Normally the G20 isn't one to get so excited about. Now, the IMF/World Bank meetings, the WTO, or maybe the G8--those are exciting. But then again, this year is different. EVERYBODY is going to be at the G20.
What am I talking about? I'm talking about protesting!
Protesting at a big, international conference, hosted by some unassuming town that thought it might get a little bit more "tough city" cred at the next World Mayors Forum, is somewhat of a sport. There is a schedule, and an in-crowd, and even to a certain extent, a "fan domain", similar to the tailgate section or the "in-field" at a NASCAR race: serious protester parking only.
But, protesting is more than that. Naturally, many people would be happier if the protest was limited to the "Carnival Against Capitalism" crowd. If it was, the media could feel free to ignore the events entirely. The police wouldn't have to feel any compunction from local businesses to do anything, so they could just arrest a few people crossing the border with giant papier-mache puppets, feel up a few college students, and collect some hazard pay. And the Carnival crowd would probably like to keep their puppets and their bodies intact (though they will never, but never be happy with the media coverage).
Unfortunately, there is also the other side of protesting--the violent.
You know who they are. The Agonists. The Bad Element. The Agitators. The Terrorists. The Anarchists. The Foreign/Internationl/Non-local Traveling Punk-Youth. They are coming to your town, to burn your Starbucks down. They are the few, (oh, but even a few bad apples spoil this barrel!) they are the violent, (Gandhi! GAND-hi! Can't you hear me?), they are the non-democratic, ruining civil disobedience for the rest of us.
This, if you read anything about major, event-centered protest, is the story for the last two decades, since the birth of anti-globaliza... gaak! I almost said it. Okay, but this has been the dominant narrative for the past ten years, and maybe a bit more. Certainly since Seattle. Because that's what happened in Seattle.
From my carnival-of-overwhelming-sarcasm, you might be beginning to suspect I disagree.
No, I'm not going to deny that there are some just plain violent people at protests, nor will I deny that some people just like to make big, musical art projects for any reason, protesting or otherwise. I know both kinds, and have been at protests with both.
I don't want to speculate about why people are the way that they are, or why they do the things they do, or what the juridico-historical combine of reactionary institutions in and amongst regimes of power do to either of them. That sort of blog post could go on forever, and I'm already looking at like ten scrolls to get to the bottom of this one! Even if I do get philosophical on you, I want to limit it.
What I actually want to talk about is this particular sort of "sport" protest: the International Event Protest (IEP).
Let us say right off: the International Event Protest has nothing to do with a guy who liked to camp at a lake in New England. Nor does it have to do with any particular issue, cause, or position. Nor does it have to do with people, in a democratic sense, nor any other theory of liberal politics. Though politics and people are the surely common denominator of any IEP, (Think youth have poor self-image and no interest in politics? Ask any attender to define his/her political stance, and prepare for at least a five-minute verbal improved pamphlet!) politics, on their face, are not the governing theory one should attempt to use to understand the protest.
There is one, single pivot point for understanding an IEP: violence. The cause, the rationalization, the action, and the emotion of violence.
Yes, even the non-violent protesters are there for the violence.
An IEP is a HORRIBLE place for actual protest or civil disobedience. Try locking yourself to a door or occupying a bus. In twenty minutes, a riot squad officer comes along with a bolt cutter, clears you out, and chucks you into a van. Then you go to jail until the weekend is over. Add more people, and it just takes a little longer, or a bigger van. Some of the most successful protests and C-D projects I've seen or heard about take place in the middle of the week, at the corporate offices of offending corporations in Omaha, or Kansas City, or somewhere like that. They aren't expecting it. You can shut an office down for most of the day, and seriously get under the employees skin. And they are likely to prosecute with trespassing only--you really can't make the case that the protester punched a cop when it was in an office waiting room with five cameras and 20 employees watching. Want to be more effective than that? Shut down a retail store that's open. Customers will be horrified to find students locked to their Starbucks at 6AM on a Tuesday. Stage one action per week in a new city, combined with a targeted media campaign. The whole consuming population is figuring out you are at war with their "local"
store, and you've won. How long will a corporation put up with that before taking the easy way out, and launching a PR campaign about how Socially Responsible they are now? Six months to two years is the answer. Start with the industry leader. After they cave, the rest will be push overs.
Even if your target is a bit harder than merely a corporation (it's surprising how fickle the market actually makes those who believe in the market...take a look around), a city locked down for protest, with all surrounding cops called in on overtime, is hardly the place to stage an action. Surely there are better, more effective places.
The sheer facts of convergence of thousands of people is the reason a IEP is not a political zone, either. Who expresses themselves at a +60,000 plus sporting event? You eat some nachos, grumble about how much beer costs, and then leave early to beat the traffic. Protests have more Food Not Bombs one-pot meals than nachos, but the idea is the same. The power of Freedom of Speech is blasted into obscurity by hand-painted signs and people plastered in bumper stickers, to the tune of about a quarter million of them. Besides, no matter how many signs you make, the Socialist Worker's Party will always make more.
In addition to not being a place for these "democratic" ideas, nor is the large protest a point for launching the revolution. This is not the 60s--one is not facing eighteen-year old National Guard troopers, asking them to make the decision to shoot or not and thereby determine the course of history. The "People" got as far as the Pentagon lawn, and then the rules changed. They don't send the army anymore--they send the mall cops. Okay, the very well-armed and organized mall cops, but mall cops all the same.
Have you ever been kicked out the mall? This is how it goes down:
You shoplift something, or get in a fight, or are simply loud and being a teenager. Somebody gets the mall security, who come puffing up, shining their badge and gripping their flashlight. They make a lot of noise about respecting the rule of law and private property, and march you to OUTSIDE THE MALL (horrifying!), at which point they either hand you over to real cops, or tell you to never come back.
This is pretty much the strategy of crowd control and counter-protesting. You find the trouble spots, you seize those who are elevating the situation, and you take them out of the equation. Other than that, it's shining the badge, taking out the trash, and making the old ladies feel safe. At each IEP I've been to, the cops found out where the organizers were, raided it the night before and detained people, and the rest of the weekend was a cakewalk for them. Same thing at the actual event. They push the line back, grab a few folks who look tough or like they could energize people, and then the rest is herding cattle. One time I was in a public park, which was surrounded. We were scared they were going to charge; they had tear gas, rubber bullets, big arrest buses, etc. They kept us in the park, getting nervous, for about an hour. Then they opened one side, and herded everyone out. Everyone was glad to get out, and dispersed.
So this is what the IEP is not. Okay then. What is it? (Time to get a bit more serious.)
The International Protest Event is not spontaneous. It is a reaction to a Power Structure Event (PSE). (I don't like these phrases or acronyms especially, but I'm using them to save words, and so it is clear I am talking about these specific instances of protest, structure, and so forth, and not in general terms.)
The Power Structure Event is pretty simply that--the G20, the WTO, and various international and national organizations exist largely outside of their annual ministerial meetings, and all of the effects of these organizations, which the protesters are supposedly protesting, certainly do not occur in the hotels and convention centers of the Event itself, but in the money, the power, and the structure represented at these meetings. In the same way a terrorist knocking a hole in the Pentagon does not take out the American military (or even hurt it at all, really) "Stopping the G20" meeting does not stop the G20. It is symbolic.
And that is what the protesters are drawn to: the symbol. The symbol is made by the power structure, for reasons I don't understand. This is why I've always somewhat believed in the Illuminati (what? yes, he said it!): if ever there was an organization clever enough to control the world, it would be clever enough to make people think it was a crazy, old conspiracy theory.
But really--it is classic anti-cathexis. The PSE is a wound--the leaders take all the injustice and suffering in the world they are responsible for, and sum it up in a meaningless meeting at a luxury hotel, during which time they claim to be "fixing" the problem. The protesters run to this wound like pain shooting down the legs of a five year-old with double skinned knees.
So why do the G20 and others even hold public meetings, if they are only rough scabs, ready to be rubbed raw by the unwashed international protest set? Well, because part of the rest of the world does like these institutions. They think they are important, and are thrilled that all our leaders are getting together to eat food and save our asses. Of course, other people are just interested in the UK vs. Ukraine match, but we'll forget them (for now).
But when they hold these meetings, they are going to attract a significant about of distaste, staring in extreme distress at the ripped skin with the gravel still stuck in it. The power structures of the world hold on to their power by threads. Of course, these are very numerous and long threads, but threads all the same. You need to have a car to get a job. You need to have a job to have a house. And you have to wash and cover each wound you receive, every time (otherwise, dreaded INFECTION).
Every time a kid smokes pot, one of these strings break. Every time a person loses a job, and thinks "why do I bother?" a string breaks. Every time a student reads Kropotkin, and says to him/herself, "wow, he's not so crazy," a string breaks. There are still many strings, don't get me wrong, but they break all the time. It is conceivable that one day, they all may break.
The PSE is a giant rope. Such events re-tie a whole bunch of threads at once, even though they do relatively little.
At a news conference in Vina del Mar, Mr Biden said he hoped the protesters would give the politicians a chance.
"Hopefully we can make it clear to them that we're going to walk away from this G20 meeting with some concrete proposals," he said.
Yeah, you better be damn sure he "hopes".
You might have noticed a lot of strings have been snapping recently.
I don't think they will have much in the way of proposals from the meetings, but perhaps they will retie some of those broken strands.
Of course, there are those who don't like to be tied up. For whatever reason. When they see such a big PSE planned under their noses, in their cities, or in their neighboring countries, or on the other side of the world despite being told it represents them, certain people get annoyed. They decide to go and disagree, by standing in the street, since that seems to be all they can do. They react to the PSE with a IPE, and they aim to cut some of those strings.
Now, it is not as simple as that, of course. People are complicated, and have very complicated reasons for doing or not doing all sorts of things. It was these complicated reasons I didn't want to get into.
But, I think we can say it is complicated. Some people show up, and they want to carry a sign or a prop. By standing in the mass, and by showing themselves within it, they are saying, "I am one of those who not retie the threads." Others go further. They choose to block traffic, to lock themselves to things, and to cross line they are told specifically not to cross. "This march's permit is revoked. You will be arrested if you do not move." Oh, will I? Then arrest me. I won't move myself. They are saying, "I challenge your threads, and will pull until they break."
Others (and you knew it was coming) seek out threads to cut. They are done being pushed, and they are done talking about it. They are going to cut threads. It doesn't matter how small the threads may be. A Starbucks window? FUCK IT. I've had enough of their shiny image, and their crap coffee market. A cop who can't wait to beat me with a stick? FUCK IT. I'm going to beat him with a stick.My tax dollars protecting a mall (and worse)? FUCK IT. I would burn it all down if I could.
I don't believe destruction of property is violence. If it is your property, you clearly feel the property is an extension of yourself, and to destroy it is attack you. But then again, people used to feel this way about their jobs too, until they were reminded that it is the bosses' job: you're just lucky enough to be allowed to work it.
Actually though, all three of the "fuck it" examples above are violence, regardless of the target. They are the willful seeking of conflict, and the counter-acting of the will of power. To violate another's will is to bring violence to them--to stop another's hand you must use your own, or something else, word or tool (is there a difference)? The Pink Grandmothers Against the War? Yup, violence. Because first you must stand up to disagree.
As always, we will seek to facilitate lawful demonstration while focusing on any illegality. We are speaking to most of the protest groups and there are some who are not as keen to talk to us as others.
- Sir Paul of the Met Police.
This statement is the most brilliant ignorance of the entire logic of the IPE I have ever seen, summed into one sentence. All protest is lawless, because it seeks to protest the law. And there is only one way to protest the law when there is no legal recourse--with "violence" that countermands the "peace" of the law. There is violence within the law as well, and within those who support it. But we are now in a situation where law overwhelms those who have no interest in it. They call it society. Fascism is unique because it seeks to collapse ordinary, human violence into will of law (but this isn't the target of this current investigation. At least, not directly...)
Violence is a state of mind, and a human emotion. To attempt to rubric violence into different quotients of damage, pre-meditation, and method is a task of a law obsessed with a Schild-sense of justice. Protest, the taking to the streets by human beings, to counteract the force of their own towns and cities, has no debt attached to it. There is nothing the G20 could repent or pay to reduce the number of protesters by half, or a quarter. Though I hate the topicality, it is too apt to say, and so I must: Anger is not a CDO. It builds within our unconscious mechanisms, our pent up desires, and our built pathways of reaction. Then, it may be released.
Anger, and the violence that is its form in human action, is a positive force, not a negative vacuum. There is nothing that "fills" up anger, because it seeks to fill other things. Anger pours into the streets like blood into a bruise. Anger flows down the length of the arm, propelling a brick into panes of class. The squeezing choke of metal handcuffs increases anger's force, pulling on the elbows and the shoulders, sucking juice into joints like batteries, charging limbs and muscle for when the restraints are removed. Violence, filling itself from the tips of the fingers, finds expression in weapons, in words shouted in pure hate, in stones from the road, or in hammers, saws, and nails. It's biblical in scope, and it's always been.
Violence, as the power behind a hand, mind, or tool, can be capable of doing any number of things, in the sense of non-emotional, material gain. But none of these things are going to happen at a protest. Violence can fill one's brain, arcing words out of the tongue and onto the page, but you'd have better luck writing in a Starbucks than in the streets. Violence can flow into one's work, building great things from the passion sublimated into effort, but you are not going to produce anything at a picket line. Revolution, which is the real action of turning around the systems of the world with the mechanics of individuals action, can be motivated, formulated, and produced from great stores of anger, in the same way violence is powered. But this will not happen at any IPE. This happens at home, in the workshop, at the desk, and among people who are discussing, planning, and working. None of this happens at a protest.
But, this is not to say that the violence of protest is useless, either. Great moments in history have happened in the heat of an event, when anger is at its hottest. Scab riots, occupations, and liberations have happened when a mob is able to turn the ebb of a particular tide with violence. These events have their place and time, but this is not something you can predict before the place and time occur. Undirected group will can do many things, some of them good. But they are notoriously, as one might guess, hard to direct or will. The only thing one can will is oneself.
Place and time... events, and history. This is really what the PSE and the IPE are about. One force sets up an event as a demonstrable symbol if its power--a symbol of, and a symbol for its power. Another force, organized or not, seeks to counteract that symbol with its own, even if there is no group will involved. Other symbols rise to clash with it, and over time, in the memory, symbols of events are recognized as meaning things. We won Seattle, yet the WTO still exists. They won the Iraq War, yet protest still exists. Symbols are a mob: they run in the streets, screaming their sound, fury, and nothing. It is only the interpreter, after the anger has subsided, who can pick through the rubble, and decide who, what, where, and when--for what its' worth. Outside of that, we are only angry engines, running on a hot mix of hormone, neurotransmitters, and inertia. And anyone who tries to deny that, be it media, government, or individual, will eventually find themselves staring down a dead-end alley with the mob of humanity facing them down, rather than flowing with it. There are many groups one should not join--but the human species is not the sort of gang that refuses membership. They can divide people into "violent" and "peaceful", but once they've arrests all the violents, do you think there will be no more violence? They can make every person a cop, but still the people will exist. They can punish us like children, threaten us with castration, sadism, or worse-chastisement: but still we get angry. There's nothing more human than that.
I was going to end this post by retreating to words already written: theorists on the philosophy of violence, society and its sublimation of anger, and etc. But I don't really know what it would gain me by putting another person's words here. I think a much better source of evidence for my words lies in you. Think about yourself, and think about the times you've been angry. Think about who or what has made you angry, and what systems and methods of control that allow them to make you feel that way. We've all be angry. We all will be angry in the future. But what will we do about it?
I just try to keep a sense of humor about it. Oh, and I also write when people who claim to be better than human piss me off. It helps some.
I found it funny on numerous levels, but I won't spoil it with commentary. That's for my next post.
Announcing their "Suggest" feature, customized for various countries' Google search pages, David Kadouch, Project Manager, muses on the crazy differences between countries:
"If you type [liver] in the U.K., you're probably a Liverpool fan (but in the U.S. you'll get more suggestions about liver diseases):"
[dour, though its true, I do care more about liver disease than soccer.]
"While in the Maldives, typing [ato] leads to:"
[Ah... well, yes. Very good. But enough about the damn Maldives. What about AUSTRALIA???]
In Australia, typing [kan] will offer suggestions about Australia's most famous animal:
What? Kanye West is Australia's most famous animal?
Well, I suppose he does have more search results than the other Kangaroo suggestions combined.
But if you are me, (and you are!) you are wondering what the hell kind of animal a kangan batman tafe is.
(okay, I admit it. When I started this post it was way funnier than it is now.)
But here's something new.
The news has been swarming around the tremendous about of "OUTRAGE" people feel over the AIG bonuses for the last couple of weeks. Of course, most of the folks I actually know don't know the difference between these bonuses and any other particular parcel of the bailout money, but hey, the media and the politicians say we're outraged, so we must be.
What is new is that a couple of AIG employees have responded in open letters to the public and their management. First Jack DeSantis' open letter of resignation [from AIG FP] was published in the NYT, and now "a letter purporting to be from en employee at AIG's Financial Products", posted on The Business Insider's blog Clusterstock. (Though there is no name on the second piece, it seems most are considering it legit. Also, I must "hat-tip", as they say in the econo-blog world, to FT Alphaville, for pointing me towards these interesting specimens, as they never fail to do).
These letters exhibit the good old OUTRAGE of employees who were told they would be paid a fee, which they have recently learned will not be paid because the gov'mint finds it expedient not to pay them. This is besides the fact they were not specifically responsible for the cartwheeling down-in-flames failure issue AIG seemed to have, and because they were hired to stay on after the failure to wind down the business. So they say.
But what I find really interesting is the tone of these two pieces. These voices are not the whinings of bankers who are crying as their car services and country-club memberships are torn from their claws, or those shredding documents and packing gold bars of US Treasury money into attache cases (though their salaries do make me want to spit). These are not the Wall Street class we see in the political cartoons, spending taxpayer money while the rest of us head to unemployment (though they may have had to cancel their drug and hooker delivery services with pain in their heart).
Despite who these men might actually be, these letters are from men who are pissed off, because they are trying to work a complicated system, which nobody seems to understand or acknowledge--especially the government charged with saving the system.
Here are some choice bits:
"I can no longer effectively perform my duties in this dysfunctional environment, nor am I being paid to do so. Like you [Edward Liddy, CEO of AIG], I was asked to work for an annual salary of $1, and I agreed out of a sense of duty to the company and to the public officials who have come to its aid. Having now been let down by both, I can no longer justify spending 10, 12, 14 hours a day away from my family for the benefit of those who have let me down."
"have spent over 15 years waking up at 5am and coming home late at night, playing by the rules, making thought-through, ethical and conscientious decisions in the framework of an industry that has existed for thousands of years and currently employs hundreds of thousands of people in the major financial centers. None of What I did was illegal, none of what I did was unethical, none of what I did keeps me up at night. I will happily stand in front of congress and justify every deal, every mark, every decision I made."
"The only real motivation that anyone at A.I.G.-F.P. now has is fear. Mr. Cuomo has threatened to “name and shame,” and his counterpart in Connecticut, Richard Blumenthal, has made similar threats — even though attorneys general are supposed to stand for due process, to conduct trials in courts and not the press."
"What is happening in the US political system today is a travesty of fairness, basic rights and transparency. Where was this congressional outrage and mob-baiting over abu-ghraib, guantanomo, the failing educational system, the failing health care system, the incredible inequality of opportunity and outcome in the US, the illegal war in iraq and I'm sure this list can go on? This outrage is manufactured by the very politicians, Barney Frank, Chris Dodd, Andrew Cuomo and others who supervised the system, who took it's fruits as campaign contributions, to hide their own far greater culpability in the creation of the mess we are in. The crisis is systemic and the leaders of the system are trying to blame it on 10 guys in connecticut. Please, you should feel insulted to your core that the US political establishment tries to lie to you again."
"After 12 months of hard work dismantling the company — during which A.I.G. reassured us many times we would be rewarded in March 2009 — we in the financial products unit have been betrayed by A.I.G. and are being unfairly persecuted by elected officials. In response to this, I will now leave the company and donate my entire post-tax retention payment to those suffering from the global economic downturn. My intent is to keep none of the money myself."
"We have worked 12 long months under these contracts and now deserve to be paid as promised. None of us should be cheated of our payments any more than a plumber should be cheated after he has fixed the pipes but a careless electrician causes a fire that burns down the house."
"My team contained a Slovak physicist who in act of great courage and wisdom, defected from the eastern block during the cold war. A French civil engineer who would like to build bridges but couldn't resist the lucre of finance. A Russian-Jewish immigrant who has worked his way up from busboy in a brooklyn diner to key member of the the commodities business and an indian graduate of IIT who fixes his own broken electronics gear on his desk at work.. These people are not corrupt. They have earned their success. Their stories are even testament to the simple fact that anyone could come get a job in finance and succeed. If anything, the tragedy is that so many talented people worked in finance when they and society would have been better off with their efforts focussed else where."
"I am not shocked. I am an observer of US foreign policy. I see how the US corrupts, betrays, its principles lies, mis-names its deeds and turns on its allies all over the world all day every day. That this rot and corruption are now being evidenced domestically in the form of a McCarthy like witch-hunt of "bankers" is much less shocking than that they would kill a million Iraqi's and then declare victory for democracy. I am not shocked that in a country where only 30% of the population can name the three branches of government (but 70% can name an America Idol judge) that it does not seem important that congress is trying to pass ex-post-facto taxes or secure bills of attainder. It flows naturally that the vitiation of contract law doesn't seem worthy of remark. THE ENTIRE US SYSTEM IS COMMITTING SUICIDE. And why?
Because congressman only really care about the next election and care nothing about the long term. The same crappy incentive scheme that has destroyed finance is destroying the US government."
Whoa. I haven't heard many citizens that pissed off.
It strikes me that #2 is right--the entire system is crashing and burning. Not for the usual reasons: the sell-out nature of the capitalist system, the inequalities of materialist culture, or the contradictions of commodities. It seems to me, in the words of God Speed You Black Emperor, "The car is on fire, and there's no driver at the wheel." It used to be assumed that government was inept and do-nothing, but at least we had our strong market economy as the gears. Well, those gears slipped, and what we're finding out is that there is nobody, but nobody who can figure out how to put humpty-dumpty back together again.
Sure, folks can understand how derivatives work. Really, its just a complicated contractual give-and-take. There are even people who are fairly good at developing algorithms to track how these contracts are functioning, and determining worth, for lack of a better term. But for goodness sake, there is no fucking wheel on this ship. Nobody can steer the thing. How can you have direction, how can you have "growth", if there is no way to determine your heading? The boat tends to head west, with allowances for cyclical turns to the north, south, and east?
This is our system.
Nobody has confidence, because it is headed in the direction of failure. If we whip round again, some people will be confident. But when will people start to ask for a better boat? Are we really not capable of making one? We went to the fucking moon! Or are we just too scared to try, because we are worried about preserving our concept of "ownership", because goddamn it, the minute it's not "mine", someone is going to rip it out of my hands.
Well, I'm not going to solve that problem here.
But here is something else worth mentioning: in addition to no one knowing how to steer this thing, we barely even know starboard from port. The information is all locked up. These two letters divulge more about the finances of AIG than we know about just about any bank right now--because even if we can find the information, we don't know whether or not they are lying. You want to know whether or not we're headed west? [Paints arrow on deck, pointed forward, labeled "WEST"/enacts PPIP] There! We're heading west!
Letters like these are what we need. Alphaville called for a banker "Truth and Reconsiliation Commission" before things really get out of hand. I think they are right. Our new era of "hope and openness" or whatever is most likely not going to provide it, because "hope and openness" seem to actually mean "gloss and boundless optimism".
You know, right now I would settle for anyone who would say these things:
This is exactly what is going on
This is what I think it means
This is how we're going to fix it
And this is how we'll make sure it never, ever happens again.
The only people who are saying anything like this are the guys now resigning from AIG, because at least they've got the first two down.
We need a oral history team to Wall Street now, while all these guys are still pissed off. Otherwise, in another mess of years we'll be in the same place again.
Novi Pazar, anyhow, was still a croix mystique on the palm of Europe, and F.O. finally decided to go to the Firm for help. The Firm knew just the man.
Every day, for 2 1/2 years, Pirate went out ot visit the St. James Adenoid. It nearly drove him crazy. Though he was able to develop a pidgin by which he and the Adenoid could communicate, unfortunately he wasn't nasally equipped to make the sounds too wqell, and it got to be an awful chore. As the two of them snuffled back and forth, alienists in black seven-button suits, admirers of Dr. Freud the Adenoid clearly had no use for, stood on stepladders up against its loathsome grayish flank shoveling the new wonderdrug cocaine--bringing hods full of the white substance, in relays, up the ladders to smear on the throbbing gland-creature, and into the germ toxins bubbling nastily inside its crypts, with no visible effects at all (though who knows how that Adenoid felt, eh?).
But Lord Blaterard Osmo was able at last to devote all of his time to Novi Pazar. Early in 1939, he was discovered mysteriously suffocated in a bathtub full of tapioca pudding, at the home of a Certain Viscountess. Some have seen in this the hand of the Firm. Months passed, World War II started, years passed, nothing was heard from Novi Pazar. Pirate Prentice had saved Europe from the Balkan Armageddon the old men dreamed of, giddy in their beds with its gradeur--though not from World War II, of course. But by then, the Firm was allowing Pirate only tiny homeopathic doses of peace, just enough to keep his defenses up, bu not enough to poison him.
This is the majority of page 16 of the Penguin edition of Gravity's Rainbow, which I have just finished reading. You may have just finished reading it as well, if you just read the portion of text I transcribed into this blog post. But you have not read the book I am reading.
That's because I was reading my copy of the Penguin edition--the one with the cover image of the V-2 rocket pulled from the Smithsonian archives; the one printed on cheap, paperback paper yellowed a bit, even though it is concievably not more than seven years old; the one set in some delightful serif font, with margins a bit too big I feel, though it does allow the text to an impressive 760 pages. The page numbers are set in italics.
But even if you have the same edition, you do not have the copy I do. I shoplifted this copy from a large book retailer back when I was college, and I was broke, but had an enormous appetite for fiction. On my way out of the store, I was confronted by a clerk who could not have been more than seventeen years old. I gave her a look and kept walking, calmly.
Later that summer one of Iowa's amazing thunderstorms blew open the windows of my then-girlfriend's apartment. It was an old building, a marvel of the midwest, with wide wood floors, one of the highest structures in the small town. The windows were also old, having antiquated latches keeping them from swinging open laterally. They were no match for the wind, which came in with sheets of rain, soaking the couch and the end table, where this volume was lying, my bookmark only three chapters into its pages. It was thoroughly soaked, but the remarkable thing about the cheap paper was that it dried as easily as a sponge, though there remains a water-damage wrinkle running from the binding out to the face like a scar, gradually lessening in severity as one turns the pages in reverse from the back of the book. While I hold the book open, I feel this wrinkle in the fingers of my right hand.
This would not be the last time this book would contact water. I did not finish reading the book that summer, because honestly, who sits down and reads Pynchon the first time around? I can't remember if I finished reading it the summer I lived in Arizona with the same girlfriend, a disasterous chain of events that precipitated our breakup. I did bring it to Arizona with me, where there is very little rain, but when there is, it is beautiful, and dangerous. Where the book met the water was actually in New York, when I brought it back from the failed relationship and put it back on the shelf near the window of our recently redone apartment.
The apartment was very cheaply redone. The fixtures were new, but the sink and toilet clogged. The windows were new, but they leaked. More water came in, but not the lovely, pastural aqua vita of Iowa, but the stinking piss-rain of the city. Luckily it was only the corner of the pages that got damp, because then it was able to dry out without leaving a lingering odor. I know it did not, because then it inhabited the floor of my bed room for a time, as I was reading pieces of it. If I had not finished its entirety in Arizona, I did so then--I remember this because it was cohabitating my floor with Asimov's Foundation series, of which I only managed to finish the first two books. I remember finding it ironic that I finished the Pynchon, but was drawn away from the Asimov. But, after all, this is how I read. I was also working on my thesis, and the Pynchon might have been more conducive to this work--though the Hari Seldon certainly found his place in my theories as well.
Now, in Oregon, I am picking up this same copy again. I knew how it would smell when I reached for it at the bottom of the bookshelf, just where I knew it would be. It smells pulpy, like the dust of a library, or paper that is old. It is the opposite of the smell of new paper--perhaps shining with the new gloss they print everything on these days, driving the cost of a paperback up to twenty dollars. The price on the back of this edition is $16.95, though I did not pay for it. Sometimes I feel bad for not paying for it, because Pynchon is still alive. My pseudo-ethic of shoplifting in those days was to steal only books of authors who were deceased. But I couldn't help myself in this case--I had just finished V and desperately wanted to crack into this massive book by the same man, alive or dead. If I knew Pynchon's address perhaps I would mail him a check. But I probably would not have read the book if I hadn't obtained a copy then. But perhaps I would have.
In picking up the book, I am going to read, at least some of it, as work in preparation for writing my own piece of work. It is not meant to be Pynchon-esque by any means, though going back over his words now I hear a lot of his prose in my own. I am searching for mystery in this book: how, in the amazing opulence of the prose, is there any open space for mystery? I think he is one of the finest mystery writers ever, because one doesn't even know one is picking up clues and rounding up characters as one does it. The mystery is so natural, once you have solved it, it seems as if it was your own idea, and not the author's. In planning my project, I realize I have a solution, but I don't think I have the mystery yet. I have too many pieces, and not enough holes. I'm hoping I can formulate some sort of idea, or theory, about how one makes a whole, and then carves the pieces from it. What is it Pynchon is telling us with the words, before we even start to look for the mystery? What is there, staring me in the face, the minute I turn the page? Crazy banana breakfasts? Metaphor-induced beat-war scenes? Superheroes of nation-states' secret sex lives? Not these things, but something else.
Anybody who think that books will die out, is fucking crazy, or an idiot, or both.
That's what I wanted to write here, right now.
There is no way you can tell anything about a book without holding it in your hand, and turning the pages. You can read thousands about thousands of "pages" of text, but you cannot read one bit of a book on a screen. The only people who will be content with ebooks are those who are satisfied with text. Those who read books, will always read books. I have no doubt that a large part of the mystery I am looking for scattered on these pages is something to do with shoplifting, Arizona, Iowa, and New York, and the smell of wet paperbacks. No, it's not purely an aesthetic experience, but it certainly has to do with the phenomena of words. You may have read the text I typed into the top of this post, but you did not read it off page 16 of my copy, as I did. Semantics is not a holistic experience, by any means. But reading has never been a semantic practice, anymore than books are simply about good grammar. Semiotics--the meaning of signs--is about a communion of signs and the body. Does sentence structure matter? Yes. Does typesetting matter? Yes. Does paper choice matter? Yes. Does where that paper has been and who touched it before you held it in your hot little hands and greedily ran your eyes over it the same way you look at the picture of a naked human being? Yes.
Literary theory does not consider itself phenomenological, and only thinks of itself as sexual as a lark: a minor titillation, an inside joke. It is only recently that psychology even got in the door to the literature seminar, and we got to think of the people in addition to the text-in-itself. Oh--I mean we got to think of authors. Just wait until we begin to think of the reader. All those young men and women becoming arroused as they parse the pages of paperbacks borrowed from friends, and snuck inside the house. And not only the sex--but the sadness, the happiness, the content to sit in a chair for hours, moving nothing but the fingers (no, not the sex!). When will reading become part of literature? It already has, and this communion of eyes, hands, nose, and brain is the only reason anyone has ever read.
What's dying is not books, but publishing. The latter is the semantic: the title page, the TOC, the cover, and the price. The former is the semiotic: the meaning, the sign, the context, reading as an act. If you can call the semantically-glossy crap with which they fill up the mall "books", then yes, I guess that industry is dying. But good semiotics will find its medium just as it always finds its readership, as small as these might be. The collapse of the publishing industry doesn't have shit to do with that. Oh, and the money--well, people were writing before the publishers even let them have a little money--so I'm not worried about that.
I know--I have a love affair with books, and it is coloring my judgment. You're damn right. If one thing I said here is important it is this: reading words off bound paper is not necessarily the most authentic semiotic experience that will ever exist, but it is a phenomenologically distinct process that will exist for a very long time. You can read on whatever material you want, and read whatever you want, but literature will continue to exist, both electronics and rainwater be damned. See if I'm wrong.
Fine. Let's put it to the test. Who wants to publish something? Yes: right now. Let's get some literature together, and we'll put in on paper. I'll, print it and bind it with my own bare hands, if I have to. People will read it. If it's good, you can believe that people will read it.
Actually: totally serious. Let's go.
Let me just say, these were not colors picked at whim. It was specifically designed to match the color scheme of the Denver Nuggets from 1982-1993 (with some slight hue changes):
That's one of those "little known" facts about Welcome to the Interdome you can use to impress your friends.
But, regardless of the smart color choice I originally picked, it was time for a change. The Internet is changing, in case you hadn't noticed. I'd had the same color scheme since I started this blog two years and two hundred posts ago. So I'd say we were about due for a re-branding.
This color scheme is based upon nothing other than my whim, and the fact that I did not want to totally bent to the cries on my readership, so the text is now pink. Ha! Read that, jerks! Ha ha ha!
Really though: who doesn't read via RSS anyway? Get with the times.
I am not one for believing in after-lives. The notion of an alternate dimension for being, quite ironically also fulfilling a repression of the most natural state of anxiety, without any proof whatsoever except in the context of legends surrounding the literal institutionalization of anxiety repression, seems a bit far-out for me. Besides, any "spiritual" experience I might have had leads me towards the opposite notion--that the very deep anxiety of death is paramount to our experience of living because death is so inescapable, and so total. In as much as I can say to have ever felt most "alive", I was feeling quite heightened sensations of being near death. Therefore, to justify a belief in a life after the ceasing of life (the number 1 precedes 2 for a reason) seems all the more paradoxical to me, and paradoxical in the sense of a misleading repression.
Let's spare the existentialism. Regardless of anything ultimate, immediate or otherwise, I find it a fun exercise to think about some sort of perennial dimension of being. Like, if there was one moment you could see as stretching to infinity--what would it be? If you could live one particular day over and over again forever (whatever that means) what day would it be?
In a lot of ways, to occupy one's time with such hypotheticals. And boring, most of the time, to recall them to others, simply because they will of course disagree, and not understand whatever emotions you might have about a particular segment of space and time that might convince you that space and time should encompass all of existence, or at least to the extent of ceaseless repetition.
But then again, what is a better pursuit? Focusing on my job? Earning money? Making some sort of art-piece of a transitory, physical nature meant to inspire and transmit those sorts of endless, universal feelings one has trouble committing to words? (Well, maybe...)
As I get further and further into "real life", defined basically by the idea that I am not unilaterally focused on undergoing a set course of practice in the attempt to "get anywhere" in particular, say, graduate from school, or learn to do X well enough to do Y--it seems, actually, there is no time series I have as an alternative upon which to base my progress. In other words, what measure do I have by which to judge the relative efficacy of the passage of one minute to the next, if not the infinite? Some people say to live every moment as if it were your last... but this is idiotic, because "every moment" already supposed it is not your last, and the faux optimism of greeting-card maxims is certainly not something most people are thinking of in their actual last moment anyway. So why not think of every moment (to the extent that one needs to think about anything) in terms of some particular of the universal?
Not, a specific instance of the general--don't get me wrong. As if such generalized platitudes could apply to any actual experience. "Boy, as I enjoy this rainstorm I am really thinking of the glass as half full!" In other words, fuck what you've heard. What about if we instead, while its raining, and we're thinking about how beautiful it is, wonder at the slipperiness of the sublime? In a perfect world, does it ever rain? Sometimes I like the sun, sometimes I like the rain. How would a perfect world know what is right at any particular moment, and still have that instantaneous quality that makes it so wonderful to me? And in this proverbial "heaven", does one get beautifully caught in the rain every day, or only just the right amount of times so that it seems so poetically lovely? Or maybe, just maybe, the fact that as I am now caught in the rain it is so absurdly wonderful is a particular which could never be repeated, despite how universally delightful it is, which is part of what makes it so wonderful, and inspired my internal poetic-organ to start sluffing its teary-eyed musings from every available duct and slit?
I'm not on drugs right now. Though the cold medicine is making my lungs feel so much better, and health is its own high coming out of being sick. See extraneous bullshit above, for more details.
Is as transitory as anything else, and it is it's own particular of life's universal (see bullshit above). But still, we mostly try to seek it out, even if only as a brief respite from pain. The daily, particular repressions making every day life sustainable. The booze, the drugs, the sex, the television, the music, the color, and the light. A good, sustainable neurosis is its own heaven on earth--a little bit of psychosis makes us sane. You can ask anyone. Even the greeting cards know it.
What is it:
What is your personal psychosis? What do you fantasize? What images do you lay over the real world of phenomena in-itself: the phenomena that is only-for-you, reaching some sort of crazy, manic tug-of-war stasis with your environment? What's your idea of heaven, constantly spilling over into this dimension so we can continue to live until we die?
Traveling, journeying, arriving, and departing. I think of the ocean, a certain place I know. I don't live there, I have to go there. Upon arriving, I'm trapped against the waves. I don't like deep water, or going over or under it. After I get to the shore I have to keep moving, laterally, one way or the other along the coast. There are forests that lead right up to the ocean, unlike on the east coast, where the forests are cities. The forests are dark themselves, just like the water, but I can breathe in the depths of the trees. I never stay long at the coast; I can't stay, I have to move. Unlike the pits of the plains one can fall into for years, not even realizing that as the earth turns one stays in the same place until finally one makes it to the rim of the depression the rest of the environment has continued to change. That's the bad kind of stasis, the forever that is never. The waves are better--and though I respect the rotting of the soil, this brilliant putrification can't happen without water; the desert, the pure mineral, the anti-ocean, sediment past: it mummifies, it doesn't decompose. Nothing accelerates destruction like the creatures who need water to survive.
At the beach I saw a dead seal. It's distinguishing features had been gnawed and chewed; it's interior swelled by the gas waste of those working on the inside. It lay on the beach like a sphere, out of place, with no question of it remaining for long.
The rocks are also spherical, erroded that way by the harmonics of gravity and the universally particular inertia. Wood caught in the mix looks like the rock, erroded the same way, only faster. Still, the seal was winning the race.
I go to the beach with my partner--there is lot's I could say about her. Ocean metaphors would dull it though--not the sort of erosion I seek. But there's water there, don't get me wrong. I'm just not going to put it to words. She's a particular I would rather keep to myself.
Eventually, always, eternally, we end up leaving the beach. We return to the other stuff, where we came from. It's not all bad, stuff that's not the beach. But I think about it as we leave, heading back through the trees. I'll think of it again too, as I think of other stuff.
There's an awful lot of stuff to think about. I guess I'll have time to think about most of it eventually.
The captions get a bit more "fiction-fun" as they progress. It's funny how easy it is to proceed down a line like this once its in your head.
Check out the whole gallery here.
This cathedral was finished in 1973.
Some believe it is an ugly structure, symbolic of the dirt and decay of the time period.
Inside the structure itself we find the reliquary, which gives power to the structure and all who pass through it.
And the other one too, just because I love it so.
Constructal law can predict patterns in living systems. [Link]
“Our finding that animal locomotion adheres to constructal law tells us that – even though you couldn’t predict exactly what animals would look like if you started evolution over on earth, or it happened on another planet – with a given gravity and density of their tissues, the same basic patterns of their design would evolve again,” [Penn state biologist James] Marden added.
The law, which [Adrian] Bejan started describing in 1996, is the principle that flow systems evolve in time to balance and minimize imperfections, reducing friction or other forms of resistance, so that they flow more and more easily in time. He is fond of using illustrations to make his point. For example, he has used images ranging from the branching symmetries of the lungs, river basins and trees touching top-to-top.
This is amazing! It is basically a ratification of historical materialism, at least as applies to physics. Physical systems (and according to Adrian Bejan, physiological systems) evolve according to a certain logic of flow. It is not random, but it is "guided" by a reduction of friction and a minimization of imperfections. Could we (as Marxian blog authors with a penchant for simplification and abstraction) say that the course of human history and its systems seeks to overcome contradictions as it evolves? Why yes, we could!
I must read more about flow systems, and constructal law. It sounds like a possible refutation of "will", replacing it was something not quite as base as determinism, yet still materially controlled.
Although human behavior is in some ways more complicated than physics, behavior is in many ways simply an extension of our physiology. Behavior evolves to environs faster than physiology in many instances. So, our so-called human "social" systems, which are simply complicated analyses and explanations of our own animal behavior, could also probably evolve according to this constructal law. Do our societies evolve to "balance and minimize imperfections, reducing friction or other forms of resistance"? In many ways, yes.
The caveats, of course: systems and certainly, animal behavior, also reverse-evolve, spinning off into species-death. This is because, I would imagine, constructal law holds true for the larger system, and not the sub-system. An individual river bank may crumble, but the overall delta conforms to the expected pattern. Humans could easily trigger their own demise before we evolve to overcome our own eco-systemic resistance.
And similarly: flaws in models and theories of human behavior often are failures in description. No substantial theory really fails, it simply runs out of rope at some point. Lemarkian evolution could be correct when it comes to skills or behavior patterns, just not animal physiology. Marxian historical materialism is basically right when it comes to its description of production, but not when it comes to actually predicting history. And so forth. This is because they are human descriptions of physical action, or what we recognize as physical action. So this means that a constructal understanding of human behavior can only rationalize as much as the average human rationally understands as physical action under the theory. In other words, we are back with Marx's problem. We can say that materially, history is all fucked up. But we can't say the future will work itself out, until it does, and then we can say, "see, history straightened its shit out."
So, this is a really cool idea because it justifies us pointing to material facts to explain history (of river beds, human legs, or capitalism) rather than other crackpot ideas with little to no evidence. Theory makes sense: therefore use theory. But it is still just a theory, and is always looking backward.
Why is it always looking backward? Because of the limitations of Kant's notion of time-space and the limitations of the phenomenal senses we can trust.
See? That was easy.
Man--this constructal law shit has to really piss off the Christians. Evidence for Marx and evolution in the same theory? It must be a conspiracy.
That pretty much covers it. Maybe it's alive, maybe it's dead; but you can be effin' sure that it's Twitter.
I've been conducting my own Twitter experiment for a little over four months now and I've learned a lot of things (and yes, SOMEWHERE on this page is the hidden link that will let you share in the joy of my micro-blogged arteries).
The foremost point: like just about everyone else who has tried it, I like it. After getting a good group of people to subscribe to, the feed is easy and addictive to read. I'm not sure if folks enjoy my posting or not (I have at least 15 or so non-spam followers) but I imagine the readership is somewhat like this blog--a bit random, perhaps sparse, and yet strangely, half-dedicated at the same time. Posting is fun, easy, and provides opportunity for a bit of silly, 140-character word play.
I already expounded upon some of the semiotic ramifications of a 140-character communication medium, so I won't repeat that here. Also, just about anyone who knows anything about the Internet, and who likes to tell you what they know about the Internet, will tell you how important Twitter is to the Internet. So, I think I'll leave that one well enough alone too.
But here's something you might not have heard: there are many, many people who have no idea what Twitter is.
These are people who blog. These are people who can find the best gay club in a new city with Google and a quick twitch of the wrist (well, at least one of them can). And these are people in the publishing industry. At a dinner party a few weeks ago, I off-handedly mentioned Twitter, and this group of six mid-twenty year-old's did not know what I was talking about. Half said, "what's a Twitter?" and the other half said, "so what is that, anyway?"
I have no reason to thinking poorly of these people; after all, at the time I was only three months ahead of them in the Twitter-verse. But this is something I believe many 'Net-Theorists are not fully-recognizing: this revolution in communication going on is only among a vanguard.
So, one might argue, has every new chapter in this new internet saga. Throughout the last twenty years, the Internet has met the different members of the human race one by one, and in different times and places. Some have yet to make its acquaintance. And every single one came into the fold at a different stage in the game.
I'm not a technology guru. I understand the technology behind the Internet and its means of transmission and its interfaces only marginally better than the average person, and certainly not well enough to operate any of them as anything more than a user (though I am currently enrolled in the Computer Programming course at Wikiuniversity!)
But what I do understand, and actually have some professional and theoretical training in regards to, is methods of communication, language, and human psychology. I am seeing something occur here--and although you may have heard this about 100 times in the past year (and 20 of them since SXSW), I believe it is true: this is something that has never happened before.
One can talk about the digital revolution through any number of metaphors relating to other advances in information technology in the past several millennia. I'm not going to. I'd rather talk about what we are doing now.
And this is it: we are conflating our language with our method of transmission. In other words (duck your head while the theory comes past), we have seized our means of communication by creating a productive unity between the product (meaning/symbol) and the production (expression/transmission).
Or rather, we are seizing it. Not all have done so, and those who have begun are not nearly finished, even if there was such a final state.
Let me say it over again, but simpler, because I really think this is an important point.
The method of digital production (the networked computers and communication lines we commonly refer to as the Internet) has dropped the cost of producing, distributing, and consuming information to practically nothing. Furthermore, along with the spread of end-user information such as news and media, comes the spread of the knowledge of how to manipulate, and further seize and shape the technology of digital production. I can learn programming on the Internet for free (or at least in theory--as I have yet to actually do so). A real example: a child of nine in Southeast Asia can become a certified Help Desk technician. Another example: a person using the Internet can invent, create, and promote their own communication client, with little-to-no actual investment of materials used, other than the computer they already had.
Open-source, APIs, and so forth. But here is the other interesting part: through word of mouth, networking, and good old trial and error, one Internet user's programming project becomes an Internet start-up. This start-up becomes a business. This business project changes the way the entire world communicates. One does not change the relations of production by oneself, but does so in concert with a dedicated and involved group: a network. Crazy, no?
None of this is news, really. But it's still pretty awe inspiring when you step back and look at it. Back in the old days, inventors used to die broke, sick, and alone. They were persecuted by the Church, and the children in the village would hurl fruit at them when they would step outside to rake the gravel outside their hut. These days all you have to do is read a lot, practice, and then you sell your craft project to VC, move to California, and write your own biography. Crazy!
Here's what's really crazy: the pace has sped up for the users as well. They are part of the network; they are both the means of production as well as party to the relations of production, and they work uncontrolled by any boss. Therefore, mass adoption is only possible when the masses themselves undergo a revolution in production. But even though a critical mass may be joining a particular revolution in production, they are leaving people behind. And this is totally okay, but strange, in the face of the pace of technology. Most people don't even know how Twitter works, let alone why its good. But now, simply knowing what Twitter is, and updating your status isn't enough. You have to use a good client, with search capacities, TwitPic, and a URL-shrinker all combined. You have to Trend. And you can't even just Trend! This past weekend one had to construct crazy Boolean search constraints just to find out where the tacos where at. Just wait until you have to write your own App on the fly at an event to handle the ever evolving and expanding data stream pouring out of the API.
Try explaining #SXSW to someone who doesn't use Twitter, but only uses Facebook. It barely makes sense to someone who hasn't shifted their means of production along with the revolution in the network. It's not enough to know how to use the Internet--you have to own the interface. Communication is not a matter of being about to read, or even operating a card catalog. Ever try to explain how to Google something to a person unfamiliar with a search engine? You have to be a skilled operator of the means of communication to be able to communicate. Pretty soon you might have to have a Library Science degree just to figure out what you're missing.
And with this personalized Interface, I am barely keeping up! Several of my RSS feeds are devoted to sources to keep me abreast of the new formats and apps reaching the market. I have to know what's going on, just to maintain the struggle to know what's going on!
This concept, the ongoing technological revolution in means and relations of production, is whispering to me. It is whispering to me about a future for the Internet (cough and head for the exits, its prophet-brain-dump time!):
[starry-eyed, swirly, white-out fantasy bells...]
[...trauma-inducing crash back to reality.]
But this is only one possible future, for certain users who are adept and interested enough to learn TwitScript. For those who are not interested in this particular technological revolution, other interfaces will become popular. For instance, there is also the MySpace future.
MySpace is AOL. There--I said it. It is a portal to media content. To be fair, the user-generated element of MySpace, YouTube, and Facebook are much more interesting (due to their variously-shifting standards of user-control) than AOL's portal ever was. But the goal is the same--a controlled (and heavily advertised) environment in which users can log on and roam about, never having to learn anything new or create an interface from scratch. Profiles, skins, centralized app access--it's the trading card game of the web.
But this appeals to certain people--especially young people. It is easy, and the community is ready-made. Sign on, and join your school first. Then, form other groups from that. This will be the media-tized Internet of the future. Note: not the future of Internet media, but the future of the Internet as a media channel. Imagine--Microsoft buys MySpace or Facebook, make a few connections and software upgrades, and all of sudden the Xbox is the WebTV kids actually want. For people who are not interested in learning the means of distribution, these media portals are the perfect product.
And then there is the regular old Internet as well. I think of a guy I know at work--he loves Craigslist. He struggles with Mapquest, but is on Craigslist almost every day, looking for deals. He has that one interface down, but doesn't have a need to learn anything else. There are people who are the same with eBay, or their favorite news/discussion sites. Or even just Google--find my movie times, and I'm out. The capacity of the user to learn the means of communication dictates how far he or she will choose to go, and more importantly, how far the technology will go with them.
My TwitScript conception of the future (for the record, this term is, along with the rest of this blog, under CC license as of now [is he joking? or serious?]) is the direction in which I imagine those pushing the limits of the technology will take it. To deal with the increasing amount of information available in protean distribution formats, we will need to become literate in the mechanics of information distribution--this includes text mark-up languages, browser mechanics, and the new consumer info "packet": the Tweet (more about the power of the 140-character set in that earlier post I alluded to). The line between the cutting edge users and the programmers will diminish, just because of the rapidity of the pace. The designers will be the beta testers, the early adopters, and the constituency. They will be the only one's that matter, from the Twitter-verse's perspective. Think about it: when you are Twittering, what else really matters? You are communicating with other users, for other users.
Here is a post by Tim O'Reilly (@timoreilly) for a day or so ago:
RT @elisabethrobson: Interesting stats from the iPhone 3.0 preview yesterday: (via @iphoneschool) http://cli.gs/nL1yJ5 #iphone
Look how far we are already! Only 85 characters of this are actually readable text! The rest are hyperlinks, short-hand, tags, and citations. And in fact, because it is a Re-Tweet, none of it is his original words. This is an index; it points in a direction through the network, distributing information even though substantially, it itself says almost nothing. And it doesn't need to, because by utilizing the method of internet indication (the hyperlink) Tim is giving us more information than 140 characters ever could. He is linking us into the network, and insinuating us into a pattern of unlimited knowledge in a yet reasonable and understandable gesture.
I promised that I actually had some theory for you regarding semiotics and psychology, or other such nonsense. If you are not interested in such things, feel free to skip out now, taking the conclusion: Twitter is the beginning of a revolution in the means of communication, to a conflation of content and expression. But, for those who read my Marx-between-the-lines, and desire more, here is a deliciously (or perhaps annoyingly, depending on your preferences) difficult description:
The signifier, as the point of expression for meaning (the signified), has been receiving an altogether privileged place in our understanding of language. Whether it be the Holy Word, the unattainable signifier of Lacan, or even the juridico-discursive power of the "I" point in modern testimony, the moment and form of expression (I think therefore...) is seen to be the cutting-edge of the language tool.
While this signifier is hardly diminishing in its psychological position (consciousness demands a position for the "I"), our evolving technology of expression is reducing its sacred position over the signifier/signified duality. The psyche, as a technological realm of semiotic expression, is not in itself shifting; but in our current relations of production, in which our minds are interfacing with digital networks, we are ironically becoming "unwired" from our binary (the basic two digits) understanding of our own communication. We are not just signifying now, we are manipulating the way we signify as part of the signification.
The role of the author is shifting. The power of attribution to a fixed, historical "I" is less important than the information to be understood. Understanding, and hence, expression, is less reliant on the signifier as a perfect concept of content production. Misspellings are common, and ignored. If anyone is asked, of course the signifier still plays a role, but as the signifer grows in scope to encompass not only the privileged identity between word and speaker, but also between a choice in language, distribution network, semantics, time, and distribution, the signifier is becoming more meaningful as a material object. We are bringing the signifier back down to earth, muddying it with the effluviance of the signified phenomena, and enacting a phenomenological semiotic, rather than a formal (Platonic, Hegelian, etc) semiotic. To appropriate Merleau-Ponty, our words are again made flesh. To appropriate Marx, our commodities are returned to the realm of production and use-value. To appropriate Freud, our fetishes are no longer abstracted neuroses of our unconscious investments, but properly sublimated transferences: well-oiled psychic machinery.
When we type hypertext, we are not only indicating, we are expressing the act of indication. This is not only "something to see", but "something I want you do see". Please click on this. The signifer now has supplementary value as a signified. The signified and signifier meet again, not through a reduction of the difference, but by a meeting of the two aspects in a properly material plain--abstraction is conquered (aufhebung alert!) by a reevaluation and redeployment of the means of this semiotic production: scripting is a proletarian consciousness of digital writing.
Now: the sense in which the two terms "signifier" and "signified" are used shift between every philosopher's iteration, and even within each author use (somebody should be able to say something significant about that). To draw out this complicated dynamic and really treat the two terms fairly, I could read you the entirety of Of Grammatology, but I think we would all be relieved if I did not. (And certainly Derrida's own confusing play with the shifting meaning of these two words are indicative of his own philosophy. I imagine one could agree with that statement whether one appreciates him or not!)
However, I will simply Derrida a bit, to close my thoughts for now. With the caveat, of course, that my use of the two terms here are not exactly the same as his--but I believe the point holds true for both of us.
If, we wish to push our ability to write and express meaning beyond our current means, we must seek to unravel, and perhaps "de-construct" the nature of our current system. I cringe while saying so, but we must "hack" our language. Perhaps "script" is a better verb, not sounding quite as cliche, and closer my idea of what we should actually be doing: using and adapting pieces of our language as a material code for better interfacing with our language. A book is an excellent material technology, but we cannot use a book as our model of communication after considering our new, and vastly more "scripted" material technologies of signification:
"The good writing has therefore always been comprehended. [...] Comprehended, therefore, within a totality, and enveloped in a volume or a book. The idea of the book is the idea of a totality, finite or infinite, or the signifier; this totality of the signifier cannot be a totality unless a totality constituted by the [material] signified preexists it, supervises its inscriptions and its signs, and is independent of it in its ideality. The idea of the book, which always refers to a natural totality, is profoundly alien to the sense of writing. It is the encyclopedic protection of theology and of logocentrism against the disruption of writing, agains its aphoristic energy, and, as I shall specify later, against difference in general. If I distinguish this [un-totalistic, scriptable, material] text from the book, I shall say that the destruction of the book, as it is now under way in all domains, denudes the surface of the text. That necessary violence responds to a violence that was no less necessary."
-Derrida, Of Grammatology, "The Signifier and Truth"
This was my first time uploading a video to YouTube. Weird. I used YouTube because it was easy to do from Picasa, where I put the video together. Google wins again.
(You know you're in trouble now, don't ya?)
But no, I am not a trained typologist.
I only just learned the difference between a serif and a sans-serif font. (serifs!)
But regardless, I intend now to speak to you about a scourge sweeping the world or words. And that scourge is:
I hate this font. But let me tell you why.
It isn't enough that it is used by thousands upon thousands of brand-names.
It would only be typical then, that it would be selected as the official font of such a hallmarks like Apple, infecting not only the logos, but the actual text of my email and text messages.
But that isn't enough.
It is also used OFFICIALLY, for the font of the MTA and Chicago Transit.
So everyday that I rode the train home in New York, I didn't just ride the 2, 3 to 135th street, I rode it to:
Consider myself branded.
This is the font of brands. It is perpetuated by brands. Unlike Arial, a very similar font that gained popularity by being a computer default in countless programs such as Microsoft Word, the only standard Helvetica has assumed is that of the brand: the clean, direct lines which design loves, the evened, paced weight, the proportional spacing, and the lack of any sort of hand-writing appearing calligraphy styling.
It is cold, proportional, and machinic. It is totally modern. It is simple. Different. Apple.
You see? I didn't even mean to do that, but I slipped into design-brain-fuck-land, just by thinking in Helvetica! I dreamed that the entire world was proportional, and my interface was entirely clean and smooth, and every person wore black jeans and black mock-turtle necks. Most importantly, we all only spoke in informative slogans, and nothing was wasted. All of us sans-serif enuchs were perfectly happy, because we had been designed to be so. No third-party OS, no viruses, no pulse. Simply: Bliss.
I don't mean to pick on Apple, but they are certainly one of the most-recognizable users of Helvetica, and for the same reason that they design products with slim form factors: it is recognizable and clean, and sticks in the mind like an icepick covered in wall-paper glue.
But enough of this effluviac outbursts at the users of a mere font. Perhaps I should talk more about the font itself.
It was designed in 1957 by the Swiss--at the height of the fame of Swiss design and graphic arts.
According to Wikipedia, a goal of the typeface was: " to create a neutral typeface that had great clarity, had no intrinsic meaning in its form."
This is pure modernism in its most commercial state: form is function, right? No form other than the meaning it intends to transmit. It is pure, unassuming, and liquid. A bright, shining, blue-eyed Jesus of fonts. A white dove. Concrete. White plastic.
But isn't this a form in itself? A metaphysical attempt to reach the design-centric esoteric knowledge of pure performance... it is a product so useful we cannot help but buy at least one or two. Give them as gifts. Decorate with them. They are objet-de-arte, a paper-clip so beautiful we buy them just to place on the desk. We put them in museums, because we admire something so useful. In fact, we would never dare scratch it surface with actual use--that is to say for a font, actual content--because it would dirty the purity of the form which we so admire: no form at all.
This is sounding familiar. A form so ideal as to take on the qualities of form itself... an object so perfectly useful as to defy any actual use... a commercial unit that defines the goals of commercialism perfectly.
Leave it to the Swiss to turn phonemes into commodities of exchange. Leave it to the Americans to buy into a commodity with everything they've got, putting the whole corporation on the back of its cleanly designed weight.
I won't push the comparison too far; I respect the philosophy behind exchange commodities too much to act as if Helvetica actually has bearing on the linguistic economy as great as the monetary system.
But at the same time, the similarity is uncanny--and deliciously so. The idea that a typeface could be designed without form! As if it was pure transaction of linguistic value! As if there was no aesthetic surplus value added by the appropriation of a certain type by so many major corporations and institutions; as if they were not telling us something with this form; as if the casting of logos into typographical symbols was not itself a massive trick of design! Which is more recognizable: the Apple logo, or the word "iPod" written in Helvetica? You might recognize the apple, but you are forced to read "iPod" over and over again by the mere naturalness of written communication. By developing a non-destracting design which feeds into the eye's sense of proportional weight, they are almost forcing us to speak their product name outloud, every time we use our eyes.
Well, maybe it is not as drastic as all that, but if you believe in any fundamental principles of aesthetics and design, it isn't too far off.
What they've done is developed a brand for modern commercialism, a brand for branding, and the representative product of brand is Helvetica: the type without form, and only function. No goal but the propagation of product. No exchange but more exchange. No value except that for which it can be exchanged.
John Carpenter should have definitely used Helvetica for the font of the brainwashing signs in They Live. His font is a little too 1940s, a little too bold. Perhaps he was thinking of Fascism more than the commercialism of the post-war period.
Far be it from me to call Helvetica a fascist font--or even a capitalistic font at that. It's only a damn typeface.
But, I think the link between its intended design, its use, and its subsequent popularity are quite interesting. Helvetica will be a signpost of our times. It is a symbol of late Capitalism, by way of being a symbolic type par excellance. And as such, it is ugly, and dispicable. It is the metaphysical grapheme of consumerism, and I hope it dies along with it.
...but then again there is this:
"Helvetica is a relatively contemporary typeface, protected by Trademark owned by Linotype, that was designed in 1957 by Max Miedinger for the Haas Type Foundry in Switzerland. However, there existed an earlier typeface that was designed and put into use by Joseph Goebbels for the German Socialist Party and it is Goebbels' type design that is regarded as being the forerunner of what was later the derivative typeface (re)designed by Miedinger and named as Helvetica.
There have been a few books written about Helvetica recently from contemporary perspectives and although well written, they revise the history involved. Reading a few, I see an effort to both apologize for a past creative work effort and to deny that it occured and for contemporary, political reasons. However, in Literary Theory, there is an understanding of arts apart from troublesome political pasts, creative works as now having been "cleansed" in the conceptual and theoretical and thereby considered on their creative merits without association with offensive political characteristics. Helvetica is a work of art that has been "cleansed" in this regard and it is a disservice to try to rewrite the history of the art involved out of fear for the climate in which the art was created; and, using the art or making reference to it does not thereby imply nor make reference to the now-removed, offensive originating circumstances -- not in the case of this typeface nor in the case of other, similarly considered creative works."
Ahh! Fascist fonts!