notes from the ever-emerging field
Teach things that let new patterns in that can change how you learn.
This paper explores the architectural design of Web 2.0. In Web 2.0, there is a social dichotomy at work based upon and reflecting (if not directly determined by) the underlying Von Neumann architecture of computer processors and memory. In the hegemonic Web 2.0 business model, users are encouraged to process digital ephemera by sharing content, making connections, ranking cultural artifacts, and producing digital content, a mode of computing I call “affective processing.” The Web 2.0 business model imagines users to be a potential superprocessor. In contrast, the memory possibilities of computers are typically commanded and accumulated by Web 2.0 site owners. They seek to surveil every user action, store the resulting data, protect it via artificial barriers such as intellectual property, and mine it for profit. This mode of new media capitalism prompts site designers to build Web sites that are capable of inscribing user activity into increasingly precise databases. Users are less likely to wield control over these archives. These archives are comprised of the products of affective processing; they are archives of affect, sites of decontextualized data which can be rearranged by the site owners to construct knowledge about Web 2.0 users.
Language is fossil poetry.
Freud, of course, began the project of psychoanalysis with the study of hypnosis, a kind of interaction between subjects that has been dismissed by many as a parlour game of manipulation. Freud would later distance himself from hypnosis as the origin of psychoanalysis; he argued that hypnosis was tyrannical and did not lend itself to scientific explanation. Freud moved from suggestion to free association, attempting to “free” the patient from the tyranny of suggestion. Freud examined hypnosis as a form of communication that operates prior to the formation of meaning.
Hypnosis has been discussed as a kind of magic, an art of illusion. Some ancient Greeks felt language in general functioned this way, that even the everyday use of language was a kind of magical incantation that produced results by acting directly on the world, leading the soul,* inducing trance and movement, shaping reality. Verbal inspiration was seen by the Greeks as a kind of divine possession rather than as the conscious product of self-aware human genius. It’s useful to recall that the Greeks did not hold “magic” in contempt, or denigrate “belief” as superstition. And why should they? Schutzman points out that “This economy of ‘faith’ which we are so quick to devalue is really very much the same as the economy of evidence, which we are so quick to valorize.”
Chris Chesher has coined the phrase “invocational media” to describe computer technology. The computer functions as a kind of magical device; the human user does not “talk to the computer” but rather issues commands which change the nature of reality. While all technology is to a certain extent invocatory, computers invoke “programmed sequences of instructions, where the results of one invocation become inputs for others. They are open not only to inputs from outside through peripherals, but to distant events through networks and to records from the past on databases. This combination of components exponentially expands the range of invocations that become articulable.” The “associative indexing” available through the technology of hypertext allows us to navigate vast amounts of data with such strings of invocation. “There is no fundamental difference,” Chesher continues, “between a poet invoking the Muses for inspiration, and me invoking a search engine for material to use in this talk.”
The challenge to scholarship offered by works such as the exhibits before us is the challenge of the magic of language in the ancient world. These works don’t just operate at the level of meaning and signification (although of course they do that); they also operate at a level that is prior. All communication, of course, operates on this level, but not all communication attempts to interrupt the level of signification with this appeal to the multiple and interconnected nature of subjectivity. “[H]umanity is not constituted of isolated beings, but made up of communications among them; we are never given, even to ourselves, except in a network of communications with others: we bathe in communication, we can be reduced to this incessant communication, whose absence we feel in the very depths of our solitude” (Bataille, 250-2). There are no subjects; there is only the network, and it is us.
Every day we slaughter our finest impulses. That is why we get a heartache when we read those lines written by the hand of a master and recognize them as our own, as the tender shoots which we stifled because we lacked the faith to believe in our own powers, our own criterion of truth and beauty. Every man, when he gets quiet, when he becomes desperately honest with himself, is capable of uttering profound truths. We all derive from the same source. there is no mystery about the origin of things. We are all part of creation, all kings, all poets, all musicians; we have only to open up, only to discover what is already there.
We are facing a remarkable moment within the field of interaction design. With the development of rapid prototyping processes, inexpensive chips, processors, and sensors, and increasingly computational ways of interacting with manufacturing and craft processes, our relationships to materials are rapidly transforming. The mediating infrastructure of everyday life is increasingly “smart.” The computational is increasingly mundane. As the rate of expansion into dialogue with neighboring (and not so neighboring) fields and from the nano to the urban scale occurs, we are reopening questions of materiality, experience, and form. Interaction design is executing a “material turn” . Open for examination is how the discipline of interaction design might move forward alongside architecture, product design, textile design, and materials science as part of a joint area for inquiry.
As the field moves closer to materials, the necessity for a philosophy of materiality develops. Inching toward the recombination of atoms and bits, however, may mean revising our approach. At present, we have little to say about modes of composition and thus not enough to say about working across a wide range of digital and physical materials. The untapped possibility is that of new aesthetic languages, new compositional techniques, and new materialities. Composition can take just about any form and manifest at any scale. The full-blown reimagination of frozen water at the Icehotel exemplifies this matter. It is by no means alone. Already there are signs of work that does not “bridge” atoms to bits but evokes a need for new sets of descriptors to account for compositional techniques.
Projects like Bitfall use a system of synchronized magnetic valves attached to a Web interface to reorganize already present properties of falling water—surface tension, gravity, discretization into drops—into a screen for rendering digital images into tangible, if momentary, displays. Water always could have been a substrate for creating images, but somehow it takes a computational moment to see what was always there. Evocative projects like Qi and Buechley’s computational pop-up book gesture toward the potentials for developing aesthetic sensibilities from the management of materiality, computation, interaction, and text . Their book blurs the relationship between structure and representation, forming the stems and leaves of mechanized paper flowers from the brushstroke application of conductive paints. The thickness and length of stroke drive electronic function, thus marrying the forms of circuit design, brush painting, and paper craft.
Perhaps it is best to view the potentials in this sort of work by drawing analogies to the importance of past aesthetic reformulations in a medium. Collage, for example (an artistic technique dually credited to Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso), enlarged the reach of painting by demonstrating the power of composition to integrate new materials into aesthetic wholes. The newspaper fragments embedded in Compotier avec fruits, violin et verre, or Composition with Fruit, Guitar and Glass (1912), demonstrate a shift in which a potential substrate for image making can become part of the image itself. Computational pop-up books, digital ice-walls, and water screens may be less self-consciously innovative than a Picasso collage, but somehow these pieces seem kindred voices in a longer conversation about the relationship between materiality, technology, and design. The development of new modes for interaction design and the organization of novel materials may very well involve as much history, formal analysis, and aesthetic theory as technological development, entrepreneurial innovation, and social scientific evaluation.
Sometimes the best way to move forward is not to build new bridges but rather to see with new eyes.
Institutions learn from studies; communities learn from stories.
In what we are calling “creative restoration,” it is not a restoration to an idealized past - a golden age - that is sought or that is possible. By creative restoration we mean psychologically-minded cultural work and culturally-minded psychological work that crafts psyche and world in the image of the deeply desired; that provides a healing context where what has been torn can be reimagined and sutured in concert with others.
is the free and imaginative outflowing
of the Spirit over all unexplored paths.
…It links those
who love in bonds that unite,
but do not destroy, causing them to discover in their mutual contact
an exaltation capable of stirring in the very core
of their being all that they possess
of ‘uniqueness’ and ‘creative’ power.
Love alone can unite living beings
so as to complete and fulfill them,
for it alone joins them by what is deepest
in themselves. All we need
is to imagine our ability to love
developing until it embraces the totality
of the people of the Earth.
this transformation of love is quite possible.
What paralyzes life is failure to believe
and failure to dare.
The day will come when,
after harnessing space,
we shall harness for God the energies of love.
And, on that day, for the second time
in the history of the world,
we shall have discovered fire.
Do not brace yourself against suffering.
Try to close your eyes and surrender yourself,
as if to a great loving energy.
This attitude is neither weak nor absurd,
it is the only one that cannot lead us astray.
Try to ‘sleep,’ with that active sleep of confidence
which is that of the seed in the fields in winter.
is to discover and complete one’s self
in someone other than oneself,
an act impossible of general realization on Earth
so long as each can see in the neighbor no more than
a closed fragment following its own course
through the world.
It is precisely
this state of isolation that will end
if we begin to discover in each other
not merely the elements of one and the same thing,
but of a single Spirit in search of itself.
The existence of such a power
becomes possible in the curvature of a world
capable of noogenesis.
The most highly developed branches of the human family have in common one peculiar
characteristic. They tend to produce—sporadically it is true, and often in the teeth of adverse external circumstances—a curious and definite type of personality; a type which refuses to be satisfied with that which other men call experience, and is inclined, in the words of its enemies, to “deny the world in order that it may find reality.” We meet these persons in the east and the west; in the ancient, medieval, and modern worlds. Their one passion appears to be the prosecution of a certain spiritual and intangible quest: the finding of a “way out” or a “way back” to some desirable state in which alone they can satisfy their craving for absolute truth. This quest, for them, has constituted the whole meaning of life. They have made for it without effort sacrifices which have appeared enormous to other men: and it is an indirect testimony to its objective actuality, that whatever the place or period in which they have arisen, their aims, doctrines and methods have been substantially the same. Their experience, therefore, forms a body of evidence, curiously self-consistent and often mutually explanatory, which must be taken into account before we can add up the sum of the energies and potentialities of the human spirit, or reasonably speculate on its relations to the unknown world which lies outside the boundaries of sense.
All men, at one time or another, have fallen in love with the veiled Isis whom they call
Truth. With most, this has been a passing passion: they have early seen its hopelessness and turned to more practical things. But others remain all their lives the devout lovers of reality: though the manner of their love, the vision which they make to themselves of the beloved object varies enormously. Some see Truth as Dante saw Beatrice: an adorable yet intangible figure, found in this world yet revealing the next. To others she seems rather an evil but an irresistible enchantress: enticing, demanding payment and betraying her lover at the last. Some have seen her in a test tube, and some in a poet’s dream: some before the altar, others in the slime. The extreme pragmatists have even sought her in the kitchen; declaring that she may best be recognized by her utility. Last stage of all, the philosophic sceptic has comforted an unsuccessful courtship by assuring himself that his mistress is not really there.
Under whatsoever symbols they have objectified their quest, none of these seekers have
ever been able to assure the world that they have found, seen face to face, the Reality behind the veil. But if we may trust the reports of the mystics—and they are reports given with a strange accent of certainty and good faith—they have succeeded where all these others have failed, in establishing immediate communication between the spirit of man, entangled as they declare amongst material things, and that “only Reality,” that immaterial and final Being, which some philosophers call the Absolute, and most theologians call God. This, they say—and here many who are not mystics agree with them—is the hidden Truth which is the object of man’s craving; the only satisfying goal of his quest. Hence, they should claim from us the same attention that we give to other explorers of countries in which we are not competent to adventure ourselves; for the mystics are the pioneers of the spiritual world, and we have no right to deny validity to their discoveries, merely because we lack the opportunity or the courage necessary to those who would prosecute such explorations for themselves.
It is the object of this book to attempt a description, and also—though this is needless for those who read that description in good faith—a justification of these experiences and the conclusions which have been drawn from them. So remote, however, are these matters from our ordinary habits of thought, that their investigation entails, in those who would attempt to understand them, a definite preparation: a purging of the intellect. As with those who came of old to the Mysteries, purification is here the gate of knowledge. We must come to this encounter with minds cleared of prejudice and convention, must deliberately break with our inveterate habit of taking the “visible world” for granted; our lazy assumption that somehow science is “real” and metaphysics is not. We must pull down our own card houses—descend, as the mystics say, “into our nothingness”—and examine for ourselves the foundations of all possible human experience, before we are in a position to criticize the buildings of the visionaries, the poets, and the saints. We must not begin to talk of the unreal world of these dreamers until we have discovered—if we can—a real world with which it may be compared.
It is immediately apparent, however, that this sense-world, this seemingly real external
universe—though it may be useful and valid in other respects—cannot be the external world, but only the Self’s projected picture of it (3). It is a work of art, not a scientific fact; and, whilst it may well possess the profound significance proper to great works of art, is dangerous if treated as a subject of analysis. Very slight investigation shows that it is a picture whose relation to reality is at best symbolic and approximate, and which would have no meaning for selves whose senses, or channels of communication, happened to be arranged upon a different plan. The evidence of the senses, then, cannot be accepted as evidence of the nature of ultimate reality: useful servants, they are dangerous guides. Nor can their testimony disconcert those seekers whose reports they appear to contradict.
The conscious self sits, so to speak, at the receiving end of a telegraph wire. On any other theory than that of mysticism, it is her one channel of communication with the hypothetical “external world.” The receiving instrument registers certain messages. She does not know, and—so long as she remains dependent on that instrument—never can know, the object, the reality at the other end of the wire, by which those messages are sent; neither can the messages truly disclose the nature of that object. But she is justified on the whole in accepting them as evidence that something exists beyond herself and her receiving instrument. It is obvious that the structural peculiarities of the telegraphic instrument will have exerted a modifying effect upon the message. That which is conveyed as dash and dot, colour and shape, may have been received in a very different form.
Therefore this message, though it may in a partial sense be relevant to the supposed reality at the other end, can never be adequate to it. There will be fine vibrations which it fails to take up, others which it confuses together. Hence a portion of the message is always lost; or, in other language, there are aspects of the world which we can never know. The sphere of our possible intellectual knowledge is thus strictly conditioned by the limits of our own personality. On this basis, not the ends of the earth, but the external termini of our own sensory nerves, are the termini of our explorations: and to “know oneself” is really to know one’s universe. We are locked up with our receiving instruments: we cannot get up and walk away in the hope of seeing whither the lines lead. Eckhart’s words are still final for us: “the soul can only approach created things by the voluntary reception of images.” Did some mischievous Demiurge choose to tickle our sensory apparatus in a new way, we should receive by this act a new universe.
William James once suggested as a useful exercise for young idealists, a consideration of the changes which would be worked in our ordinary world if the various branches of our receiving instruments exchanged duties; if, for instance, we heard all colours and saw all sounds. Such a remark throws a sudden light on the strange and apparently insane statement of the visionary, Saint-Martin, “I heard flowers that sounded, and saw notes that shone”; and on the reports of other mystics concerning a rare moment of consciousness in which the senses are fused into a single and ineffable act of perception, and colour and sound are known as aspects of one thing.
Since music is but an interpretation of certain vibrations undertaken by the ear, and colour an interpretation of other vibrations performed by the eye, this is less mad than it sounds and may yet be brought within the radius of physical science. Did such an alteration of our senses take place the world would still send us the same messages—that strange unknown world from which, on this hypothesis, we are hermetically sealed—but we should interpret them differently. Beauty would still be ours, though speaking another tongue. The bird’s song would then strike our retina as a pageant of colour: we should see the magical tones of the wind, hear as a great fugue the repeated and harmonized greens of the forest, the cadences of stormy skies. Did we realize how slight an adjustment of our organs is needed to initiate us into such a world, we should perhaps be less contemptuous of those mystics who tell us that they apprehended the Absolute as “heavenly music” or “Uncreated Light”: less fanatical in our determination to make the solid “world of common sense” the only standard of reality. This “world of common sense” is a conceptual world. It may represent an external universe: it certainly does represent the activity of the human mind. Within that mind it is built up: and there most of us are content “at ease for aye to dwell,” like the soul in the Palace of Art.
Thus Eckhart, “Every time that the powers of the soul come into contact with created things, they receive the create images and likenesses from the created thing and absorb them. In this way arises the soul’s knowledge of created things. Created things
cannot come nearer to the soul than this, and the soul can only approach created things by the voluntary reception of images. And it is through the presence of the image that the soul approaches the created world: for the image is a Thing, which the soul
creates with her own powers. Does the soul want to know the nature of a stone—horse—a man? She forms an image.”—-Meister Eckhart, Pred. i. (“Mystische Schriften,” p. 15).
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