February 27, 2000
On our way back from Fry's Electronics after buying various items which we're going to use
in Miranda's next performance piece, The Swan
Tool, Miranda and I started to talk about the type of work which both of us are
actually interested in doing. I told her how I came to realize
that I really couldn't bring myself to do certain jobs just for the money,
even though the money might be very good indeed. Miranda told me that when she was
younger, people would often play games like:
"Would you eat that bug for ... ten cents? A dollar? Ten dollars?" and so forth,
until they would finally get to: "How about a
MILLION dollars? Come on, you'd eat that bug for a MILLION DOLLARS!" and she just
knew, somehow, deep down, that no, in fact, there was no amount of money that would
get her to do something that she wouldn't choose to do on her own, for free.
Even in the business world,
money can be a demotivator, but it is almost never a motivator.
February 20, 2000
The thing about the hyperreal
is that it can only sustain itself within the context of itself; that is to say, if it is closed, or a better way of saying it is if it
has no boundary, as I have mentioned before.
For a system to be completely without boundary, however, it must encompass the entire universe,
for all time... (see James P. Carse's Finite and
Infinite Games for a related discussion). Thus, we are left with only partial
simulations, which arise and fall each in their turn, and the extent of the reality that
they impose upon us only as large and as long as they persist; but they are doomed to
disappear or fade or merge with another system, and they always fray at the edges.
Fundamentalist religion is an attempt to impose a simulacrum upon us, which is
why they tend to become violent in their desire to suppress alternative views; they
well realize that the simulacrum will collapse unless you prop it up!
If a system is not closed, however, there is always the possibility of a challenge
from the outside. For a while, for example, automakers in Detroit tried to create
a self-perpetuating closed world through their policy of "more car per car";
an almost forgotten phrase which did not mean that the customer was to get more car,
but that the automakers would get more profit for each car sold. What this meant was
they would make the cars more and more cheaply, designing them to break down early so
consumers would be forced to buy new ones --- this worked in the 70's for a little while,
when all three big automakers worked in unison on this scheme, but it failed when
the Japanese burst onto the scene.
Of course, what this proves is certainly not the cultural superiority of the Japanese,
who are struggling to keep up with us today as we remain far ahead of them in the
information economy, but the fact that when one partial simulacrum begins to decay,
another one, hailing from elsewhere, one which has been evolving relatively independently,
can retain or advance a system pattern which is being lost or degraded elsewhere.
It is only when a system gets entirely cut off from the outside world that this
protective mechanism can begin to fail; such as the case where the island of Tasmania, originally a peninsula, became cut
off from Australia, and the inhabitants lost the knowledge of how to
make boats, how to fish, and even how to make sewn clothing. Without other cultures
to retain the information, the culture de-evolved. As Jared Diamond put it,
All human societies go through fads in
which they temporarily either adopt practices of little use
or else abandon practices of considerable use. Whenever
such economically senseless taboos arise in an area with
many competing human societies, only some societies will
adopt the taboo at a given time. Other societies will
retain the useful practice, and will either outcompete the
societies that lost it, or else will be there as a model for
the societies with the taboos to repent their error and
reacquire the practice. If Tasmanians had remained in
contact with mainland Australians, they could have
rediscovered the value and techniques of fishing and
making bone tools that they had lost. But that couldn't
happen in the complete isolation of Tasmania, where
cultural losses became irreversible.
That is to say, too much provincialism can be very unhealthy. Every subsystem and simulacrum can have an outside,
and for this reason it is important to remain aware of what is happening, open to that
which is other or different (alterity).
The ship of any subsystem isn't going to be wrecked on the reefs of an absolute reality,
but it can be shaken or shattered by the reverberations from other parts of the universe.
February 13, 2000
I find this quote
and this quote
which Miranda July asked me to put on her
web site rather inspiring. From the
second one, by the early twentieth-century multi-media artist Laszlo
People are taught that the best way of living is to buy another person's energy, to use other people's skill. In other words, a dangerous metropolitan dogma developed that the different subject matters are best handled by experts... through the division of labor and the mechanized methods not only the production of daily necessities and goods has passed into the hands of specialists, but almost every outlet for the emotional life as well. Today the artist-specialists have to provide for emotions. They are paid--if they are--for that. The sad consequence is that the biological interest in everything within the human spheres of existence becomes suffocated by the tinself of a seemingly easygoing life. People who have biologically the potential to comprehend the world with the entirety of his abilities, to conceive and express himself through different media, the word, tone, color, etc., agree voluntarily to the amputation of these most valuable potentialities. Nothing proves better the lost feeling for the fundamentals of human life than that it has to be emphasized today: Feeling and thinking and their expression in any media belong to the normal living standard of all people. (italics added)
I think it's important to continue to strive for quality even in the face of
doubt, which can be poisonous no matter how small it is: because there is a difference
between healthy questioning of one's work (after all, we have to always stay attentive
and learn from our mistakes) and that doubt which says: you don't have the right to
do this, who do you think you are?
Which reminds me of something my father once said to me, which was that when I was growing up, if he disagreed
with me he would try to argue against what I wanted to do, but if he failed to convince
me he would never forbid it, because he figured one of two things would happen
that way: 1) I would turn out to have been right,
and he wrong, in which case everything was fine, or 2) he would be right, and I'd find
out soon enough. Whereas if he forbid it, I would always wonder:
what could have been.
Strategy for lazy people: just commit to a few seconds or minutes a day. There is a
huge difference between slow progress and none at all. This is a sort of yogic trick,
of course, because the point is not the few seconds but the context switch: a few
seconds of [whatever] can lead to many minutes or hours (but you don't think about that
part of it!)
February 9, 2000
Via Alamut: Dirk Hine's weblog,
Back on 3 February, Jouke linked to William Beaty's Traffic
Physics web page,
in which he describes, among other things, certain amusing
experiments one can conduct with one's car. I found this particularly amusing because
I tried the exact same thing when I used to drive to high
school through dense rush hour traffic in Los Angeles. Like Beaty, I would attempt to
"smooth out" the waves in the traffic by driving at the average speed,
thereby causing traffic behind me to flow more
uniformly. I also noticed other interesting patterns: the "fast
lane" in heavy traffic was invariably the slowest, and
traffic flowed faster on Friday mornings and on days after it rained---
in Los Angeles, the rain would wash the air, making the sky beautiful and the smog
lessened to the point you could see the mountains--- I figured that this
gave people an extra psychological boost which got me to school a bit faster
(meaning, of course, I could procrastinate at home for a few extra minutes).
The interesting thing is that although I haven't had the energy to really
think about traffic patterns much since I was in high school, it seems to me
that traffic in Los Angeles today flows slightly differently from the way it
did back when I was in high school. I've noticed drivers almost unconsciously adopting patterns of
behavior which allow for smoother flows, easier lane-changes, etc. This
"social knowledge" seems to be a peculiar feature of Los Angeles
driving in particular; for example, the same patterns which I seem to observe
in Los Angeles do not appear as much in other West Coast cities like
San Francisco, Portland, or Seattle (and I like Portland over L.A. in
most other ways, I add here--- but not as much in terms of driving habits). It is as though Los Angeles, with its
hoary freeway culture, has had more time to develop a driving etiquette
which "everyone" seems to know (except for new arrivals, who often
complain to me about their inability to navigate in L.A. until I give them tips
on the traffic "rules"), but which are not written anywhere.
February 7, 2000
Very happy to see Lemonyellow reviving.
Jessie Ferguson's musings on
philosophy. She's very young, an undergrad at the University of Chicago,
but I like her overall bent.
Been reading a fascinating and amusing recent history of American art, with
a particular (but not entirely exclusive) focus on the New York scene,
It Hurts: New York art from Warhol to now,
by the British art critic Matthew Collings. The tone is lighthearted and filled
with plenty of irreverent British sardonic wit, yet despite its glib tone it is quite
clear that Collings cares a great deal about both the people and the work he
discusses. Collings places art in a living, breathing, accessible, down-to-earth
context, reminiscent, somehow, of the spirit behind the work of Gordon Matta-Clark
(whom Collings affectionately discusses in great depth), which had a quality of
being embedded in the everyday. Though the book
focuses primarily on the art scene from the sixties
forward, and on work that was primarily a rejection or reaction against Greenbergian
formalism, he nevertheless says that despite the fact that everyone seems to hate
Greenberg today, he still puts Clement Greenberg at the top of his list of critical heroes, even as he recognizes
that Greenberg's work was no longer relevant to much of the art that was produced
from the 70's onward.
Finally broke down and added some links to my 'deeper' page.
If your site is not on the list please don't hurt me. Send me email instead.
February 4, 2000
Some words on wordlessness.
There is a Zen saying, "the moment one opens one's mouth to speak, one
makes a mistake." On the other hand, there is another saying:
"the life of a Zen master is a series of mistake following mistake"
(literally: a continuous series of mistakes). Expressing things in words always
involves a sort of violence against the truth; the truth itself being inexpressible.
(Even the word "truth" evokes something that can be nailed down in
some way, or a thought, or a state of affairs, and that isn't what I mean to suggest.)
Which reminds me of a famous Zen story: Shakyamuni was in a grove with
many monks, and he held up a flower; of all the monks, only Mahakasyapa smiled.
Shakyamuni then declared that of all those present, only Mahakyasyapa truly
February 1, 2000
Roland Shearer of the Art
Science Research Lab in New York has made some rather interesting discoveries
about the work of Marcel Duchamp.
For example, Shearer has found significant evidence that Duchamp's readymades
which have long been assumed to be merely unaltered household objects chosen by Duchamp,
turn out not to be so
"readymade" after all. Shearer believes that these pieces, far from
being conventional store-bought items, were in fact extensively manipulated and/or constructed
by Duchamp. Careful analysis of surviving photographs by Man Ray and Alfred Steiglitz
of some of the objects reveals a coat rack with hooks that curve the wrong way,
a snow shovel with a square, not round, cross section, which is also improperly
reinforced so as to make it useless for shoveling snow (Duchamp called this piece
"In Advance of a Broken Arm," perhaps to hint at this), and many other oddities.
The lab reports on these and other discoveries in their online journal,
Finished the opening version of the Big Miss
Moviola site for Miranda July today! Stayed up all night to get it all working
before Miranda arrived for the
Rotterdam International Film Festival. It was well worth the effort (at least
I felt gratified to get it done).