language material, and finally just material with a pareidolic resemblance to languageness.

Kervinen, machinic language. Evil machine like HAL.

Any object, animal, creation or invention that displaces human beings as the center and governor of meaning automatically gets coded as malevolent. Today, more than ever, we are no longer the center of meaning. Destiny marches along not according to our hymns. It is no wonder super intelligences in fiction immediately initiate the process of our elimination and extinction. It is an instant toss between new gods and homo sapiens. History cannot serve two masters at the same time.

In many sci-fi works, the usurpation of human agency as the dominant center of meaning by super intelligent machines has often been portrayed as evil. Logically, it would entail the eradication of the human species in history. The whole plot then revolves around the recuperation of human subjectivity as an essential requirement in the fulfillment of the narrative.

for s_p_e:  I find it hard to discuss all the semantics for this piece since there is really no more valid semantics to begin with. what we are dealing with, beside the incredible phenomena of constructed language explosion, is the retreat of hypothetical  ideas about languageness. what we are left with today are simulations, fractured tribal-speak, fleeting meme-like partial semiotic "trendings," viral spin-offs of media-borne semiotic packages that come and go like fashion fevers or fads. A holistic, all-encompassing language doesn't exist. there are only packets of sign-strings making rounds, virtual memories of languageness as fleeting as a bout of laughter. The only encounter and practice left is with packaged media rotating virally and fading off. It would be more fitting to speak of pieces with titles. In general, signs are play things, like clay, made and remade for immediate sensations and networking, tied to statistics that determine their value and meaning.

With this explosion, there is the disappearance of Language and the proliferation of gestures of languageness.

We thought that if we created more signs we would have more understanding. Today, we use more signs to understand other signs, and more signs to understand the signs that were created to read other signs.

A dog can think that its bark is all there is, but we know that apart from that there are so many other kinds of signs, in different planes and spectrum, often untranslatable into each other.

Cybernetics is a way "matter" is finally becoming manipulable on the level of electrons. With quantum computing, even the very spins of sub-atomic particles become pliable through programmable technology. The output may always coincide with global objectives, but the point is that we have created machines that can finally give commands to matter.

To speak to matter, there are several levels of linguistic transition or translation. Programming languages borrow from natural languages as well as from logical and mathematical syntax. This will then be "read" into binary codes by circuit boards to activate or execute the commands thus encoded. The output would be the objective products: words, image, object, action, or event.

If cyberspace has become a realm where materiality/immateriality is seen to be indistinguishable, it is because of its ability to produce a dimension that serves as a prosthetic extension of human sense and thinking that is resistant to simple codification along the material/immaterial or things/signs axes. we are dealing with a new matter no longer linked by signification but by hypermediation where truthfulness and meaningfulness are functions of intensity, repetition, enlargement, contiguity, advertising, accumulation, manipulability, ratings, survey, trending, viral spin-offs...

(The CLICK is our new center. It is the immediate but micro-temporal plenitude of meaning encased in a tiny gesture assuming all ostensive and indicative functions. The new metaphyclick.)

Monday, November 2, 2015

A messy house

The world of cartoons is often a messy one, and we wonder why kids find so much amusement in it.

How does it usually start?

1. There is a sort of Equilibrium. For example, a cat is given charge of a house.
2, An agent of Chaos enters, like a mouse, and disrupts the Peace (like the Parasite).
3. The Agon begins. The conflict of two orders leads to the disturbance of the household peace. Usually an object like a piece of chicken or cheese becomes the centerpiece of the conflict. Now Comedy starts as the house goes into disarray.
4. Conflict is resolved when the house owner arrives: resolution by a Third party, as if by deus ex machina.

Ironically, this conflict or intersection of two paradigms or wills drives the energy of the Narrative or Story. Here, we see a very basic formalism, which portrays the Narrative as the tale of this dynamic shifting from Equilibrium to Disequilibrium to another (temporary) Equilibrium.

(In the film "Oblivion," Jack Harper lives in a peaceful narrative housing. Enter Malcolm Beech. The next events spin a new narrative, in conflict with the first. Only the narrative bias--the "Alien" vs. the "Human"--prevents us from overruling the veracity of the second narrative, but this insertion suffices to open up the first one and lead it into a crisis.)

Two people talking. One tells a joke that involves a distortion of language, like a pun. Instead of a puzzled look, there is a burst of laughter. Someone clueless wonders what's so funny; he does not "get it." Someone asks, "What do you mean by that? Oh, I see, so by saying that you mean to say this, and not that meaning which I would have taken you to be saying."

Each language event is a potential renegotiation. New fleeting houses keep forming.

How are the rules of meaning negotiated when the borders of linguistic rules seem to overflow? There must be, in this flow from a peaceful state of language to a moment where the borders are readjusted to take account of a comic moment, a dynamic similar to the messy world of kiddie cartoons.

Chomsky: didn't he want to establish the Eternal Peace of the house of language? Didn't this attempt actually fuel all the more the conflicts after?

A global peace in the house of language is a great hope. However, everyday, what we hear more often is a comic narrative. The stability of meaning is a temporary, localized phenomenon, a short-lived peace that dissipates in the next round of negotiations. There are always borders, sites of renegotiation. Each creates a ripple, a pocket of chaos that reinvigorates the narrative of language.

Again, somewhere, a house goes into disarray, and a comic moment resurges.