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have you heard the one about … : kinda a follow-on from the yobbism post

With serendipitous timing Adam Shatz’s Writers and Missionaries: Essays on the Radical Imagination (Verso, 2023) arrived today, serendipitous because of what I left out of said yobbism post. I had Oliver Bottini say it instead. There it came down to no longer belonging to a community of whatever sort and not missing it but instead missing the feeling that what one said, did and wrote was in some sense an answer to that community, had a necessity, the necessity of being answerable.

This is Levinas’s definition of responsibility. It has an ethical dimension that is absolute. God, for Levinas, is an individual to whom one is answerable.

In turn we are put in mind of Lingis’s categorical imperative. I made it the basis of the last phase of Minus Theatre’s work.

Lingis takes categorical imperative from Kant for whom it was, in Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals (Grundlegung zur Metaphysik der Sitten, 1785), those foundations or that groundwork, the basis of moral obligation. Lingis takes this literally. He invokes the ground, the earth the other stands on, the air the other breathes, the fire of life in her, the water life in him depends on, the elements. Here, like Levinas, he says the basis of ethical behaviour is in a disposition towards the absolute other, God-the-individual.

He has us in a supermarket in a country where we don’t speak the language. Someone in front at the checkout turns to us. They smile in recognition at our mutual helplessness before the elemental dependence we share, both of us. We smile back in recognition of what the elements make imperative: we stand on the ground, we breathe the air, we are warm with life and our bodies, watery objects, move and flow in time. Perhaps we are not conscious of this but the point is that we can recognise it, we can recognise it in our disposition towards the other, as an absolute, an imperative.

Or the other calls on us by name, Hey, Simon! And I find I have to answer without the mask of a social role but in my own name. I affirm in so answering that I am answerable. I choose for this, in my own name, I exist, Simon.

Or we are ill and illness pushes us up tight against the body. It is unescapable, the unavoidable fact of our existence, its dependencies absolute. Take them away and we cease.

In Minus Theatre, a development of our practice that I didn’t carry over into the exegesis but was the reason I called it Minus Theatre: Scenes | Elements, this elemental imperative was to be consciously recognised. It took time. One actor faced another across a distance that became significant since it contained air, the air both were breathing, ground, the earth that let them stand, warmth, the warmth from their breath and bodies, and the moisture, the wateryness of those bodies in their movements. And then one would move … and the other would become answerable to that movement. The movement need be no bigger than a smile.

Yes, there is this community and the question it posed to me too to which I was answerable. I was after all responsible for this group, Minus Theatre, coming together; although it was my practice for a PhD. it was a group practice that that work followed.

And there is the community into which I politically awakened in 1981. This was not only the year of Halt All Racist Tours, the year we protested the visit of the Springboks to New Zealand. This was the year the union, Actors’ Equity, a poor thing now, took all actors out on strike, technical staff joining them in solidarity. (Some of the history is here.) Theatre’s were closed, the professional theatres, the profession a poor thing too, the community theatres. Almost unspeakable now, there had been 10 of them, in all the major centres, the communities, in NZ. And to speak about it is what that political awakening asked from me. To Whom Can I Speak Today?–the words of a poem adapted by Lambchop as the following lyric, also covered by David Byrne, the link for which at the Dalhousie University bears this note, (A dispute over suicide, Egypt, before 2000 BC):

To whom can I speak today?
The brothers they are evil
But the old friends of today
They have become unlovable
To whom can I speak today?
The gentleness has perished
And the violent man has come down on everyone

To whom can I speak today?
The wrong which roams the earth
There can be no end to it
It is just unstoppable
Death is in my sights today
And when a man desires
To see home after many years in jail

February through December
We had such a tragic year
As separate as the fingers
Or suddenly
As one
As the hand

And the violent man comes down on everyone
And the violent man comes down on everyone
And the violent man comes down on
Everyone

It’s odd to see how much of my work is a struggle with the idea of community. Political philosopher Roberto Esposito brings the ideas of community and immunity together. They are from the same root, munus, meaning an individual’s service or duty to the public body, including and going up to the sacrifice of his or her body, for example in the gladiatorial arena. And I suppose it could be seen to include self-sacrifice in the political arena or self-immolation.

Esposito does something similar to Benjamin, in suggesting that when state-violence enters into the moral relations of a cause it becomes yobbism or, in the old style, totalitarian. He points out that if a positive value is attached to us to distinguish us from them the result is totalitarianism, so that the positive way through is to choose for the negative, the nothing, the void, which must then itself be annulled.

With regard to community, Esposito writes, “It’s only through the abolition of its nothing that the thing can finally be fulfilled. Yet the realization of the thing, which is necessarily phantasmic, is precisely the objective of totalitarianism.”

I’d heard the one about the death of the author. From the eponymously titled essay by Roland Barthes, 1967: “It is language which speaks, not the author” … To assign an author is to foreclose on the possible meanings of the writing.

I hadn’t heard the one that Shatz, in Writers and Missionaries, follows it up with: Foucault defines the author as “the principle of thrift in the proliferation of meaning.”

Foucault two years later undoes what Barthes does: not the author’s suicide but a principle of thrift applies.

Barthes is calling for meanings to proliferate, Foucault calling for de-proliferation. The reader is a means to proliferation, the author a means to de-proliferation, of meaning: a sponge, a filter or screen.

Shatz reads as the antidote to Claire Dederer’s Monsters: A Fan’s Dilemma. That book set out the dilemma of our choices as consumers being raised to the status of ethical decisions. The dilemma is what we choose to avow has too much meaning, meaning that continues as it prolongs the meaning that preceded it, meaning that we cannot shake, choosing to or choosing not to, not to see, read, serve, work, listen, feel and so on. Shatz says,

“In this book, I try to describe how such works [as have changed the way we think about the world as have Wright’s Native Son, Lévi-Strauss’s Triste Tropiques, Derrida’s Of Grammatology, Barthes’s Camera Lucida, Said’s Orientalism, Lanzmann’s Shoah] came into being: their position in intellectual history, but also their place in the lives of their creators. I make no attempt to present their authors as models for contemporary emulation or social media branding.”

… and,

“The flaws that I describe may, for some, call into question the value of my subjects’ achievements. That is not my view. It is impossible to study intellectual history without suffering heartbreak from time to time. (Just think of Arendt on Little Rock, Chomsky on Cambodia, Foucault on Iran, Angela Davis on East Germany, Sartre on Israel, Malcolm X on gender, or any number of writers on Stalinism.)” … “The purpose of these essays is not to establish a moral balance sheet but rather to explore the difficult and sometimes perilous practice of the engaged intellectual: the wrenching demands that the world imposes on the mind as it seeks to liberate itself from various forms of captivity.”

Explaining what to liberate means, Sartre:

“And he captured the desire for freedom that, as he saw it, lies behind all creative writing. Freedom, he insisted, is ‘at the origin’ of writing, since ‘no one is obliged to choose himself as a writer.’ Writing, therefore, ‘is a certain way of wanting freedom; once you have begun, you are committed.'”

3% writes D. to me, the 97% need to be able to other 3% of its number, just to be safe. And, therefore, the 3% have this service to perform of being the inside-outsiders.

What if no matter how many are othered there is no safety to be found?

Is it the same thing, human advantage over other humans, as has driven the biological advantage of humans over other animals? And would this not be less technology, technical advancement through prostheses, than social advancement? the need for variation within human community leading to big-brain-edness being therefore the big social brain of humans compared to other species (with perhaps the exception of aquatic mammals and primates who are also social-brained)?

Communities in Esposito’s political deontology have to be destroyed that are improper. These are the ones who abjure social relations, who keep their gifts for themselves, sharing economies. The social organisation crushes them and keeps a blank space where the obligation of relation was, that obligation which led to those services (of munus, munera) rendered within community, the commitments made by individuals to each other. It becomes an immunological space … of nothing given that is not first discounted for being an improper use of time, work, commitment, freedom and so on and displaced by symbolic exchange, by a conventional sign that sits on nothing and so annuls nothing.

For example this library has been made into a council service centre. A fellow librarian was subjected to a complaint regarding roading. I suggested posting it as anonymous on behalf of the complainant on the Auckland Transport website, since roading is not within the remit of council, however, the library is. We are council employees. This has allowed to the service of being a library the addition of extra services to the public.

Librarians here are council officers so I ought to have said that it’s not within our remit to deal with complaints in regard to roads but, I abjure this relation.

Does this mean that librarians form some kind of community on the basis of holding the relation to council in contempt? It would be one where we share amongst ourselves values that do not fit and are improper; it would be an improper community: but council does not go out of its way to crush it. It would rather turn libraries into a sort of parasite.

The reason is the yobbism that prevails prevails in general and librarians are complicit in it. We are not then we but further divide. We are dividual.

The evidence for this yobbism in the library has everything to do with work culture, in the old style, and a downgrading of, professionalism. So it goes to an ethical consideration, the ethical consideration of what constitutes professional practice and practices.

The library has become a parasite on technical culture and it is this that has detrimented library practices, or, as has been said here, destroyed the profession. It can be said then council, through its technical culture and its imposition of a work culture in its place, has brought about the destruction of the professional community.

Now what the object was above in speaking of the place of nothing that replaces community, in the example professional community, is both to draw attention to the void left and how a shifting series of signs nullifies it. Among these can be counted the imposition of work culture that no longer has a chain of command but a reporting line, that is no longer designated library service but is part of connected communities.

Nullification can take the form of doubling and simulating. How we know it’s a double is the plural. There are always small flaws in the simulation. Of course this is how we recognise God’s work as well, by its small cracks, by the irreality that survives in its interstices.

We might talk about AI as the grossest yobbism of technical culture.

“We, the indivisible divinity that operates within us, have dreamt the world. We have dreamt it resistant, mysterious, visible, ubiquitous in space and firm in time. But we have consented within its architecture tenuous and eternal interstices of unreason to know that it is false.”

— Jorge Luis Borges, “Avatars of the Tortoise”

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the yobbism of the given

The tenets of civilisation are now being written by the authors of the gravest barbarity. Times have changed since Walter Benjamin’s day.

I’m informed I’m up to 1,990 posts and 298 pages. My father before he died said, Life is too short to read square white world.

Space is a social construct within the many, many, many dimensions of time. The notion offers no consolation to people who cannot negotiate the space they’re in, like animals, in the words of the title of Gilles Châtelet’s book–To Live and Think Like Pigs: The Incitement of Envy and Boredom in Market Democracies.

Justin Clemens reviewing my doctoral thesis lauded the concept of minoritarian conventionalism. I had a very specific context when I came up with the idea, a group formed around my practice, Minus Theatre.

We can choose the conventions we follow so long as we limit the number of people included in the subject, we. If we do not we are bound to follow the conventions of the space and spaces we inhabit, the same for any other animal in its habitat.

The point is elective rather than selective. It’s out of habit that we say the sun will rise, and rise in the West; the beginning of science fiction: the sun rose in the East.

Deleuze follows the line of Spinoza, Hume and Nietzsche, on his own and then with Guattari. This line is not of good sense and public morality and not, according to the conventions, determined to be natural and belong to human nature, we have no choice but to accept, of common sense.

I have left Bergson out but he can be placed anywhere in relation to the other points on the line, which are, a body’s powers of action are in relation to its power to be affected (Spinoza), custom is to the social as habit is to the individual: both may be chosen (Hume), and the social is the sum result of the choice of those forces that would affirm it in its values and that only return through the individual’s re-affirmation of them, that is, as resentment (Nietzsche). All three concern the basis of freedom that Bergson leaves undefined because it is in indetermination.

Music, the answer is music. “He had the great courage to place his knowledge and energy at the service of a cause that could never be won in a single lifetime, at any price. Fighting doggedly in a western world traumatised by guilt at having allowed the genocide of the Jews to happen, while having redeemed itself on the cheap at the cost of denial and blindness in relation to the Palestinians, Said managed to maintain his positions without ever ceding an inch of his territory to the anti-Semitism he abhorred to the same degree.”

Dominique Eddé is writing about Edward Said. Said and Daniel Barenboim together founded the Divan Orchestra, now known as the West-Eastern, its website here.

Friends, Said and Barenboim, the website tells us, together “realised the urgent need for an alternative way to address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

The most recent post on Divan’s website, an opinion piece by Barenboim, is dated 16 October 2023. Today’s date is 23 February 2024.

As at 21 February 2024, Al Jazeera reports a death toll of 29,708 Palestinians and 1,139 since 7 October 2023 in Israel. Of the first number, it reports 12,300 were children and 8,400 women.

Common sense and good sense are like night and day, which does not mean there is not a twilight, an horizon between them, a morning light and a growing gloom. On 31 October 2023 Le Monde featured an opinion piece by Dominique Eddé, author of Edward Said: His Thought as a Novel.

She writes there, “it is time for each and every one of us to make a huge effort if we do not want barbarism to triumph at our gates.” She echoes Walter Benjamin, who, according to his friend, Gershom Scholem, held that were three things Zionism must abandon, its racism and “racist ideology” and its “‘blood experience’ arguments.” (source)

… “a cause”, writes Benjamin, “becomes violent, in the precise sense of the word, when it enters into moral relations.” The source cited above links to that for this statement and also provides a gloss on Benjamin’s essay in which the statement occurs, “Zur Kritik der Gewalt.”

Benjamin’s word for violence, Gewalt, is defined as state-violence. State-violence when it enters into the moral relations of a cause becomes yobbism, we might say.

Is there any state and any state-violence that has not currently entered into the moral relations of a cause? How, when the given is yobbism, take up a cause against this cause?

Victor Double said to me, Thank you for your help, Mr Taylor. My help consisted of contacting AT (Auckland Transport) on his behalf, as an AT agent, about which I could say more, since I work at a public library, to ask that his AT Gold Card be credited with the price of his ferry ticket, approximately NZ$30 from downtown Auckland.

Since the Gold Card allows the holder free travel on public transport if used before 9am, he had he felt been wrongly charged. He’d caught the 9am ferry which boarded at five minutes to, he explained; he didn’t usually travel with his poodle; and there were a lot of people, tourists, to board.

He gave his name, asked to confirm his identity, and, asked for his date of birth, he hesitated before giving the year, 1939. He was, he said, afraid that made him 85.

Were they going to refund him? A query would be raised, for review and, pending that, no definite answer.

I was aware, I told him, that even catching the ferry five minutes before nine you could be zapped. Thank you for your help, Mr Taylor, once the transaction was complete, said Mr Double, and left with his straw hat and his poodle.

Why burn books when you can burn libraries? Burning Al-Kalima library in Gaza is not an isolated event. Since October 7 at least 14 other libraries have been either completely destroyed or badly damaged by the Israel Defense Forces, enough to confirm the burning of libraries as an objective.

The list given by Literary Hub includes,

Gaza University Library, on October 9

IBBY Children in Crisis Library (destroyed by air-strike once before in 2014)

Diana Tamari Sabbagh Library (also used as a shelter for people), on November 25

Al-Israa University Library

the National Museum (looted and then demolished), on January 18

the Central Archives of Gaza

the Great Omari Mosque and library (housing one of the most significant collections of rare books in Palestine)

An earlier article lists librarians and archivists killed. Justine Profane, a guest (her name recalling Walter Benjamin’s “Theologico-Political Fragment”), comments:

“Barbarous cancer is idiots like you. Change your avatar you specious racist as you seem to have a problem with Jewish lives and this is all you can muster. You accuse us of barbarism but yet here we are as you parade around sounding more and more like David Duke and sending money for the slaughter. The Leni Riefenstahl Arts Council applauds you. You also never answered my question earlier: How long have you hated women? Here’s another questions: You think a beta like you could handle a loud mouthed real woman, especially a Jewish woman like me?

“Sit down, you misogynistic troll.

“Your hatred is on your and your support for it is the ugly reflection in the mirror. Not mine and not on me.”

Edward Said Library (Beit Lahia) has also been destroyed. (source: Librarians and Archivists with Palestine) David Lloyd writes on the conference and workshop which took place in Ramallah, “Walter Benjamin in Palestine: On the Place and Non-Place of Radical Thought,” in December 2015:

“To emphasize the contradiction between intellectual study and a commitment to practice, or between the privilege of the foreign scholar and the burdens of the Palestinian living under occupation, seemed almost too easy, a form of hasty thinking, even. Those of us who had committed to engage in these workshops, unsure even whether we would be allowed by Israeli authorities to enter Palestine, despite the workshop’s focus on a major and self-consciously Jewish intellectual, had chosen to participate in study under a state of occupation. We came there from diverse and incommensurate histories and motivations. We were philosophers by training, artists, film-makers, historians and theorists, activists and translators, and sometimes several of those at once. … Above all, we had committed not to a mere intellectual exercise but to the furtherance of a principle, which is that the intellectual life of the occupied and oppressed is not a luxury, but a fundamental expression of the possibility of living in common.”

“The attempt to destroy Palestinian intellectual life is as unstinting as the uprooting and burning of the ancient olive trees of the Holy Land, some 800,000 of which have been destroyed in the course of Israel’s occupation.”

I am at the end of this post and I have not yet said what I came here to say (as usual). And as usual, I have let others speak. In the end it was easier to let them speak, like the crime novelist Oliver Bottini, who says of his character Louise Boní, “For years she’d been pleased she no longer belonged to a community of whatever sort…”

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Justin E.H. Smith’s book The Internet Is Not What You Think It Is is not what I thought it was & is not what it says it is, A History, A Philosophy, A Warning: it’s the reverse

…so what is it? Here’s some bits I liked:

Just as in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries the global economy was dominated by natural-resource extraction, today the world’s largest companies have grown as large as they have entirely on the promise of providing to their clients the attention, however fleeting, of their billions of users.

— Justin E.H. Smith The Internet … , (Princeton University Press, 2022), 14

… which suggests a temporal economy and probably a better world were mental-resource extraction to replace that of natural resources…

And these users are, at the same time, being used. One vivid and disconcerting term that has been circulating in social media to describe anyone who spends time online is “data-cow.” The role that users of “free” online platforms occupy might sometimes feel creative, or as if it has something in common with traditional work or leisure. But this role sometimes appears closer to that of a domesticated animal that is valuable to the extent that it has its very self to give. We do not usually provide our bodily fluids, and are not usually asked to do so, though sites such as Ancestry.com do ask for saliva as part of their data-collecting efforts, and health bracelets and other such devices owned by Apple and Amazon are increasingly discovering ways to monitor a number of our vital fluid levels. But even if we are not giving our fluids, we are giving something that has proven more valuable to the new economy than milk ever was in the system of industrial agriculture: information about who we are, what we do, what we think, what we fear. Some of us continue to have old-fashioned careers in the twenty-first century–we are doctors, professors, lawyers, and truck drivers. Yet the main economy is now driven not by what we do, but by the information extracted from us, not by our labor in any established sense, but by our data. This is a revolution at least as massive as the agricultural and industrial revolutions that preceded it. Whatever else happens, it is safe to say that for the rest of our lifetimes, we will only be living out the initial turbulence of this entry into a new historical epoch.

— Ibid. 15

so begins chapter 1. Sounds like its going to chart the impact of what Shoshanna Zuboff in her 2015 book called Data Capitalism called data capitalism. I like the clear statement of what’s at stake. Revolution.

After naming four features of the revolution we will spend our whole lifetimes coming to terms with the book sets about telling us that the revolution is not anything new. It has been going on since at least the Revolution. In fact he dates the whole thing, the whole thing being the Internet, back to Leibniz.

That’s fine by me in terms of fundamental understanding, ideas and concepts, but not in terms of data extraction. And not in terms of the fundamental changes Smith’s four features of the revolution describe. Not then in the terms the book sets for itself.

These are:

  1. “a new sort of exploitation, in which human beings are not only exploited in the use of their labor for extraction of natural resources; rather, their lives are themselves the resource, and they are exploited in its extraction.” (15)
  2. a new problem: “the way in which the emerging extractive economy threatens our ability to use our mental faculty of attention in a way that is conducive to human thriving.” (17)
  3. feature 3 is so new it constitutes, says Smith, a “genuine break with the past: the condensation of so much of our lives into a single device, the passage of nearly all that we do through a single technological portal.” “Whatever your habits and duties, your public responsibilities and secret desires, they are all concentrated as never before into a single device, a filter, and a portal for the conduct of nearly every kind of human life today.” (18)
  4. … “in the rise of an economy focused on extracting information from human beings, these human beings are increasingly perceived and understood as sets of data points; and eventually it is inevitable that this perception cycles back and becomes the self-perception of human subjects, so that those individuals will thrive most, or believe themselves to thrive most, in this new system who are able to convincingly present themselves not as subjects at all, but as attention-grabbing sets of data points. (20) “For many, the only available adaptation to this new landscape is to transform our human identity into a sort of imitation of the decidedly non-human forces that sustain the internet, to trade a personality for an algorithmically plottable profile, in effect, to imitate a bot.” (21)

After this setup I’d like to find out what happens, particularly to number 4, but it wasn’t until much later I realised I was not going to. It was around when Smith was telling me that Deleuze (writing with Guattari) doesn’t have a theoretical monopoly and can’t claim copyright over the idea presented in A Thousand Plateaus of the network being a rhizome or the rhizome a network. And this was followed closely by citing Kant as an authority, so it kind of made sense. I mean, Deleuze with or without Guattari is not going to fit into a Kantian framework.

The problem I have with this book is that although it appears to want to engage philosophy, and this is in the subtitle, A History, A Philosophy, A Warning, it doesn’t do so in a philosophically informed way. The history part is halfway amusing but I would have expected, given that the book really starts with the warning, again a more philosophically informed approach, say an archeological or genealogical one. The trouble is that Smith maintains that it is, that he is doing a “reverse Foucauldianism”. (12) What this tells me is that the book is written the wrong way around.

— Tullio Pericoli

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Dubravka Ugrešić R.I.P. literature? 27 March 1949 – 17 March 2023

Who knows, maybe one day there will no longer be Literature. Instead there will be literary web sites. Like those stars, still shining but long dead, the web sites will testify to the existence of past writers. There will be quotes, fragments of texts, which prove that there used to be complete texts once. Instead of readers there will be cyber space travelers who will stumble upon the websites by chance and stop for a moment to gaze at them. How will they read them? Like hieroglyphs? As we read the instructions for a dishwasher today? Or like remnants of a strange communication that meant something in the past, and was called Literature?

— Dubravka Ugrešić, from her website, https://www.dubravkaugresic.com/

I loved Europe in Sepia and regularly dip into her other writing. If you haven’t read her books, they remain and, despite what she says above, that literature does not mean forever, they are forever literature.

(And that of course means that literature and she herself are only, as my friend P. says, dead at the moment.)

In another of Dubravka Ugrešić’s books, The Age of Skin, LARB notes that she is documenting

…“the last battle […] being waged between banning the red star and fully destigmatizing the swastika. The swastika is winning the fight […] black and swarming like cockroaches.”

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The Singularity and the Pornography of the Human Condition

Vernor Vinge, 30 years ago, wrote, 

The Coming Technological Singularity: 
                      How to Survive in the Post-Human Era

I'm reading it now. 

the world acts as its own
         simulator in the case of natural selection

For Vinge, human intelligence acts as its own simulator, displacing that of the world and accelerating the process of selection. It is conceivable then that the intelligence of machines will in turn displace the simulator of the human mind and further accelerate this process.

We humans have the ability
         to internalize the world and conduct "what if's" in our heads...

The Great Acceleration, in technical means, technology, following the Second World War, becomes in the event of Singularity hyperacceleration.

Developments that
         before were thought might only happen in "a million years" (if ever)
         will likely happen in the next century

Vinge says he'd be surprised if the Singularity happens before 2005 or after 2030. Interestingly, the word he uses to mean the coming to be of a world-simulator to displace human intelligence is to wake, to wake up. He proposes 4 scenarios: the supercomputer wakes up; the network wakes; the interface with humans creates in users a superior intelligence; biological enhancement leading to the superhuman. (These last two, Vinge calls IA, achieving the Singularity through Intelligence Amplification.)

The Singularity is essentially historical. It marks a point beyond which existing reality ceases, its rules no longer apply and there is a new reality. It would seem that this new reality for Vinge is defined by the ability of intelligence to simulate it. It is both Messianic and Simulacral.

Here's the problem: Any [ultraintelligent machine able to self-replicate] 
         would not be humankind's "tool" -- any more than humans
         are the tools of rabbits or robins or chimpanzees.

We will be in
         the Post-Human era. And for all my rampant technological optimism,
         sometimes I think I'd be more comfortable if I were regarding these
         transcendental events from one thousand years remove ... instead of
         twenty.

Hardware parity with the biological brain is a condition for the Singularity. In 1993, this was thought to be 10 to 40 years away. What Vinge calls the Singularity is today usually referred to as achieving Artificial General Intelligence (AGI). In 2022, Jake Cannell proposed a 75% likelihood of brain parity, AGI, being reached between 2026 and 2032. [source] 

AGI does however lower the bar from Messianic paradigm-changing event to inter-exchangeability of human and machine intelligences. What is missing from AGI is world simulation. This lowering of horizons for brain parity has also to do with the demotion of both brain and human. 

The neurosciences are in the process of explaining many of the mysteries of the brain, and showing them to be mechanisms. The brain is more distributed than previously thought. There are neurons in the guts. 

At the same time as the notion of the privilege of the brain in the organism becomes questionable, along with claims for its privilege also grounding human exceptionalism, the notion of human exceptionalism in the cosmos is less and less defensible. And as soon as we expect less from the human animal, the supersession of its intelligence no longer looks to bring about the transformation of reality. The Singularity that was source of apocalyptic fear in 1993 is among other bathetic moments in our contemporary culture of disappointment.

Commercial digital signal processing might be awesome,
         giving an analog appearance even to digital operations, but nothing
         would ever "wake up" and there would never be the intellectual runaway
         which is the essence of the Singularity. It would likely be seen as a
         golden age ... and it would also be an end of progress.

But, says Vinge, if it can happen it will happen:

... the competitive advantage -- economic, military, even artistic
         -- of every advance in automation is so compelling that passing laws,
         or having customs, that forbid such things merely assures that someone
         else will get them first.


I think that performance rules 
         [for the superhuman entity] strict enough to be safe would also
         produce a device whose ability was clearly inferior to the unfettered
         versions (and so human competition would favor the development of the
         those more dangerous models).

If the Singularity can not be prevented or confined, just how bad
         could the Post-Human era be?

The physical
         extinction of the human race is one possibility. (Or as Eric Drexler
         put it of nanotechnology: Given all that such technology can do,
         perhaps governments would simply decide that they no longer need
         citizens!)

It's hard to see either the physical extinction of the human race or the decision of governments that citizens are no longer necessary as transcending the reality 30 years on. What scares us more now, going by online newsfeeds, is loss of copyright by artists. It's ironic then that Vinge tells of the combination of competences and human/computer symbiosis in art. 

And that he talks about human/computer teams at chess tournaments after Hans Niemann. And mobile computing as being an example of IA (Intelligence Amplification), when it's often seen as the opposite. And the worldwide internet, in the human/machine combo, is where progress is fastest and it may "run us into the Singularity before
              anything else."

Ironic too, considering how the feedback loop has actually worked between biological life and computers, is that he says,

much of the work in Artificial
         Intelligence and neural nets would benefit from a closer connection
         with biological life. Instead of simply trying to model and understand
         biological life with computers, research could be directed toward the
         creation of composite systems that rely on biological life for
         guidance or for the providing features we don't understand well enough
         yet to implement in hardware.

While on the deadliness of competition, that is on the deadliest aspects of human inclinations, there is some prescience:

We humans have millions of
         years of evolutionary baggage that makes us regard competition in a
         deadly light. Much of that deadliness may not be necessary in today's
         world, one where losers take on the winners' tricks and are coopted
         into the winners' enterprises. A creature that was built _de novo_
         might possibly be a much more benign entity than one with a kernel
         based on fang and talon. And even the egalitarian view of an Internet
         that wakes up along with all mankind can be viewed as a nightmare.

Vinge differentiates between weak and strong superhumanity, the weak superhuman being the one who is enslaved to the merely human. Since it has overtaken the human in intelligence, whom it has every right to regard as a human does either its pet, its slave or a bug, the strong is the one to be feared. It is so if you are writing in 1993 and not so much in 2023.

Strong superhumanity in the end links with strong cooperation, a notion of networking as involving connectivity at higher and higher bandwidths. Vinge thinks bandwidths along both digital and cerebral axes, in terms of both computation and cerebration, so they add or superadd to intelligence. Today we tend to constrain communication even at high bandwidths to being a technical matter, of formal or linguistic representation. 

A matter of having more information, bandwidth has to do with perception considered also as representation, specifically inner representation, to have to do with how the subject, whether human or nonhuman, represents to itself the world outside it, so determining how much information it has to work with. The higher or greater the bandwidth, the more a subject has intelligence of the world in which it is situated, the more of it it can represent to itself, but this today does not equate with higher intelligence as it does for Vinge. 

For him, at the highest bandwidths networked entities share higher cognitive functions. They are telepathic. There is a general ratchetting effect of intelligence on intelligence, information on information, perception on perception, accumulating and, in Vinge's view, running away far in advance of low bandwidth entities like us. Leading back to the Singularity.

The process of accumulation Vinge is talking about is what today tends to be talked about as growth. It is inextricably linked to the process of capital accumulation. And this process is fundamentally joined to technological advance. Together they form progress.

For Vinge, technological advance means the accumulation of intelligence not capital. Intelligence embodied in computers, IA and information networks reaches a point of runaway. This progress for him was inevitable, not so for us.

Or is it? Today's coupling of technological and economic forces, accumulation and extraction and exploitation, of both smart and manual labour, means progress to an inevitable point that resembles Vinge's inasmuch as it too is the occasion for fear, if not dread. It is the deadly prospect of human extinction that will be augured by the Sixth Great Extinction of nonhuman life on which human life depends, in the interconnectedness of all life on earth.

The idea that economic and technological forces can be uncoupled appears almost to be cause for optimism. Economic forces, those of extraction and exploitation, are in this view a shackle. Economics stymies progress, leading it off in another direction which appears to be as inevitable as the Singularity. Economic forces divert progress towards planetary rather than human extinction.

Uncoupled, unimpeded by the economic restriction placed on it by the demand for demand and its supply, delinked from the process of capital accumulation (and the current redistribution of wealth, South to North, national to civic, social to plutocrat) technology had to lead, in Vinge's view, towards superhuman intelligence. He doubted that once it was achieved this superhumanly intelligent being would deign to be further constrained by restrictions placed on it by humans. He did however entertain the thought of a benign superhumanity. Its ultraintelligence might indulge humanity, oversee it and shepherd it. Out into the stars, for example, as in his and Iain M. Banks's space opera.

More likely, he thought, was that a superhuman entity should not indulge the species inferior to it. He thought it was more likely, just as humans do to other species, for humans to be squashed. The reasoning resembles that consecrated in theories of economics, of the self-interested individual. What possible self-interest on the part of a superhuman being might be served by preserving the human race?

Fun? Entertainment? Qualities that derive from our animal origins? Inputs of affect and emotion? Sex? God as the Great Pornographer of the Human Condition? ... 

All these have been considered in speculative and science fiction, and explored in the holy books of mono- and pluri-theistic religious traditions. According to how they are treated by the gods, and, whether angry, absent, indifferent or loving, the Gods, anthropos might be thought to have something going for them. And there is room for optimism in light of the literature.

When it gets here, if it were allowed to get here (and economics and technology were uncoupled), the Singularity might solve some of the problems, caused by human practices, of the Anthropocene. Or, Superman might call on the waters of the deep to engulf all of humanity as his punishment. Or... Isn't this exactly what is happening?







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3 essays 3 endings: art research | theatre writing

the following portable document format text was written when I realised that the book I had been working on, about theatre pt. 1, about writing, pt. 2, begged the question. The question it assumed answered, that it took for granted, was, What’s the point of art research? Sometimes called practice-as-research and artistic research, I mean, What is it? And, why should I care to look at theatre or at writing from the perspective of these being two different research practices, as two different avenues for art or artistic research?

I attempt to answer these questions, I assay to and these attempts are recorded as the 3 essays; and whether successful or not, they have 3 endings.

I completed pretty much the whole of the part about theatre (as art research) before I realised it was begging the question (I hope I’m using that phrase correctly. My understanding is that it doesn’t mean asking or raising the question but proceeding without thought for there still being a question at all). 3 essays 3 endings looks forward to this part and the part about writing (as art research). They are preparatory essays, an extended pretext, setting out the reasons for art research before doing it with theatre and writing.

I went backwards, kind of unwriting the book I thought I was writing. I also went sideways, like one of those battery-operated toys, that, when it hits an obstacle, changes direction at random.

I decided to run through the entirety of my findings from the part about theatre in a series of 68 letters. These were addressed to ‘you’ the reader here on squarewhiteworld (against the darkroundearth). I should collect them all (I did), but you can find them through the search function (like this).

What I wanted to say about writing as art research has so far only come out in the two lectures presented at Auckland University of Technology in 2021. These have audio. The Lecture on Reflective Writing is here. The Lecture on Academic Writing is here.

Since writing 3 essays 3 endings, I also presented ten lectures on moving image theory and context. This series of lectures takes up on many of the ideas from the book; that an art practice, making work in moving image, is a way of thinking, or can be; that to engage creatively with a medium is to think with it; that this constitutes a form of art research. The series, without audio, is here.

If you would like to support the completion of the book… or you might prefer to support its noncompletion… please contact me. Comment and critique is welcome, either through contact or comments. Thanks!

Best,

Simon

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a note on human agency

Hochuli, Hoare and Cunliffe write that the social order has been “entrusted to lawyers, activists, remote governmental experts on transnational commissions, central bankers, technocrats, the market, CEOs… not to ordinary citizens” and that how production functions, is organised and distributed is left to “supply chain managers, investors and trade negotiators, not unions or politicians.” [see here]

Roles, the actions of actors or of agents with agency, are not characteristic of contemporary communications society however. The network is.

Contemporary society does not divide along class lines. It does not divide at all. Its entanglement, the entanglement of social and power relations that society comprises, constitute its control.

Roles do not characterise our kind of social political organisation but relations. Ordinary citizens are as much a part of the indivisible entanglement of control society as investors and trade negotiators, as well as unions and politicians. There is no division.

Power is relational. So is agency: as such, power is implicative.

The power of an agent to act is more than inextricable from the rest, from the totality of relations of power functions, it is implicated in the totality of the network of all of them.

The network materialises not as the totality of power relations, for example at the institutional or individual levels. It does not materialise neuro-bio-logically. Rather neurological and biological, ecological and social and psychical networks are built epistemologically on the model of material communications, the nondiscursive material network of a mathematical and computational imaginary. Yes: both material and imaginary, otherwise known as an hallucination of the totality.

It is imaginary because invented, a matter of pure invention. It determines the future and the future of human social organisation, so that it is a form of knowledge, a form of generic knowledge replacing all other forms.

Wrongly called science or the scientific worldview, in this determinative function of a knowledge, impending over the future, it is better called speculative.

The name for this network with its power functions and totality of relations is the market.

A speculative, implicative and nonhuman reality, or brain. Onto it are projected our real material conditions of an agency and roles that abrogate them both, preferring to our own, artificial intelligence.

...
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antinomy–or the opposite is true, even the opposite of the opposite, oddly

Narratives of crisis emplot events to create a meaningful sequence. The way they construct this sequence is prior to and entails the choice of explanatory mechanisms and the fingering of guilty parties. To speak about “post-truth,” declining trust in science, and/or the “death of expertise” is to sketch the faint outlines of a sequence, a set of slots into which the usual suspects will slip naturally and self-evidently. The sequence of events is linear, leading to a break: a long-term process of decline that ultimately leads to a “collapse of the relationship between experts and citizens,” a breakdown of trust that threatens to send “democracy itself [into…] a death spiral.” Sketched in this way, the linear sequence implies a culprit: the “foundation of all these problems,” the soil in which all the other dysfunctions have taken root and prospered,” is the “abysmal literacy, both political and general of the … public.” The public is worse than a phantom; it is willfully ignorant. Enter the Great Multiplier–the internet and social media–and the secular trend combusts into full-fledged crisis: “a google-fueled, wikipedia-based, blog-sodden collapse of any division between professionals and laypeople.”

— Gil Eyal, The Crisis of Expertise, (Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2019), 82.

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sixty-fifth part, called “on movement LXV,” of a series of ‘letters’ written to you, the reader, towards a book called, theatre | writing

on movement

The brain selects items for action. It is not, for Bergson, for knowledge and does not select to know. It already practices an economy. Economising as a part of the system of perception, the brain is like any other organ in this respect: it synthesises problems of the outside.

If we know anything at all it’s out of habit: Hume’s insight, from which Deleuze gains the syntheses of habit. What then is synthesised, or contracted, from habits as problems of the outside? The brain takes this to be information. It takes syntheses of habit as items for action as well. Yet they are the products of habit.

That the syntheses of habit are products of habit as well, and are synthesised for action, makes that action general. Although divided into institutions, like institutional knowledge, institutional systems of representation, structures of cognition and grammars for recognition, the general action is indivisible. It performs an indivisible mobility, engaging the whole surface in movement so as to perpetuate its symbolic economy. That is, products of habit form another economy concerned with their symbolic reproduction with institutions to take care of their symbolic production.

Perhaps for the reason of the syntheses of habit being largely concerned with a symbolic economy, for Deleuze the brain is a sign signal system. As for Bergson, however, it is not for cognition and not to represent to itself that the brain and system of perception are geared, for example, representing to itself the problems of knowledge or cognition, which it would then act to process and contend with resolving. For Deleuze, the sign consists of a problem and the signal is an action.

Symbols, as matters of habitual synthesis, are still subjects of action and meanings are actions. Yet, what other meaning can they have but that acquired from habit? And, what may be parsed from these words but the syntheses of habit?

The issue is not that of bringing new meanings or a new meaning to light. Neither is that of naming this brain the false one and that one the true, the symbolic economy the secondary, or the brain of artificial creation, and the perceptual economy, the sensible one, primary and of natural creation. We are still talking of theatre and there is still the selection of subjects and for movement.

The issue is how to move in the crowd of subjective apprehensions. How to move when their alignment, the alignment of their outsides, is given by the misapprehension of symbolic actions, on a surface mobilised overall by the habitual syntheses of others. And what is movement when it is no more than the connectivity of outsides in their symbolic interplay, already, all over. The issue is, what is doing the work of the brain now it is no longer selecting items for action, for symbolic production, but the technological means, for the reproduction of habitual syntheses, that is doing the work of selection?

note: source references available on request–these will be part of the book, if it should come to pass.

If you would like to help it come to pass, and show your support for what I’m up to, please sponsor it: become a patron, here.

If you would like to receive these posts, as they are written, as letters addressed to you, please send me your email address.

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sixty-first part, called “on movement LXI,” of a series of ‘letters’ written to you, the reader, towards a book called, theatre | writing

on movement

Our irony is not reserved to that which dismisses the body, to the pretension to spirituality, spirit, spiritualism or art, but to an automatism that is that of the general economy and of the cognitive-behaviourist brain. Boys, don’t they? tend to add to their toys an active component. Girls, I’ve seen, tend to add to them a social component.

Imagine the appeal of the toy that had both! The social economy is such a readymade—the readymade of social stereotypes and of their mobilisation in institutional codes. (And, of course, the readymade of gender stereotypes, social performativity, and the fluidity of roles: that whole theatre, where transitions of scenes are transitions of subjects, meaning, their production.)

The problem with a generally mobilised social economy is not that it exists. It’s not even that it’s a product such as engenders the commodification of social identities, stereotyping from the given material by a supplemental material, which, if we are sticking with the theatre metaphor, we can call symbolic. (Or phallic.) Its problem is that of already having been activated and socialised. That is, what’s a boy to do? What’s a girl to? Here is the repertoire—again, the theatrical metaphor—you are the supplement. Yet: you do not get to add the active component; and you do not get to add the social component. In other words, You’re it.

I seem to be speaking indirectly about social media. Not entirely the case: by general or a generally mobilised social economy I am referring to the mobilisation in the social of the economy, the socialising of economic drivers, capital as data, and, data as capital, to the rendering of the economy as social. It goes both ways.

Yes, we can see the boys excited on the floors of the stock exchange. And the girls rising through the managerial ranks by virtue of their social intelligence. (Or emotional intelligence.) But they are such for having been reciprocally produced by the economic supplanting the social and the social supplanting general political economy.

When we ask what is to be done we can see we are doing everything we can: flowing in all directions. This is what the code allows, which Deleuze and Guattari in Anti-Oedipus call the axiom of capital: a double parasitism or double ventriloquism. Am I speaking for myself here?

Do I really believe it? Well, yes, of course: what other cause could there be for giving rise to so many misunderstandings? All I want to be is clear about this: and immediately disown every word I have written.

How to eke out our little bit of world? our little patch of earth, as Deleuze and Guattari also write, when across its surface there is this general semiotic dispersal? We should note in this word, semiotic, both seeds and atoms; and note a change in register, or atmosphere. If there are still enough of the primary elements, if there are still enough atoms making them up, still enough air to breathe, the right amount of warmth, enough water, and sufficient soil, the seeds are subjects: that is, they contract these elements. Their coming-to-life is not so important as this.

Some time ago, we stated that there seem to be two principles. We were not concerned with their mediation but by the contracting power of what contracts them, which we have identified to be a subjective power. A subjective power is at work contracting elements of social economy, just as a subjective power is at work in the misunderstanding synthesising the meaning of these words. Such is the bad habit of being human: to focus on the mediation as the moving part.

note: source references available on request–these will be part of the book, if it should come to pass.

If you would like to help it come to pass, and show your support for what I’m up to, please sponsor it: become a patron, here.

If you would like to receive these posts, as they are written, as letters addressed to you, please send me your email address.

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