Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Tragicomic Empiricism and the Mystical-Rational Age

The challenge today, as it may be expressed, the challenge for subjective experience, for any humanistic philosophy is the unprecedented difficulty in establishing individualized existence in what is a more rationalistic and mystical society than history has known. Moreover, this is compounded by the fact that it is not some clandestine group of Cartesians or Swedenborgians* (or say, "the Man") that perpetuates this fact, but indeed the relative lack of human subjects, and the increase in technological and object-oriented means of organization. Both the ultralogical forms of analytic philosophies and the poetically abstract forms of continental versions address this and are symptomatic of it.

This then, the age of abstraction becomes conversely the age of immersion. The rational and mystic demands to which one is subject are not cases for debate - there is nothing to debate - there is instead an a priori assumption of what simply is - that is, for the lawful and rule-abiding societal member. The subjective experience is in this sense non-existent in the assumed parameters of existence - the immersion is present, and the subject-less abstraction as well. If there is no agency or speaking subject, then there is none of the properly fallible, contestable science that I mentioned earlier, nor is there the open space for the aleatoric, germinating and messy (so inimical to aesthetic categorizations which are a mystical analogue) forms of art. The base empiricist idea then is (in these described contexts, which I argue are increasingly definitory) totally unpracticed and, while materially it is the epitomy of naturalistic conservatism, in the context of mystical alienation the concept becomes an inversion or revolution. That is, its essence is more provocational than explanatory and its simple empirical means contrary to the effective consistency of rationalism.

The chief problematic of communication theories of social justice, of acts of speech and societies with open forums, is that there simply is no such Arthurian Round Table in our midst. As noble as these ideas may sound, we are simply not born into their idyllic world, but instead into one where we are immersed in a system which is more and more about figuring out the means to get something done (who to call or talk to, what papers to fill out) than in voicing our ideas in an equivalent platform. It is more about the technical processes to achieve an end, the bureaucratic engagement that enables and accords power, in which no human opinion is generally involved (of course there is the desk clerk which sends you the forms, but they are entirely subject to certain predetermined procedures) - it is more about these processes than about a person to person discussion**. The communication theory assumes a space (an agora or public sphere if you like) where such communication can take place. An age of abstractive immersion assumes a relative lack of human subjects and their (to borrow from Levinas) "face-to-face" interaction which thus requires different forms of response for the subject immersed in it.

Basic empiricism attempts to describe a fundamental (and alternately pragmatic) epistemology and underlying ontology, however its problematic lies in having its "base embeddedness" if you will, entirely ignored. This is a case where Popperian critical rationality is hopeless since there is nothing falsifiable to critique (what's the phone number for the Man?). Instead we have a case of instantiated holism (different from the hypothetical holism discussed in relation to art), of theory-ladenness and underdetermination, where the overlying rationality easily incorporates anomalies into its sphere. This Kuhnian and post-Kuhnian (or para-Kuhnian) epistemic description correlates with his opposition of the paradigm with the revolution***. It is the Kuhnian model which gives us a more powerful framework to juxtapose with a system described as abstractively unfalsifiable and paradigmatically immersive. The experience or experiment in this case inevitably becomes - through the simple sensing and expressing of its content - what Bacon called an instancia crucis (later taken up by Newton through Hooke as an "experimentum crucis"). It becomes an instance or experiment that violates a theoretical paradigm - that this is a fixed or categorical possibility is not of interest to me, nor is it staked as a science philosophy claim; rather it is situated along a continuum of speculative empirical events that parallels the basic empiricist experience with the instancia crucis which is socially and paradigmatically upsetting, versus the classical empiricist event which is argued to be - due to its more abstracted rational quality - easier to tidy up into a normalized setting.

The expression of the basic experience in a space that allows for no dissent that is not revolutionary is no longer permitted the critical literalism that an easily referent language affords (such as in the pared down descriptions of the copepodal experiment). With the literal eschewed, an equal dialogue is refused the base experience, which is forced into more metaphorical and indirect forms of communication. The paradigmatic discourse and its normal procedures do not make place for the acts of speech of the subject (the assumed position of the base, or the crucis, which does not fit the paradigm, nor its dialogic language) which is then forced into the only kind of speech which remains honest, that which plays the lie in order to say the truth. The hypothetical agent is situated in an immersive space without recourse to counterdialogue (an abstraction without its lived foundation) and instead must use that immersion (as it is the only narrative or structure to use) against itself, with itself. This language is consigned to the fictional or aesthetic (reincorporating the discourse as a fiction in-itself, making of it what the Socratic Plato denigrated as the copy of a copy) the which takes the literal and turns it inside out. This, in full fictive description, is the tragic, in inadequate description, the comic, and in a direct failure at description, the silent. The latter apathetic non-action may be further styled as the tragicomic insofar as the tragicomic fails at either tragedy or comedy. It goes without saying that these words could be others, or that the scope of these could be different from the scope proposed. Nonetheless, as in the common practice of use as it pertains to practice, the scope is chosen to be extended a certain amount and further the terms used are useful for their literary pedigree - for what comparative and traditional ideas it may offer. So the tragic may speak of what others term the grotesque, comedy may as such speak of satire, and tragicomedy of the indecipherable. The replacement of these terms with others is always a possibility****, yet still, despite this, they are used in the aim that such reduction focuses referents (and indeed other terms that may compare) so far as to elucidate not the language so much, but what that language forms around, and what will be recurrent in presence in a given culture, regardless of one's actions. Under these terms then, or others, such an encounter pretends to style appropriately according to what is called an immersive time, and offer such terms as might validate sense and hypothetical reflection in that time.

So it is that the forms of expression of the base empiricist in a period of rational-mystic pomo submersion is one that takes the classical forms of theatre and re-representation in a realm of fictive mimicry: the brutal tragedy, the satirical comedy and the hybridization interform of muteness and lacked articulation. These too, distilled to their language, inform methods that similarly work to dismantle a paradigmatic normality from within its own normality - the literal is eschewed for the consciously fictive, whose real excluded reference is expressed through the fictional particularizing of what performs such exclusion. Language is infused with its experiential content to the point where it becomes entirely aesthetic and performative - that is, proliferative with nothing consistent to offer logic - yet it brims with that kind of empirical content, those experimenta cruces which fail to meet with a normalized criteria, yet to meet and disrupt that criteria, it is an aesthetic language that science needs to properly accommodate and express itself. The language of theatre here, turning a Chymical Theatre to a physiological one, is the language of science, most properly the most experimentally intense thereof, which is human biology. Its mimicry and multi-representation serves as the ultimate aesthetic foil, it presents everything but in play and thus obliterates everything real by making nothing at all real. As the complete aesthetic art it also generates that which properly is the abductive core of science, germinating its hypothetical postures, and naively disregarding all normative realities for an explosion of alternatives and ignorantly transgressive possibilities. It is entirely fitting in this way, that in an undifferentiated oral-cultural state, that the chief actor or artist of the village is also the medicine man who is the chief scientist, a reflection that situates this intimate interrelation of the fictive and the real, the aesthetically propounded and the actually present. It is this same interrelation which needs to be called upon again, in an age that presents a literalized reflection that no longer contains its actual lived referent, the mysticism of pseudo-science, that it is precisely art that is needed to re-establish the empirical grounds of science (and not say some "harder look" at facts and such since there is no longer any reference point, dialogue space or forum in which to perform such an action). The horrible language of tragedy, the satirical streak of comedy, and the refusal and silence of incompleted language, these are the formulae to dismantle pseudobabble and clear the ground for a more veritable empirically-based engagement of the subject with his or her societal space.


* note, in my estimation, rationalism is to scientistic empiricism, what mysticism is to aesthetics, as capable parallels

** An exemplary instance is the encounter with a cop. You do not discuss or argue the basis for his or her claim for pulling you over - you in no way expect to be convinced that he or she is right and debate until you both reach a consensus. You accede as much as possible (lest you exacerbate the charges) and work through the due bureaucratic process before entering a domain where your speech may be completely naive to legal processes, whereas for the cop it is integral to the job and experience abounds. This isn't even a critique per se of the system in itself, but merely a description of its preemptive rationality - it is not even to say that it is in any way wrong (insofar as it is laid out here), but rather an attempt to effectively describe aspects thereof so the proper object of consideration is at hand when considering whether one agrees or not.

*** this does not here comment or engage with the ideas as accurate or inaccurate depictions of historical science, but rather as differing models which can be applied to reveal different aspects of different epistemic systems.

**** And is, it should be said, held to always be the case in such specified and reductive language, as its technical particularity inevitably dissolves into an uncontainable use. Yet the reductive and illusorily "clear" is useful as that linguistic ladder that Wittgenstein both used and discarded.

Aesthetic-Scientific Criticality

Both the empirical (empeiria: "experience") and the aesthetic (aisthese/aisthanomai: "to feel/sense") are derived from sensation and/or experience (both etymologically/historically and in their current general uses). No definition can consistently draw a dividing line between them. Of the many attempts that have been made, from CP Snow to Aristotle, the line differs and what is included and discluded is not consistent: arbitrarity forms the basis of the distinction. However, as with all arbitrary decisions, their freedom give place to the possibility of a utilitarian definition, which frees a categorical distinction into one based on use (without any necessary logical grounding). The arbitrary distinction here proposed is one of practicality and impracticality (that is, of no specific practical use that can be articulated as such), for "science" and "art" respectively. These distinctions, like any others, cannot be held up, yet their action-oriented base serve not only to usefully situate the terms, but also provide a fallible ground by which the contingency of their incomplete definition can be observed.

In both cases, the aesthetic and the empirical question is one of epistemology or knowing. Both likewise vary from a situated skepticism (we know what we are presented with in experience) to a transcendental, a priori form of knowing (in art, there is here the unearthly divine epiphany, in science, the divine light of reason and logic). As transcendental illusory forms, one can say that in that abstraction the logical division (like any such division in relative isolation) is more possible than in the undifferentiated realm of immediacy and sensual encounter. Both in aesthetic and scientific matters, I am interested in exploring the situated, skeptical approach, as the transcendental view is - upon expression - immediately either correct and total, or entirely inevitable in its idealized form, and thus indiscussable (in the same way as an appeal to authority or another dogma-oriented instructional form). The transcendental view could have art and science as completely distinct and there would be nothing that could be said in contradiction of that (even if - indeed appropriately if - the definitions were completely nonsensical).

As in the experiments utilized to expound the ideas of basic empiricism, let us take the copepodal and sexual experiments, exploring how these encounters are knowledge, or how they inform knowledge. The base empirical view holds an indistinction here, or a blending, where the aesthetic and scientific are complementary. In the copepodal laboratory experiment, the aesthetic experience fills the hypothetical space, it describes the experience with no eye to getting results or accurately analysing, but with an eye to completely faithful description and relating of the experience. This essentially abductive process is integral to science (as Peirce has rightly argued), its general holism provides the entirety of a situated encounter which is also an endless abundance of hypothetical possibility (the *reasons* why the copepod behaves a certain way could be *anything* - the freer this imaginative aspect of ascertainment is allowed to be, the greater chance there will be therein a hypothesis that yields experimental results). The aesthetic experience creates imaginative possibilities, it looks naively and totally (yet totally in a completely fictive and hypothetical way) at a situation and expresses anything and everything germane to the evocation of that experience. The aesthetic is hypothetical knowledge* - its role is to germinate and burgeon possible correlates to the given experience. The empirical, on the other hand, applies the hypotheses of experience, and waits for the results - it is dependent on a practical action - one that is sociable and repeatable (where the aesthetic experience may be completely personal and impossible to share).

Base empiricism proposes an aesthetic underpinning to scientific process, it proposes that knowledge is experiential and is complete as something that is both hypothetical and actual in a socially repeatable sense. The already externalized and reduced aspect of the copepodal experiment reduces the hypothetical possibility, making it more open to rationing and reducing the empirical demand (to the point where little to no observation is required besides reading a temperature which may already be largely known**). A more intense experience such as sex however, is far more sensual and is largely resistant to specific socializable results. In this way, the aesthetic is more powerful to explain the sexual experience, while the empirical result set is more powerful to give meaning to the copepodal work. In the base empirical framework, both are involved in each experience, and both correlated forms of knowledge to the given experience (ie. the "empirical" knowledge we learn about sex is but a miniscule part of the experience (say the path by which eggs are fertilized) but forms an important part of the practical knowledge thereof, likewise the general sense we get from observing copepods (boredom, alienation, confusion, fixated interest - or anything) is essential in forming a complete epistemological picture of what that experience is (which implicitly says, how it relates to us)).

Base empiricism is an uncompromised scale of experience, no matter how messy or disagreeable that experience is, and holds primacy for those experiences which are most intense, that is which most severely act in relation to a human subject (whether seeing, touching, or what have you). To properly explain and derive knowledge from these experiences is always a process that blends art and science - the more intense requiring a more artistic approach, and the little, abstracted, collective and contextually-progressive knowledge we have requiring the deliberation of repeatable and questionable science***. The "practicality" of science mentioned in the beginning refers to the practical and communicable relation of its knowledge to a collective, let's say to a larger group in order to build a bridge, while the "impracticality" of aesthetics imagines and dreams possible bridges and possible ways, but in no way says anything beyond the personal until it is translated into the shareable effects endemic to science testing. A whole other consideration then is the ethics of action when it is now a public and socially influential act - what is the responsibility of socializable action (such as that resulting from effective science)?

Experience then, is an undifferentiable whole. Yet the potential divisions we reap from its knowledge (essentially the key difference here being what knowledge is socially pervasive and therefore ethically questionable - again, a functional difference that addresses an actuality regardless of the effectiveness of a given definition for a given reader) - these divisions happen to be crucial. What we know we derive from experience (needless to say through our assumed body-environments) but what is contestable (and should always be contested, or its obfuscations overturned so as to make it open to contestation) and practically scientific, must be met with the public contestation that its public existence merits (which will need both theoretical shifts through the aesthetic generation of possibles and the critical attack proper to the testable and refutable aspects of science).

The measure of art is how well it proliferates possibility, the measure of science how openly contestable its contingent and collective points are. Both are subject to a critical stance, to the experiential test of another observer and experimenter, art tending toward a survey of hypothetical plurality, and science a multiperspectival scrutiny of its practical effects (and their social ramifications).

The base empirical view hinges on an embedded and materialized subject (this, an ontology) with an epistemological hub in given experience, and its fluid subdivisions into aesthetics and science.

All these terms, however, are guides and must be read incompletely in terms of what they reference, which is the actuality on which they are dependent. These terms, base empiricism, aesthetic-scientific criticality, must then be discarded, or must never have a reified position in the system (nor is there a system conceived as such, but a fictionally unifying language that ideally reorganizes the stuff of experience, and proves coherent insofar as it does that).


*Again, in this assumed results-based framework which isn't "correct" in any way, but assumes transparent and imperfect definitions with a pragmatic check so that, regardless of their preferred definition, their reference provides actualized descriptions.

** This again contrasts with the classical European idea of empiricism which would find this experience as compared with a sexual one more "empirical" not because there is more to experience or sense, but paradoxically because there is less to experience and more to rationalize.

*** But again most crucially here is the inevitable normalization of such abstracted work into a dogmatic trajectory - it is aesthetics here, the re-relating and naively total re-evaluation and proliferation of hypothesis that requires the aesthetic and its imagination.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Base Empiricism

The Greek empeiria translates generally to the Latin experientia which then relates to our word experience. The question arises that, if our epistemology is ostensibly "empiricist", just what sort of experience are we talking about? Are we talking about any experience at all, or is there is a difference between different kinds of experiences, and perhaps crucially, are there experiences which we must bracket out, which cannot count as grounds for empirical knowledge.

Without articulating the idea in so many words, past forms of empiricism have the tendency to leave out large terrains of experience in favour of experiences which - paradoxically - are more easily rationalizable. The pretended opposition of empiricism and rationalism collapses together in the face of what could simply be termed experiences that are too intense for both their tendencies.

Laboratory observation and having sex are both experiences, the latter can be said to be more intense. However in the former, if we have a hypothesis that say a given copepod will swim quicker with increased heat, the observation then is similarly easy to articulate as the experiment-informing hypothesis was - further, the logical trail for subsequent reflection will be likewise as rational as the abstractive process that led up to it. For sex, however, we could say that what led up to it was - relatively speaking - not as expressable in the terms of our laboratory hypothesis, that it was less amenable to linguistic rationalization, and more towards an experience that - while more intense and complex in its moment's sense-data - defies a literal representation in words. Empiricists of the past are more often than not talking about something more like the former experience (in the laboratory) than an experience like sex when they are talking about experience and sense-data as a source for empirically-grounded knowledge. They are preferring the more rational experience which is more agreeable to say the academic and decorum-abiding essay form in which they wrote (which - generally speaking - wasn't commonly used for elaborate erotic digressions). In this way, the classical European divide between rationalism and empiricism can also be comparatively seen on a larger scale as a common European rationalistic and abstractive tendency.

Although an experience like sex is inimicable to certain types of, let us say, "rationalistic" language, it is not at all entirely impossible to express (as the word itself attests), although it shifts the linguistic scope to reveal the contingency of more logical forms of language. Language is forced to more diverse and metaphorical forms to the point that the inarticulate and asemantic (say, sounds made during the sex act) sounds and "words" are needed to effectively approximate the experience itself*. Moreover, sex is an experience (to deny this would be - however blatantly ignored in the past - an absolute absurdity), and so the question becomes how - as one interested in using the label empiricist - can we describe an empiricism that includes such experience.

One thing to do would be to simply use the label empiricist and let the descriptive territory fill out the use of that term (or alternatively and more absurdly, use any term at all and allow descriptions to fill out the general meaning of the word). Insofar as no label actually refers to anything the absurdist move would be justified, however in the interest of differentiating from past accepted forms of empiricism and also in more fully exploring them (and indeed, insofar as the term is taken up, agreeing with their positions, however much they are felt to not be entirely complete), I've thought of other labels, fundamental empiricism, grotesque empiricism, basic empiricism, or - as written in the title - base empiricism.

Sex has been my contrastive example of a more intense, less rationalistic experience that a human may have. The idea of "baseness" can explain it as something that is ridden with taboo - it is low, crude, uncultured and representative of a lack of decorum (say, whether discussing porn in a public speech or being known to be an actor in it) - and it is also a basic, fundamental aspect of human existence. There are certain experiences that are relatively inevitable in a human life - experiences that are fated - experiences that are here referred to as basic. These same experiences are the most taboo and - from a cultural perspective - tendentially "grotesque", and to simply mention them - as in a ramble such as this - is seemingly provocative, transgressive, antagonistic or whatever other socially disruptive term. If one were to take the experiences one has, there are large amounts of people that have existed who have never had the laboratory experience mentioned above. Conversely, no one save the rare apotheotic hero like Heracles or Utnapishtim can say the same of the experience of death. Likewise, there are comparably inevitable instances of experience such as sex, excretion and eating (the devouring/killing of one form by another) that are both fundamental experiences in a generalized human existence and are further acts that are riddled with arbitrary custom and taboo, that are - socially speaking - either unspeakable or cloaked in ritualized forms of language which work to formalize their messiness and uncontainability. Thus these basic experiences are both relatively unavoidable (if we were to find any one instance of what we mean by "experience", these would consistently be our best candidates) and also contain a lowly, socially denigrated and ritualized status, that makes the simple fact of their existence disgusting and transgressive (this same idea is very concisely applied to other inevitable givens of biological existence, such as sexual orientation, health, race, that similarly are fundamentally fated and in given societal contexts denigrated or outcast)

Thus basic empiricism attempts to both affirm and alternately expand upon the idea of empiricism. It can be said to hold that empiricism is methodologically correct yet too narrow, or alternatively that it is misinformed insofar as it is too rationalistic. It can also be seen as an attempt to reaffirm a kind of epistemological naturalism in the face of what some might call a postmodernist turn in philosophy and generalized thought, or what I might call an unprecedented form of rationalism, both in the conventional divide of analytic and continental camps. A new, more severely abstracted form of rationalism, requires a more sensually undermining form of empiricism to disrupt its abstracted idealizations - as comparably you might argue that Locke and Newton's empirical tendencies were for someone like Voltaire, a fitting antidote to the then-prevalent forms of Cartesian rationalism that held sway. The vulgarized postmodernist ideas of total relativity, the magical disappearance of the subject, and the total unfalsifiability of an a priori media-coded existence are here described as a kind of super-rationalism - a rationalism whose proliferation of abstracted terms (think of the Deleuzian set of quasi-abstractions) far dwarfs the few terms such as God or thought or a monad which English empiricists were arguably the refutation for. Empiricism is, in this way, both untimely and perhaps all-too-timely a need in this, an age where the sense experiences of an individual are discarded along with other enlightenment projects that have rightly been critiqued for the overruling and unquestioned role they have come to take. In opposition however to the idea that it is the empirical process itself which is flawed, that it is too reductive and lacks spirit and feeling and so on, the contention here is that classical empiricism's abstractive quality have largely been rationalized and taken the form of an a priori prescriptive methodology rather than the open, fallible process that is arguably empiricism's ideal; in other words, it is not a surfeit of the empirical overlords diminishing the unscientific spirits of our lives, but a general lack of the empirical attitude and an insufficient rigour in that empirical attitude itself. The so-called "enlightenment project" is not problematic in its positivistic approach to epistemology so much as parts of it have evolved into the doldrum dogmatic tale of the human march from being more or less dumb primal morons to the now very intelligent evolved creatures that we are - in other words, totally nonsensical and unfalsifiable ideas that can't be proven or disproven but are just chosen and which ultimately form a relative rationalism. In other words, it is the loss of positivism that forms what might be called the enlightenment problematic, not its overwhelming empirical and analytical heritage. The result of such a misinterpretation is that the antidote to an overly empirical outlook would clearly be a healthy dose of rationalism - the odd result being what could be called the postmodern condition - in contrast with Lyotard's definition, it is not the collapse of metanarratives, but rather the unprecedented proliferation of abstract metanarratives and idealistic terms, creating a rationalism entrenched to an unprecedented level. If then, the enlightenment problematic has been thus misinterpreted, and the postmodernist solution has ironically buried us in an even more formidable version of its problems**, the proposed solution or opposition is a return to a kind of empiricism that both takes past empiricism into its position and works to expand that definition into a more rigorous and fundamental formulation.


*that is, if you were to re-represent as best you could the experience of the event for a random listener, you would tend to these types of language - alternatively, you could describe the act in terms of known biological pathways (sperm to egg and so on), though this experientially would come closer to that of a third, relatively detached viewer, or something like the observation of another species mating (though again, this becomes dangerous as the experience here may be more of disgust or overwhelmed fixation, the rationalized explanation not "being enough"))

** It could also be argued, quite simply, that postmodernism means nothing and/or if it does, it is merely as a reflective description of an empirically-alienated time - this would however be replied to in the same way.


2006 TIME magazine Person of The Year – "You":

Lev Grossman:

"It's a story about community and collaboration on a scale never seen before. It's about the cosmic compendium of knowledge Wikipedia and the million-channel people's network YouTube and the online metropolis MySpace. It's about the many wresting power from the few and helping one another for nothing and how that will not only change the world, but also change the way the world changes."

In 2006, Time magazine chose the millions of anonymous contributors of user-generated content to Wikipedia, YouTube, MySpace, Facebook, Second Life, the Linux operating system, and the multitudes of other websites featuring user contribution as its Person of the Year. The choice was personified simply as You.

The capital Y is fitting as this is an abstract you (it doesn't refer to any one "you" in particular). By not referring to a particularity, it isn't required to refer to anyone: whether you are there particularly or not, "You" are there regardless - the which is a perfect expression of fantastic agency.


The term "crowdsourcing" is a neologistic portmanteau of "crowd" and "outsourcing," first coined by Jeff Howe in a June 2006 Wired magazine article "The Rise of Crowdsourcing"

Howe explains that because technological advances have allowed for cheap consumer electronics, the gap between professionals and amateurs has been diminished. Companies are then able to take advantage of the talent of the public, and Howe states that "It’s not outsourcing; it’s crowdsourcing."

The banalization here of information itself is more clearly described when juxtaposed with its correlative:

Democracy, a "big element of Web 2.0", as exemplified in bloggers and the best news reporters, and random people as the best encyclopedia writer (as in wikipedia). In both cases, "expertise" is surpassed by amateurs.

In both cases, the amateur/expert divide has all but disappeared, and in both the amateur steps up to the plate to provide the answers - the masses are answering questions - this virtual democracy and massification's environment has only one key distinction between itself and the democratic debate-place of the Athenian Agora: its environment comes about as a byproduct of unrelated commercial activity (in contradistinction with the more simultaneous and overlapping quality of the Greek market and urban philosopher debate grounds - here specialization must work to meet the demands of more sophistication and a wider scope, making the cross-integration less and less incidental). Democracy and the sourcing of crowds then shifts the relationship to where those people and crowds are the primary means for the virtuality to subsist, their engagement being secondary to the mass establishment of the space (again, comparable yet far more modular and colossally segmented than the Greek Agora - the people here are more and more a mass a priori, embedded with the mainstreamed information they can produce - while the company might need that information for their site (what's wikipedia without articles?), it cannot provide it itself, which is an inversion of the philosophical banter in the market - now that banter forms the market itself - and out of that strangely inverted environment it is only varieties of noise which serve as actual agent-expressions.

This design is user-centred, and its bazaar is contrasted with the old contained cathedral. The bazaar, like the agora, has its vendor tent poles lined with the activity of its participants, its very space is an informational byproduct - the democracy enters as informational effect, the crowdsourcing as the actuality of the info-effectual democracy. The bazaar too, lets one see those haggling processes they'd prefer to not participate in - suddenly commerce is clear and its competitive stimulation sits uneasy for the former church-goers so used to consistency in purchases - the bazaar that instantiates the ideals of former rock stars on their myspace profiles as company sites whose users form the parasitical host for the star to continuing living, indefinitely.

Indefiniteness is the perpetual beta (see Raymond), no longer scheduled in christian software releases, the sacerdotal Britannica is given over the beta-release amateur, Heraclitean and with more eyes than Argus (to shallow out the bugs), to produce and reproduce, without end (this, in the terminology of the acedic-anomaly, the unholy union of goat songs and burlesque into the inert - the Steinian blank verse that says nothing at all - over and over again).

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Webtext Aesthetics and the Reproductive Identity of the Postcommercial Banal

The aesthetic use of a technology - the theatrical use - explores a technology in its abductive capacities - it reels through the experimental aspects of coexistence between the agent and the technical object. The use of written language then - already subject to these precepts - spreads to the different medial forms integrated into the web, and is there challenged in its reception (on the part of the artist-creator as well as the speculative reader-viewer). In this assumed immersion, the entirely virtual is presented as web aesthetics, which favour certain concepts in use, from which is selected the idea of the neo-oral. In arbitrarily isolating letters from pictures (letters are pictures, quite simply), the discussion will be on the assumed forms "literature" might take. Neo-orality, then, takes those "oral" aspects of what internet literature might be - or rather, we could state the affair as its coincidence with an oral form of "literature", instead of with printed literature, in manuscripts, books, and so on.


A book presents itself as a finished work, something contained in itself - a story told by a story-teller might be a comparable "piece", yet that story will change even within the teller's own telling, and without recording methods, will never retain the same form. The content will change, the names, the references, it will pass through the hands of different speakers, its content will evolve through different agents, through a dialogue of multiple voices that continually reform it based on what a community might prefer to hear at a given time. Writing on the web often takes the form of "books" and articles and so on - that is, the same form as they take in print. Yet, to talk of writing *specific* to the web, that is, writing which differs from what is in books, we find a "literature" that has more in common with oral-traditional practice. Comments, chats, small posts, now twitters, microblogs, status-postings - all these range from "conversation" to statements whose existence awaits replies, additions, comments and so on. These are not exclusive terms (academic exegesis for instance, represents a kind of literary dialogue, though among a much more limited group), the argument is merely that with more writers, more responders, more writing in general and a closer connection between what should be written and spoken exists in web literature versus print publications.

In this way, web literature is an entire environment unto itself. Like the oral world, there is no material distinction between the literary tale and the banal conversation, or the literary work and the personal message in the case of the web. This pseudo- or neo-orality is of course quite different from oral culture, the virtual space it "talks" in is created by the action of a technological infrastructure and community whose material byproduct is the illusory "space" it creates.

Of course this aspect of the web, what could be called the user-oriented web, is something that has come bit by bit since bbs's and the early graphical web, to the current world of facebook and twitter. The latter are two instances of what has come to be known as Web 2.0, a term which has utility to discuss a web that is increasingly oriented to more and more users. The web 2.0 paradigm, a paradigm where users interact in a more technically friendly environment than early webpage builders and coders, is one that assumes a commercial infrastructure (say, the database code and design for the facebook site) before a user can use the space. In this sense, Web 2.0 can be described as a postcommercial space. In describing web literature (and the web itself) as something moving increasingly toward what has been called the democratic aspects of web 2.0, I am suggesting a different way of organizing what in this sense is called electronic literature - or perhaps electonic net literature (this does not consider cd-rom works, pre-net works, or anything meant to be read alone on a computer or other electronic device). This looks instead to define web literature as something existent in a space whose definition can be approached through the concepts surrounding web 2.0, which may retrogressively affects past categorizations of net literature, electronic literature and its cousins (this in turn, extends to resituate - in relation to itself - general aesthetic categories utilized in reference to an internet age). As the web 2.0 model becomes the dominant organizing force in shaping both the web and computers, so it will alter how the literary arts (and arts in general) are defined in relation, opposition or combination with it.

One method of graphing out a concept - in this case the neo-oral as a model to describe writing on the user-oriented web, and the extension of its compass to conceptualize a certain type of literature - one method to graph this is to analyze the work of certain authors that illustrate important aspects of it - that is, aspects that serve to illustrate its comparative difference as a definitional concept and contrastive presence. In the question of analyzing an author's work, there is the question of doing justice to it which I reject - I do not think a second literary work can exemplify a first literary work better than the original itself. With this qualificatory assumption in mind, it could be considered that I am engaging in critical appraisal - this possibility could also be rejected if a different type of critique is considered better, or more accurate or complete. Regardless of its status as generically acceptable critique, this additionally (or primarily - depending on the previous decision) will be a dual exploration of aspects of these authors in relation to my generalized concept of neo-oral literature, and how that theoretical system can serve to elucidate their work in what might be a new way.

Perhaps a crucial distinction between written literature - particularly as conceived in its post-gutenbergian western form - and oral literature lies in the concept of plagiarism. In the case of oral literature, to copy another story-teller or speaker is integral to the practice of story-telling itself. If there is a measure of "proper copying" (in a print analogue the distinction between lawful citation and unlawful theft) it is, if anything, the subjective measure of an audience member as to the quality of the performance ("how good it was"). There is no idea of specific human sources (though maybe there is an abstracted sense of an extramundane "gift" that inspires, allows or gives place to the tale - namely, the a priori presence of language and characters beyond an individual experience) and since there is no specific human inventor of a story, there is no proper or improper way of referencing that author to give them due credit. If there is an aesthetic hand at work here, it is - as previously intimated - the hand of the performer - the question is not of a given human creative source, but of an immediate performative interpretation, this is where the creative aspect lies. In other words, the question of plagiarism is essentially non-existent, or conversely entirely assumed as integral to the oral "literary" process - the competition and general prestige accorded to those who play the game well is not given according to scholarly breadth (number and type of authors included and synthesized) and orthodoxy - the game shifts to one of performance and entertainment competition, to oral rhetoric, the acting ability in capitivating and bringing material "alive".

In western print culture as it has evolved up to the internet's beginnings, plagiarism has come to occupy what is either the most, or one of the most taboo positions in literary practice. This is the corollary to the appreciation of the author being accorded through ownership of the text* and how valuable that text is (some gauges might be number of readers, number of citations it inspires, number of high quality reviews). The only thing this author has for all his or her unquantifiable labour in conceiving and creating the text, is in the value of that text itself - that text then is forced into the surrogate position of what was the value of the oral performer (consider the oral performance of the western writer - this is made possible by a text of a given standing, and refers to it as the reason and ultimate reference of its oral performance - the central nature is transferred from the spoken words to the text's writing). The text takes the place of the author, or the text is considered *as* the author - in the same way that every person is an individual, and one person is distinct from another, or some collective sense that we want to value that given person/author and their work: in a literate society this increasingly gets accorded to the textual creations which also can have more presence in a larger more complex society (a book can be in multiple places at once, can travel more quickly) and this increased presence leads to a gradual focus on the book and less on say, how the author describes his theories to a friend, or even to a group of people (which again, more and more takes the form then of "discussing his/her new book on _____"). With the increased domination of the textual creation's presence over that of the author, rules must be created to protect the author him/herself, whose literary-intellectual existence is increasingly dependent on the value accorded to their technical creations. To accord value to a technology can be consistent insofar as a given group takes up and re-relates it to the individuals of that group. To early medieval Christians a work of Hellenic Philosophy was distractive to moral purposes (ie. the most moral decision may be to have rid of it, to burn it) whereas in other periods it may be regarded as central to be cherished, honoured and had as required reading. The same technical artifact - this philosophical work - is the epitomy of moral degeneracy, or the epitomy of moral upbuilding - depending on the group considering it. Thus the moral value of a book is an invention of the people that use that book - from burning it to honouring it to anything in between: what and when to read it, what and when not to read it, how to read it, how not to read it, how to re-relate it to others (cite), how to not re-relate it to others (plagiarize), and so on. Like the question of whether the book is immoral or moral in itself, the question of the proper use thereof is - like the question of its moral value - a question decided upon by a group that use it. Thus on a macro, extra-societal scale, the decisions of proper etiquette in regards to using and relating that technology are arbitrary (that is, another culture or group could well decide on a different method and be practically as well off), but within that group form a game that creates prestige and acceptance, or alternatively denigration and illegitimacy - and insofar as this game creates a place for a given author, it enables the possibility of receiving merit in relation to collectively valuable labour - ideally the same kind of respect that might be accorded to the worthy performer. In the performer's case, it is immediate and fluid in its rules of appreciation, in the case of the literary work, the fixity of the technology demands a fixed set of rules that - when followed - will potentially produce collective appreciation: my earlier statement that the "text replaces the person" is only to say this much - that the gauge to measure literary value is in the oral system in the performance of the person's body (which is categorically indistinguishable from audience interruption, breaking character, "real" conversation etc - it is part of that person's fated, given material life) - whereas the gauge to measure literary value in literate culture is tendentially in a given text (which presents a form that suggests an author-separation whose endpoint is contained in the structuralist notion of authorial death, the alienation of oral presence to where the spoken originary is reframed as an essentialist ideal that must be deconstructed). In increasingly complex and widespread literacy (and widespread publishing) in a culture, there is an increasing tendency to reconstruct a kind of technoliterary agency - more and more, what has agency, power, and human influence is the technology itself - therefore how to read, share and cite that literature becomes increasingly controlled and regimented so as to ensure benefits for those that play the game - those that ideally deserve social status and accreditation for their contribution to a given context. However the more that these rules are applied to a technology (that in itself, is not a human), and the more that technology proliferates in complex relation to a society, the more probability there is for a misrelation between an object's technical success and the merits or abilities of a given creator of that object. Thus while the idea that a text has no author is simply nonsense, it highlights a condition where the proliferation of objects gives more and more over to an illusory agency of the object (creating the imaginary structuralist that argues that texts give birth to themselves**). What accompanies this is an ever-persistent idea that the text (an object in and to itself, independently existent in illusion land) must - in its fixity have corresponding rules that designate right and wrong, the honourable and dishonourable use of that technology. The examples we are using of this type of rule is the idea of re-relating a work to and/or from another work, which in its rule-abiding form is called citation, and in its rule-breaking form plagiarism.

Thus we travel from oral literature which either assumes or excludes the territory of plagiarism - here it is either an a priori given or a non-issue - to written literature where the difference between proper and improper copying is pivotal to whether or not a written work can be classified as valid or not. The focus of this work is to delineate forms of literature on the web and what they differentially illustrate about the web as a location for literature versus a more self-contained practice such as the book (and, as can eventually be seen, electronic works which - on a relative scale - can be seen closer to print work and less illustrative of the differential qualities illustrated as descriptive of web literature) thus the description presented on a framework for viewing plagiarism will begin to inform an exploration of internet literary practice. In elucidating this argument, it will be argued that there is - in web literature - a shift back from the text as literary work, to a modified version of the oral work, or we could say, an increasingly oral set of characteristics begin to help describe what is literature on the net. This return from the literary back to the oral is generally described under the term neo-oral, as something which in some ways relates back to oral literature, and in others adds something new (or conversely retains literary characteristics).***

This entire pursuit could be termed as an exploration of the reproductive identity of the postcommercial banal. Identity as it pretends to sameness, yet not as the original, but as a similar copy (as in general assembly-line commercial practice). Thus the aesthetics thereof (in this case, with the focus on webtext - the textual portion of the internet) is one whose value hinges on the virtual silence if you will of a pseudo-oral exchange whose essence is banal (no matter how quotidian or relatively unsalient a task, it is game for a status update). The a priori condition - the condition to which an agent arrives - is the virtual-participatory condition of this given - it is here that the generalized tendency of the tragicomic is epitomized. It's just this quality which allows web aesthetics to form an ideal in the resituation of both an exemplar form and all other connected forms categorizable under the rubric of the artistic.

Following will be analyses of different functionally isolable concepts that hope to trace different authors and instances which illustrate my hypothetical stance, and help describe it.


*of course - as with all technobureaucratic processes - this ownership is more practically in the hands of those whose work is to engineer and coordinate those processes themselves, printers, publishers and the businesses that organize them into efficacy in this case

** one could frame Barthes in this situation several ways. You could see it in the obvious sense that he gives primacy over to texts and not embodied authors - or you could argue that my use of text equals his use of Author, both highlighting the abstracted quality of something that is less and less a case of the practical interaction of a writer or reader, and more and more an object-oriented codification of the value of a given Work - further you could see him representing an intermediary - highlighting the author's seeming death, the rise of the text, and the corresponding need for a refocus on readerly/writerly practice (the idea of practice could further be seen to relate to my idea of the progression from the seemingly completed literary work, to the more interactive and incomplete neo-oral nature of the web text.) (As always, much more is possible here - you could not see a relation at all, or you could see this particular Barthes, as is done, as a post-structuralist voice, not a structuralist one).

*** the ramifications of this can be explored in different ways. In one sense, there is nothing new in web literature under this definition - many past works display these characteristics. Another path would be to reject the validity or worthy existence of such works, which may clash with past criteria for what constitutes a quality work of literature. What might oppose this rejection(and link back to the first statement) is a re-evaluation of what is and isn't classic or worthy in past literature, using to some varying extent the ideas put forth in the descriptions of these current strains of writing. In the same way that scholars have rediscovered works for their computational characteristics, so would it be possible to find works which match descriptive categories applied to web literature - in this way, it is new yet not new, and the delineation of a particular practice is a reorganization of past practice, innovation complements ignorance, while a historical view complements a reconfigured history of noteworthy works.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

an allegory on the value of replicative signifiers

mutas mutandis

compromised funnels of
diminish calamity

whisking - the imperial satrap reinvigorates his populace with a claim to lower all ornamentation. the people clamour in approval, bewailing elements of the traditional saying that no one generally can remember, reproduce or, even more tragically, enact. in this melee, the apocynthion, a particular type of object that spurred the initial debates of vitalism, was found cracked, with most of the fluid drained from its left pentacle.

notice that in the house, there was nothing remarkable, the eviscerating ritual that herodotus talks about in his second book of the histories, was completely absent. here, in the desert, the ostensible place where it had happened. here, where now animals were rampant, far from cassandra's prophecy of their extinction, now they proliferated and roamed the desertscape, a roaming whose endpoint was the demise of the native human population. notice along the trellis, that along the carvings which date to the bronze age stratum of hellenic weaponry, a line can be traced up the wall, a line that leads up to a hole in the ceiling centre, that leads out into the sky.

bewailing interrments: in case of not understanding his lordship's request for a more cohesive explanation of what was initially presented as an ancient civilization, the listener should take refuge beneath a rock, or simulate crow calls while running to the rear shelter. in the event that his lordship should capture and beat the subject, actions should be taken to ensure effective reception and audience preparation. the subject, it might be noted, has a few anomalous pecularities. notice, first, the shape of the right ear. notice the uncoiling palpation of a mesoderm which sloughs off its appearance as it was once recognizable, and delineates a form that is remarkably ornamental. this sign, or icon as it is traditionally known, is assembled through the action of various light beams, whose visual properties alter when combined exponentially. the beam of light, when viewed at its proper angle, presents a vision of so-called reality that is entirely incongruent with that of the apocynthion.

instead, the system presented as a balm or remedy to the hacked output, had to be reformulated into oxblood - into calamity and funnels whose mineral content splayed

the leafstalk praise (diminish clash

concavity, the synthetic travelogue of the nuclear